Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Wrath Effects Are Bad for the Game.

Hypothesis: Effects that kill everything hurt the game.

A game session is a story. Actually, it's two. One story is being told by the game about the fiction of the game's world. In Magic, it is a story of a conflict between two powerful wizards, whose spell repertoire represents the most powerful magic across many planes of existence. The other story is about the players themselves, and their card-based duel.

Any writer, any film-maker, any storyteller can tell you about narrative structure: rising and falling action. Every story needs twists and turns; The hero must face obstacles and failure, before victory can have any meaning; A story can't get good until it gets bad; all that. But your audience won't even stick around for the ending if you lose them to boredom. Boredom is what happens when the plot flatlines.

Mass removal resets the narrative, releasing all tension from the story. As the one playing it, you're probably feeling relief from a desperate situation or satisfaction at drawing your opponent into a trap. When it's played against you, you either feel helpless because there was nothing more you could have done to soften the blow, or foolish because you played right into it. None of that is the deal-breaker. It's what happens afterward.

Very often, mass removal is followed by 1-5 turns of nothing. We've both played out our hands in the escalating conflict; I had the advantage and you stopped the bleeding with a Wrath. We're both just drawing and passing until we get a new threat. The experience is an awful lot like the start of the game. Things don't even improve much when one of us does draw a threat; then the game is just me hitting you with it until you draw an answer or a better threat.

Occasionally, you play your Wrath after having planned it for several turns. You bated me into a four-for-two, and you've got real threats in your hand to play. Here, you rebuild quickly, overwhelm me and end the game fast. That scenario has the benefit of brevity, and it should even make you feel strategically clever, but it's still not a great story.

Indulge me in some micro fiction:
Princess Rana has little time to grieve the murder of her parents. Three dispatches of castle guards are combing the royal forest, with orders to capture her. Rana's uncle Mort has betrayed them all, and his treacherous ass is now seated in the very throne from which her father told her a joke just last night. It'ss up to her to kill Mort, reclaim the throne, and restore justice to her people. But for now, she just needs to survive long enough to gather allies.
She goes to the Forbidden Land, and trades the Silver Blade for the services of Madmartigan, the most dangerous criminal in the five realms, for only he can penetrate Regald Keep's walls. She travels to Lyndwellen Valley, where she beseeches the queen of the elves to lend her their champion, Aeric the Eaglesighted, who can shoot Mort's dragon out of the sky. To defeat the heretic's undead armies, to overcome his alliance with the minotaur hordes, to surpass his mastery of the element of lava, the brave princess treks across the Cursed Plain, climbs the Peaks of Asgaril, and plumbs the depths of…
Actually, it doesn't matter, because when she returns for the great battle, Mort casts a depraved ritual, opening a rift to the underworld. All the souls ever lost reach out, grasping desperately at her allies, pulling his too, and everything that stood between them into hell with them, the portal collapsing with a seething pop. 
Exhausted by the righteous effort that saved her from the same fate, she kneels to regain her breath in the same scorched plain where the false king scrambles to his feet, reeling to understand the completeness of devastation he'd summoned. "What have you done, you fool? You monster!" she demands.
"I had no choice! You were poised to defeat me, and I will stop at no ends to keep my crown."
"You will face justice…" She shakes her fist. "Just as soon as I call upon the great eagles of Sun Roost!"
"No, princess. It is you who will suffer at the hands of my infernal minions!" The sorcerer king squints at the horizon. "I'm sure they'll be here soon."
"The hero brigands of Douty Town are well known for arriving just in the nick of time," the Princess counters. "Just in the nick." She goes on tippy-toes to see over a low hill. "In the nick."
Just then, Mort laughs maniacally as he summons a zombie up from the earth beneath them. "Hahahahaha! It is I who drew gas first, princess!" The anemic zombie begins to shamble on its one good leg toward the princess.
"Are you frickin' kidding me? This is gonna take all day." The princess knocks the top of her deck, desperate for something—anything—to happen to make this game more interesting.
Board wipe is something worse than powerful or swingy, or conditional or volatile. It's boring. It kills the story in its tracks. It undoes all the tension the players have worked to build up over the course of the game. It prevents play. 

Causing nothing to happen is the greatest sin in game design. This isn't just true of Magic, or even just of CCGs. Everything in all your games should add to the story. What doesn't support your players' narrative is superfluous. What actively works against it is the game designer's worst enemy.


  1. I don’t think I agree. I think this is a good argument for not having *common* mass creature removal, but as a rare effect, this is important for competitive balance, does help to create stories no other card could, and only rarely do draw-go situations occur in practice (and usually because the player using Wrath is actually executing their longer-term control plan).

    I think it’s definitely interesting/worthwhile to conceptualize what a Magic-like game without Wraths would look like (Hearthstone did this for blocking causing creature stalls, which definitely was a useful experiment). I am less certain that it would be more fun, as I think Control decks are nigh-unplayable unless you have mass creature kill. That feels intuitively like a different game I’d enjoy less, but maybe not!

    1. I've clarified my terms slightly, from 'mass removal' to 'board wipe.' The distinction being that it's fine to kill a lot of threats at once, but not all of them.

      I would challenge you to explore the claim that mass creature removal is important for competitive balance. Why? There are tons of competitive decks with no board wipe. It's a staple of Control decks, but those thrive on card advantage, and should be able to survive fine on efficient two-for-one removal.

  2. In favor of wraths:

    - Magic has another escalating factor to its narrative, that Wraths (thankfully) don't wipe away: lands! If the early game, where we both race to see who can play two cards in the same turn, carefully optimizing the use of our few mana to get a superior or stable board position, is wiped away by a clean Wrath effect, we're still not in the place we started. If I now have six lands on the battlefield after your wrath, we are now at escalated stakes and heightened power levels, even if the detritus of the early turns has been folded into the graveyard.

    - The flavor of "lots of mass removal" can help lead to a feeling of a plane at war, of a bloodstained battlefield where death could come at any minute and forward is the only direction, which we've seen in the style of Scars of Mirrodin. Of course, almost every wrath there came with a body as well, but between (Sunblast Angel, Carnifex Demon, Contagion Engine, Phyrexian Rebirth) etc, there was a notion in the narrative in-game and out that on any turn the world could be wiped clean. Which leads to...

    - This really highlights the importance and value of noncreature permanents! Whether it's powerful Equipment or mystical static Enchantments or CARDNAMES or Faerie Conclaves, while Wraths help counter creatures, they often spare the less fleshy aspects of the game, allowing for your other game elements to shine. This lets a metagame have cat-and-mouse effects, but even in a single matchup between two decks, this means that not every game will just be "I play all my creatures, then they all attack for 20".

    (This was an interesting article, and a great start to the discussion!)

    1. - That's true, and it means we're not starting entirely from scratch. That increases the variance (maybe I draw my one-drop or maybe I draw my six-drop), which is generally a negative; and it reduces the number of things a player can do in a turn (because we don't have a bunch of land we need to play).

      - There are tons of ways to convey the flavor of war; a nuke is only one of them, and indeed one of the less interesting ones. The threat of being able to wipe the board means players are holding back cards, which we know from Kamigawa's hand-size-matters subtheme is negative fun.

      It's definitely true that Day of Judgment is more fun and less problematic than Jokulhaups, Akroma's Vengeance and Planar Cleansing. That's evidence in favor of my hypothesis: The more that a card destroys, the worse it is for the play experience.

      Thanks for joining the discussion. Good stuff!
      So far, no one has argued my central point about narrative. How does that strike you?

    2. I would argue that, if "narrative" is an important aspect of Magic, control decks shouldn't exist at all.

      The basic strategy of the control deck is to put the game into a state where it is unloseable for the control player. What the opponent does up to that point, or how the control player wins after that point, is not really relevant. When the opponent has a bunch of lands in play and nothing relevant in hand? When the plot flatlines and the audience gets bored? That's the control deck doing its job. An opponent who is taking game actions is an opponent who is potentially winning. An opponent who isn't taking game actions for long enough will probably just concede, which is terrible for a spectator sport but great from a moving-the-tournament-along perspective.

      There's a reason why ChannelFireball hates putting decks like Miracles or Lantern on stream - they take a long time to win, they're boring, you can't do much interesting commentary on them. Does it logically follow that "control strategies should not be a viable gameplay option"? I don't think so. Controlmasters, in particular, seem to regard the matchup as fun and skill-testing, and isn't the players' engagement more important than any hypothetical audience?

    3. There are proactive Control strategies.
      Draw-Go, Turbo-Fog and anything that intends to lock the game down so hard a single threat will cinch the game? YES, burn them to the ground.

    4. How do you define proactive control?

    5. I've got a Scarab God deck that's actively playing the whole game—with Hostage Takers and Ravenous Chupacabras in addition to its counter sweet and direct removal. While the ultimate goal is to own everything and shut off my opponents' outs, it achieves that mostly through a series of card-advantageous answers. No wraths.

    6. Sounds like Jund.

      Two-for-ones that are also win conditions are preferable, I agree. Personally as an aggro player I'd be more likely to scoop to a Scarab God instead of a Wrath, because the latter is a one-and-done deal - you three-for-one me, then I can rebuild from my hand/topdeck - but in the case of the former, unless I have one of a very specific subset of removal spells, I can't prevent it from continually gaining you card advantage.

      And if I've overextended to the point that your one Wrath means you can beat me to death with a one-legged zombie while I fling spells into the aether against your grip of counterspells, well, I will extend the hand and wish you congratulations. I don't need to sit around for ten turns waiting for your zombie to Actually Win The Game(tm) (and the poor thing's probably been through enough).

      What if "resetting the board" is not the issue, but "creating repetitive game states" is, with "player has no creatures in play, draws, passes" being the ultimate in repetition? You hate monoblue Draw-Go too, and it doesn't play any Wraths.

      Would you agree that Wraths are less of an issue in multiplayer Commander (both because the sheer number of threats in play requires effects that are stronger than "a two-for-one" to break up board stalls, and because the presence of the Commander means you almost always have at least one possible play on your turn)?

    7. As far as narrative is concerned, you disproved yourself in the graph you posted. As said above, both playing lands and casting spells are the rising actions of Magic. Losing all your creatures is a complication, it does not reset to 0. The graph doesn't go completely down, it dips but is still pushed upward by having a larger mana base and thus a larger possible pool of possibilites.

      Losing ALL your permanents does set the game to 0 (more or less) and that's why Sheherazade was one of the first banned cards.

      I feel like you stepped back in the comments a little and are now trying to argue that white wraths are bad while red wraths (deal X to all creatures, etc) are good because red wraths are bounded while white's "Bury all creatures"-phrasing is not. This is a fine hair to split in many formats.

      I'd love to see more formats with only bounded wraths like the red ones or "destroy all non-Angels" or something. Which is I guess where you are going here? Hopefully enough people pointed out that wraths DON'T kill the story or "prevent play".

    8. @Jenesis - Scarab God is super problematic.

      Except you know your deck has creatures that will trump my zombie, you're just waiting to draw one; and you might never.

      Yup. Resetting the board creates repetitive game states. It is one instance in a set of problematic effects.

      Wraths are less problematic in multiplayer, where there are more opportunities to regenerate an interesting game state. I don't agree that they're more necessary, as Barter in Blood scales just fine.

    9. @cosmossexiestmanever - I don't think I've stepped anything back. I've clarified that the problem is more with board wipe than mass removal, but I still haven't seen anyone challenge my central argument: Killing the story hurts the play experience.

      Lands aren't relevant to the narrative. The game mechanic that limits the rate you play them and the size of spells you can cast to your land count does a great job of ensuring that the narrative ramps up in a satisfactory way but in absolutely zero of the fiction that's been written for Magic do you read "And Gideon would've summoned more troops, but he was having trouble remembering his connection to a fifth plains somewhere."

      Lands are a significant part of the story of the game; so many stories revolve around the dearth or overabundance of lands drawn. But a Wrath erases all that too: If I'm short mana for three turns, but kill all the creatures my opponent played while I was behind, it's like I was never behind at all.

      Color is irrelevant. The more a spell resets the board, the worse it is for the story, and the worse it is for the game. Bounded wraths absolutely mitigate that issue, yeah.

    10. I think saying lands, life total, cards in hand, the graveyard, noncreature permanents, etc, are not part of the story of the game is pretty arbitrary. I mean, your second paragraph begins "Lands aren't relevant to the narrative" and your third paragraph starts "Lands are a significant part of the story of the game". So...what's going on here?

      Also in the third paragraph you explain how wraths are a catch-up mechanic that give you the opportunity to flip the script. The point you then make is that catch-up mechanics erase narrative. What? That IS a narrative, and a compelling one. Look at your graph again. This is exactly what that graph models. What is rising is the overall tension of a text, not how soon all your creatures will attack and kill an opponent.

      Dude, you aren't getting anywhere claiming wraths are anti-narrative. The mechanics point you want to make is that bounded wraths are more fun than unbounded wraths. That's an interesting point you can make well, and you can even make bounded wraths a fun design challenge for the goons.

      But when you talk about narrative, you fizzle. You wrote this: "Lands aren't relevant to the narrative. The game mechanic that limits the rate you play them and the size of spells you can cast to your land count does a great job of ensuring that the narrative ramps up in a satisfactory way..." Look at those two sentences. They follow each other. But only literally. It doesn't make any sense.

      You go on to say that the game of Magic doesn't model the tertiary fiction written about the game. The narrative the game builds is different from what the fiction does, and it's pretty clear who's doing the better job. It's exactly the fiction's job to make the game cool. So if there's failure here, it's in the fiction.

      I'm not trying to hate on you, but if you haven't seen how a multitude of factors push the drama of the game forward, there's some crossed wires going on. Probably because of poorly defined terms or just trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

      I'd like to try to summarize what I think you want to say:

      Catch-up mechanics are great, fun, and important. Wraths are probably the most powerful catch-up mechanic in most formats. They can be made less powerful, though, to allow for more interesting board states and more creative and tactical plays and counter-plays. They should often have the ability to destroy most or all creatures, but it should not be guaranteed. Bounding their capabilities opens great design space, already explored in red with "Deal X damage to all creatures"-type effects. But other areas could be explored, like "Destroy each creature unless its controller pays 1 for it" or "Each player sacrifices a creature for each creature card in their graveyard". These specific boundings would make decks and games more unique and better lend themselves to exciting narratives, where Magic sometimes drops the ball.

    11. re: zombie scenario - That's why I specified that you have a hand full of counterspells, so my possible turns are either I draw a land and do nothing, or I draw a creature, it gets countered, and the net result is still I do nothing. If the control player is also in topdeck mode I'd argue that they have actually failed in executing their deck's strategy, since "hope to draw creatures and damage race" is something that, statistically speaking, the aggro deck will do better.

      Variance also makes "a card game of Magic: The Gathering" less than optimal at telling stories about magical combat.

      Consider another story: I'm a black mage. My deck contains four copies of Doom Blade, and I draw one in my opening hand. My opponent, a green mage, summons a Runeclaw Bear. I summon a Walking Corpse. Our creatures attack across the battlefield for a few turns. Then, the green mage summons a Gigantosaurus, and I immediately Doom Blade it.

      From a strategy perspective, this makes perfect sense, since I've only got one Doom Blade and I don't know when I'll draw another one - it's better to save it to deal with a creature that I know my Walking Corpse can't beat in combat. But from a lore perspective, it makes no sense. If I had the ability to cast a creature-killing spell all along, why would I let the Runeclaw Bear hit me in the face instead of killing it? It's not even a particularly difficult spell to cast - it's a 2 mana common! The in-flavor explanation is "casting this spell will result in me forgetting how to cast it until some arbitrary point in the future, which may or may not happen before the next time I will want to cast it again," which... is not only illogical, it's also bad storytelling.

      I would say your example of Barter in Blood highlights one of the weaknesses of number-locked removal, which is that the impact of removing a fixed number of creatures from all players scales inversely with how many creatures that player has, which is the opposite of what you want your boardwipe to do. Heck, if I'm playing a deck that can field tons of creatures (like Selesnya Tokens), an opponent casting Barter in Blood is good for me, because the creatures I lost contributed comparatively less to my overall strength than the creatures everybody else lost, and I didn't even have to spend a card from hand to do it.

      The effect I think you'd want instead is something like Cataclysmic Gearhulk, where everyone is left with something in play but the player with the most strength prior to the boardwipe is hurt the most.

    12. @cosmossexiestmanever Your summary is a pretty accurate depiction of a large portion of my point.

      Your criticism of how I communicated that idea, picking apart my word choice, and attacking details of my writing that aren't linchpins to the idea I'm offering for discussion, doesn't advance the conversation. We can better value your time by focusing more on what you believe I intend to say than how I have failed to say it unambiguously.

      I'm grateful for your passion here, and the time and effort you've contributed to the discussion. I'm glad you're part of our community. Your intelligence is evident and I'm eager to see how you use that to better us all in the future.

    13. @Jenesis - You and most folks in this conversation are primarily envisioning the scenario where decks are doing what they're intended to, while I'm primarily envisioning the scenario where they aren't. Both are common, valid, and important.

      You're right that an in-game fiction tightly bound to the out-of-game events is going to be suboptimal in the way you illustrated and more. In theory, you can force a system of magic on the reader such that, yes, a planeswalker is aware that casting Doom Blade on a bear will likely leave them vulnerable to the real threat their adversary is cooking up because what they can do at any given moment isn't constant or predictable. Writers almost never do that, and simply focus on what the wizard does as opposed to the internal monologue about what they can and can't do. From that angle, the reader just sees a bear and a zombie, and a doom-bladed dino, which is a decent narrative. That said, I agree that many of the game's trappings—and especially its variance—reduce its effectiveness at telling the ideal fiction; gameplay>story is a cost-benefit of choosing games as a medium rather than books. And it remains the case that where a choice sacrifices an amount of story for an equal amount of gameplay, the latter choice will be superior for a game. Ignoring story altogether, particularly the story of the game (aka the players' actual experience), creates an inferior game.

      You're right that Cataclysmic Gearhulk is a better sweeper in this lens than Barter in Blood. Also better than Barter: "For each player, destroy two target creatures that player controls."

  3. Strong disagree. Wraths are boring for Jenny. Tammy loves them, and will often appreciate the play of being on the receiving end of one. Spikes understand their importance, and use them when necessary.

    The big reset, aside from contributing to the health of a format, is a good story moment. If my opening hand has a wrath but two lands, I might keep it, hit my fourth land on turn six or seven when I'm hanging on by a thread, and still feel like I can regain control of the game. That's super important, and frankly a lot of fun.

    1. Tammy does appreciate splashy effects and big moments, but she's also the first to become bored when nothing's happening. Tammy is the most negatively affected by the game stalling out after board wipe.

      Again, I have to ask you to examine how resets contribute to the health of a format: Magic has never had a format without them; How would we know if the game is better or worse without them?

      Your two-land hand scenario is a great example. You shouldn't keep that hand! The wrath skews the game so badly that you're choosing to land screw yourself in the hopes of turning an entire game around with a single play. That's not fair to you or your opponent.

    2. Wait, are we not supposed to keep two-land hands?

      That aside, we've seen plenty of situations where hard-to-manage creatures are printed - to do away with board wipes would hopefully mean you do away with... all hexproof creatures, and then some, I guess?

      I really agree with zeff on "The big turnaround is fun" over "big turnarounds are unfair", but a big part of that is the rate at which they happen. Moving wraths by and large up to 5+ mana is smart, it's possible moving them to 5-6+ with bonus effects would give us the board wipes we feel the need for (as a safety valve or as a play experience) while also fixing the "back to zero" narrative problem you propose.

    3. There's a fundamental problem when "kill everything" is the best solution to "this can't be targeted."

      A big turnaround is fun. I'm not proposing getting rid of huge effects. I'm proposing not resetting the game. As I said above, keeping your lands after the board wipe does little to actually get the game interesting again.

    4. I know this might seem like an argument to absurdity, but: a big problem with Magic is the primary way to interact with /anything/ is by killing it!

      But with Persist, or Undying, or Flashback token production, or Enchantment token production, or Keyrunes or Manlands or eot-Indestructible, there's plenty of ways in any constructed format to fight around wraths or completely keep the tempo up in the face of them. Are wraths bad for players who only have access to Runeclaw Bears? I guess? But like, that's a matter of rarity more than anything else.

      Even if you don't have a large cardpool - picking one at random, let's take DOM as the most recent block, every color at common has cards that play differently pre- & post- wrath. You might say "keeping your lands increases variance and doesn't make the game interesting", but suddenly I draw another Stronghold Confessor - I played one on turn 1, and it and my other clerics got wiped out. Now, I draw it off the top, and it's a /different card/! I'm so glad I've got this 5+ mana, I get to use my card, wahoo! Otherwise - the board state is cluttered, no one can do the math on the right blocks, no one can keep track of all the creatures' abilities - the board wipe helped bring the game back to an understandable medium! Did I, as a player in that game, want the Wrath to be cast? No, it gave my opponent card advantage. But am I, as a player of games in this format, having more fun because Wraths are cast? Sure!

    5. Also, it's untrue that Magic has no formats without Wraths - Pauper! There's a very small number of red cards that deal 1 damage to all creatures, and I believe that's it.

    6. Evincar’s justice deals 2, and there’s Pestilence/Crypt Rats, but generally you are correct.

    7. Oh Tempest block, you and your wacky ideas about appropriate card rarities.

    8. The former half of this is an argument for removal, and the latter half is an argument for kicker and cards with high CMC. Wrath isn't the only way to kill things, and it's definitely not what makes Stronghold Confessor sweet.

  4. I think the narrative arc conception of play patterns is interesting. A few arcs by archetype:

    Fast Aggro: Constantly rising. The Aggro arc risks being the most dull because it's super linear: hero meets villain, hero punches villain, hero beats villain. Fast Aggro is at its most dramatic when it's a race against time or resources to see if the deck can squeeze out its last few points of damage

    Midrange Aggro: This follows more of a heros Journey approach: protagonist establishes an early game, faces a set back and then comes back even stronger than before.

    Ramp/Combo: Total underdog story. But the whole time they look behind, they're building resources so just when they're on the ropes, they turn it around and win in a dramatic fashion.

    Control: This is a dramatic thriller. Instead of the clear cut arc, control games constantly feel like a back and forth. There might not be a dramatic climax here, rather there's the sudden realization that you actually won or lost the game 3 turns ago when you had a minor misplay that wound up costing you everything.

    Magic works by providing tools for all of these structures. You could certainly remove a tool like board wipes without eliminating the ramp/control archetypes that rely on them, although other cards would move into the void: more 2-1 removal or bigger threats that similarly invalidate creatures played early. I think trying to remove those styles of play from the game all together would negatively limit the play experience (not everyone wants a linear story line). Comparing boardwipes to the cards that would likely replace them feels like a bit of a wash: a Gigatosaur or a Fumigate are likely going to trump a red 2 drop, 3 drop, 3 drop curve and require a few turns of rebuilding. I particularly enjoy new wraths like Settle the Wreckage, which set up Aggro decks to come back stronger than before.

    TLDR, I really like the analysis! I'm just not sure it supports your boardsweeping conclusion.

    1. I split up ramp and combo into different archetypes/story types. Specifically, ramp is about the *when*, while combo is about the *if*.

      The ramp deck is clearly doing A Thing - putting lands into play - and is highly unlikely to fail to find some combination of ramp and creatures. The deadliness of its Big Scary Thing is therefore variable, depending on how fast it comes down, but is unlikely to involve significant deviation from the overall game plan. I liken it to a horror story - the monster shows up when you least expect it, but you know the story's not going to end with "and the monster never showed up." The rest of the story is whether the survivors manage to turn the tide or just get mopped up unceremoniously. Furthermore, dealing with the first Big Scary Thing doesn't mean the next one isn't around the corner...

      The combo deck is futzing around with temporary resources - mana, cards in hand, cards on top of library - and might just die before it gets to do its win condition. But when it does pull the trigger whether on turn 2 or turn 20, Something Will Happen: it will easily combo off, or it was driven to desperation and didn't actually have enough resources to combo off, or it will combo off thanks to a Hail Mary series of topdecks, or it won't find those topdecks and end up fizzling, or its pilot will get confused and screw up the combo. In any case, the game probably ends with this grand finale.

    2. I love the deck-archetypes-as-story-archetypes exploration.


  5. The idea that wraths lead to stagnant games is interesting. I think wraths can contribute to stagnate games but its not a direct causation. There are plenty of interesting and fun games that involve wraths. While I began by disagreeing with the idea, when I tried to put my gut reaction into words I initially couldn’t. It felt wrong, but the points made in the article are good ones. Wraths make games go longer, they undercut the feeling of excitement that players have in the game. I do think there’s truth in the article, but its not the whole truth. The answer isn’t about individual games but the health of a format overall. There aren’t many constructed formats without wraths, but most limited games exist without wraths. Games have narrative qualities but narratives generally have no variance. Limited at its worst is excessively variant depending on the draws of the players. Limited games are much more vulnerable to tempo.That is largely ok because it's part of the experience and because the cards have a generally lower power level. There’s usually time for a big creature or a couple removal spells to pull the player playing a larger control role to a stable position. In constructed magic that is a lot less true. I would actually argue that the Energy deck and its required banning was because the wraths that existed just weren’t good enough. Fumigate is a great card, but when your opponent is playing Toolcraft Exemplar or gaining value from Rogue Refiner it loses all meaning. Either they’re playing threats at such a low mana cost that you’ll just be dead before you wrath or creatures that they don’t care that you kill. I don’t think wraths should necessarily be the best thing going, but they exist as a safety valve in the same way that other safety valves exist so that decks don’t just become about who can get on the board the fastest with the largest creatures. When you can’t interact with multiple permanents your opponent has with a single card then the tempo game is all that matters. Printing cards that interact with multiple of your opponents cards and not your own isn’t a solution since then the Tempo oriented decks can play the WrathReplacements. Wraths have to be symmetrical to work. WrathReplacements also let mid-range capitalize on their threats much better than they allow control decks to stabilize. When magic turns into midrange on midrange value battles and homogenizes its strategies towards the center, or becomes about tempo it loses a lot of the open space that makes it special.

    1. I also don’t know why you’re insistent that wraths make everything go away, in the age of planeswalkers. Planeswalkers aren’t just a proactive threat control can use to stabilize that come through a wrath and give them forward momentum towards ending the game, they’re also a strong way for an aggressive or mid-range strategy to diversify their threats so a wrath doesn’t level their board. There are also a lot of sweet 6+ mana cards that are already hard enough to play without trying to get to that much mana without a reset button. What I think you’ve hit on is why they made day of judgement and then defaulted wraths to be 5 mana. Wraths shouldn’t be easy. Wraths should give the opponent enough time to play the game or, like pyroclasm, have some limitations. 5 mana makes it much more likely you kill them if you’re playing aggro or find some way to disrupt them or land a planeswalker or bloodfast to power through the wrath. If you had made this argument in the OG Ravnica era I think you would have had a point that Wrath itself is just too good, but I don’t think any of the current wraths are really a problem.

      I think wraths are an important tool for formats. They let decks that want to play a bigger game stonewall aggro decks and bridge to late-game advantages while not playing a ton of 1-for-1s and becoming Jund repeatedly. Yes, they can sometimes lead to stagnate games where both people must rebuild but that’s a relative minority of occurrences and a fine price to pay to stop an overarching format from becoming stagnant since it has low deck diversity.

    2. I like your argument about why wraths need to be symmetrical. That's definitely something to look out for when working on WrathReplacements.

      I don't insist that "wraths make everything go away;" my concern is with cards that make everything go away and I'm using the common slang of 'wraths' to describe them.

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    4. I read the term wrath as an effect that destroys all creatures, and I think that most people read it that way as well.

      Planar Cleansing effects are much worse gameplay and I think generally shouldn't exist. In standard, the only true Cleansing is Hour of Revelation. Urza's Ruinous Blast is close enough to lump in, so that 2 effects. It does seem like they want these to exist, probably as catch all answers against boardstates that have a variety of permanent types or use lots of non-creature permanents like decks heavy on artifacts. I don't like that approach. I like Cleansing Nova/Austere Command effects instead. Modally dealing with various types of permanents while not completely resetting the board. They also seem aware of cleansings not having the best gameplay, which is why they tend to be expensive and relatively few are printed. I hope Cleansing Nova is the new direction they are moving in for this type of effect

  6. Nice article as always Jay. I'd like to ask: based on your article and the discussion, I take it that you think that the board reset / stalls caused by the Wraths are what you don't find acceptable?

    How about those situations where the Wrath is the thing that only lets the game progress further? In Commander happens often enough, that one player establishes such a dominant board position that the other players do not want or just can't play any cards and spot removal is not enough to deal with the problem entirely. In that moment, the player that draws and plays the Wrath effect effectively "unlocks" everybody to play again.

    Another example would be to take those decks that effectively virtually "Wrath" the game via prison effects, one of the latest (un)popular offenders being Lantern Control in Modern. Or just any commander decks that plays Winter Orb & Friends.

    1. I think his point, and one that I’m coming around on, is that nobody won’t argue that Winter Orb (or Stasis, etc etc) don’t make the game unfun, and Wrath basically does the same thing (sets up an unfun boardstate, aka one with no creatures).

      Now, that’s not technically true because Winter Orb *always* leads to unfun stuff because lands make everything go, whereas Wrath doesn’t because creatures aren’t as central (Planeswalkers being a major reason why, but artifacts, enchantments, and indestructible creatures also help). But I think I can’t argue against that they are way *worse* for the game than common opinion holds, and that it might be good for the game to experiment with removing them entirely to see what happens.

    2. I agree with all of this, Amarant, and R Stech.

      I will add that wraths are not the only solution to unlocking games stalled due to huge armies, though they are definitely the most expedient.

  7. I had a much comment written before it got eaten when I accidentally clicked "Sign Out", but here's a more concise version.

    Wraths can certainly bring about a "stagnation narrative" like your micro fiction example, but I don't believe it always will. In fact, I believe that this stagnation narrative is most likely to be seen in the first few times a player plays into a wrath effect, but not much after. The first time a newer player gets Wrath'd, they're likely to lose all of their cards, but in subsequent games they are more likely to play around the effect, which is very satisfying for them.

    I think that a game of Magic isn't just the two stories you mentioned (the game itself and the narrative of two battling wizards), but also a part of a larger narrative of each player's growth. The first time a player gets blown out by Wrath isn't the end of a story, it's the start of their growth. The next time, they hold an extra creature in their hand to deploy after the wrath and feel very rewarded for avoiding the catastrophe they suffered earlier. Wrath is one of the most clear examples of cards that significantly affects player growth, and I think that's a good thing. The first time you see a wrath it feels *unbeatable*, then when you figure out how to beat it later you feel **really** good.

    I do think the stagnation narrative is a problem, but I don't think the problem lies with the Wraths. There's not too much stagnation if my opponent wraths then kills me 3 turns later with a Torrential Gearhulk. The problem is when my opponent wraths and then takes another 10 turns doing nothing with Approach or 40 turns doing nothing with Teferi.

    1. I really like the point about the third story of a player's growth over time. That's a great perspective.

      Players will learn and grow in a game without wraths. Overcoming an obstacle is a testament to perseverance and adaptation, not to the obstacle.

      There are plenty of times a wrath is played and both players are ready for it and recover quickly. The badness of wraths is not absolute. It is, however, unique.