Tuesday, September 18, 2018

CCDD 091818—Dimir mechanics

Cool Card Design of the Day
Surveil is clearly a good mechanic because scry is a good mechanic and this also sets up your graveyard for interaction, which Dimir, Golgari, and Izzet all benefit from. Even so, my initial reaction was disappointment because it's the most familiar and least innovative of the Return to Return to Ravnica guild mechanics (after convoke, obv). It's wise to include familiar mechanics in a set with five keywords and it's also great to create synergy with the adjacent guild mechanics, so I wouldn't undo the choice to use surveil as the Dimir mechanic. That doesn't mean I could stop myself from considering alternatives…

The most obvious mechanic is damage-also-mills, because that supports existing Dimir mill strategies and fits well thematically. I tweaked it into a triggered mechanic that lets you choose who to mill so it's relevant both in mill-attack decks as fill-your-own-graveyard decks.

The first criticism of infiltrate is that you'll never mill an opponent out before you kill the damage, but that assumes infiltrate is your only vector of milling and that decking the opponent is the only purpose of milling them; the set would include direct mill cards to help you finish decking your opponent (including probably a 'bad' common that gives them life in order to mill more cards) and a bunch of uncommons and rares that steal cards from their graveyard.

Infiltrate would work in place of surveil because it still fills your graveyard, but it also asks the Dimir player to be attacking either aggressively or evasively, which is a role the set doesn't need more of.
Speaking of using cards from your opponent's graveyard, blackmail does that very literally. This keyword would absolutely also be paired with mill effects, but also gets turned on just by killing their creatures or tempting them to cast spells.

Blackmail could not replace surveil in Guilds of Ravnica because it doesn't support the adjacent mechanics and it does cannibalize the aggressive attack space (which isn't really what Dimir wants to be anyhow).
Playing in that space that infiltrate hinted at, we get forge. A keyword you could print on, like, a vertical cycle of cards at most. I like the flavor that you're forging documents, but that's all I can say in favor of this.
Crack is a lot like infiltrate, but it's easier to make happen (since they can't prevent it by blocking) and the effect can be disproportionate to the creature's power, making attacking-to-mill viable. Here, you'll see I'm pairing the mill with a trigger that hopes you'll hit a specific card type, giving you incentive to send in a team and increase the chance of cracking your opponent's safe. I worded Recruiter so that just killing their creatures would also work, because more vectors of interaction are usually welcome. That said, it may be inappropriate here; I'd want to playtest. This particular card makes a token because that fit the art I found. Most would do other things (or nothing beyond the mill.)

Crack doesn't fill your graveyard, so it's not as strong a replacement for surveil in GoR as infiltrate.
I happened upon this art and imagined a Dimir agent sneaking into a ball to gain sensitive information, so I mocked up fit in. Black-blue doesn't really need another evasion mechanic, and mechanics that depend on what your opponent is doing to work are on the out, so I'm not loving this one, but I thought it was cute enough to share.

I shared my ideas in chronological order, to show my thought progression. Ultimately, I think crack has the most potential in general and that infiltrate is the only one that comes close to being an alternative to surveil, but that the set is better served by surveil. What do you think of these keywords? Do you have another surveil alternative to discuss?


  1. It's interesting that so many of these ideas ended up being creature-based. I certainly do think the infiltrator trope fits Dimir's themes and gameplay well, but honestly it feels odd to have a named Dimir mechanic be relegated only to creatures.

    I don't think Infiltrate is robust enough to deserve a full mechanic in a set like Ravnica. It feels very A+B since it does nothing on its own, and I really don't think it's very flavorful compared to most of the Ravnica mechanics we've gotten. Also, it reminds me of Ingest and that's never a good thing.

    Blackmail would put so much trivial graveyard hosing into a set. I'm not sure that's necessarily bad but it does scare me a little. Perhaps only be able to activate the ability at sorcery speed? Also if Infiltrate was Ingest then this fulfills the role of processors.

    I think Forge has a lot of potential, but I don't like the name (forging a weapon is what comes to mind) or tying solely it to the infiltrator trigger. A Dimir mechanic would be a good place to implement "storing" cards for later use, under the flavor of forging documents.

    Crack is fine, but I'd still be wary about an ability that has no actual impact on the game without another effect. It also feels out of place to have a Dimir ability be connected to an attack trigger.


    Personally, I'm fine with Surveil as Dimir's mechanic this time around. I can see how others wouldn't be, since it's so similar to scry. However, I love seeing "Surveil 4" on Dream Eater and it excites me that a simple mechanic like this can really be what ties the set together. It's very cool that the two graveyard-based mechanics (Undergrowth and Jump-Start) are in guilds that share a color with the graveyard enabler.

    1. Completely agree on Surveil. At first I was rather disappointed; I had hoped for something fancy for my favourite colour pair. Yet, as more and more cards from the set were spoiled, I saw surveil was being used in different ways and tied together the entire set. It's really grown on me, and I haven't even played with it yet!

    2. Dimir is a better opportunity for a mechanic that isn't restricted to creatures, and that's generally worth capitalizing on, but I wouldn't let that prevent me from exploring creature keywords.

      It's fair to say infiltrate does nothing on its own. Without direct-mill it can't deck your opponent and w/o opp-gy-matters effects, it does do nothing. That's a very soft form of A+B mechanic, however, because it doesn't require you to have both halves at the same time. Crack, however, can very legitimately deck your opponent.

      Forgery 2U {Whenever an opponent loses life, you may cast ~ from your gy for its forgery cost reduced by that amount. Then exile it.)

  2. I think the take with Dimir is exciting because it really shows how much more cohesive GOR is than the previous blocks. In the past blocks, the mechanics were basically totally distinct from one another. I mean, Cipher occasionally got you free extort triggers, but it certainly wasn't something you could actively draft around. In GOR, the mechanics are mostly pretty synergistic. In addition to the graveyard synergies, you've got token synergies between convoke and mentor and a shared incentive to play more creatures than normal with overgrowth and convoke. The flashback/mentor strategies are more of a stretch, but the two common Maximise pump spells help the mentors load on counters. It'll be interesting to see what else the full set provides to enable the Rwu drafter.

    1. I'm really liking the look of Ux tempo. Even UW(r) isn't that much of a stretch when you consider the bounce spells in U, the fliers in W (including a Pegasus Courser-a-like), and the fact that the Boros gold commons just aren't all that impressive for an aggro deck.

    2. The synergy in this set is damned impressive.

    3. It's worth pointing out that shows they've finally conceded Ravnica is a three-color plane not a two-color one.

    4. Ravnica is a two-color plane that need 3+ color to work in order to not make the limited format suck by having multiple people in the same pod forced into the same deck type.

      In OG Ravnica, because all the sets were drafted together and each guild was only in one set, you were basically forced into three-color and could go as high as five with the right fixing. (And oh boy was there a LOT of fixing in the common slot.) I don't think Return to Return to Ravnica quite gets there, but I'm sure I'm still going to force 5C Gatestuff at some point.

  3. What about fateseal? That has a pretty blue-black, Dimir feel to it. It's subtle, it's mean, it can be used to screw with your opponent without them even knowing it. The only thing I can say against it is that it is not a smoothing mechanic like surveil is. (I'm also not a fan of the name.)

    1. Mechanics that people hate playing against tend not to have good odds of returning. (It's an 8 on the storm scale per MaRo's tumblr.)

      Granted, I say this, and then hexproof. But hexproof has a ridiculous amount of fans who are happy Auras get to be playable again, and being a static creature ability, it can be interacted with by cards in all colors that remove creatures from play without actually targeting them. Fateseal can only be interacted with directly if you're playing blue (to counter the spell or Stifle the ability), and the best way to indirectly combat it is to shuffle your deck a bunch, which goes right back to that big long discussion last week about why too much shuffling is bad.

    2. Do people hate fateseal? The only notable occurrence of it is probably JTMS, which is a split scry/fateseal card and is problematic for a whole host of other reasons. I didn't think that it was enough well known for people to have an opinion about it.
      How about the Dimir Informant ability? Fateseal version of surveil. Ties in with mill while having some tension if the set has graveyard synergies, like GRN does. Would that also be hated?

    3. Fateseal feels bad when you're playing against it. If your opponent leaves the card on top, you know it's gonna be a dud. If they don't, then you know you had an out right there, but now it's gone.

      It's a pretty cool mechanic if you're the one doing the fatesealing though.

    4. Lantern Control is a Modern deck that wins by revealing the opponent's top of deck with Lantern of Insight, milling that card if it's any good, and letting them draw it if it's not (while using Academy Ruins to avoid being decked yourself). It is also widely hated.

      The least egregious fateseal card might actually be OG Spin Into Myth, which was used as a niche mono-blue commander tuck option before they changed that rule.

    5. Yeah, but I think the repeatability of the effect is what is really problematic in this case, both with Lantern and Jace. Incidental fatesealing might feel better.
      Note that I am not advocating it in favour of surveil, which is a better mechanic because it smooths your draws.

    6. Yep, repeatable fateseal is definitely not fun. Lurking Informant was one of the major blemishes on the original Ravnica limited format as well. It's potentially game-winning and feels very bad.

  4. I don't love any of these for the stated reasons, but I think you're onto something with the incidental mill theme. I'm imagining something along the lines of:

    [foo]Keyword (At the beginning of your upkeep, mill target player. If the milled card was a [foo], [DO A THING].)

    This might feel uncomfortably luck-based to be Dimir, but "grind" was also pretty luck-based (and didn't do anything on its own unless you were going for the mill win condition). This kind of mechanic would also give players incentive to set up their topdeck to mill themselves. If [DO A THING] is consistent across all cards with the mechanic ("embiggen this creature" probably) then you don't need A+B synergy support or extra text on the card the way you do with infiltrate.

    Blackmail, in addition to probably too much graveyard hate (in monoblue no less) can lead to priority fights, which is bad. Maybe retool as some sort of punisher mechanic?

    Blackmail (When this attacks, defending player may exile N cards from their graveyard. If they don't, [NICE THING].)

    ...But this is actively anti-synergistic with Dimir's mill themes. Could work as a generic black mechanic elsewhere, though.

    1. Oddly, I explored that combo with RW Dwarves 2.5 years ago. Definitely better for Dimir.

      Mill-until-land (ala Balustrade Spy) could work too.

  5. Blackmail seems like it could be a neat Orzhov mechanic. It "bleeds" an opponent of resources and then uses it to smack them around.

    I actually respect WotC a lot for figuring out a very easy-to-grasp mechanic for Dimir that nevertheless facilitates the appropriate amount of UB jank. What's been fascinating to me is that combining surveil with a bunch of different types of payoff cards means that in limited, a UB surveil deck is going to be much more unpredictable than UB control has been for a while. So you know when you're up against a Dimir deck that there's going to be surveilling. But you might not be able to tell until they pull the trigger what they intend to do with it.

    I have not been able to come up with anything new in UB that I'd want to have frequently enough to keyword. It's like your forge mechanic, where I keep developing the payoffs and not something that's acceptable in common.

    1. I do wish the "whenever you surveil" had been opened up to "whenever [an effect you control causes] cards to go to a gy from a library" for more backwards compatibility.

    2. I wish mill was a keyword so this would actually be plausible to write out in a text box. It feels like WotC was trying to make up for Dimir having sucky keywords in the past by jamming the word surveil onto as many cards as possible (to the point that of the five monocolored mythics, the only two with watermarks are both Dimir because they have surveil written on them).

      Imagine if Drake Haven et al. were only allowed to care about cycling because "causes cards to go from a player's hand to their graveyard" didn't have a shorthand?

    3. ETA: Izzet has ten cards with jump-start, Golgari has twelve cards with undergrowth, and Boros has thirteen cards with mentor. None of these mechanics are referenced directly (impossible in Golgari, and genericized in the other two).

      Selesnya has thirteen cards with convoke, one of which cares about convoking itself, plus the promo.

      Dimir, on the other hand, has a whopping twenty-one cards that surveil, and an additional seven cards that receive a bonus if you're surveilling. Curiously enough, there's no overlap between the two, making this more of an A+B mechanic than we've seen in sets lately.

    4. In the pre-pre-release on Twitch, they had a UB mirror match where they kept track of the number of surveils in one match. They made it all the way up to 18.

      Interestingly, the first Dimir deck that was played in the games crashed and burned the first time, going 0-2. She churned through most of her deck, but didn't really get her win conditions, so that A+B mechanic can actually cause problems if you're not careful. The same thing happened with the Izzet deck the first time out. (Both played better the second time)

  6. I feel it's incredibly difficult to capture the stealthy, sneaky, behind-the-scenes Dimir in a mechanic. As a fan of the guild, I personally hate how they've been about mill a lot: doesn't feel stealthy/sneaky at all to me.

    Surveil does, to me. Information is gathered, important information kept, useless information discarded. That information is then acted on through various cards that care about whether you have surveiled or not.

    Forge is pretty cool imo (though as has been mentioned, the name made me think of a smithy at first), but also quite powerful.

    Fit In seems a tad binary, and would promote an unhealthy play pattern: dissuades people from playing their cards, which is the opposite of what the game should be about.

    I quite like Blackmail as a mechanic actually. It's simple, and should have plenty of design space, especially when you start caring about what type of card was exiled for it. It's somewhat flavourful for Dimir to make things disappear, but buffing creatures feels a bit off.