Thursday, December 20, 2018


Hey folks. Please enjoy a post from guest columnist Skye.
—Jay Treat

I wanted to tackle a Daunting subject today. For the past few years, Wizards has been experimenting with trying to find meaningful evasion for non-blue colors. Blue has more than its share of good evasion, with both flying and unblockability. This leaves most of the other colors, especially Green, with a bit of a mixed bag. For the benefit of green, I want to start somewhere you might not expect: Fear.

Fear (This creature can't be blocked except by artifact creatures and/or black creatures) was a flavorful way to put black on the evasion map. Demons and zombies aren't afraid of other creatures of the night, and robots don't even feel fear. Fear appeared in black and on a handful of artifacts over the years. This mechanic kicked around for a looong time, starting with Ebony Charm in Mirage and going all the way to Jhessian Zombies in Alara Reborn. While easier to deal with in constructed, these creatures ran into problems in limited where they were either unblockable or just dorky Goblin Pikers. This discrepancy became even more pronounced when Fear was replaced with Intimidate.

R&D wanted to share a little of the evasion pie with other colors, notably Red, which had been lacking both in keywords and in non-Dragon/Phoenix evasion since the beginning of time. Intimidate seemed fine at first, since enfranchised players already understood how Fear worked, and new players just had to match colors to see if something could block or not. The insanity of Bellowing Tanglewurm aside, Intimidate played about as expected. However, after a short while Intimidate's issues began to be more apparent, especially in Return to Ravnica block. While Fear was founded on black/artifact creature flavor, Intimidate instead cared about color-matching. Because of the multicolor nature of the block, Intimidate became increasingly useless. For a Red/Black creature with intimidate, it could be blocked by a U/B creature, a R/G creature, and so on. This created a tension in designing red and black evasive creatures and sent Wizards back to the drawing board to focus on interactivity and simplicity.

In comes Menace. The ‘Goblin War Drums’ ability has been around forever (Fallen Empires was 24 years ago…) but it wasn't keyworded until Gilt-Leaf Winnower in Magic Origins. I remember playing with it for the first time and saying, “Wow, this is actually really good evasion. I thought it would suck.” It just feels good in terms of play. Opponents can interact with it, but it also pressures your opponent into making poor trades, at once both feeling black and playing into red's strengths with combat tricks. Since its first keyworded printing, more cards have been printed with Menace in three years than every card with Fear put-together. The advantage that Menace has is that it is relatively safe, and more creatures with Menace in a set don't negatively impact one-another. The more fliers a set has, the worse both fliers and non-fliers are. Menace doesn't have this problem, because it doesn't exist in a binary space.

The evolution of Fear into Menace demonstrates how interaction with evasion mechanics is good for the health of the game and good overall design. Now that the Red/Black keyword and Red/Black evasion problem is solved, R&D has been trying to show a little love to Green, the least evasive color. While Green definitely isn't subtle, that doesn't mean it can't be evasive. Among Green's evasion repertoire, we have two forms of pseudo-evasion; Trample and “Stalking” (can't be blocked by more than one creature), as well as the new-kid-on-the-block, Daunt (This creature can't be blocked by creatures with power 2 or less). Each of these serves a slightly different purpose, and we see each of them pop up in modern sets.

Daunt is not the answer yet, and that's okay. Daunt has an awkward tension to it. While the gameplay is easy to understand, it doesn't have good creature scaling. Designing evasion is exceptionally tricky, because it must scale well with creature size. While a small evasive creature is a nuisance, a large evasive threat can end a game in two or three attack steps. At lower CMC, Daunt often translates to “this creature can't be blocked until turn 4 and has protection from Walls.” At higher CMC, Daunt prevents a creature from being chumped by random 2/1's and 1/4's, but this moves in on Trample's turf. We don't frequently see Trample at low CMC because it is largely irrelevant on a creature of power 3 or less, so it takes up mechanical space on larger creatures. While I believe an argument could be made that Daunt should replace Trample as the go-to pseudo-evasion for large green creatures, it just doesn't work that well for smaller ones. Daunt at low CMC doesn't promote much change in play patterns besides preventing trades in turns 2-4.

We currently have a functional enough mechanic, but with minimal play-pattern changes, meh flavor, and tension between small and large creatures, it just doesn't deliver. I'll never fault R&D for experimenting and iterating, even if the first pass or two doesn't work out. Daunt is on the Menace end of the spectrum, but there's still a bit more work to be done. We need to find a happy medium between scalability, flavor, and interactivity, but until we reach it, we'll just have to keep designing and iterating, undaunted.

The evasion green mages deserve should fulfill all the following criteria:
• It must scale well with creature size. i.e. a 1-2 power creature with it should be relevant, and a 4+ power creature with it should likely be an uncommon or higher.
• It must have a non-binary structure and play pattern (Jay: in contrast with landwalk).
• It should be flavorful.
• You should be able to describe it to a new player in one sentence.
• It must be either Primary or Secondary in Green; bonus points if it can be Primary or secondary in White and/or Black.

About the Author
Skye has participated in the Goblin Artisans community for years.


  1. Deathtouch often serves as a form of pseudo-evasion, depending on the board state. And that actually got me thinking about the idea that it can be very punishing to block certain creatures as a way of how green creatures sometimes "evade" blocking.

    I saw this sometimes with the enrage mechanic in Ixalan. Unless you had enough power on the board to kill the dino, and unless it was going to kill you, it was often the smarter choice to just let it through and take your bite. Yes, it hurt, but it kept the green player from gaining additional advantages.

    What if that's the solution? Rather than trying the mimic the "you can't block except ..." dynamic of other colors, green can really lean on the idea that it can actually be more dangerous to block some of its creatures than to let them through.

    1. First strike works the same way and Prowess is an even more interesting deterrent because only you know whether your creature is +1/+1 this turn (assuming you left mana untapped).

    2. I definitely feel that is a very green, survival of the fittest way of approaching things.

      The problem I see with deathtouch specifically: it's evasion on a 1/1, but it doesn't really scale with size at all, and you usually want to sit back and block after turn 3-4.

      On the other side, I loved deadeye brawler (RIP green) because it played both sides. It blocked, but it also incentivised attacking, and with a 2/4, body, it was tough to kill outright without getting 2-for-1'd.

    3. What if we make like a one-sided Bushido for green?

      Ferocity X (Whenever this creature becomes blocked, it gets +X/+X until end of turn)

      That feels pretty easy to scale (extra lever in the number there), and makes blocking tougher.

      Potential problem is that it also makes it more difficult to actually kill the creature when blocking (which isn't a problem with deathtouch for instance).

    4. Growing when getting blocked is certainly in green's wheelhouse. That does raise the question of actually how much evasion we'd like to give green. Are we trying to come up with an evergreen mechanic that we expect we'll see in each set?

    5. The Rootwalla ability also falls into this deterrent-evasion category.

  2. The intent would be to keyword an evasion mechanic that flavorfully fits green, along ith maybe white or black.

  3. That's an excellent analysis. I agree, that kind of "makes it difficult to block" is exactly right for evasion, better than completely switching on or off.

    I don't know if it *has* to be one mechanic though. A boost like rootawalla, or death-touch or fixed size boost only on attack, seems good for small creatures, and daunt or trample seems good for big creatures. One could be keyworded and the other spelled out.

  4. What about a 'shared' bushido as a green/white mechanic?
    Cooperate 2 (When this creature becomes blocked, another attacking creature you control gets +2/+2)

    Encourages attacking with multiple creatures.
    Discourages blocking creatures with the ability.
    Interesting play at different sizes.
    Works well with combat abilities on other creatures.

    Gums up combat steps ala banding. Likely needs a restriction to make it down to common.

    Tandem 2 (When this creature attacks, choose another target attacking creature you control. When this creature becomes blocked, that creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.)

    This locks the choice in, so there aren't as many permutations if three creatures with tandem attack.

  5. There's a Weekend Art Challenge for specific ideas. Discussion is fine here, but share your keyword ideas there.