Wednesday, December 26, 2018

What I've Learned from Guilds of Ravnica's Mechanics (Part 2)

Please enjoy the second in a series of five guest posts from Larcent about the mechanics of Guilds of Ravnica. —Jay Treat

Lesson Two: Jump-start and making "spells matter" matter

In draft and sealed formats, where players have 40-card rather than 60-card decks, creatures are highly prioritized and other spells tend to be limited. Non-creature spells tend to be focused primarily on impactful cards that help swing the game in your favor. A limited deck may have only a handful of non-creature spells, often removal and combat tricks.

Red and blue's color-pair identity is all about those sorceries and instants, and that can present a challenge trying to design a set that encourages the two to be drafted together. Sometimes Wizards just puts a payoff creature as an uncommon gold card, like an Enigma Drake or something with prowess, and leaves it at that because they don't really intend for the two colors to be paired in that set in limited play. With Ixalan they kind of flipped the script and had some of the spells instead reward you for playing pirate creatures. With Dominaria they made a wizard tribal red-blue identity that rewarded playing instants and sorceries but also smartly made the wizards themselves matter. This made the color pairing work smoothly with that creature/non-creature ratio.

Guilds of Ravnica, was designed to support drafting red and blue together too. And let's be clear how they approached Izzet in this set: It's not just a "spells matter" identity or an "affinity for sorceries and instants" archetype; With creatures like the Crackling Drake, Wee Dragonauts, Leapfrog, Smelt-Ward Minotaur, Fire Urchin, Piston-Fist Cyclops and others, Izzet is sending out a very strong message: You cannot win playing as Izzet unless you cast lots of sorceries and instants. Two of Ral's planeswalker abilities do nothing without sorceries and instants.

Once you realize how deeply Wizards committed to the "spells matter" identity in Guilds of Ravnica, it's obvious that Izzet needed a way to replay sorceries and instants in order to succeed in Limited.  Jump-start gives Izzet its own spin on the flashback mechanic. It may feel a bit clunkier with the discard, but Izzet also has cards that scale with the number of sorceries and instants in graveyard and exile. So if you've got a sorcery or instant that's just not playable based on the board state, it can be dumped to pay for jump-start and boost Crackling Drake's base power. And if that discarded spell also has jump-start, you're not actually done with it.

Even with jump-start, Izzet can be a challenging guild to draft. I watch lots of Magic players stream drafts on Twitch (many are Spikes and it helps me learn how that psychographic evaluates card playability). These spell-creature interactions create a very combo-focused dynamic that can create problems when you don't get enough of the right cards. Izzet seemed to be the guild where players were most likely to have to branch out into splashing a third color because other players (or the draftbots in Magic Arena) were drafting the cards they needed. Once you see this dynamic play out, the seemingly oppressive casting cost of Direct Current makes sense. If that card were cost so that it were splashable, players who weren't even drafting red would prize it highly. In order to protect the draftability of Izzet, that sort of behavior needed to be discouraged. Beacon Bolt was probably made blue and red for the same reason, even though technically the card's mechanics don't really require it to be blue.

The lesson here is that pushing a very strong, mandatory "spells matter" archetype into a set that's intended to be drafted requires a significant amount of design space, a mechanism to give the spells themselves more play opportunities, and ways to make sure that the deck that needs it is able to prioritize those cards. This is not going to be possible in every set. By restricting the color pairings that the set supported, Guilds of Ravnica was able to make it work.

Next time: Mentor and simple complexity

About the Author
Larcent has his own blog where he's been brainstorming a top-down set called Overgrowth, which asks the question, "What would happen if a plane got pregnant?"

1 comment:

  1. Paying attention to how Izzet rolled out in this set helped me realize why I was struggling with a U/B identity I had been trying to craft in my set that "cared" about sorceries and instants in a different way (playing them from outside your own hand). I've been struggling trying to design it, especially at common, and realized part of the problem is I'm trying to design for all 10 color pairs, not just five, like Ravnica. So now I'm rethinking my approach.