Monday, March 15, 2021

The Perfect Storm: Rally, Adventure, Manifest, and Adamant

 Mark Rosewater's Storm Scale is an unofficial measurement for how likely a certain mechanic is to appear in an upcoming set. He has described in detail what every numerical rating from 1 (evergreen mechanics) to 10 (broke the game in half the first time) means; many of the ratings in the middle are things that "require the right environment" in order to return, but their return is plausible. This made me realize: Wouldn't evaluating exactly what these mechanics would require to come back be excellent knowledge for Magic design scholars?

Welcome to the first in my new series: The Perfect Storm. I have collected every mechanic worth writing about that were rated a 5 ("We need to find the right place to bring it back, but I'm optimistic"), 6 ("We need to find the right place to bring it back, but I'm a little less optimistic"), or 7 ("It's unlikely to return, but possible if the right environment comes along") on the Storm Scale as of 2020. Each installment, I will select four of these mechanics at random and write about what environment they would actually need in order to be reprinted. I ended up with rally, adventure, manifest, and adamant for my first outing – let's get cracking.

Rally (Rated 6)

Brief description: An ability word on creatures, usually Allies, that triggers an ability whenever the creature itself or another Ally enters the battlefield.

Though it was determined randomly, rally is a good starting point for examining the right environment for a card because the environment it demands is fairly simple on its face. Rally is a tribal mechanic, and unless the set is a very strange tribal set with Allies in addition to other creature types, rally would then occupy the tribal effect niche that every set has to some extent. More specifically, the set wouldn't have any other creature types that players would expect to get tribal niches, so putting rally in an Innistrad-based set, for example, would probably be a bad idea.

More subtly, rally is a "_____-fall" mechanic that triggers when something enters the battlefield under your control, which naturally suits it to be more aggressive – after all, unless you're playing an extremely reactive control decks, most of your permanents are going to enter the battlefield when it's your time to attack. This means that rally would compete with other aggressive mechanics in its set, and you would have to be careful to manage things that are better suited on attack like raid, exert, and so on so you don't accidentally plant a sign in your format's yard reading "NO BLOCKING ALLOWED".

The flavor question here, of course, is if audiences would accept the Ally creature type showing up anywhere except on Zendikar. Zendikar itself switched to a more specific class tribal in its last appearance, and the next set where Rally might have fit, Forgotten Realms, is likely to repeat what Zendikar Rising did. Are Allies now a deprecated feature in a game that has learned how to batch multiple creature types into a party, or do they help create the "D&D party" feel without occupying as much space in the set as four separate creature types do?

Adventure (Rated 5)

Brief description: "Adventurous" creatures have an instant or sorcery spell, called an "adventure", on the card in addition to the creature abilities and stats. You can cast the "adventure" from your hand, in which case the creature is exiled and on an adventure. You can cast creatures on an adventure from exile as though they were in your hand.

Adventure competes with sagas for the most innovative and interesting mechanic Wizards had printed since double-faced cards in 2011. I'm wiling to give adventure the slight edge here because, although sagas have a more novel play pattern, the huge number of levers on adventure cards combined with the inherent Spikiness of split cards and mana sinks makes it a delightful mechanic to play with in both Limited and Constructed formats.

Adventure is rated a 5 for two reasons. The first is that alternate card layouts are a high cost for a tabletop game printed in the massive quantities Magic requires. This means that if you're going to use adventure, it likely needs to be the major "flagship" mechanic for your set since you can't afford anything else that really jumps off the card. The second is that adventure fundamentally changes the construction of the set's skeleton, since many of your adventure creatures are performing double duty for spells that would normally be a bread-and-butter instant or sorcery effect. For example, Order of Midnight is both an inexpensive black aggro card and a Raise Dead, which means you have to decide between having a redundant Raise Dead effect or creating something that wouldn't normally get its own slot. Adventure is also strongly linked to Eldraine in the same way landfall is linked to Zendikar, though if a plane is "tropey" enough I could see it justifying adventure in the same way.

It's hard to describe what kind of environment adventure would slot into because it doesn't really slot into anything – rather, the existence of adventure cards predicates the construction of the rest of the set because of how it warps the availability of creatures versus spell effects. That said, adventure is so fun and challenging to play with that it more than earns its keep, and Maro's belief that there will eventually come a time Adventure will return is justified.

Manifest (Rated 6)

Brief description: To manifest a card, put it facedown on the battlefield as a 2/2 creature. If the manifested card is a creature, you can turn it face-up using the morph rules, with the unmorph cost being the creature's mana cost. Manifest effects have up until now been almost exclusively limited to the top of your library, but the technology is available for manifesting from other zones, like your hand.

I disliked manifest in its first go-around (Fate Reforged), but this was because it messed with the "five-mana morph" rule that made Khans of Tarkir so engaging – you now no longer had any idea what your opponent's face-down creature could be and had to remember every common in the set just to make sure you wouldn't get blown out. However, I believe this is an issue with the environment manifest was placed in and not with the mechanic itself. In the brave new world of blockless sets, a set with only manifest in it could treat the mechanic in a different way.

Maro mentions a few times in his relevant Storm Scale article that manifest is essentially a token-making mechanic. In particular, it always makes 2/2 tokens, with players getting the "secret creature" upside about 25% of the time. This makes balancing the set easier in some ways, since you have a target number where removal and toughness become more relevant, but harder to design a fun Limited environment, as you have a more monotonous format with a bunch of 2/2s wandering around.

A set with manifest but no morph could downplay the bluffing aspect that tied it in with morph and treat it more as a value mechanic that occasionally got you huge returns, similar to cascade. This could lower the reliance on cards like Cloudform that boost the actual 2/2 creature and open up room for cards like Enlightened Maniac that use the 2/2 as a bonus instead of a floor. Additionally, you could design around manifest even if you don't have that many cards with manifest itself by treating the face-down, nameless, colorless nature of the manifested cards as an important marker. Ultimate Price was an excellent reprint in Dragons of Tarkir that could see play in basically any set that used face-down creatures as a mechanic, manifest not being an exception.

Manifest has potential, and I think its ideal reprint environment would be one where it could emerge from the shadow of its big sibling, morph, and stand on its own in a different way. 

Adamant (Rated 5)

Brief description: Adamant is a keyword ability that gives you a bonus if you spent three mana of one color to cast a spell. Colored cards with adamant require that the mana be its color (eg. a red card requires at least three red mana to trigger an adamant ability), while colorless cards require three mana of any one color.

I firmly believe that adamant was done dirty in Throne of Eldraine. The idea of a mechanic that rewards you for staying in one color and perhaps splashing a little into a second fundamentally leads to interesting deckbuilding decisions: Normally you sacrifice some consistency for power by splitting your manabase evently, but now you have to decide if the power you get for triggering your adamant abilities, combined with a more reliable mana base, is worth the loss of only being able to play one-fifth of all the cards available to you in your Limited pool.

Adamant alone is not going to be enough to create a set where maybe three out of eight drafters can play monocolor. You also need to have cards with expensive colored mana requirements, maybe at uncommon so they can justify having a higher power level and not clog up the common slots for two-color drafters. The HHHH cycle with Arcanist's Owl and so on in Throne was a good idea on its face, but most of the HHHH cards were weak enough that they didn't really justify going into a single color so you could play them, instead just acting like another set of multicolor signpost uncommons.

Adamant isn't a mechanic that can just pop into a set by itself – it has to be in a set that's using it as a tool among several others to promote monocolored decks. Whether that's a play pattern that's fun to explore long-term, and therefore whether adamant deserves to make a return anytime soon, is a question that can be solved by playtesting and not by my speculating about it on Goblin Artisans.

Pictured: The playtesting process

Thanks for Reading!

Thank you for reading the first installment of The Perfect Storm! Expect to see this every so often, though I have a lot of other article ideas I want to weave in with both this and The Usual Suspects. Who knows what mechanics fate may deal to me next time?


  1. Great analysis. I was thinking the article would be aboutwhich storm 5/6 would combine best initially. This was way more interesting.

  2. In my opinion, adamant was done in dirty on the individual card design front as well. Six creatures with the adamant mechanic rewards you for “being adamant” by giving you a sad, measly, and *un-flavorful* +1/+1 counter. Most of the other cards rewards you with a more flavorful but still tepid upscaling of their effect.

    For a set dripping with flavor, adamant was disappointedly *bland*

    1. Absolutely agreed on this. The Paladin cycle is the showcase for this cool mechanic and all of them cost like 1 mana too much. I can understand wanting them to be weaker on their face so they're less likely to be snapped up by a multicolor deck as filler, but a 2U Vantress Paladin is still just a Wind Drake that could turn into a super-strong 3/3 flyer if you jumped through the hoops.

      I think a couple of the spells managed to be a little more flavorful, particularly Foreboding Fruit.