First, a couple comments about my last article about Cube: Legacy. I would be happy to share my Cube list… except that I just made it for CL, and I’m not yet an expert in Cube construction or maintenance. Once I’ve polished it for a while, put cards in and out, and have a better idea of what I like in my Cube I’ll share a full list.
Generally, the Cube I built is unpowered. I don’t find moxen interesting in Cube because they are auto-picks. The first pick you make out of a Cube pack is an extremely interesting choice… unless there is a Mox Ruby in there, in which case it is correct to ignore the other 14 cards, unless one of them is Black Lotus. I don’t see the point in that. Plus, it means that some percentage of games are won simply by the power of those cards, regardless of the other choices the players made. Not interesting. Andrew Cooperfauss probably said it better in his article last week, on this very website.
Other than that, my cube has most of what you’d expect. Planeswalkers, Titans, Red and White aggro, Green ramp, some counterspells, most of the usual suspects.
As for the details of the stickers, abilities, packets… CL is still a project under development. When I get enough of a handle on what it should have in it, through testing and iteration, I’ll share that too, in some way.
Glad you all liked to hear about it!
Okay now about Avacyn Restored design reviews. This time I want to try another structure for the design review. I’m going to take the cards in groups that… well in various groups. Hopefully the groups will make sense.
Today’s group are the Miracle cards. There’s been a bit of controversy around this mechanic already, and certainly a lot of excitement. Let’s get to it!
Miracle Design Review
Wow, this mechanic… I thought it would never happen. Four years ago there was talk of a mechanic like this, but the “how can you prove it was the card you drew” issue felt insurmountable. Since leaving I didn’t put any thought into it, happy to leave it in the “they’ll never do it” prison cell in a corner of my brain. Clearly, somebody in R&D kept thinking about it, and they figured out a way to do it that the majority felt okay about printing. (Matt Tabak seems like a pushover rules manager in comparison to Mark Gottlieb. – No offense to either of them.) It’s interesting to see the game change with different people in R&D, and with different people in some of the roles of R&D.
The “first card only” part of the mechanic is one of the key innovations that allowed it to work out. So many spells draw multiple cards that it would be bad if the mechanic worked on any draw. How much do you Mind Spring for if you have Miracles in your deck? The more you draw the more chances you get to hit Miracles, but the less able you would be to afford each of them. It would lead to a lot of sad times and a lot of time in the tank that the first-drawn rule neatly avoids. The first-drawn only rule also ensures that the carefully drawn and checked moment can only happen once per turn (per player). That reduces time-load and carefulness-load for the mechanic by a great deal.
The flavor and concept of the mechanic is very nice indeed. Topdeck casting is perfect for the concept of “miracles” in Magic. How many times have you prayed to your deck to give you the card you need right before you draw for the turn? How many times have you seen a pro knock on their deck in a desperate moment during event coverage? In almost every game, one player is going to be up against the ropes, in need of a way out, and that way can only come from the top of their deck. Miracle capitalizes on the emotions and big game moments that are already present in Magic games. In this respect it’s an excellent mechanic. This also means it’s a little bit of a trick. The Miracle mechanic helps you notice your critical topdecks more, and you’ll convince yourself that non-critical topdecks of Miracle cards were more critical than they actually were. Of course it’ll help you win that game, but a lot of times you’ll Miracle when you were already winning, or when it doesn’t cause a big turnaround, or when any of the non-lands in your deck would be great.
Next I’ll go through the actual Miracles cards one-by-one to see if the designs are worthy of their divine name.
This is a perfectly reasonable design for Miracle. You get to feel like you’ve been saved, and most of the time your opponent won’t really feel it was much different from you drawing a Disenchant or a Path to Exile. What’s also nice about this card, is that it brings direct artifact and enchantment destruction directly into the main deck. Many players seem too shy about having maindeck A/E hate and cards like this and Acidic Slime really help to make sure more games are about using your answers intelligently and less about getting blown out just because you didn’t think you needed a Naturalize in the main deck. I like this design a lot, and I wish more of the miracles could have ended up like this.
Blessings of Nature
I’m a lot less excited about this one. It reeks of the “Green doesn’t really get good cards” problem that Magic still has. I’m sure it’s really great to put some counters on your guys, but how is that a Miracle? When are you going to feel like “I really need a miracle to make this creature +2/+2 bigger and these other two guys +1/+1 bigger”? Why not just Overrun? That’s the first Green miracle I would have thought of. With the other miracle being in that vein (see below) shouldn’t this be different? Couldn’t this one be in the removal group? How about double-Beast Within? How about a mass Deadly Allure? Acidic Slime? Restock? There are lots of cool green effects that would feel much more like cool Miracles than this card. Green is always badly in need of answer cards, and Miracle is exactly the sort of mechanic where answers really shine. It’s not a good place for a couple of +1/+1 counters. This card is weak design both in terms of the actual card (which is okay, I guess, but not exciting) and in terms of what could have been in this slot (which makes it a huge disappointment compared to what I thought of in just ten seconds).
Bonfire of the Damned
I did not expect to see any X-spells as Miracles. When the mechanic was spoiled, there was a lot of talk about giving away too much information as you sat there and thought about if you should cast the card for its Miracle cost. At that time, I was thinking “they’ll all cost three or less to Miracle, you’ll cast them 100% of the time, it won’t be an issue at all.” Now… now I see we have X-spell Miracles. Now I’m a little worried, but this one might barely scrape by. There will only be a few occasions when your best option won’t be to all-in on this as a Miracle. It’s Lavalanche! I’d Miracle it on turn three if it takes out an elf and domes them for one. That example does kind of bring up the problem with this, though. You won’t have your mana for the turn in play at the time you get the chance to cast a Miracle. You can never kill their mana creature on turn two with Bonfire, because you’ll only have one mana in play during your draw step. That’s awkward, and awkward is a step away from beautiful design. In this case, what the card does is pretty awesome (Lavalanche!) and powerful, and that means it’s still going to be cool enough. All things considered, I can get behind this design.
This is exactly the kind of effect that’s perfect for a Miracle. The nonland upheaval effect is very much in the “desperate for an answer” category, so it will feel like an answer to your prayers when you need it most. There will be games when you just reveal flip over your top card at the start of your turn because only this card can turn the game from a sure loss into a chance for a comeback, and that’s exciting Magic. It accomplishes what the mechanic set out to do. I also want to point out that the card scales very well on power level vs mana discount. On the turns before you could pay full price you are getting a good deal at 1U, but you’re likely to be bouncing less stuff, so you’re not crushing the opponent in value. Once you could cast it for full price, the Miracle effect is really only that you get to replay one of your own things that was bounced to give you a head start on the new board state. Great design.
Entreat the Angels
Another X spell? Luckily, this one too is likely to be always correct to pay for when you first-draw it, but it’s certainly less of a sure thing. Enough less that you should think about it, and that thinking time is what many players are worried about. There will be a lot of situations where three angels very well might be all you need, but it takes some math to be certain. Is 3 enough blockers? Or do I need to cast this Day of Judgment in my hand instead? This might be the Miracle card on the top end of the “pause and think” scale. Now, if the right answer is to cast it, the pause and think time doesn’t matter. Who cares that the opponent guessed you drew a miracle if you’re casting it? The information has no value unless you don’t pay the Miracle cost. It’s harder for us to tell, not having played any of these cards yet, so we have to hope that not Miracling them is almost always wrong. On other design points, this card is plenty cool. We all love casting Decree of Justice (and cycling it, but we know we’d rather be casting it) and even the chance to cast it on Miracle cost is exciting. If you forget about the thematic “answer to your prayers” flavor, and just focus on “sometimes I’m going to get a bunch of 4/4 fliers for really cheap” this card is amazing. Just like Decree of Justice, I’ll try to play it for the dream of the times when I’ll get the big effect, and settle for the times when I get the smaller one.
Reforge the Soul
And here we get yet another card that you don’t always Miracle when you first-draw it. I’m quite surprised at how many there are. One maybe I could see, but this is the third. Okay, enough about that. How’s Wheel of Fortune? It’s a great card that’s great for Red. I wish there were more attempts at good Wheel style Red cards because the mechanic fits Red really well, both in terms of flavor (throw away what you’ve got on a chance for better) and in terms of what Red needs mechanically in a lot of its decks. Like Devastation Tide, the Miracle cost is nice and low so that you can afford to play something from your new hand. Unlike the answer-style miracles, it doesn’t necessarily feel much like an answer to your prayers unless you draw exactly what you need. Worse, the opponent has a new hand of trouble with which to bury you. In other words, I don’t feel it quite lives up to the Miracle promise, even though it’s a good design for a Red card.
Revenge of the Hunted
This is a fine miracle. It doesn’t look like Overrun at first, but it’s actually quite close, and Overrun is an effect I said I’d expect to see on a Green Miracle. Since all of their guys have to block this one, unless they have instant-speed removal, all your other guys will get through anyway, and this one guy will do fine work too. So it’s close… and in situations where this doesn’t win you the game, it can act like removal, so it may have a lot of potential to be exciting, effective and fun. Will players get it at first glance? Probably? Overrun is easy to understand – it’s clear what you do with it. Same with the other effects I suggested for Blessings of Nature – it’s clear what they do and what they’re for. Should all your cards be so transparent? Of course not, but I think all your miracles should be.
The more I think about it, even Overrun doesn’t seem like that great of a Miracle. Even if it’s the design we expected, it might not be the one we actually want in a Miracle. If an Overrun would win you the game, you can almost always spend your whole turn doing that. You don’t need to Miracle it out. So in that sense, Revenge might be a better Miracle than a strict Overrun. Or perhaps Revenge is still too close and will also fall short. I am just so disappointed in Blessings of Nature that I really needed Revenge to blow me away, and being unsure about it makes me feel just as bad as Blessings did.
The big one! Do I think this card is a mistake? Yes. For being a Miracle? No. I think it’s a mistake because it’s a Time Walk. Even Time Warp creates a lot of no-fun games, where the opponent feels totally cheated when you take an extra turn. Extra turns just aren’t enough positive fun overall for the game. And that’s coming from the guy who put a time walk on a [card emrakul, the aeons torn]15/15 flier[/card]. (Actually, that card is the least offensive time walk, because the creature itself is such a fantastic monster, you rarely need the extra turn to actually win.) Magic is a game that wants to have no sacred cows, but I’ve come to feel that it should keep the number of turns players get to a fair and even one apiece. Games are more fun when they are interactive, and extra turns are in contention for top 5 least interactive effects of all time. Is it busted or not? That’s up for the Pros to decide (as I quickly check LSV’s Blue review, hold on a second…) nope, he says it’s 2.5 out of 5. So it’s not busted, just unfun. So it should only be printed if it will sell the set, and it looks to me like that’s exactly what happened.
This is my favorite Miracle card. It is the best at doing what you need when you’re praying for a Miracle: it removes all the threats. In other news, it also uses the Hallowed Burial wording so that it deals with Undying creatures. You want to do that sort of thing in the end of the block, so that the answer to the mechanic doesn’t appear right away and ruin all the fun.
This may be the most exciting of the Miracle cards (after Temporal Mastery, if you’re into that sort of thing). Five damage for one mana reads as completely absurd, and Beacon of Destruction is a totally fine card on the full price end. It can fill the “needed answer” role perfectly, both to answer big creatures but also to win the game before you’re killed when few other cards in your (probably RDW-style) deck could.
And we’re right back where we started. This is quite close to Banishing Stroke. A perfectly fine thing to have on a Miracle card, a good “I needed it” answer and a solid way to get another uncommon Miracle. A little sad that it’s so similar to Banishing Stroke when there are only 11 Miracles.
Looking at the cards overall… Would the set be that different if they printed these eleven cards instead?
Not very different. Most of the time when you need a big turnaround in a game, you can afford to cast the card so long as you draw it. The Miracle mechanic does mean that in a few of the times when you couldn’t cast it otherwise, or when you need lot of help and need to cast something else in addition, the Miracle cost will make the difference.
This makes me want to think about a lot of other mechanics and see if I feel they really impact a set or if they’re just making us think they impact the set. To be clear, I don’t think this means there’s anything wrong with Miracle. It’s a cool mechanic, and it does do something. Just be aware of the difference between what you feel like it’s doing, and what it actually does. There may be other good design space lurking in similar gaps in Magic.
Overall design assessment: Cool mechanic, that probably won’t be as much trouble as everyone thinks, and is likely worth the trouble for the excitement value. More than half the cards are cool Miracles, but the other half should have aimed more at answer cards than some of the designs they’ve given us.
One more thing. You’ve surely noticed there aren’t any Black Miracles. Thanks, flavor. For a mechanic that is 80% coolness, and 20% effectiveness, I find it absurd to leave one color entirely out of it. Yes, we all get it, Black, as the evil bad guy color doesn’t get any Miracles, because Miracles are a good guy thing. Really? I have read (and heard) Mark Rosewater say, countless times, that Black is not evil, just that it has a certain view of things. Yet here we have Black forced to play evil and getting severely punished for it. I can understand Black not getting Soulbond, but missing out on Miracle too? This mechanic is very high-profile and extremely exciting to players and denying it to an entire color, which is in many ways denying it to the 20% of players who highly identify with Black as their favorite color in Magic seems like a huge mistake.