Actually, let me go back to White for a second: something that worries me about White’s Dark Ascension cards is that they are not very different from Innistrad’s White cards (at common and uncommon). It looks like they were happy with Innistrad’s limited and didn’t want to screw it up by changing too much. Or, from the other angle – the humans are scared and screwed, and now they are more scared and screwed, and really, not much has changed for them. They have no new tricks and are meant to play pretty much the same way as before. The flavor of the block prevents the humans from changing until Avacyn Restored. The other White cards, the spirits, are the cards that got some variation, but somehow surprisingly little. They gained a tapping theme, and one interesting uncommon, but don’t seem to have changed the overall feel of the color.
Hopefully these fears won’t be borne out by the actual play of DI limited. I have not yet drafted enough white to know one way or the other.
Okay now on to Blue, where we hope to see more divergence from Innistrad and some more inventive commons and uncommons.
The comparison to Distortion Strike is obvious. The thing is, this is more easily forgotten in the graveyard, only to result in sudden death several turns later. Or, if cast twice in one turn, could just end the game without much of a window for the opponent to respond, where Distortion Strike gave them one turn to handle a single lethal attacker (if that was the situation). It’s interesting how different the two spells are, despite being so close to the same thing.
Beguiler of Wills
Un-answerable control effects are usually less fun than answerable ones. Sower of Temptation, while powerful, was easy to kill and doing so gave you back your creature. Not so with Beguiler. On the other hand, this won’t turn around the game for you if the opponent has just one big creature and you have nothing. In many cases the most demoralizing control plays are the ones in which my single fatty is stolen by an enchantment that I don’t have an answer for.
The beguiler’s one-at-a-time, smallest-to-largest minigame seems like it might provide more fun and interest than most control effects.
Bone to Ash
Adding “draw a card” is the most hackneyed of variations to add to a basic effect, but that doesn’t mean you should never do it. (If you never did it, it wouldn’t be cliché.)
Call to the Kindred
The effect generated by this design is a neat one that I like. Is it worth the TLDR? Once or twice per set, yes. There are a couple more cards this dense (Huntmaster of the Fells, Jar of Eyeballs, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad), but not so many that I would call them on it. This one takes a lot of words to explain, but the concept is relatively clean. Once explained it’s clear what happens and it makes some sort of sense. Always check your complex designs for this attribute.
Chant of the Skifsang
Lucky number 13 makes more appearances in this set. Blue’s -X/-0 enchantments may never get bigger than this, so all you mudskippers better watch out!
Chill of Foreboding.
Flashback on a milling card is ironic, don’cha think? Having this hit all players is an interesting choice. Combined with flashback it makes a lot of sense to me. You want to hit more of them so you get “free cards” but if you are trying to mill the opponent you wouldn’t target yourself, so they solved this problem for you. This way it works in all milling decks.
Possibly my favorite counterspell ever. Counter-heavy decks are dull because after they counter your stuff they often sit around for 5 more turns until they draw their one finisher. This counter encourages you to always have some big spells on hand to get for free – both making your counter deck more interesting, and making the game more exciting. It also changes the decision around what to counter – a decision that hasn’t really been meddled with since Draining Whelk (and Mana Drain) – and yet it does so in a different way than those cards did.
Curse of Echoes
Pretty sure this horse is well past dead now. Can we be done with the “we all play the spell” cards for a few years now?
Something I like a lot about curses, and that this card exemplifies, is the way they single out one person in multiplayer games. Curse of Echoes can really make that person the center of attention in either a good or bad way, and lead to a lot of fun. If you need to win friends badly, you could cast it on yourself. This gives the card the potential to play very differently for you when you do that, and increasing diversity of experience is a great thing to design toward.
When you need a standard effect, don’t always try to reinvent the wheel.
Claustrophobia on a 3/3 is pretty exciting. The spirits really seem to be hitting the tapping theme hard in Dark Ascension. It’s weird to me that we saw absolutely none of that in Innistrad and now it’s all over the place. I would have thought if tapping was such a huge thing for them that it would have at least been hinted at (or present on a single card) in Innistrad.
I don’t really understand milling on a 5/5. This card seems inefficient in either a milling or a fatties strategy. Is there a group of players to whom this is really appealing? I would have though a 5/5 flying defender for 5 (that mills) would be much better at pleasing the milling player without sending mixed messages.
Oh right, the blue self-milling-fatties-too-big-for-Blue-to-really-have Zombies is a thing. Yes, yes of course, this is for that.
I wrote the above comments on Mindcrusher when I read it for the first time. A week or two later I’m feeling more friendly toward the card. I like the combination of ETB milling and undying, and milling decks do need fatties to defend themselves with against other fatties. If you play with it defensively, the undying ties into that very well. So it grew on me a bit, and that can be good design too – or perhaps it’s just that there will always be some cards that grow on you, and which those are is different for each player. Makes me want to conduct a study on the topic, and see if “grows on you” is a function of specific designs or if it’s more like fingerprints.
As I said about White this makes me a tiny bit worried that it is just here to replace Grasp of Phantasms in limited decks that are getting fewer Innistrad packs. Why not save this for M13 and put a different kind of card here that would make Dark Ascension more of a change from Innistrad?
While this is very close to Cemetery Reaper, it does manage to carve out its own space. It certainly stands out less considering Cemetery Reaper is in M12, but the upside is players can try them both in the same standard deck. The thing I’m most surprised about is that this one only lets you remove cards from your own graveyard. Was that restriction necessary? Seems like it will lead to unwanted confusion when both cards are in the same deck. Is it intentional that blue not have any anti-graveyard cards? Perhaps it’s a color-pie thing. I’ve never really thought much about how the narrow ability of stopping graveyard antics fits into the color pie, but it seems to be a Black and White thing, and not really done in the other colors, especially not Red and Blue. Perhaps that is the only reason this can only target cards in your own graveyard.
I like the flavor of these Blue zombies, but mechanically they still seem out-of-color for Blue, considering their size.
Anytime you get “twice X” on a card you know you’ve got an exciting design. Note that you really have to be sure it’s also a fair card. What I like about this is that very few game-ending limited bombs are spells. It’s good to get some variety into that kind of slot.
How many of you predicted that the Blue-to-Red flashback card would return instants or sorceries from the graveyard to hand? Everyone? Good, my work here is done.
This card couldn’t be more obvious , but meeting expectations is important, and you should do it most of the time. Then some of the time you go for the surprises. In other words, 9/10 of the time this card is worded as they printed it, and the other 1/10 it is something else. Your evil twin in another universe is playing with the other design right now!
The photobomber of Magic cards. I have noticed that several of my limited decks have had a glut of 4-mana instant speed things to do (counters, this guy, Briarpack Alpha). At first I felt that might be too much of the same thing, but then I thought it could be a good plan – in the way that having several morphs is good. The opponent doesn’t know which you have, but every game you pass on turn 4 (flip some werewolves) and then cast a flash creature or instant during their turn.
Niblet Niblis of the Breath
I really, really do not want to play against the all-tapping White-Blue spirit deck in drafts. It sounds extremely unfun. I guess with only 1 pack of tapping spirits, it won’t be a real issue? Perhaps that’s why the tapping theme was not evident in Innistrad? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t look like good design at this time. Individual each is fine, but why put them all together?
Huge Blue Fatties! At 5 mana the additional cost should be irrelevant , and you get a 5/5 when it dies? I do not believe this is correct for the color pie.
Great little card that does its job and does it well. White/Blue has had “protect my stuff” tricks before, but the return to hand variation works extra well with undying, clearing off the counter so you can get all the value all over again.
This looks like a great alternate for
Secrets of the Dead
Build around me cards for the Flashback deck are important, and this one is very enticing indeed. Between this, Think Twice, Desperate Ravings, Mystical Retrieval and Faithless Looting, a Blue-Red Flashback deck is really going to go through itself in a hurry, perhaps needing only Burning Vengeance as a victory condition. Sure makes you want to try it out, doesn’t it? Yes, yes it does, and that’s excellent design.
This is just what the milling doctor ordered. An early drop that will help you mill them out before it kills them with damage. It is hilariously similar to Thrummingbird. Even though they are in adjacent blocks, there are four sets between them, so it’s okay, I think.
I imagine the ghost asking her “Um, pardon me, Miss. Can you tell me where the bathroom is? Thank you.”
Another two of my predictions (combat damage as a transform trigger and creature that transforms into enchantment) come true. (Though, again, I must say I cheated by spewing out a great many possibilities.)
This is one of the most interactive control magic effects. It will be interesting to see if it feels any less horrible than having your creature stolen outright.
I should talk about undying a little bit. What a great mechanic! It takes a mechanic we know (Persist) and repurposes it for a new set. Such an amazing use of design space, to reuse something already explored but with just enough of a change to seem different. Having the monsters come back stronger after you’ve killed them is also so perfect for the flavor of the set. I can’t say enough good things about the application of this mechanic here. Very nice work.
Clean, simple, and fun to cast. A great common spell design, where “draw a card” doesn’t feel tacked on because the card’s other text already interacts with a library.
Flying Sea Gate Oracle, but ever so slightly altered (put the second card into your graveyard) so that it fits in nicely with the set’s other mechanics. That is the kind of little stuff you’ll catch on the thirty-seventh review of the set. A little tweak that will improve the way everything fits together to present a cohesive whole.
Blue, like White, worried me because it had a lot of commons and uncommons that so clearly take the place of their analogs in Innistrad. If I hadn’t already seen that trend in White I might not have felt it as much for Blue, because there was more variety in the other cards.
Most Exciting: I honestly wasn’t super excited by any of these cards. I know some, like Dungeon Geists will appear in a cube I draft someday soon, but the only card I felt like I could make something awesome happen with was Secrets of the Dead.
Most Interesting: Curse of Echoes, and Call to the Kindred are both pretty neat, but I really want to try out Curse of Echoes in a commander game and see what happens. Maybe nothing, and then I’ll be sad (cards like that often don’t work because they really just say “don’t cast spells” on them), but until I see it in action I’ll hold out hope.
Coming back to my initial comments, It looks like Blue is more diverse than White, and might do more to shift the limited format, though it still has several “replacement” cards. How much a limited format will change is a difficult thing to evaluate on designs alone. It is also a tough thing to design toward. You want to keep the themes and flavor of the block consistent, but the limited environment has to change. There are plenty of variations of the cards you made in the first set (Armored Skaab & Screeching Skaab) but which variations will make the right amount of difference in limited?
I tend to trust R&D’s work as the default, so perhaps this is just a case of walking the line so closely that I can’t see which side they are on. It will be something to look for as you play sealed and draft.