In this article I’ll cover some Rakdos and Golgari cards, and a few other topics.
The prereleases are long over. I played in three events, more than I’ve played in since we stopped having large central prereleases. It was by far my best experience since then. I played Rakdos, then Azorius, and then Izzet.
This is a bit OP design/product design, but I applaud the guild boxes used for the event. Your five normal boosters and one special guild booster are neatly packed into a single box, with a hefty dose of guild branding. There’s a free d20 inside and a guild sticker. It’s a convenient place to put the achievement cards and some additional flavor in the form of a letter from your guild leader. They were so easy to hand out that they reduced setup time and minimized confusion for event organizers who are new to the game. We will (obviously) see them again for Gatecrash, and I hope they become a permanent method of delivery for all prereleases (even if the set doesn’t have a side to take and they’re all the same box).
On that note—should all sets have sides to take? It’s really awesome and gives players a lot to rally around. It makes teammates and potentially friends out of strangers. This is really important for a game that is played as socially as Magic. You need friends to trade with, to share ideas on deckbuilding and drafting with, and to play with once you’ve left the store. Would we get tired of taking sides if every set did it? Should it only be done when there is a story excuse for it? I hope R&D is thinking about these questions directly and not just putting it down as something to do if and when the story allows.
At most pre-releases you open your cards, and maybe you hide what you got, or maybe you show off your rares. But sitting at a table with only your guildmates, where you are even incentivized to help each other (at one prerelease we were, with extra tiny prizes given to the guild with the most wins at the end).
Players around me asked for help and advice, we had a lot more fun showing off what we got and we rallied to encourage each other between rounds.
Ready for some design reviews?
Dead Reveler & Thrill-Kill Assassin
Unleash is awesome. I covered that in a previous article. I still think it hits on all cylinders: name, flavor, play-fun, play-style-matching-flavor, play-matching-name, Rakdosy-to-the-max. It may be even better than I first thought. Few mechanics have been so perfect.
Now these creatures specifically, well, they’re a little… defensive. They have higher toughness than power, which doesn’t look very black, nor very Rakdos. There are sometimes black fatties like Terrus Wurm at common, but that’s not quite the same as these low-power, high-toughness creatures. What is going on here?
I see a couple of options:
1. Black’s creature shape is going to change in a permanent way.
2. This is just something that happened this one time.
a. Because of the balance needs of this set.
b. Because Rakdos needs them to be this way.
3. All of the above, each as a separate case.
My bet is on 2b. Rakdos needs attackers that it can keep attacking with, because they can’t ever block. Unleash is cute on a 3/1, but a 4/2 isn’t such a great attacker since it gets chump-blocked. 3/4s are much better for getting through damage turn after turn.
3 is also a strong possibility. Deathtouch is usually silly on creatures with higher power than toughness. The point of deathtouch is to allow a small guy to take out a big guy—4/1s are already doing that, same as a 2/3 deathtouch. Separately, Rakdos needed more game against the very large scavenged creatures of Golgari, and a 2/6 just did that job best. Grim Roustabout is a bi-modal creature, on turn two it’s a 2/2 attacker, but if you draw it late you keep it on the leash, block, and hope to draw burn to finish them off.
The creature enchantments are really jumping up in power level, the way creatures have been doing in the past few years. Strictly better than Unholy Strength, Deviant Glee’s design helps ensure players get use out of the extra power by providing a trample option.
Gore-House Chainwalker , Bloodfray Giant
In red we see unleash creatures more like we expected—with power greater than toughness. It may simply be that the black creatures needed to be different to prevent all these creatures from looking too similar. I’m just glad we’ve escaped the land of 3R 3/2s that was Innistrad block.
On a personal note, I’m always a little depressed when a 4RR 6/5 flier is not a Dragon. On a design/flavor note—how are these Imps? Imps are little guys, not 6/5s. The excuse is that it’s a lot of Imps? It doesn’t feel right.
I’m sure it was tempting to put abilities like this one (“if this has a counter…”) on creatures with unleash. I’m glad it only appears on one card in the set. Creatures with the counter already gain “can’t block” and it was surprisingly hard for me and my opponents to remember just that during the prerelease. Be careful of laying on extras like this. Players have to deal with the mechanic itself, and they have enough to handle without the bells and whistles.
First-strike is another ability that works really well to get attackers through, especially at 2 and 3 power. 3-power first strikers can gum up the board, and since red is not defensive it usually can’t have them. Unleash to the rescue—giving us the extra power only if we can’t block at all.
Uh huh. When will you give a creature +4 power and have it live? I have a strong dislike for this sort of design. Let’s see, how many black or red commons can this be cast on to kill the opponent with the extra damage? Two. Catacomb Slug and Terrus Wurm. In the entire set there are 9 common and uncommon creatures that survive an Auger Spree. Only one of these, Archweaver, has trample.
The power up is just an excuse to make a black card red/black. I don’t like this trick because the use of the card is 99% as the mono-black version, which means the reality of the card is a mono-black card. For me it fails the test of being a truly gold card.
He rides across the nation, the thoroughbred of sin…
It was interesting to have this as a prerelease card that you could play. This meant every Rakdos deck had a 6-mana finisher that could very well do the job of finishing off the opponent if the game went long. It could potentially do the entire job, actually. This really changed the Limited experience. I’m not sure how much I like it. It sounds cool on paper to finally get to play with the prerelease card—but after doing it I felt it was awkward to always know one card in my opponent’s deck.
Haste and unleash are good friends, as are unleash and first strike. The three combine here to make a very big attacker with satisfying play when you get saddled up for a show of force.
Terminate returned in Alara Reborn, and commander decks, and Archenemy, so I did not expect to see it again here (though it was still a possibility). A variant, like this, is what I expected, though I did not predict this by any means.
Destroy target planeswalker was something we were told specifically not to do while I was in R&D. This was when planeswalkers were new, and R&D was towing the line that since creatures could attack them they were really easy to deal with already—you didn’t need special cards to handle them.
That’s not enough by itself to keep the words off the cards, of course. It was combined with a desire to avoid confusion at lower rarities. Planeswalkers were mythic rare, and seeing mention of a card type you’d never even seen on a common removal spell would be confusing and disruptive for newer players.
Many years later it has become clear that planeswalkers have been a bit too powerful, and players need direct and obvious ways to destroy them. So R&D appears to have changed their mind. Or perhaps it was always the plan to eventually do this, just not during the first few years of planeswalkers?
Dave Guskin talked about this card’s design here.
Most interesting is that the text that makes the card more appealing isn’t really anything that changes how the card works. Players will probably still be confused when they are at 1 or 3 life and this triggers. The commander worries all still exist, and are perhaps even more pressing. The trick is that players who like black/red, who like Rakdos, those are the players who also most like cards that say “players can’t gain life.”
The part about it making the card feel more Rakdos-y is also super important. I mean, clearly that overlaps a lot with the previous thing I said (about players who like red/black), but it’s also true that making the card more Rakdosy makes it appeal to players who don’t care about Rakdos and players who hate Rakdos. The phrase “an enemy we love to hate” is an important one in this context.
The self-flinging ability combines very nicely with unleash. Obviously, you get more damage out of it, and this is an ability that fits well with the theme of the guild and the style of deck they are most likely to have. You can imagine abilities that also work with the extra power, but that don’t really fit in with Rakdos.
I found the third mode of this card to be confusing at the prerelease. First I misread/misplayed it, then an opponent misread/misplayed it in a different way. I read it out loud to correct him, but misread it yet a third way, but that way just couldn’t be right, so I read it again and finally parsed it correctly. I told the story to a friend, and he was surprised to learn how it actually worked. I asked others and heard some similar stories.
The text isn’t that complicated, so why does this happen? Well, the other two abilities are each easily surmised with an existing card. This makes you want to sum up the third ability with an existing card too, so you misread it to fit a card that strikes your fancy. Also, this ability is novel, so when you start reading it you can’t predict what it will be.
How important is it to avoid this as a designer? Can you avoid it? Well, you can try not to do one very new ability and two very old ones. Perhaps more effective would be to put the new ability first, so that it can be read while the player is fresh and ready, before they are influenced by the other two.
I think this card exists to add interest to the Rakdos mirror match. A haste 3/3 is pretty good for finishing off an opponent who has few to no blockers, and lifelink changes races dramatically.
This card looks awful. First strike plus regenerate, and a pile of text in between makes the card hard to read and understand. First strike and regenerate appear together very often because they do the same thing—they allow the creature to win fights without being so big that it avoids removal or kills the opponent too fast (like a 5/5 would). The discard ability is fine, but I would have cut one of the other two to simplify the card.
As a side note, it’s funny that an opposite color pairing, green/white, [card Ranger en-Vec]is also capable of this combination[/card].
Rakdos, Lord of Riots
Just add Eldrazi!
One great thing about this design is that the drawback is upfront. Once you meet the condition, your creature is an all-upside 6/6.
I wish I could give you better advice on how to come up with things like this. A lot of the work is in reviewing a bunch of ideas and picking the best one. I’m sure anywhere from 4 to 12 designers submitted ideas for Rakdos, and then a group of 4 to 6 designers discussed them and chose the best one. Perhaps they combined two ideas.
I guess this enables Rakdos at seven total mana?
This card combines two cards in a clean and obvious way. This design is more interesting than a Lava Axe because you can feel good about casting it long before it would kill your opponent just to get some cards out of their hand. I also love how it has a counterpart in Sphinx’s Revelation. The two cards show the opposite styles of the two extremely opposed guilds.
Rix Maadi Guildmage
This card is surprisingly miserable to play against. It presents a false choice: two options that are both very bad for you. Often it combines this with math and a careful examination of the opponent’s mana. You do a lot of work and then realize that you are totally hosed, and don’t block anyway.
What happened to “no on-board combat tricks?”
The second ability is cool, very Rakdosy, and the first ability does make the second ability more relevant in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” way, but the first ability is so absurdly oppressive! If they had changed it to “2BR: all blocking creatures get -1/-1″ (or even 3BR) they could have gotten a similar effect without it being so mathy and ridiculous in every game.
I just feel so guilty when I use this card.
Players love this effect, so adding “can’t be countered” to it will surely make them happy. Sometimes design is just that simple. It’s a little weak that the red part of this card is the can’t be countered line, because the entire cycle has that ability, so it’s really a cycle thing, and this could have then been a mono-black card.
Here is a design that promises you something awesome that you don’t need. “Wow it could be a 10/10!” Yes, sure kid, after you’ve killed your opponent this will be huge. Too bad the game is already over. The good news is that even well below the big dream this card can still do its thing and be a somewhat exciting fatty at 3, 4, or 5 damage.
In multiplayer there are a lot more opportunities for small life loss that adds up across many players, so a card like this really can shine and reach beyond the base potential during the window in which it’s big and you haven’t already won.
So we have a card that is an excellent multiplayer design for Timmy and a good 2-player (Limited, with at least consideration for Constructed) design for spike (who often gains a lot of entertainment from the decision process of “is this good enough”). Despite having a little bit of the promise without delivery, I like it.
In order to make an aggressive mechanic shine, you need to be sure it has constructed worthy cards for aggressive decks. This card certainly fits that bill.
Yay for shocklands!