Let’s get a head start this time, shall we? I’m going to talk briefly about the block plan and the five guild mechanics.
The 5-5-10 guild split in the block is great. The 4-3-3 had some issues with balance between the guilds, and we won’t see that at all in 5-5-10. Even better is the drafting (and Sealed) plan of large-large-small. All guilds get equal time, and the change-up pitch that comes when you get to the small set is awesome. Suddenly you’re back to draft with a set you haven’t been drafting for 3 months? Sounds like it will be very interesting. I’m excited to experience the upcoming months of drafting.
Why is this important? Well, most of the time it’s not important that cards in one part of a block have equal time in the sun versus other cards in the block. While you should be aware of it, as a TCG designer, you don’t need to force-fit that kind of equality into your sets. It will influence the cards—as you may have noticed the simple Naturalize-type cards appear in the big sets because they need to be around in every Limited environment.
Each player has a favorite guild, and it feels unfair if your guild gets the short end of the stick. So there is a problem of balancing the representation of all 10 guilds over the normal L-s-s block setup. The plan WotC came up with is probably the simplest solution to this. For those most interested in solving nuanced set design problems, I would advise you pay close attention to the Naturalizes (not specifically Naturalize, necessarily, but cards in that category—the simple answers and required utility cards) to see how they are distributed in the first two larger sets. I don’t expect repeats, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Naturalize in RtR and then Shatter and Erase in Gatecrash. (Probably in guild-disguise.)
We’ve got some great guild mechanics this time around. So far they look much better, on average, than the original Ravnica guild mechanics. Design better! I’m not concerned with their power level here—and considering dredge, it would probably be nice if none of them were quite that open-endedly powerful. I could imagine bringing back storm as an Izzet mechanic, but I don’t think the majority of us would be happy about that. It can be a lot of fun to sort old mechanics into the guilds, but I’m pleased to note that they came up with five new mechanics.
This is my favorite of the new guild mechanics. It hits on all cylinders. The name is perfect for Rakdos. Demons and Devils are often seen chained or on leashes. They are wild and aggressive things that have to be controlled. Sometimes a good guy has bound/chained/imprisoned them. The name also matches what it does: an unleashed guy is more powerful, but you can’t make him block anymore. You’ve taken away the ability to hold him in place.
The ability to get a bigger attacker with a drawback is just what Rakdos wants to do, and I predict the play will be very fun and provide some really interesting decisions on some occasions, while on the other occasions you’ll enjoy making amusing sounds like “ggraawr!” as you unleash every guy and steamroll through to victory.
Vs. Hellbent? Unleash doesn’t work against Hellbent, and both usually get you more value for going all-in, so they fit together okay. Hellbent wasn’t tuned quite as well as it could have been, so you’ll probably be better off just playing with unleashed guys.
Another well-named mechanic. Growing in numbers has certainly been a theme of Selesnya (there was a lot of token producing last time). I like the potential upside of this mechanic. You immediately start the mental search for the best token makers in Magic to see how good a deal you can get. As I’ve said before, when a single card or mechanic can get your deckbuilding wheels turning it’s a good start on a design.
Vs. Convoke? These two mechanics play well together. One wants lots of creatures and the other helps provide them. Much more than unleash or detain or overload, I want to build a deck that combines these two mechanics, and the deck will feel very Selesnya. You may still need a few tokens to get you started on the populate plan. I know old Selesnya had plenty, and I predict new Selesnya will have plenty more. We’ve already seen Eyes in the Skies as an example of a card that creates a token and then populates, and I would expect to see a couple of such cards in the set.
I am a bit afraid of this mechanic. My concern is whether it plays well, or leads to painful and frustrating situations where you just can’t use your stuff. I try to trust R&D when I’ve not had a chance to play with the cards yet, but I’m more hesitant after miracle (when I normally might have full confidence in trusting them). The ability is very similar to Frost Titan‘s, with an Arrest-style wording. I know how frustrating even a single Frost Titan can be, in certain situations. Hopefully there are no other repeatable detain trigger cards besides Archon of the Triumvirate and Martial Law.
You know what? After making the Frost Titan comparison I feel like maybe it will be okay. While Frost Titan can be frustrating, it’s usually pretty fun, and it’s okay to sometimes be frustrated in a game—if you overcome the situation you feel like you’ve really vanquished an evil foe. I’m most worried about decks that are filled with detains, against which you never get to use a single creature you’ve played. I’m glad they’re using it in a block with 10 guilds so that it won’t appear on too many cards.
The name is a good one for what it does, and fits the most bureaucratic guild nicely. There’s also something to be said for names that flow nicely when you say things like, “I detain that guy.”
Vs. Forecast? I’d rather face detain than forecast. Forecast led to repeated game states, it told you not to play your card (so that you could keep forecasting it), and it was so easily abused that most of the effects were weak and not very interesting. I certainly don’t think of forecast when I think of Azorius—their coolest cards are elsewhere. Forecast is one of the worst guild mechanics from the original block, so it’s not particularly informative to compare them now, and from a design perspective I might have actively tried to avoid positive interactions between it and a new Azorius mechanic. Forecast and detain don’t seem to have any particular interaction.
The name is nicely Golgari. The concept is to “eat the dead to get stronger” or maybe “growth from death.” It’s like composting, or mushrooms. It combines green and black well. What it actually does is a good match too. Making creatures bigger is green; using the graveyard is black. Nothing to fault. As usual these days, it’s a sorcery to prevent it being an out-of-the-’yard surprise in combat. It feels a little like flashback for creatures—you can play the card a second time and get more power and toughness on the board.
Vs. Dredge? These two abilities combo nicely. Dredge fills your graveyard with scavenge creatures. Plus since you’re probably drawing your dredge cards via dredge and not anything else, it’s nice to have “spells” added to your available actions. Dredge creatures will be especially nice, since they can accept the counters from scavenge. Excellent potential for a fun deck using both mechanics.
Small aside here: actually… there could be a ghost mechanic, that was closer to creature flashback. It would work similar to scavenge, except it would put a token into play with P/T equal to the creature card’s power. I doubt we’ll see something like that for Orzhov because it’s too close to scavenge in the same block. Perhaps for the third go-round on Ravnica in 2021?
This mechanic could easily be a mono-red mechanic. It derives from a red card, and the most similar mechanic is first-Rav’s Boros mechanic radiance. They made it look blue by using a wording that replaces one word with another—just like the way Slight of Mind works. For me, it will take cards that do more blue things (such as Counterflux) to make the mechanic feel more Izzet than just red. Mizzium Mortars has only the name to remind you that the color blue has even the barest of relationships to the card. This is a mild criticism. I like the mechanic (I mean, kicker is an awesome mechanic) and I’m excited to see the cards it appears on. The name is, again, excellent.
Vs. Replicate? These two mechanics do seem cut from the same cloth. Many replicate spells approximate overload when they are copied enough to hit all possible targets. They don’t add up to more together than they are alone, however. You would just take the most effective spell for the role. Most Izzet-feeling decks feel Izzet because of the other cards that care about instants and sorceries, and not as much because of the cards with replicate (and probably overload). Is it the case that my perception of what makes Izzet Izzet isn’t accurate?
These five mechanics are very promising, and provide a great contrast to the old ones from Ravnica past. You can see a lot of the important lessons design has learned during the intervening years evident in the differences between what they did back then and what these mechanics do today. I am very excited for this new iteration on the world of Ravnica!