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Designer Fun – AVR Design Review, Part 3

For my third (and last for now) column on AVR card design I’m going to talk about some interesting card designs, and allow those to flow into any overall topics for the set as they occur to me. I won’t be able to cover every last card, but this method allows me greater efficiency in talking about the most interesting stuff.

[draft]Abundant Growth[/draft]
Abundant Growth

Very similar to [card]Prophetic Prism[/card]. Giving green a cycling effect (compare to [card]Thought Scour[/card]) has interesting implications for the color. Were I adding this to a set, I’d be looking to open up the possibility of a 5-color control style deck. It’s odd that it appears in AVR, because the rest of the set’s Limited environment does not seem positioned for it, due to a lack of good removal. There are a couple of possible reasons for this…

1. It’s there, but it’s a very sideways 5cc deck that uses non-standard removal.
2. It’s there in Constructed, not Limited.
3. They weren’t actually thinking about that, this is just a random thing that happened.

I’m putting my money on 3, from a design standpoint, but I’m looking forward to an LSV or Conley draft video where they’re taking this 3rd to make that deck work.

[draft]Alchemist’s Refuge[/draft]
Alchemist’s Refuge

I’m a little surprised to see this card. [card]Winding Canyons[/card], [card]Vedalken Orrery[/card] and [card teferi, mage of zhalfir]Teferi[/card] are popular cards, sure, but they’re also somewhat obnoxious to play with and against. They are most often seen in multiplayer environments where they dramatically increase the amount of time spent waiting around during a player’s end step, and waiting around for everyone to react to a spell on the stack. They also enable combo kills. Why print another such card?

[draft]avacyn, angel of hope[/draft]
Angels

There are 13 actual angels, and five other cards with “Angel” in the name in AVR. Only 18 cards, yet no one would doubt the “Angel” theme in the set. How is this possible? Several factors contribute. 

First, 18 is a pretty big number for Magic. There are only 12 creatures with exalted in Shards of Alara, Only 14 cards with persist in Shadowmoor – yet you easily felt their presence in those sets as major mechanics. It simply doesn’t take many cards to create memorable mechanic in a Magic set. The harder time the Angels had was getting down in rarity. Of those 18, only two are common.

There are actually seven more cards that mention Angels in the text – most of them asking if you control an Angel to get a bonus effect. Cards like [card]Defy Death[/card] and [card]Scroll of Avacyn[/card]. [card]Angelic Armaments[/card] and [card]Call to Serve[/card] make angels out of whatever you put them on. This is really critical. With only two common and three uncommon Angels, their presence in Limited might be felt, but not strongly. This technique of adding the word to other cards can be applied to many other themes to carry the banner for you.

There are four mythics and they were highly publicized. The set is named after one of them, big versions were given away at prereleases, they were all previewed, and they are exciting powerhouse cards (okay, maybe not [card bruna, light of alabaster]Bruna[/card]).

[draft]Scroll of Avacyn[/draft]
Scroll of Avacyn 

This card is doing some interesting double-duty.  It’s a common that puts the main character’s name in front of you – much like [card]Jace’s Erasure[/card]. It’s a common that mentions Angels, as I said above, helping bring up the accessibility of that theme. It’s also part of a micro cycle with [card]Scroll of Griselbrand[/card] – just a cute thing that adds a small point of interest to a set. Not every cycle needs to be a big splashy effect every player notices and gets excited about. Anytime a couple of cards can talk to each other it makes the party just a little livelier. Finally, the abilities of life gain and card cycling allow it to fill out a control deck – which is the kind of Limited deck most likely to feature Angels. There is a lot going on with such a simple card.

[draft]Builder’s Blessing[/draft]
Builder’s Blessing

Actually, I want to talk about [card]Castle[/card], the card on which this is based. [card]Castle[/card] is a great example of letting flavor control your design too much. Naturally, your guys aren’t in the castle if they go out to attack the opponent, right? So they lose the bonus when they leave the castle. Except I can’t see the castle when I’m playing. The game play doesn’t reinforce the concept of locations at all. My creatures don’t move when they attack, they just tap – and that’s already covered by the very simple wording we see on [card]Builder’s Blessing[/card]. The all-flavor designer thinks “I don’t want [card]Serra Angel[/card] to get away with keeping the toughness when she attacks, that’s not fair” but the pro designer thinks “some players will realize they can use vigilance creatures to keep the toughness all the time, and that will inspire them to make a new deck with an uncommon.” 

[draft]Cloudshift
Peel from Reality
Restoration Angel
Ghostly Flicker
Nephalia Smuggler[/draft]
Cloudshift, Peel from Reality, Restoration Angel, Ghostly Flicker, Nephalia Smuggler

When I first saw all these blink effects I was worried. When a Limited deck can easily gather six of them it makes for some sigh-inducing games of Magic. When you try to kill a creature once, and the opponent saves it, that’s an exciting moment. When it happens four times per game, every round, you quit playing Magic. Then I realized that there isn’t much removal in AVR Limited. Is it okay to have so much blinking because nobody is trying to kill guys with removal? Saving a blocker doesn’t make anyone feel bad, since it rarely costs the other player a card (players undervalue “attack steps” as a resource). 

[draft]Fettergeist[/draft]
Fettergeist

Combined with all the blink effects replacing counterspells, I’ve started thinking about one-creature control. A deck where you put out a creature like [card]Fettergeist[/card], then protect it with blink and bounce. A card that has a battlefield entrance ability, like [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], is even more attractive as you gain “value” everytime the opponent attempts to kill it. Could that make a new style of deck? I don’t know, but I am interested in looking into it, and for that reason I like seeing the “loner creature” stuff in combination with the glut of blink cards. Good set design inspires new kinds of deck design.

[draft]Dangerous Wager[/draft]
Dangerous Wager

As expected for new red looting: discard first, then draw the cards. The basic “discard two cards, draw two cards” is a little too strong to get away with, so they used the “discard your hand” fix to reduce the card’s overall power level. I would like to test “discard two cards, then draw a card for each card you discarded this way” as well because I am curious where each falls on the scale. The version they chose is the most red, and is exciting when you consider casting it with no other cards in your hand.

[draft]Demonic Rising[/draft]
Demonic Rising

An interesting design that makes you think about how to use it. The fact that it does nothing by itself is good because jumping through the hoop is what makes deck design fun. Also, if it triggered when you control zero creatures it would have to cost eight.

[draft]Devout Chaplain[/draft]
Devout Chaplain

Putting artifact/enchantment removal onto a creature is a good way to get it into Limited games. They seem to be doing it a lot more these days, and I like how this one works. It needs a little hoop-jumping, and while you’ll almost always be able to activate it, there will be a lot of games where there is still some window for the opponent to use their card before you destroy it.

[draft]Fervent Cathar[/draft]
Fervent Cathar

I like how this plays, it feels much better than [card]Crossway Vampire[/card] because you won’t feel bad playing it as your first creature.

[draft]Ghostform[/draft]
Ghostform

I like the potential this card has for being splashed in Limited decks. It won’t happen often, but maybe just enough to keep the Limited environment interesting in the long run. Can you personally expect to see that? Maybe not, but the number of Magic games that get played is very large, and someone will do it. Designs like this – the lower end of the common sorceries – are aimed at occasional play.

[draft]Infinite Reflection[/draft]
Infinite Reflection

I like what this card does, with one little exception. I don’t like that your creatures don’t change back when the opponent gets rid of it. Magic is fun when answering a permanent means that you’ve answered it. I make a Titan, you kill it, we’re done with that. Yes, I can get some value out of it in the mean time, but dead is dead. When facing this card, not only is it complicated, but you can’t simply [card]Naturalize[/card] it and move on with the game. There will be a pile of creatures that are copies of some likely now dead creature. It’s confusing for the controller too, especially in a set with soulbond and many creatures with activated abilities. Please try harder on the execution next time, this version is too awkward.

[draft]Kessig Malcontents
Vigilante Justice[/draft]
Kessig Malcontents & Vigilante Justice

I love how these cards really push red into the Humans game. In Scars Block we got a bunch of infect creatures in other colors in sets 2 & 3, but none of them rewarded you enough for trying to be infect in those colors. These two cards really get the message that red does Humans now, and make playing (drafting) that way rewarding. Note also they do it in a very “red” way (as opposed to being white-ish cards).

[draft]Mist Raven[/draft]
Mist Raven

Funny story: this design originally appeared in M10. It got bumped because… I don’t know exactly, I heard a rumor that they were too afraid of what Man-o’-War would do to the environment or some such nonsense. Being four mana was supposed to reduce the early-tempo issues they had with Man-o’-War. Speaking of funny stories, my second AVR draft deck features two of these and two [card]Nephalia Smuggler[/card]s. It was obnoxious, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t any fun to play against. That’s more a result of the Smugglers than the Ravens, in case it wasn’t clear.

[draft]Misthollow Griffin[/draft]
Misthollow Griffin

The text here is so simple, yet so exciting, new, and weird. It’s also an example of the kind of thing that only remains awesome if you can resist doing more of it. A new designer will come up with this and then go on to make 12 more cards that do it. No! Bad designer! No Biscuit! The uniqueness of the effect is what makes this card stand out. The cool moments of realization – “I can just cast it again after it gets [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]ed!” only happen once. A second card that does this won’t be the same.

[draft]Moonsilver Spear[/draft]
Moonsilver Spear

The thing I love about this design lies in the comparison to [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]. Because we are used to playing with Geist it’s easy to think of this spear as equipment that makes your guy into a Geist. Then it dawns on you that you get to keep the Angel token! Wow! It feels like a huge upgrade from Geist, making the card much more exciting than it might have been without the anchor point Geist provided around putting Angel tokens into play during combat. (Yes, this Angel token is not even attacking – they’re not especially similar cards, but there’s just enough that this happens in players’ minds.)

[draft]Pillar of Flame[/draft]
Pillar of Flame

Introduce undying in one set, print a counter to it in the next. Home designers are often working so hard on making their one Magic set that they don’t think about Magic across multiple sets. Magic is designed just as much in blocks now as in single sets. See also: GDS2 format/challenges compared to GDS1.

[draft]Primal Surge[/draft]
Primal Surge

That is exciting! I wonder if this was Genesis Wave taken “all the way” or if it came about separately. This might be the new ultimate Timmy card, perhaps the ultimate Timmy/Johnny card (you can put 37 different combos in your deck and get them all active at once as your entire deck spews onto the battlefield). This effect is so huge that I will build a deck with one copy as my only non-permanent just so I can confidently flip my deck over and smear the cards all over the place while muttering “there’s an instant win combo in here somewhere.” I just want to have that experience one time. When else will you get to control 50 or 100 permanents? Awesome!

[draft]Second Guess[/draft]
Second Guess

Another card I swear was designed years ago while I worked there. It reads so familiarly. Typical R&D discussions end up with cards like this, and you don’t want to do too many things that are so awkwardly conditional. Did you notice that if they cast one spell and you mistakenly cast this too soon it will be forced to counter itself? Wait… I’m not sure that can even happen – it can’t be cast without a target, and it won’t exist until after it needs a target… that’s why spells can’t target themselves in general, right? R&D’s hive mind is kind of like that conversation happening all the time, with all topics.

[draft]Soul of the Harvest[/draft]
Soul of the Harvest

Soon I won’t have to point out new and cool ways green gets to draw cards. Very soon, it looks like.

[draft]Spirit Away[/draft]
Spirit Away

I have made the argument in the past that Anime fans and Magic players have significant overlap. They are my top-two hobbies, so I also want it to be true. Normally I would feel the need to point out that this is [card]Yavimaya’s Embrace[/card] minus G and without trample, but since Duels of the Planeswalkers is so popular you all realized that already, right?

[draft]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/draft]
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

It’s been said before, but the thing I like best about this card is how out of place it looks. Planeswalkers leave their home plane and go somewhere else. I also like her “scientist” vibe. She holds things down, then she can look at them to gain information. Her ultimate makes sense with her second ability, and having an icy-like plus ability means she’ll probably have cards to spare when she gets to it. Yes, her plus is just like [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card]’s, but I think we might see more re-use of plus abilities in the future. It’s often the hardest part to get right for a planeswalker.

[draft]Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded[/draft]
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded

My main issue with this card: you wanted to tell the story of a newly-sparked planeswalker, right? You just invented double-faced cards, right? HOW ARE YOU NOT USING THAT TO TELL THIS STORY?! What a colossal missed opportunity. We could have had a two-mana wizard creature that had a flip condition (probably need to add loyalty as/before you flip) and planeswalker on the other side. Perfect storytelling for Tibalt getting his spark. I find it hard to like this card simply because I can see what it so obviously should have been. (Well, obvious to me, anyway.)

Some things I do like: He does present a little “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” to the opponent. If they hold their creatures you can [card]Storm Seeker[/card] them, if they play their creatures to empty their hand, you can [card]Insurrection[/card] them. Also, this card looks like it will be good against control, where you need cheap threats, and where they hold a lot of cards and draw more. Sort of like a more complicated, less appealing, harder to use [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card].

More things I don’t like: his +1 is very unappealing to most players. It’s got to be very hard to make a fair +1 on a two-mana planeswalker, but that probably means you shouldn’t be doing it at all. Certainly you shouldn’t be forcing it just to prove you can (which this design screams). Despite the “damned if you do” scenario, a creature deck will still play out all its creatures, then kill Tibalt with them before he can ultimate. I doubt it actually works against creature decks. It’s fine when some cards are bad against some decks, obviously, but not when those cards say “I’m good against that deck” and it turns out to be a blatant lie.

[draft]Thatcher’s Revolt[/draft]
Thatcher’s Revolt

A card that might be awful in many other environments really shines here. The red commons and uncommons in AVR seem better designed, especially as a group, than perhaps in any other set. Maybe R&D has finally found new inspiration in how to approach red without doing a pile of [card]Goblin Piker[/card]s and [card]Shock[/card]s.

[draft]Zealous Conscripts[/draft]
Zealous Conscripts

I’m in love. Temporary theft lends itself to much more fair and fun game play than permanent theft has. Being able to steal any permanent is what moves this card from uncommon to rare. It’s also part of what makes it so cool and exciting to play with. Interesting how this evolution of the [card]Threaten[/card] effect is so next-level from the previous ones. They were starting to see more play, and get more appealing recently, but first [card]Conquering Manticore[/card] and now [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] have really pushed it up into exciting and fun. I guess if you like it then you better put a creature on it.

Avacyn Restored has some great designs in red, and I love soulbond, but I’m worried about Limited remaining fun. So many flickers, not much removal. Black seems to have gotten the shortest end of the stick that it (or any color) has gotten in a long time. Missing both mechanics (I know I said that last time, but I’m still shocked by it) and not getting a lot of exciting stuff otherwise. This may be due to the Zombie deck being more or less complete with the first two sets in the block, and there wasn’t much they could risk giving it beyond [card]Blood Artist[/card]. Time will tell.

-Greg
@gregorymarques

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