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Amateur Designs - Brendan Moro (1/27/2012)

One of the greatest elements of Magic is its ability to provoke thoughts and discussions amongst its many loyal legions. Our local playgroup is no different and most of our games are paused to often debate the various merits of design choices made within each card.

Given that hindsight is perfect, we can easily tell what has worked in the past and what has nearly broken our favorite game. Affinity was obviously planted within the depths of Magic design by a mole who intended to take down Wizards from the inside. Whereas infect has found a unique way to create tension within many Magic duels.

With Dark Ascension spoilers upon us, our group, like many across the world, have already been gushing about our favorite cards while others have been complaining about what they believe to be giant oversights by both the design and development teams for DA. To better understand the motivations of the group's debate, a little context is in order. Our playgroup is both dedicated and diverse. Most of us travel nearly an hour, twice a week, to sling cards and we play across both formats. We make the journey into the city to draft, play Standard and even play some Commander when we are bored.

Having this in mind, our group immediately started assessing the relative merits of the set's new mechanics, fateful hour and undying. It was quickly agreed upon that fateful hour was a home run. All the flavor buffs loved the desperation it reflected and all the Limited players were champing at the bit to see how powerful these effects could be. The Constructed lads also liked how it gave some late game punch to both control and aggro.

After what was a brief and all around agreeable chat about fateful hour we moved onto undying and the dissension started. “It makes removal redundant”, “Graveyard hate will be everywhere”, “It dies and gets bigger?” were amongst the primary concerns that everyone immediately voiced. This chorus of complaints continued for a full 25 minutes before we all stopped and realized we were arguing the same side of two different arguments. The Limited players were concerned that there wouldn’t be enough removal to handle the recurring threats and the Constructed players were concerned that aggro decks wouldn’t have enough creatures to stop them or control wouldn’t have enough answers degenerating all decks into midrange attrition variants.

The group had, without even playing with the cards, decided that this was the most broken thing in Standard since Faeries (Jace was popular more than he was overpowered, you still need the cards he got you to be synergistic) and were determined to defend against this menace before the release of DA. We separated into two groups immediately to tackle this burgeoning threat. One group was to look for drafting strategies to overcome recurring creatures and the other group were going to design a control and aggro deck that was resilient to undying.

It wasn’t long before the Limited group had adapted some already strong archetypes to hold the line against the undying menace. First amongst them was the already fancied G/W build which usually featured Travel Preparations
Travel Preparations
Travel PreparationsSet: Innistrad
Cost:
2
Color:
Green
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
C
Number:
206
Artist:
Vincent Proce
Text:
Put a +1/+1 counter on each of up to two target creatures. Flashback {1}{W} (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)
and Feeling of Dread
Feeling of Dread
Feeling of DreadSet: Innistrad
Cost:
2
Color:
White
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Number:
14
Artist:
John Stanko
Text:
Tap up to two target creatures. Flashback {1}{U} (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)
. The greatest synergies they found within this build were from Travel Preparations
Travel Preparations
Travel PreparationsSet: Innistrad
Cost:
2
Color:
Green
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
C
Number:
206
Artist:
Vincent Proce
Text:
Put a +1/+1 counter on each of up to two target creatures. Flashback {1}{W} (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)
itself and the morbid creatures. Travel Preparations
Travel Preparations
Travel PreparationsSet: Innistrad
Cost:
2
Color:
Green
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
C
Number:
206
Artist:
Vincent Proce
Text:
Put a +1/+1 counter on each of up to two target creatures. Flashback {1}{W} (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)
was a great way to short circuit undying as if the creature dies with a +1/+1 counter, regardless of the counter's source, it doesn’t come back. Feeling of Dread
Feeling of Dread
Feeling of DreadSet: Innistrad
Cost:
2
Color:
White
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Number:
14
Artist:
John Stanko
Text:
Tap up to two target creatures. Flashback {1}{U} (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)
is another important part of this archetype and works just as well on defense as offense and with flashback can be used once for each purpose. Lastly, using morbid as a way to punish the undying creature’s controllers was perfect as our own creatures wouldn’t have to die to power these spells.

Red/White is another favorite archetype for our drafters as the combination of removal from red and evasion from white can lead to some very short matches. Luckily this style deck also has some in built answers for undying creatures. Devils Play and Geistflame
Geistflame
GeistflameSet: Innistrad
Cost:
1
Color:
Red
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Number:
144
Artist:
Scott Chou
Text:
Geistflame deals 1 damage to target creature or player. Flashback {3}{R} (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)
are effective removal in and of themselves but giving them flashback can be brutal (and the group deemed it also necessary) for any recurring creatures. Brimstone Volley
Brimstone Volley
Brimstone VolleySet: Innistrad
Cost:
3
Color:
Red
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Number:
132
Artist:
Eytan Zana
Text:
Brimstone Volley deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Morbid — Brimstone Volley deals 5 damage to that creature or player instead if a creature died this turn.
, the other popular red spell of Innistrad, also likes creatures dying. The evasive spirits of white compliment this removal well and don’t even need to interact with the undying creatures.

While the Limited group had quickly adapted some familiar strategies against this new horror, the Constructed crew were brewing a defense of their own. Strangely enough, we started off with some well-defined favorites. Most of our duels lately have fluctuated wildly thanks to the diverse format found within Standard but the better players of the group have settled on two main decks. One camp is squarely behind Delver of Secrets
Delver of Secrets
Delver of SecretsSet: Innistrad
Cost:
1
Color:
Blue
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Human Wizard
Rarity:
C
Number:
51
Artist:
Nils Hamm
Power:
1
Toughness:
1
Text:
At the beginning of your upkeep, look at the top card of your library. You may reveal that card. If an instant or sorcery card is revealed this way, transform Delver of Secrets.
whether it be a controlling white build or faster tempo-based red build. The other side of the group favors some form of Wolf Run deck with the controlling black variant being more successful than its tighter red/green cousin.

Delver decks plan on getting efficient creatures out before undying creatures become a factor and the decks we came up with were no different. With undying creatures proving to be a defensive problem as well as an offensive one, we geared each deck towards a faster, less interactive deck with our own recurring creatures. Red variants put away Runechanter's Pike
Runechanter's Pike
Runechanter's PikeSet: Innistrad
Cost:
2
Color:
Colorless
Type:
Artifact
Sub Type:
Equipment
Rarity:
R
Number:
231
Artist:
John Avon
Text:
Equipped creature has first strike and gets +X/+0, where X is the number of instant and sorcery cards in your graveyard. Equip {2}
s and Stromkirk Noble
Stromkirk Noble
Stromkirk NobleSet: Innistrad
Cost:
1
Color:
Red
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Vampire
Rarity:
R
Number:
164
Artist:
James Ryman
Power:
1
Toughness:
1
Text:
Stromkirk Noble can't be blocked by Humans. Whenever Stromkirk Noble deals combat damage to a player, put a +1/+1 counter on it.
s for swords of all varieties as well as Chandra’s Phoenix/Invisible Stalker
Invisible Stalker
Invisible StalkerSet: Innistrad
Cost:
2
Color:
Blue
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Human Rogue
Rarity:
U
Number:
60
Artist:
Bud Cook
Power:
1
Toughness:
1
Text:
Hexproof (This creature can't be the target of spells or abilities your opponents control.) Invisible Stalker is unblockable.
/Grim Lavamancer
Grim Lavamancer
Grim LavamancerSet: Torment
Cost:
1
Color:
Red
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Wizard
Rarity:
R
Number:
100
Power:
1
Toughness:
1
Text:
R, T, Remove two cards in your graveyard from the game: Grim Lavamancer deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
packages. The white side also changed their equipment load out and chose some more resilient creatures such as Elite Inquisitor
Elite Inquisitor
Elite InquisitorSet: Innistrad
Cost:
2
Color:
White
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Human Soldier
Rarity:
R
Number:
13
Artist:
Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss
Power:
2
Toughness:
2
Text:
First strike, vigilance Protection from Vampires, from Werewolves, and from Zombies
and Loyal Cathar
Loyal Cathar
Loyal CatharSet: Dark Ascension
Cost:
2
Color:
White
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Human Soldier
Rarity:
C
Number:
13
Artist:
Ryan Pancoast
Power:
2
Toughness:
2
Text:
Vigilance When Loyal Cathar dies, return it to the battlefield transformed under your control at the beginning of the next end step.
(I mentioned the irony of this choice but that just seemed to add credence to his inclusion).

The Wolf Run variants had decided that tokens were the perfect solution here. Tokens are easily generated in this format and can still benefit from a Wolf Run activation. The black variants immediately took out Black Sun's Zenith
Black Sun's Zenith
Black Sun's ZenithSet: Mirrodin Besieged
Cost:
2
Color:
Black
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
R
Number:
39
Artist:
Daniel Ljunggren
Text:
Put X -1/-1 counters on each creature. Shuffle Black Sun's Zenith into its owner's library.
(since the counters would not actually help them stop the undying creatures from coming back) and started splashing white for Lord Sorin Markov
Sorin Markov
Sorin MarkovSet: Zendikar
Cost:
6
Color:
Black
Type:
Planeswalker
Sub Type:
Sorin
Rarity:
M
Number:
111
Artist:
Michael Komarck
Text:
+2: Sorin Markov deals 2 damage to target creature or player and you gain 2 life. -3: Target opponent's life total becomes 10. -7: You control target player's next turn.
. Garruks of all persuasions were also added to both builds if they weren’t already present. The Pure Red/Green version decided to fight fire with fire and include a few undying creatures of its own to hold the fort before Inkmoth Nexus
Inkmoth Nexus
Inkmoth NexusSet: Mirrodin Besieged
Cost:
0
Color:
Colorless
Type:
Land
Rarity:
R
Number:
145
Artist:
Jung Park
Text:
{T}: Add {1} to your mana pool. {1}: Inkmoth Nexus becomes a 1/1 Blinkmoth artifact creature with flying and infect until end of turn. It's still a land. (It deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters and to players in the form of poison counters.)
/Inferno Titan
Inferno Titan
Inferno TitanSet: Magic 2011
Cost:
6
Color:
Red
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Giant
Rarity:
M
Number:
146
Artist:
Kev Walker
Power:
6
Toughness:
6
Text:
{R}: Inferno Titan gets +1/+0 until end of turn. Whenever Inferno Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, it deals 3 damage divided as you choose among one, two, or three target creatures and/or players.
and friends could do their thing.

Finally, after brewing, debating, modeling and practicing for nearly two hours we were all happy with the results we had obtained to take down the ensuing tyranny of undying. It was at this point that the store owner approached our group to share some wisdom with us. “You do realize that you have come up with at least 6 various counter-strategies to what you believed was an overpowered mechanic. Not to mention that you have done so nearly completely with cards that are already available”. It was at this moment that the underlying point of his musings became apparent to most of the group. All of the concerns that we have had about the mechanic had perfect answers that were already a part of each environment.

Apparently Wizards has a much more comprehensive way of play testing and assessing new game components than it did ten years ago.


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