Double-faced cards eh? Apparently those words are all it takes to bring out the Chicken Little in all of us. A quick search of some random MTG-related message boards and some Facebook posts yields dire warnings:
“I don't like it.”
They are “the definition of clunky.”
“One of the worst mechanics in MTG history.”
“Most epic fail since Jace 2.0.”
“Top-down design is the ruination of the game.”
“I almost wonder if these cards will end up banned…for logistics reasons.”
If I had a dollar for every time the sky actually has fallen I'd have three dollars… but only because that money was already in my pocket. What's interesting though is that this is the first time in recent memory that there has been such a community backlash regarding an issue of logistics rather than one of appearance or mechanics.
For example when 8th Edition was announced many players were dissatisfied with the new card face — and especially with the artifact border which was a light gray rather than the solid brown used in prior sets (an issue of appearance). When Blightsteel Colossus was spoiled it was nicknamed “One-Shot the Robot” because it could kill a player with a single attack and many players were unhappy with the card's perceived power level (an issue with mechanics and loosely an issue with the usurpation of Darksteel Colossus' place of honor).
Somehow we have survived both tragedies and continue to play Magic.
If I were to hazard a guess I'd say that the “Diffusion of Innovation” theory often encountered in healthcare is highly relevant to how the Magic community reacts to each new set. According to the theory the general population approaches new ideas as follows:
The proportions of the pie graph above represent the general theoretical estimate of how a random population approaches innovative concepts. If we take the Wizards of the Coast R&D members and others involved in the set's creation to be the Innovators (those who first propose new mechanics and ideas) we can see that those who “glom” on to the ideas as soon as the spoilers are out (Early Adopters) are a much smaller proportion of the population than those who identify with the innovations later (but resist at first).
In his “Making Magic” column this week Mark Rosewater acknowledged that the primary opposition and issue with the double-faced cards is one of logistics especially in terms of Limited. That said I've seen little argument that the flavor of these cards is poor. On the contrary this is shaping up to be one of the most flavorful sets in quite some time — and the Day / Night mechanic as Mark points out is evocative of the morality tale that structurally is embedded in most horror stories.
Therefore if we can get past the logistics then we should be satisfied with the set. I suspect that a small proportion of us will enjoy the double-faced cards immediately… but for the rest of us they may take some getting used to.
The primary logistical issues that I have seen thus far are:
Concern: If there is a financially expensive double-faced card it likely will experience more wear and tear than a normal card.
While might be a reasonable concern the impact of this mechanic on card value would only be significant if one of the transforming creatures were a tournament staple to the extent that the difference between a NM and SP price for the card become meaningful.
As flavorful as the mechanic is I see this as being unlikely – and if it occurs 75% of packs will have a proxy card. The additional effort required to use a proxy is minimal meaning that you can preserve you value if you want to.
Concern: Drafting this set will be less skillful because cards with two faces will be known information.
In a way this reminds me of the many debates that arose when Wizards announced the removal of damage going on the stack. At first it was thought that it would make the game easier to play. (At least in the Internet Magic community that was seen as a bad thing because it allowed those who've invested less time in the game to succeed at higher levels.)
However it turns out that combat damage without the stack prompts an equal number of decisions — but the decisions are made on different levels than before.
In the same way I think that having small amounts of known information in a draft may seem degenerate (i.e. “everyone will know I passed a green card”) but the impact is limited to a few cards and there are separate strategic decisions involved because everyone can see the cards.
Concern: The use of proxy cards especially in Limited events will pose a challenge to judges and may enable cheating.
Of the three concerns this feels the most troublesome to me. While judges already have a difficult job I don't think that this mechanic makes it more difficult for them to perform their necessary duties (they're skilled enough that this probably constitutes a small hurdle).
But at the same time the more frequently cards are moved between different zones (especially proxy cards) within the context of a game the easier it will be for a skilled cheater to alter what card has been drawn etc.
Putting logistics aside this set looks very interesting so far. While it's difficult to assess cards outside of their context until the full spoiler is up we do have the opportunity to briefly examine some of the new cards. Many of the cards that have been spoiled so far are vanilla or French vanilla… but there are some interesting diamonds hidden amongst them. Let's get to it!
The premier aggressive decks right now seem to be Mono-Red Aggro and Tempered Steel. While Tempered Steel likely will persist through the upcoming rotation Mono-Red will take a few hits — most notably the losses of Goblin Guide and Lightning Bolt both of which perform extremely important functions at low costs.
So where might a card like this fit in? There are three possible scenarios: In the first there will be a powerful “human”-themed deck in which this functions as an aggressive presence. In the second there will be a deck with Vampires Werewolves or Zombies against which white-based control will need a trump card (much as Kor Firewalker plays the trump for red) in which case this may see reasonable sideboard play. In the third it doesn't see play at all.
While I've seen this card compared to Ajani Goldmane I see it as being closer to Steel Overseer but without the card-type restriction. While it has the opportunity to hit the battlefield as a larger creature than Steel Overseer it shrinks itself to grow other creatures – this has the opportunity to be a role-player in an aggressive white deck (tautologically) but the single white mana in the cost means that it might see play in Tempered Steel as well (though I'm not sure that it the redundancy in Glorious Anthem effects is needed).
I actually like this card a lot in the sideboard of control decks that struggle with the mirror match. While black-based control decks easily can answer an 0/3 it seems as though U/W decks might struggle to answer this card outside of countermagic (since Into the Roil will have rotated removing “bounce for value” from the table). Plus the fact that the 0/3 has Defender gives it protection from Gideon Jura.
The Vampire Lacerator of the block. We're well past the time when a 2/2 creature for a single mana should raise eyebrows (remember how amazing we thought Isamaru Hound of Konda was?) but we should expect this card to be a role-player in aggressive black decks should one emerge. (This is relevant because Diregraf Ghoul is an uncommon unlike Vampire Lacerator and therefore might have a heightened monetary cost.)
I've seen some positive reviews of this card so far and I'm somewhat confused by them. While Slith Firewalker saw play as a 1/1 “back in the day” it had haste and was played in a format with Chrome Mox meaning that it could begin attacking on the first turn.
But there were also several other “Slith” creatures in the format at the time each with a similar ability but without haste and none of them saw competitive play. As such I don't expect Bloodcrazed Neonate to see Constructed play.
If the text on this card were slightly different (as in “each graveyard”) I'd almost guarantee that this card would see play. As it is there isn't a significant advantage to playing it on turn 2 — and unlike its much more powerful cousin Tarmogoyf it isn't powered by fetchlands or early cantrips.
However if a deck emerges that dumps an inordinate number of creatures into the graveyard then I can see this as a more efficient Lord of Extinction — though in an extremely limited niche archetype.
I wish I knew how difficult it will be to flip these cards but the average spell density per turn is something that will only be fully understood once the metagame begins to develop.
However this card is a “lord” for two mana which means that it will see play somehow somewhere. Its “transform” ability while not as linear as something as giving Merfolk islandwalk (Lord of Atlantis) or giving illusions hexproof (Lord of the Unreal) may be a viable path to victory because neither side of the card is legendary.
Even at a cost of seven mana repeatable Control Magic effects usually wind up seeing play. Untapping with this card also seems incredible against aggressive decks — and a single activation moves Olivia out of Incinerate range while three activations move her out of Dismember range. If I had to sum her potential in a sentence I'd say “Marginal Standard use with the potential for more but very possibly a Block Constructed powerhouse.”
These lands are done in the style of the M10 dual lands (like Glacial Fortress) but are set up to support enemy colors (e.g. U/G R/W U/R W/B and B/G). Though these may see print in a core set some time in the future they currently serve to supplant the enemy color fetchlands — and almost certainly will debut at costs much higher than their non-enemy-color compatriots.
While many of us have been focusing on Modern and the ever-evolving Standard format Innistrad has crept up on us like a thief in the night – which is appropriate given its theme.