Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Common Design: Watchwolf

Watchwolf? Isn't that an uncommon? Yup, sure is. Part of this series is going to be looking at cards from Magic's history and seeing if they can be downshifted to common. Magic has certainly come a long way since Zvi previewed the card in 2005 and it is reasonable to ask if Watchwolf, today, could be a common. Common Cause cohost Mike Vadman did just that after our last recording session and I decided to tackle it for this column. 
As a refresher, the criteria I look at include:
  • Support casual play
  • Support limited play
  • Entry point into Magic
  • Viable for high-level constructed
  • Adheres to New World Order
  • Color Identity
First up - casual play! Watchwolf has no problems here. It is large enough that it can be an impact play at multiple points in a game. Being a 3/3 on turn two is nothing to sneeze at in tournaments or on kitchen tables. It also fits nicely into multiple green/white or Selesnya strategies - the small creature rush or the GW Little Kid Special. Watchwolf is also a card that holds up over time. Even though the eight year old luster has worn off the Wolf is still a reasonable creature by today's standards. Watchwolf might not be exciting but it has a role in casual play. In fact, it is this lack of excitement that makes it perfect for common.
Limited play is another matter entirely. Watchwolf came from Ravnica: City of Guilds, a set and block with a two color (or guild) theme. At the time of printing Watchwolf was solidly an uncommon. Today, well, it depends. Alara Reborn, another set in a multicolor block, gave us Qasali Pridemage which is sort of like a Watchwolf, only with way more text. If Watchwolf were printed today, it could likely be a common if only because creatures have gotten better as a whole since 2005.  As seen in cards like  Garruk's Companion and Porcelain Legionnaire green and white can have three power two drops at common. While the GW casting cost might be easier than the GG of Companion in a gold set, the size of the creature should not be a problem for modern design. With regards to limited play I see no reason why Watchwolf could not be common.
As a gateway to Magic, Watchwolf passes, but not at the front of the class. It does a good job of showing off white and green as the creature colors and the art is spectacular. The flavor text and art does a great job of conveying the nature Ravnica while also alluding to the unique nature of this creature. To me the big fail is the creature type. Wolf is not a heavily supported tribe and could be misleading to newcomers. However, it is still cool enough to be a common, especially if tribes were incidental to the block structure. 
Watchwolf is a card that would see high level constructed play in modern magic. Efficiency is always valued and creatures with power greater than their casting cost are always attractive. Watchwolf saw play in some of the earliest "Zoo" decks after Ravnica came out and I do not doubt it would see feature match tables today. on top of that, at common it could help enable a "cost effective" option for people looking to dip their toe in competitive play. 
The Ravnican wolf aces the New World Order test. It adds nothing to board complexity besides three power and three toughness. It would be a simple and elegant common.
Watchwolf also aces the color identity test. Green and white are the creature colors, with white getting the more creatures lower on the curve and green getting the larger creatures. Combine the two and you get a cheap and large threat. 
So is Watchwolf a common? All signs point to yes. Given the correct block structure (one that cares about multicolored cards), Watchwolf would hit every note a common should. It is an elegant execution of a simple card the exemplifies its colors. A real winner. 
And to think, it was once revolutionary...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Common Design: Quirion Ranger

Last week on #MTGPauper there was some discussion about the importance of Quirion Ranger to Stompy. The sheer amount that this elf can do got me thinking about its design and development, and whether the card would be a common under today's standards.
The metrics, for review, are:
  • Support casual play
  • Support limited play
  • Entry point into Magic
  • Viable for high-level constructed
  • Adheres to New World Order
  • Color Identity
Also, as pointed out by MTGColorPie, I am looking at a whole released card and not just the design. As such this will touch on development as well (at least in Magic terms). 
So Quirion Ranger does quite a few things. Looking at the realm of casual it appears to be a winner. It sports a casual friendly creature type in Elf, making it play nice with a wide swath of cards. Elves are omnipresent in any two year span so it is likely a less entrenched player will have access to others of the pointy eared tribe. If not, no matter- Quirion Ranger is not a tribal required card. It has utility for Johnnies as well - the ability to replay a land and untap creatures can be important to different contraptions. Not only that but the ability plays very nicely with the popular Zendikar mechanic of Landfall. It also lends itself to allowing people out of mana woes (one land can net two mana, two lands nets three) which can increase the amount of feel good in any one game. Quirion Ranger does a lot of heavy lifting and making it easy to acquire (at least in rarity) is a benefit to people playing for fun.
My experience with Mirage block limited is, well, limited. From what I know this is a format where three drops mattered (with all the Flanking knights) and cards like Man-'o-War and Fallen Askari  played important roles because they broke the "turn three" rule. Quirion Ranger is an oddity here as it could potentially aide a player in casting their three drop, but at a hefty price in tempo. Mirage block also lacked a lot of creatures with Big that could take advantage of the pseudo-Vigilance granted by the Ranger. Quirion Ranger is far more likely a limited role player, similar to the modern world's build around uncommons - key in their deck, but not so much elsewhere. I imagine it would be a beast of a one drop in triple Zendikar mono-green.
As a gateway, Quirion Ranger scores middling marks. Sure, it's an elf and provides insight into the Quirion stripe of these green staples. The art certainly implies that these elves are far more likely to be found in the jungles of Jamuraa than the snow-covered forests of Fyndhorn. The flavor text also reenforces that these elves care about the ground beneath their feet and are its stewards. This is a common fantasy trope and makes the game more accessible to newcomers. 
Quirion Ranger seems like a card that should see upper level play. It was an important card in various Recurring Nightmare- Survival of the Fittest decks, both in Standard and Extended (hah, remember Extended?) while also seeing current play in Legacy Elves!. It played nice with Winter Orb back in the day and has an effect that continues to influence Pauper Stompy today. So as far as a common goes, it succeeds here.
New World Order. Ho boy. Quirion Ranger fails miserably here. It is not just because two subsequent homages, Wirewood Symbiote and Scryb Ranger are both uncommon but also due to the way Ranger can muddy up a board state. Suddenly every Forest represents an on board trick forcing players to remember an otherwise innocuous 1/1.  Sure, this is awesome, but imagine having to do it every draft. Worse yet, the added complexity and land drop reset could lend itself to awkward judge calls. As a common Quirion Ranger could cause massive headaches in a modern limited environment.
That being said this is a color identity direct hit. Not only is it the right size and creature type for a green common, it also exemplifies green's ties to nature and shows hints of green's future adoption of Vigilance. As far as mana elves go, only the trinity of Llanowar Elves, Fyndhorn Elves, and Elvish Mystic do a better job (at common, at least) of hammering home the connection to the wild world. We love lands, and we love them enabling our giant monsters. We're going to smash your face now and keep them up on defense now, kay?
The verdict? Today I am fairly certain that Quirion Ranger would be an uncommon. While it does a great job of selling the color and acting as a starting point for Magic, it also holds a level of complexity that is far too great for common now a days. But on behalf of Pauper Stompy players everywhere, I am glad this card came out in 1997 and five years later - we'd never be able to use Shinen of Life's Roar as pinpoint removal otherwise.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Common Design: Delver of Secrets

Well, this was going to come around sooner or later. One of the most offensive cards in Pauper, Delver of Secrets has made its pest like presence felt across every 60-card format in which it is legal.  The question remains - is it a good design for a common? 
A refresher on the metrics:
  • Support casual play
  • Support limited
  • Entry point into Magic
  • Viable for high-level constructed
  • Adheres to New World Order 
I want to add another one that I missed yesterday:
  • Color 
Basically, how good does the card reflect its color identity,
So Delver. On the casual play front, this card is a line drive single. Delver of Secrets creates a great moment of "will it flip" which translates to stories. Hey, remember that time you bricked on Delver for the entire game and still won? That was awesome. Delver of Secrets also allows new players to explore different avenues of deck building a design - now it makes sense to run creatures with a heavy compliment of spells. I can see the Little Kid smiling broadly as he (because in these scenarios, I'm the LK) figures out how Spellheart Chimera and Delver of Secrets work in the same deck. 
Delver of Secrets also has decent, if not fantastic repeat value. Yes, it gets tiresome when someone always flips Delver, but that's in competitive constructed. I imagine there have been far more games played with UCB Delver than Sorkin Delver. 
Also, Transform is just a cool mechanic. Getting two cards out of one is something everyone can appreciate and people who see it for the first time can genuinely appreciate both the weird and awesome in their new toy.
How about limited? Swing and a slow grounder, easy put out. Delver of Secrets presents a build around limited card of the worst kind - one that leads a player down a bad path. Limited is largely about creatures and Delver, while a creature, requires a higher density of spells than most 40 cards can supply. Normally this would be a complete miss but in the incredibly deep world of Innistrad draft, having  a two-faced blank isn't the worst thing ever.
As a gateway into Magic and the world? A ringing double. For Innistrad  this card is great. It drips Gothic Horror and dips into pop culture/high literature with allusions to both Kafka's Metamorphosis and the film The Fly. Immediately one can glean some information about this world. Nils Hamm also hits the art right on the sweet spot.
Delver of Secrets also provides a glut of information about Magic. Not only are there these things creatures, but instants and sorceries too! I wonder what other types of cards there are...
The big miss for me is the fact that Delver is a double-faced card. So far only two sets have used this technology and it could be misleading to a newcomer that this is the norm. After a few sets of cracking packs without such a card, they would get the message and I don't think that amount of feel bad is enough to drive people away from the game.
High level constructed? Just click here.
As far as New World Order goes, Delver does eat up a ton of complexity points (as does the transform mechanic). This is fine since it is a major theme of the block. Also, for all the complexity, it actually exists in two very simple states, keeping the on board complexity down. All in all, this card passes the NWO test.
How about color? Well, in the sense that blue is stupid good, so is Delver. In other words, this is a bloop single and advancing to third on defensive incompetence. Sure, Delver plays nice with blue's strength in spells but Insectile Aberration is a seriously pushed creature. If it had two power or one toughness I think it would be more in line with aggressive azure animal stats, but as is it feels a few hairs too good. Execution of color philosophy: excellent. Execution of late 90s power level: spot on. 
So is Delver of Secrets a common? Absolutely. It is a very good card that toes the power line in a format limited by rarity and helped to define Standard, but it still is not an affront to the color of its expansion symbol. In fact, it's hardly the most egregious error in Pauper Delver. To me, the cards in Delver that cause the most problems when playing against the deck, starting with the biggest, looks something like:
  1. Cloud of Faeries
  2. Ponder/Preordain
  3. Preordain/Ponder
  4. Spellstutter Sprite
  5. Delver of Secrets
Edit: I do not think any of these cards warrant being banned at the moment. Cloud of Faeries is on my personal watch list, but not for reasons related to Delver.

Aside from being on the upper deck of power level, does Delver really fail as a common - what do you think?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Common Design: Teroh's Faithful

I am trying to write more. Now that I've moved I want to write a little, every day. Some days I know I will need a prompt, and this series will hopefully serve to aide that. I am going to examine the  existence of commons through the light of the parameters I set out here and others that strike my fancy.
I wanted to get started and couldn't think of a good topic on my own so I went to Gatherer and hit "random" until a common of some interest came up. That card: Teroh's Faithful.
Since this card comes from before the advent of New World Order, I think it is important to look at that element first. With regards to on board complexity, Teroh's Faithful is actually a fantastic card. It has an enter's the battlefield effect and then sits around to act as a Horned Turtle. This is an ideal execution of the NWO. The card is elegant in design and execution but I wonder how it lends itself to repetitive game play. As Mark Rosewater often opines, Odyssey block draft was one of the Spike-ist formats of all time. Given the repeat factor of Magic Online one wonders if the four life boost by the Cleric would be too much when taken at a macro level. This is mitigated somewhat by being a common in the middle set in what is likely to be an underdrafted color due to the black heavy theme and draft order placing the White incentive later (that is unless you're Zvi). 
Tweaking the knobs and making this a slightly smaller creature for altering the mana cost to 1WW might affect the replay value, but all things considered (given the color diversity of the block), I feel that Teroh's faithful, from a pure limited perspective, is a fantastic common.
It also hits the right notes for a casual card. Players of all stripes love lifegain and this one comes in a respectable package. It also makes a fine defensive creature and has a relevant creature type in Cleric. While Teroh's Faithful might not be a stellar build around for a kitchen table affair, it does enough to provide solid game play value to warrant inclusion in brews of all kinds. it is also a high impact card, meaning that a player on a limited budget could always have one on hand to thwart that pesky red mage.
What about selling the world? Well, Odyssey did have some world building issues (namely resetting major creature types) but this one does some important things. First, it establishes white's role as a religious high ground in the set while also alluding to the character Major Teroh. The issue? This card has little to do with the actual Teroh and a player might not ever know that Teroh is a bird (would it be too hard to provide some avian iconography on those robes?). The flavor text also does not do a great job of highlighting the nature of the set as black heavy, but it is very hard to ask one card to do that, so it gets a pass.

So what's the verdict? Teroh's Faithful is more or less an ideal common. While it might need some massaging the current world of MTGO drafts and reduced limited complexity, it would not seem out of place (at least stats wise) in a modern block. 
But that's what I think- what about you? Tell me what you think about Teroh's Faithful and some other commons you'd like to see examined.