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.

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