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...

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