Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Common Design: Nyxborn Shieldmate and Nyxborn Eidolon

Today in Limited Information Marshall Sutcliffe spoiled five common enchantment creatures from the upcoming set Born of the Gods. These cards are all excellent examples of what a common should be. I'm not here to go over that for these. Rather, I am going to take a look at two of the cards and talk about how well they explore the conflict between the colors White and Black and serve as an introduction to the game of Magic. Clearly I have to be talking about Nyxborn Shieldmate and Nyxborn Eidolon (as if the title wasn't a dead giveaway). When you look at these cards they seem like limited fodder.
But they are so much more. They are cards you actively want to show someone who is just getting into Magic.
Let's start at the most basic element: white and black. These concepts are well ingrained into culture as opposing forces (just look at Star Wars or the Yin and Yang). This duo do so much to illuminate the conflict in Magic while tapping into this inherent capital. As if the color of the borders were not enough the idea is hammered home since the power and toughness on these cards are the inverse of each other. They cancel each other out - a positive and negative ion. Immediately the idea of a war between the colors is thrown in front of a gamer. This helps to make the other color conflicts and alliances easier to grok in the long term.
The Shieldmate tells us a lot about white. With a lower casting cost we can infer that white is better at small creatures (or maybe it won't come as a surprise in the long term). Having the higher toughness of the pair also aligns white with the concepts of defense and protection; with life. Contrast this with the Eidolon which is more expensive and is more aggressive. If white is about life and protection then black is about death and aggression. While not a direct link it can be easier to understand that black is more interested in its self as one plumbs deeper into color philosophy. What is more readily understood is that black is a more assertive color - it is willing to pay more to advance its goal (winning the game). 
This of course gives us the first hint of Magic strategy: more aggressive creatures cost more. From here it is not a huge cognitive leap to understand that attacking is valued as a path to victory while defense is not. 
These creatures also share a mechanic in Bestow. Why is the Shieldmate cheaper on this metric? It takes some hindsight and involvement in the game but a few minutes of introductory study can give volumes of information. White is clearly better at the enchantment style of magic but why is black worse? Hmm, well, black is the color of death and magical auras don't really die. Rather they cease to be. Maybe black, being so associated with the mortal coil, is much better at dealing with things that are alive instead of ephemeral (of course there is a flavor fail here since the Eidolon is a spirit).
So what are these cards: Limited fodder, Pauper Cube inclusions, or windows into the world of Magic? I think it's important to examine commons on more than just the base level because sometimes you will find gems like these that do so much more than attack and block.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Common Design: Goblin Bushwhacker

Happy New Year everyone! I hope the holiday treated you well and you're all ready for 2014! I know I am. I recently opened up submissions for Common Design on my Facebook page (please feel free to make future suggestions there or in the comments) and decided to take on the challenge set by long time fan Maurillo and examine Goblin Bushwhacker. Just as a refresher here are the criteria I look at to see if a card succeeds as a common:

  • Support casual play
  • Support limited play
  • Serve as an entry point into Magic
  • Viable for high level constructed
  • Adheres to New World Order
  • Color Identity
Blazing the trail we have Casual Play. Goblin Bushwhacker has a huge advantage in this realm in that it is a Goblin. This creature type is supported in just about every Core Set and every other block. Goblins are an incredibly popular tribe and this is an easy addition to any Goblin deck. More than that it serves as a cheap one shot lord style creature. While cards like Goblin King and Goblin Chieftain don't really break the bank the Bushwhacker can provide a similar effect at a fraction of the monetary cost.
The road forks here and we get to another bonus from Bushwhacker - it doesn't just affect goblins. This means that our tribal pilot from the first paragraph can get extra utility from this card in any deck running Mountains. This card is a solid investment for multiple decks and someone who isn't a heavily invested player can get a lot of mileage out of this little guy. It pushes towards a specific deck design which can also help a player proceed from a base level of understanding to more advanced (or as invested players will understand it, rudimentary) deck building. 
I remember Zendikar limited fondly. I had just returned to playing paper Magic and was doing quite well (opening a Volcanic Island at the prerelease helped). For those that were not around, Zendikar was an incredibly fast limited format. Attacking was paramount and blocking was nearly nonexistent.  Most matches were races (very often decided by Vampire Nighthawk. Goblin Bushwhacker did work in this format because it could provide a win from nowhere victory. In other formats this would not be a great thing but in the hyper-aggro world of triple Zendikar Goblin Bushwhacker helped to give decks a chance of peeling a win from the top very early in the game. Goblin Bushwhacker was also instructional - it (along with cards like Goblin Shortcutter) provided a map for the red mage: attack early and often.
Goblin Bushwhacker does a fine job of being the start of someone's Magical journey. It relies on a well worn fantasy species while also giving insight into one of the core philosophies of red. It also taps into the trope of the Goblin horde, a Tolkien inspired attribute, that can be understood easily by anyone with basic fantasy knowledge.  While doing this it also provides insight into the world of Zendikar - in what sort of world do you need a guide and someone to help you through the backwoods trails...and in what world would you trust a goblin to do this?
Oh, and let's not forget this card's tournament pedigree. Andrea Giarola used Goblin Bushwhacker to propel himself to a top 8 berth at Pro Tour San Juan (and 3rd place finish) in 2010 with a 7-1-2 constructed record. At Pro Tour San Diego 2010, potential Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl played a Goblin Bushwhacker deck to 23rd place. Goblin Bushwhacker is a tournament caliber card.
New World Order is all about board complexity and Goblin Bushwhacker shines here. It has an impact on the turn it is played but then it reverts to Mons's Goblin Raiders. This is an excellent level of complexity - it does something then goes to be a perfectly normal creature. Goblin Bushwhacker scores high marks here because it is quite the simple card (in execution) with a huge level of potential play packed in the elegance.
As a halcyon of red, well, Bushwhacker excels once again. It has the small red creature type in goblin. It plays into reds love of all out aggression and the emphasis the color plays on attacking - the act now think later motif. Goblin Bushwhacker also is a nod to red's ability to stoke emotions- I'm angry, you should be too!
Let's face it. Goblin Bushwhacker is a powerful card that did unfair things in Pauper Storm Combo decks. But the fact remains it is an excellent implementation of a common. If it came from a set where attacking was not the way of the day I could see it being an uncommon but as is Goblin Bushwhacker lives up to its black expansion symbol.