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.

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