Predicting the Future
By Greg Krajenta on May 15th, 2007 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
Which Futureshifted Mechanics Will We See More Of?
With the release of Future Sight, Wizards of the Coast has promised something they've never done before: a preview of R&D's plans for upcoming blocks long before they're released, or even decided on. But is that what they delivered? Certainly many "futureshifted" cards strongly hint towards directions Magic could go in upcoming sets, but many – in fact most – don't. So which cards are designs we're likely to see more of and which ones aren't?
The Deep End of the Card Pool
You may be wondering exactly how I know what R&D will and will not do. Have I used my super ninja-skills and infiltrated WotC's Renton headquarters? Have I hired a Scanner to read MaRo's mind (and then make it explode)? Am I the kingpin of a super-secret espionage racket of spies/janitors? Unfortunately it's nothing that cool. You see, the clues are in the design of the cards themselves. It's about how narrow and deep the design space of the mechanic is.
Get it? Comedy gold, I tell ya...Most people are familiar with the terms "narrow" and "deep," narrow meaning a card has a very specific and limited use in gameplay; deep meaning a mechanic has a lot you can do with it without making different versions. Well, narrow can also apply to design, meaning a narrow mechanic is one that has few versions that do anything worth printing. If the mechanic is highly specialized in gameplay, then there probably aren't many different ways you can do that mechanic on a card. From these two terms you can also extrapolate their opposites: the opposite of narrow is broad, so a broad mechanic is one that has a lot of different potential variations. The opposite of deep is shallow, so a shallow mechanic is one that does not have much you can do with it without changing some aspect of the mechanic.
For example, echo is a mechanic that is both broad and deep. There are a lots of things you can do with echo in its most basic form, and there are a lot of variations you can do on echo. Split second is a mechanic that has limited depth and is very narrow. There are a good number of different split second cards, but the mechanics you can meaningfully combine it with are limited and there are not really any variations you can do on the mechanic. A mechanic like zero-toughness creatures is both narrow and shallow; there are just not many cards it would make sense on and very little in the way of variations you can do.
What does this have to do with anything? Simple. The broader and deeper the futureshifted mechanic is, the more likely it is that we'll see more of it down the road. The more narrow and shallow it is, the more likely it'll either be a one-shot in Future Sight or a mechanic that only gets splashed here and there. Of course, there are some other factors to consider, but design space is the biggie. So let's get to it!
Let Miss Cleo Tell You What Your Future Holds
Let's start by getting the obvious out of the way. R&D has introduced some keywords for existing abilities; most of them have already been added as errata and one hasn't, but reach, deathtouch, lifelink, and shroud are basically all guaranteed fixtures in Magic from now on. The one insight they give us about the future of design is that R&D will continue to reduce card wording by keywording common abilities. As unnecessary as it sometimes seems, this is a good thing because it reduces words on a card and allows more room for complex abilities or flavor text.
Now to the meat. Let's talk about the mechanics that I think are very likely to show up in the near future. These are mechanics that are deep and broad, some of which are given quite a bit of space in the futureshifted subset.
It's not just a quirky ability,Tribal
it's giant design space.
This mechanic is huge. We've got a new supertype, a new form of cycling that cares about creature type, bounce versus a specific creature type, cards creating tension between allied and opposing tribes, and non-creature tribal cards. Clearly, there is a big push for tribal here and the implementation is very distinct from the way Onslaught did it. It makes sense that the most strongly pushed themes in the futureshifted subset would be from the most immediate future, so if I had to speculate on the theme of the next block, tribal would be my clear choice.
Delve has so much design potential it's downright silly. It is incredibly deep, as there are a plethora of cards that could be designed with a very basic version of the mechanic. The three cards given to us so far, for example, are the most basic and vanilla uses of delve you could design and they only scratch the surface. Additionally, delve is also very, very broad since there are tons of variations you can do with it. I will outright guarantee this mechanic to be a major player in an upcoming block.
Please make me relevant...
I could see an entire block being built around this theme. Granted, Lucent Liminid is pretty vanilla and doesn't give much a hint of what could be done with it, but that's actually part of the reason why I think we'll see more of the idea in the future. There's pretty much no mechanical justification for making Lucent Limind an enchantment; it needs other cards to interact with it and give it a reason to be an enchantment. That tension leads me to believe this is a road R&D has actual plans to travel, even if they're not sure when yet.
They Coulda Been a Contender
There are quite a few other mechanics that have a great deal of design space but just don't feel as strong. These are good candidates for showing up sometime in the future, but they're not compelling enough to suggest they'll be big players.
A set could definitely be built around all sorts of mechanics that fiddle with power and toughness, like Bloodshot Trainee. However, a mechanic like this needs another card in order to actually do something, and that's not the best foundation for a big mechanic.
Dead planeswalkers make me happy.Tapped/Untapped Matters
Caring about whether a creature is tapped or not can encourage attacking while also creating a reason not to (though that's not especially the case with Centaur Omenreader). That's a cool tension. But I'm not sure how much can be done with it. I could easily see this pop up as a cycle at some point.
Mana Cost Matters
There's definitely some space here and R&D made some really cool choices in the implementation, with Mistmeadow Skulk, Phosphorescent Feast, and the simple but clever Nix. The thing is I don't see this as the type of mechanic players would get excited about in large numbers. This feels more like a fun thing to splash here and there.
Card Type Matters
Card type matters is one of the more raw design spaces to be tapped by futureshifted cards, but Tarmogoyf is more of a clever one-shot sort of effect. If they build a block around this concept the cards will look a lot different from this. There would need to be a more flavorful reason why a spell or creature cares what type another spell is beyond what Tarmogoyf delivers.
Bitter Ordeal is an undeniably cool effect. I could easily see this popping up as a cycle or a cycle in each rarity, but not much beyond that. Gravestorm is neither as powerful nor interesting as regular Storm; chaining spells together to up your Storm count can be a risky challenge, whereas sacrificing a bunch of permanents or playing a board sweeper and then playing a spell isn't particularly exciting.
Send Them Back to the Future, Please
We've seen a good chunk of mechanics with potential, but the futureshifted cards are also rife with mechanics that are highly unlikely to see print again. These are mechanics that just don't have much space, or only play well in certain versions, or just don't make sense on more than one or two cards. If this block is all about time, then these mechanics have about 15 minutes.
This mechanic is wonderfully implemented and is an incredibly elegant answer to the legendary drawback. Unfortunately, that means either pretty much every legend printed after this will have it, or none will. I can't imagine Grandeur being made a permanent fixture on legendary cards. Sure it could be used on non-legends too, but that would actually make the mechanic significantly less cool. Enjoy this one while it lasts.
Dude, I'm way cooler than Kamahl.Transfigure
The guild keywords of Ravnica were chosen not just because they represented the guilds' strategies, but also because they are narrow. Ravnica's keywords (with a couple exceptions) intentionally do not have enough space to carry a set, and we're unlikely to see more than a splash of them here and there in the future. And such is the case with transfigure, transmute's lame cousin. That's not to say transfigure isn't useful or doesn't have some potential, but I don't see it being in a set any time soon.
Give Opponents Life for Mana
Unlike the other members of the "cycle of dual land cycles", the drawback on Grove of the Burnwillows is almost negligible to any other color combination. Only Red-Green and maybe Red-White's strategies are consistently aggressive enough to make giving a few points of life to your opponent a drawback. Any control, aggro-control, or combo deck would absolutely laugh at the idea of not including these duals. That makes most variations of the cycle far too strong and highly unlikely to appear in the future.
Honestly, how many versions of me
would make any sense at all?
Zoetic Cavern, Whetwheel, and Lumithread Field are all cards that absolutely scream "I've been sitting unused in the design file since Onslaught! Print me!" They are cool, single-card variations that got cut from the block the mechanic debuted in; they're not glimpses of the future.
This is the kind of idea that you could conceptually build an entire block concept around. And it would suck. There's just precious little you can mechanically do with a creature that plays as a land without ripping the game's identity and balance to pieces. Just imagine what an absurd drawback a 4/4 land creature would necessitate.
Enchantments that tap, along with the aura that affects all your creatures (Emblem of the Warmind) are both fairly obvious design space, but they both mess with the identity of enchantments. They're just not what enchantments are or should be about. Cards like Flowstone Embrace are ideas that R&D has considered – and rejected – time and time again.
Ah, the bittersweet sting of a mechanicColored Artifacts
you really wish didn't suck.
Along the same lines as the enchantments, Sarcomite Myr is well-implemented but in large numbers would dilute the identity of artifacts. This strikes me as an idea akin to the non-creature morphers: they thought about doing it in Mirrodin but cut it, probably replacing them with the artifacts that instead are strongly associated with one color. And if they didn't do it in Mirrodin, they're not likely to do it ever.
Poison is not back, folks. Sorry to be the bearer of good news. The fact is that poison always has been a flavorful but terribly weak mechanic and as long as it keeps being implemented strictly as an ability that triggers off of creature damage, you're better off just dealing damage. The poison cards in Future Sight are easily the strongest ever printed, but they probably will stay that way.
Between the cycle of vanilla creatures, Muraganda Petroglyphs, Imperiosaur, and even Force of Savagery, there are very strong hints of a theme built around a setting that's primordial and favors simplicity, like ability-free creatures. In fact, the theme is communicated so strongly I'm tempted to put it in the "Likely" category. But if you think about it, 185-700 cards built around very simple mechanics and vanilla cards would just be boring. I don't see this mechanic as the centerpiece for a set or block unless there are some major surprises along with it.
There's also a whole bunch of cards that just don't really work as anything other than their current implementation. Cards like Nacatl War Pride, Seht's Tiger, Aven Mindcensor, and Ghostfire have unique and very specialized effects that are both shallow and narrow. There's precious little you could do with those effects on other cards and they don't open many doors for variations.
Has anyone seen my gloves with
There are also several futureshifed mechanics that might see further print but don't strongly indicate one way or another. Some notable examples are:
Frenzy, Absorb, Aura Swap, and Fateseal.
All are easily printable, none are particularly interesting. Also, like poisonous, no existing cards have been given errata to get them. They might show up at some point, but I doubt anyone would care either way. Aura swap easily is the most interesting and would be my pick for most likely candidate in this list.
Effects From the Graveyard.
Bridge from Below and Thunderblade Charge both feature abilities that work in the graveyard, and Yixlid Jailer shuts them down. This could easily be a basis for another block theme. There's a couple big problems, though. First, the graveyard is already a powerhouse beyond anything Richard Garfield ever intended. The last thing it needs is to get stronger. Also, a card like Bridge from Below is... well, it's kinda dumb. Not that the effect isn't interesting, but the mana cost is completely irrelevant. Why does it even have one? A permanent that doesn't do anything at all while in play is just not a design that should go beyond a few random cards.
The other big category of "maybe" mechanics is the variations on keywords, such as off-color morph and echo, non-mana cycling costs, etc. I put these as maybe because I don't think we'll see much of these specific mechanics in the future, but they make a statement about design in the future. They tell us there may be more exploration of this space instead of sticking to the standard M.O. of keeping mechanics in their simplest versions for the first set of a block, putting a small twist on them in the second, and saving weird variations like these for the third set.
And Then, There's...
I don't really have a choice but to mention him, right? The funny thing about this card is it has the single most broad mechanic ever printed. How is that possible? Because the mechanic is undefined; it could be anything and is literally without limit. How's that for a paradox?
So this is obviously a red herring creature. There are no contraption cards being planned, there's no such thing (except the usual exception) as a Rigger. Of course, they might go ahead and make them just to have a little fun with us, but that's beside the point. What does Steamflogger Boss tell us about the future? It's R&D's way of saying "anything can happen" and in that respect it's the best futureshifted card in the set.
Presently, the Future Is the Past
Overall, I have mixed feelings about the futureshifted cards. On one hand, they're a bunch of cards with crazy/cool/wacky/unique effects, and what's not to love about that? On the other hand, they're supposed to be making a statement about the future, but so much of the set feels like it's about the past instead. Rather than give sneak previews of the upcoming block or leave tantalizing hints about blocks in the more raw stages of design, the majority of the cards are mechanics that simply "haven't been done yet," which translates into "mechanics that were cut from existing design files for one reason or another." For me, that's a big disappointment.
By Greg Krajenta on May 15th, 2007 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now