Lorwyn is a mechanically designed set. What do I mean by that? Well, you can probably already figure it out from the name, but mechanic design deals with cards that were designed based on the mechanics. Shock is a real simple example of this. I say "cards," but really it can be anything. You can use this to refer to blocks, cycles, abilities, whatever. On the other hand, when a card is designed by flavor (also known as "top down" design), it just means that the card (or set/ability/whatever) was designed based on a concept. A good example of a flavor designed block was Time Spiral block. They took the idea that the block should be based on messing with time. There were some mechanical aspects in there, but the block itself was driven by a concept. Now, like I said in the first sentence, Lorwyn is a mechanically designed set. It isn't driven by one strong concept like time travel or spirits (ala Kamigawa block). What does this mean? Generally, mechanically designed sets are better (at least in my opinion; I'm sure someone out there considers Kamigawa block to be their favorite) since most of the focus is on mechanics and game interactions and not the concepts behind them. Of course, you do need some aspect of flavor in every block. Let's all admit that one of the things that made Time Spiral such a good block was the great theme, but let's also admit that if Kamigawa had any good mechanical aspect to it, it might haveve actually been a decent block.
DarkRitual's Inter-Block Design Theory
All this talk about mechanics and flavor has led to this theory I have about inter-block design. For those that don't know, inter-block design is the design in one block that is a result of being next to another block. For example, since Invasion came out, the top two blocks in number of gold cards are Ravnica (162) and Invasion (138). Time Spiral is number three with 41, and by a large margin, too (Odyssy has 15, Mirrodin 0, Kamigawa 2, and Onslaught 4) Coincidence? But why aren't we seeing cards that deal with time related concepts behind them in Lorwyn? Here is my theory: At least every other block will be mechanics driven, and the blocks before and after will be "influenced by" that block. Time Spiral doesn't influence the blocks around it much because it's designed through flavor. But if you look closely, you can see bits and pieces of Lorwyn block embedded into Time Spiral. For instance, in Time Spiral block you have nine creatures with the creature type "Giant." But in the previous six blocks going all the way back to Invasion, you only have 19. With Elementals, you have 22 in Time Spiral and 67 from Ravnica to Invasion. That's pretty significant if you ask me; out of all the blocks in Extended, one block has more than a third of the cards of some of the relevant creature types in Lorwyn. That's a tenth for Elves and Goblins, but you have to remember that in Onslaught those were important creature types while Giant and Elemental weren't.
Mechanics and Cycles of Interest
Evoke: Wizards learned from the mistakes they made in Onslaught. One of the problems of a tribal block was that if you were dedicating most of the set to tribal cards, you wouldn't have enough room for spells. They tried to solve that problem with the morph flip-up effects, but that didn't help since morph was mostly unplayable in constructed. Evoke solves the problem. You don't need to take away precious tribal cards for spells because they are one and the same now! Plus, this presents you with a Kavu Titan-like decision. Do you play the evoke card as a spell for cheap, or as a creature for more mana? Mechanics that force you to make hard decisions make Magic a better game because it separates the good players from the bad ones.
Tribal non-creature spells: This was the second problem with Onslaught, and Wizards figured out the solution five years later. Control decks had no use for tribal creatures because they don't play that many creatures. Onslaught constructed turned into the best tribal deck (Goblins), versus whatever the control deck of the month was. The tribal type solves the problem somewhat. Now a control deck could play something like Faerie Trickery, throw in some control cards that have synergy with Faeries, and get a legitimate control deck that uses a tribal theme. The only problem is that I don't think there are any good control cards that have synergy with Faeries. Maybe it's one of those things that will get better in the next couple of sets. Or maybe we just have to use a different creature type. Tribal non-creature spells also solve the same problem evoke does. They allow you to play non-creature spells without hindering your tribal strategy because your non-creature spells and your tribal spells are one and the same.
Harbinger cycle: There is the obvious combo with evoke and the tribal spells. For example, you could play Flamekin Harbinger to search for Mulldrifter to draw two cards, or use Boggart Harbinger to fetch a Tarfire. Obviously they are also good for fetching actual creatures of their respective type. Again, this might be the key to introducing control and combo to tribal themes that have been previously used by gggro. Tutors are always useful in control and combo decks; the fact that these allow you to search for non-creature tribal spells and evoke quasi-spells as well is an added bonus.
Command cycle: When I first saw this cycle, I thought this was really cool. We are used to "Choose one out of three." But there was a big problem. The charms were common, so most of the options were really situational or they just sucked. This cycle is rare and there are many more options you can take, and usually there is one option that is always good. The blue Command for example: "Draw a card" and "Return target permanent to its owner's hand" are always useful. The other two choices are situational, but in a good way. There obviously will be times when you want to counter a spell, or tap all of your opponent's creatures. And that's what makes the cycle neat - in different situations you might want to do other combinations of the options instead of playing the card for just the Counterspell or just the bounce part of the spell. Like I said earlier, the more things you can do with your cards, the better the game is. It's not all good though; the blue, white and black Commands seem to be the only ones that have a chance in constructed play. The green and red Commands cost 5, are sorceries, and don't do anything dramatic enough to make them worth playing. I know I'm not supposed to turn this into a Standard review, but the fact of the matter is no matter how good a mechanic is, you need cards that are actually playable. There have been some pretty good mechanics that just didn't get the power they needed to thrive. This might be an example of one.
Planeswalkers: Wizards made a mistake here. They reveal in Future Sight that planeswalker will be a new card type in the future. Everyone that's ever played vanguard Magic was hoping for a spin off on vanguard cards because that's the first thing that came to mind. Then in the very next set, they produce this: the result of a drunken encounter between creature and enchantments. Now, don't get me wrong, planeswalkers could very possibly be playable, but if you set the creativity bar too high and don't produce, it's not going to matter even if the cards are decent. People are going to remember the design that could've been.
This is how planeswalkers are made!
This is how planeswalkers are made!
Clash:I'll be honest. I'm torn between liking this ability and hating it. On one hand, it's just so random. Tournament players like definite outcomes. They don't like leaving stuff to chance. They want to know whether or not your opponent's tapped creatures will be untapped next turn as a result of Pollen Lullaby before they even play the card. On the other hand, this might just bring forth a new element of probability to the game. You can change how often you win a clash by playing more expensive cards (as in more expensive mana cost). Things that put cards on top of your library will give you a better chance to win if you choose the right card, or things that rearrange your library as well. It won't be 100% certain, but if you clash enough times in a match, the number of times that it will go a certain way every time will be less and less random. And you have to realize, by putting lands in your deck you have a similar feeling of uncertainty. You don't know how many lands you will draw in the first five cards, but the more cards you draw the closer that ratio gets to "number of lands"/"total cards in deck."
It's also worth noting that clash is a crude way of cycling through your deck, although your opponent gets to do this, too. In constructed play, this isn't really meaningful because there are cards out there that do the job so much better than clash does. In limited, on the other hand, this is a huge thing because you aren't going to find that many utility effects that make your draws smoother (draw spells, tutors, etc). So even though it isn't as good at cycling through your deck as some of the other cards out there, since there are so many cards in Lorwyn with clash it's actually effective in limited. So now that I've presented both sides of the argument, I have to choose a side. For now, I'm going to say that clash will be a failure. It's starting to remind me of morph. Morph was solid in limited just like clash seems to be. But limited aside, no one played many morph creatures for their intended purpose of bluffing.
Changeling: I like simple mechanics that change the game significantly, and this is one of them. The idea of creatures that are every type isn't really that appealing. But in Lorwyn, its very significant. You can play them along with your Goblins or Elves or Giants. Search for them with any of the Harbingers. They work with any permanent that cares about when a certain creature type does something - and there is a lot of that in this set. Of course, all of this should be obvious to most of you. But it still deserves mention simply because Onslaught's experiment with changelings, Mistform Ultimus, didn't really go over well.
Champion: This ability answers a nagging question asked in the days of Onslaught block. How do you give tribes big creatures and yet still have that tribal feel to it? You can't exactly make them cost more mana, because then tribal decks wouldn't dare touch them. Back in the Onslaught days, they tried to solve this issue by giving you beefy creatures for cheap with a drawback. Goblin Goon was a good example of this. The other solution was to give you a small creature that could get bigger over time like Elvish Vanguard. It didn't work that well back then, but I think they figured it out for this block. The "champion" ability makes you give up a creature of the same type when it comes into play, meaning that Wizards is making you play this card in a tribe-themed deck, which is the entire point. Some people like to compare this to a Faceless Butcher effect that can only target your creatures. This is not entirely true. With Faceless Butcher, if you destroyed the Butcher before its comes-into-play ability resolves, the leaves play ability would trigger (and therefore resolve) first and the result is that the card you choose with the comes into play ability would never come back. With "champion," there is a clause that lets you choose to sacrifice it. So "champion" doesn't suck. Your opponent can't two-for-one you with any spell that removes the card from play at instant speed. Although they can two-for-one you if you only have one other Goblin in play and they kill it in response to you playing Boggart Mob. It's also worth noting that "champion" somewhat acts as a deterrent to Wrath since you would end up with the only creature on the table after Wrath resolved.
Lorwyn is a tribal block, and we have yet to talk about tribes at all. In order to do that, let me first make an observation about Onslaught and Lorwyn that has come to my attention. If you remember Onslaught block, you had tribes like Beasts, Goblins, Elves, Zombies, etc. But did the tribes really "do" anything? I mean, sure the Elves generally were good at producing mana and boosting their power and toughness. Goblins were fast, Beasts were strong, and so forth. But did they have a common theme? To illustrate my point, compare Invasion to Ravnica. In Invasion, there were multicolored cards, and in general they fit the color pie like they were supposed to, but they also didn't really have a common theme. Then five years later Ravnica comes along and the combinations of colors (now called "guilds") actually had a theme. Boros was the fast guild, Orzhov was the "bleeder" guild (won the game very slowly), and so on. My point is, in Lorwyn, the Elves aren't just a collection of creatures with the same creature type that just produce mana and pump themselves. They have a common theme.
I could talk about the eight tribes of Lorwyn and sum up what's good and bad about them. But let's face it, that would be really boring. So instead I'll just talk about the best and the worst. Keep in mind that I am not talking about the power level of the tribe (or at least I'm trying not to, I probably will though. Slap me around a little bit if I start doing that.)
The Best: Elementals - This might be a surprise to some of you out there, but I just really like what Wizards has done with Elementals. Elementals have gone from one of the most irrelevant creature types (meaning you didn't care the creature was an Elemental. I'm not saying they were at a lower tier of power) to probably the first control/combo tribe to ever exist in the game. This tribe is ripe to be a good control tribe: it's got the best tutor creature, a couple of good evoke creatures that can be used as spells, and since there are Elementals in all five colors you have access to all the changeling tribal spells (remember that those are considered Elemental cards for the purpose of Flamekin Harbinger). I'm not trying to make any predictions here, but I'm just stating the potential.
The Worst: Elves and Goblins - This is probably the purist in me, but I hate what Wizards has done to Goblins and Elves in this block. Goblins used to be the fastest tribe out there, so now in Lorwyn they turn them into a recursion tribe? Makes no sense to me. I can see the positives. In formats like Extended, Goblins might actually get better because they have been given more "powers" for lack of a better word. Previously Goblins couldn't grab stuff from the graveyard, and now they can. But this isn't the constructed review, this is the design review. It was a bad mistake to turn Goblins from the fastest tribe in the game to a joke of a tribe they are now. They could rule constructed for all I care and it would still be a mistake. They are just not Goblins to me anymore. Elves suffer from a similar fate. They are still somewhat as fast as they used to be (definitely not as fast as back in the day, but thats expected), but they have turned Elves into the token producing tribe. Ironically, my favorite token producing card, Nemata, Grove Guardian is a legendary Treefolk, which is one of the featured Tribes in Lorwyn; but Elves were never known as token producers back in the day. At least Goblins have a chance to be relevant in multiple formats, and Elves probably will not be. When was the last time a deck built around tokens was even viable? (Glare decks, maybe?) Even if we assume that elves will be awesome and everyone will be happy, they are still lame from the design twist. And I'll admit I'm probably partial towards Elves and Goblins because my first attempt at a tournament worthy deck back in Onslaught was, you guessed it: an Elf Goblin deck. Yes, I'm serious, Elf Goblin.
So we are done with the design review and this is just "me" time (although in theory this has something to do with design). For every block, I like to determine my favorite card. In Ravnica it was Dark Confidant, Time Spiral's was Momentary Blink. Generally I like to pick Johnny/Spike like cards, and this year seems to be no different. Right now its looking wide open because there really wasn't anything that got me worked up like the previous two years. So anything can happen in the remaining sets, but right now the forerunner is: Galepowder Mage. Obviously there is the comparison to Blink, but this one is reusable on a creature and you can remove opponents creatures (presumably so they don't block yours). One thing to note is it stays out of play until the end of the turn. So you can't just use this guy to instantly untap or activate a comes into play triggered ability at instant speed. But at the same time, you play Wrath during your second main phase and then get one of your creatures back due to this guys ability at the end of the turn. Nothing too special, but I didn't really see that much else that was better. Perhaps my favorite card of the block will be in the next set. Until then, stay tuned.