Scrubbing it: 9th Edition's Design

So it has come to this. In one and a half months 9th Edition will replace 8th in Standard and thanks to everyone's favorite user on Salvation, Rancored_Elf (thanks for everything), we already have the full spoiler. If one thing I promised myself from 9th has become reality, then the set will shake things up. Not only will it impact the T2 format (well, this is pretty obvious) but also Extended and how Core Sets will be in the future.

Eighth Edition wasn't a highly anticipated set by the players due to the removal of Counterspell, Painlands, Disenchant, and others. 8th was treated like a stepchild for most of that time. It also had, overall, a pretty low power level. It succeeded in keeping the game simple for new players, but as soon as such a new player got used to how powerful cards are supposed to be, Eighth was abandoned by even them.

This article will analyze 9th Edition and will try to conclude if 9th's design and playability will make it a success or if it has to share the fate of 8th.

Keeping it Simple
I think Wizards' plan to simplify the game for beginners in the Core Set is familiar for most of the readers. This is in theory a very good move as Magic is, at heart, a complicated game. But 7th and 8th Editions overdid that a bit too much. Although it simplified the game for new players, it has created a divide between them and the competitive players, which just made it harder to transfer over if you wanted to advance your gameplay.

Removing upkeep-phase effects from the Base Set was clearly a step into the wrong direction. Upkeep is one of the most basic things in Magic, being a time window for advantages as well as drawbacks. The more or less accidental inclusion of a single upkeep card in 8th, Phyrexian Arena, seems to have taught Wizards a lesson.

No, new players aren't as dim as estimated. Their potential is constantly misinterpreted. While it doesn't make sense to teach a block-specific mechanic for a single card, game basics like upkeep should be taught as early as possible.

Speaking of basics, what do you think is one of the most basic creature mechanics that was neither featured in 7th nor 8th? Correct, it's trample. Trample shows up constantly in Green and occasionally in other colors as well (mostly Red) in every major set in Magic's history. If a newer player starts to slowly switch to expert sets, he will be confronted with trample even with common cards.

To make up for the loss of trample, 7th and 8th featured the "new trample" on cards like Thorn Elemental. This new trample caused various rules issues for new players. But avoiding rules issues was one of the major reasons why trample was pulled. Something went wrong, didn't it?

Trample is back in the Core with 9th. It even gets a reminder text which hopefully simplifies trample a bit.

Wizards also made a mistake in this set with its teaching principles: Paladin En-Vec. As I said before, a single card isn't sufficient to teach a game principle, but the Paladin is the only creature with protection in 9th. Although it is a nice idea to reintroduce protection in the core, IMHO it still is a bit more complicated than trample and also less common. A single card isn't enough, even if it has two instances of protection.

Equip or be Dead
Speaking of complicated, Timmy's favorite card type since Creature is also included in 9th Edition. Yes, equipment is where it belongs. But why did I call it complicated? It has been around for two years already and it's not such a big deal, is it?

Well, yes and no. To new players it might seem odd if something that sticks to a creature like a local enchantment doesn't hit the grave when the creature dies, which might lead to some frustrating losses caused by the lack of rules knowledge, but that's also part of the game. Players need to learn that knowledge of the rules is necessary in order to be a good player as soon as possible.

Moving both included equipments (Loxodon Warhammer and Vulshok Morningstar) up the ladder of rarity should also help to simplify Equipment a little, as newer players will encounter them at a lesser rate. The rarity move of Warhammer also ensures that it won't spoil a second limited format as it did in Mirrodin Block almost whenever it was encountered. A fun fact of the Warhammer that gets overshadowed by its equipment status is that it's another rare with trample in the set.

Another step of the complication level will be the choice of the Equip reminder text. Will it be the longer Mirrodin version or the shortened version which is used at the moment? The already-known image of 9th Edition Loxodon Warhammer isn't very informative on that matter, as the Warhammer is a pretty wordy rare card.

Overall it's a good move by R&D to include Equipment in 9th. It probably follow us for the rest of our Magic lives and should be taught early.

Here comes the Pain
One thing that can't be ignored is the fact that the last two blocks were a horror trip for anyone who liked to play more than two colors. Since the departure of the Painlands when 8th Edition replaced 7th, Standard was developing into a mono-colored environment more and more. Onslaught kept the spirit alive while it was legal with probably the best lands for two-color play available, but when Onslaught left as well, it was practically impossible to make a deck based on more than one color successful. The consequence was mono-colored decks ruling the Standard environment and the only way to play more than one color was to play Green.

Let's face it; all the solutions Wizards gave us for this dilemma in the last two years are barely useful. The Invasion-CIPT-Lands can't be played in any aggressive decks, and are even crippling for control decks. The Painstones of Mirrodin should be counted as mana enhancements rather than colorfixers, and the tap-lands from Kamigawa, which originated in Tempest, are probably the incarnation of irony in itself. Guess why Tempest was ruled by mono-colored decks (it wasn't its land destruction theme alone). Even in Ice Age, when extremely similar lands were printed, the format tended towards monocolor.

Thank Heavens; our beloved Painlands are back, and they have come in full force. Yes, some have expected it, some couldn't believe it, but we have all 10 Painlands including the enemy-colored ones back in business. This could be valued as a dead giveaway of Ravnica being a set with multicolor theme and the practical impossibility of designing better multicolor enablers than the painlands. Not to mention the fact that functional reprints released in Ravnica would kill the Extended format (full reprints are out of discussion for Ravnica as places like Yavimaya or Adarkar don't exist there).

The problem is that enemy colors are supposed to be harder to access than allied color combinations. This also makes the principles of the colors a bit foggier for newbs. A thing that I personally value highly is that if you want to understand the game, you should understand the colors first. The inclusion of all ten pains makes this a little bit harder.

Still I'm very excited that the times of mono-color is over. I would have liked if the problem of enemy color painlands could have been solved in another way. But this is a necessary evil that should lead to a very interesting T2 format in the following two years.

Another thing to remark with this inclusion of all pains in 9th is that this makes all of them Extended legal for another period, even after the next rotation (in 3 years) when 7th and Apocalypse leave (and therefore all the pains would become illegal if not included in 9th).

Power to the People
One specific thing that 9th Edition will not lack: playable cards. While 8th Edition had a very small range of cards that would show up in tournament decks, 9th Edition doesn't look like that. Most notable in this category of instant playables are Leonin Skyhunter, Hypnotic Specter, Cruel Edict, Kird Ape, Jester's Cap, Rathi Dragon, Llanowar Elves, Quicksand, and Verdant Force to go along with the 10 Painlands already mentioned and the tournament cards that already were in 8th (Wrath of God etc.)

Well, I won't break all these cards down as we have two articles that specifically handle 9th Edition in the rotating constructed formats, but you see where this leads. I'm pretty excited about this list since it has some very high profile cards in it and many mid-range cards that can be included in any deck that uses their color and can shine in a specific moment. "Team player" cards if you like.

This is a major step towards a successful 9th Edition.

No Way Hose
The choice of color hosers for 9th Edition is also very interesting. As a reminder, here's the list of them:
White: Circle of Protection: Black and Circle of Protection: Red
Blue: Baleful Stare and Withering Gaze
Black: Execute and Slay
Red: Flashfires and Boiling Seas
Green: River Bear and Anaconda

The most obvious thing about these hosers is the number of them. R&D reduced the number of hosers to the minimum of the hoser-pair per color. Thats not a big change for Blue, Red and Green, but Black loses its Eastern and Western Paladins. White is hit hardest; after the loss of its Paladin Pair, it also loses its CoP cycle. Odds are that the CoPs were removed entirely from the set and the Black and Red one were put in later as the hoser-pair for White. With Story Circle, the all-time underplayed CoPs for White, Blue and Green can be removed easily anyways.

Another thing that R&D accomplished with these hosers is that they are easier to distinguish from the rest of the set. The symmetrical approach to the hosers is nice and the replacement of Boil with Boiling Seas will give all blue mages at least a little smile. But this leads to another problem with the hosers.

The definition of color hosers by R&D provides that the they should only be playable in extreme situations when one color warps the entire metagame. All color hosers should have a similar power level.

Well, the symetrical hosers in 9th have a nice optical effect, but they also break these rules. CoP: Red and Flashfires were always useful Sideboard cards as they can easily devastate the opponent playing the specific color, while cards like Anaconda and Execute are barely useful or even used due to their lack of power or far better solutions in the same environment. Who plays Execute in the Sideboard if he can have one of three or more other cards that do the same thing to a wider range of creatures?

An article by Mark Rosewater once stated the problem R&D had with the Green card hosing black in 6th Edition and the only possible solution to it was Warthog, a card that barely itches black players as it is the creature-killer No.1. So what the hell is Anaconda doing in 9th? Don't forget that there was also Compost in 7th.

This guess might seem a bit cocky, but Ravnica, a color heavy set, is coming up, and I hope and look forward to correcting this imbalance of power of the hosers during this set. Yes, I predict that Ravnica will have a double cycle of color hosers and many of these hosers will find their way into 10th Edition.

Making Johnny Happy
Johnny, the most misunderstood player type, has found a real joy in 9th Edition. As you see, Johnny isn't about winning every game. For the most time, he isn't necessarily about winning at all. Johnny's desire is to win in a cool way. Hes all about outsmarting the opponent and pulling cool tricks out of his hat. So what does 9th Edition have in his bag for little Johnny? Lots of cool stuff.

First to mention here is of course Battle of Wits. This card might also start popping up on the tournament scene with some people carrying 4 Deckboxes for their 250 card monstrosities. This card is always cool to explore and I personally have waited to play Battle along with Arc-Slogger.

Up next is Form of the Dragon showcasing a very good top-down design. I'm a bit sorry to see it back, as the Moat part of the card is just something I don't like to see on a Red card in the core set. It is possible that it shows up in tournaments with another round for bad Form, but probably won't as at the moment there isn't too much going for it.

The last card I want to focus on is Booby Trap which, other than its name, also draws attention as a card that can hit the opponent for 10 damage. The downside that renders this card nearly unplayable is the presence of Sensei's Divining Top. Still it will find some place in the hearts of some newer players and casual playgroups.

Time to say goodbye
It seems like 9th is shaping up very well, but there are also some cards to note that weren't included and should be said farewell. The start probably has to be our beloved Birds of Paradise. With 9th replacing 8th in August, the Birds won't be Standard legal for the first time ever. Sure, they come back in Ravnica for another two year period, but when Ravnica leaves Standard, that will probably be it for the Birds, never to return thanks to their nature as a one mana green flyer.

As we are on five colors at the moment, City of Brass will also be missed but the ten painlands make that spot up pretty much. Two other big tournament cards caused an instant outcry by the players on their removal from the base set: Bribery and Plow Under. These two will surely be missed.

Other cards that many players are sorry to lose include Johnny's best friend in 8th Edition, Intruder Alarm, Timmy's Pal Thorn Elemental and the go-to-guy of Black creature decks, Phyrexian Plaguelord. Farewell; hope to see you soon.

Themes and Balances
What's the main thing players are complaining about in 9th Edition? Right, the lack of Blue playables. The lack of big time playables and instant carddraw makes 9th one of the weakest sets for Blue ever. This matches the long-term plan of R&D stepping down Blue a notch or two and make it a lesser played color for some time.

But Blue isn't the only color that got stepped down a notch. Green got hit deeply too. Green was on an all time high since Odyssey with cards like Ravenous Baloth, Troll Ascetic, and Tooth and Nail. Green also benefitted from the earlier-discussed lack of useful dual lands and the time of Affinity with green as the new king of artifact hate.

Green doesn't get hit as hard as Blue but it gets hit relatively hard. It loses Plow Under, Choke, Birds, and even mediocre playables like Lure, Vernal Bloom, and Gaea's Herald. It even is stepped down from one of its main abilities with only Regeneration itself left to represent it. Sure it gains Llanowar Elves and Verdant Force, but that's about it.

On the other hand, Black and White seem to be on a high again. Black gains Hypnotic Specter, Sengir Vampire, Cruel Edict and keeps its useful cards from 8th, namely Persecute, Grave Pact, and Phyrexian Arena. With the inclusion of Mortivore and Will-o'-the-Wisp Black is on the other side of the regeneration trade. Being rid of Karma is just the icing on the cake.

White seems to make a huge leap forward. It doesn't lose anything, keeps Wrath of God, Worship, Sacred Ground, and Glorious Anthem. Its quality of creatures in the Core was never this high with Leonin Skyhunter, Paladin en-Vec, and Weathered Wayfarer. Gift of Estates and Blinking Spirit also cannot go unmentioned

Last but not least Red stays pretty much at the same level. With Rathi Dragon and Wildfire replacing Two-Headed Dragon/Lava Hounds and Inferno/Obliterate, Red might pack some more punch in the tournament scene. Kird Ape and Thundermare might also find its home in some decks. The inclusion of Threaten to the core is also a personal thumbs up.

Summarize This
Let's talk straight. If you're a Blue player, you will probably curse R&D for this set, but even you should not be able to ignore that this set is overall very well designed and scrub friendly and advances the game.

For my part: I'm very happy that 9th replaces 8th as it is overall a better set and features more playables for Standard.

Writing: chaosof99
Banner & Images: iloveatogs
Editing: Goblinboy & Binary


Posts Quoted:
Clear All Quotes