Thursday, January 3, 2013

Gatecrash mechanics first impressions

OK, I'm back. I hope everyone's rested up and had a good holiday. I'm going to start with some Gatecrash review, then next Tuesday I'll give the final update on Starve's evolution, and then it's on to a new deck! You'll want to start here for this week's article, as the link will take you to a preview of each of Gatecrash's mechanics.

I'll just tackle this alphabetically.

Battalion, the R/W (Boros) guild mechanic is pretty weak. It can be shut off, which means it doesn't have any intrinsic value. Compared to Hero of Oxid Ridge, which also needs other creatures for Battle Cry to be effective, but just needs any other creature. One is just fine. Contrast with another mechanic like Threshold, which could also be shut off, the issue becomes: Magic is very, very good at killing creatures. It is very, very bad at dealing with graveyard-centric powers. Shutting off Threshold is much more difficult than killing your opponent's third creature; thus there is a very strong incentive for making Threshold happen. You will be rewarded. The easiest path to get Battalion to turn on is to make tokens in colors that generally make 1/1 creatures.

Electrickery could easily hose you out of Battalion and effects like this are all over red and black. Usefulness in Limited will depend on how much removal is in Gatecrash but I'm not very hopeful.

Bloodrush is there to represent Gruul (G/R) and I really hate this mechanic. Here's why: in Limited environments, it's almost always going to be better to cast your creature than it will be to use the Bloodrush ability. Limited environments are pretty much defined by creature battles, so having more is better than having pump spells. In addition, Bloodrush can only affect attacking creatures. While thematically relevant to the G/R guild, it's just another hamstring on a color combination that has historically been weak.

Now, in other previews of Bloodrush, the ability has given +X/X and something else: first strike or trample, for example. However, why give a creature first strike for a turn when you can just have a first striking creature?

In Constructed, the Bloodrush creatures worth playing will be judged on their ability to win as creatures. If I have seven mana and I use the Bloodrush ability to give a creature +9 and trample then yup, I deserve to win. But the odds of me getting to seven mana before the game is over are low and even if I get there, what's to say my opponent won't just Murder my creature in response? Nothing protects my swinging dude. Worse, if I'm at seven, why not just get eight mana and cast a 9/9 with trample that my opponent now has to use a removal spell on?

It is essentially a 'win more' mechanic and it won't help someone who isn't already ahead get out of a bad situation.

The Dimir (U/B) guild is represented by Cipher, a mechanic I feel icky about. First: it plays right into Blue and Black's strengths; creating creatures that are difficult to block. Second, it is in colors that provide inherent protection for their creatures: blue through countermagic and black through removal. So, knowing this, as Wizards must have, there are two choices with the Cipher spells:

1) At least one overpowered 'Oh, crap' card.
2) They all have to be marginal at best.

Well, great. I'm pretty sure that #1 is what's going to happen because they want players to have a reason to play the guild. The game doesn't need an overpowered blue mage though! They were just letting Black and Red have some time in the sun after so many years away!

But if #2 comes true then that's a bummer for everyone excited about playing Dimir. I feel for that, even if I do believe that Blue is still the dominant color in the game. I believe that's less likely though, because the tools are there to make it work and every single time in Magic's history that Blue has been given access to free spells, things have gone badly. Every time.

On top of that, there's a very weird bit of language with Cipher because it doesn't use the same template as Imprint, the mechanic it is clearly based upon. I use the Cipher ability to encode? Why not just use Encode as the keyword? It would be more consistent, which helps players solve a complex problem much easier. I hope they have good reasons for that because otherwise they've broken at least one good design rule.

There is a great deal I like about the Simic house (U/G) mechanic Evolve. First, it ties into the old Simic mechanic of Graft. This is really a stroke of genius and kudos on this one. Second, it feeds into what they guild does: make creatures different. What does the Simic house do? We change the creatures you have into other things. Better things. Third, it rewards players for doing what they want to do with this color combination: You play creatures, your creatures get better. It's that simple.

Contrast this with Bloodrush, which doesn't want you to play your creatures to get a benefit, yet is in a guild and color combination that really, REALLY wants to play big nasty creatures that hurt you.

Finally, the W/B guild, Orzohv, has Extort, which may be my favorite of the five. Evolve is really likable so it's hard to choose but I really dig this one, too.

Mechanically, it very cunningly represents what the guild does: the 'mafia church' aspect of slowly bleeding opponent's dry is a very nice one. Plus, it's always 'on' and it triggers on any spell you cast, not just Black or White ones. So you can run it in other colors and it's still an effective way to eek out those critical extra points of damage/points of life to keep you in it. So many games hinge on just a few tiny decisions that nudge things one way or the other and this has the opportunity to keep someone in a game they might otherwise be blown out of. 

All of these impressions are just that, of course. There's still a great many cards to be revealed to show how effectively these mechanics have been implemented and how they might mesh with RtR's mechanics or interact with the larger game. But feel free to leave your ideas in the comments and show me how cool Battalion is because I'm overlooking something!

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