Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Born of the Gods odds

Now that spoiler season is upon us and we're less than two weeks out from the Born of the Gods prerelease, now is as good a time as any to take a look at the upcoming cards and mechanics. The usual caveats about prereleases apply but let's have fun anyway.

The first thing to note is that Monstrous isn't returning, which suggests to me that it is a mechanic that WotC thought needed more work. Rosewater can claim all he likes about feeling that the mechanic has room to play in, the fact is that this mechanic has been one of the worst written ones I've seen in years and had some incredibly weak implementation. Of the 16 creatures with Monstrous, (in a 234 card set- that's 6% so...lot's of faith that WotC has in that mechanic) none of them are very compelling so it seems like it's wise to let that one percolate a bit more.

Which leads us to Tribute, the creature mechanic to replace Monstrous in Born of the Gods. Based off the punisher mechanic from Odyssey block, the mechanic wants to give opponents a choice between two 'bad' options. This is an easy one to judge because it will be strictly about whether or not both choices are bad.

Pharagax Giant is the example of weak implementation: 5 damage or allowing a 5/5 creature with no abilities for 5 mana isn't a difficult choice. Let them have the 5/5 and chump block or kill it later, unless you're ahead on the board then just take 5 and run over their tiny 3/3. This isn't even a difficult decision in multiplayer, although it does become more interesting as it could be a way to screw over the person who's got the lowest life total.

On the other hand, Fanatic of Xenagos is a fantastic execution of this mechanic. A 3/3 trampler for 3 mana is good as is and now the opponent has to choose if it's a 4/4 or if it will be a 4/4 with haste for a turn.

The success of Tribute depends on more cards being like Fanatic than the Giant. I don't have a lot of hope that WotC will do this but of the five creatures with Tribute, two of them-the Fanatic and Flame-Wreathed Phoenix-seem to be pretty good. The other three creatures are just big dumb monsters (two of which in green, continuing WotC's "green's creatures are terrible" policy) that are just bigger and dumber with tribute and don't really provide opponents with a difficult choice. 6/6 creatures that die to a 1/1 with deathtouch and don't do anything else are rarely worth the mana, especially since neither of them solve the problems that you want solved.

Heroic and Bestow both come back and I haven't really seen anything in those mechanics that wow me more than the last time. Again; it's still early but Bestow hasn't gotten any cheaper and Heroic hasn't gotten any more interesting. I don't know if it's fair to ask limited-level mechanics to occasionally step up and be constructed worthy but it would be nice if they occasionally tried.

Last we have Inspired, which is the second mechanic from the Shadowmoor block they've reskinned. First, I miss the untap symbol. Just look at it: it's cooool. An aesthetic thing but still, I prefer the elegance of that symbol over the keyword + explanation that Inspired has.

Second, by making this a triggered ability instead of an activated one, it's suddenly become a mechanic that has a lot more to manage. With cards like Gilder Bairn, if you could tap the creature, you could untap the creature as an ability innate to the creature, so you didn't need to try and get a second card out there to get the effect. In comparison, Inspired happens no matter how the creature becomes untapped, which guarantees you the effect at the beginning of every turn (should your creature be untapped). They even nerf the Inspired mechanic on certain cards by requiring a mana payment on the triggered ability, in order to keep players from simply abusing combos.

My preference is for the former, as it means that 1) I don't need another card or time in order for the ability to be used. A card that is good unto itself is better than one that relies on outside forces. 2) I like the untap symbol. 3) For me, the Shadowmoor mechanic is clearer as it's written in the traditional Cost; Result style. Inspired uses a whole lot more text and is less elegant.

It's not a terrible mechanic, although I can't say I'm excited about the implementation of it so far. Gaining life, paying to generate creatures, these aren't terrible things but they aren't that cool either. The one that is generating the most buzz is Pain Seer, because it allows for card draw but even then the buzz has been relatively calm.

We'll see what the future holds; with nearly 100 cards to be revealed, I'm hopeful there are some gems amongst this bunch but since so many rares have been displayed, that hope isn't very high.

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