Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I think I hate Morph

With Khans spoiler season in full swing and nearly half the set spoiled, I think I can talk a little bit about what's coming up, specifically Morph.

And why I'm really not very excited about the execution of this mechanic's return. 

Because it's all about investment. Magic, at its core, is a game about precisely this: investing X mana into a card to get Y return. And Morph is being used as a tax, not a credit for creatures which is making it a mechanic I don't want to use.

There is a cycle at common which allows one to morph without mana: merely revealing a card from your hand will do the trick. All of these cards are incredibly weak but precisely the kind of necessity that a draft environment requires. I don't fault WotC for making these cards: they are the workmanlike pieces that are required. But they aren't good, either. They are just necessary.

No, what worries me are the cards that have morph and are supposed to be a cut above; Ashcloud Phoenix, for example. I could pay 9 mana in order to play this on turn three and then, hopefully, on turn six get a 4/1 flier that does me two damage and has a glass jaw so it can come back as a morph card that I need to invest another six mana into to take two damage and get a 4/1. Or I can just keep my awful 2/2. This card is one that actively discourages me to use the ability!

Or I could just pay 4 mana for a 4/1 flier that will die to everything and come back as a 2/2.

It's this set's Archwing Dragon. Except at Mythic rarity. I could not be less excited about that.

Contrast this with Jeering Instigator, which allows you to Threaten a creature and gives you a 2/1, for an investment of 5 mana. That is a fantastic example of what 5 mana should do for you and an easy one: They pretty much stapled the cost for Threaten to a cost for a 2/1 creature. Most morph creatures fail to meet this standard of playability though.

Rattleclaw Mystic fails. You can pay 3 for a 2/2, then morph it for 2, adding 3 mana, then tap it for 1. Your net increase in mana for the investment: -1. That's right, you LOSE mana on this. Well why the hell would you do that when you can pay two mana for a 2/1 and on turn three have up to 4 mana! Sure, if you use the morph then it's possible to have six mana on turn four, but I submit to you that having five mana on turn four is as good, hell, it's often better most of the time and having four mana on turn three is better than casting a vanilla 2/2.

Then there is Thousand Winds, which is so stupid I barely know where to begin, except to acknowledge that it has to be that expensive if the game is going to be balanced. Six mana for a 5/6 flier in blue is not a great deal. Not at all: it's about average, even for a rare. Getting to six mana is a challenge to start with, but seven? The odds that you will miss a land drop on turn seven in limited is almost 75%! In Standard constructed, the odds of being able to cast a seven mana spell on turn seven is less than 30%. Odds are you will be using seven mana on turn eleven. Is that data from other formats? Yes. But we can extrapolate from there to acknowledge that getting to seven mana in any format is difficult; it is precisely why cards like Sneak Attack or Show and Tell are in such high demand: They let you cast seven+ mana costing creatures for cheap.

Except the effect for Thousand Winds is so powerful that it absolutely has to cost seven mana. Clearing the board for a 5/6 flier? That effect needs to be expensive! So why make the flier cost so much? Why not give us an efficient flier with a huge upside if we invest?

Ditto Efreet Weaponmaster. Paying 8 mana for a first striking 4/3 that allows another creature to get a temporary bonus (and it is a rather strong offensive bonus) isn't worth it, although at least the Weaponmaster gives the boost when it enters the battlefield or is morphed. 

And what bonus is ANYONE getting from Grim Haruspex? Beyond getting to play a creature with an 'x' in its name? What point is there to paying four mana for this creature? Bluffing?

And this is the root of my problem: Morph isn't treated like an investment, where we get something awesome if we invest in that extra mana and time. It's a punishment that allows us to get a terrible 2/2 and then, if we're good, maybe we get something cool. Contrast this with the Suspend mechanic from Time Spiral, where we'd pay cheaply in mana but more in turns for a creature or spell but that spell was awesome (Hypergenesis) or that creature came into play with haste, allowing players to use it right away, even if that creature was meh. 

And we're going to get a suite of spells that relate to a mechanic but don't help, like Sylvan Echoes was for Clash, entirely reliant on Morph creatures and providing us with zero other benefits (looking at you, Secret Plan).

Which leads us to my next prediction; a very slow environment for Limited (again). None of those 2/2s are going to survive Bile Blight which has the awesome advantage of hitting every morph creature on the board-morph creatures all have the same name! (EDIT: in this article, it is said that morph creatures are nameless, so that really won't be an issue. Nonetheless, vanilla 2/2's are fragile and I don't expect them to make an impact. Still, I got that rules bit wrong and I'm sorry). So in Constructed, they're pretty much not worth the risk. And though Khans has not been fully spoiled, we already know that there is a lot of mana fixing in this set so people can play three-color decks.

But where's the removal? Suspension Field is at uncommon and will pretty much eliminate any morph effects because creatures that are removed from the game are turned face up. Murderous Cut costs 5, unless you happen to have cards in your graveyard. Mardu or Sultai Charm requires three different colors of mana-and let's not kid ourselves; that's going to be challenging to come by. The common removal spells aren't available yet but since we know Morph is a key mechanic in this block, WotC is going to want players to have access to that. Which is a good thing but it leads me to ask: Why are we using Morph then? What benefit comes from this investment?

I am really hating the execution here and that is not a good sign.

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