Friday, September 2, 2011

The Garruk problem

So, now that we've seen the way Innistrad handles werewolves, how about how they deal with Garruk, undoubtedly a card that WotC wants to be one of the highlights of the set. Start here for the introduction to Garruk and then I'll give you my two bits.

Now if you'll just refer back to what I said about the Transform mechanic regarding the werewolves of Innistrad for just a moment--actually, I'll quote myself because it's not fair to make people wade through 4,000 words--

Players cannot force opponents to cast or not cast spells so this mechanic gives opponents control over or at least a say in how you use your cards and how you execute your strategy....The werewolf player has to gamble on what their opponent will do, instead of being able to control their own fate.....While it might take a little time I think that people are going to find out that they don't like having someone else take control of their stuff. 
OK. So that's me. Now, from the article at the Mothership:
...we also don't want Garruk's transformation to depend on the opponent doing something from a very narrow category of actions. Players like to feel that they have control over what's going on with their cards.
So if players like to feel like they have control, and you make a mechanic that takes away from their control, why are you hoping that mechanic will be successful? I realize that this critique isn't speaking to Garruk directly but rather Transform as a whole; nonetheless, I feel that it's extremely relevant to what I was saying since it echoes my thoughts but also comes from official sources.

Now let's move to the card itself.

I have to say: there's some really cool things about this card. The fight ability on it is...pushing things a little but it's an ability that should have been in green for over a decade. That it's on a Planeswalker pretty much cements that ability's place in the color pie, so now, after a long, long time, green finally has a way to deal with creatures that is in theme with the color's philosophy. That's a good thing.

The justification for this, that Garruk has been shown doing more of the dirty work himself in the comics is something I'm a little less eager on because that explanation feels like nobody is in charge. Garruk is a main character, a Planeswalker and one of the company's mascots, so to be even remotely interesting, of course he's going to take actions for himself. In the comic, before he's even corrupted, he's smashing and bashing and generally wreaking havoc all by his lonesome. Characters who do nothing are not good characters--and green cannot have a character who does nothing. It's against the nature of the color.

It's just that when the justification is put the way it was: hey, I saw it in the comic, it strongly hints that nobody's really thinking these things through. That may not be the case, it just feels rather weak, which I'd have to say is what my problem with Innistrad is as a set, so far. The flavor justifications for doing what they're doing sound unconvincing and half-assed, as though they aren't sure that this is the right thing. If you're going to break the rules like this, you'd better be 100% certain. They don't sound like that, hence I don't have much confidence in the mechanic and I certainly don't see it being a desirable one to play.

Still; the fight ability IS green. That the method used to justify Transform is all out of whack is problematic but it's also something I'd accept more if things like: Look, we know we're on the fringe here but making a playable, fun game is still paramount and this is the way to do it, instead of 'hey, I saw it happen in the comic.'

Making creatures: also green. Because they are zero cost actions, both abilities exist to do one thing: Transform the card so let's look at that, because there's were things get weird.

The flipped Garruk is meant to represent a Garruk corrupted by black magic. He's not himself anymore and should have some hint of black to the abilities, right? He's sick but he's still a Planeswalker so he should bring the kick ass, somehow.

Garruk summons creatures and that makes sense: All previous versions of Garruk do this. However, Garruk summons wolves with deathtouch.

There isn't a single wolf in Magic previous to now that innately came with deathtouch. If you do a search for deathtouch, there is one and only one creature that provides deathtouch to wolves, Wren's Run Packmaster. The wolves themselves are just 2/2s: it's only the Packmaster that gives them an ability.

Garruk summons creatures and there are many in green-oozes, spiders, archers, basilisks and black-vampires, scorpions, humans-who all have deathtouch. Spiders, vampires and humans all have a place in Innistrad so could have been used, though spiders make the most sense in this case.

How does a wolf get deathtouch? This is about the flavor of the card: why isn't Garruk summoning something that is sickly, even mythical, something that demonstrates his corrupted nature instead of a wolf that happens to have deathtouch? They certainly don't suggest it on the card's art: Garruk transformed looks frenzied but there's nobody else in the picture. Oh sure, I could make the case that maybe the wolves have rabies and are ill...but why should I have to? Isn't the whole point to the Transform mechanic to show both the before AND after in slick new ways?

They're the professionals; why does it feel like they haven't they done their job?

Moving on, the next ability, searching for a creature and putting it into hand is totally in line with a Green/Black card. The third ability, ties in set themes of the graveyard, as well as Green's Overrun and Green and Black's attachment to the graveyard. I'm good with that, even if it is a little wonky.

What someone might notice at this point is that there's no way for Garruk to transform back. It's a one way event. From a flavor view that's pretty cool but from a functionality view, it violates something. Let me remind you what:
...we also don't want Garruk's transformation to depend on the opponent doing something from a very narrow category of actions. Players like to feel that they have control over what's going on with their cards.
You don't have control over your cards. If you want to just make wolves or use the fight ability, or go back to that, tough noogies. For some cards, of course that's fine because who's going to want Ludevic's Test Subject back after doing all the work to get Ludveic's Abomination? But my point is still there: do you, as a player, have the most control over your cards? If the answer is no then the mechanic is crude and needs to be fixed.

All of that said; I do think that this is a pretty well executed card. If it was just a one-sided card, I'd totally dig it. The abilities are interesting and they push the Planeswalker card type out in new ways. It just grates on me that clearly jarring elements exist on this card and that the justifications are feel so undercooked.

I get that not everything can be brilliant but so far, Innistrad is not impressing me much.

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