The first thing I always look for when the preview cards start rolling in is whether the next set is going a dramatically different direction, or if it's building on what was already there. From what we know, it looks like Born of the Gods is more of a building block than a dramatic new world. Many of the same themes and ideas we got used to in Theros are presenting themselves in this new set. I like it when they do this.
Even though 249 or more cards feels like a ton, it's really not. The slots get taken up quickly and I often feel like R&D is just giving us a cursory glance at what is possible with the new mechanics from a fall set. Now that they have us accustomed to bestow, heroic, and the other mechanics, they can really let loose. They also can play around in the corners a bit, tweaking and adjusting things from the old format, while exploring new areas.
Let's take a gander at some of the things we can expect as we walk ever further into the realm of the gods.
Tribute. What a sweet name for an ability. I love the idea of putting your opponents to a hard decision, as well as watching them grimace at the prospect. More important than that bit of fun, however, are the strategic implications of these cards.
Here are a couple examples of creatures with tribute:
Wow, right? At first glance, these are powerful creatures indeed. Potentially a 6/6 for five mana? How about a 5/5 for five in red? I would be 100% on board for either of these just as they sat. No messing around with monstrosity payments, just a big slab of beef ready and willing to do my bidding.
But there is more to this story. Our opponents have the option of keeping these beaters on the small side if they opt to pay tribute.
This is where things get kind of sticky, but also quite interesting.
I find that the correct answer to many questions in Magic is, "It depends." It's not a particularly satisfying answer, but it is the most accurate one in many cases. With as many variables as there are in even a single game, it's hard to find a situation where that isn't the answer. Still, it doesn't mean we can't put some mental effort into figuring out how these potentially powerful tribute cards will play out.
A simple example:
Our opponent is at 18 life with a 4/4 creature on the battlefield. We cast our Pharagax Giant and look for our opponent's decision regarding tribute. In this case, it's a pretty easy one for our opponent. He or she will just absorb the 5 damage and keep the superior board position.
Here's another example:
Same opponent, but this time it's a late-game stall, with our opponent at 4 life. We draw and cast our Giant. Our opponent clearly lets the Giant get big, and has enough small creatures on the battlefield to either chump block or gang block our big attacker.
I get as excited as anyone for new sets, cards and mechanics. But I feel a level of responsibility with writing this column and doing the podcast and videos. Even though I am tempted to join the party and proclaim that no matter what I'm going to be happy with my Pharagax Giant, I would be remiss to not fully flesh it out first.
It's time for me to don my pointed hat and badge. It's time for the Fun Police.
I'll make it quick this time, but the main thing to remember with your tribute creatures is that you will always get the least desirable result from these creatures. Unless your opponent makes a massive blunder (with perfect information, no less) you will get the worst option, every time.
That's the beautiful thing about tribute: while we think we will be happy no matter what, our opponent gets to decide our fate, taking back some of the trollish joy we had when we cast the creature initially.
Okay, Fun Police time is done. Some of these cards are so powerful that it's hard to imagine a scenario where you aren't happy to have cast them. Additionally, if you can put yourself in such a good position that either choice is awful for the opponent, these cards can push you over the top.
Say it's a typical late-game scenario for Limited. You have a few creatures, your opponent does too, and you both have a few cards in hand. Who will win the game is not yet solidified. You cast your Nessian Demolok. If our opponent has some key enchantment out or something, he or she will just let you have your beefy beatstick and continue on the way to beating you with the key noncreature permanent. If he or she doesn't, your opponent will likely let you have a 3/3 for five that blows up one of his or her lands or irrelevant permanents.
As you can see, this card is much more toward the middle than the Giant we discussed previously. In a late-game situation with a bunch of creatures and lands out, Nessian Demolok is kind of miserable. But on turn four, for example, it represents a difficult decision for our opponent, with neither outcome very good for him or her.
(Before we move on, I just want to point out that deathtouch gets even better yet again with these kind of big vanilla creatures running around. I can see Sedge Scorpion and Baleful Eidolon high-fiving right now.)
The Archetypes seem to be powerful, if expensive-to-cast, creatures. They grant all of your other creatures their abilities, and this can be a big game-swinger, especially if timed correctly.
Another note on the Archetypes: They prevent your opponent's creatures from having the abilities they have. This is all-encompassing. Those creatures can't get the abilities whether they had them to begin with, they were granted temporarily, permanently, or any other way. They just can't have the abilities.
Which also means that if each player had, say, Archetype of Imagination on the battlefield, none of the creatures would have flying. Don't be the one who forgets that one of these is out and does something crazy in combat as a result, either.
Much has been said about the removal in Theros. The number one thing I am looking at in Born of the Gods is the removal. I want to see what changes have been made, especially to the philosophy of removal, in this set. There may have been none—I would be quite pleased with that outcome myself—or removal may have been altered.
We have a couple nice spot-removal spells to look at:
Searing Blood and Bile Blight are both similarly costed instant-speed removal spells, designed to take out small- and medium-sized creatures. We already had a fair bit of this from Theros, and it's interesting to see that it seems to be improving. The difference between the two cards is pretty large, and they seem to serve different purposes.
Searing Blood can get early blockers out of the way while dealing a wallop to the opponent's face. Bile Blight seems to be a slightly more defensive card that can kill bigger things and even get an occasional two-for-one. Gotta love that.
We'll stay tuned on further developments on the removal front.
I had a heck of a beginning to the year. In short, I found out that my father had cancer, and he was gone two weeks later. It was a trying time for me, and needless to say my mind wasn't on Magic that much. Things are moving forward again, and it's nice to be able to dip back into my quirky world and find some joy in the little things I love about it.
I don't share this story as a tribute, or to get attention, and especially not to make you sad. I share it because I wanted to remind you about one of the biggest reasons we play this game: the community. I missed an episode of my podcast for the first time in a long time, and I mentioned on Twitter that it was for a family emergency. I got so many supportive emails, tweets, and messages on Magic Online it was overwhelming. I hadn't even said what was wrong, and the awesome people in the Magic community came to support me through a trying time.
I can't thank you enough; it means the world to me. My dad was an awesome guy, and he always wanted me to be happy. Even though he didn't play Magic, he knew that it made me happy and he was proud that I followed my vision and pursued what I loved. Without you, that wouldn't be possible, so I wanted to take a moment to say thanks for being such an awesome group of draft junkies. You are my people, and I love you for it.
Ok, next week there won't be any sappy stuff, I promise. After all, we have a lot of work to do if we are going to be ready to win some Born of the Gods packs after release.
Until next week,