Mary O'Kill and the Killbots

Posted in Card Preview on November 15, 2017

By Quinn Murphy

Quinn has been fascinated with Magic ever since Revised Edition. When he is not spending time with his lovely wife and amazing son, he's constantly brewing decks for, playing, and writing about Magic.

The League of Dastardly Doom doesn't sound like the sort of faction to hire well-mannered people, does it? If a league is truly to be filled with, um, dastards and (more importantly for your health) doom, it seems like manners and etiquette will be the first social norms to be shown the zeppelin's escape hatch.

Or maybe not.

My first thought when seeing Mary was that she looked like New Phyrexia's version of Mary Poppins. Instead of surrounding herself with adorable children, she instead holds court with an endless throng of spheroid robots covered in bladed appendages.

The hills are alive with the sounds of slaughter when Mary O'Kill is in the vicinity, that's for sure.

Slaughter is no reason to leave etiquette behind. My guess is that Mary destroys her foes but also enjoys tea—why not? Proper villains don't choose between form and function, they do both.

To wit: it may look like Mary is taking the concept of a "ballgown" too literally, until you notice her dazzling brooch is the same material as one of the robots surrounding her. At that point you'll also notice that her umbrella is not merely a stylish accessory, but the upper part of a disguise. Once she ducks into the gown and pulls the umbrella over, she can blend in with the army of Killbots, to politely (or not) stalk and silence the foes of her faction.

Wait . . . Killbots?

Forget manners with these robots—they can barely talk. Curiosity is a valuable trait for education, but between you and me . . . I wouldn't inquire about what has stirred their inquisitive nature. The answer likely involves beeps, whirs, and prolific amounts of stabbing.

A steampunk assassin who camouflages herself in groups of assassin robots certainly checks every single box required to be part of the League of Dastardly Doom. Look further and you'll see a card with potential Unstable Draft impact and intriguing implications for future Magic cards. Before we talk about either of these topics, let's break down the mechanics of the card in detail.

There's Something About Mary

Casual game design doesn't mean trivial design.

Mary O'Kill and her swarm of bots are doing things that we've never seen. The card represents an entire design space within Magic that we could see in a future set. To understand the card, let's first establish some things:

Mary O'Kill's ability can be activated when she is in your hand. She can bounce herself into your hand or out of it.

The exchanged Killbots or Mary O'Kill do not enter the battlefield. It's a state swap, so the cards never transition through another state.

What excites me about Mary O'Kill's effect is the ability to move cards between zones in Magic without transitioning. The first immediate effect is that the mechanics reflect her flavor and setting abilities perfectly. You can see what she can do on the card, and the card text lets her do just that.

Mary O'Kill
Mary O'Kill | Art by Simon Dominic

Dastardly Drafting

What this means when you are drafting Unstable is that Mary O'Kill with enough Killbots is hard to deal with. On the surface, she is a 5/5 for six mana, but since she can use her ability when she is in your hand, you never cast her for her converted mana cost, ever. One Curious Killbot on turn two means an instant-speed 5/5 can hit the ground on turn three. Once you have her robot army, Mary is the ultimate combat trick. Normally trying to switch attackers and blockers once they are declared resets your state, but not so with this effect.

Mary gives you the last word in many situations:

"Oh, I think you'll actually block this creature instead."

"Nice combat trick . . . I'll withdraw and let you destroy another Killbot."

Once she gets going, she will be hard to stop, but there are limits to her assassin powers. She can't create an exchange that resets targeting, so when removal hits, it won't fizzle for an absent target.

Also, Mary's ability is cheap, but it isn't free. You'll only be able to do it so many times in a turn, and if you are spending too much time holding open mana for the ability, you are limiting your own plays.

The Art of the Switch

As cool as Mary is in the Draft context, I get most excited about what a future Magic set might look like with a mechanic templated on her abilities. The best design spaces are often those that break the rules or our perception of the rules in a profound but elegant way.

The switch that Mary O'Kill and the Killbots do breaks the "rule" of transitions in Magic.

Normally, every card in Magic has to go through one or more transitions to create an effect. To go from your hand, a card becomes a spell, and from there transitions either to a graveyard, exile, or the battlefield.

Those transitions can then trigger other effects. Think about how much of how you play Magic is shaped by these transitions and the ability to respond to them.

The switch is a perfect "ninja" ability, letting you change the state of the battlefield with minimal chance for your opponent to respond. R&D wisely seems to tie it to activation so that something is on the stack, but you don't have to move too far in this space to see it leading to interesting territory:

What if:

  • You allowed instants to switch places on the stack?
  • You allowed different permanent types to switch places (e.g., artifact and enchantment)?
  • You implemented partial replacement (you don't inherit the untapped, targeted, attacking, etc. state when swapping)?

We won't likely see anything else in this design space for a long time, but I like being able to peek at R&D's brains to see what they might be thinking.

Curiosity Kills

Thinking about Mary O'Kill's design has me more excited than ever to draft with Unstable. I am really, uh, curious (Killbots, stay back!) about how the environment will shape the strength of her abilities.

I will make sure to give her a try the second I get her in a pack!

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