Two Heads, One Fight
Let's get it out of the way: I love Two-Headed Giant. I am always prepared to find new contexts and formats for Magic: The Gathering cards to be evaluated and used. Cards work differently in different formats because a good format asks for cards to have different characteristics to function. A card is good in a format if it answers well what questions the format asks. For example, a removal spell in Modern needs to do many things differently than it does in Standard, Commander, Brawl, or Draft.
Two-Headed Giant asks many things of cards, but I think the fundamental question it asks of every card, no matter what type, is this: how well do you play with others?
In Two-Headed Giant, you have a shared life total, but separate board states and resources; each turn you have two mana bases, two hands, two libraries, two graveyards, etc. It's not enough to just cast spells that are individually strong in the format.
A team in Two-Headed Giant wants libraries that complement each other, building something greater than the sum of its partnership. In Two-Headed Giant, communication and coordination are just as important as your picks and knowing the proper line of play.
It can be hard to find that synergy in a set designed for individual duelists, but now that we have Battlebond, we can see what it is like when a set is designed to explore the concept of partnership.
We can even see how a focus on combinations and pairings affects the design of the world.
A Whole New World
The exciting part of "Draft Innovation" sets has been how they also innovate on how Magic: The Gathering worlds are built. New worlds, new factions, and new themes are highlighted in a way that emphasizes the concepts of the Draft set. Form and function stride confidently together in these sets, and it seems that Battlebond is no exception.
Today we'll look at a pair of sorceries that highlight both the world and the design themes of the set. Both cards tell us a lot about the setting and what types of designs we can expect to see.
These cards show us immediately at least one way that Two-Headed Giant is expressed in the setting: arena fighting! The art on both cards shows us pairs of mages either fighting or preparing to fight. The flavor text on the cards reinforces the art by describing details about the gladiator fighting or about the gladiators themselves.
The art shows a diminutive homunculus on the shoulders of some sort of ogre cyclops. The diminutive one, Zndrsplt, appears to be giving orders to her brutish teammate, presumably Okaun.
Zndrsplt's "judgment" is all about her discernment of what moves she and her team should make within the rules of the game and its penalties. That she was an official and there are actually penalties tells us that the arena fights are not simple blood sport fare; there is structure and constraint.
A Little Something Extra
On the other hand, Bonus Round says less about characters (though I want to know which gladiator mages are being depicted) and even more about the rules and intricacies of arena fighting. When reading the card, it triggered a chain of questions in me:
Crowds? This isn't a hidden underground dueling circuit; these arena fights are in the center of everyday life.
There are rounds? There aren't just penalties and rules for the fight. We have time limits and some limited number of rounds ("bonus" implying we run out and want more).
There are bonus rounds? Does one simply survive to get to a bonus round, or are there other criteria?
Wait, twin-spell round? The mention of a twin-spell round, besides sounding chaotic, wild, and destructive (I don't want to be the person to clean the arena after the bonus round) also implies that the previous rounds have unique magical permutations.
How to Make Foes and Influence People
Zndrsplt's Judgment mechanically is all about board presence, with a possibility to fine-tune.
There two basic strategies in choosing your friends and foes.
Us versus Them – You and your partner are friends, and you double up on creatures. Your opponents are foes and get their creatures bounced.
Frenemies – You choose for you and/or partner to be foes, to exploit a casting trigger or save creatures from an imminent board wipe. You designate one or more opponents as friends to exacerbate some drawback or help them play into an imminent board wipe.
Whether used obviously or inconspicuously, Zndrsplt's Judgment will work great when your partner is casting a hard-hitting creature or one with a great enters-the-battlefield effect.
Bonus Round is extremely powerful. Doubling instants and sorceries is where life becomes exciting. Got a direct-damage spell? Have another on the house!
One thing that distinguishes Bonus Round is the fact that it works for all players on all spells that turn. Most spell-copying effects are paired to one spell; Bonus Round could double up multiple spells in one turn.
Now we know why the crowd is on their feet!
There are going to be a lot of good partners for this sorcery, but it is important to note that this works for any player the turn you cast it. Bonus Round is nearly symmetrical, meaning your opponent can use it nearly as well. They won't be able to cast sorceries on your turn, but if they have any big combat tricks or major instants, they will have them in duplicate.
Bonus Round is strong, but don't think you can cast this whenever; timing is everything. This sorcery needs to be cast when opponents are tapped out or out of options.
We've presented these as a pair, so it would be awful if we didn't look at Zndrsplt's Judgment and Bonus Round together!
Bonus Round and Zndrsplt's Judgment match up extremely well. You can cast Bonus Round, then cast Judgment with a copy, potentially tripling your board presence and decimating your opponent's board in one fell swoop!
Bonus Round is cheap enough that you might have some extra mana from twin-spelled combat tricks as well.
These sorceries demonstrate how this set is designed with an eye toward combinations. These cards are designed for use with multiple mana bases and the ability to cast more spells in a turn. It's not just the characters who want partners—even their sorceries want to partner up! I'm really looking forward to the other ways the Battlebond team has designed combinations and pairings for the format.