Fine-Tuning Flamebreak

Posted in NEWS on January 23, 2004

This week I want to follow the evolution of another removal spell, though this time it is one that probably won’t make green mages as happy as they were last week:

“Creature sweepers” are always powerful effects for anyone who is willing to build their deck around them and this one also gives anyone who was wondering how they were ever going to kill Troll Ascetic a new option at their disposal.

Like Oxidize (my preview card from last week), Flamebreak actually started out in Mirrodin. However, the Mirrodin development team had eight other ideas for red rares that it liked and we felt that Mirrodin didn’t really need to have two different creature sweepers at rare. Solar Tide was enough mass creature destruction for one set, so we pushed off Flamebreak and highly recommended it to the Darksteel team.

The biggest reason we wanted to try to get Flamebreak into Darksteel was that we felt the block constructed environment should have it. The first time that any new block constructed environment gets a real workout is at the annual block constructed Pro Tour, which always includes the first two sets (but not the third). This year that tournament is coming up in Kobe, Japan in late February. Anyway, we try to make sure all the effects that we deem necessary for a healthy and diverse environment show up somewhere in the first two sets so that format will be interesting. (Then it’s usually at its most interesting when all three sets are legal for the annual round of block constructed Pro Tour Qualifier tournaments during the summer.)

One thing we always try to work into any new environment is a reset button to make sure the weenie beatdown decks don’t get totally out of control. It’s fine for weenie decks to be good, and sometimes they will be the best decks around, but we always try to provide answers so that players never feel forced into playing any one strategy. Flamebreak puts a lot of demands on your mana with its triple-red cost, but if you expected all your opponents to be running creature decks where most of the creatures had less than three toughness, Flamebreak would be worth it. For Mirrodin block constructed the real battle probably isn’t weenies versus control. The metagame seems much more likely to come down to artifacts versus artifact removal, but that didn’t mean we could ignore other aspects of the game, especially with creatures as potentially powerful as Troll Ascetic running around. Meanwhile Flamebreak will also contribute another option to Standard deck builders as well.

The other thing we spent time thinking about with respect to Flamebreak is the special ability. It was always a sorcery for RRR that dealt three damage to all ground creatures – that part never changed – but the initial version said “Damage from Flamebreak cannot be prevented and any creature damaged by Flamebreak cannot regenerate until end of turn.” The problem was that saying that damage from Flamebreak can’t be prevented is actually a lot more complicated than it sounds. Did you know that the protection from red ability on creatures like Silver Knight is technically a damage prevention effect? That means that our initial version of Flamebreak would have been able to kill Silver Knight. That’s bad for at least two different reasons. First of all, Silver Knight isn’t supposed to be vulnerable to red spells. Pyrite Spellbomb can kill it, sure, but it’s just not right for any actual red spell to have any effect on it. In addition, we knew that most players would get this interaction wrong. We didn’t want to create scenarios where friends would be arguing about this pretty counter-intuitive situation, with one friend saying the pro-red creature was dead and the other just not believing him. So we decided that unpreventable damage was just a bad idea on a non-targeted damage spell. We then consider adding a “remove-from-game” clause but decided that just having a can’t-regen clause was plenty. Voila: Flamebreak.

This is Sportscenter …

One of the coolest things I’ve done in my five years at Wizards of the Coast happened last weekend at Pro Tour Amsterdam. We put together a 2-minute highlight reel of the championship match (you’ll need Quicktime to view it) and I got to do the voice over. As somebody who has watched what feels like millions of hours of Sportscenter on ESPN over the last twenty years of my life, it was a really fun thing to do.

In addition to that highlight reel, you can also go back and watch the complete games that were broadcast during the Top 8 on Sunday. The files aren’t small, but if you want to see Pro Tour Magic in action, here’s your chance.

The best part is that we’re going to do video coverage for every Pro Tour this year. I thought Amsterdam went well, but as we go back and watch the coverage we’re already finding things we can do better (including getting the archives up quicker for those of you who weren’t watching live).

Pro Tour Kobe is coming up on February 27-29. We’re already thinking about working more interviews into the coverage and trying to figure out if we have time to produce more highlight reels. I’d be happy to read any suggestions you guys have about what else you’d like to see…

Meanwhile (and back on topic) here’s another little something for you to think about how to use if you happen to acquire one this weekend:

Last Week’s Poll Results:

In my hurry to get my column done early last week so I could take off for Pro Tour Amsterdam, I forgot to include a poll question. D’oh. Here are the results from two weeks ago:

What do you think of Eater of Days?
4 – Seems kind of cool 6516 35.0%
5 - Awesome, yummy, gimme 5545 29.8%
3 – I’m sure some people will like him, but it’s not my kind of card 3473 18.7%
1 – Yuck, I hate him 1571 8.4%
2 – Decidedly mediocre 1495 8.0%
Total 18600 100.0%

Cool, I’m always glad when you guys like the new cards.