Burn Off

Posted in Latest Developments on November 19, 2010

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

Today is the last day of Burn Week. It's been over a month since I did an article that went card-by-card, with occasional Multiverse comments, so I think we're about due. Today, I'll be taking a tour of the burn cards of Standard and musing about things when I feel inspired.

Punishing Fire falls into a category of card that I dislike: cards with triggers that live in places you don't normally need to remember. Like Recumbent Bliss, it's out of sight, and for myself (and many others), that means out of mind. When I was a tournament Magic player, I often missed triggers like this and became frustrated. It got to the point where I spent a month or so focusing only on having the discipline to not miss things like this, which solved the problem but had nothing to do with why playing Magic was fun for me. Therefore, I complained a bunch during Zendikar development about this very card. As you can see, it was printed despite that.

In hindsight, I think I reacted too strongly to this card. Punishing Fire did cool things in Extended with Grove of the Burnwillows for a while, which is pretty neat. It also did some work in Standard sideboards for red decks that wanted to punish people who gained life. Both of these are noble causes.

The most important reason that this card worked out, though, is that you never have to play this card if you don't want to. By my estimation, Recumbent Bliss is at worst the second strongest white common in Eventide, so anyone playing white who encountered one was likely to pick it and play it. In contrast, Punishing Fire isn't the strongest Constructed burn card out there. Burst Lightning, Lightning Bolt, and Searing Blaze are all stronger than it, so anyone who signs up for Punishing Fire in Constructed knows what they're looking for and can ostensibly handle the triggers. For Limited purposes, Punishing Fire is quite playable, but it's uncommon and the trigger condition is much less likely to come up. All in all, I think this was a satisfying card.

Magic development is a funny thing. Early on, there are lots of problems to solve, and plenty of obvious decisions to make that you know will improve the set. Later, the obvious paths for improvement have all been taken, and sometimes you end up going back and forth on decisions. Here is an amusing example in Multiverse of such an occasion, courtesy of Aaron Forsythe.

AF 12/8: Added no life gain clause.
AF 1/16: Took it off again.

What happened here? It could have been any number of things. Punishing Fire, also in Zendikar, already hates on life gain. Even without the "no life gain" clause, there's only room for one line of flavor text, so adding more text would have been tough. The card is already two different cards in one, and adding a clause to both bits would have made it much more complicated to process. I don't know what Aaron's reasoning was; I know that I've made similar back-and-forth decisions that looked awkward. I'm just glad that no one chose to poke at him for it in the Multiverse comments.

We sometimes think of the editing and templating teams as police forces who keep us from doing awesome things. As it turns out, though, they just want to have fun too. The fantastic reminder text on this card came from Del Laugel, our senior editor. Thanks, Del!

I find it academically interesting how certain effects find their way out of draft tables and into Constructed with the smallest pushes. I haven't seen Prodigal Pyromancer get any Constructed play of note, but while Time Spiral block was in Standard, Prodigal Sorcerer occasionally showed up in the sideboards of non-red blue decks that wanted to kill 1-toughness creatures. Haste, though, is the real gift that gets cards into Constructed. Vulshok Sorcerer was commonly played in mono-red decks during Mirrodin block's time in Standard. Now, Cunning Sparkmage is getting lots of love, helped significantly by Basilisk Collar and secondarily Stoneforge Mystic. We're glad to see that.

GM 2/9: plays exceptionally well in this set

Rise of the Eldrazi designer Greg Marques points out here how wonderful a burn spell Heat Ray is for this environment. Our goal was to make big creatures sweet, so Heat Ray is perfect: reasonable at killing small guys, but pretty inefficient at killing 8/8s and 7/7s.

AF 7/14: Take that, Fencing Tree!

The playtest name of this card was "You're On Fire." This reminded me of the The Bravery song "Public Service Announcement," and I made a comment referencing it in the Multiverse file.

TML 5/12: Stop, drop and roll. You're ooooon fiiiiiiiire. You're ooooooon fiiiiireeeeeeee.
MR 6/15/09: I like this card.
GM 6/15: I don't like the number of vowels this card is using up in multiverse comments.
TML 6/15/2009: Happily, that's not a nonrenewable resource!

Flame Slash is one of those weird cards that I'm never sure how to feel about. On one hand, it's a deliciously simple card that feels like it has to exist somewhere. On the other hand, one of the things that makes red and black different is that red's removal is worse at killing creatures but can go directly to the opponent. When something like Disfigure gets uncomfortably close to Shock and Flame Slash gets uncomfortably close to Doom Blade, the definition between red and black starts to blur. We try to keep colors separate, so I see this card as something that we can do, but that we shouldn't do this strong that often.

We all had fond memories of Fling from Stronghold when we put it into Magic 2011 as a common in design. Then, a funny thing happened: we started opening them in Sealed Deck, and we didn't play them very often. What to do?

KEN 8/3/2009: Not liking this at common. I barely run 1 in Sealed but get tons of them. I can entertain "I hop to fling my Shivan Dragon!" but dorks like Canyon Minotaur aren't in my dreams.
ZH 9/8: This won't see Limited play in its current form, so /agree with Ken: why keep it common?
EVL 9/22: There is a fixed number of red uncommons. I think this is a better choice for common than the current uncommons.

Erik's reasoning here is a bit unsentimental for my tastes. I actually like Fling at common quite a bit. Even if it's not particularly strong, it's dripping with flavor, and I'd rather have fun and appealing cards that sometimes do something than total blanks. Also, I like cards that change in value from deck to deck. I enjoy Act of Treason and Fling next to each other, and I also enjoy that Fling is much better in a red-green deck than it is with any other color.

It's always fun to see things work out in the real world in the same way that you intended in development. I remember watching a draft video where Luis Scott-Vargas reluctantly played a Fling in a red-green deck. Through the whole draft, he was making fun of the Fling. Then it won him the third game of the finals. I felt vindicated, and I'm sure that his copy of Fling did too.

I've already talked about this card in other articles, but I'm still glad we found a red uncommon color hate card we can love. Cryoclasm and Ignite Disorder were fine efforts, but I'm glad we ended up here.

We seem to have established a bizarre tradition of green removal cards in core sets. Magic 2010 has Entangling Vines and Magic 2011 has this. Hornet Sting was quite contentious within Magic Ramp;D. A few staunch color pie advocates hated its existence, and those who liked the card defend it vigorously. That debate leaked out onto Twitter when the set was revealed, and suddenly one of the conversations the world was having about Magic 2011 was whether or not this card should have been printed at all. I found that to be a little odd, as the card was unlikely to make a mark on competitive Constructed and was something that I did my best to not play in Limited main decks, although I often sideboarded it in. I'd rather have designers, developers, and Magic players focusing on more exciting cards than Hornet Sting!

Arc Trail is similar to Flame Slash to me in that it is a card that feels like it should obviously exist, but that has not-so-obvious consequences. Arc Trail has no color pie issues; instead, the issue is that Arc Trail is crushingly powerful in Limited. Slow Limited formats are all about card advantage, and Scars of Mirrodin tends to lean slow. Furthermore, the fastest decks are usually infect decks, and Arc Trail is exactly what you want against usually low-toughness infect creatures. I always feel terrible when my opponent spends his or her third turn Arc Trailing my second- and third-turn plays, and there's no real way to play around it. However, there are lots of good things this card does in Constructed, where I found it to be quite a reasonable sideboard card against rush strategies. I've seen Arc Trail get some real-world sideboard play, and I hope it continues to add texture to Constructed through its life in Standard.

Not a lot of cards manage to excite both Spike and Johnny while leaving Timmy completely flat, but Spikeshot Elder does exactly that. Spike looks at it, compares it to Grim Lavamancer, Magus of the Scroll, and the like—and understands that this category of card is historically powerful in little red decks. Johnny looks at it and dreams of all the amazing power-pumping effects that he'll put on it. Timmy looks at it, decides that 1 damage is lame, and moves on. I think he's missing out. Maybe he'd like it more if he tried putting it in a Goblin deck with Goblin Chieftain and Teetering Peaks, but I haven't seen him do that yet. I guess not every card can be for everyone.

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Many of my polls are intended to gather information for my coworkers or myself. This one, though, was intended as part of the article. If you want a job at Wizards, or to work with us in some other way, we are going to have to know who you are before you can achieve that goal. Do we already know who you are? Should we? If not, how are you going to make us notice you? There are a lot of people who post in Magic forums. There are fewer people who are published on major web sites' front pages. The more elite of a club you can put yourself in, the more likely you are to get an in with us.

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