Rapid Hybrid-ization

Posted in Latest Developments on February 1, 2013

By Dave Humpherys

Dave Humpherys has been managing the development team for Magic R&D since 2010. He led development for the Avacyn Restored and Gatecrash sets. He was inducted into the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame in 2006.

Many of you had a chance to try out Gatecrash this past weekend, playing with our modified version of Sealed Deck using guild packs. I was happy to read all of the tweets and posts about how much fun was being had all around the world.

If you haven't already, many of you are now starting to think more about Constructed with Gatecrash. Gatecrash offers a dramatic turn in the metagame. When Return to Ravnica entered the world, it was building on just a core set and Innistrad block that had otherwise been intended to be relatively balanced with respect to color pairs. The allied Scars of Mirrodin "fast lands" had just departed, hopefully striking the closest balance between allied and enemy color pairs in some time. Or, at least, as close as could be expected with the likes of Geist of Saint Traft, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Falkenrath Aristocrat present. Return to Ravnica heralded in a new rotation to Standard and with it new twists to many staple effects we wanted in the format, like Supreme Verdict. It then promptly struck a color-pair imbalance. And yet, even with five color pairs suddenly found wanting, it has proven quite dynamic.

Huntmaster of the Fells | Art by Chris Rahn

Gatecrash enters in a much different position. The world has been fine-tuning decks made up of the Return to Ravnica guilds for months. As far as two-color decks go, we've most prominently seen a lot of BR Zombies, WU Flash, and GW Humans. We've also seen a good share of three-colored decks. As you'd expect, the most prolific of these have tended to be those containing two guilds in Return to Ravnica. There's been lots of Bant (GWU) both in terms of hexproof/Auras and control. RWU has had various forms of control, especially early in the season. Initially, there was a lot of Reanimator BGW and various midrange Jund (BRG).

When we in R&D first began playing Gatecrash in Constructed, we found ourselves in a similar position. Our metagame might not have been exactly the same but it was quite similar, especially in broad strokes. In looking at bunch of exciting new gold cards in the Gatecrash file, our challenge was in figuring out where their homes were. What were these new decks supposed to look like? Where to begin? Especially when it came to some of the three enemy color pairs, it had been so very long since any had been super-competitive in Standard. When was the last time a RW deck was tearing it up? Or a GU deck? Or a WB deck? In Block, yes, maybe, but not so much in Standard. It was finally time to put these on equal footing, with equal mana bases.

I cannot stress enough just how much the mana bases alone matter. Let's take Tyler Lytle's and Jon Bolding's Grand Prix–winning decklist from back-to-back weeks with Black-Red. These decks had eight main-deck cards from Return to Ravnica. Do you recall what those cards were?

Four Blood Crypt and four Rakdos Guildgate. That's all. While there are lots of exciting Rakdos cards in Return to Ravnica seeing play—like Dreadbore, Rakdos's Return, and Rakdos Cackler—the mana bases themselves created in this block add a lot to what is competitive.

Blood Crypt
Rakdos Guildgate

No Need for That Third color

And now you have your shocklands and Gates for the other five guilds. But first, how do we get you to even play two colors with all of these exciting shocklands now at our disposal? I just focused on one of the more successful two-color pairs, but we've also seen a proliferation of greed. Three colors quickly becomes four and, once you're there, why not five? After all, Chromatic Lantern begs for it. Our top tables at events have seen folks knocking on the Door to Nothingness. Even the latest episode of Walking the Planes has something to say about greed.

Chromatic Lantern
Door to Nothingness

We knew people would want to get greedy in this block and we wanted to embrace that. We knew there would be decks like MacMurdo's and Okita's Grands Prix–winning decks that played no basic lands at all, but especially with the sets that introduced the guilds again, we wanted there to be reasons to stay true to those guilds. We wanted to do this by including incentives for fewer colors rather than directly punishing the greed. More options in deck choices for everyone. We weren't about to make Wasteland and Price of Progress. We wanted other proactive things to do instead, although I won't blame you if you start dusting off some Ghost Quarters.

So what was it that we wanted to provide as other options?

Mechanically speaking, lands that produce colorless mana can help with this goal. Fortunately, we'd already seeded a nice cycle of lands in Innistrad block. I'm speaking of the likes of Kessig Wolf Run and Moorland Haunt. The more such colorless-mana-producing lands in the deck, the harder splashing extra colors can become, in particular for more aggressive-minded decks. But where could we work toward this end in the new sets?

Kessig Wolf Run
Moorland Haunt

My earlier example of the black-red decks provides a hint. One reason these decks so badly wanted dual lands was Geralf's Messenger. Big rewards for color-intensive cards which, in turn, make it tricky, or painful, to branch out to other cards. In terms of tackling Gatecrash, I was hopeful to really push cards like this within the set. And what were these cards? Well, first were the guild leaders. I wanted to see iconic cards pushed, and what better way than with the guild leaders in this set?

The double color requirements for each guild color on a guild leader, especially with the lower converted casting costs, would more consistently reward decks not trying to stretch their colors. I'm sure there will be plenty of Esper decks with Obzedat, Ghost Council; Bant decks with Prime Speaker Zegana; and Naya decks with Aurelia, the Warleader, but with these mana requirements there are plenty of rewards to be found for playing these cards only within their own guilds. And again, especially so with some more aggressive builds.

Nightveil Specter

One last place we found to promote two-color decks was with hybrid cards that featured multiple hybrid mana. Amusingly enough, Nightveil Specter actually is a card that seems to want to have you play a super greedy deck. After all, you want to be able to play your opponents' cards even if you don't steal their lands. This is where I again let you know that I like to steal cards. This will be a recurring theme. I adore this card.

Never mind that it was an arduous path to get this card into print. An early version of this card can be found in my design for the 2002 Invitational. Sure, the card I submitted went infinite with any number of things—it was a design assignment, not a development one, folks! I took some bad beats in that tournament, though, and instead Jens created Solemn Simulacrum. But, thus began my quest to infiltrate Wizards of the Coast and create this card anew. I took up with the Dimir guild, pretending to be Simic to outsiders. I had to make this new card look different, though, so they wouldn't detect it. It only took ten years to complete this quest. And as a backup I created Diluvian Primordial, just in case they caught onto me. So you see, there are other ways to get your own invitational card. Muhahaha! Joke's on you, Wizards!

Diluvian Primordial

Actually, I'm pretty sure I created neither of the above cards in this set, but I thought this made for a nice story...

Back to our regularly scheduled program...

As I was saying, I really like what Nightveil Specter was doing toward encouraging new two-color decks and new monocolored decks with its color restrictions. It inspired me to look for other opportunities in the set to push cards along this formula.

Boros Reckoner was a card I created, for as much as I can take credit (since someone else made Spitemare), and the new activated power I added tickled me. I fell all the more in love with the card after I kept getting comments along the lines of "Why would you want to give it first strike? That doesn't work with its power." But doesn't it? If your opponent wants to kill it, he or she has to block it with extra creatures or else you can just first strike one or more creatures away. If your opponent blocks it with enough things, then you simply don't give it first strike and your opponent takes a ton of damage. That seemed like a nice dilemma to offer up. I'll be eager to see how it plays. I like that it also set up one of many creature combos back to the past sets...

Boros Reckoner
Blasphemous Act

As another quick aside I also recommend:

Duskmantle Guildmage
Jace, Memory Adept
Vizkopa Guildmage
Exquisite Blood

And perhaps more?

New decks

So what shape are these new decks going to take? Well, you'll have to figure out the details yourself, but based on what we've seen so far we should now see some new chances at each of the two-color decks. I suspect Mono-Red will continue to be a force. Perhaps Mono- or Heavy-Black can take hold with Crypt Ghast into Griselbrand, possibly utilizing the other Swamp-loving cards like Mutilate and Liliana of the Dark Realms .

Crypt Ghast

As for Gruul, don't underestimate the new Planeswalker Domri Rade. With Boros, well, I can tell you are already excited. Lots of tools. We'll see who can put it all together. Simic? They can draw lots of cards and play big creatures. How do you strike the balance against the super-aggro and super-controlling decks? Is this a fast or slow deck itself? Orzhov? You know we live in fear of Lingering Souls here. Is it time for aggro-Orzhov anyway? Good luck killing Obzedat, Ghost Council with a bunch of Restoration Angels floating around. And, finally, Dimir: Can you find the right mix of aggro-control to harness the Duskmantle suite of creatures under Lazav's lead? Can you mill your opponents into oblivion?

Domri Rade
Obzedat, Ghost Council

And as for the now-emboldened three-color decks, Naya looks exciting. So much ramp, so many X-spells, so many attack phases. "Hi Aurelia!" Esper has already been doing good work, and now it gets many control tools, better mana, and finishers. Who knows what RUG might be? Surely more than just Nightshade Peddler and Izzet Staticaster combos? WBR: If there's an aggressive three-color deck this might be where it's at. BUG: You tell me.

We're excited to see what you come up with! I believe it's time for some big changes!!

Thanks for reading,

Dave Humpherys

Nightveil Spector | Art by Min Yum


Pauper B&R Explanation

by Erik Lauer

Beyond permission spells, the Pauper format has a limited number of answers to storm spells such as Empty the Warrens and Grapeshot. The DCI waited to see if those answers were sufficient to support a diverse competitive metagame. Statistically speaking, they are not. Storm's worst matchup is against a Delver of Secrets deck with an abundance of permission. Its second- and third-worst are other Storm decks and Infect decks, respectively. Most other decks have few answers and not many turns to deploy them. In effect, a typical aggressive deck's main option is to race against a faster opponent. While there are somewhat more answers to Empty the Warrens than Grapeshot, few decks have sufficient answers even against that. While the DCI has decided to ban these cards from Pauper, this style of deck is still competitive in Legacy. A somewhat different style of Storm deck, using Temporal Fissure, may still be a competitive option in Pauper.

Infect decks bring a different situation. Since the deck wins by attacking with creatures, many decks can interact with it. However, the speed, featuring many wins on turn three or earlier, can be overwhelming for a great deal of decks. In particular, Invigorate costs zero mana, but the additional damage is equal to 40% of the poison counters needed to win. It also lets the Infect player, even when tapped out, protect an infect creature from a wide variety of damage-based removal. That makes it particularly difficult for other decks to effectively interact with the Infect deck. To allow for a more diverse metagame, the DCI has banned Invigorate.

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