Storm Scale: Innistrad and Shadows over Innistrad

Posted in Making Magic on March 27, 2017

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Last year, I introduced you all to something called the Storm Scale. It's a tool I invented on my blog to explain how likely I felt a mechanical element is to return in a Standard-legal set. (And let me stress, the entire Storm Scale is my and solely my opinion on the topic.) My first article was all about the mechanics of Khans of Tarkir block. Four months later I did a second Storm Scale article about the mechanics of the Ravnica and Return to Ravnica blocks. Then six months later I did another Storm Scale article about the mechanics from the Zendikar and Battle for Zendikar blocks.

The Storm Scale articles have proven quite popular, so I'm back with a fourth one. This time I'm going to focus on the mechanics from Innistrad and Shadows over Innistrad blocks. If you want a full rundown of how the Storm Scale works, my first article goes into it in depth, but here is the abbreviated version.

The Storm Scale is a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 meaning the mechanical item is very likely to return and 10 meaning the item is very unlikely to return. Here's what each point means on the scale:

Level 1: Will definitely see again, most likely in the next set

Examples: flying, deathtouch, scry


Level 2: Will definitely see again, but not necessarily right away

Examples: cantrips, hybrid mana, double-faced cards


Level 3: Will most likely do again, probably many times

Examples: cycling, flashback, landfall


Level 4: Will most likely do again, but they have issues that make them less of a guarantee

Examples: morph, kicker, imprint


Level 5: We need to find the right place to bring it back, but I'm optimistic

Examples: evolve, monstrous, morbid


Level 6: We need to find the right place to bring it back, but I'm a little less optimistic

Examples: devour, ninjutsu, living weapon


Level 7: It's unlikely to return, but possible if the right environment comes along

Examples: snow mana, retrace, split second


Level 8: It's unlikely to return, but possible if the stars align

Examples: madness, echo, suspend


Level 9: I never say never, but this would require a minor miracle

Examples: phasing, threshold, clash


Level 10: I never say never, but this would require a major miracle

Examples: storm, dredge


Next, here are the five criteria I use to determine where mechanics fall on the Storm Scale:

Popularity—Did players like this mechanic? The more players like something, the more likely we are to bring it back. The less they like it, the less likely its return. This metric is mostly covering the "was it fun?" question. This lens will have one of four potential labels:

  • Very Popular—This means that through our market research, this mechanic falls in the top 25% of mechanics of all time. Note that all these categories are comparing the current mechanics against the mechanics of all time (well, since we started doing market research many years ago), so getting in this top section is difficult.
  • Popular—This means that through our marketing research, this mechanic falls above the average but not in the top 25%.
  • Liked—This means that through our research, this mechanic falls below average but not in the bottom 25%. I should note that we aim for our average to be well-liked, so being below average doesn't mean the majority of players don't like it, just that there are other mechanics they like more. Being in this category doesn't keep you from having a chance to return.
  • Unpopular—This means that our research puts this mechanic in the bottom 25%. Falling in this last section does decrease the chance of a return.

Design Space—How many more cards could we design with this mechanic? Design space is important because if we can't make more cards, it doesn't matter how much players like it or how easy it is for development to balance. This lens will have three labels:

  • Large—This means that this mechanic has lots and lots of design space. We can bring it back again and again and most likely won't have any issues making new cards.
  • Medium—This means that this mechanic has a decent amount of design space and we could easily bring it back, but possibly a limited number of times.
  • Small—This mechanic is pushing the boundaries of its design space in this set. It would be difficult to make enough new cards to bring it back.

Versatility—How well does this mechanic mix and match with other mechanics? Does this mechanic require a lot of infrastructure or does it require minimal support? In short, does this mechanic make design easier or harder? This lens has three labels:

  • Flexible—This mechanic is easy to use, requires minimal support, and interconnects easily with other mechanics.
  • Neutral—This mechanic is a bit harder to use, often requires some support, and/or has issues when connecting to other mechanics.
  • Rigid—This mechanic is very hard to use, requires extensive infrastructure to work, and/or is actively hostile when trying to mix with other mechanics.

Development—How easy is this mechanic to cost? How easy is it to balance? How easy is it to make this mechanic? This lens looks at whether the mechanic can be easily developed. This lens has three labels:

  • Not Problematic—Development did not have any problems developing this mechanic.
  • Neutral—Development had some issues developing the mechanic, but nothing major.
  • Problematic—Development had significant problems developing this mechanic.

Playability—Did players have problems understanding this mechanic, both in how it worked and in how it interacted with other mechanics? Was the mechanic logistically hard to use? This lens looks at whether the mechanic had some barrier that made it harder to play. This lens has two labels:

  • Playability Not Affected—This means the mechanic had no issues interfering with playing it.
  • Playability Affected—This means the mechanic had one or more issues that interfered with playing it.

Now that we've covered all that, it's time to start grading mechanics.


Transform (Innistrad, Dark Ascension, Shadows over Innistrad, and Eldritch Moon; also Magic Origins)

Popularity: Very Popular

In our market research, we've always asked about double-faced cards rather than the transform mechanic specifically (the latter is but a subset of the former), but being that every double-faced card we've done so far uses the transform mechanic, it's safe to say that the data is pretty synonymous with transform. Players love transform (and double-faced cards in general). The only things that rank above it are full-art lands, the guilds, hybrid mana, and gold cards, so one could argue it's the highest-ranking mechanic on the list of "all-time favorite mechanics."

Design Space: Large

Cards that turn from one mode into another mode have been with the game since the beginning and show up in just about every set. If the logistics of double-faced cards weren't an issue, transform might show up in the majority of sets. Its design space is quite large.

Versatility: Neutral

I wasn't quite sure how to judge transform in this category. In the traditional sense, transform is very flexible. It's the type of mechanic that is easy to synergize with and is pretty modular in that you can make players want to put just one in a deck or a whole bunch. The problem is that transform goes hand in hand with double-faced cards, and those cause significant logistical issues that make working with transform a bit harder than most mechanics. So how do I judge this? For design versatility, it's flexible, but for logistical versatility, it's rigid, so I ended up splitting the difference and calling it neutral.

Development: Not Problematic

Transform has lots of knobs, different numbers that the developers can adjust to properly balance the card, making it easier to balance than many other mechanics. The one note is that transform has a lot of logistical issues (how does it work in Draft, how does it work if players don't have sleeves, etc.) that most mechanics don't have.

Playability: Playability Affected

If you can see one theme running through this mechanic, it's that transform has issues over and above gameplay. You have to have sleeves or use a different card, and then you have to pull the card out of the sleeve when it transforms. There are also a few issues with understanding how a double-faced card works with transform. In general, the flavor helps a lot and players have found it pretty intuitive, but it gets dinged in this category because it has a lot of extra baggage.

Storm Scale Rating: 3

First, let me note that I'm rating transform and not double-faced cards (which you can see above is a 2). Transform is a subset of double-faced cards, one I feel with great certainty we'll see again, but as it falls more in the mechanic category than card tool (as double-faced card does), I think of this as a popular mechanic that will return many times rather than a deciduous mechanic. Transform has a lot going for it. It's super popular and has about a big a design space as a mechanic can have. At the same time, it has more issues than the average mechanic, things that will keep us from using it as often as we might without those issues. But for fans of transform, fear not—I believe you will see this mechanic come back many times.


Flashback (Innistrad and Dark Ascension; also Odyssey, Torment, Judgment, Time Spiral, Future Sight, and Unhinged)

Popularity: Very Popular

In the history of the game, there are few mechanics as popular as flashback. It was introduced in Odyssey block, brought back in Time Spiral block, and then brought back for a second time in Innistrad block. (It was also in Unhinged, the second silver-bordered set, on one card.) Each time it was much beloved.

Design Space: Large

With only a few exceptions, you can take any effect that you'd put on an instant or sorcery and make a version with flashback. That's a pretty large design space.

Versatility: Flexible

Often when you have a set with flashback, you'll make a few cards that help enable it, but unlike some mechanics that require support, flashback can easily stand on its own. Flashback is restricted to instants and sorceries, but that hardly gets in the way of making it work synergistically with other elements in the set. Probably the only environmental issue is that it doesn't play nicely with other mechanics that eat up the graveyard as a resource, but again that's a pretty narrow design space to avoid. All in all, flashback plays nicely with other mechanics.

Development: Not Problematic

It took us a little time to adjust to the power level of the mechanic when we first created it, but now that we understand the nature of what a proper flashback cost should look like, it's an easy mechanic to develop. Having both the mana cost and the flashback cost to fiddle with is a big help.

Playability: Playability Affected

Flashback requires tracking the graveyard to be aware of what flashback spells you and your opponent(s) each have access to.

Storm Scale Rating: 3

This one shouldn't come as a shock, as it's one of the examples of what a 3 means on the scale. I've designed a lot of mechanics over the years, and flashback is my favorite. As the data shows, I'm clearly not alone in my fondness for it. Expect to see this mechanic many times in Magic's future.


Morbid (Innistrad and Dark Ascension; also Conspiracy and Commander (2014 Edition))

Popularity: Liked

Not only is morbid in this category (second from the bottom fourth), but it's just barely in this category. I'll admit I was a bit surprised when I first saw morbid ranked, because my anecdotal impression was that it was a little better liked.

Design Space: Medium

This is another category where it just nearly squeaked in. Morbid is tricky because it has a bunch of constraints, the biggest being it must have a reward that means something after combat (which is when most creatures die). This tends to rule out, for instance, spells meant to be used in combat. Morbid can go on both permanents and spells, which is helpful. In general, morbid is the type of mechanic that seems to have a bit bigger design space than it actually has.

Versatility: Flexible

Morbid requires creatures dying, but it's hard to play a game of Magic, especially in Limited, where that doesn't happen quite a bit. This makes morbid always play well with creatures and kill spells, but it can be a little trickier to interact with other types of spells. However, we've learned a bunch of tricks for how to do that.

Development: Not Problematic

The biggest developmental issue is making sure the difference between the original effect and the upgrade effect is balanced with the costs, but in the big picture, that's not too hard a task.

Playability: Playability Not Affected

There's a bit of sequencing (having to attack before you cast your morbid spells), and it makes combat a touch more complex to understand strategically, but mostly it's a pretty simple, straightforward mechanic.

Storm Scale Rating: 5

Morbid's lesser popularity and its somewhat limited design space push it up a little on the scale, but it's a good mechanic that plays well, and I'm pretty confident we'll be seeing it again.


Curses (Innistrad and Dark Ascension; also Shadows over Innistrad and Commander (2013 Edition))

Popularity: Liked

There seem to be two types of Magic players: players who love Curses and players who don't much think about them, more of an indifference than a dislike. The second group is larger than the first. I think the popularity of Curses is tied to how flavorful they are.

Design Space: Medium

For starters, all Curses are enchant player Auras that grant a negative ability to the enchanted player—so by definition, it's a pretty focused design space. Interestingly, working with them has made me realize that they have more design space than I originally thought. (It almost always goes the other way.)

Versatility: Neutral

There are always players to enchant and negative abilities are most often useful, but Curses don't have the synergy that many other "mechanics" do.

Development: Not Problematic

Curses, for the most part, aren't tournament-level cards, so there isn't much developmental concern over power level.

Playability: Playability Affected

Curses require you putting cards on your opponent's side of the table, which makes it a little harder to monitor and greatly increases the chances of your opponent shuffling it in with their cards.

Storm Scale Rating: 2

Here's where Curse's subtype status helps it immensely. If we have a card that feels like a Curse, we can just include one in a set. Also, I often talk about how it's more important to make some players love something than make everyone like it. Curses aren't for everyone, but their fans really enjoy them. That, added with their strong flavor, makes them the kind of thing I expect to show up in a set every now and then.


Fateful hour (Dark Ascension)

Popularity: Unpopular

I believe this is the least-liked mechanic of the fifteen I'm talking about today. The mechanic didn't happen enough, and even when it did, it often wasn't enough to affect the game.

Design Space: Small

We had trouble making enough designs just for Dark Ascension. The mechanic requires your upgrade effect to be something that could possibly keep you from losing, which is a very narrow space.

Versatility: Neutral

I went back and forth on this grade. The reason I leaned toward neutral rather than rigid is that life total (and life loss) is such an organic part of the game that it's hard for it not to interact some of the time.

Development: Problematic

Fateful hour had the following problem: being at 5 life is such a giant risk that either the upside had to be ridiculously huge or the base effect had to be playable without it, neither of which makes the mechanic easy to balance.

Playability: Playability Not Affected

Fateful hour makes you monitor the life total of all the players, but as the game makes you do that anyway, it's not too big of a deal.

Storm Scale Rating: 8

Players don't like it, and it's hard to design and develop. The only way I see it returning is if somehow we created the world where it's the perfect fit.


Undying (Dark Ascension and Avacyn Restored)

Popularity: Popular

Surprise, surprise: your creature not dying and instead coming back stronger is generally popular.

Design Space: Medium

The biggest design restriction is a desire to make this mechanic more about being aggressive and less about gumming up the board. As such, we tend to like to put it on creatures that either can't or don't want to block. There are a bunch of tricks to do this (like say "Can't block" or "[Creature] can only block creatures with flying"), but not a lot. The reason this is medium and not small is that creatures are the biggest swath of design.

Versatility: Flexible

It's pretty easy to make creatures have synergy with other things in the game, especially ones that want to attack.

Development: Neutral

Creatures that are hard to kill often cause some amount of developmental concern, but as the mechanic is a fun one, the developers have found ways to balance it.

Playability: Playability Affected

The mechanic requires +1/+1 counters.

Storm Scale Rating: 5

Undying is flavorful and fun and generally leads to good game play. The biggest thing standing in its way is its design space limitation. I do think we'll see it back one day, though.


Miracle (Avacyn Restored)

Popularity: Liked

Miracles are pretty polarizing. The players who like them really like them, and the players who hate them really hate them. Overall, it ranks just a little below average. One of the biggest strikes against the mechanic is that to optimize for it, it requires you to shift how you play Magic to keep alive the possibility that you might have miracles in your deck. Essentially, you have to bluff having it every time you play the game even if you don't have any in your deck. This is only an issue for the top tier of players, but they were very vocal that they didn't like it.

Design Space: Small

The idea behind miracles was that you could draw the card in your hour of need, when you most require a miracle, and get an effect that will help save you at a reduced cost. The flavor is strong but it leads to a very narrow design space.

Versatility: Neutral

Miracle is not a mechanic that plays particularly well with other mechanics, but neither is it one that plays particularly poorly. It isn't a mechanic that combos well with other cards, aside from effects that let you know what card is on top of your library.

Development: Problematic

Miracles are a swingy mechanic, which makes balancing it difficult. Also, as development needs to concern itself with tournament play, that the mechanic forced players to alter how they played to not give away when they had the mechanic in their deck was a constant issue.

Playability: Playability Affected

The mechanic forced many players to alter how they drew cards, as you can't comingle the card you draw with your hand if you want to have the opportunity to reveal that you drew a miracle.

Storm Scale Rating: 8

We tried to bring back miracle once and failed, so I have a good idea of what resistance there is to it returning. It does have its fans (inside and outside of Wizards), so possibly the perfect storm could bring it back.


Soulbond (Avacyn Restored)

Popularity: Very Popular

Usually when I do the research for a Storm Scale article, my sense of a mechanic's popularity matches up pretty closely with the data. Soulbond was one of the few where my memory was a bit off. I remembered the comments from the judges about how confusing the mechanic was for less-enfranchised players, but our data shows it was pretty popular. (I think our market research skews a little toward more established players, as some of our polling comes from places more populated by them.) Essentially, if you figured out how the mechanic worked, you tended to like it.

Design Space: Medium

Soulbond only goes on creatures and requires having an ability that can be shared. As there are a limited number of keyword abilities and we don't want too much text splicing, there are limits as to how many cards you can make. I should note that this limit is more about designing within any one set than designing between sets, as you can change creature stats when you make a new set with soulbond. (The flying soulbond creature could be a 1/1 the first time it shows up, for example, and a 2/2 the next time.)

Versatility: Flexible

Soulbond plays well with creatures. We tend to make a lot of those.

Development: Neutral

The mechanic is both complex and swingy, making it challenging to develop.

Playability: Playability Affected

Soulbond requires tracking between permanents, which gets more and more complicated as you have additional paired objects. Also, the fact that soulbond creatures can pair not just when they enter the battlefield but when other creatures enter (assuming they aren't paired) makes tracking them tricky.

Storm Scale Rating: 6

Soulbond's biggest strike against is it's a complex mechanic. Many players like it, though. and if you can follow what's going on, it has good gameplay. I really don't know if this mechanic will ever return, but its popularity makes me think there's a chance.


Delirium (Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon)

Popularity: Liked

I found players tended to fall into two camps on this mechanic: it was either worth the bother of tracking or it wasn't. If it was, it was fun. If it wasn't, it wasn't fun. There was a lot of nuance of play for the first camp, but it wasn't appreciated by the second camp.

Design Space: Medium

Delirium spells require effects that can be upgraded, something we do all the time, so it's well-understood space but not particularly large. Delirium working on any card type helps this fall into medium rather than small.

Versatility: Neutral

Delirium doesn't just work with other cards; it requires them. It's one of a handful of mechanics that's as much about deck building as it is about playing. This makes it tricky to grade because it is synergistic, but it leads to a much more constrained environment.

Development: Neutral

Delirium is a complex deck-building puzzle that forces you to often act unintuitively. Developing it is just as much a puzzle.

Playability: Playability Affected

The mechanic requires you to monitor all graveyards and then be aware of changes to your (or your opponent's cards) cards once the threshold is crossed.

Storm Scale Rating: 7

Delirium is hard to judge. It's a fun and challenging mechanic if you can get over the hurdle. Unfortunately, it's not a hurdle the majority of players seem to be able to get over. I'm a bit skeptical of its return, but things occasionally come back I don't expect.


Investigate (Shadows over Innistrad)

Popularity: Popular

Who doesn't like drawing cards? Investigate was the kind of mechanic that a few loved and everyone else liked.

Design Space: Large

Investigate is basically a new type of cantrip and thus is open to all sorts of designs. You can also make cards that interact with the Clue tokens to create an additional layer of designs.

Versatility: Flexible

There's very little that "draw a card" doesn't combo with. Also, that it makes an artifact token also means extra synergy with certain kinds of sets.

Development: Not Problematic

Once development figured out the proper cost to make a Clue token and cash it in, it was easy to develop.

Playability: Playability Affected

The mechanic requires a token.

Storm Scale Rating: 3

From a design standpoint, I think investigate is a hit. It has good flavor that's pretty general, and it's the kind of mechanic that can work in just about any set. I predict much investigating in Magic's future.


Madness (Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon; also Torment, Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, Future Sight, and Unhinged)

Popularity: Popular

Madness is flavorful and fun. In general, players like it. Because the mechanic is more complex to play properly than most mechanics, it tends to divide players a bit based on their ability to handle the complexity.

Design Space: Medium

The mechanic can go on any card type save land. Madness is interesting in that's it's not too hard to make a card with the mechanic but very difficult to make an interesting one to play with. There are a lot of nuances to the design that make it a lot trickier than it might seem.

Versatility: Rigid

Madness is what we call an A/B mechanic. It means that you must have two different subsets of cards. In madness's case, you need both madness cards and cards that enable you to discard cards to use madness. There's a huge cost to a set putting madness in it.

Development: Neutral

Madness requires enablers and overall is very complex in its execution. This makes balancing it tricky.

Playability: Playability Affected

Madness is complex both in deck building and in play. It also requires more rules knowledge than the average mechanic to play efficiently.

Storm Scale Rating: 8

When I did the original Storm Scale article, I used madness as an example of what an 8 was. Then just a few months later we released Shadows over Innistrad, which had madness in it. As I explained in the preview article for Shadows over Innistrad, the stars did, in fact, align. We were doing a block all about insanity that had a graveyard component. It was the perfect fit for madness, so we did what we needed to do to make it work. So, doesn't that change its grading? It had the potential to, but instead it just reaffirmed the problems with madness. It works weirdly with the rules, it has complexity issues, it warps set design. I believe its chances of return are about the same as when I first classified it as an 8.


Skulk (Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon)

Popularity: Unpopular

We created skulk as a possible evergreen mechanic for blue-black. Our experiment went very poorly. For starters, players didn't particularly like it.

Design Space: Small

Then we found out that it was hard to design for. It only went on creatures and didn't mean anything on larger creatures, so we ended up with something that was interesting on only a handful of cards.

Versatility: Neutral

There was a little bit of interaction, but not a lot. Not enough to encourage us to make it evergreen.

Development: Neutral

The mechanic wasn't particularly hard to develop but did turn out to be hard to process, and that was a bit trickier to fix.

Playability: Playability Not Affected

The only thing in this category was that it was a bit harder to process than we realized when we made it.

Storm Scale Rating: 7

The experiment was a big failure. The mechanic was unpopular, hard to design, and hard to process in play. I am skeptical it will return, but maybe if the right world comes along.


Emerge (Eldritch Moon)

Popularity: Popular

Emerge was well received. It was loved by some and liked by most.

Design Space: Medium

For starters, emerge only goes on large creatures, and there are not so many of those in a set. Eldritch Moon was a bit larger than average due to the Eldrazi. This is one of those mechanics that we can only make so many for any one set, but there's more design space if you think about the mechanic stretched over time.

Versatility: Flexible

The mechanic requires creatures, which is pretty loose as requirements go. It also requires some flavor, but it's not the kind of thing Magic doesn't do often (caring about large creatures running around a world).

Development: Problematic

Emerge is both a cost-reduction mechanic and an A/B mechanic, which makes it especially hard to develop. Essentially you must think about how each card interacts with every relevant creature in Standard.

Playability: Playability Affected

There's a little bit of math required with emerge. It's not too daunting, but enough to get a note here.

Storm Scale Rating: 6

Emerge is a fun and popular mechanic, but because it's tricky to design and hard to develop, its return is far from a certainty.


Escalate (Eldritch Moon)

Popularity: Popular

Historically speaking, players like having choices. Modal mechanics usually do better than average in our market research.

Design Space: Medium

Anytime you do a modal mechanic, you run into the problem of running out of effects. The more colors you have access to, the more cards you can make. Escalate is another mechanic that is self-limiting within one set, but has more design space as you spread it out over different blocks.

Versatility: Neutral

Escalate doesn't particularly work well or not work well with other cards. Synergy is very dependent on what effects you choose, so the flexibility of the mechanic will vary card to card. The one thing escalate wants is an environment where you have access to a decent amount of mana to increase your ability to use multiple modes.

Development: Not Problematic

Modal effects usually aren't particularly hard to balance as long as there is a cost associated with getting additional modes.

Playability: Playability Not Affected

There's a tiny amount of math required but nothing too strenuous.

Storm Scale Rating: 5

I think escalate is a good mechanic; it just wasn't a great fit for Eldritch Moon. I am confident with time we'll find a world, and probably more than one, where it can shine.


Meld (Eldritch Moon)

Popularity: Unpopular

When the dust settled, this mechanic was very polarizing. It had loyal fans and ardent foes.

Design Space: Low

Meld requires two cards that come together to make a third card. There needs to be a relationship between the first two cards and then one between the two cards and the melded card. When it all comes together, like the Angels, it's a thing of beauty (okay, maybe beauty is the wrong word), but there's a limited amount of amazing designs.

Versatility: Neutral

The melded cards must make sense in the set, which requires some building around and a lot of flavor work. Mechanically, you can create a little bit of synergy depending on what the front two cards are, but there is a limit to how interconnected the meld cards can be with the rest of the set.

Development: Neutral

Asking players to have two specific cards for a mechanic to work requires a lot of upside on the melded version of the card, which creates a bunch of balancing issues.

Playability: Playability Affected

Using two-sided cards, meld requires additional logistics.

Storm Scale Rating: 5

Meld is controversial, but it's also splashy and generates conversation. I'm pretty sure we'll find a situation to bring it back, although I don't expect that to be anytime soon.

Writers of the Storm

That's all for today. I hope today's Storm Scale article proves to be as popular as the previous ones I've done. As always I'm interested in hearing what you think, so if you have any comments about today's article or your take on what you think should or shouldn't come back, send me an email or talk to me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

A quick thanks to Ben Hayes for his help with today's article.

Join me next week when Amonkhet previews begin.

Until then, may your favorite mechanics return.


 
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