"A card type, two keywords, and a token type walk into a bar...."
Today's preview card is a nifty number that will always keep your opponents on their toes, both when you play it and when you have three mana up and they think you might play it. But I didn't choose this card because it can be a double Chastise or Wing Shards for 2G. I didn't choose it because this Chastise can attack for damage. And I didn't choose it because this Wing Shards pumps up your Wellwishers and Timberwatch Elves while getting pumped up by your Elvish Champion and scads of Lorwyn Elves. Instead, I chose it because it's one card in the set that touches two new types and two new keywords, allowing me to sneak out four different development stories in one column. These two types and these two keywords aren't always intertwined. They all just happened to meet on the same card.
This time I won't keep you in suspense.
Card Type: Tribal
"Tribal" is a new card type on over a dozen Lorwyn cards. Of the many wacky mechanics and hypothetical futures shown in Future Sight, this one, previewed on Future Sight's Bound in Silence, was actually real (and it won't be the only one). So what does "Tribal" do? It lets us put creature types like Elf on instants. And sorceries. And enchantments. And then those spells really "are" Elves in every way. Remember last week's preview, Gilt-Leaf Palace? Appropriate to its name, Gilt-Leaf Ambush lets you put Gilt-Leaf Palace into play untapped. Remember Mike Flores's preview of aggressive card-advantage weenie Silvergill Adept? You can reveal a "Tribal Sorcery – Merfolk" to play Silvergill Adept and draw a card for just two mana. When Wirewood Herald dies, you can fetch a "Tribal Instant – Elf."
And take a look at the interactions that can happen in a whole tribal deck: When Goblin Matron comes into play, you can tutor for a "Tribal Enchantment – Goblin." If you happen to have a Goblin Warchief out, your Tribal Enchantment – Goblin costs 1 less to play. After all, that enchantment really is a Goblin spell. If you happen to have Tenth Edition's Siege-Gang Commander out, you can then sacrifice that "Tribal Enchantment – Goblin" to have Siegey deal 2 damage to a creature or player. And then if you play Goblin Ringleader to reveal the top four cards of your library and put all Goblin cards you revealed into your hand, you can reveal a Goblin Warchief, a Siege-Gang Commander, a Tribal Enchantment – Goblin, and a Tribal Instant – Goblin... and put all four in your hand. I'm not even joking.
Because Lorwyn hasn't come out yet, I'm using examples of tribal card interactions with previously printed and previewed Merfolk, Elves, and Goblins. That means I can't use the examples of the dozens of subtle tribal card interactions woven throughout Lorwyn itself. But to cheat a little bit, I'll tell you that Elvish Harbinger (recently previewed by the Ferrett) can now go fetch black "Tribal Instant – Elf" creature kill... then tap to make the black mana to play it.
The Lorwyn design team invented the technology of the "tribal" type to design a "race matters" block that innovates beyond Onslaught in two pretty huge ways, even beyond all the color-switching, previews, and stories you've already seen. The cards in Onslaught block made race matter in the most basic way possible. They cared about creatures of the relevant creature type in play.
But the "race matters" cards in Lorwyn don't just care about creatures of the relevant creature type. They care about instants, sorceries and enchantments of that type too. And the Lorwyn "race matters" cards don't just care about the creature types of cards in play. They care about the creature types of cards in your hand (e.g. Gilt-Leaf Palace and Silvergill Adept). They care about the creature types of cards in your library (again, see the Ferrett's preview of Elvish Harbinger). They care about the creature types of cards they remove from the game (see Doug Beyer's preview of Thoughtweft Trio). They care about creature types of cards in your graveyard. And they even care about the creature types of spells you play from your hand ("Whenever you play an Elf spell, get a bonus..."). In sum: the "tribal" type allows Lorwyn "race matters" cards to care about the creature types on any type a card can be in any place a card can be.
The "tribal" type is a unique feature of the Lorwyn block, and old cards like Wirewood Pride won't get the "tribal" type retroactively. That said, the printed text of many old cards, like the Wirewood Herald and Goblin Ringleader mentioned above, happen to work with Lorwyn's tribal spells just perfectly.
First Keyword: Clash
Clash is a keyword on about a dozen Lorwyn cards, across a variety of card types. It's not inherently linked to tribal. Gilt-Leaf Ambush just happens to have both on it. On every clash card, you get a basic effect, and then you clash with an opponent to see if you get an additional bonus. You find out the winner of the clash by playing a quick game of "war" with an opponent off the top of your decks.
Clash adds a lot of subtle benefits to the game, but my favorite benefit isn't subtle at all: Clash is just fun. With every clash you resolve, there's a moment of hesitation, a moment of drama. You and your opponent both ease your fingers onto the top card of your deck... there's a mental three-count like two gunslingers in an old western... then you flip,and pump the fist or heave a sigh. We knew we had a winner when random passers-by kept stopping to watch a game with clashes going on. A couple of lingering bystanders often became a small crowd, watching players win and lose clashes and congratulating them on their narrow 4-3 mana cost wins while chuckling at their 7 mana to 0 crushing clash defeats.
The clash designers felt strongly that a clash spell should always give you a reliable base effect even if you don't win the clash, with a bonus as gravy if you do win the clash. For example, it was important to the clash designers, and the Lorwyn developers, that we don't do spells like "1B, Sorcery. Target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn. Then clash with an opponent. If you win, destroy that creature instead." With that kind of spell, players would inevitably get into a situation where they had to target Serra Avenger, and then if they lost the clash, they'd end up accomplishing nothing.
The potential to win an added bonus? Fun.
The potential to have your spell do nothing? Not fun.
So the Lorwyn teams made sure that all the clash spells fit the model of "Always get the main effect no matter how the clash goes. Now try to get a bonus effect if you win the clash." That way your spell can never outright fail. We also worked to make the clash bonuses subtle, so that they would help you get ahead, but rarely be singled out as the one factor that won the game. We wouldn't make a clash card that said "3G Sorcery. Put three 1/1 tokens into play. If you win a clash, also put three 5/5 tokens into play." That would be so absurdly swingy that it wouldn't be fun. The actual clash cards are less swingy than that. Some of the clash benefits are still definitely useful enough that it's worth using deck manipulation effects to maximize your chance of winning your clashes.
Does clash add an element of randomness to a game? Sure it does. But that's not a bad thing. From bridge to Magic to poker, every card game has randomness built in, and that's the source of a lot of the fun. If you start with Magic and take out randomness, you get something like chess, which most Magic players find a lot less fun than playing Magic. In professional football, there's certainly a lot of skill involved between the two teams, but there's also a hearty helping of luck that adds a lot of the drama, and thus the fun, to the game. And advanced players can look a little deeper into clash by using a variety of methods to turn the seeming randomness in their favor.
Play Foresee, New Benalia, or any other scry card ahead of time, and you'll know exactly when you should launch your clash to have the best chance of winning. Use Elvish Harbinger to put an expensive Elf creature... or Elf sorcery... on top of your deck, then clash your way to almost certain victory. Or turn your sights on your opponent's deck and play a Fallow Earth variant to put an opponent's land on top of his or her deck, then clash away, knowing that your opponent will be clashing with a zero.
You can also manipulate the decks after a clash is finished. If your opponent reveals a good card in a clash and leaves it on top of the library, that's when you play Extirpate or Gaea's Blessing to shuffle that card back in there, or mill the card away with Screeching Sliver. Clashes are also a great way to set up your own Riddle of Lightning.
You can even build your deck to manipulate the results of the clash before the game even begins. Perhaps you'll add more expensive spells to your deck to get a higher chance of winning clashes. One of the things we liked about clash is that it rewards you for playing high-mana cost spells. When you flip over Shivan Dragon and your opponent flips over Suq'Ata Lancer, you feel like Shivan Dragon just kicked the Lancer's butt. Perhaps you'll add more cantrips so you can play fewer lands to get a higher chance of winning clashes.
Another benefit we found to clash while playtesting it was that it subtly smoothes out both players' draws, especially their mana flow. Whenever you or an opponent clashes, one side effect is that each player gets to filter the top card of his or her library to the top or bottom. If you need more lands, you can filter your way closer to lands. If you have plenty of lands and need more spells, you can filter past the lands to get to your spells. When your hand is empty and you're trying to topdeck spells, clashing your way past a land that you no longer have to draw feels a lot like drawing an extra card. And when you reveal the awesome card you've been hoping for with clash, you can choose to keep it on top instead of putting it on the bottom. Ironically, the seemingly random clash sometimes reduces the randomness of Magic's mana flow.
One mysterious phenomenon we found is that you end up happy about getting these clash side benefits even though you know your opponent is getting them too. The fun of getting closer to your best cards is greater than the theoretical unfun you might think you would get from knowing your opponent is getting closer to his or her best cards. Even though both people benefit from the filtering roughly the same amount, and Magic is supposedly a zero-sum game, the clash filtering generates more overall happiness across both players than overall sadness. It just creates net positive fun.
Lorwyn's clash and evoke keywords were both added during development. They went through a lot of evolutions from the initial version of evoke that Rosewater pitched and the initial version of Clash that I pitched, but I'll have to tell those stories another time.
Token Type: Elf
What's your favorite vanilla-Elf-token-producing card in Magic? Go ahead and take your time, I'll wait.
Okay, what was it?
Could you not quite think of one?
That's because pre-Lorwyn Magic has zero vanilla Elf tokens. It seems crazy. Elves are famous for exploding into huge numbers, then using powerful "count-me" effects like Wirewood Channeler, Heedless One, Wellwisher, and Timberwatch Elf to take advantage of all those Elves in a powerfully scaling way. But all this time, they did it without tokens. R&D tries to keep all the creature tokens in of the same size and color in a block the same type, to reduce confusion over which tokens are which. Onslaught and Mirrodin Block's 1/1 green creature tokens were all Insects. Invasion and Ravnica and Time Spiral Blocks all had Saprolings. Kamigawa Block had Snakes. And Odyssey's 1/1 green creature tokens were the love-them-or-hate-them Squirrels. Now Gilt-Leaf Ambush heralds the arrival of tons of 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature token created by tons of cards in Lorwyn.(To be fair, there is one non-vanilla Elf token maker in Magic: the mana-tapping Llanowar Elves created by Future Sight's timeshifted-from-the-future Llanowar Mentor.)
Many Lorwyn tribes' themes are evolutions or variants of the themes those races have had in the past. But with Elves, the Lorwyn development team had received so much praise and love for the way Elves played in Onslaught, as a powerful budget deck, an explosive tournament deck, and a fun casual deck, that we decided to keep the Lorwyn Elves very close to those same Elf themes, philosophy, and play style. Of course we did it with all new cards, and with twists including tribal instants, clash, champion, as well as expanding Elves into black to give Elf decks access to powerful elf-themed creature kill that they have never had before. But one of the best ways to evolve Elf decks' classic theme of "multiply in vast amounts and conquer" was for Lorwyn to deploy Elf creature tokens. Tons of Elf creature tokens. Tokens that let Elves explode into unprecedented numbers on the board, then use "count-me" effects (like Wellwisher or Wirewood Pride) to take advantage of all those Elf tokens in a hurry.
The Lorwyn development team, especially Matt Place, also felt very strongly about honoring the Elves' budget deck roots. The Onslaught-era Elf decks were built from powerful commons and uncommons with a lot of flavor, a lot of fun, and incredible synergy. With Lorwyn block, we decided to enable exactly that all over again, and we intentionally pushed several of our most powerful Elf cards down to uncommon to make sure that people without access to a lot of cards can still put together a variety of different, powerful Elf decks of their own choosing. For example, Lorwyn's Elf lord compares favorably to Legions' Elvish Champion, yet we moved it down from rare to uncommon. It also helps that Tenth Edition includes one of the most powerful, popular one-drops of all time: Llanowar Elves at common. Elf decks in the Lorwyn era can be monogreen, green-black, green-red with Radha, Heir to Keld, monoblack, or whatever combination you can come up with. To support two-color budget Elf decks as well as other budget Lorwyn decks, we included five uncommon multilands to supplement the rare "race matters" dual lands I previewed last week. And then we added three colorless mana-fixers at common (along with some noncolorless ones) to help even more, following up on the success and popularity of the common colorless manafixers in Time Spiral and Tenth Edition like Chromatic Star and Terramorphic Expanse. The most efficient manafixers for race decks are the rare dual lands, but the common and uncommon manafixers can still let you play both colors of your spells. And there are still some cool Elf rares, a little more narrowly focused than universally awesome elf uncommons. We're very serious about supporting Elves as a powerful budget deck option for players, and it shows.
To further enable budget decks, we also moved the main Kithkin and Merfolk lords down from rare to uncommon. Then we deployed multiple 2-power one-drops at uncommon to enable budget tournament beatdown decks as well.
Second Keyword: DeathtouchAnother of the Future Sight's glimpses of possible futures that you may or may not have believed at the time: the keyword deathtouch is now part of Magic for good, across all blocks to come. In Lorwyn, deathtouch graduates to the same class as reach, lifelink, shroud, and flash, each of which you've now seen grow past Future Sight to enter Tenth Edition. Rosewater explained the reasons for these five new evergreen keywords in his column Keyword Play. As he writes there, these new keywords had an immediate impact on the design and development of new sets starting with Lorwyn.
I've had fun with each of these keywords, especially when I've found ways to combine them on a single creature using instants, auras, or equipment. However, after encountering these keywords a lot in recent sets going through development, I've definitely learned a couple of the benefits and pitfalls of deploying them. In particular, unlike something like first strike, built-in shroud and built-in lifelink don't play well when they appear in large numbers or at very low rarities.
With shroud, a lot of guys on the board that you can't target is too uninteractive, and it's also just annoying. A lot of lifelink on the board too often can also get annoying, as well as slowing games down. Built-in lifelink can get especially aggravating when it comes up a lot on evasion creatures with 2 or more power. Imagine racing your opponent with your 2/2 lifelink flier while he or she hits back with a 2/2 lifelink ground creature. Neither of you gets anywhere, and the race never ends.
The developers agree on this, and you won't see a huge quantity of built-in Shroud or built-in Lifelink creatures at very low rarities in the sets to come. The occasional Humble Badonkadonk (who you can just block) is no problem. Nor is the occasional Mourning Thrull (who has only 1 power). Giving temporary shroud as an instant plays great. Giving shroud or lifelink with an aura, equipment, or lord is a cool way to encourage people to play those creature enhancers. And making occasional rares that combine huge bodies with built-in shroud (Simic Sky Swallower) or built-in lifelink (Exalted Angel) is awesome enough to be worth it. But you won't have to go through "3W 2/2, flying, lifelink" or "3UU 3/3, flying, shroud" at common any time soon.
Fortunately, built-in reach has a long-proven history of playing great at common in almost every set. And I've been happy to find in Lorwyn that built-in deathtouch plays great at common too. Deathtouch naturally tends to clear the board, which is nice. It provides a cool kind of sideways creature kill in green, which often sorely needs it, with cards like Gilt-Leaf Ambush. And it's actually pretty fun to have a 5/5 while your opponent has a 2/3 deathtouch and try to figure out how to get your 5/5 around the deathtouch guy without the two colliding. As a black-green tribe specializing in moonglove poison, Lorwyn's Elves wield a lot of deathtouch.
As for how often flash should appear, the development jury is still out. Time Spiral Block has flash as a "time matters" block mechanic. One of the Lorwyn tribes has the perfect flavor to have lots of flash creatures flitting about all over the place. But after Time Spiral and Lorwyn Blocks are done, how often should we use Flash, in what colors, on what size creatures, and at what rarities? These are still questions developers are actively debating. I'd be curious to read your emails on the subject.
Tribal, clash, Elf tokens, and deathtouch. And that's how one preview card can prompt four different development stories.
I'll be gunslinging at the Seattle Lorwyn Prerelease tomorrow. If you're in Seattle, stop by and say hello to me. And if you're in a different city, stop by and say hello to Lorwyn! We've also made the in-store release events cooler than ever for Lorwyn, so be sure to check that out on October 12-14.
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