First Look: Core Set 2019 Future Future League

Posted in Play Design on August 3, 2018

By Andrew Brown

Welcome to First Look! This will be a repeating column every quarterly release (similar to the M-Files) where Play Design will share decklists and their thought processes during the Future Future League focus period of the most recent set. The FFL focus period is the three months during set design where we handle most of the competitive balance tweaks to the card file.

Designing Core Set Standard

Given Magic's release schedule and how early in advance we must lock down card files, most of Play Design's job is to predict what strategies are strongest and guess what the format will look like. The summer release is unique in that we have information about four of the eight sets in the environment while making cards to impact Standard. This means we can be more precise with how we position cards and how they interact in the environment at large. Today, I'll be going over some cards and how we ended up getting to the final version through testing and theory crafting.

Zombie Resurgence

With the rotation of Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon, it had been a while since Zombie tribal had its time in the spotlight. As Liliana, Untouched by Death synergizes with Zombies, we set out to see if there was a viable Zombie deck. In our early iterations of the deck, we identified that there was a hole at the two-mana spot. We then set out to create what was eventually Graveyard Marshal.

T, Exile two creature cards from your graveyard: Create a tapped 2/2 black Zombie creature token.

This first version showed promise. It was stronger than Miasmic Mummy and provided a mono-black option so that you did not have to splash white. Overall, this version was too weak, and tapping your aggressive creature to create more creatures presented conflicting incentives.

2B, Exile two creature cards from your graveyard: Create a tapped 2/2 black Zombie creature token.

While playing the first version, we also found out that the deck lacked a mana sink. This version was the next step in the right direction. It's as strong as an early aggressive creature and a fine top deck in the later stages of the game. It was doing a lot of great things, but just wasn't strong enough, so we opted to give it more power.

The final version of Graveyard Marshal combined all things we liked about each version of the card. Reasonable aggressive creature with utility in the late game.

In FFL, we try myriad strategies, and some decks tend not to be tuned or refined for a specific metagame. "Grand Prix Renton" is our new process where we try to make tournament-ready versions of decks we think are strong in our metagame. For GP Renton, we like to ask ourselves "If a Grand Prix were tomorrow, what is the version of this deck that I would register?"

Andrew Brown's GP Renton Zombies

A Monumental Find

The original version of Militia Bugler was to be a card for the "power 2 or less" Limited archetype. Not all cards are aimed for top-tier Standard play, but as Play Design, we strive to put every card into play. We concluded the best spot for the original version would be in white Oketra's Monument decks.

When Militia Bugler enters the battlefield, look at the top four cards of your library. You may reveal a creature card with power 2 or less from among them and put it into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

While playing with this version, it was clear that it was too weak to be a Standard card. We liked the deck that it incentivized and the way the card played, so we took the next step and made it cheaper to cast.

When Militia Bugler enters the battlefield, look at the top four cards of your library. You may reveal a creature card with power 2 or less from among them and put it into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

Losing a mana and a power were steps in the right direction. It was awkward in the original version that Militia Bugler could not find himself, but now with 2 power, it is less likely that you miss. Playing more made us realize that most of the creatures in the deck were 2/2 or less and the deck overall was weak to Shock. We then felt confident to give it more toughness and vigilance.

Andrew Brown's GP Renton WU Monument

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

The original goal of our prickly friend Thorn Lieutenant was to be the Elf tribal payoff (a role later taken by Elvish Clancaller). We tried a fair amount of Elf tribal beatdown decks and big-mana Elf decks to no avail. But when testing other cards, you find new purposes for them.

Tap three untapped Elves you control: Create a 3/3 green Beast token.

While testing the original version in Elf decks, we were enamored with the base stat line. As a 1G 2/3, it was taking control of battlefields early—especially against aggressive red and white strategies. We then decided to make a generically powerful card for green and give the Elf tribal text to another card.

Whenever CARDNAME becomes the target of a spell or ability your opponent controls, create a 1/1 green Elf creature token.

With red having strong burn cards such as Abrade and Lightning Strike, we opted to give Thorn Lieutenant resilient text so that removing it isn't a clean one-for-one. We were happy with this version because it gave green a good answer to aggressive decks.

We arrived at this final version because, when playing against control decks, Thorn Lieutenant wasn't as effective as we would have liked it to be. The mono-green decks we were playing with didn't have much in the way of mana sinks, and given the deck's inherent weakness to Settle the Wreckage, we liked putting a large mana ability on Thorn Lieutenant.

Andrew Brown's GP Renton Mono-Green

I'll be back once Guilds of Ravnica rolls around to share some of my favorite Future Future League decks from the GRN FFL focus period. In the meantime, I'll be at most Pro Tours and nearly all the West Coast Grand Prix, so come say hello!


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