What's a "Monocolor Hybrid?"

Posted in NEWS on April 4, 2008

By Devin Low

Welcome to Shadowmoor! I've been excited about Shadowmoor's release for over a year now. Shadowmoor kicks off a completely new Magic block, with totally new keywords and themes, and a very different look and tone. Allow me to introduce the development team that brings it to you:

Aaron ForsytheAaron Forsythe (lead developer) – With experience as a "dual-class" designer and developer, Aaron had previously led the design teams for Dissension and Lorwyn. On the development side, Aaron worked on the development teams for Ravnica, Coldsnap and Time Spiral on the way to becoming Head Developer for Magic and eventually Director of Magic R&D. Shadowmoor was Aaron's first time leading a development team, and it was a large set to boot, one of the most challenging tasks any developer can face. The high quality of Shadowmoor speaks for itself and owes a lot to Aaron's decisions and leadership.

Doug BeyerDoug Beyer – The multitalented Doug Beyer has served many roles at Wizards of the Coast with skill and a smile, from his origins as a web site developer through tours of duty on the Lorwyn and Shadowmoor development teams to his current position as Magic's creative coordinator, Taste the Magic columnist, and upcoming author. It's always helpful to have a member of the creative team on a set's development team.

Alexis JansonAlexis Janson – Alexis shot to prominence by winning the Great Designer Search, showing an inherent talent for Magic design that brought her from being a Magic player to a fulltime employee at Wizards of the Coast. She worked on Morningtide as that set transitioned from design to development, then worked on the design teams for Eventide and Shards of Alara thereafter. For Shadowmoor, Alexis served on the development team to sharpen her own "dual-class" designer / developer skill set.

Devin LowDevin Low – We usually try to include a member of the set's design team on that set's development team, mostly to explain to the developers what in the hell the designers were thinking. For Shadowmoor, that handsome devil was Devin Low.

Matt PlaceMatt Place – Matt is a insightful fulltime Magic developer who previously led the development team for Dissension. Matt knew throughout Shadowmoor that he would be leading the development team for Shadowmoor's follow-up set Eventide, and he made sure to steer Shadowmoor in a direction that would give him a solid foundation on which Eventide could build.

Jake TheisJake Theis – Jake had already been a brand manager, a creative manager, and a successful design-hole-filler for Magic, so for Shadowmoor we tried him out as a developer. Jake's careful observations and work on key cycles did not disappoint.

Steve WarnerSteve Warner – Steve is one of Magic's best internal playtesters, finding and defusing abusive combo after abusive combo to make sure that the sets that hit the streets are well-balanced and fun to play. Many are the times I have died to infinite mana generated by Steve Warner. Steve spends lot of time developing Duel Masters, the MapleStory iTCG, and other games for Wizards' new business team, and we were lucky enough to get him on the development team for Shadowmoor.

Where Did It Come From?

My stories about today's Shadowmoor preview card begin earlier than you might think. For although I served on the Shadowmoor development team, I was a designer on the Shadowmoor design team too. And it was on that team that I designed the mechanic showcased on today's preview card.

Since Ravnica had only twelve hybrid cards, the Ravnica designers used hybrid mana as straightforwardly as possible, without any twists. But from the very beginning of the Shadowmoor design team, Mark Rosewater's vision was for a set with dozens and dozens and dozens of hybrid cards. While Ravnica had only briefly touched on what hybrid could do, Shadowmoor would explore all of hybrid's myriad possibilities. Over the months of design, we used the tools of hybrid cards to create an environment very different than any that has come before.

Midway through the Shadowmoor design cycle, the team had created several new ways to use hybrid mana symbols, and several new directions to take them. But we were still looking for some twist that could redefine what it means to be a hybrid card, much like hybrid had originally redefined what it means to be multicolored.

It was during a design meeting in the Ivory Tower conference room that a flash of inspiration struck. Sometimes you get the glimmer of an idea, and you have to go to back to your desk and ponder it a while before you're ready to pitch it. Other times, the idea erupts fully-formed, clamoring for immediate expression. This was the latter. A picture can be worth a thousand words, and I knew that I could propose my idea to the team much more effectively with a quick scrawl of a Sharpie on a tissue box than I ever could with words:

The other designers looked at me. Blink blink. "What does that mean?"

Here is what I told them:

How Does It Work?

Here are some notes from the Shadowmoor FAQ:

***New Mechanic: Monocolored Hybrid***Monocolored hybrid mana symbols represent a cost that can be paid in either of two ways. For example, (2/B) can be paid with either B or with two mana of any type. It's a black mana symbol.

  • A card with a monocolored hybrid mana symbol in its mana cost is each of the colors that appears in its mana cost, regardless of what mana was spent to play it. It is not colorless. For example, Beseech the Queen above is black, even if you spend six red mana to play it.
  • A card with monocolored hybrid mana symbols in its mana cost has a converted mana cost equal to the highest possible cost it could be played for. Its converted mana cost never changes. For example, Beseech the Queen above has a converted mana cost of 6, even if you spend BBB to play it.
  • If a cost includes more than one monocolored hybrid mana symbol, you can choose a different way to pay for each symbol. For example, you can play Beseech the Queen by spending BBB, 2BB, 4B, or 6.
  • If an effect reduces the cost to play a spell by an amount of generic mana, it applies to a monocolored hybrid spell only if you've chosen a method of paying for it that includes generic mana.
  • Unlike other hybrid cards, which appear in two-tone frames, the Shadowmoor monocolored hybrid cards appear in monocolored frames because they're just a single color.

Where Does It Take Us?

I'm going to tell you straight up: Shadowmoor rewards you for playing decks in either of two broad categories:

1) Shadowmoor rewards two-color decks.

Let's go back to what it means to have multiple colored mana symbols in a card's cost. Part of the reason we can make cards like Troll Ascetic, Countryside Crusher, Knight of Meadowgrain, and Cryptic Command so powerful is that they have all those colored mana symbols on them. From Necropotence to Ball Lightning, many of Magic's most famous and powerful cards use several colored symbols to control access to the power.

Wilt-Leaf CavaliersJust like the way using multiple colored mana symbols in Troll Ascetic, Countryside Crusher, Knight of Meadowgrain, and Cryptic Command let us make those cards more powerful than many others, we used those same reasons to make Shadowmoor's numerous hybrid cards with many hybrid symbols (like (r/g)(r/g)(r/g), 1(g/w)(g/w)(g/w), or (b/r)(b/r)(b/r)(b/r)(b/r) powerful as well. If you want to know how much power having several hybrid mana symbols in a row can give you, just ask Demigod of Revenge or Godhead of Awe.

If you have a deck with Troll Ascetic and Countryside Crusher, you know how hard it can be to make two green mana at the right time, and two red mana at the right time. If you have a deck with Whirling Dervish and Blood Knight, you know it can be even harder. And if you're trying to play a combo with Groundbreaker and Furnace of Rath, the color problems inherent in combining that many different mana symbols mean that your deck could inflict more pain on you than it does on your opponent.

But hybrid cards work perfectly in two-color decks. When you have a hybrid red-green card in your red-green deck, even one that costs (r/g)(r/g)(r/g), you can never draw the wrong color of mana. If you have only green mana and you draw the card, just play it. If you have only red mana and you draw the card, just play it. If you have any mixture of green and red mana, just play it. You get much of the power of a RRR or GGG card, all the flexibility of a two-color deck, and you can't get color-screwed (as shown in a different color combination by Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, right).

Several Shadowmoor cards also explicitly reward you for playing two-color decks. Doug Beyer's preview card Wilt-Leaf Liege pumps every green creature and every white creature you have. And it double-pumps creatures that are both green and white. In other words, Wilt-Leaf Liege rewards both your green creatures and your white creatures, but it double-rewards your two-color creatures.

2) Shadowmoor rewards monocolor decks.

Rewarding monocolor decks is another strong theme in Shadowmoor that will echo across drafts, casual play, and tournament constructed formats. Some Shadowmoor cards do this explicitly, becoming more and more powerful the redder or whiter your deck is. If your deck is completely mono-red, or completely mono-white, these cards can go totally nuts.

Hybrid cards encourage monocolor decks too. Just like Demigod of Revenge rumbles "Play me in a black-red deck, and you'll always be able to play me," it also howls "Play me in a mono-red or mono-black deck, and you'll always be able to play me!"

Beseech the Queen has other monocolored hybrid siblings. And they all reward you for playing monocolor decks. You can play Beseech the Queen in a blue-black deck, but in a straight mono-black deck, Beseech the Queen will always cost just three mana. On turn three, it fetches any card with converted mana cost 3 or less, and as the game goes on, it gets more and more versatile, fetching an ever wider variety of cards. When you have eight lands in play, you still get rewarded for having lots of them be Swamps, since you can play Beseech the Queen for BBB and still have five mana left over to play the spell you tutored up.

If you play Beseech the Queen in a red-black deck, you can play it for BBB, or for RRBB like Diabolic Tutor, or for RRRRB when two black mana aren't available and a Diabolic Tutor would have just sat in your hand. If you wait until turn four or five to play it, it will just fetch a wider variety of higher cost spells.

Why Limit It to Black Decks?

Monocolored hybrid cards like Beseech the Queen also let you get access to color-pie-specific effects in decks of totally different colors. Your green-white deck can play a red monocolored hybrid card, and get access to the red section of the color pie without ever including any mountains. Much the same way that Giant Solifuge gives monored decks access to shroud creatures and gives monogreen decks access to haste creatures, Shadowmoor's hybrid and monocolored hybrid cards can give you access to parts of the color pie you couldn't normally reach. I do hold the color pie very close to my heart, and we are very careful about when we use hybrid to push the boundaries of the color pie this way. We thought hard before doing Giant Solifuge, and we don't do color bleeds as significant as Giant Solifuge very often. Beseech the Queen is a good example of an effect that is usually most powerful with black mana, as with Diabolic Tutor, but can also be achieved with colorless mana at a higher cost, such as Planar Portal.

The color of your cards matters a lot in Shadowmoor, as shown by Wilt-Leaf Liege, and playing a black card like Beseech the Queen in a nonblack deck just might create some ancillary benefits.

Can the Rules Handle This?

In a word: yes. When I showed our first monocolor hybrid cards to other members of R&D, one common first reaction was:

"This must have tons of rules problems. How do you know what its converted mana cost is?"

Having already discussed this question with the team, I'd answer

"We have to write it in the reminder text."

This would almost always set them off:

"Write it in the reminder text? Are we going to write ten corner cases into the reminder text? I just thought of the CMC question in two seconds. There must be tons of other unclear questions that come up all the time."

My challenge:

"Name one."

A pause. Then their response:

"Well there's.... you know..... the converted mana cost just for starters... and you know.... well I can't think of any now, but I'm sure more rules problems will come up."

To our happy surprise, none did. The monocolored hybrid symbol intuitively communicates everything you need to know about the card, except the card's converted mana cost. So we wrote the converted mana cost into the reminder text.

Why a Tutor?

To me, tutors at their best help people respond to a situation by getting whatever different card they need. Extended players often play 1 Engineered Explosives, 1 Tormod's Crypt, 1 Sensei's Divining Top, 1 Seat of the Synod, and 1 Pithing Needle with their Trinket Mages. Then they can get whatever trinket they need to help them out of a jam.

Several of those cards wouldn't even be in those decks if not for Trinket Mage, so Trinket Mage is encouraging those decks to be more diverse and varied by encouraging them to have those one-ofs.

Tutors at their worst can make games endlessly repetitive if they always fetch the exact same card and make sure that card is drawn in every single game a deck plays. There have been times in Magic when a Yawgmoth's Bargain deck would use Vampiric Tutor, Enlightened Tutor, Academy Rector, and super-fast mana to find and play its Yawgmoth's Bargain by turn three or four.

Then the decks would draw 31 cards with some lifegain along the way, and win the game on turn three or four with incredible consistency unless it got disrupted by Duress, Unmask or Tangle Wire somewhere in the middle.

When three hyper-efficient tutors get the exact same card game after game after game, it can get old. While Trinket Mage can increase gameplay diversity by encouraging people to put one-ofs in their decks, three different tutors all getting Yawgmoth's Bargain decreases gameplay diversity.

Beseech the Queen is much less likely to get the same card every single game, because Beseech the Queen literally gets a different subset of cards every time you play it.

How Can I Trick the Queen?

Tricking Oona is dangerous business, but here are a couple of combos to get you started.

One of the problems with Diabolic Tutor in monoblack decks is that Diabolic Tutor costs four mana, just like Damnation, Tendrils of Corruption, Korlash, Heir to Blackblade, and many other spells monoblack decks often want to play. With so many spells at four mana, playing Diabolic Tutor at four mana as well creates a glut in the mana curve that often makes Diabolic Tutor unattractive. At three mana, Beseech the Queen doesn't have that problem.

Tutors like Dimir House Guard, Drift of Phantasms, Muddle the Mixture, and Tolaria West have shown that a three-mana tutor can often be worthwhile. But while Drift of Phantasms only fetches cards of converted mana cost exactly 3, and Muddle the Mixture only fetches cards of CMC exactly 2, Beseech the Queen can search for cards with converted mana cost 0, 1, 2, or 3 on the third turn, then increasingly higher CMCs every turn thereafter. Unlike some of these transmute cards, it's also quite useful that Beseech the Queen can always fetch a land.

One category of tricks with Beseech the Queen is to find cards where you benefit from drawing more than one copy. If you have Korlash, Heir to Blackblade in play, you can use your Beseech the Queen as a three-mana Explosive Vegetation by searching up another Korlash and pitching him to the first one's grandeur ability. If you have one Demigod of Revenge in hand or in the graveyard, searching up a second one can be devastating.

Another category of tricks is to tutor up cards with tricky converted mana costs. If you plan to play Consume Spirit or Mind Shatter for six mana next turn, but you only five lands in play this turn, you can still tutor them up with Beseech the Queen since the converted mana costs of Consume Spirit and Mind Shatter are each 2 while you are searching them out of your library (because X is treated as 0 except when they're on the stack).

And another category of tricks is to use Beseech the Queen's own tricky converted mana cost to your advantage. Even though Beseech the Queen often costs three mana to play, its converted mana cost is always 6, as it says in the reminder text. So you can pitch it to Knollspine Invocation (see the daily card preview) to deal 6 damage without needing to put six-cost spells into your deck.

I just wish I could Beseech the Queen to show you the other monocolored hybrid cards in the set. For that I gotta wait until the Shadowmoor Prerelease, April 19, in fifteen more days.

Last Week's Poll

Now that you’ve played Lorwyn and Morningtide, which of the Lorwyn block tribes is your favorite?
Faeries 1266 12.6%
Elementals 1155 11.5%
Treefolk 1106 11.0%
Rogues 991 9.8%
Elves 970 9.6%
Merfolk 866 8.6%
Kithkin 572 5.7%
Warriors 513 5.1%
Goblins 445 4.4%
Shamans 423 4.2%
Giants 309 3.1%
Assassins 297 2.9%
Wizards 293 2.9%
Archers 234 2.3%
Druids 224 2.2%
Knights 196 1.9%
Soldiers 140 1.4%
Clerics 87 0.9%
Total 10087 100.0%

These results are strongly skewed towards the tribes that have recently had the most tournament success. Faeries and Shriekmaw / Mulldrifter / Reveillark decks have both been very successful recently, as well as Doran, the Siege Tower decks showing strength over the course of the Extended season as well as in Standard. Elves and Merfolk are just a little bit behind, and Kithkin and Warriors a little bit further back than that, each of these four tribes also being heavily played in Standard since Morningtide's debut.

So to me the interesting question is: "Which tribes get votes in an order different from what their tournament success would suggest?" Rogues score even higher in this poll than they have achieved in tournaments so far. I think more than a few people enjoy both the mechanical flavor of prowl and the idea of "Rogue deck types." Soldiers scored very few votes, ranking in the midst of the minor-tribe Knights, Assassins, Druids, Archers, and Clerics that each have only one explicit support card in Morningtide. Soldiers' identity is intertwined so closely with Kithkin's identity in Lorwyn / Morningtide that I think some of the people who might have voted Soldiers just voted Kithkin instead.