Thursday, September 20, 2007

New card type in Magic: Planeswalker

Haven't seriously played Magic: The Gathering for a while now. My last tournament was the Highlander tournament in which I placed 6th, and the last serious one before that was the 10th Ed Release tournament at Gaming Knights. And my last big tournament was Victorian Regionals way back on 2 say that I'm rusty and off my game would be describing it perfectly!

I've sort of lost interest in the game somewhat as well, which may be a direct result of me not having touched it for a while. It saves money I guess (which means I can channel more into comics! Haha! Nah, not really.) so I really should be glad that's one expensive hobby gone.

But hey, I'll still keep a mild passing eye on what's happening in the Magic scene.

Like this little article that caught my eye on Wizard Universe, about the latest Lorwyn set.

Magic's freakish new fairy-tale world sprouts mighty treefolk, black goblins and the most powerful card type ever: Planeswalker

By the I.Q. Staff

Posted September 19, 2007 10:45 AM

Goblins were always red, elves were always green, soldiers were always white. That’s how the color wheel used to be when Magic did a tribal block. But this is a new age of Magic, an age of discovery pioneered by Ravnica and Time Spiral blocks that stretched the game’s creative horizons across uncharted seas and beyond islands that had never known the burrowing of a goblin. Now the expedition Lorwyn has sailed far beyond even those daring voyages and made landfall on an undiscovered continent—a creative landmass so vast and fertile that it promises to be Magic’s new world, full of (un)familiar goblins and elves struggling against exotic kithkin, elementals, giants and the holy grail of Magic design: planeswalkers. What do they all mean to the future of Magic? This is your gazetteer, InQuest’s guide to all things Lorwyn from its tribal factions to the awesome powers that hold sway over them, assembled from comments of one of the brave souls who discovered them, new Head of Magic Development Devin Low.

“I had a lot of fun playing Onslaught as a player on the outside before I joined the company,” says Low, who joined Wizards shortly after Scourge, “and some of the other people around here worked on Onslaught, and a lot of the others were players at the time.” That’s important because Onslaught turned out to be one of the most successful blocks in history; players at all levels used its tribal themes as the backbone to a hundred new decks. Now Lorwyn will be a tribal block like Onslaught, but also very much unlike Onslaught. Where that set expanded on the iconic tribes in each color, Lorwyn takes a guild-like approach to tribes, with eight races that each straddles two or more colors.

Lorwyn also expands the idea of what makes a tribe, taking many of Onslaught’s ideas in wildly different directions, like granting tribal status to noncreature cards à la Future Sight’s Bound in Silence. According to Low,“there’s a lot of interactions built into the set where you can [for example] tutor for a goblin card and fetch up a burn spell that has the goblin subtype—that’s a ‘Tribal Instant — Goblin’—and start killin’ your opponent’s guys. You can have a card that says whenever I play a merfolk spell I get an advantage, and instead of just triggering off merfolk creatures, it triggers off the ‘Tribal Sorcery — Merfolk’ Summon the School.” Another way Lorwyn innovates on Onslaught is by making tribal count “in all the zones of the game.” For example, Low tells us “there are cards that care about a merfolk spell in your deck, a merfolk spell on top of your deck, a merfolk spell in your graveyard, a merfolk spell that you played.” That also means a card like Summon the School or that unnamed goblin burn spell can trigger tribal effects even though they’re never technically a merfolk or goblin in play.

All of that serves the greater purpose of making sure tribal decks can compete in ruthless constructed environments. According to Low, there was a conscious effort to move “away from a time period where Wrath of God is the king of everything and can crush any tribe in a stroke” by trying to give every tribe the disruptive tools it needs to fend off spell-based decks and combos. “All the tribes have defenses against spell-heavy decks, all the tribes have ways they can survive Wrath in some way,” says Low, and combo decks may fare even worse. We were told specifically that as lot of tribes are “gonna have ways to punish Dragonstorm decks and really beat them up.” The current Standard metagame is wide open, but perhaps a little unfriendly to creatures. Next year, Low—the guy most responsible for setting card power levels—says they “definitely tried to steer toward a world where the best decks are creature decks in Standard as well as in block.”

So which tribe will rule Magic once these gang wars play out? Here are all eight tribes featured in Lorwyn and what they’ll mean to the game.

Colors Green with some black
Themes What does black bring to a race that’s been the flagbearer for goodness in Magic history? Genocidal death squads. Lorwyn elves value beauty above all else, and their hunters seek to destroy anything less beautiful than elves—which is to say, everything without horns and pointy ears. The upside for elven players is that now you get to kill stuff too, and that’s the major reason why Lorwyn’s tribes are mostly multicolor even though they’re all races generally associated with a single shade: “One of the things that was frustrating about Onslaught was that the goblins could kill their opponent’s key creatures and mess up their opponent’s tribal plans, but elves couldn’t return the favor,” says Low. But with black, elves can return the favor with elf-themed terrors and assassins to deal with menaces like Sparksmith. That’s something you’ll see in every Lorwyn tribe: the ability to give as good as they get when it comes to removal.

Sociopathy isn’t the elves’ only theme; they will still explode out of the gate and use their numbers to generate big effects, but this time that’ll be bolstered by an elf token theme that spawns Magic’s first tokens named “Elf.”

Colors White with some green
Themes “They’re all about offense, offense, offense, attack, attack, attack. As long as they can keep that momentum, as long as they can keep on the initiative and keep attacking, they’re very powerful and work together in a powerful way.” Low’s picture of the new white-weenie tribe is very reminiscent of Gruul, but with abilities that activate while attacking instead of dealing damage. Look out though, because if the kithkin “get turned around on the defensive, a lot of their powers get turned off because they work when they’re attacking only.” A smaller streak of green kithkin adds card drawing to their attacking creatures, letting you build card advantage while stomping face.

MERROW (Merfolk)
Colors Blue with some white
Themes “I was casting Lord of Atlantis back in 1993,” Low tells us with pride, so he’s ecstatic to be able to say that “the merfolk are really re-emerging and coming back in force.” The argument against merfolk was always that it made no sense for water-bound creatures to be able to fight on land, but they built the solution into the world of Lorwyn by giving merfolk the means to create their own waterways, “the same way that the X-Men’s Iceman creates his own ice glides” to skate on. The ability shows up on the merfolk cards as a powerful islandwalking theme: “The same way that back in the day Lord of Atlantis gave your merfolk islandwalk and you could give your opponents islands and islandwalk all over them. Now there’s a lot of merfolk that are involved in that at a much higher power level.”

Subtler merfolk mechanics that you’ll see are abilities that trigger whenever merfolk tap or untap, letting you build up bonuses. Low describes a tapping and untapping “machine” you’ll be able to make that creates a loop to spit out a “variety of effects.”

BOGGARTS (Goblins)
Colors Black with some red
Themes “Lorwyn goblins are tricky and play pranks on you in a red, chaotic way,” explains Low, “but they’re sort of sinister and have a cruel side that marks them as more black.” So for the first time, goblins will appear more out of red than in it. What does a tribe known mostly for blowing themselves up get out of a major in the black arts? The ability to put themselves back together! That’s a combo that was nearly unstoppable in Onslaught’s goblin/Patriarch’s Bidding decks. “There are lots of ways to sacrifice all of your goblins in some red way, just like traditional goblins, but then regrow them all with black and start over again.” And this time those Bidding-type effects will appear on goblin tribal spells.

Boggart is the local name for goblins, like mogg and kyren in the past. Their creature type will still be goblin.

Colors Flamekin are monored; the greater elementals will appear in all colors.
Themes The core of Lorwyn’s elemental tribe is the monored flamekin—like boggart, flamekin’s a storyline term that won’t appear in these creatures’ type lines. Low describes these as a “humanoid, bipedal elemental warrior race with fire all over their bodies, flaming swords, the whole nine yards. Just totally committed to fire.”

The flame elementals have a focus on activated abilities, like firebreathing. According to Low, they have “a ton of [firebreathing], and a ton of cards that give you extra mana for activated abilities, extra benefits for activated abilities; so whenever elementals get firebreathing, all the other elementals get really happy about it.” Mana-making in red? Apparently “it’s very common to see the clause ‘Add one mana of any color to your mana pool. Use this mana only on elemental spells or abilities,’” and that’s great for fueling firebreathing attacks, or casting the other strain of Lorwyn elementals: greater elementals.

“The greater elementals represent the incarnation of certain ideas on the Lorwyn plane,” explained Low about these powerful creatures. “There’s one called Dread which is sort of the manifestation of all the dread in the world, and so it’s a tangled together mass of a lot of different animal shapes and pseudopods.” These elementals appear in every color and they have an iconic keyword mechanic that lets them embody their element. Look for a five-color red deck to arise that uses flamekin mana from a couple key red enablers to pop out all five colors of greater elemental for massive effects.

Colors Red and white
Themes Throwin’ stuff: that’s what giants do, and the Lorwyn giants take it to the extreme. “I’m a big fan of the ‘throwing things’ theme in giants across Magic’s history,” says Low, although one look at Brion Stoutarm, the equivalent of the giant guild leader, will show you that. Expect a tribe of fatties that loves destruction and that rewards you for playing other huge things…mostly by chucking them at your opponent and his stuff. “It’s funny how many ways you can interpret the idea of a giant throwing something at somebody, but we found a way to put a lot of it on cards. I think a variety of things are gonna get thrown, you’re gonna see things sailing through the air that you never thought to see.”

Colors Blue and black
Themes “Faeries’ theme is being very, very tricky,” says Low. “The vast majority of the blue faeries in the set have the keyword flash. While your opponent is casting spells, your faeries are darting in to be comes-into-play counterspells, comes-into-play tap effects, comes-into-play bounce—a variety of powerful effects that are especially good in combination with flash creatures.” And here’s the surprise: These faeries are deadly! Every member of the tribe flies, and Low describes an air force full of 2/1s, 3/1s and 4/1s, more than powerful enough to end the game quickly while your opponent is reeling from disruption.

Colors Green with a little black and white
Themes If we had to pick a tribe that’s been unplayable in Constructed over the years, treefolk would be our answer. But Lorwyn will finally give them the chance to shine. “They’re one of my favorite tribes, and they’re where I think some of our best designs ended up,” explains Low. “It’s kind of like, you can go through the woods sometimes and it’s cheerful and you go have a picnic. And you can go through the woods some other times and it’s creepy and the tree’s gonna kill you.” Note to self: Never go camping near Wizards’ Seattle office.

Expect a tough race, where 7 toughness will be common and often backed by other effects. “They all have abilities that emphasize that [tree-like] resilience,” according to Low, and they’re just “really hard to destroy.” And lest you think these ents are too slow, their mana curve will start in the middle-reaches, with seedlings available for as little as three mana.

Whose tribe will you be on when the gangs of Lorwyn stake their claims to the streets of Magic?

Terrible Twosomes coming in 2008

Four sets a year has become the normal release schedule for Magic, but the sets filling that fourth slot in years when there’s not a summer core set—2004’s Unhinged and 2006’s Coldsnap—didn’t burn up anyone’s charts. The way Wizards of the Coast sees it, those sets each had one thing in common: they were stranded, cut off from any other current sets. So in 2008 they’re trying something different, a pair of two-set “miniblocks.”

“This time we really were careful to do a structure that was more intertwined,” said Low about the two-block plan, “that made the year make more sense together.” So what you’ll see is a 300-card large set in Lorwyn followed by a 150-card expansion set called Morningtide. Then in the spring, you’ll see another large set codenamed “Jelly,” followed by its 150-card expansion, “Doughnut.” Homer Simpson has already placed his preorder.

According to Low, there are “some long-term connections that the two blocks have to each other,” but for the most part these will be completely separate blocks with different themes, different mechanics, different storylines, and probably even different worlds.

Will the twin blocks of 2008 turn out to be a terrible twosome, or hot like the Doublemint Twins?

Fearless Leaders for Every Tribe

“This time, we thought it’d be more fun to give every tribe powerful lords that you really want to kill on sight,” says Low. And they did. Each tribe will have two marquee pieces. One will be a gold legend like Brion Stoutarm (page 20). The other will be the tribe’s lord. And if you thought theOnslaught warchiefs were powerful, this time the gloves have come off.

Because every tribe in Lorwyn has ways to remove key tribal pieces on the other side of the board, R&D was able to loosen up when it came to making leaders for each tribe. According to Low, these lords will play less like warchiefs and more like the early cycle that included Lord of the Undead, giving all of your tribe a benefit while offering a useful activated ability themselves. Unlike those old lords, though, these guys will bring real power to the table. “We were able to really crank up the tribal lords and put a lot of power into them because we knew that all the tribes would have some kill spells in them and be able to take those guys down.”

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