The Cube According to Gatherer, Part Four – A Counter Encounter
“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early attempt at a Russian Reversal
Last week in our Cube log, Gatherer juked left, then hit me in the breadbox with a Retether. I responded with a flurry of designs to the head. By the time we stopped slamming into each other, auras circled around my head like 1940s cartoon tweety birds.
Gatherer slid me seven cards, and I designed an additional seven cards for the cube. When I asked for card fifteen, however, Gatherer fed me fish. Thankfully it’s a fish that’s “mild in taste and elegant in look.”
So far none of the cards in the cube use counters. That’s about to change. This week, I’m pulling seven random courses from Gatherer. And while I prepare seven cards to serve as garnish for our misplaced meals, I must also cook these designs with the secret ingredient of the week, counters. Can I hope to achieve such a daring feat? ([editorial spoiler]: The answer is ‘yes’. I got to admit, I’m both surprised and incensed that you questioned my ability to do such a mundane task.)
Deepglow Skate wants to double counters, so let’s double the types of counter to double. This design is part Dragon Blood and part Arcane Spyglass. The Spyglass gets a bum rap. I like what Rosewater was going for with the “Buy three get the third card free!” concept, but tying a fun mechanic to a card that asks you to sacrifice lands was a bad choice. Competitive players don’t mind the sacrifice. But Spyglass is inefficient, so they don’t want it. Casual players don’t mind the inefficiency. But they don’t want to sacrifice their stuff, so they don’t want it. The end result is a card which only designers like. That’s like employing minimal design on a pair of running shoes by removing the laces. Though I must admit, it would make the 800 meter dash more entertaining.
Ah! Horsemanship! Kill it with fire!
Breathe, John-Michael, breathe. Keep your head up and your heart open. Keep your head up and your heart open. Wheooo. Let’s try that again.
I’m not ecstatic about ‘other other flying’, but I must admit that a 2/4 unblockable soldier for is reasonable. Not only that, but in our first design log, we employed Masquerade, a mechanic which takes advantage of cards that call out other specific cards! Well, let’s give this warlord a general!
Considering how many giant monsters we saw in our previous logs, I wanted Ghost of the Unknown Commander to maintain a sleeker casting cost (preferably at four, so a beefed up Lieu Bei can enter the battlefield on round five.) But I also need the card to be a reasonable target for Behemoth’s Herald to search for. So I tried a mechanic that could return the sacrificed creatures to play.
I probably didn’t go far enough. Chump blocking with your team to put a vulnerable creature on the battlefield that slowly returns your team isn’t a strong strategy. Not unless you add more counters to the Commander, which is technically a thing. Or you could use this as an opportunity to swap three creatures for three different creatures I suppose. Cute, but Herald plus Commander remains a tough sell. I’ll be revisiting this choice later.
Yes, that’s a real card. In Alpha, Magic used rarity to express how some mechanics were tied to certain colors Red is the color of land destruction, so Stone Rain was printed as a common. Green can, on occasion, destroy a land. So Ice Storm was printed as an uncommon.
Of course, this cube doesn’t feature Stone Rain (Not yet. It was printed twenty times after all.) It features Ice Storm. So I suppose green is currently king of land destruction? That’s fair, considering red is currently the anti-flying color.
Autumn Guide is an early Bear that ruins a land later in the game. Or, with Burbling Cauldron, ruinates again and again, every turn. I admit, that frightens me. The combo is expensive and fragile, however. So I’m willing to believe that few games will end with one player controlling all the lands. I suppose we must wait to see.
Also, I gave this card a rider about destroying non-basic lands. It’s nice to get yet another life trigger in the set. But I was more interested in the flavor of Green rooting out non-basic or ‘unnatural lands’. I thought about exclusively destroying non-basic lands, but we don’t want players second guessing whether they should draft a non-basic land in their color. Good draft choices shouldn’t be punished.
Street Wraith haunts Legacy, and is a constant apparition in dredge decks for its ability to fuel graveyards while replacing itself, all for the almost irrelevant cost of two life. It’s an abusive card in abusive environments. Inconsequently, the less abusive the environment, the less abusive the wraith. In most limited environments, when given a choice between Street Wraith and Bog Wraith, I’d choose the Alpha original, even after twenty-four years of power creep. Funny that.
Ambition Totem nibbles at Street Wraith’s design. The wraith included a non-standard cycling cost, so I used a non-standard cycling cost best applied in a counter laden deck. I didn’t want to make yet another Swamp-hating Black card, so I stole a Swamp-loving mechanic from early Magic. (Specifically, from Lim-Dûl’s Hex and Thrull Wizard.)
For a long time, Black’s themes included one of player corruption. Theoretically, that’s why Nightmare and Frozen Shade‘s cost featured a single black mana. New players starved for cards would put these creatures in otherwise inappropriate decks. But every time those players altered their land ratio, they would convince themselves they could use more swamps. And since their decks now included more Swamps, they could play more dedicated Black cards, like Black Knight. And since their deck included more dedicated Black cards, they could play more Swamps for their Nightmare/Shade, etc., etc.. Lim-Dûl’s Hex touches on that same space, but instead converts your opponents, convincing them to play a single Swamp… just in case. Or maybe two Swamps. Your mono-White deck will be fine with a couple of Swamps security in case an opponent’s Hex, right? Ooh, and now that your deck includes two Swamps, you can play your Terror. Hm… better make that three Swamps…
Another Alpha classic. Simulacrum is wacky, eh? The original printed wording states that “All damage done to you so far is retroactively applied to target creature you control.” A consistent set of rules? Early Magic didn’t give a fig. The original rulebook was thirty-seven pages long (half of which consisted of flavor and examples) and fit inside a debit card sleeve. Many holes were filled by one universal rule: “If a card contradicts the rules, the card takes precedence.” If Simulacrum says the clock can be rewound and the game state changed retroactively, then call me Mallory and Slider me off to a world where men are an endangered sex, because we’re hopping one dimension to the left where you attacked a facsimile of me, didn’t realize your mistake until your turn was over, the Crying Man is topping the charts, and queso is the cola of choice.
Today, the comprehensive rulebook pdf totals 195 pages. For comparison’s sake, the 2016 IRS 1040 instruction manual pdf is 104 pages long, and that book includes charts and iconography!
We don’t muck around reshaping the past anymore. It’s a pity. With Simulacrum’s most recent wording, however, we lucked into yet another life gain card in a color that usually doesn’t dispense large chunks of life. Three cheers for flavor over color pie!
It’s possible my fellow cubists will hate me for this decision. But if I must play memory games with the board state, then I’m committing. Ideally, you want to cast That Which Does Not Kill on a trampling fatty after it safely collides with another big fatty. It also makes for a terrible surprise when your opponent needs two sources to kill a creature. Blocking with a Hill Giant with backup Lightning Bolt to kill a Yavimaya Wurm? Oh, you won’t like this…
First things first. Check out the new ‘According to Gatherer’ expansion symbol. Done? Cool.
Gatherer gifted me a dual land. This dual land comes with the additional Oracle ruling that you will yawn as part of the cost of putting it on the battlefield. But I’m okay with unexciting. This cube is full of strange and challenging choices already. Stone Quarry keeps the mana bases simple.
I guess I set a precedent by pulling forward Godsire when Behemoth’s Herald was added to the cube. We might as well bring forward the other non-basic lands from this cycle. Not all ten of them, though. Just the four enemy color dual lands should be fine.
Now that I’m looking at this card, I really like how the flavor of a stone quarry fits a Red/White land. Nice artwork, too. While ruminating over this card, I couldn’t help but think about Settlers of Catan, how there are five different tile types in that game, and one of them represents stone quarries. I tried to map those resources on top of Magic: the Gathering’s enemy lands, and it almost worked. Except the Green/Blue land somehow needed to represent the sheep tile. And there’s no way I’d find appropriate fantasy artwork from a Google image search if I typed “Forest River Sheep” in the search bar…
Unbelievable. It was the third image. Well then, let’s do this.
Oddly, this was the more challenging image to find. All I wanted was a picture of a claypit. But fantasy artists tend to draw that which is idyllic or momentous. Claypits are mundane, messy holes in the ground. I can’t say I blame the artists. I’m just happy that Cerutru decided to center a small clay pit in his village piece, because otherwise there wouldn’t be anything appropriate.
Nothing special here. Just a dark forest to represent the wood tile.
And finally a desert cave for a thief to live in. This particular thief maintains an eye for thrifty interior decoration, and did admirable work with the fabric at their disposal, while allowing natural to light filter throughout.
In response to these five lands, I made a multi-colored storage land. The activation is admittedly high (compare to Saltcrusted Steppe) but there are natural gaps in most games where you don’t have anything else to use your mana on. It isn’t the most efficient card, but non-aggressive decks will still find it useful.
Gatherer’s card seven was a Forest. There are 313 printings of Forest alone. If anything, I’m surprised it took this long before seeing a basic land.
This seems like an obvious time to use a veto and move on. But I encountered this problem before in a previous design challenge I once gave myself called ‘Mashup: the Gathering’. The plan for that set was to take two random cards and smoosh them together to create something new. Then repeat, and repeat, until there were enough cards for a functioning and (theoretically) balanced set. You’re more than welcome to see the results here, but I must warn you that not every card designed is pretty. It’s an entire set of mashups, after all (also, if you’re interested, Mashup: the Gathering Workbench is here. The Workbench isn’t a set. It’s more of a dumping ground for cards I mashed up that I couldn’t fit into the core set for one reason or another.)
Basic lands would pop up in Mashup: the Gathering, and I knew it would be a recurring problem. Instead of ignoring them, I decided it would be more fun for basic lands to color-shift the next card ala Planar Chaos. Sometimes all that needed doing was to change the symbols in the casting cost (like when I got a Mountain, then Bog Imp.) When a strict change would break the color pie, however, I would reinterpret what the card did (like when I got an Island and Shivan Hellkite. I included the line “This creature deals damage to players in the form of that player putting that many cards from the top of their library into their graveyard,” restricted the activated ability so it only targeted players, and dropped the overall cost to .)
The color-shifts were fun, so I want to do it again. I asked Gatherer for another card, and Gatherer gave me
Green doesn’t fly this freely. We can’t change the casting cost to and call it a day. We could make this creature:
There’s nothing wrong with this card. But it doesn’t make me happy. Red is supposed to be the anti-flying color of this set. I have no problem with Gatherer feeding me green anti-flying cards. But Gatherer didn’t feed me a card with reach. I took a blue card with flying and turned it into a green card with reach. And given the choice, I’d rather not do that. So let’s stab a second time at the drake.
While Green rarely flies, in the past it featured creatures that could only be blocked by flying creatures, like Treetop Scout. If we replaced flying with that mechanic, the Drake might look like:
While a number of players enjoy the Treetop Scout ability, it has many critics, including members of Wizards R&D. That’s why Silhana Ledgewalker in Guildpact is the last one we saw. The argument is that Green’s slice of the color pie is supposed to be bad at flying. So why are we giving green a mechanic which is the equivalent of flying when attacking? Using that logic, any color can use any keyword as long as the keyword itself isn’t printed on the card.
Drake #2 makes the problem one worse. This creature can attack like a duck, and block like a duck, so chances are it’s a flying duck. The only difference is that it can’t be targeted like a duck. This is no different from printing a White Shock that deals two energy, and that energy does exactly what damage would do except you can’t prevent it or redirect it because it is energy. Why bother with the five colors of Magic if the color pie can be manipulated like that?
Let’s try one more time. I got hung up by directly translating the mechanic. What if I opted for an emotional translation. What does Scrapskin Drake’s ability feel like for a Green creature? Can we create a new mechanic that captures the energy of a creature that maneuvers above other creatures?
Quirrion Treerunner keeps the flavor of Treetop Scout. This is still an Elf that shimmies from branch to branch to avoid the ground pounders. But now, instead of needing a flying creature to block it, the defending player only needs a flying creature to spot the Treerunner. If reconnaissance is relayed, any wandering patrol can stop her.
I like how this moves the focus away from a pseudo-flying ability, to an ability that’s vulnerable via flying creatures. To me, it feels more in line with the color pie in that Green is not only incapable of grasping the concept of flying, but also appears confused and at a disadvantage when the opponent’s creatures take to the air. I also like how this ability combines with what Red is doing in this set so far. Green would be vulnerable to flyers, but Red knocks them down.
I figured it would be neat to combine tree-crawling with Pentavus. I wasn’t interested in giving the base creature Defender (there’s already a lot of text on this card) but sometimes the art I find demands certain things, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to contact Mr. Zavala to ask if he can add legs to his hive. I’m sure he’s a busy man, drawing fantastic hives without legs for the masses.