The Cube, According to Gatherer, Part Six – Kiss From a Rosewater
Alright! I asked Gatherer for my first card, and it gave me:
Oh, this is problematic.
There is nothing wrong with Chameleon Colossus, and/or using it in a cube full of strong cards. Colossus is where’s the party’s at, and you can find it on the corner of power and fun. But the Gatherer cube represents a cross-section of Magic. The average random card to make an appearance will probably settle between 2.75 stars and 3.00. Up until now, Green drafters at the table would be happy to draft Rumbling Baloth: a 4/4 beatstick for four. Chameleon Colossus is strictly better* than the Baltoh in three distinct ways.
(*’Strictly Better’ is a problematic term players apply to Magic: the Gathering cards with a clear upgrade over another Magic card. The term is often applied erroneously, as it is applied here. For example, Chameleon Colossus can not be enchanted with Unholy Strength since it has protection from black, and it will die to Tivadar’s Crusade since it is technically a Goblin. There are those who insist that ‘strictly better’, in itself, is an illusion, since even the Colossus’ ability to double its own power becomes a liability if your opponent can access green mana, and gains control of your Colossus. Use this expression with caution, since it will often result in excessive and unnecessary clarification, i.e., what happened in this paragraph.)
Making a cube with Gatherer is like giving credence to a four year old child who flipped over my box of cards and is now building a deck based on which cards include the prettiest pictures. I knew when I started that occasional monsters would wander into the box. But since the top five percent of Magic cards should only appear… five percent of the time… I figured this wouldn’t be a major problem. What I didn’t take into account, however, is that the top five percent of Magic cards tend to be reprinted multiple times in specialty products. Chameleon Colossus, for example, was printed in Morningtide, Archenemy, From the Vault: Twenty, and Commander 2015. In other words, the top five percent of Magic cards are likely to appear about ten to twelve percent of the time. I need to learn to live with it.
This came up before. Back in log three, I fretted over Tromokratis and Magmatic Force, but ultimately came to peace with those implements of demolition. The game already includes a defensive mechanism which prevents wrecking balls from regularly knocking the game to the ground. It’s called ‘the casting cost’, and it’s been keeping powerful cards in check since 1993. All it takes is a gentle push with a little resource denial to keep tho to make it more difficult to cast those cards (and more rewarding when you slammed the card on the table anyway.) But there’s very little I can do to stop a monster from hitting the table on round four, without warping the fundamentals of the game.
When something like this happens, my fist thought is to create a card that hoses the specific problem card. Let me show you what I mean:
‘Take That Shapeshifter!’ is a silver bullet aimed for Colossus’ head. All three creature types appear in the set, so the card remains a relevant choice for draft. But if your opponent happens to have Colossus on the table, you’ll get to lock it down while draining your opponent for three life per turn. Cool? I thought so. For all of ten seconds.
This is a really bad idea, for two reasons:
One: For ‘Take That Shapeshifter!’ to do the job it is intended to do, your opponent would need to draft Chameleon Colossus, you would need to draft TTS!, you would need to put it in your deck (probably without knowing your opponent drafted Colossus. It’s a pack one, pick one, after all.) Then you would need to draw it in a game where your opponent cast Colossus, and you haven’t already died. That’s a lot of variables. The vast majority of the time, TTS! won’t do its intended job.
Two: When you do play TTS!, and it does do its job, it won’t be fun. Frankly, it will feel like you cheated. Chameleon Colossus is a monster. When you play it, it should rampage like a monster. When you cast Rebuke or some other answer to stop it, it should feel like you dodged a monster. TTS! turns Colossus into a puttytat and a cosmic joke. It devalues the card, and ultimately devalues the game. If Chameleon Colossus is going to be in the cube, it must be valued highly because it is scary. Players shouldn’t be left wondering if one of the best cards in the cube is technically a booby trap or not. Because when you’re drafting Green, even if the Colossus is a trap, it will still be your best pick. Nothing is gained by randomly making the card worse on rare occasions.
Knowing I couldn’t create a silver bullet for the Chameleon, and couldn’t design cards to make mid-range Green less favorable, and knowing that the presence of Colossus was a major problem for Black decks, I tried mentally balancing the cube by giving Colossus its opposite in Black.
We saw the Masquerade keyword back in log one of this series. It seemed like an appropriate ‘opposite’ for the Changeling ability.
While this balances the scales so that Black is no longer at a disadvantage against Green, it shifts the balance away from the other three colors in the process. And if I was to add equally absurd cards in those colors to the Cube, I would only be making the power level problems worse, and worse.
I can’t reset the balance of the set by elevating the power level of the cube, or by targeting Colossus, or by targeting any deck that would include Colossus. I don’t dare design cards that work synergistically with Colossus. So there’s only one thing left I can do: Ignore it. The next card I design should have nothing to do with Colossus. Besides, I give Colossus a fifty-fifty chance of being cut from the cube after the first few playtests for being too good. It’s best if I pretend it isn’t even in the box.
I got here in a roundabout way. The Anti-Colossus reminded me that the set could use a few more cards with Masquerade. So I tried to work on a Masquerade boss… but I couldn’t quite get there. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but think to myself that while I solved the initial problem that inspired Masquerade, Behemoth’s Herald, there weren’t nearly enough creatures worth sacrificing yet for the Herald to work properly. So I designed a red creature that liked to be sacrificed. You can always sacrifice Flamecore Pet using it’s own expensive ability for the minor effect of dealing two damage. But ideally you want to sacrifice to something cheaper with a bonus effect, like Innocent Blood.
I think I stumbled on something Wizards hasn’t done yet. Sure there’s been plenty of creatures that sacrifice themselves, and a few cards like Bloodbriar that like it when you sacrifice permanents, but none that I know of that want to be sacrificed, and don’t care how it happened. Outside of an anti-flying sub-theme, Red’s been lacking a theme in this Cube. Mostly, that’s because Red refuse to randomly show up. But I like this mechanic. If Red won’t give me a mechanic to build around, then this seems as good a place to start as any.
Okay Gatherer! Show me another card!
Replicate! Talk about an underappreciated mechanic. Replicate first appeared on ten red and blue instants and sorceries in Guildpact, then nowhere else. That’s a shame, since it’s not only simple, efficient, and easy to explain, but there’s also plenty of design to explore. For example, Wizards never made a card with a Replicate cost that was different than the card’s casting cost…
While toying with Replicate, I figured we might as well continue our ‘Red likes to sacrifice itself’ theme. Originally, I made the spell cost , and cost the Replicate at . I liked how the card got fractionally more efficient the more mana that was at your disposal. But it’s unlikely you would be able to use the card as an effective answer to an opponent’s removal spell if it cost . So I swapped two costs. It’s less exciting this way, but probably more useful.
I’m using my veto power here. Not because of complexity, though. The Shaman is a wordy common (?!) but it isn’t that confusing. His main function is to turn Circle of Protection: Red into CoP:Whatever Color You Need (and add a cumulative upkeep of .)
I talked before about how I don’t like cards that hose a specific color, so I could cite that for my veto. But as I said before, I’m okay with color hosers with a light touch to them. It would be easy to design a Seal of Cleansing that gained you 3 life if it destroyed a black permanent, for example.
But that’s what leads us to our real problem. I would need to design cards for Balduvian Shaman to target. I’m guessing, at least ten white enchantments would need to be made, each of which that would have some effect when the color word on them was changed. If this was week one or two, I would take up that challenge. But this is week six, each color already has a general direction, and shoehorning this theme in at this point would be too disruptive. Sorry Shaman, you’re too late to the party. Maybe next time.
Ah. An archenemy scheme. Well we can’t put that in the cube, so it gets an automatic veto.
For what it’s worth, I really like this effect. I did try to put it in the cube by assigning a cost to the ability, to make a spell out of the scheme. But there was no good way to cost the spell without it being underwhelming. The problem is that this ability is really good in multiplayer, but I prefer to play tournament-style one on one games with cube drafts. With only one opponent, I imagine the card probably costs . But in a multiplayer game, it probably costs . I could change the wording to say target player… but then I’m no longer updating the scheme to be a card, I’m designing a different card. Best we move on.
Another giant, overpowered mythic rare beastie. Once again, though, this game changer is kept in check by its cost. Six mana isn’t difficult to achieve in limited, but the eight mana needed to destroy the board will remain just out of reach in a number of games.
One of these times, I’m going to design a card that helps us accelerate us into the end game. But that will probably be on the heels of an expensive, yet weak card, like Scaled Wurm. For now, though, with all the crazy stuff happening at seven and eight, I don’t think we have enough hate to keep these power cards checked yet. I still feel bad for not making a proper spell out of “Only Blood Ends Your Nightmares”, so I made this:
Cards like this need a natural point where they must stop. Using charge counters made for a natural fit, since the set already included a counter theme. I kept bouncing around with the number of counters and the casting cost, until it finally occurred to me that I could tie the two together, and that the card was acceptable at every cost. It’s nice when things align like that. It’s a pity that Xenic Polgergeist from log five can’t attack with an animated Scythe, but he can blow up an opponent’s scythe on command. Nothing wrong with that.
Next card, please!
Oh! I’ve never seen this card before. ‘Just Fate‘ may sound like the latest Hugh Grant / Juliette Lewis romantic comedy, but it’s secretly a Rebuke printed thirteen years earlier in Portal: Second Age. Technically, Rebuke is the strictly better* card, since Just Fate restricts when it can be cast. If you’re playing Just Fate for the goofy artwork, and your opponent flashes a surprise Giant Growth during the declare blockers step, you just got fated, son.
Speaking of the artwork… I can’t. There aren’t enough words to express all the majesty infused in this modern masterpiece. Thankfully, the commenter, idrinkyourmilkshake, has boiled down the narrative essence of this tableau for me:
“Oh no — the buzzsaw is coming”
“Quick, feed the giant this awesome cauldron of soup I made!”
“Whoa, he looks really excited about that!”
This scene, expertly told, is crucial to making this story in pantomime work. Clearly, we will need to add it to the card as flavor text:
Just Fate didn’t need the extra baggage of only being cast during the declare attacker’s step. That got me thinking about the kind of card that would need a reminder to only be cast through that narrow window.
I didn’t quite get there. Originally, Battle Alacrity said it could only be cast during the declare attackers step, but that wasn’t a necessary restriction. The point was to give players a chance to slip the occasional free instant or flash spell during the combat step. If a player was holding onto Battle Alacrity, but suddenly wanted to stretch for an emergency counterspell mid-combat, who was I to stop them?
Speaking of counterspells, the next random card from Gatherer gave me this:
It’s a niche counter to be sure. Unified Will is best employed in a fast deck eager to drop early creatures, and eager to protect those vulnerable creatures when other decks are ready to go online. It seems like a risky strategy — that is, until you find yourself on the receiving end, failing turn after turn to drop board wipes or key blockers onto the battlefield.
The only ‘problem’ with Unified Will is that both players know when it’s online. Sure, your opponent may not know you have it in your hand… but that makes the card effectively as surprising as a straight up Counterspell. What would be really fun is if a player surprised their opponent by suddenly having more creatures on the table, then countered their spell on the stack with a Unified Will.
Sometimes, finding what seems like a simple art concept turns into an hour long Google/Bing/Deviantart expedition. There are plenty of Fantasy/Steampunk/Clockwork robots/drones/gnomes out there. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find a single piece of artwork that contained at least two of them together. I was about to give up and just make the card create an artificer and its drone, when I stumbled on this work by Mr. Klein. If, in the future, I become one of those alcoholic writers, I’m blaming a lack of artwork including two or more steampunk robots.
Gatherer tried to feed me bone soup with Rune of Protection: Black. But as I already said, I’m vetoing all egregious color hosers. In an alternate universe, this would be a perfect follow up to the previously vetoed Balduvian Shaman. I’d like to see that Cube. I doubt I’d like to play that Cube, but I would like to see it.
Finally, Gatherer gave me a vanilla creature. Or, to be more precise, a virtual vanilla creature, since haste doesn’t do anything special the round after the creature it’s stapled to enters the battlefield. Okay, technically, if the creature is stolen… you know what? If you’re going to raise this many objections, why don’t you write this article? See? It’s not so easy, is it? Especially considering the article is already written, and you’re currently reading it. Bet you didn’t think of that, now did you?
You would think that my first thought would be to make another vanilla (plain, virtual, or French) in another color. Instead, I tried to create an artifact that gave a nominal benefit for sacrificing your creatures, loaded up on counters, then sacrificed to put a pile of 4/1 hasty elementals on the table. It wasn’t lining up right, though. And eventually I realized that I was trying too hard. The set needs some simple creatures in it. And with the anti-flying theme floating around, we also need a few decent flyers.
After deciding on a 3/5 flyer, I tied it to the Lightning Elemental by making it a cumulonimbus cloud: a storm cloud known for its dramatic lightning discharges. When I went to pull forward flavor text, I got a pleasant surprise. Lightning Elemental reproduces the third and fourth lines of the first stanza of the poem “Mortality”. The first and second lines of the poem’s first stanza, mentions ‘a fast-flying cloud’. William Knox: writing flavor text for imaginary Magic cards since 1825.
Twelve more cards down for a grand total of eighty total cards! Let’s move on to Part Seven, or you can always check out the According to Gatherer archive to see if you missed anything. Until next time, I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom from Steve Martin:
“Finally, I can’t overstress the importance of having a powerful closing sentence.”