Magic 2015 has an added storyline unique to the new card set. Wizards of the Coast R&D reached out to veteran game designers in the industry and enlisted them to design their very own Magic cards for Magic 2015. This announcement was made in the spring to lots of speculation, but the prerelease last weekend means that now all the cards are in full view. It's fascinating to see how other game designers approached Magic card design while bringing their own unique experiences to the table. Today I'll attempt to break down the designers' thought processes by analyzing the new cards as a self-contained package, and I'll predict potential constructed impact of the new cards with a focus on Standard.
From the creator of Minecraft's Markus Persson, Aggressive Mining impresses with its flavor and meta-design. It converts extra lands to extra cards at a rate of one-to-two: an attractive offer, but with the strangling restriction that one can't play more lands. It creates a world limited in one resource, mana, but rich in another, cards in hand. Like strip mining a mountain, Aggressive Mining creates riches in hand but a fallowed mana base.
Aggressive Mining can be used in a few different ways. The average deck will want to play Aggressive Mining as late as possible, because it's best once a lot of lands are amassed. It's a way to mitigate flood, and it can be played late-game to find the action necessary to seize a win. I could see this being played in a deck like Boros Burn. When Boros Burn draws a high-concentration of spells, it nearly always wins, but in practice it must always deal with the issues of mana flood. Aggressive Mining would be a great option there as a way to refill with action. It would be a great option in matchups where Boros Burn takes the control roles, like against aggressive opponents, and it would be awesome where Boros Burn is combatting lifegain and disruption, like against UWx control and Black Devotion.
Aggressive Mining may also be a bonafide engine for a mana-ramp deck. Aggressive Mining has no restrictions on searching for lands and putting them into play from the library. Aggressive Mining converts a land searcher like Farseek into two cards, so in theory, with enough spells to draw into, the deck could amass a ton of value to meet some end. I don't know if this is applicable in Standard, but it's fun to think about.
Avarice Amulet by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins has an interesting design. The effect, drawing an extra card, represents greed, avarice, but like any sin comes with a cost, which in this case is the very real risk of the opponent taking the equipment.
In practice this card will be best with very robust creatures, ideally ones that don't die to removal. Hexproof creatures seem like a good bet, and are particularly relevant because there is a Standard hexproof deck. Avarice Amulet is a bit too expensive for my tastes, though had it cost something like two mana would be very playable and potentially overpowered so I can't argue with the decision to cost it at four. It could still see some play in Standard Naya Hexproof, where it buffs a creature and provides some much-needed card advantage.
Chasm Skulker by Mike Neumann is one of my favorite cards in all of M15, andit offers unlimited power. Chasm Skulker is the sort of card that must be built around, but when done so correctly may prove to be extremely powerful. The base stats of 2U for a 1/1 are quite weak, but as turns go on it grows with the draw step, so it must be dealt with or will inevitably win the game. It can also be abused with additional card drawing. Chasm Skulker is much, much more attractive than something like Lorescale Coatl, because in death it creates a 1/1 blue Squid creature token for each counter it amassed in life. Investing resources into growing Chasm Skulker is not only an investment into board position, but it's an investment into future board position.
Chasm Skulker has constructed applications. It's the sort of card that is great given time and when not faced with removal, so one thought is to use it out of the sideboard of a creatureless control deck; Imagine it paired with Sphinx's Revelation. It's also the sort of card with a huge target on its head, so one option would be to play it in a creature-heavy deck full of other high-value targets. Chasm Skulker fits well into an aggressive theme, and it could be pushed even further by a way to take advantage of the transition from a large creature to many small creatures, such as Thassa, God of the Sea making it unblockable transitioning into Bident of Thassa, drawing many cards from the tokens. Chasm Skulker also works well with other cards that manage counters, such as graft, evolve, and Bioshift.
Cruel Sadist by Edmund McMillen is a cruel mistress. As a Black Devotion player I take special note of any new black cards, but this one doesn't impress me with its constructed applications, as it's just too expensive and slow in life and mana. It could have some use in Black Devotion as a sideboard card against an opponent with no removal, but these are typically the fastest opponents of all and must be defeated with a flurry of Doom Blade and Drown in Sorrow.
Genesis Hydra by George Fan is a new installment in a long-line of X-spell hydra creatures. Genesis Hydra gets +1/+1 counters equal to X like the other hydras, but it comes with a mana-scaling come-into-play trigger attached. This ability digs for and puts into play for free a nonland permanent, and each additional mana digs one card deeper and allows incrementally larger cards to be put into play. This card is going to be best as a huge finisher, and I expect to see a lot of it in Standard mana ramp decks for the coming year. This does get planeswalkers, so it's a great pairing with Nissa, Worldwaker and friends.
Goblin Kaboomist by Stone Librande is very silly, and it's bursting with flavor. I enjoy that it contains within most of the most absurd Magic card name of all, Kaboom! Goblin Kaboom(!)ist follows the long-line of goblins taking a "creative" approach to their professions (some of my personal favorites include Goblin Gardener and Goblin Chirurgeon), and it includes coin-flipping but may still be constructed playable.
In all seriousness, Goblin Kaboomist actually looks quite powerful against an opponent doing their attacking on the ground. Repeatable effects are always valuable, and Goblin Kaboomist generates value each turn it's in play. The coin-flipping element of the card does make Goblin Kaboomist slightly awkward in the early game, but the Land Mines stay active in-play long after the goblin has gone, so it's not as big of a drawback as it would seem. I could see playing this in the sideboard of Standard red decks if aggressive matchups are a problem.
Goblin Kaboomist is also a continuous source of free artifact costs, which could be abused in a variety of ways. Some cards that come to mind are Goblin Welder and M15 card Ensoul Artifact.
"The Hot Soup is quite flavorful, thank you for asking..."
Hot Soup by James Ernest will be best in limited, and I don't see much constructed application.
Master of Predicaments
David Sirlin is well known for his writings on game theory, and he designed a card that puts it right at the forefront. Master of Predicaments is nothing more than an Air Elemental, but when it hits the opponent it confronts them with a game theory riddle from the sphinx. The sphinx selects a card and effectively asks the opponent "does the card costs four or less mana, or five or more mana?" An opponent that guesses wrong will be subject to said card being cast for 0 mana, while an opponent that guesses correctly gets a reprieve from their predicament.
In practice, any trigger is always going to be bad for the opponent, as any trigger is going to result in some fraction of value assuming random guessing. Since Master of Predicaments sets the bar up to four, both sides offer significant potential for tempo and value. In terms of Magic game theory, one could always say the card costs five or more mana. This means the opponent always gets to cast smaller stuff free, but it means the opponent never gets to play a spell that *theoretically* has no upper bound. Let's assume that if the opponent ever does hit their big card, the game ends immediately, think Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn. In practice, any deck using Master of Predicaments would want some access to a huge threat, ideally castable sometimes without Master of Predicaments, in order to punish opponents that guess wrong. If the opponent always says the card will be 4 or less, the opponent is probably less likely to have a big threat in hand, but it of course will be more punishing if they do.
Overall Master of Predicaments is a very fun and well-designed card with clearly great flavor. As a 3UU five-drop competing with Prognostic Sphinx I don't see this card making an impact in Standard, but it would be very powerful to hit with multiple times in a row and snowball a game out of control, so it's not out of the question.
Ob Nixilis, Unshackled
Ob Nixlis, Unshackled by Brad Muir is inspired by the large, flying black demons of Magic past, along with Ob Nixilis, the Fallen. The main ability on this is the second one, which grows the Demon +1/+1 every time a creature dies, which in some situations would be quite powerful. The first ability is more corner-case, but it's incredibly hateful against searching the deck. I see this card best used as a massive hate card against some strategies, none more notable in my mind than Birthing Pod, which is punished by all abilities on the demon.
Shield of the Avatar
Shield of the Avatar by Richard Garriot may be the most unassuming of all the new designer cards, but it's quite clean and efficient. As a one mana equipment that costs two mana to use, it's potentially constructed playable. The ability keeps creatures alive through burn or combat, and it scales up with the number of creatures on its side. I expect this to see play in all sorts of casual formats, and it could make the jump to constructed in the right niche. This notably could be used in Standard as creature protection against burn spells, or as a way to win creature mirrors with lots of combat.
Spirit Bonds has the distinction of being designed by former Pro Tour Champion Justin Gary. Justin surely pushed the envelope as hard as possible on his card and intended it to see constructed play. As a two-mana enchantment that produces 1/1 flying tokens it's in an exalted class of permanents. In effect, Spirit Bonds gives every following creature an extra "kicker cost" of one white mana that produces a 1/1 flying Spirit Token. This is surely slow-going and requires more cards to get going, so it's surely nothing like Bitterblossom, but over the course of a game it will generate value and perhaps enough to win. This sort of thing seems really, really good against Black Devotion, and it's going to be great elsewhere. Note that it's not restricted to monowhite, so this could be paired with Voice of Resurgence or even Chandra's Phoenix.
The second ability, which allows a token to be sacrificed to make a creature indestructible, brings the flavor and power of Spirit Bonds full circle. Spirit Tokens can be cashed in at instant speed as a sort of Guardian Angel to save a creature from removal or a bad combat. This has some very real value in game, and once the tokens start amassing it will be difficult for an opponent to use removal or win combat effectively.
Warden of the Beyond
Warden of the Beyond by Isaiah Cartwright is quite cool, and it's balanced but potentially powerful. I imagine this is pretty decent in limited just as a vigilance body but would be great with any synergy. I think it is particularly cool as a hate card against a variety of cards, some that come to mind include imprint cards like Chrome Mox in Legacy and exile-themselves cards like Simian Spirit Guide in Modern, and it would be silly against cards like Spoils of the Vault. In Standard this would be fun to pair with a ton of white exile-effects like Banishing Light, Chained to the Rocks, Detention Sphere, and anything else available.
Xathrid Slyblade by Rob Pardo is fascinating from a flavor standpoint. This card is stealthy assassin lying in wait, but to do its job it must reveal itself and employ its deadly blade and speed. After a job well-done, it can cloak back into shadows.
For limited formats this card is awesome and will be quite powerful. It will be hard to play against but harder to use correctly, because activating the ability in combat exposes the card to removal, which makes it well-balanced. From a constructed standpoint, Xathrid Slyblade is nothing more than a 2B 2/1 hexproof creature with no abilities, which in the right deck could be playable.
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard by Brian Fargo reminds me of two cards, Aether Vial and Birthing Pod. Like those artifacts, it can be used turn after turn to put into play incrementally larger creatures. Yisan, the Wanderer Bard combines the best aspects of both, the turn-by-turn nature of Aether Vial and the deck searching utility of Birthing Pod. What it doesn't share is the mana efficiency, as Yisan, the Wanderer Bard costs three mana to cast and three to use each turn. It's a big investment with a risk of losing all the spent mana, but it's a huge payoff. I could see players building around this card, but as a legend I could also see it being played as a one-of in a variety of green decks as a source of card advantage.
M15 also contained a community-designed card, Waste Not, and for completion's sake it would be wrong not to include it. Waste Not was not drawn from the mind of a designer but rather the Hive Mind. It wasn't created with grand plan in mind, but it was developed over the course of a community-driven chose-your-own adventure with no clear goal in sight. In the end, the card ended up as Waste Not, and the only way to judge it is on the feet of its own merits.
Waste Not may be most effective as a hate card against specific problems. Waste Not is a direct answer to Zombie Tokens generated from a Necromancer's Stockpile Engine, for example. In another world it would be a great hoser against cycling. There has been discussion about Waste Not as an answer to Pack Rat. While it may provide some small value, Waste Not is never going to be able to keep up with Pack Rat. In the end it's not going to be as effective as another removal spell. I don't think it's effect fits at all in Black Devotion.
Last weekend was the M15 prerelease, and it's out in stores and Standard-legal this weekend. Have you been brewing with any of the new designer cards? Share in the comments!