Designer Fun – M13 Design Review, Part 1

Design review is a few weeks later this time, mostly because I thought of other cool things to talk about in my previous articles, and a little bit because I couldn’t quite seem to get into the groove for it. This week I found it.

First off, I must say this set is much, much, better than Avacyn Restored (which was an uncharacteristic disaster). I like a lot of the new designs, I like the use of the reprints, and I’ve had fun playing with it.

I’m just picking individual cards to talk about, and in no particular order. I didn’t get to red & green (I’ll cover them in the next article).

[draft]Liliana of the Dark Realms[/draft]

[card]Liliana of the Dark Realms[/card]

Kind of hilarious that we’ve had three Garruks, and yet Liliana is the first planeswalker to fetch a land out of your deck.* Obviously, the way she allows you to find non-basic Swamps is one of the many dead giveaways that Ravinca dual lands will return with Ravnica in the fall.

Her second ability can kill a creature, but it will kill her too if used right away. I like this—I won’t be surprised to see a lot more of this in the future. Planeswalkers have been, in the eyes of many, too format-defining thus far. If they are sometimes just a sorcery, it will change how players feel about them. It expands the patterns of play, makes multiples actually easier to use, and allows for better/easier balancing of strong middle abilities, especially ones that kill creatures like this one does. It goes without saying how obvious a combo this is with the +1.

The ultimate here is different and cool, and fits great with the +1. My issue here is not with this card itself, but with the lack of support for the ultimate in the set. Okay, [card]Liliana’s Shade[/card] both gets more Swamps and can put BBBB to good use. There’s also [card]Diabolic Revelation[/card]. I guess that’s pretty sweet, searching up a bunch of cards to play next turn with the 28+ mana you probably have. But then what? [card]Essence Drain[/card] them five times? There just isn’t enough to do with her ultimate inside the set. One [card]Drain Life[/card] effect would be enough.

The lack of huge black finishers, and the color-fixing that will come with Ravnica duals puts this card in a weird place. It seems to say “mono-black” but in effect I think this card will end up being most used in UBR style control decks that want the removal of the second ability, the mana-fixing, and can take advantage of the mana for huge control finishers, or for casting big stuff while holding up counters. Rock style BG with splashes is also quite possible. Well, that, or nobody will find a good place for it due to the conflict it has between theory and practice.

*Speaking of fetching from decks: [card]Bribery[/card]? I’d love to see that as an ultimate.



I thought about trying to read into this card in all sorts of ways. Maybe it’s here because MBC was so strong, and they didn’t want the MBC mirror to be decided by who drew too many useless [card]Doom Blade[/card]s in game one. However, I’m quite sure this is here mostly because they just realized they hadn’t put those exact words on a card before, and once someone submitted this design they couldn’t resist printing it. Either way, it’s a fine card that will be interesting to watch. Oh, and having a 3-mana instant removal here makes room for a constructed-worthy 2-mana instant removal spell in black in RtR block.



[card]Mutilate[/card], as a card design, has an interesting affect on players. Most consider it a card that only belongs in mono-black decks. But does it? It costs 2BB, not BBBB. You might think that it’s not necessary to cost it at BBBB because the text asks you to count Swamps, but if this card were useless outside of mono-black, a responsible designer would cost it at BBBB so as to not accidentally trick a new player into making the “dumb mistake” of splashing it in a green deck. On the contrary, this card is quite good, and sometimes quite different, in a two-color deck. If you have three Swamps and three Forests on the battlefield, and a couple of green 5/5s, what better way to clear the way for them than with a [card]Mutilate[/card]?

[draft]Disciple of Bolas[/draft]

[card]Disciple of Bolas[/card]

Remember in Cube article when I said black needs card draw and life gain? Well, here we have exactly that. I recommend you play with [card]Disciple of Bolas[/card] a bunch to really get a feel for how to use it. Try sacrificing your highest-power guy, your lowest, um, a um, middle-power guy. Ok fine, you’ll probably only have one other guy most of the time anyway, right? It might look like the sacrifice is a drawback, so if you’re not sure about it, try it. I think you’ll be impressed after you’ve seen it in action.

[draft]Blood Reckoning[/draft]

[card]Blood Reckoning[/card]

Here is more of the word “planeswalker” on cards. R&D was afraid to call them out directly a lot when they were new, but it seems they’ve changed their mind. In hindsight, it would actually make more sense to call them out a lot when they’re new, to spread the word that they exist.

This card has a cute interaction with [card]Courtly Provocateur[/card], but I really like how it’s a subtle promotion of exalted.

[draft]Bloodhunter Bat[/draft]

[card]Bloodhunter Bat[/card]

I’m a huge fan of [card]Blind Hunter[/card] (despite haunt being slightly awkward) so I was really happy to see this cutie here. Is this good enough for Cube? Maybe. It’s extremely good against aggro and fits in attrition decks.

[draft]Bloodthrone Vampire
Goblin Arsonist[/draft]

[card]Bloodthrone Vampire[/card], [card]Goblin Arsonist[/card]

Nice to see that cards I designed are still useful as reprints. That’s the secret glory of common design—a good core-set style common might get reprinted for many years to come. These two were both designed as “upgrades” of previous cards. Bloodthrone trying to be faster and more playable than [card]Nantuko Husk[/card], and Arsonist trying to rework [card]Mogg Fanatic[/card] under the M10 rules changes. Yay me!

Oh, and I may have designed [card]Stormtide Leviathan[/card] as well. I forget, but other R&D members like to credit it to me. “Leviathan so big, it raises the sea level,” certainly sounds like something I’d come up with.

[draft]Ajani, Caller of the Pride[/draft]

[card]Ajani, Caller of the Pride[/card]

3-mana planeswalker! For the low-cost planeswalkers—even as far back as when I was in the pit—we talked about optional +1’s like this. You need to always feel you can use the first ability of a planeswalker no matter what, so they can’t target things that may or may not exist. The “up to one” relieves that constraint, but can be awkward.

We see more nice tight design between the first and second abilities—making a creature bigger so that double strike will be super effective.

It is impressive how strong this is on an empty board, just climbing toward 10 to 20 Cats. I have four cats myself, so I’m always happy to see more cat cards in Magic.



By request of @GriffinValentine (follow me on twitter: @GregoryMarques and ask for specific card design reviews for my next article, and when new sets come out in the future):

The 8+ mana blue mythic enchantment slot gets some of the “craziest” cards. With Jace in the picture here, we’re led to believe that perhaps he eventually becomes all-knowing—but why does that mean he can cast everything for free? That’s more like Omnipotent, right? In fact, this text—I would have used this on a new Nicol Bolas ultimate—he’s so mighty he can just do anything he can think of.

Omniscience is more like:

Skip your draw step.

When Omniscience enters the battlefield, exile your library.
You can play cards in your library as though they were in your hand.

That’s omniscience, and that’s a 10-mana blue card. What we got is more like a green card: the near-equivalent of infinite mana, or maybe a black card—infinite power. This card exists as-is because R&D continues to refuse to fully reassess blue’s dominance of the color pie and place thicker walls around what it’s really allowed to do. In this case, it’s clear they got stuck on the card’s name—which is clearly blue—but did not carefully think about what it does, which is something historically blue (since blue can do anything), but should not be blue now and in the future.

[draft]Attended Knight[/draft]

[card]Attended Knight[/card]

I love white getting some two-creature weenies, and this slightly more fair [card]Blade Splicer[/card] shows how happy R&D was with [card]Blade Splicer[/card]. It will play differently in some situations because the bigger one is the card instead of the token, which is a good way to vary up these otherwise similar cards.

[draft]Knight of Glory
Knight of Infamy[/draft]

[card]Knight of Glory[/card], [card]Knight of Infamy[/card]

These two are exciting replacements for [card]White Knight[/card] and [card]Black Knight[/card]. Exalted makes them excellent offensive creatures, and the 1C costs make them much easier to cast in multicolor decks.

[draft]prized elephant
arctic aven
harbor bandit
crimson muckwader
flinthoof boar[/draft]

[card]Prized Elephant[/card], [card]Arctic Aven[/card], [card]Harbor Bandit[/card], [card]Crimson Muckwader[/card], [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card]

If you followed Jay Treat & friends’ attempt to design their own version of M13 you surely find these creatures particularly amusing. When they first asked me to look at their stuff, very early on, I told them I wouldn’t do “bond” as a set mechanic. I’d do it just as it was used in Worldwake on cards like [card]Slavering Nulls[/card]. At most one cycle, without much complication. So… yeah, funny story.

I highly approve of WotC’s version, though I like Jay’s team’s as well, except for the part where they tried to keyword it. It’s just not sexy enough to warrant a keyword.

[draft]Void Stalker[/draft]

[card]Void Stalker[/card]

This one’s for @metahost.

[card]Void Stalker[/card] is a more active version of Zendikar’s [card]Gomazoa[/card]. Poor [card]Gomazoa[/card] didn’t get to do a ton, because the opponent would simply avoid attacking until they could kill it. In comparison, [card]Void Stalker[/card] fits well into the fish-style aggressive blue deck (being a 2-mana 2/1). It plays nicely with that strategy, giving you the tempo advantage of clearing a troublesome blocker while you attack with your other small guys. It also has a “pants-down” window, since there’s a mana cost on the activated ability. On a technical note, I am not entirely sure why this ability puts the creatures on top, instead of just shuffling them in. “Shuffle [card]Void Stalker[/card] and target creature into their owners’ libraries.” Maybe testing showed that new players would shuffle both cards into the same deck? Maybe if both creatures are owned by the same player my wording creates two shuffle events? Either would be a good reason, I think.



With Ravnica coming back, it should be no surprise to see some homages to cards like [card]Izzet Chronarch[/card] in M13. This whets your appetite, if you’re an old player, and gives you little hints if you’re a new player. It solidifies the feel of Constructed for the year as well.

[draft]Battle of Wits[/draft]

[card]Battle of Wits[/card]

I support the inclusion of this card, despite any issues it might cause. The important thing for design is to not do this very often. Once every eight years or so is okay. By “this” I mean: print a card that lets you win in a very crazy way, that makes absurd decks, and does so in a strong enough way that they have a chance to compete in Standard. This is perhaps the all-time most fun way of doing that, because it tells you to do the thing you want to do—PLAY ALL THE CARDS—even though you know that it’s “wrong” to do so normally.



Big fan of this card. It’s just enough to be useful if you set yourself up to benefit, and not so much that it’s actually powerful… or is it?



Awesome name, but this is still a 5-mana [card]Mind Control[/card]. Worse, it can’t be defeated by [card]Disenchant[/card] effects. There was so much talk about not doing [card]Mind Control[/card] again after M12, so what happened? R&D just does not follow the rules it sets out for itself when it comes to blue.

[draft]Vampire Nighthawk[/draft]

[card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card]

YES, PLEASE! This card is the 3-mana [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card], and as such, I just want to sit back and admire its beauty.

[draft]Talrand, Sky Summoner
Talrand’s Invocation[/draft]

[card]Talrand, Sky Summoner[/card], [card]Talrand’s Invocation[/card]

This is a cool, fun creature that gives you a direction for your deck. Awesome that his spell makes creatures, so you don’t have to worry as much about having a deck full of only spells when you draft/build around him. That’s something I really like about these five legends. You can build around them using their cards, and since they’re only rare, you might actually get to do that in draft and Sealed.

[draft]Tricks of the Trade
Mark of the Vampire[/draft]

[card]Tricks of the Trade[/card], [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card]

I like how these are very impactful auras that you might feel are worth playing, despite the risk. They’ve proven that, for Limited, you can get there. We tried really hard to make this true with totem armor in Rise of the Eldrazi, but in that set the rest of the cards are so good, and so exciting and interesting, the auras still ended up low on the totem pole. Draft those [card]Aura Gnarlid[/card]s, yo!

[draft]Xathrid Gorgon[/draft]

[card]Xathrid Gorgon[/card]

I’m not normally against [card drana, kalastria bloodchief]Drana[/card]/[card visara, the dreadful]Visara[/card] creatures as Limited bombs. Sure, you get blown out by them, but at least they stomp your face and the game is over. This design disaster turns the game into a slow, painful grind in which one player can’t attack, and probably can’t win. Yet they have a pile of blockers, and they might eventually draw an answer, and really we’re not having much fun. I get it, this is the cutest medusa design ever. And it really is SUCH a CUTE medusa… but it’s pretty miserable to play with, so why would you print it?

Exalted in Black

By request of @andrea2s1.

One of the things that makes exalted great is that it breaks board stalls by encouraging at least one attack to happen each turn.

I love expanding a mechanic into new colors, so long as it can make sense. I thought about it, and realized black’s an excellent thematic fit for exalted. Exalted is about a bunch of little guys cheering on one big guy to go and fight for all of them. Black’s full of big demons and their minions—a perfect fit! Even in the case of just the little guys, black’s pretty selfish, so I like to imagine all of them cheering on a random guy, telling him he’s hot stuff, and then laughing behind his back as he walks out there alone to face the enemy while the rest stay safe at home. The use of it in this set is excellent too, creating a special deck for the oft-maligned white-black drafter. The individual cards are also interesting:

[draft]Servant of Nefarox[/draft]

[card]Servant of Nefarox[/card]

Black’s almost got to have an X/1 in every set, or a 4/2. If you don’t want to risk its 2-toughness by attacking, it can still contribute via exalted.

[draft]Duty-Bound Dead[/draft]

[card]Duty-Bound Dead[/card]

Anyone around for Shards of Alara understands the 0-power exalted creature, but that’s not 100% of players. In fact, Magic has grown a lot since then, and for many players exalted is a new thing. The zero-power 1-drop attacking for 1 on turn two is hilarious for them just like it was for the rest of us, years ago. Plus it’s still fun for veterans. The regeneration is interesting with exalted because this creature can play defense while still lending something to the attack. Amateur designers: note the high cost of this regeneration—this is only a 1-mana creature, so giving it a cheap regeneration wouldn’t be prudent.

[draft]Duskmantle Prowler[/draft]

[card]Duskmantle Prowler[/card]

Again we see a well thought-out combination. A 2/2 haste for four mana isn’t particularly exciting, but can still be nice in an aggressive deck. With exalted it’s a 3/3 attacking alone, but it’s not a straight-up 3/3 haste creature because that would be a little much for black in most Limited environments.

I’ll try to cover a bunch of red, green, and artifact cards next time. If there’s a card you’d specifically like to make sure I cover, send me a tweet! @GregoryMarques


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