Tuesday, September 1, 2015

battle for zendikar first look: #mechanics

The first Return to Zendikar card I saw was an Eldrazi with "devoid," making it colorless despite having a colored mana symbol in the cost. This irked me, since what I thought was so cool about the Eldrazi is that they actually were colorless. You could play whatever color you wanted and still have the same core Eldrazi deck; you could even go crazier and have a completely colorless manabase.

But more than that, devoid immediately struck me as cheating. It's not a mechanic that actually does anything, it's just something tacked on to make it interact with other things in the way the designers want. Then something popped into my head: it's a hashtag mechanic. It's just stuck on the end, like "here's a huge blue monster #devoid"

The original hashtag mechanic, of course, was tribal. There's nothing that separates the basic gameplay of 1G 2/2 #bear from 1G 2/2 #elf, except that other cards might refer to whether something is a bear or an elf. Elvish Champion searches your creatures for #elf and makes those guys better.

Most other hashtag-enablers revolved around the type line. Kamigawa was about #Legendary, and Shards of Alara's Esper was #artifact (even though its creatures had colored mana symbols). Scourge got pretty close with its "CMC matters" theme, but only Scornful Egotist attempted to bypass the intended functionality of the converted mana cost (and this design is derided by conservative-era ideology, that posits newer players will be confounded when they see a 1/1 for eight mana). Ravnica and Invasion's "color matters" cards mostly played it straight-up, with the small exception of Transguild Courier.

Here's how to make a dumb hashtag mechanic: make your theme around something in the game that's basically been overlooked. For example, you could build a block featuring Imperiosaur's "only basics" mechanic, or have a subtheme play on Pendelhaven's idea of 1/1s mattering. Next, hashtag it by slapping on some cards that you want to act like they play well with your theme. In the Imperiosaur case, make a bunch of nonbasic lands or other mana sources with "this counts as mana produced by basic lands." That way, you get to have a theme with only some of your cards actually playing into it, while the rest put on a fake mustache and pretend like they're totally onboard.

That's why this take on Eldrazi bothers me. Rise of the Eldrazi was an amazing set, and it did Eldrazi in the right way: they don't look like other creatures (in art or in frame), they don't play like other creatures, they don't even get cast like other creatures. Now that colored creatures can just be #devoid and fit in with the cool colorless Eldrazi, a lot of what made Eldrazi unique disappears.


Kestrel said...

I'm not even sure I understand the flavor of Devoid. What about the new colored Eldrazi is colorless, exactly? As Rosewater even said on his Tumblr in response to this very question, "If you have Red mana in your mana cost, you get access to Red effects."

What's the rationale here? Are we aiming for a "colorless matters" set and, as you rightly point out, cheating the colorless requirement entirely? And if Devoid doesn't actually provide some meaningful benefit to gameplay and flavor, it just adds unnecessary complexity. Either way, it's super obnoxious.

Ingest, by contrast, has the potential to be interesting. It's clear that Wizards wanted a mechanic that emphasized how the Eldrazi devour everything in their path, without making players on the opposite end of the board feel terrible in the process. Watching your library disappear instead of your permanents seems like a reasonable middleground to a previously feel-bad mechanic.

Erik Levin said...

But there were always Eldrazi with colored mana costs. I think Devoid makes sense as a way to make also those Eldrazi feel alien and different from normal creatures.

Flavor, I dunno, they suck the color out of the mana or something?

Kestrel said...

I disagree. There were colored Eldrazi drones, but the Eldrazi themselves were all colorless. I'm not even super opposed to adding colors to Eldrazi (just mostly opposed to it), but Devoid doesn't even make sense, it's self contradictory. Making things even worse, Devoid only appears on colored cards, as if its sole purpose is to say "this colored card has no color."

Jenx said...

It doesn't help that the Eldrazi now basically look and act like the Phyrexians from New Phyrexia.

Gu said...

This misses a vital point about RoE: The Eldrazi themselves might have been colorless, but most of the Eldrazi support (in particular, most of the Eldrazi Spawn makers) were definitely not. Using the Devoid mechanic in BoZ is a good half-way point into marking "hey, these are part of the Eldrazi faction" without having those same support cut into the Eldrazi for themselves; it also helps them share support.

Unknown said...

as if its sole purpose is to say "this colored card has no color."
That is it's sole purpose.
"This misses a vital point about RoE: The Eldrazi themselves might have been colorless, but most of the Eldrazi support (in particular, most of the Eldrazi Spawn makers) were definitely not."
Absolutely. Devoid exists to allow colorless support throughout the colors. It adds an eldrazi feel as well. It's worth noting that there will still be plenty of traditional colorless eldrazi throughout the set.
In a general note, part of the criticism of this article is levelled on the use of devoid as a mechanic, but under what criteria does devoid not seem to fully satisfy the label of a mechanic? What actual problems will it create to the quality of the set?

Sanctaphrax said...

I like devoid, personally. It's an easy and low-impact way to mark a card as a weird Eldrazi thing.

I hope they keep it on the little support dudes, though, so the "real" Eldrazi can stay colourless.

Unknown said...

Idk, I can get behind the idea that the Eldrazi suck the color out of mana or the mana out of the land or whatever. (That's what I assumed the flavor was, too.)

However, I also agree with the "hashtag mechanic" part, though I don't think you've clearly defined exactly how far that label extends beyond just covering tribal cards. (You gave examples, but from them I can't exactly draw a concise definition of what's a "hashtag mechanic" and what's not. But this might just be an I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of thing--you are definitely describing something I felt in my gut from the first time I saw Ghostfire.)

As for the fake mustaches...well, yeah, a lot of modern Magic seems to be just "give players bonuses for having cards that have this one obvious characteristic." It does feel a little tired that much of the design space of every block is just poking around in this same area, but on the other hand, they're also mining their older, more innovative designs a bit more, e.g. making Scry evergreen. So...creativity is dead, but at least we can dance on its grave?

Anyway, surprised and pleased to see the flood of posts when I came here today; looking forward to more! :-D

MadTown Hoops said...

At once I understand this set and want nothing to do with it. They took two incompatible formats, tried to fuse them because they were on the same plane, then they were surprised when it was an incomprehensible mess.

ZZW was fast, so fast that players who put non-rare 4+ drops in their decks were laughed at until they died turn 6. ROE is slow, one of the slowest formats, centered on ramp, mana sinks and battle cruiser magic. They couldn't do ROE right under NWO, yet here we are. Devoid was chopping the balls off the Eldrazi, while landfall in this set is neutered and weak.

I hope this set is such a debacle that Mark Rosewater has to step down, much like Sakaguchi did at Square. Yes, I'm calling it, this set is Wizards' Spirits Within.

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