Magic the Gathering: A Look at Magic Origins
As the sun goes down on the core-set forever we get to see its last hurrah — and Magic Origins is shaping up to be an interesting set to say the least. The full set of has finally been spoiled to us after a very extended spoiler season so I think it’s time for a look at Magic the Gathering Origins and my thoughts on how the set/season is going to effect the game going forward. Magic 15 felt like a noble, if failed, attempt to shake up the core-set drudgery whilst retaining its core purpose. Without having to worry about the more “traditional” things we have come to expect from the “Magic 20xx” sets, Origins feels more like its own expansion.
The Standards of Standard
Let’s give a spot of background first. With the new, faster, block structure rotation standard being more diverse and less static but arguably more expensive or less expensive to keep up with depending on who you listen to. For those not in the know, Wizards of the Coast will release sets post-Magic Origins in two “large-set” blocks that will then rotate every 18 months. There will be a little bit of an awkward transition with Khans of Tarkir rotating a bit oddly in there, but this is going to be the system moving forward.
(images from Wizards of the Coast)
What this means is: Origins is not only the last core-set, but the end of an era for standard as a whole. It’s been nearly a year on from these announcements and I still stand by my assessment at the time that this is a positive change that will help reduce the fluctuation in the size of the standard card-pool. I hope Wizards can breathe some new life into standard and tempt people back — like me — who have given up staying recent with the most competitive decks. I still watch standard closely, but it hasn’t been my primary mode of play for quite some time.
This set has been hard to gauge from the previews and spoilers out there; I’ve seen a great number of cards with very interesting and unique effects that could conceivably do nothing. My prediction would be for unpredictability. When you see something like Siege Rhino, or Polukranos, World Eater, they’re easier to peg because they have such very good cost efficiency. We’ve seen some cards like Hallowed Moonlight squarely aimed at being a tool against combo decks in eternal formats, but I’m going to forgo the usual card-rankings and just pick out three cards I find interesting:
First off Zendikar Incarnate. I really like the “Land Matters” design of this one, since that is the core theme of Zendikar. Some other cards like Animist’s Awakening also seem to hint at a return of something like landfall and I think Wizards would be crazy to not bring back the beloved ability in Battle for Zendikar. As it stands, Zendikar Incarnate is just a 4/4 for four mana that has the possibility to become a beefier if matches go long or feature crazy ramp effects. This looks like a distinct possibility with cards like Nissa’s Revelation suggesting we might see high converted mama cost Eldrazi monsters appearing in the coming block.
Pia and Kiran Nalaar is a card with a lot of possibilities to it, I know a lot of red artifact commander players are having a good long look at it. It’s a card with four power for four mana spread across three creatures with an ability that synergies with itself. It’s also very good in terms of flavor, and sets up characters via the function of the card. Having an artificer that comes into the battlefield with two thopters that can then be hurled at your opponent or their creatures is just a great piece of intuitive design. The fact it has so many possible interactions in formats like commander is just icing on the cake for me. I hope this is at least good in limited.
Disciple of the Ring — aside from having kick-ass art — has been one of the most hard to place cards for me. On the one hand, it’s a blue toolbox creature with a bunch of abilities. On the other hand, those abilities are not pump-able like you get with a former standard powerhouse like Ætherling. Plus they require you to exile an instant or sorcery card from you graveyard. In a blue deck that condition isn’t hard to meet, but it’s still an extra condition. There is also the corner-case that this could turn into the new ability we’ve seen from the set Spell Mastery, which requires you to have two or more instant and/or sorcery cards in your graveyard to get a slight bonus.
Planeswalker the Planeswalkening
There are, of course, the flashy transforming Planeswalkers that have been the most high-profile of the spoilers our there. Lilliana’s early reveal was pretty unexpected and piqued people’s interest in the idea of seeing all of these characters before their spark ignited. It’s a cool concept, but modern Magic sets have been too focused on Planeswalker worship in my opinion. I understand that someone in the marketing department probably insisted they needed more human characters in the games, but Magic has a rich and weird history that is generally being ignored for these, frankly, quite bland player-insert vessels.
Origins put some much-needed meat on the bones of these people we are supposed to have been identifying with for years, but in my mind they still feel a bit too much like wish-fulfillment mascots; twenty-somethings with extraordinary powers and only superficial flaws and depth. I’d personally love to see characters like Ugin and Khan be much more fleshed out. Khans block promised a lot of the Spirit Dragon and delivered very little, instead choosing to focus on Sarkon’s poorly thought out “dragons R gud coz dragons” arc. C’mon guys, we have all this pre-mending lore stuff we can be delving into and as yet we’ve not seen it used.
One of the changes coming to the game with Magic Origins is the shuffling around of some of the keyword abilities and actions that will be present in every set. If you didn’t know, Wizards of the Coast has a set of abilities that are present in most magic sets they produce. Things like flying, trample, etc are at the core of theses. These lists change over time, and once more the recipe for the keyword soup has been slightly altered:
Keyword Abilities removed:
Keyword Abilities/Actions Added:
Menace is a brand new ability and goes straight into being a keyword. A creature with menace can’t be blocked except by two or more creatures. It has an effect that has been knocking around for a bit with great cards like Madcap Skills, so you can think of it as just giving a name to an ability many of us have enjoyed using already in various sets. According to Wizards, it will be a sort of replacement for Intimidate and so will be primarily red and black. Seeing as how this was more of a red ability to begin with, I think it is a perfect fit and means we won’t miss what Intimidate brought to the table when it is retired. It’s a welcome change.
Prowess is also now becoming one of Magic the Gathering’s staple abilities and I couldn’t be happier. Creatures with Prowess trigger and get +1/+1 until end of turn when a non-creature spell is cast by their controller. This ability was previously exclusive to the Jeskai Way in Khans in the recent Tarkir Block. I love prowess: it adds a lot of creature combat gameplay to decks that run a lot of spells. This means it fits so nicely in blue based strategies; it presents a lot of decision-making as it turns all instant spells effectively into mini combat-tricks. It’s just an effect that meshes so beautifully with the existing framework of Magic that I’m surprised it took this long to make it into the permanent vocabulary of the game.
Scry is now a Keyword action as well — again, something I am very enthusiastic about. Scry solves a lot of the variance problems in the game whilst still feeling fair. It has a smoothing effect on bad draws and with repeatable use (like on the card affectionately known as Patrick Scryfish) it can take over a game by setting you up with multiple good draws. Information and filtering without card advantage, if you don’t like it you can scry me a river.
As for what’s being lost, like I said, I think Menace more than replaces the role of Intimidate. And let’s be honest, if they removed Landwalk from a set without telling us I’m not sure many of us would notice. Such is the situational nature and low-power of the effect. Protection we are not actually losing; just seeing a little bit less of it. Wizards describes it as still a “Tool in their Toolbox” and the effect can be powerful so a smattering of protection abilities may crop up sporadically in some future sets, just not all of them.
Aside from the new keywords we also have two new non-keyword abilities coming in Magic Origins:
The first of these is Renown, which grants a creature a number of +1/+1 counters when it deals damage to an opponent corresponding to the renown number and becomes renowned. Some creatures, once renowned, can also gain additional abilities. This seems like an interesting effect, but being dependent on dealing damage can mean renowned creatures with powerful abilities just sit there unable to attack.
Spell Mastery, as we discussed before, requires you to have two or more instant and/or sorcery cards in your graveyard to get a bonus effect. I’m not so keen on this, as Delve is still in standard for colours where Spell Mastery seems most appropriate. Perhaps red is the place this could shine best, with its abundance of burn. I’m pretty unexcited by Spell Mastery to be honest, It seems like it requires setup for very little gain.
In many ways Magic Origins is more like a big expansion set than a core-set; with the low number of rare and mythic re-prints along with the introduction of new and interesting abilities. Overall, I think it is a fitting send-off for the increasingly redundant feeling Core Set, and if nothing else, features a whole bunch of interesting cards for people to brew with. One of my hopes is that Wizards of the Coast takes the ending of the core-set as an opportunity to think of a permanent and affordable way to get people started with Magic — outside of the largely forgotten and ignored sample deck products. But that’s another discussion for another time. Have fun at your pre-release events, and as always, remember to support your local game store and hug your playgroup.
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