Magic the Gathering: A Look at Magic Origins

Today Scrumpmonkey looks at the recently released Magic Origins set for Magic the Gathering, and weighs in with his views on the systems.

ORIGINS HEADER

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.

ezgif.com-resize (4)

ezgif.com-resize (5)

(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.

Wildcards

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:

INSERT 2 ORIGINS

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 Masterywhich 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 insert plainswalker

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.

Keyword Soup

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:

  • Intimidate
  • Landwalk
  • Protection

Keyword Abilities/Actions Added:

  • Menace
  • Prowess
  • Scry

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.

origins insert 2

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:

origins insert 3

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.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent be­low.
John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
Scroll to top