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.

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(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.

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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:

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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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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.