With #MTGWAR five weeks away, I thought it would be fun to put on my card designer hat and mock up some cards or themes that I think would be a fun addition to Standard, especially focused around the #Planeswalker archetype that will be coming from the set. All in all, I think our current meta is almost there when it comes to answers vs. threats. However, I think there is some room in the design space to give us a few extra answers to specific decks, as well as give us better options for tribal synergy or to provide us with additional support for underused cards in the current Standard metagame. So let's just jump right in; I love designing cards so these were definitely a lot of fun to make.
I think one of the things we are missing in Standard (and in #MTG in general) is just a way to strictly remove only a planeswalker. This card wouldn't see an amazing amount of play or anything, but having a dedicated way to remove a planeswalker in a planeswalker-centric set is going to 1) be important for limited and 2) be important for the meta as a whole. What I designed here is something that I think would be fairly balanced, as it would cost you a resource of a creature or 2 life and the effect only exiles a target planeswalker, with a tacked on Scry 2 to give added value from the 2 mana + downside cost.
What I like about this design is that it also gives us a great sideboard piece against planeswalkers while also bolstering some of our weaker archetypes at the moment as well as some pet cards, i.e. Aristocrats, Reanimator and Font of Agonies. Standard (and the game as a whole) has been missing 2 mana planeswalker removal.
Another version of this was a mixture of Vraska's Contempt and Price of Fame in an Orzhov color schema. Assuming this spell would cost 4 mana (perhaps 2WB), we would take the best of both of these spells and slap them together.
4 mana, Instant, Exile target creature or planeswalker. If this spell targets a planeswalker, it costs 2 less to cast. Scry 2 (or gain 2 life [or something]).
There is quite a bit of fun that we can have in this design space, and I have a feeling we are going to see something like it for the limited game play once War of the Spark releases.
The cards listed above are slightly different from one another, but does mostly the same thing. Personally, I think Extinguish would be the more flavorful card of the two. In the story, I don't expect Nicol Bolas is going to try to kill all of the planeswalkers with his dastardly plan. Instead, I feel that he will try to kill the spark and be the sole planeswalker in existence. To that end, I think something like Extinguish the Spark will really fit the bill. From a game play perspective, having the ability to bounce all creatures to their owner's hand for 5 mana at instant speed is a decent rate. But, by adding an additional option of exiling all of the planeswalkers on the battlefield instead, and returning them to the battlefield as 2/2 vanilla creatures, it not only adds for some interesting answers in gameplay, but also provides a flavorful way of showcasing how the many planeswalkers would be once their spark is gone, just vanilla bears. I do also like the fun interaction you can have with people by flipping over all of the planeswalkers, only to have them return all creatures to their owners hands, effectively giving back their walkers. Its a fun little interaction that could happen.
However, despite this flavor win, Snuffing the Spark is likely the direction that #WotCstaff will actually go with it. We've seen effects like this in the past, typically in mono black for a little more mana. But, I think balancing the effect by using Nicol Bolas' color alignment as a cost stipulation is going to be good, as well as making the spell cost even more than what a typical wrath would cost in Standard (i.e. 4 or 5 mana). The spell could be a great sideboard card against planeswalker decks, allowing us to regain some needed card advantage halfway through the game as we'd draw cards for each planeswalker destroyed by the spell, but still be a decent answer if needed against midrange creature decks. I'm okay with both scenarios, really, and I think a card like this would see play.
One of the most prominent archetypes right now in Standard is control. And while we have some decent control answers like Shapers' Sanctuary, Carnage Tyrant, and Rhythm of the Wild, I think there is still more room that we can have for creature decks to see a bit more play in the meta. Storied Lorebroker is what I came up with to answer this need. It isn't a great attacker (unless you are running a High Alert deck) and it has been stripped of all relevant tribal synergies, but what we are left with is a control hater. For 3 mana, we'd see an uncounterable creature that would allow players to draw cards if their opponent's were to cast noncreature spells. We've seen an effect like this before at such a low mana cost in Heartwood Storyteller, and Storied Lorebroker (a name I tried to somewhat reference the original card with) would be pretty much a straight upgrade to Storyteller. We'd trade off an extra point of attack power for a toughness boost, allowing Lorebroker to better survive burn removal, excluding some spells like Lava Coil or Fight with Fire. On top of that, I like that the effect is symmetrical, so if you then ramp with a Grow from the Ashes or cast a Vivien Reid, your opponent would then have the opportunity to draw off of your own creature.
This next section kind of covers 2 different areas with cards I'd like to see. 1) I'd like to see more 1-2 mana legendary creatures. We have some great synergies with historic spells in Standard right now, and also have a powerful moxen (if only we had cheap legends that we can really abuse with it); and 2) I'd like to see more tribal support for the various tribes we have in standard.
At least in regards to the tribal support, I am pretty much positive that we are going to see some really good zombies come out of War of the Spark as Nicol Bolas will be bringing with him his army of eternals. So, keeping with that theme, I designed a 1 mana legend that will help us facilitate everything zombies wants to do. For 1 mana, we'd have a legendary zombie that would enter the battlefield tapped and mill the top of our library for 2 whenever it enters the battlefield or goes to the graveyard. We can then tap it to cast a Zombie card from the graveyard that turn. Honestly, it is too powerful as it is currently designed, it started as a 2/2 zombie for 1 mana, which is already fantastic. I think if the power and toughness would drop down to being 1/1, it is headed in the right direction. I also would have the creature mill either only 1 card per entering the battlefield or going to the yard, or stick with 2 cards but only pick 1 trigger point. One of the cheekier things you could do with a card like this is play it in an aristocrats style deck where you tap it allowing you to cast a zombie from your graveyard, you then sacrifice it to some sort of sacrifice effect, get your mill trigger, then if you get nothing good, just recast it for 1 mana. I did try to balance the card by forcing it to enter the battlefield tapped so that way you can't continually loop it (unless something like Amulet of Vigor gets reprinted). Either way, I'd still like to see something like this to allow for more stay-ability with zombies.
Both Knights and Elves are also having a hard time right now in standard. The decks are almost Tier 2, but they seem to be missing some key functionality. What I like with my Glenda, the Stern design is that it helps bolster strategies like tribal synergy or can also be used in a Hero of Precinct One multicolor matters style of deck. But, really, she was designed with tribal synergy in mind.
Elfball has a lot of decent pieces right now (even more than what was there during Guilds of Ravnica), but it still is missing some sort of big finishing overrun effect. We can power out our elves by using Beast Whisperer or Vanquisher's Banner, but save from the few lords we have, there isn't a really good way to push past a board stall, as most of your creatures will be tiny. Glenda, the Stern allows us not only an upgraded Llanowar Elves on turn 1 but also gives us a Nettle Sentinel type of effect as well. She wouldn't untap until a nontoken creature enters the battlefield, thus, in my opinion, balancing her. We'd also get an over-costed overrun effect at 3(G/W)(G/W)(G/W) in order to give our creatures +2/+2 and trample until end of turn. With the amount of mana production in an Elfball strategy, by the time you swing you might be able to activate it maybe even 2 or 3 times.
What I like about Glenda even further is that even though her abilities synergize really well with Elfball, I think she'd also have a decent home in something like Abzan or Orzhov Knights. She'd become one of the defacto turn 1 plays, but since she wouldn't directly synergize with cards like History of Benalia, we'd have to be more deliberate with how we design our decks around her. Instead, we may see a more streamlined creature version of the Knights deck perhaps with more of a top end with a card like Aryel, Knight of Windgrace or something like Valiant Knight to either give way to more knight synergies or giant game winning attacks.
Lastly, I have a bit of spice for you. Given that this is a planeswalker set, I'd be remiss if I didn't actually include any planeswalkers. So, my last few card designs will showcase how I would approach a planeswalker losing their spark from the evil plans of Bolas. Above, we have Jace, Unwavering, for 2UU we'd get a 3 loyalty planeswalker. His +1 would give us a Telling Time effect that would provide card advantage as well as set up our next turn a little better than normal. He also comes with a -2 that allows us to gain control of target creature or planeswalker until Jace, Unwavering leaves the battlefield. I designed Jace this way as he is a powerful blue mage and has been known to take control of people's actions before. It also would be difficult to keep Jace around to retain whichever permanent you took, so he'd feel relatively balanced in his design. What I like about his design further is that it could fundamentally change the way people approach playing planeswalkers. Why would you want to keep ticking up your other walkers if Jace can swoop in and take control of them to steal away their ultimate ability. Planeswalkers would become much more measured as the meta shaped up. But, what I like most about Jace, is his ultimate, or at least the lack of an ultimate. Instead, if he would be placed in a graveyard from the battlefield either through combat damage or a destroy spell, we would instead exile Jace, Unwavering and return it to the battlefield transformed into Jace, the Sparkless.
What I really like about this design is that it is definitely a call back to Magic Origins when we got our first look at flip planeswalkers, a mechanic that allowed us to see these walkers get their spark for the first time. It would only be fitting to see the reverse of that if they were to lose their spark within the war.
The creature side of Jace would be a 2/2 (a nice call back to my earlier design Extinguish the Spark). These creature sides would all have the tacked on downside of if it would leave the battlefield, exile it instead. This would prevent people from looping these planeswalkers by bouncing them back to their hands. This particular creature would be good in, say, a control strategy by giving them the ability to either tap and scry or pay 3 mana and tap to draw a card. What's more, if Jace, Unwavering were to transform on your opponent's turn, it is important to note that you'd be untapping with the creature version of it, giving you the option to hold up his abilities on your opponent's following turn.
In fact, I liked the design of this so much, that I went ahead and designed a second walker as well.