The Metaworker – Ixalan and Returning Set Mechanics

In just about every set, we get a mix of new and returning mechanics. Mechanics are things such as keywords, keyword actions, and ability words that are used on multiple cards. When sets are designed, you’ll often see a theme that the developers try to weave throughout the set. It helps the cards in the set feel more closely related, makes for more synergistic draft and standard environments, and in a lot of cases it captures the flavour of the event that’s depicted in the card art or related Magic Story.

In EDH, you’ll often find that mechanics can also help tie a deck together. If you can get enough cards with synergistic effects together, you can build a deck that’s a little more consistent, a little more effective, and a little more fun to pilot. New mechanics are always fun to build around, but the downside with building around brand new mechanics is that there may not be a ton of cards that support your theme. In my Commander 2017 set review I talked about how proliferate was a great mechanic that didn’t have a ton of support until Atraxa wandered into the command zone.

Today, with Ixalan spoilers starting, I’d like to talk a little bit about the importance of returning set mechanics, and one of the methods I use to uncover hidden gems that can help you turn your brand new prerelease pulls, draft chaff, and standard junk into a functioning Commander deck.

 

Tracking Returning Mechanics

This is the first time I’ve ever done this on paper, but when a new set comes out I love to read the Set Mechanics page so I know what kind of cards to expect in the set. When I was a judge, it helped me prep for judge calls I’d get at prerelease and standard events, but now I do it just to familiarize myself with the draft and standard environments.

In my head, as I review each mechanic, I compare new mechanics to similar existing mechanics. For returning mechanics, I list off the sets that those mechanics have been in in the past. To give you an idea of what this looks like, here are the last two blocks:

Hour of Devastation
Mechanic Prior Sets and mechanics
Eternalize New, similar to embalm and unearth
Afflict New
Exert Amonkhet
Deserts Arabian Nights
Amonkhet
Mechanic Prior Sets and mechanics
Embalm New, similar to unearth
Exert New
Aftermath New, similar to flashback
-1/-1 Counters Mirage block, Lorwyn block, Shadowmoor Block, Scars of Mirrodin block
Cycling Onslaught block, Alara Block, Urza’s Block
Aether Revolt
Mechanic Prior Sets and mechanics
Revolt New, similar to morbid
Energy Kaladesh
Improvise New, similar to convoke
Vehicles Kaladesh
Artifacts Mirrodin Block, Scars of Mirrodin Block
Kaladesh
Mechanic Prior Sets and mechanics
Create New
Vehicles New
Energy New
Fabricate New, similar to bolster
Artifacts Mirrodin Block, Scars of Mirrodin Block

Artifacts aren’t a mechanic, and they weren’t introduced in Kaladesh block, but they factored in really heavily into the set so I included them anyway. I would have done the same thing with Theros and Enchantments. Similarly, create isn’t technically new but Kaladesh is the first time you’ll see it on a card. I didn’t list off any prior sets for create because it’s such a ubiquitous mechanic that the exercise wouldn’t really help us to locate synergy.

 

Why is this useful?

I find that this is a really awesome exercise as a way to get ideas when you don’t really know what you’re looking for. In my set review for Commander 2017 I created some advanced Gatherer searches based on cards I already knew about, but if you don’t know of many cards off the top of your head that support a returning mechanic, your brainstorming session isn’t going to be very fruitful at all.

Pulling up the visual spoilers and reading about old sets that contained these returning mechanics can yield a lot of information about how you can use a returning mechanic to your advantage. You might also discover:

  • Interesting ways to generate tempo, card advantage, or resources
  • Specific colours or colour combinations that can help you support your strategy
  • Templating standards and rules text word combinations that you can use to help locate other synergistic cards
  • Cards and strategies that are effective¬†against the strategy you’re researching
  • Card rulings and Comprehensive Rules that may be applicable
  • Popular decks, strategies, and card applications from other formats

 

 What kind of mechanics are in Ixalan?

This week, Matt Tabak gave us the set mechanics rundown for Ixalan. Ixalan features some returning mechanics from relatively recent sets, so a lot of people will be familiar with them even if they’re fairly new to the game.

Returning – Raid

Raid comes to us from Khans block. It didn’t make a huge splash in EDH its first go around, and barring something huge I don’t expect to see it much on Wednesday nights at my LGS after Ixalan drops. I’d love to be proven wrong here, and there’s definitely potential with spells like Howl of the Horde for something cool, but this one seems like it’s for the Limited folks.

New – Enrage

This is kind similar to the Stuffy Doll / Boros Reckoner / Spitemare / Coalhauler Swine mechanics. There isn’t a whole lot of precedent for this type of effect in Magic’s history, so we don’t get a ton of help by looking at past sets to flesh out deckbuilding ideas here.

New – Treasure

Treasure tokens remind me an awful lot of clue tokens, and they’re likely going to synergize with the same cards. Treasure helps you cast the cards you draw off of clues, and they’re both artifact subtypes so they’ll likely find a home in a lot of the same decks. Going back a few blocks, Treasure also bears a striking resemblance to Gold tokens from Theros block (and the newly released Curse of Opulence from Commander 2017), as well as Eldrazi Spawn and Scions from Zendikar and Battle for Zendikar blocks.

Returning – Merfolk

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that The Mana Base’s own Nikachu is going to have more than a little bit to say about the Merfolk of Ixalan, so I’m not going to go super deep on this one. I will say that Merfolk have played decent roles in Mirage block, Shadowmoor block, Zendikar block, Battle for Zendikar block, and Mercadian Masques. If you’re looking for inspiration, those are the blocks I’d start with.

Returning – Vampires

If Commander 2017 is any indication, vampires have been a fan favourite for as long as Magic has been around. Check out Innistrad block, Shadows over Innistrad block, Zendikar block, Battle for Zendikar block, and Kaladesh block for some sets that were built with vampire synergy in mind.

New – Explore

When I look at explore, I see scry with a little parley sprinkled in for flavour. With Explore, however, we’ve got some interesting choices to make – if you don’t want to keep the card on top of your library, you have the option to send it to your graveyard. In Commander, this is a very powerful option to have and it could find a home in reanimation strategies – especially those with any kind of topdeck manipulation.

Scry has its roots in Theros block, but it has since become an evergreen mechanic. This means we could potentially see it in any set going forward.

If you’re looking for parley inspiration, it only appeared on 5 cards in the original Conspiracy set. We may not get enough explore tech to build an entire themed deck around it, but between explore and parley we might have a stew going.

Returning – Vehicles

I, for one, and thrilled at the return of Vehicles as an artifact subtype. Kaladesh block brought us a ton of vehicle-specific tech, and it’s awesome to see that we’ll get to use it with more than just cards from Kaladesh block.

Returning – Double-faced Cards

Double-faced cards are back! Double-faced cards were featured in Innistrad and Shadows over Innistrad block, as well as a brief stint in Magic: Origins when it was used to show the members of the Gatewatch before and after their planeswalker spark ignited. In Ixalan, they’ll be used “to highlight the tales and tools of discovery”. Those of you who know me may know about my half-serious obsession with Barbed Sextant, so if we’re not getting an outright reprint this may be an opportunity to finally build the sextant tribal deck I’ve always wanted.

 

New – Legendary Planeswalkers

This one is kind of interesting because it’s one of the few times in Magic’s history where we see a pretty significant change via errata. New planeswalkers, as well as all existing planeswalkers, will have the Legendary supertype. With anything legendary, I like to look to Kamigawa block. I’m sure there’s something there that I haven’t figured out yet, but you’ll absolutely be able to tap your planeswalkers to untap Honor-Worn Shaku, if that’s your thing.

 

Once I come up with a list of all the blocks and sets that are about to see a return in popularity, I look for the ones that come up more than once or twice in my notes. In this case, Zendikar/Battle for Zendikar, Innistrad/Shadows Over Innistrad, Kaladesh, Mirage, and Lorwyn / Shadowmoor. From there, I pull up the full visual spoilers of those sets and actually review the cards one by one before spoiler season really gets going. That way, as spoilers come out, I already have a general idea of the tools that are available to me to build around certain strategies and mechanics.

 

Do you do something similar? What sets and blocks have you been digging around in as Ixalan spoilers start to trickle out? Let me know in the comments!

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.