Rant of Valakut: A Keyword Workshop Ben Iverach-Brereton September 2, 2019 Rants of Valakut A keyword is an easy shorthand that lets a player quickly learn what a new card does at a glance: “I’ve seen First Strike before, so I know what it means when I see it on a new card.” As long as the keyword is simple enough, and what it does lines up with its name, it makes the otherwise complicated game of Magic that much easier to understand. A while ago I wrote about Deathtouch, and how it was one of the best keywords from both a gameplay and flavour perspective. “Any amount of damage this deals to a creature is enough to destroy it” is a simple concept to understand, and the name “Deathtouch” evokes that mechanic nicely. Even someone who is new to Magic can probably guess what Deathtouch means without having to look it up. On the other end of the keyword spectrum is a mechanic like Banding. It’s a keyword that simply has too much baggage to concisely explain. Yes, it is easy to understand the general concept of a group of creatures attacking or blocking together, but how that specfically translates to the rules is hard to parse, even for veteran players and judges. Most mechanics we’ve seen over the years have a good mix of flavour and elegance. Affinity, Dash, Convoke, and especially the evergreen mechanics like Flying are well-named for what they do, and are straightforward enough to be taught easily. Moreover, each mechanic helps fulfill a need in gameplay, whether for a particular set, or for the game as a whole. Flying breaks up stalled board states and adds another layer to combat. Deathtouch helps level the playing field against big threats. Haste allows a player to sneak in attacks when the opportunity presents itself. We’ve also seen the progression of certain abilities, like Intimidate replacing Fear, or Hexproof replacing Shroud. With each new keyword we see new takes on familiar cards, each with their own unique advantages. Everything gets recontextualized, and players get to rediscover what these kinds of cards can do. With all of this in mind, let’s put on the designer’s hat and see if we can come up with some mechanics of our own. BASTION When blocking, this creature may be assigned to block one creature with Menace by itself, or up to two non-Menace creatures. Notes: Other forms of evasion still apply (it cannot block creatures with Flying unless it also has Reach or Flying, for example.) A creature with Bastion doesn’t have to block a creature with Menace alone, it just has the option to do so. If a creature with Bastion blocks an attacker with Menace, it cannot use Bastion to block a second creature, even if another creature is blocking the Menace attacker. If a creature with Bastion also has “this creature may block an additional creature,” it can either block three non-Menace creatures, or one Menace creature (possibly alone) and any one other attacker. If the other attacker also has Menace, it must be blocked by a second creature. A creature blocking multiple attackers assigns combat damage equal to its power to each creature it blocks. So, what role does Bastion fill? Since its introduction in Magic Origins, Menace has appeared regularly. As we see it on more and more creatures, it’s worth considering putting a counter-mechanic in place, much like how Reach grew out of Green’s need to interact with Flying creatures. Menace does already have counterplay, by having more creatures in play than your opponent, but allowing some creatures to be better at blocking those attackers makes sense. The idea for Bastion specifically grew out of cards like Vanguard’s Shield and Night Market Guard, which could block two creatures at once. It felt to me like they should interact in some way with Menace, but of course they didn’t. Moreover, while I was amused by how convoluted a combat with multiple Menace attackers and Night Market Guards defending might get, I started to imagine how you could clean up this weird corner case. Every few sets we see these a card like Night Market Guard that can block two creatures, so it’s not unreasonable to expect this ability to get a keyword at some point; after all, a mechanic like Double Strike only gets one card every few sets, and it’s a keyword. Adding in a special interaction with Menace just feels like the natural next step to me, and isn’t all that complicated a concept. Menace attackers are tough to interact with, especially given how well they can leverage combat tricks like Giant Growth. Giving defenders a better way to counter a Menace threat seems sensible, and Bastion is a very direct answer. Combining multiblocking and special Menace blocks into one ability is a bit more complicated, but does add a lot of utility, and helps the defending player leverage combat tricks of their own. This makes combat that much more interesting. I’m not sure if it would be worth doing an errata for existing cards like Vanguard’s Shield and Echo Circlet to give them Bastion, since that would functionally change the cards. Using Bastion instead of just “can block an additional creature” abilities moving forward, though, could be worthwhile. As it stands, it’s rare to see a player stacking “can block an additional creature” abilities to have one creature stopping three or more attackers, so any value lost there is pretty minimal. What follows are some card ideas that use Bastion. I feel the concept is straightforward enough that it could appear at Common, and would most commonly appear on White card; not only is it the colour directly opposite Red and Black, where we most frequently see Menace, but White already gets “can block an additional creature” cards. Bastion could also show up in Green, since it’s the other colour that occasionally gets “may block an additional creature.” If you’re a member of R&D, you’ll want to skip this next section; it contains unsolicited card designs. Cards with Bastion Tower Shield 2 Artifact – Equipment Equipped creature gets +0/+3 and has Bastion. Equip: 3 Elite Sentry 3W Creature – Human Soldier Bastion 2/4 Tripwire Spider 1GG Creature – Spider Deathtouch, Bastion, Reach 1/2 Horizon Barrier 1WG Creature – Plant Wall Defender, Bastion 0/8 Hold Fast W Instant Target creature gains Bastion until end of turn. Draw a card. Veterans of the Watch 3WW Creature – Human Soldier Vigilance, Bastion 4/4 Blade Guardian 2W Creature – Cat Warrior Bastion 3/2 Path of Brambles 1G Enchantment Creatures you control have Bastion. Stalwart Recruit W Creature – Human Soldier First Strike, Bastion 1/1 RESISTANCE (Written as: “Resistance from…” something.) Prevent all damage from the named source. Notes: “Resistance from red” means “Prevent all damage from red sources.” While “Resistance from Instants” would prevent all damage from instants. “Resistance from N” does not prevent a permanent or player from becoming a target (like “Hexproof from…” does). Resistance has no effect on spells and abilities that do not deal damage; Resistance from Black will not stop “loss of life” or “-x/-x” spells, for example. So where does Resistance fit in? The idea for Resistance stems from the return of Protection in Core 2020. I’m not a huge fan of Protection, given how all-encompassing it is. It feels very clunky to have one ability that makes a creature untargetable, unblockable and immune to damage. It’s extremely frustrating when your mono-coloured deck gets shut down by a creature with Protection, especially since there is almost no way for you to interact with it. Moreover, because Protection includes so many abilities, it’s hard for new players to remember everything that it does. (For example, I forgot to include that attached permanents fall off as a result of Protection. Did you even notice?) I thought Protection was a thing of the past once we got “Hexproof from…” in Dominaria, and the cycle of “Can’t be blocked by…” Mares from Core 2019. Conditional Hexproof in particular felt like the natural evolution of Protection; it plays out similarly in regards to spells, but it leaves combat a lot easier to figure out. Additionally, it helps to address some of the problems that both Protection and generic Hexproof have by giving players a few more ways to interact. “Can’t be blocked” is already it’s own very broad array of abilities, ranging from completely unblockable to evasion against certain colours or creature types. Protection awkwardly overlaps with these abilities, so using both is somewhat redundant. You could argue that “Can’t be blocked by…” and “Protection from…” are a bit like having First Strike and Double Strike, but that comparison feels overly simplistic. Resistance aims to fill in the gap that conditional Hexproof and “Can’t be blocked” leave when replacing Protection, namely its damage prevention. We already see a few cards that have “Prevent all damage that would be dealt to this creature by…,” so having a keyword like Resistance would help to reduce the amount of text on these cards. Here’s a variety of cards that showcase how Resistance could be used. Sorry R&D; you’ll have to skip this section again. Cards with Resistance Looming Fog G instant You have resistance from creatures until end of turn. Knight of Defiance 1W creature – Human Knight First Strike Resistance from Black 2/1 Knight of Refusal 1B Creature – Human Knight First Strike Resistance from White 2/1 Shimmering Ward 2W Enchantment – Aura Enchant creature As Shimmering Ward enters the battlefield, choose a colour. Enchanted creature has resistance from the chosen colour. Extinguish the Flame 1U Instant Target creature or player gains resistance from red until end of turn. Fortified Ground 2WW Enchantment As Fortified Ground enters the battlefield, choose a colour. Creatures you control have resistance from the chosen colour. Price of Solitude BBB Enchantment At the beginning of your upkeep, you lose 2 life. You have resistance from creatures. Shielding Palm 1W Choose a spell or permanent. You gain resistance from it until end of turn. VULNERABLE (Written as “Vulnerable to…” something.) Whenever a source of the named type would deal damage to this permanent or player, it deals twice as much damage instead. Notes: Multiple instances of Vulnerable don’t stack. For example, if a creature has both Vulnerable to Red and Vulnerable to Instants it only takes 6 damage from a Lightning Bolt. Apply Vulnerable after all other damage modifications. So if an ability increases the damage from Lightning Bolt by 1, a creature with Vulnerable to Red would take 8 damage from it ((3 + 1) x 2 = 8 damage). Similarly, if a player prevented 2 damage from Lightning Bolt, a creature with Vulnerable to Red would take 2 damage ((3 – 2) x 2 = 2 damage). When dividing damage equally among targets, assign damage first, then apply Vulnerable. For example: Fireball is dealing 4 damage divided evenly between two creatures. One of the creatures has Vulnerable to Red. 2 damage is assigned to both creatures (4 ÷ 2), then when the spell resolves the damage dealt to the Vulnerable creature is doubled. What’s the point of Vulnerable? Vulnerable stemmed from the simple thought “What’s the opposite of Protection?” We see a lot of cards that are more powerful against specific colours, but we rarely see ones that are specifically weak against them. This is generally for the best; players don’t especially like cards with drawbacks, though it does have the benefit of allowing R&D to make a cheaper or otherwise more powerful card. Ball Lightning is a very efficiently costed creature, for instance, but it dies after one turn; just a wee bit of a drawback there! Vulnerable on a creature allows an otherwise powerful card to have a fatal flaw that will be its downfall. Consequently, if the card is pushed too far to be otherwise oppressive, having a drawback like this can help keep it balanced it in the metagame. It also opens up the possibility of creating very flavorful cards; a permanent made of flammable materials might have Vulnerable to Red, for instance. When used on Instants and Sorceries, Vulnerable could be used to amplify damage from sources temporarily, making it an upside in this context. This is actually where I would expect to see the ability used most often, probably on Red, Black or Green spells, but he fact that it could also be used as a drawback on a creature makes it a versatile keyword. As with the other mechanics, I have a small section of unsolicited card designs that use Vulnerable below. R&D isn’t allowed to see them, but the rest of you are more than welcome to take a peek. Cards with Vulnerable Thatch Barricade W Creature – Wall Defender Vulnerable to red 0/4 Find an Opening R Instant Target creature gains vulnerable to red until end of turn. Draw a card. Weakened Resolve 1B Enchantment – Aura Enchant creature Enchanted creature gains vulnerable to creatures. Twist the Knife 2B Instant Choose one or both: – Target creature gains Vulnerable to Black until end of turn. – Deal 2 damage to target creature. Thakolides the Mighty WRG Legendary Creature – Human Soldier Haste, Vigilance, Trample Vulnerable to Scorpions. 4/4 Barn Burner 1RR Sorcery Horses and Scarecrows have vulnerable to this spell. Deal 2 damage to each creature. Terrifying Roar 1G Sorcery Choose target creature you control. Each opponent and planeswalkers they control gain vulnerable to that creature until end of turn. Unfair Fight 2R Sorcery Target creature an opponent controls gains vulnerable to creatures until end of turn. Target creature you control fights that creature. Wave of Starvation 2BB Sorcery Creatures your opponents control gain vulnerable to the colour of your choice until end of turn. Wreath of Lightning 2RRR Enchantment Players have vulnerable to Instants and Sorceries. INFILTRATE This creature can’t be blocked by creatures that share a colour with it. Notes: As long as a creature shares at least one colour with the creature with Infiltrate, it cannot block it. A colourless creature can gain Infiltrate, but it won’t do anything unless the creature gains one or more colours. If a creature changes colours or gains Infiltrate after the declare blockers step, it will have no effect on existing blocks. When would we see Infiltrate? Infiltrate is effectively a backwards Intimidate as a colour-dependant form of evasion. It plays around in the same space as the likes of Fear, Menace and Skulk, but opens up interesting design options. In a colour-matters set, especially one with a lot of hybrid mana symbols or multicolored cards, Infiltrate could be very interesting. What gets especially neat is when you add in colour-changing effects, like Scuttlemutt‘s activated ability. When a creature can change its colour to match potential blockers, it can Infiltrate past almost anything. The thematic idea behind Infiltrate is that these creatures are able to disguise themselves to look like a member of whatever faction they’re attacking, then sneak past any guards. It’s not an ability I would expect to show up in every set, but it could fit mechanically somewhere where colours already matter. It feels very fitting for Blue and Black creatures, which in a vacuum also makes it a strong counter to those colours. Equipment, sorceries and auras that grant Infiltrate would also make sense as various spy tools or surprise attacks, and open up more options for how the mechanic could be implemented. What follows are a number of card ideas that use Infiltrate. R&D, you know the drill by now; I’ll meet you at the bottom of the article for the wrap up. Cards with Infiltrate Elusive Informant 1UB Creature – Merfolk Rogue Infiltrate When this creature deals combat damage to a player, draw a card. 1/3 Spymaster 2UU Creature – Vedalken Rogue Infiltrate Other creatures you control have Infiltrate. U: Target creature an opponent controls becomes the colour of your choice until end of turn. 2/3 Disappear into the Crowd 1U Instant Target creature you control becomes the colour of your choice until end of turn. It gains hexproof and infiltrate until end of turn. Disciple of the Hidden Blade B Creature – Azra Ninja Deathtouch, Infiltrate 1/1 Cogwork Assassin 5 Artifact Creature – Construct Cogwork Assassin is all colours. Infiltrate 2: Cogwork Assassin loses the colour of your choice until end of turn. Only an opponent may activate this ability. 3/3 Unexpected Betrayal 1UR Sorcery Gain control of target creature until end of turn. Untap it. It gains Haste and Infiltrate until end of turn. Scheming Impostor 2BU Creature – Shapeshifter You may have this creature enter the battlefield as a copy of any creature on the battlefield, except it gains Infiltrate. 0/0 Sinister Mongrel 1B Creature – Hound Infiltrate Discard a card: Sinister Mongrel gets +1/+1 and becomes the colour of your choice until end of turn. 1/2 Forged Documents 3 Artifact – Equipment Equipped creature has Infiltrate and “(2): This creature becomes the colour of your choice until end of turn.” Equip: 2 Unassuming Villager 2U Creature – Human Rogue As this creature enters the battlefield, choose a colour. Unassuming Villager is the chosen colour. Infiltrate 2/2 It wouldn’t surprise me if R&D has already tried mechanics similar to what I have here. These feel like logical progressions of existing designs, with just enough of a twist to be new and interesting. I was aiming to make simple mechanics that could work on Common cards, but which also had enough design space to make interesting Uncommon and Rare cards. I’m pretty pleased with these new keywords, but what do you think? Which one do you like the best? What changes would you make to them? Let me know in the comments! Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName Email Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.