Sunday, March 10, 2013

Solving Dragon's Maze

Image cropped from illustration by Eric Deschamps
Note: This is speculation on an upcoming Magic: The Gathering set.

Last time I wrote about Dragon's Maze, I predicted there will be four-color cards in the set. Here's my next prediction: for as long as it is true that Dragon's Maze will have four-color cards, there will be four-color split cards.

Just in case you don't know, Fire/Ice is an example of a split card.

I've also got some other stuff to talk about regarding Dragon's Maze. We'll get to that in a second. First, split cards!

Splitting Your Sides

So, why would split cards appear in Dragon's Maze? Three reasons: nostalgia, timing, and necessity.

Return to Ravnica block is all about returning to the things we loved about the first Ravnica block. We loved the guilds the first time, so they're back in the way we knew them before despite anything the original block's story might have otherwise said. We also had fun with guildmages, Guild Leaders, Guild Champions, shocklands, and hybrid - so they're back in Return to Ravnica block, too. Another aspect of Ravnica we loved? The split cards in Dissension. They were exciting and memorable - and so are the ones in Dragon's Maze.

Split cards are one of those kinds of cards that only appear periodically over the years of Magic: The Gathering. Whenever split cards make an appearance, it has to be the right time. The environment must be accommodating. Also, doing something new each time you return something like split cards, like with any mechanic you bring back, is pretty much a must. There have been monocolored, two-color, and three-color split cards. Never has there been a four-color split card. Like this:

Aside: I thought Desist's countering permanent spells felt appropriate for costing blue and red because they are the two colors that care about instants and sorceries - the two card types that aren't permanents.

Forgetting about context for a moment, why would there be a four-color split card? It really doesn't make sense to exclude one color. It also doesn't make sense to put colors into pairs. ...Unless split cards appeared in a block where two-color pairings mattered! Aha! And because it's Dragon's Maze, where the block structure and the cards within it make building four-color decks feasible, this is the PERFECT time to do four-color split cards. If it doesn't happen in Dragon's Maze, it's going to be a LONG time before we get to have another opportunity to do something like Cease // Desist.

Four-color split cards couldn't happen before in the last Ravnica block because the environment really only allowed for playing three-color decks easily. The fun part of split cards is being able to play either side of the card. Thus, the three-color split cards, and ZERO four-color split cards.

The same scenario already happened with the two-color Charms cycle in the Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash sets. There have been monocolored and three-color charms in Magic: The Gathering's past. But never have there been two-color charms. Return to Ravnica block was the perfect opportunity to take care of that - for ALL TEN of the two-color combinations. Boom. Done. Magic's design space optimally mined.

The final reason for split cards - they're four-color cards without forcing four-color cards upon the player. I'm only expecting five four-color gold cards that aren't split cards: the legendary creatures that would become the first four-color Commanders. That's because I don't expect four colors as a heavy theme. Instead, these split cards provide something for both the three-color player and the four-color player. The three-color player can insert one of the new split cards into his or her deck with the intention of just playing one of the sides. The four-color player is rewarded when he or she includes the appropriate four-color split card in his or her deck by being able to play EITHER side. Everybody wins!

You notice how I mentioned "three-color player" and didn't include the "two-color player?" I'll bring this up again in a bit.

Skeleton Key

So how do split cards fit into Dragon's Maze design skeleton? Let's talk about the design skeleton for a moment. 

A design skeleton is a living, breathing blueprint of a set. A set is built upon it the same way that architecture is built upon an existing blueprint. If you want to learn more about Magic: The Gathering set design skeletons, Mark Rosewater writes about them here.

From the announcement of Dragon's Maze, we know that the set size will be 156 cards. This is 11 more cards than the standard 145 number for small sets (Now, if you're going to double-check me on this, Magic: The Gathering's two most recent blocks of sets have been kinda wacky. Innistrad block as a whole had different numbers for set sizes so that it, seemingly, could have its total number of cards add up to 666. And Mirrodin Besieged had 150 cards since it needed to have an even split between Mirran cards and Phyrexian cards).

The 11 extra cards had puzzled me until the announcement of the format of the Dragon's Maze prerelease. Within that announcement was some extra information about the Dragon's Maze booster packs: no basic lands but nonbasic ones instead. The Guildgates return and actually get the Dragon's Maze symbol while the returning shocklands retain their respective expansion symbols of Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. Ten of the extra card slots in the set will be for the Guildgates while the special mythic rare land will fill in the extra eleventh card slot.

One possibility for why the Guildgates get their own expansion symbol when they're just going to be appearing in that special slot alongside the shocklands is that there will be different art that shows what happened to them AFTER the "gatecrashing." The other scenario is changing up the hidden message found within the flavor text among the Guildgate cards. The reason for the new expansion symbol could be for either of the above cases or for both.

The Dragon's Maze prerelease announcement also revealed something else interesting that helps to support my case for four-color cards: two guilds in one prerelease pack.

Now, before you get up from your seat (for some reason) and point out that the Dragon's Maze prerelease announcement states that the prerelease packs will actually just give you two guilds that share a color to make for a THREE-color deck instead of a FOUR-color deck: I know.

I was expecting that, to play with Dragon's Maze effectively, you'll need to build a deck with a minimum of three colors - not four.

I said the following in my last article:

"...your color strategy for the Dragon’s Maze drafting format is: three-color minimum with the option to go four colors."

In case of the prerelease, there was absolutely no way to execute upon the prerelease plan without going into three colors. Usually, in a prerelease of a small, third set of a block, you'll receive three packs of the latest set (Dragon's Maze) and three packs of the large fall set (Return to Ravnica). But Gatecrash was also large. Both Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash are on equal footing. Doing two packs of each Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon's Maze to compensate is lame because that would mean the prerelease would only give you two packs' worth of cards. So, you'd have to do four Dragon's Maze packs. But that left just one pack per large set - not enough to be able to support a deck having enough cards for any one particular guild.

So that's where they cleverly used the prerelease packs from the previous prereleases to influence you toward a combination of two guilds, forcing you to go three colors, giving you access to a larger pool of the cards contained within Dragon's Maze.

Split the Difference

On split cards: how many will there be in Dragon's Maze? Fifteen. Why? Because that's how many possible four-color combinations there are among the two-color pairings. Where are we going to fit them? Five at each rarity. Five cards, ten sides. Each guild will have a common, uncommon, and rare split card! ...Right, I did say common. I'm going out on a limb for this one, since split cards are usually uncommon, and guessing that five of the split cards will appear at common. After all, Dead//Gone did appear at common! So, ONE common split card exists!

Why will it be even more O.K. for five common split cards? First, there being fifteen combinations makes it a perfect fit for three rarities, with a cycle of five cards at each rarity. Secondly, the public has been prepared for common split cards in three ways: A) Split cards have appeared before in Magic: The Gathering, multiple times. B) Fire//Ice exists in the Izzet Vs. Golgari Duel Decks, exposing to even more of the world what the heck a split card is. C) Wizards made the holiday card for 2012 a split card. The last two points are what I consider to be clues to the inclusion of split cards in Dragon's Maze.

Skele-Ten Guilds

Besides those nifty nonbasic lands appearing in the basic land slot in booster packs, Dragon's Maze will have 10 mythic rares, 35 rares, 40 uncommons, and 60 commons. Since all ten guilds will appear in this set, we're going to have HUGE cycles of cards - ten-card cycles! But this is a good thing for solving the puzzle that is Dragon's Maze. Larger (and fewer) puzzle pieces!

Tablet of Guilds by Nic Klein

Mythic Rares (10 Cards)

There's ten mythic rare slots. That's the perfect amount to give each two-color combination a single mythic rare.

Note that the Guild Champions, the two-color legendary creatures representing each of their respective guilds, can't be mythic rare. This is because the new planeswalker of the set, Ral Zarek, exists and will occupy the blue-red mythic rare slot. Because of this, the whole ten-card cycle must be relegated to the rare rarity.

Another reason is, flavorfully, the mythic rare Guild Leaders (like Niv-Mizzet) are much more important than the Guild Champions. A Vorthos reason for the rarity difference!

Rares (35 Cards)

Aurelia, the War Leader by Slawomir Maniak
10 two-color legendary creatures, the Guild Champions

This is a no-brainer.

5 four-color legendary creatures

This is to support my position in prediction four-color cards in Dragon's Maze. If I'm right about how there will be four-color cards in the set, there HAVE to be four-color legendary creatures due to Commander existing (otherwise players will be upset).

Note 1: these four-color legendary creatures don't have to be Nephilim, but they could be (I didn't read the story, but I believe they regain their power by feasting on dragons underground - maybe the legendary creatures ARE four-color dragons? Dragon's Maze? Eh?).

Note 2: The other four-color cards don't have to be anything other than split cards.

Note 3: The fact that there will be fifteen legendary creatures in Dragon's Maze does make it seem like this is not a plausible prediction. I'm with you on this. After all, ten legendary creatures in one set is already redonkulous.

But, by principle, despite possibly looking sheepish, I'm remaining firm with my speculation on new four-color commander cards along with four-color split cards. If I'm right, well, that'll be awesome. If I'm wrong, then... consequences be damned.

5 Split Cards

I stated this above. This will allow for a rare for each guild as well as provide more support for the player going the four-color route. Wowee! All of THAT is taken care of with just five card slots. Five precious card slots out of 35.

5 Artifacts/Lands

I mention this because EVERY Magic: The Gathering set has rare artifacts. Rare lands may or may not appear, but take up these slots when they do.

10 ??? Cards

I don't know what cards go here. Because there's a problem. Hybrid cards. In what capacity will they return to Dragon's Maze? I really don't know. If they appear here, then there will be no monocolored cards at rare. Which is weird. But if there are NO hybrid cards at rare, then there will be ten monocolored cards here.

Note 1: If I'm wrong about four-color legendary creatures, then we know that those five card slots can be devoted to monocolored cards and these remaining ten can be hybrid cards.

Note 2: In an unprecedented move, perhaps there would be five nonlegendary four-color cards (with the full cost) and five monocolored cards.

Note 3: Related to the nonlegendary four-color cards that aren't split cards - I think it's worth noting what Mad Olaf has brought up before and what I've written about in my old Red Site Wins series: four-color hybrid.

Uncommon (40 Cards)

10 Lands, one for each guild

I am saying this because of these pieces of art. (Thanks to scotland_4 with his/her post on MTGSalvation.)

5 Split Cards

10 Gold Cards, Two-Color Creatures

Unless there's a big change with split cards (which I don't anticipate for this set - four colors is already the new thing), the split cards will be instants/sorceries. This means there's a need for gold creature cards. This is why I think there's got to be at least ten slots (one for each guild) for these cards.

15 ??? Cards

Like with rares, I have no idea how hybrid and monocolored cards are going to be handled in Dragon's Maze, so these will remain a mystery for now. I believe part of these should be artifacts, but  with ten lands already and my guess of the following artifacts at common, who knows?

Common (60 Cards)

10 Signets, one for each guild

This is me reaching a little bit out there. I'm iffy on this because the ten new pieces of signets art that you can find in this album on MTGColorPie's Pinterest was made for the Magic: The Gathering Online Cube. But, it seems a little iffy that ten whole new pieces of art would be made for these commons. They ARE good, but are they that good to warrant new art just for a temporary online event?

Besides, I think everyone is going to need a little bit of help to achieve three or four mana easily in this set, and these are just the ticket.

Though, there's a possibility of the signets showing up in the set releasing later this year, Modern Masters, which was intended to be drafted. I'll stick to my guns, though, and guess signets in Dragon's Maze.

5 Split Cards

Again, Dead//Gone has existed before, but I do recognize I'm going out on a bit of a limb for common split cards.

10 Gold Cards, Two-Color Creatures

For the same reason at uncommon, there has to be common gold creatures, and the split cards are noncreature cards.

25 ??? Cards

I just don't know what else to expect for these remaining cards. The slots are so tight that there could be certain decisions made in regards to monocolored, gold, or hybrid.

Also, keep in mind that the Guildgates are already at "common" and appearing in the booster packs in the basic land slot. And the signets are ten artifacts. So, I don't see there being any more lands or artifacts in this rarity. But, hey. If there are, then it'll be five artifacts/lands and twenty cards of monocolored, gold, and/or hybrid.

Let's Split

Before I go, though, I do want to mention four-color hybrid cards. I've written before about this in my Red Site Wins series AND on older posts on this blog, and Mad Olaf has written about it, too - it's these types of cards:

These cards, while cool, are confusing. It has the colors of the following guilds: Azorius, Rakdos, Boros, Dimir, Orzhov, and Izzet. Yet, Azorius and Rakdos cannot cast this card. It can be easy to miss this fact, I believe. Therefore, I DON'T think we'll be seeing these kinds of cards in Dragon's Maze.

To re-iterate: I do NOT support these four-color hybrids as shown above!

And this sums up my predictions on Dragon's Maze. Hooray for four-color split cards! Thanks for reading! Feel free to tweet at me at @bradleyrose or leave a comment below regarding Dragon's Maze! I'd love to hear your response!


  1. You're an idiot.

    1. You should elaborate. While he may not be completely correct I find his guesses to be fairly possible.

    2. you're a fucking scrub

    3. Lexandor Davunt,

      Thank you for helping point out the issue with Anonymous' comment! I appreciate it!

  2. I do not believe there will be any 4-color cards. The guilds that are working together share a color. That would make 3 total colors. I do think split cards will return, but the will share a color. For example you could have an instant that one side would be red and blue, then the other blue and black.

    1. I understand what you mean, and I can see that as being possible, given that the prerelease packs give you your guild and a random guild that shares a color instead of any chance of a guild that doesn't share a color.

      Thanks for your feedback!

  3. your last prediction article was fucking shit and so is this one

    1. From your feedback, I don't understand how each of my articles can be improved. Can you elaborate? Otherwise, my next speculation article will most likely also be something that you wouldn't think highly of.

    2. your last comment was f*cking sh*t and so is this one. @ Anonymous, I mean :)

    3. so then Anonymous (the original commenter), if you don't like what Mr. Rose has to say, why do you continue to read his articles? No one appreciates a negative Nancy ;)

    4. Thank you, particular Anonymous who referred to me as Mr. Rose and stating that no one appreciates a negative Nancy. =) Much appreciated! The entity of Anonymous has definitely been entertaining to receive comments from!

  4. While I don't agree with 4 color hybrid (too complicated) or the 4 color Legends (Commander players will be fine without them), I do like the idea of the 4 color split cards. Your evidence (Fire//Ice and Naughty//Nice with the prerelease setup) are fantastic reasons for them in there. Those are the most likely to happen.

    1. I don't agree with 4-color hybrid either.

      I think the Commander community will be fine without the 4-color legendary creatures, too; but they would be overjoyed otherwise, and Commander as a format would have a huge boon in having them. This is a great time to include them. I'm also anticipating the Commander product in the fall to further add fifteen more four-color Commanders to join Dragon's Maze's five. =)

      Thanks for chiming in, Color Pie!

  5. Fifteen split cards in a small set, including five at common? I just don't think that's plausible. There isn't room!

    1. Funny - split cards help SAVE room! If you want gold instant/sorcery cards, split cards bring down the number of slots required from 10 to 5 for each cycle. =)

  6. The Nephilim have been discussed recently on Wizards website. I could see them making a comeback in Legendary form. The people want 4 color Legends for EDH/Commander. WoTC likes to give the people what they want. Like some others have stated, I believe that the guild combo cards will be 3 colors not 4.

  7. It sounds plausible that DM will have Guild/Guild split cards. Awesome prediction!

    1. Thanks, Chah! I appreciate the feedback. =)

    2. Perhaps not as many as Bradley predicted, though. That would be awesome, but I doubt that Wizards will go that all out with them

  8. So after reading your article i realized have absolutely no evidence WHATSOEVER! Predictions based off years old ideas??? Wow. If you could've given even a single shred of legitimate evidence as a base upon which to construe predictions, maybe i would'nt be judging this as harshly. But since you seem to want constructive criticism as well, i would advise this: Back your opinions with undeniable fact. Good Day

    1. My speculation is based off of my involvement with Magic: The Gathering design. Something that would be more along the lines of blindly guessing would be trying to guess the contents of 2013's fall set based off of the fact the PAX East is having something called "Chandra's Quest." Nay, instead, my "evidence" is what has been revealed of the Return to Ravnica block itself. Using principles of Magic design, I extrapolate from there to come to my conclusions.

      Thank you for your critique!

    2. I would advise this: back your trolling with at least semi-plausable reasoning. Good Day

  9. I like your ideas they are very interesting

    1. Thanks, Anonymous! All of your comments are definitely interesting to me! ;)

  10. methinks there are multiple anonymous(es) running around here...including me.

    So meta. Fascinating article, though not necessarily entirely correct. Without spoilers, it's the best we can hope for, though

    1. Thanks for the feedback! And, yes, hah, a lot of anonymity! I'm enjoying the fact that I'm receiving multiple bouts of attention from the entity known as Anonymous!

  11. Good call, man:

    1. Thank you, Anonymous! While I got split cards correct, it looks like I might be wrong about four-color cards. We'll have to see if every split card is only a maximum of three colors as the set reveals.

      I appreciate the comment!

  12. Where did you get the information about the breakdown of the set (i.e. 60 commons, 40 uncommons, 35 rares, 10 mythics, etc.)?

    1. The traditional formula to small Magic: The Gathering sets follow those numbers. 249 for a large set (but really it's 229 since 20 of them are almost always basic lands) and 145 for a small set. Dragon's Maze was announced with 156 cards stated to be in it. Seeing as the 11 extra cards have already been revealed to be land cards that appear in the basic land slot in boosters, that meant the actual number of new cards would be 145 - the same number that small sets usually are. So, I assumed that this set would follow the same numbers for a small set of 60/40/35/10.

  13. The reason I ask is because there have been a few non-confirmed "spoilers' today about two rare simic cards. Unless one is mythic rare; that would mean there are 3 rare cards per guild (2 and the champion) rather than 2 (one and the champion). If this is the case, that would generate a total of 40 rares (3 per guild = 30 + 5 split rares + 5 mono-color rares). This also assumes there are no rare artifacts in the set.

    If the set has 60 commons, 40 uncommons, 10 mythics, and 21 lands (131 cards) than there is only 35 cards left to round out the 166 card set. 40 rares is not possible. So either (a) one of the two simic cards "spoiled" is mythic rare or (b) the people indicating the two rare cards are making one or more up, or (c) the breakdown is not exactly as above (i.e. 50 commons, 35 uncommons, etc.) Just trying to do the math and wanted to make sure the breakdown above was the correct one. Thanks for any help you can provide.

    Btw...great call on the 4-color split rares!

    1. Oh, nice! I like how you're figuring things out. Well, here's some help:

      Another rule to Magic: The Gathering sets is that there is always at least a rare artifact in it. Since Dragon's Maze is a cramped set, though, I can see how this can be different.

      And when it comes to small sets and including rare artifacts/lands, the numbers can get a bit messed up. The last small set to have 145 cards in it is Worldwake. Worldwake shows that black had one extra rare in it than the other monocolored cards at rare. Then, at mythic rare, well... numbers are all sorts of skewed!

      So, I wouldn't be surprised if this is what happened: Dragon's Maze gets X rare artifacts/lands. This causes an imbalance in the slots. To make up for it, some guilds/monocolored cards have more than the others. This could be why there's three Simic cards but only two for at least most of the other guilds.

      It could also be that there's a mistake between mythic rare/rare as you suggested, but keep what I said above in mind. Sometimes the numbers for rare/mythic rare are just not perfectly balanced across the colors.

    2. Thanks for the help! I'm a self-diagnosed OCD, so I like when things are uniform :) I can understand, however, how this could be nearly impossible when trying to design an entire set though. Thanks again, and keep up the great predictions!