Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Archfrenemies Design: Mel & Vorthos

First, you learned how to play Archfrenemies in this Card Kingdom post.

Next, this Goblin Artisans post described how Archfrenemies design addressed issues in multiplayer and card rarity.

Now: here's a bit about the mechanical and flavorful themes of Archfrenemies. Some may delight Mel. Others, for Vorthos. Though, admittedly, it's a bit heavier on the Mel side of the aesthetic profile spectrum, but one might expect as much from my being Magic design-inclined.

...and if you have no idea what I'm talking about with Mel & Vorthos, check out this article.

A Trusty Mechanic (or Eight)

Every project starts somewhere, beginning from a blank slate. But let's skip that and fast forward to ending up with these five keywords as the mechanical themes of the set: surge, extort, battalion, graft, morbid.

Here are some neato things:

  • Surge has been in a draft environment with two teammates but not three.
  • Extort has been in a product with three opponents (various Commander products) but not specifically "two or four."
  • Battalion's "three attacking creatures" trigger aligning with the format's teams each having "three teammates" is beautiful.
  • Graft was reprinted in a Masters set but has never been reprinted in a team environment, where its controller-agnostic trigger could be used to help provide support to teammates.
  • Morbid has been in a four-player environment (Conspiracy) but not in a five-player environment (the "range of influence" in this format being two means, at most, seeing five players).
  • All five of these keywords appear in Archfrenemies only on one of two colors - those two colors being an enemy color pairing. ...Archfrenemies. Enemies. It's a subliminal, flavorful tie-in!

But then what about those other three keywords - goad, myriad, and undaunted? A good question you may or may not have asked just now - but let's talk about those:

  • Goad I consider to be an "evergreen multiplayer" keyword. Goad is also squarely in blue and red colors. And prowess is a blue-red evergreen keyword that has been having some trouble fitting in lately (notice its lack of presence in Ixalan block and"We've got blue-red Wizards" Dominaria). So, I did the ol' switcheroo where I pretended blue-red's evergreen mechanic in this set is goad instead of prowess. Shhh. Don't tell the evergreen gods.
  • Myriad accidentally fulfills that dark prophecy foretold in question 49 of the Great Designer Search 3 multiple choice test by being in the same environment as battalion and being confusing - so what gives? This is two-fold: 1) my audience contains more enfranchised players than not and can handle a bit more complexity; 2) the archenemy players needed a bit more love mechanics-wise that specifically benefit them over the teammates.
  • Undaunted, like myriad, gives more cards in the card pool with a mechanic that specifically benefit the archenemy player. These two keywords only appear at uncommon or higher rarities, which avoids being misunderstood as one of the core themes. Lastly, these Commander product keywords get to uniquely experience keying off of two or four opponents, something that might not come up as much when the ideal Commander game is four players (three opponents).

Face Your Enemies

So, I knew that all the core keyword mechanics focused on the five enemy color pairings - something that hadn't been done since Apocalypse. I wanted to be sure to hammer home these pairings exist as a theme. I made a couple decisions to do this:
  • All mana fixing that fixes for a partial amount of the five colors only fixes for one of the enemy color pairings as colors
  • As the faces of the format, the planeswalkers must be aligned with the enemy color pairings

Speaking of planeswalkers...

I started early on in the Cube design process with choosing planeswalkers, since they're the most restrictive choice.

Here's why I picked each one:

  • Kaya, Ghost Assassin - Holy hell is Kaya perfect for this. Her offensive abilities care about the number of opponents much like extort does. With this excellent character having enemy color pairings and having yet to make a much-needed return in a Magic product - a snap pick.
  • Ral Zarek - Of the three blue-red planeswalkers to choose from, Saheeli was the most unfit, given that she cares about artifacts, a theme not present in this Cube. Between Dack and Ral, Ral has the most number of relevant abilities, given that surge is blue-red. Ral can untap teammate permanents. And when teammates gain extra turns, EVERYONE on the team takes those extra turns. Extra cool.
  • Garruk, Apex Predator - We've seen the wonderful Vraska more recently in the Ixalan block. But Garruk's been away forever. Also, who is more fitting to care about death for the morbid theme than this cursed hunter? Lastly, it's neat that both Nicol Bolas and Garruk have appeared as a "face villain" for a Core Set while only Nicol Bolas has been the in an Archenemy product. Welcome to an Archenemy format, Garruk.
  • Huatli, Warrior Poet - Ajani Vengeant destroying lands in a multiplayer format was a big no-no for me. And while Nahiri would be a great embodiment of an "archFRENEMY," given her background, it's Huatli that best supports battalion by creating creatures for you to attack with and being able to clear the way for your attacks.
  • Kiora, Master of the Depths - Amongst the three Simic planeswalker options, both Kioras had a first ability that could be used interestingly in this environment. Crashing Wave could be a political move - but perhaps could also end up being not as interesting. Master of the Depths was, for sure, going to be interestingly beneficial. Besides, making Octopus tokens strangely lines up with the Octopus token created by Crush of Tentacles (even though it's a surge spell).
Lastly, I love how balanced this group of planeswalkers feel in being able to personally identify with them. There are multiple levels of representation amongst these walkers. <3

With that, I also wanted to make sure to make these face planeswalkers even more visible as one drafts the Archfrenemies Cube, given that they're all mythic rare. So, I ensured that every planeswalker had another card in which they make an appearance. They are: Spectral Grasp, Blast of Genius, In Garruk's Wake, Slash of Talons, and Temple of the False God.

End of Story

And that's a wrap on themes! Hopefully, there was at least a little bit of something your inner Mel or Vorthos could appreciate.

I entertained the idea of having some story written that involve all five of these planeswalkers for some kind of made-up situation that makes it feel like they're "frenemies," but writing compelling stories isn't as much in my wheelhouse with my current skills. ;) Perhaps it would be told from Huatli's perspective, in poetry form?

Let me know on Twitter (@bradleyrose) if there's anything in your headcanon about why these five walkers would be running into each other. Or, otherwise, what you appreciate most of the Archfrenemies Cube's themes. Thanks for reading. :) 

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