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Eldrazi Mana: It’s Not Going To Break Magic

November 21, 2015

Oh my God, the ELDRAZI ARE COMING!

(again)

By now, you’ve probably seen this spoiler from Oath of the Gatewatch:

wastes

Not-Barry’s-Land! Woooo!

And these:

kozilekthegreatdistortionmirrorpool

And if you’re on social media at all, this:

MaRo Troll

Not-Barry’s-Land! Woooo!

Anyway, if you’re like me at all, you had the same reaction as everyone else (OMGWTFBBQ), so we’re all on the same page.

So let’s think about the implications of this potential mechanic, in terms of Magic design and development. Maybe we can make a good guess as to the most likely way it works before more cards are spoiled.

Let’s start with getting a sense of the general flavor behind the cards, even disregarding what they do.

Obviously, the mechanic has something to do with the Eldrazi. Kozilek requires some kind of new mana, or a forced way of producing mana, because he is an Eldrazi. This sense of otherness, and their insatiable desire to destroy, consume, and reshape the plane of Zendikar (and also other planes for dessert). The biggest way that this is represented in Magic, much like anything else in the game, is their color; or in this case, lack of it.

When we first saw Eldrazi, they were represented thusly:

  • Large colorless creatures with colorless mana costs
  • Their spawn, also colorless
  • Colorless tribal spells
  • Themed lands that cared about Eldrazi or colorless cards
  • A sampling of colored creatures heralding their masters

Mostly everything to do with the Eldrazi was about their colorlessness.

In Battle for Zendikar, we see an evolution of that concept, wherein the Eldrazi have reshaped themselves into the fauna of Zendikar and vice versa. We have:

  • More colorless spells (with colorless costs)
  • Loads of colorless spells and creatures with colored mana costs (none in white); some of these specifically referencing colorlessness
  • An almost entirely parasitic mechanic that builds on those cards
  • A specifically opposite mechanic representing the Eldrazi’s foil/enemy/food (converge)
  • More themed colorless lands!

OK, that’s a lot of words to beat a dead Hipparion with. Time to dive into the various meanings the diamond symbol could have.

Scenario #1: “Not” Snow Mana

Excerpts from the actual Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules:

107.4h. The snow mana symbol {S} represents one generic mana in a cost. This generic mana can be paid with one mana of any type produced by a snow permanent (see rule 205.4f). Effects that reduce the amount of generic mana you pay don’t affect {S} costs. (There is no such thing as “snow mana”; “snow” is not a type of mana.)

205.4f. Any permanent with the supertype “snow” is a snow permanent. Any permanent that doesn’t have this supertype
is a nonsnow permanent, regardless of its name.

So there’s actually no such thing as “Snow Mana”, even if it’s self referential in the rule describing the totally-not-snow-mana snow mana symbol. But let’s make a new rule for Eldrazi Mana:

(from here further all CR rules and their numbers are fake but non-conflicting with current rules)

107.4i. The eldrazi mana symbol {E} represents one generic mana in a cost. This generic mana can be paid with one mana of any type produced by an eldrazi permanent (see rule …….). Effects that reduce the amount of generic mana you pay don’t affect {E} costs. (There is no such thing as “eldrazi mana”; “eldrazi” is not a type of mana.)

Seems straightforward so far, except where 205.4f needs to exist for snow, doesn’t for Eldrazi. It’s already a creature type. And because it’s a type, it technically wouldn’t go under 205.4. If WotC made a new rule just for
Eldrazi types, it likely goes somewhere else.

Okay, we’ve defined what it is. Basically, it is colorless mana, and gives a way for WotC to “gate” certain cards and mechanics to the ability to produce a type of mana only seen in Oath of the Gatewatch. What does that mean, design/development-wise?

  • Cards printed with {E} as a cost can be less expensive, because it is typically harder to produce than mana from traditional sources.
  • You are limited almost solely to cards only printed in the set they accompany and cards that produce Eldrazi Spawn or Scion tokens. This is similar to how snow mana works, with a logical evolution of actually putting the symbol into casting costs (an even more restrictive result than how Snow was implemented on cards)
  • It’s extremely parasitic for limited, in multiple ways: You need to draft lands and other cards that produce {E} and cards that want {E} to benefit, and those cards are at odds with producing {WUBURG} and requiring {WUBURG}, the mechanic that all of the cards in Battle for Zendikar currently use. Battle for Zendikar is multicolor friendly due to the easy nature of splashing colors in the format, but colorless lands such as Blighted Cataract still have implications for color screw when doing so. A format that encourages drafting/playing colorless lands (from OGW) even more will put a lot of pressure on players, particularly new players.
  • Powerful and unintentionally powerful cards can be gated from eternal formats by way of their parasitic nature on mana and the current format. The mana restrictions may create a new deck archetype that is very specialized, or players may find ways to make Show and Tell an even more powerful archetype, but it’s not likely that players will just jam an Eldrazi of Runes or Emrakul the Planeswalker That Eats Through the Aeons into their Legacy deck.
  • The Standard format would roll with the punches. The current mana system is very friendly to multicolor decks, and two deck types could emerge: Oops, All Eldrazi; and Two-color Eldrazi; The former, a narrow deck centered on the new cards and their raw power, running mostly Wastes and other colorless utility lands; and the latter, two color decks using fetches, Battle for Zendikar cares-about-basics lands and Wastes with a few new cards supplementing the current
    deck types. A deck like Abzan may not be able to support an effective fourth color (unfetchable with Khans fetches), and have to drop down to GWE or BGE.

I think this would be the most restricted option for players, in terms of deck options, and an easier option for developers with respect to limiting card power, creating a little colorless microcosm that doesn’t play well with other sets. Looking at Kozilek’s new card, for a card that is already 10 mana, it doesn’t seem to gain any benefit from the more restrictive cost. The “newness” is reserved simply for restrictive mana costs, and those aren’t fun.

Another point against this option, is that WotC didn’t make Wastes work as a basic land with type or supertype “Eldrazi”, instead making the lands produce a specific mana symbol – a specific kind of mana, in contrast with Snow-Covered basic lands, which have a rules construction regarding what kind of permanent the mana came from (and interestingly, the current rules don’t handle making mana from a Snow Sorcery). They’ve deftly manuvered away from creating Barry’s Land with another implementation.

So, basically, I think it’s a good starting off point for how to think about {E} as a mechanic, but not a very likely option for WotC, who has seen how this plays out before (in truth, no one plays snow permanents).

Scenario #2: It’s just Purple Mana

Actually, it’s not just Purple Mana, and heres why: It’s too disruptive without going far enough. What I mean by that, is that it has all the problems with starting a new color, without being consistent in design moving forward, so it’s likely not an evergreen mechanic. It didn’t get an actually-new basic land type. It doesn’t play well with any of the 10K+ cards currently printed in Magic – not just in terms of a new basic land that can’t cast Benalish Hero, but the larger scope of interaction with colorless cards that isn’t already present in Magic’s history (no Circle of
Protection: Colorless, tons of cards that care about color and land types). It would cause a gigantic shift in marketing and packaging and supplemental products and store product support from this point forward if it were evergreen.

Scenario #3: It’s just Colorless Mana

I think this is one of the more realistic scenarios. Essentially, {D} is specifically colorless when referenced in costs, and would also be used as a nice visual aide for new lands to remind players that the mana they produce is definitely totally colorless.

107.4i. The devoid mana symbol {D} represents one colorless mana in a cost. This symbol is used to represent colorless mana, and also to represent colorless mana in costs. Colorless mana in costs can be paid only with colorless mana. See rule 202, “Mana Cost and Color.”

I have used the term “devoid mana” here to tie it back to the devoid mechanic from Battle for Zendikar. It lets me avoid the usage of {C} which is casual parlance for the color intensity of a cost when talking about converted mana costs with color restrictions (e.g. Serra Angel and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage are costed “3CC”).

So in this way, there is a benefit: it only restricts costs, but not so far that you can’t play with your new cards in older/wider formats like Legacy or Commander. You don’t have to restrict your ability to produce that mana to Wastes; using Temple of the False God to cast Kozilek is just fine (as it should be, considering it’s an awesome false god).

If WotC has determined that the restrictions put on deckbuilding for limited and Standard are surmountable, this scenario has a high chance of being correct.

Scenario #4: It’s just Colorless Mana, buuuuuut…

This is my dream scenario. But you have to wait for my lead-in about an old idea I had for Purple Mana.

So, lots of people think adding a new color to Magic would be cool. But a lot of people realize the major problems with it: It has no history behind it, and it breaks the color pie, by virtue of not being in it currently. There’s no way to put it on the back of the card, sorry. Magic is a five point star/pentagon, not a hexagon. No room at the table. I wanted to get around that with this old idea:

Purple mana is “all colors”.

You can use it to pay for any color of mana in a cost, and it counts for every traditional color if something cared about what color was used to
cast/activate a spell or ability. So your Converge costs are five, automatically, if paid for with purple mana. I came up with some interesting/lame name like Fusion, the implication being that because it was all colors, you needed to feed multiple colors through another spell or ability to produce it, like a super Celestial Prism or Gemstone Array that produced purple. And hey, let’s bring back mana burn, specifically for purple (due to risk of producing too much somehow, like radiation?), along with some re-costed purple mythic cards from back in the day like Ancestral Recall or whatever.

Big idea, maybe not good. I didn’t go any further than that like with real card designs. But I’m thinking maybe WotC came up with something similar, going the opposite direction:

Devoid Mana, {D}, is specifically colorless mana, that can pay for colored mana in costs of colorless cards.

Maybe devoid mana can showcase how the Eldrazi have some other way that they get their power, that doesn’t require a traditional link to the land like planeswalkers typically do. Some otherworldly link beyond the plane, that they can channel into more of their colorless creations.

I think this is the kind of answer Mark Rosewater is going to give, when he explains his initial skepticism of colorlessness and how to really show how it matters in the game, whereas our current situation with Battle for Zendikar is that it matters very little. We currently don’t care very much at all that our cards are colorless because we still cast them with Islands and Mountains and such.

The biggest, most impactful meaning of this scenario, is that Wastes interact with other cards in Magic in ways that simple colorless mana does not. All of the Eldrazi from Battle for Zendikar? Congratulations, you can be cast with Wastes! This is really good for limited and constructed formats! It would really tie together Oath of the Gatewatch and Battle for Zendikar thematically and mechanically in a way that changes the current draft format drastically.

It also seems very strange to me, from a flavor standpoint, that a tribe without hard faction boundaries (in contrast with the Phyrexians) would be separated by the color system of Magic. Normally, we might get a tribal land that produces mana of any color for that tribe (Primal Beyond, Ally Encampment, Haven of the Spirit Dragon, Sliver Hive, etc.). But Eldrazi are colorless. Their nature is defined as being without color, so it makes little sense for a land to produce lots of colors to cast them.

Instead, maybe we get our “multicolor” Eldrazi land, under the pretense of a new basic land.

wastes

I, for one, welcome our new Eldrazi overlords.

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6 Comments
  1. Chili permalink

    Scenario #4 is absolutely brilliant. Just listened to Patrick Chapin on Top Level Podcast suggest this exact same idea. In fact, I’m now a little bit worried that this isn’t what’s going on just because this idea is so exciting that anything else will be a let down. So, here’s hoping you’re right!!

    • Oh neat! I’ll have to listen to it. 🙂

      I am tempering my dreams with the likelihood that it’s just going to be #3. It’s more of what I expect out of WotC’s design/development team and has less rules – I would actually expect Wastes to have reminder text if you could use that mana to cast things with colored mana in their costs. The spoiled image would then have to be some kind of promo version, which would likely be an Expedition with the modified frame.

  2. I don’t disagree with your analysis here, but I am worried that these spoilers might be very elaborate fakes. I worry because the Basic Land does not have a subtype. If these were full spoilers, it would be Basic Land – Wastes, but if what you are saying and the new mana symbol refers to “mana produced by an Eldrazi permanent,” then I think the land type was intentionally obfuscated and this is a Basic Land – Eldrazi.

    • I didn’t bother with any kind of validity test on purpose. There’s even more permutations if the cards are intentionally obfuscated in any way, so I kind of have to take them at face value. If they’re fake, then none of this matters. But, I don’t think they’re fake. And, I think they’re complete. I’ve thought about Barry’s Land before (I played around with ideas for proxying it when I was building a domain/multicolor cube) and how it would need to be implemented without any additional CR rules. I think WotC has chosen to omit a land type to avoid the major problems with a new basic land type. It basically comes down to cards not *needing* types (Most Sorceries, Instants, Enchantments, Artifacts, and even Nameless Race don’t have types).

      I think the “mana produced by an Eldrazi permanent” is out, partly because of this (and the general problem with mana of various colors having restrictions on what you can use it for), and partly because a new symbol is easier to grok, particularly for newer players.

  3. While your article does do scenario 1 justice by indicating how it could work, while also stating why it probably won’t happen it does not do the same for scenario 3. Thus I think the write up is biased.

    Please comment on why Wizard’s would ret-con [1] mana sources mid-block when it has already printed Kozilek’s Champion and Herald of Kozilek as coloured mana sources.

    There needs to be in block consistency. If scenario 3 is true then those would have been saved for the 2nd set and printed with the new symbol.

    • So, first, I’m not testing the validity of the cards themselves. I’m using conjecture with the assumption that the cards themselves are indeed real – that argument isn’t one I’m trying to have. I have to think at least one of these is possible. That said, scenario 3 is effectively the same as scenario 1 in terms of the mana production side of things, and like I said above, WotC has to determine that it’s worth it.

      I think you could reasonably make the case that there isn’t enough design space for these kinds of mechanics for more than a couple of sets. If you consider that BfZ is a second “large” set in the ROE-BFZ-OGW trilogy, Oath has “third set” syndrome. From what I’ve read of BfZ, WotC had a difficult time re-visiting the whole colorlessness of Eldrazi in the first place, and resorted to the colored Eldrazi to kind of make a blend between the Eldrazi, what we’re used to in limited and constructed from a mechanic point of view.

      I’m sure there have been plenty of times that cards have been printed with de-facto named abilities without the name, in a set within the same block as the named ability. But if Kozilek’s Channeler doesn’t have an Eldrazi mana ability, big deal. It doesn’t have to. It still produces colorless mana. Herald of Kozilek is similar. Actually, cost reduction abilities almost never use mana symbols for their effects so that you can’t start casting tons of free spells.

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