With the Duel Decks: Heroes vs Monsters revealed we can talk about the two mechanics previewed for Theros.
[Cost]: Monstrosity [Number]. (If this creature isn’t monstrous, put [Number] +1/+1 counters on it and it becomes monstrous.)
Heroic – Whenever you cast a spell that targets [CARDNAME], [Effect].
What we’ve got here is a creature based mechanic and a spell based one (even though it doesn’t seem like it). Both of these have their little quirks and I’m sure I might get some of the smaller details wrong without an official FAQ. But I can tell you some things that we can be on the lookout for with both of these mechanics and what we might be able to expect in the block. I’m taking a large assumption that these will be spread out over the five colors though obviously there will be only-color effects.
When you take a look at the only card that we’ve seen with Monstrosity, it’s easy to see what options that we have with game play. Here’s what we can gleam about the mechanic from this card:
- It uses +1/+1 counters only.
- It can be done at instant speed.
- You can only do it once a game, so it’s going to be easy to remember.
- It creates two different cards in one.
- You can create spell-like effects.
We now know the block will contain +1/+1 counters and not -1/-1; but it’s safe to assume that for any new block because rarely are -1/-1 counters are used. Plus, this works nicely with the previous block Return to Ravnica because Evolve, Unleash and Scavenge are +1/+1 counter mechanics. Some people were upset at Level Up from Rise of the Eldrazi because it could only be done at sorcery speed. Having at sorcery speed does create a better interaction between players because you’re not just doing this at the end of your opponent’s turn as it’s obviously the correct play (EOTFOFYL – which I’ve never liked this acronym because it seems like you’re trying too hard and you can’t pronounce it easily.)
A few players complained because that monstrous might be too hard to keep track of, but obviously WotC thought of this. Most of the time (aside from Cube/Commander/Casual), when you see the +1/+1 counters on a monstrous creature, it’ll be because it’s ability was used. Only post-rotation Standard Legal cards that get around “+1/+1 counter only because of monstrous” issue are: Ajani, Caller of the Pride; Bioshift; Burst of Strength; Common Bond; Deathbridge Goliath; Death’s Presence; Dreg Mangler; Druge Beetle; Flesh//Blood; Forced Adaptation; Give//Take; Gleam of Battle; Golgari Decoy; Grave Betrayal; Ivy Lane Denizen; Korozda Monitor; Krasis Incubation; Master Biomancer; Necropolis Regent; Renegade Krasis; Sewer Shambler; Simic Fluxmage; Slitherhead; Sluiceway Scorpion; Terrus Wurm; Thrashing Mossdog; Varolz, the Scar-Striped; Zameck Guildmage; and Zanikev Locust.
You know, like never.
Listen, you need your mechanics to have cross-block appeal or you’re just going to have decks that will be Block A cards vs. Block B cards. Those Standard formats were boring. How Monstrosity fits around this is pretty nifty: you can only
level up become Monstrous once per a game. Creatures get +1/+1 counters all of the time but very rarely do you see something like Polukranous’ effect every turn. You’re going to remember being blown out like that. This is like tapping was at the beginning of Magic: a visual way to show that something has been used. Clearly it has grown over time, but it’s something that a quick glace at the board can tell you while not trying to memorize every little thing that’s going on.
And this is where you can fit “multiple cards” all on one card.
Creatures with Monstrosity have three different stages (Note: I am no judge, so my wording might be off. This is for entertainment purposes only): “Normal”, “Becomes Monstrous”, “Is Monstrous”. Each of these stages can have different “cards” depending on which stage it’s in. A “Normal” creature could have defender, but lose it if it “Is Monstrous”. You could have a trigger than happens when a creature “Becomes Monstrous”, like Polukranos, which is something that we’ve seen before in Morph. Gain life, deal damage, draw cards, and bounce a creature are all viable possibilities that we could see from these triggers. (Aside – Because Polukranos is a Mythic, we’re seeing the top end in terms of power and ability to show off the keyword. Not all triggers are going to be involved with the Monstrous Number; in fact I bet most of them aren’t.) This creates a spell-like mechanic while still keeping the game interactive with a now suddenly bigger creature. Then we have the third possibility that the creature gains something when it “Is Monstrous” like Flying or Trample. Not all Monstrosity cards have to be about adding or losing abilities; I can see that this block’s 2/X for W could fit into this category.
Because “Monstrous” is a characteristic, you can construct cards around it. Kill target monstrous creature. Return all non-monstrous creatures to their owner’s hand. At the beginning of your upkeep, each opponent loses life equal to the number of monstrous creatures you control. Monstrous creatures get +1/+1. So on and so forth. Much like with Gates and Sow-Covered you can, and should, have a small subtheme of cards to help and punish Monstrosity.
Since Magic cards usually only can depict a single moment in time, finding mechanics that can give designers more opportunities to mess around with creating different “cards” in one can be a huge benefit to design and especially Vorthos-oriented people. I excited to see what else this mechanic has in store and it should be one that hopefully will evolve throughout the block.
Even though this action keyword will be seen on permanents, it’s really a spell based mechanic. You need spells to make this work; the only exception is auras, and I’m really crossing my fingers that this might be an enchantment based block. What? It is? Good news everyone!
But seriously, if this wasn’t a block keyword I could this could fit right into the Izzet guild on Ravnica. There’s not much to Heroic, only that it should be on all permanents. A Mobilization-style enchantment that creates tokens as its Heroic ability. A land that produces an aditional color of mana. I can see this much like Landfall with the number of different things that could be done with this, albeit less powerful (No Rampaging Baloths). It’s set up the same and, assuming there’s no additional cost to get the Heroic effect, it’ll warp draft slightly to where you do want to play a few more spells.
Since Anax and Cymede (The Duel Deck’s Heroic card), is a rare, we’re looking at the top end of the ability. Not every card will affect others and I doubt most will. I see the flavor of this card being “touched by the Gods” much like in Greek Myths. You’re trying to kill a creature by a Lightning Bolt? Nope. It’s even stronger than that. Might this will signal a return to a deck with fewer creatures and more spells? This is the first keyword in a while that gives hope to those old school players longing for those style of decks. Of course, that all depends on what creatures do with Heroic and what spells that target are printed.
I believe that this is truly a hit-or miss mechanic. Players will get upset that they aren’t drawing their spells that target their own creatures and will lose far too often relying on their luck. Unlike Monstrosity where you can always just make the creature bigger, you can’t expect your opponent to want to target your Heroic creature so you’re going to have to do all of the heavy lifting. This is a mechanic that we can’t fully judge before we see what gets printed and the environment it’s in. While that’s the same with any mechanic, Heroic one that we need to know where things are going; most spells in tournament play involve getting rid of your opponents things, not buffing your own. Not every mechanic has to lean towards tournament greatness, but this one will take a while before it might catch on.
Some speculation in here, but we do have to wait until the full set is released to see where everything fits. There’s messing around with the God cards, and a few other mechanics we know nothing about yet. Hopefully the PAX Party on the 31st will give us some more juicy information. Like always, I will be tweeting from there (@mtgcolorpie), taking photos and conducting short twitter interviews with some WotC people. You’ll get the writeup in the following days as we swing into full Theros preview season. Both of these keywords have a chance for greatness, but at the moment we need to see where WotC takes us.
Hopefully we’re looking at a great Odyssey going forward.