Non-Magic related news: Wife and I had the baby last month (if you haven’t been paying attention on Twitter). Everyone’s doing well and learning their new role in our family. Obviously this is why I haven’t updated recently. I thought, “Sure, the baby will be up at 2 am, I can write then.” Ha! Anyway, this isn’t the place to talk about such matters, but yes, this will be covered in a future post. You’ll recognize it when you see it.
Onto Magic Design.
Last month, former WotC employee Gregory Marques wondered aloud in his Avacyn Restored Soulbond review a very interesting design issue:
The [Soulbond] rarity distribution is reasonable, though I’m not sure why no mythic. Someone should do an analysis of new mechanics appearing at mythic. I might guess they usually get one, but without researching it I’m not going to make any claims about that. Even if they always do, not making one is not necessarily a bad thing.
Sitting at home between feeding, burping, changing and playing with the baby, this seemed like a fun little project to do. The Mythic rarity is heading into its fifth year of print with Return to Ravnica (Worst. Set name. Ever), and an analysis of how the rarity has evolved should be an interesting topic, but that’s not something we’ll cover today. Instead, we’re going to look at the mechanics of a set and find out how many of those appeared at Mythic, to fulfill Greg’s passing fancy.
This is where it gets a little murky: what counts as a mechanic? Much like the debate between which Zombies you choose in a apocalyptic nightmare, there has to be some cut off to what you consider a mechanic or everything is a mechanic. What we’re looking for is two main ideas: keyword mechanics (What most people think of as mechanics), and mechanics named by Wizards that aren’t named on the cards themselves.
The keyword mechanic is easy: if it’s a keyword and it shows up on a Mythic card, boom: passed. However, double-faced cards is not keyworded, yet is a mechanic too. Luckily Wizards has been making pages introducing the mechanics of the set for a few blocks now. It only goes back to Rise of the Eldrazi so we’re just going to have to estimate the earlier Mythic filled sets.
There’s also a difference between using a mechanic and benefiting/enabling the mechanic in the first place. Liliana of the Veil forces creatures to be sacrificed, which can trigger the Morbid keyword, but it doesn’t say that. In order for this to work, we’re looking for the actual keyword/mechanic here. Synergy is nice (and should be encouraged), but that’s not the goal of this exercise.
Here are the raw data numbers:
24 out of 37 mechanics received a Mythic rare (not 24 total keyworded Mythics).
The 24 mechanics that received Mythics (Italics means returning mechanic):
- +5 Power
- Colored Artifacts (Esper)
- Level Up
- Colorless (Eldrazi)
- Charge Counters
- Battle Cry
- Living Weapon
- Double-Faced Cards
The 13 that didn’t:
- Totem Armor
- Phyrexian Mana
- Fateful Hour
If you have a mechanic in a set, there’s about a two third’s chance of it becoming a Mythic.
If you take away all the returning Mythics, the numbers change a little:
23 new mechanics received Mythics while 8 new mechanics didn’t (74.2%).
Some facts about the data I found during my research:
Cycling, Domain and Scry where the only mechanics that didn’t have a card above uncommon. Cycling, in fact, was the only mechanic to be completely common. WotC used the mechanic to help grease limited (and to obviously causal, but more limited). Not every time when bringing back a mechanic does WotC have to push it; whatever mechanic fits the environment is what gets printed, not just “Hey, let’s do this” and they cram it down our throats.
Each of the five shards in Shards of Alara received a Mythic for their mechanic. However, Jund’s Devour was the only one not to receive a Legendary creature with the mechanic and the only one who’s Mythic didn’t show up in Shards (It was in Alara Reborn).
One of the most common mechanic Mythics type is something I’ll call “Mechanic all the things!” The Mythic gave certain cards that particular mechanic:
- Sedris, the Traitor King gives your creatures Unearth.
- Maelstrom Nexus gives your first spells Cascade.
- Cast Through Time gives your instants and sorceries Rebound.
- Bloodlord of Vaasgoth gives all your Vampires Bloodthirst.
- Mikaeus, the Unhallowed gives your non-Humans Undying.
- Sublime Archangel gives all your creatures Exalted.
Of the 42 Legendary Creatures that are Mythic, 12 of them are connected to the mechanic directly.
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (Colorless/Annihilator)
- Kozilez, Butcher of Truth (Colorless/Annihilator)
- Maael the Anima (5+ Power)
- Mikaeus, the Unhallowed (Undying)
- Ob Nixilis, the Fallen (Landfall)
- Rafiq of the Many (Exalted)
- Sedris, the Traitor King (Unearth)
- Sen Triplets (Colored Artifact)
- Sharuum the Hegemon (Colored Artifact)
- Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon (Infect)
- Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre (Colorless/Annihilator)
- Uril, the Miststalker (5+ Power)
Of the 13 Prerelease cards that were Mythic (Shards of Alara-M12), 6 of them had the mechanic.
- Dragon Broodmother (Devour)
- Rampaging Baloths (Landfall)
- Comet Storm (Multikicker)
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (Colorless/Annihilator)
- Hero of Bladehold (Battle Cry)
- Bloodlord of Vaasgoth (Bloodthirst)
But we’ll get to more of that in a moment.
Most mechanics received their Mythic in the set it debuted in, all but two:
- Devour – Introduced: Shards of Alara. Mythic: Alara Reborn
- Living Weapon – Introduced: Mirrodin Besieged. Mythic: New Phyrexia.
Here are the mechanic pages for their respective sets where I based my definitions of what the mechanics were:
Worldwake Mechanic Page
Rise of the Eldrazi Mechanic Page
Scars of Mirrodin Mechanic Page
Mirrodin Besieged Mechanics Page
New Phyrexia Mechanics Page
Innistrad Mechanics Page
Dark Ascension Mechanics Page
Avacyn Restored Mechanics Page
If you noticed, I left off Commander and Planechase 2012 because those were artificial rarities since they’re a fixed product. The only one that has a mechanic is Thromok the Insatiable (where Devour finally gets its Legendary creature).
So, what does this all mean?
MaRo has repeatedly said, “If it’s not in common, it’s not in your theme.” This has helped the New World Order become more streamlined and make the worlds we visit more “alive”; see the common Angels in Avacyn Restored. I want to ask the following (almost) inverse question: “If it’s not at Mythic, is it really part of the identity of the set?” If Mythic cards are used to help sell the set, why would mechanics that help identify it not be created?
Plenty of mechanics that didn’t have Mythics were still part of the identity of the block, such as Allies/Quests in Zendikar and Proliferate in Scars Block. Some of them defined sets, like Phyrexian Mana, but were still left out when it comes to the Mythic rarity. Of the 35 rares in New Phyrexia, 8 had Phyrexian Mana. Sure, the set had the Mythic Living Weapon (Batterskull, if you need a refresher), but no colored artifacts and no Phyrexian mana. There’s a colorless Planeswalker (which had never been done before), but no two big mechanics of the set. Fine, colored artifacts isn’t a mechanic since we included that in Shards block and the two keywords were tied together, but I still feel an opportunity was missed.
What does it mean to have a keyword become a Mythic?
I would argue that for design to create a Mythic for the mechanic is to demonstrate the power of the mechanic, what all cards of that mechanic would want to live up to. The new M13 Angel, Sublime Archangel, giving all other creatures you control Exalted is exactly how the mechanics at the top of the food chain should be. When you give a mechanic a Mythic identity, you give them something that players will recognize and will, I believe, play the mechanic better. Everyone knows about Temporal Mastery and the Miracle mechanic. Because you’ve got such a marquee card, it can help demonstrate what it actually does better.
But it also shows a hierarchy of cards when it comes to design. This is where poor Thromok the Insatiable comes back into play. I feel that he’s (it’s?) the perfect Mythic Devour card. Let’s take a sample from each rarity:
Thromok – Devour X, where X is the number of creatures it devoured. 0/0
Mycoloth – Devour 2. Put X 1/1 Saproling tokens onto the battlefield where X is number of +1/+1 counters on this. 4/4
Thunder-Thrash Elder – Devour 3. 1/1
Gorger Wurm – Devour 1. 5/5
As you see, Thromok is at the top of the list when it comes to sheer “awe” of what the mechanic can do. I’m not talking about pure power or tournament viability, but “Holy Cow, that’s awesome” moments that this type of card can create (and was one of the requirements of the Mythic rarity in the first place). Each one of the cards gets more “powerful” the higher up it goes. Imagine it like it’s a food chain in the environment that the cards are in. Everything wants to emulate the large types, but can only do so in a limited fashion. This makes sense for the “common” creatures.
Take a look at the Miracles from Avacyn Restored. You see the progression in White: Put something on the bottom of the library (Uncommon), put all creatures on the bottom of their libraries (Rare) here’s a bunch of 4/4 Angels (Mythic). You see how the mechanic ramped up through the rarities. However, players complained about the lack of a Green Mythic because of A) they wanted the cycle completed there and B) they want to know what Green could do.
We subconsciously want that as a player. It’s like how Maro said that people want cycles, it’s something we crave as humans. But I figure this is a large part about why people design their own cards; they want to fill in that void. No one really goes out and designs commons; it’s always rares and Mythics that do awesome fancy things, especially when it comes to mechanics.
Back to Gregory’s point: should Soulbond have gotten a Mythic card?
If there was a Soulbond Akroma-like card (If paired, both creatures get +3/+3, Flying, Vigilance and First Strike), then that would’ve made sense. The mechanic, in my opinion, can hold that much power. However, I don’t think that a Soulbond Mythic fit in that environment; WotC was having problems with Angels flying while not granting the Soulbonded creature flying as well making the mechanic messy. Allies in Zendikar/Worldwake didn’t have a Mythic, but that was because Allies want to have as many cards as possible, and it’s hard to do that with a Mythic. In total there were 13 common Allies, 8 uncommon ones and 9 rare Allies (Red the only color not to receive two rares). That environment fit without having a Mythic involved.
Mythics (and to some extent Rares) sell the set. And if you’re trying to demonstrate the uniquness of the set and why you should buy it, mechanics should rank that high up there. Of the 54 prerelease promos (including M13), 21 of them showcase a mechanic of the set (29 total if we’re counting cards that continue the block’s theme). If you’re selling a new set, you want to show off the mechanics and this is the best way. It’s much easier to banter on about a Mythic, an iconic card that everyone wants, rather than just a common.
More often than not, a mechanic will become Mythic. But it can’t be forced or it looks bad. That’s the dilemma that WotC finds themselves attached to: they should make Mythics with their mechanics because they help define the world they’re creating and it makes sense design wise, but only when they create an environment that can handle said mechanic being a Mythic. You’re damned if you do, right?