MTG: The Tools Of 2022

2022 saw six new Magic: The Gathering sets introduced, and in that, we saw almost twenty four new mechanics with new reminder text, introduced to the game. As someone who didn’t buy a single product all year, these sets interest me entirely because of how these tools get added to my personal toolbox of ‘things to play with’ as I play around at making custom Magic: The Gathering cards.

Let’s check at them!

First of all, there are a bunch of mechanics that I do not care about at all, and do not see meaningful uses for them. First up, there’s Compleated. I dislike it because of what it means in the story, since I find the Phyrexians boring, and I dislike it mechanically because it’s really narrow. Planeswalkers with or without a number of counters on them, whatever, don’t care.

I didn’t think much of Hideaway‘s change, but it’s not a bad mechanic in and of itself, it’s just we’ve had it for years and I don’t find anything it can do now meaningful. The alteration so that it no longer requires the thing to enter the battlefield tapped isn’t so bad, and you can now use it as a flavoursome replacement from just any given top-of-the-library dig. I think given its name, you need to make it work, though. Like I can imagine Gonti having hideaway, I can’t imagine a, like, Mirrodin Goblin having it.

Alliance continues the ongoing pattern that when presented with green-white mechanic for primarily showing up in limited, the designers figure that’s a safe place to punt. It’s barely a mechanic. Casualty isn’t a bad mechanic, but it doesn’t have a lot of places it can go that it didn’t already and you don’t want to make it so that the spell changes based on Casualty, because if you do that, you wind up just recreating Kicker again (bonus, that’s kind of what Squad is, though at least Squad saves space on the card). Shield Counters are fine, but that’s all they are, fine. That’s the thing, a bunch of these mechanics just aren’t interesting — Powerstones, Toxic and Corrupted, Read Ahead and Enlist, they’re all just trying to capture specific ideas like ‘remember this stuff from last time, but not as problematic?’

I suppose that’s a bit mean to Read Ahead. That’s not a total dead end, it’s just that sagas are already interesting as they are, to me, so I don’t think that I need a mechanic to make Sagas ‘worse.’

Blitz, well, it’s Dash but also, and I get it, it addresses the way Dash can make the game more static. The way the rules got changed around it is kinda interesting. I think Blitz’s main application is in turning big expensive things into short immediate things, like consider a creature that does something at the beginning of its upkeep, meaning that the bodies are meaningfully different when blitzed or not.

Backgrounds are cool! They’re cool because they let you snap together part-A, part-B designs. You can build them out like the Partner mechanic, where I recommend each card being a simpler/less complex version of what you may wish it was, so that there’s a meaningful choice to be had in selecting the backgrounds to match with the characters. If there’s a simple, obvious ‘character A gets background A,’ then you’ve wasted a background – that’s just another partner.

Reconfigure is cool! I knew I liked it when I saw it spoiled, and I think I even wrote about it in 2022, when I was shocked about how good Kamigawa was. Hell, while I’m at it, the two-faced saga creature cards? Same deal, they let you have cards that do two things, but you don’t need to maintain too much complexity for either given form of the card.

Connive is a game action, you can both tell a creature to do it, you can have a creature do it itself, and you can even have a creature tell another creature to do it. It’s a solid mechanic, it adds game velocity, and it can be Vintage-level dangerous (because, hey, drawing cards is good). Any thing you can find that can draw or discard a card can consider ‘what does this look like with connive, instead?’

Stun Counters! Great mechanic, something we’ve wanted for a while, takes care of memory issues, can be used defensively or aggressively. I’ve already used this for representing a creature that’s lazy, giving a creature a way to build up resources slowly, lots of great stuff. Consider a red creature that can spend counters on itself to do a thing, but taps to put a stun counter on itself.

Ravenous is a mechanic I like so much I’ve used it aggressively in The Usurper’s Palace this year. It’s just codifying a mechanism I kind of wanted all over the place, and I’ve done a bunch of exploring it. The rules for Ravenous are very simple and limited at the moment but they add an incredibly obvious dimension. Consider, if a sorcery for XG created a 0/0 with ravenous, you don’t need a rules explainer to work out that the token enters with X +1/+1 counters on it.

Then there’s the big awkward elephant in the room, The Initiative.

The Initiative’s got a very specific, narrow flavour that relates to exactly one world. The mechanical flavour, that you’re progressing through this city’s space, and that control of this space is something where each player gets to take it back and forth. Fighting one another about it, fighting for your place in it certainly gives it some tension but it doesn’t feel as much, to me, like it’s a system where you’re in the city, sneaking through.

It’s also stupidly powerful. It’s tearing up the formats where it’s legal, and there’s already been a bunch of bannings in Pauper to make sure that the cheaper options for taking the Initiative aren’t available. The Initiative can do a lot of different things, including a lot of up-front pressure, control and card advantage, and even encouraging people to get into fights over it, pulling the game on to another position. The thing is, if you were going to reflavour the Initiative, you might have some room for things other than skeletons or different place names, but…

C’mon.

Any alternate version of the Initiative is going to present a bunch of powerful options, but probably not compete with the Initiative itself. It’s a collection of good stuff, and any alternate take is going to need to make that good stuff less-good, or more spread out, and the result will either be something that’s better than the overpowered Initiative, or, not worth taking while the Initiative is an option. Bit of a dead end there.

I actually think, now I’m talking about it, that the thing I would do with the Initiative is make alternate-flavoured alters of the dungeon, which convey the information correctly, but which don’t tie you to the Undercity from the Forgotten Realms universe. That’s the most interesting thing to do with that mechanic: Keep the mechanics and give it some flavour that’s more specific to your set.

2022 was a weird year for Magic: The Gathering. I understand that something like 50% of all the words on printed cards were printed in 2022, and there was even a Bank of America report that hey, maybe Wizards were overdoing it for making new cards and new product imagining we’re going to buy it. I don’t know, I’m not buying it.

These are cool tools! I plan on using some of them!

But also, never forget what Wizards did to Orion Black, and remember that you don’t owe them any money to play with the game that is part of our shared culture.