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Testing the Waters

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Last week, I mentioned that we’d be heading in a new direction this week, and indeed, you can read about some interesting alterations to Cube Draft here. But before Avacyn Restored hit the scene, you might remember that we assembled a design skeleton and made a preliminary set of white commons to test. I got to run a playtest thanks to the help of my friend, Chris, and I thought I should share the results with all of you. Before the playtest, I made a couple of changes to the cards based on some luminary comments, but I tried to keep things mostly intact for the purpose of the exercise.

Swabbing the Deck

So, what exactly did we play? I knew I needed a deck that used all of the commons, but Limited decks don’t usually run as high a spell-to-creature ratio as what’s found in a set’s commons. I decided to proxy up two copies of each creature and one of each noncreature for a total of thirty spells. I added twenty basic Plains as a mana base, and I handed that deck to Chris. For myself, I threw together the same grouping of cards from Innistrad, and we were off to the races.

One thing I’ll note before I begin discussing specific cards is that the Innistrad deck won the majority of our games. That’s not a problem in and of itself since Innistrad is well above average in terms of its commons’ power level, and white is the set’s strongest Limited color, but after having read Michael Houlding’s recentish article on Goblin Artisans,I think the results are indicative of my general conservatism when it comes to card power level. Going forward, I’ll try to ratchet things up a bit.

Crewing the Vessel

Without further ado, let’s see how the cards held up in gameplay.

CW01

Head of School changed from a 1/2 to a 2/1 before gameplay, and that change proved to be positive, but largely irrelevant. Once or twice, the headmaster attacked on an aggressive curve, but more often than not, it sat on a stalled board as a sort of suspended Overrun, and it did that less effectively than Selfless Cathar did for the Innistrad deck. If we were to keep the ability, I could see the card going two ways. We could make it a 3/2 to encourage involving it in combat earlier or change it into a 1/3 or 2/3 to make the anthem effect more than a one-shot thing. My inclination is to choose the latter in order to support white’s present swarm approach, in which case the choice comes down to how much trouble decks are having drafting enough enablers.

CW02

Glint Chaser played more or less the way I expected it to, getting in for a few damage and occasionally trading with an enchantment. That said, if Pirates aren’t going to be using saboteur effects (abilities that trigger off combat damage to a player), this might play better as a sort of Soltari Visionary. I shied away at first because it can feel hopeless to play enchantments into it, but against the original version, you never get a hit in with a boon Aura, and it completely disables Pacifisms. With a combat-damage trigger, Pacifism would at least be a Stun.

CW03

I didn’t get a very good impression of how Overeager Crew plays because in all common playtests, the board tends to become clogged really quickly, and then this ability is easy to forget. Even though conditions should be more favorable in general, that experience could be an indication that this card ought to go the way of the dodo. I’m reluctant to ditch the idea because it should make decks play more aggressively by encouraging players to attack with this when it’s not suicidal, but players would normally rather block with their Chapel Geists.

The other argument to be made here is that the card belongs in red because it acts of its own volition. Having evasion certainly changes that dynamic, but seeing as the card was already problematic, the added concern is the final nail in this Crew’s coffin. Something like Assault Griffin should be able to similarly push aggression without all of these problems.

CW04

As expected, Shallows Darter didn’t do much. Weak commons are necessary, and the first strike creature seems like a good place to have one since a more powerful card would discourage attacking.

CW05

I somehow failed to mention that this is a functional reprint of Alaborn Grenadier, Steadfast Guard, and Veteran Cavalier, but it certainly delivered on its intended gameplay allowing the Life deck to take an aggressive stance against Innistrad’s Silverchase Foxes. Despite that performance, this Jellyfish needs to either rise in power level or donate its ww cost to a card that will push the color more. It should probably just be a Thraben Valiant.

CW06

This little number won the coveted Chris’s Favorite Card in the Deck award. The teamwork aspect is fun in and of itself, but most of our board stalls ended through careful application of tappers, so the Chucker’s ability to hose enemy tappers added a whole new layer of fun.

CW07

This card is significantly weaker than Markov Patrician, but it’s also on the precipice of being too good because with 3 toughness, it would be too hard to trade for and thus would dominate games. That said, with Overeager Crew being replaced by a 4-drop, this can easily become a Markov Patrician in its own right, and in the process, it will make Shallows Darter more useful.

CW08

This beast refused to come up much during games, but when it did, its size made it fun to give flying. Then again, those combos could be the purview of G/W or U/G decks, so there’s no real need to bleed 4 power into white’s common slots, and this could turn into a Siege Mastodon, but I’m leaving it for now.

CW09

This creature gave up an unnecessary instance of first strike for the Palace Guard ability, and in doing so, it became another of Chris’s favorites. This card has no color-pie issues, but there’s a reason that flash is tertiary in white. Green and white are by far the most similar colors, and it’s important to differentiate them, even if white could have a bunch of flash without any issues. This slot will be a good place to have a strong dedicated blocker to give white players options besides swarm aggro.

CW10

For the playtest, I decided to switch to Jen Wong’s version of trawl; the one I had before looked like this:

Obviously, the new version is much simpler to both read and execute. The main thing that had turned me off to it initially was the inability of a trawl card to recur itself, but eliminating the repetitive gameplay that dredge and company offer is probably more important than the feel-bad of not being able to bring back your trawl card.

As it stands, trawl offers an incremental advantage by letting you improve the average quality of a future draw—not exactly the most exciting mechanic for the non-Spike portion of the audience. Looking to please Spike is fine, but the at-random clause is going to read poorly to most of that psychographic, so there’s no reason to keep trawl in any form resembling its current one.

CW11

This card performed admirably as an early-Game 1/2 and late-game tapper, but if we’re trying to support a secondary white deck that’s more controlling, this isn’t going to fly. We can revert to the normal setup with a Blinding Mage or go down an intermediate path such as with Homewood Trapper from an old version of Goblin Artisans’s Magic 2013: Goblin’s Lair:

Then again, there are an awful lot of 1w 2/2s as it is, so let’s try keeping the size and just making it stronger.

CW12

Tide of Minnows never showed up during the playtest, but I’m confident that this card will carry its weight for as long as cascade is in the set.

CW13

Blubberbath was a great comeback play on its one appearance, but it feels a bit strange in white despite being completely in pie. I think the weirdness comes from the card rewarding you for killing a creature, so it seems that you’re reveling in its pain. The card could serve a different role while still hitting on the whaling concept if it was cheap and helped the creature’s controller, so I’m inclined to give that a try.

CW14

This too will have to change as we’re throwing out trawl.

CW15

Due to the way I constructed these decks, there ended up being way more enchantment removal than either player had any use for, but this did win a game by going over the top of an Avacynian Priest. Regardless of that event, the card is inelegant and will need to be replaced, and we can probably ditch the enchantment removal altogether because Glint Chaser is no longer a one-shot effect.

CW16

Here’s yet another card that didn’t make an appearance. I wish I’d had time to play until everything came up in multiple situations, but such is life. It’s hard to say without testing, but I don’t think this will make games run too long at 2 life per creature with a higher cost (Adam Barnett’s suggestion), so I’m doubling the effect for now.

CW17

Here’s another weak card that probably doesn’t need to be so. I put a sorcery here because it would only be useful as the aggressor, but combat tricks are enough better on offense than on defense to make that distinction more or less irrelevant. We can continue to emphasize the attacking mode by having the new spell grant vigilance.

CW18

This seemed to work fine with the reminder text, and I enjoy that it can actually work as a boon Aura on a vigilant creature or a blocker, but it may be too cute. We have additional incentive to keep this card as is because it adds fuel to a defensive white deck.

CW19

Veteranship added a fair amount of damage and seemed perfectly plausible at 4 mana, but it was somewhat ineffective due to the overabundance of enchantment removal in the playtest format. One thing I hadn’t considered beforehand was that the bonus disappears after combat. With this version, the enchantee will often die, so I’m changing it into a trigger to ensure a constant size and to make it count blocking creatures to sync up with the other commons.

The Implement of Our Advancement

In light of this playtest, the set is in need of at least one new mechanic. My vote would be for crewing a ship and potentially for a swimming ability. I’d love to hear your ideas for how to implement those, your concepts for other mechanics, and your thoughts about the current crop of cards, but I’m afraid I won’t be continuing this particular exercise because it’s becoming awfully hard for new readers to jump into. Thanks for reading!