Designing For Vintage 2: Rotations (and the lack thereof)

As everyone knows, Type 1 is defined as the format in which every card is playable, no matter how old or overpowered. This creates huge hurdles for new cards to overcome, since a card may already exist which is just better than you, but the huge number of possible interactions also open up many unique situations in which a very specific, situational card may find a place if it’s the best (or in some cases, only) way to deal with it.

As everyone knows, Type 1 is defined as the format in which every card is playable, no matter how old or overpowered. This creates huge hurdles for new cards to overcome, since a card may already exist which is just better than you, but the huge number of possible interactions also open up many unique situations in which a very specific, situational card may find a place if it’s the best (or in some cases, only) way to deal with it.

Type 1 is loaded with cards that are costed just about as aggressively as possible for their effect. Want to deal with an artifact? You’ve got Oxidize and Overload at one mana, Artifact Mutation, Hurkyl’s Recall, and Naturalize at two, Energy Flux and Rack and Ruin at three, and so on. There’s even Mogg Salvage and Pulverize, which don’t cost any mana. The worst is land destruction, which is a totally lost cause when it comes to new design space. Strip Mine and Wasteland already give you plenty of free ways to destroy land. Balance can let you destroy multiple lands for only two mana. At the top of the power curve, there are cards like Back to Basics and Choke to take out all of your opponent’s lands permanently. There are just some fields where it’s just going to be impossible to contribute new cards to them without either obsoleting something or by really ratcheting up the power curve.

Despite this, because cards never rotate out of Type 1, the slightly varied cards that get printed with added block flavor can sometimes find places in Type 1 because of the odd niches that sometimes need to be filled. Lava Dart is the best example of this. By itself, Lava Dart is really below the power level in Type 1. After all, Lightning Bolt, Firebolt, and Chain Lightning are all available at one mana. Lava Dart has a home though because it gives a hard-to-counter answer to Goblin Welder. It might not be a hot answer against Meddling Mage or Juggernaut, but simply by the virtue of killing one important creature, it fills an important hole in Type 1.

There are still some regions which have plenty of plenty of space for development. Cards like Stifle, which deal with situations which previously there was no way to deal with, can see a significant amount of play in Type 1. Of course, the card or mechanic still has to be strong enough to be able to exist alongside the cards which are already around. Mechanics like Onslaught’s emphasis on creature types or Kamigawa’s legendary focus can’t cut the muster when placed alongside cards like Duress or Mishra’s Workshop, no matter how original they are.

One of the easier areas to allow for new benchmark type cards is to figure out how to give a color a one-mana way of dealing with a card which it already has the possibility of dealing with. There is typically a fair amount of demand for one-mana answers, either as Wish targets, for combo decks looking for spells to remove problem cards so that they can go off, or for decks that need to be able to answer significant threats on turn 1 such as Forbidden Orchard/Oath of Druids. For an exercise, let’s take white. White is capable of destroying artifacts. It’s the worst color at it out of the three colors that are actually capable of destroying an artifact, but it can still do it. White also does not have an answer for artifacts that only costs one White mana. In order to make an artifact destruction spell that only costs one White mana, perhaps Crumble could be shifted into White, making it give the controller of the artifact life or the card could be like Simplify or Innocent Blood where each player has to sacrifice an artifact. One-mana counters are similarly also a fertile design area. A counter for U that can only counter a spell that costs one or zero mana doesn’t seem like the sort of card that would cause problems and would possibly fill a useful niche. Isn’t there also that Educate counter sitting around in the R&D folder? That’s the sort of design that I’m talking about.

Blue Meanies

Then there’s the issue of Blue. Blue had more abilities than all of the other colors for much of the game’s existence. While the color pie restructuring helped out some of the other colors and altered the mechanic distribution in a way that hopefully made more sense, there is still the tough issue in Type 1 that Blue still gets to keep the cards that it got way back in the day before color issues were totally hammered out. Thus, Blue can have something like Dandan or Old Man of the Sea, both of which are really a much larger creature at that casting cost than Blue should get to have.

Blue has Energy Flux and Back to Basics, which give Blue permanent mass removal, even though Blue isn’t about destroying cards in play. Blue has Force of Will and Daze, which give Blue free counters, even though blue isn’t about recklessly spending resources to get what it needs. And then there’s Mana Drain, which gives blue acceleration even though Blue isn’t about growth (Green’s way of accelerating) or recklessly spending resources (Red’s way).

So no matter how much the color pie gets shifted, cards like those aren’t going to go away. However, there also isn’t the worry in Type 1 that there might be in Standard or Block Constructed where if some staple card or type of card isn’t printed in the block or isn’t included in the base set, that it could cause problems for the format during the time when those sets are legal. Therefore, if R&D wanted to do something really crazy, like give counters to Green or mana acceleration to White or something, Type 1 would still have Force of Will and Dark Ritual around and thus the worst that would happen is that one of the more underpowered colors gets a power boost that is still checked by the cards that came before.

There are also really weird issues that can start emerging which are difficult to deal with based on how Blue is weakened. For instance, while we tweaking Gifts Belcher, I found that I really wanted a card which I could Burning Wish for that would give me a way to deal with Oath of Druids. There aren’t any enchantment removal sorceries in Blue, Red*, and Black, so I was really close to splashing Green or White for either Simplify or Terashi’s Grasp, until Doug Linn pointed out that Eye of Nowhere was a sorcery-speed Boomerang. The printing of a slightly-weaker version of a preexisting card gave us a way to fill a hole in our deck, rather than providing yet another card which could get tossed into the “strictly inferior” pile.**

*Anarchy obviously doesn’t count here.

**Chalice of the Void has a similar effect, where a more expensive removal spell might be better than a cheaper one that otherwise would be strictly superior of the more expensive casting cost takes it out of the range of the typical Chalice against your deck


Bleeds, like color pie restructuring, boost up one color at the expense of another color.*** The reason that one color ends up suffering is because whatever color controlled the mechanic that was bled away loses a little bit of its necessity. For instance, if White got a Rack and Ruin variant or Green got a Pyroblast variant, those would give those colors a huge boost and possibly make Red somewhat irrelevant. A Tog deck then could scale back to just three colors since it wouldn’t need to splash for Red Elemental Blast. The recent restructuring around the time of Onslaught caused huge problems for White if only for the addition of Naturalize then taking away one of the biggest incentives to run white, Disenchant.

***Bleeds don’t seem like a big deal when only Standard and block are being considered. In Standard, the cards which took away from the other color are only around temporarily, allowing any mistakes to correct themselves in time. The effect is even less pronounced in block where the color being bled from may not even have that ability in the block and furthermore the bleed might end up being useful in the context of the generally unique nature of each block.

Cards which require multiple colored mana (which includes gold cards) are probably going to be required in order to undo the damage that bleeds have done to some of the colors and to decrease the incentive to simply run Blue and splash whatever colors are needed. Playable single-colored bleeds are probably more harmful than helpful due the previously explained ability to easily splash colors.

The best way to bleed in Type 1 is probably to take mechanics away from Blue and then make whichever colors become the newest recipient of these abilities to be even better at them that Blue ever was. You could even sweeten the deal and make them cost multiple colored mana, but that might be a little bit too much right now. There still first needs to a strong base of cards which give an incentive to play a color other than Blue as the main color before non-Blue-based decks can start being pushed.

JP Meyer

jpmeyer at gmail dot com