Over the course of time, Magic players inevitably turn away from Magic R&D to try their hand at creating cards. It starts simply enough – for me, it was a two-hour long conversation in a red Blazer navigating the Appalachian hills of West Virginia. On the way back from Elkins to Morgantown, a friend and I spoke at length about various card ideas we had. Among the cigar smoke from our cheap Swisher Sweets, we argued back and forth, eventually hammering out some ideas that we thought were fair.
Heck, everybody tries their hand at R&D. Sometimes people put forth broken cards, casual mechanics, and silly penguin-laced ideas. From sets to singles, most players have made at least a card or two. One topic that keeps being brought up in various circles, from friends to websites to forums, is the reassessment of old mechanics.
There are a lot of mechanics in the game, many outdated. However, the inclusion of madness in Torment has given me new hope. Recently, a lot of mechanics were removed from the basic set (like trample, banding, and protection) because they were difficult to understand, which I can agree with. Many of these abilities have been moved to expansion sets, while Torment introduces what could possibly be the most complex mechanic since phasing.
The reason that madness’s introduction and rules difficulty brings hope to me is simple – it shows that ideas will not be tossed aside merely due to difficulty. As such, I am again brought back to the simple idea that old mechanics have not been fully fleshed out. The classic example is cycling.
Every card with cycling does so for two colorless mana. How about cards that cycle for life, colored mana, and so forth? The sad thing is that cycling will never again see the light of day. Many players pine for flanking and shadow and buyback. I miss cumulative upkeep myself. Some of these abilities were never fully explored, and some could be used in conjunction.
So why not print a set using old mechanics? Simply declare that for the next block, old mechanics will be used. There are only a handful of fading cards, ten madness cards, and so forth. Why abandon an idea? Combine abilities, leave out confusing ones like phasing if you want – but ultimately, use the set to revisit and sculpt new ideas with these old cards. Imagine, for example, a few cards like the following:
Each card in your hand has”Cycling: 2 Life”
Creature – Licid
B, Tap: Darkening Licid loses all abilities and becomes an enchant creature that reads”Enchanted creature is black.” Enchant target creature with Darkening Licid. As long as Darkening Licid enchants a creature, you may pay B to end this effect.
Research – Counter target spell unless its controller pays 1.
Development – Destroy target creature unless its controller pays 1.
Creature – Merfolk
And so forth. The idea behind these cards is merely to show how new cards could be easily created and utilized. Shadow creatures with Echo? Fading shadows? There are a lot of possibilities that remain untapped.
However, I understand that re-introducing old ideas that were contained within a block may initially seem out of sync with current R&D goals. While I think most Magic players would embrace even a temporary revival of archaic mechanics, I can also understand why enchant worlds or snow-covered lands will never be brought back.
Let us not forget that legendary permanents were introduced in an expansion set.
There are other alternatives. Block-spanning mechanics that have fallen by the wayside would be an excellent way to start. The classic example is poison counters. Poison counters have traditionally been assigned to weak, overcosted creatures. Who would play with Swamp Mosquito, Serpent Generator, Pit Scorpion, and Marsh Viper? As such, there could be new mechanics using an old idea. As an example:
Creature – Snake
Tap: Target player gains a poison counter. When a player has 10 or more poison counters, that person loses the game.
Ray of Venom
Target player gains X poison counters. When a player has 10 or more poison counters, that person loses the game.
Deal 3 damage to target creature or player. Gain a poison counter. When a player has 10 or more poison counters, that person loses the game.
Draw 3 Cards. Gain 3 poison counters. When a player has 10 or more poison counters, that person loses the game.
In other words, you could have spells that give counters, creatures that tap, and have it be drawbacks for more powerful and undercosted spells. I think that I am pretty bad at designing cards, so I am providing the above cards because I think that they help to illuminate the issue. I realize that they suck. There are just numerous mechanics that could be revisited which were never block-specific.
I think I speak for many Magic players when I implore R&D to consider revamping some old mechanics. For example, Serra Angel”Does not tap to attack” ability went unused for a long time in expansion sets, but has become a staple. Cantrips have been in the main set. There are a host of abilities out there that are no longer even viewed as innate to one set.
I heard a person at a prerelease mention that R&D needs to keep making up new mechanics because they are running out of ideas for cards. I sincerely doubt that: Most Magic players can create card ideas on a running basis, I have no reason to believe R&D can’t. However, there is also a veritable mine of potential cards out there from past sets. Let’s try to develop some old ideas.