Mechanics of Magic: Should They Stay or Should They Go?

Pierre rates most of the mechanics that have been seeded through the Magic Blocks, ranking them by playability, complexity, and power level.

Good day, all! I apologize for not writing of late, but my muse was absent and I have been terribly busy with”life.” Thankfully, I have gotten some more time to write and here I am.

I’d like to discuss a little-approached subject that always brings up a fair amount of debate: Set and block mechanics, their usefulness, and whether or not they are balanced enough to be re-inserted into either a base set such as 8th edition, or into standalones such as Odyssey. Note that, once past Ice Age, I will be examining only those mechanics that occur with explanation text and have appeared over a variety of cards. So while ACC will be covered, Slivers (though worthy of mention) will not. Also, since so many mechanics exist, I will be concentrating for the most part on creature abilities.

First, we need to examine the base mechanics from the beginning, rate them (out of five stars) in terms of:

a) Playability,

b) Complexity, and

C) Power Level.

Only then will be able to decide whether or not a mechanic is too strong or simply too weak to be released into the recurring Type II environment.

So let’s start at the beginning, the very beginning with:


Beta was the stepping stone of Magic, and included several extremely powerful cards and effects. It also is the first set to introduce the mechanics we take for granted today. These include Trample, Banding, Flying, First Strike, Regeneration, Landwalk and Protection from ~colour~.


Trample is a static, non-cumulative creature ability. It allows a creature with Trample (for example, a 3/3 War Mammoth) to assign damage past a creature’s toughness to the defending player. In this example, a 1/1 Scryb Sprite would allow 2 damage to pass through.

Thankfully, they have changed the rulings on Protection from ~colour~ to allow Trample to actually work against these. How many times do I remember my Force of Nature being blocked by a Mother of Runes?

A) Playability: ***

Quite good in Limited, breaks creature stalemates, allows that extra point of damage. Not much Trample in constructed these days unfortunately, since the creatures with the ability are scarce and expensive.

B) Complexity: **

Not very complicated. The strange interactions occur when a creature has Protection or is removed from combat. For example, did you know that if all blocking creatures are removed from combat, all Trample goes through?

C) Power Level: ***

Moderate. As said previously, it is an ability that could easily resurface in any number of standalones and not cause a huge shift in the environment. A good, useful, playable creature ability.

Notable Trampling Creatures: Ball Lighting, Spirit of the Night, Phyrexian Negator


Banding is also a static, non-cumulative ability. It allows your creatures to”join” with a group of other creatures so that when combat damage is dealt, you decide where it is assigned among members of the band. Unfortunately, Banding ran into a bunch of bizarre rules and will probably never see the light of day again.

A) Playability:**

Banding just isn’t that exciting or overpowering. Yes, damage redirection of a sort is good, but unfortunately many of the creatures with this ability are sub-par compared to others of the same mana cost or power/toughness. Camels or Savannah Lions?

B) Complexity:****

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not a rocket scientist – but the bizarro interactions of this mechanic have made me scratch my head more than once. For example, if a Flying creature bands with non-flying creatures, it loses flying. If a Mesa Pegasus and Fear-enchanted Scathe Zombie attack, they can be blocked only by flying or black or artifact creatures.

C) Power Level: **

Not strong enough to see serious tournament play, this ability has not been around for quite some time. Better leave it in the closet with the rest of the commons.

Notable Banding Creatures: Mesa Pegasus, Timber Wolves, Urza’s Avenger


Flying is a static, non-cumulative ability. It is also one of the simplest, most elegant forms of creature evasion in existence. It essentially allows a flying creature (such as a Phantom Monster) to reach over the opponent’s creatures and damage the opponent. Only flying creatures can block flying creatures.

A) Playability: ****

Good, strong ability. Excellent in Limited where it can break a stalemate and win you the game. Good in Constructed as well; witness the Skies decks of recent past, or even Lightning Angel and Serra Angel these days.

B) Complexity: *

Easy as pie. Your guy can’t block my guy unless they both have Flying written on them. All abilities should be this simple.

C) Power Level:***

Excellent if you can get undercosted creatures with this ability. The Thought”Eaters” from Odyssey and Lightning Angel show how quickly a game can end when a strong flying creature arrives. Still, it is not overpowered by any means and can be inserted into a base set without much of a problem.

Notable Flying Creatures: Mahamoti Djinn, Serra Angel, Troublesome Spirit, Hypnotic Specter


Protection is a static ability. It confers DEBT protection from the chosen colour. DEBT means, simply, protection from Damage, Enchantments, Blocking or Targeting. This creature ability is excellent on several points and constraining on a very few. In a limited environment where everyone is sure to be playing, say, Black, a White Knight can wreak havoc. To make things more interesting, Wizards gave us Mother of Runes and Devoted Caretaker, which both confer protection until end of turn.

A) Playability: ****

There’s no reason not to play a Protection creature, unless the environment is leaning toward multi-colour. Still, even Spectral Lynx is kicking around, making life miserable for Elephants everywhere. A good, versatile ability.

B) Complexity: **

Not overly complicated. Has interesting interactions with Trample, Enchant Creatures go to the graveyard (hence tricks with Argothian Enchantress) and otherwise is a thinking man’s ability. (Only two stars? Do you read Sheldon Menery columns and how many questions he gets on this? – The Ferrett)

C) Power Level: ***

Causes less of a game swing in Limited than Flying or Trample, and is firmly at home in Constructed. Is particularly lethal in combination with other creature abilities such as First Strike (q.v.) or even flying. Voice of All saw play for a reason…

Notable Protection Creatures: Mother of Runes, White Knight, Black Knight, Iridescent Angel


Landwalk is a static ability cumulative with other forms of evasion. It allows a creature to sneak through the appropriate basic land type and damage an opponent. So if a player had a Shanodin Dryad and the other player had a forest, the defending creature could not assign blockers.

A) Playability: **

Not very good. Passable in Limited, especially if the Landwalking creature also has the ability to increase its power and toughness. Better if it combines with Regeneration, as is the case with River Boa.

B) Complexity: *

Very simple to understand. Harder to fathom is why two creatures with the same landwalk ability cannot block each other.

C) Power Level: **

Not particularly game-breaking, but can swing a game if an opponent is committed to a certain colour and you get an early threat out. As a general rule, however, landwalking creatures have been underpowered. Not particularly worthy of reprinting in a base set or standalone. Better to give a creature flying.

Notable Landwalking Creatures: River Boa, Lord of Atlantis (who grants the Ability), Sol’Kanar the Swamp King


Aaah, regeneration. How many people have I known to protest over the brokenness of the”Regeneration Shield” mechanic, and swear off the game. Regeneration is a replacement effect that must be used before the permanent is destroyed. It effectively”saves” the permanent from reaching the graveyard. The drawback? The permanent becomes tapped when it regenerates. Under Classic rules, a creature may be shielded any number of times in a turn, making this ability considerably better than it was previously.

Playability: ****

An excellent, simple ability that is seeing tournament play to this day. Effectively stops any creature without flying or trample cold in their tracks. Works even better when the regenerated creature receives a benefit.

Complexity: **

Not very complex, but some people still have difficulty with the”shield” aspect of the Regeneration ability. Easy enough to use and to understand at a first sitting.

Power Level: **

Not an over-the-top mechanic, Regeneration makes your little guys better and your big guys even tougher. Forces opponent to either play with effects canceling this ability or mass removal. Still, this ability can hardly be considered broken.

Notable Creatures with Regeneration: Spiritmonger, Spectral Lynx, Masticore

First Strike

First Strike is a static, non-cumulative ability that modifies the combat step. It effectively allows a creature with the ability to deal combat damage prior to combat damage being put on the stack. An obviously useful ability that puts more thought into the Combat Step.

Playability: ***

A versatile ability that can be matched with a number of interesting creature modifiers (such as the Thicket Basilisk ability) and the ability to block other types of creatures (such as Longbow Archer)

Complexity: *

Very simple to understand and to implement. Very few complicated rule interactions, and since it’s a creature ability, it has a narrow range of application.

Power Level: ***

An ability that can cause some pause in the Combat Step during limited and constructed matches, it isn’t overpowered – as simply a extra point of toughness is enough to deal with it. Additionally, it does not require the extra tacking on to the converted mana costs that many useful abilities do.

Notable Creatures with First Strike: Longbow Archers, Black Knight, Elvish Archers


The Legends expansion gave us one of several new types of permanents to deal with: Legends. Originally, you could use only one type of Legend card in your deck at a time, to preserve their”rare” nature. This rule was dropped at later date, but Legends remain. Originally gold in colour, now nearly every colour has access to them. Other mechanics include Rampage and Enchant World.

Playability: ***

This really can only be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Many of the Legendary creatures out of Legends were horrible, some were okay. Of late, more and more playable ones have appeared.

Complexity: **

A fairly simple mechanic, it only interacts oddly when both Legends of the same name arrive simultaneously, or when a copy card is cast. It’s pretty straightforward, only one at a time of any one Legend. So no duplicates of Baron Sengir. 🙂

Power Level: ***

Again, depends completely on the card. There is nothing wrong or abusive with the Legend mechanic itself, so we can expect to see it repeated for a long, long time. So far no Legendary Enchantments or Sorceries or Instants exist, but who knows what the future may bring?

Notable Legend Creatures: Multani, Maro-Sorcerer, Lin-Sivvi Defiant Hero, Gwendlyn di Corci, Karn, Silver Golem

Enchant World

Enchant Worlds are similar to Enchantments, except that there can only be one in play at any one time. Generally Enchant Worlds had game-altering effects and having more than one of the same type would have crippled the playing field.

Playability: ***

Many of the early Enchant World cards were quite playable. The Abyss and Concordant Crossroads stand out among the most interesting of them. This card type has fallen into disuse, however, and likely will not come back.

Complexity: *

A very simple mechanic. They were essentially Legends with a twist. Since only one of them could come into play at a time, it would have required a card such as Eureka or Replenish to cause rulings questions.

Power Level: ***

The mechanic is self-restricting, so does not need to be tweaked in any way. This card type is obsolete now, however, so we will be seeing Enchantments take its place. The earlier Enchant Worlds had game-breaking effects.

Notable Enchant Worlds: The Abyss, Concordant Crossroads, Koskun Falls, Teferi’s Realm


Rampage is a numerical value assigned to a creature that makes it gain a +x/+x in power when blocked by two or more creatures. Rampage itself disappeared from cards a while ago, and those cards that had the ability in Legends tended to be too overcosted to be useful. Rampage is a triggered, cumulative ability. It triggers in the declare blockers step of combat.

Playability: *

This ability is useful in creature combat, but the cost of most creatures with Rampage made them too prohibitive for serious tournament play. Nothing wrong with the ability, but too unwieldy.

Complexity: **

Not very complex. Craw Giants with Lure on them were all the rage when I started playing, usually dying a horrible death to Terrors or Swords to Plowshares. The bonus is calculated once upon blocking and remains even if the blocker is removed from the”red zone.”

Power Level: **

I was torn in deciding the power level for Rampage. It is quite useful in Limited, but simply seems out of place in a Constructed deck. It probably should not see play again (though creatures have had modified versions of this in recent sets) unless brought to an appropriate level of playability. I cannot give it more than two stars because of its limited use.

Notable Creatures With Rampage: Varchild’s War Riders, Craw Giant, Chromium

Ice Age

Ice Age brought several interesting cards and four notable mechanics: Snow-covered Lands, Cumulative Upkeep, Cantrip and the ACC (Alternate Casting Cost) mechanic. Let’s not kid ourselves; the first mechanic doesn’t even merit further mention, so I’ll be talking about…

Alternate Casting Costs

The idea behind Alternate Casting Costs was simple and elegant. Sacrifice another card in your hand of the same colour to make another card in your hand produce a desired effect.

More importantly, this makes the spell you cast free. As in, no need to pay any mana free. Unfortunately, none of the effects could ever match up to”Counter Target Spell,” so this mechanic was destined to be broken by Blue.

Playability: *****

Nothing wrong with these cards at all. Yes, they are two-for-one… But you generally got such a swing out of them that that small sacrifice was entirely worth it. Besides, who can say no to something for nothing?

Complexity: **

Not complicated at all. You sacrifice card advantage for (potential) card quality. Timing rules are fairly simple as you remove the card (or sacrifice the permanent) upon playing the spell. A very simple and elegant mechanic.

Power Level: *****

Yup. This is probably the only mechanic I will review that will get five stars, and with good reason. Not paying mana (or paying less mana even) to achieve an effect is simply too good. I hope I never, ever, ever see another ACC card again. Unfortunately, Madness is with us, so my wish may not come true for a while.

Notable Cards with ACC: Force of Will, Fireblast, Misdirection, Gush, Vine Dryad


The cantrip mechanic is another interesting and powerful mechanic. By paying an extra cost in colorless mana (generally one or two more), you draw a card when the spell is successfully cast. Because drawing a card is such a game-altering effect, most cards with the cantrip mechanic are fairly costed.

Playability: ****

It really depends. The early cantrips were too expensive for their cost. Which would you play: Force Void or Dismiss? That being said, Cantrips have survived till this day and are ever popular. Good work Wizards.

Complexity: *

Easily explained and played. Upon playing a Cantrip, you pay the mana as part of the converted mana cost. If the spell resolves, you draw a card.

Power Level: ***

Not”broken” per se, the power level of cantrips is proportional to the usefulness of the spell they are tacked on to. Because the card-drawing ability is powerful, very few of the cards printed are broken and this mechanic can continue to surface in base sets and expansions for quite some time.

Notable Cantrips: Dismiss, Gaea’s Blessing, Abeyance, Repulse

Cumulative Upkeep

Cumulative Upkeep was a mechanic introduced with Ice Age block that allowed you to play cards generating a strong global or targeted effect at the cost of an increasing mana cost every turn. A form of”reverse” Cumulative Upkeep was created with Masques block with Fading. This is a triggered ability that is set at the beginning of upkeep.

Playability: **

Some of the cards with Cumulative Upkeep were simply too narrow to see play. This isn’t to say they did not have powerful abilities. Mystic Remora’s ability to let you draw a card for each non-creature spell played was incredible, and Dystopia still sees play in sideboards. But there were simply not enough cards to make it a sought-after power.

Complexity: ***

Average. It’s simply a matter of adding more counters to the permanent and paying the mana costs. Since you can stack the payments, interactions with cards that remove permanents from play make using cards with deleterious effects somewhat more useful.

Power Level: **

A mechanic that survives to this day in tournament play but really wouldn’t be missed by anyone if it left the Extended or Vintage environment. Of late, the only Cumulative Upkeep card to see play is Illusions of Grandeur, because of its interactions with Donate. Similar cards have been made with lesser drawbacks (Infernal Darkness = Contamination).

Notable Cards with Cumulative Upkeep: Illusions of Grandeur, Dystopia, Tombstone Stairwell, Ritual of Subdual.


Mirage block brought back the ACC mechanic and the Cantrip mechanic as well as introducing Flanking, the”187” mechanic and Phasing to the mix. Mirage block will always be a favourite of mine, because of the abundance of playable commons in the block (especially Visions).


Flanking is another of my many favourite mechanics. Its concept is simple. It made any creature blocking a flanking creature (if the blocking creature did not have flanking) get -1/-1 until the end of turn. In essence, it was a reverse Rampage.

Flanking is a triggered, cumulative ability, so double Flanking will give any blocking creature without Flanking -2/-2. The ability triggers on blocking.

Playability: ***

Useful and not overpowered at all. Makes creature wars much more interesting and adds an element of thought process to creature”melee.” A good, simple ability.

Complexity: **

Not overly complicated. The only thing to remember is that a blocking creature receives a -1/-1 effect until end of turn as blocking is declared. The effect does not affect flanking creatures. Banded creatures also get flanked, but who plays with those?

Power Level: **

Low power level. While it creates combat tricks in Sealed and Limited areas, and even in some Constructed events (Suq’Ata Lancer saw play), it isn’t a mechanic which will dominate an environment or format. Would definitely be at home in a new block.

Notable Creatures with Flanking: Jolrael’s Centaur, Suq’ata Lancer, Zhalfirin Crusader

187 or Comes Into Play

Easily one of the best creature abilities ever created, the 187 ability made creatures you played better by way of having them create an additional effect. The clear strong point is that the creatures weren’t particularly overcosted and almost always had a strong CIP ability. This sets up a static ability that lasts as long as the card is in play and watches for anything matching the description.

Playability: ****

A powerful and varied ability that can produce a number of different results. Sometimes turns cards into cantrips, other times into shocks, or a variety of other purposes. Extremely useful and playable, 187 creatures have found their way to this day into a variety of tournament decks.

Complexity: ***

Fairly easy to understand, the tricky parts come with stack interactions. How that you can allow the 187 effect to go on the stack, a number of tricks can be done with effects that bounce or return the creature to the play zone from the graveyard. The Comes Into Play ability itself is very straightforward.

Power Level: ****

Very strong ability. Whether you draw a card, deal two damage to your opponent, return a creature to owner’s hand or any number of other abilities, 187 abilities are useful and varied enough that they can make the jump into any expansion or block.

Notable 187 Creatures: Man o’ War, Flametongue Kavu, Nekrataal, Deranged Hermit, Crater Hellion.


Phasing creatures and permanents are somewhat comparable with Echo creatures in that they tended to be better in terms of power and toughness than non-phasing creatures. The penalty was that they would only be in play for one out of two turns. Some of the cards, such as Shimmer and those creatures with 187 abilities, had to receive errata to prevent their abuse. Phasing is a static ability that makes a permanent disappear at the beginning of its controller’s untap step.

Playability: **

There were truly too few cards with phasing to tell whether or not the ability was worth playing or repeating. Some of the cards, such as Shimmer and Equipoise, had startlingly powerful and game-breaking effects, but few of the cards saw consistent tournament play. Still an amusing mechanic.

Complexity: ***

Not too complex to implement, but it caused many strange interactions with other cards. For example, Shimmer had to receive errata, which made it non-lethal with Ankh of Mishra. Curiously enough, Parallax Tide created the same effect for a while… Curiously enough, leaving play abilities did trigger off phasing. Teferi’s Veil and Thalakos Seer was a friend’s favourite combo. 🙂

Power Level: **

Some of the cards had very powerful effects. The strange interactions of Phasing with coming into play and leaving play abilities leave it better left in the trading binders. The mechanic was tweaked with Fading, and saw some success. A fun and sometimes devastating ability.

Notable Cards with Phasing: Shimmer, Ertai’s Familiar, Taniwha


Rath Cycle was one of the best blocks to date, in my humble opinion. It revitalized White Weenie, created dozens of archetypes and simultaneously gave blue a huge power boost with a variety of strong counterspells and card drawing options. The most memorable abilities this block left us with are Buyback and Shadow. Tempest also featured Slivers, Spikes, incredible searching and recursion engines and interesting bounce cards. A fine, fine block.


Buyback gets my vote for being at once one of the most playable block mechanics and one of the most irritating mechanics to ever see print. Let’s see blue gets a Buyback Counterspell (Forbid) a Buyback card drawer (Whispers of the Muse) and a Buyback Boomerang (Capsize). Red gets Searing Touch and Flowstone Flood. Yay. Imbalance anyone????

Regardless, let’s examine the mechanic. Buyback is an optional replacement effect that returns the card played to its controller’s hand instead of placing it in the graveyard. Artifacts and effects that reduce the converted mana cost of spells also reduce the cost of Buyback abilities.

Playability: ****

One of the best mechanics made by Wizards, Buyback costs were all fairly reasonable regarding the cards they affected, and hey, who wouldn’t want to have more resources instead of less? While the Blue cards had excellent abilities, let’s not forget Corpse Dance and Worthy Cause – both of which saw play.

Complexity: ***

Not overly complicated by itself, the strange interactions happen when copies of the spell are made or when cards such as Spell Blast or Rethink are used on them. Overall the concept is quiet simple. Pay more to keep more.

Power Level: *****

Yes, it’s a five-star rating, and with good reason. Anyone who knows how precious resources in hand can be won’t mistake Buyback for anything less than incredible. Anyone who also had to lug at the smug face of a blue mage as they Capsized your permanents at End of Turn knows how silly this ability is. True, they do limit your options in the amount of castings you can do, but intelligent deckbuilders have worked around this (Squee + Forbid, Sapphire Medallions and Blue Buyback). This mechanic probably would not be at home these days, unfortunately, but who knows? Seeing Capsize or Corpse Dance in 8th Edition would be cool…

Notable Cards with Buyback: Capsize, Whispers of the Muse, Forbid, Corpse Dance


White Weenie and Black Swarm decks got a tremendous boost from Tempest Block when Wizards released the Shadow mechanic. Essentially, it’s another form of Flying, with a catch: Only creatures with Shadow could block creatures with Shadow, making them more powerful and more deadly than flying creatures as a whole. Most of the Shadow creatures had other abilities as well (such as being immune to Lightning Bolt; not that I’m bitter about that or anything).

Shadow is a non-cumulative evasion ability, which can be added to other evasion abilities. It also interacts with Banding in that a Banded Shadow creature can be blocked by creatures without Shadow.

Playability: *****

Shadow creatures were rough. Not only were they undercosted for the most part, but they had a smattering of other abilities as well. Protection from Red, Protection from Black, Cannot be blocked by White creatures, pay U to return to owner’s library, draw a card when they leave play. Mostly, though, they made White Weenie and Black Swarm have a resurgence, as those decks went Turn 1 Mother of Runes (or Dark Ritual) and followed that with a horde of unblockable guys.

Complexity: *

Easily one of the simplest block mechanics Wizards had made until then. It had few truly bizarre interactions with other mechanics and rules, and its limited application meant you only had to deal with one form of permanent.

Power Level: ***

I was torn when deciding on the power level of Shadow creatures. Though they are as efficient as they possibly can be, they remain creatures, and their power will therefore be defined by their tournament environment. If everyone is playing Trick or Oath, these guys may not shine as brightly as they can. Still, I do remember someone saying that the one of the things remaining after a nuclear holocaust would be White Weenie decks…

Notable Cards with Shadow: Soltari Monk, Soltari Priest, Dauthi Horror, Dauthi Slayer

Urza’s Saga

The Artifact Cycle is by far one on of my favourite blocks, for one reason. Tolarian Blue was so fast that you could eliminate an opponent in 5-10 minutes, leaving ample time to play casually or get lunch. Those good old days are long gone, unfortunately, but they have left us with a few mechanics worth remembering; namely, Echo and Cycling. This is not to diminish the powerful legendary lands and”untap” spells, of course…


Echo was a way for R&D to produce powerful, undercosted creatures that would enter play a turn or two ahead of their normal cost. The drawback? You had to pay the converted mana cost of the creature upon casting and then pay again at the beginning of your next upkeep. The end result is a stream of undercosted creatures that put you on a clock very quickly.

Playability: ****

This mechanic gets four stars not because of sheer numbers, but because of the quality of the cards with Echo that saw tournament play. Think of Pouncing Jaguar, Deranged hermit, Avalanche Riders or Crater Hellion. All very good but very different in their applications.

Complexity: **

Not overly complicated, though it did make control players using cards such as Treachery scratch their heads at having to pay the Echo cost themselves (as the Echo cost must be paid when it comes under the control of a new player as well). Despite this, the mechanic is simple and playable.

Power Level: ***

A quick and dirty way to make efficient creatures and include them in almost any block, Echo is one of the best ways to boost creatures with the fewest rulings or flavour problems. A great way to shift away the power balance from control to aggro if things seem to be slowing down too much.

Notable Creatures with Echo: Pouncing Jaguar, Deranged Hermit, Avalanche Riders, Crater Hellion


Cycling is an activated ability of a card in your hand, that allows you pay a mana cost for a Cycling card to discard it and draw a card. The idea was quite clever, and some mono blue decks played with three or four Remote Isles to let themselves cycle through spells. Unfortunately, Wizards printed Fluctuator in the same set, which made all your Cycling costs free, leading to very early kills…

Playability: **

There is no denying the ability to cycle cards from your hands is a useful one. However, too few of the cards were efficient. Remote Isle, Drifting Djinn and Rapid Decay spring to mind as being the best among them.

Complexity: *

Easy to figure out, easy to use: Simply pay two colorless mana to discard a cycling card in your hand with the top card of your library. The stack may have allowed you to do tricks with Lion’s Eye Diamond to gain enough Black for Living Death.

Power Level: ** or **** (see below)

The Power Level of Cycling really depends on whether or not Fluctuator is available to make a potential second or third-turn kill available…and whether the environment allows for discarding for other purposes. Right now, I would rate Cycling as **. If such an ability were available in Odyssey block, I would revise my opinion.

Notable Cards with Cycling: Drifting Djinn, Rapid Decay, Remote Isle and the infamous Fluctuator (which reduced costs to 0)

Mecardian Masques Block

Masques block slowed down Type II immensely after the hyper-quickness of the Artifact Cycle. Most notable in this set was the return of ACC cards, the introduction of the”search” mechanic for Rebels and Mercenaries, as well as Fading. Masques block also made several interesting strategic elements as many of the better cards required you to tap out to fully use them, punishing you on your opponent’s turns to benefit you on your turn.

ACC has already been discussed previously, so I will talk about Fading.


Fading was once referred to as a”reverse” Cumulative Upkeep in some circles. In essence, it gave you a permanent whose effects”faded” after a number of turns (typically five to seven). The tricky part is that the Fading permanent could be gone on your next upkeep, because they were often used to procure a rapid kill or board advantage.

Playability: ****

Wizards did a great job with Fading cards, giving them each a unique flavour appropriate to their colour while making several of them useful enough to see tournament play. They all had thought-inducing mechanics (except for Saproling Burst, which had heart attack-inducing mechanics).

Complexity: ***

The cards were fairly simple, but were augmented greatly by other cards such as Ankh of Mishra and Fires of Yavimaya. Fading also gave creatures Summoning Sickness as well when they returned to play.

Power Level: ****

As stated previously, Wizards gave the best Fading cards some very good abilities. Saproling Burst, Parallax Tide and Parallax Wave all saw play. Parallax Nexus even saw play in some casual decks with Avatar of Will. Since the Fading mechanic does not seem to come into conflict with any Block abilities, it could easily be inserted into another block.

Notable Cards with Fading: Parallax Tide, Saproling Burst, Parallax Wave, Skyshroud Ridgeback.

Invasion Block

Invasion block will be the last block I review for the moment as I do not have enough information on Judgment to make a qualified assessment of the Odyssey Block. Invasion block brought back the player-friendly Legend mechanic and introduced Kicker and Domain abilities. A fine and fun block that will leave a huge void in Standard when it leaves this November.


Playability: **

The Kicker mechanic was interesting in that it allowed you to do more if you paid more. As an additional cost to playing the spell, you could play the kicker cost. The kicker cost did not affect the converted mana cost of the spell. Unfortunately, some of the Kicker costs were simply too exorbitant to be viable in tournament play (for example Kavu Aggressor, which got a +1/+1 counter for four more mana). That isn’t to say that some of the cards weren’t excellent, but not enough were good to dominate the environment…

Complexity: ***

The complex issues with Kicker were associated with converted mana costs, when the cost was paid, and whether or not you had to declare the kicker cost upon playing the spell. Regardless, the mechanic added more flexibility to cards and was an interesting experiment.

Power Level: ***

Variable. Urza’s Rage was (and is) incredible and Dismantling Blow was good as well, but many of the kicker creatures were too inefficient to see consistent play. Still, Kicker is another of those mechanics that could be innocuously inserted into a stand-alone set to spice it up. The mechanic doesn’t seem to limit itself to spells and creatures as well. Who knows if we’ll see a Kicker Enchantment some day?

Notable Cards with Kicker: Urza’s Rage, Phyrexian Scuta, Dismantling Blow, Urborg Emissary.


Domain is the name associated with cards that have the”for every basic land type among the lands you control” mechanic associated with them. This was a mechanic ideally suited for Invasion block and all its multi-coloured and Legend cards. Unfortunately, the presence of allied colour”tap duals” and later appearance of opposite colour pain lands put Domain decks into the shadows…a pity really because they were very interesting to play and see played.

Playability: **

Self-restricting because of the”basic land type” drawback, some Domain cards (such as Last Stand) saw some play in a few Extended decks because of the venerable Dual Lands, which augmented the power level of these cards tenfold. The presence of cards such as Harrow and Terminal Moraine helped fuel Domain decks. Unfortunately, as stated above the presence of all the dual lands in standard dampened Domain.

Complexity: *

Easily one of the simplest block mechanics since Shadow, Domain merely required you to sacrifice the safety and consistency of a single colour deck for the flexibility and reward of having all five land types in your deck. Very few of the domain cards caused rulings confusion (the one that comes to mind is Last Stand and whether or not you needed to a creature to be in play to cast the spell) and a lot were fun to use.

Power Level: ***

A lot of the Domain cards had strange and often game-altering effects. Think of Legacy Weapon (not a Domain card per se, but it did require one of each colour to use), Last Stand, Evasive Action and others. The problem with Domain abilities and spells is that they are innately restricted or boosted by the environments given to us by R&D. There are certainly more two-colour decks these days than five-colour, and I unfortunately do not expect this trend to change.

Notable Cards with the Domain Mechanic: Evasive Action, Allied Strategies, Last Stand, Legacy Weapon, Tribal Flames.

Well, there it is. My review of the mechanics of Magic from Alpha to Invasion. I hope you had fun reading it. Please let me and the Star City games discussion forum know which are your favourites and whether or not you agree with my evaluation.

As to my own personal favourites? Cantrip, Flanking, and Buyback for sure, with a soft spot for Legend and Domain. I hope to be here in another 5 years to review the new mechanics that will follow in Odyssey’s wake.

Cheers and a big thank you to Crystalkeep.com for the resources.

Crazy Pierre

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