Sullivan’s Satchel: Wayward Guide-Beast, Control Magic, And The Party Mechanic

Patrick Sullivan answers questions on Wayward Guide-Beast, why Control Magic’s design stinks, and the puzzle of the party mechanic.

Synchronized Spellcraft, illustrated by Svetlin Velinov

Hello, and welcome to this week’s installment of Sullivan’s Satchel. Today was supposed to be my first attempt at covering Historic, an Arena-only format in which the legal cards are the cards that are legal. I did my research; part of what was appealing was the wide array of viable decks, maybe the best format in Magic right now if that’s the thing you care about. Unfortunately, an array of tech issues kept me off, and though the show was in the good hands of Cedric, Emma, and Dom, I was really disappointed.

I was impressed; the games looked pretty good. I’ve always questioned if a format this “engineered” (not a collection of sequential sets, but sets plus cards that are made legal by fiat) would resonate, but clearly there is interest in it and the tournament I watched looked fun, like there was a deck for everyone. The nature of the format implies evolution too, since stuff will just be added at random spots, on top of new sets getting printed. Doesn’t match my intuitions but what I watched today looked very promising.

With that, fellow Play Designer Kazu Negri asks:

Wayward Guide-Beast: great or bait?

Wayward Guide-Beast is clearly trying to tap into something — some callback to perhaps the most powerful aggressive red creature of all time, Goblin Guide, with enough lands-matter/landfall synergies that you can dream even bigger. I think it’s troubled for me to express exactly how powerful I think the card is (I worked on the set, and people haven’t even played with it yet), but a couple of scattered thoughts.

  • Ghitu Lavarunner isn’t that exciting on the first turn. Grim Lavamancer can be pretty weak if you draw multiple copies. Both have proven to be worthy of tournament play. You are allowed to play one or two copies of certain cards.
  • The ceiling on this card is that it actually makes mana, on top of being Goblin Guide. It is worth exploring a low land count and lots of one-mana cards to create this outcome as frequently as possible, along with Teetering Peaks-style lands that do stuff when you play them.
  • Wayward Guide-Beast is absurd at running down planeswalkers; literal Goblin Guide but better in several meaningful respects. Even if you can’t play a bunch for other reasons, if you want an aggressive red creature that’s especially good at taxing planeswalkers, look no further.
  • Part of what makes Goblin Guide appealing is how outrageous it is when you draw multiple copies, especially on the play. Wayward Guide-Beast isn’t nearly as good in that exact situation. It does cap the ceiling of the card, at least for strategies that are analogous to the ones that play Goblin Guide.
  • You don’t have to attack on the first turn. I know that’s not fun, but you can play it and wait to attack while you build up to other things. It can also block pretty well, as far as these things go.

I am going to start testing this card in Boros Wizards in place of the one copy of Zurgo Bellstriker. I don’t have an intuition about which card is stronger — I could see it going either way — but at the minimum it looks plausible enough to test in a deck with no shortage of overall rate or reasonable one-mana creatures. I’ll report back in a month or so.

From Chris Lloyd:

I have a question for your satchel. You mentioned on the “Dive Down” podcast that Control Magic is your least favorite card design. Could you expound on this? Thanks!

I recently went on The Dive Down’s podcast. They were great. Check it out, send money to their Patreon, whatever.

Anyways, during the interview I was asked about my least favorite card design, and I answered with Control Magic. I’m not sure it actually is my least-favorite design, but it was the first reasonable answer that came to mind. A few thoughts:

  • It’s an uncommon. I’m not sure how much this matters anymore with digital monetization platforms and how easy to find and cheap the high-rarity cards are now, but back in the day rarity was a meaningful gate for a card’s ubiquity, both in terms of how many people had the card, and of those that did how many had three or four. Everyone had Control Magic.
  • It’s busted in low-power games. Mind Control is a certifiable bomb in Sealed and our decks in 1995 were considerably worse than Sealed decks today. People often ask about mill, “Why do it when casual players hate it so much?” Because milling is usually strategically weak, so you get the experience of beating the bad guy. Control Magic is also extremely frustrating but happens to correspond to winning instead of losing.
  • It has wasted who even knows how much of Magic’s design resources, as cards like Threads of Disloyalty, Bribery, and others try to capture the “whatever the opposite of fun is” or whatever of Control Magic at a more tolerable rate, while still being extremely powerful and frustrating in certain contexts. Hard to imagine that even Urza’s Destiny’s design team would have come up with Treachery had it not been for Control Magic.
  • It’s all the wrong things. Playing big stuff is cool. Saving mana by using Terror or Power Sink to stop a Shivan Dragon may be frustrating for the player casting the latter but feels well within bounds for the game and is necessary counterplay to keep things engaging. Control Magic teaches you that all your favorite cards suck and you should play nothing but one-mana creatures or no creatures at all.

From Foil Basic:

Is the Party mechanic a “win more” type of mechanic or a legit build around contender for Standard?

Cards that ask you to have a full party may have elements of “win more” but it doesn’t have to come up that often for it to contribute to your win rate if it’s subsidized by a bunch of cards you want to play anyway. Battalion might be a useful analog — “games I’m attacking with three or more creatures” may select for games in which I’m doing well (at least not obviously losing), but it’s not like you won every game where you triggered a battalion creature, and sometimes the trigger you got from Firefist Striker was really important. The cards that scale (that get sightly better as you have one or more members in your party) are asking even less.

If nothing else, I’m a huge fan of mechanics that are evocative and make you care about characteristics of cards that you otherwise wouldn’t, or consider cards that you otherwise wouldn’t. I won’t speak to how viable I think the cards are individually or in sum but it’s fun space to explore no matter what.

Lastly, and the winner of $25 in SCG, from Ferrando:

Not sure if this is something that’s been addressed at all (probably has), but there’s a lot of split opinions about the MDFCs. At first I thought, oh these things are awesome. But as spoiler season continues it’s starting to feel like there are too many of them. I know their purpose is to reduce variance in flooding/stalling on lands/spells. So a couple of questions: Do you think they present a problem? If not, do you think there are conditions where MDFC cards in ZEN could become a problem. I guess a ‘Problem’ in this instance is being relative to gameplay and/or deckbuilding. I kind of have my own ideas of how they’ll pan out, I guess I’m a little curious if other people are in the same boat.

So, I agree that screw and flood are good things, broadly. How they manifest and how frequent is a matter for debate. I had and continue to have my reservations about the London Mulligan, but the most compelling argument in favor of it is a feeling of agency — even if you’re still a big underdog to win on six or five cards, getting to choose what goes on the bottom is a much more satisfying way to lose than drawing up six cards that aren’t that good but feel better than “five, play one land, and lose.”

People are still going to get flooded and screwed. Sometimes, a land that either enters the battlefield tapped or deals you three is going to be way worse than a Plains. Getting to seven mana isn’t trivial even if your hand is a little land-heavy. Do these cards cause you to play more lands, or fewer? If more, are you flooding out when you don’t draw your double-faced land? If fewer, how often is the other side even coming up?

If I had to predict a problem, it would be unintended consequences of the double-sided cards swapping card types and being too easy to recur, weird things with cards that care about casting costs, and things of that nature. In terms of screw/flood hedging, I’m guessing that they’re closer to the Throne of Eldraine Castles (maybe more powerful, maybe louder, etc.) than something that fundamentally unwinds key parts of the game engine.