Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! Today, Sam Black, Emma Handy, and Todd Anderson are here to give their takes on five statements on their first impressions of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!
1. Keyword counters are an elegant solution to a longstanding Magic design problem.
Sam Black: Fact. “Elegant” might be a bit of a stretch for needing a bunch of extra objects sitting on top of cards, but I do think these are easy enough to track and open up a huge amount of design space that allows creating a lot of natural, flavorful, and elegant designs, so I think it’s a pretty big step forward.
I didn’t watch the preview stream, so I haven’t heard about their plans for these moving forward, but this feels like a mechanic that almost has to be evergreen. Like, it probably won’t be in every set, particularly since it wants an accompanying punch card of tokens like we saw in Amonkhet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did show up in every set, or at least fairly often moving forward. It just feels a lot more natural and plane-agnostic than most mechanics.
Emma Handy: Fiction. I put “Fiction” because I don’t know if this is a problem that necessarily needed fixing. I’m in the camp that wants fewer tokens and counters being used as markers, rather than more. Keyword counters are just fine for Magic Arena but sound like a headache to implement in paper.
If we’re lucky, we’ll see a company like Chessex create dice that have intuitive faces for each kind of counter. Otherwise, I worry we’ll reach a point where we have a separate deckbox that exists solely to hold keyword counters, three or four kinds of creature tokens, dice for loyalty and power/toughness modifiers, a token to denote which cards in exile are on an adventure, something to mark any companion creatures outside of the game, and so on.
It’s exhausting how many kinds of these there are to keep track of in games of Magic right now, and I would like to see Wizards of the Coast (WotC) lower the complexity of an entry-level format like Standard rather than raise it.
Todd Anderson: Fact. Riding the Dilu Horse will never be the same, but this opens up a lot of design space that they haven’t really been able to use before. I was never a huge fan of cards that gave “invisible abilities” until end of turn, but now we have the chance to give permanents abilities that last forever, and accompanying tokens.
It also makes it so instants and sorceries can now do things that permanently buff your creatures, which we haven’t really seen before. Those were usually relegated to permanents that sat on the battlefield and gave the creatures that buff. I’m excited to see what kind of abilities we can give to cards via instants. It should make for an incredible Limited experience, at the very least!
2. Mutate is mechanically too complex for a Standard-legal set.
Sam Black: Fiction. Not to get too “back in my day” with talk about figuring out what Ice Cauldron did when I was twelve and Magic was new, but I have a pretty high bar for “too complex for Standard.” That said, this doesn’t even come close for me. I suspect concerns of this nature are just overreactions to the difficulty of parsing the cards without having played with them, and that once players actually get games in with putting cards on or under other cards and get used to how that works, these will feel simple and intuitive.
I get that you can get used to anything, so “once you get used to it” is a pretty weak argument, but I don’t think these will just feel natural for people who have played a lot, I think “getting used to it” basically involves literally performing the action once or twice, and happens likely after the first game, and certainly by the end of a player’s first event with the cards. I just don’t see this as that different than bestow (or the mechanic from that Un-set that I never played).
Emma Handy: Fact. Any of the mechanics that can involve creatures or permanents transforming into other things has historically been a bit of a headache, but having cards that can alter printed characteristics of cards just sounds like a mess.
Are we just reaching a point where everything is The Mimeoplasm? If that’s the case, that’s fine, but I’d like an idea if that’s what’s going on here.
It’s possible I’m overshooting here, looking too much at the corner-cases of the mechanic. Placing cards on top of one another, like Auras and Equipment, has been going on throughout Magic’s history. I’m just pessimistic as to the learning curve necessary for newer players to understand what happens when new creatures are placed atop older ones, and how that can affect other cards on the battlefield.
Todd Anderson: Fact. Considering I’ve watched the video and read it three times and I still don’t know what it does, that means we’re likely in a spot where it’s a bit too complex for newer players. In a few weeks or months, it will become old hat and we’ll all be mutating creatures with the best of them. It seems a lot like bestow, except if the creature you’ve mutated onto dies, then all the creatures in that “mutate pile” die with it. Or at least that’s my understanding.
I think this ability will be more geared toward Limited than Constructed, but I’m interested to see if it’s as weird and bad as I’m thinking it’s going to be. Is the ability cool? Certainly. Having creatures evolve in real time is awesome. But if you wanted to do that, why not just bring back the “level up” mechanic or something similar? Bestow was always pretty mediocre, so revisiting it with a few more bells and whistles doesn’t really do it for me.
3. Companion legality is hard to police and a logistical nightmare for any format and event where it’s legal.
Sam Black: Fiction. Miss me with this one. Like, how does this play out, your opponent shows you their “everything costs three or more” companion and then plays a two-drop? I guess you could maybe get away with it for a game or two with Lutri, the Spellchaser, but that’s the easiest thing to catch in a deck check ever – hey, I see this Lutri deck has a “2” written next to one of these cards, what’s going on here?
Basically, the potential for abuse isn’t here because the opponent always knows the companion, so you can never get away with playing something out of bounds. If there isn’t a potential for abuse, all we’re worried about is players accidentally trying to use a companion that doesn’t work in their deck, at which point they learn, get an appropriate penalty, and can’t cast their companion. It’s pretty hard for me to imagine many players making this kind of mistake.
Emma Handy: Fact-ish? This is a difficult one to answer without seeing more cards with companion. Something like Lutri, the Spellchaser is going to be a logistical nightmare to police in tournament play, as it’s fairly easy to play an extra copy of a card in order to increase the odds of drawing it without running too high a risk of drawing both copies. Keruga, the Macrosage, on the other hand, is fairly easy to police – if they cast a card that costs less than three, then that’s that.
If there are more cards that restrict what types of cards can be included in a deck, I don’t think we’re going to see much of an issue. If there are things that are harder to track, I could see this being a bit of an issue for judges and players to keep an eye out for.
Todd Anderson: Fiction. From what I’ve seen, most of the deckbuilding restrictions are fairly easy to follow. What bothers me is that your sideboard doesn’t have to follow suit, which means you can sideboard into a different build that doesn’t follow the rules and still “show” the companion creature at the beginning. This might end up being an illegal game action, but who really knows yet?
We’re just seeing these abilities for the first time, and I’m willing for things to get fleshed out, explained, and given a chance before I call them a logistical nightmare. You can only “reveal” the companion creature if your deck meets the requirements, and if you ever do anything or cast anything that makes the play illegal, it’s just the same as breaking any other rule in the game. It’s just harder to police due to hidden information.
4. The Commander Rules Committee overreacted by banning Lutri, the Spellchaser from the format without letting it see play.
Sam Black: Uhh… I’m not sure whether that’s how I’d frame it. Lutri is banned due to ubiquity and lack of opportunity cost. Specifically, if your commander allows it and you don’t have a companion, not having a Lutri outside of your deck that you can cast means your deck is strictly worse than if you did have one. I agree that it’s stupid to have a card that you just can’t justify not playing in a large portion of decks. Like, you can’t even make the case that maybe it’s a bad fit or you want other cards instead or something like you can with Sol Ring, provided your deck is those colors and doesn’t have a companion.
But on the other hand, I think companions are going to be a big deal. A free extra card that you can build your deck around and always have access to is huge. The opportunity cost to Lutri is that you don’t get another companion.
Lutri wouldn’t be in every deck, so the ubiquity problem is weird, but I also hate that the card basically tells every Izzet commander player that they have to get this card or they’re playing a strictly worse deck. That is really stupid.
Personally, my preferred solution would have been just not reworking the rules to allow these cards; like with Wishes, they should just not work in the format. Changing the rules to allow them and then banning one just seems really backwards to me. The counterargument is that these are Magic’s homage to commander and not being able to use them in the format they were designed to mirror would be a bit of a buzzkill. I guess it just feels awkward that, because of the necessary rules change, it’s more like “we’re making an exception to make these (presumably nine) legal, but not this one.”
Emma Handy: Fiction. I love that Lutri was banned outright. In the last few years, WotC has become a bit more heavy-handed with cards making their way into Commander, with the power levels of some cards (looking at you, Korvold) just completely outclassing previous versions of cards. Power creep is naturally going to happen over time, but some of the overtness of it is just a difficult pill for me to swallow.
In a lot of ways, Lutri felt like it was most of the things that I feel is wrong with Commander-pointed card designs. It’s so on-the-nose and low-cost to include in a Commander deck, that it was just going to be an auto-include in just about any deck that could play Izzet-colored cards for the rest of time.
Sure, that wouldn’t be that much of an issue for the next few weeks or months, but having players in five years feeling obligated to find a copy of Lutri for their Izzet deck just sounds miserable. I hope that WotC uses a bit more finesse in the future when trying to design cards intended to see play in Commander, and situations like this one don’t arise in the future.
Todd Anderson: Fiction. These cards are outrageously powerful and give you an additional commander. I’ve played with multi-commanders before, the partner ones, and I didn’t love the idea. This feels similar to that. Because of the design of Lutri specifically, it’s virtually free for every deck to play as their companion if they’re playing blue or red. Without the (very minor) restriction of taking up a sideboard slot, you just get to play a 98-card deck or a free 101st card.
I get that people want to try their new toys in Commander but this one specifically just feels like a nuisance. Banning this one, and not the mechanic in general, leads me to believe that they’re making the right decision.
5. The Godzilla Series Monster cards are the coolest crossovers Magic has ever done.
Sam Black: Fact. It took me a minute to think of what other crossovers to even compare this to. I guess there’s stuff like the Sword of Dungeons & Dragons and the My Little Pony stuff. To me, this feels more like the Japanese War of the Spark planeswalkers rather than those because it’s an alternate printing of normal cards in a set rather than a standalone release of novelty cards.
I’m not particularly invested in Godzilla as a franchise, so these cards don’t do a lot for me personally, but I do strongly prefer alternate printings of regular cards to gimmick cards I won’t play with, so to me, that makes these the coolest crossovers. I also think the way the cards handle the names with the novelty name and then the regular card name under it is, while a little weird, mostly cool, particularly since, in this case, at a glance it kinda looks like the “scientific” Latin name or whatever is being listed under the colloquial name.
Overall, I’m more excited about the innovation here and the space it opens up for future alternate printings of cards, but as the first of its kind, I think it’s cooler than the other crossovers we’ve seen.
Emma Handy: Fact….ish. This is a tough one. I absolutely love the art style on all of them and the flavor of the crossover. At this point I think my personal favorite crossover, if you can call it a crossover, is the anime planeswalkers from War of the Spark last year. That being said, I think that the full-on, in-your-face, tournament-legal crossover cards are absolutely stunning. I imagine this isn’t the last thing that we’re going to see like this, and if this is what starts the ball rolling on tournament-legal crossover cards, I’ll call this the most important crossover so far.
Todd Anderson: Fact. Godzilla is rad and if you think otherwise then we aren’t friends and I don’t want to talk to you anymore. I love the idea of crossovers in games, and especially so with two different IP’s that I am a fan of. While the world of Theros is based on Greek mythology, something about seeing big nasty Mecha-Godzilla just gets the juices flowing.
Miss me with that My Little Pony business.