Examining The Foretell Mechanic For Kaldheim Limited

How will the foretell mechanic affect Kaldheim Limited? Ryan Saxe uses past mechanics as a benchmark to predict foretell’s future.

Sarulf’s Packmate, illustrated by Ilse Gort

Evaluating a new mechanic on a card-by-card basis is already a non-trivial task, but predicting the impact this mechanic will have on the features of a Limited format is an even more ambitious endeavor. Today’s article attempts to shed light on the latter. 

Foretell is an aptly named mechanic. Any card with foretell can be exiled from your hand face-down for two mana during your turn. Then, on a later turn, you can cast that card from exile for its foretell cost, which is often significantly cheaper than the card’s original mana cost. Foretell is present in every color and can be on any card type.

When I begin to evaluate a mechanic, I try to think of the history of cards that exist in a similar conceptual space. Then I zero in on the differences between the new cards and those cards in order to gain some insight into how I can expect the new cards to perform.

Take cycling in Ikoria as an example. It’s a returning mechanic, yet many people greatly underestimated it at the beginning of the Limited format. I for one dismissed it as a returning mechanic and didn’t attempt to ask questions about what made it different this time around. In reality, Ikoria introduced cycling for the low cost of a single generic mana. This difference had a profound impact on the evaluation of cards, and noticing that subtle difference would have yielded a large edge at the beginning of the format. 

Unfortunately, there aren’t many historical examples of mechanics like foretell. It has aspects of mechanics like suspend and morph, but when I juxtapose foretell, suspend, and morph, these observations about foretell emerge:

  1. The initial mana investment doesn’t affect the battlefield.
  2. The future mana investment is above-rate for the effect.
  3. The opponent gets the opportunity to play around the card (even though it is face down).
  4. There is always the option to cast the card for the original mana cost.

Observations 1, 3, and 4 all have precedents from mechanics like suspend and morph, but observation 2 is novel. There are aspects of suspend and morph where that can be true, but it isn’t a fundamental truth about those mechanics like it is for foretell. Given that this is the difference between past mechanics and foretell, we should zero in on this observation.

The reason why strong uncommons are so impactful on individual games of Limited is because what their effects are either much more efficient or much more powerful than those of commons.

Thundering Rebuke was a top uncommon removal spell in Zendikar Rising Limited. Demon Bolt is a common that, at normal cost, is less efficient, but after being foretold is more efficient. The reason cheap removal is so premium is that it enables casting two spells in a single turn. I only used my Thundering Rebuke on Turn 2 if I absolutely had to. Generally, I wanted to cast it alongside a three-drop on Turn 5. 

This example leads to what I believe is the most important conceptual description of foretell:

“Paying the foretell cost is almost like upgrading the rarity of the card. A common card with foretell becomes as efficient as an uncommon.”

Limited decks are mostly composed of commons. If you pair up two decks, one built of entirely commons, and another built entirely of uncommons, the deck with the uncommons will likely win.

However, this doesn’t mean that a deck of all commons will lose to a deck of all common foretell cards. This is because mana is a limited resource, and hence it is not feasible to convert every common foretell card into its uncommon-efficiency counterpart in a single game of Magic. Requiring two mana at sorcery speed influences the texture of the format. Specifically, it provides the ability to combat the increased efficiency from foretell with aggression.

I believe this observation leads to the importance of early-battlefield presence reminiscent of War of the Spark. Many decks will have the ability to fall behind on battlefield presence in order to increase the power level of cards they cast because of foretell. If you neither foretell nor cast a two-drop on Turn 2, there’s a good chance your opponent will bury you by either curving out or double-spelling earlier than normal thanks to the efficiency of foretell cards.

My expectation is similar to how War of the Spark played: play the game to be ahead on the battlefield such that you can take advantage of the foretell mechanic and your opponent can’t afford to. This doesn’t mean the format is destined to be fast. War of the Spark had fast decks but wasn’t a fast format. It just means there will be an incredibly potent tension placed on the early turns of the format.

The most tangible consequence of this is that two-drops become more premium than usual, even for non-aggressive decks. Can you imagine missing your two-drop and having to face down an opponent casting two spells on Turn 4, one of which is Augury Raven? Good luck winning that game.

The above two-drops are all solid playables in a variety of formats, but I would expect them to be much more important than they look. Even the slower decks will need to have early battlefield presence in this format. And remember, they let you double-spell with your own foretell cards too!

And the designers of the set are even trying to say this with card design too. Efficient and powerful two-drops that scream “double-spelling is going to be common” are everywhere in Kaldheim. This does concern me that the format will be swingy, as double-spelling when ahead is one of the easiest ways to cement a win.

If playing two-drops isn’t sufficient to counterbalance the efficiency of the foretell mechanic, I don’t think this format will be enjoyable for very long. That being said, I trust the designers and developers that worked on Kaldheim kept this in mind and have given us a fun and balanced format.