Monday, June 02, 2014

Monday Magic

In which Tim explores the world of Magic: The Gathering one
card at a time, courtesy of Gatherer's "Random Card" button.

Bant Sureblade (Alara Reborn, 2009)

According to Mark Rosewater, there are two kinds of Magic design, top-down and bottom-up. The difference between these approaches has to do with the set's relationship to theme and mechanics. If a set design begins with its theme - as in, the designers decide they want to do a block based around horror tropes (Innistrad) or Greek myth (Theros), they begin with that premise and design cards and mechanics to be resonant with those themes -- i.e., top-down. The other alternative is that the set design begins from some kind of mechanical basis - for instance, Ravnica, of which we've seen many examples so far, is based around the idea of pairing up each two-color pair off the color pie into specific "guilds," thereby opening up a whole raft of design possibilities based on the interactions of these two-color pairs.

The Shards of Alara block, of which Alara Reborn is the third set, was based on a similar mechanical challenge - putting together the colors into three-color shards. For those who don't remember, this is the color pie as seen on the back of every extant Magic card:

Each color is arranged around the wheel so that every color is next to it's two allies and across from it's two enemies. The symbols also betray the basic information behind each color's philosophy - a drop of water for Blue, a skull for Black, fire for Red, a tree for Green, and a sun for White. (Admittedly, you might not figure out what White's symbol is supposed to be just by looking at it.) Each shard is three adjacent colors - therefore, White, Blue, and Black form a shard called Esper. The challenge for the designers was how to figure out to make an entire year's worth of cards that built off this premise.

Our friend here Bant Sureblade belongs - as you may have guessed - to the Bant shard, which consists of Blue, White, and Green. Ergo, he is a small soldier - very much within White's color pie - who can also grow bigger if you have another multicolor card on the table. Not bad for two mana at common. There are circumstances where this guy could be a 3/2 on your second turn, which is nothing at all to sneeze at.

But the most important aspect of this card is the fact that the flavor text mentions a god named Asha, one of the patron gods of the Bant shard. Which of course means that there must be a Legendary Artifact called the Brimful of Asha, which you can tap to produce a bosom for a pillow.

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