So, have you ever gone to a Magic pre-release or to draft a new set for the first time, anticipating the fun new mechanics and keywords of the set, only to be let down by the cards in actual play? That’s a familiar experience. Wizards of the Coast’s design team is constantly searching for ways to keep the game fresh and interesting for new and returning players. Some of those new design ideas are a hit, and others are a dud. This is a list of some duds who were unfairly shot down in their introduction and need a new chance.
Note, this is not a list of dud mechanics and keywords that are just crummy to start with. You’ll find no support here from us for megamorph or banding. Those were just terrible ideas that never should have happened. This list is the ideas that had a chance at being interesting or fun, but failed for the execution.
Why it failed: Too expensive for the benefit
You can hardly look at a creature with the scavenge ability and not wonder “what were they thinking?” SIX mana to put 2 +1/+1 counters on a creature? Consider the hoops: You need (a) this, (b) another creature, (c) this in the yard, (d) have six mana open, and (e) not get the other creature removed in response to your scavenge. The only scavenge creature that was fairly costed was Slitherhead, and even that saw zero constructed play. To fix it: It has to have a CMC ceiling of at least (X/2) where X is the scavenge creature’s power, and be allowed to activate at instant speed.
Why it failed: Dumbest execution ever
Just when we were beginning to win the war over the trolls who endlessly bleat “giving the opponent choices is always bad,” along came Born of the Gods set and its wretched tribute cards. The problem with all the tribute creatures was glaringly obvious: The two options were so unbalanced that there was never a question which option the opponent would take. Siren of the Fanged Coast here is always going to become a 5-CMC flying Vanilla 4/4, not even as good as a Serra Angel, except when the opponent doesn’t even have anything to steal in which case it’s a 5-CMC Flying Men. Probably the closest tribute came to constructed playable was Oracle of Bones, and even that was barely seen in a couple Standard decks. To fix it: It needs both options to be balanced against each other, and both options at least have to give you a fair result for the mana.
Why it failed: Too much trouble to be worth it
Almost every inspired creature that came out during Theros block had a good effect on paper. Disciple of Deceit here is one of the inspired creatures I occasionally attempt – and fail – to make work in various decks. A free looting tutor is great. Now all I have to do is cast her, wait a turn, swing her without her getting killed, wait another turn, and finally untap her and reap the benefit. Most of the rest of the inspired creatures were dismal to worthless, with the exception of Pain Seer. To fix it: Have the inspired creature enter tapped, at least. This lets you get the first activation for free without having to muss your hair in combat.
Why it failed: Not enough interesting effects explored
Even though phasing was unpopular, it has potential. Creatures like Aetherling and Mistmeadow Witch show how powerful a blinking permanent can be. Creatures like Taniwha showed us how dorky phasing can be, to the point where building a Commander deck around it is a popular jank challenge. To fix it: Add a mana-activated ability to control phasing at will, and make phasing able to trigger ETB / LTB effects.
Why it failed: Depending on combat damage
We’ve seen this over and over again: Creatures with triggers when they attack are hugely popular. But just about anything that relies on combat damage to a player sucks. The cipher spells from Return to Ravnica block were all crappy cards around the board, with just Hidden Strings finding its way into attempts at constructed combos. Outside of that, anything with cipher that sees play is typically only used while ignoring the cipher effect altogether, treating it like a straight spell. To fix it: Have the copy ability depend on any trigger except combat damage; upkeep, attack, on tap, on untap, anything. And cost them fairly so they aren’t feelbads when you don’t get another trigger.
Why it failed: Limited to arcane spells
On the surface, this Kamigawa block mechanic had fantastic potential. Who doesn’t like getting extra gas out of a card in hand without having to spend it? As it stands, splicing went out with the end of Kamigawa block, since Wizards of the Coast has apparently sworn off arcane spells forever. Yeah, and good luck waiting for more of those devoid cards to come out! Of the splice spells, only Desperate Ritual has seen constructed play, and even then only as another mana-ramp in storm decks that ignore the splice effect. To fix it: They should work with any other spell (or at least any instant), and still be sanely costed on both straight cast and splice trigger.
Why it failed: Just clumsy overall execution
Forecast is another fun mechanic with a lot of potential. Again, like splice, you get a card that does a little something extra while staying in your hand. But this briefly seen mechanic from the Dissension set just feels like it was tossed in and never had a chance to shine. A couple of cards like Pride of the Clouds and Sky Hussar hit a jackpot of being at least playable in Commander; the rest are hit-and-miss. To fix it: We’d really just like to see this revisited. Some of the better examples are fine as they are, but it’s such a rare mechanic that there’s a lot more space to play with it.
Why it failed: It needs more Ninjutsu!
What, did you think you were being attacked by a mere Suntail Hawk? Haha, fooled you! Of all the fun mechanics to introduce and then ditch after one set, ninjutsu was the tragically underplayed mechanic of Kamigawa block. Only one card with this ability makes it into constructed decks in Pauper and occasionally Modern, and that’s Ninja of the Deep Hours. Only eight of these even showed up in Betrayers of Kamigawa, with two more rares being dropped in for a curtain call in Planechase. To fix it: More! Take ‘morph’ quietly behind the woodshed and shoot it; paying insane mana to play a card face-down and then flip it over is not fun. Replace with ninjutsu, or a more general purpose keyword with the same effect if you can’t justify cramming ninjas into other planes. How about ‘unmask’?
Why it failed: X needs to be bigger
I’ve written before about how scry is an overrated ability. That was true in Theros days, but now that the hype has settled down and people just accept incidental scry as an evergreen keyword… May we please see scry for values greater than 2? Trust me, you can put ‘scry 5’ on a decently costed card and not have it break the game. We could even get really dangerous and scry – gasp! – for 7! Even planeswalkers have ‘scry 1’ as their first ability, like it was almost too much to put on a mythic rare card. Scry is a very good compromise between giving card selection to colors that don’t normally get it and not being too unfair to play with. As it is, 90% of the cards with ‘scry’ on them in Theros block were grossly overcosted nightmares like Vanquish the Foul where it felt like scrying one whole precious card cost a four mana tax. To fix it: Deeper scry on sanely costed cards, please!
Why it failed: Not enough examples to tell
This is just the case of the missing keyword. A whole six cards, forming three pairs, appeared in Eldritch Moon block. There, they felt shoved in at the last minute, like they were supposed to be introduced in their own block. We see the beginnings of an interesting strategy here; we already play multi-card combos in Magic, so having two cards that specifically fit together into a transformed better card makes some sense. We’d just like to see the rest of meld someday. To fix it: Devote more of some future block to meld, being sure that both halves of each meld card are playable on their own and that the payoff is worth the trouble of assembling them.
Well, what other forgotten keywords need a shot at redemption? Feel free to spit it out, because those comments don’t write themselves.