April 29, 2015

Tempest Remastered Primer

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Limited wasn't always the way it is now. Back in the day, when Magic was still in its infancy, Limited ranged from an afterthought to no thought at all. You see, the dust hadn't yet settled on how people would collect and use these new cards.

I know that Richard Garfield and the original designers of the game had the idea pretty early on that Limited might be a thing, but that was a far cry from them actually designing sets with it in mind.

Fast-forward to 1996. Mirage block becomes the first set with Limited game play specifically in mind during the design process. This is a huge step for Magic. The following block was Tempest block, and it took this whole Limited design thing to an even higher level.

To be clear, designing sets for Limited is cumbersome and complicated.

It involves spreadsheets.

And lots of playtesting. And a set of standards that are now in place but at the time weren't. Heck, they were still figuring out what the colors were meant to do.

Still, rough around the edges as it was, it was a huge step in the right direction, and one we are still benefiting from to this day.

Rolling Thunder | Art by Richard Thomas


Remastering Tempest

Since Tempest block was one of the first sets that many people drafted, it carries with it a lot of nostalgia. The folks at Wizards R&D came up with a great way for everyone to revisit the plane of Rath: It's called Tempest Remastered.

Tempest Remastered is a Magic Online-only set which comes out on May 6, 2015. It's a fresh take on one of the oldest Limited formats we have.

Here's how it works:

The set is made up exclusively of cards from Tempest, Stronghold, and Exodus. The designers of the set (led by Ian Duke and Adam Prosak) used the cards from these three sets as the canvas on which to re-paint the excitement and nostalgia of the entire block.

Since the set only has 269 cards in it, this meant that they had to cut almost half of the total cards from the card file.

This also means that the set will be significantly different from the way it was before. Which is a good thing; back when it was designed, it had some pretty major flaws.

Recycle | Art by Phil Foglio

The two main items that the team had to tackle were:

Repetitive Game Play

Repetitive game play is when a game reaches a state where one person can effectively lock the other person out using powerful, repeatable effects. Cards like "pingers" (creatures that can tap to do damage) or powerful spells with the buyback mechanic can lead to some pretty un-fun board states. This had to be addressed if the set is going to live up to the modern standards of today.

Color Imbalance

The designers weren't as good at this whole big-picture color-planning thing back then. Nowadays, they put serious effort to try to balance out the colors as much as they can. Back then, the chips just sort of fell where they may.

In this case, green really got the shaft, while black and red excelled. This also had to be addressed if the set was going to be fun to draft by today's measure. Balance is key.


New Terms

The good news is that the designers had a lot of wiggle room in this particular sandbox. They could freely cut bad cards as they had a lot of cuts to make. They had to keep certain iconic cards from the past that people would want to play with, but many of the middle-ground (or even just unplayable) cards could get the axe.

It was what was left over that mattered. And what we have is a sweet set that will bring you back to the good old days if you were around, and give you taste of it if you weren't.

Exalted Dragon | Art by Matthew D. Wilson


What to Expect

I've had a chance to draft the set once already, and also talk to some of the people who worked on it. Here are some of the big points to expect.

It's a normal, two-color, set. There aren't any crazy guilds or clans here: It's just good old fashioned two-color Magic. There are plenty of dual lands floating around for splashing as well. They are not, however, all created equally.

These ones are better left avoided:

There is a cycle of these, and boy are they are a tough pill to swallow. Only getting to use a land every other turn is pretty miserable. When you have more than one of these going, it can get ugly. Avoid if possible.


These, however, seem to play just fine:

Entering the battlefield tapped is an annoyance, but after that they are quite helpful without being too punishing if you already have your mana intact.

Of note here is that there are enough of these dual lands floating around to support going deep. Real deep. You can even play five colors if you have a strong enough incentive to do so. It's my gut feeling that this will lead to more losses than just playing two colors, but you'll go out in style if you get all five colors of mana before your opponent kills you.


The real five-color options come if you are green, though.

Now we are talking ramping and fixing at the same time, assuming you are base green. There are gold cards, and big spells worth ramping into, so keep an eye out for this kind of thing as the draft progresses.

Speaking of lands, this looks like a traditional 17-land format as a default. Feel free to deviate where necessary, but 17 will be the starting point for Tempest Remastered.


Shifts Happen

Rarity shifts, that is. A rarity shift is when a developer decides that a card serves the set better at a rarity different than its original printing. This is an interesting tool that can go different directions, depending on the developer's intentions.

A few examples of cards that went from common to uncommon:


I'm not kidding. This card was a common in the original Tempest printing! A COMMON.

I know.

Now that you've let that sink in, you can see why it was shifted to uncommon. Even at uncommon it has to be one of the best cards in the set and an easy first pick. Thankfully for most of us, we won't be on the wrong end of Rolling Thunder quite as often in this new set.


Another powerful removal spell, Pacifism is now an uncommon as opposed to a common, where it originally sat.


Green was the color that needed help the most. It was by far the worst color in the original block, and the design team was liberal with the rarity shifts to get it to a better place here.

This was a rare before, now it's an uncommon. That's a big shift.


Carnassid also used to be a rare, now it's uncommon:

As you can see, things have shifted around considerably from before, and it's all for the better.


Color Pairs

One thing we are used to these days is each color pair having its own specific identity. Modern day set designers put a lot of effort into making the color pairs feel different and behave in specific ways.

Since they didn't have the ability to change the cards' text around as they saw fit, the color pairs aren't quite as defined as they normally are.

I don't find this to be a bad thing. It means that while we give up some cohesiveness between colors, we also get to find cool combinations that aren't immediately obvious. The decks will feel more open-ended as we draft them, and the emphasis will shift toward overall strategy rather than specific built-in synergies.

Let's go over the colors as they are and cover them in broad strokes just so you have an idea of what each one brings to the table.


White

White occupies an aggressive space in this format. You get small shadow creatures, good removal, and ways to pump or protect your attackers. Tempest block existed at a time when White Weenie was doing well in Constructed and some of the cards from that deck are here.


Blue

Blue is the slowest color in this set, but it has some of the coolest stuff also. It's got classic control cards like counterspells (actually it just straight-up has Counterspell), card draw spells, buyback spells, and a bunch of flying and shadow creatures to end the game.


Black

Black is quite heavy in removal, and has some small shadow creatures to attack with. It plays out more like a grindy control deck, but has builds available that can be aggressive if paired with another aggressive color.


Red

Red is classic red: cheap, kind-of-bad creatures backed up by burn spells. It's the fastest, most aggressive color in the format and—if you want to beatdown—a great place to start. Also it has Rolling Thunder as mentioned earlier. That card….


Green

Green is probably still the weakest color of the bunch, but not by much. The aggressive rarity shifts mentioned earlier helped a lot. This deck still plays out like classic green: It combines ramp spells with the biggest creatures in the set to make for a nice midrange punch. Overrun is a huge finisher for the deck, and it's an uncommon.


Slivers Exist

Sliver fans: They are here!

If you love Slivers, you can draft them. I'll warn you that after browsing the selection of available Slivers, it doesn't look amazing. I wouldn't say it looks terrible or anything, but it doesn't look like one of those decks that just stands out as awesome.

Still, any time you have these running around, it really just depends on how many you can get your hands on:

There are other Slivers in the set, but these two are the marquee players for this deck. Since it's a green deck, you can splash fairly easily (remember: Harrow and Rampant Growth) to enable a few gold or off-color Slivers.

Or you could just enable this:

Yep. Pretty good late-game plan right there.


Conclusions

This set looks super fun. I love that we get a chance to experience some nostalgic moments of the past, but under the watchful eye of the modern-era, carefully trained, masters of development.

I trust that the teams came up with a solid format that will give us a more balanced look at what these cards could have been. And to the new player who doesn't even know who Mirri, Ertai, Hanna, Gerrard, or Crovax are: this set still looks sweet!

It's a solid, two-color set made specifically to be drafted. What more could you ask for?

Besides maybe a Rolling Thunder in your opening pack….

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR



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