June 16, 2015

Flavor Draft

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Stitcher Sargath wandered the Moorland, searching for some eyeballs. They were not hard to find. Most of the local wildlife had two of them. Some had three.

"You can’t equip a Blazing Torch to your One-Eyed Scarecrow!"

One-Eyed Scarecrow | Art by Dave Kendall

The voice was shrill, and Sargath could not place the accent. Gavony, perhaps? Nephalia? He crept closer, ducking behind a tree, trying to get a better look without blowing his cover.

Two men were in the clearing in front of him, their arms crossed, arguing. They were dressed for a climate at least two seasons warmer than the Moorland in summer, with shirts made from light cotton and short pants that stopped just above the knee. Even stranger, neither man wore a tri-cornered hat.

"Of course I can give my Scarecrow a Blazing Torch!" The short man said. "It’s right there on the card. Equip one—see?"

The taller man shook his head and pointed at a creepy looking scarecrow standing a few feet away. "That thing is made out of twigs and old rags. If you try to hand it a Blazing Torch, this whole place is going up in flames."

"We’ll see." The short man performed a quick ritual with his hands, and the land around him glowed for a moment. Sargath’s eyes widened when the man held out his hand and a fiery torch appeared in it a moment later. In seconds, the Moorland was illuminated in a red-orange glow. The smell of burning camphor stung his nose as he crept closer.

The One-Eyed Scarecrow barely moved, but Sargath saw it reach for the torch with its spindly arm. The short Planeswalker—they were both Planeswalkers, Sargath was now certain—handed it over and sucked in a slow, expectant breath. For a second, everything was fine. The Scarecrow held the torch in comfortable silence. "Hah! You see?—"

He was cut off by the sound of a third figure walking in from behind Sargath’s position. The stitcher’s heart began to beat quickly, but he did not reveal himself. The third Planeswalker was a woman wearing the same unseasonable garb as her colleagues. She did have a hat, but it had a weird brim and the nonsense phrase 'Red Sox' printed on the front.

"Bad news, Seth," she said. "Your Scarecrow’s going to die."

"What? But—"

"It’s too flammable to hold a torch like that. See?" As she spoke, the Scarecrow’s dry-leaf eyebrows caught fire. It wasn’t long before the odd creature was engulfed in flames, a swiftly-burning pyre of tattered cloth and dry wood.

"Dang it, Monica. Who put you in charge, anyway?"

"You guys did, remember?"

As the Planeswalkers argued, Sargath crept toward the Scarecrow. The creature’s limbs had been burned beyond recognition, but its eye—its glorious eye—was still intact. Sargath held out his Jar of Eyeballs, popping the cork and readying it for a new passenger.

"Okay," said Seth. "Add two counters to my Jar of Eyeballs."

Sargath spun around. HIS jar of eyeballs?

"Not a chance," Monica replied. "It’s a ONE-Eyed Scarecrow. You get one counter, and that’s it."

"Fine," Seth pouted, walking over to the dead Scarecrow and plucking out the eyeball right in front of the open-mouthed stitcher. Sargath wandered back toward the field, muttering to himself.

It had been a weird day.

What Is Flavor Draft?

On most Magic cards, the mechanics mesh incredibly well with the flavor. This is not always the case, though. Some ground creatures have art that makes it look as though they should be able to fly, and I’m still not convinced that a Sanctuary Cat could take down a Soldier trained by Elspeth herself.

Even the most evocative cards face flavor issues from time to time. Can you equip a Leonin Scimitar to a Wall of Ice? Can you kill a Lightning Elemental with a Lightning Bolt? Can you equip a One-Eyed Scarecrow with a Blazing Torch? Do you get two counters on your Jar of Eyeballs when the Scarecrow dies?

Flavor Draft is a solution to all of these problems. The format is simple: Magic is drafted and played as normal, except for the fact that in-game flavor trumps the written text of the cards. Before the event begins, participants select a player (or, better yet, a panel of three players) to sit out and act as the flavor judges. Whenever a flavor dispute comes up during a game, the flavor judges rule on it. They can also observe the games and make their own flavor-based rulings during gameplay as necessary.

When I’m playing Flavor Draft, I like to picture the battle unfolding in front of me like in the story I wrote above. If I can see everything happening in my mind’s eye, I can do a better job of finding fun and flavorful interactions between the cards. Don’t sleep on how much fun it is to be the judge, either—even though you aren’t playing Magic, the ability to make awesome plays in someone else’s game is really satisfying.

The best part of Flavor Draft is that you can play it with the Magic set of your choice. You can even add a Flavor Draft component to a constructed game of Standard or Modern, though pawing through a brand new pack of Magic cards and re-evaluating them based on flavor in addition to the printed text is one of the most fun aspects of the format.

The most important thing about running a Flavor Draft? Don’t take it too seriously! Rulings will vary wildly depending on who the flavor judge is—one might not allow a Merfolk to enter combat with a desert-dwelling creature, and another might declare that ghosts are incapable of picking up weapons. If you roll with it and prioritize fun over winning, you’ll have a great time.

Below is a list of sample flavor rulings that I came up with. Feel free to use them as guidelines in your own Flavor Draft fun. If you disagree with me on some of them, that’s perfectly fine! There are no wrong answers when it comes to a Flavor Draft.

Special thanks goes to Luis Scott-Vargas, godfather of Flavor Draft, as well as the litany of Twitter and Reddit users who inspired the rulings below:

Accorder’s Shield—Your creatures must realistically be able to wield whatever equipment you give them. A two-handed humanoid can have two smaller swords, a sword and a shield, or one large two-handed weapon. An Octopus can have up to eight swords. Mire Boa can’t have a sword at all.

Akroma's Vengeance—If Akroma is in play, she survives her own vengeance.

Archers’ Parapet—Look how many arrows are being fired on this card! You’re telling me these elite archers can’t take down a couple of fliers? In a Flavor Draft where I’m the judge, this card’s activated ability now allows you to pay 1B to destroy target creature with flying. Just make sure that you don’t run out of arrows. Do you have any spare artifacts lying around that can be melted into shafts?

Axebane Stag—There’s no way that this is actually a 6/7. With those stats, a random Axebane Stag wins a fight against every guild leader on Ravnica. I’m guessing ol’ Kirce ran into one of these in the woods and has been exaggerating his encounter down at the pub ever since. "It was (hic) a, (burp), 6/7! Yeah! That’s why I lost!"

Batterskull—If the idea behind living weapon is that the equipment has been brought to life by the Phyrexians, shouldn’t Batterskull (and all other living weapons) be contagious as long as the Germ token is still alive? Batterskull should have infect instead of vigilance and lifelink as long as it’s still equipped to the Germ.

After the Germ dies, of course, Batterskull loses infect and regains the vigilance and lifelink abilities that all healthy Batterskulls innately possess. It also gets to keep on Batterskulling by itself without being equipped to something else. Godspeed, healthy Batterskull!

Bloodsoaked Champion—The art shows Bloodsoaked Champion with TWO shields! Can’t block!? I’d say that your Bloodsoaked Champion can block two things at once.

Bone Splinters—The creature you sacrifice when you cast this must have bones for the spell to work. You can’t just sacrifice a Saproling token and call it a day. That happened to me at Grand Prix Las Vegas, and it still doesn’t seem right.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn—Emrakul is a gigantic interplanar death machine. You aren’t taking it down with a 1/1 deathtouch Hornet, stuffing it into your Amber Prison, or infecting it with a couple of Typhoid Rats. I’d probably allow fifteen Squirrel tokens to take it down, but I’d need to hear a pretty convincing story describing how it happened.

Eye Gouge—This card kills Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore, Evil Eye of Urborg, and Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed. Any non-Spider creature not killed by Eye Gouge also gains the creature type Cyclops. You’d have to cast seven Eye Gouges on a Spider to make it into a Spider Cyclops.

Flood—Flood cannot tap Merfolk and sea creatures. They love a good flood!

Ghoulcaller’s Bell and Temple Bell—These can be untapped, tapped, untapped, and tapped again by either Village Bell-Ringer or by Zurgo Bellstriker.

Go for the Throat—This spell cannot target any creature that clearly does not have a throat.

Halo Hunter—Halo Hunter costs 2BBB to summon—it’s good at its job. I’m pretty sure a Halo Hunter would at least occupy a Baneslayer Angel’s time for a couple of turns while they chased each other around the battlefield. On the other hand, the fact that Baneslayer Angel has protection from Demons and Dragons should allow her to take on Malfegor (a Demon Dragon) and survive.

Increasing Devotion—This spell increases your devotion to white by five—one for each soldier you make. It increases your devotion to white by ten when you flash it back.

Ingot ChewerIngot Chewer can destroy a Darksteel Ingot. At the very least, it can chew on one for a while before spitting it out when it gets bored of the taste.

Into the Maw of Hell—This cannot kill fliers (they can escape too easily), demons, or devils. They like Hell, obviously.

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed—When you’re cursed to turn everything you touch to gold, there is no 'may' clause that will get you out of it. When you untap King Macar in a flavor draft, you MUST exile target non-Gold creature other than King Macar, the Gold-Cursed.

Lightning Greaves—Creatures without feet cannot use Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots, Trailblazer's Boots, or any other card that depicts a fancy pair of shoes.

Lu Xun, Scholar General—Horsemanship needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. I can see how it could help get past a couple of slow armored Soldiers, but it’s not going to stop a Dragon.

Moat—How big a moat are we talking about here? Archers should be able to fire over it, sea creatures should be able to swim through it, and anything sufficiently large should be able to just ignore the thing. There isn’t a moat in the multiverse large enough to stop Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

Nameless Inversion and Nameless One—Cannot be named by any card that reads 'name a card.'

Pin to the Earth—First of all, would the ground on Theros even be called earth? I can only assume that this card has been translated from whatever language is spoken on Theros (Greek?) in such a way as to make it easy for us English-speaking Earthlings to understand.

More importantly, whatever creature gets Pin to the Earthed should lose flying and shouldn’t be allowed to attack. You’re pinned to the earth by Thassa’s bident—how are you sneaking behind enemy lines and punching people?

Reach of Branches—Tokens generated by this card may block as if they had flying.

Remove Soul—Which creatures in the multiverse have a soul and which ones don’t? Many of Magic’s planes have religion, but I’d imagine that Mogis’s acolytes on Theros have a different interpretation of the divine than, say, the Pontiffs of the Church of Orzhova. It’s possible to mount a good argument that Remove Soul shouldn’t be able to counter Demons, Zombies, or various small animals, but it would be up to the discretion of your local flavor judges. Two things we can all agree on: Remove Soul should not be able to counter Soulless One, and it should be allowed to counter Lingering Souls.

Tragic SlipTragic Slip cannot hurt creatures with flying or creatures that are already undead.

Whelming Wave—All sea creatures laugh in the face of the Whelming Wave. If you have Master of Waves in play, it costs less to cast.

That’s it for today! Join me next time when we take a look at the future instead of the past. That’s right—I’ll have a sweet new Magic Origins preview card to share with all of you!



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