Madoka Magic – The Block Theme
When I first decided that I was going to make my own Magic set, I figured this would be a project that was very bottom-up (that is, start with the mechanics and then build a story around them). I was going to be working to design new ways of thinking about Magic that would necessarily focus on the structure, rather than the style. But first I had to pick a theme. What area of Magic hadn’t been explored yet and might yield fertile ground for fresh ideas?
For inspiration, I turned to my favorite block of all time, Odyssey. I know it wasn’t much beloved by most of the Magic audience, but I greatly enjoyed the challenge of playing constructed in this unpredictable environment. So what was Odyssey’s theme? Graveyard matters. Ok. So what other area of the game could I make matter that hadn’t been done yet? I immediately hit upon exile and never looked back. Really, it felt like such an obvious choice to go in this direction because it really is untouched territory in the game and that was a compelling force for inspiration.
Madoka Magic became my attempt at an “exile matters,” block. For such a block to work, the most obvious thing it had to do was to get cards into exile. Case in point, Dessert Twister (a play on Desert Twister, which ironically got referenced recently by Mark Rosewater). But simply making things go away was just a set that “puts things into exile,” but exile isn’t the zone that “matters.”
Once again, I got my inspiration from Odyssey (and coincidentally found another applicable comment from Mark). Odyssey’s big mechanic that made the graveyard matter was Threshold that has become such an iconic ability that all other abilities that count something are now called “Threshold abilities,” the most recent of which was Metalcraft. Thus, I present to you the primary mechanic of Madoka Magic, Memory.
The first thing I wanted to make sure I did with Memory was to give it an identity that was very different from previous Threshold mechanics. The thing that both Threshold and Metalcraft have in common is they are counting their owner’s cards. So I thought, “what if I counted all of the cards in exile regardless of their owner?” I worried initially that having to track cards your opponent owned would make Memory an ability that was too taxing on the mind, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. Exile is a zone that cards go to and tend not to matter anymore or even come back from for that matter except via flicker effects that exile permanents and return them at end of turn. This means that once the five cards required for Memory go into exile, it’s pretty much going to remain “on” for the rest of the game.
The other beauty of being able to track your opponent’s cards in exile to activate your Memory cards is that not everyone wants to put their own cards into exile. Many cards in Magic’s history want you to permanently get rid of your opponent’s cards and the most surefire way to do that has been by exiling them. This choice also opened up a lot more design space for Memory because otherwise it would have restricted the kinds of exile effects available to take advantage of, especially if exiling your opponent’s cards meant pushing him or her closer to accessing his or her own Memory benefits but could end up being a very sour choice for you to make. The real question mark about this ability is the number. What playtesting I’ve done has shown that five seems to be the range that doesn’t take too long to reach in a deck dedicated to this strategy, but also isn’t attainable too quickly, either…in short, it’s shown to be balanced.
There’s a lot more to come. You haven’t seen anything, yet. So keep checking back for more updates. Please tell me your thoughts on this project. I look forward to reading people’s reactions.