Wedges of Rath: Another try?

Tue, 2018-03-13 17:24
Tarvoc
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Hey guys,

I'm not sure if this thread fits here. Unfortunately, there isn't really a forum for discussing (or just reminiscing about) custom sets and projects that were around years ago. I'm absolutely not sure if it's a good idea to take this up again, but hear me out.

The upcoming release of Dominaria has sparked a bit of nostalgia for my early days of Magic again (I started playing around the time of Weatherlight). As a result, I've looked at the set file of the old Fragments of Rath community project (discussion and design thread here, release announcement here) again recently. I don't want to necro the old threads though, so I'm opening a new one.

What I've noticed about Fragments of Rath is that even in its 1.23 version, it still has severe issues. It bugs me a lot, because I was rather active in this project, and I think many of its issues are my fault to a degree. I understand why it was not well liked - Neottolemo, who was also involved in the project back then, even went so far as to say he hates it. Personally, I don't hate it, I even feel a certain nostalgia for it - the first custom set I ever finished (aside from my own first Core Set from 2013, which was utterly bad). I think we had a few interesting ideas back then. In retrospect though, I think it were precisely my ideas that caused most of the issues of the set. I am probably simply not a good designer. As I see it, the wedges with the least issues are Dega and Ceta, and they're also the ones to which I contributed the least.

I would like to identify the issues and possibly fix them, maybe overhauling the set or starting from scratch, and I would be interested to know if you guys would be interested in helping me.

Here are some first thoughts:

* Surface. It has often been pointed out that "is put into your graveyard from your library" doesn't need to be keyworded. I still like the idea behind it, and it works quite well with the flavor we were going for with Ana. Of course, it also has some other issues as well, like being fairly impractical. If I proposed this mechanic today, I would define it as "a card surfaces when it is revealed (from your library) or put into your graveyard from your library". This change makes it more flexible to various uses and kinds of card interactions. Surface is one of the mechanics that I would like to keep in some fashion, but I admit it has issues that need to be resolved somehow.

* Retribute. This is another example of a mechanic with an idea behind it that fits well with the flavor of Raka, but that is rather impractical. I'm not sure how to fix it though. I hesitate to say that I like it, precisely because it's so impractical... but it was kind of a pet idea of mine back then, so I guess my feeling towards it is still colored by nostalgia.

* Slivers. I don't think including them was my idea, but I'm not entirely sure any more - but that's beside the point, because either way, I still agreed to their inclusion. They don't fit into the set. There is far too little support for them. I realize Slivers are an important part of Rath's flavor, but I also simply don't like this creature type any more (particularly because I don't like tribal at all any more). In retrospect, I should have spoken out against their inclusion.

* Spikes. Once more, they are an important part of Rath's flavor. The problem with their inclusion is that they don't fit well into a wedge set. Spikes are pretty much mono-Green mana symbol, with only a single Black mana symbol one. We pretty much built Necra around them. That was a mistake, as were White mana symbol Spikes, not to mention Spike tokens (!). In retrospect, I would still include them, but only in Green mana symbol or maybe Black mana symbol, but I'd spread them out across Necra, Ceta and Ana, and make Necra's main theme something else (it could still be related to +1/+1 counters though).

I wonder if the idea behind the set can be salvaged, and if there is even interest in trying again. As I mentioned above, this set is hated, and I realize it's hated for a reason.

Essentially, I want to see if I can make the idea behind this set work. But it was a community project back then, so I want to invite the community to help me once more. This will also help me see if there is even interest in this.

Also, if you were involved in the project back then, or even just noticed the set in some way or fashion, I would like to hear what you think of it today.

My colors: Freedom (Red mana symbol) through Knowledge (Blue mana symbol) and Organization (White mana symbol).

Tue, 2018-03-13 17:38
shiftyhomunculus
Moderator
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Please keep your language approximately PG-13 for the benefit of our younger users, per Rule 3.

Fragments of Rath was one of the first custom sets I ever took a proper look at, and I remember, at the time, thinking it was conceptually very strong but, as you say, deeply flawed in execution. Looking back again recently, I remember thinking much the same. I reckon the concept's salvageable, but I suspect it'd be a reboot job rather than an overhaul of an existing set file - keep hold of the ideas and maybe a couple of individual designs if they're good enough, but otherwise start again from the bottom.

For the record, I'd be down for joining in with such a project, though my contributions might be limited by academic commitments for a few months yet.

Red mana symbolWhite mana symbolBlack mana symbol
formerly thehuw
they/them, please

Tue, 2018-03-13 17:59
Tarvoc
Tarvoc's picture

shiftyhomunculus wrote:
Please keep your language approximately PG-13 for the benefit of our younger users, per Rule 3.

I apologize. I'm German and thus not familiar with the American PG rating system. The word I used would have been appropriate for age 12+ by German FSK standards. Would you mind if I edited my initial posting to say "utterly bad"?

Also, good to hear that you're interested. I figured it would be something between an overhaul and a reboot. There are a few ideas that I do want to keep.

May I ask what your thoughts are on my analysis of the problems so far? I'm particularly interested in your opinion on Surface.

That said, time is a problem for me as well. I'm currently working on my PhD and two other unrelated projects. I'll have to see how much time I can take, but I do want to try this.

My colors: Freedom (Red mana symbol) through Knowledge (Blue mana symbol) and Organization (White mana symbol).

Tue, 2018-03-13 20:58
Mr. Madness

I haven't been very active until recently, but I would be interested in helping out with the reboot. Like you guys though, school comes first for me

I swear I have a life. Just not right now.

Tue, 2018-03-13 23:50
CanterburyEgg
Head Administrator
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If your post ever gets mod edited, you can go back in and re-edit it at your leisure, provided you don't just change it back to something offensive again. "Utterly bad" is totally fine. A happy smile

Wed, 2018-03-14 18:20
voltaic-qui
Featured Set Editor - Best Set of 2015 - Community Award
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So here are the problems with Fragments of Rath as a set.

1) It's one of those sets where the impetus for it was mostly "hey, Wizards hasn't done wedges yet, let's do a wedge set." This was possibly the single most common mechanical basis for a set up until 2015, at which point Wizards did Khans of Tarkir and the concept died a quick and painless death. Rath in particular falls into the bad subset of wedge sets pre-Tarkir, "Alara but wedges." This is the big obstacle for a wedge set and I think it's the one FoR failed to pass the hardest. Penada's tribal themes helped a lot in giving it its own identity; Mious had intricate flavor that tied all the guilds together.

2) No mechanical cohesion behind the wedges at all. What do mill, blocking, and Spike tribal (!?!?!?!?) have in common? This is what made surface such an odd mechanic, mill never came up outside their guild so it didn't play well with others.

3) And hey, what's with the power level discrepancies? The Ana cards were significantly better than everything else in the set, to the point where I don't even remember the other mechanics. Except retribute, which I remember for being awful.

I honestly have no idea if it can be fixed: yes, you could come up with non-awful mechanics (hellbent for Dega was proposed in the first thread, and heckbent would work too; I have a decent idea for a Retribute replacement), but making it not feel like Tarkir 2 or Bizarralara is the hard part.

formerly jacquipup

"It's exciting to create something that demonstrates how clever you are, that you pushed in a direction that players didn't anticipate. The problem is that the point of game design isn't to be clever, it's to create a great game."

Wed, 2018-03-14 21:08
Tarvoc
Tarvoc's picture

To be honest, I actually liked the idea of combining the feelings of Alara and the Rathi wedges. Bizarralara is a funny name, but then again, I have a thing for bizarre set ideas if they can be made to work. I realize that not everyone might feel like that though.

I also agree with 2 and 3. Ana is still my favorite wedge though. With regards to flavor, I think it was simply marvelous, but I somewhat suspect that the flavor of a flooded plane where unspeakable things resurface both from the dephs of the sea and from the depths of the mind would work better for a full set of its own. Thinking of it, maybe it would be better to go for that instead of trying to rework Rath. (I also still like surface, but I think it would benefit from the change I proposed in my initial posting.)

Also, I am curious about what you would replace Retribute with. And what's "heckbent"?

My colors: Freedom (Red mana symbol) through Knowledge (Blue mana symbol) and Organization (White mana symbol).

Wed, 2018-03-14 21:28
shiftyhomunculus
Moderator
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"Heckbent" is the unnamed "one or fewer cards in hand" theme that showed up in black and red in Amonkhet, on cards such as Thresher Lizard.

Red mana symbolWhite mana symbolBlack mana symbol
formerly thehuw
they/them, please

Wed, 2018-03-14 23:57
Tarvoc
Tarvoc's picture

Aaaah!

My colors: Freedom (Red mana symbol) through Knowledge (Blue mana symbol) and Organization (White mana symbol).

Sat, 2018-03-17 17:53
voltaic-qui
Featured Set Editor - Best Set of 2015 - Community Award
voltaic-qui's picture

The idea would be a mechanic that triggers when a creature is dealt damage in excess of its toughness. Not sure if it's common doable, but it seems interesting.

formerly jacquipup

"It's exciting to create something that demonstrates how clever you are, that you pushed in a direction that players didn't anticipate. The problem is that the point of game design isn't to be clever, it's to create a great game."

Sun, 2018-03-18 16:01
Tarvoc
Tarvoc's picture

Hmmm... interesting.

[edit]

I think it might be a start to give a quick analysis of Tarkir's clans, to see why the idea of a Wedge set (or Wedges in general) still fascinates me and why I think Wizards hasn't exhausted its potential yet.

First of all, Tarkir's clans were more or less focused on the allied color pairs. Wizards themselves openly admitted this. Abzan's focus was White mana symbolGreen mana symbol, Jeskai's focus was White mana symbolBlue mana symbol, Sultai's focus was Blue mana symbolBlack mana symbol, and so on. Let's see how they implemented the wedges anyway.

I think they did the best job with Jeskai. I can see a White mana symbolBlue mana symbolRed mana symbol faction go exactly the route Jeskai went, and the Red mana symbol was implemented well. Jeskai's mechanic - Prowess - is now a Blue mana symbolRed mana symbol Core mechanic, not a Blue mana symbolWhite mana symbol. In comparison, Raka didn't work that well even from a flavor standpoint (ignoring for a moment that its mechanic was a mess while Prowess is a marvelous mechanic that I absolutely love), because it simply didn't feel overly Blue mana symbol.

Sultai was another clan strong in flavor. I have little issue with the flavor, but regarding the mechanics, there was very little Green mana symbol in it.

Marduk was pretty much what you expect from the White mana symbolBlack mana symbolRed mana symbol wedge - wheenies with creature removal and a mechanic that encourages attacking. We went a similar route with Dega, and that's pretty much what you can do with this wedge. I have no issue with Marduk. It might still be worth debating what else you could do with this wedge's flavor. (A regime that's both oppressive and aggressively imperialistic and militaristic might work. Red-White-Black were the colors of the German Empire in both World Wars after all.)

Abzan is where the problems really begin. Flavor-wise, I don't quite see how it is Black mana symbol, or how Black mana symbol could even thrive in a society like the Abzan clan. The mechanics cared about +1/+1 counters, and that is a staple of this wedge - but I think they were underwhelming and not very well implemented. I'm not alone in this, many people don't like the Abzan mechanics for that reason. Then again, we had a similar problem with Necra, and we did even worse. So it's not Wizards' fault, this wedge is simply difficult.

And then we have Temur. Easily my least favorite clan, despite the fact that I really like the Green mana symbolRed mana symbolBlue mana symbol wedge. With regards to its flavor, it was essentially Gruul and nothing else. With regards to its mechanic, it was a rehash of Naya - and once again not much else. MTG Wiki lists Temur's theme as "Savagery" - except there is literally nothing savage about Blue mana symbol. The theme of this wedge should be Abundance. The two big superego forces that suck up resources and destroy assets for the purpose of realizing their own moral ideals - white and black - are gone, and without them, things are developing both naturally and instinctively and guided by intellect - as a kind "intuitive intellect", if you will. As I see it, the design of Temur was misguided. Then again - and once again - we arguably had a similar problem with Ceta. We did try to go for the Abundance angle more than Wizards did, but the end result also looks more Green mana symbolRed mana symbol than Blue mana symbol, with Blue mana symbol getting a few really fun and flavorful cards that simply don't connect well to Ceta's overall flavor. Once again, this wedge is altogether a problem.

My colors: Freedom (Red mana symbol) through Knowledge (Blue mana symbol) and Organization (White mana symbol).

Sun, 2018-03-18 17:45
shiftyhomunculus
Moderator
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I broadly agree with this analysis. I do think black has a place in Abzan from a flavor perspective, as it reflects their focus on survival above all else and their willingness to do some pretty unpleasant things to endure the wastes - but yeah, outlast was not a very good way of executing on that side of their character.

Also, Sultai does have a fairly strong mechanical grounding in green, as a lot of the ways it has of stocking its graveyard, things like Scout the Borders, play into green's self-mill and "composting" mentality. Delve is a decent fit in green too, I think, since green does use graveyards as resources... but delve's got far bigger problems than the color pie.

One thing I think Mardu mostly missed in execution was its status as the ultimate removal wedge. Between them, these colors have all three of the best creature removal spells in Modern - Path, Push, and Bolt - and the capacity to deal with every permanent type. If you're in the market for a slightly fresher mechanical execution on Dega, you could really play up the removal-matters side - perhaps some kind of pseudo that cares about creatures (or more broadly) permanents dying outside combat?

Red mana symbolWhite mana symbolBlack mana symbol
formerly thehuw
they/them, please

Sun, 2018-03-18 20:36
amechra

I'm currently reading through the original development thread for Fragments of Rath, and I can see why people aren't big fans. I did have some ideas for alternate places to take two "difficult" wedges mechanically:

Ceta - Overabundance is a good theme, so why not go with that? I can actually see a lot of symmetric boosts here - Ceta likes to draw everyone cards, ramp everyone, throw +1/+1 counters on everyone's creatures, etc. The kicker? Ceta is also focused around being the one to benefit the most from their generosity - they've got the hand-size increasers, the mana sinks/stores, the redirects/copies. You help people draw enough cards to choke on, essentially.

Necra - The first thing these colors say to me is "greedy collectivism". You want to sacrifice things (life, permanents, cards) to the greater good (i.e. you winning). Green-black's graveyard recursion lets you discard without many worries, white-black's life control means that you've got the life to burn, and white-green tokens mean that sacrificing a creature or two doesn't matter. I'm thinking that there's a real "every piece of the card" mentality here - discard a card to give yourself tokens to sacrifice, and then exile the card from your graveyard for more goodies.

Tue, 2018-03-27 23:35
Tarvoc
Tarvoc's picture

I like these ideas. As I see it, Ceta is a wedge that really loves oddball mechanics. It's a bit the Izzet among the three-color combinations: Crazy, experimental...

[edit] Regarding Necra, there is also another option for a Black mana symbolWhite mana symbolGreen mana symbol Wedge's mechanics: a theme similar to or based on Exalted. Might be too similar to Bant though.

My colors: Freedom (Red mana symbol) through Knowledge (Blue mana symbol) and Organization (White mana symbol).

Wed, 2018-03-28 18:35
voltaic-qui
Featured Set Editor - Best Set of 2015 - Community Award
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Hm-- considering you trade Blue mana symbol for Black mana symbol, would something like

Typhoid Brats 1 mana symbolBlack mana symbol
Creature - Rat Common
Deathtouch
Iconoclast (Whenever this creature attacks alone, put a +1/+1 counter on it.)
1/1

work? Trading U for B's individualism

formerly jacquipup

"It's exciting to create something that demonstrates how clever you are, that you pushed in a direction that players didn't anticipate. The problem is that the point of game design isn't to be clever, it's to create a great game."

Thu, 2018-03-29 00:45
Tarvoc
Tarvoc's picture

I've thought of a similar mechanic myself in the past. Why would the ability be called Iconoclast though?

My colors: Freedom (Red mana symbol) through Knowledge (Blue mana symbol) and Organization (White mana symbol).

Sat, 2018-03-31 02:43
amechra

I'm not sure Iconoclast is a very good mechanic to build a wedge around.

Exalted worked as a theme because it was non-specific. You could have most of the support be pretty straightforward "if a creature you control attacks alone" stuff, since Exalted defrays the normal "cost" of focusing on a single creature (i.e., removal ruining your whole day). Your Exalted creatures also don't mind that you dropped another creature with Exalted - they don't care who swings, as long as they're the only one that does it.

Iconoclast, on the other hand... I'm not sure "put a +1/+1 counter on a creature I control once per turn, but with a hefty restriction!" will work as a "core" mechanic for a wedge. Especially since that doesn't stack. It's something that I could see as a one-off, but not as the primary focus.

---

An alternative for Necra's theme (because another idea popped into my head) - it's a world of slow reincarnation. Everything that dies will eventually be reborn, but they stick around as ghosts for a while first. Necra's social order is heavily invested in ritual, because they understand that one angry ghost killing people leads to many angry ghosts killing people before everything calms down.

Which gives me the idea that Necra's mechanical theme could be "big crazy spirits, lurking in your graveyard". Think of it like Ixalan's Dinosaur tribal - your curve starts off with puny humans and then phases into big scary things.

Thu, 2018-04-05 15:14
Tarvoc
Tarvoc's picture

amechra wrote:
Think of it like Ixalan's Dinosaur tribal

I'd rather not. Wide grin

[edit]

I've created a mirror thread in the new forum.

My colors: Freedom (Red mana symbol) through Knowledge (Blue mana symbol) and Organization (White mana symbol).