Each new Magic: The Gathering set has one or more new mechanics; these bridge the set’s setting and narrative with gameplay, and help define the set in the minds of the players
Great Forks, the setting of our new Magic block, is a city where spirits and mortals coexist. It is ruled by a trinity of gods; lesser divinities and elementals walk the streets; temples rise on every street corner, while festivals and processions pack its plazas and avenues. (It’s also a city supported by the drug trade, but one thing at a time.)
With spirits and mortals living in such close proximity, it’s no surprise that they occasionally do such things as result in half-mortal, half-divine children. Though mostly mortal, these god-blooded offspring often possess magical talents passed down to them from their spirit bloodline.
Flavorwise, a god-blooded mechanic should express the connection between the mortals and spirits of Great Forks. But the last time we saw a major mechanic related to the Spirit creature subtype, it was in Kamigawa block—a watchword nowadays for underpowered, parasitic mechanics. This is something we want to avoid!
(A “parasitic” mechanic in Magic is one that requires other cards of the same type to do its thing. This means that building a deck around the parasitic mechanic provides a very narrow range of deck design options. The poster child for parasitic mechanics, Splice onto Arcane, also appeared in Kamigawa, and is part of why that block is so maligned today.)
How do we express a creature’s god-blooded nature? Auras are a good mechanism to represent individual magical knacks. If the god-blood has an Aura attached to it as it enters the battlefield, it gives us the feel of a person born with some magical boon.
Let’s look at two existing cards that have provide a similar effect:
Auratouched Mage has a genuinely flavorful and potent ability, allowing us to tutor up an appropriate Aura from our library. However, the mechanic is complex and requires a lot of text on the card. Since we’ll want to add even more text to tie the effect to a Spirit “parent,” the result will be much longer and more complicated than we’d want in a keyword. (Compare this to other keywords. They tend to be 100 characters or less, and modern keywords rarely go over 150. As a keyword, Auratouched Mage’s ability would be well over 200.)
Academy Researchers has a much more limited power. It doesn’t provide card advantage, and it’s only as useful as the selection of Auras you have in your hand right now; you might not have a useful Aura in hand, or indeed any at all. It’s also a bit harder to balance than Auratouched Mage’s tutoring ability, which is costed to account for the fact that you’ll always have a really powerful and expensive Aura in your deck to attach to it.
Despite these issues, the Academy Researchers’ power looks like a good template to start from:
Godblood (When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may put an Aura card from your hand onto the battlefield attached to CARDNAME.)
Now, let’s tweak it to match the flavor of Exalted’s god-bloods:
Godblood (When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control a Spirit creature that shares a color with it, you may put an Aura card of that color from your hand onto the battlefield attached to CARDNAME.)
That’s a little long for a keyword, but not dramatically so. The Spirit restriction provides some linear guidance to deck design without being parasitic; you need a good mix of Spirits, creatures with Godblood, and Auras to make best use of the keyword ability.
The color limitation provides flavor, but it also discourages its use in multicolor decks. There are a few ways around this if it turns out to be a problem for the block metagame; we can explore these later.
And now, let’s see what the mechanic might look like on an actual card:
Given the nature of the Magic design process, there’s no guarantee that this mechanic would survive the design process unchanged—or at all; many new mechanics are simply abandoned during design or development. As I lack a design team, a development team, and playtesters, this is kind of moot, but I’m going to stick to the principles as best I can for the purpose of the exercise.
Next time, more new mechanics. Stay tuned!