In order to stay competitive, accessible, and above all, salable, Magic has to change. It’s built into the DNA of the game’s existence. Unlike a standard board game or card game, where individual expansions can be added at the owner’s discretion to improve or augment their gaming experience, Magic must always be continually altering expectations.
With this game, change or die has very real connotations. The moment the game starts to feel stale, when there’s no real innovation or new hook to entice the player base, sales will decrease. For a typical game publisher, if a particular expansion doesn’t quite do well in the marketplace they’re always left with the option of either trying again with another expansion later or to simply cut their losses and move onto the next game in their catalog.
You can even see this at work from Wizards with regards to D&D. When the previous edition of D&D wasn’t selling as well as they hoped, they tried tossing out some supplements to entice the fan base. When even that didn’t reach the metrics they were hoping for, they ultimately decided to pursue yet another new edition of the game.
The Magic division, however, has no such option.
In the early years of the 1990s CCG explosion, Magic needed to innovate partially to secure its place in the market as a new product, and partially because it had so much competition from similar products. CCGs were a new model that everyone was trying, and Magic needed to maintain its appeal in the face of that. So the imperative to improve itself for market-driven reasons paired nicely with the innate necessity of CCGs to change in order to stay financially sustainable.
Since that time though, the market side of the equation has died down some. This is mostly because Magic succeeded at establishing itself as the preeminent CCG out there and pushed much of its competition out of the marketplace one way or another, but also because the gaming industry has moved away from CCGs as a viable business investment towards newer more sustainable alternatives such as ECGs.
Thus, the biggest driving factor for Magic to keep itself going is…itself. While Magic continues to be in the throes of some of its most successful sales years to date, it’s also doing so paradoxically as a bit of an endangered species. If it doesn’t perform well, there is no alternative.
Hence, continual change. Additional supplement sets like Commander and Conspiracy. The “Masters” reprint series. The Masterpiece cards series. Alternate border frames and card layouts. All of these are designed to entice us to remain invested in the game, regardless of whether you’re a Pro Tour professional or a casual connoisseur of the kitchen table. They’re throwing out lots of different products aimed at different corners of the Magic world to keep that contingent satiated. It’s admirable, as it undoubtedly takes a lot of effort to do, but it’s not altruistic. Selling Magic cards is a business after all, and the more of that they can do the better. Lucky for them, this diversified approach at least for now seems to be working.
Most of these changes are via product offerings, with new formats to try, planes to explore, and mechanics to experiment with. Occasionally, the game also makes adjustments by removing things to avoid complexity creep – thereby making it harder for less enfranchised players. Massive overhauls are rare, such as swapping the old spell batch system for the stack or the revamping of combat with M10. Instead, it’s usually smaller changes, such as the discontinuation of periodically used rules and mechanics in favor of new ones. This includes things like mana burn, or the quasi-retirement of mechanics like Landwalk, Protection, and Regeneration.
Also, the replacement of Shroud with Hexproof.
As a certified Old Fogey, I have a deep fondness for those older mechanics, and still leverage them in numerous decks to much success. And as one of its fans, yes, I still prefer the gameplay appeal of Shroud over Hexproof, if only for balance purposes. Most players can provide anecdotal evidence that a one-sided buffing advantage is quite problematic if abused (and usually is).
To that end, as one small example of change not always being for the better (even if necessary), this week’s pick honors an excellent Commander card sporting Shroud.
Today we have: Multani, Maro-Sorcerer
Name: Multani, Maro-Sorcerer
Edition: Urza’s Legacy
Focus: Creature Advantage / Creature Protection
Highlights: Because it’s difficult for either side to affect Shroud creatures (whether to buff or destroy them), one of the nice traits to the mechanic was the ability to push the creature’s power levels more than similarly costing/sized creatures without it. On small creatures Shroud usually meant they were quicker to cast and came with additional mechanics they may not have gotten otherwise.
With larger creatures, this usually meant they could add potency without worrying about breaking them. (Consider, for how even more problematic Inkwell Leviathan or Empyrial Archangel could be if it had Hexproof instead.)
Then there’s Multani, a card positively designed for multiplayer games like Commander. For six mana, Multani provides you with a creature whose size is equal to the number of cards in everyone’s hand. In a four player game for instance, if each person had just three cards, you already have a 12/12. If you have more players – or just realize that there’s almost always at least one person at the table sitting with close to a full hand, that number can easily be much higher, making it well worth its cost. While its power can diminish as players die off and resources are spent, Multani nevertheless provides a substantial beatstick during the mid-game stages to inflict some serious hurt.
Moreover, thanks to Shroud, it has a built-in protection mechanism not afforded to similar creatures of substantial size – including its modern replacements Sage of Ancient Lore and Realm Seekers. This helps keep it alive longer while also slightly downplaying its threat on the board – since it prevents you immediately abusing it via buffing.
That said, Multani does have one ‘weakness’ in that it has no innate evasion like the Inkwell, Sage, or Simic Sky Swallower, meaning that although it can provide a potential death blow to a player if unblocked, it can also be stopped by a something as lowly as a 0/1 plant. There are ways to offset this, of course, but it requires an extra step or two to accomplish.
Which, in the end, is precisely what Shroud is supposed to do: give the creature some protection while stopping its controller from the irresistible lure of abusing it for substantial gain. At least, without a little effort.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org