Very few games have had the luxury of an active lifespan that stretches into the decades, and even fewer of them have been able to keep that momentum going by continuing to release expansion after expansion of readily consumed material. While board games like Dominion, Smash Up, Munchkin, Zombies!!!, and numerous minis tables have certainly made valiant efforts to keeping the core game on the forefront of people’s minds by generating new material, few can compete with the relentless stream of new content that Magic: the Gathering has released over its tenure. In its existence, Magic now boasts over 80 expansion sets, nearly 20 core sets, several special release sets, and it still manages to release ancillary products annually that gather attention in their own right. From its basic cardboard beginnings to it sharing space in the digital and esports realms online, the scope of playable content this game has generated is undeniably impressive.
Yet it also has to do this out of sheer necessity. CCGs live and die by keeping a critical mass of audience appeal; if people stop buying cards, they shrivel up and disappear, ending up in the CCG dustbin of history. Irrespective of their unique attributes, clever themes, or innovative design elements, the most important trait for any CCG is retaining a core audience willing to spend money on it. If Magic hadn’t been able to manage that, we wouldn’t be here talking about it today.
Naturally, the easiest way to keep people hooked is to maintain demand. And hands-down the easiest way to accomplish that is by creating new material. New abilities, new card interactions, new storylines, and new innovations to the game itself.
Or at least the guise of new all new material.
What Magic figured out long ago is that you can’t simply reinvent the wheel with every successive expansion or core set release. Doing so could not only be overwhelming to the audience, but it also burns through your design space faster. Even a game as multifaceted as Magic has a finite amount of design space, and part of the game’s success is in how it manages to retain player interest while only releasing new ideas a few drops at a time. In reality, each new expansion only contains a handful of new mechanical ideas, properly dressed up with new flavor and theme, but it’s done in such a way that players eat it up – even if the vast majority of underlying content is merely variation on things they’ve already seen before. Fine-tuning this balance between existing and new design content in its product is why Magic has continued to have a successful reign after more than two decades, and why at its current pace it likely has enough in the tank to span another decade or two.
To illustrate, consider one of the more iconic concepts in the game – a counterspell card. Even back in Alpha, Magic’s very first set, there were seven different counters spread across four colors. The game obviously scaled that per-set ratio back in subsequent years, but a search today for variations on countering a spell yields close to 250 different cards.
Nearly 250 different iterations of the exact same idea, each time tweaked every so slightly.
This provides a pretty decent degree of variance for the same effect. For instance, some cards are creature triggers while others are spells. Moreover, in addition to an array of variety to ‘hard’ counters (Counterspell, Mana Drain, Force of Will, Cancel, etc., many are specialized counters of various subsets, focusing on things like mana taxing, noncreature spells, creature spells, spells of certain colors, or spells of specific casting costs. Each was tailored for the aims and needs of their respective sets across multiple formats, but at their core, they all execute the exact same singular purpose of countering someone else’s spell. All 250 of them.
Now that’s how you play the long game.
There are dozens of such examples across Magic’s lifetime, from direct damage to board wipes to numerous combat effects. But this week’s card pick coincidentally focuses on another in Blue’s longstanding bag of tricks: creature copying.
Today we have: Quicksilver Gargantuan
Name: Quicksilver Gargantuan
Edition: Scars of Mirrodin
Rarity: Mythic Rare
Focus: Creature Copying
Highlights: Some design tweaks are more subtle than others. Quicksilver Gargantuan is not one of the subtle ones.
Like countering, card cloning has also been a mainstay since Alpha, with the set including two such creatures in Clone and Vesuvan Doppelganger. Though used more sparingly, new iterations of Clone are also still very much part of Magic’s repertoire. And what this behemoth offers with its contribution is pretty, well, big.
As with all Clone-type cards, their main purpose is to copy another creature on the battlefield upon entering. This is highly advantageous in a variety of situations. Clone cards let you duplicate one of your own useful creatures already in play to double its effect, or you could mirror your opponent’s most dangerous creature to either capitalize on its effect or negate its danger to you in that moment. Clones can further enable specific deck strategies or merely be used to bolster the efficacy of the deck’s creature arsenal without relying on specifically chosen creatures ahead of time. So long as there are creatures running around, clones are a blank canvas of valuable options just waiting to be capitalized on. And in the casual multiplayer world like Commander, where creatures tend to be more potent, larger, and more expensive, you usually don’t have to wait too long for a worthwhile target.
Quicksilver Gargantuan plays very much into that mindset.
At its worst, this Blue giant is a 7/7 for 7 mana, which is only like to happen if you absolutely needed to put a creature out and there were no other. Otherwise, just like its granddaddy Clone, the Gargantuan will enter as any other creature on the battlefield, from utility creatures, to someone’s Commander, to whatever you feel may be particularly amusing in the moment.
The twist to Quicksilver is that unlike normal cloning, this creature remains a 7/7 creature. Although there are certain cases this could be a negative (if the chosen creature was naturally larger, for example), the vast majority of the time it will give a size boost to the creature – all while maintaining everything useful about the cloned creature in the first place. Even something as trivial as, say, a Zephyr Falcon suddenly becomes a very big, very real problem. Even the most innocuous 7/7 creature will still generate power on your board with minimal effort. The Gargantuan essentially solves one of the few drawbacks a normal clone has – making smaller creatures much more viable choices than they would otherwise be.
Some may balk at choosing to spend a few extra mana for Quicksilver versus the classic Clone or one of the more aggressively costed alternatives, but in EDH, where you usually have the time to get it out and a bevy of delicious targets to consider, the extra couple mana is well worth its gigantified version.
Hey, we never said Magic’s variations on preexisting ideas didn’t have merit from time to time.
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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