This week’s In Development – Is a five-mana planeswalker always bad?

It’s In Development time again, and this week we’re looking at planeswalkers.
All the planeswalkers.
As we enter into a new set with two exciting planeswalkers that also have the misfortune to cost five mana, I’ve taken a walk in to the moderately theoretical to ask whether the mythical four-mana mark really distinguishes between good and bad when it comes to planeswalkers.
Click here to read the article.
If you’d like to see the guts behind how I tried to launder everyone’s favorite planeswalkers into their worth in virtual mana, you can click here to download the file. It’s a Numbers file, which I suspect should import reasonably well into other spreadsheet applications.
So go check out the article and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

Elspeth Tirel

“Spoilers,” as they say.
In addition to a stellar outcome for Paul Rietzel, last weekend saw the second version of this lady (or, perhaps, “dame” in the British sense):
In case you missed it, here’s the text for the latest iteration of our favorite Knight-Errant:
Elspeth Tirel (3WW)
Planeswalker – Elspeth
+2: You gain 1 life for each creature you control.
-2: Put three 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens onto the battlefield.
-5: Destroy all other permanents except for lands and tokens.
Interesting card. Right now, she’s pre-retailing for an exorbitant amount, as is the way with planeswalkers these days, but I don’t think she’ll stick at that price. However, she does offer some interesting possibilities. She is…
A delayed Wrath
Really, more of a delayed Pernicious Deed. Unlike the first version of Elspeth, where I was fascinated by her “all upside” suite of abilities, I pretty much shot down to the bottom of the list on Elspeth Tirel. Although she doesn’t have nearly the “keep me alive right now!” power that a Day of Judgment or Eldrazi-Temple-fed All is Dust does, she does offer the possibility of successfully counter-sweeping an entire board full of control and control-fighting elements such as opposing planeswalkers, Luminarch Ascensions, annoying leylines, and so on.
You just need to keep her around for one whole turn.
On the one hand this makes her an easy include into a control deck. On the other hand, she’s otherwise not particularly well-suited to generating inevitability. The unpleasant side of facing down Elspeth, Knight-Errant from the other side of the board is that same “all upsideness” I mentioned above. If she makes a blocker, she becomes harder to take out via damage, and goes one step closer to her ultimate. Likewise, if she’s swinging dudes overhead for the kill, she’s also getting bigger and badder.
Curiously, Sarkhan the Mad ends up being very similar to Elspeth, Knight-Errant in practice, except that his version of “all upside” is “all burn.” Sort of like a Silicon Valley startup.
The value of Dame Tirel’s first and second abilities is actually impossible to judge in isolation – without knowing the context of the remainder of Scars (and Scars block, really) we can’t say much about them. I’m certainly unwilling to come down on either side of “tokens aggro is back” when we have a small handful of cards ot work with.
That said, the third ability is pretty cool in isolation, enough so that I’m excited to see this new take on Elspeth coming into the format. A Wrath with “suspend 1” is pretty good, and I like the sheer idea of nuking nearly everything else as an ultimate.

The San Diego Comic Con Magic panel – Scars! Duels! More!

This evening saw the first ever Magic panel at the San Diego Comic Con, featuring Mark Rosewater, Aaron Forsythe, Brian Tinsman, Paul Levy, and Christopher Moeller. It was well attended, with some folks needing to be turned away.
Marc Rosewater did a run through of upcoming products, which gave us some spoilerage that has already made the rounds thanks to twitter. Here’s a quick runthrough, including one tiny spoiler that I think hasn’t made it out yet. Here you go:
They kicked things off with a preview of some cards from From the Vaults: Relics.
Manticore from From the Vault: Relics
Yup, that’s Masticore.
Mox Diamond from From the Vault: Relics
…and that’s the Mox Diamond, which spurred the recent debate about work-arounds to the Reserve List. Later during the Q&A, Paul Levy indicated that they had, indeed, tightened the policy around the Reserve List so that the loophole allowing this kind of reprint was gone, but Mark Rosewater did say to remember that the members of R&D are gamers.
However, the big one from Relics was, of course:
Sword of Body and Mind from From the Vault: Relics
For more detail on the rules text, here’s a zoomed-in pic:
The rules text on Sword of Body and Mind
In introducing this card, Mark mentioned that players might notice that this is a blue and green sword, and recall that Mirrodin had a black and white sword as well as a blue and red sword, so if you “completed the pattern” (said with much hand waving) you might be able to figure out another card.
So who’s excited about Lightning Helix sword? (Well, just guessing. Boros Blade? Anyway…)
We then moved on to Duel Decks previews (for Elspeth versus Tezzeret)…
Duel Decks: Elspeth versus Tezzeret
Alternate Elspeth art from the Duel Decks set
Alternate art Elspeth, from Duels.
Alternate Elspeth art from Duel Decks
The same art in the card frame. Note the updated “Emblem” wording on Elspeth’s ultimate. Aaron Forsythe discussed the Emblem concept briefly. He noted that it was really designed to allow future cards, but they updated Elspeth’s ability to use the Emblem wording since it is appropriate for her as well.
Alternate Tezzeret art from Duel Decks
The alternate art Tezzeret from the same Duels set.
Alternate Tezzeret art from Duel Decks
The same, in its proper frame.
Some alternate card art from Duel Decks
Alternate art from an unnamed card to be included in the upcoming Duels set.
Some alternate card art from Duel Decks
Another alternate art for yet another unnamed card that will appear in Duels.
From there, we moved on to…
Scars of Mirrodin
Elspeth and Koth
Scars will feature a new Elspeth. The other person in this picture is a second planeswalker named Koth.
Elspeth and Koth
Here’s the tiny spoiler that I think hasn’t made it out so far: When an audience member asked what color Koth was, Mark Rosewater said that Koth would be “one of the colors” in the game. If he meant that literally, then Koth is a mono-colored planeswalker. Make of that what you will.
…and now, enjoy some Scars art that was delivered to us without comment:
A Scars of Mirrodin card
A Scars of Mirrodin card
Mark introduced the final piece with a discussion about how they’ve decided that “something” should come back in each set – for example, cycling in Alara and kicker in Zendikar. He said that something was definitely coming back in Scars, and then brought up the final piece of art:
A Scars of Mirrodin card
They followed the preview section with an extensive Q&A period, which was nice even as it had the tenor of a “Magic anonymous” meeting as each questioner introduced themself by saying their first name and then when they’d started Magic.
I have some fun quotes from that section, but I’ll save them for another time as they are funny, but not particularly spoilerrific.
As a closing note, I had a nice conversation with Randy Buehler after the panel where we talked about Mythics and pricing, and basically came down on the same spot – we like what they do for the game. They make staple rares dramatically cheaper, while making some of the more elective rares (now Mythics) more expensive. Someone came up and asked Mark Rosewater about Mythics after the panel, suggesting that they were making people unhappy, and Mark mentioned that they serve the fundamental purpose of making it more exciting to open packs, and that Magic sales have been up tremendously since the change.
Anyway, you’ll probably want to go back up and check out those pictures again. Do feel free to repost them, but do give me appropriate crediting and a link back to this post. Thanks, and enjoy. 🙂