What We Learned—Gatecrash, Spoiler Season, and Playability (Jan. 21)

Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

spoilers

Greetings Hipsters and welcome to this week’s edition of What We Learned, now with 100% more Monday and 100% less Friday! I know you’re excited. I can see it in your eyes. What you’re likely excited about however is the same thing we’re all excited about this week, and that’s the Gatecrash pre-release events coming up next weekend. I don’t blame you. The last two weeks have been chock full of spoilers from all over the Magic blog-o-sphere and of course over at The Mothership.

The spoiler season for Gatecrash, not unlike the spoiler seasons for Guildpact and Dissension so many years ago, is hindered by predictability. After all, since we saw the blueprint laid out in Return to Ravnica we have high expectations for Gatecrash. More importantly though, the structure of the set was basically set in stone as soon as RTR was released. We all knew that GTC would include the other half of the “shock-land” cycle. In addition there would be five guildmages, gate lands, charms, keyrunes and leaders (at rare).

That’s 30 cards in a 249 card set, nearly 12%. Not only is it a significant portion of the set, but it covers 20% of the rares and a decent chunk of the limited-playable uncommons (guildmages and keyrunes) and commons (gate lands). The reason this is significant is because spoiler season, as we discussed last week, is a major marketing campaign that Wizards deploys as part of every set release. The goal then is to make sure that people see cards that make them excited for the new set. Unfortunately not every card in the set is going to get players excited. In fact, most of them won’t.

Over ten years ago (yes, I’m old, get over it) Mark Rosewater wrote a fantastic piece in one of his first weekly columns titled When Cards Go Bad. If you haven’t read it you should click that link and give it a once over. In it, to summarize, MaRo responds to a reader question asking why some cards, even rares, are just flat-out awful. Rosewater, being the design expert that he is, explains all the reasons why it’s necessary for Wizards to make bad cards. Sometimes it’s to help new players learning the game. Other times its to challenge players to find creative ways to use seemingly bad effects. Rarely it’s just R&D legitimately making a gaff on a design.

Most of the time though, it’s because bad cards simply have to exist. Ultimately it comes down to marketing, as MaRo explains, ” In theory, we could design a 330 card set where every card sees play. But what about the next set? Would anyone buy the next small expansion if none of the cards were tournament worthy? Of course not.” This brings us back to spoiler season, which is a marketing tool. Gatecrash exists in an interesting position where by design a significant portion of the cards have to be bad, which makes them weak spoilers, while at the same time another significant portion of the cards has already been pseudo-spoiled. Perhaps their final effect isn’t completely known, but their existence isn’t going to surprise people. When you saw Orzhov Charm you likely thought, “Oh, that’s what the Orzhov charm does,” instead of thinking about what a great selling point for Gatecrash the card is going to be.

So what does that mean for spoiler season ultimately? It means some of the cards, perhaps more than usual, are going to be weak. Some of the cards have been very weak, such as Murder Investigation, which was hidden in a Mark Gottlieb article late in December about Ravnica as a city like New York (another article you should check out if you haven’t already). However, on the flip-side, some cards spoiled are going to be exceptionally powerful, in order to spark more discussion over the set, accomplishing the ultimate goal of marketing the set to the masses.

Enter Glaring Spotlight. Forsythe dropped this gem on Twitter last week and the response was immediate. The card is going to see a ton of play and is clearly an answer to a meta-game problem that Wizards R&D may have had the foresight to predict. The response to Forsythe’s Twitter post alone was unsurprising:

osyp_tweet

Problem solved, literally. Wizards accomplishes a number of tasks with Glaring Spotlight. Firstly, as Osyp points out, they are addressing an anticipated concern with the metagame in Standard. Way back in Innistrad Block Constructed, Invisible Stalker + Increasing Savagery was a largely successful deck. It was clearly poised to make a splash in Standard as well, but a number of factors may have held it back for some time. Ultimately though, the Bant decks hit Atlantic City pretty hard. The other problem that Glaring Spotlight solves is the issue of making spoiler season exciting.

Before Glaring Spotlight, the most exciting spoiler from GTC was Enter the Infinite, a card that is going to be fun for casual play but isn’t a reason to go out and spend your hard-earned money opening packs of Gatecrash. Skullcrack certainly made some waves, but as an uncommon it won’t be price-prohibitive to play. Sure, the set will have “shock-lands” and it will have plenty of cards that were spoiled for EDH and other casual formats, but it needed to have its big-time constructed-playable rare.

Return to Ravnica had Abrupt Decay. Avacyn Restored had Cavern of Souls. Dark Ascension had Grafdigger’s Cage. Innistrad had Snapcaster Mage. Now Gatecrash has its money rare in Glaring Spotlight. Spoiler season has finally hit its crescendo as we approach the pre-release but it’s unlikely any card will be as exciting and get more packs opened than Glaring Spotlight.

The Quick Hits:

  • We’re kicking things off this week with Keita Mori’s heartfelt eulogy of the late Itaru Ishida. [The Mothership: Feature Article]
  • Matt Sperling has a lot on his mind, most notably he’s upset with the facial features of people who have success playing Elves. [Sperling’s Sick of It]
  • Paul Rietzl has a great piece on the topic of losing in which he claims to have been consistently losing for the past seven months, although I distinctly remember him handing my ass to me in Round 8 of Grand Prix Philadelphia late last year. [Channel Fireball]
  • The next five theme weeks have been announced over at The Mothership. It should come as no surprise that it’s all the guilds from Gatecrash. [The Mothership: News]
  • Darwin Kastle delivers another powerful piece on the role of the Magic Community in our lives with a focus on players who are being unfairly discriminated against. [Gathering Magic]
  • Here’s an adorable—but kind of really longer than it needed to be—infographic about Angels and Demons. [thatguyjames]
  • Have you ever sat down for a match and had no idea what the people around you were talking about? Now there’s a dictionary of Magic terminology! [Legit MTG]

Wallpaper of the Week:

Last week’s feature card is Tin Street Market. In high resolution the detailed market is full of wares and signs and the red hue is really nice. However, I’m not sure it’s really wallpaper material. I won’t be using it.

Grade: B-

The Week Ahead:

Make sure you get to your local pre-release this weekend! I will be at the midnight event at Twenty Sided Store slinging Orzhov. I may also hit up another local shop on Saturday, but only time will tell. May all your packs contain Glaring Spotlights.

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Comments
2 Responses to “What We Learned—Gatecrash, Spoiler Season, and Playability (Jan. 21)”
  1. Kanvaly Bamba says:

    Hey Rich! Hope all is well. I think you are SERIOUSLY overestimating the importance and power level of Glaring Spotlight; it will be a dollar rare very soon. Abrupt Decay, Snapcaster Mage and Cavern of Souls had format changing implications (some in multiple formats). They PRODUCED decks where there were no decks before or boosted the power of already present decks. Snapcaser was a proactive card and the others were “hosers” against a WIDE range of decks. Spotlight is a narrow and frankly not that great hoser for like ONE deck. I remember some decrying the death of graveyard decks with the printing of Grafdigger’s Cage but little has changed and the card sees only a smattering of sideboard play. People will remember Dark Ascension for cards like LINGERING SOULS, Huntsmaster, Sorin, Geralf’s Messanger, Falkenrath Aristocrat, etc. Hosers are rarely the cards that get remembered and they have to do more than inconvenience an opposing deck, they have to CRUSH it.

    TRDL: Spotlight is a marginal card that is only seeing some talk because people are butthurt playing against the hexproof deck. There are plenty of other cards in the set more deserving of your attention (though I assume you wrote the piece before the full spoiler).

    • Rich Stein says:

      Hey Kanvaly, I’m doing well, glad to hear from you.

      My point wasn’t that Glaring Spotlight is going to be worth something in the long term or is going to be a format staple. My point is that the card is the splashiest spoiler and is meant to get more people talking about Gatecrash.

      Glaring Spotlight is a special spoiler because it was spoiled by one of the lead developers of Magic the Gathering on Twitter. This is use of social media as a marketing tool. The objective is to get more people interested in Gatecrash by generating a discussion around an exciting card.

      Ultimately, you’re absolutely right that for constructed play there are better cards in Gatecrash, but that’s not the point. I’m not discussing the financial value of spoiled cards. I’m trying to take a look at the amount of buzz cards generate. Lingering Souls, Geralf’s Messenger and Falkenrath Aristocrat were cards that no one gave a crap about. The only cards in DKA that anyone was talking about were Grafdigger’s Cage and maybe Huntmaster of the Fells.

      This is the power of spoiler season as a marketing tool. Cards like Glaring Spotlight are fleeting. As you say, most format hosers are too narrow. No graveyard hate card since Leyline of the Void has come close to being as effective, but cards like Yixlid Jailer, Grafdigger’s Cage and Rest in Peace are still great ways to build up interest in a set during spoiler season.

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