How Will the Werewolves of Innistrad Work?

August 4th, 2011 by Ed Grabianowski

It’s already been revealed that tribal mechanics will play a part in Magic’s fall set, the horror themed Innistrad. We also know that the almost completely forsaken werewolf tribe will be getting a lot more attention. Inspired by one of Bennie Smith’s columns at Starcitygames, in which he speculated how the werewolves will function mechanically, I decided to create some speculative werewolf cards and see how they shake out.

It turns out that transforming creatures is a really difficult mechanic to pull of in Magic. There are ways to do it that are relatively simple, and ways to do it that are satisfying and capture the top-down design you were looking for, but it’s hard to find a way that does both.

Our first try is the red creature above with the jokey, horror movie name. It’s pretty basic — you get a little dude that can be sacrificed to make a bigger dude. Of course, you can just sac him the instant he comes into play and get 5/3 first striker for four mana (that sacrifice effect should probably have a mana cost to make this a little more fair and to keep it common). To get maximum mileage, you’ll want to use him to chump block, then sac. Or sac and use the token as a surprise big blocker. This is your basic “hulk out” effect, which some werewolves mirror, transforming when they get angry.

Traditionally, though, werewolves are tied to the phases of the moon. This is the hardest effect to get right in Magic. The moon waxes and wanes, and the power of a werewolf shifts along with it. Moonrage Werewolf experiences somewhat arbitrary power shifts that are somewhat controlled by your opponent, but it would be nice in limited when your opponent is really hitting her curve. Haste gives you a nice surprise aspect. “Oh, you tapped out to play that nice artifact? Here, have some Moonrage.”

By moving the werewolfism to an enchantment, we start to get some of the contagious lycanthropy effect. This turns any old creature into a mini Ball Lightning. Afterward, you’re left with a meek, weak human, just like in the movies when the werewolf wakes up naked and drained after a night out on the fur. It’s definitely weird to have a red card produce a white token creature, but probably not as weird as making a totally new token type (0/1 red human tokens?). The Flashback ability, which we know will be in Innistrad, grabs you a little extra mileage out of the card and also makes sense in that werewolves don’t just transform once. You can boost that soldier token one more time when the moon is full.

Here we shift the transformation to a non-aura enchantment. The top-down design breaks down a little on this one — the +1/+1 to non-wolf creatures doesn’t have any basis in werewolf lore, it’s only there to keep this from being a dead card in limited. The non-token clause is there to keep it from being utterly broken. The really interesting aspect of this card is that it only works during your turn. This mimics changing moon phases, and it’s also an overlooked mechanic in Magic that drives aggro strategies without speeding up the overall game too much.

Here, we’ve simply taken that mechanic and built it into the creature. This is a great example of how you can do cool effects with simple cards and not a ton of on-card text.

And here’s an example of how a fairly straightforward effect is incredibly difficult to model using Magic rules. Admittedly, the wording wouldn’t be as wordy if not for the ridiculous “beginning of your end step” nonsense. But still, we have a nice idea, a creature that is big and scary one turn, then wimpy the next, that requires a lot of juggling and text to pull off. This is also a terrible card. You don’t get to attack with a 6/6 until two entire turns after you’ve cast it.

Mark Rosewater revealed that werewolves will be green and red, but in trying to design a card that treats lycanthropy as a disease I ended up in blue. Apparently the first human infected was a wizard, but he hung out with a lot of druids and barbarians.

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15 Responses to “How Will the Werewolves of Innistrad Work?”

  1. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    Little rough, but…

    Lycanthropy 3GG
    Enchantment – Aura

    Enchant creature
    You control target creature
    Enchanted creature becomes a Wolf in addition to its other types and gets +2/+0.
    When enchanted creature deals combat damage to another creature, copy this enchantment on to that creature.

  2. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    Hm, I don’t know if there’s a mechanical way in Magic to copy an enchantment. Can’t make enchantment tokens, it can’t be copied “intangible.” Best way is probably to duplicate the effect itself. Or just move the original enchantment, which gives a “passing the infection along” effect.

  3. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    Yeah, that’s a good point. I could see it bouncing around though. Maybe change it to: “When enchanted creature deals combat damage to another creature, you may transfer this enchantment to that creature.”

    I like the idea of it being a transferable enchant.

  4. Comment by zizhou

    The rules can be twisted to accommodate pretty much any kind of token. It’s just not very common. Take, for instance, an animated enchantment enchanted with Followed Footsteps. Every turn, you’ll get a token of the original enchantment. Likewise with Rite of Replication on an animated land -> land tokens. Granted, it’s an inelegant way of doing things, but they exist.

    That being said, it might be easier to take a cue from Obsidian Fireheart and have:

    ~~

    Lycanthropy 3GG
    Enchantment – Aura
    When Lycanthropy enters the battlefield, put a lycan counter on enchanted creature. You control enchanted creature.

    Whenever a creature with a lycan counter on it deals combat damage to a creature without a lycan counter, take control of that creature and it gains a lycan counter. For as long as a creature has a lycan counter on it, it gains +2/+0 and is a Wolf in addition to its other types. (The wolves continue to howl after Lycanthropy has left the battlefield.)

    ~~

    My main beef with it now is that that it’s undercosted. It’s essentially a waaaay better mind control in a color that shouldn’t even have that effect in the first place.

    Also, I guess it’s tough to get back the stolen creatures since counter removal is harder to come by than enchantment removal.

    Also also, it’s now probably even more of a rules nightmare then before. :X

    On an unrelated note, I really like your take on the whole “transforming werewolf” motif in a mechanical form.

  5. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    Whew, I just realized how ridiculously powerful Moonrage Werewolf is in Commander. That should probably have a “choose target opponent” clause.

    Ernham Werewolf would be better by just switching it around, so it’s a wimpy 2/2 that becomes a 6/6 next turn (so you can swing with it when you normally could).

  6. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    What if Ernham Werewolf has:

    When you untap Ernham Werewolf, if it is a 2/2 wolf creature, it becomes a 6/6 human wolf creature instead.
    When you untap Ernham Werewolf, if it is a 6/6 human wolf creature, it becomes a 2/2 wolf creature instead.
    G: Tap or untap Ernham Werewolf

  7. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    The trigger that goes off on untapping is a pretty nice way of doing it. Giving the creature a built-in tap/untap ability is probably unnecessary (and a little dangerous — that kind of thing can lead to ridiculous combos).

  8. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    I forget, can you just tap something. Like, let’s say I had Ernham Werewolf untapped at 2/2. In response to your end step, could I simply tap it so it untaps as a 6/6 during my upkeep?

  9. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    No, you can only tap non-land as part of a cost, the result of another effect, or by attacking.

    So this creates a bit of tension where you either have to attack with your 2/2, or find another way to tap him (Icy Manipulator or somesuch).

    You could, I suppose, do a rare creature with a similar that can tap itself. Actually, check this out:

    Werewolf Priestess
    GG3
    Creature – Human Wolf
    2/2
    Trample.
    Tap: Target creature gets +2/+2 and gains the Wolf type in addition to its other types until EoT.
    Whenever Werewolf Priestess untaps, if she is 2/2, she becomes 6/6. If she is 6/6, she becomes 2/2.

  10. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    I like that a lot.

  11. Comment by Gavin O'Brien

    Fang of the Wolf Lord
    3
    Artifact

    2: Put a lycan counter on target creature that has taken combat damage this turn.
    2T: Until the end of the turn, you control all creatures with with lycan counters, they become untapped, have haste and gain +2/+2.

    “Gods, bind my hands, lest the wolf howl yet again. ~Anonymous”

  12. Comment by zizhou

    Moonrage Werewolf gives Citadel of Pain use again!

  13. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    C-C-C-C-Combo!

  14. Comment by Billy Gibbs

    And Disenchant means

    C-C-C-COMBOBREAKER!

  15. Comment by Joe Grabianowski

    B1
    Gravewolf
    Creature- Werewolf
    Threshold- Gravewolf gets +3+3 Deathtouch, First Strike
    1/1