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 [card]Ball Lightning[/card]. 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.
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.