09/30/2011 LD: "A Song of Black and Red"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Latest Developments, which goes live Friday morning on magicthegathering.com.

I have been quite happy with Dead Weights that I used to shrink 3/3 flyers into mere 1/1s, and that's something that no red spell can claim to do.



It can turn a 4/4 into a 1/1 though
No love for Into the Maw of Hell? I can understand not mentioning Blasphemous Act since that's a sweeper, but the Maw is certainly creature removal.

Edit: Right, because that's an uncommon. IGNORE ME!
Rules Nut Advisor
Geistflame makes me wish Lightning Bolt were still around so that it could have done 2 damage instead of 1. I don't see its 1 damage as being symbolic of how red removal is different from black; I see it as being useless.
That aside, I like how Innistrad makes each color's removal feel different (most sets do this too, but Green picking up Fights makes all the difference).
IMAGE(http://images.community.wizards.com/community.wizards.com/user/blitzschnell/c6f9e416e5e0e1f0a1e5c42b0c7b3e88.jpg?v=90000)
I have been quite happy with Dead Weights that I used to shrink 3/3 flyers into mere 1/1s, and that's something that no red spell can claim to do.



It can turn a 4/4 into a 1/1 though


It can also turn 3/3s into 2/2s.

Anyway this was a super cool article and talked about things I've never thought about so clearly before. I really liked it.

Also I definitely think harvest pyre is the weakest of the red removal spells, at least in limited. I got a ton of mileage out of my geistflame, but I never had the graveyard for the pyre.
Yeah, Harvest Pyre is underwhelming in multiples.  Particularly in attrition wars where you need your removal most to break a stalemate.
I was disappointed with Harvest Pyre at the prerelease. I don't think I was ever thrilled to draw it, as I usually didn't get a big enough graveyard until it was too late for me to deal with the problem anyways.

Seriously though, I can definitely see where he's coming from. I'd still like my Disfigures back, but I suppose I can live with Dead Weight. It's not quite as good, but it's still incredibly useful. If Harvest Pyre was the card I was never happy to draw, Dead Weight was the card I always was glad to see. 
Immature College Student (Also a Rules Advisor)
Wait, so your way of ensuring that players can get enough removal is to give them bad removal?  I guess why this set contains a 4-mana Reprisal right next to a 3-mana "destroy target attacking creature" at the same color and rarity.  I dunno, it seems as though making both cards equally good would have the same effect of ensuring there was enough removal to go around, and powering one of them down just means the players who don't get the good stuff will still lose.
Also, I was hoping this article would address the issue of how black-red was supposedly not aggressive enough, as MaRo has been saying Tom will talk about this.  (He's probably saving this for Vampire week now that I think of it.)
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As far as the benefit of the rest of Magic is concerned, gold cards in Legends were executed perfectly. They got all the excitement a designer could hope out of a splashy new mechanic without using up any of the valuable design space. Truly amazing. --Aaron Forsythe's Random Card Comment on Kei Takahashi
Wait, so your way of ensuring that players can get enough removal is to give them bad removal?  I guess why this set contains a 4-mana Reprisal right next to a 3-mana "destroy target attacking creature" at the same color and rarity.  I dunno, it seems as though making both cards equally good would have the same effect of ensuring there was enough removal to go around, and powering one of them down just means the players who don't get the good stuff will still lose.

Nah, if they were equally good, then they'd get snapped up immediately--even with both in the same pack they'd likely go in straight picks. You probably can't load up the format with removal to the point where people stop taking Doom Blade-level removal spells because they "have enough already" without totally warping the environment.

With weaker removal spells, the players who picked up the better removal often won't bother picking up the weak stuff early because it's worse than what they have--they'll instead go after the better non-removal cards. The players who didn't see that stronger removal will therefore have a chance to pick up at least some removal; even if it's the weaker pieces, it's much better than nothing.

Come join me at No Goblins Allowed


Because frankly, being here depresses me these days.

It also makes for more interesting decisions. When do you take the worse card that fills a hole in your deck?
You say all that, when this set contains a black Lava Spike?
In Constructed, the two colors that drift toward one another are green and white. Both colors like to play creatures in large quantities, are good at making tokens, and get Overrun-style mass creature pumping effects. That, however, is an article for another day.



Looking forward to reading that article. 
Yeah. Not to mention they're the colours that get lifegain, grant regeneration, get the most aggressive weenies (er, except in Innistrad), and have a very similar ethos of community working together.

As for the poll, "I played my double-faced cards in sleeves in my deck." - as we were I thought told to - and that at least meant I could see all the relevant info on the card in my hand. But it was a royal pain to have to fingernail the cards into and out of their sleeves all the time. When werewolves came out, we usually ended up taking them out of the sleeve and leaving the card kinda floating on top of the sleeve, which just looks odd. I've said it before and I probably won't be able to stop myself saying it again: they should have been flip cards.

Anyway, as for the actual article: I'm very grateful for articles like this. This is the kind of thing dailymtg.com is uniquely suited to: providing design/development insight into the makings of a cardset, from the WotC insider's point of view, in a way that no other site can. It's an interesting point to bear in mind for those of us designing our own cardsets: it's good to make the red and black removal feel different, and usually to play into the player's expectations (apart from when we want to subvert those expectations).
I liked this article a lot. Made me think about things I hadn't before.

As for dual faced cards... honestly I withheld judgment. I've stood by almost every controversial decision Wizards has made in the past decade. I liked flip cards in Kamigawa...

Dual-faced-cards are a pain. I like looking at them. I do not like playing with them. I liked Civilized Scholar (I was playing blue/green at the prerelease), but every time I played him was accompanied with a sigh of frustration. (I was playing unsleeved with checklists, but I think it'd only be marginally better if I had to manually pull it out of the sleeve.

The only time I enjoyed it was when I played the actual card in the deck (in a casual game afterwards) and just accepted the information hit that it came with.
As for the double faced cards thing, at the prerelease I ended up at an event that did sealed and built two decks, sideboarding between them just for the fun of it. One of them was sleeved, the other was not, and I ran double-faced cards in both. (Double faced just in the sleeves)

I have to say, both were somewhat annoying. Part of it was my fault for not having a pen instead of a pencil, but it was always somewhat annoying not being able to immediately be aware of the full impact of a double face card. When running them in sleeves, it was annoying to wrangle them out those few times the werewolves actually flipped.
Immature College Student (Also a Rules Advisor)
With weaker removal spells, the players who picked up the better removal often won't bother picking up the weak stuff early because it's worse than what they have--they'll instead go after the better non-removal cards. The players who didn't see that stronger removal will therefore have a chance to pick up at least some removal; even if it's the weaker pieces, it's much better than nothing.


Except that it's not better than nothing.  If you pick a weak removal spell, it may well be so weak it doesn't kill what you need it to kill when you need to kill something, and it'll definitely be useless when what you need is a way to actually kill your opponent if all he's picked is good removal spells.  I would take a Raging Goblin over a Harvest Pyre unless I have a way to fill my graveyard reliably enough that I can Harvest Pyre things bigger than Raging Goblins, because a Raging Goblin might win me a game, at least if the opponent gets a slow start, while a Harvest Pyre with no assistance won't do me any good against most real threats.  A Raging Goblin or a Grizzly Bears or any other halfway decent creature is better than a removal spell as weak as Harvest Pyre or Corpse Lunge (mind you I love the cards as flavorful designs to put in goofy constructed decks, I just think they shouldn't be considered to exist for the sake of Limited).  It's like if the only transportation you can afford is a bicycle with an almost-flat tire, sticky melted handlebars and pedals that cut your ankles every time you stop it, you probably should just not try to go anywhere and make the best of staying at home - likewise, if you can't get removal that actually functions, better to go without removal and just try to win with more threats.
(Of course, all this is ignoring my real belief, which is that every card in a Limited pack ought to be of equal usefulness, enabling you to first-pick solely on personal preference and make subsequent picks based on a combination of personal preference and compatibility with previous picks.  Because apparently, everyone else would rather get stuck paying for useless junk because it makes the environment more "skill testing" if you can get unlucky and end up with nothing but Dryad's Favors and Harvest Bounties your entire draft.  This is a very regular occurrence for me; one or two halfway-decent picks in each freshly opened pack, and then nothing but utter crap for the rest of the draft with very few exceptions.)
My New Phyrexia Writing Credits My M12 Writing Credits
As far as the benefit of the rest of Magic is concerned, gold cards in Legends were executed perfectly. They got all the excitement a designer could hope out of a splashy new mechanic without using up any of the valuable design space. Truly amazing. --Aaron Forsythe's Random Card Comment on Kei Takahashi
I played with the two-faced cards in opaque sleeves, and I have to say.. I wanted to like them but man they were annoying.

Every time I transformed a werewolf, I just pulled it out of the sleeve and left it, because it was rare that a werewolf didn't transform at least 4 times during a game.
And then since it was lying on top of the sleeve, it slid around all over the place. Nothing major, but just enough to be an annoyance and lessen my enjoyment of the game.

Even the non-werewolves were annoying. There were many people who would draw their opening hand for a game, and then say "wait a sec" while they moved away to furtively switch the double faced card they drew the right way around. (as they forgot to return it the previous game.)
And so many people were nervous and confused about whether they could ask to see the back side of the card. (I'm pretty sure they can, since you're allowed to ask the judge for Oracle wordings for any card.)

None of the double faced cards were exciting enough to make the annoyance worth it. (and I've drafted two Garruks already..)
(Of course, all this is ignoring my real belief, which is that every card in a Limited pack ought to be of equal usefulness, enabling you to first-pick solely on personal preference and make subsequent picks based on a combination of personal preference and compatibility with previous picks.  Because apparently, everyone else would rather get stuck paying for useless junk because it makes the environment more "skill testing" if you can get unlucky and end up with nothing but Dryad's Favors and Harvest Bounties your entire draft.  This is a very regular occurrence for me; one or two halfway-decent picks in each freshly opened pack, and then nothing but utter crap for the rest of the draft with very few exceptions.)



This ignores the issue that drafting is a different skill set than building from a sealed pool. Recognition of picks means you understand that, on the chance you get a random lucky 15 in the pack, you know what to pass, not to pass, and what to pick, and the answer isn't just that some removal is better but that some removal is better in the environment.

"Possibilities abound, too numerous to count." "Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth." --- P.B. Medawar (1969) "Ever since man first left his cave and met a stranger with a different language and a new way of looking at things, the human race has had a dream: to kill him, so we don't have to learn his language or his new way of looking at things." --- Zapp Brannigan (Beast With a Billion Backs)
Just wanted to complain once again that I still can not vote in the polls.
Wait.

What.

Since when is Harvest Pyre a bad removal card?  Last time I checked, removal that just outright kills something is the best -kind- of removal spell.  It's the only red removal card that kills Kindercatch and bomb creatures like Geist-Honored Monk and Reaper from the Abyss.  Across all the games I witnessed from Midnight to Sunday evening, I don't think I saw a single game where there weren't enough cards in the grave for the Pyre to just outright kill important targets.

And Corpse Lunge is also really, really good.  There's a fairly high occurrance of 1-2 toughness utility guys in this set, and plenty of high-power guys that die pretty easily.  It's not removal you can play super-early or anything, but in the clutch and in a properly built deck, you should always have some kind of power to sling to it.

I don't get the complaints here at all.  It's like bizarro land or something.
Wait.

What.

Since when is Harvet Pyre a bad removal card?



Read better, i.e., more thouroughly. Respondents sayign it's a bad spell are discussing it in multiples. It requires you to remove portions of your graveyard to scale it up. If you nuke something big, earlier, you cannot nuke something equally big later without devoting energies to refilling said graveyard. If the graveyard can contain in an average of competitive play only 4-6 cards from casting non-permanent spells, you will eventually only use this readily to nuke something for 4-6, and this means any later Pyre in your hand is effectively useless without rebuilding. If you are dealing with multiple 4/4 or 5/5 creatures, then you will NOT be able to use multiples effectively.

I suspect, but cannot insist, that it works best in a counter-burn strategy, or a R/G accell-burn build, where you toss a lot of spells to ramp up, using said grave to build up large Pyres. Keeping creature cards in the bin will help pump Splinterfrights and such cards.

"Possibilities abound, too numerous to count." "Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth." --- P.B. Medawar (1969) "Ever since man first left his cave and met a stranger with a different language and a new way of looking at things, the human race has had a dream: to kill him, so we don't have to learn his language or his new way of looking at things." --- Zapp Brannigan (Beast With a Billion Backs)
Having a Harvest Pyre was definitely nice.  I used it quite often and found it useful.  But, yeah, I wouldn't want multiples, not without some way to fill my GY, anyway.  One was the right amount to have in limited.

Got to say I disagree with the design philosophy though.  Red tends to get pigeonholed into aggro decks for two reasons.  The first is that its midrange and late game creatures tend to be lacking (titan aside, of course), compared to what white, black, and blue have to offer.  Sort of the same issue many green creatures suffer from.  And the second is that, where every other color starts gaining card advantage, as the game goes on, with card draw, recursion, and so on, red winds up suffering from card disadvantage, as it has to use 2 cards to kill one.  Big creatures have been updated, made actually worth casting, rather than just reanimating.  Red's removal though hasn't gotten any love to counteract that.

A key component for red has always been its X damage spells.  These see play in limited, but not much in constructed.  They just aren't good enough.  The devs need to give red an X spell that deals X to a player or 2X to a creature.  4 mana to kill a 6/6 at sorcery speed wouldn't be as good as black's removal.  But it would at least give red a viable option.  And red might actually run some X spells in constructed again, other than as the occasional one of.
I chose the "I played my double-faced cards in sleeves in my deck" option for the poll, because it's what I ended up liking best and doing during the last rounds. I had a base red-green deck with six werewolves, so that was perfect for experimenting. I started by playing checklists in opaque sleeves and having the DFCs in penny sleeves in my deckbox, so that transformation wouldn't require unsleeving, but I ended up hating that method : getting the right DFC out my box without showing others was slow and unpractical, and looking at the checklist card in my hand felt unesthetic and also annoying because of having to take the time to see which one it is by looking for the blackened dot. With opaque-sleeved DFCs, I got them out of the sleeve once they were on the battlefield, and put them back only once they left the battlefield. I found that to be the lesser evil, and overall very manageable. The fun of transforming felt worth it with that method.

I really look forward to drafting this set. It seems that fewer cards than usual are all-good all the time; most are somewhat situational and require careful deckbuilding. Among other things, managing the graveyard resource intelligently looks very skill-intensive and rewarding. 
Magic The Gathering DCI Lvl 1 Judge Don't hesitate to post rules question in the Rules Q&A forum for me and other competent advisors to answer : http://community.wizards.com/go/forum/view/75842/134778/Rules_Q38A
(Of course, all this is ignoring my real belief, which is that every card in a Limited pack ought to be of equal usefulness...

That would make Limited rather uninteresting, if it weren't completely impossible in the first place.

It's like saying every tool at the hardware store ought to be of equal usefulness.

Wow, this is a fascinating and top-notch article (I think immediately after reading it).


I think the "bad removal" plan is actually quite good.  I also like the "sometimes conditionally good" removal spells.  Nobody is kidding themselves about how Brimstone Volley is a premier removal spell, but sometimes you're desperate enough to play something "worse" because it fills a role in your deck.


I've been a fan of Enfeeblement for many years, and Dead Weight seems to be in the same vein but better.  Wouldn't it be funny if black became the "second best enchantment color" because of it's connection to the idea of curses and hexes?

(Of course, all this is ignoring my real belief, which is that every card in a Limited pack ought to be of equal usefulness, enabling you to first-pick solely on personal preference and make subsequent picks based on a combination of personal preference and compatibility with previous picks.  Because apparently, everyone else would rather get stuck paying for useless junk because it makes the environment more "skill testing" if you can get unlucky and end up with nothing but Dryad's Favors and Harvest Bounties your entire draft.  This is a very regular occurrence for me; one or two halfway-decent picks in each freshly opened pack, and then nothing but utter crap for the rest of the draft with very few exceptions.)



Maybe you should work on reading signals then =p
Wait.

What.

Since when is Harvet Pyre a bad removal card?



Read better, i.e., more thouroughly. Respondents sayign it's a bad spell are discussing it in multiples. It requires you to remove portions of your graveyard to scale it up. If you nuke something big, earlier, you cannot nuke something equally big later without devoting energies to refilling said graveyard. If the graveyard can contain in an average of competitive play only 4-6 cards from casting non-permanent spells, you will eventually only use this readily to nuke something for 4-6, and this means any later Pyre in your hand is effectively useless without rebuilding. If you are dealing with multiple 4/4 or 5/5 creatures, then you will NOT be able to use multiples effectively.

I suspect, but cannot insist, that it works best in a counter-burn strategy, or a R/G accell-burn build, where you toss a lot of spells to ramp up, using said grave to build up large Pyres. Keeping creature cards in the bin will help pump Splinterfrights and such cards.


I took Harvest Pyre out of my deck after it sat in my hand for three matches and was never able to kill anything worthwhile. Swapping it out for a bad creature worked out really well for me.
I would take a Raging Goblin over a Harvest Pyre unless I have a way to fill my graveyard reliably enough that I can Harvest Pyre things bigger than Raging Goblins, because a Raging Goblin might win me a game, at least if the opponent gets a slow start, while a Harvest Pyre with no assistance won't do me any good against most real threats.  A Raging Goblin or a Grizzly Bears or any other halfway decent creature is better than a removal spell as weak as Harvest Pyre or Corpse Lunge
...
(Of course, all this is ignoring my real belief, which is that every card in a Limited pack ought to be of equal usefulness, enabling you to first-pick solely on personal preference and make subsequent picks based on a combination of personal preference and compatibility with previous picks.  Because apparently, everyone else would rather get stuck paying for useless junk because it makes the environment more "skill testing" if you can get unlucky and end up with nothing but Dryad's Favors and Harvest Bounties your entire draft.  This is a very regular occurrence for me; one or two halfway-decent picks in each freshly opened pack, and then nothing but utter crap for the rest of the draft with very few exceptions.)


The combination of your demonstrated card evaluation skills and your simultaneous complaint about consistently not being able to put together a serviceable draft deck might lead one to draw some sort of connection or causality between the two.
Willpell is many things, quite a few of them good. But if there's one thing he is not, it's a Spike. He doesn't understand how Spikes think and approaches subjects like power level from a viewpoint that any experienced Spike instantly dismisses as hopelessly naive. It's almost impossible to even correct him on such things, there almost isn't a common language there. I've resigned myself to enjoying the 80% or so of his posts that are entertaining and/or insightful, on other aspects of the game, for which having to wince occasionally at the other 20% seems a fair price to pay.
Jeff Heikkinen DCI Rules Advisor since Dec 25, 2011
It's like saying every tool at the hardware store ought to be of equal usefulness.



Counting price as a factor of usefulness (ie a screwdriver should cost less than a Swiss Army knife which includes a screwdriver), I fail to see why you say that would be a bad thing.  Ideally, the hardware store would sell just one tool, which can do everything you could possibly need a tool for.  But assuming that you wanted the separate tools for the same aesthetic reasons that you might want different Magic cards, how is it fun to be charged more money for some "tools" than others, so that your personal preference might end up randomly being expensive, or condemning you to lose games just because your favorite strategy is intentionally made weak by Wizards since it's not as popular as a strategy you find boring?  No, I want all cards and decks to be equally useful; your choice of what to play should never be restricted by anything other than your wishes.
My New Phyrexia Writing Credits My M12 Writing Credits
As far as the benefit of the rest of Magic is concerned, gold cards in Legends were executed perfectly. They got all the excitement a designer could hope out of a splashy new mechanic without using up any of the valuable design space. Truly amazing. --Aaron Forsythe's Random Card Comment on Kei Takahashi
Counting price as a factor of usefulness (ie a screwdriver should cost less than a Swiss Army knife which includes a screwdriver), I fail to see why you say that would be a bad thing.  Ideally, the hardware store would sell just one tool, which can do everything you could possibly need a tool for.  But assuming that you wanted the separate tools for the same aesthetic reasons that you might want different Magic cards, how is it fun to be charged more money for some "tools" than others, so that your personal preference might end up randomly being expensive, or condemning you to lose games just because your favorite strategy is intentionally made weak by Wizards since it's not as popular as a strategy you find boring?  No, I want all cards and decks to be equally useful; your choice of what to play should never be restricted by anything other than your wishes.

 

Wizards probably found out they'd make more money by making strategies likes land destruction and counterspells weaker.

Also, a Swiss Knife is less comfortable to use than a screwdriver, so if I use it regulary, I don't want to fiddle with it. There are also different sizes, so a Swiss Knife can't handle them all. If it was 1 tool that could do everything, it would probably weight more than a human =p
IF something is used (and thus sold) a lot, it can be made cheaper because a lot of small profit can be just as good as a few big profits. You have to pay more for a niche tool because it wouldn't be viable to be sold otherwise. Is that 'fun'? More fun than not being able to do anything at all with your personal preference.
You have to pay more for a niche tool because it wouldn't be viable to be sold otherwise. Is that 'fun'? More fun than not being able to do anything at all with your personal preference.



But in Magic you pay less for niche tools, because they're useless.  Only the cards which correspond to straightforward strategies are designed to be powerful.
My New Phyrexia Writing Credits My M12 Writing Credits
As far as the benefit of the rest of Magic is concerned, gold cards in Legends were executed perfectly. They got all the excitement a designer could hope out of a splashy new mechanic without using up any of the valuable design space. Truly amazing. --Aaron Forsythe's Random Card Comment on Kei Takahashi
But in Magic you pay less for niche tools, because they're useless.  Only the cards which correspond to straightforward strategies are designed to be powerful.



It is indeed true Wizards has been steering the gameplay over the past few years towards areas they want it to be, which might affect the depth of the game negatively. What kind of strategies you feel don't get the tools they deserve?
It is indeed true Wizards has been steering the gameplay over the past few years towards areas they want it to be, which might affect the depth of the game negatively. What kind of strategies you feel don't get the tools they deserve?


I don't have time to answer that question exhaustively for sets in general, so let's just look at Innistrad.  We know what does work in this set - tribal aggro based around one of the five main tribes, possibly with tokens as a sixth "tribe" thanks to Parallel Lives and Immaculate Virtue.  Here's a look at some cards I think needed more help than they got.
Memory/s Journey and Runic Repetition - If Memory's Journey was a green spell with blue flashback instead of the reverse, it would work even better, but as printed, a blue/green deck can repeatedly loop these two cards to recycle other flashback spells while you winnow your deck down to just the looping spells; I love to see an engine like that at work.  Unfortunately, an aggro deck will invariably kill you long before you build such a loop, because Wizards refuses to make defense trump offense in the game (unblockable creatures, direct damage that can't be countered, poison counters that can't be removed, etc.).  Even if your opponent never attacks, you'll have to come up with a way to actually win, and I think creating a loop where you can replay your memories over and over and sculpt control of your mind down to just a handful of chosen thoughts ought to be a victory condition in and of itself.
Mindshrieker - This is a pretty good card as-is, but it would have been nice if it activated for less mana to make it better able to perform its trick (or else there should be more ways to generate a ton of colorless mana), and there aren't the library-stacking cards you really need.  I think the set should have contained a reprint of Index along with a card of CMC 9 or better, so you could live the dream of nailing the opponent on turn 3 for massive damage if you got lucky.
Murder of Crows - As a card-filtering engine, this should have been smaller so you could play it early and benefit from its ability instead of using it to beat face.  (This above all is what Wizards does not agree with me about - the size of the creatures is unimportant, because any creature can end up big; it's the abilities that make them unique, so those should always take precedent.)
Curiosity - Needs to be combined with a "tim" in case the opponent has infinite blocking ability.
Rooftop Storm - Not very functional in a mono-blue deck since there are no blue Zombies that are highly expensive and devoid of graveyard-exiling costs that the Storm doesn't obviate.
Burning Vengeance - A fairly nice card, but the fact that I opened one at the Prerelease and had nowhere near enough flashback spells to use it speaks to the fact that it shouldn't have been something you can get in Sealed unless the set is so saturated with Flashback that it would probably be insanely borken in Draft.
Curse of the Pierced Heart - Could have been the centerpiece of a rare diversion from red's usual aggressiveness; they could have given us Walls of Stone and more "slow death" cards to enable an archetype of "fortress red" where you sit safely in a castle and watch your enemies destroy themselves.  But instead we stick to the burn stereotype.
Heretic's Punishment - Again, we needed library manipulation for this card to really work, plus it's just too expensive for the randomness of the damage.  I'd have priced it at 2R so it could enter play early and do its thing the next turn, or else made it cost much less to activate so that you could run it multiple times in one turn, either to finish off a target that survives the first blast or to maximize your hope of burning out the opponent.
Infernal Plunge - Why was this not an instant so it could enable Morbid combat trcks?
Kessig Wolf, Darkthicket Wolf - They said they wanted to give werewolf players some "sinks" to spend their mana, but this is the best they can provide?  Abilities costing 2 or 3 mana which are only usable once a turn and don't help if you can't even attack?  where's Direct Damage Wolf and Winds of Change Wolf and Token-Maker Wolf and Land-Animator Wolf?  (They wouldn't have to be wolves, of course, I'm just going with theme.)  A "mana sink" is not something that lets you spend a few mana once to do something you don't need to do anyway, nor is it something like Heretic's Punishment which eats mana in chunks of four.  Again the message is clear - if you want to do anything creative and unusual, you will suck at it, because only boring beats to the face are allowed to be strong.
Past in Flames - I'm very glad this card exists, it's the one mythic I'd love to open, but yet again, it receives hardly any support.  Dirt-cheap and useful spells that don't already have flashback are in short supply, and what it really needs is multiple Seething Song effects.  When was the last time a set had multiple Seething Song effects?
Scourge of Geier Reach - This card tells you to give your opponent token creatures and then prevent them from attacking or blocking.  The tools to do this don't exist; this card purposes only to counteract an enemy strategy, and I hate that Design does this.  I want to be proactive with my deck design; don't give me abilities I can't build around!
Abbatoir Ghoul - A nice card, but I would have liked them to give you the ability to have him "fight" in mono-black decks, instead of needing to splash green.  That way, you could use him to gain life without having to put your opponent in charge of the blocking decisions.
Bloodgift Demon - Yet another example of them attaching an awesome build-around-me ability to a creature whose size makes it largely irrelevant.  Not quite as cut-and-dried as with Murder of Crows, as there is some interesting tension in deciding to risk whether he gives your opponent that might kill him or gives you a card at the risk of your own death.  Still, the same principle would work with him as a 3/2 for 3 or so, and that way it could actually come online in time to not be steamrolled like you always are in this game.
Brain Weevil - Needs color-change effects or swampwalk to guarantee he gets through past black decks.  And you really don't ever have much reason to use his ability; he needs to be combined with Megrim or something, and that's not in this set, nor are there other terribly strong reasons to want to empty the opponent's hand.  As un-fun an experience as hand destruction makes, I'd rather it didn't exist at all if it isn't going to be properly supported as an actual agenda.
Curse of Oblivion - Very little reason to use this except as a counter to graveyard strategies (which don't really need countering, since the few times they work at all they're insanely potent and a card like this won't help).  Where's an Enslaved Horror to go with this thing?
Ghoulcaller's Chant, Ghoulraiser, Angel of Flight Alabaster - These cards really needed for Tribal spells to be in this block, which they were not, and for not a particularly good reason.  Working only on creatures, they're nothing special.
Heartless Summoning - I love this card; here my only complaint is that the set needed to inclued a 2-mana 1/2 artifact creature so that you could play it for free as a 0/1 the turn you play this.  Just because.  You need to be able to do things like that when a card like this is around.
Creeping Renaissance - Another lovely card with build-around potential, but not a lot of cards to build around it with - and of course it has to be rare.
The Entire Color White - Is boring.  Virtually all of it is aggro-focused; the only cards I find more than passably interesting for reasons beyond flavor are Divine Reckoning (a nice new variant on Wraths), Intangible Virtue (a long-overdue build-around for tokens.dec), Ghostly Possession - practically the only defensive card left in what was once the Circles of Protection color that had fewer creatures in Alpha than even Blue), and Village Bell-Ringer (who wants to be combined with tap-ability creatures, but I can forgive the shortage of obvious combos since it breaks the card's flavor).  While a few other cards are somewhat interesting and the token deck might amuse me, overall the color fails to offer much to anyone who doesn't like White Weenie.
Well, that's about all of it - not quite as many problems as I was expecting.  Wizards is doing a pretty good job, but they definitely aren't on the same page as me in terms of what deserves the msot attention.
My New Phyrexia Writing Credits My M12 Writing Credits
As far as the benefit of the rest of Magic is concerned, gold cards in Legends were executed perfectly. They got all the excitement a designer could hope out of a splashy new mechanic without using up any of the valuable design space. Truly amazing. --Aaron Forsythe's Random Card Comment on Kei Takahashi
A lot of good points, willpell, but there are a couple I'd like to share some of my own insight on.

Unfortunately, an aggro deck will invariably  kill you long before you build such a loop, because Wizards refuses to  make defense trump offense in the game (unblockable creatures, direct  damage that can't be countered, poison counters that can't be removed,  etc.).

It's necessary for offense to trump defense if the game is to ever end. If the best strategy is always to stall the game, then games will stretch on for far too long. I don't like having to wait for the five extra turns past time-over every round at every sanctioned event, personally.

Murder of Crows - As a card-filtering engine, this should have been smaller so you could play it early and benefit from its ability instead of using it to beat face.  (This above all is what Wizards does not agree with me about - the size of the creatures is unimportant, because any creature can end up big; it's the abilities that make them unique, so those should always take precedent.)

If they always make utility creatures like this small then they're cutting down on design space. There are only so many ways you can make a three-mana-or-less variant of a utility creature.

Curiosity - Needs to be combined with a "tim" in case the opponent has infinite blocking ability.

It's already combined with Invisible Stalker for that scenario.

Curse of the Pierced Heart - Could have been the centerpiece of a rare diversion from red's usual aggressiveness; they could have given us Walls of Stone and more "slow death" cards to enable an archetype of "fortress red" where you sit safely in a castle and watch your enemies destroy themselves.  But instead we stick to the burn stereotype.

I too would like to see Red able to do more than burn and aggro-rush, but defense is definitely not its thing. You say White is getting less defensive lately, which may be somewhat true (though not as much so as you seem to feel: Wall of Omens, Cathedral Membrane, multiple Pacifism effects, Nevermore, etc. are all defensive cards in White) but the game still has Blue for defense, White, Green and Black being a mix of the two, and Red being offense.
On a related note, I'm upset that Blue is picking up so much offensive power lately (the illusion tribe in M12 being the worst offenders). Yes, it should be able to win games, but not by stealing Red/White's aggressive weenies strategy.

Again the message is clear - if you want to do anything creative and unusual, you will suck at it, because only boring beats to the face are allowed to be strong.

If they made the "creative and unusual" strategies noticeably powerful then they wouldn't be creative and unusual anymore ;)

Scourge of Geier Reach - This card tells you to give your opponent token creatures and then prevent them from attacking or blocking.  The tools to do this don't exist;

This card was actually my MVP at the Prerelease. The tools DO exist for him: Cobbled Wings on this guy was backbreaking, and I opened two of each. You could also give him intimidate or enchant him with Spectral Flight...

Abbatoir Ghoul - A nice card, but I would have liked them to give you the ability to have him "fight" in mono-black decks, instead of needing to splash green.  That way, you could use him to gain life without having to put your opponent in charge of the blocking decisions.

Black is already best at killing creatures without needing to pick up Fights. Green needs it the most by far, so I'm quite happy to have it limited to Green (and an off-activation Red) for now.

Heartless Summoning - I love this card; here my only complaint is that the set needed to inclued a 2-mana 1/2 artifact creature so that you could play it for free as a 0/1 the turn you play this.  Just because.  You need to be able to do things like that when a card like this is around.

Not all such comboes need to be within a single set. Cards like this are built for cross-block synergy. Want a 2-mana 1/2 creature? Hovermyr! Free flying Myr for everyone! :D
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