22, Jul, 21

Magic: The Gathering Head Designer Explains What Is and Isn't A Parasitic Mechanic

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Article at a Glance

Mark Rosewater, who is the head designer of Magic: the Gathering, has a very active blog where he fields questions from fans. He often gives us awesome insight into the development process and even previews mechanics for new up coming sets on this blog. On a recent blog question, one user asked if there was a reason that Magic was using more “parasitic mechanics” as of late. MaRo goes through the mechanics that have been in recent standard sets, and how these are not parasitic. But what is a parasitic mechanic?

What’s a Parasitic Mechanic?

Parasitic Mechanics are the “opposite of backwards-compatible mechanics”. Parasitic Mechanics are those that only operate and function within a particular set, instead of being able to function in the entirety of Magic. The example that MaRo gives is that if you were given a single card from a new set, and no other cards from that set, you could realize it’s mechanical aspects in it’s entirety. While there are cards that encourage you to play mechanics from the set together, that doesn’t make them parasitic. Parasitism is also a sliding scale, MaRo notes, such that there’s mechanics that can have some elements of parasitism in them, but as a whole are not.

Examples of Parasitic Mechanics

There’s a few examples of parasitic mechanics in Magic’s history that are true parasitic mechanics. The first one is “Horsemanship”, which is a mechanic that is only found in Portal Three Kingdoms. The mechanic is an evasive ability that makes it such that a creature with Horsemanship cannot be blocked by creatures without Horsemanship. This is a purely set internal mechanic. Another is “Splice onto Arcane”, which originated in Champions of Kamigawa. This is parasitic because Arcane spells only appeared in the Kamigawa block, and no new Arcane spells have been printed since.

New Magic Mechanics

As I mentioned above, MaRo goes through some of the new mechanics in recent standard sets and briefly details where they fall on the parasitic scale.


Wizards of the Coast

Adventures is not parasitic at all. You can play one of these in a deck and get full utility from the mechanic. We see this all the time in various format and non-linear strategies.


Vadrok Apex of Thunder
Wizards of the Coast

Mutate is somewhat parasitic in that the mechanic synergizes with other Mutate cards, but you can still play a card with Mutate in a deck that doesn’t have any other mutate cards and still get full effect.


Tazri beacon of unity
Wizards of the Coast

Party is not at all parasitic, there’s 27 years of creatures that are Clerics, Rogues, Warriors, and Wizards.


Wizards of the Coast

This one is a little parasitic. There’s logistics involved that require you to prepare slots in your side to be able to take advantage of the mechanic, but at the end of the day, you could play 1 Lesson card and 1 Learn card and still get full effect.


Wizards of the Coast

Dungeons is a medium parasitic mechanic. The further that you venture into the dungeon, the stronger that the effect gets, but you can still play only 1 Venture into the dungeon card, and still get the full mechanical utility. I think that this one is probably the one mechanic with the thinnest veil, only because if you qualify getting full mechanical effect by the fact that you can venture into the dungeon at all, then sure. But to me, I feel that full mechanical utility means that you can complete a dungeon or at least can venture into it multiple times, but I suppose that’s a small difference.

READ MORE: What’s the Point of Suspending Cards In Historic on MTG Arena?

What does this all really mean?

At the end of the day, determining how parasitic a mechanic is can ultimately determine how fun that mechanic is to play over all. If it’s more parasitic, it might be more fun to play in limited, where it’s all self contained to a single set or block. If it’s less parasitic then it has the potential to be fun across multiple formats or decks.

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