5, Oct, 23

MTG Doctor Who Card Showcases Incredible Game Design

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More Dr. Who spoilers are trickling out, and the single card that has me most excited by far is MTG Everybody Lives!. The card is interesting on multiple levels from one versus one to multiplayer and has diplomatic value on top of it all. Furthermore, it shows that Wizards still has some respect for the color pie and found a way to make white work without crazy power creep. Finally, I’m told the card is also a triumph in terms of flavor, so this card is perfectly designed.

The Color of Balance

[Tooltips]Balance has always been an incredibly busted card. So much so that it’s banned in pretty much every format except Vintage, the place where the most busted cards are restricted to one copy each.

For a long time, white has only had a few vastly powerful cards like Swords to Plowshares, Armageddon and Balance. Over time, one of the best concepts of white, justice, has been very difficult to replicate in game terms. The card Balance was the first big eye opener to Wizards game design that a card meant to keep the game fair was, in fact, completely unfair. This impacted the kind of card that white would receive for many years and it has long been held that white was the weakest color by far. How would Wizards dig themself out of this hole? Raw power.

The Color of Imbalance

It was feared early on that Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines would be oppressively overpowered and ruin many a Commander game. While it’s definitely ridiculously powerful for only five mana, it turns out that the game has advanced to a point where anything that costs five mana but does not immediately end the game is probably acceptable. Who could blame players for thinking that this card was busted? Taking Panharmonicon and adding one white mana to it to get a huge body and shut off ETB triggers seems like a no-brainer auto-include in any deck playing white. The fears, it turns out, did not quite manifest. Still, there’s very little elegant game design here. It’s just raw power creep.

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MTG Everybody Lives!

Instead of a crazy power creeped version of Angel’s Grace, we have this card and we’re all better off for it. What is more fair, more balanced, than saving absolutely everyone?

The beauty of Everybody Lives! is that Wizards did not paint themselves into a corner because this card does a lot. Two mana save your Commander is acceptable. Sure, there are plenty of one mana protection effects out there but for just one more mana you cover both board wipes and single target removal. On top of that you have the insurance policy of stopping the game from ending. For one extra mana, wow, that’s a heck of a card! More than anything this card reminds me of another white card, with lots of options, that used to see a ton of Commander play many years ago.

I feel there is an eerie resemblance to this card. Given that it was originally printed over 15 years ago, of course ,they’re not exactly the same. Sure, many compare Everybody Lives! to Heroic Intervention, but that is a one sided protection effect. Even Dawn Charm blanks combat damage for everyone and that is a key and important difference.

One Versus One Applications

Just like Dawn Charm, you can use Everybody Lives! as a Fog effect even in a duel. This establishes the floor of the card as decent enough because, on a one for one basis, it’s two mana see another turn. It’s nowhere near Time Walk and it’s also not as good as simply Counterspell in a lot of situations. Here’s the thing, it’s not a blue card! That’s a really important distinction. Making powerful cards is easy. The true test is making them good, but also fit a color identity and Everybody Lives! does that very well. Considering there are plenty of other cards like Farewell that can solve virtually any situation, seeing another turn at worst should be a live line of play in every game.

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Duel Playable, Multiplayer Super Playable

Easily the least expensive wincon seeing the most play in cEDH, the fact is that Everybody Lives! is a viable way to stop Thoracle plus Demonic Consultation from ending the game on the spot is significant. As a bonus, that player probably loses next turn. Now, here’s where we get into how deep this is compared to simply Counterspell. Let’s say you are the Thoracle player and you get stopped. What card can let you see another turn, with no cards in your library? Everybody Lives of course. Who needs to play that card? Well, anyone.

No matter what someone tells you, multiplayer Magic is a political game and cEDH is not excluded from that fact. Everything has a cost, nothing is “free.” In high level cEDH, the game resembles a series of 1v3 confrontations until someone wins. Everybody Lives! can change this fact because it gives you something to trade while also not hurting another player’s win percentage. This is where the card does vastly more than what is printed on the card and that can be difficult to follow, so here’s an example.

Choose Your own Board State

Orcish Bowmasters is tearing up more than one format and is pretty much everywhere. It’s amazing for killing any mana dorks or Esper Sentinel among many juicy one toughness targets.

Here’s the thing. With Counterspell, you just stop the Bowmasters cold. With Everybody Lives you can politic just how powerful that Orcish Bowmasters might be, letting it kill some things but not everything. Turning political capital into a win is a lot easier than trying to win a 1v3 game. Furthermore, if you just stop the Bowmasters cold, you are doing a favor for two of the other players in the pod. What are you getting in return? What if only one of those players is onboard and one has been against you all game? Far better to be able to modulate your assistance and only play Everybody Lives! if it works for you. Otherwise, countering the Bowmaster instantly puts you at odds with that player. What if, instead, you told them you can allow their Bowmasters as long as it benefits you. Holding an Everybody Lives! allows you to enforce that contract if they try to alter the deal whereas a counter can only be used right then and there.

Let’s talk about board wipe implications. At face value, you stop a large amount of wipes for just two mana. Again, though, it goes deeper than that. When a wipe is on the stack, most of the time, players respond in some way, if they can. Sacrificing to Ashnod’s Altar is a relatively common occurrence in the face of a wipe. You can wait until those responses and then cast Everybody, or you can let the board know your plan ahead of time. Plus now that the card exists, you can bluff the card. It makes very little sense to bluff Heroic Intervention but being forced to play around Everybody Lives! drastically alters a game.

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Other Win/Loss Cards

We started off by mentioning how on point Everybody Lives! is for white. Abyssal Persecutor only nails it for a duel where it has a huge drawback and thus is clearly a black card. In a multiplayer games, the demon actually protects the game because it stops your opponents from losing! Outside of this very unique card, most other cards only stop you from losing and your opponents from winning, so they are not symmetrical. That’s a big part of why Everybody Lives! is such a success of game design in every single metric.

Keep in mind, though, that an incredibly old school white card generates a situation that trumps all of these cards. Divine Intervention generates a draw, which is the ultimate balanced option. If Wizards can keep designing interesting cards that are powerful and fair without printing another version of Balance, players are in for a great new set.

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