Over the past few years, there’s no denying that MTG cards have been getting stronger and stronger almost across the board. Of course, that isn’t to say that modern MTG doesn’t have its old, busted cards like Black Lotus. However, on average, cards have been getting exceptionally more efficient and versatile. Iconic powerhouses like Tarmogoyf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor that were once upon a time some of the most feared cards in Modern now barely see much play at all.
This is, in part, because there are simply bigger and better cards to cast at each point in the curve. Why cast Jace when you can cast The One Ring and pull much farther ahead over the course of the game? If anything, modern card design has showcased just how much power creep plays a role.
Well, Murders at Karlov Manor is on the horizon, and this set has a ton of blatant examples of power creep. Many cards and mechanics appear to be direct throwbacks to previous designs, only this time around, they are strictly better. Let’s take a closer look at these examples and what they mean for card designs moving forward.
Murders at Karlov Manor is home to some extremely powerful common and uncommon pieces of interaction. Many of these cards are direct upgrades to similar cards from MTG’s past. For instance, No More Lies does exactly what Mana Leak does but has the added bonus of exiling the card you counter. While this isn’t always relevant, there are plenty of matchups where this ability is important. Getting to counter Amalia Benavides Aguirre and exile it so your opponent can’t return it later with Return to the Ranks can be quite important, for example.
No More Lies is an excellent card that is almost certainly going to become a multi-format staple. After all, Azorius decks in Standard and sometimes Pioneer have been making use of Make Disappear, which is significantly worse. Obviously, though, No More Lies does require white mana to cast, so it isn’t strictly better than Mana Leak.
That being said, there are quite a few examples of cards that are strictly better than similar counterparts from the past. Long Goodbye showcases this perfectly. Eliminate has already been printed back in Core Set 2021, and Long Goodbye does the exact same thing at the exact same rarity, except it has the added bonus that it can’t be countered.
Sometimes, the improvements to newer cards add some extra flexibility either in their casting cost or in the effects they have on the game. Demand Answers is a perfect example of a card that is quite similar to a previous design, only with some added versatility in how it can be cast. Demand Answers is functionally identical to Thrill of Possibility if you want it to be. However, you also have the option of sacrificing an Artifact instead of discarding a card to cast it.
What’s funny is that Thrill of Possibility was already a strict upgrade over Tormenting Voice since it could be cast at Instant speed. This isn’t to say that Demand Answers is going to be a Constructed all-star, but more that modern card design showcases basic power creep in a multitude of ways.
Beyond adding flexibility to a card’s casting cost, there are also plentiful ways in this set in which older designs have been given additional versatility to make them stronger. From a Constructed standpoint, a card like Pick Your Poison is a perfect example. We’ve already seen decks in Modern and Legacy run cards like Run Afoul in the sideboard to help beat Murktide Regent. While not an Instant, Pick Your Poison can play a similar role, but can also help answer Artifacts and Enchantments like Urza’s Saga or Amulet of Vigor, perhaps giving it a better chance of seeing Constructed play.
Maybe the most blatant example in the set of modern card design adjusting to Constructed power creep is shown with the new cycle of rare Lands. These Lands, such as Thundering Falls, enter the battlefield tapped and let you Scry 1 when they enter. This makes them almost identical to the Temples from Theros block. However, these Lands also have basic Land types. This means they work well with Fetchlands and other cards that care about basic Land types, such as Leyline Binding. If this doesn’t showcase power creep on the most basic level, I don’t know what does.
Impact on Limited
This trend also has had major implications for Limited over time. The added versatility to cards has helped make sure there are less and less duds in draft. As such, it’s much easier nowadays to find enough “playables” for your draft deck, even if there is still a disparity in power level between the top cards and more mediocre options.Get a Leg Up fits this mold, as it functions the same way as Might of the Masses but has the added benefit of giving the Creature you target Reach. This adds versatility in the ways the card can be used, especially in a Limited environment. In addition to being used as a combat trick to help block bigger Creatures, it can also be used as a cheap way to ambush Fliers that would otherwise be tough to deal with.
As individual cards have been getting stronger and more efficient, especially removal, Wizards of the Coast has also been forced to readjust previously made mechanics to fit a more modern environment. This is exemplified by the new Disguise mechanic. This mechanic is a direct throwback to Morph. The problem with Morph by today’s standards, though, is that a three-mana 2/2 is simply too mediocre statistically and too vulnerable to removal nowadays, even in Limited.
The whole objective with Morph when it was used in Khans of Tarkir, for instance, was to add elements of versatility when it came to casting your cards and surprise when it came to combat. Late in the game, you could simply cast your cards face-up. Early in the game, though, you could just play your Morph cards face-down and either trade off with other Morph cards or work towards turning them face-up.
Disguise took things to the next level, adding built-in protection to your face-down Creatures. Otherwise, basic cards like Shock could efficiently answer your face-down cards and make it now worth developing your board in such a way. These mechanical changes and adaptations to individual cards highlight just how much power creep has played a role in the development of Murders at Karlov Manor, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this trend continues even further with future sets.