Magic the Gathering is a game that is chock full of intriguing mechanics. Every time a premier set is released, more and more mechanics get introduced to the game. Of course, some mechanics, such as Lifelink, are simple keywords that are repeatedly utilized from set to set. Other mechanics, though, were specific to certain planes and, as a result, have been utilized relatively infrequently.
Clearly, given the presence of MTG head designer Mark Rosewater’s “Storm Scale,” many mechanics are unlikely to return in premier sets. For instance, keywords such as Epic or Companion are extremely high on the Storm Scale and would be hard-pressed to make their return to Standard any time soon. Still, that doesn’t mean that supplemental products or sets designed for Commander won’t feature some of these mechanics.
Annihilator, for example, is relatively high on the Storm Scale, but a newer Eldrazi in the form of Flayer of Loyalties debuted in Commander Masters showcasing the mechanic’s return. In this sense, the door is open for some underutilized mechanics to return in various circumstances.
Just recently, MTG designer Gavin Verhey took to Twitter to find out what mechanics players would be most interested in seeing return in 2024. A handful of keywords seemed to be overwhelmingly popular responses. Today, we are going to focus on these mechanics, their likelihood for return, and what makes them unique.
Of the mechanics players mentioned, perhaps none were talked about more than Mutate. Mutate is a very strange yet exciting mechanic from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths that has yet to show up again in any meaningful way. Technically, Mutate was first referred to on a card from Unsanctioned back in 2020, but outside of that, no card from beyond Ikoria or the Ikoria Commander decks has featured Mutate.
The reality is, in practice, the mechanic isn’t too difficult to understand. When you Mutate one Creature onto another non-Human Creature, you can put the Creature with Mutate on top of or underneath the original Creature. The end result is essentially one Creature with the characteristics of the top Creature plus all abilities of the Creatures underneath. The most common usage here is to put the Creature with the highest power and toughness on top, so in practice, Mutate is generally not too confusing.
A huge appeal to the return of Mutate would be to help Commander players be able to build decks primarily built around the mechanic. Currently, there are under 40 total cards with Mutate, and many of them are pretty weak. Given that building a Mutated stack is often ideal to get a plethora of Mutate triggers, redundancy is super important to making this style of Commander deck work. Despite Mutate’s flaws, there would certainly be some benefit to the mechanic’s return.
Potential Issues with Mutate
Still, that doesn’t mean Mutate doesn’t come with a lot of rules to keep track of. For example, if you kill a Mutated, the whole stack goes to the graveyard. However, if you kill a Creature being targeted by another Creature’s Mutate ability before they merge, you will end up with the Creature with Mutate in play in its original form, despite the target being removed. Additionally, if a stack of Mutated Creatures would leave play, then come back, they each come back individually in their traditional forms.
Not to mention, Mutate can lead to some absurd gameplay if not ideally balanced. Take the Jeskai Goldspan Dragon combo deck back in Ikoria Standard, for instance. Being able to Mutate Lore Drakkis and Vadrok, Apex of Thunder onto Goldspan Dragon allowed for the creation of infinite mana and eventually infinite damage to the opponent in conjunction with Prismari Command and Unsubstantiate.
This combo was quite convoluted, rather confusing, and showcased the potential for Mutate to go awry if not well-balanced. Not to mention, while the mechanic was quite flavorful, as ludicrousursine points out above, the flavor definitely benefits from being specific to certain planes. In fact, according to Mark Rosewater, Mutate as a mechanic is roughly a 3 on the Storm Scale within an Ikoria setting, but a 7 otherwise. It’ll be interesting to see if a return to Ikoria will soon be upon us, or if some Commander cards will feature Mutate in any upcoming products.
Next up, we have Foretell, which also garnered a lot of support from players. Foretell is a cool mechanic that allows you to exile a card from your hand for two mana during your turn, then cast it for its Foretell cost later in the game. Foretell is definitely simpler than Mutate and is only a 4 on the Storm Scale overall.
One of the cooler aspects of Foretell in general is that your opponent doesn’t know what card is exiled. Similar to Morph in that regard, the opponent has to try to play the game accordingly, thinking about what cards could be cast and what effects to play around. For instance, if an Azorius control player Foretells a card, it might be wise to not overextend into a possible Doomskar.
On the flip side, though, if the Foretold card is Behold the Multiverse, it is not ideal to slow roll your aggression and give them additional looks for a board wipe. These mind games are certainly a positive aspect in favor of Foretell returning.
Once again, there are also Commanders like Ranar the Ever-Watchful that would greatly benefit from some more powerful Foretell cards to take advantage of. There are also plenty of newer cards the reward you for casting cards from exile, such as Extraordinary Journey, that work well with Foretell. This mechanic definitely seems like a reasonable one to make a return in the near future.
Our last mechanic that seemed to have many players interested in making a return is Wither. Wither, much like Infect, deals damage to Creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters. Unlike Infect, though, Creatures with Wither deal damage to players and Planeswalkers like normal. Wither initially appeared back in Shadowmoor roughly over 15 years ago, while also appearing in Eventide.
Since then, it has failed to have its time in the spotlight. The reality is, while many players eagerly await its return, Wither has only gone up in Mark Rosewater’s Storm Scale over the years and seems unlikely to appear in a premier set.
Wither isn’t high up because it is unintuitive. It also doesn’t generally promote egregious gameplay in Constructed, which has kept other heavily discussed mechanics like Dredge from returning. Instead, Wither is often viewed as a net-negative for Limited, which is especially important in the current design of premier sets.
Wither makes combat extremely awkward, as Creatures shrink forever when blocked by smaller Creatures. Combat tricks become even less useful in many cases, too. Let’s say I block your 3/3 with Wither with my 2/2 with Wither. Even if I buff my 2/2, it will eventually die to state-based actions due to the -1/-1 counters added. That being said, wither is a solid mechanic for players interested in a -1/-1 counters theme in Commander, so maybe the mechanic will show up in future Commander Precons.
Plenty of Different Responses
What’s interesting about many of these responses to Gavin Verhey’s tweet overall is that there were tons of mechanics mentioned and differing opinions. Despite Dredge being a rather infamous mechanic, it was also one of the more heavily requested mechanics to return. Players often have differing deckbuilding philosophies, and some players can find alternative styles of gameplay to be fun.
Even Epic, which is a 9 on the Storm Scale just like Dredge, saw some player support. This level of subjectiveness makes the game fun and can naturally help keep formats diverse. It’ll be interesting to see how Wizards of the Coast makes use of these responses and if any of these mechanics make their triumphant returns any time soon.