Looking Back At Scars Block
So it’s come to this, the end of the latest story-telling experiment from WotC. Mirrodin has been laid to waste, Phyrexia has sprung anew within it’s metal shell. The old has been corrupted, the corrupted have been renewed, the cycle continues.
I worked with Russell Tassicker on a review of Mirrodin Besieged for Gatheringmagic.com a while back and thought I’d revisit the Block as a whole now that the story has been told.
Flavourwise, I think the block has been superb. It’s interesting to note that New Phyrexia was originally intended as the first set of the block, the war with Mirrodin already having been won. It became clear within WotC, however, telling the back-story might be as compelling as what comes next. A quick review on some of the story arcs within the block, as told by the cards themselves.
The first set, Scars of Mirrodin, was 80% Mirrodin to 20% Phyrexian cards. This smart technique allowed for Scars to have a plenitude of light, bright artworks, with the “gloom” largely contained to the black cards of the set.
The overtones of the coming disaster were there, however. In retrospect, the end was obvious from the beginning. The oncoming army was bigger, badder, and better equiped. Why was the outcome ever really in doubt?
Scars introduced the new “heroes” of the set, the returned Elspeth, plus Koth and Venser, printed as a planeswalker for the first time.
Scars introduced three mechanics; metalcraft, infect and proliferate. Metalcraft was supposed to harken back to the “artifacts matter” days of affinity but never really hit home. It was always going to be weaker than metalcraft, the quest was simply “how much”. Proliferate is a great mechanic that actually aligns nicely with many of the older Mirrodin mechanics (such as Sunburst and Modular). Infect was the mechanic that most divided the player population. I guess I’m not a big fan, but Mark Rosewater so badly wanted to make poison work. Even though I’m not hot on it, I think mashing together Poison and Wither was the right way to go. It feels like that’s how it’s supposed to work, and I liked the sense that Phyrexia was “getting into the blood” of opponents and couldn’t be removed – yet another hint that Phyrexia was always going to win.
Besieged used a much darker palette than in Scars and split the factions 50:50. Most of the lighter tones were reserved for Red, but beyond that the mood had turned. The war was in full force. Flavourwise, the use of the “Zenith”-cycle was great as it evoked that time when the war could go either way – the Mirran’s were at their peak, but so was the onslaught of the Phyrexians.
In the article I wrote with Russ we spend a fair amount of time discussing the mirroring within the original Mirrodin, and the mirroring within Scars block. WotC used the return of original Mirrodin cards in Infected form to signify just how far the corruption of Mirrodin had progressed. Nothing was going to be the same after this.
Beseiged used mirroring everywhere. In the artwork:
And in the cycles:
And the even heroes of old Mirrodin:
One hero was noticebly abscent, in Scars, Karn. While the Phyrexian Praetors appeared in the flavour text, Karn appeared no-where. In Beseiged, Karn started to make appearences, and he didn’t look in that great of a shape.
Scars brought a new mechanic to the table, Living Weapon. It mirrored the fact that the original Mirrodin introduced Equipment to Magic for the first time. Now it introduced the next evolution of equipment. I liked the mechanic, and the Germ token related to the “biological warfare” theme nicely. It wasn’t broken, but it wasn’t strictly fair either, a nice power balance.
One more planeswalker arrived in Besieged, Tezzeret. It made a lot of sense, bringing the artifact-attuned planeswalker to Mirrodin and I don’t think he disappointed. In regards to signaling, this arrival of this Esper-based planeswalker should of been all the hint people needed that there would be coloured artifacts in New Phyrexia.
Oh, New Phyrexia. How the world has changed. The Mirrans have lost, but the Phyrexians have lost as well. No longer are they the Borg, one evil entity with one resolute cause. Now they are factionalised, as splintered as their hosts, the Mirrans, each faction run by an opposing Praetor.
Metalcraft was almost gone, but so was Infect, also fractured into all five colours. The biggest new features was the introduction of Phyrexian mana; basically the ability to pay life instead of mana costs. This has always been a very Phyexian thing to do, pay life for benefit. Think Phyrexian Arena, as a good example. But this was taking it to a whole new level.
We also achieved the return of Karn.
Karn’s name is double sided. Has he been liberated from the Mirrans or from the Phyrexians? Does it matter anymore, now they are essentially one and the same? I always thought the Mirrans would lose, but wondered if Mirrodin Pure wasn’t an even more psychologically devastating name than New Phyrexia once the Phyrexians had won. Mirrodin, now pure because we’d got rid of all the Mirrans.
It was nice to see some unfinished cycles completed…
…how the landscape changed as the war progressed….
… and how the pure became corrupted.
The return of the Mirari was a nice touch.
And we finally got to see those praetors we’d heard so much about.
A nice touch was that Urabrask the Hidden wasn’t quoted on any flavour text. Because he was, you know, hidden.
The artwork also held together the stories of the planewalkers nicely.
Leaving the story lines of both Venser and Tezzeret up in the air just enough to keep the audience – well me at least – interested in what’s going to happen next.
So here are a few predictions.
1. Metalcraft was a miss and we won’t be seeing it again. The dumbed down version of Affinity really make anyone happy and will eventually be long forgotten.
2. Infect was, sad to say it, a fine form of execution for poison and will be seen again. It’s a linear mechanic that’s worthy of a revisit. My guess is that when Phyrexia invades the next plane a few infect creatures will come along with it, at least for the first set, but not nearly as many as invaded Mirrodin.
3. Proliferate was a hit and will return. It’s a great mechanic and 14 cards is just not worthy of how fun it is.
4. Living Weapon was good but unlikely to return any time soon. It fit the theme and flavour of Scars block, but might not fit anywhere else. Maybe one or two cards in the next “Phrexia invades” themed block.
5. All the planeswalkers will return in some form or another. At some stage. Eventually. I think “Karn, Herald of Phyrexia” or some-such would be a great start to the next Phyrexian block. Or possibly at the end of the block, “Karn, Destroyer of Worlds”. Whatever floats WotC’s boat.
6. Phyrexian Mana will return. It’s great, high impact, high flavour, and a ton of fun to play with and around. It’s clearly not been fully explored and deserves a set of its own.
Overall the set has been a success. Now you can observe just how the Phyrexians conquer worlds. Here’s the story in card form.
Mirrodin is dead. Long live Mirrodin, in the heart of the New Phyrexians.