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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Mar 03 2020 1:00pm
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It’s rare an Arena announcement can shock me, but the return of Remastered sets despite Tempest Remastered’s flop on MTGO is a surprise, just as I was running out of material to write about due to the hiatus for Masters sets. We still don’t know much about them, but the December State of Arena added some clarity while confusing everyone else with card “suspensions,” by confirming the sets will be designed for both Constructed and Limited. February’s State of Arena further clarified things by separating Amonkhet from multiple remastered sets on this year’s timeline. I have a lot to cover with up to seven blocks plus core sets coming, so I want to cover the ground rules and assumptions for my designs as a whole before getting into my predictions for each individual set. 

Set Size:

Each block will be condensed into a single (current-era) large set. That means each three-set block will need to cut over 55% of the cards, while two set blocks have to cut over 40% of the cards. However, there are lots of ways to help stretch out the slots. I’ll avoid reprints except where absolutely necessary, such as effects that aren’t duplicated on non-reprints. The set can also expand through mechanisms like the land slot in Tarkir and Return to Ravnica, or the double-faced card slot in Shadows over Innistrad.

 

While I’m keeping to this rule to simplify my designs and provide meaningful constraints, this is probably the first rule to go, especially if these sets are only coming to Arena. In particular, most sets are going to be crunched at rare and mythic as those slots most need to serve both Limited and Constructed, and the Limited environment isn’t affected much if there are more rares or mythics than normal. Instead I’m choosing to address that in a different way: assuming some cards will be distributed outside the set. We’ve already seen this with Burning-Tree Emissary and Elvish Visionary in Historic Anthology 1 (though I assume that was decided before the Remastered sets were started). I’m trying to do this with cards that don’t fit as well into the Limited environment, such as the Theros Gods. I don’t want to do this that much though, which means I’ll have to make some hard cuts.

 

Power/Complexity Compression:

In general, I’m going to focus on the top tier of cards of each set, and while this means the power will be closer to what current sets are (especially in terms of removal), I’m also worried the complexity will be too high—hopefully Wizards would consider the remastered sets closer to a Masters set and provide some leeway. Rarity shifts are also part of making the numbers and power level work, and while most of them aren’t important a couple are Pauper relevant—so far the most interesting ones in my opinion are the Return to Ravnica hybrid one-drops, for reference. That might by itself mean the sets have to come to MTGO at least, as having Arena-exclusive Pauper cards would be weird.

 

There’s also the matter of trying to make these as easy to program as possible given the other constraints. Some of the cuts are obvious like Whims of the Fates and Trait Doctoring, but in general the good cards are more complex because they do more things. There are also a lot of mechanics (especially in Return to Ravnica and Tarkir), and it isn’t practical to cut them—Tribute and Cipher are the closest, but Tribute has a signpost uncommon that isn’t easily replaceable and Hidden Strings is a core piece of one of the top Pioneer decks even if the Cipher part is never used. A lot of the mechanics like Battalion, Monstrosity, and Landfall have been programmed as singletons or variants already and other mechanics like Devotion, Raid, and Convoke already exist, but landmines like Bestow and the trio of Morph mechanics are a lot of work mostly for Limited.

 

Overview:

As I said, each of the Remastered sets has its unique set of challenges. As a baseline, there are up to eight sets that could be made from this: one for each of the seven blocks and one that combines the three core sets. Wizards has all but confirmed Amonkhet is getting re-released in full, so I’m going to assume both it and Kaladesh are getting re-released in full, so that leaves six remasters to talk about. I’ve worked on about half of them so far and looked at their major challenges, so I’ll cover them here before getting into the detailed designs in future articles.

 

Return to Ravnica Remastered:

Our second trip to the city plane has the most obvious challenge: how do you fit all ten guilds into a single large set? The fundamental answer is that there is a lot of garbage to cull—have you looked at Dragon’s Maze recently deeper than Voice of Resurgence and the split cards? Each guild is deep enough to support a decent number of gold cards, and while they seem balanced this is probably the hardest of the sets to balance in a theoretical sense. In particular the fixing is hard to get right at a level that encourages two-color without making five-color too easy. Right now I have the Dragon’s Maze land slot of Guildgates, Keyrunes, and Prophetic Prism along with a couple green fixers, but I don’t know if that’s enough, too little, or too much.

 

Theros Remastered:

The original Theros is the most straightforward of the three-set block remasters as a straight design, though that causes its own problems as it means it’s easy for the linear themes to dominate. The number of reprints in Theros: Beyond Death (particularly the Temples) also help relieve a lot of the crunch. The biggest slot problem is that the fifteen Gods clog the mythic slots, though I’m sidestepping it by not putting the Gods in at all and instead distributing them outside of the set (though maybe the mono-color Gods deserve slots).

 

Tarkir Remastered:

Putting all three Tarkir sets into a single Remastered set is a recipe for disaster, as Khans of Tarkir and Dragons of Tarkir clearly aren’t designed to work together. So I’m choosing to do something different. Since people like Triple KTK as a Limited format, my plan has Khans of Tarkir releasing as-is on Arena and then making Dragons of Tarkir Remastered by merging it with Fate Reforged. I thought about splitting the cards in Fate Reforged across both Khans and Dragons, but I didn’t want to mess with a good thing. Releasing KTK unaltered also helps dodge some questions, like printing fetchlands (and likely the blue Delve cards) that are banned in Pioneer, though that will make Historic more interesting.

 

As for Dragons of Tarkir Remastered, the changes aren’t as major as the previous sets, simply because there are fewer cards to cut. Obviously Fate Reforged has some outliers to cut, the rare and mythic slots are a bit squeezed, and it isn’t clear what to do with the enemy color themes, but these aren’t fundamental challenges.

 

Pioneer Core Set Remastered:

Putting together Magic 2014, Magic 2015, and Magic Origins (and the two Welcome Decks if necessary) may be strange at first, but core sets are generic enough (and the sets have enough duplicates and junk) that they can be put together reasonably coherently. The main themes are the Magic Origins themes, Naya Slivers, Izzet Artifacts, and Abzan Convoke, and a mix of them works well enough. The biggest problem is at rare and mythic rare, as most of the playables are at high rarities, they aren’t color balanced at all, and there are 15 planeswalkers (counting the DFC planeswalkers). My current plan moves a lot of cards out of the set (including the painlands and the DFC Planeswalkers), but even then I have to make some really hard cuts.

 

Battle for Zendikar Remastered:

While most of the sets need to make a lot of cuts, BFZ might have trouble finding enough good cards to reprint, especially if I don’t want the resulting set to be “Rise of the Eldrazi 2.” However, BFZ is by far the worst of the Limited formats in this batch, meaning I (and Wizards) can be a lot more liberal in changing things, like how Tempest Remastered got a lot of changes. In particular I’m interested to see if I could do something more with the colorless mana theme.

 

Shadows over Innistrad Remastered:

Shadows over Innistrad is in a strange place, as assets pertaining to it were datamined from the Arena client, meaning the block may have been fully programmed and thus could be released in full. If that isn’t the case, the remaster is likely an average remaster. The biggest problem is all the linear themes that need to be maintained at careful ratios, and a lot of surprise Constructed playables need to be worked around.

 

Conclusion:

Normally I’d be wrapping things up here, but it took so long to finish this article that we actually have even more news: Historic Anthology 2 has been revealed! Of the 25 cards, seven are Pioneer-legal, and while the set’s main purpose is helping Historic themes, it feels like this batch is taking the Remastered sets into account and helping reduce the strain on both the format and the slots. The obvious case of the former is Pack Rat, as I had moved it up to mythic in my design to stop it from ruining Limited. Waste Not and Virulent Plague are the opposite on that spectrum, as they don’t do much in their respective formats, and thus are perfect candidates for Anthologies. On the slot side, Waste Not and Sigil of the Empty Throne help lessen the strain on Pioneer Core Remastered’s rare slot, and Nyx-Fleece Ram was a risky common downshift in Theros Remastered that doesn’t need to happen anymore. Brain Maggot and Dragonmaster Outcast are strange though, as the former feels like it would be fine for Theros Remastered, while Battle for Zendikar doesn’t feel like it needs more good cards taken out of it. Overall I’m happy here with the choices with respect to Pioneer. Outside of Pioneer, the most interesting pick is Terravore, not because of the card itself (it’s an obvious plant for the “lands in graveyard” plan being helped by the Onslaught Cycling lands), but because it doesn’t have a new-border printing yet—is it a hint towards a Commander reprint or will it be Arena-exclusive?

 

As for my plans, I don’t want to make any concrete ones after I waited so long to get this out. As I mentioned earlier I have three of the six sets done and am working on the fourth, so I just need to write those articles, starting with Return to Ravnica Remastered. I also plan on doing the traditional Limited Review for Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, but based on my timing I don’t know what the order will be. Whatever the next article is, I still plan on writing here, even if my pace has slowed. Until next time.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter