Mirrodin Besieged Design Review, Pt. 1 (WUBR)

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Look, I know you can't get enough card-by-card reviews of the new set, and I would hate to disappoint you, so today's article will be a card-by-card review of Mirrodin Besieged. I'm no LSV, and I don't want to steal his thunder anyway (or that of many others who do similar reviews) so I'm taking an angle that I feel few others can take: A design review. As a one-time Magic designer I hope my perspective will be particularly interesting. Let me know if it is with some comments! Also, I should warn you by saying that I was on the design team for Besieged for a couple of weeks, but I barely remember it. A lot was going on for me at the time. Without further ado...


When I first saw Blade of the Sixth Pride I fell in love with it. Though I admit some of that has to do with the expanded art. I'm sure most of you are happy to trade that for new keyword ability. This is Magic's fifth two-mana 3/1, and I'm a fan of that number configuration, as it looks aggressive and it delivers on it. Battle cry is a great ability, though a bit of a force for a keyword. Probably a case of keywording in order to emphasize its thematic use throughout the set.

Wild Nacatl? A pretty obvious number combination for Metalcraft. Unlikely to be of use in Standard or Extended, but you'll lose to it in drafts despite it not being a very high pick. I'm not sure if that kind of card is skill testing or just annoying (for the highly competitive Spike). It's good design though.

A more versatile and more expensive Excommunicate. This falls into the "necessary" design category. Somebody has to do it, but it's not going to win you any medals of recognition from players.

Now this is a card! A most excellent design, giving White the kind of combat trick it needs, but almost powerful enough to be considered a Wrath variant. As a sweet bonus it's a very Phyrexian-feeling twist on the usual damage-to-attackers template we've come to expect. I have a feeling this will end up being sexy tech in formats other than limited.

Straightforward, clean, a fine card that was first printed in Legends. It will be very relevant in limited, being almost a blowout against fast Metalcraft decks. Especially so when played by Controlling decks with big finishers.

I like what's going on here. It seems like a dull card designed for the kiddies at first, but the "draw a card" text is doing something special here. This is how you add cantripping to a card the right way. Take note, amateur designers! This card probably won't affect Standard, but just maybe there is a place for it in some artifact Combo deck, or as an almost-reloader in a Tempered Steel deck. While I'm on that, can you guess why this sort of effect might be counterproductive? Your opponent will know what your next several draws will be, and that information can be more valuable than hitting real cards for the next few turns. Also, it's a little too expensive for Constructed.

Yuck. I thought this is the kind of bad tension design is supposed to avoid. It's also the kind of "why would I ever do that to my guy" effect that I personally hate. Usually you see it as a +3/-3 enchantment or instant that you just know you're never casting on your own creature. It's even worse here, asking you to sacrifice a 2/1 to shrink another of your guys, just so you can regenerate it? Yeah, right.

An obviously Constructed worthy mini-Grave Titan. Cards feel really good when they give you cake and let you eat it, and that's exactly what we get here. Free, no-lies cake! An excellent way to show off the Battle cry keyword as well. Someone gets a gold star.

LOL! The 5WW casting cost is like the kiss of death. So many bad cards have - actually, wait... I just did a search on that and I'm totally wrong! Lots of 5WWs are limited bombs and Eternal Dragon has seen Constructed play. Well, this card is weak. Not only that, but I don't like how it's dragging Kemba, Kha Regent down with it. (I have tried to draft around that cat many times, and have yet to get a single token out of it.) At least Kemba was worth dreaming about.

I love the way this design reverses Journey to Nowhere. Instead of an enchantment that can hide a creature, we have a creature that can hide (an artifact or) an enchantment. Feels more like a hoarder than a warder to me, and in the art it looks like his mom just walked in on him with his bong, but it's good design.

This reprint was a fine design the first time, and it's nice that it still looks good on the modern creature curve.

Filling out the 4W slot with a basic new-keyword guy. Makes you think design leaves slots that just say "fill curve with a Battle cry creature" doesn't it? Well they don't. "But wouldn't that would save some time?" You ask. Only rarely. Think about a set like Rise of the Eldrazi. The common curve-fillers there are totally different from those in Mirrodin Besieged, because design is often trying to create a certain limited environment or show a particular picture of the plane. Rise is an extreme example, but in almost every set design is trying to craft an environment. Development might change it, but it's best if you give them a starting place.

Generating Metalcraft at instant speed and practically out of nowhere elevates the already useful creation of 1/1s at instant speed to a new level of effectiveness for Mirran decks.

A sexy card that sells the war theme (along with it's mirror card) very nicely. Double strike, double protection, double-White... okay I was stretching at the end there.

Despite my guess that this will read like a bad Martial Coup to many players, I like the design of this card. The concept of creating a new monster out of all the dudes I just killed is cool, though a little bit Black-feeling. Perhaps that makes it all the better for a White Phyrexian card?

Basic numbers Infect guy, but I like it; it's aesthetically pleasing. It's also cheaper than you might think, and could be impressive the way Snapping Creeper was in many a ZZW draft deck.

I think I just learned a new word for "bird". This card should prove interesting in limited. It's hard to quantify what exactly makes a card like this feel good or bad. It's a combination of everything: color, power, keywords, set themes, and something that experienced designers and developers gain an intuitive grasp of over time.

At 3WWW, this is no Baneslayer Angel. It certainly could be a game changer, but not likely in Constructed. If only the ability didn't require it to attack it might be on par with Eldrazi Monument. Doesn't mean it's not a cool design though. I like it a lot - it has a cool dream.

At first this seems exciting, but it's no Decree of Justice. In fact, it's really just a more-rare Howl of the Night Pack. Wait, it's an instant?! Well, that changes everything! I hope you like losing to a bunch of cats and counterspells, because this is a most excellent finisher for draw-go style U/W Control decks.

And now, in honor of the Golden Globes and Academy Awards, we have some bests to hand out:
Most Standard Worthy: White Sun's Zenith
Coolest / Most Exciting: Hero of Bladehold
Most Interesting Design: Choking Fumes


No-brainer design. Hey everyone, let's make a cycle where the Blue one draws cards! I really wish they'd break that mold a little more often. All I see here is an increase in the chance for my vintage rotisserie opponent to draw Stroke of Genius once they have the High Tide + Palinchron combo going. I guess it could be worse... it could be Upheaval.

How can design give you the world's most repeated card drawing card back to back with one of the most interesting card-drawing cards you've ever seen? If nothing else, that's what makes R&D awesome. They can deliver the necessary basics and the new and exciting all in one set. Every time this ability triggers I'll be saying, "One for you, two for me."

Control Magic... with Infect!? At first I thought this was the first card to give a creature you steal a keyword, but it turns out that was Yavimaya's Embrace. This is a cool design niche, and I hope to see similar cards that grant flying, shroud, and unblockable in the future. Maybe even some gold cards that grant first strike, haste, and deathtouch; why, there are a plethora of possibilities! Also, awesome flavor.

In a vacuum, I like this design, but in light of the many very recent shapeshifters that read like templating variations of this card I have to say that it should have been put off for a few years. R&D did this with Hydras while I was there, and that too seems like a mistake in hind sight. Sure, we did eventually find Protean Hydra (the most Hydra-est Hydra of all, thanks to Nate Heiss), but it might have been more noticed if it was separated from Apocalypse Hydra, Feral Hydra, and Khalni Hydra a little bit more. I don't think this sort of shapeshifter is a well that design can keep going back to. Right design, wrong place.

This is an interesting combination of Demonic Tutor and Standstill. I'd like to try it a few times and see if it's as fun to play with as it reads. For a rare, you can usually assume that development did this testing for you, and left it in the set because it was that fun.

Super-typical Counterspell with this set's mechanics. You had to know this was coming at some point in the block, and it just happens to be in the middle set. It's easy for me to say "this is uninteresting because it's so basic in it's design," but after following the GDS2 I'd rather say, "Please, for the love of the five suns, study this!" This kind of card is really important to making a set work.

This is a sleeper hit. I love the simplicity and the possibilities that spawn in my mind. It helps a lot that Grand Architect was in the set before this, so that your gears can start turning all the faster. It just might fit into Constructed, and I bet it can be the cornerstone of a fun limited archetype. At worst it's a 1/3 flier so you don't have to be embarrassed to try it out.

This is the cutest secret Blue Rampant Growth ever. I wonder if it could be wacky sideboard tech in a particular mirror-match? It's a neat design that will be fun to play even if it's not top tier. Combining "always fun" with "possibly Standard-worthy" makes for an appealing card, and it's a sweet spot R&D should (and does) aim for a lot.

I've really enjoyed the modern use of the Rogue creature type. This uncommon isn't too fancy, but I feel like it won't really do anything. Shroud on a 1-toughness guy doesn't do much, since it still dies to any other creature, and this guy will need a lot of help to connect on turn 4. Good overall flavor, but I think the practical side of this design falls short.

Being a Full Metal Alchemist fan has really altered my perception of the word Homunculus. I now expect them to be indestructible badasses, and instead this little dork is begging me to kill him. Elvish Visionary you are not! This card is clearly here to help out the sacrifice subtheme. I would have loved to see a Merfolk that costs only U here instead, just to see if it could be used in a Merfolk deck in Standard. That's a card people would be talking about, instead of this card that most people will ignore.

Need a new Disperse variant? How about double? Another fine basic design that does a good job of moving a 2-mana Blue spell into the 5-mana slot when you have too many other cheap Blue spells at common that you don't want to change.

It's starting to worry me a little bit that "Phrexianizing" cards seems to mean making them Black/x gold cards without the Black mana. I'm sure we've seen a very similar card in mono Black, and discard doesn't really belong in Blue. Add to that the fact this this is another pretty transparent sacrifice theme enhancer and I can't help but feel like this card is "trying too hard" design.

Sea Serpent variations have gotten a lot more interesting in the last few years. I blame Tom LaPille.

It's Artifact Blast with additional uses. This card might be really good (especially in limited) - you can bounce an equipment mid-combat or counter a Wurmcoil Engine. Don't dismiss this one too quickly.

It all comes together beautifully here. The comparison to Trinket Mage, the utility of searching up a well known, standard worthy fatty, A+ design (and flavor).

Oh Bewilder variants, will you ever be playable? This one could be, in draft or sealed. At least they can still come up with variations instead of just reprinting the same power-reducing Blue instant over and over.

Now let's see, if I can get an Everflowing Chalice into play with enough counters on it, make it a 5/5 with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, then I can make some extra mana and... You get the idea: there are possibilities here, and this is a fine card for you to try and break. The real question is: does it cost 2U just because it's Blue removal, or because it was a busted combo at 1U? Note that this can also fall into the Black/x Phyrexianization category, but it feels much more acceptable than most.

I always want these card to work with Planeswalkers. This looks like a way to get a charge counter deck going, but it's going to be far too slow and clunky to be any good. I feel like this card is a cruel joke - all the low-skill players will play it and lose to stronger players, and the stronger players are disappointed that it's not good enough for them to play even though they want to have fun with it. Either way it's setting up players for disappointment, and that can't be good for business.

This is a Phyrexianization of a card that doesn't feel like so much like a gold card. The flavor is cool (and creepy), and it's a sweet combo with Oculus. As a bonus, it teaches you a science word so you can tell your mom that Magic is highly educational.

Most Standard Worthy: Treasure Mage
Coolest / Most Exciting: Consecrated Sphinx
Most Interesting Design: Mitotic Manipulation

I found Blue to be less exciting than White. A lot of the cards felt like they fit neatly into their assigned roles, but didn't have as much individual appeal.


This card reads like Mutilate for a lot more mana. I guess one of the good things about the shuffle-in on these cards is that it makes you feel better about casting them early for a small X because you might draw them again later for a big X. Sure, top-level pros know that's a pretty small effect, like the way milling doesn't really hurt you (because those cards might as well have been on the bottom of your deck), but a lot of players will see it as a "rebuy" of sorts on the card. Also, I totally cast this card twice in the same game at the Seattle Prerelease. I won that game.

Why must this be each player? Just to make it extra unappealing? I get that Black does these symmetrical pain guys, but aside from the rares, I don't see any way to gain life and be ahead when this dies - and if this dies you're probably losing. Oh riiight, it's for the sacrifice theme. I'm not buying it. The imagery is cool though, his acid-filled belly explodes all over everyone when he dies.

Oh, here's some extra lifelink that I almost didn't notice. It neatly provides the Infect attack with lifegain to keep you alive. Too bad it dies right away and doesn't actually gain you more than 1 life, like ever. Well, something has to be the 23rd card in an Infect deck desperate for 2-drops.

I like this design for both infect decks and sacrifice combo decks. It might be hard to bridge them into one deck because all of Mirrodin's sacrifice effects seemed to focus on dealing damage. It won't take a lot of creatures to make this into a game-winning attacker. Getting passed this should be one of the bigger signals that infect is open. (Besieged is pack 1, don't forget!)

I love action-worded kill spells. "I'm going to go for this Primeval Titan's throat" rolls nicely off the tongue as you savagely kill their only relevant creature. I expect to see this played more than Doom Blade in a lot of decks. Don't be surprised by 2-2 splits if artifacts are featured prominently.

This is some excellent design. Graveyard Threaten, as I'm sure it was playtest named, does a beautiful thing that you always wanted to do but didn't quite know you wanted to do. Well, unless you played Puppeteer Clique a lot, which you didn't, because it was grossly underplayed. Where was I? Oh yeah, hilarious name too.

I like this B discard variant quite a bit. It's hard to make the weak discard slot interesting. Sometimes you get lucky and can make an Inquisition of Kozilek that is weak in limited because of what the set is doing, but is practically a staple in Standard / Extended. Horrifying Revelation is a new twist on something you have to provide in every set. Note that it has slight synergy with Gruesome Encore.

"Hey guys! Sorry I'm late and I crashed through the wall and squished a bunch of you. Are you okay? Look, do you mind if I eat some of the guys I killed? I'm famished. Mmm, they sure are delicious." I'm sure you're excited about this guy, like I am. Few cards say comeback like this one does. Even if only half of your opponent's creature are killed immediately, your other guys can attack this turn into their shrunken remainders, who probably can't come back effectively through this 6/5 next turn. It does everything you want in a creature fight and will be very fun to play with.

Does this set have a minor "double up" theme? Double Disperse and now Double Raise Dead with Disentomb. This card should be great in draft and sealed where it reads much better than "draw two" most of the time.

You get a 2/2 when it dies, and if you can ping it every turn you'll have quite the token generator. It's great when just a few words can get your mind working on ways to take over the game.

An obvious card in the place it belongs. It's great design, because you would notice if it didn't exist. It's the kind of expectation-meeting that makes players happy rather than bored.

That is a sweet text box. First strike and Infect are a hot combination that allow this 2/2 to not-trade and yet lay the smackdown on a 3/3 (or even 3/5). Protection from not one but two of the 3 removal colors gives it even more game against important fatties, while avoiding death from lightning and permanent vacations. Makes me wonder if Go for the Throat was created just to handle this knight.

A beloved reprint. This is a pretty good use of "draw a card" because of the incorporation of life loss to give it the Black flavor of gaining advantage at a dangerous price.

We were all waiting for the "you get a poison counter" drawback guy, right? Why this isn't a more perfect (5/5) recreation of Juzám Djinn I have no idea. Perhaps it was too good in Constructed? If not then I think the 4 power is a sad missed opportunity to mirror the Arabian Nights favorite. Let's hope it was too strong, and this version is still strong enough to be a powerhouse in limited and perhaps Constructed worthy.

I want this creature to be good. I think it's good, but it's the sort of build-around me that doesn't do much on its own. Also, what it does doesn't really help you win, it just prevents losing. A 3/3 flier for 2BB is a threat, to be sure, but it's hard to believe it will be seen in Standard or Extended. The design is pretty good, rewarding you for doing two very Black things. I feel like Black has had a lot of cards like this recently - that try to reward you for doing stuff Black does well... is this some sort of new element to the color pie? Can we see some of this in other colors? Have we seen it and I just didn't notice?

Infect [card Sea Snidd]Snidd[/card]!!!

Are these possibly Constructed worthy? They're almost a 3-mana 3/3 that kills your opponent like a 6/3. If there's a pure Infect creature mono-Black deck in Standard these rats should at least be tested in it. I love the use of "poisoned" as game terminology and hope they find a few more uses for it in Mirrodin Pure / New Phyrexia.

Solid application of Proliferate to a necessary game effect for limited.

This is some nice upside on a -1/-1 trick. Limited games will be won and lost over this card. I like that they were able to keep it cheap by requiring the creature's death for the poisoning. The fact that you can shrink a blocker or attacker for a creature kill plus poisoning ensures its usefulness.

Most Standard Worthy: Go for the Throat
Coolest / Most Exciting: Massacre Wurm
Most Interesting Design: Gruesome Encore


I was looking for this when trying to build a Venser, the Sojourner deck for Standard. This probably isn't good enough, but at least it could ping each turn. A fine card for limited, even if it's a very typical progression from Sparkmage Apprentice. See also Merfolk Looter and Cephalid Looter. On that note, let me say this: Doing so is good design, not lazy or bad design. Bad design is not doing this when it's obviously what you want to do. Many amateurs are inexplicably afraid of such a simple step (from 2-cost 1/1 to 3-cost 2/1, or any similar numbers change).

A first-pick removal spell that's a blowout against the Infect drafter? Sign me up! I should say that this is another card in the "too many of the same thing in a row" group (Lash Out, Searing Blaze, Burn the Impure, maybe also Smash to Smithereens), but I happen to love this particular effect, so I won't.

Cool! This is a Lava Axe with a really nice side-effect. If you thought Metalcraft decks were fast before (in draft) wait until they finish you off with this and a couple of Chrome Steeds.

Bleh. I mean, it's a fine design, it just makes me tired, looking at a card like this. It's far worse than a dozen other cards in Magic's history, yet you just know you'll need to draft it sometimes because it can destroy a non-creature artifact. Hopefully it will go 15th and you can have 3 in every sideboard. This is a waste of a really excellent card name.

I immediately searched for expensive instants and sorceries that are available in Standard and Extended. That is the easiest way to spot a great design. If you immediately search for a way to make a deck, the design is excellent. You probably thought of Cruel Ultimatum and Destructive Force without having to search though, right? (I could have said "a great design for a build around me slot," but even a card like Leatherback Baloth can get you searching for the cards to make a deck.)

For some reason I don't believe this guy exists on Mirrodin. Does it have any dinosaurs at all? I guess if Creative okayed it, it exists, but it's not consistent with my image of Mirrodin. It has numbers, they fill a role: 14th-pick common. This card fails for me on many levels.

Goblins should be a deck in Standard, and this goes in it. Keep trying, it's out there. Battle cry seems like a perfect fit for Goblins, as it works well mechanically with a bunch of small dudes and the "you can't block" effects, and it brings a classic image of a hoard of charging and screaming Goblins to mind.

I don't know why people are excited about this. It's yet another so-called Dragon that costs too much and isn't powerful enough to do anything in Standard or Extended, and it is totally outclassed in many other environments. I wish Dragons more often got A+ power level cards, but that's probably because I love Dragons too much. Oh no wait, that's not possible - you can't love Dragons too much. Well, at least he 2-shots any opponent if you have a couple of artifacts in play (you can activate that ability more than once, you know).

This is pretty interesting. It's a good haster with abilities that will be surprisingly effective a lot of the time, I bet. Battle cry combines will lots of little dudes, as you know by now, and saying your opponent's little dudes can't block means a lot of your guys that now have +1/+0 will probably get through.

Oops, looks like I missed a White card - what? This is Red? How is that? Does instant speed make it Red somehow?

Like the crusaders, the couriers do a good job showing the war with parallel creatures on each side. Where a lot of numbers commons are just numbers, this one really emphasizes the set theme in an extra way.

I like it! Damage divided has always proven to be a fun ability to play with, and this is a good card to reinforce the sacrifice theme, playing artifacts, and doing things Red likes to do. It just might be a star in limited, turning the tables on your opponent almost as well as a Massacre Wurm would.

The part I don't like about this card is that when you are forced to attack with it, you'll feel you're also forced to attack with other guys to get your value out of it. Maybe that will be good, as in a ground stall you often need encouragement to do the math on attacking with a lot of guys when it would be easier to just sit back and pass. So I've decided that I like it, after all.

I only want to hear one story from this card: My opponent cast Mindslaver. I untapped, played my 7th mana, Metallic Mastery, and used the opponent's Mindslaver against them. I feel like we're getting spoiled with two cool new Threatens in the same set.

Shatterskull Giant #3! It's like Magic has endless need for new names on this creature. It's not like Mirrodin doesn't have Giants, and it's not like Ogre is more relevant a creature type. Well, it's also not like it matters either way, I just need to say something about it.

I don't like how close this reads to Battle cry. I'd rather have different numbers in the same set as a keyword that gives +1/+0. I would have argued against this card being in this set. There is some danger in printing tricks like this that say "attacking creatures" on them. One of my opponents at the Prerelease cast this during my attack step, thinking he would blow me out. I let him take it back after pointing out he was going to give my guys +1/+0 and first strike.

"Lets make a cycle where the red one deals damage!" Oh, you're saying I used that joke already? Then the best thing about this card is that it costs XR and not XRR. It's not all that interesting, really.

Take this, Infest! Red gets to kill 3-toughness guys with the bonus alternate mode of finishing off an opponent (or Planeswalker). This choice will be interesting a lot of the time, and it's good to make burn spells with unusual choices like this.

This card has quite a nice dream. Makes me wonder what a fair cost for a 3/1 unconditional doublestriker is. Oh right, probably 2RR. I find myself liking Metalcraft less with each non-artifact card I read that has the keyword on it. Instead of a "play all of these" mechanic it's a "choose one of these only" mechanic. Too counterintuitive.

I want to know why we didn't get this rare: 1RR Sorcery, "Creatures you control gain Battle cry until the end of turn."

Most Standard Worthy: Slagstorm? It's a close one, none of them seem over-the-top powerful.
Coolest / Most Exciting: Galvanoth
Most Interesting Design: Concussive Bolt

That concludes the first half of my set review of Mirrodin Besieged. Tomorrow, we'll finish up with Green, Multicolor, and Colorless!

Be sure to check out my game design blog, Design-Side Out, and follow me on twitter: @GregoryMarques

7 thoughts on “Mirrodin Besieged Design Review, Pt. 1 (WUBR)

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