You know that itch? The one that happens when you’re alone, and it is directly in the middle of your back? Impossible to reach, takes forever to go away, forces you get something else to reach it? Well, consider Emblems and Experience Counters the itch – and right now, we need something to scratch them.
Recently, team GDC was having a discussion about all of the new planeswalkers when the new Jace came up; in particular, we discussed his emblem:
Whenever an opponent casts his or her first spell each turn, counter it.
That shifted us to talking about how much an Erayo, Soratami Ascendant lock sucks, and the thought of having to play under such a lock again without having any answer to it once it lands made us all pretty annoyed. Tack on another discussion we’ve had in recent days about the how you can’t get rid of experience counters, and it was becoming abundantly clear that it might be time to evaluate the standing of these non-interactive elements in Magic.
First, a little background. The first emblem in M:tG came to us courtesy of Elspeth, Knight-Errant, whose ultimate ability had a previously undefined effect. Since their inception, emblems have exclusively been gifted to planeswalkers, and then usually stemming from their ultimate ability. Once gained, they stay in the command zone and are unable to be removed under any circumstance.
There are currently twenty-four emblems (not counting Shadows of Innistrad) that are able to be obtained in game.
Experience counters exist in a similar vein, and were introduced recently via the Commander 2015 set. You’ve probably experienced their power, through Ezuri, Claw of Progress or Meren of Clan Nel Toth gaining an unseemly number of them. They trigger off a specific card’s effect, and are counted as the player getting experience counters instead of the creature.
Therefore, they also cannot be removed under any circumstance.
Now that we’re all caught up, let’s get down to brass tacks. As I stated before, the problem that stems from all of this is interactivity. Interactivity is one of the hallmarks that make Magic great, and these entities run in direct opposition to it. There should be some kind of action you can take other than staring the emblem down and hoping it disappears. What should be done to change this around?
Turning emblems/exp. counters into actual permanents makes for a simple answer. If they are permanents, then they can be dealt with – just like anything else out there. The tricky part is what permanent type would fit the nature of an emblem. I tend to think of them as the “essence” of a Planeswalker, which leads me to throw them into the enchantment category (like the Kamigawa flip generals or the Theros Gods.) I think they should also be indestructible, because working to get an emblem or building up experience counters can be hard work (Well, except when you have Doubling Season up and running…) I’d even be open to adding a Sigarda, Host of Herons-esque clause that states they can’t be sacrificed to really hammer the point home.
What led me to this idea is Nahiri, the Lithomancer. She has a similar ultimate to an emblem, except that she creates a indestructible artifact equipment. I’ve played in a few games where people have actually been able to ultimate her, and being able to interact with it made the game a lot more fun. I’ve seen it stolen, turned into a creature to get rid of it, and exiled to get rid of it. Players had to come up with novel plans to deal with the threat of it – but that didn’t take away from it being a powerful effect.
Other suggestions thrown out there were just making them a straight up “permanent” with no card subtype (shout out to Cass on that one) that is also indestructible. Erik thought that enchantment was too narrow, as there some colors have a lot of trouble dealing with that type (black and red), which led me to float potentially making them artifact enchantments like the God weapons of Theros as a counterpoint.
There are definitely some arguments against changing how this functions currently. As it now stands, the way to deal emblems/experience counters is to cut them off before they become a problem. The tried and true method of destroying the planeswalker or creature before they get out of hand is an obvious one. Alex pointed out that there are still plenty of ways to deal with the cards – bounce namely being one of them – that makes it pretty simple to nullify the hard work of getting the emblem/counters on the field. Also, the fact that there are only around thirty cards that create something outside of the game paints this as a corner case that doesn’t necessarily have to be dealt with.
The folks at Wizards don’t seem to be in any rush to allow us ways to interact with either, as no anti-experience cards were printed in Commander 2015 – the clear place for them to occur – and Mark Rosewater has stated on his blog that there is nothing in the near future that will be able to destroy emblems. As we know with Magic, though, never say never ever. Innovation is another key to the game, and if they find a way to allow players to interact with these two effects that is unique and works in the system, I’m sure they’ll do it.
For now, we can brainstorm and come up with some ideas for how to make this work. Commander is a casual format, after all – What house rules would you apply to try to deal with emblems/experience counters? What have you tried to date? Do you view these as problematic to begin with?
Hit us up and let us know.