Contenders (Main Set)

Author: TimFReilly Current version: Version 22 Last change: 2019-03-18 06:02:17 Stage: Development

The Contenders set is a hybrid of limited and Commander. Contender planeswalkers are fun to build around and have slightly tweaked rules to make them better for limited play. The set also has three other new mechanics along with more-than-normal planeswalker interactions. The set is 180 cards, 90 of which are commons which are triple-printed, totaling 360 cards.

Mechanics

Contender
See the Contender planeswalkers in their own file at: planesculptors.net/set/contenders-planeswalkers. Planeswalkers start in your command zone and gain one loyalty there each turn (up to their printed loyalty). When they are cast, they enter the battlefield with that loyalty accumulated in the command zone. When a Contender would leave the battlefield, it goes back to the command zone with no counters. This typically means Contenders are cast for mostly-full loyalty the first time, but then come back onto the battlefield late in the game with some fraction of their printed loyalty.

Sway
Sway allows you to add or remove a loyalty counter from a Planeswalker in play or a Contender Planeswalker in the command zone. Notably, this allows a Contender planeswalker in the command zone to temporarily exceed its printed loyalty. Sway is in all five colors to allow all colors to interact with the Contender cards.

Forerunner
When a Forerunner X permanent enters the battlefield, it makes the next spell you cast X cheaper and causes that spell to give the Forerunner creature (or creature enchanted by Forerunner aura) +X/+X until end of turn. Since it affects the next spell cast, players should plan carefully what order they cast spells. Forerunner-focused decks can challenge the normally value-oriented gameplay of Contender matches by explosively threatening the board state.

Arise
Arise allows a player to cast a card out of his or her graveyard by also removing a creature card from his or her graveyard. It is similar to the Retrace ability, but with a different additional cost. Arise-focused strategies typically reward either a resilient go-wide attack or a slow attrition-based value game.

Fetch
Fetch is a keyword action that shortcuts the text involving searching your library for a card, doing something, and then shuffling your library afterward. Whether a fetched card is put in its owner's hand, battlefield, etc is specified by the card.

A longer rules overview can be found here: Rules Google Doc

Archetypes and Notes

Contenders
Since the player always has access to their Contender, each one forms an archetype by itself. Many of the common cards are built to join with specific Contenders. Some examples: * Har-Oha and Lykarev build around aggressive Mercenaries * Gralanth rewards Elementals and Sorceries * Peng Ping is a storm-like win con for spell decks. * Ravelle aggressively self-mills and stacks her deck. * Zaina polymorphs creatures, rewarding a mix of small and very large creatures.

Low Toughness
The set contains a large number of one and two toughness creatures as well as a larger number of ways to deal one or two damage.

Equipment and First Strike
There are more than normal numbers of Equipment and First strike. These "Voltron" combos are intended to help push through the board stalls normally common with these Contender-centric matches.

Version 21

Date: 2018-12-26 18:20:00

See the Planeswalker changes for additional changes: Version 21 Contender Changes

Change Overview

  • Introduction of Junctions - Powerful Planeswalker-augmenting enchantments.
  • Focus on Enchantments - A bunch of enchantments were overhauled and some effects that interact with enchantments were also looked at
  • Tokens Deemphasized - Green 1/1 Spirits and 3/3 Elementals have been removed and other tokens consolidated. The cares-about-token Contender Raevel (Now Ravelle) reworked.
  • Common Sway cards - Each color now has a common Sway spell.
  • New Common Land Design - Three color lands with a small drawback, giving all color pairs options for lands.
  • Many Others - All the usual balance and gameplay tweaks

Introduction of Junctions

  • Ethereal Prison replaced with Protective Spires of Oria. I'm curious about this tempo-y mix of abilities. Both abilities seem strong on their own, but I do not know if they are worth the card disadvantage of playing a separate Junction.
  • Port of the Bloodlender replaced with Port of the Bloodlender. My thinking is that Junction abilities should be similar to spells that cost 4-6 mana. The plus is a twist on the typical draw spell and the minus typically costs 5 or 6 mana. I'm looking forward to the first time someone swaps Contenders.
  • Eternal Citadel replaced with Ocna, the Dead Citadel. This one doesn't have a plus ability and I'm curious if that will be a problem. I'm hoping that the versatility of the card draw (or three damage to the face!) will make the card good enough so that the more "fun" reanimation ability isn't too much of a drag.
  • The Shapelands replaced with The Shapelands. This Junction is a self-enabling combo package that also fits well with a few of the red contenders. Forcing both players to "rummage" can also help disrupt the plans of opponents when they're down to their last few cards. The enchant land version of Shapelands was popular in its own right so I'm happy to keep the effect around.
  • Brillia’s Terrace replaced with The Terrace Freed of Man. This Junction is a sandbox card that enables a variety of decks. I was looking for an effect that put pressure on the opponent but didn't just wreck creatures, so I hope the sacrifice effect can accomplish that. I don't really want it to only hit artifacts and enchantments because I don't want Junctions to be dependent so much on what the opponent plays. The untap ability has a mild deck building cost so that it isn't a full windmill slam in the greedy five color decks.

Focus on Enchantments

  • Establish Order replaced with Merchant's Army. I'm trying out a replacement token-making card that works by attacking planeswalkers rather than holding back. I've decided on Mercenary flavor to perhaps enhance the feeling of Planeswalkers arriving and battling each other as well as the plane defending itself. I suspect this card might be on the strong side but I think I like cards that are strong, but aren't either crazy aggressive or super game-slowing.
  • Vanquish the Mighty replaced with Prize-Winning Griffin. Nobody wanted to play Vanquish. My wife wanted help design a card and I gave her some general ideas, and she settled on a handsome griffin. I think this should be a very good card (especially with a copy or two of Hold Captive) and I'm continuing to investigate whether "enchanted or equipped" is a good theme to push.
  • Æthershield replaced with Control the Currents. The original card was just a design experiment that had awful gameplay. People complained about it often. The new design adds more of the "noncreature" decks theme and should be the type of Johnny card that lets people plan out very unusual turns.
  • Drag to Grave replaced with Visitation. Like Aethershield this is another long term "bad card" that I just hadn't decided on a new slot for. This new design also incorporates some of the role of Phantom Visitation (see its replacement in Sway section). Not a super high impact card, but a useful one. I wanted to improve the options for black enchantments to support the BG gold card, Gorgon Enchantress.
  • Gralanth’s Boon replaced with Might of the Forebearers. The "grants Forerunner" auras were always a little awkward, and I had previously tried buffing them to make them worth it. This ended up being kinda degenerate, and once I depowered them a bit they became unappealing again. I'm trying out using more of the "cares about forerunner" technology while giving this (and the green card) effects that work well with the power-heavy forerunner creatures.
  • Marauder’s Fury replaced with Stamina of the Forebearers. The other part of the "cares about forerunner" enchantments, I'm trying out a design that lets high power forerunner creatures keep attacking.
  • Untamed Avenger replaced with Heartwood Elder. People often misplayed Untamed Avenger, though others did enjoy the flavor. Since I'm introducing five big new enchantments as well as some more enchantment themes, I felt it appropriate to add a card that flexibly interacts with enchantments. The use of a +1/+1 counter allows this ability to go on a creature that can play out at any time. Putting niche removal on an ETB trigger on a large creature can make it hard to wait for a target without falling behind. Even worse is when you play your ETB creature for no value and the opponent plays a target the next turn.

Tokens Deemphasized

In addition to these changes, Ravelle the BG Contender was reworked to not care about tokens or use tokens. See Version 21 Contender Changes

  • Call from the Hills now Call from the Hills. Version 21 aimed to consolidate tokens and I decided on using the Mercenary tokens over Soldiers. I'm also trying a slightly unusual card design that isn't quite a "choose one" card. It's tricky to maximize but always possible to get some value out of.
  • Muster Forces now Muster Forces. Another part of the token rework, and possibly a power boost as well. I think this card will be appealing to players. I didn't quite want to go up to 5 mana (or only one token) so we'll see if this is the right price for this effect. I may need to scale up ways to deal with fliers.
  • Free the Soul now Scrub Sorcery. While moving this card away from token usage, I also included some anti-graveyard choices. Might consider shifting this down to common at some point.
  • Second Spring now Second Spring. Double Cultivate didn't exist yet in Magic and the Contender set is hungry for mana. I'm curious how good this card will be. Peng Ping and Brilia both want all the lands they can get and Aoron can also make use of more mana to cast all the cards he draws.
  • Speaker of Spring now Speaker of Spring. Along with reducing the use of tokens came the opportunity to design a sweet new mythic. People are loving all the five color stuff in the set and he's the highest end ramp spell you'll ever cast.
  • Vineshaper Guardian now Vineshaped Guardian. This design should serve a similar function to the old one but without the token and without the feel-bad when you cast it with forerunner. Although this ability has been on other creatures, it hasn't yet been on an otherwise vanilla.
  • Larkland Visitant now Changed Larkland Visitant. I liked the old design, but wanted to finish cleaning up the use of green spirit tokens. The new design should have similar aggro-slowing potential and has the "simplicity bonus" of using one of the set mechanics.
  • Soulfused Treant now Changed Soulfused Treant. The previous design was built to work with spirit tokens, and with those being phased out I needed to tweak the design. This new version works either by sacrificing or by playing a ramp deck.

Common Sway Cards

White already has a Sway common Pureheart Call so the other colors are the ones gaining here. I'll be looking into reworking the designs of the Sway uncommons, as I've found Sway is best on cards without a lot of other choices.

  • Subvert now Subvert. I had to keep this counterspell limited to something that wouldn't hit planeswalkers, as countering planeswalkers feels a little too bad in this set for a common. This should fit well into a control type deck while reinforcing the themes of the set.
  • Phantom Visitation now Thought Collection. With some of its functionality moved over to Visitation above, this was repurposed to fit into the common sway cycle. Psommegos was hungering for more discard options to synergize with his +1 ability. Games of with Contenders often result in a few extra cards in hand, so I'm curious if this ends up being useful or not.
  • Revel in Victory now New Commands. Going along with the common sway cycle, Red players get the ability to reload their hand and their Contender at the same time. This card is expensive but either fits into Forerunner decks or the heavy ramp decks.
  • Hunt the Priests now Fresh Prey. Switching from fight to a one-sided hit is a significant boost to the power level of this card. The fight version had a hard time working with the overall high power/low toughness creatures in the set. Felt like a good fit for the "Sway at common" cycle.

New Common Land Design

I go through new designs for the common lands pretty frequently. There are only five slots for common lands, which limits the possible designs. I didn't want to rework the set to include ten land slots, as that would fill the packs with lands and I'd have to evict a bunch of other cards. At the same time players are frequently bummed out that their color pair doesn't have any color fixing available.

That lead me to tri-lands. The trilands in Alara and Tarkir were great limited picks, so I didn't want to downshift them to common as-is. I thought about lands like Adarkar Wastes, but tracking damage can be annoying. Therefore I landed on a "refuge" variant where you take one damage on ETB. The mild cost should discourage two color decks from taking tons of them, allowing a few to float to the greedier multicolor decks that are happier to pay the life cost.

Other Changes

  • Abernath Wavecrasher now Abernath Wavecrasher. People love Forerunner and I'm comfortable putting more of it into blue. Cards like this help keep the set simple for people new to the set. Wizards of the Coast also seems to be abandoning Prowess, so I'm starting to reduce my use of it as well.
  • Crypts Adversary now Crypts Adversary. Nobody played this, but I'd like to keep the Adversary cycle varied in size/cost. I'm trying an especially big creature to see if that'll pull people in.
  • Midnight Visitor now Midnight Visitor. Black had a little too much early aggro and Midnight Visitor's old design (just Menace) didn't tie into the themes of the set as strongly as others. The new design slows down the aggression a bit while also playing into Black's "life as a resource" theme.
  • Underchapel Baroness now Underchapel Baroness. Players liked her dangerous playstyle but found the cost to be a little too high. By standardizing it at 2 life, she still kills her controller reasonably fast but also interacts positively with various sources of life gain in the set.
  • Wazani Broker now Wazani Broker. Just a little too automatic in its old state, I'm hoping that adding a mana cost will make it feel like more of a choice.
  • Pilgrim’s Reward now Pilgrim’s Reward. Rare to Uncommon. Brillia's Terrace needed to be shifted up to rare to work with the Junction replacement, so this moves down into the uncommon slot. It can potentially draw a pile of cards but needs a special deck to do so, which seems like a nice spot for an uncommon.
  • Wandering Seer now Leader of Last Rites. The exile version of this card was meant as a low-risk way to help beat opposing Arise and graveyard shenanigans, but it hasn't been played as often as I'd like. By rephrasing the ability as something that can also be used on yourself, I hope I can make it just appealing enough for people to make use of it. Also fits in with Ravelle's new design, as she's looking to stack her library with the best cards.
  • Epharan Voyage now Epharan Voyage. I feel committed to the sorcery-speed aspect of the design, but the card wasn't strong enough. I'm moving three down to two to see if I can get people to play it.
  • Sisters Yamazaki now Sisters Yamazaki. The goal of this card is to have several identical sisters, like Brothers Yamazaki, and I hope this multikicker-like design will meet that objective. I messed around with some "make a copy of me after attacking" or other that made copies, but they always felt like you needed to keep one Sister save and attack with the rest. This final design should allow all the sisters to operate on even footing.

Unprinted Changes

These two cards received slight creature type tweaks but weren't different enough to warrant printing.

Version 20

Date: 2018-10-02 23:48:07

Gold Card Upgrades:

With version 20, I've upgraded all Gold cards to Rares, and made them have an extra-planar feel. Many of these don't line up exactly with the Contenders, meaning many of them will be off-color rewards for splashing. My players seem to enjoy building greedy many-color decks and I'm happy to push the rewards for these ambitious decks.

  • Barter of Bodies now Barter for Bodies. The new version allows for a all-in effect, land-sacrificing payoff. The old version was powerful but underplayed. I'm curious if this one will have enough appeal to be played.
  • Everstoker now Flamekin Coalstoke. In addition to encouraging spells-matter play, this card has some sneaky synergy with Zaina.
  • Explore the Tombs now Lamenting Sentinel. A build-around card with a high payoff. This works great with Psommegos, self-mill, and looting effects. I think that should be enough synergy to allow this to flourish.
  • Rebel Riders of Wazan now Sisters Yamazaki. I'm not sure this is the best version of this ability, but I wanted to reward Equipment and Enchantments. She can provide a steady stream of disposable tokens late game.
  • Shelter of Larkland now Sunrise Paragon. An extra-loud signpost saying "play five color decks!"
  • Covebottom Stalker now Gorgon Enchantress. There's a bunch of Auras in the set and I think she should provide a payoff for building around them. Her baseline stats are solid enough that her Enchantress-ness should be mostly gravy.
  • Chant of Believers cost increased from 1WB to 2WB. Powerful card, still very solid at four.
  • Remade Epharan Voyage into Epharan Voyage. I'm not totally sure what the home of this card will be, but it's an effect with a lot of raw power for decks that can stall the board.
  • Thrashalanche no longer hits PWs. This was a little too crippling given that the Thrashalanche can attack every turn to keep Contenders permanently at bay.
  • Changed Vectis Armory from creating Spirits to creating Equipment tokens. The Spirits were really brutal and it didn't feel Esper enough to me. We'll see if Equipment tokens can also be fun.

General Updates:

  • Golmorn’s Sentry cost increased from WW to 1WW. White has plenty of cheap creatures and this guy was a bit too potent for the cost. He'll still be an excellent 3-drop.
  • Pious Study cost of trigger increased from 1 to 2. The abundance of tokens made this card one of the most disliked cards in the set (to play against). Costing 2 should keep the spirit of the card alive but make it a little harder to have explosive, token-fueled turns.
  • Wazan Warwing now more Mercenary-specific. Along with Pious Study, this was the most complained-about card. Her new text focuses her more on the tribal element, while giving the opponent counterplay options when removing her at key moments.
  • Abernath Covediver now Abernath Wavecrasher. Blue has been struggling in play rates and win rates, so I'm juicing a few of the commons in this version. Covediver was hard to read and too inconsistent in its pressure. I'm hoping this new design will be both simpler and more consistent.
  • Abernath Selkie now Abernath Strangler. The other Merfolk upgrade, this tricky guy should help blue catch up. He's also a nice combo with the new Aoron contender.
  • Agent of Thaegen now Dragonfly Needler. The old Agent was better when Thaegen was a "saboteur" (deal damage to opponent) planeswalker. The new one still has evasion to pester opposing contenders but is much more useful in other cases.
  • Rarity swapped Choking Gloom and Exhumed Rebel. I intend to do a broader sweep of removal and rarities soon, but for now I wanted to slow down black's removal suite just a bit.
  • Gralanth’s Boon lowered Forerunner from 3->2.
  • Stormchannel Mage cost increased from 1R to 3R and stats from 1/1 to 3/1. This guy needed a nerf and I'm hoping he'll be easier to beat if he's harder to establish early. I'm still keeping an eye on him.
  • Twice Cooked cost increased from 5R to 5RR but can now hit planeswalkers. Twice Cooked is a beast of a common, which I like, but I'm boosting its cost to make it a little less of a reliable early game ender. I'm also increasing its utility to allow for more interplay with contenders.
  • Marauder’s Fury lowered Forerunner from 3->2.
  • House Arrest cost lowered from 2H to 1H.
  • Wazan, City of Coin added 2 to activation cost.

Version 19

Date: 2018-08-15 06:46:21

Mercenaries:

  • Larkhall Hero changed to Wazani Fameseeker and Wazani Sentry changed to Wazani Sentry. I've decided to add a pair of common Mercenaries to each color outside Green. Each pair are mechanically similar to keep complexity in check. This white pair complements the token generation and go-wide strategies already supported in the color.
  • Wazani Executioner downshifted to common and changed to Wazani Executioner and Wazani Veteran changed to Wazani Veteran. The red Wazani pair are meant to provide some late-game punch, which the red Contenders can sometimes struggle with. I can foresee tweaking the costs here after some playtesting.
  • Blood Baroness changed to Underchapel Baroness. Along with Har-Oha and Lykarev on the Contender side, this card joins Wazan, City of Coin with Mercernary build-arounds. I'm interested in supporting this "loose tribal" theme, and I hope it will allow for interesting sealed and draft decisions. I'm also hoping to accentuate Black "life economy" subtheme with this design.
  • Nightborn Courier changed to Wazani Night Courier. Several of the hybrid common cards are "theme bridge" cards, which serve multiple themes in the set. Making this little guy a bat helps support both Mercenaries along with its existing selfmill functionality. I was inspired to lower the cost of the card by the printing of Stitcher's Supplier in M19.

Individual Card Changes:

  • Drowned Hope changed to Cove Surge. Blue has suffered from a lack of "signpost" cards to draw people into the color. I'm hoping this tribal card, which is very powerful, will give players a reason to consider playing blue more often.
  • Plunder Studies changed to Plunder Depths. The evasion granted by the old card was often redundant in blue, and the high price for the card caused it to be cut often from decks. I've repositioned the card as a mild reward for both self-mill and spells-matters decks, while still being a solid late game top deck for any strategy.
  • Flamevoice Volley upshifted to Uncommon and changed to Concurrent Volley. I needed a rarity upshift so I could downshift Wazani Executioner, and Flamevoice Volley was typically a cruel common. I'm hoping the new uncommon version will retain the same offensive punch while feeling a bit more in-flavor for the residents of Wazan.
  • Truthseeker changed to Tideborn. Another "theme bridge" change, this allows Merfolk decks to have a few more playables while retaining the card's use in Spirit decks.

Land Changes:

  • Changed Abernath Cove and the other common duals to be like Abernath Cove. I put these cards in the set before Amonkhet was released, and now the presence of "unkeyworded Cycling" is confusing people. I don't want to bring Cycling to the set as a whole, so I'm replacing the ability with a powered-down version of the checklands. I didn't often see players using the cycling ability, so I don't think this will have a negative impact on play.

Fixes:

Version 18

Date: 2018-06-17 08:10:46

See also the Version 18 Planeswalker Changes

Version 18 updates fall into three main categories:

  • Mercenary cards (used by Har-Oha) have all been standardized with "Wazani X" naming. A second Mercenary card has been added to test the waters.
  • A number of underplayed Uncommons were upgraded to reward players for pursuing certain strategies.
  • Smaller tweaks due to typos, rules questions, balance tweaks, and other considerations.

Mercenary Changes:

Uncommon Rebuilds:

Other Changes:

  • Goltran Prison changed to Ethereal Prison, reduced its upfront cost, and clarified what happens if the Prison is destroyed.
  • Chael’s Siphoner now Chael’s Conscript. Siphoner was left over from when there was more "life economy" in the set's design, before the Contenders were created. The new Conscript is a generally useful Arise card that further rewards stocking up on graveyard cards.
  • Stalking Gloom gets a new picture and name with Choking Gloom.
  • Blazewielder replaced with Slagwielder. There needed to be another Elemental for Gralanth, and Blazewielder, though strong, was one of the few common creatures that could budge. I'm hoping to add more variety to red beyond burn.
  • Changed Hill Crusader to give some better push-through power to White.
  • Changed Pull Beneath to be a normal bounce spell with a Scry 2 rider. I could imagine changing this again, but the previous version was too awkward and inconsistent.
  • Changed Mana Weirding nerfed from Forerunner 2 to Forerunner 1 with haste. I think the Weirding single-handedly ruined a few games.
  • Changed Scourge of the Coasts to include "you control". Thanks to Edmund who managed to not only notice the wrong wording but also managed to leverage it to come back in a game.

Version 17

Date: 2018-05-21 02:21:52

This is the first version of Contenders (Main Set) published on PlaneSculptors.net. It is the 17th printed version of the set.