Vanguard Update

The letter W!e at Wizards of the Coast are committed to providing a fun online gaming experience for our Magic Online players. Specifically for me, that means overseeing the future design, health, and maintenance of Vanguard avatars and the Standard with Vanguard format.

In a strange way, we issue "cleanup" and "errata" to Vanguard avatars exactly opposite to physical Magic cards:

  • A physical card has its mana cost, power, toughness, and name set in stone excepting blatant misprints like the Beatdown Box's 2/2 Mirri, Cat Warrior. I like to call these parts on a card its "numbers."
  • A physical card can receive new art and flavor text. It also may functionally change for better, worse, great, or small due to rules-related errata, templating updates, or even something eventful like The Grand Creature Type Update. I like to call these parts of the card its "words."
  • A Vanguard avatar is different from a physical card in how we update it; we are willing to rebalance its "numbers" but committed to never changing its "words."

As stated before by Paul Sottosanti, the previous executor of Vanguard, we don't plan to endlessly increment and decrement Vanguard avatar hand and life statistics like the inner workings of a windup watch. When changes are merited, any Vanguard changes will coincide with the quarter-annual Banned & Restricted Announcements on the 1sts of March, June, September, and December.

These changes to Vanguard avatars will go live when you update your Magic Online client following the regularly scheduled maintenance on Wednesday, March 26, 2008.

Mirri the Cursed
[Creatures you control have "Tap: Another target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn. Put a +1/+1 counter on this creature."]
Was: +0 hand, -5 life
Now: -2 hand, -3 life

Change: -2 hand, +2 life

Creatures are the most interactive, flavorful, and fun part of Magic. R&D has been pushing creatures and pulling back on spells for years now. Even though Mirri's ability encourages you to play creatures (with 2 or more toughness), it hoses enemy creatures in an incredibly unfun way—the opponent knows before even playing them that her creatures will just die. Meanwhile, Mirri's minions can shrink each other in small doses to "go Vebulid" on the opponent.

There's an infamous card in Magic that also promotes cheap utility creatures, repeatedly murders enemy creatures, and "goes Vebulid" otherwise while being difficult to solve: Umezawa's Jitte. In a fight amongst unfun cards, the legendary Jitte has few contenders. In fact, Magic developers refer to 'dominating, unfun, regrettable cards' collectively as "Jittes," and are trained to quash them on sight.

There is ZERO room in Magic for Jittes. None. The Vanguard format already has anti-creature avatars such as Flametongue Kavu, so Mirri is not filling any metagame hole. Congratulations, Mirri, you've earned an unprecedented -2 hand penalty.

Heartwood Storyteller
[The first creature spell you play each turn costs 1 Mana less to play. The first noncreature spell each opponent plays each turn costs 1 Mana more to play.]
Was: +0 hand, +7 life
Now: -1 hand, +4 life

Change: -1 card, -3 life

Magic's creature curves are based on a starting life total of 20, among other things. With Tier 1 Vanguard avatars having a bonus to hand, a bonus to life, PLUS a saucy ability, beatdown creatures and burn universally have an uphill climb before tempo loses to card advantage. While Heartwood Storyteller's ability has some "good intentions," its potential +2 mana advantage during the early turns should be its defense, not substantial hand and life bonuses on top of that.

Dakkon Blackblade
[You may play any colored card from your hand as a copy of a basic land card chosen at random that can produce mana of one of the card's colors.]
Was: +1 hand, +3 life
Now: +1 hand, +0 life

Change: -3 life

Dakkon Blackblade is the current avatar du jour for "porting" regular Standard decks with a new manabase. Card advantage is particularly strong with Dakkon Blackblade because it will never mana screw or mana flood. While I imagine the many of you reading this believe mana screw and mana flood bring Magic down and should be eliminated, they are in fact vital game mechanics that have allowed Magic to endear and endure. Playing against Dakkon, you will never see it miss its fourth land drop for a game-breaking Wrath of God, nor will it ever manaflood in a topdeck war. "Dead cards" are also an important aspect of tournament Magic that Dakkon eliminates. While there is room for this kind of ability in Magic for the players who enjoy a more consistent experience, life totals are simply too high across the heavily played avatars, so Dakkon Blackblade gets permanently hit by a Lightning Bolt.

Jhoira of the Ghitu
[3 Mana, Discard a card: Copy three instant cards chosen at random. You may play one of the copies without paying its mana cost.
3 Mana, Discard a card: Copy three sorcery cards chosen at random. You may play one of the copies without paying its mana cost. Play this ability only any time you could play a sorcery.]
Was: +1 hand, +3 life
Now: +1 hand, +0 life

Change: -3 life

Jhoira is fantastic against reactive decks that attempt to contain all your threats with powerful answers like Damnation, Oblivion Ring, and Cryptic Command, and it's a great spot for her to be. With 3 less life, she can still bring the pain to slow control decks, but now it takes one Incinerate less to stop the Jhoira Roulette Wheel of Doom from landing on Time Stretch.

Ashling the Pilgrim
[2 Mana: Ashling the Pilgrim deals 1 damage to each creature and each player.]
Was: +0 hand, +6 life
Now: -1 hand, +6 life

Change: -1 hand

Ashling was engineered as an anti-Mirri the Cursed avatar, but now she has a new purpose in life: massacring Birds, Elves, Faeries, Kithkin, Fungus, etc. She has some of the same unfunness of "I know my creatures will just die" feeling that Mirri did. While Ashling the Pilgrim was my first design (the card, not the avatar), I must resist her charm, as there are nobler avatars in the world.

Royal Assassin
[At the beginning of your upkeep, you draw a card and you lose 1 life.]
Was: -2 hand, -3 life
Now: -2 hand, +0 life

Change: +3 life

We would like for most avatars to be "in the ballpark"—in a place where the players, card pool, and metagame could align to give each of them a time to shine. A -2 hand is a crippling statistic, and in lieu of designing a new "viable -2 hand avatar" sometime in the future to prove it can be done, it makes more sense to improve upon what we already have and give Royal Assassin a smaller hill to climb.

[Tap an untapped creature you control, Discard a card: Target creature you control gets +X/+X until end of turn, where X is the number of cards in your hand.]
Was: +1 hand, -7 life
Now: +2 hand, -7 life

Change: +1 hand

Creature-centric avatars normally enjoy a +1 card bonus simply because they promote creature decks. Having a noble pursuit, Maro's ability greatly appreciates an additional +1 card.

Special thanks to Paul Sottosanti, Erik Lauer, Mike Turian, Matt Place, Aaron Forsythe, Brady Dommermuth, Del Laugel, Mark Gottlieb, Mike Mikaelian, Lee Sharpe, Jason Radabaugh, Ryan Dhuse, quetzilla, Emoticon, sikonawt, and caliban17 for their contributions toward Vanguard avatars, both small and large.

If you would like to directly voice your concerns about Vanguard avatars, you can email me directly at And just to quell half the angry emails—don't write to me complaining that there's currently no avatar to satisfy your insatiable urge to be a glow-eyed Kithkin.

To see the complete list of avatars and their abilities, enter the Magic Online client, go to the Deck Editor, turn off "My cards," and filter for the Vanguard set.

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