Vanguard

Pop quiz, hot shots. Have you ever seen a card like this before?

How about I give you another one most of you are familiar with?

That’s right. Both of these are of the same type of card that you can’t do anything about once it’s in play, but they make the game different and more exciting, and they serve as a way to liven up those “boring” Commander games.

Welcome to the world of Vanguard.

For the larger part of about ten years, I had been holding onto one of these cards—Takara seen above. I forgot how I acquired it—it may have been a trade or something someone just gave to me; its origin in my collection isn’t important. For me, it symbolized a way of playing Magic I was unsure if I was ever going to engage in. It seemed wacky, and most importantly, fun. I had never seen other players with Vanguard, and I didn’t play during the Arena leagues of the Rath/Urza’s/Masques blocks when these were printed. Maybe it was the collector in me that wanted all of them; I don’t know. I was always hoping in the off chance that I would acquire the rest of them to finish my collection.

This past year, I reexamined my want to collect these. I had only acquired several of them and had seriously decided to give up the hunt. When was I going to use them? My friends probably didn’t want to play the same five over and over again. Then, my wife told me she (or we, if you want to engage in that togetherness that the pregnancy books preached) was pregnant. Of course, besides it being an awesome, life-changing event, I thought of how it was going to affect my future. Especially with Magic. In fact, I talked about it here, and Point 5 was to finish my Vanguard set. I wanted to finish the set so that when I have my friends over, we can be a little more casual and fun instead of trying to out power each other.

Yes, I feel that with Vanguard added to Commander games (or any format in general), it can make for a more fun experience than what you’re used to.

Enough history. I’m sure a majority of people don’t know how Vanguard works or what it really is. That’s the important part of this piece, right? For now, yes.

What is Vanguard?

Vanguard is a “card” that changes the way you play the game. Much like a Commander in Commander, these cards start in the command zone, but they stay in the command zone for the duration of the game. The cards affect you starting and max hand size, your starting life, and what special abilities you now have for the rest of the game. The starting hand and life are taken into account for what they normally would be for that particular format. Regular Magic starts with 20 life while Commander starts with 40, so those are the base numbers to calculate your new starting totals.

Take a look at Takara:

Yes, she turns all your creatures into Mogg Fanatics, while giving you a starting hand of ten cards and a starting life of 32. Pretty cool, right? Each of the Vanguard cards has unique text on it, ranging from a personal Howling Mine to making Sliver tokens to giving all your creatures reach. (Sorry, Orim, you’re not really exciting anyone.) Because these cards in the command zone, they can’t be targeted throughout the game. What you have is what you get, which is pretty awesome. Each of you now has a different advantage on the game—more than just a different Commander or a decklist. This is just another way to randomize events, something I know Magic players really do love since MoJhoSto and Momir Vig are hits on MTGO (which are both offshoots of Vanguard).

The fun part is each that player has a different Vanguard card. Ideally, it would be randomly (so you don’t build degenerate decks around certain ones), so everyone picks one from the stack at the beginning of the game. You see players’ minds in frenzies as they get new Vanguards that completely change the way they play their decks. Suddenly, that Kresh deck that gets the Rofellos (whose ability is a personal Fecundity) turns into a much more dangerous deck. Or that Teferi deck that gets Squee (Telepathy plus an extra three cards in hand) can make the game much more challenging. Of course, you’re free to change up how and when people choose a Vanguard card. So, don’t let how I prefer to play dictate how you want to.

Oh, and the bonus: They’re the same size as Planechase and Archenemy cards.

If you wanted to, you could have a Vanguard Planechase Archenemy Commander game. Awww, yeah.
Now for the bad part. Because Vanguard hasn’t been in print for fifteen years, the cards are becoming tougher to find. Most of them are $5 to $10, but when there’re thirty-two of them, you’re shelling out $160 to $320 for a casual format. Gix, Sliver Queen, and Xantcha are both around $30 apiece while Titana is $50 or more. This is becoming more and more of a collector’s item, so prices will tend to go up. Because of the lack of collectability, fewer players (especially casual ones) are getting the ability to play with them.

Good news from the bad news: These cards are not on the reserved list. Yes. At any time, WotC could decide to bring back and support Vanguard. With Commander, Planechase, and, to some extent, Archenemy being so popular and the larger card format being printed more regularly, we could easily see a Vanguard movement once again. But until that point, we’re not going to see new Vanguard cards.

Or are we?

In the offshoot of my list of projects I was going to have done before the baby comes, I talked about a secret project with famed Vorthos Mike Linnemann. Of course, he had to get hired at a game company and our project was put on hold. But one of the parts of the secret project was to create our new line of Vanguard cards.

 


Side note: Yes, I am delving into Magic design. For those of you who haven’t done this type before, I welcome you to basically fan fiction for Magic. I believe that everyone has created his or her own card at one point or another. Some of the card design is really horrible; others are not that bad. Most of us don’t have a development team looking out for our mistakes, so we do the best we can. How well you design Magic cards has no correlation to whether you’re a pro or whether you’ve dabbled in Pauper all your life. Like everything else in life, it’s how well you know the information. If done properly, amateur Magic design can be a new avenue to enjoying Magic. If you choose not to follow along with the rest of the article, have a nice day and go lobby for WotC to bring back Vanguard. If you wish to read on, let’s go down the rabbit hole.

 


I looked at all of the past Vanguard cards and separated them into two sections: paper and online. The paper Vanguard cards are clearly underpowered when it comes to the two sets, but that’s because online, you can do such things as random effects that can create a whole new area of design. (See: Momir Vig.) Since the online Vanguard deign was stopped in 2009, there hasn’t been anything created since then. The real rub of the online Vanguards were the fact that you went into your game with your avatar decided. The Vanguards could be much more powerful since you created decks around them rather than receiving them at random. So, while the paper Vanguard cards might be underpowered, I believe that they are the correct way to go forward with new Vanguards (and from now on when I mention Vanguards, I mean the paper ones).

All the Vanguards were famous characters in the Weatherlight/Rath story cycle. If I was going to bring back Vanguard, I would have to choose characters that would be famous enough that people would enjoy their company. And which characters are becoming the most popular in Magic’s history? Planeswalkers.

In total, fifteen planeswalker characters that have become cards. It sounded like a great number to start out (and finish) with. The only issue: Karn has been on a Vanguard card before. So, I added in potential planeswalker Ral Zarek, featured in the Duels of the Planeswalker game. We (as the public) don’t know anything about him—only that he wields blue and red mana, which gave the basis for his Vanguard card.

One issue was to make these Vanguard cards based it on their characters. This helps establish a continuous emphasis on the world building that WotC has created. Why are you going to feature a character and not have the card based on him or her? It’s like saying you’ll create a Nicol Bolas card and having it focus on white mana. It doesn’t make sense, and it all makes us feel bad.

Looking at the paper planeswalkers, I noticed a great deal about how they functioned. Most of them were either based on creatures, lands, or spells—something that each deck generally has. There were a couple of focused Vanguard cards, but very rarely do you strike out when you get assigned one randomly (in terms of it not helping you). This was a great template, and the only one that was really narrow was Tezzeret’s, which I opened to all players. In fact, I kept with the same spirit that the old Vanguard cards had such that it affected your side of the field. Only three didn’t follow this: Bolas, Liliana, and Tezzeret.

What was clear with the original planeswalkers was the fact that they could be based on already-created cards—or at least inspired by them. It’s with this thinking that I took to creating these new Vanguard cards. One has to be careful not to create infinite loops (something I did in one of Sarkan’s old iterations) and effects that would be harmful—there is no way to neutralize them. Some of these effects had to be lessened; otherwise, you create an unfun board state, and no one wants to play then.

All the Vanguard planeswalker art is from promotional material, Duels from the Planeswalkers, or from the comic books (some of the artist information is missing because I can’t find who did that particular artwork. Not from a lack of trying). The flavor text is either quoted from the comic books or from the planeswalker descriptions since I really can’t write good flavor text (I know my boundaries). Both of these were important for me because it made the cards feel more real, rather than using previously used planeswalker card art, which, in my opinion, makes it feel less exciting.

I also created this with a little more emphasis on Commander than any other format. Some of the starting life points can create a problem if you’re playing in a format in which 20 is the starting life, but I feel the bonus you gain outweighs that problem. One of the hardest things to do is to balance the ability with the starting hand and life. I don’t believe I’ve made it perfectly, and I’m always open to feedback.

And now, without further ado, here are the fifteen new planeswalker Vanguard cards:

Ajani

Pay 2 life: Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt by target creature this turn.
Starting and Max Hand Size: −1
Starting Life: +10

Ajani is heavily influenced by any number of white cards that prevent combat damage. You receive the benefit of an increased life total with this, and you can save off poison and Commander damage, but it does nothing to affect the board positions in most games. I felt Ajani’s protective nature was better suited for this type of effect than a free Lightning Helix.

Bolas

Whenever an opponent draws a card, you may pay 2 life. If you do, draw two cards.
Starting and Max Hand Size: +0
Starting Life: −7

It would be simple to make the most powerful planeswalkers into the most powerful Vanguard card, but it had to be scaled back slightly. Yes, the Consecrated Sphinx reference is clear, but to the being who know everything, it makes sense. The reason for the conditional trigger if you pay life makes this a little easier to shut off while not just gaining you free cards. The −7 life hurts, and if you have no way to gain life, you have a tough time really abusing Bolas in any random deck.

Chandra

Creatures you control have “T: This creature deals 1 damage to target creature or player and 1 damage to you.”
Starting and Max Hand Size: +3
Starting Life: +3

Ah, the fiery woman. This is a clear lesson that if you want to do something that could involve tricky wording, it’s best to see if it has been done before. This is a much more controlled Flame Fusillade with a mix of Fireslinger (Fireslinger in the Duel Decks: Jace versus Chandra). This does stop a token deck from completely ending the game, but it does allow for some creature/player control. After all, you are playing with fire.

Elspeth

Whenever a creature you control attacks alone, put two 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens onto the battlefield tapped and attacking.
Starting and Max Hand Size: +0
Starting Life: +2

This card shows how important character is while creating these cards. Elspeth is tied to two planes—Bant and Mirrodin—so I gave her an influence from both. You’ll notice the exalted trigger to lead into Hero of Bladehold’s. The attack trigger was going to lead into Militia's Pride, but I felt there was better synergy with the Mirrodin connection. Now if you attack with a Hero of Bladehold while you have this, enjoy the fun times.

Garruk

Creatures you control get +1/+1 for each mana in your mana pool.
Starting and Max Hand Size: −1
Starting Life: +4

What comes out to a glorified “{1}: Each creature you control gets +1/+1 until end of turn”, this plays perfectly with Garruk’s ability to interact with land and nature. The clear influence is Omnath, and this card screams green while not being green at all. You lose the ability to carry over the mana between steps and phases, but at the same time, you gain the ability to call nature to help you out when you need it the most.

Gideon

Tap three untapped creatures you control: Exile target tapped creature. Activate this ability only once each turn.
Starting and Max Hand Size: +2
Starting Life: −4

Token decks are usually the bane of any designer when you create one of these types of effects. Sure, it would be great to generate a large number of tokens and clear the board, but it would be too powerful. This had to be drawn back and bit, and maybe it’s still too much; in a four-player, multi-player game, you need twelve creatures to exile four creatures each round. Oh, and they need to be tapped, which is what Gideon the planeswalker does anyway. The modern Hand of Justice, this can help keep the board free of clutter.

Jace

{1}: Draw a card, then discard a card.
Starting and Max Hand Size: −1
Starting Life: +1

Pay 1 mana a turn to loot (Merfolk Looter)? I think a majority of players will dig that. It gives players something to do while having a drawback of actually requiring something in the hand. This works great in the right type of deck or with experienced players. The “−1” is for keeping the options a little more balanced for multiple uses of looting.

Koth

Discard a land card: Koth deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
Starting and Max Hand Size: −2
Starting Life: +5

With Koth being able to crush mountains, this seemed like the obvious answer for a guy like him. This Seismic Assault makes sense in a red sort of way (screw the future), even though none of these Vanguard cards are not of a single color. I tried hard to make them feel like their colors without making them work with the required mana. Planechase is a different monkey altogether since those constantly change; but we’re not here talking about Planechase cards, are we?

Liliana

At the end beginning of your end step, you may sacrifice a permanent. If you do, each other player sacrifices a permanent that shares a card type with it.
Starting and Max Hand Size: +2
Starting Life: −3

With what is my favorite art of Liliana (how many of you noticed the dead body in the background?), this is where we can kind of stretch the color pie since we don’t need to worry about actually casting anything. This is Martyr's Bond but with a Black twist, requiring you to sacrifice something. Black can’t sacrifice enchantments, but for a Vanguard card, I think we can make an exception. She uses her femme fatale role to make everyone else follow her lead.

Nissa

At the beginning of your upkeep, put a 1/1 green Elf creature token onto the battlefield.
Starting and Max Hand Size: +1
Starting Life: −3

In what makes more sense in green than black, the free token generator Bitterblossom meets the perfect match of planeswalker. With Nissa, it’s all about Elves. If you can produce one at the beginning of your turn for free, there’s so much you can do with it. Skullclamp, devour, blocking, attacking, whatever. Nissa doesn’t care as long as you get another Elf next turn.

Ral

Whenever you become the target of a spell, you may copy that spell. If you do, choose a new target, other than yourself, for the copy.
Starting and Max Hand Size: −2
Starting Life: +3

Ah, the mystery planeswalker we know almost nothing about. The fact that he’s from Ravnica and part of the Izzet gives us the knowledge that he’s U/R. So, I looked at replicate and decided that might be a good way to go—but with a limited function. Dormant Gomazoa has a pretty good limitation, and it opened the door to interesting plays for which a player might think twice about that discard spell he aimed at your head.

Sarkhan

Pay 5 life, discard a card, sacrifice a creature, sacrifice a land: Put a 5/5 red Dragon creature token with flying onto the battlefield.
Starting and Max Hand Size: +1
Starting Life: −4

Sarkhan is just mad about Dragons. He’s happy making Dragons for you as long as you meet his demands. A possible first-turn 5/5 Dragon seems pretty good, but do you give up too much in the process? This mini-Smallpox (which is just a mini-Pox), makes you really want to get the Dragons. Later in the game, it’s obviously a house, but can you wait that long?

Sorin

Creatures you control have lifelink.
Starting and Max Hand Size: +1
Starting Life: −8

The vampiric planeswalker gets a vampiric card. With lifelink no longer stacking, this seems like it’s a great improvement over the old Vanguard card Crovax, which only gave you 1 life. That was created in a world without Commander where life totals don’t always matter thanks to Commander damage. But sucking life from an opponent or creature and becoming stronger has always been a great Vampire trait that needs its own Vanguard card.

Tezzeret

Whenever a nontoken artifact enters the battlefield, you may have target opponent lose 1 life and you gain 1 life.
Starting and Max Hand Size: −1
Starting Life: −5

I really hate Sharuum because all those players want to do is infinite damage or life-gain. So, why would I want to see this? Because it’s not always about me and the decks I want to play. This does trigger from all nontoken artifacts because the deck running it might not play with many. There is nothing worse than having a Vanguard card that does nothing with your deck while others get to have fun.

Venser

At the beginning of your upkeep, you may exile target permanent you control. Return it to the battlefield under its owner’s control at the beginning of the next end step.
Starting and Max Hand Size: +1
Starting Life: −2

Venser Vanguard is Venser planeswalker. I don’t need to speak to all of the nasty stuff that you can do with enters- and leaves-the-battlefield triggers. As long as the selection of Vanguards is random, it will keep really awful interactions to a minimum. This wasn’t optional at first until I realized that, on your second turn, if you didn’t play anything besides a land, you’d have to exile that. At the moment, the optional trigger is beating out the nonland permanent clause.

 


Almost every time I’ve asked, “Who wants to play Vanguard with Commander,” I’ve not heard a negative response (unless they’re a stick-in-the-mud, “professional” Commander player). Most of the players haven’t seen these cards before, or else they love the added variety that Vanguard adds to the game. Once we finish a game involving Vanguard cards, people want to shuffle up and try out a different one. That’s why I think people love Commander so much: There’s a huge amount of variety that can be added to the play experience from the singleton format to Planechase and the Archenemy cards.

So, here are fifteen new Vanguard cards for you. Or, if this is your first time with Vanguard, fifteen cards to get you started. What’s great with Magic is that it’s increasingly becoming a game in which you can create what you want. How do you use these Vanguard cards? One could print out the pictures, cut them out, slip them in the oversized sleeves that you have with fifteen cheap, oversized Commander cards you have ordered from CoolStuff where they are seventy-five cents apiece, and play. Now, I’m not saying that, but I am thinking it pretty loudly.

Again, Vanguard cards are not on the reserved list. Is this something that Wizards could bring to the masses once again? Yes. Should they? In my opinion, yes. But that’s not up to me. If you want Vanguard back, let Wizards know. If you’re on Twitter, use the hash tag #MTGVanguard, or tweet anyone at Wizards directly (such as @maro254 or @mtgaaron to start out with).

My numbers might be a little off on the suggested cards I shared today, so I’d be interested in your feedback. And if you want more than just the images, hit me up on twitter at @mtgcolorpie. I’m also going to be at Grand Prix: Seattle-Tacoma on Saturday, filming and hanging out. If you’re there, say “Hi!”