The Choices of Tarkir

The Choices of Tarkir


Choose one. Destroy all Dragons, or destroy all non-Dragons. In ten words, that’s all this card asks of you. It’s a simple design, and it requires you to make a choice. A, or B. Today, I’m going to argue that Crux of Fate is the flagship for the Khans of Tarkir block and its huge success. And it all comes down to choice. A quick overview. Khans block was built around R&D’s desire to draft the middle set with both the first and last ones, breaking the traditional mold, which inspired Creative to craft a story around time travel. This block would also be the last three-set model before moving into two-set blocks, so Rosewater and crew made sure to end on a high note. R&D found their world in a Planechase card, saw the perfect protagonist in Sarkhan Vol, then laid the framework for the three-act time-traveling extravaganza. The first challenge involved establishing a world full of warring clans. Initially, Rosewater intended for 4 clans, but moving to 5 killed two birds with one stone. Mechanically, it meant development could work with the wedges, and creatively it meant the world builders could construct unique identities for each of the three-color pairings. This change was crucial to Khans of Tarkir’s success. In fact, the Khans of Tarkir were too popular. Because in the block designed to deliver on Dragons, the Clans were the coolest aspect. This is because of choice. See, Magic players love having options. It goes back to the color pie and our initial steps into the game. Ravnica is popular because of the guilds, because we, as players, can express our identities through those factions. Even though the majority of Magic players backlashed against the new wedge names, they stuck. Two years later, they’ve become canon. This is because, again, players chose their favorite clans, championed them, and solidified that name into the Magic vocabulary. So choosing your favorite clan laid the foundation for the rest of the block. It also meant that the villain of the story wasn’t any one person or thing. It was the enemy clans. This, again, gave players choice: you decide who your allies are. You decide your enemies. In contrast, forcing players to pick sides or rally with the heroes just doesn’t make for dynamic storytelling, especially if your villain is ubiquitous, largely uniform, and is exhausted across three total blocks. Even worse for your heroes. The power of choice was also used in gameplay. Let’s look at the block’s mechanics and dissect the options. Of the 13 mechanics here, 8 directly involve choices. Should I dash my creature, or cast him normally? Should I sacrifice to exploit for a bonus? Do I play as a morph, and if I do, will I flip it before this game ends? Which cards should I delve away to pay for Cruise? Now, let’s look at these mechanics with their Storm Scale rating. The Storm Scale is Rosewater’s way of weighing out the popularity, playability, and likeliness a mechanic will return in the future. The higher the rating on the Storm Scale, the less likely it will see print again. I see a trend here: players favor the mechanics that involve choice. Prowess, although implicit, asks a lot of questions on both sides of the table. Does my opponent have a trick? Do I want to pump my guy? Do I dare Bolt the Swiftspear? Prowess was so popular, it became evergreen immediately in the next set, Magic Origins. In contrast, mechanics like Formidable and Ferocious didn’t offer choice. Instead, they just assumed red-green players would want big dudes, which took away from creative deckbuilding. These mechanics lack depth for being too linear. Megamorph failed because of its silly name and conservative design, but Power Rangers fans got a kick, so hey. That’s something. The choices became even more complex with cards like Dragonlord’s Prerogative and Silumgar’s Scorn. Scorn, in particular, was a doozy: it could be a Counterspell with the surrender of information, a Force Spike without, and a range of options in between. BDM: he doesn’t even have to reveal a dragon, just gets to Force Spike it. LSV-and that shows how strong the card is where Shota did not even have to reveal because, y’know, when your opponent is playing their spells on curve, there’s no mana left over so this turn he’s going to have to reveal but at that point he’s glad to do so. So we had choice in mechanics. We also had the return of the Charms and the Commands. And in Fate Reforged, we had this cycle of Enchantments that asked the player: do you side with the Khans or the Dragons? In fact, 64 explicitly use the word “choose” on them. That’s over 10% of the set! Granted, 21 of them are on Bolster cards, but that still leaves 43 cards. In comparison, that is more than the total number of “choose” cards in Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad blocks combined. Choice is also mirrored in flavor text and art across the block, which solidified the storytelling and invited players to look closer at the cards than they have before. The easter eggs are everywhere. Abzan buildings once constructed to house warlords have now been flipped upside down to serve as landing pads for dragons. Fish went from food to foe. The Durtle Turtle had certainly seen better days, and the Yeti…well, the Yeti just keeps on Yeti-ing. The Fate Reforged exclusive run of Ugin’s Fate cards gave players a slew of alternate artwork of the exact same cards. And all of these aspects layer into a decision tree of more choices. Players care about the basic lands in their deck, and now those lands tell an even richer story. The creatures do the same. Are my Hordeling Outbursts depicting Goblins raiding a Temur encampment or running for their lives from a bloodthirsty dragon? So the clans, mechanics, art, and story all revolved around choice. Ultimately, it was Sarkhan’s choice to go back in time and meddle with his fate. Unfortunately for us, this left us with the less-desired world, and this was the fatal flaw of Khans block. Players ended up loving the clans more than the dragons, so if we want to see the Jeskai and Mardu again, it’ll require some puppeteering. Which brings us back to Crux of Fate. We have a simple choice, but it embodies everything about this block that we loved: Khans vs Dragons, non-linear deck-building, and ultimately, the ability to choose. Like Sarkhan, we like having agency in this game. The simpler the decision, the deeper the complexity, the better the game. And it helps when the pivotal moment of the story ties it all together in ten words or less. Thanks for watching! If you enjoy this video, check in and subscribe! I put out two videos every month, and go ahead and take a peek at my patreon page. Donate a buck, it goes a very long way. I appreciate it sincerely and it helps me continue to create videos. You know the gist. Alright, tell me in the comments below what your favorite Khan was, what your favorite Dragonlord was, or your favorite thing about Khans block was, there was a lot to love in that set. And if you’re like me, then you loved it. Uhhhm, alright, that’s it! I will see you guys in the new year. Thanks for watching. Cheers!