Happy Herbs and Spices Day!

Aries- Cinnamon, Red pepper, Chili Pepper, Peppercorns, Cloves, Cayenne Pepper, and Paprika.

Taurus- Vanilla, Thyme, Basil, Apple Mint, and Rosemary.

Gemini- Fennel, Licorice, Lavender, Parsley, Lemon Zest, and Lemon balm.  

Cancer- Chamomile, Bay Leaves, Aloe, Sea Salt, and Wintergreen.

Leo- Orange Zest, Aniseed, Cumin, Catnip, Quassia, and Elderflower.

Virgo- Hops, Celery leaf or seed, Rosemary, Salt, and Juniper Berry.

Libra- Mint, Nutmeg, Mace, Marjoram, and Coriander.

Scorpio- Garlic, Chives, Caraway Seeds, Horseradish, and Peppercorns.

Sagittarius- Ginger, Ginseng, Cilantro, Mustard seed, Lemon Grass, Mango Powder, Wasabi, and Curry leaves.

Capricorn- Sage, Wintergreen, Rosemary, Allspice, Saffron,Tarragon, Five Spice, and Poppy Seeds.

Aquarius- Dill Seed, Lime Leaf, Avocado Leaf, and Sumac.

Pisces- Turmeric, Oregano, Fenugreek, Willow Herb, Caper, Water-Pepper, Watercress, and Salt.

Flavor-plays that are an instant victory, no matter what

Casting See the Unwritten and putting Dragonlord Atarka and Surrak, the Hunt Caller into play. (Temur shaman looking into the Unwritten Now, the alternate possible timelines)

Using Xenagos’s ultimate to put Xenagos, God of Revels into play. (Xenagos holds a legendarily amazing party, ascends to godhood)

Using Gideon to force a group of Eldrazi to attack you down to exactly 1 life, then winning with Near-Death Experience. (You win normally, but here you double-win)

Cast Gallows at Willow Hill, cast Thatcher Revolt, use the tokens and the gallows to destroy a Mayor of Avabruck. (VIVA LA REVOLUCIÓN!)

Anyone got some more ideas?

The Mechanics of Fear

Your eyelids sink with the jungle’s symphony. Tree frogs squeak and crickets chirp, their rhythms a distant backdrop to your dreams. Your breaths are slow, steady. Your mind is dormant.

The bush next to you rustles.

Cacophony.

You find yourself sitting stick-straight, the rapid thud of your heart amplified in your temples.

Your breaths are quick.

Deliberate.

You only become conscious of your shaking as the beeble rolls out of the undergrowth.

Harmless.

Congratulations, planeswalker, you have just felt fear! Fear is often referred to as a basic emotion, something so primal that it forms the core of our emotional tapestry. Humans experience emotions like no other animal, but fear is so evolutionarily ancient that the chemical processes that allow fear to happen can be found in almost every living organism.

Core to game design is the ability to produce experiences. Games, and fun in general, hinge on making the players feel something. Creating a game that people hate is more fruitful to a game designer than making a game that is ignored.

Magic, in its ever-expanding Multiverse, has visited the emotion of fear more than once. Today I’m going to look at how certain mechanics tap into our experience of fear in order to create a gameplay experience that becomes more visceral than simply having a winner and a loser. I’m going to focus on three mechanics in particular: annihilator, infect, and undying.

On Your Worst Behavior

Ulamog’s Crusher

Humans are social creatures (duh). One of the major concepts that emerges from our social tendencies is culture. Billions of people exist in pockets of context as varied as the genes in our cells. The mechanisms of fear are all shared, triggered by stimuli that are threatening. But what we’re afraid of differs from person to person, culture to culture.

In order for a mechanic to trigger fear in Magic, it has to do something that is threatening within the context of playing a game of Magic. Learning Magic conditions us to value certain things like board presence, hand size, and impact plays. Generally, if you control a lot of permanents, you’re doing well in a game. How do you know you’re suddenly losing? When those permanents go away. Winning and losing are closely tied to emotional responses; we feel good when we win and feel bad when we lose.

Annihilator plays into the board presence dynamic in two ways, one directly and one indirectly. This mechanic creates fear when it threatens a player’s sense of stability. A key part of this fear is inevitability. As soon as an Eldrazi turns sideways, annihilator triggers, eating away at your board state. We’re used to removal that happens once or equally affects every player, but the one-sidedness of annihilator isolates you as a victim. It puts tension into the game; if you don’t stop this Eldrazi, you’re going to watch all your friends on the battlefield die before being consumed yourself.

Indirectly, annihilator gets a boost in fear-spewing power by being attached to some of the largest creatures in Magic history. Annihilator on a 1/1 isn’t scary. You sac a land, block the creature, and move on. Annihilator on an 8/8? Block it or you’re dead in three turns. This two-fold destruction attacks the only thing you have in a game of Magic: life and cards. If you have cards but not life you can still pull out a victory. If you have life but not cards, you’ll probably last long enough to get more cards. By depriving you of your two basic resources, annihilator is one of the most threatening things you can stare down in Magic.

The fact that annihilator has so many haters is a testament to its success as a fear-inducing mechanic. Anyone who has seen an Eldrazi hit the table in a multiplayer game has probably experienced the kind of impact that one creature has on the game’s politics (Spoiler alert: politics disappear as everyone panics and tries to kill the Eldrazi ASAP.) Regardless of your personal feelings regarding annihilator, it’s difficult to deny that it succeeded as a scary mechanic by attacking the things in the game that we’ve been conditioned to hold sacred.

Sick as a Mortis Dog

Blighted Agent

Phyrexia had been festering in Mirrodin’s core for centuries, a blight transmitted by Karn himself. They are twisted figures of horror, warping reality around their sickening ideals. They are cold, invasive, dangerous, alien, uncanny. The Phyrexians are the most resilient disease in the Multiverse.

And let’s face it, diseases are scary. The Phyrexians needed a scary mechanic in Scars of Mirrodin, and infect was ready to step up to the plate. Like annihilator, the scariness embedded within infect functions on two levels. The first relates to how infect interacts with creatures. Normally, you block with a creature and it takes some damage, but that damage wears off at the end of the turn. With infect, however, leaves -1/-1 counters behind. This damage doesn’t wear off. It’s permanent. Block a 1/1 infect creature with your 3/3 and you’re stuck with a 2/2. That’s not good.

Why isn’t this good and why is it scary? We make decisions in games based on the information we have. Games also have sets of rules that determine what actions we can take. Normally, blocking a 1/1 with a 3/3 is a fairly easy decision. Your creature wins. Infect corrupts that certainty by changing the results of that blocking decision. It’s no longer safe to block with your 3/3. Maybe the -1/-1 counter won’t matter, but maybe it will. Part of fear functions on a level beneath your consciousness, and even the slightest chance that something is dangerous can set it off.

Say you’re too afraid to block with your 3/3. You let the 1/1 infect creature deal damage to you. Wither, a similar mechanic, made this a reasonable decision, but infect comes with the consequence of giving you a poison counter. Ten poison counters and you lose, and there’s no way to get rid of them. Like your creatures, you can’t be healed. There’s a tension at play that forces you to choose between two bad things. This kind of psychological dilemma is what made the Saw movies particularly effective.

It’s important that infect breaks the regular rules of decision making in Magic. The source of the mechanic’s unsettling flavor is that it forces you to play a different game than you’re used to playing. Infect isn’t your regular nemesis. It’s wholly perverse.

Tournament-level infect decks like the ones seen in the Modern format play with another aspect of fear: anticipation. The opponent is left sitting there wondering when the infect player is going to kill them in a single attack. But there’s another mechanic that plays into anticipation even better.

Undeath and Taxes

Geralf’s Messenger

Most non-mammals react to fear on a basal, instinctual level. They sense something that might be dangerous and they bolt for cover. But mammals, and humans in particular, have complex brains that make reacting to fear…well, complex.

Mammals have two fear pathways. The aforementioned one bypasses your cognition, but there’s an “upper deck” pathway that runs through your thoughts and memories at the same time (It’s noticeably slower.) This is why we jump at things that aren’t actually dangerous. They trigger a fear response that works faster than our conscious brain can process. This might seem silly for evolution to keep around, but the power our conscious brains have at instigating fear is unparalleled.

Anticipation of fear is as real to us, chemically speaking, as the actual stimulus of fear. We can get scared even when nothing bad has happened yet. If we think something bad is about to happen, our bodies start up our fight-or-flight responses and supercharge our reaction time. It’s a great survival technique.

What’s this have to do with Magic? The anticipation of danger is exactly what the undying mechanic mimics. Having to deal with a threat once is hard enough, but having to deal with it twice is asking a lot. The inevitability that killing a creature only makes it stronger makes playing against undying creatures a somewhat frustrating experience. Nothing you do will be good enough as the value shambles closer from all sides.

And that’s exactly how Innistrad wanted the players to feel: trapped. Your actions are fruitless against undying, and you know it. Persist didn’t have this same feeling because the creature came back smaller. “If I can just kill it, it will be even weaker the next time!” With undying, you know killing the creature only makes things more difficult for you. The mechanic forces you to think ahead to a board state where you’re even worse off than before.

Here it’s not the direct threat that creates fear, but the threat that is to come. Instead of producing a tense situation, it lets the players imagine the scenario and play around that mental image. This fits into a deep bag of tricks that horror and thriller movies pull from: anticipation of the unseen danger. You know the monster is right around the corner, but you never see it. People are excellent at imagining scary scenarios, and this trick (and mechanic) promote this brand of thought.

You know the undying creature will come back, but until then you can only imagine how much more difficult your task will be.

Defeating Your Demons

Annihilator, infect, and undying prey upon human faculties that incite fear. They threaten your safety and become associated with negative feelings of danger. By creating moments of tension, these mechanics enrich the experience of playing Magic by linking flavor to gameplay. There’s an even greater emotional upshot to having mechanics that play into fear: the thrill of victory. Beating an Eldrazi, Phyrexian, or monster when everything seemed hopeless is a moment of emotional surprise and elation.

If making you scared is critical to the texture of Magic, planeswalkers, then surely allowing you to overcome your own fears is even better.