—Art by Cornelis Pietersz Bega
In a game called Magic, it is only natural that some of the most important cards are ones that represent mages. And of those, some of the most important ones are guildmages, both from a sense of history and because guildmages are very important for limited formats. Naturally, this makes them a valuable tool to know how to design, as well as a good way to study the design of a limited format itself.
Before I jump into everything guildmage, let me take a brief moment to define what a guildmage is. A guildmage is:
- A small-sized, humanoid creature, either a 1/1 or a 2/2.
- A creature with two activated abilities.
- Either monocolor with activated abilities being a different colors, or two-colors with one activated ability of each color or two activated abilities both with the same colors.
Guildmages have been a part of Magic since the early days, beginning in Mirage with a cycle of guildmages largely based on typical medieval fantasy jobs. Each of these guildmages is small at only a 1/1, and has two off-color abilities. This is important to note because these guildmages act as common multicolor cards with two important differences: Since they are not actually multicolor, they were allowed to show up at common and increase the rewards for players who played multiple colors; and they also rewarded two different color combinations. For example, Armorer Guildmage rewards players who play black and red as well as players who play red and green, meaning that it fits into multiple decks which is important for balancing limited.
The guildmages returned in Invasion block, with a new name and a new rare version, called masters. This time, instead of representing generic medieval fantasy jobs, the guildmages specifically represent one of the factions of the block. Not only does this make them more cohesive, it also helps expose players to those factions and shape an idea of what those factions are about. From a mechanical perspective, these serve a similar purpose to the guildmages of Mirage: Reward playing multiple colors while also each working in two different color combinations.
A Class of Their Own
It should come as no surprise that guildmages returned in Ravnica: City of Guilds, again representing specific factions from the setting. Here, the guildmages are given a stronger identity of representing their respective guilds. Ravnica made a lot of changes to the guildmages, making them into more efficient creatures on their own right as well as removing the cost of tapping from their abilities. Not only does this allow cards like Rakdos Guildmage to use abilities which are synergistic when used together, it also makes the creatures stronger, and provides a way to spend excess mana in a format that had an excess of ways to make more mana.
Return to Ravnica naturally continued to evolve guildmages, making them two colors and changing their abilities to match. One important change because of this is that players are now guaranteed to always have the right color of mana to use both abilities, so the abilities need to be more situationally useful themselves. For example, Rix Maadi Guildmage has abilities which are useful depending on how the opponent blocks. Also worth noting is that several of the abilities for these guildmages are sequential. For example, once a player uses the first ability of Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage there is no reason to use the first ability instead of the second one ever again. Not only does this give the game a sense of progression, but it can also help to keep complexity in check as players won’t have to consider both of the abilities all of the time.
The two best starting points for designing guildmages are generic medieval fantasy jobs, or an existing multicolor faction from Magic. If you start with a job, begin by focusing on the core of what that job does, and make an ability which does exactly that. If you start with a faction, begin by focusing on what that faction does and any mechanics that faction uses, and make an ability that would help players use that mechanic. To go even further, consider what role your guildmage would play in a format. Does it help more aggressive decks get in extra damage? Or maybe it helps control decks win… eventually? Also consider how the abilities work together, and how many times a player can expect to activate them in a normal game.
To begin with, let us look at a typical fantasy job: The alchemist. Here, the most important details are that alchemists: Transform one material into another, seek a way to create gold, and seek eternal life. Gold is simple enough, Gild gives us a template for making gold; eternal life is likewise also simple enough to represent by using life gain. And to represent transforming base materials and to limit the creature’s power, I added the additional cost of sacrificing a creature to the abilities. Finally, to tie the abilities together, I made the life gain scalable with mana, so that the gold tokens made by the first ability can be used to later fuel the second ability.
Next, let us look at how a guildmage might look for the Sultai, a faction which did not get a guildmage of its own. Since the main color of Sultai is black, we know that the guildmage should be black, and have both a blue ability and a green ability. Ideally, one of these abilities should work with the first Sultai ability delve, and the other should work with the second Sultai ability exploit. A blue ability that helps delve can only really put cards from the library into the graveyard; similarly, the most obvious green ability that helps exploit is making token creatures.
So, what are everyone’s thoughts on guildmages? Have mine made the grade, or do they need to repeat remedial wizard college? Either way, I’m eager to hear your opinions, and even more eager to see the guildmages you design for the contest!