In Response: The Motivation Behind Cavern of Souls, and Attitudes of Design

This article is written as a collective response to “Gonna Hate”, written by Zac Hill for his Latest Developments column and posted on DailyMTG.com April 20, 2012.  We encourage you to read the original here.


From Adam

“That logic disconcerts me.” – John “The Biscuit” Cage

That sentiment was my first and foremost reaction to Hill’s “Gonna Hate” article, as it was described to me by a friend.  I hadn’t read through the article myself yet, and my friend described its contents as “WotC printed Cavern of Souls because they thought Mana Leak was overpowered in Standard”.  That logic disconcerts me.  “He said that non-creature spells are inherently overpowered because they have haste, whereas creatures are balanced because they’re like spells that have “Suspend 1”.  That logic disconcerts me.  Surely this was exaggeration for comical affect.  I pored over the short article.  That’s exactly what it said.

It’s no secret that WotC has been systematically upping the power level over creatures.  The Titans are a prime example.  Stoneforge Mystic is another, Thrun, Hero of Bladehold, Mirran Crusader, etc.  It’s obvious that they’ve been trending away from powerful Standard-viable spells.  Despite the Elrazi being out of Standard, mill has yet to come back as a strategy (the exeption possibly being UB Control with more than one Nephalia Drownyard in play and maindeck Jace, Memory Adept).  White Sun’s Zenith may be one of the few non-creature “finisher” spells for control decks, and it makes creatures.  Jace, the Mind Sculptor was blue’s last big hurrah for a long time.  And WotC decided he was a mistake.  Then came Snapcaster Mage.  The Great Blue Hope.  Now in arguments, when one party declared “WotC hates blue!” one could respond with “they just printed Snapcaster!”, thus ending the argument.  Well, apparently according to Hill, Snapcaster was a goof, too.  They certainly didn’t seem to understand the power of Delver of Secrets.  Does WotC now only print good blue cards accidentally?  Tamiyo will tell.  Hopefully she’s accidentally better than WotC meant her to be.

from Dan Rae

I think that Zac is actually making some pretty crazy statements in his article. “We messed up with Snapcaster Mage.” Well Snapcaster Mage is definitely a very good card but there are plenty of ways to combat him. Then Zac decides to say that the real problem is Mana Leak (he is speaking of Standard) and having your spells countered is a problem for players.  I don’t know how long you have been playing, but counter spells have existed since the beginning of time and hopefully will continue to exist because that is what I enjoy about Magic.

Now in order to combat the vicious card Mana Leak, Wizards has made Cavern of Souls which just allows certain creature types to be uncounterable. This card is beyond good in my opinion because now Wizards has decided to make creatures be errata’d to be different creature types. For example, Mother of Runes is now a Human Cleric. So a deck like Maverick can resolve their best creatures. Cavern definitely going to see play in all formats but I don’t think Wizards made the correct choice. They keep making cards more powerful and in turn it will kill the counter spells and removal spells. I don’t want to just sling creatures at each other, that’s called Pokemon.


from Bryant Cook

All I should have to say is…Really man, really? But I’ll continue. Mana Leak is the scapegoat here? It isn’t the fact that Snapcaster Mage and Delver of Secrets are the best blue creatures ever printed? A one blue mana, flying Wild Nactal didn’t strike anyone as slightly overpowered in the playtesting that R&D does? That or how about a card that should’ve been red – Snapcaster Mage. It’s literally Recoup on a stick, but like most powerful cards in Magic, was made blue. The development team creates mistakes for itself and doesn’t know how to properly take responsibility. As a UW Delver player in Standard I will say there’s a stark contrast between games where turn one Delver do and do not happen. It’s not Mana Leak that’s the breaking difference within these games. While Mana Leak does protect that turn one Delver, there’s more than enough playable removal Spells within the Standard card pool. One could argue that this is where Snapcaster Mage comes into play (pun intended – Hioh!), well the card should’ve really of been red, but anyway, it *cancels* a second removal spell with the original Mana Leak. It’s really the creatures at fault in this scenario. Mana Leak could’ve just as easily of been Negate and done the same thing.

Blue has always had small, evasive, and effective creatures up until Innistrad, often forcing a color splash to increase threat density. The reason UW Delver is so highly popular is well…Delver of Secrets.  I haven’t heard anyone refer to the deck has UW/UR Leak. Blue is next to unplayable in standard without Mana Leak, it’ll effectively be just a splash color. Blue doesn’t have effective ways of answering anything if Mana Leak is taken away, aside from Vapor Snag which is rotating out in the upcoming months. Negate/Remove Soul are not strong enough to make blue worthwhile to play, there’s also Dissipate, which is incredibly slow and won’t be effective in the fastest Standard format we’ve had in a very long time.

Whether it’s a turn one Delver of Secrets, Champion, or Noble it doesn’t really matter about the color, blue decks need something in order to compete. Any of those creatures could just as easily be a turn three Huntmaster or turn four Inferno and/or Primeval Titan. Remove Soul, Negate, and Dissipate don’t get the job done – the first two are too narrow and the latter is too slow. If you’d like a format without blue decks, take away Mana Leak, I guarantee it’ll be just as unhealthy as a format divided by Delvers. Instead of killing a color on the wheel, do yourself a favor and take a look at the real problem at hand.

*Puns – I did it again!


I think ultimately, the blame may go, as Bryant suggests, to WotC designer’s apparent lack of dedication to balancing the color wheel.  Mana Leak overpowered?  In the world of green ramping into Huntmaster of the Fells?  Then Primeval Titan?  Then Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite?  Mana Leak overpowered, compared to Lingering Souls?  As a friend of mine describes the color wheel problem- Red, Black and Blue have specific ways to deal with specific problems.  Green and White have EVERY way to deal with EVERY problem.  And it’s true.  White and green can permanently deal with every non-land permanent type.  Artifacts, enchantments, creatures, planeswalkers (read: Beast Within), they have multiple ways to deal with any of these.  White has effects like Nevermore or Silence, that simply shut off one or more spells.  Green has Autumn’s Veil to counterspell!  Black can tutor, force opponents to discard, kill creatures, and resurrect them.  Good luck dealing with resolved artifacts or enchantments.  Red can kill creatures, deal direct damage, and break artifacts.  Good luck interacting once Honor of the Pure hits the board.  At least in Legacy there’s Chaos Warp now.  Blue gets three types of interactions with any spells- tap them, “boomerang” them, or counter them.  Notice: only one of these is a permanent solution.  Yes, it’s the one Hill believes to be overpowered.  In Standard, blue’s options are now “buy a turn”.  That’s it.  Is there any way to mitigate the Carvern of Souls problem?  Yes, you can destroy your mana base by adding Ghost Quarter.  Which will help possibly, but only before a Primeval Titan hits play, grabbing more Caverns.

Do we think Cavern of Souls will ruin Magic?  No.  I think Cavern of Souls is obviously a powerful card (the best card in Avacyn Restored, whether or not the designers realize it) and it’s cool to see powerful cards being printed.  What’s really troubling is why the card is being printed- because the designers of the game believe that a color doing the narrow thing that color does best is inherently overpowered.  And if anything is going to be overpowered, it better be creatures.  I wonder if we aren’t, as Dan mentioned, heading towards Pokemon?

9 thoughts on “In Response: The Motivation Behind Cavern of Souls, and Attitudes of Design”

  1. Zac Hill, and the recent design teams in general, sounds like a brand new player who got irritated because someone countered his turn 7 Craw Wurm. I mean seriously, have these people ever played the game that they get payed to design? Do they know that Delver players actually SIDE OUT MANA LEAK in half our matchups?

  2. We all know the problem in standard is Delver of Secrets. However, let’s not pretend Snapcaster Mage + Mana Leak isn’t a main strength of Standard blue. This article highlights some valid points, but the original Zac Hill article also addressed cards like Force of Will and Spell Snare in Legacy, as a reason the card was designed. I like this for a couple of reasons. First off, as someone who loves to play Elf Decks in Legacy, I danced the “Dance of Joy” when Cavern of Souls was spoiled. Secondly, and more importantly, it marks the first time in a long time where R&D took into account a card’s affect on non-standard formats. Obviously Cavern of Souls nerfs blue something awful in Standard, but in Legacy, the card should result in a modified landscape. I, for one, welcome the new landscape. Oh.. and.. “neener. neener. neener.”, blue.

      1. I understand the power of Force of Will in Legacy. I don’t think Cavern of Souls will do anything to modify Force of Will’s role in the format. I simply mentioned it in reference to the Zac Hill article. 

        Adam Forsythe can say whatever he wants to about card design, but it’s pretty obvious Cavern of Souls was designed to affect every format in which it’s legal. The original article actual references this point twice.

        I don’t play standard, so I have no opinions on the strength of “Devlerblade” compared to the strength of any potential deck which will run Cavern of Souls. I do know enough though, to know Cavern of Souls clearly nerfs the power of Snapcaster + Mana Leak. 

        1. Ah, I didn’t realize you didn’t play standard. Basically, in Delver decks, Mana Leak is not the powerhouse. Snapcaster + Vapor Snag, or Snapcaster + Ponder to dig for more Vapor Snag is what wins games. Mana Leak is there mainly to counter removal spells, not deal with the other guy’s threats.

    1. Oh, and if you think that sticking a playset of these things in your standard deck will do stop you from losing to Delverblade, I will gladly break that illusion for you.

    2. Aaron Forsythe has stated on multiple occasions that designers do not and will not take Legacy into account when designing and balancing sets. That said Cavern literally blanks Spell Snare. Snare is no longer playable.

  3. This picture sums up how all blue players act when Wizards actually realizes once in a while that there are 4 other colors in the color pie.

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