Pattern Recognition #133 - Green Face'Walker
5 December 2019
5 December 2019
Hello everyone! Welcome back to Pattern Recognition! This is TappedOut.net's longest running article series. In it, I aim to bring to you each week a new article about some piece of Magic, be it a card, a mechanic, a deck, or something more fundamental or abstract. I am something of an Old Fogey and part-time Smart Ass, so I sometimes talk out my ass. Feel free to dissent or just plain old correct me! I also have a Patreon if you feel like helping out.
Green has an issue, and I'll have to let my examples go first before I can summarize it. But in order to that, I want to introuce, in order, the three Face'Walkers for . For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, "Face'Walker" is a community description for a mono-coloured Planeswalker that is the "Face" of the colour, representing it in the cards and in the story - such as it is.
has had three separate Face'Walkers since the introduction of Planeswalkers back in Lorwyn, so I will go over them one at a time.
First up, we have Garruk Wildspeaker. Part of the original cycle of Planeswalkers, he shows the typical conservative design that I have come to expect from those five and other early Planeswalkers. A cost of for a 3 Planeswalker is pretty underwhelming nowadays, and his abilities are, while symbolic of are equally underwhelming. He can Untap two lands, he can create a 3/3 Beast, and on the turn after he comes in - assuming all goes well - he can create an Overrun type of effect.
This was his version for M10 and M11 as well, showing off that for the time, this was how Wizards viewed Planeswalkers. They helped with mana acceleration, they made creatures, and they would make creatures bigger.
But, moving into M12 and M13, Garruk became Garruk, Primal Hunter, where he dropped the mana production and instead focused on making creatures. More and more creatures - in addition to drawing cards as well, which is in Green's colour pie as it's based on the power of your creatures, not something more abstract.
Garruk, Caller of Beasts came to us the next year in M14, this time dropping away form the Creature Token aspect of and more toward focusing on the creature cards in the library, looking for them, putting them into play cheaply, and finally letting you get more creatures when you cast them!
But, who would replace him? Well, that would be Nissa Revane.
Nissa was.... She was....
OK, so Garruk was the "Great Hunter" archetype, the guy who would go out and find the biggest, meanest and baddest creature he could, and tame it one way or the other. And that hobbled him from advancing as a character or as someone that Wizards could use for plot purposes. So he was replaced with the more player friendly face, someone that the players could relate to more than a muscle-bound, shirtless competitor to the incoming Gideon Jura in the beefcake department.
So we got the actively racist Elf-Supremicist and contender for "Would have been the Token Evil Teammate for the Gatewatch had Wizards been willing to not go with the obvious choice. Her first card was all about the Elves and making them better, only for Wizards to collectively slap themselves and realize what idiots they were, and completely revamped Nissa into Nissa, Worldwaker for M15.
Worldwaker is a Land-focused Planeswalker, something she carried with her through her retconned starting point of Nissa, Sage Animist, through Nissa, Vital Force and her last showing - Nissa, Who Shakes the World.
Actually, if you want to see just how badly Wizards handled Nissa, I would like all of you to go back and read Nissa's "new" Origin from Magic Origins, and compare this to the Nissa we had before then. Oh, and realize that the Elves of Lorwyn don't look like Elves anywhere else, and would view Nissa as an Eyeblight.
For what it's worth, I'm in the camp that Jace did a bit of Mind Sculpting on Nissa when he realized he needed her power to save Zendikar from the Eldrazi. And you can't convince me otherwise what with his multiple on-print examples including on Jori En, Ruin Diver.
But Nissa's focus on lands and Elementals was another developmental dead end. Yes, likes mana acceleration, and also likes Elementals. Like Omnath, Locus of Mana! But untapping lands is a weird location, Seeker of Skybreak not withstanding. actually likes to do mana multipliers more, like with what we see on Nissa, Who Shakes the World's static ability.
And so Nissa's shot at being the Facewalker died partway through the Jaceitus League Saga, as she, like her predecessor before her, picked up an enemy Colour with Nissa, Steward of Elements.
You know, I liked that version of Nissa. A better 'Walker than Oko ever could be. Her abilities made sense, were in colour and they were synergistic as well. And the in her casting cost was a nice touch.
But Nissa was out, and her replacement landed with a stale thud. Vivien Reid was revealed as Nissa's successor in M19 (as in, three months after Nissa got the boot) and she represented a return to the old as well as something new not found on a Planeswalker - but could be found on a common Instant. First, she brought back Garruk's creature searching, as well as her Ultimate ability of an Overrun like effect. Her middle power was a combination of Plummet and Naturalize, two utility effects that I saw use for given that they were printed in the same set. Why, it was almost like she was a Spellshaper or something.
In addition, two of her versions - Vivien, Arkbow Ranger and the former Vivien of the Arkbow allow her creatures to Fight - or at least deliver a Rabid Bite, which I think is a nice thing for a colour that already likes creatures.
As a character through...
Uh... Her character has received some hasty additions over the past year, but at the start, she could be summarized as "Hello, my name is Vivien Reid. You killed my Plane. Prepare to die."
I'm serious. That's it!
In the past year though, she has actually developed a second character axis, specifically in that she is the Magic equivalent of a Nature Game Warden - someone who looks out for the animals of the Multiverse and makes sure they are either undisturbed or being taken care of properly.
A respectable job, don't get me wrong. But I would love to see her highline in a set, rather than being a cameo in War of the Spark, and whatever you call being a Facewalker in a Core Set to be. But for now, Vivien Reid is someone that we are being told about, not being shown.
But she's just barely gotten started, being in the game for barely the blink of an eye. Let's see how Wizards handles her, shall we?
So... here's the problem. Unlike , which has stayed with Chandra as their Face'walker, or which only now moved away from Liliana Vess to Sorin Markov and dropping Jace Beleren in favour of Mu Yanling and how went from Ajani Goldmane to Gideon Jura and back, [symbol:G hasn't had any sort of long term consistency to their Planeswalker representative.
Part of the problem isn't mechanical, but don't worry, I'll get to that. No, the problem that I have as a Vorthos player is that none of these three are actual characters. They don't do anything to really stand out. I mean, I can describe Sorin or Jace or Chandra or Koth of the Hammer without much issue, but these three? Uh, one's a fairy tale huntsman (thanks Throne!), one's the victim of mind control, and the other should have been hired to work at Jurassic World.
This isn't good design for characters. If Wizards wants us to be invested in these people, to help drive sales and brand loyalty, then they need to put the effort into giving these names and faces something to work with! There is a reason why the Weatherlight Saga is so beloved, and it's not because of the cards, it's because of the characters! Stuff that is lacking here.
Mechanically speaking as well, these cards are in a very poor place, being in a weird cloud of having too much focus - a problem for and too little, with land untapping, creature searching, creature making and a couple of miscellaneous effects for flavour. There's nothing here that really seems .... emblematic of . Certainly not in a way that isn't all-powerful like Nissa, Who Shakes the World.
So, what would I look for in a Green Face'Walker? Well, the answer to that lay in the colour identity of , but as a character? Well, why not make 's Face'walker a Centaur? Elves are boring, humans are everywhere, and that would make the current spread of 'Walkers of a single colour two Humans, a Leonin, a Vampire and a Centaur. Just as long as the 'Walker isn't defined as being a Centaur and nothing else. As for abilities? Well, I think I'll wait on that. I have a project in mind that the answer to that would fit nicely into.
And there you have it. A whole lot of nothing. Because Wizards just doesn't know what to do, they keep trying new things rather than reinforcing the old.
Wizards has lost the ability to tell a story, to create characters as more than caricatures, and here is yet another victim.
I don't know what I'll be writing about next week, as it's getting crunch time and I work in Retail. But I'll think of something. Or maybe one of you lovely people could suggest a thing?
Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!
Well, Garruk could be the facewalker again after Throne of Eldraine. Here's why:
Return of the Wildspeaker : "The curse is broken."
December 5, 2019 7:20 p.m.
+2: Destroy target Oko Planeswalker
-1: Search target plane or player's deck for any instance of Oko and remove him from the game.
-8: Cast Plummet , Overrun , Naturalize , Rabid Bite , and any other green spells you have in your hand. And, um, draw some cards. But no more than the number of creatures you have. Or their power. Yeah, definitely their power. Gain 4 life.
If there's anything Garruks hates it's a crown - especially Oko's crown, cuz he stole it that little-
Sadly, there's this in regards to a centaur walker:
"We’ve done the market research for Magic," Rosewater said on his Blogatog after a fan asked about why Wizards of the Coast rarely designs a world with no humans. "The majority of players like having Humans. The planeswalkers that resonate best are Human. The legendary creatures that resonate best are Human. That’s why we tend to have a lot of Humans in the game and on most worlds."
I hope you're right though, it'd be an interesting direction to take.
December 5, 2019 8:52 p.m.
How can people know what they like if they've never had it before? I think you're on the right track having a centaur as a walker. I mean what a story that would be, showing up in some random stable on a random plane... some poor dude has a stroke when a horseman talks to him... crazy. Top of my head Theros and Ravnica have Centaurs, not sure where else so queue new plane? Could happen.
December 5, 2019 9:41 p.m. Edited.
I personally liked the original Nissa Revane a lot...and I think if WOTC kept her original character there could have been some very juicy and interesting writing and lots of room for character development.
I think the card design was only really made narrow because of Nissa's Chosen and she could have had a lot more potential to stay in elf tribal by having more mana acceleration oriented abilities or even regenerate/overrun/fight combinations in future/other elf centered cards
December 5, 2019 11:19 p.m. Edited.
Firstly: Yes, a centaurean walker would be awesome. I can't resist to wish for an Orochi becoming the green Facewalker, but I guess we already have Tamiyo as a representative for Kamigawa.
Vivien is a cool character if WotC were to give her some more dephth as a character. My big hope for 2020 regarding Viv comes from Ikoria. A set subtitled Lair of Behemoths and hopefully with a non-Un version of the Augment-mechanic is perfect for a character like Vivien to really shine.
December 6, 2019 10:46 a.m.
i had absolutely no idea that Jace was not the face-walker anymore. He was cool! but alas, the story must go on. BUT...remember how emrakul had possessed Tamiyo and said it was not yer time yet? That means that maybe, MAYBE another eldrazi set could be coming, gamers. I cant wait for that
December 6, 2019 12:15 p.m.
Great article. I’d love to have a Centaur Walker for , or what about some Elemental type character? Theros: Beyond Death would have been a perfect spot to introduce a Centaur planeswalker.
On the same topic, I think Chandra is a bit boring and needs to be sidelined, since she’s the only face walker who hasn’t been. Her I’M A REBEL, OKAY?? personality has gotten a bit bland and repetitive, and her card designs, barring Core 2020, are also a bit stale. Why not give Koth of the Hammer a go? He’s very interesting and well-developed. Plus, if we finally go back to Mirrodin / New Phyrexia, this would be a great way for him to join the Gatewatch or something.
December 8, 2019 10:06 a.m.
I think one the largest strikes against Garruk becoming the Facewalker for again would be his disdain for people and society. That makes it really difficult for his story to interact or entwine with other characters of the Gatewatch or Multiverse.
In Garruk's youth his father was killed when they refused to let Garruk be drafted into the local army. And since then he's spent most of his time in nature, surrounded by beasts who have little capacity to manipulate or torture and more loyalty to a bond.
His run-in with Liliana and the Veil curse has likely not improved Garruk's view on humanoids. Even when Jace tried to help him, Garruk rejected him and threatened to kill him if Jace would interfere with his hunt.
However there is potential in Garruk's story, if he retains memories of his time as the Veil-cursed and that he wish to forget or atone for the atrocities he has done to both humans and beasts. He may even still be unstable and not know what is his and what is his cursed and possibly twisted memories. He could seek the help of Jace, and try to fix his memory. In the process he could be tasked to trust in other humans, which eventually could lead to him becoming more accepting of human company, but always at an arm's length principle.
Later down the line there could be a major plot point that sets Garruk on a path to come across Liliana again. WotC could have him (solo or with help - Kaya/Gatewatch) win the fight and go either for a redemption choice and spare Liliana, and hand her over to the Gatewatch, to be trialed on Ravnica, cementing that he trusts in a justice that he himself is not enforcing. Or they could have Garruk regress into a vindictive nature and kill her - essentially make him forever untrustworthy and phase him out of the story as a sub-character.
Creating a new green Facewalker that is a semi-humanoid, like a Centaur, is definitely possible. There is the centaur tribes located in the Krosa region on Dominaria. However they are mostly druidic or warrior like, so I don't know if it would seem all that different from Garruk. Except that they stick to their society. I think the biggest issue/challenge, is that centaurs have not previously been all that significant in neither numbers nor in power, so there's a challenge to gather enough interest in that character's backstory and abilities.
For instance if they replaced Chandra with a Dwarf Planeswalker... while it may be novelty for some players, I think there's a lot more who will question such a decision, as Dwarves have not been a very significant race in Magic's universe. I think it's somewhat similar with making a Centaur Planeswalker.
It could be a possibility to visit the plane where Karador, Ghost Chieftain recedes. There's at least some backing for powerful and meaningful centaurs, as it seems Karador was a king in life (and in death) and have both help from beasts and elves/dryads (multiple species). So either Karador is just powerful or Centaurs on his plane are more significant than the supporting roles we've primarily seen Centaurs in so far.
December 10, 2019 8:43 a.m.
"There is a reason why the Weatherlight Saga is so beloved, and it's not because of the cards, it's because of the characters!"
Sorry, but this is revisionist history. The crew of the Weatherlight (with the possible exceptions of Tahngarth and Mirri) were relentlessly mocked by the player base back in the day. For being the protagonist of a four-year-long story arc, Gerrard was incredibly unpopular, labeled (rightly) as a generic Han Solo wannabe who wasn't charismatic or even particularly likable.
WotC has always been terrible at creating interesting centerpiece characters for Magic. Which is fine! It's a CCG, not a movie franchise or television series; for the most part, Magic's biggest fan-favorite characters (think Jaya Ballard) have been tantalizingly glimpsed at the edges of the game's setting rather than being the focus. WotC's big mistake with the Planeswalkers has been trying to force them to fill a role similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe's characters: the stars of the show. But Magic's strength has always been in world-building (i.e., the first Ravnica block or Innistrad), not plot- or character-driven narratives. Planeswalkers like Ajani and Vivien have the potential to be fun, but WotC needs to stop trying to force the issue just because they need to plug a "facewalker" hole for a particular color.