Pattern Recognition #139 - Lords (and Ladies)

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


30 January 2020


Hello everyone! Welcome back to Pattern Recognition! This is'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.

Hello! Today's Pattern Recognition is on a subject that I've touched upon in the past in passing but never really devoted the proper resources to explaining the hows and whys of it. So I figured that today was as good a time as any to actually sit down and explain Lords.

"Lord" is, like many terms in Magic, one that has its origins with the way the game was written back in Alpha, and has its name from a card printed in that set - Lord of Atlantis . As you can see from those two, they had the relevant name for the idea, but what really nailed it down was their creature type.

Let's look at Lord of Atlantis 's Creature Type.

Actually, let's not. Things were ugly back then. How about ... Lord of Atlantis . Yeah, that's better. We'll go with that one for now. That being that for a while, Lord was in of itself a creature type that signified that the creature had a certain ability - with some variables obviously - attached to it. It wasn't like how the creature type Wall had actual rules attached to it for the longest time, but rather it was a signifier that this was a creature that would give a bonus that applied to all creatures of a certain type.

But as Wizards improved their game, both internally and externally, the idea of "Lords" being a unique creature type became more and more unfeasible. The idea that there was - in this case - an obvious Merfolk who did Merfolk things, but wasn't a Merfolk in of themselves was awkward to work around, especially with other tribal effects, like Coat of Arms .

So Wizards decided to tweak how the Lords worked. Instead of being outside the relevant tribe, looking over them, they became part of the Tribe, but instead affected all other instances of that tribe you controlled. And in the case of Lord of Atlantis , it became a Merfolk Lord that gave Other Merfolk the bonus. This would allow a player that had two Lord of Atlantis ' in play to have them affect each other, rather than not.

It was a simple and elegant solution, one that has been carried forward even into non-Lord cards and effects.

Of course, the good times couldn't last, and as part of one of the Great Creature Updates, the creature type of Lord itself was dropped for being awkward and promising things that Wizards might not be able to deliver in the future, leaving us with the last printing of Lord of Atlantis .

You now, I can understand why this was done, but it was still sad to see the creature type itself go even as creatures still had the effect in it. A reduction in unnecessary complexity has helped the game in the long run.

Now I just need to get a petition over to Wizards to make all these lost Lords into the newly minted Noble creature type, and all will be good! Who's with me!!

But let's shelve that for a moment. Instead, I want to keep breaking down what it means to be a Lord.

Lords, despite what I may have implied just now, are more than just a means by which a certain creature type gets a small bonus. But let me be clear, giving out +1/+1 to all creatures you control of that type is still the most common example of what is done. Even the latest set, Theros Beyond Death has the California Party Girl. Sorry, Gallia of the Endless Dance .

Even then, as a Satyr Lord, she gives out more than just the generic +1/+1. She also gives out Haste for what it's worth. Lord of Atlantis and his counterpart, Goblin King handed out the relevant Landwalk ability.

You see, simply giving out a small boon to Power and Toughness isn't enough to be considered a Lord. Otherwise, Benalish Marshal would be a Lord, and Lords are by design, inherent to the Tribal aspect. No, this is not to say that Lords are focused on any one specific Tribe. Creatures like Verdeloth the Ancient affect both Saporlings and Treefolk as one example.

Lord abilities are, with a few exceptions, Static Effects. They are abilities that Lordship is deeper and more complicated than even that. Brramblewood Paragon is a creature that is a Warrior Lord, but provides +1/+1 counters, rather than a static effect. Of course, it still provides a static effect, but that is something that isn't tied to a creature type, rather to the existence of said counters which is in of itself a completely different topic.

Another exception appears on Nemata, Grove Guardian which requires the sacrifice of a Saporling to make all your remaining Saporlings bigger. I've had a lot of fun with this one in my Thelon of Havenwood (another Lord!) Commander deck.

In addition, a few Lords don't boost Power and/or toughness at all. Iizuka the Ruthless grants his tribe Double Strike on command, while Marrow-Gnawer gives out Fear. These Keyword-granting Lords are just as important and just as viable in the long run as those that just improve base stats. They just do so in different ways.

But when I talked to my Friendly Local Spike, he stated that his favorite Lord effect was actually cost reduction, citing Goblin Warchief as an example, yet this is also something that appears on Herald of Kozilek and Brighthearth Banneret . I guess he's just a fan of free cards.

Huh, weird. It seems like gets the most out of that specific effect. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that this colour likes creatures a lot.

Anyway, Lord effects come in all shapes and sizes, but they are also not limited to just being just on creatures as you may have well waited for me to get to. No, Lordly abilities can also appear on non-creatures as well. For example, Goblin Caves gives out its bonus to all Goblins while enchanting a Basic Mountain, while Aysen Highway grants Plainswalk.

Forgive me while I laugh at that one, it's kinda hilarious how badly priced some cards were in the past. Though I suppose it would be good for a Devotion deck?

And of course, colours can have Lord effects too. Crusade , Celestial Crusader , Divine Sacrament . You know, things like that. Bad Moon , Sunken City .

Breaking this all down, I knew going into this that was pretty much the most prolific user of this type of boon with in second, but some other things kept popping up. Goblins, for example, as the creature type with the most Lord, or Lord-like effects at 12. Zombies and Soldiers are next with 10 each that specify them as a creature.

And yes, I know about Dralnu's Crusade , which turns Goblins into Zombies. Imagine if they were combined! So many Lord effects, it wouldn't be funny! You'd have to consider which to cut and which to keep!

Lords are a complicated pseudo-mechanic, one that isn't going away from the game any time soon, and in fact, can be counted on showing up in every set - even the ones that are special sets or precons. But why? I never really got around to explaining and examining that, did I?

Lords occupy a curious space in the building blocks of Magic. They are designed to (with a couple of exceptions, like Cloud Key or Etherium Sculptor ) act as a support for creatures, a way to buff and improve those creatures while on the battlefield.

Yes, Lords are rightly seen as a subset of the Tribal mechanisms in the game, and this isn't wrong. Creature types exist as more than just the results of whatever art was handed in that day, they have mechanical effects and those effects are sometimes necessary. And if Wizards were to stop, well then, their players would notice and object. Probably vehemently.

Lords are a force multiplier for creatures. And in a game where it is quite possible that you can build decks without creatures, having something that encourages more creature play is always a good thing. Of course, Lords being able to affect other Lords but not themselves is a design Feature, not a Bug. It encourages playing with multiples, which is also why you don't often see Legendary Lords. They affect everyone else, and there is no way to reciprocate.

They are the glue that holds Tribes together. Yes, people would still play with Elves or Goblins, or Merfolk, but without the notion of the Lord to bind them together, the basic synergies they provide, these decks loose some basic cohesion.

Of course, Slivers are a thing, but they got their own article. So it would be foolish to rehash that subject matter here.

I wouldn't say that Lords are vital to the game, but they are, again, necessary. They provide a way for players to build decks that work well together and in the parlance of Wizards, they would be considered "Build Around" cards in Draft and Sealed. These are cards that ecourage deckbuilding, and are guideposts to decent enough decks.

They aren't spectacular, but they are perfectly functional and useful. they can just help one other creature or a whole deck, and it doesn't matter in the long run really.

I do apologize. I've been in something of a slump recently, and I might take next week off or not. I don't know yet. This article was harder than it should have been and I feel that I have missed large sections of what I could have talked about.

So, 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!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #138 - Fallen Empires The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #140 - Unbelievable

So would Trostani Discordant be considered a lord since it gives creatures +1/+1?

January 30, 2020 5:10 p.m.

berryjon says... #2

Yes, in the same way that Glorious Anthem or Gaea's Anthem would be a Lord-like effect.

January 30, 2020 7:48 p.m.

Ize19 says... #3

I enjoyed the article, nicely written as always.

Obviously there are too many Lords for you to list them all, but my personal favorite are the Splicers (Blade Splicer, Master Splicer, Maul Splicer, Sensor Splicer, Vital Splicer, and Wing Splicer).

I think they're really flavorful (roboticists who specialize in working on golems, can apply their specialty to any golem, and who always bring one from the shop whenever they show up) and fun to build around. They're a strong example of what I most love about Lords.

January 30, 2020 9:08 p.m. Edited.

Patolea says... #4

Nice! I'm building a goblin EDH, this articles came in the right hour!

February 3, 2020 9:40 a.m.

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