Why is Squad a Cast Ability and Not an EtB Ability?

General forum

Posted on Feb. 6, 2024, 5:51 p.m. by DemonDragonJ

Squad is the permanent version of replicate, which I think is very awesome, but I wonder why it is an ability whose cost is paid during casting, rather than when the permanent enters the battlefield, which would make more sense, and also prevent its caster from losing mana, if the initial spell is countered.

What does everyone else say about this? Why is squad an additional cost paid during casting, rather than an ability that triggers when a permanent enters the battlefield?

As a side not, who hopes to see squad in a universes within product, soon? That ability is too awesome to limit to universes beyond products, in my mind.

wallisface says... #2

I assume the way Squad is worded is to create some relevant decision-making for the caster - to get them to commit to resources upfront helps make the effect riskier and more interesting for play-patterns. It also helps them balance the colour-pie (it would be incredibly hard to justify ever playing counter-magic if this effect was printed into a standard set, for example).

February 6, 2024 6:36 p.m.

legendofa says... #3

I don't know if this is the intended reason, but it does make it more of an investment into the spell itself. This is relevant for counterspells and effects that care how much mana you paid for a spell. (Is there anything like this? I think I remember seeing this sort of effect that cares how much mana you pay, but my search skills are failing me.) So, if you cast Galadhrim Brigade and add for two Squad tokens, you lose all of that if it gets countered. As an ETB ability, you can cast the spell, see if it resolves, then dump a bunch of mana into making tokens. It just forces you to pay a little more attention to how you're spending mana.

It's also slightly different from replicate. Hatchery Sliver shows how replicate would work on a creature--it's a cast-triggered ability, not an additional cost. There's probably some deep rules implications for that.

I wouldn't mind seeing more Squad.

February 6, 2024 6:44 p.m.

DemonDragonJ says... #4

legendofa, your example perfectly demonstrates why I wish that squad was an EtB ability; look at Rise of the Hobgoblins, for example; WotC made the ability on that card an EtB ability, so that its player would not lose mana if the spell was countered.

February 6, 2024 8:17 p.m.

wallisface says... #5

DemonDragonJ if that kind of effect was printed en-masse, it would unbalance the colour pie and render control archetypes largely useless (i’m exaggerating, but it’d still be a big problem). Having Squad worded the way it is keeps the mechanic in a safer-design-space, and increases the odds of them being able to safely print more cards with this ability.

February 6, 2024 8:58 p.m.

legendofa says... #6

DemonDragonJ That would be nice, but I think repeatable is too low of a price to pay for a bunch of guaranteed anthems or cards or whatever. At minimum, I would expect a much heavier color weight, and no potential for non-mana squad costs.

February 6, 2024 9:16 p.m.

Caerwyn says... #7

Triggered abilities are extremely difficult to respond to - there just are not that many options and they are often too situational to invest too heavily in running them in your deck.

The ability being a triggered ability would be extremely bad game design. For starters, it is as others have said - you could, for an extremely low mana cost, wait until resolution and then dump a whole bunch of mana into something opponents almost certainly cannot counter. At that point, you have gone from a low-mana-cost, low risk spell, to an extremely high amount of value that your opponents could not realistically interact with or stop.

This also creates a game balance problem - now, suddenly, every single Squad card cast by a player with open mana is a must counter. You simply cannot risk letting the spell resolve - even if you opponent was not going to activate squad. If I were a player with squad cards and it was a triggered ability, I would take advantage of the “must counter” nature to flush out their counterspells… then follow it up with my actual win condition, when they are down a counter and mana.

Keeping it on cast allows Counterspell users the option to have useful knowledge so they can fairly interact with the card, rather than be forced into burning precious resources on something that could have been harmless.

February 6, 2024 9:25 p.m.

psionictemplar says... #8

I had never seen a "squad" keyworded card before this thread, but I completely expect this to be a balance issue. Can you imagine the absurdity of reanimating a squad card and instantly creating a mass of creatures? Or using flicker effects such as Astral Slide or Astral Drift and doing the same?

February 7, 2024 9:33 a.m.

plakjekaas says... #9

They did something like it with the Intrepid Adversary cycle, instead of Multikicker, it was an EtB ability. Although none of the adversaries copied themselves.

However, you said it yourself, Squad is the permanents version of Strive. Since instants and sorceries don't enter the battlefield, it sounds logical to not change the equivalent mechanic into something different when you make the permanents version, even when similar examples of other cards with EtB abilities instead of cast options exist. Though every EtB example you can give, can by countered by a spell with multikicker, like Everflowing Chalice, which has a repeated effect on cast already.

But this is the newest entry in a series of mechanics discussion where you advocate for more safeguards against interaction to protect your playstyle from "getting got" by opponents' spells. It's the same reason you object to "only once per turn" limitations. You want the threats to outperform the answers every step of the way, and that's the opposite of game balance.

February 7, 2024 12:34 p.m.

DemonDragonJ says... #10

plakjekaas, that is exactly what I seek, and I am not ashamed to admit it: I wish to be able to play the game with the assurance that I shall nearly always be able to do what I wish to do, and not need to worry about my opponents ruining my plans, and I shall gladly allow my opponents to do the same, if it means that I can do it, as well; I hope that I do not sound like an immature child complaining when I discuss subjects of this nature, because I feel that these subjects are perfectly worthy of debate and discussion.

February 7, 2024 10:09 p.m.

wallisface says... #11

DemonDragonJ the problem-spiral that happens when/if threats outperform answers, is that it becomes a waste of time running answers - the format devolves into a position where the only viable decks to play are aggro and combo builds, and games play out identical to goldfishing - just ”two ships passing in the night” where the fastest deck wins.

That idea might sound incredibly appealing to you, but I can assure you that it doesn’t for the vast majority of players. Historically, players haven’t even been happy at times when formats get anywhere-close to that meta.

February 7, 2024 10:20 p.m.

Gidgetimer says... #12

Interaction is what takes MtG from a game of luck to a game of skill and strategy. I'm not going to say that there is no luck involved as obviously there is. However; with no or bad interaction the game devolves into simply "who can top deck a win first". I am a degenerate combo player and I actively want people to interact with me. Spoil my plans and make me recover, improvise, and interact back with you so that I can rebuild.

Not a sociologist and don't want to get too up my own ass about this, but it sounds like you might be looking for parallel play in a space where most people are looking for cooperative play.

Wikipedia article on Parten's stages of play in order to define those phrases as I am using them. Note that there is debate about the theory beyond just the classifications being useful, so please don't think I am trying to imply anything. Again, I'm not a sociologist.

February 7, 2024 10:54 p.m.

Caerwyn says... #13

What you are describing - two players trying to do their own thing without interruption - is not Magic, or is goldfishing. At that point, why even bother having an opponent? Just get a piece of paper, write down how long it took you to win in perfect conditions, and see if you can beat your own record.

I also take issue with you saying you would “gladly allow” your opponent to goldfish, like that is a good thing. I play competitive games to have friendly competition - not to sit there and do my own thing. Frankly, unless the person was a new player (which is a very different situation), I would feel pretty darn annoyed, as the other player would be selfishly wasting my time. If I wanted to goldfish my deck, I can do that at home; if I am playing with others, if is because I want to play Magic with people, not next to them.

February 8, 2024 8:53 a.m.

DemonDragonJ says... #14

wallisface, Gidgetimer, Caerwyn, perhaps I was being too extreme with my previous example, and I am sorry about that, but I definitely feel that players should never or rarely find themselves in situations in which they spend great amounts of resources and then be deprived of the reward for doing so.

February 10, 2024 3:32 p.m.

Caerwyn says... #15

That is exactly when players should be deprived of their resources. Any large investment should be enough to bring the game to a close - if you allow large investments of mana to go unchecked, then you are basically designing a “whomever gets to cast their bomb first wins” game.

That is bad game design - Magic is a game of strategy and interaction, not only a race to see who can ramp their way to victory first. Removing the ability to check huge mana investments makes ramp decks almost unstoppable - making the game worse for everyone.

February 10, 2024 6:58 p.m.

DemonDragonJ says... #16

Caerwyn, yes, that makes sense, but, in that case, how do you explain the fact that Zacama, Primal Calamity untaps all lands when it enters the battlefield (yes, I understand that Zacama needs to actually be cast as a spell, but that is not a difficult restriction)?

February 11, 2024 11:52 a.m.

legendofa says... #17

DemonDragonJ As a mythic rare legendary creature that costs nine mana across three colors, Zacama, Primal Calamity is allowed a certain amount of freedom that a common or uncommon four-drop mono-color creature won't have. In this case, Zacama's restriction is there to avoid getting ridiculous amounts of land utility from reanimator, Sneak Attack, and other ways to bypass big mana costs. If you don't get Zacama in a "fair" way, you don't get the full benefit. Zacama can still be countered or discarded, and has no inherent self-protection, so it can still end up being a net zero mana investment, or worse.

To step in a little bit for Caerwyn, the intent is to invest that into a card that finishes the game that turn or the next turn. Zacama can be used as a power ramp card, but I'm pretty sure the design intention is to use it as an end game card. The land untapping effect is used here to give you a better chance of activating it's abilities, with a side benefit of protecting you from total mana loss for the turn.

February 11, 2024 12:32 p.m.

wallisface says... #18

DemonDragonJ firstly it should be noted that some cards provide exceptions to the rules -but that doesn’t mean that they’re setting a precedence. Secondly, Zacama, Primal Calamity is not a very good example for this, as you still lose all your mana to the opponent using a Counterspell. A better example would be Carnage Tyrant, which at the time of printing caused all-manor of havoc to standard when it was printed - and made numerous archetypes unplayable… it was an issue design-wise (there’s a reason we haven’t seen anything printed this egregious since), and not something that Wotc would want to print en-masse (they’d especially want to avoid stapling such a game warping effect to an ability)

February 11, 2024 2:41 p.m.

DemonDragonJ says... #19

wallisface, Carnage Tyrant is simply a beater, but Zacama has three very powerful abilities that can be used repeatedly; I was playing an EDH game against a player who had a deck with Zacama as their general, and the game was fairly even until that player summoned Zacama, after which, they proceeded to dominate, and then win, the game, so I feel that no singular card should ever be so powerful as to win a game on its own.

February 14, 2024 8:17 p.m.

wallisface says... #20

DemonDragonJ to reply:

  • I used Carnage Tyrant as a example of when a card is too hard to interact with and turns the game into a "who ramps first" format. If you had seen this in Standard at the time, it was a menace. To my knowledge Zacama, Primal Calamity never made any dent in Standard. And, while Zacama, Primal Calamity might be strong in commander, it is a bad example for this conversation because it both dies to countermagic and to most other forms of board-interaction - so doesn't apply to what we're actually discussing here - which is that interaction needs to remain relevant/powerful to maintain game balance.

  • Your comment on "I feel that no singular card should ever be so powerful as to win a game on its own" - firstly, games of magic have to end, and this card has a ton of ways to get disrupted, so is by no means a silver-bullet. Secondly, the rules changes you're advocating above would certainly turn a bunch of Squad cards into "singular cards that win games on their own". So I think you need to pick a side of the fence here.

February 14, 2024 8:58 p.m.

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