The Exiam Block

I was rummaging through text files the other day and came across this, which I had forgotten about. A few months ago, when my interest in Magic: the Gathering was rekindled, I found myself unable to sleep one night. I returned to a mental activity from the old days: designing Magic cards. Except this time I tried to design a whole block.

I tried to come up with a set that was unlike any other. I knew that there had been sets that played with the relationships of the colors, the graveyard, the library, creature abilities, creature types, and so forth, and I tried to think of some aspect of the game that had not yet been played with. What I came up with was mana. All sets (to my knowledge) went on the assumption that, no matter what, you’d still have basic lands providing mana reliably. So I tried to address that with the Exiam Block, where instead of a magic-rich land, the setting is a world that is mana-poor.

The result is a set that I think would be interesting to design for, but probably not much fun to play. Ah well, can’t have it all.

The Exiam block consists of Last Days of Exiam, Final Battle for Exiam, and The End of Exiam.

The idea is, Exiam is a land in which magic is all but depleted. It is a culture which, like many of the settings of other Magic sets, did everything magically in the past, and as a result, is now facing an energy crisis. Pure mana is in short supply. Spells are unpredictable. Polluted magic causes problems. Each faction (color) is dealing with this in its own way, but they’re blind with hatred, all convinced that the others are taking THEIR valuable resources.

The first set, Last Days of Exiam, sets up this world, and right off the bat you know there’s something up here. There are no basic lands in the set. Instead there are Exiamese Lands, which work like this:

Exiamese Forest
Basic Land

(Tap, Remove a Depletion Counter): Add G to your mana pool.
(Tap): Place a Depletion Counter on any Exiamese land which does not already have one.

So in essence, each land produces half a mana. This would of course, slow the game down a lot, which is why I think, when it comes down to it, this wouldn’t be a very fun set to play.

In addition, as game mechanics unique to this set, I came up with:

Fizzle: X (Any opponent may pay X mana to counter this spell.)

Exhaust: X (At the beginning of your upkeep, flip a coin. If heads, place an exhaustion counter on this permanent. If at any time there are X exhaustion counters on it, it goes to the graveyard.)

But also part of the theme is the alternative energy sources the factions are coming up with, which would offset this to some degree. I wanted to try and think of ways that the different colors would try to address such a crisis. (I really wasn’t intending the set to have any kind of overt political angle to it, I was honestly just in a position where I created a situation and tried to imagine how the various groups would react to it.) What I came up with are:

Red: This faction has discovered powerstones, single-use crystals that store red mana. They also have no problem with producing mana through destruction, happily chewing through an entire forest to produce a single green mana. Their philosophy seems to be denial that there’s a problem, coupled with the idea that if everyone else just quits “hogging” (ie, using) all the mana, there will be more for Red.

Black: Black is probably doing best out of all the colors, since it’s used to grabbing mana at the cost of its own destruction. Necromancy, pacts with demonic beings, and unspeakable acts provide their power.

White: Probably too late, but they have figured out how to recycle and conserve. Their mana batteries store up saved energy, and they have developed artifacts that allow them to recycle their used-up devices (and, yes, soldiers) for their precious mana. A growing number of them believe that these lean times are a tribulation from the Gods, designed to wipe out the unbelieving, and at the end of it will awaken a new dawn, full of promise (and resources) for those left standing.

Green: Green has always been able to produce mana from life itself and is trying to step up production. The insectoid Kittak race is using its ability to breed rapidly to introduce helpful mutations into the stock that will both provide mana and overwhelm their rivals.

Blue: Blue has a two pronged defense against the ecological horror. First and foremost, they’re looking to leave. They know of the other dimensions, and if the mana here is all used up, why not move to another place with no such problem? Or at least open a portal and bring in some from elsewhere. As a backup plan, though, they’ve turned to technology. Blue has always been comfortable with artifacts, and if a mechanical device can do the work without mana, why shouldn’t it?

In the second set, Final Battle, The stakes increase. The war for the dwindling resources is depleting them even faster, and the various factions seek quick, endgame strategies to eliminate the others while there’s still time. Black cements an unholy pact with a dark outsider. Red prepares its ultimate weapon. Green begins a campaign of terraforming, changing the landscape to suit its needs. Blue attempts to grab all the remaining energy to open their escape portal. And White, consumed with its crusade and believing the Gods will reward the victors, turn aside from their conservation ways and instead elect to use as much mana as they can, to deny it to the others. Depletion is happening faster, and every side is gaining more abilities to thwart the others.

And finally, in The End of Exiam, the outcome is decided. Each color has its own possible “victory” scenario, but time is running out. A new ability, Endgame, comes into play:

Endgame: At the beginning of your upkeep, place an Endgame counter on this permanent. If at the end of your upkeep you control permanents with a total of twenty Endgame counters, you lose the game.

Will anyone survive the Last Days of Exiam?

I ran these ideas past my Magic-playing buddies and the response was unanimous: The idea was interesting, but there was no way in hell any of them would ever play this set.

The main complaint was that it slowed the game down considerably, and I can’t deny that. I liked the idea of, instead of players casting spells willy-nilly, having to really think about each point of mana and whether or not it was worth letting go of. For me, that’s an angle that hadn’t yet been addressed, though with good reason.

The second complaint, which I’m not overly concerned about, was that the cards wouldn’t play well with others. That is, any cards you brought in from other sets would be insanely powerful in this set, and you’d never in a million years bring these cards into other decks. This doesn’t concern me, as I envision Exiam as a world that’s pretty much cut off from all the others. It’s supposed to be a stand-alone environment, and I can neither control nor care about how people would use the cards outside of the block.

I don’t have any intention of doing anything more with the idea than you see here, though I did think of a few cards for the set. It was mostly a mental exercise that I had a good time with.

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