D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR) Limited Guide: Part 1 – Mechanics, Tips, and Tricks
D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR)
Geez, it feels like it has been an entire campaign worth of turns since my last article. Admittedly Strixhaven didn’t have the staying power to get me through June so I drifted into other games, one of them being a second playthrough of Divinity: Original Sin 2 so let’s call that “research” for this writeup. As a huge Dungeons and Dragons fan I have actually been really excited for this crossover. Though, of all the things for MTG to merge with, this is about as safe of a choice as it gets considering all of the parallels. Let’s see if Wizards was able stick the landing, or if this will disappoint as much as Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access.
Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is quite a mouthful, so forgive me if I abuse the AFR code in this article. This is a core set which appears to have replaced ‘Core Set 2022.’ I am pleased with this change because being a year off (half the year) always irked me. I thought we were buying cards, not cars. At any rate it is important to embrace the core set vibes because AFR looks to have one of the lower power levels we have seen in quite some time. There are plenty of powerful Bombs, but most of what we will be seeing in the Mechanics section are slow payoffs and value spells.
Sets with weaker spells and slower mechanics can be frustrating in Limited when singular Rares pack a lot of power. Drawn out games allow more opportunities to find these dominant cards in a given match, especially when a lot of Scrying is involved. These so-called ‘Prince’ formats are dependent on the metagame allowing it though, and there are some serious Aggro tools in AFR. The format is very much going to be shaped by how evenly matched Control/Synergy and Aggro archetypes end up being. Personally I think Aggro is going to dominate the set, but more on this after we explore the various DND-flavored mechanics of MTG’s Forgotten Realms.
Probably my strongest curiosity going into the set was how they were going to handle the mechanics. And I must give credit for the boldness of them. Doing a DND set may have been playing it ‘safe,’ but the route they took with the mechanics is anything but. There are a lot of new ideas here, but while I do like them quite a lot from a flavor standpoint, some feel a little half-baked. Let’s have a look!
Even though literally the first word in DND is ‘dungeons,’ this one took me by surprise. Basically there are three dungeons which can be progressed through using spells with the ‘venture into the dungeon’ ability. You can choose any of the dungeons to begin with but can’t choose a new one until you finish the one you started (you can repeat the same one again as well). Some spells will even be improved after you have completed a dungeon.
The odd part about the dungeons is they sort of inhabit the same space as Schrodinger’s Cat but violate the principles. They exist when you need them to and go away when you complete them. No cards interact with them besides ‘venture’ cards progressing, but spells that benefit from you completing a dungeon just ‘know’ if you’ve done it or not regardless if they were in play when it happened.
I wouldn’t call the mechanic confusing, but it is really unusual. There really isn’t anything like it except maybe Emblems? Officially dungeons exist in the ‘command zone,’ which is a little like saying they are in your bag of holding. What is it like inside the bag of holding? Why don’t any other cards behave like this? Stop asking so many questions, it’s simply magic!
While I am sure all of these will see play, Lost Mine of Phandelver seems the most reasonable in Limited. The benefits aren’t amazing but it provides tangible upside for venturing. Getting a 4/4 Deathtouch out of Tomb of Annihilation would be nice, but it looks like a trap to me in this format. Cards that allow you to venture into the dungeon are largely underpowered to begin with, so you are giving up way too much when the Dungeon contains disadvantages. You could go down the left side and punish your opponent too, but 4 triggers is a lot and it is hard to say if a 4/4 is going to cut it if your deck is giving up a lot to get there fast.
Dungeon of the Mad Mage looks great if your deck does have a lot of potential ‘venture’ triggers. The payoffs toward the bottom are awesome, so decks that can repeatedly trigger dungeons are very likely to view a visit to the Mad Wizard as a primary win condition. But in decks which just contain some incidental triggers that are only likely to hit 2-4 times per game, the Lost Mine gives you a bit more value. I was trying to do some preliminary maths with this mechanic but it is really hard to predict how many of the venture cards will wrap, how many turns the average game will go, etc.
At this point we can just say the venture mechanic is the main ‘value’ mechanic of the set, and decks with some combination of White-Blue-Black will often be looking to prolong the game in order to unlock the dungeon rewards. I don’t know whether to laugh or be terrified that Wizards is pulling ideas out of ‘Un-sets’ into standard:
You thought this was going to be ‘Dragons,’ didn’t you?
While Dragons are certainly featured prominently in the set, there aren’t really specific mechanics built around them. Expect to see them often though as there is an Uncommon cycle of Dragons, cards that search for them, and numerous ways to generate Treasure and/or Ramp lands in order to support their high CMC (err mana value) in AFR.
A different DND mechanic is taking the spotlight here though, so get ready to roll some dice (or simply deal with the RNG for us Arena folks).
I am sure there will be some controversy around the decision to black border cards like this, but I think it is pretty fun. This is a core set after all, and spells featuring this mechanic are benign for the most part. You do have to stop and wonder if adding more randomness to the game is really the direction we should be going, but I may give this one a pass since the flavor is so good and once again this is a core set. And with Arena we don’t really have to get bogged down with the logistics, but I do anticipate some controversy regarding things like weighted dice or whether or not rolling a spindown die is legal (Wizards including a traditional d20 with the set was a nice touch).
When it comes to the actual cards with this mechanic, they are generally good in Limited. Almost all of them boil down to:
- 1-9: 45% chance of having a slightly inefficient spell;
- 10-19: 50% chance of having a slightly efficient spell;
- 20: 5% chance of an excellent effect.
These spells seem carefully designed to have fairly high floors and fairly low ceilings, which should mitigate a lot of the RNG frustrations. There will be some big swings when natural 20’s are rolled, but hey that is DND and I think this will be a fun mechanic. I do wish they had done some critical failures when 1’s are rolled, but I assume that was cut due to the amount of text.
Blue and Red have the most exposure to rolling d20’s and include some spells which provide bonuses for your dice rolling. Not everything in AFR is left to chance though. In fact, the next mechanic allows you make clear choices, allowing you to play individual spells in multiple ways.
These cards come in both noncreature and creature forms and allow you to choose between multiple effects. The noncreature spells are looking to capture the ‘choose your own adventure’ aspect of DND while the creature options are MTG’s take on spellcasters. The italicized names of the ‘spells’ are purely for flavor, and I think they are largely a nice touch.
From a strategy standpoint, options are great to have in Limited. The easiest comparison is probably the Modal Double-Faced Cards (MDFC’s), which tended to make up for muted power levels with their utility. The ‘choice’ spells in AFR aren’t as flexible, but I still see most of them as being pretty good. You Meet in a Tavern and You See a Pair of Goblins are good examples of the value of this mechanic, pairing a warcry effect with creature generation. Cards like ‘Burn Bright’ should rarely see play in Limited, but having access to the effect on something that can also produce creatures is awesome. And what is more DND than taverns and goblins?
I was a bit surprised that ‘Party’ was omitted from this DND set, but I suppose narrowing things to four key creature types may have been too much of a limitation. These ‘Class’ Enchantments are a pretty neat replacement though. Flavor-wise it is cool to see how the DND-classes match up with the color wheel, and these spells are sure to provide some character to our Draft decks.
Most are a bit durdly, and all require you to invest mana over multiple turns to power them up. But, effective mana sinks can end up doing really well in slower formats. Looking at Cleric Class and Druid Class in particular, you can see how some ‘multiclassing’ could lead to nice synergy. There are additional classes at Rare, five of them being multicolor. I will be using those in my part 2 article to help signpost some of the archetypes.
Besides Warlock Class which only looks okay, I think all of these Uncommon classes look great and will be solid early picks. The upfront mana investment is super cheap, and it is going to feel great to have them in your opening hand. They are going to invite your opponent to pressure you, but in a core set format like this it may be difficult for them to prevent you from reaching Level 3 at some point. However, the last set mechanic does help the Aggro plan considerably.
I like this twist on the ‘power matters’ Red-Green theme. This mechanic rewards you for attacking with 6 or more power, and it is a safe bet you are already trying to do that with these colors. I tend to look at 2-drops as a gauge for how quick the format might be, and AFR’s look fairly threatening in the context of the rest of the set. Strixhaven and Kaldheim both featured fairly low-powered creatures in the slot, so these won’t seem too different. But keep in mind that the 3-and-4-drop creatures are significantly weaker in AFR.
My hot take at this point is that Aggro is going to be very good in Forgotten Realms, especially early on in the format. The Dungeons and Class mechanics will likely cause players to draft durdly decks, and I think it is going to be pretty easy to punish. The Pack Tactics cards coupled with a surprising amount of menace, deathtouch, and combat tricks in the set should allow a few archetypes which can get under everything else (at least for a while).
The combat tricks are particularly important in AFR, as there are quite a lot of them. One of the best ways to prepare for a new Limited environment is to get acquainted with these spells so you are not caught off guard. I am only going to include the Common and Uncommon ones, although there are only a couple relevant Rares in this section.
A lot of cards to remember, to be sure, but when you opponent leaves some mana open and you make the correct read it can make all of the difference.
Well, that is going to do it for Part 1. Join me in a couple days for Part 2 where I will be going through the various archetypes of AFR as well as the best Common and Uncommon spells to draft in each color.