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 Post subject: Returning to Mercadia?
PostPosted: Wed Jul 21, 2021 2:23 pm 
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I kinda miss Mercadia. There, I said it.

For starters, it just feels like one of those potentially compelling settings that weren't very well executed mechanically, but that could really benefit from a second chance under modern set design. There's also the fact that I feel more and more drawn to older Magic settings that weren't made with a strong "identity" in mind, at least not in the sense that modern marketing and corporate speak like to use the term. Sure, even Dominaria had to be given an "identity" as the history plane in order to be revisited, and it turned out great, but I think everyone would agree that the setting wouldn't even exist in the first place if Magic had always approached worldbuilding the way it does now. And I think that alone would be enough to make older settings a valuable part of Magic's creative aspect in a way.

Luckily, Mercadia actually does have a kind of identity as the "mercantile plane", it's just that that aspect wasn't really the main focus of Mercadian Masques. Yeah, it has always been the plane where everything is for sale, and there are a lot of individual cards that reflect that, but it was also created as a setting where things are weird and different in unexpected ways (smart goblins, spatial distortions, the most prominent landmark being an inverted mountain...). I also really appreciate that they didn't just copy-paste one particular real world culture and went for an organic blend of several cultural influences and pure fantasy instead. Maro has gone on record saying that the mercantile aspect is the part of Mercadia's identity that they would probably focus on if they ever revisited the plane, and I think that would be for the best. That's where the "second chance under modern set design" would come in. Another advantage that current Magic would have in returning to Mercadia is that they've moved away from traditional blocks and mostly do one-set trips to different planes instead, and I think one set would presumably be enough to revisit Mercadia.

So, how could this be accomplished? How would you approach another visit to Mercadia with a stronger focus on the mercantile aspect? Would you even like to see another trip to Mercadia at all?

I'll just throw out some thoughts and suggestions...


Mechanics

Mechanics from Mercadian Masques that could potentially be brought back to get the theme across:

- Mercenaries (with the "recruit" ability and/or general tribal support). I'm favouring Mercenaries over Rebels here because unlike Rebels, Mercenaries can be "bought".

- Spellshapers. I get that some people find the type to be unflavourful, but I think it's a great catch-all term for taskmages and other creatures that will perform a specific service for you in exchange for a card.

- Cards with alternate casting costs such as Invigorate

- Pitch spells like Misdirection

- There was also this weird subtheme of effects that could be used by any player, e.g. Flailing Manticore or Wishmonger. Those are flavourful and on theme in theory but unreliable and unfun in most "normal" games of Magic. I could kinda see a new riff on that working in set-themed Commander decks like they do these days, however. Certainly feels like something that could be fun in multiplayer formats if done right.

Other mechanics and themes I think could work for this:

- Pirate tribal. Where there's trade, there's piracy. Plus, it would give the Mercenaries someone to fight against, and that's not even talking about the fact that Pirates and Mercenaries have often been one and the same historically. Maybe Pirates could even take the place of the Rebels in this set, especially if both Pirates and Mercenaries got the old "recruit" ability (maybe with the actual ability word this time?).

- A token theme like the one in Modern Horizons 2. Treasures (= material wealth), Food (= an important trade good in any economy) and Clues (= information, leverage etc.), and perhaps some more obscure ones feel like they were made for a plane like this, especially when united under a single mechanical theme. Alternate resources in general, really. One amazing thing that MH2 does in terms of set design that would also fit Mercadia really well is the absurd number of different mechanical themes it synergises with (and as much as I hate Kaladesh for its retcons, I think that block had a similar backwards compatibility to it that really drove home the "inventor" aspect). A set where there's a lot of synergy and mechanical overlap to discover - "something for everybody" - would also feel right for a place where you can find and buy pretty much anything.

- Buyback and/or Cycling. Appropriately old school, and a mercantile theme would be a way to get some flavour out of otherwise very "crunchy" keywords

- Cards changing zones. Sounds kinda abstract at first, but when you think about it, it would really feel like the flow of an economy. Heck, Mercadia is arguably the only plane in all of Magic where you can literally see cards being discarded into the graveyard. The base of Mount Mercadia is surrounded by a ring of filth, junk, and dead things that the city above has thrown over the edge. It's their way of executing people, too. And I guess people and goods being pulled up with lifts is a good enough analogy to drawing cards or returning cards from your graveyard to your hand.
Could also be the glue that holds a lot of the other mechanics together (Spellshapers, "recruiters", Cycling, pitch spells, tokens or other stuff being sacrificed etc.).


Art Direction

There is something about the visual design of Mercadian Masques that really makes me want to see everything again in Magic's current art style. The design for a lot of elements is pretty unique and distinct, but I feel like a lot of individual pieces of card art from that set haven't aged very well. Mercadian Masques had quite a few pieces of artwork that make their human(oid) subjects in particular look kinda stylised and even distorted, and the older art styles didn't really work with light and texture as much as the current art does. I have a lot of love for older Magic art, don't get me wrong, but there's a lot about Mercadia that could look really awesome in a more realistic and modern style.

One thing that should be addressed by the art direction is the fact that the novel and the various anthology stories set on Mercadia present Mercadia City as this logic-defying, space-warping place where you can easily get lost and where following a straight line in the right direction isn't guaranteed to get you where you want to go.
I think it would be easy to include subtle nods to that in the background of many cards that show life in the city, however. For instance, you could just show a view down an alley in the background, where you can see, say, an ogre with a big cart walking past and partially disappearing behind a corner, only to have the "covered up" parts of the same ogre with the cart simultaneously show up in the opposite direction of where they should logically be, as if the ogre was constantly walking down the street in an impossble circle. Really, you could just have objects and characters in the background show up in another part of the background, perhaps even from a different perspective or in impossible directions. That could make for a fun game of "spot the spatial distortion in the background".
In addition to that, what if you showed aerial views of the city that had subtle spiral shapes or fractal patterns in the layout of the streets and buildings? Explaining this weird feature of the setting in a piece of flavour text or two would still be a good idea, and I'd probably include a card that directly references this in its name, design and artwork (or just reprint Totally Lost), but I think people would get it and have fun finding hints to that in the art.
Heck, it could even tie into the mercantile flavour directly (finding a cool shop or hidden little bazaar and discovering a special item by accident, being unable to find that shady location where you bought a cursed object, following the right steps to find the hidden Black Market etc.).


Worldbuilding

Not much to say here, really, except that I don't want the set to focus only on Mercadia City, even though it's the most iconic part of the plane. It's not the city plane people make it out to be, the mere notion of Mercadia being "urban" is kinda ridiculous (although Mercadia City, Saprazzo and Rishada are really important urban centres, even more so if you want to focus on the mercantile aspect). There's farmland and wilderness, too. IIRC, the Kyren goblins even founded a new settlement in some faraway mountains at the end of the novel. Plus, Rushwood and the Cho-Arrim are kinda cool and very much non-urban as well. There are even some obscure locations in the short stories (and perhaps the novel) that only get namedropped, so it'd be cool to at least have those acknowledged, even if they aren't shown on the cards.

Oh, and it's mentioned in Agents of Artifice that the Infinite Consortium has a cell on Mercadia, which is more than fitting and should also be acknowledged. And it goes without saying that the glimpse of Mercadia we see in Scourge shouldn't be treated as the real thing, especially since Mercadia having a Consortium Cell would make a lot less sense in that scenario. The Mercadian Masques novel also featured objects from other planes that would show up for sale there, and while interplanar travel isn't what it used to be post-Mending, I think the presence of a (former?) Consortium Cell as well as items that were brought to Mercadia in pre-Mending times would still allow for neat little easter eggs here and there. Maybe there could be a cycle of extraplanar Artefact cards like the Shard cycle in Mirrodin (Crystal Shard and friends), or just other stuff that's clearly from another plane we know (straight up reprints or new cards). Maybe there'd be the odd Moonsilver Spear sticking out of a pile of weapons in the background somewhere, along with one of those Talruum swords the Weatherlight crew found there in the novel. They could even use a non-keyworded mechanic from another plane on a random one-off Artefact to reinforce the easter egg (e.g. have some cursed object from Innistrad with non-keyworded Morbid or a piece of adventuring gear from Zendikar with non-keyworded Landfall).

Let's also not forget that Mercadia has unicorn people, boar people, and whatever the heck Squallmonger is. The Caterans are also pretty diverse and delightfully creepy.

I could swear the novel mentions Mercadia having two moons, but the card art only ever shows one (which could just be coincidence if even it does have two moons). I'd have to dig really deep to find that reference again, though.


Characters

Karn and Oriss, Samite Guardian have to be there, and I will die on that hill. The Fountain of Cho on Mercadia was the first place Karn ever planeswalked to right after his ascension, and he was the one who brought Orim back to Mercadia for her to marry Cho-Manno, Revolutionary. Karn was also present during Mercadian Masques, and it just feels right to have him go back there to check in on Orim's descendants, one of which is almost certainly Oriss.

I wouldn't mind seeing Tezzeret there. He'd play well with all those Artefact tokens, and it could be intereseting to see him check in on that old Consortium cell (I've come to despise Jace and Liliana, so Tezzeret is the only remaining option for me here).

Davriel would feel right at home on Mercadia, if it isn't his homeplane in the first place.

Ramos, Dragon Engine is presumably still around. I'd really appreciate it if they could somehow clear up the weird continuity tangle that is his backstory. I'd have to look into all the specifics again to even suggest a solution, but I think it could be done. If we can get a modern canon explanation for the weird ending of Arena and the status of Garth's planeswalker-ness, why not a backstory for Ramos that makes sense?

I'd love to see a distinctly Mercadian planeswalker, like a Saprazzan or a Cho-Arrim or even a Kyren goblin or something. Heck, one of those boar people would also be neat.

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Tell why Truth must fight with Falsehood, and why Truth will always win."
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 21, 2021 11:19 pm 
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I've wanted to make a custom almost tongue-in-cheek set about Mercadia, and had started an attempt a while back. I thought it'd be fun in a goofy, high fashion/trend culture influence. That is, make the set about chasing fads and trends.

Mechanics:

Brand tokens- Equipment with Equip that do nothing on their own, but are useful when in the use of those who know how to use them.

Goblin Fashionista
Creature - Goblin
When Goblin Fashionista enters the battlefield, create a Brand token. (It’s an Equipment artifact with “Equip .”)
, : Goblin Fashionista deals damage to any target equal to the number of Brands attached to Goblin Fashionista.
1/2

As a sub-theme, there'd be Trends, enchantments with powerful effects at a discount, but with a "win condition" that sacrifices the enchantment and rewards any player who met the trigger with a Brand:

Sapprazzan Cruise
Enchantment - Trend
Whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player, draw a card.
Commercialize — Whenever a player draws their third card in turn, sacrifice Sapprazzan Cruise and that player creates a Brand token. (It’s an Equipment artifact with “Equip .”)

Vanishing would return as a reference to the fleeting nature of trends.

Activist Dryad
Creature - Dryad Rogue
Vanishing 2 (This permanent enters the battlefield with two time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter from it. When the last is removed, sacrifice it.)
: Destroy target artifact or enchantment. If you do, put a time counter on Activist Dryad.
4/4

I remember Treasures and possibly Spellshapers in the set as well, but I can't find the old file. The above are based off of memory.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 24, 2021 5:39 pm 
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Those are some pretty cool design ideas actually, even though the overall flavour is definitely more tongue in cheek than I'd be comfortable with in a black-bordered set. Heck, looking at your designs, I almost feel more reminded of Battlebond or Strixhaven, which were also way too meta and silly IMO. I guess that means you got it right :V



On a worldbuilding-related note, someone could probably piece together a full globe or worldmap of Mercadia by looking at Mercadian Atlas and Trade Routes (even though most of it would probably be blank spots to us, so it wouldn't be particularly exciting unless they wanted to greatly expand the setting). I'm sure there's NASA software for that or something. :paranoid:

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Tell why Truth must fight with Falsehood, and why Truth will always win."
—Love Song of Night and Day


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 24, 2021 10:59 pm 
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IMO Mercadia would be a great setting for Conspiracy sets if it's decided that Fiora has had enough.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 25, 2021 9:14 am 
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Unfortunately Mercadia is blacklisted before he has smart goblins.

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