Limited removal has been slowly but surely getting better. Two years ago, Disfigure had been mostly relegated to a three mana card with some upside while common creatures were getting increasingly large for their cost. We’d reaching a tipping point where removal had to get better to offset the increased amount of must-answer threats. Ixalan greatly benefited from Moment of Craving, a two mana Disfigure with upside. In a few short weeks, we’ll be able to play with the next two mana Disfigure with upside: Vicious Offering.

Vicious Offering is a very different card than its closest cousin, Moment of Craving. The latter gives you a consistent effect and a minor benefit, whereas Vicious Offering imposes a choice. Either you get Disfigure for two mana, which is sufficient to kill most early game creatures and win in combat, or you get a black Fiery Conclusion that kills almost anything (or essentially guarantees you win in combat). Moment of Craving is much easier to use because you always get every part of the card and its ceiling is clear: at best it will always give a creature -2/-2.

Vicious Offering is much more skill-intensive. It is (almost certainly) an excellent disruptive spell early in the game. It is extremely relevant in the late game, when it can kill basically anything (unless the format is full of nothing but 2/3s and bigger). It’s cheap enough to represent mid-combat or to respond to an opponent’s removal spell. It’s worth building around (likely in a B/G saprolings deck with plentiful sacrifice fodder), but unlike previous iterations like Launch Party, Call for Blood, and Angelic Purge you don’t need to sacrifice anything, so the deckbuilding restriction is a light one. All of this together in a single package makes it a powerful spell that’s relevant at all stages of the game, while hiding this complexity behind a simple cost.

Vicious Offering is an excellent example of lenticular design, a seemingly simple card with an enormous amount of depth for those with the eyes and experience to see it. A new player will see a card that kills small creatures and can maybe kill something big if they really, really need to. An experienced player will see all the aforementioned uses in the previous section.

Perhaps the most brilliant part of this card’s design is its ceiling. Dismember is sufficient to kill almost anything, be it directly or as a combat trick. It’s basically Murder, but not truly Murder. If Vicious Offering‘s kicker instead let it kill anything, it’d be a much worse design. Sure, the effect would be mostly the same, but the card would read quite differently. Murder is a completely different card than Disfigure—its effect has neither limit nor number. There is no obvious means of comparing the two effects, whereas comparing -5/-5 to -2/-2 is facile (you’re sacrificing a creature to add its Last Gasp to the spell). This difficulty in comparison calls attention to the disparity of the effects and makes it less obvious how the spell is supposed to be used. All of this serves to make the card less lenticular. Fortunately, Vicious Offering‘s kicker turns it into Pull Under instead of Murder, so while it will be a weaker card a tiny fraction of the time, it will be player better for all audiences a majority of the time. Funny how making a card just a tiny bit weaker can make it much easier to understand and more complicated at the same time.

Thanks for joining me in this deep dive into Vicious Offering, a premium common removal spell for the first format in blockless Magic. By this time next week, the entire set will be spoiled. My excitement is palpable—I cannot wait for a new Limited format. This will be the first time I’ll be actively playing Magic while the spotlight is on Dominaria since 1997. I can’t wait to come home.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer. He works for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic.

His favorite card of the month is Skymark Roc. It’s painfully good when played on curve but isn’t unbeatable. It even tells a nice little story—it delivers your opponent a present as it’s clawing at their eyes.

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