Looking at a Random Card: Boggart Arsonist
(What am I doing here? Read here!)
Boggart Arsonist: If you weren’t around during Lorwyn and Shadowmoor blocks, you might wonder how on earth this mishmash of abilities ended up on a creature! The answer is that Shadowmoor was supposed to be some kind of dark mirror to Lorwyn, and that in Lorwyn a creature named Boggart Loggers existed. Boggart Arsonist was the twisted Shadowmoor version of them. Boggart Loggers were a topdown design (meaning that the flavor concept of the card came first, dictating its mechanics), explaining why these goblins knew how to move deftly through the woods and destroy forests and treefolk (they were loggers, duh).
In Lorwyn, the most explicit tribal Magic set so far, a defining quality of the treefolk tribe was to extend its mechanics to forests. There was no similar connection between plains and scarecrows in Shadowmoor, though, but obviously mirroring the original card as close as possible was more important for the designers than making sense here. (Well, it can be assumed that a scarecrow usually stands in the plains, but then scarecrows in Shadowmoor were defined by being artifacts loosely associated with all five colors…) In my book, this is a design failure, resulting in a flavor already exerted in its original context, but downright absurd taken out of it.
Let’s get to the much more important question: What about the Arsonist’s play value? It’s irrelevant in constructed, of course. As for limited, I wish it was just a simple, a bit more efficient red plainswalker – landwalkers are a great tool for cube-builders, and unusual combinations valuable (I’m glad that Zodiac Rooster exists!) I found it, however, important that landwalking creatures are efficient enough that players are willing to maindeck them regardless of their evasion ability coming into play – of course, they can be useful SB cards, but they’re not overly attractive (other than creatures with flying, they only help when you’re on the offense). I admit this is mainly a problem because I use my limited pool mostly for two-thirds-draft, where drafters end up with only a handful of possible SB cards, and thus I’m not a fan of typical SB cards in general, but if I decide to use them, I prefer them to have a bit more impact (like, for example, Celestial Purge). Maindeckable landwalkers, however, need a bit better stats – a 2/1 for 2 mana is great, but 2/3 for 3 or 3/3 for 4 are also fine, as are 2/2s with useful additional abilities, like Enclave Elite or Blistergrub. Boggart Arsonist is too weak.
I also have a policy against adverse tribal effects, because they make drafting for less experienced players much harder for little gain. It’s one thing to open up a Goblin Chieftain and then scrutinize the contents of each booster for goblins, but another to face an Avacynian Priest and try to estimate how good this card might be in that cube. (It’s even worse to be required to realize that a spirit creature might be a less attractive pick because cards like Urgent Exorcism, Kitsune Diviner, and Nine-Ringed Bo exist in a cube.)
Lastly, I really don’t like to use cards with irrelevant text – for elegance concerns in general, but also once again to not irritate less experienced players too much, who will assume that a scarecrow to be destroyed by Boggart Arsonist just HAS to show up some time – why else would that card be in a cube otherwise?
Now, of course it isn’t impossible that I might one day design a cube in which Boggart Arsonist actually makes sense, because all of its abilities happen to matter in that environment. Seeing that it was already quite unexciting even in Shadowmoor limited, though, makes that seem really unlikely (and it’s not at all helped by the fact that I like few scarecrows printed so far).
Boggart Arsonist is just a limited-only design which wasn’t convincing in the first place, and certainly doesn’t stand the test of time. There’s nothing outrageously annoying about it, but that is already the best which can be said for it. For its mediocre play value in limited it deserves a D, downgraded for its irritating ability mix to a D-.