The release of Streets of New Capenna is on the horizon, and Tom looks ahead and tries to predict what the new set will bring!
Streets of New Capenna season has arrived with the beginning of Story Month, along with some select card previews trickling out of the WotC mothership.
Like Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, this set also promises to explore an aesthetic and genre of fiction previously unseen in Magic: film noir. Between beautiful art deco architecture, demonic crime families and direct references to jazz and expressionist film, Streets of New Capenna will look and feel like no plane we’ve ever seen!
But what specifically do we know so far about this set? What can we infer about the city of New Capenna, its people, and the cards which will represent them? So far our only real glimpse of mechanics comes from Mark Rosewater’s customarily cryptic teaser post. But like the great gumshoe detectives of noir fiction, I only need one lead to crack a case!
As usual, I’ll be mostly making educated guesses at the potential cards and mechanics of the set, offering three alternative predictions for each archetype. “Safe Bets” are things I’m almost certain will appear, or which have already been strongly hinted at. “Just a Hunch” includes predictions which are a little more fanciful, but still seem plausible based on what we know already. “Wildest Dreams” is reserved for deliberately gonzo guesses, completely new mechanics, and other stuff which I would love to see happen, but don’t have any real evidence for. Now, the categories:
Safe Bet: Elspeth finally gets closure on her search for her home.
The very first pieces of New Capenna fiction have confirmed both that Elspeth Tirel is here, and that Ajani has assured her that it is in fact her long-lost home plane. Elspeth’s adventures through the planes have always been defined by her search for belonging – most notably on Bant and then Theros. New Capenna doesn’t seem like her home either, but I expect we’ll learn that Ajani was right – it’s just that hundreds or thousands of years have passed here since she left. Regardless, it’ll be a huge moment for this important character.
Just a Hunch: Tezzeret reveals brewing Phyrexian civil war
Tezzeret has emerged as the biggest driver of the Magic story after the death of his master Nicol Bolas, and seemingly its next arch-villain. He has allied himself with Phyrexia, offering its Praetors passage between worlds using his Planar Bridge. He most recently helped bring about the compleation of Tamiyo – a shocking moment and huge turning point in the story.
But despite his amoral actions, this plotline all seems too straightforward to not feature a twist. We already know that factionalism is rife within New Phyrexia, and it’s noteworthy that Elesh Norn is not among the praetors seen working with Tezzeret so far. It’s likely we’ll finally learn what she’s really up to in Streets of New Capenna, and I expect it will be more shades-of-gray than pure black.
Wildest Dreams: Angels of New Capenna return with the secret to undoing Phyrexia
New Capenna is presented as a city on the cusp of a new era, with the ancient understandings which bind its factions together decayed or being undermined. One of these underpinnings which is being questioned is the history of its founding, and particularly the fate of the angels who helped build the city.
From what we know now, it seems the city was erected by a coalition of angels and demons as a bulwark against an external scourge – almost certainly the Phyrexian forces who imprisoned Elspeth during her childhood. But the Phyrexians aren’t just camped outside the city – they’re gone, and they’ve been gone for some time. If anyone connected to New Capenna understands the secrets of its success against the Phyrexian invasion, it’s the vanished angels. Their return will be the climactic moment of this plane’s story, and also give Elspeth and her allies the tools to potentially end Phyrexian expansion for good.
Safe Bet: Hybrid Mana
Hybrid mana is one of R&Ds favorite tools, and rarely is it more important than in a set built on three-color “shards”. At a basic level, hybrid costs allow cards to be aligned with the color identity of a Capennan family without the unreasonable strain on fixing that true three-color cards would produce. With some clever design, meeting those color demands can then become a bonus rather than a requirement – MaRo’s teaser mentions card text of: “If exactly three colors of mana were spent to activate this ability”. Like adamant or sunburst, this sort of mechanic is a great choice to pair with hybrid mana and further hints at its inclusion.
Just a Hunch: Vehicles
Vehicles have quickly become one of Magic’s most consistently-appearing “deciduous” mechanics, and for good reason: they rock. The gameplay is good, and for a set like New Capenna which features relatively modern technology, the flavor is perfect. There’s also a strong basis for vehicle decks in Standard currently thanks to Neon Dynasty cards like Greasefang, which could definitely use a bit more support. While it’s possible that vehicles could be themed as the mechanic of a specific family, I expect it’s more likely they’ll be scattered across the pie per usual.
Wildest Dreams: Kinship
Roughly around the time Humans emerged as a Constructed powerhouse in various formats, WotC started getting a lot more creative in their range of creature types. While type lines like “Raccoon Rogue” and “Plant Dinosaur” are usually a tool for getting away from tribal themes (as well as a good bit of fun!) this set feels a little different. New Capenna looks to be a melting pot of weird and magical beings even more so than Ravnica, and there also seems to be very little use of creature types as a distinguishing trait of specific families – this is a gang war, but NOT a race war.
So if you’re going to have a set of very diverse creature types with some overlap, but not specific connections to colored archetypes, Kinship seems like a nice way to create inter-family synergies and increase the potential for creative deckbuilding in Limited. MaRo did say there would be a returning mechanic from 2000’s-era Standard, and this would be a good pick.
Safe Bet: Equipment/Modified
Flavorwise, the Maestro crime family seems to borrow a lot from the “Rakdos” and “Prismari” parts of their color identity. The previews so far hint at a crew of fashion assassins with a sartorial flourish, with their family head literally picking out a murder fit for his second-in-command like a designer dressing a model. It’s a creative take that would definitely distinguish the Maestro from “Grixis” as an expression of the UBR identity, and what better way to implement it mechanically than suiting up your Rogues with equipment?
There’s plenty of support for this in Standard, with noteworthy black equipment appearing in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms and in Neon Dynasty – not to mention the latter’s general support for artifacts and modified creatures in RBx!
Just a Hunch: Prowl
One of my favorite parts of these prediction articles is trawling back through forgotten mechanics of past sets and picking out a few diamonds-in-the-rough. Prowl was the Rogue-tribal mechanic from Morningtide, and while it is yet to reappear since then, it has a lot of potential. Alternate-cost mechanics have been consistent winners for R&D and with many Neon Dynasty cards explicitly lumping Rogues and Ninjas together as one archetype, utilizing prowl to underpin Rogues in New Capenna would set them up with the same “get an attacker through” gameplay incentive as ninjutsu.
Wildest Dreams: Bounty Counters
In design terms, assassins like the Maestro should be excellent at killing creatures, but just having great removal is not by itself a good strategy or archetype. Bounty counters are great flavor – you’re getting rewarded for hits on a predetermined mark – and great gameplay, since they can turn one-for-one removal into card advantage and a genuine gameplan. I also like the mind games and interactivity of pre-announcing your removal targets!
I think my ideal implementation would be for various Maestro cards to place bounty counters on creatures, while offering a triggered ability which pays off whenever a creature with such a counter dies. This would allow for some cool decisions about whether to delay your actual removal/sweeper in order to set up overlapping triggers from multiple sources, or to just cash in as soon as possible.
Safe Bet: Tokens/Populate
The Cabaretti have some of the tougher flavor to pin down from early previews – the natural WGR themes of community, nature, spiritualism and exploration are the most awkward to map onto a demonic crime family in an art-deco skyscraper city. But what they do seem to have is a collection of gardens and menageries, and a strong connection to animals. Mechanically, tokens are common ground for all their colors. It seems like they’re set up to use Selesnya-style creature token mechanics, and populate is the most interesting when a variety of different tokens are available in the one set.
Just a Hunch: Tribute
This one is a little more out there, but tribute has always struck me as a mechanic which could be rehabilitated easily with some better-balanced designs. The implied reverence with which the Cabaretti seem to maintain New Capenna’s wild spaces also feels like a flavor fit here. But most importantly, having a +1/+1 counter mechanic of some kind would allow for maximum inter-family synergy with the closely aligned Brokers and Riveteers, as well as adding support for the modified theme from Neon Dynasty. Sometimes those factors are the most important when trying to make a set work.
Wildest Dreams: “Menagerie”
So, my out-there prediction for the Cabaretti is actually an all-new kind of mechanic, one which specifically rewards players for controlling as many different creature types as possible! As I mentioned in my prediction for kinship, there seem to be an unusually broad variety of creature types in Streets of New Capenna, and recent token spells have seemed to emphasize creating a variety of tokens. A menagerie of them, if you catch my drift…
Whether it’s an infinitely-scaling “for each unique creature type among creatures you control” or a more likely on-off threshold like party (“you have a menagerie if you control three or more tokens with different names”) I’d be interested for this to be a fully-fledged mechanic for the Cabaretti.
Safe Bet: Surveil
There’s no direct hinting at this one in the previews or MaRo’s teaser… but come on! The entire role of the Obscura is city-wide surveillance and information brokers, quite reminiscent of the Dimir on Ravnica. Surveil may just be a tweak on scry, but the name alone makes it a strong choice for the family’s main mechanic. Better still, it would help build inter-archetype synergy with graveyard themes hinted at in other families.
Just a Hunch: Investigate
I feel like with the film noir nods elsewhere in the set it would be a shame not to feature this mechanic in New Capenna, and Obscura would be a natural home. Some of the fiction released by WotC this week shows that the Obscura have a monopoly on prophecy in the city, and that they furthermore have teams of agents who hit the streets to follow up on possible meanings of their more cryptic visions. Sounds like some investigating to me!
Wildest Dreams: Forecast
Historically, there are a few different mechanics WotC have tried using to represent knowledge or manipulation of the future. Scry is the safest, but at this point a little too generic to give a family a strong identity. Miracle has a ton of balance and gameplay baggage, as does suspend. We could see a quick return for Kaldheim’s foretell, but I would rather bring back the original Azorius mechanic: forecast!
Forecast just feels like a better and more proactive implementation of prophecy; you show the opponent what’s going to happen to them down the line, and even give them a little taste of it. There’s a ton of design space available and it offers an alternative value engine to the planeswalkers which currently dominate Esper decks. While in the 2000’s metagame I think the recurring value of forecast was seen as too hard to balance, the general availability of card advantage makes it much less problematic in 2022.
Safe Bet: “Artifact Threshold”
The general flavor of this family seems to be blue-collar corruption, sabotage and thuggery amid the industrialized undercity of New Capenna. This would give them the strongest connection to the artificial or constructed parts of the setting, and their dual identity as essential builders and upstart vandals seems to fit closely with how RB artifact synergies were expressed in Neon Dynasty. MaRo’s teaser hinted at “a draft theme caring about a threshold in the graveyard we haven’t cared about before” and I would bet it’s a specific number of artifact cards in the graveyard, similar to spell mastery from Magic Origins.
Just a Hunch: Fighting
Raw physicality is another big part of the Riveteers unique identity; their “Triome” land is more or less the deathmatch boxing ring from Escape From New York. The whole family seems set up as outsiders to the four more refined, genteel and upper-class crime outfits of the city, and I could see this restless violent energy being expressed through fight spells.
Support cards which attempt to expand fighting into a broader strategy have mostly appeared in supplemental sets until now, but so long as they’re combined with enrage-style effects that let you fight your own creatures for profit, I think it could easily work for the Riveteers.
Wildest Dreams: Land Sacrifice/Destruction
It seems highly unlikely that land destruction will ever again be a prominent part of Magic gameplay, and I’ll just have to make peace with that. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room at all for a lands-in-graveyards theme. One interesting facet of the Riveteers in the fiction we’ve seen is the implication that they could literally undermine upper-class Capennan society – they live in and maintain the city’s foundations after all!
Blowing up lands comes at a cost – either hefty mana expenditure to kill opposing lands, or the permanent set back of sacrificing your own. But this kind of reckless commitment seems in line with the family identity, the opportunity to “rebuild” lands from your graveyard could lead to a multidimensional gameplan, and I’d be excited to see what kind of powerful effects could be bought by making this significant sacrifice.
Safe Bet: Proliferate
We actually have a significant insight into the Brokers’ mechanical identity: Brokers Ascendancy was spoiled early as part of WotC’s “First Look” article. The combination of +1/+1 counters and planeswalkers is familiar territory for Bant colors, and that’s why I’d expect them to utilize Proliferate just as they did in War of the Spark. This is further reinforced by the color identities of the planeswalkers who are confirmed to be in New Capenna: Elspeth (W), Vivien Reid (G), and Tezzeret (U).
Just a Hunch: “Political” +1/+1 Counters
One common design in Commander products is an effect which provides some notional benefit to your opponent (or maybe all players equally) but also applies some restriction or penalty. This kind of bribery/contract flavor is the most perfect fit imaginable for the Brokers, and while it might be tricky to balance for Constructed I think it would be cool to see this design space explored. Granting +1/+1 counters to all players would surely lead to some nicely discounted spell costs, and then Broker players could capitalize with an effect that counts the total number of +1/+1 counters across ALL creatures!
Wildest Dreams: Curses as “Contracts”
It may not be a mechanic which has traditionally landed in these colors, and it may not synergize with Brokers Ascendancy. But you have to admit, there’s no cooler way to represent binding your opponent with magical contracts than with Curse auras! Curses are a popular enough theme that it would seem potentially wasteful to make “Contract” its own competing subtype, but I wouldn’t hate that either so long as it was used to link “enchant player” auras with “enchant creature” auras under one synergistic roof.
Safe Bet: Mana-Fixing Artifact or Enchantment Token
This mysterious substance is key to Streets of New Capenna – an illicit and rare power source which carries connotations of drug use (just look at how characters react to its mention in the fiction so far) and theoretically can only be created by the long-lost angels. Since this is a heavily multi-color set, the most useful function for a magical power source would be fixing. I could easily see Halo tokens as artifacts (or enchantments) with the classic mana-filtering ability: “1, Sacrifice this: Add one mana of any color”.
Just a Hunch: Energy
Energy has been in the mechanical doghouse ever since Kaladesh block hit Standard, but I don’t think we’ve truly seen the last of it. For one, there are a lot of energy cards from that block which still have fans among the player base, and it would be nice to eventually provide more support for this one-off mechanic. But it’s also just a very enticing design space which could perhaps be revisited without making the same mistakes which led to a single all-consuming Energy Deck. I don’t know if this is something WotC actually plans to do, but if they were, Halo is the perfect flavor excuse to do it.
Wildest Dreams: “Reagent” Token, Boosts Any Spell
Non-creature tokens like Clues, Blood, Food and Treasure have emerged as the most significant mechanical innovation in recent Magic history, creating unique gameplay patterns for sets and patching over traditional imbalances in resource access across the color pie. The challenge at this point is coming up with new token effects which are as natural and flexible as those we already have – or which at least are sufficiently distinct to justify their existence.
My vision for Halo is just that – a completely new kind of token which can be used, as in flavor, to empower any spell you cast:
“As you cast a spell, you may sacrifice Halo to empower it. Empowered creature spells enter play with an additional +1/+1 counter on them. Empowered planeswalker spells enter play with an additional loyalty counter. Other empowered spells gain Scry 2.”
Would this kind of token be a total departure from what already exists? Yes. Would it have to be significantly harder to create than blood, food or treasure? Also yes. But it would be a tremendous flavor win, and tie in to several of the key mechanics already hinted at. I hope that whatever mechanic is used for Halo is at least as cool as this.
Keep up with Streets of New Capenna spoilers and see how correct these predictions end up being at cardkingdom.com!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.