New MTG Mechanic Spotlight: Foretell

Tom Anderson Design, Strategy

If WotC set up Kaldheim spoiler season like a metal concert, then this week feels like the showstopping guitar solo. We’re seeing more and more powerful cards drop, many of which feature the set’s new cost-reduction mechanic: foretell. Appearing across all five colors and a wide variety of different cards, foretell has the potential to challenge players with sequencing choices and mind-games we’ve never seen before in Magic

But we can’t say we weren’t warned. Way back at the start of spoiler season, WotC made the very flavorful decision to prophesize this new mechanic through Commander precon leader Ranar the Ever-Watchful. While that new legend isn’t from the actual Kaldheim set and thus won’t be a part of Standard, his precise wording and general vibe sent Magic fans into a predictive frenzy as they tried to figure out what “foretelling a spell” would actually mean. 

WHAT THE FUTURE LOOKS LIKE

We’ve previously seen omen-reading and foretelling represented by scry — was foretell a new kind of top-deck manipulation or card selection? Fans of funky Time Spiral goodness speculated that it could be another take on suspend, where players would pay for a spell turns in advance. I selfishly hoped for a modern take on forecast, the Dissension mechanic where cards had a secondary effect you could activate without actually using up the card — a sort of in-hand mana sink. 

Now that we can see the actual implementation of foretell, the mechanic is best described as “morph, but for spells.” Any card with the mechanic can be “foretold” for a generic cost of two mana — which can be done at instant speed, but only during your own turn. You don’t reveal the card you foretell, but place it into exile face-down, so your opponents don’t know which foretell spell it is. Then later, you can cast it any time you normally could based on its card type — but for a separate foretell cost, which is often cheaper than the spell’s mana cost to account for mana already spent.

Part mana-efficiency tool, part mindgame, part tempo play, foretell isn’t quite what any of us expected. But it is certainly going to leave a mark on how we play Magic — and given its flexibility, it could end up making several.

PERCEIVING THE PATTERNS

The key thing to remember when evaluating foretell is that the ability plays out wildly differently on proactive and reactive cards. The casting speed also matters a lot — there are as many instants and spells with flash to foretell as there are sorceries. In most cases, there’s no additional benefit to foretelling a spell, so you need to look at when it’s favorable to pay over two turns compared to one, and what windows are going to be available to do that.

Proactive sorcery-speed spells are where I would have assumed you put a mechanic like this, if I knew its rules without seeing the spoilers or theme. Sure, no aggressive deck really wants to spend turn two putting a down payment on its six-drop, so it might seem like an odd fit. But as big threats get cheaper and the game speeds up, efficiently using mana every turn is vital to presenting a viable early clock. Forget being mana-screwed — just stumbling on your second or third creature will probably sabotage your chance to pressure an opponent before their Uro starts doing work.

In these cases, being able to foretell your way into a more overwhelming play for the next turn is a big step up on just having to pass. And depending on the effect of the threat being foretold, accessing it a turn early could help seriously blunt certain decks! Quakebringer is a great example. Not only is it big and powerful, but that first clause looks to be pretty vital against many white cards out of the angel decks. It won’t be right every game, but shutting the Angel of Destiny deck off of lifegain by turn four instead of turn five seems like a great relief.

But there’s only a handful of such curve-topping threats you can foretell to customize your curve in creature decks. Instead, the majority of foretell spells — at least the Constructed-playable ones — seem to be effects we’re used to in reactive, controlling decks. As might have been expected from the color identity of the Ranar precon, these are predominantly blue and white, although I see a lot of potential in blue-black combinations too. Already spoiled are the pay-by-installment versions of Wrath of God, Immolating Glare, Crib Swap (in blue!), Cancel, Murder, Barter in Blood, and even Entreat the Angels/Decree of Justice.

Foretelling a sweeper like Doomskar or spot removal like Iron Verdict isn’t usually the simple tempo play that casting your big creature two turns earlier would be. But, ultimately, it can end up doing the same thing: allowing a faster setup for the plays that secure your victory. For a classic control deck, the winning phase of the game usually begins when you are able to use your accumulated resource advantage to “double-spell” the opponent, usually answering their latest play with one card and establishing your own threat with the other. Naturally, this is much easier to do when you’ve already paid for half of each spell on earlier turns! 

It’s also easier for a control deck to find room to pay that initial two mana in the early game, since you’re not under as much pressure to curve out. The higher density of reactive spells you can feasibly foretell and then leave hanging in exile also puts a very real psychological burden on opponents, as they have to start playing around a bunch of very cheap and effective answers without knowing exactly which ones lie in wait. 

This all amounts to a bunch of very powerful buffs to a familiar and comfortable control playstyle, but at least there is one complication: committing two mana on your turn to something you can’t use until the turn after opens a dangerous (if short-lived) window where you can be punished for that huge drop in tempo… except for when it doesn’t.

TRADING ON FUTURES

The enterprise of investing today’s mana into tomorrow’s spell becomes a lot more dicey when you’re dealing with instants, or cards that combine foretell with flash. While you can still only pay the foretell cost on your own turn (usually), you’re allowed to finish casting the spell from exile at any time you’d normally be allowed. Since most foretell costs are cheaper than hardcasting, you find yourself in a spot where your floor is being forced to cast Cancel or Murder as normal — and your ceiling is banking that spell for later, while firing off a (foretold, discounted) draw spell for maximum profit. 

Who wouldn’t want to play a reactive deck of this sort in a tournament — one that gets to sit on every option, safe in the knowledge you will always get the last laugh with perfect information and pre-paid answer spells? It’s practically the ideal for such an archetype, and the fact that WotC also printed a few primo proactive control spells like Glimmer of Genius with the mechanic has cemented this in my mind as the “intended” use for foretell. 

I’m not certain how many Glimmers/Behold the Multiverses you have to hit before you’re favored to win a given match, but anyone who played Torrential Gearhulk decks in Kaladesh Standard can agree it’s less than you might think. Now any slight gap in pressure, any leftover midgame mana, is contributing toward that intangible win condition — or setting up the next wave of sweepers and counterspells, perhaps? It’s a kind of flexibility and efficiency we’ve never experienced before, and I predict anybody who underestimates it will learn to fear Cosmos Charger before too long.

CALL ME NORSE-STRADAMUS

Well, we’re starting to really plumb the depths of Kaldheim’s many realms, and I admit that I’m excited even as I shudder at the power of foretell. These are not the only strong cards and archetypes apparent in the set — a lot of the important predictions I made last month have come to pass, including Tibalt’s triumphant arrival as a Constructed centerpiece and some juicy land choices, both snow and otherwise. I’ll have more to say on the latter next week — but for now, keep reading the bones (and the blog!) for a glimpse of Kaldheim’s future.