Wednesday, December 15, 2010

GDS2 Cycles Design Test Commentary - part 6 of 6

The last post in this 6-part postapalooza about the GDS2 cycle design test. Be sure to read all 5 preceding parts!

Jonathan's cards:

Common Cycle

CW01: Farmer's Charm
W
Instant
Choose one - Put a 1/1 white Citizen creature token onto the battlefield; or search your library for a Plains card, reveal it, put it into your hand, and shuffle your library; or gain 2 life.

Excellent flavor! I like this charm quite a bit. (Even if it does plainscycle a little cheaply - development's problem!)

CU01: Scholar's Charm
U
Instant
Choose one - Untap target creature; or target creature gains shroud until end of turn; or draw a card.

Unlike the white one, which has splendid flavor, this reads like a pile of very unrelated abilities to me. Try again.

CB01: Smuggler's Charm
B
Instant
Choose one - Return target Mercenary card from your graveyard to your hand; or target creature gains Intimidate until end of turn; or you gain one Gold counter. (Gold counters may be spent as colorless mana or life payments.)

How is intimidate peaceful and utopian? I'm very glad you put a Gold counter here, as missing that opportunity (to vary up a charm with the set's thematic counter mechanic) would have been sad. This, of course, assumes that the Gold mechanic works out overall, but I think it has potential, though I have not spent time playtesting it.

CR01: Flameweaver's Charm
R
Instant
Choose one - Destroy target non-creature artifact; or add RR to your mana pool; or target creature gets +2/+0 until end of turn.

No damage? I guess that's not utopian, but I'm weaving flame here! Seems like an okay card for the cycle.

CG01: Hunter's Charm
G
Instant
Choose one - You may put a land card from your hand onto the battlefield; or target creature must block this turn if able; or put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.

When do hunters ramp mana? That's for scout's and explorers. Must block is hunterish, so that's good, +1/+1... is just green. I guess it's okay.

The white charm set my expectations for flavor so high that the other cards couldn't meet it. I can't hold that against you, but it would have impressed me a lot if they were all as good.


Uncommon Cycle

UZ01: Anunnaki Eraser
2(w/u)(w/u)
Creature - Anunnaki
1/4
Flash
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another Anunnaki, exile another target permanent. Return that card to the battlefield under its owner's control at the beginning of the next end step.

There are so many worms in this can that I can barely see the card. I like what you wrote in justification of the hybrid cards - they are the invaders of the world, and being hybrid sets them apart from the mono-colored inhabitants. It might work. The better the card designs are, the more likely the judges will let you get away with it. On to this card in particular...

Why does this have flash? I am suspicious that you are one of those players. The kind that puts flash on everything, makes too many instants, and who loves combat damage using the stack. This card could be done without flash. In other news, it costs an awful lot for a 1/4 with a conditional ability (compare to the very recent Glimmerpoint Stag). Finally, why is the requirement based on a brand-new creature type? Stop inventing wacky creature types. It's not your place (they have a whole creative team for that) and it makes your designs read much worse. Now for the hybridness test: this could be done as a white card, check. But as a blue card? I'm not so sure. In total, this card is a failure.

UZ02: Anunnaki Infiltrator
2(u/b)(u/b)
Creature - Anunnaki
2/2
Flying
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another Anunnaki, remove all counters from target permanent or opponent.

I get that the Annunaki are the invading creature type, but you could pick any existing creature type for the invaders and just be sure not to have any of those type in the native creatures. Aside form that, this card is much better than the previous design. I am suspicious of the "or opponent" part of the wording. You want to remove Gold counters, right? I would say "or player" and have it work for poison too. More likely, you could just say "target permanent" and not worry about the interaction with infrequently appearing counter types. I am curious how the judges will react to this one. Hybridness? I think Blue and Black can both do this, so it should be okay.

UZ03: Anunnaki Lacerator
2(b/r)(b/r)
Creature - Anunnaki
3/1
Haste
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another Anunnaki, Anunnaki Lacerator deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

A fine card... for Red. This is not acceptable as a Black card, and hybrids have to be able to exist in both mono-colors. Hybrid cards are hard to design!

UZ04: Anunnaki Ravager
2(r/g)(r/g)
Creature - Anunnaki
3/2
Trample
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another Anunnaki, destroy target land.

I was beginning to worry you wouldn't have any that I could simply accept. This one is fine.

UZ05: Anunnaki Purifier
2(g/w)(g/w)
Creature - Anunnaki
2/3
Vigilance
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another Anunnaki, destroy target artifact or enchantment.

No real issues here (other than the creature type problem I discussed above). Solid card idea.


Rare Cycle

RW01: Majority Rule
2WW
Enchantment
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control at least ten more creatures than each of your opponents, you win the game.

I don't like whole cycles of alternate win conditions. I don't like seeing them more than once per block. For this card in particular, compared to the very similar Epic Struggle, 10 seems a little too low. You have to be very careful when handing out game wins. Being not very original and not quite in the right place, this card does not make me very happy.

RU01: Omniscience
4UU
Enchantment
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you have fifteen or more cards in your hand, you win the game.

That's a little more interesting. You have to find a way around the hand-limit rule (Spellbook) and then draw and hold a lot of cards. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of things an opponent can do with an average deck to stop you. Even if they're playing Black, discard is included in only a small number of Black decks. Everyone knows they have to worry about dying to creatures, but to cards in the opponent's hand?

RB01: Vast Riches
3BB
Enchantment
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you have twenty or more Gold counters, you win the game.

In contrast to what I just said about not being able to fight it, this one reads well and sounds like it might be cool. Hypocritical? Perhaps, but that's why design is an art. This card reads much more like poison, and the gold-hoarding flavor is great. Still, it appears to be something most opponents will not be able to do anything about, and might not be fun to have in several formats.

RR01: Walk through Fire
2RR
Enchantment
If all players would lose the game, you and your teammates win the game instead.

The name really sells it for me here. I like this design. Again, it might turn out to be unfun in multiplayer formats (Earthquake, for example), but it sounds like it would be good. Definitely the best of these rares.

RG01: Lord of the Land
3GG
Enchantment
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control at least five more lands than each of your opponents, you win the game.

Haha, really? Have you played standard in the past 5 months? I guess we shouldn't take the current metagame into consideration for a theoretical set, but five is far too small a number. Again, the victory is based on something your opponent can rarely do anything about.

I think you really missed here by making a win-condition cycle. It's a big risk that you should have realized would be very unlikely to pay off. Combined with using hybrid, it makes me feel you are just making cards for yourself and not for Magic. Unless your attitude changes (or perhaps your heart really is in the right place but somehow it comes out all wrong) next week, I don't expect you to make it much further. That's if you survive this round at all. (Sorry!)

GDS2 Cycles Design Test Commentary - part 5 of 6

Moving on to the next submission of cards for the GDS2 "cycle" design challenge.

Scott's cards:

Common Cycle

CW01
Weary of Death
1W
Sorcery
Target player gains 4 life.
Requiem - If a creature was put into a graveyard from the battlefield this turn, that player gains 8 life instead.

Now where have I seen this before? Something about lands, I think. 
This is a fine card, but too obviously derivative for a design test.

CU01
Vapors of the Blight
U
Sorcery
Put the top three cards of target player's library into his or her graveyard.
Requiem - If a creature was put into a graveyard from the battlefield this turn, put the top six cards of that player's library into his or her graveyard instead.

Your decision to make them sorceries was, I believe, very correct. Your explanation shows you understand why they should be sorceries and you're right. Well done.

CB01
Memories of Bereavement
1B
Sorcery
Target player discards a card.
Requiem - If a creature was put into a graveyard from the battlefield this turn, that player discards two cards instead.

Acceptable. In a good way.

CR01
Flames of Retribution
1R
Sorcery
CARDNAME deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
Requiem - If a creature was put into a graveyard from play this turn, CARDNAME deals 4 damage to that creature or player instead.

Really? Galvanic Blast, after the judges previously criticized people for making multiple Galvanic Blasts? It's an okay design, but I would have gone for 3 and 6 or 1 target, 2 targets, anything to make it a little more distinguishable. 

CG01
Seeds of Rebirth
2G
Sorcery
Put two 1/1 green Saproling creature tokens onto the battlefield.
Requiem - If a creature was put into a graveyard from play this turn, put four 1/1 green Saproling creature tokens onto the battlefield instead.

I always feel the green token makers, especially the small ones, should have strong ties to the set. Are there going to be other Saproling cards, or cards the help them? Could just be me.


Uncommon Cycle

UW01
Rescue from the Blight
2W
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Flash
Enchanted Creature gets +1/+1
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner's hand.

I am very wary of flash, especially from new designers, as they tend to put it on everything because they like instants and tricking their opponents. They also like damage using the stack. You're not one of those, are you?
I think you're not. This is an okay use of flash, letting this card respond to a kill spell, though I would have gone without it.

UU01
Rise above the Blight
2U
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has flying
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner's hand.

Any reason these are all +1/+1? You could have gotten more mileage out of them with different bonuses, I think. You've kept the cycle tight (which is just a description, not a good or bad judgement) and the word count low with simple abilities and matching numbers and costs... but you've also kept the cycle boring by doing that.

UB01
Feast on the Blight
2B
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has lifelink.
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner's hand.

Yeah, fine, still a little boring.

UR01
Charge through the Blight
2R
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and can't be blocked except by two or more creatures.
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner's hand.

Oh goody, the card in the cycle where you couldn't find a keyword you liked so you wrote out something simple, but it kinda leaves you with that unsatisfied feeling of not being as elegant as you wanted to be. It happens all the time, in magic design.

UG01
Endure the Blight
2G
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has shroud.
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner's hand.

No. Bad designer, no biscuit. Shroud is not very fun, and if R&D could turn back the clock many of them would have keyworded troll-shroud instead of shroud. You might have gotten away with it if you combined it with flash, so it could counter a kill spell, but you didn't. This card is lame and there are more interesting things you could have done.


Mythic Rare Cycle

MW01
Celiana, the Protector
4WW
Legendary Creature - Angel
5/5
Flash, Flying
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may return any number of other permanents you control to their owner's hand.

This use of flash is better. White's use of "bounce my stuff" has seen flash before, and this mega Whitemane Lion is a cool card. Incidentially a sweet combo with Jonathon's Overcome.

MU01
Ventaro, the Preserver
4UU
Legendary Creature - Sphinx Wizard
4/4
Flying
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, return all instants and sorceries in your graveyard to your hand.

Eww, that's going to be really, really annoying to play against as the finisher in a control deck. Also, it doesn't really do a lot when it dies, does it? How often are you going to cast a bunch of instants and sorceries between casting this and having it Doom Bladed? I would have said "return target instant card and/or target sorcery card from your graveyard to your hand." This change does two great things for the card. It refines the build-around instructions of the deck to demand both instants and sorceries, and it makes the death trigger work out almost all the time.

MB01
Maltor, the Betrayer
4BB
Legendary Creature - Demon
5/5
Intimidate
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, Blight all other creatures. (Destroy each permanent with a Blight counter. Then put a Blight counter on each Blighted creature)

I was worried that Blight, the only really awesome thing about this set's concept, was going to be absent again. Luckily, it showed up here! I like this one. Has a nice rattlesnake aspect too - if you kill me, everyone else dies too.

MR01
Rantor, the Ravager
4RR
Legendary Creature - Giant Warrior
5/5
First Strike
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, blight target creature, then untap it and gain control of it until end of turn. It gain haste until end of turn. (To Blight a creature Destroy each permanent with a Blight counter. Then put a Blight counter on each Blighted creature)

Haha, blight and steal. I love it. "You can have this back now, sorry I got a little blight on it, it'll probably be okay though, right?" Hilarious. However, I would put that text on an uncommon sorcery for this set, and find something else for this guy. Are you surprised I would kill a mythic design for the sake of an uncommon slot? Don't be. That's what it takes to do great Magic design - you have to put the good of the game and the set above the good of your babies.

MG01
Gaesta, the Rebirther
4GG
Legendary Creature - Spirit
6/6
Trample
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, return all other creature cards from your graveyard to your hand.

Another one on which both triggers rarely work. Think them through a little more, please. There's no reason this has to say "all." Or it could just make a 6/6 trample token. How good is Broodmate Dragon when coming and going, amirite?

I like your intentions here, but the execution was flawed in most cases. Normally that would keep you in good standing, but if the judges have similar reactions to mine and the other submissions are good (which they are) you could be in trouble. Good luck!

GDS2 Cycles Design Test Commentary - part 4 of 6

Part 4 of my comments on this week's GDS2 card submissions. It's been a good group of cards overall so far, let's see how the next aspiring designer does.

Devon's cards:

Common Cycle

CW01 – Fledgling Greathawk
4WW
Creature - Bird
CARDNAME has flying as long as it's enchanted.
4/6

CU01 – Goliath Eel
5UU
Creature - Fish
6/6
CARDNAME cannot attack unless it's enchanted.

CB01 - Dire Stoat
5BB
Creature - Ferret
5/4
CARDNAME has intimidate as long as it's enchanted.

CR01 – Gargantuan Ocelot
4RR
Creature - Cat
5/3
CARDNAME has first strike as long as it's enchanted.

CG01 – Titanic Hound
6GG
Creature - Hound
7/7
CARDNAME has trample as long as it's enchanted.

Good common cycle. Simple, and they tell me there is an enchantment theme in this set. I don't agree 100% with some of the numbers, but that's minor enough to let slide, and without having the full set of commons in each color to compare to it's hard to be sure what I might want each of them to be. Green's is a little weak, for example, in that I'd expect to get that trample for free on an 8-mana 7/7.


Uncommon Cycle

UW01 – Manifest Purity
2W
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +2/+2 and has "Whenever this creature deals damage to an opponent, you may destroy target enchantment."
Incarnate 2W

What does Incarnate do again? You should remind us, especially since these mechanics keep changing with each new design test. It makes a 0/0 token, and for this to be attached to, right? Do I pay that in addition to, or instead of, the casting cost? I think this mechanic is something Magic can certainly do, and I think it's pretty neat to try. At first I balked at the repeated demystification, but cards like Dawning Purist and Rustmouth Ogre, plus the enchantment theme of the set, have convinced me that this is good.

UU01 – Manifest Intellect
2U
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +2/+2 and has "Whenever this creature deals damage to an opponent, you may draw a card."
Incarnate 2U

Typical, in a good way.

UB01 – Manifest Agony
2B
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +2/+2 and has "Whenever this creature deals damage to an opponent, they discard a card."
Incarnate 2B

Combat damage? You should default to combat damage on stuff like these auras. I know as high-level magic players you want the maximum openness in your cards, but WotC needs card designers first, not players, for their employees. There is a significant difference and you need to make the change in yourself. Not just because they keep telling you to, but because you have actually become a person more interested in the health of the game of Magic than a player who wants to make new cards just so you can put them into decks and beat up your friends.

UR01 – Manifest Fury
2R
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +2/+2 and has "Whenever this creature deals damage to an opponent, you may have it deal 2 damage to target creature."
Incarnate 2R

Definitely "combat damage" on all of these. This one is pretty odd on a pinger. Maybe "shoot you, ooooh and also your dude" is exciting upside, but I'm worried about the board states it can create, and the "no outs" feeling the opponent might have when you get it going.

UG01 – Manifest Destiny
2G
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +2/+2 and has "Whenever this creature deals damage to an opponent, you may search your library for a basic land card and put it onto the battlefield tapped. Then shuffle your library."
Incarnate 2G

I'm not sure about the repeated searching and shuffling this delivers. It's a strong cycle overall, and if you had just said "combat damage" on all of them I would have given you an A for these uncommons.

Rare Cycle

RW01 – Luminous Eruption
4WWW
Sorcery
Triple your life total.

Power creep! Mutipliers creep! A fine card that I expect to see printed one day.

RU01 – Creative Eruption
4UUU
Sorcery
For each card in your hand, draw two more cards.

I see how you got "triple your hand" to work out there.

RB01 – Ravenous Eruption
4BBB
Sorcery
Exile any number of creature cards from your graveyard. For each card exiled this way, put three 1/1 black Rat creature tokens onto the battlefield.

Another good one. Remind me what tripling has to do with this block? Is tripling like growing super big? I would expect to see growth or hugeness related names, not seismic names, if that were the case.

RR01 – Furious Eruption
4RRR
Sorcery
After this main phase, there are two additional combat phases followed by an additional main phase. At the beginning of each of those combat phases, untap all creatures that attacked this turn.

Hmm, triple attack is pretty cool. After World at War I guess I can't be the one to criticize this card.

RG01 – Verdant Eruption
4GGG
Sorcery
Search your library for up to X basic land cards and put them onto the battlefield tapped, where X is twice the number of lands you control. Then shuffle your library.

Wow, that is quite a lot of land you've got there.

The less I have to say about the cards, the better. These seem like a fine cycle to me, though it would have been nice if the word "triple" could have appeared more often. Ideally, at least three of the cards would say "triple" on them. Maybe the names could use the word or a latin or greek root?

Overall a good submission that will keep you in the running. It's shaping up to be a very hard week for the judges, I think.

GDS2 Cycles Design Test Commentary - part 3 of 6

Welcome back to the third installment of GDS2 Cycle Design Commentary. If you're not familiar with Magic: the Gathering, this won't mean much to you. Also, if you have any serious interest in game design you really should be more familiar with it.

Shawn's cards:

Common Cycle

CW01 – Substitute Shield
1W
Instant
You may remove a counter from a white permanent you control rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Prevent all damage target creature would deal this turn.

I like the wording you've chosen, "remove a counter from a <color> permanent you control" though I'm not sure the spells really want to be free if you do that. If the set has sufficient counters to make these interesting there won't be enough pants-down moments in limited when I don't have to worry about 2-3 on-color tricks from my opponent every turn.

CU01 – Converted Bonds
1U
Instant
You may remove a counter from a blue permanent you control rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Tap or untap target permanent.

Yes, yes, tap or untap, sigh. Choices like this at common just slow down play and give us too much to think about. Blue's ice-flavored "tap and it doesn't untap" is so awesome in part because it gives design an alternative to "tap or untap." The sooner you learn that, the better.

CB01 – Improvised Garrote
1B
Instant
You may remove a counter from a black permanent you control rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Put a -1/-1 counter on target creature.

Interesting. I like the idea that you're enabling your opponent's spells in this cycle. I could see people not liking this, but I've decided it's cool.

CR01 – Makeshift Shank
1R
Instant
You may remove a counter from a red permanent you control rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Target creature gets +1/+0 and gains first strike until end of turn.

An instant classic.

CG01 – Impromptu Gauntlets
1G
Instant
You may remove a counter from a green permanent you control rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.

So 1G for +2/+2 or a free +3/+3? Somehow the casting cost seems wrong. This is an obvious one, but I don't like that much. I like the red one... so I'm not entirely sure why my instincts tell me this isn't as good. If this set has counters on non-creature permanents I might like it more. If only Vivid lands hadn't been so ruinous for Magic the first time around, I could see brining them back in this set. (That's a hint for the rest of you, for the next GDS. Vivid lands are not great design; not in the abstract, but because of what they did to constructed magic.)

Uncommon Cycle

UB01 – Corpsefly Feeding
2B
Enchantment
Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may pay B. If you do, target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.

You've got the activation cost there, very nice. Playing into the sacrifice theme, but not using the wording that only appears on 3 cards ever, also nice.

UR01 – Babbling Blood
2R
Enchantment
Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may pay R. If you do, draw a card, then discard a card.

Oh sweet looting in Red. I love it!

UG01 – Offal Feast
2G
Enchantment
Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may pay G. If you do, gain 3 life.

I'm glad you at least gave a common 5-card cycle before going to 3s. You did indeed make a bold choice. I think it could be fine, since you made the same amount of cards, and used the "either rare or mythic" option they gave you to work it out without really breaking any other rules. I wouldn't hold it against you.

Rare Cycle

RW01 – Watcher's Safeguard
4WW
Sorcery
Choose one or both- Search your library for an enchantment card and put it onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library; and/or search another target player's library for an enchantment card and put it onto the battlefield under your control. Then that player shuffles his or her library.

Why is this a choose one or both? This is a search effect - you can just fail to find, can't you? Plus why wouldn't you search both decks? You've added a lot of words and confusion to a card that could have been much cleaner and cooler. Look, all of the amateur designers are totally infatuated with the choose one, and choose two wording. Yes, it can be an exciting wording, when used properly. The "or both" wording here makes you look dumb. Incidentally, I would have gone for the multiplayer "search each player's deck." 

Now, after reading the next two cards I can see that you want to sync up the cycle, but if that's the case you have to abandon this design and come up with one that actually needs the wording. Also, don't make a cycle just so you can use the wording you like, make a cycle that's cool and if that happens to need this wording you can use it. The M11 Titans started out as "choose one" creatures, but we didn't hold onto the wording when the designs took us down a cooler path.

RU01 – Watcher's Mirror
4UU
Sorcery
Choose one or both- Put a token onto the battlefield that's a copy of target creature you control; and/or put a token onto the battlefield that's a copy of target creature you don't control.

Okay, this is more of a "one or both" because you might not control a creature, or your opponent might not. Still, the coolness of this card is in getting two tokens of different creatures. I think cards like Branching Bolt use "one or both" because they are commons that need to make the set work, so they should be playable in most situations. Rares can be much more restrictive, in many cases they should be restrictive, and I would have been happy with a design that requires two targets.

RB01 – Watcher's Revival
4BB
Sorcery
Choose one or both- Return target creature card in your graveyard to the battlefield; and/or return target creature card in another player's graveyard to the battlefield under your control.

This is the most "one or both" to me, though it feels closer to uncommon than rare. Overall, Mirror and Revival are okay designs, but I just don't feel the "one or both" wording on these makes for a cool cycle. "choose two" was really exciting and made a cool cycle of rare cards. "choose one or both" has appeared on about four lone commons in different sets. It's a templating fix more than a cool mechanic. You could have brought back Entwine, if you wanted.

Mythic Rare Cycle

MW01 – Olorah, the Shackled Judge
WW
Legendary Creature – Angel
6/6
Flying, Vigilance
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with four -1/-1 counters on it.
2WW, Remove two -1/-1 counters from CARDNAME: Destroy each tapped creature.

You are totally correct that these read exciting, have a little downside in the middle, and then get more exciting as you learn how to use them. Nice that this has a theoretical pants-down turn 3. My worry is that this card simply leads to a cessation of all attacks, which is boring. I wonder if destroying untapped creatures would be better? (I'd take off the vigilance, in that case, of course.)

MU01 – Seham, the Bound Deceiver
UU
Legendary Creature – Djinn
6/6
Flying
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with four -1/-1 counters on it.
2UU, Remove two -1/-1 counters from CARDNAME: Other creatures become 1/1 and lose all abilities until end of turn.

"Lose all abilities" is some dangerous text. Sure, we do it once in a while, and this is only until end of turn. The question you need to ask yourself is: could this be a fine card if they just become 1/1s? Probably. I still like it, though.

MB01 – Tyvaal, the First Prisoner
BB
Legendary Creature – Demon
6/6
Trample
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with four -1/-1 counters on it.
1BB, Remove two -1/-1 counters from CARDNAME: Target player sacrifices a creature.

This design is a little "meh" compared to the others. The white one already kills lots of dudes, and this one doesn't even fly. It only kills their weakest guy. It reads like you, as a designer, hate black for some reason. If only you had a cooler ability here the cycle would have been fantastic overall.

MR01 – Angathrak, the Chained Tyrant
RR
Legendary Creature – Dragon
8/8
Flying, Trample
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with six -1/-1 counters on it.
3RR, Remove three -1/-1 counters from CARDNAME: Untap target creature and gain control of it until end of turn. It gains haste until end of turn.

I'll take four! I'm a little wary about some of them have 4 counters and some having 6, but the designs look great and seem to justify it. This one is particularly awesome. RR 2/2 flying trample is probably a little too aggressive for Red. See also: Kargan Dragonlord. You can let development handle that, though.

MG01 – Naal, the Fettered Growth
GG
Legendary Creature – Treefolk
8/8
Trample, Vigilance
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with six -1/-1 counters on it.
3G, Remove three -1/-1 counters from CARDNAME: Put three 1/1 green Saproling creature tokens onto the battlefield.

Another good one. Except for the vigilance. Trample + vigilance is just mean (to the defending player, who feels they can't do anything about it - can't chump and can't swing back). Plus, the white one has vigilance already (and unlike flying, vigilance is not a keyword you repeat within a cycle).

Overall your Mythics make up for small mistakes in other places. Especially those rares. I think this is a solid set of designs and you should expect to make it through. I certainly feel like you've got sufficient spark to be a great designer someday.

GDS2 Cycles Design Test Commentary - part 2 of 6

The competition on Magic: The Gathering's GDS2 is heating up, and with six hopefuls left they were tasked with designing cycles of cards. I gave feedback to the first contestant in my last post, so here are my comments on the cards of the next contestant.

Jonathon's cards:

Common Cycle




CW01 – Omeisaurus
4WW
Creature – Lizard
5/6

It's a cycle of big dinosaurs, that fits the set. I recall the judges even saying as much in previous rounds, so this should go over well.

CU01 – Baryonyx
4UU
Creature – Lizard
5/5
A cycle of  vanillas? Bold choice. Maybe after all the words you put on your cards in previous submissions you're trying to show you can keep the words to a minimum?

CBO1 – Marshosaurus 
4BB
Creature – Lizard
6/5

I am worried they're gonna blast you for not really submitting interesting designs (certainly not designs they can critique very much). Maybe they will take them as I am - a fitting cycle and proof that you're listening. 


CR01  Afrovenator
4RR
Creature – Lizard
7/4
At least these pictures I found fit the colors you chose for each of them.

CG01 – Hadrosaurus
4GG
Creature – Lizard
6/6

Aren't you impressed that I was able to make five comments about a vanilla cycle? I'm kind of impressed that you took the risk of submitting a vanilla cycle. Many might say there's not enough design to judge here, but you're partly showing what each color gets for stats when they get a big common, and that this set has some giant dinosaurs in it.


Uncommon Cycle

UW01 – Avant-garde Guard
1W
Instant
Target creature you control gains protection from the color of your choice until end of turn.
If you control two or more colors of permanents, draw a card.

UU01 – Far Out
2U
Instant
All creatures target player controls get -2/-0 until end of turn.
If you control two or more colors of permanents, draw a card.

UB01 – Torturous Breakthrough
4B
Instant
Destroy target nonblack creature.
If you control two or more colors of permanents, draw a card.

UR01 – Cutting-edge Combustion
1R
Instant
Cutting-edge Combustion deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
If you control two or more colors of permanents, draw a card.

UG01 – Ground Breaking
2G
Instant
Target creature gets +3/+3 until end of turn.
If you control two or more colors of permanents, draw a card.

Wow, do you want to lose this round? Didn't they just rip into someone for putting a pile of cantrips into their commons? Jonathon, I was rooting for you because I've met you before and you seem like a cool guy, and your ideas were strong in the beginning, but you're slowly sliding down. These feel like a common cycle, and not a good one. Why didn't you make the effects bigger as a reward? Or double the effects? Or copy the spell? Those are all just as easy and simple as "cantrip" but they are far more interesting designs and a lot less likely to rile up R&D. Also, I think the wording would be "if you control permanents of two or more colors," though I wouldn't dock you for that in the design stage, it's a templating thing and what you have is pretty clear.

Rare Cycle

RW01 – Overcome
3WW
Sorcery
Preeminence – Destroy all creatures with power less than X, where X is the highest power among creatures you control.

Cool! Nice use of the "biggest guy" mechanic, and this wrath often leaves you with the only creature on an empty board. I love it! I expect this to be Nagle's favorite card in your submission, and it certainly is my favorite. I want to build a deck for this!


RU01 – Overthink
4UUU
Sorcery
Preeminence – Draw X cards and untap up to X lands, where X is the highest power among creatures you control.

Momentous Fall is an interesting and different card from Soul's Majesty. This Overthink was not thunk about enough, as it's just Soul's Majesty with a very junky untap effect tacked onto it. You should have looked for a different design entirely. Also, that "untap lands free-spell mechanic" is not very good for magic and this card would make for the worst kind of counterspell-heavy control deck. I would fight tooth and nail to keep this from being printed, even if I thought it was good design in the abstract, which I don't.

RB01 – Overtime
4BB
Sorcery
Preeminence – Put all creature cards with power less than X from your graveyard onto the battlefield, where X is the highest power among creatures you control.

I like this too, though I'm not sure if it takes away from Overcome... they might not fit well in the same set. I'm pretty sure design would replace this one because of the awkward conflict of interest with Overcome (which is a cooler card). Seeing that is very design level 5, so they shouldn't come down too hard on you for it. It's a solid design. (And maybe they're not all that close.)

RR01 – Overthrow
4RR
Sorcery
Preeminence – Each player sacrifices X permanents, where X is the highest power among creatures you control.

Uh, oh, this is also too close to Overcome to be in the same set. Again, it is a good design, and maybe it plays differently enough from Overcome (people will sac some lands and try to keep their creatures alive) but probably the outcome of those games will be the same - the caster's one big guy stomps around afterwards. The second problem this has is that it's a black card, not a red card. Why not destroy X lands? (It might be an unfun card, but at least it would work out better in the cycle.) Perhaps a mass Act of Treason: "Until end of turn, gain control of each creature with power less than X where X is the highest power among creatures you control. Untap those creatures, They gain haste until end of turn." There are plenty of other red effects you could have tried here.

RG01 – Overwork
3GGG
Sorcery
Preeminence – Put X +1/+1 counters on each creature you control, where X is the highest power among creatures you control.

You got totally hosed that Overwhelming Stampede was printed in M11. Because if it didn't, you would clearly have come up with it here and gotten solid credit for it. Green does want this kind of effect every other set, so this is a fine design.

Overall I'm afraid for you this week. I haven't looked at the other four submissions yet, but this is not a stellar  set of cycles. Your commons are vanilla, and while that might actually be perfect for the set, and they might love it, they may see it as a lack of design. Your uncommon cycle is astrocious. It's really a common cycle, and making cantrips was a very bad decision that you should have known to avoid. Brace yourself for the R&D comments next week.

GDS2 Cycles Design Test Commentary - part 1 of 6

The competition on Magic: The Gathering's GDS2 is heating up, and with six hopefuls left they were tasked with designing cycles of cards. Because I felt like it, I'm going to make a few comments on the cards they designed. (For my newer readers, I spent some time as a Magic designer at Wizards of the Coast, so, ya'know, I have like, at least a little experience in these matters.)

First up, Ethan's cards:


Common Cycle

CW01 –
Bore Lightshaft
5W
Instant
Tap up to three target creatures.
Dig 2 (2, Discard this card: Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card. Put that card into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.)

CU01 –
Strike Water
5U
Instant
Return up to two target permanents to their owners' hands.
Dig 2 (2, Discard this card: Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card. Put that card into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.)

CB01 –
Exhume Corpses
5B
Instant
Return up to two target creature cards from your graveyard to your hand.
Dig 2 (2, Discard this card: Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card. Put that card into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.)

CR01 –
Blast Bunker
5R
Instant
CARDNAME deals 5 damage to target player.
Dig 2 (2, Discard this card: Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card. Put that card into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.)

CG01 –
Bury Nuisance
5G
Instant
Destroy target noncreature permanent.
Dig 2 (2, Discard this card: Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card. Put that card into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.)

A very typical common cycle. So typical I almost wouldn't know it was a GDS2 entry (that's a compliment). Just like you might see from a cycle of cards with cycling. Bore Lightshaft and Exume Corpses obviously fit into the underground theme well, but the other three are just dull filler designs for the cycle. Maybe you could convince me of the flavor of Strike Water... but Bury Nusiance and Blast Bunker are not very underworld or digging worthy. The name Blast Bunker sounds like land destruction, actually. Still, they are common designs and I'm not convinced there would be better, more fitting designs for the whole cycle.


Uncommon Cycle

UW01 –
Shining Knight
2W
Creature - Human Knight
2/3
First strike
Reflect - When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may pay 2W. If you do, put a 3/2 white Human Knight creature token with first strike onto the battlefield.

I like the Reflect mechanic, I think more than R&D does. It has potential, and perhaps this implementation is good. It's very cute that the tokens have flipped stats from the originals, but WotC has really cut back on the non-symmetrical tokens. Sure, if you have the token cards you're fine, but what if you're using a 6-sized die (what I perceive to be one of the most common token substitutes)? Do you set it to 3 for the power or 2 for the toughness? It's not ideal, and especially during a GDS you want to obey all the obvious rules R&D has. Seriously! You are not yet on their good side, don't give them excuses to attack you. Even if you think you're being innovative, or even if you think you're really correct, just don't do it! It's like you want to lose, sheesh!

UU01 –
Mirror-wing Drake
3U
Creature - Drake
2/3
Flying
Reflect - When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may pay 3U. If you do, put a 3/2 blue Drake creature token with flying onto the battlefield.

Oh, I also wanted to say that I'm glad you didn't call attention to the kickeryness of this. Many novice designers would have put the work kicker in there somewhere, and boy would that have been ugly. I mean, it is kickery, but I think it can get away with it as only Verdeloth and Wolfbriar really preceed it, and don't have the same flavor.

UB01 –
Double Agent
2B
Creature - Human Rogue
2/2
Morph 2B (You may cast this face down as a 2/2 creature for 3. Turn it face up any time for its morph cost.)
When CARDNAME is turned face up, put a 2/2 black Human Rogue creature token onto the battlefield.

I guess I should have expected this. I get it, why you have one morph in this cycle of Reflect creatures, and this guy does fit in by making a copy of himself. I kind of like it, but it's the kind of risk that might totally backfire on you. R&D might rip into you for it, but you have to take some risks. I wonder if it would be more interesting if this card said "destroy target token creature" instead?

UR01 –
Giltshield Grudgebearer
1RR
Creature - Dwarf Berserker
1/2
Double strike
Reflect - When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may pay 1RR. If you do, put a 2/1 red Dwarf Berserker creature token with double strike onto the battlefield.

It's also interesting how all the tokens are ostensibly better (having more power) than the originals. As I said above, they should all be symmetrical, and it's a better, cleaner mechanic if they make perfect copies instead of "mirror images," and that's totally what you should have done... but there's something amusing about the token being more awesome than the card. Perhaps that makes the token more likely to be killed off and that will ever so slightly reduce the memory load on players.

UG01 –
Silverscale Wurm
3GG
Creature - Wurm
4/6
Trample
Reflect - When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may pay 3GG. If you do, put a 6/4 green Wurm creature token with trample onto the battlefield.

Now that's a 10-mana finisher for limited! I'd way rather have the totally sick double 5/5 version though.

Rare Cycle

RZ01 –
Left Side:
Hell
3BB
Sorcery
Destroy all creatures.

Right Side:
Back
5WW
Sorcery
Each player returns all creature cards from his or her graveyard to the battlefield.

In all of GDS2 so far, this is the first time I felt one of you guys was even mildly justified in having a gold card or hybrid card (or split card) in your submission. I can see Bill Rose being swayed by the duality argument for these. It helps that you came up with a good set of names and some pretty good cards. I like this pair, and while the name might the most stretch, I find it cute enough.

RZ02 –
Left Side:
Give
2RR
Sorcery
Target player gains control of target permanent you control.
Right Side:
Take
5UU
Sorcery
Gain control of target permanent.

Why on earth does Give cost so much? Grotag Trader is only 1R, and the original donate was only 2U. Well I guess it's close enough for development. It's also pretty lame compared to Take. How about the far more risky design of "5RR, Target player gains an emblem with 'you take 1 damage at the beginning of your upkeep'?" I'd have done that. They might yell at your for using emblems, but at least players might consider both parts of the card worth playing.

RZ03 –
Left Side:
Flesh
XGG
Sorcery
Put an X/X green Beast creature token into play. Gain X life.

Right Side:
Blood
XBB
Sorcery
Target creature gets -X/-X until end of turn. Its controller loses X life.

Nice one. I love the life clauses added here, they are short and sweet but make the card new and exciting in a great way.

RZ04 –
Left Side:
Love
2WW
Sorcery
Gain 2 life for each creature you and target opponent control.

Right Side:
War
3RR
Sorcery
CARDNAME deals damage to target player equal to twice the number of creatures you control.

I'd have called it War // Peace, but I guess some people think of love and war first. Why does Love target an opponent? Just because War does? That's not how Assault // Battery works, so that can't be it. This should be "Gain 2 life for each creature on the battlefield." Not a fatal error, but an awfully sloppy looking one. (At least if it was called War // Peace you could justify the targeting as a flavor clause showing you have a peace treaty with that player.)

RZ05 –
Left Side:
Now
3UU
Sorcery
Look at the top 10 cards of your library. Put two of them into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.

Right Side:
Then
2GG
Sorcery
Put up to two target nonland, noncreature permanents on the bottom of their owners' libraries in any order.

What happened? This last one is so... dull. The others (well, with my change to Give, heh) are cool and exciting rares, but this one reads like two uncommons (Foresee & Dust to Dust). Where are the free spells? The extra turns? This card totally fails as a rare and it's dragging down a cool cycle.

Overall I expect Ethan to pass this round handily. He's been doing well so far and has a pretty good shot at winning if he keeps it up.

These take a while, so I'm going to break it up into 6 posts. Come back soon to see the others!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time for another post about game mystery and The Secret Plant Society. Previously, I talked about the game's almanac, and how it leads you into discovering new things by showing you where you are missing links.

Recently, they've added some sort of blackout feature to hide plants your friends have that you haven't discovered yet. I guess they want to keep up the mystery, but I feel they're hurting the game overall for no real benefit. Discovering new plants is really the only thing driving players forward in the game, and to do that they need to guess all the combinations of plants they can hybridize. If your friends are ahead of you in the game they will have found plants you have not yet found, so you can scout out their garden to see what they're doing and get some clues to what you should try next.

So you head over to a friend's garden and take a look a their plants. If you've found a particular plant already, the game will tell you the name when you see it in a friend's garden. Like this:

If you haven't discovered the plant yet for yourself, you get the old "???" of mystery, as seen in the next picture.

But now they have added this new blackout feature and made it much harder to scout out your friends' plants.  Now, if your friend has a plant you haven't yet discovered you get this:

Very mysterious, sure, and while you can see the outline, which does contain some information, you can't see the colors and other details. The colors are especially important because many plants are color combinations of others. Red and yellow begonias make orange begonias, for example. If you can't see what color their new begonia is, you can't guess what colors of begonias were hybridized to make it - you won't be clued in to what colors to focus on. Green begonias are a great example of this, because crossing the blue and yellows isn't intuitive because the blues are advanced and have a very long growing time, while the yellows are very slow. (In fact, I'm only predicting that cross will work because I saw them in my friend's garden, and haven't found them myself yet.) They've taken away one of the only clues you could find when you're stuck on trying to figure out what to try and hybridize next.

This is an additional issue for the game, because learning something about plants you don't have is the only reason you have for visiting your friends at all. Taking that away is very bad for a Facebook game, as they thrive on friend-friend interactions.

Games should have mystery, but they need the right kind of mystery used in the right way. Don't hide information from a player unless you're sure you need to. Think carefully about whether using that information would add fun to the game or take it away? The almanac having ?s instead of showing you all the combinations you need to find is a good thing to hide. The game is more fun if you don't know that ahead of time. Hiding what your friends have found is weird, first of all - if I went to my friend's garden how would their plants be invisible to me? But I think it also makes the game less fun because when you can see the colors of the plants you can guess what makes them - and that's fun.

On a slight tangent, you could just call your friend and ask them for all the combinations they found... but most people don't. It's interesting to think about why they don't.

Monday, November 22, 2010

League of Legends: Amumu

Next up in the League of Legends character design review is Amumu.


His concept is that he is a sad and lonely mummy. It's a little bit weird, but they really sell it with the spell names and character vocalization. He is built as a tanking character, with high health.

Don't let this fool you, his spells are better than average, they simply aren't high-damage spells. So already you should note that this chart of 4 stats isn't really an "overall power level" chart. Also, I haven't found Amumu to be any harder to play than Ashe, in fact, I would say that all tanks are easier to play than fragile DPS characters because it's much easier to stay alive as a tank. Not only do you have more health and armor, but the other team doesn't prioritize killing you (they go for the damage dealers first). On to his spells.

Bandage Toss: this is a skill shot (you fire it in a direction, and it can be avoided) that sends out one of your mummy bandages like a tentacle. So already it has coolness points for fitting the mummy theme and totally being a tentacle. If it hits it deals damage, stuns the target, and then drags you to the target. This is a very strong ability, and I can understand the overall medium difficulty rating for Amumu based on this being a skill shot, since using it well can make or break your game as the sad mummy. As with all skill shots, you feel extra good when you hit with it. Pulling yourself into a fight is quite interesting, tactically. It's great if you can catch a fleeing enemy, and they get to feel smart if they can anticipate it and dodge it with a slight change in their path. It can be dangerous to Bandage Toss into a group of enemies, but some of Amumu's other abilities work best when you're in the center of the fight. A.

Despair: The poor sad mummy wants to make friends, and so this toggle ability deals damage to all enemies around Amumu every second. The comic flavor here is nice, and this ability fits well into Amumu's overall setup. He can Bandage Toss into a fight and then deal damage to everyone. It's also good while chasing an enemy to deal damage to them if you're both running along at the same pace. Area effect damage is a pretty standard design, but it's well used on this character. Also note that this damage is a percentage of each enemy's maximum health, making it more effective against other tank types. In general percent-of-max-health damage is a great way to give players options against very high-health enemies they might otherwise feel are hard to take down. B+

Tantrum: This ability has a passive feature. The more you upgrade it, the less damage Amumu takes from attacks. Damage reduction on a tank type is clearly fitting. The activation of this ability deals damage to enemies close by all around Amumu. This is fine, but not really much different from Despair. This ability deals more damage in a single shot, while Despair deals lower damage every second... but the result is often the same. There is another interesting layer to this ability, the cooldown is reduced each time Amumu takes a hit from an enemy. That's cool design for a tank - the more you hit him the more often he can use this ability. Sadly Amumu doesn't have any way to make you attack him, so not really any combos with this part of the ability. Also, the three parts of this ability don't quite all go together, and it feels like there's a little too much going on here. I'd rather see something more interesting here, or at least taking off the damage reduction part to make it simpler. B-

Curse of the Sad Mummy: All enemy champions in a good-size radius around you can't move and can't take action for 2 or 3 seconds. Wow, that is powerful. Certainly this ability is among the most powerful in the game. You can halt fleeing enemies in their tracks or interrupt a coordinated assault on a teammate. This ability works very well with any other area of effect spell in the game, trapping foes so they're all hit by the other ability. A.

Taken together, three of these abilities are an excellent combination. Bandage Toss brings you to the center of the action, so you can lock down the enemy team with Curse, all the while dealing damage to all your enemies with Despair. Every pairwise combination is strong and all three together is exactly what you want in every team fight. If there's a flaw in this it's that you pretty much have the same plan each time. Making Bandage Toss a skill shot helps with this - requiring more skill and reactivity from you so that your 1-2-3 isn't always a done deal. Also the overall fact that Amumu is set up like a tank means you're relying on your allies to take advantage of the lock down your providing. Amumu is certianly the most fun to play when your teammates have your back and you can coordinate enough during a team battle that you feel awesome about how you used your spells.

Tantrum, sadly, is left out of all of this. It's aoe is much smaller than Curse, so using them in conjunction doesn't often work. It's pretty good for farming (gaining gold for killing the peons), but Despair has it trumped in that department. I still like the "cooldown reduced when hit" part of Tantrum's design, but the disincentive it gives the opponent to not kill you isn't nearly enough to dissuade them compared to the damage Despair is doing. Besides, they're leaving you for last anyway, and the ability doesn't do anything to save you when it's 4 or 5 against 1. Overall a B+ character design.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

League of Legends: Ashe

In this first of a possible series of posts in which I talk about the design of a champion from the most excellent online game "League of Legends" I will examine Ashe, the Frost Archer. For those that don't know, League of Legends is a 5v5 PvP online game in which you control a character with 4 spells. As you play you improve the power level of those abilities and buy items to further strengthen your character. All the while you are trying to kill the enemy champions and wreck their base. It's very awesome, and it's also my go-to game for examples of doing everything right in a modern online game.




Ashe is one of the champions you can play. She has a ranged basic attack. Her primary role is damage dealer, and has rather low health and does not move very fast.


The shape of these stats is interesting and a good design for a game with lots of characters to choose from. Ashe's high attack gives her a clear role, and she will attract players looking to deal a lot of damage. Video games have given us plenty of characters like this over the years, so many that this configuration has a nickname: the glass cannon. On to her spells.

Frost Shot - this is a toggle ability, and while it is toggled on it makes Ashe's attacks slow the movement of her target. It's great for chasing down enemies and sometimes reducing the rate at which a melee attacker can get to Ashe to kill her. A good ability for a low health character to have. B+

Volley - this fires a cone of arrows that deal damage and also have slowing properties. This ability is very good for killing the peon helpers that each team has in the game. Doing that helps you push into the enemy base and also earn extra money. Ashe benefits a lot from equipment that increases her damage and attack rate, so more money is good for her. A solid ability for her to have, it is also fun to use. B+

Hawkshot - firing the hawkshot reveals an area from fog of war. This can be useful, but it's a somewhat advanced ability for a character intended to have "easy" difficulty of play. Knowing what the enemy is doing is very important in LoL, so this part of the ability is certainly good. Hawkshot also has another function. When you upgrade this ability you get a tiny bit more money from those peons I mentioned. Gaining money is good for Ashe, but it's pretty good for everyone, and the way this works is quite boring as a spell. In Ashe's original design, the map-revealing part of this ability didn't exist. All it did was earn her more money. It was weak and boring. Not a good ability at all. F without the vision upgrade, and a D as it is now.

Enchanted Crystal Arrow - the fourth spell of a champion is their "ultimate," the most powerful ability they have. This arrow flies across the entire map until it hits an enemy champion (or flies uselessly off the edge). When it hits an enemy champion it deals a bunch of damage and stuns them for a while. The further it traveled the longer they are stunned. The "fire in a direction" makes this what they call a skill shot - it takes skill to aim it properly, as opposed to abilities that always hit the target you click on. This can take more skill than most, because you are often firing it so far away that the target might move and be missed. You have to anticipate them a little or know when they are likely to stay put long enough to get hit. This arrow is one of the best designed and most fun abilities in the game. Because it can fire across the whole map (5-6 screens away) and can be a devastating stun and damage dealing blow, it can create epic moments of success and near-success that you'll remember for days. A+

I've fired Ashe's arrow into a fight halfway across the map, stunned an enemy that was killing one of my allies, and reversed the outcome of the fight, giving my ally the kill instead. When that happens you feel proud and your allies commend your skill.

Now let's take her abilities together with her overall setup. As I mentioned, the slowing of frost arrow is good combination with her high damage output. The volley can slow a group of enemies in big fights, so similarly good, and helps shape her persona as a frost archer. The vision from Hawkshot can have synergy with the giant arrow, finding an enemy for you to shoot... but the Hawkshot is visible to the enemy, so they'll move before the Enchanted Crystal Arrow reaches them. Also the way you aim the Hawkshot is annoying. You have to click it's final destination, instead of firing in a general direction. This is because it can reveal hidden stuff at the very end of its path. Its range is large, but not the whole map, so if you click too far away Ashe will move before firing it, which can take time or put you in a bad position. It's a little hard to coordinate since you're clicking a location far enough away that you can't see yourself at the same time. Again, for easy to play, this ability just doesn't fit. It also doesn't fit in with her overall theme, making it feel tacked-on. On another character, or with a better implementation, this would be a C or even B, but because it's hard to use (not for pros, maybe, but for new players) and because it's not a great fit for her, I dropped the score.

I'd like to see her Hawkshot replaced entirely, but if not, it could at least be made to fire in a direction, and reveal hidden all along its path instead of just at the end.

Overall, Ashe is still one of the most fun to play, and she becomes very powerful later in the game. I give her an A-. It would be a B+ based on the strict sum of her abilities but the Enchanted Crystal Arrow gets bonus points for being so epic.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

GDS2 Design Test Fixes

Because my brain does it for me automatically I decided to record my changes to "fix" some of the cards the Great Designer Search 2 contestants submitted in their designs. I just picked out the cards and mechanics that I felt like fixing and skipped the rest, so it's more like a sampler to supplement your GDS2 and general Magic design reading. Oh, and I give permission for the GDS2 peeps to use anything they want in this post.

Irix the Wanderer - His plus ability should be the "regrow a spell" ability. You could add "at random" to it if you wanted to power it down a little. I think I'd then try Fork (Reverberate) as his minus ability. The ultimate could remain the same and overall you'd have a much more synergistic planeswalker. Like this:

3UR / 4 loyalty
+2: Return an instant or sorcery card at random from your graveyard to your hand.
-2: Copy the next spell you cast this turn. You may choose new targets for the copy.
-9: Until end of turn, you may cast spells in your hand without paying their mana costs.


Primal - What if you got the bonus if you cast the card using only one color of mana? Like the opposite of Sunburst. "If you spent only white mana to cast CARDNAME..." This solves the non-basic land problem nicely, because lots of nonbasic lands make colored mana (obvious, I know). A few constructed-quality primal cards could also be interesting stressors on deck building. You can play two colors, but you'll want to be sure all your lands can produce the primal color you're looking for (again, upside for non-basics instead of downside). Neat how one simple change can keep the essence of this mechanic and sweep away the flaws.

Liliana of Shadow - how's this:
3BB / 4 loyalty
+1: Each opponent loses 2 life, you gain life equal to the amount lost this way.
-2: Destroy target creature, you gain life equal to its toughness.
-5: You gain an emblem with "pay 1 life: draw a card."

The first ability is a little bit like Sorin, but it's a lot like Syphon Soul, which predates Sorin. Also, always push your planeswalkers on first design. You want people (in FFL) to play them a lot and you want them to be as powerful as they reasonably can be.

Obscure in Shadow - I don't know why they didn't say it, but you could take the top card of the deck and put it face down instead of the countered spell. That would create cool morph mystery. On second thought, I know why they didn't say it. They don't want to be redesigning your cards, they want you to figure out how to redesign them yourself. In fact, you need to prove that you can do it almost as much as you need to prove you can design cards in the first place. That, or this suggestion still fails the "spells can't be morphs" rule - but you're clearly counting on persuading the rules manager on that front anyway.

Twilight Zone - don't be so fancy and fiddly. Deathbringer Liege did everything you want to do here, just do a variant of that card. Don't be ashamed to re-purpose an old design when it fits your current plan. +2/+2 for a white spell and -2/-2 for a black spell would be pretty saucy. If you want something more elaborate that's fine, but the fastest way to junk up Magic is by throwing around unnecessary counters.

Library Raid - I would do this:
1U
Instant
Draw X cards, then discard 3 cards, where X is the number of attacking creatures you control.

Accomplishes your goals, and Alexis would play it in a deck. If you mean "attacking creatures" then say it; don't say "tapped" and make people figure it out.

Bladetooth Totem (fixed)
3
Tribal Artifact - Beast
T: G
G,T: Target Beast creature gets +3/+3 until end of turn.

You should do the most basic thing when it serves your purpose. +3/+3 might feel boring to you, but every set needs "boring" cards. Being too fancy is the mistake the GDS2 contestants will make the most often. My rewrite of this card is simple, obvious, and also a perfectly printable uncommon magic card (in a tribally themed block).

The Venser, Planar Guide design made me think of this card. It's tangentially related:

Upgrade Engine
4
Artifact
1, T, sacrifice a permanent: Search your library for a permanent with converted mana cost one more than the converted mana cost of the sacrificed card, and put it onto the battlefield.

Yes, the name is a reference to Dominion.

Drothar Deftblade deserves mention as one of the few truly cool ideas in all of GDS2 so far. Now since we're here...
BBB
Creature - Human Assassin
2/2
T: Destroy target creature, if you do, put a loyalty counter on CARDNAME.
When CARDNAME has 2 loyalty counters, flip it.

OR
Creature - Human Rogue
When CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player put a loyalty counter on it. Etc.

The flipped half is fine. Don't let them bully you too much about what can't be done for technical reasons. All Mark does is assault the rules manager with things that can't be done, he's not one to talk. As for it all fitting, we got levelers to work out. It took a ton of work, so you can only afford to do it when it's really awesome and worth it, and only on one mechanic per set. If you keep going with this be sure to balance it with extra simplicity elsewhere.

Thought Watcher - an easy one to fix:
1UU
Creature - Merfolk Spy
2/2
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield look at the top 6 cards of target opponent's library and exile one of them face down. Put the rest on the bottom of their library in random order. Whenever an opponent casts a spell you may reveal the exiled card. If it shares a name with that spell, draw 3 cards.

It's a little long, but retains all the mystery. Note that I specifically avoided searching the opponent's library. Doing that would take a lot of time. Worse, it would give you too much information about their deck and possibly their hand. It's more interesting if you only get a limited selection of their deck to work with. Both you and your opponent gain a lot of mystery and excitement this way. There's an initial hit or miss moment for you, and then they don't know if their best card was in the six you saw.

Ace of Ants - another easy fix:
3GGG
Creature - Insect
6/6
Trample
Revelation - whenever CARDNAME is revealed from your hand you may pay 1G, if you do, put two 1/1 green insect token creatures onto the battlefield.

I'm sure Daniel had a good reason for Revelation to only work when things you control reveal cards in your hand. I'm also confident that he's wrong. Why not also trigger when your opponent's make you reveal it? It's a hilarious little trap against cards like Blackmail. Naturally, I also took the advice of the WotC crew and made the result simple: always two dudes. You could make it 3 or cost just G, whatever. If you're desperate for the "big X upside" (which is a fine thing to want) you could have it related to the CMC of the card (not "spell") that caused the reveal; "where X is equal to the converted mana cost of the card that caused you to reveal CARDNAME from your hand," but I'm not entirely sure the rules manager will be okay with it. Well, put it in the file and hide when he reads it.
It might also be interesting to have a few colorless-only Revelation costs - those cards could be used the way colorless cycling cards are used in any deck, even when you can't cast them.

Showdown as a mechanic needs work. It's a cool concept that's awful as written. Here's a possible fix: "Each player in the showdown reveals a card in their hand, simultaneously. The player whose card had the highest converted mana cost scores a point. Repeat this process two more times. The player with the most points wins the showdown."
This may have flaws, but it does also have strategy, and might be super fun. Try it.

Arathori, The Spellspinner
3GG
Creature - Spider Wizard
5/5
Reach
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, for each creature you control, reveal 3 cards from the top of your library and put an enchantment card revealed this way onto that creature. Put the rest of the cards on the bottom of your library in random order.

I'm not totally sure I got the wording right, but again, a rules manager or the templating team can help you. As Alexis said, development can find the right number of cards to reveal, so I just stuck with 3 for now.

I was trying to fix Jonathan's Swarm mechanic when I came up with this:
Shadow Clone - when CARDNAME attacks, put a 1/1 color name token creature with "this creature must be blocked" onto the battle field tapped and attacking.

Naruto fans rejoice! Which also reminds me, one of you should bring back ninjitsu, that mechanic is cool and needs to be rescued from the other memories of Kamigawa.

Well that's it for me for today. GDS is always fun to follow along with!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Online Games vs The Rules

I was reading this article by Tomi Walamies, and this line got me thinking: 
[Magic Online] has removed the attitude of "Gamers are supposed to game the rules as well." This makes for a healthier environment.
Have video games, and especially multiplayer online games, trained a whole generation of players to think differently about game rules? Before video games, players had to read rulebooks or more commonly, learn the rules from others. Many board and card games has incomplete rules for some situations. When things like that came up, players had to figure it out for themselves. If your friend was sneakier than you, they could manipulate these situations to their advantage. If they were a bit of a bully or simply had a stronger personality, they could declare the result and you'd go along with it. In some circles the game came to a standstill as players discussed or argued about what should happen.


Compare that to the video game world. The game has to have a solution for every situation (crashing is not really acceptable anymore). Anything that's against the rules can't be done. Also, the systems of punishment are very different. In real life, there are a lot of rules that you can break and nothing will happen. Not immediately, anyway. Only if you are later found out are you punished. In online worlds, you can't break rules, or if you do, the punishment is swift and unavoidable.


So how is this shaping the next generation of players?



For one, this has bred a new kind of "rules bender" player. Because video games have such unbreakable rules, some feel that anything they can do must then be okay. They find all the bugs and exploits they can, and abuse them as much as possible to get ahead. When I see that I feel they're behaving badly - but to some of them it's simply how the world works. If the game doesn't stop you, it must be allowed. Are these the same kids that would manipulate you socially if they were playing a board game?

Are video-game kids more used to "unseen outsiders" making the rules for them? Is it easier for longtime MMO players to feel comfortable in a modern governed society?

Will we have a reduction in the percentage of weasels and cheaters in that generation?


For a game like Magic: The Gathering, which has an online game and real-life game with identical rules, I imagine that more players will feel confident standing up to cheaters in the real world because the online version has taught them the rules. (This is certainly part of what Tomi is referring to.)


I also wonder if online game players are less able to play their opponents. They don't get experience reading people. They also rarely get the verbal acrobatics of trying to confuse, anger, or frustrate your opponent with conversation. I don't know if this is true, but I like to imagine that the online poker champions have to wear hats an sunglasses when they enter real-life events because they haven't trained in hiding their facial cues.


There  is also the other side of this coin. If you're playing an online game, especially with friends, and encounter a rule you don't like you're stuck. In real life, at least for games, you and your friends can agree to change the rules.


As a higher and higher percentage of kids (in a higher and higher percentage of countries) are trained by online games, what changes will we see in the way their generations handle real-world rules?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Social Game Design: Retention part 3: Mystery

Mystery works very well in social games. I'm a little surprised it's not used more often as a core mechanic.

Some former colleagues of mine at Gamehouse released a Facebook game called The Secret Plant Society. In this game you grow plants in pots. You start off with some clover plants, but if you grow them next to each other you occasionally get mystery seeds. What do those seeds grow into? You have to plant them to find out. There is a deep and highly branched tree (pun!) of plants for you to discover. Since you don't know what plants combine to make what, there's a lot of mystery.

How they use that mystery is what I find most fitting for Facebook. You get a "mystery seed" when the plants cooperate, but you need to grow it to find out what it is. Naturally, growing takes real time, and this mystery combined with sporadic gameplay can really hold a player's interest. You've already got the "cool thing" but you have to wait to see what it is. (As should be obvious if you're paying attention to social network games, the delayed results of sporadic gameplay are one of the most successful mechanics available.)

Another thing The Secret Plant Society does to enhance the mystery experience is to show you an almanac of all the plants you've got. 






This almanac automatically records the combinations you find. More importantly, it hints at what you've yet to discover. For example you can see here that I've crossed yellow and scarlet begonias to make orange ones. There are also some yellow begonia crosses I haven't discovered yet, but there are empty boxes with "?" in them. These blanks give you some idea of what you don't have, and that brings you further into the mystery. This is very similar to the way most achievements that you have not earned in games have a blank outline. You know you're missing something, but what is it?


Even if you don't have plant breeding in your game, you can still put in a little mystery in things like crops. For example, in the shop you don't have to show the grown plant. Show only the seed (and the name). Players then have to grow the corn to see exactly what it looks like. It sounds like a small thing, but you just need enough of these small things to add up to keep a player interested in your game and curious enough to remember to come back and play again a few hours later.

From big mysteries to small mysteries, you should think about what you can hide from the player for a little while. What will they be so interested to discover that they'll come back later to see it?