Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Common Problem of Panini's Dragon Ball Z TCG

Baseball-card maker Panini rebooted the Dragon Ball Z TCG, a trading card game that I played during high school lunches a decade or so ago. This is an awesome thing made even more awesome that group of friends of mine, which includes the same high school friends, started playing this reboot. However, there's one thing that really bends creases into my metaphorical cardboard. Panini is screwing up with card rarities.

Those of you who are playing this DBZ reboot already know about the "ultra rare" card rarity. Cards of this scarcity only show up once in every 48 12-card booster packs. However, my beef is not with these crazily-rare cards. It's with Level 1 Trunks, a common card.

Level with Me

In the DBZ TCG, every deck needs a set of four cards that represents Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4 of a character, called a "main personality." This could be Goku, Frieza, Piccolo, etc. You only need one copy of each of these cards, but you always need one of each of, say, Level 1 Gohan, Level 2 Gohan, Level 3 Gohan, and Level 4 Gohan. You cannot insert these personality cards into your deck - they sit outside of your deck. You build a deck around this character.

So, most people are going to have their one Vegeta deck, or their one Krillin deck. This means each average DBZ TCG player only needs 1 of each of the level cards for each main personality. With that, also, most folks only have a single deck to a handful of decks. With the eight different main personalities to choose from with the first card set release of this reboot, and with a growing number of main personalities to add to the mix with the additional sets that are releasing, almost no one is going to require more than a handful of four-card sets of main pesronality cards.

Booster Gold

DBZ TCG cards are found in two different types of products: starter decks and booster packs. Each starter deck does come with a perfect set of Levels 1 through 4 of a random character. This is a good thing. But starter decks are still aggravating, and I'll get to why this is later. For now, let's talk booster packs. More specifically, the main personality cards you can find in booster packs of Set 1: Trunks and Captain Ginyu.

It's cool that you can open up main personality cards in the DBZ booster packs you purchase. It's not cool that some of these cards are common, despite the fact that this means most DBZ players will have the chance to own these main personality cards. The problem is that many players will own TOO MANY Level 1 Trunks.

Most Dragon Ball Z players are not going to buy just one booster pack. In fact, unless a player purchased six starter decks and luckily-and-perfectly got the correct random card pools from those starters, that player is going to be buying booster packs.

Let's assume that you just got started playing this game. Due to the deck-building restriction of only being able to play up to three copies of any one particular card, for most cards; you will smartly purchase just three starter decks. Let's say you are playing Orange Goku. Next, you will buy booster packs. There's a deck-size restriction of 60-card decks. Let's be generous and say there's four useful cards per booster pack. Three starters gets you 30 cards, so you'll need to buy eight booster packs to cover the rest.

So, you open up your eight booster packs, and you get around 56 commons. There are 60 commons in Set 1, so it's unlikely you'll get a perfect single copy of every single card in the set. Some cards you'll have doubles of. ...And would you know it, you have two copies of Level 1 Trunks. Cool, so you're 25% of the way through to getting a set of Trunks, so you can build a Trunks deck, but you have two of these Level 1 Trunks. Well, you could trade it to others, but since it's common, you're going to pretty much not be able to trade with anyone else who plays this game who needs it. Your buddy bought a booster box hoping to get an ultra rare and has THREE Level 1 Trunks as a result. Well, shucks. Who's going to build three Trunks decks?

This is indicative that most players are going to have a bunch of Level 1 Trunks (and Level 2 Trunks, Level 1 Captain Ginyu, and Level 2 Captain Ginyu; for that matter). Furthermore, the Level 3 and Level 4 versions of these main personalities are uncommon, and a good chunk of players are going to have more than one copy of each of these cards. What's even more crazy is that even if you find a home for every extra set of Trunks and Captain Ginyu play sets for players to play with, because Level 1 and 2 cards are common and Level 3 and 4 cards are uncommon, you're going to have literally unusable Level 1 and Level 2 main personality cards. That is just a waste of printed cardboard.

For a real example of this, I personally have purchased multiple boxes of booster packs. Out of three boxes, I got 8 Level 1 Trunks cards and 5 Level 4 Trunks cards. Even if I built five Trunks decks, those three Level 1 Trunks cards are never going to see the light of day. Realistically, I'm only keeping 1 of each of these Trunks cards, so I'm wasting about 20 pieces of printed cardboard. Useless, useless paper product.

Person Ally Tea

I get the advantage of wanting a common main personality card, as a publisher of this card game. If someone opens one booster pack, making that Level 1 Trunks a common increases the chance that this person will want to seek out the rest of the set to build off of. But this wasteful strategy would at least be mitigated if these Level 1 personalities could be used as Ally cards in decks. That way your Goku deck could use a Level 1 Trunks in it. This is how it was in the original version of the DBZ TCG game, and it was a neat option that solved this problem. However, in this reboot, there are now strictly Ally cards, of which main personality cards can never be, and vice versa.

Which leads me to the next issue - cards that are limited to 1 copy of per deck. Ally cards, as a rule, can only have 1 copy of each within your deck, for each your decks. This is slightly better than the Level 1 Trunks problem, where you could use each of your copies of Chaozu in your Orange Goku deck and your, say, Red Gohan deck. Even more slightly better are the common Dragon Ball cards, which are also limited to one copy per deck, but at least each of those don't have a "Heroes Only" or "Villains Only" restriction like Allies do. But with all of this said, I still have way too many of each of these cards.

Lastly, there are some cards that arbitrarily are limited to just one or two copies of within a deck. Thankfully, besides the Ally, Main Personality, and Dragon Ball cards, there are no "limit 1" or "limit 2" cards. Those are at uncommon or higher.

Push It to the Limit

So what is a Panini to do? How do we fix this?

Now, one suggestion could be to increase the maximum number of copies of a card to four, so that there would be less uselessness with having so many copies of the same non-Main Personality/Ally/Dragon Ball card. But then this change might throw off the printed "Limit 1" or "Limit 2" cards that already exist. What a poopy corner we're backed into.

So, here's a different proposition:

Common cards: Only cards that you can have three copies of are allowed to be common rarity. This includes not allowing Dragon Balls, Allies, or Main Personalities at common.

Dragon Balls: Dragon Balls can exist at uncommon with some Dragon Balls existing at higher rarities. Since every deck can play with Dragon Balls and don't require a full set to be included within the deck, unlike Main Personalities, this is fine.

"Limit 2" cards: The lowest rarity these should be at are uncommon. You can quite easily end up with three copies of a card if it's at common. At least with uncommon, for the player who doesn't buy multiple boxes, you might just very well only get 2 copies of a card.

"Limit 1" cards: Keep these at rare. Even Freestyle cards would end up with an overflow at uncommon.

Ally cards: Uncommon or rare cards. Since multiple decks can each use the same allies from your collection of cards, uncommon can be an O.K. rarity for these types of cards.

Main Personality cards: Always, ALWAYS have these cards be at the same rarity. That way, there won't be any waste of cardboard, as mentioned above of what would occur. You will never need more copies of any one particular Level of MP than the other Levels.

Common is too common for Main Personalities and rare is too rare. Therefore, uncommon is a good rarity for every single one of those Levels of every single booster-pack Main Personality. Yes, this means even Level 4 Trunks who is depicted as a Super Saiyan would be uncommon. Feels weird, but if it's for the (un)common good.

Alternative Lifestyle

There is an additional idea, however, regarding Main Personality cards. Inspired by the previous iteration of Dragon Ball Z TCG, rare and ultra rare Main Personality cards would be O.K. as well, as long as those are simply alternative Level cards that supplement the ones at uncommon. For example, a set that gets released in the future could have Gohan Level 1, 2, 3, and 4 at uncommon, and then a Level 1 Gohan at rare that is different from the uncommon Level 1 Gohan. Perhaps this one is wearing his school clothes, if it's during Buu Saga. Etc.

Check out what the previous iteration of the DBZ TCG did with Majin Vegeta. First there was this set of Vegetas that were uncommon and rare (as opposed to Panini's common and uncommon pattern):

And then there are these more rare alternative cards for Level 1 (besides the unnecessary ultra rare Level 5 you were able to use seen above):

There are OPTIONS for your Majin Vegeta. Not simply dead cards. Like common Level 1 Trunks.

For Starters...

Next, I want to bring the topic to the starter decks. There is so much wrong going on with these starters. I won't speak too much on this tangent to the "common problem" that is the common Main Personality cards such as Level 1 Trunks, but here's a list of everything that's wrong:

  • Starter-only cards, each of which can be played up to three of within a deck, resulting in multiple starter purchases
  • Starter-only personality cards
  • Random personality cards, of which you don't want to get a second copy of a particular main personality if you get a second starter, which conflicts with the behavior for the above bullet point
  • Random pool of starter-only cards, which potentially wastes a lot of cardboard if the player purchases a fourth starter
  • The starter does not contain a legal playable deck and the player who buys a starter just has an illegal rainbow style deck they are told to play with for learning until he or she bites the bullet and buys more product so that they don't have an illegal deck.
That's enough of that. Let's talk about a radical solution proposition for the issue of obtaining too many wasted copies of Level 1 Trunks

Mixing the Solution

Each booster pack contains twelve cards comprised of the following rarities

  • 7 commons
  • 4 uncommons
  • 1 rare
How about changing this to:
  • 7 commons
  • 3 uncommons
  • 1 rare
  • 1 Inherently-Limit-1-Per-Deck-Card (Main Personality, Ally, Dragon Ball, Mastery)

In addition to this, all the Starter-Only cards personalities would be thrown into the mix. This change would mean the following, for Set 1, for opening a single booster pack:
  • Ensures the same rarity for every Main Personality Level
  • Ensures the same rarity for every Dragon Ball
  • 1 out of 55 chance versus 1 out of 12 chance of getting Level 1 Trunks (or any one particular Main Personality card)
  • 1 out of 9 chance versus 1 out of 7 chance of getting a Mastery
  • 18% chance versus 75% chance of getting an Ally
With only 1 out of 55 chance of getting a repeat of a Main Personality card, then one can pretty much safely purchase two booster boxes of cards (24 packs each box) and not waste as many cards on average. Moreover, this change would mean the player who decides to buy two booster boxes in hopes of finding an ultra rare card would not be punished with many useless copies of Level 1 Trunks.

Walking the Bases

With all this said, as a friend has reminded me, Panini DOES make baseball cards, the world of collecting such items being one I'm unfamiliar with, which could just be the norm for those who buy many packs of baseballs cards, perhaps in hopes of finding those rare cards, which results in many common pieces of printed cardboard to be tossed into the garbage.

Thanks for hearing me out on this. That's all I have for today, Z Warriors / card slingers.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Card Core Design #4: Origins

Art by Karla Ortiz

Magic Origins was announced. I was wondering why it hadn't been announced before the time it did due to the previous Core Sets usually being announced earlier than this. But it looks like the decision was made to announce it was during Pro Tour Fate Reforged, which was pretty great!

The set was originally announced to have 277 cards, but it actually has 272 cards. Five cards. Five planeswalkers. Speculation on reddit is stating that these extra five is probably due to the fact that each of the planeswalkers are probably double-faced cards, one side legendary creature, the other side planeswalker. This theory goes hand-in-hand with the theme of the set - the origins of each planeswalker, before their spark ignited, before they were planeswalkers.


Working on this Core Set, I knew that since this was the final core set to exist for now that all the rules that had been established for Core Sets before can be thrown out.

Chandra was the face of Magic 2014. Garruk was the face of Magic 2015. Liliana had a reprint as a planeswalker card in Magic 2015 leaving her due for another new version of her. Nissa, Jace, and Ajani had room to be reprints for another year for this year's Core Set. So, I thought we would get a black planeswalker as the face, either Liliana or Sorin.

Each core set starting from Magic 2011 had a returning keyword mechanic. Undying was an eligible choice for this year's core set. But the final core set being a final core set changes the rules. Thus, Magic Origins.

I've got a few paths I could take, two of which being obvious choices: 1) Attempt to emulate what Magic Origins will eventually reveal itself to be with my designs from now on; 2) Continue making an undying core set and pay no mind to what Magic Origins will turn out to be. I've chosen path #2.

It's more important to me to design a set I can call my own than for those moments where I can say, "called it!" Even though the latter is satisfying when you arrive to that answer through Magic design-minded conclusions. So, I'm going to branch off into the Core Set: Undying path.

Fork by Amy Weber

Christmas Time

Let's get back to it, then. Last time, I established what basic card effects were present in the colors white, blue, and black - and chose which effects and in what number they will show up in this core set. Let's finish this for red and green.


Direct damage to creature or player2222422
Power buff2322112
Destroy artifact1121121
Grant first strike1121111
Direct damage to player1110211
Direct damage to creature and player1011110
Land destruction1011011
Creature(s) can't block this turn1121001
Small buff1101110
Direct damage to creature1301001
Grant haste1100101
Temporary creature steal1010110
Grant firebreathing0000111
Grant "can't be blocked"0000110
Grant mountainwalk0001010
Add mana to mana pool0100010
Destroy Equipment0101000
Creature token(s)0001000
Creature attacks this turn if able0000010
Destroy creature with defender0100000
Small pump2241022
Life gain1121221
Prevent combat damage1111111
Mana acceleration1221111
Destroy artifact/enchantment1111111
Destroy flying creature1111110
Give +1/+1 counter2321100
Search for land, put onto battlefield1002111
Search for land, put into hand1110021
Big pump0101100
Fight a creature1111000
Grant regeneration0010101
Card draw1101001
Grant hexproof1110000
Recover card from graveyard0100100
Grant forestwalk0000010
Direct damage to creature or player0000010
Grant deathtouch1001000
Get a creature token1010000

And here's the results expressed in card slots form:

CR01creature, small, vanilla
CR02creature, small, intimidate
CR03creature, small, first strike
CR04creature, small, haste
CR05creature, small, firebreathing
CR06creature, medium, vanilla
CR07creature, medium, haste
CR08creature, medium
CR09creature, medium
CR10creature, medium
CR20enchantment, Aura
CG01creature, small, undying, defenderWall of Bamboo. G. Plant Wall. 0/2. Undying. Defender.
CG02creature, small, deathtouch
CG03creature, small, hexproof
CG04creature, small, reach
CG05creature, small, mana accelerationElvish Mystic reprint
CG06creature, medium, vanilla
CG07creature, medium, undying
CG08creature, medium, reach
CG09creature, medium, card draw
CG10creature, large, vanilla
CG11creature, large, trample
CG12sorcery, life gain
CG13sorcery, fight
CG14sorcery, small pump
CG15sorcery, token-making
CG17instant, destroy flying creaturePlummet reprint
CG18instant, +1/+1 counterBattlegrowth reprint
CG19instant, destroy artifact/enchantmentNaturalize reprint
CG20enchantment, Aura, grant hexproof and small pump

There's not much written here, but I've, sadly, run out of time once again. So, enjoy the reasoning for some of these choices, and I'll see you next week!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Card Core Design #3: Number Crunch

Last time, I filled in the creature slots of the commons design skeleton with creature keyword abilities. Today, I start to fill in the basic effects that appear for each color at common as well as add in non-keyword creature abilities that usually show up at common. For example, "Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, DO SOMETHING."

Data Incomplete

I first started out with gathering data on what kind of effects usually appear at common in a core set. I only gathered data on white, blue, and black so far - so I'll have to finish red and green for next week's article. After gathering the numbers for each type of effect from cards found in each of the sets from Magic 2010 to Magic 2015, I then filled in my own numbers for each of those effects. In general, the numbers I put in are an average of the numbers written down for any one particular effect. There are some cases where, because undying exists, certain type of effects either don't get any number representation or is minimized.

Here's what the numbers look like for the first three colors:

Small buff to 12323231
Small buff to all1311113
Destroy/exile enchantment1111111
Prevent damage or grant indestructible0111011
Tap creature1010111
Destroy artifact0110011
Grant keyword ability2201311
Big buff to 10011100
Punish attacking/blocking creature0111001
Create creature token(s)1212000
Put Aura card into hand0110100
Bounce to top of library0000011
Grant protection0000100
Opponent skips next combat0000100
Exile big stat creature1100000
Counterspell (hard)1210111
Counterspell (soft)2122222
Draw cards2131233
Grant evasion1221201
Manipulate top of library1001132
Return sorcery/instant back to hand0011000
Switch power/toughness0001000
Modify type0000001
Creature removal2111222
Return creature back to hand1111222
Small pump2033222
Gain life1102211
Card draw1111011
Life loss1001112
Direct damage1101201
Grant lifelink1111000
Creature token0011000
Land destruction0000100
Grant intimidate0000100
Grant deathtouch1100000

For white, since white sometimes cares about creatures having too large power or toughness, I relished the chance to put in a card that cared about that due to the larger creatures that have undying. To boot, having it be an exile spell would be extra good since, again, undying would trigger otherwise. In fact...

For blue, I valued having bounce for the interesting interactions that would have with creatures with undying.

And the tables above informed how I arranged my effects into my design skeleton's card slots. The tight squeeze is a real thing that happens, despite the large set size! Here's what I ended up with:

CodeCard DescriptionCard Design
CW01creature, small, vanilla
CW02creature, small, undying, flying1W. 1/1. Flying. Undying.
CW03creature, small, flying
CW04creature, small, undying
CW05creature, small, lifelink
CW06creature, small, first strike
CW07creature, small, token-making
CW08creature, small, lifegain
CW09creature, small
CW10creature, medium, vanilla
CW11creature, medium, flying
CW12creature, medium, vigilance
CW13sorcery, lifegain, enchantment/artifact removalSolemn Offering
CW14sorcery, token-making, remove +1/+1 counter
CW15instant, grant flying & undying
CW16instant, exile big stat creature
CW17instant, team buff
CW18instant, lifelink, first strike, small buffSwift Justice
CW19enchantment, Aura, Pacifism-like
CW20enchantment, Aura, small buff, vigilance
CU01creature, small, vanilla
CU02creature, small, flying
CU03creature, small, flying, flash
CU04creature, small, islandwalk
CU05creature, small, saboteur, card drawing
CU06creature, small, bounceVoidwielder, reprint
CU07creature, medium, vanilla
CU08creature, medium, flying, only block flying
CU09creature, large, Illusion
CU10sorcery, card drawing
CU11sorcery, loot effect
CU12sorcery, milling
CU13instant, counterspell, hard
CU14instant, counterspell, soft
CU15instant, counterspell, soft
CU16instant, twiddle
CU17instant, move counterMove a counter from target creature onto a second target creature.
CU18instant, bounce
CU19enchantment, Aura, lock-down
CU20enchantment, Aura, can't be blockedTricks of the Trade, reprint
CB01creature, small, vanilla
CB02creature, small, undying, Skeleton
CB03creature, small, flying
CB04creature, small, discard
CB05creature, small, sac creature for small pump
CB06creature, small, Shade
CB07creature, medium, vanilla
CB08creature, medium, flying
CB09creature, medium, ETB tapped
CB10creature, medium, undying
CB11creature, medium, life loss
CB12sorcery, creature removal
CB13sorcery, discard
CB14sorcery, return creature card
CB15sorcery, sac creature to draw cards
CB16sorcery, deflate
CB17instant, deflate
CB18instant, direct damage + gain life
CB19instant, creature removal
CB20enchantment, Aura, grant lifelink + deathtouch

Cleaning the Counter

Because this is a set that is making important use of +1/+1 counters, I hearken back to when there was heavy counter use and see what blue could do. I relished the chance to do a monoblue version of these cards:

Since this is a core set, I can't include either of these two cards, despite their being common, because they're hybrid. Great! I get to add another version to this library of counter-moving cards. 

Now, again, because this is a core set, I can't make the spell too complicated. I was tempted to have a card that said "Move a counter from target permanent to another target permanent that shares a card type." Permanents sharing card types? Oi. Too clunky for a common core set card. I did want to still tickle the potential for creative counter moving and not explicitly call out +1/+1 counters, though. For decks of older, Constructed formats that might want to make some cool use of moving charge counters around or something.

So, while I'll miss the chance to move around counters among planeswalkers (that'll be for another time), I'm satisfied with keeping the spell simple and restricted to creatures but keep it flexible in both who you can target and what kind of counters you can move. Like this:

What's interesting is that the wording I used here is not templated slightly incorrectly from the above cards of Bioshift and Fate Transfer. There was a new card from Fate Reforged, Daghatar the Adamant, that changed up how the wording goes for moving counters, so I decided to follow that template. Here's the card:

Lens of Truth

We're now entering into territory of much potential changes to the design skeleton with all the cramming we're doing and moving of effects and numbers around. While painting by the numbers is one method of filling in the design skeleton, I musn't forget other attributes of a set or core set that should be present. It's easy to have tunnel vision and do cold design like what I've been doing up until now. But if I continue to do so, I'll miss some important ingredients that make up the big picture.

This subject reminds me of the Book of Lenses, a game design book that helps you to examine your game designs from various, different lenses/perspectives. Up until this point, I've been designing with just one or two closely-related Magic Design Lenses. What I need to make sure of is that I account for each of the different lenses when I let myself have the time to get to them.

For example, what of the creature types for each color that should show up? If a lifegain effect on a card is a staple for white commons, perhaps the same can also be said for "red always has a Dragon creature at rare."

And what of the number of horizontal cycles? These lenses will be explored in a future post, whether that's next week after red and green have their effects filled in, or in two weeks after that. Until then, see you on the #mtgdesign Twitter-spheres (@bradleyrose)!