Friday, January 22, 2016

Having a Good Knight

Art by Jason Chan
Over on Goblin Artisans, this weekend's art challenge is on knights. Five pieces of art were provided for use, though, other knight-related creative commons art can be used.

Here's the challenge prompt:
Hello to you all! This week we re-examine knights!
White Knight and Black Knight have been re-imagined many times over in mtg. Nowadays we do not have protections to mirror those knights!
Choose one of the illustrations and re-imagine what a knight does when it is tied to a specific color.

Knight Life

The very first Knights in Magic have the abilities of first strike and protection. With protection not being an ability that is only supported rarely lately, this begs the question: what makes a Knight a Knight in Magic?

I reviewed many Knight-related Magic cards and have concluded that one or more of the following may be true for any one particular Knight-related Magic card:
  • If the knight or knights depicted within the art each riding a steed, it sometimes means the card's design has bigger power and toughness stats than if the art depicted a singular creature without a mount. For example, Goblin Roughrider is a Goblin creature, but the 3/2 body for a vanilla Goblin only makes sense because it is riding that crazy mount.

  • Knights have vigilance for one or more of a few reasons: 1) they're riding steeds, so they can gallop forward to do an attack and then gallop back to your side to defend you; 2) Knights swore to protect you and are vigilant to not fail in that regard; 3) Knights are great at combat. Truefire Paladin is an example of a steed-less Knight that still has vigilance - so numbers 2 and 3 may apply toward this guy.

  • Knights are great at combat. This overlaps with the last bullet point. One of the expressions of this may be vigilance, as seen above, but it could be one of many combat-related abilities. The "first" expression of this fact was on White Knight and Black Knight having first strike. Later Knights have had vigilance, double strike, and flanking. Sometimes, a block-related keyword is used instead, like battle cry. For these abilities, they can be expressed for different reasons, whether the Knight just has more training in combat, because they're wielding a lance, or they're riding a horse. For example, a Knight depicted riding a horse is reason enough for flanking. In addition to Truefire Paladin above showing off its ability to have both vigilance and first strike (and without a horse - what a badass!), Femeref Knight is an example of Knight showing off its multiple awesome-at-warfare abilities but not necessarily a larger body for horse reasons.

  • Sometimes, a Knight is a Knight only because it rides a steed. But this is useful because some mounts have flying which in turn enables creature types that wouldn't normally be able to fly to be able to fly. How else are you going to get flying cat people like Leonin Skyhunter, especially when white is the piece of the color pie that is supposed to be great at both creatures and flying? Well, besides making comical, makeshift hang-gliders like Goblin Sky Raider does.

  •  Knights are sworn to protect us from and destroy evil. Now, remember that "evil" does not mean the color black. Evil is whatever attacks your values. So each color's Knight is going to consider different things as evil. White Knight had protection from black. Silver Knight has protection from red. These are pure expressions of how white considers what red and black do as evil and are devoted to that cause. Granted, white is really good at going after evil. See Pentarch Paladin, Tivador of Thorn, Fiendslayer Paladin, and Lightwielder Paladin. Lastly, renown and exalted are other examples of how Knights may care to head into combat to destroy the evil that is your opponent. Phyrexian Crusader is a good example of this devotion to destroy evil. It eschews the fact that black usually hates on green and white in favor of the fact that the mirrans are aligned mostly in white and red, so this Phyrexian has no problem hating on black's ally color, red.

  •  Knights are great at rallying the troops. Literally rallying in the case of Hero of Goma Fada but this is expressed in other ways as well, such as with Kabira Vindicator boosting your armies and doing nothing else. Hero of Bladehold gets bystanders who might not otherwise have decided to fight to jump into the fray as 1/1 Soldiers. Wilt-Leaf Liege and the rest of the Liege cycle are excellent examples of how a Knight can purely be about rousing your armies and not expressing its Knight-ness via other ways such as first strike or vigilance.

 Bonus: some red-aligned troop rallying:

  •  Knights have status. Well, it's probably how they got their horse or their excellent armor or was able to be afforded good training in combat. Or, in Attended Knight's case, you have a Squire.

 Knight in Gale


With the above established, I sought to design a Knight but which color do I choose? I chose to go with the color that hasn't been as fleshed out with Knight execution: green. Green has a whopping 1 creature that is monocolored, Gladehart Cavalary.

Moreover, this card was just released today to the public, in Oath of the Gatewatch! Welcome to the Knight Club, mono-green. Notice that this Knight is expressing its Knight traits by having a large body and by supporting its troops.

Besides, green's knight art for this Weekend Art Challenge has a moose and that's adorable. Check out the art I'm working with:

Art by blayrd
If you've followed my Daily Card Redesign series in the past, you'll know that I often like to match my card designs with what's going on in the art, so I'm going to let that influence me in addition to coming up with a design that also fits what I envision a green knight should currently be or do design/gameplay-wise. A confluence of both those things.

To Knight


Now, expressing all of a Knight's aspects as pointed out above would be nearly impossible, I'd imagine. It's all right to just focus on one or two. This happens with any sort of concept, like the idea of Goblins.

Goblins are portrayed in Magic as being dumb, like with the flavor texts of Goblin Piker and Skirk Fire Marshal. Goblins are expendable, as seen in Goblin Sledder and Goblin Grenade. They also like to tease or play pranks, shown in the cards Jeering Instigator and Goblin Battle Jester. Lastly, they tinker (read: poke, prod, and eventually blow up) with artifacts, like with Goblin Welder and "Goblin Archaeologist."

I'm not sure there's ever been a Goblin depicted as dumb, expendable, pranking, and tinkering all at once. But that sounds like a fun challenge for another time. Anyway, back to Knights - we only need to show Knight-ness in at least one way for this green Knight.

The most important thing to do for this assignment, though, is to create a Knight that might be lumped in with category of Knights that White Knight and Black Knight are - what Knights used to be. Blood Knight was a later addition to this "grouping" of classic Knights. Re-imagine and design like that for nowadays. So, we'll examine what aspects of Knights above that would remind us of the classic Knight design of White Knight and Black Knight.

Knight Vision


White Knight and Black Knight exemplified qualities of "swearing to destroy evil" (protection) as well as its ability to be adept in combat via first strike. This "destroy evil" thing intrigues me, so we'll go with that.

I did some brainstorming off-screen here, and it's a messy (but awesome) process sometimes, and I landed with caring about abilities that represent the enemy colors but are shared with green as well. The same applies for every other color in this cycle. I'm only mocking up green, but here's the text form of what each color would care about:

  • White: lifelink, first strike
  • Blue: hexproof, prowess
  • Black: deathtouch, lifelink
  • Red: first strike, prowess
  • Green: deathtouch, hexproof
So, for each color, the Knight would have those abilities (not bad, for each creature) and then would not able to be blocked by any creatures that have either of those abilities. We're not doing protection anymore, and I wanted to find a simple perhaps-combat-oriented way to show the hate so that it could still prevail against this "evil." I chose "can't be blocked" as the way the Knight prevails and the "evil" to be represented by the abilities its enemies also share.

You might say it's ironic that this creature can't block an opponent's copy of this Knight. Perhaps, as a show of respect to each other's devotion, they don't hurt each other. And what about fellow green creatures that have hexproof and deathtouch - perhaps this Knight's mastery means it knows how to evade such creatures that shares its traits.

Lastly, coming back to the art, you might be wondering why a moose-riding, unassuming Knight can do hexproof and deathtouch. If you look more closely at the art, there's magical, glowing green vines surrounding the Knight. These vines can restrain and choke creatures to death as well as wrap around the Knight and protect him or her from spells. =)

Knight Cap

So, here's my design:

I decided to have "card name during development" fun and did a double pun for its title. "Jaded", like with the color green; and "Vineguard", as in "vanguard", because he or she is a Knight. But has vines surrounding him or her.

Anyway, so, a black Knight in this cycle would have deathtouch and lifelink and it would also say "CARDNAME can't be blocked by creatures with deathtouch or lifelink."

I also made this a Human instead of Elf (seems dressed like a Human, anyway) since Humans can be any of the five colors, and that'd be fitting to mirror the creature types for the cycle as "Human Knight."

O.K., that's it! What do you think?

Concerns I have: I know, it costs 4 mana and that sucks, but I think I had to cost it that high based on how much it should cost to get hexproof, let alone deathtouch, onto the table. Also, I wonder if this Knight would end up being un-fun to play with if you just left this forever on your side as a good threatening blocker (like you do with your Deathtouch Snakes and Rats). Then again, protecting you IS Knight-like. In the end, it should feel fun, but I haven't playtested this card.

Also, not sure if I got the order of abilities of "deathtouch" and "hexproof" correct along with the rest of the templating. I THINK so, but not sure.


Friday, September 18, 2015

It's Not Easy Being Green (or Red)

After holding out for only a few days before finally caving in, I purchased Super Mario Maker, the recently-released Wii U game where you can design and play custom courses created by you or others from around the world. While I was creating a course, I noticed something while looking through my pallet of course elements: the 1UP Mushroom has the label "1UP" on it.

Of Course

Here's a picture of my screen:

In-game, when you discover a Super Mushroom, you see this sliding red mushroom. For a 1UP Mushroom, this experience is exactly the same, except the mushroom is green. However, while creating a level, the image representation of a 1UP mushroom has a "1UP" displayed on it. Why is that? The mushrooms are already differentiated by the colors red and green and the 1UP Mushroom in the game doesn't have this label. I have a theory.

When you play a Mario game and discover a mushroom, you almost always are going to grab it. Grabbing one of these mushrooms is almost always a good thing to do. You don't discern, you go for it, whether it's a Super Mushroom or a 1UP Mushroom. It at least doesn't hurt, even if you already are Super Mario (larger Mario) or have 99 lives.

Conversely, when you design a Mario level, you're going to care about your mushroom types.

Let's say you want to place a power-up in a particular place in a Mario level you're making. You decide you want the Super Mushroom. So, then you look through your arranged design elements, locate that red Super Mushroom, and place it into the level. No biggie.

Now let's say you're red-green color blind and then want to make sure to put a 1UP Mushroom and NOT a Super Mushroom into some secret part of the level. You might discover this issue: both the Super Mushroom and the 1UP Mushroom are only differentiated by the colors red and green.

That's where the "1UP" label comes in. Because of the existence of that label, red-green colorblind fans/players will not have a problem at all choosing the appropriate mushroom.

Super, Nintendo

When you're designing Mario levels, you care about your mushroom types. When you're playing a Mario level, you don't really care as much. They're all "good things" to grab. So that's why that decision to put "1UP" as a label on a green mushroom in the level editor is necessary. This is a super-smart accessible design decision.

Good job, Nintendo. This makes me happy and proud.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Uncommon Solution of Panini's DBZ TCG

Last time... on Dragon Ball Z TCG blog posts:

I wrote something called The Common Problem of Panini's DBZ TCG, a piece on how terrible it is to have a difference in rarity among personality level cards within the same set/stack (Trunks Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4), especially if those rarities are common and uncommon and found within booster packs.

This was a problem because:
  1. Players who buy multiple booster packs will end up with more Level 1 and Level 2 cards than Level 3 and Level 4 cards
  2. Common personality cards means way too many wasted pieces of cardboard

These factors above end up with the truism that many players of the Panini Dragon Ball Z Trading Card Game who buy booster packs will have very, if not completely, useless cardboard.

I wasn't alone in recognizing this as a problem. Retro DBZ also had an article on this.

Set for Success

Heroes & Villains, the second set, was like Set 3, The Movie Collection. Set 1 was a larger set that was released with starters. Set 2 was simply an expansion set with four booster pack personalities. Set 3 was also an expansion set with four booster pack personalities. A difference between the two? Set 2 had Level 1 and Level 2 common personality cards while Set 3 did not.

There doesn't seem to be any reason for this change other than Panini recognized that this is an issue and then did something about it. That's fantastic. I like that Panini is willing and readily able to adapt and change according to the needs of the game and that support is not limited to just balancing gameplay environments. Rapid iteration of making a successful trading card game is awesome.

For The Movie Collection, the Level 1 and Level 2 personality cards are now uncommon. What's more is that the Level 3 and Level 4 personality cards are still uncommon! Woohoo! This means, on average, a player is going to have the same amount of copies of personality cards for each of a personality's levels.

This solution fixes #1 mentioned above. This also helps problem #2 mentioned above but doesn't completely solve it. But, it's tricky to solve this because there's another factor that Panini seems to be concerned with: Rainbow Sealed format.

Pot of Goals

Whenever there's a new set, players are going to want the new cards and play with them. Launch tournaments exist as a fun event to promote a set's release and give the opportunity to play with the new cards due to the sealed pack format Rainbow Sealed.

For Rainbow Sealed, you bring your own main personality to play in conjunction with the new cards, but you're allowed to play with the new main personalities, provided you get all four levels of that personality. With the number of packs that each player gets, having common personality cards means folks are definitely going to get new personalities they can play with. Having rare personality cards means that folks are pretty much never going to be able to play with the new personalities in a Rainbow Sealed. The sweet spot is the uncommon slot, where you'll stand a decent chance at getting the cards needed to be able to play, say, Garlic Jr. in your Rainbow Sealed.

So that solves that problem, but, the thing is, if you're going to buy a booster box or two of a new set, with personalities in the uncommon slot, you're still going to have a surplus of personality cards. So, as you can see, utilizing the current pack distribution to solve BOTH the problems of having too many personality cards and being able play with new personality cards in Rainbow Sealed is currently impossible.

So, we have two contradictory goals:
1) Lessen the number of cards that become useless as players purchase more booster packs
2) Increase the chances of having a full set of Level 1 through 4 for one of the new personalities at a Rainbow Sealed Launch event

Increasing the rarity of personality cards in booster packs helps Goal #1 while lowering the rarity helps Goal #2. So, now what?

Multiple Personality Disorder

Personality cards are always going to be among the cards you'll want the least number of copies of within your DBZ card collection. You can play three copies of Saiyan Upward Kick within a deck, but you can't play three copies of Garlic Jr., Crazed. Even though you can only play a single copy of Master Roshi ally in your deck, one or two of your decks might also make use of a Master Roshi ally, so it's not as bad as having multiple of the same main personality.

Let's go over how frequently you'd want to see certain cards appear in booster packs:

  • Main Personalities: Rarely
  • Named Cards: Sometimes
  • Allies: Sometimes
  • Dragon Balls: Sometimes
  • Masteries: Nevar!

Main Personalities: In comparison with the rest of the cards in that list, you're going to need copies of these cards the least.

Named Cards: You might want up to three copies of named cards, so you want to see these more often in booster packs than main personalities

Allies: You might be playing Nappa in each of your two villain decks, for example, so you'll want to see these more often than main personality cards.

Dragon Balls: For the same reason as above for allies, several of  your decks might be playing Dragon Balls. As for the rarity discrepancy between them, (7-star Dragon Ball being more rare than the 1-star Dragon Ball) this is not as offensive as the Main Personalities in Set 1 since you CAN play Namek Dragon Ball 1 without Namek Dragon Ball 7. So, while Dragon Ball Victory decks will want a full set, this is all right.

Masteries: Once you get a mastery, you're done with needing that mastery. Just like with main personalities you only really want one, maybe two copies of that mastery. A good solution that has been adopted by Panini is to have masteries only be included in the starters, so folks who buy starters don't have to worry about duds in their booster packs.

Based on the above, it seems to be that you'd want to see main personalities show up as often as rares do and others a bit more often than that. Again, having main personalities as rare cards means that you'll probably not play any new main personalities in Rainbow Sealed. 

Part of the Pack

But what if I told you that you can have rare personalities and still have a decent chance of playing a new main personality in a Rainbow Sealed tournament? What if, when you opened a booster pack containing a main personality, your booster pack looked like this:

 Much like how a foil takes up one of your common slots, a main personality that is rare would take up three of your common slots. This is fine. Here's what this solution does:

  • Perfectly solves any imbalance in the number of level cards you have for each main personality (No disproportionate number of Level 3's or Level 1's compared to the other Level cards for that personality)
  • Helps reduce the number of copies you're likely to own of a main personality (2 Garlic Jr. sets out of two booster boxes? Not bad!)
  • Maintains a likely probability that you can play a main personality in a Rainbow Sealed tournament
Keep in mind that the above booster pack contents ONLY occurs if you receive one of the booster pack main personalities. If it were a regular rare card, then you would still get 7 common cards, 4 uncommon cards, and 1 rare card.

Now, I know this may be something that's tricky to do in whatever manufacturing locations are determining the randomization of packs. 

But, if it's logistically possible distribution-wise, this solution might help improve the quality of Dragon Ball Z Trading Card Game booster packs.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Commander 2015 and Enemy Dual-Color Commanders Speculation

Kruphix's Insight by Igor Kieryluk

Let me start by saying that this is a speculation piece on a theoretical future Magic: The Gathering product. A product called Commander 2015, as of the time of this writing, has not been announced by Wizards of the Coast. I am not privy to any leaked information related to such a product. Lastly, while this blog post itself does not contain any card designs that aren't released Magic cards, some of the links in this post do lead to unofficial, original card designs.

Too Long, Didn't Read

The short version of this blog post: Commander 2015 will be announced this weekend at San Diego Comic-Con and will have enemy dual-color commanders.

On Four-Color Cards

I know I might sound like a broken record when it comes to talking about four-color cards. I've written an article series on designing a four-color set. I've speculated that Dragon's Maze would have four-color cards (Dragon's Maze fell short of my prediction of four-color cards by releasing three-color cards). I've also re-surfaced the four-color subject recently with my writing on solving the problem of easily communicating to players what cards are vanilla creatures if there were to be a four-color "faction" that cared about vanilla creatures in a "four colors matters" set.

I firmly believe four-color cards have a place in Magic: The Gathering beyond the mere five four-color Nephilim cards that were printed years ago. Some folks point out how difficult it would be to design four-color cards. This is very true. I'm not discounting that an expansion set with a world featuring "four colors matters" would be hard to create, but I don't think it's impossible. If Magic is going to survive for many more years, "four colors matters" has to be a design space that is mined at some point in the future.

It's because of these factors that I passionately talk about four-color cards so much, until they're proven to be a thing by Wizards of the Coast. I guess if it weren't for four-color cards, I'd be talking about Gnomes in Magic: The Gathering more. This is the part where I say, "But I digress."


Wheel of Fate by Kev Walker

For this writing, I'm speculating once again - this time about Commander 2015. The hypothesis I have is that there will be five pre-constructed decks, just like with each of the previous Commander products (except Commander's Arsenal, of course), each one with a color identity that is one of the five four-color combinations enemy color pairs. The reasons why I say this has to do with what has already been released in previous Commander products, timing, and current needs in the Commander format.

So, during my writing and research, I came to a conclusion that the Commander 2015 product will feature enemy dual-color commanders and NOT four-color commanders. I began writing this with the original hypothesis for four-color commanders and came out of it believing the opposite!

Wedge Commanders

Riku of Two Reflections by Izzy

Back when just Commander 2011 was released, the color combinations that were chosen for the decks were the three-color "wedges." It was a strong choice for two reasons: 1) three-color commanders are popular; and 2) there was only one commander choice for Commander decks with a wedge color identity. In fact, this need for more wedge-color commanders was called out on the product information page for Commander 2011:
These combinations have been woefully short-supplied on legendary creatures, so each deck contains the corresponding Planar Chaos Dragon (such as Intet, the Dreamer) as well as two new legendary commanders in those colors, plus oversized foil versions of all three.
Additional new commanders of note, released in other products in-between Commander 2011 and Commander 2013:

Shard/Arc Commanders

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician by Michael Komarck

For Commander 2013 (there was no "Commander 2012" product), the three-color "shards" (or, "arcs") were chosen as the color identities for yet another set of five precons. A safe choice, since three-color commanders, as stated before, are popular. The two-color combinations could have been pursued, but they weren't because Return to Ravnica had already done good work on two-color commanders, as noted in Mark Rosewater's article on designing Commander 2013:
The team examined one-, two-, three-, four-, and five-color options. It decided against two-color decks because the product was going to be coming out shortly after the Return to Ravnica block, which would be hitting the theme strongly.
Then Theros happened, and gave us more commanders, with at least one for every possible mono-color and two-color combination.

Conspiracy also provided five reprints and five new commanders, of varying color combinations.

Mono-color Commanders

Teferi, Temporal Archmage by Tyler Jacobson

When it came to Commander 2014, the next-most-popular color combinations were chosen to be featured in five precons, which turned out to be monocolor, as Ethan Fleischer noted when seeing Devon Rule's article, "1,000 Commander Decks,":
I had recently read an article by Devon Rule, "1,000 Commander Decks," where my fellow Great Designer Search 2 finalist and current Commander rules committee member broke down 1,000 decklists submitted by members of the community. Hmmm...monocolored decks were surprisingly popular!
And so mono-colored Commanders were created for Commander 2014 - a planeswalker commander, a new legendary creature, and a reprinted mono-colored commander.

Continuing the contributions the year of 2014 made toward mono-colored commanders:

Besides mono-colored commanders created during Fall of 2014, there have been these multicolored ones, leading up until now:

Commander 2015 Commanders = ???

Teferi's Puzzle Box by Donato Giancolo

So what color combinations should Commander 2015 be? Since Commander 2014 had just done mono-colored commanders, that option should be thrown out. All three-color combinations have already been done at least once. That leaves two-color, four-color, and five-color.

For two-color commanders, ally dual-color commanders shouldn't the focus for Commander 2015 since we just got ten new ones during Khans of Tarkir block.

Enemy dual-color commander representation, though, haven't seen any new ones created since Journey into Nyx. It's been over a year! Though, one could say that each of the five sneakily-three-color commanders can be played as if it were a two-color commander, but it's pretty weak for enemy dual-color commander representation, I would think. Battle for Zendikar, if it's going to be anything like either of Zendikar block or Rise of Eldrazi, then we're probably not going to see enemy dual-colored commanders in that set.

I have this belief that Wizards has this tiny goal of trying to make sure there's a bunch of new commanders for as many color combinations as possible within a reasonable amount of time. Let's take three-color commanders as an example. Wizards did a good job with Commander 2011 having three-color commanders which led to Commander 2013 having three-color commanders. Just when you thought that might be the end of the road for a while for three-color commanders, a block was done that had three-color commanders.

Another example are the dual-color commanders. Return to Ravnica block gave new commanders for every one of the ten combinations. Following that, Theros block did the same, with the Gods. Even Khans of Tarkir block had the ally dual-color Dragons in a block that started off with wedge three-color commanders.

Lastly, the mono-color commanders have had excellent support in the Core Sets as well as within Khans of Tarkir block and Commander 2014.

Whether it's Archenemy, Planechase, Conspiracy, Commander, or a new block; Wizards has plenty of opportunities to ensure new commanders for various color combinations.

And it's at this point where I realize that the possibility for enemy dual-color commanders is higher than four-color commanders. Given the following facts:

  • I think Wizards might care a little bit about the commander crowd seeing new commanders for their favorite color combinations within a "reasonable amount of time" (2 years), at least until there's PLENTY of options to choose from for commanders of any color combination
  • May 2014 was the last time we saw new enemy dual-color commanders
  • Battle for Zendikar might not feature enemy dual-color commanders
  • One of the reasons for not doing four-color commander decks for Commander 2013 is because there were no four-color commanders that already exist that could be reprinted, just like what has been done for each commander product for their respective color combinations: two new commanders and a reprinted commander
Even if the summer product in 2016 has enemy dual-color commanders, that feels like it's too long to wait for new enemy dual-color commanders. It's time to do new ones this year in Commander 2015. 

Four-Gone Conclusion

Ancestral Vision by Mark Poole

Sorry, four-color commanders. You're going to have to wait. You might just have to wait until a four-color set is released at some point then wait a bit more to have the commanders in that theoretical four-color set to be reprinted in the even-more-into-the-distant-future Commander product.

Fall Commander products have historically been announced in July, during San Diego Comic-Con. The past couple years, Comic-Con was around the end of the month. This year, though, Comic-Con is earlier in this month. In fact, this weekend! Will Wizards still have a Commander announcement during their panel? I think so! And maybe the announcement will be that there will be new enemy dual-color commanders (perhaps with some exciting new twist or mechanic?). And if I'm wrong and it's four-color commanders, I'll just shed a tear (of happiness). 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Full from Vanilla

For years, I've been fascinated with four colors mattering in Magic: The Gathering. Like, cards that specifically care about whether you're going exactly four colors - and definitely not five colors. If you've followed my Magic design activity online, perhaps via the #mtgdesign hashtag on Twitter, you might have seen my previous attempt at creating a four-color set.

I haven't given up on that set.

There are five four-color groupings that are possible, which I tentatively referred to as "factions" during development of the aforementioned set, and the one I'm focusing on today is the nonblue faction. 

This faction I had decided would care about vanilla creatures. This created a few issues.

They are as follows:
  • Vanilla creatures are not referred to as "vanilla" creatures in Magic terminology
  • How can a player recognize whether or not a creature is a vanilla creature?
  • How do we make vanilla creatures exciting enough to care about?
  • Is it correct to have this faction care about vanilla creatures?

There is no such thing as "vanilla" creatures

The Magic rules don't have a definition for a vanilla creature. So, what is a designer to do? Don't worry, the solution doesn't involve an update to the Magic comprehensive rules. We'll just refer to vanilla creatures by what they actually are - by the definition of a vanilla creature.

A vanilla creature, by definition, is a creature with no abilities. So, to have cards care about vanilla creatures, just have "creature with no abilities" within the rules text of the card that cares about vanilla creatures. That's it. 

It's incorrect to say that any creature with an empty text box is a vanilla creature since some creatures have text in their text box that is all flavor text. Which ties in the next point...

How can we make vanilla creatures that are easily recognized as vanillas?

There may be doubt, sometimes, as to whether a creature is a vanilla creature. Besides the flavor text example I mentioned earlier, which might be a "gotcha" for newer players, some seasoned players might even question whether a creature that has just an enters-the-battlefield effect is vanilla. Thankfully, an elegant solution had already been introduced.

In Future Sight, there were full-art vanilla creatures. This set was full of cards that might possibly be a glimpse in Magic's future. I wouldn't know until much later that the full-art vanilla creatures in this set would end up being the solution for showing whether a creature is a vanilla creature.

If someone was looking at the theoretical four-color set that this vanilla creature faction was in, they would have no doubt that the cards that have full art are the ones that are creatures with no abilities.

Some of you may point out that vanilla creatures in the past aren't full art, so this might be confusing. I hear you, but this is all right. We have Humans as a creature type now in Magic, which clashes with the fact that many years' worth of Magic cards in the past didn't have an explicit "Human" creature type written out. 

So, it's O.K. The full art will help to serve the newer players most, and if they're experiencing this set, then they're likely not also experiencing a ton of old Magic cards at the same time.

Also, this isn't a proposal for making all vanilla creatures to ever exist in the future to change to being full art. This set containing these full-art vanilla creatures would just be like a Zendikar, where lands mattered and, thus, basic lands had full art.

How can vanillas be exciting?

Luckily, the solution mentioned previously, with the full-art lands, make these vanilla cards pretty cool. I mean, take a peek at these:

Cool, right?

Besides cool full-art creatures, the mechanic that cares about creatures with no abilities would also help to enhance the excitement of playing a deck that cares about vanillas.

Lastly, sometimes, there are mechanical themes in sets that appear that suddenly make older cards actually matter for reasons which they didn't matter before. This is one such case, as there are hundreds of vanilla creatures from Magic's history ready to become more relevant than before.

Is a vanilla creatures nonblue faction a mistake?

This is a fair question to ask, of which the answer I do not know and would be finding out through development.

It is my believe that Magic: The Gathering has room in its limited design space for an amount of cards that cares about vanilla creatures. And when there are themes in a Magic set, you need enough cards in the set to support that theme. A faction of a set that cares about vanillas seems good (better than being a major theme like the artifact card type was for Mirrodin), and what better to help increase the number of cards that care about vanillas than to utilize the maximum number of colors for a distinctive "group"?

Having a four-color faction care about vanillas means that, at common, there can be four common vanilla cards, one for each color in the faction. That, or two common vanillas per faction. That's four to eight creatures, which is enough! (This isn't counting cards that would have the mechanic that cares about vanilla creatures.)

So far, it still seems to be a solid direction.

Whew. I'm relieved! I got the solution to "How do we easily communicate vanilla creatures in this set?" out there to you folks on the internet and off my chest. =) Tune in ...sometime in the future when I decide to pick back up designing my "four colors matters" set.

For more on the vanilla faction itself, you can read more from my past writing on this topic here.
For more on vanilla creatures in general, I wrote this and, its sequel, this.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gohan in Set 3 of Panini's DBZ TCG

Disclaimer: This is a speculation article and is not based on any official Panini announcement of Gohan returning as a main personality in Set 3.

Panini's rebooted Dragon Ball Z Trading Card Game currently has its second card set released, named Heroes & Villains. Within this set, there are new characters to play with, including main personalities and allies. Of these new main personalities, all of them are of characters that have never been main personalities before.

There will come a time, however, when a new card set release will contain main personalities of characters we've already seen before as main personalities. This will definitely happen by the time the card sets are focusing on characters and events from the Android and Cell sagas of the DBZ story.

The next set, Set 3, is not going to focus on any androids. However, we will see at least one character return as a main personality: Gohan.

Here are topics we'll cover along the way to see where we make deductions and assumptions leading to this conclusion:
  • Elements of a Dragon Ball Z set
  • Saiyan-style and Namekian-style cards
  • Card art theory
  • The Gohan plan

On Your Mark, Get Set, Gohan

Even though we're only on Set 2 of the Panini reboot of the game, there are already some apparent requirements that make up a DBZ TCG set. Not every set is going to have starters released to coincide with a booster pack product like Set 1 did. Nor is every set going to have a new collection of Dragon Ball cards to choose from, just like what happened with Set 2.

However, there are a few elements that every Dragon Ball Z card set should have:
  • Main personality cards
  • Ally personality cards
  • New cards for each style in the game (Red, Blue, Orange, Black, Saiyan, Namekian)

Why should every set in the game contain main personality cards? One of the reasons is because they're one of the key sellers of the set! Each of the booster pack displays for each of the released sets mention the main personality characters you can find in the packs.

The second reason is because of what Panini is trying to do for someone who decides to buy a booster box of a set - at least, when they were doing masteries in booster packs. Here's what Panini said about including masteries in a Z Warrior Mailbag on their blog:

The initial idea was to give players access to each Style without requiring additional starter deck purchases. At the same time, the inclusion of Mastery cards in the boosters allows players to create a Trunks or Captain Ginyu deck from packs alone.

While they're not going to do masteries any more in booster sets, let's assume someone already has masteries - they could just buy a booster box of the latest set and get a deck going with the main personalities they find within their new cards.

Ally cards exist because of the third reason why main personality cards exist - the characters. A card game based on a story-based IP has to focus on its characters, and not every character can be a main personality - thus ally cards. This is why each set will have ally personalities.

Lastly, there are six styles in the game that bring checks and balances against each other and make up half of a player's deck's identity (the other half being their main personality). When a new set comes out, there must always be new cards for each of the six styles, so that every DBZ TCG player has something to look forward to.

And, of course, among the six styles are Saiyan and Namekian.

Oppa Gohan Style

If there are going to be new main personalities in every set, partly so that players can build decks from the booster boxes they buy, and there are new Saiyan and Namekian cards within the set, then every set MUST have, among its main personalities, characters that can allow you to play Saiyan and Namekian cards.

Let's back up a moment. For the purposes of considering what's part of a set, we're going to consider the starters that coincide with a large set part of the set. This is because large sets may not be constrained to having both a saiyan and a namekian among the few-number of characters within the booster portion of the set. Look at set 1 not containing a Namekian to build a deck around. 

This is amusing to consider when part of the reason for masteries in Set 1 was so that they can allow a player to build a deck, but a Namekian style mastery along with the Namekian style cards would be useless without a Gohan or Piccolo purchased from the starter.

So, for including saiyan characters in sets, luckily, there are a ton of saiyans to focus on from the Dragon Ball Z universe, so each set that releases is definitely not going to find itself in a shortage of saiyans to choose from to fill in the saiyan slot.

Namekians are the weak point of the goal of including at least one Namekian character every set. The bread and butter are Gohan and Piccolo. The first set already used up both Gohan and Piccolo, so featuring either one of them in Set 2 would be too soon for repeat main personality cards of them. Nail saved the day for Set 2. 

But now, what about Set 3? That depends on what story, or saga, we're in when we get to Set 3 - and this is something we know for sure: Garlic Jr. Saga

We know this "for sure," because of a theory I have: the card art theory.

Gohan, Don't Believe Me

The theory I have about the third set being based on Garlic Jr. saga and what characters will be featured as main personalities or allies is based upon the card art of the previous set. So, for Set 2, the card art in Set 1 contains clues as to who was going to be in Set 2. For Set 3, we look at Set 2. The theory also relies upon HOW OFTEN a character appears within the art of the cards for a particular set. So, what I did was gather some data.

The data I gathered is this: how many times does a particular character show up within the art among every single card within a card set EXCEPT for the following cards: main personality cards, ally personality cards, named cards, and promotional cards. 

This is so that the numbers are not thrown off by the obvious: of course Goku is going to appear within the art of the Goku personality cards, Goku ally cards, and Goku named cards. And most promos are just doubling up on whatever was depicted in the card art before (Trunks' Sword Slash shows the "before and after" of the same scene involving Trunks and Frieza, for example).

Here's what I found:

Set 1Set 2
Master Roshi75
Ox King1
Mr. Popo3
King Kai31
Captain Ginyu6
Garlic Jr.16

Keep in mind that these numbers are not perfect due to instances where I couldn't tell which character was featured in the art, like obscure images that could be Goku/Yamcha/Raditz/Vegeta (and I haven't memorized every single scene in the Dragon Ball Z anime). I also may have miscounted slightly when counting characters in card 

Now, take a look at Nail, Raditz, Tien, and Nappa. Each of those characters were main personalities in Set 2. They were found in the art of cards in Set 1, yet, they were not present in Set 1. These four guys then went on to get their own main personality cards and named cards in Set 2. Yet, conveniently, for every single one of them, there is no other card art within the set that feature any of these characters. Pretty odd, considering they're the stars.

That is, unless there's another phenomenon going on: previewing what's going to appear in the next set. In this case, there is now card art of Garlic Jr., Spice, Vinegar, Mustard, and Salt. NONE of these characters are main personalities or allies in the Panini reboot of the game. ...that's because they're coming in Set 3.

Gohan Solo

So, assuming you also believe this card art theory to be true, too; let's run with it and analyze who might be coming in Set 3:

There were a TON of Goku cards in Set 1. Makes sense, since he's the hot stuff to focus on for the premiere set. However, in Set 2, there's SIGNIFICANTLY less Goku. Not zero Goku art, since that's hard to do when there's so much good Goku source material for certain card concepts. But enough less Goku to inform us that there will NOT be Goku in Set 3.

Running with the same reasons, Vegeta and Trunks won't be in Set 3 either. Curiously, though, Gohan has a STRONG number of times he's in the card art of Set 2. Oh, yes - because he's the hero of the story of Garlic Jr. That's great, because Gohan can fill in for either Saiyan or Namekian as a main personality in Set 3.

But let's not forget our friends who, like Garlic Jr. and the Spice Boys did, have suddenly appeared in curious fashion in numerous pieces of art in Heroes & Villains - Kami and Mr. Popo. Some of you may think, "Wait, does that mean Kami is going to be the Namekian main personality for Set 3?" Not necessarily. There's a LOT of Piccolo art in Set 2.

This also makes sense since Piccolo and Gohan were one of the main fighters during Garlic Jr. Krillin also had a hand in aiding the Z Warriors, and he's in a lot of card art.

So, it could make sense that these would be the following main personalities of Set 3:
Garlic Jr.

(For the record, I'm assuming the third set is an expansion set with four main personalities since I don't think Panini is going to have changed their usual pattern for Set 3, including, sadly, too many MP and Ally cards in an expansion set.)

But I can't say for sure whether Krillin and Piccolo are going to be main personalities. I am dead sure of Gohan because Gohan is a saiyan, and if we follow the card art theory: he is the only saiyan who has any decent number of depictions within card art. And if we must have at least one saiyan personality per set, Gohan is our saiyan MP representative.

Now, based on the card art numbers above, I can also believe if this were among the choices:
Garlic Jr.
Piccolo/Kami (Namekian)
Krillin/Chichi/Mr. Popo (Other)

Personally, I'm betting on this: Garlic Jr., Gohan, Krillin, Piccolo

On a side note, a reasonably awesome path (that I don't believe will happen) for Set 3 personalities would be:
Garlic Jr.
Vegeta (Hero)
Mr. Popo

This way, there are no "repeat characters" as Vegeta would be a hero for the first time in this set, which is backed up by the Focused Assault "Heroes only" card. I don't think he'll appear based on the card art theory in terms of numbers, but it's certainly a good direction - just not one Panini decided upon. At best, a hero Vegeta ally will appear in Set 3. Otherwise, no appearance at all. Besides, it's really confusing to also have Saiyan Grab, too; which is "villains only."

Part of my betting on Krillin being in Set 3 is because of my guesses for future sets and how there's only so much room to fit characters - including Krillin. And Krillin is so much more important in Garlic Jr. Saga than he is at other times during the series. And he appears in so much card art in Set 2. And there's Maron - that girlfriend he had.

Maron curiously shows up in a decent number of cards in Set 2. I personally think she'll be an ally personality who gives extra benefit to Krillin like the Piccolo ally did in Heroes & Villains for Gohan.

Gohan, Be My Guest

Let's talk a little bit about allies. First, here's another table:

AlliesSet 1Set 2Set 3
ChaozuGohanMr. Popo
BulmaTrunks Master Roshi
RecoomeCaptain GinyuSalt

There's going to be 10 allies in Set 3, mirroring Set 2 and Set 1. Garlic Jr.'s Spice Boys will definitely be allies.

Based on the card art theory, there's definitely going to be at least these: Kami, Mr. Popo, Maron, and Master Roshi. Bulma, Chichi, and Yamcha have all been allies before - but not villain allies. They get affected by the black water mist. So I wonder if we'll see villain ally versions of these characters. Perhaps not, and we'll see new characters instead like Yajirobe and Hero Vegeta.

Keep Calm and Gohan

Let's get back to Gohan. Gohan is a fantastic tool to use in terms of main personalities included in future sets.

He can be Saiyan or Namekian. And there's a rule I believe in when it comes to filling in the Saiyan and Namekian slots for main personalities for each set - Gohan can't be the only one filling in for both. The set Gohan appears in as a main personality, he must have at least one other Saiyan or Namekian accompanying him, whether it's Piccolo or someone like Trunks.

Gohan also grows up throughout the series and has many memorable moments or attributes to him, whether he's a kid, a Super Saiyan 2 defeating Cell, or The Great Saiyaman. Gohan has many reasons story-wise to come back many times in the game - and he's also go great gameplay set needs reasons for him to return.

I think what this comes down to is that Gohan will be in roughly 1 out of every 2 sets that is released. One possible path is that Gohan will appear in sets 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. For example, I say "roughly," because he might be in Sets 1, 3, 4, then 6, then 8.

Gohan will appear many times and fill in for Namekian as a main personality where Mr. Piccolo cannot in certain sets. And as a saiyan in the rare circumstance that all the other saiyans are not available - like Garlic Jr. Saga.

Time to Gohan

Here are a last few things:
  • This article is purely speculation
  • Only Gohan and Garlic Jr. I'm confident are going to be Main Personalities
  • "Garlic Jr. looks kinda Namekian! Maybe he is the Namekian slot?" The old DBZ TCG didn't treat him as a Namekian, and I don't think Panini will change that.
  • The card art theory is something I made up and may become unreliable as more card sets are released and Panini evolves its process
  • Here are a few references that relate this article:
While we are still a while away from revisiting the existing MPs, you’re likely to see something along the lines of a Hero Vegeta down the road. I wonder which MPs are good candidates for alternate alignments – Vegeta, Piccolo, Android 18, Buu, hmm…

The only current MPs that use Namekian Knowledge Mastery are Piccolo, Gohan, and Nail. There are other eligible candidates that might be released in future sets, and they will be more clearly defined in the rulebook.
Movie characters will indeed show up in future sets, perhaps even sooner than you think…

The potential inclusion of a subset is requested frequently, so it’s definitely something we have to consider. As far as Garlic Jr. specifically…you’ll have to wait and see!

'til next time!