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!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Common Problem of Panini's Dragon Ball Z TCG

UPDATE 08/25/2015: Read Part 2 of this post: The Uncommon Solution of Panini's DBZ 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.