Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Perfect Booster Pack

The fourth challenge of The Great Designer Search 2 is currently underway, and I have some thoughts to share regarding how to go about completing this challenge. The rules, in summary, are as such: Present your set in the best possible light by building the perfect Magic: The Gathering booster pack, the contents of which must contain: 9 commons, 3 uncommons, 1 rare/mythic rare, 1 premium card (any rarity), 1 basic land, 1 token card. For each slot, in addition to the card design listing, there is to be a fifteen-words-or-less description of what’s pictured in the card’s art.

I'm going to call the different parts that need to be found in the booster pack as elements. The different elements include:
  • Mechanic 1, 2, 3, ...N
  • Non-Mechanical Theme 1 ...N (Eg. Scars of Mirrodin's "familiar-feeling"/nostalgia theme like with the Spellbomb cycle. Another theme is Mirrodin's identity associated with equipment and indestructible.)
  • White
  • Blue
  • Black
  • Red
  • Green
  • Other color theme 1 ...N
  • Creature
  • Land
  • Sorcery
  • Instant
  • Enchantment
  • Artifact
  • Planeswalker And/Or Legendary
  • Tribes 1, 2, 3 ...N (if applicable) NOTE: Use the art descriptions and/or token card to portray tribes on non-creature cards
  • Other supertype/subtypes
  •  Represent ratios in set in the pack (Eg. Scars of Mirrodin having a large amount of artifacts)
  • Marks (Eg. Phyrexian, Mirran) and their respective ratios (20% of cards being Phyrexian mark = 2 to 3 cards in the pack marked as Phyrexian)
  • Timmy
  • Johnny
  • Spike
  • Melvin
  • Vorthos
  • Other unique factors.
All these elements need to be present on the cards in your pack. You'll most likely have cards that need to pull double or triple-duty on fulfilling required elements.

I realize that some of these elements may be argued for whether they need to be included. For example, the nonbasic land can be argued, or the fact that there doesn't need to be a legendary/planeswalker or Melvin or Vorthos card. You can say that the point isn't to cater to each of the individual psychographics or to make sure that all of the different kinds of card colors or card types need to be present in the card. 

However, it is my belief that, if you're going to get as close to perfect as you can in a booster pack, not only will your pack represent your set in the best way possible, but it will also include something for everyone or something for anything that anybody would want to seek in a pack. It's not only fulfilling the challenge, it's also going the extra mile to get that much closer to perfect. And that's what I think these perfect packs will need.

So, finalists, similar to how Mark Rosewater goes over how he fills out the design skeleton for the commons of a fictional small set in the Nuts & Bolts article "Design Skeletons in the Closet", you may want to be assigning each of these elements to the different slots to see how your pack will come together before too much designing is done, otherwise, you may find that your last few slots might not match up perfectly in fulfilling every element you're looked to include in the pack.

I hope this helps! I'll revisit this post in the future after the finalists send in their submissions, so I can apply the feedback I receive from readers of this post as well as tackle this challenge for my own set.



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mock Submission - Challenge #1 and Reviews

On November 10th, The Great Designer Search 2 had its first episode's challenge presented for each of the then-eight finalists. I decided to play along at home and put up my own mock design submission for the first challenge on this wiki page. For those not in the know, the challenge, in summary, was to have eighteen designs for the commons of one color of a Magic set. By the way, like I said on the Wiki, my rules were a little different, as in, all eighteen cards were designed by me whereas the finalists needed at least six not designed by them.

I know it's a bit late, but I'm posting what I posted there on the Wiki along with the adjustments I've made after viewing the reviews I've received. I'll post the original card slot, the comments, and then the new design for that slot, if applicable. Also, there's the flavor and mechanical information to aid those not knowing what my world/block is about. I've also added the non-card specific comments, too. So, here we go:

The people who reviewed me and their colors throughout this post are as follows:

Dan Emmons (Demons)

I also had a bonus reviewer. He called himself Lucky on the wiki page he reviewed my mechanics, and his twitter account is right here. My world's wiki isn't up to date, so he was actually reviewing an old version of trauma and a now-defunct mechanic called "focus." But, after reading it, it did make me want to change how trauma worked.

Instead of replacing the damage, which is how I had it when my reviewers read my mock submission, he suggested replacing the loss of life from the damage dealt by the trauma creature with the milling. That way, things like lifelink could still happen. But, I took it a step further and changed trauma to be like wither, where it is still damage, but it is a different form of damage when dealt to the player.

Interestingly, it's now back to being similar to Evan Erwin's mechanic erode, which inspired  the mechanic in the first place.

The World

Plane: Immovale
Set Name: Immovale

Old Logline: A corrupting world within the mind of a planeswalker, where dreams and nightmares are reality.

metaghost: Functional. But considering that it takes place "within the mind of a planeswalker", the second clause is a relative no-brainer that feels like wasted space. Also, what is this world "corrupting"?

Logline: A world within the distressed mind of a planeswalker

Old Flavor Description
The world of Immovale was once a dream-like paradise until a spreading blackness in the neverending sea sprang forth the antithesis of pleasant dreams: traumatic nightmares. The gnomes are a trickster spellcasting race, specializing in illusion and manipulation. They are aligned with red and blue magic. The wibblies are a humanoid frog race invested in seeking knowledge about and understanding the unpredictable world they live in. The frogs are aligned with green and blue magic. The blue gnomes and wibblies are explored in this set of blue commons.

Flavor Description
The world of Immovale is rich in species diversity, a home for spells to flourish, and was once a peaceful paradise. A spreading blackness in the neverending sea sprang forth the antithesis of pleasant dreams: traumatic nightmares. The gnomes are a trickster spellcasting race, specializing in illusion and manipulation. They are aligned with red and blue magic. The wibblies are a humanoid frog race invested in seeking knowledge about and understanding the unpredictable world they live in. The frogs are aligned with green and blue magic. Nightmares attack the world's host's mind and subsequently affect the plane. They are blue-and-black aligned. The white-and-blue aligned merfolk inhabit the neverending sea, always exploring new territory under the waters.

Old Mechanics Description
A "spells matter" theme is shown in the mechanic spellcast, which rewards casting spells. Flashback is the returning mechanic that pulls triple duty: it supports spellcast cards, provides mana curve options in Limited, and supports this next mechanic. The final mechanic these blue commons feature is trauma, which appears mostly in blue and black. Trauma is a part of the library theme. Another mechanic, mostly in green and branching out to white and red, is also a library-themed mechanic that combats the milling from trauma. As such, it is not featured here.

On a final note, the phrase "Target player puts the top NUMBER cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard." has now been shortened with my proposed keyword action "mill." It looks like this: "Target player mills NUMBER cards." Trauma mentions mill like this: "Whenever this creature would deal damage to a player, that player mills twice that many cards instead." So, a creature that would deal 2 damage would instead 'cause the player to mill twice that many cards, which is four cards. Enjoy!

Mechanics Description
A "spells matter" theme is shown in the mechanic spellcast, which rewards casting spells. Flashback is the returning mechanic that pulls triple duty: it supports spellcast cards, provides mana curve options in Limited, and supports another new mechanic: trauma. Trauma is a part of the library theme. Another mechanic, mostly in green and branching out to white and red, is also a library-themed mechanic that combats the milling from trauma. As such, it is not featured here.

The Cards (Cards in Italics are old versions.)


Gnome Illusionist
Creature - Gnome Wizard
Spellcast -- Whenever you cast a spell, Gnome Illusionist becomes unblockable until end of turn.

Demons: This feels common. I like this one. Super simple way to show spellcast. I love it.
Kultcher: Spellcast is very landfall-esque. That's probably a good thing, although I think it puts the impetus on you to make it distinct. For a basic implementation, however, this is spot on.
metaghost: Solid. Straight U, 1/1, Unblockable probably isn't unprintable at common, and this does a good job of sitting in that space of late limited pick.
Nich: This is a good way to demonstrate the return of Gnomes and the expected power level on Spellcast. You and I both played around with casting spells in our submissions, but your approach was much more reactive key ability. The thing that worries me most about this approach is the way it incentivizes you to play spells you might not care about to trigger Spellcast, and it trains your opponent to wait until you’ve committed a spell to trigger the ability before they use their removal. This mechanic rewards players for playing spells before combat, which isn’t often a good strategy.

This references Dungeons & Dragons and how, at least in D&D 3.5, a gnome's favored class is a wizard specializing in illusions: The illusionist. I love this card for that. And, hey, resonance! Well, besides World of Warcraft also popularizing gnomes.

Gnome Illusionist
Creature - Gnome Wizard
Spellcast -- Whenever you cast a spell, Gnome Illusionist becomes unblockable until end of turn.

Wibblie Infantry
Creature - Frog Soldier

Demons: I feel like this card is not Blue. A two mana 2/1 is not blue, its red or black. I'm not sure it makes sense given your themes.

Kultcher: Okay. Gotta have your vanilla dorks.
metaghost: The only problem with focusing on uncommon creature types is that putting them into your vanilla slots makes them seem so much less special.
Nich: Fine guy. Do the Gnomes and Frogs share classes, or will most of the wizards/mages be Gnomes and Fighters/defenders be Frogs? I think you should make this sort of decision when committing to two sentient tribes in a color.

I feel this card is blue according to this list of cards. The original Wibblie Thought-Fader is out in favor of a low-cost blue trauma creature, but the name remains.

"Mill" has been unkeyworded. I practically finished this whole post having used "grind" instead of "mill" for my revision, but it just didn't feel right. It's either "mill" or not at all, and it feels like "mill" isn't quite cutting it. However, the way trauma works has changed thanks to Lucky.

Wibblie Thought-Fader
Creature - Frog Rogue
Trauma (This deals damage to players in the form of them putting twice that many cards from the top of their library into their graveyard.)

Gnome Aeronaut
Creature - Gnome Wizard
Spellcast -- Whenever you cast a spell, Gnome Aeronaut gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

Demons: In GDS1, it was said multiple times that they don't like to do CC at common because it puts pressure on limited. That said, i like the simple implementation.
Kultcher: This is more interesting. Thumbs up.
metaghost: One thing that the top 8 struggled with is the fact that outside of Green, the various colors tend to have a single CC creature at common. You have three. If we consider Plague Stinger as setting a bar of sorts, I see no reason this can't just be 1U to emphasize a set quality.
Nich: I agree that this would be better costing 1U rather than UU. I think it’s powerful, but not degenerate. Besides, your Blue creatures are pretty anemic and could use a power representation. You need to really let your set theme excite the player. A 2/2 for 1U with a drawback that’s all upside is a smart way to do that. If you’re concerned that Blue shouldn’t have creatures at this power level, than I would ask, if not in the “Casting matters” set, than when?

Because common is not a good place for repeatable effects (put them at uncommon, like an effect putting a token onto the battlefield every time you cast a spell), I decided that all the spellcast cards at common should use a bonus that doesn't stack EXCEPT for a cycle of "+1/+1"-ers. Actually, black might get a "-1/-1" spellcast card at common since that, too, is equally hard to abuse into degeneracy. So, what I'm trying to say is that this is part of a cycle. I'm sad this isn't a gnome anymore. That's O.K. Red will have another gnome. And, yes, a flying merfolk aeronaut. Only in my dreams, right? Oh, wait a minute... considering the type of plane... aha!

Merfolk Aeronaut
Creature - Merfolk Wizard
Spellcast -- Whenever you cast a spell, Derwon Aeronaut gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

Tome Rummager
Creature - Frog Wizard
T: Draw a card, then discard a card.

Demons: Plays well with flashback, and I like the synergy with the P/T. It puts tension on whether or not you use him to block or use him to get the card on your turn. Thumbs up.
Kultcher: Feels like something a blue mage will enjoy playing, at least in limited. High toughness plus looter is a powerful combo, surprised it hasn't been done before.
metaghost: Oh those multi-faceted frogs.
Nich: Nice idea. I avoided a looter in Abissa because I feel like they’ve sent mixed signals as to whether they want the looter effect at common or uncommon.

Tome Rummager
Creature - Human Wizard
T: Draw a card, then discard a card.

Wibblie Thought-Fader
Creature - Frog Wizard
Trauma (Whenever this creature would deal damage to a player, that player mills twice that many cards instead.)

Demons: I don't feel like "mill" should be made into an action word, but even if it is, it shouldn't be called 'mill.' That isn't flavorful at all, its just nostalgic for Millstone that isn't even in print anymore. And Trauma isn't that exciting on a Grey Ogre. Its not bad, but limited probably needs a 1 mana 1/1 Trauma guy.
Kultcher: Perfectly reasonably common to display trauma. A random note, matter of taste: I don't like the word "mill" as an action word. Sure, Millstone is the iconic artifact but what the millstone is actually doing is grinding: More than one mage has been driven insane by the sound of the millstone relentlessly grinding away. I'd suggest renaming mill to "grind" or something similar. It just sounds more badass, like you're actually destroying someone's sanity rather than, I don't know, refining lumber.

Actually one more thing. Trauma is okay as it is, but it would be much cooler if borrowed from the infect playbook, where it played differently with both creatures and players. It's wordy but something like (If a creature dealt damage by this creature this turn would be destroyed, put it on top of it's owner's library instead.) Or shuffle it into it's owner's library, perhaps. But that would be badass.
metaghost: Did you know that only 3 wizards have ever had a combat damage ability?
Nich: Here comes trauma. Okay. I would hate to have this guy against a player at 2 life with 38 cards in their library. Milling for twice the power of the creature is a really smart idea. I like it more than a number and it makes it easier to scan on busy board. But the fact that creatures with trauma never deal damage to players is a big problem for me. I strongly recommend you make it a “may” clause.

The 1/1 C trauma creature? Good idea. That's going to be in black.

Cloudlurker Squid
Creature - Squid

Twiddling Dream
Creature - Dream
When you cast Twiddling Dream, you may tap or untap target nonland permanent.
Flashback U (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it. A creature spell cast this way does not enter the battlefield.)

Demons: This is way too confusing as to how it works. I can grok what you're trying to do, but I'm almost positive this will cause confusion to anyone who's played with flashback before.
Daniel: CU06 is a weird card. Why mess with flashback that way? Why not make it unearth? (Answer: because this is the flashback color/tribe; Unearth will go somewhere else?) It's un-good.

I think you could actually fix CU06 by making it weirder - make its card type Instant Creature. Keep Flashback the way it is, and add a reminder text: "You may play this card as an instant. If you do, put it on to the battlefield as it resolves." You might need to lose flying to make space on the card for it. And unless you plan on a cycle of Dream creatures, I'd stick with an established creature type, like Weird or Illusion.
Kultcher: Interesting choice. I suppose re-templating flashback wouldn't break it but it does feel a little funny. Regardless of that, the card is neat and the concept is solid. Good work.
metaghost: I'm not so sure you've got creature-flashback figured out, especially considering they designed Unearth for a reason. Evoke's template would assuredly work better, but I get not wanting to have to divide keyword concepts in the same set.

Nich: This an interesting take on Flashback, but it doesn’t make me glad Flashback has returned so much as show the limitation compared to Evoke or Unearth. Would Dream be a creature type reserved for creatures with Flashback? That’s a neat idea. This card deserves a bit more work since it’s a good idea, but not quite fully realized. Also, the nonland clause is probably unnecessary. Finally, I think the flashback cost is too cheap, but see comments on CU10 for more details on that.

Yeah, dreams are a cycle.

But, I do think that flashback could appear on card types other than sorceries and instants. And creatures are a big one. It's unexplored design space in the same vein that Dryad Arbor is a creature that's not a spell. It, too, has reminder text explaining what the ramifications of a creature land are.

Instants and sorceries are put into graveyards. Creatures enter battlefields. Flashback replaces where they go with the exile zone. A spell that has been flashbacked always hits the exile zone. It's working the same way that it always has, but it can make you scratch your head when it's on a creature. But, that's why the reminder text is there to remind you.

Suspenseful Dream
Creature - Dream
When you cast Suspenseful Dream, you may tap or untap target permanent.
Flashback 1U (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it. A creature spell cast this way does not enter the battlefield.)

Looming Nightmare
Creature - Nightmare
Trauma (Whenever this creature would deal damage to a player, that player mills twice that many cards instead.)

Demons: I like this Trauma guy much better. Flying works well with the ability.
Kultcher: Another guy for the trauma deck, sure.
metaghost: In limited, due to required card draw, this is closer to functioning like a 4/2. Probably shouldn't be common, as it's also definitely UU.
Nich: With a “may” clause on Trauma, this card is a great common, since we know how good Snapping Drake is. Again, the creature type is a nice choice.

This is the only common creature with UU in its cost. So, I listened.

Looming Nightmare
Creature - Nightmare
Trauma (This deals damage to players in the form of them putting twice that many cards from the top of their library into their graveyard.)

Gnome-Wibblie Evaders
Creature - Frog Gnome Wizard
Spellcast -- Whenever you cast a spell, Gnome-Wibblie Evaders gain flying and shroud until end of turn.

Demons: I like him, but is there going to be room for more spellcast cards in other colors? Zendikar had at most three landfall cards per color at common.
Kultcher: Why is he both a gnome and a frog? Anyway when it comes to cards like this what I would rather see is this:
Spellcast -- Whenever you cast a spell, CHOOSE ONE -- Gnome-Wibblie Evaders gain flying until end of turn OR shroud until end of turn.
Sure it's weaker but I think it's a more interesting card.
metaghost: Crossbreeding Frogs and Gnomes? Seems a bit powerful for common.
Nich: I get it, a Gnome and a Frog-man are working together. Are they both Wizards too? I can see a 5 card cycle of these, assuming the other colors each feature two prominent races. This is just flavor unless you include some tribal elements at higher levels, which I hope you do. I think this card suffers from new tribal syndrome, because I don’t know which race is contributing which keyword when Spellcast triggers. Is flying the Gnome side, or is it shroud? Which more distinct keywords tying it all together this could be a home run. It’s a nice medium creature for limited too.

This card is a result of my design decisions being blinded by love. I love the Shadowmoor Duo cycle, and I wanted to copy it for my set, which was heavily tribal, except do races instead of classes. (Gnome Wizard and Frog Wizard teaming up) I was going to do a mechanic for each tribe, pairing two mechanics per dual-raced card. But then I gave up the tribe-specific mechanics. And then I gave up tribal period. And then I still kept the races of my world and tried to keep the dream alive of a new Duo cycle with this sorry excuse of a representation of that. But, by this point, I'm just doing a disservice to both the set and the cycle I wanted to do.

It just so happens this is the other creature I'm cutting from the current roster. Hooray. Next time I do a tribal set, I'm so pursuing this cycle again.

Since I have a bunch of different creature types in this world now, I won't be pursuing Nich's suggestion of making the types relevant at higher "levels."

The exile ability is part of a small set of cards that care about exiled cards. It interacts with flashback and the anti-trauma green-centric mechanic.

AEther Drake
Creature - Drake
AEther Drake gets +1/+1 and has shroud as long as you own an exiled card.

Spellhunting Serpent
Creature - Serpent
Spellcast -- Whenever you cast a spell, Spellhunting Serpent loses defender until end of turn.

Demons: This guy needs a P/T. Other than that and the fact that its your fourth spellcast card, this is fine.
Kultcher: This guy has no P/T. I'll assume 5/5. In that case I think his Spellcast trigger might be a little too easy to hit. Just spitballing a different take using my idea above:
Spellhunting Amoeboid - 3U
Creature - Mutant Beast
Spellcast -- Whenever you cast a spell, you may switch Spellhunting Amoeboid's power and toughness until end of turn.
metaghost: P/T missing. Where's its evasion?
Nich: Too similar to the landfall Serpent in Zendikar for my tastes, right down to defender.

Reminiscent Serpent
Creature - Serpent
Reminiscent Serpent is unblockable as long as there's an Island in defending player's graveyard.

Lethe Bolt
Target player mills three cards.
Flashback 1U (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Demons: I like this in this set.
Kultcher: No problems here.
metaghost: Solid.
Nich: As a flashback enabler, this is fantastic. The more spells with flashback you put in your yard, the more options you’re going to have to trigger your Spellcast effects. Once again, we both sought a way to incentivize players to want to play a lot of spells. My choice was Resurface (which puts a spell back on the bottom of your library once it’s played, or discarded,) and you chose Flashback. I would be really interested to see which method is more successful at getting players to risk casting spells. On its own, Lethe Bolt will make the flashback/spellcast deck work. This plus Gnome Aeronaut is pretty exciting for limited. Any low costing Flashback costs should be scrutinized.

Lethe Bolt
Target player puts the top three cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard.
Flashback 1U (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Sudden Nightmare
Target creature gains trauma until end of turn. (Whenever that creature would deal damage to a player, that player mills twice that many cards instead.)

Demons: This card sorta steps on the toes of number 10. I would probably cut one of them.
Kultcher: A little boring but what do you want from a common blue combat trick? Maybe it could also grant unblockable, as that would gel nicely with the flavor of a creature "turning into" a nightmare.
metaghost: Gimme a cantrip or something if I can't get a +X/+0.
Nich: Eh, it’s okay. It’s a possible Flashback enabler, or fog for a single creature. In limited, it might help you deck a player.

I agree with you guys. This card is moved to black since it "steps on the toes of number 10," and it'd be in the same vein as Tainted Strike. So, here's another card to take its place.

Think Twice (Reprint)
Draw a card.
Flashback 2U (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Demons: A serviceable reprint, but kind of unexciting.
Kultcher: Good fit.
metaghost: Good reprint.
Nich: Think Twice is a really strong choice for this set.

Think Twice (Reprint)
Draw a card.
Flashback 2U (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Unconventional Rejection
Counter target spell not cast from a player's hand.

Demons: I like this card, but it might be uncommon. See Laquatus's Disdain and Nix.
Kultcher: I love cards like this, with an obvious application in the block and the ability to be a role player in older formats. Thumbs up.
metaghost: Good design. Specialized counters are tougher to concoct than they can seem.
Nich: Unconventional Rejection will probably do a lot of heavy lifting for this set. You clearly made it clean enough that it could be reprinted many times. That might also explain its generic name (which I know were only supposed to be placeholders, but still.) But why not give it Flashback? It’s so narrow that it would only really be printed in sets that cast things from the graveyard and Flashback is the cleanest example of that sort of mechanic already.

I'm not 100% sure which rarity is correct. On one hand, Laquatus's Disdain might have been O.K. at common. Would Odyssey block drafts really be screwed by the presence of a common slot flashback counter? However, in this set, it appears in the large set and has a lot of flashback cards. (20% of the commons have flashback) BUT then I think about how Mana Leak is a "soft counter" that gets a lot of mileage for its "softness." Besides, with all the milling that blue will do, perhaps it will need a hand combating all the flashback options the opponent will have. Since I can see this being at common, I'm going to leave it. ...Until I draft this set and see what's really up.

Also, I'm taking a page from metaghost's comment on Momentary Banishment and using this simple name that hasn't been done before.

Counter target spell not cast from a player's hand.

Feverish Study
Each player draws three cards then discards two cards at random.
Flashback 2R (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Demons: I like what you're trying to do, but the card doesn't seem mono-blue to me. I'd buy it if it was "Draw three, discard three"
Kultcher: Not sure where enemy color came from, but okay. It seems like it has enough room to fit so I won't knock it. Everyone's into giving red the looter ability these days. Personally, I feel like red is more likely to discard THEN draw than to do the standard looter thing. A card that did looter for blue and the "gambling looter" for red would be neat, but this card can't really be that. Another than that relatively minor niggle, this is fine.
metaghost: A one of multicolor shake-up? Just trying to test essay-theory?
Nich: I like these off color Flashback spells. And I like that you seem to be putting two in each color. Even as a cycle of ten it’s flexible enough to allow strong designs. I like this card specifically. Blue with random discard is a bit weird, but you had to choose to bleed blue into red or red into blue. And given how easy mill will make stocking Flashback into the ‘yard, I think bleeding blue into red was a better choice.

I was using Noggle Ransacker (Gosh, I love noggles.) as the source of what both blue and red can do. As for whether this should have been a red card with blue flashback, um... upon searching for blue cards besides that noggle card that causes players to discard cards at random... I didn't find any. Wizards either color-bled or just haven't gotten around to designing random discard (or haven't shifted around the color pie again, yet) So, it's better as a red card with blue flashback. Off it goes! Here's a replacement:

Switch target creature's power and toughness until end of turn.
Draw a card.
Flashback 3R (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Momentary Banishment
Return target nonland permanent to its owner's hand. Spells with the same name as that permanent can't be cast until end of turn.

Demons: I like this card. Nice one.
Kultcher: Cool, a great way to add a little extra spice to good old bounce. Very solid.
metaghost: Did you know "Banish" is still available as a card name? Even if bounce is temporary, it's a little longer than momentary here. And wordiness is a sin. (Good design.)
Nich: This is decent bounce variant. I’m not sure how often the second ability will matter though, since players mostly bounce at end of turn, or prior to combat to allow a creature to get through. As a Spellcast enabler, I can see this getting cast earlier in another player’s turn, but you’d have to show me some Spellcast effects that are good on defense.

I imagine the second ability would be useful when you let a creature attack, and you bounce it in combat, stalling the creature attacking you for two turns. Also, this prevents giving your opponent another spellcast activation, which, on spellcast cards of higher rarities, would be a good thing.

I agree, metaghost. Let's use Banish.

Return target nonland permanent to its owner's hand. Spells with the same name as that permanent can't be cast until end of turn.

Counter target spell. Then, you may counter target activated or triggered ability.

Demons: I'm not sure countering activated or triggered abilities is common. That said, its a nice "counter with upside"
Kultcher: I see what you're doing, but I'd still like both clauses to say, "You may" just so you have the flexibility to counter just an activated ability. Either way it feels a little bit clunky to me, but not awful.
metaghost: I'd prefer this with Grim Discovery's "Choose one or both" template.
Nich: I don’t agree with this as a common. It’s too complicated. Will players know that Flashback casts a spell and not an ability? In fact that whole interaction between Spellcast and Flashback will need to be very pronounced in the set. And I also see this as benefiting from the “Choose one or both” option from Branching Bolt.

I feel embarrassed for not having paid attention to the rarity of cards that counter abilities. Countering triggered abilities only appeared on three rare cards and countering an activated ability is clearly at least uncommon as seen in Squelch and Voidmage Husher. To fix this, I'm willing to drop the "activated" part and make this an uncommon card.

Fun fact: The name Deniability is supposed to sound like "Deny ability," which is what it does (countering spellcast triggers).

Here's the fixed card:

Deniability (Uncommon)
Choose one or both -- Counter target spell; or counter target triggered ability.

But the common card slot needs another "hard counter" card. So here's the replacement. Is having another counterspell that's good against flashback (and the yet-to-be-seen green-centric mechanci) too much:

Exile target spell.

Target creature loses all abilities and becomes a 1/1 green Frog until end of turn.
Flashback 5G (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Demons: I like this one. Just keep in mind that the more flashback cards you have, the more on-board complexity you create.
Daniel: Omnibian is one of my all-time favorite creatures. Raninomancy is awesome.
Kultcher: I've always felt that "loses all abilities" should be a green ability. In fact I wish I'd answered that in my #2 essay. Anyway, turning things into 1/1s doesn't feel super green but the fact that it's a Frog creature makes me happier about it. The fun-ness of the card overcomes any complaints I might have.
metaghost: Again with the multicolor! I get that this is a riff on Snakeform, but without the cantrip I think you've overcosted a bit, especially since the Flashback already requires an enemy color. 3U / 3G would be real clean.
Nich: Except for the fact that you have a sentient race of Frog-people in the set, this is a solid hit. It would be like putting Snakeform in Kamigawa Block. That’s just flavor though. Why not have the spell turn them into a harmless day Dream or Notion?

Hmm. Perhaps the frog people have no qualms with turning people into unevolved versions of themselves. Those eyes of theirs give a clue to just how freaky they are. They can even fade your thoughts! *shudders* Yeah, just flavor. So, I'm leaving it as is. 'cause I love that this is the magic of a raninomancer (someone specializing in frog magic).

I made the costs of the mana cost and flashback cost have a difference of two mana because I didn't like how you could cast it once to potentially kill of a guy, then have it ready the very next turn to fire again with flashback. With a difference of two mana between the costs, if this was cast on turn three, there's at least one turn for the opposing player to breathe. And attack without fear. Am I crazy? Oh, well. I did lower the cost.

Target creature loses all abilities and becomes a 1/1 green Frog until end of turn.
Flashback 4G (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Dispatched Restraints
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature doesn't untap during its controller's untap step.
Spellcast -- Whenever you cast a spell, you may return Dispatched Restraints to its owner's hand.

Demons: This is fine, except its another spell cast card.
Kultcher: Pretty okay limited spell. 5 spellcast cards may be too much for one rarity and I wouldn't be sorry to see this one get reworked a bit.
metaghost: Solid bad removal. Gotta have 'em.
Nich: For this cost, it should at least tap the creature when it enters the battlefield. It’s a good design.

I fixed the number of spellcast cards. This is number three. I really wanted a non-creature card at common with spellcast, and I believe the best place to represent that is in blue. Green, on the other hand, easily could have three creatures as its three spellcast cards.

I'll take up Nich's suggestion for making this not as bad. You do have to cast a spell then pay five mana again just to move it to another dude. Seems still fair.

Dispatched Restraints
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
When Dispatched Restraints enters the battlefield, tap enchanted creature.
Enchanted creature doesn't untap during its controller's untap step.
Spellcast -- Whenever you cast a spell, you may return Dispatched Restraints to its owner's hand.


Besides my reviewers' individual card comments, here are their concluding thoughts:

Dan Emmons (Demons)
Overall, I liked you're submission a ton. You set feels 'cerebral' and I'm interested to play limited with Trauma creatures. I feel like Wizards would not like to print milling as a large block component because a ton of players hate getting milled.

Hopefully, the gameplay will show that getting milled isn't so bad in this environment when there's other mechanics to combat how terrible it is in the form of flashback and that one green-centric mechanic I keep mentioning but haven't yet revealed.

I really, really like the Frog people.

I don't think your other elements are successful though.

At this point in Magic, Gnomes are a trope with an established identity. The same way Angels are flying females, and Demons have sacrifice abilities, Gnomes are small clockwork creatures. It's also a little confusing having two tribes in the same color, set, and rarity (Lorwyn/Shadowmoor had this same problem sometimes, with Merfolk constantly getting shunted around like unwanted homeless people.) Your frogs are cool! Stick with them!

I don't think you'd want mill as a keyword either. I'm pretty sure Mark Rosewater has written about how Design doesn't plan to keyword anymore evergreen abilities in the foreseeable future. (If I find the article, I'll link it here.)

I'm not sure how I feel about Spellcast. Maybe Spellcast would grow on me if I played the cards, but it seems like a cheap ability, since the game is about casting spells. If you do it pretty much every turn, it just feels like getting something for free. It might need a restriction, like Instantcast or Creaturecast or something.

One last thing you're wrong about - Wizards would have done fine to pick you as a finalist. You seem like you have good ideas, and these cards are as good as anything the actual finalists are submitting. I hope you keep working on them!

The frogs are still around, yet, my decision to include all sorts of races (like in Ravnica) because of the fact the world is tied to the planeswalker's memories means there's less frogs. As for gnomes, I believe that because of games like World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragons, there's the resonance that my gnomes have got going for them. They may not be a trope, but perhaps they will be someday. Dwarves appear infrequently, and I'd like to think that gnomes could achieve the same status as those guys.

The article you're talking about where Mark Rosewater said they wouldn't keyword anymore evergreen abilities is "Keyword Play," I believe.

I have a shameful secret: I haven't played with my own cards, yet, either. As for specialized casting like "instantcast", I could see spellcast having, in one hypothetical card's example: "Whenever you cast a spell, Some Soldier gets +1/+1 until end of turn.. If it was a creature spell, Some Soldier gets first strike until end of turn." for Set 2 or 3. But, that might be too hard to keep track of, and I'm getting off track here, anyway

And, lastly, my rebuttal to it being fine if Wizards picked me is that I see where my weakness is, and it ties with them seeking someone with vision, and, right now, I have thick lenses. ...Besides that, my weakness is the vision for the set's flavor, and logline is not really strong. I was, like, "Yeah, a plane within a planeswalker's mind!" and the rest was supposed to me fleshing it out well. I believe concept-wise, mechanics-wise, and furniture-wise,  it's pretty good, though.

I have to commend you, Bradley. I've only looked at a couple of non-Top 8 Common Grounds but yours feels like far and away the best of the ones I've read. I like it better than some of the Top 8 submissions. I hope you keep playing along, I look forward to seeing more.

You've done a good job of working with landfall-esque "reward people for what they want to do", and wanting to cast spells has an obvious relationship with the graveyard. I'm not completely sold on Trauma, as mill is historically a "griefer-zone" for purely psychological reasons. And other than the amusing Spike-centric relationships between Trauma and Flashback that Odyssey block explored, there isn't much new here that makes me excited to see how you'll manage to make milling palatable to new players/casuals.

I see your point. Spellcast is a riff on landfall, flashback is a returning mechanic, and milling is not new at all. Trauma's like wither/poison. Perhaps the combination of these mechanics make for a refreshing experience. I think playtesting is in order to see whether the gameplay is fun.

Also, griefers being pleased means some Timmys are pleased. I'm glad Spikes would be amused. And the Johnnies won't need much if I throw them a bone here and there.

I like your commons as a snapshot of the set. They present a clear image of the kind of choices and matters players will need to be aware of. I think they would play well in a limited environment. There is a lot of focus on milling, and in theory, I like the marriage of milling and Flashback together again. I have a few issues with Trauma specifically. Also, Frog and Gnome tribal is an unexpected decision for blue.

Thanks, everyone, immensely for your input. For those I said I would get back to for reviewing of their own mock submissions, I'll get to those! Before I start the second challenge, for sure. And, also, you, thanks for reading. Feel free to leave further comments and such on this blog, on the Wiki, or by tweeting me (@bradleyrose)



Thursday, November 25, 2010

Neapolitan Needs Vanilla Two

This Vanilla Creatures spreadsheet is what I'll be referring to throughout this post. Click here to access the spreadsheet.

We Need More Vanilla. The Old One's Expired.

Last time I wrote about vanilla creatures, it was prompted by question #48 's mentioning of "virtual vanillas" on the Great Designer Search 2 multiple choice test. Intrigued by the definition, I was attempting to figure out the magical ratio of virtual vanillas and French vanillas to every other kind of creature when designing a Magic: The Gathering set. That blog post is now outdated by this very post, but in case you still want to read it, here's a link to the original post.

What I didn't cover before were how many vanillas there should be in a set, virtual French vanillas, and the distribution of these different types of vanillas among commons and uncommons. Funnily enough, I'm doing all this analyzing and Mark Rosewater tweets me around the time after I posted the first vanillas blog post saying it isn't an exact science. Even if it's false irony, it was amusing to me nonetheless.

So, dear reader, if you're a fan of designing Magic sets and haven't yet solved the conundrum (sphinx) of how many vanilla/virtual vanilla/French vanilla/virtual French vanilla creatures to include in your set, then you're in the right place. Whether you're designing a large set, a small set, or a Core Set, read below for some numbers to help you out. Though, I should disclaim: I'm not a member of Magic R&D, and a lot of the data gathering was done manually by going through and viewing a lot of commons and uncommons. So, that means 1) I could have missed something vital that R&D keeps in mind, throwing the numbers off and 2) I could have made human error in my data gathering and some numbers are off in some places. At least you'll (like I said last time) be in the general ballpark. (Though, hitting a home run so well that it exits the ballpark runs contradictory to the phrase "in the ballpark" as being a good thing; but I digress.)

Before we begin, I want to make clear why it's so important to care about all these vanillas. The answer is board complexity. The more complex state the game is in, the more difficult it is to make decisions as a player. Since creatures are a large part of Magic, they make a larger impact on the complexity of the game when there's more rules text. There's a limit to how much an average Magic player can account for in his or her mind. It's important to have the right amount of complexity in a set's creatures, so the player doesn't get overwhelmed, heavily mentally taxed, and/or take too long making decisions. There may be a certain level of complexity for instants/sorceries/enchantments/artifacts/lands, but that's another topic.

Just recently, Aaron Forsythe mentioned board complexity in his introduction as a judge in the second episode of The Great Designer Search 2. Amidst his words, he mentioned word counts per creature (vanilla creatures help reduce that) and that Lorwyn (the set) was "incredibly board-complicated." It's no coincidence that Lorwyn's percentage of vanilla-ish creatures are among the lowest in all the sets currently in Extended (This is all the sets I data-gathered on my spreadsheet). And Morningtide (The small set in the Lorwyn block)? It has the lowest percentage of vanillas in Extended. It doesn't even have any vanilla creatures of any kind at uncommon.

So here we go.

What Does Vanilla Taste Like?

First, let's determine what makes a vanilla, virtual vanilla, French vanilla, and virtual French vanilla what they are. There are a couple of key factors that I went by for determining the differences among the vanilla types.
  • The difference between a vanilla and a French vanilla is a creature-based keyword. A creature-based keyword is one that appears mostly on creatures. It also does not have to be evergreen. What this means is that while the staples of flying, deathtouch, and trample count, so does the block-specific keywords such as infect and exalted. Notice I say appears "mostly" on creatures, which makes exalted O.K. despite having appeared on non-creatures like Angelic Benediction. This is confirmed by Mark Rosewater. Cycling does not count as a creature-based keyword since it appears on all sorts of non-creature cards. And ability words like landfall and chroma are not keywords.
  • The creature-based keyword must not cease to function after the first turn on the battlefield. The two keywords that come to mind are haste and flash. Haste is a creature-based keyword, which means you'd think a creature with just haste should be a French vanilla, but it's actually a virtual vanilla in disguise. After that first turn, it's just a plain vanilla. And flash only matters for when you cast it. Once you cast the creature, flash doesn't do anything anymore.

That's no moon... It's a virtual vanilla!

And then there are rare exceptions like changeling which don't actually do anything in a vacuum. Though, you could argue that it does count since the environment that creatures with changeling existed in meant that changeling made a difference. But I didn't count changeling as something that mattered when I did the spreadsheet. Do I regret it? I'm not sure. Anyway, here's the differences among the different types of vanillas:
  • Vanilla: A vanilla creature has no rules text at all (except in the case of changeling, at least, by the definition the spreadsheet went by). If a creature has nothing but cycling in its text box, it doesn't count as a vanilla. That's because, when the creature is in your hand, the cycling contributes to board complexity by giving the player another option to consider in the overall picture of the current game state. A vanilla creature is also a virtual vanilla creature.
  • Virtual Vanilla: This is a creature that functions like a vanilla creature after the first turn on the battlefield. These creatures could have abilities like "enter the battlefield" (ETB) effects or haste that aren't in effect after that first turn. Thus, all vanillas are also virtual vanilla.
  • French Vanilla: French vanilla creatures have in their text box only creature-based keywords (and always at least one of them, otherwise, it'd be a vanilla). If it contains keywords like evoke or reinforce, then it doesn't get to be a French vanilla. A French vanilla creature is also a virtual French vanilla creature.
  • Virtual French Vanilla: Virtual French vanillas (which includes all French vanillas) have at least one creature-based keyword and any additional rules text that don't take effect after its first turn on the battlefield. After the first turn on the battlefield, it must function like a French vanilla. A creature with flash and first strike is a virtual French vanilla while a creature with just flash is a virtual vanilla, not a virtual French vanilla.
Next, here's a list of effects you could add to a vanilla or French vanilla creature to make it a virtual vanilla or virtual French vanilla creature, respectively:
  • Haste
  • Flash
  • ETB effects
  • Effects that trigger when you cast it, such as cascade
  • Alternate or additional costs, such as suspend or the text on Flamekin Bladewhirl 
  • Other abilities I may have missed
New Ice Cream Eaters Should Have Vanilla with Chocolate Chips

Now that we've got what defines our vanilla-type creatures, there's the creature cards to look at to see how many of these vanilla creatures we need to include in a set. Since design standards change over time, I want to get as close to modern design patterns in terms of vanilla creatures as I can. I looked at creatures in all of Extended, which means Tenth Edition and onward, just to set a good cut-off for "modern." I didn't look at every Magic set in existence since what was done in Alpha may not apply nowadays when designing a Magic set. That'd be more of a historical study on how vanilla creature ratios change in sets over the course of the game's lifetime, which is still an interesting topic (I'm nodding in your direction for that suggestion, MTG Color Pie).

Also, when counting the average number of creatures in each type of vanilla, I kept in mind the change in set size that Wizards decided on starting with Shards of Alara. So, while I counted sets further back than Shards of Alara to determine percentages, I didn't let those sets skew the "number of vanilla creatures" counts that an average set would need.

So, after taking the data into account, here's the "boring" part of this post. Though, the difference between a large set and a small set are seemingly non-existent. The data shown below is just variance from actual results. The average large set and average small set's total vanilla creatures percentage of total creatures differed by just about one percent (39.45 vs. 40.49. Core Sets had an average of 61.4). Anyway, here's the numbers:

Large Set
  • 9 - 16 common virtual vanillas with the average being 11.75; 4 - 6 of those should be pure vanilla with the average being 4.75
  • 2 - 4 uncommon virtual vanillas with the average being 3; 0 - 1 of those should be pure vanilla with the average being 0.5
  • 10 - 15 common virtual French vanillas with the average being 12.5; 5 - 14 of those should be pure French vanilla with the average being 9.25
  • 4 - 8 uncommon virtual French vanillas with the average being 5.5; 0 - 7 of those should be pure French vanilla with the average being 3
  • 19 - 29 total common vanilla-type creatures with the average being 24.25; this is out of sets with 53 - 57 total common creatures with the average being 55
  • 6 - 11 total uncommon vanilla-type creatures with the average being 8.5; this is out of sets with 25 - 40 total uncommon creatures with the average being 31.5
Small Set
  • 4 - 10 common virtual vanillas with the average being 6; 1 - 2 of those should be pure vanilla with the average being 1.66
  • 2 - 7 uncommon virtual vanillas with the average being 4; 0 - 1 of those should be pure vanilla with the average being 0.66
  • 8 - 12 common virtual French vanillas with the average being 10; 4 - 12 of those should be pure French vanilla with the average being 8
  • 1 - 4 uncommon virtual French vanillas with the average being 2.66; 1 - 3 of those should be pure French vanilla with the average being 1.66
  • 12 - 20 total common vanilla-type creatures with the average being 16; this is out of sets with 27 - 39 total common creatures with the average being 33.66
  • 3 - 11 total uncommon vanilla-type creatures with the average being 6.66; this is out of sets with 18 - 22 total uncommon creatures with the average being 20.33
 Core Set
  • 17 - 17 common virtual vanillas with the average being 17; 10 - 11 of those should be pure vanilla with the average being 10.5
  • 2 - 4 uncommon virtual vanillas with the average being 3; 2 -2 of those should be pure vanilla with the average being 2
  • 15 - 15 common virtual French vanillas with the average being 15; 13 - 16 of those should be pure French vanilla with the average being 14.5
  • 7 - 8 uncommon virtual French vanillas with the average being 7.5; 5 - 6 of those should be pure French vanilla with the average being 5.5
  • 32 - 32 total common vanilla-type creatures with the average being 32; this is out of sets with 51 - 53 total common creatures with the average being 52
  • 10 - 11 total uncommon vanilla-type creatures with the average being 10.5; this is out of sets with 27 - 29 total uncommon creatures with the average being 28
Of course, these ranges take the extremes of highs and lows that have been done within the selection of sets I worked with. The Magic set you're designing could call for an even more extreme number than what's presented here, so when I say your cards should fall within a certain range, it means "highly suggested under normal circumstances." Also, the Core Set analysis looks silly when there's only Magic 2010 and Magic 2011 to work with.

And that's that. Is this really all there is to say about this topic? There's a bunch of numbers in that spreadsheet, there's definitions for how to identify vanillas, virtual vanillas, French vanillas, and virtual French vanillas, and there's the resulting analysis. Well, "analysis." I really do hope that this was helping in some way to you.

Oh! I thought of something. There's no study of vanillas in each of the five colors. But, if that were my goal, I might've jumped off a bridge by now. Just divvy up your vanillas as evenly as you can, and what's remaining, you could keep in mind for when you're squeezed for a spell-like effect or something, and you could make use of an ETB trigger virtual vanilla slot.

So, anyway...



P.S. In case you don't know, I've started up a Great Designer Search 2 page that accounts for my design work related to GDS2. The first finalist challenge that was assigned to each of the eight finalists was also completed by me in a mock design challenge submission. I'll be "playing from home" along with the rest of the finalists for several reasons and posting them to the Wiki as well as most likely discussing related things on this blog.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Give Yourself a License

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do, Too

I wonder when I'll get to the point where I'll feel like Mark Rosewater whenever he mentions the book A Whack on the Side of the Head and references his own repeated mentions of the book. Well, actually, I'm doing that right now, but it's not the same. I'm sure there are a good chunk of readers reading this saying, "Hey, I've never experienced you mentioning the oddly-titled A Whack on the Side of the Head before. I've never read you!" The reason why I'm bringing up the book yet again is because of one lesson in the book that I hold to be very important life lesson. And in light of my recent activity, I wanted to share that lesson with you.

Whack tells you that if you want to be creative, you have to start by giving yourself a license to be creative. This means no holding any thoughts in your head that say, "I'm not creative." followed by "I never will be creative." or "I'll be creative some day." Nay, you have to let yourself accept the fact that you are creative. When you rid yourself of yourself holding you back, you can start pushing yourself forward.

While Whack talks about creativity when referring to giving yourself a license, I find that you can apply this to anything you'd ever want to be. For example, if you want to be a Magic designer, it must first start with letting yourself accept the fact that you are one. Whether or not you're the head of Magic design doesn't matter. However, this doesn't mean you've already got what it takes to be the head of Magic design.

You Can Do It All Night Long

I assure you that I'm not advocating that you improve in your area of expertise. If you want to design Magic cards and are comfortable at the level you're designing them at, then you're fine. If you don't want to get "better" at baseball and simply play catch with your brother or only participate in the softball leagues, then that's O.K., too. You're enjoying what you're doing is the point.

However, let's say you do aspire to work at Wizards of the Coast. You can do it, and you first have to let yourself know, truly, that you can do such things. Then, you'd have to identify what you've gotta do to get there. Get yourself into that mode, and don't let anything stop you. Including yourself.

That brings me to your arch nemesis: you. At first, your arch nemesis was trying to convince you that you weren't a Magic designer and that you could never be one. You don't have the skills, after all. You don't know what the "real designers" know. But, then you sliced your arch nemesis in half with a sword and never looked back since. But, like a Dragonball-Z-reference Frieza, your arch nemesis came back and keeps trying to defeat you with powerful obstacles such as excuses and distractions.

Do or Die

I used to tell myself that I couldn't do things because I just wasn't qualified for it. I didn't have the skills or talent to pull it off. I never did take drama in high school, even though I had entertained the thought of taking drama. I didn't do art projects that a lot of people would see because I didn't think I was good enough for that. I was holding myself back. I was missing the point that doing something a lot will make you better to some degree.

One of my roommates strives to do things that interest her as if nothing is going to stop her. It's really inspirational. She has a notebook she's writing rough drafts in because she wants to write a book. She painted a Rajah (the tiger in Disney's Aladdin) on the wall of inside the pantry because she's practicing for her planned mural business. She's taking classes to prepare her for a family business in the future. She's also seriously planning to do a live-action play reenactment of A Goofy Movie.

What was I doing?

And then The Great Designer Search 2 came along. All of a sudden, I found myself starting that blog I've been wanting to do. I also did a journal comic intending to continually update with them until I realized just how long it was taking me to finish them, which was pulling my focus away from preparing for the competition. I started designing Magic cards before and during the competition. And during my preparation, I had read A Whack on the Side of the head and decided to write on Magic design. If it weren't for GDS2 and the revelation that I can do anything I want just by letting myself do that very thing no matter what, I might never had decided to do Magic design and writing on that design regularly.

Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do

I wrote this post because I was in the middle of typing a Facebook status update about my National Novel Writing Month fling. I was trying to explain about how, despite my "not being a writer," I was going to do it, anyway. I was going to dive headfirst into my writing career with fifty-thousand words in thirty days. Actually, I waded around in the shallow end for a little while with updating this blog. But, you get my point.

So, my plan is: writing that novel will help my writing skill, which will help my blog posts be more interesting and garner more attention, which will attract possibly Wizards of the Coast employees' eyes, which will possibly lead to a phone call for an interview for a design position.Hey, it could happen. I'm giving myself a license to be able to make it happen.



Friday, October 29, 2010

Neapolitan Needs Vanilla, Too

Here's a spreadsheet intended to help you in designing a Magic set that I can't guarantee is completely correct but I believe is in the general ballpark of accuracy: Vanilla Creatures spreadsheet. The rest of this blog post is dedicated to talking about things related to this spreadsheet. And, yeah, I accept the possibility that the data on that spreadsheet is all wrong. But, you'll get the point I'm trying to make, right?

Canyon Minotaur by Steve Prescott
Canyon Minotaur! *Shakes Fist*

Today, I'm going to discuss what's contained in Question #48 of the multiple-choice test answers of The Great Designer Search 2. However, this isn't about griping about how the question was worded or any such nonsense. There's something much more valuable to be gained from that question. It mentions a term that Magic R&D has for creatures that function as vanilla creatures after the first turn they enter the battlefield. They call these creatures "virtual vanillas," and these creatures help alleviate board complexity, something that any Magic designer should be aware of.

There are two things to note: First, you have to care about the number of creatures in your set contributing toward the overall board complexity. Second, there are tools at your disposal to create creatures that are virtually vanillas. But, that brings these questions: How many creatures need to be some kind of vanilla (virtual vanilla or French vanilla), and what techniques are there to create varied cards that are actually still vanillas?

Virtual Fries

For virtual vanilla creatures, you can put any of these in its text box:

  • Flash
  • Haste
  • "When CARDNAME enters the battlefield" effects
  • Effects that trigger when you cast the creature itself (e.g. "When you cast CARDNAME", Cascade)
  • Abilities that only matter when the creature is in your hand (e.g. Cycling, Reinforce)
  • Alternate or additional costs (e.g. Suspend, text on Flamekin Bladewhirl)
  • Other abilities I missed

And for French vanillas, they just need to only have creature keywords. However, what I'm not sure about is whether a non-evergreen keyword such as infect would be able to count when determining a French vanilla creature. (I could have asked @maro254 in a tweet, but I didn't want to bother him with something not-as-important right now during the time of choosing Great Designer Search 2 finalists.) For me, I've decided that, yes, a creature with just infect would count as a French vanilla. Also, ability words like landfall and chroma aren't actually keywords, and as such, a creature such as Steppe Lynx with its landfall ability don't count.

One more thing: Sometimes, a creature can be both a Virtual Vanilla and a French Vanilla (e.g. Raging Goblin). That's if the creature has only keyword mechanics that follow the rules according to the above bullet point list. Flash and haste are evergreen keywords you'll see on creatures from time to time by themselves (especially haste). Sometimes, a keyword mechanic in a set will lend itself toward potential virtual vanilla creatures such as cascade.

Count Vanillula

O.K., so how many virtual vanilla and French vanilla creatures do there need to be in a set? Well, that's what I was wondering, too, and what prompted me to write this post. I don't know Wizards' internal magical formula for determining just how many of these vanilla-type creatures to have in a set, so I looked at recent Magic sets to see if I could find a pattern. And what resulted was the spreadsheet I linked to at the beginning of this post, which you can also find right here. I'll explain what's going on. 

I decided to count all the virtual vanilla and French vanilla creatures in each set to see what the common number was. I only counted cards from a number of sets starting with the most recent set, Scars of Mirrodin, since Magic design standards change over time. I didn't want an older set to skew with the numbers in case Magic design wasn't even caring about the number of virtual vanillas and/or French vanillas in a set. I decided to only go as far back as Tenth Edition.(I realize Magic could have started caring a LONG time ago. Maybe even right from the start. I didn't check since my goal isn't to try to deduce when they started caring about virtual vanillas. Anyway, I counted creatures from Tenth Edition to Scars of Mirrodin. Additionally, I only counted common and uncommon creatures.

As seen on the spreadsheet with color-coding, I divided each set with one of three types: core set, large expansion, and small expansion. Of course, the core set will have a higher ratio of vanilla creatures because it's the entry-point set for new players. However, I was curious as to whether there would be a different ratio in vanilla creatures between the large and small set. It would certainly make sense if R&D did do it this way since, in Limited, the large set is always included with any small sets that are released. The large expansion could act as the foundation that supports the small sets with any imbalance in complexity. ...But, this isn't the case, as you'll see below. It's the same ratio for any non-Core set.

So, after the counting of common/uncommon creatures of each of the selected sets, I have found that, depending on a set's themes/mechanics, the amount of vanilla-ish creatures can vary greatly. For example, Lorwyn had creatures with the keyword mechanic evoke. Because of how the mechanic works, every single creature with evoke (without an additional ability like fear on Shriekmaw) is a virtual vanilla. Conversely, every single creature with evoke can't be a French vanilla because an evoke creature always has a non-keyword ability in addition to evoke. Also, in Morningtide, because of the mechanical twist on evoke creatures' ability triggering when leaving the battlefield, it meant that every single evoke creature in Morningtide couldn't be a virtual vanilla. I think you get the point: themes/mechanics affect the ratio of virtual vanilla and French vanilla creatures.

A Core Set is Like a Vanilla Swirl/Chocolate Swirl Cone and a Block is Like a Neapolitan Sundae

So, what I've found is that when designing a core set, you'll want just under fifty percent of your creatures to be virtual vanilla and French vanilla creatures. For all other sets, both large and small expansions, there are somewhere average-ing between twenty and forty percent of such creatures. The ratio of virtual vanilla to French vanilla is around 50/50 for every set. This can vary with the specific set you're working on, of course. So, it goes like this:

  • Core Set: ~45-50% virtual vanilla and French vanilla creatures.
  • Large/Small Expansion: ~30%, give or take up to 10%, virtual vanilla and French vanilla creatures
  • Virtual vanillas to French vanillas: ~50% virtual vanilla and ~50% French vanilla.

These are rough numbers taken from the spreadsheet. Forgive me, I'm no mathematician, but the data should at least steer you somewhere in the right direction.

Also, if you're wondering how many of the virtual vanilla creatures should be pure vanilla: If it's a core set, you're going to want at least two pure vanilla creatures per color at common, according to Magic 2011, Magic 2010, and Tenth Edition. For the expert-level expansions, you can have zero if it's a small set (at the very least). If it's a large set, you'll want at least one at common. And, at most, you'll have one per color at common. If artifacts are a major theme of the set, then there can be a sixth vanilla artifact creature at common. I'm getting this data this list of vanillas in Extended.

May your homebrew Magic set be that much closer to the real thing (Assuming what I discussed here isn't wrong!). My next blog post will be existential and slightly Magic-related in that I mention the color pie. Thanks for reading!



P.S. You know what I didn't do? Include data that shows the ratio of virtual vanilla and French vanillas when comparing common to uncommon. Oh, well. If you're bent on creating a proper Magic set, then you've got homework! Again, assuming this blog post didn't steer you wrong. =)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Day 21: Mechanics Web

One Shadowmoor Time

Shadowmoor: I'm out! I'm released! Players are playing spells and not yet casting them!
Devin Low: Well, you know what the next step would be?
Shadowmoor: You're going to let Eventide out, too, so we can play together?
Devin Low: Not yet. It's still gotta cook in the oven. No, what I'm talking about is writing an article about all your various insides: themes, mechanics, cycles, etc.
Shadowmoor: Don't! I'd be so embarrassed!
Devin Low: Too late -- by about two-and-a-half years. It's right here.
Shadowmoor: I hate you!
Devin Low: I love you.

Shadowmoor: So, what's the deal, anyway? What'd you write?
Devin Low: Well, I made a web diagram (or had someone make for me) that showed the connections among all the different parts of you, Shadowmoor. It's to show all my readers how there's so much synergy going on in you. You're awesome. Not like Homelands.
Shadowmoor: That doesn't exactly prove how awesome I was. Everybody's more awesome than Homelands. But, you're right. I've got some sweet stuff.

Me: Man, people keep bagging on Homelands when it comes to the subject of "sets that weren't so good." Let's get off its back.
Homelands: It's true. It makes me wish I was never born. ;_;
Shadowmoor: Whoa, hey, what's going on here? Who do you think you are, bustin' all up in here?
Me: Well, I was designing a set, and I remembered Devin Low's mechanics web of you. It helps to visualize just how much synergy there is going on in the set. Synergy among the set's various mechanics is very important in modern Magic design.
Devin Low: My goodness! I'm glad the article was put to good use.
Me: Yeah. ...And, by the way, Shadowmoor: I really like you.
Homelands: I... I thought we had something special, Brad.
Shadowmoor: This is way too weird. I'm getting creeped out.
Devin Low: Don't worry, Shadowmoor. I still love you.

Would You Like Theme with That?

Mark Rosewater: And for everybody in The Great Designer Search 2, you might want to read this column.
Me: Awesome! This describes how I'm starting with the flavor begetting design approach.
Mark Rosewater: I'm always excited to see what you designers have come up with. Though, I'm going to have to not look at what you've got. The lawyers speak of potential lawsuits as people say, "YOU STOLE MY IDEA!" Stuff like that.
Me: Oh, don't worry! You're not the REAL Rosewater! You're just an extension of my mind!
Mark Rosewater: Oh! I'm excited! I could even tell you about all the great Magic product we've designed that's coming up! Though, ...YOU don't know about them. And I'm part of your mind. Therefore, I've got nothing that would delightfully surprise you.
Me: Yeah, I know. Anyway, my world. I'm doing a plane created by and residing within a planeswalker's mind. So, I was thinking of themes, and I was, like, "Hey! The library's like a representation of what spells a player knows." So, a "library" theme.
Mark Rosewater: A library theme? Well, you know that some aspects of the library, like shuffling and searching, slow down the game?
Me: Yeah, I know. But, there's gotta be untapped potential with libraries!
Mark Rosewater: That's what I like to hear. Tell me more.


*Aaron Forsythe eats Mark Rosewater
*It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by an AaFo.

use lamp

*You see Devin Low, Shadowmoor, and Homelands

Me: Oh, my goodness.
Mark Rosewater: Hey-o!
Everyone: Whaaat?!
Mark Rosewater: You guys all know, too. We're part of Brad's mind. Anything could happen.
Shadowmoor: Wait, so that means...

*Aaron Forsythe appears even when it is not pitch black.
*Aaron Forsythe unmasks himself. Aaron Forsythe is actually...

Homelands: Mark Gottlieb!
Everyone: *gasp*
Mark Gottlieb: Shut up, Homelands.
Me: Great. My imagination comes up with a MaGo jerk. Well, anyway, as I was saying... In addition to the library theme, I also came up with the "subtype matters" theme. I won't go into detail of how that came to be, but then I took those themes and fleshed out some mechanics! I didn't go so far as to list all the cycles and whatnot for the set like you did with yours, Devin, but yeah, check it out:

Homelands: I can only wish I looked this impressive.
Me: You ARE special, Homelands. In a different way. Look, you're even in this blog post!
Shadowmoor: Yeah, you're not half bad. You're not as bad as Mark Gottlieb's very existence.
Me: You know, I don't actually think this way about Gottlieb.
Mark Gottlieb: Oh, yeah, Shadowmoor? Aura-enhanced wombats, attack!
Devin Low: Noooo! I love Shadowmoor!
Mark Rosewater: Noooo! I love Shadowmoor more!
Homelands: I'm going to fashion a noose around my neck over here.

Familiarity Matters

Me: So, for the subtype matters theme, I've decided to focus only on creature types and basic land types for the first set. Later sets can explore Equipment and Auras as well as any new subtypes, whatever is decided. The important part for Great Designer Search 2 is the first set. For creature types, I brought back Tribal. This will make non-creature cards be able to count as the appropriate creature. 
Homelands: What about the basic land types, then? Do they get anything special?
Me: For sure! For land types, I created a new card type called Terrain. Terrain works just like Tribal does when associating a land type to a non-land card.
Shadowmoor: Terrain? That's not too exciting, man.
Me: Yeah, I know. I don't really like it, either, but I had to choose SOMETHING for sending in with the design test. The three choices I was choosing from were: Terrain, Terra, and Turf.
Shadowmoor: Do better at being creative, man.
Mark Rosewater: I recommend reading my favorite book "A Whack on the Side of the Head." It'll help!
Me: I got it right next to me. Finished it. Once I've read "A Kick in the Seat of the Pants," I'll let you know what I thought of 'em. We should move on to my next point, though.

Me: For the creature types, I chose to do races that would match up to each of the pair of enemy colors. 
Shadowmoor: Why enemy colors? 
Me: Just a personal decision. Here's how it's laid out:
  • White/Black: Bird
  • Blue/Red: Gnome
  • Black/Green: Crocodile
  • Red/White: Dwarf
  • Green/Blue: Frog
Homelands: So, what if I want to play a pair of ally colors in this set?
Me: Ah! Good question, Homelands.
Homelands: *blushes*
Me: So, for ally color pairs, there would be five prevalent classes for creature types, like in Morningtide. I haven't yet figured that out which ones, though. But, I'm thinking of spreading them out over three colors. For example, there will be a White/Blue/Black class featured prominently, which enables either White/Blue or Blue/Black decks of this class type. And, of course, White/Black decks focused on that type which could also 

Mark Gottlieb: Is that the best you can do for your "Subtype Matters" theme? I'm leaving to do more productive things like sit in a chair and be an arch-nemesis while being an Ex-Rules Manager at the same time. 

*MaGo leaves.

Me: I was just getting to my mechanic... Anyway, for the rest of you, as you've seen from the web diagram above, the ability word Familiarity rewards those for casting spells that share a subtype with a permanent they have on the battlefield with this mechanic. It's like landfall, except for specific spells and basic land. It goes like this:

Familiarity -- Whenever you cast a spell sharing a subtype with CARDNAME, DO THIS.

Me: DO THIS means any effect chosen for that specific card.
Devin Low: I really do love you, Shadowmoor.

Traumatize Me Cap'n!

Me: Next, for the "Library" theme, I used Evan Erwin's Erode mechanic, except I didn't. Here's how it was in its original form:

Erode (This permanent deals damage to players in the form of putting the top card of that player’s library into their graveyard.)

Me: The problem is that the a player's life is 20 and a player's deck is at least 53, to start with. And, of course, over the course of the game, it'll reduce by 1 for each turn you draw a card, so let's assume you gotta mill 40 cards. This means it'd be a viable strategy if you doubled the power of Erode creatures.
Devin Low: But, then, you'd have creatures that completely overpower non-Erode creatures.
Evan Erwin: Yeah, but letting an Erode creature through without blocking would balance this out. At least, not every Erode creature is going to be a 2/2 for U. Not that this was my line of thinking. You're putting words in my mouth, Brad!
Me: Yeah, I know. Anyway, I'm still hesitant. I think playtesting would help solve this problem. But, I just decided to tweak it anyway.
Alexis Janson: Really? Just proxy up a theme deck and test it!
Me: I have a confession... I don't actually have any Magic cards where I'm staying at right now. Let's just say it might be related to this article by Geordie Tait.

Me: Well, anyway, here's my version:

Trauma X (Whenever this creature would deal damage to a player, that player mills NUMBER cards instead.)

Me: NUMBER is just the word version of X (eg. 2 and two). This way, the amount milled can be controlled and not have to be tied with the power of a creature. You could create more interesting creatures like a big creature that does Trauma 1.
Mark Gottlieb: Dude, you can't say "mills". That's slang, not the proper formatting.
Me: Yes, you're right. Except, I'm actually making "mill" a keyword action. Now, instead of "Target player puts X cards from the top of his or her library into his or her graveyard," it is "Target player mills X cards."
Mark Rosewater: Gutsy.
Me: Yeah, I know. I figured that proposing this along with my submission, if it goes over well, then it'd be helpful for deciding me in as a finalist.
Mark Rosewater: Hahaha. ...O.K., I don't know. I'm not the real Rosewater.

You're Outta Focus

Devin Low: Yeah, but Trauma isn't interacting with Familiarity.
Me: I'm getting there. Next, I wanted some mechanic that interacted with Trauma. So, I came up with Focus. You want to keep a card with Focus on top all the time and Trauma messes with that. Here's how it's worded:

Focus (Play with the top card of your library revealed. Whenever you would draw a card, you may draw the second card from the top of your library.)

Mark Gottlieb: Again, it's not technically drawing a card since drawing is putting the top card of your library into your hand.
Me: Hey, I was shortening "put the second card from the top of your library into your hand" to "draw the second card from the top of your library". The mechanic's reminder text was already getting wordy. I needed to fit in a second ability that cared about the top card of your library.
Mark Gottlieb: You're just challenging rules left and right. Do you ever just FOLLOW them? And why do I sound like this? This is very un-Dr. Wombat-like. I'm leaving. Again.

*Mark Gottlieb leaves. Again.

Turn on the Flashback

Devin Low: Besides that, about any time, you should be making the bridge between the "Library" theme and "Subtype Matters" theme.
Me: Right. And that brings me to returning Flashback. Flashback is like this super glue for the set.
Shadowmoor: Oh, I see. With Flashback, you can cast twice as much, thus, synergy with Familiarity.
Homelands: And Flashback also provides a way to combat Trauma. Being milled isn't so bad, anymore! Nice one.
Me: But, another important function of Flashback is that it helps smooth the mana curve in Limited. Like Kicker does for Zendikar and Cycling does for Alara.

Aaron Forsythe: Hey, guys, what's going on?
Everyone Else: Gah, he's gonna eat us! Run!
Devin Low: Whatever happens, Shadowmoor, I will always love you.
*Everyone leaves except Me, Aaron Forsythe, and Homelands
Homelands: What's the point to living when you're me? Eat me, Aaron.

Me: Cheers,

Me: Brad

*Me leaves and drags Homelands away

Aaron Forsythe: ...Guys? I just wanted to see if anyone was up for karaoke.
Lee Sharpe: Let's do this!
*AaFo eats Lee Sharpe