Monday, October 11, 2010

Day 12: Essay Answers

It's been a while! That's because I was world building and writing essays for The Great Designer Search 2. Speaking of which, I made it into Round 2! I'll be doing the multiple choice test sometime during the 24-hour window on Wednesday. Man, it's gonna be tough.

When I saw others post their essay questions on their blogs and whatnot, that reminded me: Hey. I have a blog, too! So, here I am to post my answers. Then you guys can all throw tar and fire at me after you read them.

But, first, here's the link to my Wiki page:
"Raining" "Cats" and "Dogs" Block

I've yet to have a satisfiable environment. I do have mechanics and themes, yet, I'm working on the world to cement these mechanics and gameplay in and perhaps spawn more ideas in terms of gameplay. Perhaps you'd like to help and leave some suggestions or feedback on my Wiki page. That'd be awesome.

O.K., and as per the questions from this page, here are my answers (except for number 1):

2. You are instructed to move an ability from one color to another. This ability must be something used in every set (i.e. discard, direct damage, card drawing etc.). You may not choose an ability that has already been color shifted by R&D. What ability do you shift and to what color do you shift it? Explain why you would make that shift.

If I were instructed to move an ability from one color to another, that would be the ability to “bounce” permanents from blue to white. This would make an impact on blue’s overall ability to deal with other card types, but there are other means that blue could take advantage of to make up for the loss. Here’s what I’d do exactly:

The reason why I’d move this ability to white is to play into white’s theme of dealing with adversity in a pacifist way (Unless something did wrong to white first, then white will seek justice, of course). Returning a permanent to its owner’s hand doesn’t kill it, but bouncing gets rid of the problem for white, at least, temporarily. White already does this method of temporary solutions in the form of putting creatures onto the top of their owners’ library. Actually, this is ability is also shared in blue. Speaking of which, here’s what I’d do with blue after I make the shift.

Blue’s loss of returning permanents to their owners’ hand means less power in dealing with all the other card types. However, blue has other means in dealing with these cards. As I mentioned before, blue can put creatures on top as well as shuffle them into their owner’s library. Blue could even put them Xth from the top or put them on the bottom of their library. To be brief, this is what else blue can do to various cards: tap down temporarily or indefinitely, counter, gain control of, mill, manipulate power/toughness, gain unblockability, have shroud, and change targets of. Blue still has plenty of tools at its disposal.

Moving the ability from blue to white still makes sense flavor-wise for white. White would gain an extra “pacifist” way of dealing with problems. For blue, it means cranking up blue’s current solutions to cards as well as taking the white ability to shuffle or put on top of the library creatures and their ilk.

3. What block do you feel did the best job of integrating design with creative? What is one more thing that could have been done to make it even better?

What Alara block did right was how they represented five distinct shards of a world, the elegance of the shards coming together, and the end-product twist of the final set.

Shards of Alara saw the different shards of a world, each missing two colors of mana. That was represented in the game literally. However, design made a great decision and divided up the set’s mechanics among each shard, giving each their own feel for what playing with only three colors is like. Another good decision: Having Esper all-artifact-based and having Naya care about creatures with power 5 or greater to combat the problem of not having enough keyword mechanic slots to give to every shard. Finally, revisiting cycling in this was a top-notch move.

With Conflux, the shards came together which led into the makes-so-much sense return of domain. And then cycling explored more design space: Basic landcycling. Wow. It has synergy with domain’s mechanic?! It’s like some well-thought out plan of flavor and function playing off of each other unfolding before my very eyes.

Lastly, Alara Reborn pulled off a milestone with its all-gold set. The excellence of Alara creative set the stage for the reason for doing a set with all gold cards. The Borderposts were a genius move, cycling proved itself to be an MVP once again for fixing mana bases in Limited, and the hybrid mana symbol gave each shard access to more cards in the set, which, again, was important for Limited. Problems of an all-gold set: solved.

However, one thing that could have been done to make Alara block even better is improving upon Naya’s mechanic. It’s the weakest of all five shards, and it doesn’t do a great job of being exciting. Esper’s shtick made an impact with “splashy-ness.”

4. R&D has recently been looking at rules in the game that aren't pulling their weight. If you had to remove an existing rule from the game for not being worth its inclusion, what would it be?

The rule that “snow mana” (I know, it doesn’t actually exist.) is defined as mana that comes from a snow source is one that I think isn’t worth its inclusion. Its lack of pulling weight is defined as “pushing weight”. Of course, with this exclusion comes a new inclusion as well. I’ll explain:

Let’s go back to the time before the card Nantuko Elder was designed. During that time, there were just five types of mana. The generic mana symbol used for costs was supposed to represent “mana of any color” and only that. And then Nantuko Elder came along, trying to produce “1G” mana. “Whoa!” said the Magic rules. Then, one thing led to another and now permanents can add colorless mana. A sixth type of mana was added!

So, what does this have to do with snow mana? Well, I want to make snow mana a supertype of mana. Yes, I mean there can be snow white, snow blue, snow black, snow red, snow green mana, and snow colorless mana. I believe this will be greatly beneficial to Magic design as seen in the form of “snow red mana” and “Spend only snow mana on X.” And snow colorless costs can still be represented by “snow colorless” symbols with numbers in them just like regular colorless costs.

I recognize there’s a problem with having different types of snow mana, though. The symbol uses a snowflake, currently, but how do we graphically represent a snow red mana being different from a snow blue mana? That’s where I have faith that the same forces that created the hybrid mana symbol graphics can do the same with snow mana symbols.

I’d like to remove the rule about paying costs with snow symbols needing to use mana that come from snow sources. And with that removal required an inclusion of a new rule that says that snow is a supertype of mana. And this will help create more Magic design space.

5. Name a card currently in Standard that, from a design standpoint, should not have been printed. What is the card and why shouldn't we have printed it?

From a design standpoint, Marshal’s Anthem should not have been printed. This is because the card’s “return a creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield” effect is outside of white’s slice of the color pie. Sure, white returns creatures from the graveyard to the battlefield but not in this way.

White used to be able to return creatures from the graveyard (Breath of Life, Resurrection) to the battlefield without some sort of catch. Then, one day, Wizards R&D decided that this ability should be shifted to black and printed Zombify; and I agree. As one of the colors that are identified as being able to interact with the graveyard, black should be the color that has that definitive power in bringing creatures back from the dead.

This isn’t to say that white shouldn’t ever return creatures back from the graveyard. It just does so with restrictions. Either the returned creatures are small, army types (Proclamation of Rebirth, Order of Whiteclay) or they’ve had something happen to them first, fitting the “redemption” flavor of white (Second Sunrise, Adarkar Valkyrie).

Looking at Marshal’s Anthem, it doesn’t do that. It allows you to bring a creature back with no restrictions even if it’s been there for quite a while, too – And multiple creatures, to boot.

Bonus reason why it shouldn’t have been printed: From a flavor perspective, it doesn’t make sense for the anthem of a marshal to be able to bring people back to life (unless you count taking a metaphor of “That anthem brings people to life!” quite literally).

6. What do you think design can do to best make the game accessible to newer players?

What design can do best to make the game accessible to newer players is to make sure both the fantasy flavor and the image of the complexity of Magic is strong. Newer players are looking for different things in a game that they can enjoy, depending on the person. Introduction of Magic to newer players is where the Vorthos and Melvin axis of player profiles is most important.

Newer players that lean toward being Vorthos are looking for something that evokes the fantasy experience strongly. This means being resonance with the fantasy theme is important, so that the player can identify with it. Wizards has already made an excellent move in the Magic 2010 and Magic 2011 core sets with more of a focus on flavor as well as the terminology and rules changes with “casting”, “battlefield”, and etc. The core sets are also doing a good job of attracting new players with using the traditional fantasy theme, as new players should start within the familiar. New mechanics in each new set should strive toward matching up with the flavor of the world/block that the mechanic is in, whenever possible. All of these efforts will be aimed toward making that new Vorthos player happy.

Newer Melvin players will be seeking a game with richness in complexity. They’ll appreciate the strategy, the depth of gameplay, and the innumerable combinations and situations with the thousands of cards available. Whenever Wizards reaches out to newer players, they should highlight the former qualities of this game and not try to hide the fact that the game is actually something complex. Seasoned gamers / strategy players will want to see that this game actually has much to explore in terms of gameplay. Fortunately, what design can do in the future for Melvin players is to keep up strong Magic designs in each of its cards, its mechanics, and its themes and the interesting interaction potential among these pieces of the game. Just keep Magic’s gameplay strong, and you’ll have a strong chance of winning the new Melvin player’s heart.

7. What do you think design can do to best make the game attractive to experienced players?

People want familiar things with a twist. With each new set that is released, it has to still feel like Magic. With experienced players, you have an important resource at your disposal: Magic itself. Design should use this to best make the game attractive to experienced players.

What I mean is that when players have been playing for a while, they’ve built up experiences and knowledge of older Magic sets, mechanics, and cards. When revisiting planes, experienced Magic players would go, “Oh, yes! I loved drafting that set, and now, it’s back? Hooray, more of the same but with a twist!” (Something like that.) Planes have “design space”, too. As for mechanics, some mechanics are worth revisiting for their design space, but, depending on the mechanic, players might also have fond memories for the time period the mechanic last appeared in. And also depending on the mechanic, it might even spice up a deck of old that they have, like an Affinity deck. Lastly, reprinting cards might have a little impact but printing new cards that remind players of other notable cards are also a plus.

What it comes down to is nostalgia. Time Spiral used this as a theme, the Un-sets uses this for its comic material, and there’s no avoiding nostalgia when revisiting Scars of Mirrodin. Look at how Nintendo is using their Mario. People remember playing the Super Mario Bros. video game and perhaps that would motivate them to purchase a Nintendo DS with New Super Mario Bros., a 2D Mario sidescroller (despite multiple 3D Mario games).

Design needs to tread familiar ground (planes, mechanics) but in new ways. It also needs to recognize and harness the power of nostalgia to keep experienced players happy and perhaps bring back players of old who remember those “good ol’ days.” This is how design will best make the game attractive to experienced players.

8. Of all the mechanics currently in Extended, which one is the best designed? Explain why.

Proliferate is the mechanic best designed of all other mechanics currently in Extended. I know, I know, the mechanic is as new as a mechanic can be in Extended; but, man, does it deliver. Here are the reasons:

The mechanic made the Phyrexian/poison theme possible. Infect alone wasn’t going to cut it. Proliferate provided the support that the Scars of Mirrodin block needed and then some. It also does a good job of supporting the flavor part of the Phyrexian oil infection.

Proliferate is modular. And I mean VERY modular. Poison counters get affected by proliferate, sure, but within its own Limited environment it also affects -1/-1 counters, charge counters, and loyalty counters.

It’s elegant and adds extra depth to the game in a new way. As previously mentioned, proliferate affects many different kinds of cards that use counters because of the fact that all the counters share the attribute of “being a counter.” Proliferate gets right to the core of this attribute and touched that practically virgin design space (My respects to Gilder Bairn, especially, of the few cards that are related). As a result, proliferate interacts with countless cards that use counters as markers.

And, to boot, many Johnnies are happy with proliferate. This mechanic is a shiny new plaything by which they can build decks around and say, “Look what I did with proliferate! I’m using it with Chance Encounter!”

Supporting a block theme, modularity, elegance in execution, and its impact on Magic’s gameplay as a whole make proliferate the best designed mechanic currently in Extended.

9. Of all the mechanics currently in Extended, which one is the worst designed? Explain why.

The worst designed mechanic currently in Extended is clash. It’s not as elegant as other mechanics are, and it doesn’t make the flavorful connection to the world of Lorwyn. I also can’t see much wiggle room in terms of design space.

Clash makes me put the spell aside, reveal the top card of my library along with another opponent, compare the costs, then decide on whether to leave the card on top or put it on the bottom of my library. Oh, yeah, I was casting a spell, wasn’t I? And the benefit of this mechanic is a method of randomization. The coin flip, while not innovative, is a much cleaner process.

However, as for the benefit, it’s not much of a gain to merit the mechanic. It can interact with kinship, but it’s a narrow synergy. If you clash and find a creature on top, then well, you were already going to get your kinship to go off anyway. If you clash and put it on the bottom, well, there’s still a chance the next card won’t be a Shaman.

While it’s O.K. for there to be mechanics that don’t make a flavorful connection to the world (like cycling), it does help. Clash doesn’t have anything to do with the tribes or anything else in the world other than maybe referencing how the tribes are “clashing” with each other. But, Magic always has a clash with each other. Otherwise, there wouldn’t always be a combat phase. And if I’m missing a flavorful connection with clash, that’s further proof that clash did such a poor job with flavor.

Clash is too clunky, not interactive much with other mechanics, and it’s not flavorful. There’s not a lot of variation you can do with clash, either. This is why clash is my choice for the worst designed mechanic currently in Extended.

10. Choose a plane to revisit other than Dominaria or Mirrodin. What is a mechanical twist we could add if we revisit this plane?
I’m going to not choose Kamigawa and the untapped potential of “splice onto <something besides Arcane>.” I feel that’s too obvious of a choice for what plane to visit with a mechanical twist to it.

Instead I’ll pick Ravnica. However, a problem with this is the number of mechanics in the block. Because of the way the block was done, there were ten mechanics spread out over the. What mechanical twist can be done to the return of the guild system and Ravnica to make it not feel like a “rinse and repeat” block? This is my answer:

Color used as a theme over the course of Magic has been explored time and time again, and yet, there are still aspects of color that haven’t been touched on. Ravnica block explored the pairing of two of the five colors. Shards of Alara block focused on the identity of three-color shards, each missing two colors. “Monocolored” is the default distinction in Magic. So, that brings us to four colors missing, three colors missing and two colors missing, which leaves: one color missing.

This would be an exploration of two-guild four-color factions. While there have been four-color cards, this hasn’t been done as a theme of a block before. The joining of two guilds can mean a hybrid twist of two of the old guild mechanics. For example, a Selesnya-Izzet guild can have “Replivoke 2 (You may tap two creatures any number of times as you cast this spell. For each time you tap two creatures, copy this spell. You may choose new targets for the copies.)”

I realize that the number of factions would result in five mechanics when usually a large set has four mechanics. I’d like to think that solution can be figured out as was done with the Shards of Alara block (Nay and Esper). Anyway, the point is that the four-color theme and exploring un-evolved mechanics is the mechanical twist that can be added if Magic decides to revisit the plane of Ravnica.

So, that's that. Feel free to criticize (or compliment) my answers and/or reasoning as you wish. So, now, I'm going to get going on preparing for my future endeavors in the competition.




  1. Geez, the more i read your answers, the less secure i feel about mine... lol.
    Got 2 children sitting on me atm, so wanna compare answers later?

  2. As I said before, don't worry, Josh. I actually felt the same way when reading the answers of other GDS2 competitors.

    Sure, you can hit me up later, and we can talk about Magic. Though, it's less important about what answers we said than it was in how we said it and our thought process. Something like that. So, when we talk, it's because we just like talking about Magic for fun! And to wax our brains.



  3. #4: I thought snow already was a supertype of mana, as of coldsnap? I think I remember reading about that. Like the boreal druid thing produces "snow-colorless mana" or something

  4. No, it only produces colorless mana. To pay snow costs, it just needs to be mana of any type from a source with the Snow supertype. The rules themselves say that "snow mana doesn't exist".

    And this just further proves my point about snow mana. =) Let's make it a supertype!



  5. I'm not sure how you missed the fact that colorless mana was around from day one with cards like Sol Ring. In any case, I really admire how you've illustrated your thought process here - in some ways, it reads a lot like MaRo :). I just discovered the blog while researching design for my own homebrew set and would like to say thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thanks a lot for reading my answers, even though it's MUCH later after the Great Designer Search 2! (Also, my response is as well. Apologies, but I am now getting back into blogging after a long hiatus.)

      The colorless mana - You're right. The focus of my point was more on representing colorless mana with a colorless mana symbol instead of just "colorless" spelled out, but it deviated from there.

      Lastly, thanks for the flattery in comparing thought process with MaRo's! =)