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. =)