Thursday, January 10, 2013

Daily Card Redesign #10: Chandra Nalaar

Daily Card Redesign is a daily Magic: The Gathering design exercise where I randomly choose a card for the scenario of it being killed late during its own set's development, and I design a replacement card that uses the same art, is the same color, is the same rarity, and has a name that, alphabetically, keeps it within the same collector number for the set.

Instead of the usual pushing of the "Random Card button" within Wizards' Magic: The Gathering card database Gatherer to determine my card for the day, @RobersKirkman on Twitter happened across Chandra Nalaar as a result of his own"Random Card button pushing," and he was interested in how I would tackle this card: Chandra Nalaar. This is the first time I've taken a request like this, so why not? Let's design a replacement card for the original Chandra!

First, I discovered a unique quandary when it comes designing replacement planeswalker cards for this type of exercise. Unlike most other Magic: The Gathering cards, planeswalkers can have multiple different versions of themselves. So, when I'm designing a new card in place of the Chandra that debuted in Lorwyn, if I act like none of the other Chandras in the future have already existed yet, then it opens up the effects of those Chandras as options that I could be putting onto this Chandra. Which then actually is kinda lame to see (perhaps the next-best Chandra to debut first is exactly like Chandra Ablaze, for example). You would think, "Uh, we've already seen that before! Well, in one of the newer Chandras, of course."

So this is what I'm going to do: whenever I design a replacement card for a planeswalker or any other card that has this unique problem - I'm going to force myself to not design an effect that we've all already seen before. This is to keep my designs interesting and from not kidding myself into copping out and re-using an effect already in print due to some kind of logical reasoning or something.

Lastly, I do want to stress that while I would love to see totally bonkers planeswalkers in terms of power level, especially in Chandra's case - since she never really got to have a powerful version of herself, yet - I AM designing as if there's a hole late in development that needs filling; and that means little if no testing is done on it. This means designing "safe" cards that you know won't be too powerful to warp Magic: The Gathering formats in an unhealthy way.

With that out of the way...

Each Chandra that exists thus far deals direct damage either to players or to creatures/players. Considering I'm designing for Chandra's first incarnation as the explosive fire mage, I think it's entirely appropriate to retain this kind of effect for her first ability. So what can we do differently? Luckily, there has yet to be a Chandra that deals direct damage to creatures only. That'll be our first effect!

"Chandra Nalaar deals # damage to target creature."

I still want her to be able to damage players, though. So, somewhere within the second or third ability of hers should be the ability to target players.

I'm a big fan of having at least two abilities of any particular planeswalker connecting with each other. And in Chandra's case, I enjoy imagining a fire building up inside of her until she explodes. Now, for the feeling of her building up this "fire," it would feel wrong if, along the way, she's actually throwing fireballs at creatures like the first ability we established. It's like she's letting some of that build-up eke out. So, I've decided that the '+' ability that builds up toward the "ultimate" ability shouldn't be that.

While every Chandra "explodes" with lots of fire with their ultimate, Chandra Ablaze is a good example of the kind of interaction that I like. Discarding cards that would eventually be used for the ultimate's casting of cards from the graveyard.

Here's a problem, though, with having the "build-up ability" not involve direct damage: it leaves Chandra defenseless. Part of what makes for a great planeswalker is having the ability to defend itself against threats - mostly creatures. Otherwise, they'll lose all of their loyalty counters pretty quickly.

But that's where I discover that the main issue is with keeping Chandra alive with loyalty counters - not just blocking damage. If we have the effect add loyalty counters on a higher level than most usual damage, we can have her survive as if there WERE tokens or something absorbing damage like other planeswalkers do!

But it doesn't seem right for Chandra's ability to say:

"0: Add # loyalty counters."

Nay, we want to tie it in to gameplay that feels right and that we would want to encourage. How about this:

"0: Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell this turn, put # loyalty counters on Chandra Nalaar."

The instants and sorceries thematically represent the fire spells that you're casting, and the damage isn't coming from her, so it still feels like she's building up for something big.

The number of loyalty counters that is added to her as part of this ability depends on the other attributes of her: how many loyalty counters does she start with? What's her mana cost?

The mana cost is important to consider since the turn the ultimate ability "goes off" is determined by this. Usually, when uninterrupted, a Chandra will "blow up" on turn 8. Now, this Chandra is at a converted mana of five. I want to change that, and going to six or more would be a bad direction. I mean, it would make her even more sucky than she already is right now. But I don't want to do a converted mana cost of three or less since that starts to get tricky and/or unusual.

I'll do a converted mana cost of four. To differ from the other Chandra that costs four, I'll have the cost require two red mana. This is actually a smart idea since, if the cost only required a single red mana, players wouldn't be as easily able to build a predominantly, say, blue deck with some splash of red mana to get Chandra in there. Then the "build up" with casting instants and sorceries might have a lot of blue spells being cast (and rarely, if ever, red ones), which feels wrong. 2RR it is.

Because the mana cost is 2RR, I will attempt to have the ultimate go off, on average, in four turns. Maybe three turns if the player loyally casts instants/sorceries.

So how do we judge that? Hmm. If a deck wants to optimize on their mana each turn, they are forced to cast at least one spell a turn (and use each mana produced each turn). And let's assume that the average deck casts things on turn 2 and 3 before casting Chandra on turn 4. Preferably, one spell. So let's do math to count the number of cards a person will have as the turns go by. Let's assume the person is going first for the sake of not counting on the extra card of going second. Lastly, let's assume a burn deck running Chandra will cap out at 4 lands to maximize casting her spells.

Turn 1 = Play 1 Land, Final Hand = 6
Turn 2 = Draw 1 Card, Play 1 Land, Cast 1 Spell, Final Hand = 5
Turn 3 = Draw 1 Card, Play 1 Land, Cast 1 Spell, Final Hand = 4
Turn 4 = Draw 1 Card, Play 1 Land, Cast Chandra, Final Hand = 3
Turn 5 = Draw 1 Card, Cast 2 Instants and/or Sorceries, Final Hand = 2
Turn 6 = Draw 1 Card, Cast 2 Instants and/or Sorceries, Final Hand = 1
Turn 7 = Draw 1 Card, Cast 2 Instants and/or Sorceries, Final Hand = 0

Boy, casting 6 instances of instants/sorceries after casting Chandra is the absolute beast thing to do. If you drew a land or any other type of spell, this wouldn't be attainable! If they manage to cast 4 instants/sorceries after casting Chandra, I'd say, "Bravo." and let the ultimate be able to happen (assuming that Chandra didn't get hit a single time). Maybe 5 times? Let's see. 4 to 5 instants/sorceries cast will be what Chandra needs to go off.

Because I think that, to make up for having no protection, I'd like Chandra to gain 2 loyalty per instant/sorcery cast instead of a measly 1. And 3 would be out of the question. So, if I assume that the player needs to cast 4 to 5 instants/sorceries, this would be having 8 to 10 loyalty. This is on top of her starting loyalty. I'd like to have the ultimate not be so high in number since the planeswalkers are first being introduced, and we don't need to do something so crazy like Gideon, Champion of Justice just yet. That's for later - like when Gatecrash comes out and prints Gideon, Champion of Justice.

So, we want the player to gain 8 loyalty before doing Chandra's ultimate. And then we can make Chandra's ultimate require 10 loyalty just like Jace Beleren's. Don't worry, Chandra's old ultimate requirement of 8 is covered already by Liliana Vess. There's no hole in the space-time continuum or something. ...Yeah.

If we have Chandra's starting loyalty at 3, then this will what happen:
Turn 4 = Chandra's Loyalty = 3
Turn 5 = Chandra's Loyalty = 7
Turn 6 = Chandra's Loyalty = 11
Turn 7 = Chandra's Ultimate!

I picked 3 because 2 seemed too low and 4 is pretty beef for a red 4-drop.

Hmm. Wait a minute. Why does Chandra have to have an ability that reads like the following?

{0}:  Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell this turn, put 2 loyalty counters on Chandra Nalaar.

If you don't have any spells of that criteria, then you'd be screwed. And if you have a lot, especially cantrips, you can really go off the chain. How about a more controlled pace that doesn't feel helpless when you're already screwed?

{+1}: Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell this turn, put 1 loyalty counter on Chandra Nalaar.

Still the same result if you cast one spell, but better if you have none, and worse if you cast two spells. Seems fantastic!

So, with this in mind, if we have the player cast 4 spells, with two activations on turns 5 and 6, that would equate to +7 loyalty. So, we can still do the -10, pretty much.

Because it's so variable in how much loyalty you can gain, let's just make that creature damage scalable like with the original Chandra's -X ability.

Lastly, let's do the ultimate ability. She's going to EXPLODE. We haven't yet seen a Chandra that can hit every single target. So, I'm going to take advantage of that. And since the loyalty cost is -10, I'll make it 10 damage. Yes, similar to original Chandra's targeting of one player and their creatures for -8, but not as explosive if used in a multiplayer game. So, I'll go with that.

Also, I'm running out of time for today. Here's the replacement Chandra:


  1. Running backwards through time and making comments on these - I read them as you posted them, and only have time to comment today. :)


    Chandra was part of the Lorwyn Five, planeswalkers that were supposed to really exemplify their colors. She did this very very well in her real version, and your version is not as good at this.

    Part of the requirements for the Lorwyn planeswalkers was that they clubbed you in the head with what they were, and only used things in the very core of the color pie for their colors.

    The "rewards you for playing spells" is not a totally core red ability. What I mean is, that ability could go on a red or blue planeswalker, and feel like it fits just fine. (Even better on a red/blue planeswalker.)

    The original Chandra did one thing in spades, and that was burn stuff. She was a mirror to Jace, who only manipulated cards. This version does not feel as compelling to me, and it feels a lot more like a "second wave" planeswalker, when they were experimenting with other ways to build a planeswalker card.

    1. Holy cow, man, that means a lot that you've been reading them as I've posted them. I also love that what I'm doing spurs on thought and discussion on Magic design with other people. So, thank you very much!

      Your point on rewarding you for casting spells is dead-on. I made a Chandra that's worse, and she is suppose to truly represent what a red planeswalker does. My concept of a Chandra incubating an explosion drove me to design away from what needed to be done.

  2. Red Boom Boom (Sparky, Goblin, Goblin Grenade, Daño directo, Meter daño, etc).

    8 Mountain
    2 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

    3 Ball Lightning
    3 Goblin Arsonist
    3 Goblin Fireslinger
    2 Goblin King
    3 Mogg Fanatic

    4 Black Lotus
    2 Chaos Orb
    2 Cursed Scroll
    4 Mox Ruby

    1 Blood Moon

    2 Chandra Nalaar

    2 Fireball
    3 Gamble
    3 Goblin Grenade
    3 Wheel of Fortune

    2 Fireblast
    4 Fork
    4 Lightning Bolt

  3. I really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us. I assure this would be beneficial for most of the people.