Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Red Counterspell?

I like it when you can fit an effect or ability into another color in the color pie by adding a limitation or twist to an existing effect or ability. For example, "Stealing" or gaining control of a creature for a single turn was a blue ability for a long time aka spells like Ray of Command. And back then it was in fact played like a blue ability. Good players would use it defensively 90%+ of the time, getting a 2-for-1 by waiting for an opponent to attack, then blocking the attacker with a stolen blocker. But making it a sorcery turned it into an aggressive, "temporary gain" effect that fits red well.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Green)

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Green)
You will see any number of reviews of New Phyrexia in the context of their impact on limited, standard, extended and legacy play. This week, I'm bringing you a new perspective: How does the set stack up in terms of design? Follow along with the official spoiler.
Beast Within is a game changer. I'm really excited about this card. It's not going to warp any metagames because it's not a great deal at face value, but for the first time in a long time, green has a legitimate answer card. Beast Within deals with any creature or planeswalker, in addition to the standard Creeping Mold targets, and it does it at instant speed. I'm very curious to see how much play this gets and how much legitimacy it grants the deeply limited mono-green archetype.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Red)

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Red)
You will see any number of reviews of New Phyrexia in the context of their impact on limited, standard, extended and legacy play. This week, I'm bringing you a new perspective: How does the set stack up in terms of design? Follow along with the official spoiler.
White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Artifact

Considering the other cards that have gotten the color-bleed-via-φ treatment, Act of Aggression feels like a no-brainer. I would be complaining that it's way too expensive but making it an instant instead of a sorcery is a pretty big step up in power level for Threaten.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Holy Crap! Phyrexia is Evil!

Sorry for the long time between posts! I've been trying to actually PLAY the game more often as opposed to just thinking about it, and I've been working on some longer essays. But when New Phyrexia got officially spoiled, I really wanted to weigh in. This set is puzzling for me as a wanna-be designer - it seemed like R&D was moving away from griefer mechanics, and yet here comes a set more or less devoted to suffering. I understand Phyrexians are not particularly pleasant creatures, but there are an awful lot of high-powered, Spike-lovin', cards that I honestly didn't expect to see again. Here's a quick walk-through on some cards that really stand out to me...

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Black)

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Black)
You will see any number of reviews of New Phyrexia in the context of their impact on limited, standard, extended and legacy play. This week, I'm bringing you a new perspective: How does the set stack up in terms of design? Follow along with the official spoiler.
I like Blind Zealot. It's a decently costed evasive attacker and it's also conditionless removal. Well, conditionless in the traditional sense for removal—it can target and destroy anything. Obviously, there's a very real condition around getting that effect to trigger: He won't be able to get around any black or artifact creatures.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Blue)

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Blue)
You will see any number of reviews of New Phyrexia in the context of their impact on limited, standard, extended and legacy play. This week, I'm bringing you a new perspective: How does the set stack up in terms of design? Follow along with the official spoiler.
As a player, I can't help but feel like Argent Mutation is overcosted. I don't think it's bad, mind you, a cantrip that let's you trick your opponent into a metalcraft-enabled trap or upgrade your Shatter targets should see play and be fine, but players will wish it was 2cc. My Johnny side envisions stealing some tinny planeswalkers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (White)

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (White)
You will see any number of reviews of New Phyrexia in the context of their impact on limited, standard, extended and legacy play. This week, I'm bringing you a new perspective: How does the set stack up in terms of design? Follow along with the official spoiler.
Karn Liberated is big, powerful and unique. Everything required of a mythic card. I'm skeptical how fun it is for you when your opponent pulls off his ultimate, but all the walker ultimates share that trait and it is, arguably, not a bad thing. My concern about Karn is the room for confusion he creates. If you read him carefully, you will discern that sorceries and instants exiled by his first ability do get shuffled back in when the new game starts and there is no attempt to put them on the battlefield, but that's not how it reads the first-time because the word "non-Aura" distracts you from the permanent classification. Yes, it's weird for auras to come into play when there might not be anything for them to enchant, but I'm not sure fudging the functionality of this card to make that clearer was worth it, considering how much less clear the handling of sorceries and instants becomes.

Friday, April 22, 2011

CCDD 042211—Ridgeview Copse

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/22/2011 - I'm really happy with Ridgeview Copse. It was inspired by Tom LaPille's excellent article, Common Comparisons, in which he discusses the effect of Karoos in Ravnica (the common, two-mana, bounce-lands). The intent of their design was to offer common color-fixing to enable two- and three-color decks as the set demanded, but they were so strong—effectively 2:1 card advantage from a land—that players picked them who weren't even running both colors. I'll explain the design logic behind Ridgeview Copse and how that relates after you take a look:

CCDD 042111—Impish Tutor & Riddling Imp

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/21/2011 - It's not uncommon for me to design a new card that is simple and/or clever only to check Gatherer and discover it already exists (or something basically the same). It is, arguably a bit less common to design a card that is simple and actually hasn't been printed before. Impish Tutor reminds me most of Beseech the Queen, but is genetically most similar to a family of non-black tutors.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

CCDD 042011—Smith's Hammer

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/20/2011 - I'm pretty sure the only reason Smith's Hammer wasn't printed in this block was that it reads too much like Adventuring Gear from the last block. The purpose of this card in the set was still met, but they filled it from a different angle with Silverskin Armor—which is a fine card, if a bit too similar to Liquimetal Coating for my taste.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

CCDD 041911—Common Man Lands

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/19/2011 - I was thinking about designs that could make Magic better, and whenever I do that I always come back to fixing land-screw. Every single game of Magic will have a loser, but as long as that loss feels earned (that is, both players felt like they had a chance to win that game and there was some engaging back and forth) good players won't mind. It's the games where you have to mulligan to four or where you never draw a third or fourth land or where you draw six land cards in a row that are frustrating because you lost to forces primarily out of your control. I haven't been keeping stats, but it feels like this happens about every 1 in 5 games, which is a lot. In fact, this is Magic's biggest failing as a game and one of the top reasons we lose players.

Monday, April 18, 2011

MtGO UI Mockup—Collections and Trading

Magic: the Gathering Online UI Mockup
MtGO has come a long way since it started and the newest client is the best yet, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. As my day job involves software development and a good deal of UI (User Interaction) design, I've often thought about ways to make MtGO a better experience. That's actually what led to my deck-building web-application, Wizard's Familiar. I identified a number of aspects of the MtGO deck-building interface and made something that is faster, more intuitive, visually appealing and functional.

Hopefully that's all old news to you (if not, go check it out, for serious). Today I'm presenting a very rough mock up of how the collection screen could work and how trading could work. It's available right here. So you're not confused, the only things you can do in this mocked-up version are: click on a card in the collection area to go to the trading details screen; click from those details to the offer confirmation panel; and click to go back to the collection screen. The purpose of a mock is not like a prototype: we're not trying to make things actually work, we just want to show you the steps the user would see.

CCDD 041811—Azax-Azog, The Demon Thane

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/18/2011 - I love designing Demons because they almost always deliver a devastating or efficient monster at some kind of twisted cost. Designers love tension, often to our own detriment—it's very easy to go overboard. But what's really fun about designing Demons is the cleverness it takes to make a good drawback. Y'know, the kind that a proper black mage will have little trouble turning into a positive.

Azax-Azog was described on the mothership last week and this art was nearby. While I'm certain that a number of the thanes described were accompanied by unrelated art, I'm of the impression this art was for Azax-Azog. Behold:

Pursuing the Obvious Solution

As I continue to pluck away at designing Melody, the set I first conceptualized for GDS2, I've found myself succumbing to instances of self-doubt brought on by an uncomfortable realization of re-treading the past. As a musician, writer, painter, I've had to overcome this same debilitating condition a number of times, it being both intrinsic and anathema to nearly all creative endeavors. Perhaps I could go further and say that it's one of the absolutes of the human condition, a quality born of the struggle between individualism and an acknowledgment of history. So hopefully you all know what it is that I'm talking about and can empathize, even if you are not currently engaged in Magic design.

Friday, April 15, 2011

CCDD 041511—Clockwork Resurrection

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/15/2011 - I know you've seen a lot of Clone variants from me over the last couple months. This isn't the last, either (though it may be the textiest), but I swear it's just a fad. While I certainly enjoy copy effects, I have no special love for them, it's just that when a designer starts thinking about variations on a theme, each iteration begets another and so you tend to hit a lot of similar notes over a period of time. If I'm still posting a clone variant every week next year, I invite you to call me a dirty, dirty liar. For the time-being, I invite the ladies to call me a dirty, dirty boy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

CCDD 041411—Creepy Puppet Stare, Glissa's Minions & Giz, Corrupter General

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/14/2011 - I strongly suspect that the latest Mirrodin block is not done waxing nostalgic about the original Mirrodin block. The question is, will they reprint Solemn Simulacrum? No, sigh. Will they infect some good old cards? Infect Bringers, pass. Will they bring back a Mirrodin mechanic? I hope so. Will it be Affinity?

Writing as a Tool for Analyzing Problems (part 2)

(Recap of part I:)
I was making a live-action sword-fighting game based on Star Wars Episode I. There was to be a Light team and a Dark team, each with a secret leader. The goal was to find the identity of the enemy leader using clues, and then execute that leader. The leader of the Dark team would actually be an imposter posing as a Light team member. While working on this, I tried defining the problems of this set-up in clear langauge, and doing so helped me solve the problems. The first problem was: how do we get a Dark team leader to infiltrate the Light team without making it obvious?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

CCDD 041311—Crust-Stalker, Sylvok Chromeslut & Karn is all, "WTF?!"

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/13/2011 - Art spoilers are pure gold for speculators and designers. Yesterday's was no different and I was a bit more pleased with my output from it than the one last week, so I'll be sharing several cards with you today and tomorrow. Today, the "normal" ones...

Writing as a Tool for Analyzing Problems (part 1)

A big part of game design is problem solving. We have to solve problems to make a game work the way we want it to. But oftentimes, we develop blind spots. We overlook something, and that keeps us from realizing there's a solution in front of us.

I've found that writing about problems is a good tool to solving problems. The process of describing the problem to another person can help put the problem in clear focus. Accurately defining a problem goes a long way towards solving the problem; in fact, in a few cases it outright solves the problem.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

CCDD 041211—Aranax, Spider Queen

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/12/2011 - This one goes out to Mr. Jon Becker, my favorite Philly-based pro player, and fellow Magic spider enthusiast. And by enthusiast, I mean, Jon is far-and-away the most vocal proponent for spiders in Magic (possibly the only one, of such reknown).

Monday, April 11, 2011

CCDD 041111—Aura Blast vs The Fizzle Rule

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/11/2011 - If you cast a Lightning Bolt targeting my Brindle Boar and I sacrifice it in response, your bolt fizzles. That is, it is countered on resolution by the game rules because none of its targets are still legal. Fair enough. If you Aura Blast my Zektar Shrine Expedition and I sacrifice it in response, your blast fizzles: You don't get to draw a card. Hmm, okay. If you cast Cryptic Command with the intention of tapping my team, you might as well also bounce one of my guys while you're at it, to slow me down as much as possible. But if you do, and I play Autumn's Veil on my creature in response, your command fizzles: My team is not tapped. Had you chosen a second mode that doesn't target, like drawing a card, I wouldn't have been able to prevent Cryptic Command from going off perfectly and tapping my team. Raise your hand if you're starting to smell fish. Okay, fine, don't raise your hand, you lazy bum. I'll just pretend you are.

Friday, April 8, 2011

CCDD 040811—Serra, Planeswalker

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/8/2011 - Yesterday, one of my favorite Magic Twitter folk, Andrea Shubert, suggested a fun exercise of creating a planeswalker card for Serra, creator of the realm of Serra, Serra Angel, and indeed, many more angels and forces of light. We are not the first ones to mine this space, I know, because searching for images for the card brought up a few existing designs.

One thing I instantly felt Serra had to be able to do was creating Angels; that's what she's most famous for. Beyond that, anything particularly protective, militaristic or anti-evil seems like fair game.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

CCDD 040711—Chancellor of Flesh & Fire

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/7/2011 - Theme is important to Magic as it is to all games, but some players enjoy the story beyond the cards and some don't. I've never read a Magic novel (well, not for entertainment, anyhow) because I'd rather read a fantasy novel created for the explicit purpose of telling the story rather than one contracted as marketing materials. Even so, I still have Vorthosian tendencies and have spent a few daydream cycles wondering about the planeswalker's spark or various cultures and conflicts set forth in the Multiverse. I mention this because

I heart Doug Beyer.

The man's imagination, talent, and (somehow most importantly) passion is nothing short of inspiring. This week he wrote A Planeswalker's Guide to New Phyrexia, Part 1 and it was fascinating. It also spoiled some art for the upcoming set: a speculator's wet dream.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CCDD 040611—Rampaging Nork

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/6/2011 - You might think it would be really easy to find art for random beast-like monsters on the interwebs. I'm sure it's out there, but I can tell you that searching for beast either brings up magic cards or photos of silly animals. Why do I mention it? Well, I just don't want you to panic when you see the art for Rampaging Nork.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

CCDD 040511—Drown, Barnacle Shambler & Underwater is a Lonely Place

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/5/2011 - All of today's cards were inspired by some pretty sweet images of an underwater art museum covered recently on Wired: They tend to be pretty grim which is why you'll see as much black as you will blue.

Reinventing Alpha, Part 4: Are You the Keymaster?

After traveling to the past and inadvertently running over Richard Garfield with a DeLorean, our protagonist is on a quest to rebuild Alpha.  Last time, he killed Banding and Flash, fixed Protection, and changed Shroud.  What could be next?  Past columns: 1 2 3.

Now that we've edited our evergreen keyword abilities to a more presentable form, there's a more pressing issue which Jay pointed out: how many of these are actually going into Alpha?  And which of them will receive keywords?  

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mo' Mythics, Mo' Problems

The primal mechanic has me worried this designer might disagree with his job description — me, MaRo, and everyone else employed by Hasbro (NYSE: HAS) are in the business of creating desire for Magic products. Our biggest seller is booster packs.
— Ken Nagle

Since the introduction of the mythic rarity, a lingering air of dissatisfaction has loomed over the magic community regarding the intent behind the not-especially-distinctive orange symbols. This is primarily due to the effect the additional rarity has on secondary market values, inflating them to a great degree, but also because of various beliefs regarding what type of cards were "supposed" to be designated with this rarity, beliefs often rooted in a frequently stated misquote of Mark Rosewater. As I sat down to work on a cycle of mythics started during the initial planning of my GDS block, I was thinking about the expectations placed upon cards of a given rarity, but also about how monetary considerations can (and perhaps should) affect how the design of mythics is carried out. What I mean by "monetary considerations" is two-fold:

CCDD 040411—Lesser Mimic and Greater Mimic

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/4/2011 - What if you could play your Clone before the creature you want to copy enters the battlefield? Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you, Lesser Mimic:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

CCDD 040311—General Sam

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/3/2011 - Continuing my discussion from yesterday, Gil and I came upon the idea of baking some of the Commander/EDH rules directly into a card. I heard you like tournament Magic and EDH so I put some EDH in your tournament Magic so you can EDH while you Magic.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

CCDD 040211—Squadron Hawks & Swippy-Swap

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/2/2011 - The game store I draft at each week is building a custom cube for fun. By 'custom' I mean all the cards in the cube are custom designs by the participants for the cube. In this particular case, 'custom' also happens to mean silly. Not silly-terrible, but silly-powerful and/or silly-funny. Before I go any further, let me clear. I love me some silly and a lot of these cards have a lot more than just that going for them.

The reason I bring this up is that I was chatting with one of the owners last night about a fun new vein of design they were thinking about after one of their regulars suggested that whenever you draft a Squadron Hawk, you should get a free copy for your deck.

Friday, April 1, 2011

CCDD 040111—Get Ahead and Dark Knight

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/1/2011 - I've been planning to share an un-card for April Fool's Day for over a month. I've also been planning to share a knight card the same day as Duel Decks: Knights Vs Dragons is released. As no plan is allowed to proceed unmolested, these naturally occurred on the same day. Solution? Two cards today! Wooee. First, Dark Knight, since I don't have all that much to say about him: