Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Going For Gold

Ever since Devon Rule first proposed them in the Second Great Designer Search, we've seen Gold Counters pop up in all sorts of design propositions, always with implementations very close to the original. We can do better.

Get it? You spend mana and pay life. Those are verbs you can use with money! I don’t want to sound too harsh on Devon’s implementation. It’s actually a great mechanic, but I don’t want to use it because it has very similar yet inferior gameplay to Eldrazi Spawn.

Recently gold counters have been suggested for the gambling-heavy Frontier and the potentially ambition-based Ankh-Theb. Flavorfully speaking they’re great fits, but we need a new mechanical implementation. What have we got?

Well, generally you don’t just spend money, you spend it on something.

Hiring a Mercenary

That’s an awful lot of rules text for a counter, but the Act of Treason effect is pretty grokkable, so it might be doable. Every implementation comes with different gameplay implications. For this version:
1. You need to earn a lot of gold.
Just one gold generally won’t do anything, and to qualify as a real bonus effect, it shouldn't be that hard to earn six or more gold counters over the course of a game.
2. Decks that generate gold have to want an Act of Treason.
This requirement mostly consists of rewarding players for hitting their opponents and getting past blockers. One easy way to accomplish this task is by making the gold archetypes aggressive, but including a bunch of saboteur triggers รก la Scroll Thief could work too.
3. It needs to fit in the color pie.
New mechanics often demand a bit of color pie stretching, but this version would never make sense with, for instance, a mono green gold generator. Red is a shoe-in, and blue and black are plausible stretches. A typical GOLD COUNTER B producer might look something like this:

Of course, there are other reasons to pay people…


This version falls closer to Detain from a color pie perspective and leads to some more flexible gameplay. Unfortunately, allowing instant speed activation makes it pretty difficult to make stealing gold possible.

Cards that want you to keep hitting your opponent still work well—in fact, they may work too well. Having multiples likely means that your opponent is going to have an awfully hard time ever blocking again, and trying to race probably won’t work out much better. None of which means that it couldn’t work, just that we need to reconsider how gold is obtained.

A Step Back

Both of those options are reasonable things to spend gold on, and I’m sure you all can think of many more, but I’m not so sure that having gold is actually about spending it. If that’s what we wanted money for, why would millionaires spend so much of their time preoccupied with getting more of it?

Gold is really about acquiring more gold.

This version obviously falls into white and green’s domain, and maybe you could push for black just because the greed is such good flavor. Each piece of gold you have makes additional pieces more valuable, which pushes gameplay in the right direction, but also makes the mechanic fairly parasitic. In order to offset that, most gold enablers should be able to earn multiple counters over the course of the game. Of course, that level of life gain will mostly keep the mechanic out of common.

Is there a better way to represent gold as something hoardable?

Winning at Life

At the end of the day, maybe well-to-do people don’t want more money for a purpose. Maybe people want enormous quantities of money just to have it, as a measure of “winning” at life. Jack had a similar idea in one of the Frontier discussions.

The reverse poison is pretty cool, but a win condition that can’t be interacted with isn't that appealing to me. That could be solved by making the only way to get gold be through combat triggers, but at that point gaining 10 gold by attacking would play exactly the same as giving an opponent 10 poison. We need something different.

Greed isn't about having what you set out to get; it’s about having it all. How can you do that if somebody else has stuff too? This mechanic isn't really defined from a color pie perspective, which allows gold to be a major part of its environment if we let each color interact with it in different ways.

Another Way

But there’s a whole other approach I hadn't considered until recently.

The gold doesn't have to do anything on its own. Take Chah's idea for Soul Counters from the most recent Weekend Art Challenge. They could act as partial emblems generated by whatever card made them while still playing into the hoarding aspect. In fact, this setup allows everyone to spend money differently, which hits its flavor better than any one implementation could.

There are a million options I haven’t touched upon; come up with some! Gold counters can do a lot more than fill in for Eldrazi Spawn and we won’t know if we should use them until we explore the design space of beneficial player counters.


  1. Ok, here's my pitch:

    Instead of gold tokens, you get coin tokens. After all, these tokens are supposed to represent currency, right? And instead of needing to have special "coin" token cards, you can just use actual coins. They don't do anything special, they are just coins.

    So, why are they cool? Most players already use coins for counters any way.

    Because now we can do this:

    Pelt collector 1W
    Creature- Minotaur Shaman U
    Whenever a creature a dies, gain a coin counter.
    T: Flip your coins. Prevent damage equal to the number of heads.

    Lucky Shot R
    Gain two coins.
    Flip your coins. Lucky Shot deals damage to target creature or player equal to the number of heads.

    Those could be in addition to some of the other designs mentioned that just the coins as "player counters". Giving players control over how many they get to flip helps reduce the luck involved.

    They also allow:

    Bribe UU
    Counter target spell unless your opponent pays you one coin and 1.

    Now, I'm not really advocating for actually forcing your opponent to give you money. That'd probably be illegal, and it would certainly be in the rules that coins don't actually exchange hands. But as a house rule...

    1. Oh, and for what it's worth, you wouldn't even need to call them "coin counters". Coin is already a defined game term, so we could just call them coins.

      It's also worth noting that you wouldn't actually need to carry around a bag of change with you. You can use any mutually agreed substitute as a coin, and you can flip one coin over and over again to get your count. Or roll a handful of dice all at once/shake and spill a bag of coins if speed is an issue.

    2. I don't think we should focus on the flipping aspect since it has such narrow appeal, but it would be awesome for 2-5 cards, and may add a lot to the emotional impact of the player counters more generally. I am a bit concerned about the possible public reaction to cards that make players pay one another with real coins though...Anyhow, all in all, awesome out-of-the-box idea!

    3. I'm definitely in the crowd of Johnnies that really enjoys coinflip cards. You could even make it more upside

      Lucky Shot R
      Gain a coin.
      Flip your coins. For each tail, deal one damage to target creature or player. For each head, deal two damage.

      And you certainly wouldn't need to actually exchange coins. You could just record on paper your "coin count". It just has a nice flavor impact and casual appeal for more adult gamers.

    4. Unfortunately there's no real solution to make coinflip cards appeal to players who don't already like them. Those that do love them for the highs and lows, so reducing variance doesn't help, and those that don't want to know what their spells are going to do, so the blatant randomness itself, not the variance, is the problem.

    5. Using coins instead of gold counters is brilliant. Flipping them should totally happen on maybe 3 cards (probably a vertical cycle in red), but if they're easy to gain you should have to spend them:

      Riot at the Bazaar 2R
      Sorcery (unc)
      Gain a coin.
      Spend any number of coins you control. Flip them. Draw a card for each flip you win, then discard a card for each flip you lose.


      Fire Broker 2R
      Creature-Human Wizard (unc)
      When ~ ETB, gain a coin.
      Flip a coin you control, T: If you win the flip, ~ deals 2 damage to target c/p and you lose a coin.

  2. Holy jeez, this article is FANTASTIC, Jules! I fell in love with the solution of having 10 more gold than your opponent AND the solution of letting each card use gold differently. Now just make sure that gold decks that are played outside of this environment against non-gold decks aren't too powerful when using the "10 more gold than opponents" solution.

  3. Ah! The idea of having 10 more gold than an opponent is a good one, because then there are built-in answers to gold counters, ie acquiring gold counters of your own.

    Another possibility would be like planeswalkers: whenever a creature deals (combat?) damage to you, it's controller may choose to take (or destroy?) that many (or one?) gold counter instead of the damage.

    1. I'm a little worried about taking them (though I think the flavor's much better) because it'll often make it bad to gain gold counters if you can't defend yourself. That said, adding combat interaction is certainly a viable route.

  4. My favorite idea here is definitely to keep the gold counters without rules text or inherent rules meaning and have the other cards define how you can spend them, or what holding them means. There should definitely be a card that wins you the game if you control 10 more gold than your opponent, because that condition is much better than a static goal.

    Three words to consider:

    Affinity for Gold

    1. On the other hand, a designation with no inherent rules meaning is more parasitic. That's why Arcane and Snow were so much worse than Infect.

    2. I agree gold with no rules meaning is more parasitic.

      I will also offer the reminder that allies were as parasitic as arcane and snow, but less hated than infect.

    3. I don't think Allies and Arcane are in the same league. Stonework Puma was the only Ally that didn't do something by itself. By contrast, there were eighteen (or thereabouts) common Arcane cards in Champions of Kamigawa that did not have Splice! That's a lot of Waking Nightmares and Quiet Purities.

    4. They all did something. It just didn't matter to any of the cards that don't explicitly care about arcane that they were arcane. But arcane is tucked away in the type line where it's not bothering anyone.

      Arcane wasn't the problem. Splice onto Arcane was.

    5. Devin Low already made the argument far better than I could:

      First problem with Arcane: When Joe Magic Player is building a mono-red burn deck, and he considers adding Lava Spike, he has to wonder: "Hey what is this Arcane word on here? There's no reminder text... What does Arcane even do?" Then there's a risk that Joe concludes, "I guess this card is for some deck that does something with Arcane cards. But my deck doesn't do about that, so this card's not for me." And he can conclude this even though Lava Spike is a fine card for a burn deck even when the deck doesn't do anything with Arcane at all! Player feedback supported the idea that this phenomenon really occurs. The word "Arcane" also did not give much of a clue as to why the card had a subtype, or to what creature type it was linked (Spirit).


    6. It's true. A very similar property to the "Homing Lightning is bad because it'll rarely hit two creatures" psychology.

    7. I agree with your/Devin's point, but that doesn't mean that we can't do vanilla gold the same way allies were done: with basically every gold granting card caring about it. It's hard to find scaling effects with the amount of gold you have that are fit for common, but we may be able to just set a threshold at some number of gold counters so that it's clear that additional copies of the card you have will make the Nth one you cast better.

    8. Ooh, Affinity for Gold is pretty sweet. Though flavorfully it belongs on 50% of the creatures in Frontier, which isn't going to happen.

    9. Agreed. As long as all (or all non-rare) cards that grant you gold also give you a reason to care about it, you'll never see the Lava Spike psychology. All you'll get is players realizing there are more uses for gold when they see more gold-making cards.

  5. Is that Gemstone Mine a deliberate pun? If so, shame on you, Jules. :)

    1. I'm the culprit.

      'twas too fitting an intersection of pun and content-relevance. (i.e. "mining" and Gold/Frontier)

    2. That said, it's a gem and I wish it were mine.