Tuesday, March 19, 2013

YMTC4: Enchantment or Land?

The fourth installment of You Make the Card is underway, and the current discussion is whether to design a Land card or an Enchantment card.

Choosing for the Right Reasons

I'd like to begin by counterarguing some statements that have been made on this topic so far:
"Lands effects don't need to be boring." 
"Lands have the advantage that they can go in any deck."
These statements are both true on their own, but not together. It would be very difficult to make a powerful land that can go in any deck without ruining the environment. Some of the lands that have exciting effects like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Kessig Wolf Run are only printable because of their color requirements.
"Enchantments are boring."
This sentiment seems to come from the relative lack of exciting enchantments recently, but there are lots of cool artifacts, and there is no mechanical reason why Enchantments need to be weak or boring any more than Artifacts. As some people in the forums have noted, cards like Rancor or Pyromancer Ascension are not boring.

With that aside, I think the most important thing to consider is the general style of card you want to come up with.

What Style of Card Do You Want?

Looking at past YMtC cards, there's a general tendency I notice. There's something people seem to like when they get a shot at making cards.

To me, the thing that characterizes these cards is: tricky, intriguing interactions. They're different from straightfoward cards like Lightning Helix or Memory Lapse.

  • These cards work by tangling with other parts of your deck. The card might change the rules in some way, or it might simply have the capacity to interact with a lot of other cards in your deck.
  • Many of these work over time, affecting the way the game flows.
  • These cards are intriguing. Some of them are kind of tricky, but they potentially let you do something that's very rewarding to do. 

I suspect this is what many amateur designers like. At least, I'm a sucker for it.

My standards for designing a one-of card are different from my standards for designing a set. If I could design many cards, I'd be happy with designing simple, clean tools like Quicksand. But if it was just one card I was making, I would feel "Wait, this is it? All I made was this one tool?"

So I feel like getting greedy; I'd like the one card we design to count for a lot. I want it to be a card with lots of open-ended interaction. I want to feel its effect on the game, so if it affects how the game plays (such as changing the rules like Crucible of Worlds or affecting lots of permanents like Forgotten Ancient), so much the better.

That's the general style of card I would like, which is why I voted for Enchantments.  Enchantments are good at changing the game environment in some way. It's not impossible to do that with Lands too, but it's less feasible since Lands require simpler effects.

But it all depends on what you want from designing. Here's what I think about some possible types of Lands that can be designed.

Mana Fixing
It seems that a few people really want to find the next drawback to attach to a dual land. These cards are interesting to design - I would be ecstatic if I were to come up with a great idea like the M10 dual lands. But they're not particularly fun to play, they're just very important background tools. If I were to design just one card, I want one that is not just fun to design but is also actively fun to play. But if improving the mana system is what you want out of your one shot, that's a totally legit, worthy thing to care about. It would be cool if a land can be devised that somehow alleviates mana screw and mana flood by just the right amount.

Narrow Utility
A land might accomodate an ability that's too narrow for a spell that takes up a spell slot, like Reliquary Tower. I've fan-designed a land card with the concept of a watchtower that produces colorless mana and negates opponents' hexproof.

If I only get to design one card, I'd rather aim for splashy fun rather than nifty utility or sideboard cards. But some kinds of utility might be cool nonetheless.

Minor effect on a Land that can go in any deck
An effect like Cathedral of War is too straightfoward for me. I'd like to play it, but not design it (if it's the only card I get to design, that is). But I understand that for some people, the fact that Cathedral of War costs no spell slots or mana payment and is hard to remove is an important source of coolness as a card design, even if the bonus is very simple.

Major effect on a Land with color requirements
Cards like Kessig Wolf Run are really fun to design if your focus is on "Constructed deck tech design" but boring if your focus is on "new card effect design." Actually a card doesn't need new text if it applies it in a new way. But if a relatively novel but simple effect can be designed for something like this, that would be awesome.

Major effect on a Land that requires a specific deck
While you probably shouldn't make a powerful land that goes in every deck, it's possible to make an intriguing build-around-me land like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. I would rather have the freedom to take any crazy effect I thought of and put it on an enchantment so I can then assign the right mana cost to balance it. But some effects can be balanced on a land, especially if there's an activation cost. If it's done right, it might be cooler on a land than on an enchantment. The fact that Lands don't require a spell slot and can't be easily destroyed means they can support some build-around themes more effectively, especially fragile or narrow themes.

Something completely different
Finally, something really, really wacky might make all of this theorizing moot. For example, I vaguely remember reading about a pro player who submitted an idea like Serum Powder for his invitational card, except it was a Land. We don't want that particular design now that Serum Powder has been printed, but there could be something equally out of the box that works.


  1. "...the thing that characterizes these cards is: tricky, intriguing interactions."

    I kind of have a beef with YMtC because of this. I really want a vanilla 3/1 goblin at 1R, a Unicorn Treasure Hunter, and a black Time Warp variant. None of them could be remotely successful in this kind of contest. :(

    1. Yes, the complexity and love trickiness is often excessive in fan designs.

      I still want my one card to be a game-changing. I also want it to be open-ended so that it can be experienced as many cards (kind of like Isochron Scepter in a way). It's like getting a wish, then wishing for more wishes!

  2. I voted for a land as I think there are a bunch or utility lands that could still be made.

    If it does end up as an enchantment how about something like this?

    Vow of Water -- UU
    Enchantment - Rare
    When ~ comes into play, counter target spell.
    You cannot casts spells of any color other than Blue.

    Vow of Fire-- 2R
    Enchantment - Rare
    When ~ comes into play, destroy target land.
    You cannot casts spells of any color other than Red.

    1. I'm guessing Vow of Fire only has Flash because Vow of Water did.

      I see the cost you're imposing here, but Counterspell almost has that by costing UU and Stone Rain at RRR would too. Ultimately, the problem with these spells isn't that you can play them in multicolor decks, so that restriction wouldn't make them fun again.

      Also: Cryptic Command to counter a spell and return Vow of Water to your hand.

  3. Legendary Land
    T: add 1 mana of any color.
    That is all I want.

    1. Hah! Hmm. This card is so good that every deck would want at least one copy of it. ...which leads to land destruction via the legend rule to happen in most games. And an expensive card. Magic: The Gathering games forever changed and prices of formats go up dramatically!

      ...Don't do it, Olaf!

  4. I'm holding out for "something completely different". I want the next Thespian's Stage, Cloudpost, or Dark Depths.