Sunday, April 21, 2013

Act of Legend

Legends have been an indispensable part of Magic for a long time. The "Legendary" supertype lends an aura of coolness to many cards that are popular hits. Story-wise, Legends are important for portraying lead characters in each new setting. Finally, the mechanic is crucial for the existence of the Commander format, one of the most fun ways to play Magic casually.

The mechanic's current function contains some degree of awkwardness, which Mark Rosewater has discussed in this article. (It's also interesting to see the counterpoint Developer Tom LaPille provided here.) One of the points Mark Rosewater raised is that the Legendary mechanic is purely a drawback mechanic.

On the one hand, it seems fine to me to have the Legendary supertype remain purely a drawback since drawbacks allows the card to be more powerful and thus more appealing. It only starts to become a problem when it harms player perception of the card, but legendary status is usually perceived as a source of coolness.

On the other hand, cards that seem fitting as Legends such as the Titan cycle in Magic 2011 are often made into non-Legendary creatures, possibly to avoid negative perception.

A mechanic idea I'd like to talk about today, Act of Legend, tries to add something to the Legendary supertype, adding a beneficial mechanical definition to Legends. Here are examples of a card with this mechanic:

The Mechanic
Like the Wish cycle in Judgment, this mechanic would allow you to fetch cards from outside the game. (Or in practice, from your sideboard.) It's like allowing Legends to grant Wishes, except the text concerning fetching cards from outside the game is on the cards that can be fetched, rather than on the cards that fetch other cards.

Taking a cue from the Commander rules, each card with Act of Legend can only be fetched by Legendary creatures with the same color identity.

The key to making Legendary into a positive mechanic (if we choose to do so) is to make sure that there are cards or rules that reference it in a positive light. An example of a rule that makes Legendary cards better is the Commander rule. Some examples of cards that make Legendary creatures better than non-Legendary creatures are Adventurers' GuildhouseKitsune Healer, or Blind with Anger. I can definitely see cards like a 1B Instant with "Destroy target non-legendary permanent" being in a legendary themed set, where the existence of the card would make it desirable for your creatures to be legendary.

However, for the most part, legendary status is a narrow thing to care about, and it might be hard to seed enough impactful cards into the environment that make Legendary status special by referencing it directly.

The Act of Legend mechanic combats this problem in the sense that cards that reward Legendary status don't need to be ubiquitous deck construction staples to make Legendary status desirable; the cards with Act of Legend can have narrow effects and be played infrequently, and they will still lend mechanical significance to Legends because they can be fetched from the sideboard as needed without taking up deck space.

If there were to be another Legendary-themed set in the vein of Legends and Champions of Kamigawa (perhaps Theros will be that set), this mechanic could be one of the ways to have the theme of Legends appear on lower rarity cards. Legendary sets have a problem with communicating the Legend theme at low rarity because the Legendary creatures themselves need to be infrequent (at high rarity) in order to feel special.

The Flavor
Flavor-wise, these cards can play up on the flavor that Legendary creatures are heros and villains, great movers of events in the history of the background world. While cards with Act of Legend represent the actions of Legendary creatures, they don't necessarily have to be sorceries; here's another example.

The Act of Legend cards can try to evoke the feeling of a story unfolding around the legendary creatures, including personal relationships between the legendary creature and another creature:

With this card, you might gain control of a creature, lose control of it when your Commander dies, then regain control of it when you recast your Commander later. A Voldemort - Lucius Malfoy kind of relationship.

(This card doesn't need the "As long as enchanted creature is on the battlefield" clause because if the enchanted creature wasn't on the battlefield, the Aura would be gone anyways. But I added it to make the purpose of the card clearer.)

The Act of Legend mechanic can help alleviate another old problem: the difficulty of making creature-boosting Auras playable despite their inherent card disadvantage.

The mechanic could go on artifacts as well.

There are a couple of issues posed by this mechanic, though.

Rules Issues
First of all, the rules would have to be modified to make this even work. This is a triggered effect on a card that's in an unrevealed zone. As far as I know, cards like 1996 World Champion don't actually work and is only for promotional cards (or Un-cards).

However, there could be a rules change concerning the Legendary supertype mentioning that Legends give you a chance to cast Act of Legend cards from your sideboard, which should make it work.

The Commander rules would also require an update to benefit from this mechanic, since Commander games don't usually involve sideboards. There could be a new rule that allows you to choose up to three Act of Legend cards and start with them face-down in your Command zone.

Design Restrictions on Legends
Second of all, each card with this mechanic imposes design restrictions on the types of Legendary creatures that can be designed in the future. Even an innocuous card like "Equipped creature gains haste" or "Enchanted creature has intimidate" can form a lame combo with something like Phage the Untouchable.

The card Vow of the King above originally cost {1}{W} and gave all creatures you control +1/+1 (including the enchanted creature), but it made me wince to think about the interaction it might have with cards like Geist of Saint Traft.

This type of interaction would have to be checked for every combination of Legendary creature and Act of Legend, which might be tedious in a large environment such as Modern.

Outclassing Expensive Legends
Thirdly, this mechanic makes smaller, low-cost Legends better because they can perform powerful Acts of Legend with the mana you have left over. Ironically, many of the high-cost Legends which are designed with the intention to feel impressive will almost never get to trigger any Acts of Legend because their base costs are already high.

Imagine you have 7 mana available, and you cast a weak Legend that costs {r} like Norin the Wary. What kind of effect would be fitting for such a creature? This?

But because you have 6 mana left, you opt to play a big effect instead; maybe you cause a big Earthquake or put a 4/4 Dragon token onto the battlefield.

Ont the other hand, if you had 7 mana open and you cast a big Legendary Dragon that costs {4}{R}{R}, all it can do with the leftover mana is Legendary Taunt.

In order to avoid diminishing the appeal of high-cost Legends, the Act of Legend cards must be costed carefully so that a 7-drop Legend is still more powerful than a 2-drop Legend + a 5cc Act of Legend. Although the power level of Magic cards mostly scale with their mana costs, the power level of Act of Legend cards will need to scale much slower in relation to their costs. This might make them less attractive at first glance.

One trick is to grant effects that scale with the size of the Legendary creature, which is what I aimed for with cards such as Titanic Struggle or Charismatic Influence. Another such trick would be to use effects that become better when the creature is resilient to removal, such as with Vow of the King.

The cards can also try to balance attractive, potentially powerful bonuses with restrictive conditions, such as the restriction that they only work while your Legendary creature remains in play. Hero's Sword requires you to jump through a hoop to equip it; Sworn Enemy disappears when the opponent's enchanted creature dies. Getting these cards is not the same as upgrading your 1-drop legend into a Mulldrifter Nekrataal, while hopefully they're still fun.

But it would be helpful to have a system in place to mechanically ensure that high-cost Legends get access to stronger cards with Act of Legend than low-cost Legends do. Act of Legend could be modified to check for the cost of the Legendary creature triggering it:

These cards might have interesting implications for Commander; fetch-able sideboard cards like these could prevent some lame combos from happening in Commander.

By the way, the above two cards are the fist cards I made with this mechanic. I've gotten the idea for Act of Legend while thinking about our Ankh Theb set pitch which is based on ancient Egypt. One of the ideas proposed for this set was that there would be Tablets of Law which change the nature of the game, and that powerful beings can establish that Law.

While I initially put the ability to tutor for Tablets on legendary Pharaoh cards, that put a big limitation on what other abilities I could put on the Pharaohs. That made me think of putting the text for tutoring Tablets on the Tablets themselves. When it came to naming the mechanic, I thought of Act of Legend, a name I used for a different mechanic for a Legendary-themed set I tinkered with once.

I later tossed out the Rank system because it looked ugly to me, but maybe it's still necessary. With this system, there could be Acts of Legend that cost only a small amount of mana, but require a high-cost Legendary creature to activate it.

Another possibility is to reduce the cost for Acts of Legend based on the mana cost of the Legendary creature that was cast. Yet another possibility is to introduce a different cost, such as discarding a card.

Uniform Legends
A fourth problem is that if some Act of Legend spells turn out to be so good that they become staples, they would make all of the Legendary creatures behave in the same way. Imagine if all Legends could be granted haste, unblockablity, infect, double strike, and indestructibility with enough mana. That could happen in a game of Commander. In those cases, it would hardly matter what original abilities those Legends had printed on them.

Legendary creatures are meant to stand out as some of the most characteristic individuals in the game. If the Legends are always played with the same upgrades, that would be tantamount to robbing the Legends of their individuality.

The rule that the Act of Legend spell must match the color identity of the Legend should help to some degree. The "Rank" system above would also help give each Legend a different arsenal of Acts to choose from.

Also, I tried to make cards with situational effects that you don't always want to choose when you go to pick a card from your sideboard because they are dependent on the board state. It would be good for variety if Legendary creatures tend to call upon a different effect in each game.

Finally, I tried to use effects that care about the characteristics of the Legendary creature you control, like this:

It would be cool if you could build a deck around the tribal identity of your Commander.

There could also be more restrictions on what can fetch the Act. Some Acts of Legend may have the Tribal supertype and require that you cast a Legendary creature of a certain class like Wizard in order to fetch the spell.

On a more wacky note, some Acts of Legend could be signature moves of a particular creature, triggering only off of that creature.

Too Much Choice?
A fifth problem is that the mechanic can create too much choice. Once you draw a Legendary creature, it requires a lot of thinking every turn; you need to consider what bonuses you can get if you wait to draw more mana before casting a Legend.

Players might hold on to their Legendary creature cards forever, not wanting to waste the chance for a bonus effect. Or, they might cast it without the bonuses and then feel bad that they didn't get every benefit.

This is another reason to make sure Act of Legend spells have a high cost. There should probably be very few Act cards that cost 1 mana so that the time difference between casting it now and later is very substantial. If you know the Act bonus is more than just a few draw steps away, it's easier to make the decision to cast the Legend now.

I don't think it's too much of a problem since Kicker is a thing. But it might help if the mechanic limited players to casting only one Act of Legend card per Legendary creature cast. That would cut down on the number of spell combinations players need to consider. This also helps prevent 1-drop Legends from being better than 7-drop Legends since you can't cast multiple spells using the leftover mana.

Need More Tweaking...
Overall, I believe this mechanic has much potential for the Commander format as well as for a Legendary-themed set. But it would be difficult to find the right types of effects and the right costs. It might require another tweak or two that limits which Acts you can be fetched for which Legends. It might require mana cost deductions for high-cost creatures, extra hoops, or non-mana costs.

(Click to enlarge)

The fixed version might look something like this, but I have no idea how to fit the text into the card at a reasonable font size.


  1. Honestly, all of your 'fixes' are a bit bunk. I think designing the Act of legend cards to scale logarithmic-ally to cost, or to care about the size of the Legend being cast, are what you need to do.

    The other fixes are awkward to read and to play with, and require even MORE jumping through loopholes - such as the tribal ones.

    Legends are going to be rare in a draft (obviously), and we can't repeat a Kamigawa situation where every rare creature is Legendary. These cards REQUIRE legendary cards to be playable - and that's just not going to work.

    The idea of an 'Act of legend' is pretty cool, and I think this is a far better way to go about it:

    Act of legend (You may cast this card by tapping a legendary creature you control and paying the difference in mana costs between this and the legendary creature. Mana cost includes color.)

    Boom. No tricky outside-of-the-game effects, scales perfectly to the size of the legendary creature, can be cast without the presence of a Legendary creature (but encourages it greatly), prevents you from easily casting all your Acts once you plop down a Legendary, and still requires the Legendary to share a color - and it's all easy to understand and grok.

    1. Also, this revision handily fits the flavor of an "Act of legend" even more - the legend itself is tapping for the spell, and powering it with their own magical might!

  2. I love the idea in abstract, but it has a major issue of giving every legend you draw an unmanageable number of kicker abilities. Each of your fixes bogged down the simplicity and elegance of the mechanic.

    Maybe the best option is, instead of limiting how or when or with what you can perform an act of legend, just simply limit the actual number of cards with the mechanic to a single cycle of rares, and have a rule built into the mechanic that limits your ability to cast any card with the mechanic to once-per-game.

    Some quick ideas off the top of my head.

    Presence of the Inferno (no casting cost)
    (Red Color Indicator)
    Instant (Rare)
    Act of Legend 1RR (when a legendary creature ETB under your control, you may cast this card from outside the game for its Act of Legend cost. If you do, you may not cast any more cards with Act of Legend for the remainder of the game.)
    ~ deals 3 damage to each opponent and each creature you don't control.

    Because the only way to cast it is using the Act of Legend cost, you can make it very powerful. Since using one locks out using any more copies of the same or any of the others, it becomes very strategic, especially in multiplayer EDH games, when you use one.

    Presence of the Night (no casting cost)
    (Black Color Indicator)
    Instant (Rare)
    Act of Legend 1BB (when a legendary creature ETB under your control, you may cast this card from outside the game for its Act of Legend cost. If you do, you may not cast any more cards with Act of Legend for the remainder of the game.)
    Each of your opponents discards two cards at random. Put a 2/2 Black Zombie creature token onto the battlefield for each creature discarded this way.


  3. I might be giving the wrong impression; the last card is not meant to be a final fix. It's still a search in progress, and I wanted to show my thought process. I laid out the criteria that the fixed mechanic has to satisfy, and then showed that the direct approach doesn't fit on a card.

    I've had cases where the text keeps bloating as I explore an idea and try to figure out the functionality I need from it, and then later I find a way to tie it together in a simple way. So I think it's meaningful to keep exploring what game play I want without having found a way to cleanly implement it yet.

  4. I think this group of implementations is some very dangerous space to play around in, in that we can never be rid of it. Every Legend forever may lose its specialness if we make screw these up. That's not to say that Wizards would never make such a tradeoff. Miracles made the "correct play" in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage tournaments to be playing like you have miracles even if you don't for the rest of time. It just means there's a higher bar to clear for this to be worth the risk.

    That being the case, this solution feels awfully fiddly to me. I want a direct solution to MaRo's call. The flavor of telling the legend, performing great deeds, or the players vying for the loyalty of the creature all fit, but I've yet to find a simple, intuitive and fun solution. The closest I've come so far is this potential rule.

    "If two or more legendary permanents with the same name are on the battlefield when state based effects are checked, players bid life starting with the active player. The winner loses that much life and chooses one of the permanents, the rest are put into their owners' graveyards."

    I like the two legends on the board becoming a focal point and the flavor of making offers to the legend, but I don't think enough players like bidding cards and the cases of more than two copies or one player controlling two require the rule to be weirder than the concept players would likely grok.

    1. I love bidding cards, so this sounds good to me. You could also just menacing ogre for it, which is much faster.

      My solution to the legend problem was to say "Whenever a legendary permanent dies, all other permanents with the same name are placed into the graveyard." It probably breaks more than it helps, but it ties with the idea that you can summon different versions of the same character, but they all share the same fate.

  5. How about a simpler,

    Act of Legend (As you cast this spell, you may reduce its mana cost by the mana cost of a legendary creature you control. Mana costs include color.)

    So if I have out Zedruu, my 4RR Act suddenly costs 3R.

    It's still too complex for common, but it's a simple mechanic that does what I think you want it to do.

  6. Chah, this is amazing. I love this idea!
    Does act of legend need work? Sure. But that's why you shared it. That doesn't lessen the merits of your solution. Nice work.

    Since the card is free when you cast it from outside the game, that needs to be factored into the cost, which you've done in the mana cost. While I disagree with zefferal's proposal that these cards not be castable without a legend at all, it is unfortunate how unattractive they are to hard cast. Act of Legend could let you fetch the card for either {2} or by discarding a card.

    Act of Legend (Whenever you cast a legendary creature, you may discard a card to put ~ into your hand from outside the game.)

    It's also a fair point that act of legend doesn't have to wish to benefit legends. In addition to the concern about effects triggering from outside the game, it also requires a change to Comander rules, which seems like a reasonable change, but remember that Wizards has no authority over those rules. Wishing for acts of legend is the only way to guarantee you get to use them when you cast your legend, but we could also just shuffle them in with the rest of the deck and give them a legend-based upside:

    Act of Legend (CARDNAME costs {2} less to cast as long as you control a legendary creature.)

    Or, even better:

    Effect. Act of Legend — As long as you control a legendary creature, Much Better Effect instead.

    Both of which lead into the point that act of legend doesn't have to work only on the turn you play your legend. While that does limit how many acts of legend you can use, that's realy only a concern when they're free cards. Letting you use act of legend any turn you have your legend in play also solves the cheap-legends-are-better-now problem.

    Acts of Legend are very similar thematically to Planeswalker signature spells. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, but the concern is that we exacerbate the anti-vorthos difference between Legends and Planeswalkers. It's awkward that you can have Karn Liberated next to Karn, Silver Golem, but even more so that the Silver Golem enables Titanic Struggle and the 'walker doesn't. We could say "legendary creature or planeswalker." Is that weird?

    Next, I would ask should an act of legend only be triggered by a specific legend? Chah covered the possibilities of limiting each by color, CMC, creature type, or some combination. Making a card that's triggered by exactly one ofther card (or set of small cards if we do something inelegant like "planeswalker or legendary creature with 'Karn' in its name") is terribly limiting, but it also has amazing flavor, letting us effectively build on the text of that card to add more character to that character. The card's not unplayable, since it can still be cast normally, but it only has full effect with a card you're unlikely to have in Limited or to draw in Commander, and players irrationally overweight such losses. If the act of legend in question isn't something that only that one legend has accomplished, then it's entirely reasonable, even to Vorthos, that a number of legends would be able to pull it off. I suspect letting any legend—or some decent swath of legends determined by a shared characteristic—is the right way to go.

    I've a few more thoughts, but that's enough for now. And I'm hungry.

    1. Stand Against the Hordes {2}{W}
      Target creature can block any number of creatures this turn. It gets +1/+1 until EOT for each creature it blocks.
      Act of Legend — If the target is legendary, ~ costs {2} less to cast. If the target is Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile, it's indestructible this turn.

    2. Ehhh. I don't like that nearly as much as the simpler:

      Stand Against the Hordes {W}
      Target creature can block any number of creatures this turn.
      Act of Legend — If the target is legendary, it gets +1/+1 until EOT for each creature it blocks.

    3. I second Jay's comment in that this article was amazing. I love the idea of having a mechanic that helps make legendary creatures be more awesome mechanically.

      Quick comments: I don't like casting cards from outside the game. Since legendary creatures would be more rare to come across, even in a legendary block, I want the legendary mechanic to only be something that improves your spells/etc. when you do have a legendary creature but doesn't require a legendary creature.

      I also want to see that planewalkers could enable this legendary mechanic. I don't want every legendary creature to be able to trigger the eventual legendary mechanic in the first place, and if we include planeswalkers as being able to trigger, then we should refer to some kind of attribute shared by both of these card types. For example, only blue legendary creature and planeswalkers can trigger blue spells with the legendary mechanic. There's also CMC/etc. as mentioned before.

  7. I think getting cards from outside the game is too dangerous. It means you have access to a particular range of spells with extremely high reliability in every game of Commander. One of the most important aspects of Commander is that it's a high-variance format; this would completely change that.

    1. I agree. Just in general, this feels like its clearly geared towards Commander, but tutors really take away from the variance of the format. That said:

      Commander's Arsenal (Format Variant)

      In addition to a players 100 card deck, they also construct a 15 card Arsenal sideboard. This sideboard is shuffled and placed face down.

      Game play proceeds as normal, except whenever your commander enters or leaves the command zone you may draw a card from your Arsenal.

      If a card from your Arsenal would be put into a graveyard from anywhere or exiled, put it on the bottom of your Arsenal instead.

      Why is this fun?
      The variant preserves the variance of the format, while also allowing for more customization. How often do you find yourself thinking that 100 cards just isn't enough? The 15 card pseudo sideboard of the Arsenal allows you to pack a few more high impact cards into your deck, while still maintaining enough variety to make every game different.

      It's also nice because:
      A) It further incentives casting your commander.
      B) It provides more of a catchup mechanism for players who repeatedly have their commander killed.
      C) It gives every deck more "spell slots", allowing players to run more lands while not risking getting flooded.

    2. @Havelock
      I think a good thing to aim for is the feeling that you can "customize" your Legend. Kind of like an online RPG where you can buy add-ons to personalize your Avatar. Auras that are traditionally too weak to main-deck and spells that depend heavily on the board state would be at the right power level. For example, I like effects like "Target creature must attack" or "Whenever enchanted creature is dealt damage, it deals that much damage to its controller" because they create interesting, story-like situations on the board, but they're never main-deck worthy. But they can be playable if they're an add-on effect from the sideboard, and they could add a personalizing touch to your Legend. I don't know how many players this approach would appeal to, though. Most players might want a Doom Blade or something as their kicker effect, which would be unbalanced.

      That doesn't do what I was hoping for (make Legendary status a positive bonus, which it already is in Commander) but it might do some good things I wasn't thinking of.

      I'm not sure if it's a catchup factor though, since a player with a 9-drop Commander might be behind in the game while being bashed by a 2-drop Commander that was recursed with kicker bonuses multiple times. Each decks should be allowed to cast their Commanders with varying frequencies, and players shouldn't be punished for selecting a slow Commander.

      I like the idea of increasing spell slots somehow so that the main deck can afford to increase its land ratio. Mana screw sucks hard when you're playing only one game such as in Commander.