Monday, April 8, 2013

Uses of Gold Counters Part 1/2—Goldgrab, Mini-quests, and Bounties

The Gold counter mechanic was created by Devon Rule and his team in the Great Designer Search 2. In Devon's set, various cards would grant players Gold counters, which could be spent to pay for mana or life payments.

I believe Gold counters is a mechanic that has many uses that lead to exciting game play. Here are some ideas for using Gold in our Western-themed set, Frontier.

First of all, one major use would be to put them on creatures that gain gold upon attacking and connecting with the opponent.

This mechanic, Goldgrab, is a keyworded version of a triggered effect that Devon used in his submission for many of his Gold-generating creatures. With the original mechanic, Gold was used for colorless mana payments, but here I made it mana of any color for reasons I'll explain later in part 2.

Whether the Gold counters produce colorless or colorful mana, it's very flavorful. Goldgrab can evoke tropes from Western films, such as scenes of outlaws commiting a bank robbery or prospectors on the move in a gold rush. Here's some more examples:

(*Elvish Prospector is inspired by a card named Coin Snatcher by James Bartolotti.)

Mechanically, it's a way to convert combat damage into storable excess mana, quite a unique function so far in Magic. It's different from simple ramping effects in that the mana bonus is not guaranteed. It's also very interactive; the opponent's spells and blocking decisions affect the result. I believe this mechanic has many benefits for game play.

I am hoping that this mechanic can make combat tense and exciting. First of all, it means there is a big reward for successfully attacking past your opponent's blockers.

Secondly, this mechanic makes creature-on-creature combat and combat tricks matter more. Why is it important to make those things matter more? Well, I believe a Western set should have a high number of instant effects that affect combat because they would help capture the sudden, volatile feel of a Western gunfight. For achieving that end, it should be possible to find some mechanics that allow decks to pack more instant effects than usual to assist combat. (Bloodrush is an example of such mechanic, though I'm not sure that's the exact mechanic we want.) But the first step to all of that is to incentivise creatures to get into combat with each other. Goldgrab creates the incentive for players to ram creatures into one another for a high-stakes contest.

Here's a few more examples of Goldgrab at higher rarity:

Besides creatures, Gold counters can be put on spells as well. I believe one key to making Gold interesting is to use it as a reward for achieving a mini-challenge. Gold is a treasure at the end of a quest, something that you have to earn. The following are some examples:

(The Gold bonus on the last one, the Drill of Mad Dentistry, represents the act of plucking gold filling from the teeth of fallen enemies.)

In most sets, the rewards for completing some mini-quest or jumping through some hoop might be +1/+1 counters or card draws, which may not always be suitable on a particular card. With Gold counters, we gain access to an additional flexible "currency" to use for rewards.

Finally, Gold counters can be used to cover the trope of bounties placed on outlaws, a common element in many Western stories and films. Here is an example of a Bounty card that uses Gold counters.

Once again, gold counters are used as rewards for mini-quests, and the mini-quests are of a type that help induce creature-on-creature combat so that combat phase intants can play a major role in creating the "gunfight" feel for this set. Here are some more examples:

This kind of cycle would help the set capture the feel of Westerns by representing a major trope. Also, it would be plain fun to set up your reward, plan out combat, then collect the Gold.

Earlier on, the similarity of Gold counters and Eldrazi Spawn tokens have been pointed out. On a bare surface level, these two mechanics are in fact similar. However, the way the mechanics are being used creates a completely different feel as well as game play.

Earlier in our custom set design process, one of the candidate worlds, Mondombre, had a set premise inspired by Dungeons and Dragons. The set was about adventurer heroes making dungeon runs for gold. In this set, players were to have skirmishes fighting over the possession of gold.

The use of Gold I mentioned here for Frontier is similar to that; it's about fighting for Gold, rather than simply casting a lot of automatic ramp spells over a game.

So in conclusion, Gold is great for tense combat with high-stake rewards; Gold is also great for enriching flavor in a Western set. It would have a major impact on how the set plays. With many mini-challenges, combat tricks to affect their outcome, and rewards for accomplishing them, the set's game play would feel unlike any set that we've played before.

In part two of this, I would like to expand a little more on some particular aspects of Gold. It should be up in a few days.

Thanks for reading this. I would love to know what you think about this possible direction, as well as any Gold card designs you have.


  1. Having to earn your gold, through combat or bounties, does a lot to differentiate it from Eldrazi Spawn. I also support spending them as any color-- It makes sense that Gold counters can be spent as 'gold' mana. In that case, I think the set would need some other reason for you to want mana of any color, like 5-color activated abilities (e.g., Paragon of the Amesha), Sunburst, or even heavy mono-color abilities (e.g., Crypt Rats or Drain Life).

  2. I personally find the flavor of gold-for-mana to be pretty weak. You're an unfathomably powerful supermage who can tap into the energy of the land itself to cast your spells...unless you pay money for it? To whom? Why do you need to be a mage, then? Can't you just be some insanely rich person and be perhaps even *better* at dueling?

    1. I agree that gold is far too mundane. I think these need to be "mana crystals" or something instead. If it's a special substance that gives you magical power, that certainly creates a justification for why everyone's rushing to this wild frontier.

    2. I can see your point, Evan. The original Gold mechanic by Devon that produced colorless mana was flavorful - while it assists you in playing magic, it doesn't let you cast a Lightning Bolt only with Gold. But if you're rich enough, you can buy a big artifact machine or wand without magical talent.

      However, the more I think about it, the more I feel it would be fun to allow Gold you give you access to multicolor effects in the late game. I hope to explain and argue for that with examples in the next post.

      Gold genuinely creates new game play, and it does so in a non-linear way. That can't be said for a vast majority of mechanic ideas that we go through when we make sets. I wouldn't kill it based on a flavor hang-up. Flavor is flexible so I would try to make the flavor work somehow.

    3. So, should we have Mana Crystals over Gold to fix the flavor?

      With every set, there's always a dilemma of "Do we want to use flavor to depict the world? Or do we want to use flavor to depict a duel between planeswalkers?" For example, cards like Sharpened Pitchfork or Krenko's Command do an excellent job of depicting the world, but make no sense at all as a spell in a planeswalker's duel.

      I think that for depicting the world, Gold would be better flavor than crystals, because we can hit more resonant notes. Humans have a history of fighting for gold, and we can play up on stories we know about that. While we can use Crystals as a fantasy representation of the same type of greed, names like Cyrstalgrab or Crystal Rush don't work as well for resonance.

      Van Velding has a good comment below: we can say that the Gold in this world is special. Either there's some special type of magic-imbued Gold/coins, or all gold in the plane is magical. That's what's driving people to be lustful and crazy for Gold, creating a Gold rush.

    4. Obviously, gold on Frontier is infused with mana and that's why it's sought after not just by the locals, but by planeswalkers across the multiverse. I see no problem with that—in fact, it's awesome.

  3. In my mind the biggest problem with mana making gold is how it becomes irrelevant in the late game. Eldrazi Spawn at least chump block. Making any color reduces the issue, as do giant monsters, but at some point you opponent just doesn't care about being hit by a goldgrabber unless we include TONS of card draw. What's more, in combination with pump effects gold might actually make for LESS combat. There's never a shields down moment when you're never tapped out, so players may end up terrified of running into combat tricks.

    Maybe the situations in which everything plays out right are cool enough to warrant trying to solve the problems presented every other situation, but I'm not yet convinced.

    1. There are plenty of ways to make sure that getting gold isn't irrelevant in the late game. For example, mono-color invokers have abilities that you would almost never get to activate in a two-color deck, unless you have gold to spend.

      Beast Invoker {3}{G}
      {G}{G}{G}{G}{G}{G}{G}: Put a 4/4 Green Beast creature token onto the battlefield.

      The point about always having up mana for a trick/counterspell does sound like a potential concern, and something we'd have to play close attention to.

    2. That's a good example, James.

      Jules, I'm confident that we can find multiple ways to allow players to have uses for mana from gold, without making cards that make those mana outlets unplayable when you don't have the gold. Some cards like Firebreathers and Shades already do that, and there can be new mechanics that serve that role better.

      The combat tricks I'm thinking of are probably not the kind that people usually mean with the word "combat trick." I actually don't think there should be many Giant Growths or "pump" spells in this set at all. I do think there should be lots of spells that affect combat, like granting a keyword or saving a creature.

      I'll try to explain what my idea is in a later post with examples. (I need to explain the rest of my take on Gold first, then I will put up a post about tricks and mana outlets. Also, I hope to be putting up my ideas for Ankh Theb as well.)

      It would require a lot of problem-solving to build a "combat instant Magic" set, just like Rise of the Eldrazi required a lot of problem solving for establishing a style of Battlecruiser Magic, but I do think it's worth it. I'll try to post some game play scenarios to show what I think would be cool about the environment if it did work.

      One problem that I see is that most of the Goldgrabbing creatures would have to cost 4 or 5, which might make them look unappealing for Constructed players. That might be what Antny means in the comment below.

    3. If gold produces any color of mana, then we can include gold cards, mono-colored cards with off-color activations, cards with large mana commitments, sunburst, Door to Nothingness, etc.

      If gold produces colorless mana, then we can include expensive artifacts, expensive mono-colored cards, cards with Husk, and even cards that require colorless mana to cast or activate.

      All of these can be important at all stages of the game.

    4. Somehow I thought through off color activations and didn't think they'd be enough, but shades and the like never crossed my mind. Alright, late game gold probably won't be useless. I'm still somewhat concerned about losing many of the shields down moments that being tapped out usually provides, but I could see this setup working. Looking forward to the next post.

  4. Gold comes from the land. Having a plane that puts mana into veins of gold-but-not-gold so you can keep the thematic gold coins would be good. 'course, only one source, maybe a character like The Quick and The Dead's Herod, has coins minted from the real stuff instead of being mere gold. You can either take if from him (goldgrab) or manipulate him into paying out bounties.

  5. That was supposed to be a reply to Evan Jones' comment about flavor. Not sure why it didn't reply to that comment when I clicked "reply."

  6. The more I read goldgrab the more I think about the game of thrones card game and different rewards for making different attacks with different creatures. Is it just me?

    Because I wasn't in GDS2 I'm still not sold on the underlying concept of gold, so I'm still unsure about how good these ideas are. If gold works, these mostly have a chance to work. If it doesn't will this set still appeal to players who don't like gold or are we in a marmite situation where they are just waiting for Frontier to rotate out?

    1. I've never played the game of thrones card game. What was it like? Is there any lesson that can be learned from it?

      What you said applies to everything - whatever mechanic that we choose, players who don't like that mechanic will have to wait for the next set. What are some things that you don't like about Gold?

    2. For those of you who weren't around for GDS2, this is an article by a person who playtested Devon Rule's Gold deck. It's by Jay Kirkman, who runs a Web site reviewing preconstructed decks.

      His main conclusion was that Gold in the early game is broken. Note that the particular cards in test deck just made Gold immediately, like an X spell that produces X gold, or a 1cc mana Elf that adds 1 gold every turn instead of producing mana.

    3. It is worth mentioning that Devon didn't agree with Jay's criticism, and the actual GDS2 judges didn't either.

    4. Good point. Seeing the GDS2 judging again, I'm surprised that the Developer judge Tom LaPille is endorsing gold. I had only remembered him saying, "I hope you understand how powerful this is."

      Seeing Jay Kirkman's article, it seems he's tapping the Gold-maker elf without spending mana on it. Maybe the MSE file that was sent to him had a typo and the Elf didn't have an activation cost in that file. Or, maybe Devon added that activation cost based on Jay's feedback.

  7. Re: flavour of gold, I think there's a fair history of gold seeming magical, it would be fine to use gold as a mana resource. I'd support something that made it seem more magical (eg. algold is the raw resource, and gold is what you get when you use the mana) but I think it works reasonably well.

    Or, an idea at variance with what's gone so far, maybe gold should only be able to pay _coloured_ mana payments. That means it's always useful, as it pays the most difficult part of the mana payment, but you preemptively remove the "gold-fireball" deck, which might be a problem if players get a critical mass of gold. On the other hand, you might need to ensure there are cards that support gold's value in the late game.

  8. Seeing so many implementations of gold makes me want to playtest. I like the ideas of gold grab and bounty. There might even be one or two other ways to implement it in the set, perhaps white prevents damage and the opponent gets gold in return. The flavor works well for me. It's also really satisfying to see guns and trains in the art.

  9. I'd like to talk not about gold itself for a moment, but the you-must-earn-it idea that Chah put forth here, which I think is phenomenal. Regardless of what gold is/does, the idea of earning it through combat and/or quests means that it will play and feel different from Eldrazi Spawn and every repeated mechanic ever except for Sliths, bloodthirst and Quests.

    I do suspect that getting a number of counters equal to the amount of damage dealt will prove unbalanced, but we'll let playtesting determine that. If so, then we can safely put creature pump in at the normal level. If not, then goldgrab will be a huge game changer. But even at 1 gold per attack, this will likely have a significant impact on gameplay.

    Most importantly, though, is that it's all interactive. The fact that you can never (or very rarely) gain gold regardless of your opponent's board state and choices means that you can decide how important it is to keep your opponent from getting more gold or not, and I'm certain that will be interesting and not the same evaluation from game to game.

    I like the bounty cards, but for the reason I just stated, I'm not sure that Desperado on the Run or Hunted Fugitive are good for the game. They sound fun, mind you, but they're conditional only on yourself. (I mean, they do nothing if your opponent is creatureless, but you're winning in that case and dead cards are fine.)

    A few more possibilities:

    Goldheart Demon 2BB
    Creature-Demon (rare)
    When ~ dies, each opponent gains two gold counters.

    Raw Deal 2R
    Sorcery (unc)
    Target opponent chooses one — Either he or she sacrifices a land; or you gain three gold.

    Early Retirement W
    Aura (cmn)
    When ~ is attached to a creature, that creature's controller gain a gold counter.
    Enchanted creature can't attack or block and its abilities can't be activated.

    1. I agree with 1 gold per attack. Giant Growth = Dark Ritual is too scary for me, and puts serious restrictions on what we can print for 1- and 2-drops.