Wednesday, December 11, 2013

CCDD 121113—Escort

Cool Card Design of the Day
12/11/2013 - In last weekend's art challenge, TehWERR proposed a new keyword named escort. I think is has considerable potential. Let's take a closer look. (I've switched the name up for flavor reasons.)


Let's explore the simplest possible escorted card. How will this play? First, escorted does nothing for you when you only have one creature, which is unlike most keywords, but very much like banding and soulbond, the mechanics with which escort is most closely related. Ministry Caravan very much wants you to have other creatures.

Suppose we've got this and another 1/1. If our opponent has a 1/1 blocker, we can attack with both, lose 1 in the trade and deal 1 damage with our remaining 1/1. Alternately, we can attack with just the Caravan: If our opponent blocks, we can force her to also block our other 1/1. She still gets to order blockers and will get to trade for the 1/1 of her choice (as above), but we don't deal any damage to her. So we're worse off using escorted in this case.

That changes drastically when our opponent has a 2/2 instead. If we attacked with our 1/1s independently, one would die, one would get through and her bear would survive to fight again. But if we attack with Ministry Caravan, blocking with her bear means we can double-attack it, which will kill all three creatures. That's a positive thing.


Merchant Caravan is a lot better. Having that extra point of toughness means we can attack into a 2/2 with our 1/1 back up and know that we'll only trade one of our two smaller creatures for our opponent's bigger creature. And if she doesn't accept that deal, we'll draw a card as a result. Suppose our Caravan is 1/3 (strictly better than Scroll Thief). Without escorted, she could block it with her bear all day, but with escorted keeping just a 1/1 on the sidelines means we can trade up and keep our Caravan.


What if our opponent has a 4/4 and we've got a pair of Wild Walkers and a 3/3. If we attack with all of them, she blocks and kills the 3/3, taking 4 damage and is ready to block again next turn. If we attack with just our 2/2s, she can let them through and take 4 or she can block one and lose her creature; She'll take 2 and can kill the Walker or the 3/3. Taking out the 3/3 makes sense in the short term because it'll do more damage when it swings next turn, but when all our attacking creatures are escorted that makes blocking pretty difficult for her, so it's actually a relevant choice.

That's a good sign for the mechanic. It's also nice that escorted remains fully interactive because it uses combat exactly the same way as normal, leaving attack/block triggers and combat tricks at full relevance. (With this wording, you can attack with a vigilant creature twice, but that's an easy fix.)

Many of you will boo for me even mentioning this next idea, but I couldn't help it:


It's like "bands with wolves" all over again! Except not insanely complicated. We obviously wouldn't use Escorted by X in the first set (and possibly not in the first block) where escorted is introduced—if ever—but good luck convincing me this isn't a flavorful ability that could help balance a card stuck between two mana costs.

Feel free to laugh and discard that idea. Here's one you should take seriously.


By swapping the ability from the attacking creature to the one that stays back, we gain a few benefits. First 'escort' sounds better than 'escorted' and is actually appropriate here. Second, by putting this upside mechanic on your reinforcements rather than the avant garde, there's more room for the creatures you swing with to be efficient, and therefore more menacing, which should make blocking them more important and thus escort more relevant.

Now I attack with a Scroll Thief and a Satyr Rambler, keeping my Caravan Guard back. My opponent has a Runeclaw Bear. If she blocks the Thief, she takes 2 from the satyr and trades her bear with my Guard, preventing the Thief's card advantage but leaving her exposed to it next turn. If she blocks the Rambler, she can trade with either the satyr or the guard, but also takes 2 trample damage, in addition to the Scroll Thief's attack. That's neat, but if you're paying attention, you will have also noticed that I could've just attacked with all three and the only difference is that she could then safely block the Thief.

There is an upside there (Scroll Thief beats!), but is it big enough to justify the mechanic? Is that just a poor example, with lots of better ones waiting in the wings? What if the escort has first strike? What if I've got some 1/3s or 3/1s, or my opponent does? We can figure this out socraticly, but it would ultimately be best to mock up various cards and playtest it.

I do wonder if escort isn't begging for a little something extra. Perhaps:
You choose the order damage is dealt.
The defender must always choose the escorting creature first.
You can remove the escorted creature from combat.
Some or all of the keyworded creatures have a trigger that grants them and/or their allies +1/+1 or first strike or trample.
Bear in mind that anything extra will add to the keyword's existing length.

Really curious to hear your thoughts.

29 comments:

  1. What if Escort swapped places with the escorted creature instead of simply coming to its side?

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    1. Works flavor-wise.
      If your escort were small (0/1, 1/1, 2/1), you'd be expecting it to die, but to save your other creature (and maybe trade with the blocker in the process). If it were big, it could make blocking very tricky for the opponent. Sounds well worth investigating.

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  2. Another possibility:
    Escort (Whenever ~ attacks, you may choose another attacking creature. If it becomes blocked, ~ becomes blocked by the same creatures.)

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  3. I feel honored that you wrote more than 900 words on a mechanic that I thought up this weekend. I was only searching for another mechanic that would fit in white and bam! I'm not sure whether escort or escorted is the superior mechanic... but I think either way the mechanic goes up in power as the creature its on's power/toughness go up. I could easily see a 5 mana 3/4 or 2/5 with this ability at common... and it would be pretty good.

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    1. Yeah, escort gets much better when the blocked creature and/or intercepting creature are bigger.

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  4. Riffing on Soulbond a bit.

    Armored Escort (common)
    1W
    Creature - Human Warrior
    Escort
    Escorted creature has +1/+3.
    1/3

    Combat Medic (uncommon)
    1G
    Creature - Human Cleric
    Escort
    G: Regenerate CARDNAME or escorted creature.
    1/1

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    1. Would want to save that for the second set after escort is introduced, but I like it a lot.

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  5. Escort is much cleaner than Escorted, but I don't think we can use it at common. It adds at least as much board complexity as things like Samite Healer that NWO prohibits. Escorted, on the other hand, only affects one of your creatures. It's still complex, but might be doable if we fed it most of our complexity points.

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    1. Fair. What about this version?
      Escort (Whenever ~ attacks, you may choose another attacking creature. If it becomes blocked, ~ becomes blocked by the same creatures.)

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    2. Reading the reminder text leaves me a bit uncertain as to what exactly happens. The creature with Escort is blocked by all the creatures blocking the creature it's escorting, but can still be blocked by other creatures as well? If so that seems like it could get hard to track with multiple escort creatures. What about:
      Escort (Whenever ~ attacks, you may choose another attacking creature. All creatures blocking that creature also block ~ and other creatures can't do so.)

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    3. So with this templating, my escort dude can piggyback off an Invisible Stalker to become functionally unblockable? That seems like the opposite of the intent of this mechanic.

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  6. Yeah, I like this a lot. And I tend to prefer Escorted, but I'm not sure why. Maybe as Jules says, "escort" is more like pump-others but "escorted" is more like pump-self.

    @Evan having bonuses attached is a good innovation. How about, as the next evolution of the mechanic, "Escorted. When a creature escorts ~, it gets ..."

    Tweaking for different situations:

    1. I considered having the escort be declared when the creature attacks, but I think the current "only when blocked" is more interesting, because you give up the other creature's damage to a player, in exchange for support when you're blocked, and let one creature threaten to rescue multiple escorted creatures, but only actualy rescue one of them.

    2. If you have an escorted 1/1, it makes sense that you can bring a second 1/1 into combat to help it defeat a 2/2.

    3. However, if you have a 1/1 escorted by a 5/5, it seems like the 5/5 should be able to protect the 1/1. So maybe you should have "damage must be assigned to the escorter before the escorted". Although that makes it more like bands with others, which may not be a good sign.

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    1. Hmm...
      Threatening (When an opponent chooses the order to deal combat damage, that player must choose threatening creatures first.)
      Doesn't really do enough by itself, does it? Maybe there's a larger effect somewhere that includes this.

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    2. LOL. That's an interesting idea, but I was mainly thinking that it would be part of escorted (or escrot) that damage has to be assigned to the escort first...

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    3. Yup. Was just wondering out loud if it could be its own ability and then that 5/5 could have escort and threatening so we can keep the escort text on our 1/1s short. 'Course, it's relevant on 1/1s too.

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    4. Oh, I see. Sorry. Yeah, that makes sense, but I imagine having two different keywords would just make it more confusing: damage-first escorted is closer to how you'd IMAGINE a caravan guard working, so it's probably better to train people from the start that's how it works...

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    5. First strike has the effect you're looking for here.

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  7. It needs playtesting. I like "Escorted by [type]" a lot but I suppose it could easily read "Wolf creatures you control have escort."

    The real difficulty is templating the reminder text as, regardless of whether escort is the attacker or the bodyguard, it will involve three creatures (the blocker, the blocked creature, the new blocked creature).

    So here's, I think, a simpler, cleaner template:

    Escort (Whenever a creature blocks another creature you control, you may tap this creature. If you do, this creature fights the blocking creature.)

    Basically, you use the fight mechanic to get around the whole "multiple attackers" complexity of combat. It would have to be taken off vigilance at common as it creates a weird interaction where you're attacking vigilance creature can fight another blocker that could be problematic for new players like deathtouch/trample combo is.

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    1. Oh, interesting. I still prefer escorted, which would read "when this becomes blocked you may tap an untapped non-attacking creature you control. If you do, it fights the blocking creature." But it inherently specifies the damage order, and doesn't do weird things with a trample escort creature dealing damage to the player.

      Although, come to think of it, escort-fight could be templated even more simply as "Escort -- {T}: CARDNAME fights target blocking creature."

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    2. I like this version a lot better, particularly with jack's template. But I agree with Jules that this complicates combat math in a NWO-unfriendly manner.

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    3. This version is stronger for vanilla creatures, but it's much less intuitive: Suddenly vigilance, trample, first strike and bushido don't matter, even though deathtouch and lifelink still do. It also means the opponent's blocking creature gets to deal its damage twice if the escort doesn't outright kill it.

      If we skip the keyword entirely, I could see Jack's tap ability on a couple creatures with 'escort' or 'guard' in the name.

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    4. this is the reason I opted for the "escorted" text. it very much doesn't say "don't block any of my creatures, ever" like this does.

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    5. Curse you Jay, and your "points".

      I think that there is a sufficient complexity problem no matter which way you cut it – fighting or "sudden attacking". I think this may be a wrong approach. How about this?

      Escort (If another creature you control would be dealt damage, you may tap this creature. If you do, that damage is dealt to this creature instead.)

      So we get around the whole complication of suddenly doing fights in the middle of combat or new attackers in the middle of combat but simply redirecting the damage to the bodyguard. It makes total sense with vigilance, and with the tapping cost, gives it a "shields down" moment. The keyword could be limited to combat damage to reduce board complexity, but I feel as soon as someone plays with an escort creature, they'd expect for it to work against lightning bolts.

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    6. Seems like a much better mechanic than then en-Kor creatures.

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    7. Bass, that mechanic is cool, but it certainly doesn't solve the complexity problem. If you play with Samite Healer in limited you'll find that it barely adds less board complexity than Ghost Warden. It still adds an extra step to each damage calculation for each of your creatures.

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    8. Good point Jules. Hrm.

      Let's try again, how about this?

      Escorted by [type] (This creature can't be blocked as long as you control any unblocked attacking [type] creatures.)

      Rather than making it a mechanic that switches up combat, make it an evasion variant? It could possibly be that escorted creatures can't be blocked as long as your unescorted creatures aren't blocked, so you use the keyword instead of the creature type, but I think this just feels simpler and more intuitive? So, for example, if I have a creature with "Escorted by Soldiers", as long as one my soldiers isn't blocked, this can't be blocked.

      Now, there may be a rules issue here, but the reminder text I think conveys how it works even though, technically, all blocks are simultaneous. But seeing the response to Bestow, it's possible this wording may confuse people. I'm just thinking the "it's now evasion" might solve the complexity problem.

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