Sunday, May 17, 2015

Zeffrikar Exploratory Design Part 2: Everything that Isn't Landfall

Now that I've solidified my stance on Landfall's return in Zeffrikar, it's time to look at the other Zendikar mechanics a little more in-depth. I've already given my one-sentence ratings for these, but we can dig a little deeper.

Once Creative gave the adventure-world coating to the bottom-up land-matters set Zendikar began its life as, R&D began filling out the sets mechanics using a "maps, traps, and chaps" model. They made the mechanics representing going on an adventure (the quest enchantments), the adventuring party (allies), and traps that imperiled them (traps). Each of these does a fantastic job selling Adventure world to me. That said, they are not the only ways to tackle these adventure tropes.

3: Quests

I love quests, and I am hoping to include them in Zeffrikar. They capture the adventure world trope perfectly. They do have two major strikes against them though, which may preclude them. First, this may be a counter-heavy set. The major land-matters mechanic I'm strongly considering is going to involve lots of counters being on the board, and with quests in the mix, there's going to be more glass beads and dice floating around than actual cards. The other thing is that a few colorless-maters mechanics I'm considering for Eldrazi will want artifacts to be at a slightly higher-than-usual volume, which will directly compete with the enchantment space.

That said, even if they are not a major theme, they can definitely still be a minor one, with one or two cycles of them at higher rarities. We'll revisit this as I narrow down the named mechanics for the first pass.

Even if they don't make the cut, there are a number of other ways to show a quest or adventure.

I know DFCs are making their "big" return this summer in Origins, immediately before BfZ, and that might stand in the way of consideration. But DFCs hit two major tropes in the Adventure world theme - the trigger, which represents the call to adventure, and the flip side, showing the growth of that adventurer. In contrast to Innistrad's use of the mechanic, which told tragic tales or the loss of humanity, on Adventure world DFCs would take the place of the leveler mechanic, showing the growth of individual people preparing to take on the unfathomable eldrazi horrors.

Another aspect of the adventure is one of exploration. It's hard to represent that in combat-oriented Magicese, but there are ways to do it. Dig is super wordy, but a little less swingy than Clash from Lorwyn was. This execution definitely needs some refinement, but there might be something here.

The mini-game aspect of the quests has been done before with a keyword, and this ties in with lands. Hideaway is kind of a clunky mechanic, but it might have the seeds of a variant that would work well for our adventure world.

Allure is inspired by the treasure mechanic from the Goblin AI deck a few of us worked on a year and a half ago. It's weird - it seems like it can be a drawback mechanic, but forcing your opponent to commit to an attack each turn can be a big plus too if you're ready for it. It's additionally weird in that it's making your opponent go on the adventure, and I'm not sure that that's the way we want to sell adventure here. Still, it's hard to imagine a more adventure-y trope than two factions fighting for control over some kind of macguffin, and this does that in a big way.

Finally, it's worth noting that while "quest" pushes more towards mini-games than combat, sometimes combat is the quest one goes on.

4: Traps

The execution on traps is more or less perfect, as far as I'm concerned. As I mentioned last time, my big gripe is with the subtype. If traps are going to be included as a mechanic, then the subtype is going to have to matter a little more.

5: Allies

Allies in Zendikar were initially modeled on D&D parties consisting of Warriors, Wizards, and Clerics. Cards in the Warrior model grew over time with +1/+1 counters for every ally you played. Wizards triggered off of other allies entering the field, with varied effects. Clerics cared about the number of allies you had, with effects scaling to match.

My initial impulse was to keep allies more or less the same, with different mechanical implementations for each class.

Wizards would have activated abilities to boost individual allies.

Clerics would have triggered abilities that turned on when you had a threshhold number of Allies

Warriors would have team-wide bonuses triggered on them attacking (and possibly blocking).

Metaghost suggested ditching Allies as a mechanic entirely in favor of a class-based tribal theme, which would have tremendous cross-block synergy with Tarkir's Warrior theme. I came up with rock-paper-scissors boosting mechanical model that may be worthwhile to tease out a little more.

Of course, not every adventure is about the team you have supporting you. Zendikar keeps pushing us towards Indiana Jones tropes, and Indy has always been a kind of me-against-the-world character. Mechanics that give boosts to the underdog may play well, particularly when there are giant Eldrazi running around.


These are some of the early mechanics I'm considering for the Zendikari. Next time I'll handle the Eldrazi, as well as some ideas for a land-matters mechanic that is more "adventure" than landfall.


  1. Treasure Hunter's great. Museum Curator sounds like a drag, but I like the idea of an adventurer with a goal that transforms into an expert/hero.

    Dig 2 is much closer to clash than to dig. I'm not loving much about it. Related:

    Hideaway works.

    I'd be curious to try allure. I suspect it's variance swings too widely between terrible and awesome, but it might just work.

    I like skirmish, but it doesn't sell adventure to me. Don't put skirmish on a 1 toughness creature at common.

    Pressure Plate is the most sideways instant ever. Better without flash?

    Here's an issue we'll want to address: They described Zendikar as adventure world, but it seemed more like D&D world where 'adventure' has been co-opted to mean 'a group of people with different classes go somewhere, kill everything, and take the loot." If you really want to sell adventure with BfZ, you might have to sever all ties to D&D.

    I take more issue with the 'ally' subtype than 'trap,' 'curse,' or 'arcane.' At least those types have a meaning in-game. 'Ally' means nothing unless we're meant to believe no other creature in the history of Magic ever coordinated efforts with another.

    Outnumbered and bravado both seem like fine mechanics, but they sell fighting, not adventure. I really want to focus on a gameplay experience all about going places, surviving challenges, and finding things. Treks, traps, and treasures.

    1. Ditto to these - especially Ally vs. Trap.

    2. I am all in favor of discarding the class-matters-adventuring-party flavor. Having to constantly check whether both you and an opponent control one, some, or neither of five different descriptors of human sounds like an enormous bookkeeping drag.

      I don't think Contested War Zone and friends have enough fun gameplay to warrant a named mechanic.

      I'm unsure on how to sell "going places" other than with land-based mechanics. Hideaway is great in that vein, as you get the double whammy of "finding things" (or not!) as well. Library-check mechanics ala Quest for Ula's Temple and kinship could also play well into "finding things", though if they enable too much deck consistency it makes the format feel stale faster.

    3. re: dig 2 - I wasn't riffing off of other mechanics named dig, the 2 is the variable number of cards you look through for your target. I really hate how wordy this ability is, so I don't expect to hold onto it for too long.

  2. I will always root for any exploration of Hideaway, but I do think we can disconnect the keyword from "cast without paying its mana cost". At uncommon especially, a small challenge for a free impulse tacked to an ETB land is a nice way to make the lands themselves matter and invoke "adventure".

    Under the RPS class system, would nearly all humanoids have one of the three (or four, but it might be easier to do away with one of the two arcane classes) classes?

    1. I was going to post to ask if anyone really liked Hideaway, but apparently I have my answer.

      I definitely agree about disconnecting it from the "cast for free" business. Making cards that can cheat forces development to cost them so that fair decks can't play them.

  3. On Allure: You said "It's weird - it seems like it can be a drawback mechanic, but forcing your opponent to commit to an attack each turn can be a big plus too if you're ready for it. It's additionally weird in that it's making your opponent go on the adventure, and I'm not sure that that's the way we want to sell adventure here. Still, it's hard to imagine a more adventure-y trope than two factions fighting for control over some kind of macguffin, and this does that in a big way."

    Slightly off-the-wall thought based on these issues: how about if the card with Allure entered the battlefield under an opponent's control? And perhaps when someone gains control of it, they also untap it.

    On Allies: It feels like the most iconic, memorable Allies are the ones that put a +1/+1 counter on themselves whenever an Ally arrives. Not having any of those (not even on Warriors) feels like it might be losing a bit much. I guess if a bunch of your kind of Warriors grant P/T bonuses that might be enough.

    I strongly support your plan of giving them those three specific class types to make the mechanical connection clearer.

    1. Having things etb under your opponents control is a weird space to play in (in a good way), and it makes for a more interesting drawback than the serra avenger ability I tacked onto that mox. Worth considering.

  4. I'll echo the sentiment that the adventuring party doesn't really have anything to do with the feeling of adventure. I guess the real question is to what degree this project is supposed to work under the constraints of Battle for Zendikar design. Working under Wizards' constraints of meeting player expectations, we'd have Landfall and very likely Allies.

    Neither Quests nor Traps wowed me in original Zendikar. Both are quite wordy, and harder to parse than a wordy ability word would be. The gameplay is pretty decent for both, so I wouldn't hate to see either return, but I think Traps deserve as much re-exploration as we're giving Quests.

    Of the options discussed so far for Quests, I think Hideaway is the best. I certainly agree with Pasteur and Tommy about getting rid of "cast for free." I'd much rather put the card into your hand upon success, which would also substantially cut down on the board complexity of having tricks hidden among your lands.

  5. What if quests still involved completing a specific game action or aligning a specific game state, but didn't use counters?

    Quest for Peace {1}{W}
    Enchantment (unc)
    At the end of your turn, if no player attacked since your last turn, sacrifice ~. If you do, gain 10 life.

    Quest for Knowledge {2}{U}
    Enchantment (unc)
    When you draw three or more cards in a turn, sacrifice ~. If you do, put a 5/5 flying Sphinx OTB.

    Quest for Fear {1}{B}
    Enchantment (unc)
    At the end of each turn, if two or more creatures opponents controlled died this turn, sacrifice ~. If you do, return target creature card from any graveyard to the battlefield under your control.

    Quest for Pain {R}
    Enchantment (unc)
    When a player loses 6 or more life in a turn, sacrifice ~. If you do, exile the top three cards of your library. You may play them until the end of your next turn.

    Quest for Solitude {3}{G}
    Enchantment (unc)
    When you control 7 or more land, sacrifice ~. If you do, put four 2/2 Wolves OTB.

    1. I thought about that, and I like it. My one concern is that it steps on traps toes, but that might not be the worst thing in the world.

  6. My take on the ally's is a little diffirent then the other people here. For me, ally's need 4 aspact

    1. They boost eachother
    2. You need to gather an diverse team, they have to be good as singleton, but not as good in multiples.
    3. You do care if one of them dies, as it worsens your team
    4. you need the feeling you go with them on an advanture, they are a team!

    Zendikar Allies
    1. The problem with the current allies is generaly trigger when they enter the battlefield.
    2. Diversity is not realy needed.
    3. it feels more like ammasing an army. If one dies, you think: "a shoot, one less trigger"

    Your first form,
    1. Yes, a little
    2. depending on your desing, diversity is, or is not needed. The cleric is powerfull with 3 of them, while the other 2, three of same one is a little boring.
    3. Your plan can fall altogether if the one dies
    4. the wizzard and the warrior do diffintly provide skills for the team. The cleric not so much

    Your seccond form,
    1. deffintly
    2. diversity is needed, but if you look closely, 1 cleric and the rest warriors already gives you lot of bonusses
    3. So, if the key one dies, yes, but if one dies you have enough of... mhe...
    4. mheee..., although the healer is a teamplayer and is not so good in multiples

    So to wrap up: I like your first desing, but you should be carefull with the desing.

  7. May I suggest instead of "outnumberd", "outpowered". You wan't to fight eldrazi, not swarms: "outpowerd 1 (if [cardname] enters the battlefield, put 1 +1/+1 counter on him, if your opponent controls the creature with the geatest power"

  8. I strongly dislike your Ally changes. Allies are cool to a very similar group to the one that finds Slivers cool, and for similar reasons. To follow through on that appeal, they need to feel very similar to the original versions; an existing Ally deck should be able to swap them in with no changes to the overall plan or they will feel out of place.

    Also, Allies have enough space in the original style of design to fill out a significant subtheme in a couple more blocks at least (about what Slivers have gotten), so to make them fit with the originals in feeling, there's a strong incentive to keep them in the same pattern with minor variations at most.