Monday, June 29, 2015

Tesla: Design Challenge 062915 — Interactive Progress

In last week's discussion about the kinds of progress and anticipation that we might use in Tesla, we talked about certainty. If progress is too certain, Jenesis notes, then Tesla games devolve into "solitaire resource-accumulation". If progress is too uncertain, Lee Owens observes, and "when it works, you aren't happy that your machine finally worked. You are frustrated that it took so long to do something it was built to do". The problem is finding a balance between these.

Jenesis did note one solution: interaction. If your opponent has nothing hidden, outcomes are certain - but if they have an unknown, hidden variable, all your results become uncertain. This changing nature of interaction allows us to find a balance in a fun and natural way. This week, let's explore this further. Your challenge is to design something that uses progress in an interactive way

You can follow Jenesis's example, and use combat, the most prevalent and exciting form of interaction in Magic. Or, perhaps you can strike into new territory and find other forms of interaction to use in the mechanic - perhaps even new forms of interaction that we haven't seen before.

Bonus Debate Topic: What counts as interaction, and what doesn't?


  1. Burning Innovation {R}
    ~ deals 1 damage to target c/p. If you cast the largest spell this game, ~ deals 3 damage to that target instead.

    1. Do we lose too much by looking at highest CMC in graveyard / play? Like some of your other suggestions for today, I like them if there are never any memory issues, but think there will be memory issues.

      Development of the card aside, this is my favorite.

    2. This is a great idea, and I think this relates to our debate topic quite nicely.

      One, the card is superb. I think it truly is interesting and plays out quite nicely, as each player struggles to find the card that trumps the current max. If we have tools like Aspire in the set, that help you find and cast these large spells, then this becomes even better.

      My big concern is that this might not really feel sufficiently 'interactive' though, since not enough cards can really mess with the 'trump'. For example, I'd consider creature combat the pinnacle of interaction, since so many cards can affect the outcome of combat. And the minimum of interaction is probably the stack, since the cards that can interact on the stack are few and far between - protection, hexproof, and counterspells are all that come to mind.

      I think this is definitely somewhere in the middle. There are plenty of 'big cards' in Magic, and technically casting any card puts you on 'top'. But does it give players a sufficient amount of agency to really feel like they're 'interacting' in a spell-based struggle? Or is it more of a tangential bonus, like Ferocious?

      Lastly, I worry that the fact it counts 'high score' means that the player on top can often just cement themselves in that position. Mechanics like Ferocious allow players to remove the creatures that are causing the bonus. But this one doesn't give players an ability to topple the current 'high scorer'.

      Still, these are only my opinions, and I admit they're just my starting thoughts. I'm curious to hear what other

    3. Do we like this better or worse than progress (the highest generic mana cost among permanents you control)?

  2. Test Subject 22 {1}{G}
    2/2 Human
    As ~ ETB, experiment. (To experiment, secretly choose a number of mana to pay. An opponent guesses that number.)
    If your experiment wasn't guessed, ~ ETB with two +1/+1 counters.

    1. This feels very random, and kind of annoying to implement, so I think I'm missing something. What are you trying to get at here?

    2. Oh my! It's (almost) Six-y Beast, one of my favorite cards!

      The fact you have to pay the mana makes this very, very interesting. However, I see a couple problems:

      1.) Does this really feel like 'progress'?
      2.) I agree with Tommy that this is a little too uncertain. Especially since it's one-time, rather than repeatable.

    3. It's a solid game mechanic, as featured in Melee, but you're right that it's not progress at all.


      What you're capable of paying determines the number of choices your opponent must consider, and the value of paying less rather than more weights the decision. It's a mind game. An excellent one in the context of a simple war game like Melee.

    5. Suppose I have two mana up when I cast this. What do you guess? If I simply choose randomly, you cannot do better than me having a 66% chance of getting a 4/4. This is like a Clash except as the caster I'm almost always going to win.

      How much gold do you have in Melee when you're making this guess? Is the gold persistent from turn to turn? (Unlike in Magic where you untap every turn?) I'd be interested to know how it works out in Melee that you say it works well (though it is obviously possible that Melee is just not my kind of game at all).

    6. Gold is persistent in Melee, and you're right that if you've got no other use for your mana, that changes the nature of this interaction drastically. But if you do have a use for it—or more importantly, if I don't know that you don't—then the chances skew in a way that allows satisfying bluffing.

    7. My point was that if I just choose randomly, you can never beat 66%. And that's just when I have two mana up. If I have 3 or more it is basically a sure thing. I think the gap is that 90+% of the time in this situation where I have two mana left, paying 1 mana and paying 2 mana are exactly the same (unless I have a one drop on turn 4). Thus my opponent can never tell the difference between those two. A big percentage of the time as well (certainly 60+%) the same is actually true between 0, 1, and 2 mana (if I have no 2 drops). That percent of the time, it is literally a blind guess (or worse if my opponent makes the mistake of trying to outthink me).

      In Melee, these 3 conditions (pay 0, pay 1, pay 2) are never the same because money is persistent. I'd always rather pay 0 than 1, I'd always rather pay 1 than 2. That is essential to this working. Maybe in a set with Gold tokens this could work great.

      In order to be satisfying bluffing (something, by the way, I'm not convinced belongs in a Magic mechanic), it needs to have a either a lower spread or a more skewed preference function. Something like "pay or don't pay," perhaps, though I can't quite get that to work. I do not think it is possible to get satisfying bluffing with this mechanic in Magic if both players understand how to correctly play the mechanic.

      How did you like Master of Predicaments? I was pretty disappointed by how that played out. I can't think of Magic getting the bluffing mini-game right. I think it is definitely possible to get a rare that really satisfies the kind of player who is into that kind of thing. I'm less optimistic (though I don't rule it out) that a whole mechanic could be made that does not alienate a significant portion of players, particularly Spikes.

    8. Again, you're totally right that if you've got nothing else to do with your mana, you can use any amount of it and that spread hurts your opponent's chances of stopping you. That situation is definitely less interesting than in Melee where you keep what you don't spend.

      The part that I don't buy is the idea that you've rarely got other uses for your mana, or that you'll have enough mana to make the spread unguessable large.

      When I cast Test Subject 22, I've already spent {1}{G}. If I control 1 more untapped land, you get a 50/50 to stop me. In terms of EV, I'm getting a 3/3 for three. With 2, you've got a 33% chance. Suppose I've got 6 untapped lands. Am I willing to pay {7}{G} for a 4/4? If I've got nothing in my hand, and no abilities to activate, yes. (And otherwise, hell no.) You've got a 1/6 guess. But suppose I've got a land in my hand. You don't know whether it's a spell I want to cast or not. You factor that in, and I factor in you factoring that in.

      Again, it's not as interesting as when mana/gold persists, but it's better than you make it out to be.

    9. Well, first of all, in the specific (and I don't think uncommon) instance that I play this as a four drop, I really do think it is very unlikely I have something else I want to do with my mana. I will have played all my one and two drops by that point almost certainly.

      You seem to find this really interesting, so I'll ask, I have four lands, I play this guy. What do you name? What is your thought process? Do you, as my opponent, find this though process interesting? If you guess correctly, do you feel good because you have outsmarted me?

      On the other hand, if you have four mana untapped, and you play this, what do you name? Imagine you have nothing else you can play. Imagine instead you have another two drop you could play, but it isn't a huge deal if you don't. How do you feel if your opponent guesses wrong? Do you feel you've outsmarted them? How do you feel if they guess right?

      For me, the combination of my answers to those two is a net negative, but for you maybe not. Part of my strong emotional reaction here is probably because the variance is so high. A 4/4 is far more than twice as good as a 2/2. This is the Gilt Leaf Ambush of Experiment. If instead it was some tiny rider like "you get a 1/1 Saproling" or "you gain 2 life" it would probably come closer to equal (although if it was a small benefit, it would probably feel silly to go through the minigame).

      Being the offspring of Clash and Tribute is not a great place to be, but I think there is promise in the right version of this mechanic. I kind of want to use something like revealing cards from hand, but I don't know how.

      A favorite mechanic of mine from ages ago that did not survive was "Gamble -- Guess whether the cost of the top card of your deck is odd or even. If you guess right, [effect]," which was fun and you could even draft around it so that you could guess right more often than not. (There weren't lands at the time, lands mess it up a bit.)

      One last complete aside: This makes me think of one of my favorite rules from the original Dungeonquest (sadly not kept in the sequel). When you happened into a room with a Swinging Blade Trap, you had to roll a d12, and declare a number. If the number you rolled matched the number you said, you died. Otherwise you dodged it. Obviously this is the same as saying "If you roll a 1, you die," but this had so much more emotional impact, and if you died, you felt it was 100% your fault. A beautiful design choice for an incredibly sadistic game!

    10. Yes. All of the scenarios you named are satisfying to me.

    11. If the card asked you to flip a coin and you got the counters if you guessed right, would that be satisfying?

      I find this super fascinating. I can't tell if this is some aspect of your pscyhe that I don't have (which I don't find super likely, because there are a ton of guessing/bluffing games I really enjoy), me underselling the mechanic by not having played it, you overselling the mechanic because you played it in game where it worked really well, or some additional unknown cause.

      Is anyone else lurking in the comments super eager to play with this mechanic? If so, can you try to summarize why?

    12. The coin flip would not be satisfying for me (but there are players who would enjoy it, and I would play that card if the EV were good).

    13. Yeah, I think one of the worst things we can do as designers is make cards they hate good enough they feel they have to play them.

      I remember a lot of Spikes groussing about Mad Cap Skills because they didn't like playing Auras but they had to because it was so powerful, but then of course they'd get blown out (like happens when you play auras) and end up even more unhappy about it.

    14. Spike's focus on winning adds an awkward wrinkle to the task of giving everyone what they want. It's very much not fair to Tammy and Johnny to make only bad cards for them, simply because Spike plays strong cards.

      As someone who took a long time to admit he's a Spike, I have very little empathy for "I play this because it's good, but I hate it because it's unreliable." Playing something good but unreliable is a choice. Either own it, or make the other choice. You can choose to play Mad Cap Skills despite the risk, or you can choose not to because of the risk, but when your choices are fueled solely by the goal of winning, I don't want to hear you complain when the consequences of your choice come to bear. Either you chose correctly, or you didn't. And that's on you.

      (I'm agreeing with Tommy, just pointing out an issue with that design philosophy.)

    15. The solution seems to be to have enough top-quality cards that both lovers and haters of unreliable cards can find an archetype they will enjoy playing.

      I liken this to the "archetype balance" that WotC tries to retain, at least in its Standard metagames. There are some Spikes who disproportionately dislike aggro, and will play it when it's the best deck but grumble about how control sucks in that meta. This has less to do with Spikiness and more to do with each individual's psychological quirks (there are Timmies and Johnnies who hate aggro too), but clearly there are enough of them that it is in WotC's interest to swing the tournament-quality pendulum back toward control every so often (Timmies/Johnnies' grumbling is likely less correlated with which archetypes are doing particularly well in tournaments), rather than just tell everyone to suck it up and play aggro or lose all the time.

    16. Well said.
      Ideally, a format will have multiple viable archetypes, but it's certainly very difficult to balance formats like that consistently.

    17. I think what you are saying, Jay, is the opposite of what Mark tends to say about these things. Do you agree with that?

      For example, Mark often talks about how Odyssey was a mistake because players did the thing they were supposed to, but didn't have fun doing it. Should the players who didn't have fun have just done something else?

      Cards involving coin flipping and randomness like Goblin Test Pilot are always printed at power levels so they don't see play outside of casual (or usually even in draft) because it would upset most players. Is that unfair to the players who want that?

      Spikes are really hurt by cards like Mad Cap Skills which, at least to their eyes, basically say "If you put this card in your deck, you'll be +5% to win the match, but you will have 50% less agency in whether you win or not." Personally, few things frustrate me more as a player than games where I feel like my in-game decisions are rendered basically irrelevant, but I know not everyone feels that way.

      I think the psychographics are a very useful design tool, but ultimately I think most everyone is a mixture. I've met almost no one who doesn't have at least some Spike, and even the hardest of hardcore Spikes show their Timmy side sometimes. For example, the other day Noah Sandler (probably the Spikiest player on the planet) cast Villanous Wealth for X=10 in the last game of a match and was deeply saddened that his opponent conceded and he didn't get to resolve it.

    18. Nope, Mark's position on Odyssey is wise. But you're right that I don't think it's right or fair to make every card like Goblin Test Pilot weak. The goal is to have a format where players can play great decks without Madcap Skills as well as with. The more auto-play cards and the more auto-skip cards, the less agency players have in building decks. It's also ideal to put more power behind the cards that are more fun; but years of trends have shown a massive bias toward rewarding Spike-fun over Johnny-fun and Timmy-fun. The justification is that Johnny and Tammy don't care about winning as much, so let Spike win, but when every card is like that, the Jenny-Spikes and Timmy-Spikes suffer. Not to mention the non-Spikes, who also like to win, even if it's not their main reason to play.

    19. I think that if you are a try Spike, you don't let your preferences dictate what deck you play or what card you pick in a draft at all. Either the Madcap Skills or the [Spikiest card ever] is the best, and no matter how much fun Spike will have playing the second card, she will pick the first. The same is true in constructed. Spike plays the miserable 56.7% deck over the awesome and fun 56.6% deck. Eric discusses this at length on a recent episode of Constructed Resources, if you want to hear more about how he thinks about these things as a Spike.

      I can understand how in some Platonic ideal universe all decks would be 56.7% decks and all cards in limited would be equally playable so everyone could play exactly the combination of colors and cards they wanted in both limited and constructed. But as we all know, this Platonic ideal of format balance is not a remotely reasonable expectation of design or development.

      I don't actually think it is fair to blame Spike for being unhappy when he is forced to play Madcap Skills and gets two for oned in a draft. It is the designer's job to keep Spike happy. One of the reasons Spike gets so much focus (perhaps unfairly) is that Spike is by far the most predictable of the bunch.

      (I'm not necessarily disagreeing with Jay, but I think what he is suggesting is a very tough ask.)

    20. Tougher than "predict the entire meta game down to one tenth of one percent?"
      This is the exact scenario where I lose all sympathy for Spike. If it were a 5% difference, yes, totally our fault. 2% I feel guilty. 1% I understand but can only feel so bad. But making that choice at 0.1%? That player has chosen misery and cannot be helped.

    21. I think you underestimate what 1% means at a GP. What it means if you're fighting to keep Platinum. Hell, even what it means if you've never day 2'd a GP and just think that would be pretty cool.

      What about in limited? Even if (and I don't think this is true) each pick is a 0.1% choice, those add up very rapidly. What about when money/prizes are involved (as it is in almost all drafts)?

      For me, one of my favorite parts about cube is that I feel, since nothing is really on the line, I can make the fun choice instead of, as Marshall Sutcliff calls it, the grown-up choice.

      A separate but related discussion: What can we do to make Magic Online less Spike-y?

      (I'm no where near a tournament grinder, and I never intend to be. But I'm really surprised that you are so unsympathetic to those that are. Is your hope that Timmy will get a Goblin Test Pilot good enough to go out and win a GP with? Because I think there are really a lot of reasons that is never going to happen.)

  3. Archeoptics {1}{U}
    Draw two cards, then discard a card.
    Mining — If there are more land cards in your graveyard than any other, draw another card, then discard another card.

    1. How are we typically getting lands into our graveyard?

      I can imagine working with this in a cool way, and this card has obvious synergy with the word.

      My inclination is to make this "2 or more land cards in your graveyard" rather than comparing, as I don't want to assume both players are competing over this.

    2. The threshold version is likely better, just not interactive.
      This would live in a set with dig.

    3. I thought Dig would ever put a land in the graveyard because it was "reveal until".

      Also I really don't want to motivate players to horde the sets smoothing cards.

    4. Good point.
      Uh.. dredge?

  4. Creative Torture {1}{B}
    Target creature gets -X/-X until EOT where X is your ingenuity. (Your ingenuity is the number of noncreature spells you've cast—including this one—since your opponent last cast one.)

    1. This seems to have bad memory issues. Also, what happens if your opponent responds with an Instant? Is your ingenuity now 0?

  5. Experimental Bolt - 4R
    Sorcery (U)
    Experiment (When you cast this spell exile the top card of your library. If that card's converted mana cost is lower than this spell, you may play it without paying its mana cost. If its equal to or higher than this card, put it into your hand.)
    Deal three damage to target creature.

    1. I wish this weren't so much text because it's a much faster cascade, and better balanced too. Needs an option that keep land when you've already played one this turn.

    2. Experiment ( When you cast this spell reveal the top card of your library. If its a nonland card with a converted mana cost less than ~, you may cast it for free. Otherwise, put it into your hand.)

    3. Great idea, and nice work with the templating. If we follow cascade's reminder text, it will look like this:

      Experiment (When you cast this spell, exile the top card of your library. If it's a nonland card that costs less than this spell, you may cast it without paying its mana cost. Otherwise, put it into your hand.)

    4. That seems like a solid middle ground. It adds half a line as a way to be clearer. Of course, the whole thing isn't interactive. While it doesn't seem to be progressive, it does progress along the mana curve. The higher the mana cost of the card, ie the number of lands played, the higher your odds of success. While it won't dig like cascade, the ability to then play the spell you draw off of it is pretty rewarding. The worst case scenario is that you get a land, which progresses your mana into casting other Experiments.

    5. Nice idea!

      Could we get away with "Put the top card of your library into your hand. If its a nonland card that costs less than spell, you may cast it without paying its mana cost [instead?]."?

      That way, it's "may" so you don't have to reveal it if you don't want to, which saves a few words, and it doesn't have a branching if clause which saves some words.

      But it has the drawback that players have to know they can't mix it in with the rest of their cards if they're going to cast it.

      I'm not sure if "instead" would work in the rules?

    6. If it works, I like jack's solution.

    7. I think if it was made a keyword action it would be manageable. Then it would be,

      Experiment (Exile the top card of your library. If it's a nonland card that costs less than this spell, you may cast it without paying its mana cost. Otherwise, put it into your hand.)

      That doesn't feel too long, and as an upside means it can go on permanents, either as an activated ability or with the phrasing, "When you cast this spell, experiment." I suppose the problem would be a lack of obvious timing. If I cast an instant, when does experiment happen? If it would have to be worded "When you cast CARDNAME, experiment," on everything, then its probably not worth the wording change.

      I think there were a lot of logistical issues with Miracle and revealing. I don't know if that's a worthwhile thing to do again, though it does reduce the overall text by a decent amount.

    8. Oh yes! Obviously a keyword action is better for both reasons.

      I think this is better than miracle, because with miracle you had to remember every draw step to look at the card first (and it would have been worse if it was every card draw, not just the first, why they didn't have "when you draw this" effects before). But this, you know before you draw the card that THIS one, you have to look at first.

      But even though it's much less of a problem, it might be a problem, I'm not sure.

    9. Given Miracle, I think we can get away with:

      Experiment (Draw a card. If it's a nonland card that costs less than this spell, you may cast it without paying its mana cost.)

      Which also helps demonstrate just how strong it is (and how ridiculous cascade was).

    10. Unfortunately, I think people (myself not exempt) just find this is exciting because it is so powerful. Otherwise it is pretty much just random. Even in limited, Cascade had much lower variance (and proved to have probably too little).

      Timmy will love this, probably, but Spike will hate the variance of "Sometimes my opponent flips a Rumbling Baloth." I think Manifest is about as high on the swinginess scale as they are willing to go (I at least can't think of a swingier mechanic), and this is significantly further.

      I had given a long warning before about how if you tie the power level of a card to its CMC you really hogtie development, since cost is their number one tool. So I'll just give the short version here. Oh wait, I just did!

    11. The vast majority of the time this is going to be "Draw a card." On the occasions that it does its thing its spectacular, but even then its less swingy than Manifest. Manifest was about hidden information and forcing people into making bad choices around that hidden information. Experiment is a known quantity. The spell goes on the stack so there is plenty of time to react for your opponent.

      While the mechanic looks like Cascade, Cascade wasn't a low variance mechanic. It was a no variance mechanic. It dug till it did its thing. In limited you still had an idea of what you could get. With Manifest your worst case scenario was getting a 2/2. With Experiment your worst case scenario is draw a card. I don't think that's objectively much more powerful than getting a mana free 2/2.

    12. Also, I don't think this came across, being harder to develop doesn't mean impossible to develop. It makes it more difficult since changing cost changes the worth of the ability. So it adds an additional variable. That doesn't mean you can't get it right though. With Cascade it was very difficult because of the guarenteed nature of the mechanic.

      There's an X and Y nature to the way the cards would be built. X is the N of the spell. So in my example, the Bolt does three damage. We'll reword that to X. The cost of the spell will be our Y.

      Experimental Bolt Y
      Experimental Bolt deals X damage to target creature.

      As you increase Y you decrease X. The values are inverse of each other. The higher the Y the more likely you hit a spell. The more likely you hit a spell, the smaller your X has to be. I don't think its far fetched to believe that there are some values for X and Y such that the spell is balanced on the whole.

    13. Not necessarily impossible. Though your example is a beautiful illustration of how complicated it is, because it certainly isn't the case that as Y increases X decreases. Or the case that as Y increases X increases.

      But yes, there are pairs (X,Y) that work. But development doesn't need to find one pair (X,Y) that works. They need to find such a pair for every card with Experiment in the set. And not every effect is as divisible as damage to a creature. These cards have to appear at a variety of costs and rarities and such.

      Great. Suppose we have a file filled out with these cards and we're developing it. We do some tests, move some stuff around, and now we've got three five mana Red Common sorceries. So now we've got to move stuff around, and that's a real problem when it comes to Experiment cards. They are all delicately interlinked because the costing is so sensitive.

      Is it insurmountable? No, but as someone who has managed files with this kind of mechanic, I will say that it is almost certainly more of a pain than you're imagining.

      Could it be worth it? Absolutely, I think we'll see another mechanic like this at some point, but it is a large development commitment.

    14. Oh I imagine it would be the hardest aspect of the set to properly develop. Does the set need something splashy that can nonetheless go on a relatively small number of cards? One of the largest variables of developing these cards would be how many cards does it need to go on? Cascade was only on 12 cards. If this was a 10 card mechanic I think it would be much simpler on development to properly situate their costs. It would be helpful if the other mechanics in the set were easier on development. I imagine Experiment going into a set that has a lot of bare bones tried and true mechanics that don't need as much attention.

      Now, its entirely possible that Tesla is going to need too many resources on other mechanics to commit to something as complex to pin down as Experiment, but I don't think I would be overly concerned putting it 5-10 cards worth of it in a large set file.

    15. Note that they deliberately put Cascade in a small set that was the last set so they could put it on so few cards. Tesla does not have that luxury.

  6. OK... does this count as interactive? (I'm well aware that several variations of it have been proposed before.)

    Flourishing Society 1G
    Gain life equal to your progress. (Your progress is the greatest converted mana cost among permanents you control.)

    Loath as I am to make removal spells even better, it makes a ton of sense from a flavor perspective that taking out my best, and probably newest, creature would set my progress back.

    1. It's not terribly interactive since most permanents are not in great danger to removal, and even creatures can be held back, but we can nudge it toward interactive by keeping most expensive permanents creatures and enabling combat (with must-attack effects and similar), or by including a lot of artifact/enchantment removal that can be maindecked.

    2. I may be alone here, but killing my opponent's 7 mana bomb with a removal spell does not feel interactive at all. I admit it technically meets the dictionary definition, but we both know that if I can kill it, I will kill it. The move is forced.

      This isn't to say, necessarily, that removal spells are non-interactive, but I don't think that part is. I might hold my removal spells waiting for Jay's Leviathan and he migth wait to cast it until he's baited me to use any removal I might have on his other creatures (and those things are very interesting) but despite what people on forums complaining about hexproof like to claim, the raw stench of the Doom Blade meets Angel Flesh moment is not, to my mind, interactive.

      One of the worst things about Magic, to me, is the existence of permanent types like Artifact and Enchantment that can't be meaningfully interacted with. The best you can do is see it game one and hope to bring in your Naturalize or Indrik Stomp Howler, and some colors can't interact at all. And again, simply blowing something up, or blowing it up and getting a juicy two for one, is, compared to the rest of Magic, a pretty low bar for "interaction."

      One of the best things Magic did, in my opinion, was to make players able to attack planeswalkers. Almost every deck ever made already has an answer to planeswalkers. That is what it means to have interaction in games.

      If Magic started over, I would want them to find a similar way for players to interact with global artifacts and enchantments.

    3. I agree that artifacts and enchantments aren't interactive because it's so rarely worth main-decking Naturalize.

      Whether a choice is obvious or not, strong or weak, dominant or poor, however, has no impact on its interactivity. Interaction is simply a measure of players affecting one another. It's very true a game needs meaningful decisions, and that the best games have a lot of both player interaction and meaningful decisions, but it helps no one to conflate the two.

    4. Interaction is much more to me than me doing something that impacts you. It is me making a decision and thinking about how it will effect you and how you will respond. Interaction is the branching decision trees where I have to factor in what you might do.

      Is the following game interactive? We each start with 20 beans. On our turn, we roll a red die and a green die. I take a number of beans equal to the value on the green die and you lose a number of beans equal to the value on the red die. We win when we get to 40 beans or our opponent gets to 0 beans.

      Am I interacting with you because I'm rolling a die that hurts you? I certainly think the answer is no, but it sounds like you might think the answer is yes.

      Here's another example. We're playing Agricola, and I see that you have a huge pile of wood. I most want the wood action space most, but I infer from your actions that you probably have enough wood, and so I take the Occupation action space instead. Am I interacting with you? It sounds like you think no, and I think yes.

    5. In the red and green die example, yes, we are interacting. It has no value whatsoever because it's devoid of meaningful decisions, but it is interaction nonetheless. The opposite example is that we each play Solitaire: We're both making meaningful decisions, but our games have no relevance to each other because there is no interaction. A game can have one without the other, both, or neither. A good game has both.

      Agricola has interaction (though not nearly enough relative to the game's length for my taste) and your example is the quintessential example of interaction in the game. Your choice affects me: interaction.

    6. As a game designer, interaction to me is a form of unknown information. I don't know what you will do, and I have to plan around that, and make intelligent guesses. As a mathematician, the game I described with the dice can't be isomorphic because it is isomorphic to one where on my turn I gain chips equal to my green roll and lose chips equal to my red roll, and isomorphic games can't have different levels of interactivity.

      Perhaps we can agree if I instead call what I call interaction "good interaction," or "rich interaction." Perhaps it is a spectrum, with Doom Blading your Stormtide Leviathan and Naturalizing your Citadel Siege at the very low end of richness and attacking my 3/3 into your 4/4 on the high end of richness.

    7. Since one of my comments in part inspired this debate, my own definition of "interactive":

      A game is interactive by design if all players gain a strategic advantage by altering their decision-making based on their opponents' known decision-making.
      A game is interactive in actuality if all players are able to alter their decision-making based on their opponents' known decision-making. (I make the decision because games with variance can randomly screw over decision points; for instance, I consider Magic an interactive game, but I consider mana-screw to be uninteractive, and thus nonrepresentative of the intended Magic-playing experience.)

      Doom Blade your Stormtide Leviathan is interactive in the context of two decks with limited amounts of removal and creatures (therefore making it a real, relevant decision when to cast Doom Blade, and when to cast Stormtide assuming the blue player can reasonably suppose the opponent is playing removal spells).
      Dice throwing game is uninteractive because neither player is basing a decision-making process on what the opponent is doing (because there are no decisions).
      I'm not familiar enough with Agricola to speak to that example, but I generally find that in city-builder-style board games attacking an opponent's resource is not an option, so if Player A is accumulating a stockpile of Resource X, then the best way that Player B can win is by accumulating an even bigger stockpile of Resource Y. If the result is that neither player has an incentive to pursue alternate strategies, then the game is not interactive.

      The key phrase I use that a lot of Magic players don't is "all players." To me, trying to talk about a specific deck or card being "interactive" because it generates particular effects is missing the point, and doesn't lead to more fun games. A deck can be part of an interactive game in one context and part of an uninteractive game in another (think Storm vs a deck with counterspells as opposed to a deck without them: in the case of the former, "Island, go" can be a form of interaction because the untapped mana affects whether the opponent wants to make certain decisions!)

      Some decks, like Manaless Dredge, by their very nature strive to have as few interactive games as possible. Decks that actively promote interactivity, on the other hand, are few and far between; the best example I can give is an EDH "hug" deck, where giving everyone extra mana and cards has a high likelihood of altering their game plan from what it would have been otherwise.

      It's probably no surprise that the vast majority of Limited formats are based around creature combat as a win condition, since creature combat is the most widely accessible way to interact in Magic.

    8. The best decks look to avoid interaction, because why give your opponent an opportunity? The best decks are not fun.

      The only thing* we're disagreeing on is our terminology, which is only relevant to discussion. Tommy's 'Rich interaction' is more useful than my 'pure interaction,' but I value precision when discussing abstract concepts with the intent of forming conclusions; when we shorthand interaction to mean 'interaction with meaningful decisions' we'll arrive at hypotheses that hide assumptions among their fundaments.

      *Okay, so we also disagree whether removal is interactive. I'd love to hear Tommy discuss the interactivity difference between "well clearly I D'Blade your Leviathan, whatevs" and "well clearly I chump-block your Leviathan, whatevs" or "well clearly I double-block your Leviathan, hope you don't have D'Blade, lol."

    9. Based on what Inanimate wrote in the post, I think it makes sense to interpret "interactive" as "non-goldfishy", i.e. more like Jay's "pure interaction", in the context of what we're trying to achieve. I also believe that Tommy's "rich interaction" is a very good thing; I'm just not sure that a mechanic built around 'progress' has a reasonable chance of achieving it. Here's another re-used mechanic that might move us a little more in that direction:

      Aspiring Inventor 1U
      Creature- Human Artificer (Common)
      Advance (Tap ten untapped creatures, artifacts, and/or lands you control: You become advanced.)
      As long as you're advanced, CARDNAME gets +2/+2 and has flying.

      I'd claim that Advance is slightly more interactive than CMC-progress because it leads players to make attacks they otherwise wouldn't or vice versa. For example, I'm more likely to attack my three 2/2s into your three 2/2s if one of yours has an Advance ability that you're close to turning on-- and you will be less likely to attack me for similar reasons.

    10. I debated elaborating a bit more about the Doom Blade interaction thing, but my post was already getting long winded.

      I think removal can be interactive, and there was interaction that got to the point where I Doom Bladed your Stormtide Leviathan. For example, maybe I decided not to use the Doom Blade on your Centaur Courser earlier even though I could have done so to push through four damage with my two Zombie tokens. Maybe you played a Skywinder Drake to try to bait me into using my Doom Blade early. All of that is interaction. But when I'm facing down something like Stormtide Leviathan, I literally must Doom Blade it, or I die. At that point, I don't really consider it interaction, because, as I mentioned, when I look at interaction as a designer, I'm looking for (and this sounds pendantic) mutually impacting decision spaces. Doom Blading the Stormtide Leviathan involves the same amount of choice as in the dice game.

      This example was intended (but this was lost) to illuminate that there are many senses of interaction. For example, as mentioned above, people often call dredge or storm or control decks non-interactive, or argue that indeed control is the most interactive, or etc. When people complain to Mark Rosewater that Hexproof is non-interactive (or complain as happened today about Gaea's Revenge), the word "interaction" is code for removal (and possibly counterspells).

    11. Ipaulsen: That is exactly what I intended. And I like your iteration of "Industrial Revolution", the flavor is really nice!

    12. Take the dice game. Split it into two separate games, one using the green die, and one using the red die. Under the metric of "pure interaction," one game is interactive while the other is not, but as far as I'm concerned they're both the exact same game. If we're talking about a metric that we can use to gauge whether one game design is preferable to another, I don't believe whether or not a game contains "pure interaction" helps us at all.

      For the Stormtide Leviathan example I prefer to look at the game as a whole to judge whether it was interactive (and ultimately a satisfying experience) or not. At some point in every game that was won by combat damage, the defending player needed to have removal or die. If you deal enough chip damage to me with your other creatures such that I'm forced to either Doom Blade the Stormtide or die, that doesn't render moot all the interaction that presumably happened up to that point. (On the other hand, trading chip damage for a few turns before one player executes an infinite damage combo is much less satisfying.)

      My comments on Industrial Revolution/Advanced remain the same, i.e. if both players are playing the Advanced deck, what incentive is there for them to engage in combat/play disruptive noncreature spells as opposed to both assuming they have the greater momentum and trying to race to 10 permanents as fast as possible?

    13. There will be windows where it's better to just try to kill your opponent and ignore IR/A—much as there are with planeswalkers—but I still think you make a great point, Jenesis.

    14. My point was more to shift the focus in terms of where the interaction is away from the playing the removal spell part to everything that came before.

      If your mental model for interactivity is Doom Blade (which I'm not saying anyone here's is, but I see it a lot) and you want to make games more interactive, you think "Great, let's print more Doom Blade's, and let's move it back to Common, and put Dark Banishing and Ultimate Price in the same set!" But while doing this increases interaction in the face punching sense, it significantly decreases the rich interaction I've been discussing because you no longer have to play so carefully with your removal spells. You no longer have to make careful choices and guess what your opponent is likely to play, and how they'll respond, etc.

      It is important to highlight which parts of the interaction are desirable, or you will conclude the most interactive formats involve stacks six Force of Wills deep over an Ancestral Recall, because hey, look at all that interaction!

    15. Indeed. I was quite excited when Doom Blade became uncommon and common removal became expensive/conditional.

    16. *raises hand* Put me in the camp that enjoys both good removal at common and six-card-deep counterspell stacks.

      A format in which I am incentivized to pick twice as many Centaur Coursers as usual because I'd rather play Centaur Courser than a marginal five-drop removal spell is not a format that sounds fun to me.

    17. You hurt my soul. Centaur Courser is probably my favorite card. It is so efficient!

    18. Mind you, Vintage is awesome, and I don't meant to disparage it any more than jokingly, but I think if you adopt too niave a definition of interaction, you will end up designing something more like vintage than like magic.

    19. Although I know WotC considers it a design mistake for all the instant-speed interactions, Faeries is one of my favorite decks of all time for precisely that reason. There wasn't a zone in the game it couldn't interact with (except possibly graveyard), it cared about creature combat, and it had both incremental-advantage generators and single-card trumps.

      Adding more nonblue options for interacting on the stack (in a way that doesn't involve targeting creatures) would go a long way toward bridging the gap between Vintage's Counterspell Wars 'R Us and Intro Pack Magic's combat focus. Getting to Silence Miracles is sweet; Containment Priest is a pseudo-counterspell to a few specific classes of cards; C15 brought us Dualcaster Mage, and while it works great in my monored EDH deck, it's a mana or two too much for Legacy. I'm sure those aren't the only examples, but they're the only ones that I can remember having played with or been used in a competitive capacity in recent years.

      Also, Nessian Courser is far superior to Centaur Courser. :P

    20. I think closing the gap between vintage and intro pack Magic is about the last thing WOTC wants to do.

      For the record, I often think about how easy it would be to close the gap by banning everything in sight, in, say, Legacy.

      For the record, as a player I may be close to you... grinding someone into the dirt with card advantage and sitting on a hand of six counterspells while they're hellbent and I chip away at them with my Creeping Tar Pit and wait until their end of turn to flashback my Forbidden Alchemy is perhaps my favorite way to play constructed.

      That said, my designer side definitely wants to protect the world from players like me, and find ways to reintegrate delinquent control players like myself back into productive society. [This last sentence may be a bit tongue in cheek, but also bears some truth.]

    21. I definitely agree that it'd be great if colours other than blue could interact on the stack more. Silence, Containment Priest and Dualcaster Mage are great examples, but there ought to be many more. Maybe this could be a Design Challenge one weekend - design a nonblue card that interacts on the stack?

    22. "My designer side definitely wants to protect the world from players like me, and find ways to reintegrate delinquent control players like myself back into productive society."


  7. I was surprised at the implications of the outlast mechanic after playing with it. The option to attack or grow was entirely dependent upon both board states. This led to fun decision points, IMO.

    ...I wonder how a cross between modular and outlast might play out:

    Steady wrench-jocky. 1W
    Cre- human assembly-worker
    Assemble 1W (1W, T: put a +1/+1 counter on an artifact creature or a charge counter on a non-creature artifact.)

    Vedalkin engineer. 2U
    Cre- vedalkin artificer. (Unc)
    Whenever an artifact you control becomes assembled, untap it.
    Assemble 1U

    Geist of the Factory Floor. 1B
    Creature- spirit. (Com)
    Whenever CARDNAME assembles an artifact creature, that creature gains menace until end of turn.
    Assemble 1B

    Steamflogged lackey R
    Cre- goblin rigger. (Com)
    When CARDNAME assembles an artifact, sacrifice it at end of turn.
    Assemble R

    Ventilation Ouphe. G
    Cre- Ouphe. (Unc)
    Sacrifice CARDNAME: destroy target artifact with a counter on it.
    Assemble GG

    Automated replicant. 5
    Art cre- assembly-worker (rare)
    Whenever another artifact creature you control dies, you may distribute any of its +1/+1 counters among artifact creatures you control.
    Assemble 3

    Pipe Wrench. 3
    Artifact- equipment (unc)
    Equipped creature gets +3/+0 and has Assemble 3
    Equip 3

    Cranial Umbilicus. 6
    Artifact- contraption (rare)
    At the beginning of your upkeep, if there are any charge counters on CARDNAME, draw that many cards.

    Steamflogger Boss 3R
    Cre- goblin rigger (rare)
    Goblins you control get +1/+0 and have haste
    Whenever a rigger creature you control would assemble a contraption, it assembles two contraptions instead.

    1. Sorry to spam with that post. Fleshing out a new mechanic, I tend to cycle it out to see what colors feel right for it. (In this case black and green seem out of place.)

      Growing (in size or effect) is as simple a way to show "progress" as I can imagine. It's immediately grok-able, backwards compatible, and non-parasitic (except that it requires artifacts).

      Ps: flavor text for the Geist of the factory floor- "Results: Fatal. Zero production lost. Worker continues to show up for his shift." -Injury report 217.C.0800049

    2. *assemble only as a sorcery

      ** I said modular, but I meant sunburst. (It's the same ability on creatures and non creatures, but the reminder text is different. One uses +1/+1's the other charge counters.)

    3. Tentatively love this mechanic. I'm not sure how it'll play off in practice, but this is an artifact set, so we might as well start from the assumption of a density of artifacts and go from there. Ventilation Ouphe and Pipe Wrench are both pretty cute.

      I had been trying to work with some sort of symbol that means "tap an untapped creature you control" to put on artifacts to show them being worked on, but putting the activation on all of the creatures instead is not a bad idea at all.

      I'm not hyped on doing cards like Cranial Umbilicus, but parasitic build-around-me's with a high payoff are certainly a tool development can use, and it's good to know that at least it looks clean.

      The unfortunate thing arises when you have noncreature artifacts that don't care at all about charge counters, like, for instance, Pipe Wrench. The other thing to take in mind is that Assemble kind of narrows what a charge counter can be worth on a card. But all in all, I like it, almost as an echo to Proliferate.

    4. This has a lot of potential. The only downside I see immediately is that people will not like the assemble costs. For example, Steady-Wrench Jockey almost certainly comes back at 3W for its assemble cost, unless having an artifact creature is rare.

      Unlike Outlast, this also lets you build up blockers and then block with them, which is a bit scary.

    5. That's an important distinction. Tapping one creature to boost another is much less dangerous than tapping a creature to boost itself.

    6. Outlast being sorcery speed only helped this immensely.

      Charge counter accumulation has felt the most steampunk-y of the various "progress" mechanics submitted thus far, although it works much better online than in paper. My primary disappointment with this submission is the dreadful paucity of Riggers.

  8. Excellent question, I think that's right about a balance between "too certain" and "too uncertain", and that interaction is a good solution (is basically always more interesting!)

    Come to think of it, anything that costs mana is a _bit_ interactive, since you have to decide whether to spend the mana on playing new attackers/blockers or on progress-ing your creatures (with level-up or some form of charge-up). That might be enough!

    Or you could go further with creatures, eg. some combination of "you can pay/tap to put an extra +1/+1 counter on this" but "it only untaps (or only attacks/blocks) if you pay X where X is its power/number of counters". Then you have a constant choice -- how big do you want it?

    Or creatures which get charge (or +1/+1) counters when they attack already do this.

    Like Mike George I also immediately thought of Outlast as a progress-interactive mechanic. Anything with "tap, only as a sorcery" is somewhat interactive. You could apply that to individual creatures "Charge up 3 (3, T: Put a charge counter on this. Only as a sorcery.)." or to the energise-like mechanic "Energise 3 (3, tap any number of untapped creatures with energise: put a counter on each of them. Only as a sorcery."

  9. BTW, I love these open design questions posts, one of the things I find most interesting is spotting high level structure like inanimate did, and looking for an overall answers for it.

    OTOH, would it help to make clear they don't follow the rules of the art challenges? I assume the idea here is to suggest any ideas which might be helpful, not one card per commenter.

    1. That is correct, jack. I'll be more clear about the fact it's meant to be a themed brainstorming challenge rather than a card design challenge.

  10. I'm not convinced this is the right goal to design towards. What makes most mechanics interactive is that they go on creatures and spells, which you use to interact with your opponent. Very few of them actually include a direct opponent interaction within the mechanic itself. In the last few years, have there been any at all, aside from Tribute?

    Why did they choose to print Ferocious and Formidable instead of "If you control the creature with the greatest power", which would have been the more 'interactive' version? I think it's because fundamentally, people don't want their deck to only work sometimes depending on the opponent's actions. Having them turn off Ferocious by killing your guy feels reasonable, since they might have killed your creature anyway. Having them turn it off by playing a bigger guy would feel like, "Oh, I guess my deck only gets to work sometimes."

    1. There have been more: Renown is the latest, not unlike cypher. Werewolves were a highly interactive and high-profile mechanic.

      But your point remains relevant: Interactive isn't always better.

      The game needs to be interactive, and comes with a good amount of interactivity through combat and spells that affect your opponent or her cards. Generally one mechanic per set that's immediately interactive is a good level, but if everything were like that, games become more complicated and opportunities for a losing player to come back for the win become rarer.

      Does progress need to be interactive? I'm not so sure.

    2. Renown and Cipher are interactive in the sense that the opponent can interact with your creatures by blocking them. But that's already how creatures work, so they aren't tacking on an extra layer of the opponent getting to mess with your stuff.

      Werewolves, though, are a notable exception, and a very well-designed one. I'll have to think about a more precise why to formulate my thoughts here, because there's a certain ill-defined notion of "feeling fair" that some opponent interaction mechanics lack. I'm not yet sure how to nail it down. For starters, why did werewolves turn out good and Tribute mediocre?

    3. The last part is easy. Tribute almost always leads to disappointment when you don't get the thing you were hoping for. It's possible to mislead your opponent into making the wrong choice, but rarely worth the effort.

      Casting two spells to turn off your werewolves, when all you did was spend mana elsewhere for a turn, is a significant effort from your opponent, so it feels like they earned it. And doing that puts them closer to having a turn where they don't cast a spell.

      Under that light, Test Subject 22's experiment will be quite disappointing when your opponent guesses correctly, because it cost them nothing. Hmm.

    4. I really still don't see what the Test Subject is going for.

      I definitely agree with Havelock here about the woes of adding extra "interaction," (though admittedly I consider Agricola pretty interactive). Magic will always be interactive, and it has a lot of forms of very direct interaction built into the game. We have the opportunity to augment that, but it isn't obligatory, Magic isn't going to suddenly turn into [Game people claim has no interaction here].

      Here is one reason I don't like "Have the highest X" mechanics, and why I think we almost never see them. Every game of Magic, some player loses (or more!). But it is very possible to have your deck do what it is supposed to, and still lose. It happens all the time. The other day in a three player SOM draft I was a heavy control deck and built this giant defensive line, and turn after turn is passing by while I chip away at my opponents with my Neurok Invisomancer. Then, my opponent draws Concussive Bolt, and wins. My deck did what it was supposed to that draft. I was satisfied, I executed on my game plan. I just also didn't win. And maybe next time my plan needs to account for that.

      If instead my goal is to "control the most artifacts," say, and turn one my opponent plays a Golden Urn and I never control more artifacts than she does, I did not execute on my plan. I was soundly defeated.

    5. If you lost to a Golden Urn, you earned that loss.

    6. Haha, admittedly I could have thought of a better one cost artifact, but it was the first one that popped to mind.

    7. HavelockV, you're right. I guess a better way to phrase this would have been, "Design a progress mechanic that isn't non-interactive". I was hoping the idea would get across, though.

      I agree that putting a mechanic on a creature will usually lead to some degree of interaction. But, for example, I don't think Level Up or Suspend are necessarily interactive - or at least, they're not sufficiently interactive for my tastes.

  11. Another idea:

    Molten Hammer 1R
    Sorcery (U)
    Deal three damage to target creature or player.
    Forge 2RR (When you cast an instant or sorcery, if Molten Hammer is in you graveyard, you may pay 2RR. If you do, add Molten Hammer's text to that spell and exile this card.)


    1. Originally I thought this was "Splice from the graveyard" and was going to say it was undevelopable, but this is more like weak flashback.

      So now my question is, why would we use this instead of bringing back Flashback?

    2. Because Flashback cards are discrete entities. This is like building a better spell. They have tried before to have vertically progressive spells with the original splice and replicate. I think this does a lot to solve the issue with those, which was that you sat on your spell too long. With these cards you could cast things as normal and then enhance spells later down the line.

    3. Flashback-only-when-you-cast-a-[type]-spell might be interesting, but I'm not sure what the text-splice accomplishes.

    4. Projectile Magma {4}{R}
      Instant (unc)
      ~ deals X damage to target creature, where X is the number of Mountains you control.
      Iterate — {R}{R}, Exile ~: Target spell you control with X gains "This spell deals X damage to target creature."

    5. A cute design Jay. I think (but welcome disagreement) that this is obviously way too little design space for an ability word, but I think it could be a rare cycle or something. There are a lot of strange rules about X in spells that I don't 100% understand, so we'd have to clear it with the rules team.

      I'd probably want a non-mana cost on the "flashback" since otherwise this gets so much worse.

    6. Agreed about the design space. Just demonstrating one way to make text-splicing meaningful.

    7. Yeah I think that was super clever!

  12. brainstorming new form of progress:

    Gold artifact counters as new victory condition
    15 gold counters to win

    Gold counters have sac: add one mana of any color

    Wealth - when control 7 or more gold counters, effect.

    Interest: per upkeep get extra gold

    Artifact interaction: destroy, steal, sac, summon,

    if opponent has more gold, effect or drawback.

    Capitalize - when damage opponent, get gold.

    sac a gold counter: put charge or +1/+1 counter on this.

    1. I like Poison counters that count up (I think it is only a matter of time), but I'm not so sure I want to combine that idea with Gold. If design uses Gold, I don't wnat people hesitant to spend it.

      The biggest obstacle to poison counters that count up is figuring out a way to do them that feels different from Infect but doesn't make Magic feel unlike Magic.

    2. Orbital Cannon
      T: 1 dmg target player
      Contested (When a creature deals combat damage to you, its controller gains control of this.)

      Formative Militia
      T: Gain a civilisation counter.
      CARDNAME gets +3/+3 for each five civilisation counters you control. (Whenever a creature would deal damage to you, its controller may have you lose a civilisation counter instead.)

  13. I think for the idea of incremental progress nothing is going to beat +1/+1 counters for creatures. Battle-Forged is a great mechanic that captures the the feel of progress. However, one of the challenges of BF is that it needs something to push it in case you can't attack. In green and white there are tons of ways to get +1/+1 counters on things, but in the other colors it can be more of a problem.
    I was casting around looking for things that could help. The closest I could come was Proliferate. Proliferate was part of Phyrexia so people tend to think of of it as a degeneration mechanic, but it only counts up. Tesla has always felt like the anti-phyrexia to me. Where Phyrexians are toxic and corrosive, Tesla wants to be about unbounded growth, the Spirit of Adventure. For anyone that plays League of Legends, Tesla is basically Piltover.
    One of the reasons why Proliferate worked in SoM was the presence of Infect. There were three different types of counters to affect. +1/+1 counters and charge counters are a given, but I think the idea of having a type of counter that goes on players is pretty central to the nature of Proliferate. While I don't think Gold counters are the way to go, its a way to show continual progress. Maybe counting up doesn't need to win the game outright, what if there were thresholds on cards? What if you as the player had a version of the Level Up mechanic?

    Vampiric Gains 2B
    Gain a Level counter
    Deal damage to target creature or player equal to your current Level and you gain that much life.

    Level Factory 6
    At the beginning of your upkeep, gain a Level counter.

    Evolving Strength 1G
    Target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn equal to your level.

    Scholar of Levels 2UU
    Creature - Wizard
    When Scholar of Levels enters the battlefield you gain a level counter.
    Scholar of Levels has flying as long as you are level 5 or higher.

    1. Lots of people have thought of this, including myself. It's a fascinating idea, but pretty parasitic unless designed well.