Saturday, January 6, 2018

GDS3 Prep: Essay Question 2

2. Choose a mechanic from a Modern-legal set that was not well designed. What could have made it better? (You may propose changes either to the mechanic itself or to its implementation.)


  1. The problem with Revolt is not a mechanical one. As a tweak on Morbid, it offers many lenticular design opportunities. However, the ability does not make sense in the context in which it was presented. Unless your opponent destroyed a permanent you controlled, Revolt never felt like you were “revolting” against anything in particular, and new players constantly forgot their triggers because of that. Why are your creatures starting a revolution in response to a Felidar Guardian blinking a Prophetic Prism? Do they really hate the idea of cats playing with shiny rocks that much?

    I believe that Revolt is an ideal example of when mechanical elegance is not enough; an ability also has to match the world it’s part of and express that world through its gameplay. Aether Revolt was supposed to be a set about rebelling against an oppressive regime, but instead it felt like a continuation of Kaladesh, where you were inventing cool interactions between your cards and not worrying about your opponent.

    Revolt could have been a great mechanic if it had a different name in a different set. For example, a set about people mysteriously disappearing would make sense if your creatures became “suspicious” whenever a permanent left the battlefield.

    For Aether Revolt, I believe the mechanic could have been brought in line with player expectations if it was narrowed to only caring about when your opponent caused one of your permanents to leave the battlefield. Even better, it should have only mattered if an artifact or creature was affected this way. That would leave open design space for future sets that want a “Morbid for enchantments” or a “Morbid for lands.”

    In the end, Revolt was a great idea, but it was introduced in the wrong set and confused players with its ambiguity.

    1. Agreed.

      How would you word a mechanic to care about when your opponent caused something to leave the battlefield? I'm not sure that the game has the language to make that distinction well-defined.

    2. "If a source of damage, spell or ability an opponent controls caused a permanent you control to leave the battlefield this turn, do X"

      It's doable, but super wordy.

      One of the problems with Aether Revolt is that as a faction set with two sides, you need to have two competing mechanics to distinguish then. Fabricate and Revolt don't do this at all, they barely interact. I would have gone with:

      Conductance (Choose a permanent or player with counters, then put another counter of a kind already there on it or him or her.)

      Resistance (Choose a permanent or player with counters, then remove a counter from it or him or her.)

      Plays with Fabricate and Energy, establishes two clear sides to the struggle, leads to interesting design choices.

    3. The damage isn't what causes a creature to LTB. It's the state-based effect of having lethal damage that does. Super irrelevant distinction except when we want to do stuff like this.

    4. You might be able to do something with "When a creature you control deals the battlefield after it was targeted or dealt damage by an effect an opponent controls this turn" or similar. That's clunky, but it gets a bit closer to it.

      Or it's possible this could be defined in the comprhensive rules in way which is approximately equivalent to an intuitive meaning of "caused", and used by any cards that need it.

      But I also think it's possible there is just no good wording with magic's current rules.

    5. Thanks for bringing to my attention the difficulty of making a card care about which player caused it to leave the battlefield. I should have mocked up a card before assuming it would work smoothly. I think it probably needs a special rule to define it, sort of like the opposite of how protection does it, but that's not worth the trouble of one mechanic.

  2. Should I leave the low-hanging fruit of Skulk to someone else?

    1. Nah, go for it! We're not going to run out of Modern-legal mechanics.

    2. Where Wizards has had great success tying other mechanics into the power of the creature they're on, increasing player agency and reducing calculability, skulk's value increases inversely with the creature's power. Which is to say it decreases.

      You could argue (and I'm sure multiple people in R&D did) that's good for an evasion mechanic, because the bigger a creature is, the more the game wants it to fight and the less we want it to kill the opponent without chance for interaction.

      But we have to remember that a core strength of Magic is players putting cards together to create synergies. Skulk prevents that, and that's how it fails.

      Compare Furtive Homunculus to Wandering Wolf. While skulk seems to promise a new kind of play where you're sneaking under your opponent, it's not terribly realistic (because most everyone has small creatures) and it's not as well supported (because there are more Trusty Machetes in the world than Curiositys. The wolf's ability gets better as we suit it up rather than worse, without losing any saboteur synergy. It's just a better mechanic.

      I would propose replacing Skulk with Prowl (Creatures with power less than this creature's power can't block it.) but the former was black-blue and the latter is green, so it's hardly a replacement. That's okay: The same way prowl has largely been replaced with a static version (as on Outland Boar and friends), a static version of skulk also solves its problem. This has been white, but it could absolutely be blue-black instead.

      Skulk 3 (This creature can't be blocked by creatures with power 3 or greater.)

      With this skulk, we can give Furtive Homunculus +1/+1 or Mark of the Vampire and feel good about it.

    3. Ah! Yes, that's a good suggestion. I had no idea how they could possibly fix skulk.

      I did wonder about this at some point. I wasn't sure if it was too good with pump spells, that then it was almost unblockable at all. But I guess, that might be a positive interaction.

    4. In terms of fixing it what do you think of
      lurk: creatures with a larger cmc can't block ~.
      it is not effected by pump spells, encourages curve building?

    5. It's a good thought. Not ideal for common because we try to avoid mentioning CMC, but that's easily a complexity cost we could pay in the right set. I'd want to watch out for how it affects deck-building across the format, since you might run strictly 1- and 2cc creatures and I might run no 1s and few 2s, making your deck mostly unblockable no matter what I do in the game.

    6. You're also fighting an uphill battle making that lurk relevant, because that's an upside mechanic, so any creature it goes on will have to be slightly less sizeable for their cost than they would have been (and blue already has the smallest creatures). They will largely get trumped by vanilla creatures (maybe that's a good thing) and by green in general. I'd want to test to see, though.

    7. I like the idea of a skulk value, although that (and skulk in general) really makes blocking confusing because the value can change. I'd suggest a constant value. After all, there's only a very narrow range of values for skulk before it stops being relevant

    8. How can the value change?
      (Even if it can't, I also suspect 2 or 3 is just correct.)

    9. It can change from one creature with Skulk to the next, which means a creature with Skulk 2 is blocked by a different subset of creatures than those with Skulk 3, even though they both have "skull". It's easier to shortcut if there's just one value (2 or 3). The general problem is that limiting the power of creatures that can block means buffs are brutal. 1/4 with Skulk 3 basically has menace to kill it, but if it gets pumped +3/+3 it needs to be triple blocked to be killed which is rough.

      In a similar vein, I'd suggest:

      Nimble (This creature can't be blocked by creatures with toughness greater than 3 unless that creature has nimble.)

      Tying the evasion to toughness ensures there's always the possibility to trade 1 for 1 with the creature.