Thursday, March 1, 2018

CCDD 030118 - Relentless Madness, Ral Zarek 2, and Planeswalkers in Vision/Set Design

Two more cards in my draft for the Design test today, plus a detailed discussion of how to figure out the numbers on a Planeswalker design.

First up, I did not have a single common design thus far, and that won't do, as I'm aiming for three. I also haven't done any sorceries, so my next card should be a common sorcery. All other things being equal, I've knocked out each of the W(X) combos, and each of my other color pairs have been locked out of two card types. Since Dimir was next on my list, I figured I'd tackle that.

Relentless Rats' preview in 25 Masters inspired me to use the unlimited-copy ability. I thought of Dimir effects this could work with, and while Mill is kind of cliche, I thought it would be interesting to do a relentless Kindle Mill. This could probably be Hybrid, as mill is in both Dimir colors, and the relentless ability is not particularly bound to a color.

I'm satisfied with that for now, so I decided to map out the last 5 cards based on this. Based on my cascading design decisions, my Izzet card could either be a Creature or Planeswalker. If I choose Creature, then my Rakdos card has to be a Planeswalker. Angrath was just featured in the most recent set, so I'm opting for an Izzet Planeswalker.

Lamnick asked yesterday about how numbers are settled on for Planeswalker designs, so I thought I'd go through my process for doing that today.

Before I dive too deep in, just a general reminder that the goal here isn't to get the numbers absolutely perfect. This is true of all design here, since we emulate Vision and Set Design more than Play Design, but it's especially the case with Planeswalkers. With Planeswalkers, the numbers are so fluid in design that they're impossible to balance without context of the environment.

Anyway, here's my approach. First off, for this particular card I'm starting with color locked in. Knowing it's Izzet, I want to determine if it's a new character or new version of an old. If a returning character, I have to stay somewhat consistent with the suite of abilities.
My initial thought is to make a new one, as it gives me more leeway to show off than making a new Dack/Saheeli/Ral. None of them have mechanically cared about instants/sorceries before (although Chandra has), so I'm going to make a PW who's power set focuses on that.

My early plans for abilities look like this:
  • + exile an instant/sorcery from your hand, damage = to the CMC 
  • -X copy the exiled card, X = CMC 
I don't know the ultimate yet, but that's ok. Right now, I'm just seeing if this makes any sense, and if it can fit reasonably on a card.

It can't.

After thinking about it, I think the core of the concept is that the PW is learning a repetoire of spells, and can unleash them. The -X ability is looking more and more like it wants to be in place of an actual ultimate, given the flexibility of designing around it. In the meantime, I think exiling the spell has to be incidental, rather than the focus of the ability.

After tweaking the abilities for a few minutes, I come up with this:

The standard Planeswalker template wants to have three abilities that are

  • In color
  • In Character
  • Synergistic with one another
Of the first two abilities, one should be proactive, driving the game forward, and the other should be reactive, designed to protect the PW from threats that exist on the board. The ultimate should be splashy and game defining, ideally something unique to that PW and its identity. My decision to make the ultimate -X doesn't really fit that mold, but since it's unusable without at least one of the other activations, and will get all the Jennies of the world figuring out what to do with it, I'm running with it for now.

Also, as the abilities are looking more and more like they would be something Ral Zarek would do, I'll have him step into this blank planeswalker's shoes.

Starting to look good. By making him Ral, I could use abilities previously used by him without having to worry as much about stepping on an existing PW's toes.

I'm pretty happy with abilities at this point. He has something to fuel his ultimate, a unique ultimate, something to protect himself, and general cohesion. Now we're going to start tweaking with the numbers.

By default, the first loyalty ability should be +1 or +2. There are reasons to go higher periodically, but generally that's where to start. I'd say +2 is appropriate, since we want him to be able to use -X a few times over the course of the game.

This informs our starting loyalty. We want him to start low, since he can technically use his ultimate the turn after he lands and we want to keep him from casting ultimatums or similar spells that early. I'm going to say starting loyalty of 3.

Once you have a starting loyalty, you generally want the PW to be able to immediately activate either once and survive with too few counters to activate again, or twice and die on the second time for lack of counters. Since Ral starts at 3, I'm making the second ability -2.

Since the third loyalty ability is X, I don't need to think too hard about the implications of that, but as a discussion, you want to have the abilities such that you're going to want at least one and the majority of the time two activations of the + ability before being able to activate the ultimate.

Starting to look a lot better. Seeing it written out, I can tell that first ability needs to be +1 to keep this from being too bonkers the turn after he drops.

This brings us to mana costs. For Planeswalkers, here's some rules of thumb:

  • Don't make it cost less than 3, unless you have an exceptionally good reason for doing so.
  • In fact, don't make it cost less than 4. 3 Mana walkers are pretty consistently good, since they can be so impactful if you hit them on curve. The only reason we (as VD/SD designers) should make them cost 3 is if having them do so is mechanically relevant (like a PW that assists/boosts future creature drops).
  • We're looking at CMC of 4-6. 
  • Start by imagining the card as a sorcery with the first two abilities as that sorceries modes. Ral can either loot a card or hit with a Lightning Bolt. Neither of these is going to too dramatically impact the board, so I'm comfortable with him at 4.
    • That said, if you exile a Lightning Bolt with the first ability the turn he drops, he can spend the next 4 turns doing nothing but copying that one spell. That might be a little strong for a 4 drop, especially in a deck focused on damage. Up to 5CMC he goes.

And with that we have my second Planeswalker, Second Mythic, and six cards of my ten down and ready for testing.

This isn't the only way to adjust the numbers on your walkers, but I do think this is pretty close to a submittable card. How do you design your walkers? Discuss in the comments.


  1. Cool look at the process! I know that planeswalkers are some of the toughest card types to design, so I haven't really attempted one yet, but this is getting me excited to start.

  2. thanks a lot zefferal. I've got a lot of questions, but I think I'll go look at a bunch of walkers first before I flood the thread.

    One thing though... do you always cost walkers assuming the best case... that is to say, assuming they won't get hit by creatures?

    1. I think that depends on how viable their abilities are for self-defense.

    2. Yeah, I assume that you'll be able to get maximum utility our of them when costing them. Playtesting can tell you if you were too conservative, but at least on a first draft, powerful but fair is better than obscenely broken.

  3. Interesting. I normally start with the Mana cost, because that's going to establish what power levels the abilities should exist at. I try not to be too beholden to the abilities because they're the most likely to change with the design.

    1. I hear that, although at Mythic, the cost is highly mutable as sets are developed too. This is also how I designed this particular PW, knowing that I was locked into colors before I even started. If I have an idea for a character, I'd start top down instead of bottom up the way I did for this one.

  4. I like starting more on the creative side, with a character in mind and try to have the abilities match.

    1. Absolutely. This design was guided far more by the earlier choices I made in filling out the Round 3 design challenge, where I knew my Izzet card had to be a Mythic Planeswalker.

      I don't design PWs often anymore, and when I do it's either starting from character or because I thought of a cool new ultimate I want to build a card around.

  5. Is there a particular reason why Relentless Madness mills to exile instead of to graveyard? Given that Dimir is well-suited to messing around with opponents' graveyards, it feels anti-synergistic in some kinds of B/U decks.

    I like Ral, but I suspect playtesting will end up with some version of your repeat Lightning Bolt example, or whichever is the cheapest burn spell that is allowed in the format. That's not a terrible thing, but I see him as a PW the Spikes are going to be fiddling with more than Jennies. That's cool, though. I have a hard time trying to design for Spikes without going overboard.

    I also imagine mirror matches where Rals just keep killing each other back and forth across the battlefield, lol. Fortunately his second ability cannot do that on its own.

    I really want to template a U/W build-around planeswalker for flying decks. What I've developed ends up being very boring though, with anthems, curiosity effects, and vigilance or what-have-you. Maybe that's okay, though.

    1. Oh, and after posting about the multiple Rals in mirror-matches, I realized that once you exile one card with Ral, future Rals you play will also be able to cast that card when the first Ral dies, correct? This will allow for you to immediately use his -X skill in subsequent summons as long as the exiled spell has a CMC of three or less.

      Not a criticism, but again I think that level of not-obvious efficiency and advantage is going to appeal to Spikes.

    2. No, when a card refers to itself in it's text, it only refers to the current object in play.

    3. Well, that's no fun. (I suppose I probably would have known that if I had been playing when Ashiok was around.)

    4. I think you could get that effect with the text "exiled with a Ral planeswalker".

    5. That could potentially an interesting design concept if you did it on purpose with a planeswalker with an identity where it could be reasonably be presented as returning from the dead or from out of play. Or one adept with illusions or deception. (As in, you only thought you killed him/her)

    6. Re: Exile on Relentless Madness - Honestly, I used exile because it made the card a line or two shorter, and I wanted it to stay firmly at common.

    7. Speaking of which, 7 lines is a lot for a common.
      I'm not sure the relentless ability is pulling its weight here.

    8. I agree with Jay. Unless we think it will be a constructed viable card it is not needed because in limited all cards have the relentless ability.

    9. Something can be designed for constructed without being designed to be tournament viable. This is a Common Tammy card. I could definitely drop the Relentless ability, but I'm trying to push the envelope of common for the purposes of the GDS3 test. Kindle Mill isn't as interesting to me as Unlimited copies of Kindle Mill.

    10. Casual constructed is a real thing. I'm concerned this isn't fun enough for that, though, because the deck plays more the same every time than any other deck, including RelentlessRats.dec, because it doesn't interact with anything we expect to see.

      Turn 3, RM. Turn 4, RM. Turn 5, RM. Turn 6, RM or two... It never matters what you mill, or what your opponent is doing, just who kills whom first. (Six of these mill 47 cards.)

      I'd rather see something like:

      Target player puts the top 3 cards of their library into their graveyard.
      If a land card goes to the graveyard this way, return ~ to your hand.


      You may play any number of ~.
      Exile the top 3 cards of each player's library.
      You may cast any cards named ~ exiled this way.

    11. Re LL enters Madness is a very fun design, although I do wish it milled to the graveyard and could target either player. The Mel in me really likes the puzzle as when it would be correct to Mill yourself rather than your opponent with such a card. Definitely an uncommon at that point though.