Saturday, December 31, 2011

M13 Holiday is for Play (-testing)

This week I spent about 80 hours working on Magic design. Tweaks and swaps to the card file; printing, cutting and stickering well over custom 300 cards; reorganizing my Magic collection to find reprints (which caused me to clean the whole game room as a result); and writing a couple short theory articles. Oh and playtesting. Yesterday, three of my good Magic buddies and I spent 8+ hours doing Magic 2013 sealed and draft. At least I know I won't have a problem working long hours at Wizards some day.

I've done lots of solo testing with focused card sets since we started and I specifically tested bond (then known as terrain) with a bunch of people via precons back in September, but this is the first time we've taken the set as a whole and played the way it would be at a prerelease. I was pleasantly surprised how well it went, but found about a million ways to improve the set via real experience and the insightful comments and suggestions of my playtesters. Thanks, Brendan, Ty and Andy!

Friday, December 30, 2011

How Expensive Should Removal Be?

No great truth was ever revealed to someone who blindly accepted what his parents told him. No revolution has come on the heels of accepting the status quo. Civilization is where it is because billions of people have figured out what's good and what's not for thousands of years, yet we haven't run out of innovation, reform or progress ...and we never will.

Question everything. You'll either learn why things are the way they are or how things could be better.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

More like Doom'nt Blade!

I thought I liked Doom Blade. It's a cleaner, simpler version of black's most iconic removal spell and that's got to be a good thing, right? It has recently occurred to me that no, it's not.

Terror has great flavor. It kills by scaring the life out of you, literally. It can't kill black creatures because they're too scary to be frightened like that (or too familiar with black's scare tactics). It can't kill artifacts because they have no emotions to break. And you can't regenerate from it because it doesn't destroy your body, but your mind.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

M13 Show a Little Class

Since the primary subtheme of Magic 2013 is multicolor without gold cards, it makes sense to find some way to support or reward players for playing two color decks other than Bond cards. So we're replacing the standard gammut of race lords (Elvish Archdruid et al) with class lords that can benefit creatures of multiple colors.

M13 Common Bonds

This last week or two the team made a number of Bond cards to explore the new common schema. You'll recall that we're happy with Island bond granting flying and Forest bond granting +1/+2, but we wanted to put another P/T bonus in another color and try to get deathtouch out of the equation. We made a number of different cards with Mountain bond granting +2/+0, Swamp bond lifelink or intimidate and Plains bond vigilance or first strike. These are my favorites so far.

A Fixed Mana Ritual?

From the beginning of Magic, temporary mana boosts such as Dark Ritual held a dark allure for players lusting for quick power.

These effects allow you to cast a powerful spell very early in the game, counterbalanced by the fact that you open yourself up to some blow-outs since you're spending two cards from your hand to cast one spell.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Nature's Fighters

With the new evergreen term "fight" that was introduced in Innistrad, Green gains a lot of potential to be able to battle creature threats and obstacles in a Green way.

Here, I designed some Green fighting creatures.

Friday, December 23, 2011

CCDD 122311—Humble Savior / Knight in Shining Armor

Cool Card Design of the Day
12/23/2011 White has a great shtick around saving its own creatures. Damage prevention and protection effects were the earliest expression of this, but it got interesting when Flicker introduced blink effects. Whitemane Lion (and friends) put a similar effect on creatures. With the recent addition of Fiend Hunter to white's arsenal, today's card seems inevitable.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

CCDD 122211—Bellow

Cool Card Design of the Day
12/22/2011 Last week I asked my Twitter followers whether this card should be red or green. From their responses, I am convinced it should either be mono-green or red-and-white. Take a look before I get 'splainy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CCDD 122111—Return to Sender

Cool Card Design of the Day
12/21/2011 - As I was working on this card, I got a sense of Deja Vu. I was concerned that I'd already designed it. After some searching, I'm relieved to say that this it's the opposite of Feign Mana. I'm still drilling the same well that is Mana Drain's heredity, but along a more dangerous line—cheap countermagic.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

21 Ways to Design a Card: Dual-faced Cards for Time Spiral 2

In 21 Ways to Design a Card #10, I tried to explore some new ideas by breaking fundamental conventions about cards. However, it seems that most of the ideas I mentioned had already been mentioned or explored, such as in Magic designer Gregory Marque's article, as well as in other games such as Duel Masters.

In this post, I'd like to post some designs that invoke nostalgia, similar to what Time Spiral did.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

CCDD 121411—False Memory

Cool Card Design of the Day
12/14/2011 - It's tempting to find new ways to use existing mechanics. A lot of that urge is healthy and results in exciting new twists that can be leveraged to great effect in second and third sets. Sometimes it's a trap. Today, I want to show you the result of such a trap and explain why it's not a great thing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

M13 A New Black Planeswalker

The team has largely agreed that the three planeswalkers introduced in Magic 2012 ought to be reprinted in 2013. Jace, Memory Adept, Chandra, the Firebrand and Garruk, Primal Hunter are all tied with a couple other cards for least printed planeswalkers of all time. Reprinting them in 2013 follows the tradition of printing a desirable core set card twice in a row to give players more time to collect and/or play with it. Elspeth is the only mono-white planeswalker not to be reprinted so far and my recent twitter poll showed a pretty dramatic preference for bringing back Elspeth, Knight-Errant rather than Elspeth Tirel. We do want to feature at least one new planeswalker and it so happens that black is in need. Liliana Vess has been overprinted and Sorin got his reprint this year. We're not going to reprint Liliana of the Veil if it doesn't extend her legality, so it's time for someone new.

Monday, December 12, 2011

21 Ways to Design a Card: Another Use for Transform

In continuation of my previous post, here's another use for the transform mechanic.

Once again, asking the question "What happens when a card and a spell don't have a 1:1 correspondence?" opens up a lot of potential designs.

CCDD 121211—Accelerated Growth

Cool Card Design of the Day
12/12/2011 - A lot of players have derived a lot of joy from Doubling Season since its debut in Ravnica. We'd love to reprint it, but it turns out to be broken two ways to Sunday with planeswalkers. Parallel Lives and, to a lesser extent, Doubling Chant are recent cards aimed to fill that void. Might I humbly suggest another?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Regenerate Target Mechanic

Regenerate Target Mechanic
Regenerate is one of the evergreen abilities that's been around since Alpha. It's a bit "too flavorful" as Aaron Forsythe might say and suffers from old, unintuitive templating. Even so, a lot of players love it, myself included, because it hits its note well enough and that note needs hitting. Can we re-invent it into something more streamlined and intuitive?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Brief Encyclopedia of Common Activated Abilities

I started this last year while I was working on my casual GDS2 set. I really wanted to build a wedge colored block, and the ways I wanted to show off the different color combinations involved terrain and color-costed activated abilities. Since these are relevant for anyone working on the M13 project, I thought I'd update my list and post it where other writers can use it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

M13 Designing Lair (4)

We saw a lot of solid arguments this last week and I greatly appreciate everyone's feedback. The Straight Plan is the most agreed-upon plan so we're going to proceed with that for now. We do have our eye on the possibility of replacing bond entirely with off-color activations (OCAs) so we're going to test the finished set as well as the finished set with those 10-15 cards swapped out. In particular, we're trying to get a sense of which mechanic looks and feels more natural and exciting and keep a close eye on board complexity. We'll go one way or another or possibly even switch to the Uncommon or Mixed Plan based on what we find.

Our subtitle will need to change, but let's wait until we know whether we're incorporating bond or excising it before we bother with that. For now, the goal is to complete the first draft of the entire set with bond on the straight plan and get playtesting. The core team should focus on that. If the rest of you are looking for an interesting design task to keep sharp on, please submit OCA cards here.

21 Ways to Design a Card #10: Break a Premise You Didn't Know Existed

In a my 21 Ways to Design a Card article Part 3, I talked about how you can arrive at a new mechanic by looking through a Magic rulebook. For each rule that you encounter such as "creatures tap when they attack" or "creatures can't attack the turn they were cast," you can think about a mechanic that sidesteps that rule, resulting in mechanics like vigilance or haste.

Those rules are explicitly stated, and it's easy to consciously recognize those things as rules. In this post, I'd like to talk about taking this one step further and breaking rules, premises, and conventions that are so obvious that you didn't even think about them existing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

M13 Designing Lair (3)

What I've found is that there are justifications for different choices in each category but they're all interdependent on one another. Today I'm going to try to list the different groups of choices so that we can examine the pros and cons of each group rather than the individual choices.

The Resonance of Off-color Activated Abilities

Inspired by Jay Treat mentioning a card idea for a Zombie that becomes more dangerous after walking over lava and catching fire, and comment-discussion about creatures with off-color activated abilities, I tried designing a cycle of such cards. (I'm not particularly suggesting that M13 should have off-color activated abilities.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

M13 Designing Lair (2)

I want to try to summarize some of the great proposals that were suggested in part one, but first let me suggest that perhaps we are thinking too small with lair. Right now, [landtype] Lair means "As long as you control a [landtype]..." That's been working well for us, but we should at least consider the possibility of creating a more universal ability word. By replacing the [landtype] variable with the [characteristic] variable, the ability word now handles all threshold-1 scenarios. I found 23 common creatures with this set-up and 18 non-common ones, so it may be worthwhile to find one ability word that binds them all under the same verbal concept.

M13 Is Lair Good Enough?

While discussing how best to use lair in our core set, some fundamental concerns about the mechanic have been raised. That's great and I'll tell you why. First, it means people are thinking critically which is the very thing I asked them to do and the act of such thinking implies learning. We are realizing not only features (good and bad) of lair, but also of core sets, Magic and game design in general. Second, being aware of potential flaws gives us the opportunity to address them in design or—should they prove logistically insurmountable—back up and try something else entirely.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ready, Set, Go!

 This post was inspired by MaRo's recent column, "10 Things Every Game Needs," (you can read part 1 here and part 2 here if you missed them). It got me thinking about my effort a few years ago to learn Go, and what I could learn about game design from it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

M13 Designing Lair (1)

I summarized the initial rules for the implementation of lair in Magic 2013 in this article, but I didn't get into great detail and more importantly, we didn't come up with final answers. Note that a 'final answer' can still be changed until the deadline if we discover a good enough reason to warrant making the change, considering the large ripple effect that will have on other cards. We at least need to agree to what we're doing for now or else different designers will submit (have submitted) different implementations and we're wasting energy designing in different directions.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

M13 Playtesting Has Limits?

I've learned more than a few things during this project, and I hope those following along have gleaned a nugget here and there as well, but I've come to accept an unusually large lesson very recently: There are some design decisions that you can't rely on playtesting to help you make. I'm not sure I would have ever stated the counterpoint (that every design decision can be based upon playtesting) but solidifying the concept of what can and can't be handled this way took me the better part of two months.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CCDD 112311—Goblin Grifter

Cool Card Design of the Day
11/23/2011 - There's not much to talk about the inspiration for Goblin Grifter. I was reminded by the last Rosewater article that rewarding a player for having no spells in hand is better than rewarding them for having seven (or even just a bunch) because it promotes playing your spells more instead of less which is kind of what we all sat down to do in the first place.

We will absolutely see hellbent again. It was perfect for the black-red Rakdos guild in Ravnica, but it's a simple mechanic that's fun to play and only the tip of its designberg has been explored. Here's one now:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

M13 Back on Task

I'm not going to lie, I couldn't find a way to make this post interesting or educational. It's more for the collaborators to discuss logistics than anything truly exciting. The upshot is that we've done some footwork and are ready to get knees-deep into the card file again. You're more than welcome to read on, but I promise it will be boring. Fair warning.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

M13 Party with Top Down (3)

I got so much good feedback from yesterday's post that I couldn't help but share the revised cards.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

M13 Party with Top Down (2)

It's been two weeks since I made the call for top-down submissions and the activity has leveled off so it's time to identify the best. What follows is my list of cards that stood out to me as fun, flavorful and appropriate (at least potentially) for a core set. Click for full-size.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Shroud Vs Hexproof: Interactivity

Shroud Vs Hexproof: Downsides
Today I continue the debate between shroud and hexproof. For context, here're part one and part two.

What draws a player to play a game rather than read a book or even watch a movie with friends? Both of those media can be fun and challenging, but they're not interactive. The ability to make choices and see the results of those choices is primary in drawing players into single player games and the effect is multiplied in duels and group games because now you're not just interacting with the game environment, but with other players which can be deeply satisfying.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Shroud Vs Hexproof: Downsides

Shroud Vs Hexproof: Downsides
Today I continue the debate between shroud and hexproof. For context, here's part one.

The only reason we're having this discussion is because they key-worded hexproof. It existed alongside shroud on Sacred Wolf in Magic 2011 non-italic text, but when they key-worded it in 2012 that's where we got the issue we discussed last time. Why keyword it? Why promote it over shroud? Because it's an all-upside version of shroud.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Shroud Vs Hexproof: Mindspace

Shroud Vs Hexproof: Mindspace
This last Friday, Aaron Forsythe tweeted a question which apparently earned the largest response he's ever seen. It's a qood question: Which of shroud and hexproof should be used in Magic going forward? It sounds simple but it's actually a compound question with an answer that depends on more than one factor.
Which keyword would you rather us use: shroud or hexproof?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Unifying Theory #1 - A card-by-card GDS/Innistrad review

Hello, my name is Scott Van Essen. If you’ve heard of me at all, it’s almost certainly as a finalist for the first Great Designer Search and, more recently, making top 3 during GDS2. I hold the dubious honor of being the most successful GDS competitor who does not work for Wizards. (Go me?)

A year ago, I had just been informed that I was a finalist for GDS2. Five years ago, I had just finished the first round of GDS1. With a little perspective and a crazy year behind me, it seems like an appropriate time to kick off my new column: Unifying Theory. This column will attempt to distill my thoughts on Magic, design, games, and play into something informative and entertaining. I hope that at the very least the dozens of fans and supporters I picked up during the GDS enjoy what I have to say.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

M13 Party with Top Down

I was originally going to make the next major group task a discussion about the strategies and sub-themes we should enable within and across colors, but Mr. Marques' article about our project prompted another idea that should be both fun and productive. He explained that the first thing R&D does when designing a new core set is to choose the reprints (which we've already mostly done informally) but the second thing is to brainstorm a mess of resonant top-down cards. Such is the genesis of recent core set homeruns like Reassembling Skeleton, Prized Unicorn and Ice Cage. We haven't really done that yet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CCDD 102511—Transfer Consciousness

Cool Card Design of the Day
10/25/2011 - I am unsurprised to discover this card has already been done in some form in an Un- set. Unlike Mirror Mirror, I didn't want life totals to change because I was coming less from the mindset of "let us players change seats" and more from that of "let us planeswalkers swap bodies/minds." The original ability I thought of was "You exchange your library with target player's." That flirts with the prohibition against shuffling your opponent's cards into your library without technically crossing the line.

What it doesn't accomplish, though, is keeping straight whose cards are whose everywhere else. Once I start playing cards from your library, we're going to have to remember which are yours and which are mine, particularly if our decks share any cards (like, idunno, islands) in common. Without sleeves or meticulous book-keeping, it could potentially be irreconcilable. Shared Fate has that problem. The solution? Trade all cards.

Friday, October 21, 2011

CCDD 102111—Blood Addict

Cool Card Design of the Day
10/21/2011 - Today's Tom La Pille article makes Blood Addict the perfect card to share. Before I get into that, I want to touch on the most important point he wrote about: the fact that a trope like vampires has many different aspects and that any given card can only represent one or two of those aspects. Ruthless Cullblade, Night Revelers and Bloodcrazed Neonate show three different takes on vampiric bloodlust, while Sengir Vampire and Stromkirk Patrol show a couple different takes on growing stronger by feeding, Screeching Bat and Sengir Nosferatu show transformation and so on. This is a good thing.

Even if you could fit all of a vampire's abilities onto one card, you'd be out of vampire designs instantly. More important than even keeping the card simple and preserving design space, it's actually really nice from a player's perspective to have a variety of different vampires to play with. It keeps things fresh and interesting even when you create a tribal deck. Thanks to the Magic multiverse, it's even satisfying to the Vorthos that vampires work differently on different planes. They work differently in each book and movie they appear in, so it's great that Zendikar gets one strain while Innistrad gets another.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

CCDD 102011—Under the Bed

Cool Card Design of the Day
10/20/2011 - Cellar Door is based off a fun horror trope, guessing what horror lurks within the darkness of your basement, in your closet or under your bed. The card plays a strong role in the blue self-milling Zombie deck and the thematic connection isn't bad, but it's far from the best in the set. It kinda changes the suspense from what-twisted-horror-is-on-the-other-side to how-many-zombies-are-down-there-and-how-often-will-they-climb-up.

Monday, October 17, 2011

M13 What a Color Wants

The Mind Control discussion got me thinking about what players want from each of their colors. We could switch things up like crazy while staying within the color pie and end up with each color playing very differently than normal, but I think that would be a mistake. As important as it is to respect what effects a color can use on a card, it's probably more important to respect what kind of gameplay a color enables across cards. Here's a rough list of strategies players enjoy and expect from each color:

CCDD 101711—Natural Resistance & Taiem, Sanctifier

Cool Card Design of the Day
10/17/2011 - What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Especially when you're green. I had the idea, "counter each spell targeting your creatures and put a +1/+1 counter on them instead." The simpler implementation is pretty powerful, so I stuck it on a small legendary creature so that it's at least vulnerable to creature combat, Pyroclasm and wrath effects.

Friday, October 14, 2011

M13 Replacing Mind Control

When Overrun was revealed to be an uncommon in Magic 2012, a lot of people cried foul, complaining that the card is too powerful for limited. After a couple weeks on Magic Online, Lee Sharpe shared stats illustrating how many matches were won by players who had drafted various cards and Overrun was not at the top of the list, not even for uncommons. What was? Mind Control. Overrun will absolutely win you a game if you can set up for it by playing lots of creatures, avoiding trades and not getting fogged. In contrast, Mind Control is at its best in every situation except when you're already winning (because your opponent has no creatures).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

CCDD 101311—Mage's Focus

Cool Card Design of the Day
10/13/2011 - Remember Mishra's Bauble? Street Wraith? Spikes know that a smaller deck is more consistent and that consistency is a powerful tool. I was thinking about the one-mana cantrips (Peek, Ponder, Preordain, Clairvoyance, Opt, Visions of Beyond) that approximate this deck-thinning technique. Each replaces the cards it took to cast it and then offers some other nice little bonus. Could we have a bonus of being free? Gitaxian Probe does this at the cost of 2 life, but can we make it totally free? It can't just cost 0 or every deck of every color will always play it. If we leverage the Submerge method, we can associate it to blue decks by making sure you control an Island, but what's the flavor there? What do blue decks commonly have—other than Islands—that could support something like this?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CCDD 101211—Bomb Suit

Cool Card Design of the Day
10/12/2011 - The only two questions in mind about this card are: Should it require a tap to activate; And should the aura deal the damage or the creature (using its power)? I'm thinking the way you see it is likely best.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

M13 Cycles (2) — Sunblessed Tactician

Metaghost added Sunblessed Tactician to the card file pretty early on as less consistent alternative to Blinding Mage. It originally triggered on white spells, but Wobbles suggested triggering on plains to match the caring-about-land-type theme Lair had already introduced. It's been a bit of a favorite ever since, with the only complaint being that its ability is purely offensive in nature, since you normally can't activate on your opponent's turn.

Monday, October 10, 2011

CCDD 101011—Excitable Elves & Trista the Eager

Cool Card Design of the Day
10/10/2011 - Cards like Squadron Hawk and the slightly less impressive Llanowar Sentinel are interesting. It's not just the card advantage, but the fact that they interact with an aspect of deck-building that most cards don't. Each instance of these cards cares how many more copies you have in your deck. Legends do too, but these wacky cards reward you for having more of them rather than punishing you for having too many.

How else can we play with this concept?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Popping the Hood: White in Innistrad

Hey all, my name is Rowan, aka uber_pochacco on Twitter, aka unbrokencircle from way back when on the GDS2 wiki. During GDS2, I helped the contestants by spending a lot of time looking at old cards, both individually and on a set-by-set basis, in order to learn more about Magic design. That information was invaluable in creating sets of commons that looked like they could have come from an actual Magic set. But that sort of analysis is also useful in analyzing new sets and uncovering specific design decisions that were made which aren't always obvious at first glance. As Mark Rosewater said during the GDS2, one of the best ways to learn about Magic design philosophy is to look at current Magic sets. Today I'll be using this technique to look at how White in Innistrad compares to other sets and why.

Friday, October 7, 2011

CCDD 100711—Feign Mana

Cool Card Design of the Day
10/7/2011 - I haven't done a CCDD in a while because I've been busy with the M13 project, but that hasn't stopped interesting new ideas from presenting themselves to me. In an odd moment of having a little spare time, I'd like to share one with you.