Monday, February 28, 2011

CCDD 022811 — The Scavenge Mechanic

Cool Card Design of the Day
Every day, I design a new card and discuss it briefly. Sometimes I will examine new possibilities for colors or mechanics, sometimes I'll re-examine existing executions and sometimes I'll just design something I think is neat.

2/28/2011 - This series of cards are all based off of a cool idea @wrongwaygoback shared during the GDS2. I rather liked it and—as I will often do with printed mechanics I like—I decided to explore it a little further. I feel this one warrants a keyword because I can see it being printed on a couple dozen cards over the course of its block. The only change I made was a non-functional/templating change: It reads easier to just tell the player which color(s) you can get from scavenging the card.

It's a common practice to give all the cards of a particular group a common name for playtesting. In retrospect, I should have just stuck to 'scavenge' for clarity, but I'm a whore for flavor and something about permanents and spells that can generate mana after they're dead and gone screamed 'crystal' to me. Eh.

I do like Mana Gift as originally suggested, but I also like the symmetry of this alternate version:

The nice thing about scavenge from a design perspective is that you can add it to just about any card (particularly cards that feel like they cost about ½ a mana too much). The unfortunate thing about such a universally applicable mechanic is that it will lose meaning if you do use it as loosely as you can. That's why I tried to focus on cards that had some symmetry to the mana like the one above or this next one:

Crystal Eruption is a particularly tricky card to cost/balance because of the danger of early bursts of mana. I'm pretty sure this one's still not there (because it could give +2 mana on turn two, only one turn worse than Dark Ritual), but the point of sharing it is to show the possibility behind a delayed red acceleration spell and to enjoy the larger design space opened up by re-templating scavenge.

How does scavenge work with multicolor spells? Here are two options:

A big part of what fascinates me about scavenge is that it is like the other half of the cantrip coin. Cantrips (spells that draw you a card in addition to their primary, often small, effect) don't cost as much as a normal spell in that they pay you back the card you spent casting them. Scavenge pays you back part of the mana you spent casting it instead. But not in a broken way like the Urza's "free" spells. And by "not in a broken way," I mean, not as broken. Much like Devon Rule's very fun gold mechanic, if too many scavenge cards are printed that are too easy to draw mana from early, games' mana progression could be corrupted to the point that it's no longer fun.

I won't bother you with all the possible applications, but here are just a couple more random scavenge spells to leave you with:


  1. Crystal Path should have those effects switched (Draw a card is always last in templating (not that we're judging on that, just FYI)).
    I love the graveyard as a resource idea and I have created cards that use it. The only issue with something like this is that it might get too complicated to see if these are in the graveyard. People will constantly have to check theirs and their opponent's yards to see what they have in it. It might be too much to spread to all colors and been seen as a good Red or Black only mechanic.

  2. The order of the "draw a card" was intentional. For cards that tend to be play-shuffle-go, putting the draw before the shuffle allows you to pass the turn while you shuffle rather than forcing the game to wait until you finish shuffling, look at at your card and pass.

    The graveyard memory issue is relevant and that's why you'd want to include this mechanic in a set that already cares about the graveyard whether via threshold, flashback, dredge or delve. Well, probably not delve since that's mighty similar mindspace.

  3. I would point out that the templating on Crystal Growth should be Scavenge G or R, not Scavenge G/R.

    I think this is an interesting idea that needs either flavor hook or a greater mechanical context to get to the next level.

  4. Actually rule 106.8 of the Comprehensive Rules allows you to add hybrid mana to your mana pool. It can be spent as mana of either color.

    That said, you're right that it hasn't been done before and it wouldn't be done here unless the set also had common lands or mana stones that did it and explained how it works.

    I agree that scavenge doesn't quite stand on its own and would need flavor and/or environmental support from the rest of the set, but I also believe that wouldn't be hard or expensive and that it could easily be worthwhile.

  5. I definitely like the concept (especially Crystal Eruption), but isn't Scavenge essentially broken, since no one will actually cast the spell, and instead use discard or self-mill to get free mana? (Shriekhorn targeting yourself is like a Sol Ring, or better. Imagine flipping Crystal Eruption and Crystal Path on turn one!)

    You could limit the ways to get stuff into in the graveyard in a given block, but any given Standard environment will have a Grindclock or Merfolk Looter. Failing that, on the play, you can just not play a land and instead discard a two- or three-mana Scavenge spell at the end of your turn. (Although, it is funny that it makes Lion's Eye Diamond even better.)

    It seems like there needs to be some rider that only gives you the mana if you paid the spell's cost. Perhaps it gives you some version of gold counters on resolution, or when it's put into a graveyard from play.

    Definitely don't mean to be harsh, I love the blog, this post just got me thinking!

  6. Well, I stand corrected. I wonder, then, why the hybrid filterlands are not templated as G/W, T: Add G/W G/W to your mana pool. Much splashier.

  7. Tim, if a player is willing to run Shriekhorn in his constructed deck _and_ cast it turn one _and_ target himself, I think he's _earned_ the chance at two free mana for one turn. Keeping in mind that chance can't be very large.

    That said, there definitely shouldn't be any cards that scavenge for three mana (at least not without a harder-to-mill/discard clause) and your point makes me think there probably shouldn't be any that scavenge for two mana either.

    Certainly significant development would be needed to determine what is fair and what is broken.

  8. What is the point of this mechanic? The only one that actually does anything is Crystal Growth because You can turn R into G or vice versa. Which is useful but minor enough that they could tack it onto any existing hybrid card without breaking it. But for all the rest, the effect is the same as "0: Exile {cardname} from your graveyard", because you're paying mana to get the exact same mana back.

  9. Okay, I finally realized that the mana symbol after the keyword is not a cost. These would be broken as all get out in a dredge deck, especially Crystal Path. Dredge cards like Grave Troll and Stinkweed Imp, Flashback draw cards such as Deep Anal and Think Twice; and a bunch of these scavenge cards... you could probably Fireball them for 20 life around turn 3.

    1. Dredge ruins a lot of things. Broken mechanic is broken. Sigh.