Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Few More Red Counterspells

In my previous post, "A Red Counterspell?" I talked about the rationale of a red counterspell. In some RPGs like D&D, you can stop a spell by damaging the caster before he/she finishes the spell to disrupt his/her concentration.

I proposed a red effect that damages players to "distract" or "daze" them, where the disrupted spell only gets bounced to hand instead of being completely countered. This kind of spell could live in a different space from traditional blue counters, since they care about tempo and they sacrifice card advantage.

Here's some different versions of that idea.

I wasn't sure the common card I posted was simple enough to be common. The above is the simplest execution I can make of the effect, plus a flavor representation (glaring) to go with it.

Here's another version of a glare spell that can only stop small spells which I think is better for game balance. But because of the extra words, it has to be at uncommon:

Getting back to the idea of "dealing damage to interrupt a spell," this is a shorter version of what I posted in the last post.

For reference, this was the original version in my first post:

In terms of text length and complexity, maybe Jolting Interruption is more fit to be a common.

However, it can only be cast if there is another spell for it to target, but maybe that's ok.

Also, it's a pity that Jolting Interruption doesn't tax the opponent for 2 mana. I think the flavor connection between the two effects (damaging and spell-bouncing) would be stronger if the amount of damage dealt equals the amount of extra mana you must pay for the spell to not be bounced.

I tried to make the flavor of the effect as blatant as possible through the name and flavor text. But I wonder which flavor representation is better for the effect.

Another way to represent this effect is whipping or lashing.

The idea is that whipping is a pain-inducing action that punishes people to not do something. Here's another card with that representation:

This one counters spells outright instead of bouncing them. It forgoes the "it's red because it loses card advantage for temporary gain" rationale. It's more like how blue can control creatures even though it can't kill creatures, despite the fact that controlling is better than killing. This style of "countering with damage" could only go on a few cards and probably only in a specific mana range.

This one works more like a Spell Blast rather than a Power Sink, but in this card's case it might be better -  I hope it feels like overpowering the opponent's puny resistance with greater force. I would enjoy playing this card.


  1. This mostly feels to me like the wrong way to go about things. This doesn't seem much more justified than picking any random mechanic and a color and finding justification for it. Or picking some other mechanic in an RPG and translating the effect into Magic regardless of existing pie.

    Is this something that red really wants or needs? Would the color red benefit significantly from this sort of mechanic? Would it benefit too much? It was determined that the color white was too strong with access to tempo mechanics like bounce or a too-abundant number of counterspells alongside its aggressive creature suite. Shifting Remand and its kin into red might be treading too close to that scenario.

    That said, I'd much prefer if a slightly different wording was used on these "damage + interruption" spells. Instead of just dealing damage to target player, then having an awkward "target spell that player controls" afterwards, simply target the spell in the first place and deal damage to that spell's controller. You lose the ability to hit someone for damage when they're not casting a spell, but red doesn't need more burn spells. That's part of the problem. It needs more things that _aren't_ straight burn, and in this incarnation these are just straight player damage with extra stuff tacked on. I prefer Intimidating Glare best here if only because it doesn't deal damage. I'd prefer a name like "Stumble" or "Bite the Tongue" though.

  2. Luminum Can:

    Thanks for the comment.

    I think creating a new effect enriches the color pie and gives designers more things to work with. If someone were to choose a random effect and a random color and make that effect fit into that color, that would be actually be a good thing - provided that the effect is adapted to fit that color's philosophy and limitations.

    It's like blue having Serpents when it's not the fatty color and not even the creature color. It enriches Magic, if a blue way of having fatties can be invented.

    Spell-bouncing (without a cantrip draw like Remand) fits Red's philosophy of "I only care about now." It doesn't actually answer the threat so it's doesn't give red the kind of control that blue counters do.

    Sometimes, a new effect can be created by putting together two effects - such as the "drain" effect which is actually a combination of damage + life gain. Looting is another example - people are talking about moving "Looting" to red, but what's remarkable is that we can talk about it as if it's one thing when it's actually a combination of drawing and discarding.

    Truly "atomic" effects in Magic tend to be about moving cards between zones, or changing the attributes of cards or players. There are a few exceptions such as "restarting the game" etc. or allowing or forbidding actions. But most effects are either about moving cards or changing their attributes, and the other effects are just combinations of those effects.

    The key is whether there is a flavor tying those effects together as one action. If you make an effect like "force discard, then search your library for that many land cards," that might make an interesting card, but it won't be considered a new effect by the player's mind.

    So that's why I've talked a lot about the flavor of this effect in this article - to tie together two effects as one thing. It doesn't mean I'm trying to take a random effect like destroying enchantments and inventing a flavor reason for it to be in red or black.

    The concern that it could be too strong in red is real. But the power level can be adjusted. These have two knobs you can twiddle to keep it playable yet not overpowered - the spell cost and the damage amount. I think limiting the category of spells it can bounce can further keep it balanced - especially bouncing only small spells.

    Although most of these are damage-dealing spells, the point isn't to give red more burn spells. The point is to give red temporary counters, and somehow make them playable without making them into cantrips. The damage is the tack-on effect. I think of these being more like Undermine or Punish Ignorance rather than Prophetic Bolt or Bituminous Blast.

    Finally, your wording is awesome and it smoothes out the card text a lot.

  3. I disagree that taking any random mechanic and putting it somewhere will enrich the game. Serpents, as you mention, aren't a random part of the game. They existed originally because of the flavor of the giant sea serpent, yes, but they continue to persist the way they do because having large, common creatures is part of the balancing of Limited formats. Blue's creatures are no match for other colors unless they are in the sky or if you can use the color's control tools to stall until you can use the big Serpent as a finisher.

    There's a difference between looting and these cards, in that the combination of draw + discard is a very different whole than damage + Remand. Draw + discard pairs two inverse effects with a combined effect of increased card quality without increased card advantage; these two effects have no such relationship. Their link is nothing but flavor. And I still believe that giving red yet another damage-related mechanic or theme is a disservice to it, as it simply remains even more of a one-trick pony.

    If red gets a new mechanic, it should be one that fixes its problem of a lack or diversity amongst its common cards. That is the single most significant issue for the color and should receive attention before considering other sorts of new mechanics. Red common needs to find something new to do that isn't an aggressive creature, direct damage spell, artifact destruction, blocker prevention, or overpriced land destruction. It needs something fresh, new, and simple. I'm not convinced that this fits those criteria, and certainly not if it's going to also be yet another source of direct damage. Looting may work because it brings something new to the color (better card selection), is flavorfully linked (impulsively take new knowledge at the expense of the old), is simple and easy to balance, and it doesn't overlap with any of red's current suite of effects. According to news from R&D, it plays well too. Those are good signs for the mechanic's future.

  4. I was thinking of LuminumCan's wording as well because it's the more common template, but changing the order hurts the flavor a bit: It seems like the player is hurt /because/ his spell was foiled rather than the other way around.

    Maybe we should figure out all the reasonable ways red should do counterspells and then decide on the best, kind of like Woodward did for Looting way back.

    One option is to co-opt the Erratic Denial spells I posed for blue.

    Red could do a coin-flip counterspell but that sounds kind of awful, unless the "failure mode" does something differently useful. Maybe "If you win the flip, redirect target spell; if you lose, return it to it's owner's hand."

    I don't think the following is any better than Jolting Interruption, but it answers the concern of just adding more burn to red: "Twist the Knife / R / Instant / Counter target spell ...with CMC <= the amount of life its controller has lost this turn." or "...unless its controller pays 1 for each life he or she lost this turn." Sadly, that's best at countering spells after you've attacked for the turn which is rarely the most important time (except against Draw-Go), so it really requires you to be burning the opponent's face each turn, probably during their own turn.

    I agree with Luminum that looting is more different from red's routine and the color it needs it more, but that's hardly a reason not to explore this avenue of broadening red as well.

  5. You can keep the effect order with "~ deals N damage to target spell's controller. Return that spell to its owner's hand."

    This effect doesn't need damage to make sense in red if you ask me. It would be part of red's trickster nature; a goblin lighting firecrackers to distract a mage, or shouting an insult about their parentage. Breaking someone's concentration doesn't necessarily require physical harm.

    While I don't want this to necessarily be a big shift I'd be happy with it in smaller doses as an occasional red card, rather than something it does as an evergreen effect. Maybe as often or less than it does redirection, since this is in that same vein of "messing with spells."

  6. Version 2 of intimidating glare is much better than the first. Keeping red counterspells at uncommon is an easy way to keep them scarce, and they need strong limitations to keep the game in balance. It would be even better with a limitation like "counter target instant or sorcery with converted mana cost 3 or less."

    Adding damage as a rider is a nice effect though.

  7. Daniel - I was also thinking that limiting Red counterspells to Instants and Sorceries would be a good idea. Red has a history of interacting with those types of cards, and Red also has more ways of dealing with most types of on-board permanents than Blue.