Monday, July 4, 2011

CCDD 070411—Portents

Cool Card Design of the Day
7/4/2011 - A while back I wrote about a way to make Magic more fun by reducing the frequency of mana-screw and -flood. You can read more about it here, but the basic idea is that everyone gets to treat one draw step during each game as if they had the card Abundance. It did help a bit, and that's great, but for a proposed rule that is obviously patch and adds even more complexity to the world's most complex game, you would expect a massive improvement, which "Abundonce" clearly was not.

I've also written (though I have no idea where) that if you can improve a game by tweaking existing entities (cards, in this case) that follow the existing rules, rather than adding another rule or inventing new entities (like an emblem) than you absolutely should. So how about we just make an "Abundonce" mechanic and slap it on some cards.

For now, it's an action word like scry. You'll also notice that portent only looks at the top card of your deck rather than rifling through until you find a card of the chosen type. That change alleviates one of the major drawbacks on Abundonce which was that it allowed a player who was already ahead in the game to guarantee a turn four or five land-drop, ensuring that he gets to play out all his creatures on curve and reliably tempo out his opponent. Instead, portent will only ever get you one card closer to the land or gas you're hoping for. That may be enough or it may not, but that uncertainty adds interest to the game where Abundonce took it away.

Since the effect is more marginal, that also makes it safer to staple onto a variety of cards.

Including various types of triggers or different card types.

One possible tweak is to add a dial. Portent 3 would mean "Choose land or non-land. Look at the top card of your library. If it’s not the chosen type, you may reveal it and put it on the bottom of your library. You may do this up to three times." My gut says that's not worth it. The reminder text is already dangerously long and a variable sure doesn't add to the grokkability.

It may read a bit odd that you only do something when you find a card that's "not the chosen type," but it seemed even stranger to choose the card-type you were hoping to bypass as a result of the portent.

To be clear, portent is no cycling and I would much prefer to see cycling become an evergreen mechanic than to see portent printed at all, but until then, I could see portent (or some iteration of it) as the minor smoothing mechanic in an expert block.

Edit: Luminum Can's point compelled me to make one render with the un-neutered version of the mechanic. Also—not that I love the name—but I did at least mean to use a verb rather than a noun:


  1. Isn't this strictly worse than scry 1?

  2. It is.
    While it's fine to have a mechanic that's less powerful than another, scry 1 is already pretty minor and this perspective suggests the effect is simply too marginal for the text it requires.
    I guess we go back to the "reveal cards until you find a card of the chosen type to leave on top" version.

  3. I'd rather just go ahead and make Scry evergreen, honestly. Or if not evergreen, let it show up more often. Maybe it can make a repeat performance in a Core Set at some point, as well as showing up in additional expert sets. Cycling keeps coming back for good reason, and scry is its partner in crime (crime meaning "smoothing your card drawing").

  4. I have a keyword named Variable in my GDS2 submission that as part of its functionality exiles all land cards on top of your library, preventing mana flood. This works incredibly well because as a mechanic appearing on high-cost cards, it requires a higher land density in the deck. That the mechanic naturally fixes the problems inherent to decks with expensive spells might explain why in blind testing it was the best rated mechanic in the set.

  5. It's interesting, but scry is just a much cleaner implimentation. It also has less "feel bad" when you have to put a good card at the bottom of the deck. Sure, you do that sometimes with scry to find lands, but at least you have the choice. Personally, I'd go for a wish ability if you want something simple to prevent mana screw without needing a lot of shuffling.

    Mountain Wish (When you play ~, you may put a Mountain card you own from outside the game on top of your library.)

    Obviously it's a lot better in limited and casual, but that's where most of these guys would see play anyway. And it presents an interesting deck building trade off for constructed.

  6. Or you could have it be an ability word, that would allow the nifty triggers you were discussing above.

  7. Looking back at this 4 months later, I like it. Despite observations to the contrary, I think it's simpler and cleaner than scry. There is never a feel bad moment because you never *have* to put a card on the bottom of your library. It's just quick and easy smoothing.