Tuesday, July 5, 2011

CCDD 070511—Undeterred Beast

Cool Card Design of the Day
7/5/2011 - Most players hate it when you Remove Soul their creature on the spot, but don't mind it so much if you Doom Blade it before they can use it. There's some important psychology there and I only understand a tiny portion of it.

Perhaps they have accepted that decks need removal, that your deck will have removal, and that your removal will kill a creature sooner or later. On the other hand, they have not accepted that decks need countermagic (since most don't), that your deck has countermagic (even if they've seen some already) and that your countermagic will counter one of their spells sooner or later.

As an answer, countermagic is harder to use than destruction effects because it only works the moment a threat is being cast. You need to have your Mana Leak ready in hand and you must keep mana open to cast it whereas the player with the Path to Exile can draw his answer before or after the threat has come down and can usually pay for it when they know they'll need it, freeing up their mana for other things when they don't. It seems like countermagic is the lesser of two evils,* but maybe that's why it's more upsetting to lose a fun creature to it: Would you rather lose a joust to a well-trained knight or to a young squire in training?

While there is always a fear that your opponent has another Go for the Throat in hand to dispatch your Baloth Woodcrasher, the tension you feel when trying to play through a potential Counterspell is focused all into one moment. The window of opportunity for your opponent to give you bad news is shorter, but perhaps that sharpens the emotion to a keen point.

I don't know how accurate these suppositions are and I'd love to hear more theories because I seriously doubt I covered all the possibly explanations. In the meantime, here's a shroud-esque ability that almost guarantees you'll get one good swing from your guy.

Undeterred could be argued into any of the colors depending on your choice of flavor. Green is a natural fit because of precedents like Scragnoth and its lineage, and I also feel red would benefit from this keyword more than the Esper colors.

*Naturally there are times when countermagic is better: If the creature has a strong ETB ability or shroud/hexproof, for starters.


  1. So, uh, you just memorize whether it's hit yet or not? Doesn't that potentially take up a lot of brain space, especially on a common I might have multiple copies of?

  2. I think it's mostly the perception that you could have played around a counterspell. I mean, you just wait until their tapped out and strike. It's also the fact that creatures have a LOT of built in ways to gain an advantage or resist a removal spell. Regeneration, Shroud, Hexproof, Indestructability, ETB abilities, large toughness, even being Black all make creatures resistant to being destroyed. People play with these creatures because it allows them to interact more with an opponents removal. Conversely, there's basically no way for most colors to avoid or recoup countermagic. So, on the one hand, it's too interactive making players feel bad about not playing around it, and on the other, it's not interactive enough by providing Blue the best removal in the game.

    Undeterred is interesting, but I don't imagine it being very practical. The "until it has dealt combat damage" is rather wacky, but it makes it feel like a weird form of haste. Slow haste? I think the more elegant solution is just to shorten "can't be countered by spells or abilities" into a keyword. Uncounterable? Unpreventable? If such an ability appeared more often and at a lower penalty, it would give players more flexibility in deckbuilding and reign in the frustration of counterspells.

  3. How can you counter that cat after it has dealt combat damage to your opponents?

    On your question, I say that the if players hate counterspells is for two reasons; the first one is that interrupts ignore rules text so shroud or protection can't protect against them, and that they never fail (unless you also play counterspells). Doom blade can fail if you turn a creature black, bounce it, give it shroud or protection from black, or even by countering it. It's inefficient against some creatures with ETB triggers or activated abilities, and there's a lot of creatures and/or permanents it can't answer. On the other hand, what can you do if your opponent casts Counterspell?

    The first problem can't be solved without changing the rules so that protection and shroud work on the stack (I urge you to write WotC about this because I feel it would really fix the game and it's far more intuitive that way).

    The second problem can be fixed by designing counterspells that can fail. In my GDS2 submission, I submitted this one:

    Test of Water UU
    Instant (c)
    Counter target spell.
    When a player casts a spell, counter Test of Water.

    I've been conducting blind playtesting these days, and so far both Test of Water and its pal Test of Fire have been rated the most fun cards in the set by three different testers (ranging from tournament level to casual). If getting your spells countered can be the most fun experience of a set, I feel it's pretty strong supporting evidence of my theory.

  4. Or maybe it means that the rest of my set is worse than getting your spells countered. :P

  5. To my mind the central problem with counterspelling is that it crosses the line from "I got to do my neat thing, but I still lost" to "I didn't get to do my neat thing." Often just playing a big or important creature feels like an achievement. "I hard-cast an Eldrazi" and "at the critical moment I had a Vampire Nighthawk to block" are both fun, even if the creatures go on to die to a Go for the Throat. If I did my neat thing I at least have something I can point to to hold my head up; if I spent the entire game getting Mana Leaked I've just put in a poor performance.

    Another factor, which comes up less often but which can be really important, is that if a key creature gets removed I may very well just lose right now. If my opponent's game plan is to counter everything meaningful I do until he or she Cruel Ultimatums me, I'm going to be in this (potentially joyless) game for a long time. Getting blown out stinks, but at least you can start another game.

  6. As Tom has pointed out, people don't typically enjoy being told they can't do something. (Observe history.)

    But they can enjoy a laborious effort to succeed against all odds, which is better felt when you get your spells to resolve, even if they're later destroyed.

    It doesn't help that most counterspells convey a flavor of dismissive arrogance, which I think magnifies the emotional response of having your spell countered.

  7. I agree with Tom. People feel good when they accomplish their goals, and I contend that in addition to the goal of winning the game, people set minor goals for themselves in game, for instance, swing with Quilled Slagwurm. Both removal and countermagic deny this achievement, but only countermagic prevents the other player from accomplishing the goal 'cast Quilled Slagwurm.'

    I guess the best way to test this theory's validity is to see Wizards' market research on how well received cards like Reciprocate or Inferno Trap are. People should like playing against them more than against conventional removal, but I guess it would be hard to separate out because they actually did accomplish something... Certainly an interesting line of inquiry.

  8. I think I agree with Duncan, this ability is really complicated for something that is going to be used a lot. Alternatively, it could be a single card without a keyword.

    Determined Warrior
    Determined Warrior can't be countered.
    When Determined Warrior deals combat damage, if it does not have any +1/+1 counters, it gets a +1/+1 counter and loses shroud.

    Both the templating and power level may need tweaking, but using a +1/+1 counter both simplifies the bookkeeping and motivates the player to actually use the creature (instead of having it hide so that it's safe).