Monday, July 18, 2011

CCDD 071811—Pillar of Fire

Cool Card Design of the Day
7/18/2011 - Fireball is an amazing card. It's a finisher and a one-sided board sweeper. It's powerful, versatile, and flavorful. What's not to like? Just the complexity. Fireball has been retemplated many times in an effort to find the most sensible wording for it. Check out this version from the Beatdown box set. The newest wording is the best yet and it's still not great.

Even with all its quirks, Fireball has made the cut in the last three core sets because it's just that resonant. Every player transitioning from D&D and any derivative property (IE, all of them) will recognize it instantly. As for the complexity, it's necessary. Yes, complexity is necessary to make Fireball what it is, but I actually mean that complexity is necessary to the game of Magic. Let me explain.

This is a complex game, it has complex rules with exceptions layered on top of exceptions to exceptions. And it's popular. Not despite the complexity, but because of it. Most of us wouldn't be playing if the game weren't a challenge and none of us would be playing if every single card was plain vanilla. The challenge and intricacy of complexity adds interest. I know more than a few players who won't let "lethal" be their count for a Rite of Replication'd Precursor Golem. They want to know the exact number, to prove that they're smart enough to calculate it.

That said, there is a limit and it's very easy to reach and surpass that limit. Time Spiral will likely never be replaced as the poster child of this lesson because the cost of exceeding the complexity threshold is severe. New players won't be motivated to explore the game further if they figure it all out immediately, but they won't even finish their first game if they can't figure it out at all. This is where sprinkling the set with easy cards like Wind Drake and Doom Blade as well as dirt simple cards like Grizzly Bears and Mountains becomes vital.

It's simplicity that makes finishing your first game possible, but complexity that makes starting your second game appealing.

And now that I've convinced myself (and hopefully you) that Fireball should be complicated, here's a misguided attempt to design a card that captures much of the same excitement and resonance but is less complicated.

There's only one variable in this version and there are many fewer permutations. 1RR=6, 2RR=3+3, 3RR=2+2+2, 4RR-6RR=1+1+1+1(+1+1). It only hits creatures to eliminate the tension new players have with Fireball deciding whether to dome their opponent or go for value. It's not as versatile, and its strength (while still high) is bounded, but it's a good deal simpler. Dividing damage evenly isn't trivial, though, so we can still make it simpler yet.

That's quite straight-forward. Kill X non-fatties*. Done. Once again—so there's no confusion—I do not think this should replace Fireball in the core set and I certainly don't think it's better than Fireball. Not remotely. That said, if we ever have need of an exciting card like Fireball for a set that's already met its complexity quotient, Pillar of Fire is a pretty clean option.

*I added the "or player" back in after the fact because I think the card is simple enough anyhow. Plus the dilemma I removed it for in the first place has been boiled down to "pay 1 more to nug my opponent too?"

EDIT: Duncan suggested a card named Tetrage in the comments below that I thought was worth adding to the post (renamed and retemplated):


  1. I really like the idea behind this; set one of Fireball's variables. I think, though, it might be more fun to set the number of creatures and keep the damage variable.

    Fireballs XRR
    CARDNAME deals X damage divided any way you choose amongst three or fewer target creatures, players, and/or planeswalkers.


    More Fireballs XXR
    CARDNAME deals X damage divded as you choose amongst any number of target creatures, players, and/or planeswalkers.

    Though, I think that's been done.

    I like your thinking, nonetheless. The two cards posted are cool designs that fulfill your goals.

  2. I wonder what the right cost would be for "CARDNAME deals X damage to each of X target creatures"? With a normal mana cost, not a different resource like Firestorm.

  3. @Bass You're thinking of Conflagrate, Rolling Thunder or Meteor Shower, which are fine cards, but not great.

    @Alex Reminds me of Shower of Coals, Dwarven Catapult or Flamewave, which are absolutely INSANE in limited at Uncommon. However, such an effect rarely makes a splash in constructed because it's so much easier for decks that want that kind of effect to find it in Pyroclasms and Flamebreaks because they don't need as many small creatures. As such, at rare, you could cost that card down two XRR and not have a dominating force in limited too often.

    Personally, I really like the pseudo X mechanic from some of the hydras here:

    Tetrage 2RR
    Tetrage deals 4 damage to a number of target creatures equal to the amount of R spend casting Tetrage.

    It's an interesting tension where you can get the full effect by hitting 4 of your opponents creatures if you have a monored deck, but if they don't have 4 creatures you find yourself wanting off color lands or having to toast your own men.

  4. @Alex: I think Comet Storm is the closest you will get to a "fair" version of what you are describing...and evidently Wizards felt the need to make it mythic for limited purposes.

  5. Adding Spreading Inferno based directly off of Duncan's sweet Tetrage.

  6. Tetrage doesn't work because you choose targets before paying the mana cost.

  7. Anonymous is correct. If you really wanted to do Spreading Inferno, you'd probably have to do something like:

    Ridiculous Inferno
    CARDNAME costs 1 less and R more to cast for each target beyond the first.
    CARDNAME deals 4 damage to each of up to four target creatures.

  8. It's not even that hard. Just replace "spent casting" with "you spend to cast." You choose the number of targets and that dictates how you must pay for the spell. Not actually different from kicker et al.

  9. The problem with that is that it allows people to underpay for the card ie. You would not have to target four creatures if you played RRRR for it. I think that's one of the neat tensions of the mechanic. Maybe:

    Tetrage deals 4 damage to target creature if you payed R to cast it. Tetrage deals 4 damage to target creature if you payed RR to cast it. Tetrage deals 4 damage to target creatures...

    That would force you to have four legal targets in play everytime you cast it though, which would suck.

    Alternatively, you could handle it with a funky keyword. Even something as simple as (Pay costs before announcing targets for this spell) could be reminder text for a much more confusing ability. I mean, it's not like the concept isn't grockable, but there are rules complications galore (What if one of the targets isn't legal? Do you get your mana back?)

    Not that spreading inferno is bad, it's just that it becomes a TON better without that hex style restriction. Probably too good.

  10. I think an uncommon Rolling Thunder that can only target creatures at a cost of XR would be the simplest choice.

    Besides that, Division is a very complex operation, and there are only three (really old) cards that require you to divide something by an amount other than 2: Fireball, Pox, and Dwarven Catapult, and I dare to say we will never see any other for the rest of the game's life.

    Here's an idea for a card with two variables that only has one in its casting cost:

    Fire Age XR
    Fire Age deals X damage to up as many target creatures or players as the amount of mana in your mana pool. Empty your mana pool.