Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Three Dreams (or Three Rares)

As the first installment of Subdivisions wasn't especially well-received, I'll save myself the effort and just leave it unresolved. And while I thought to at least discuss some of the designs that resulted from that task, I've just uploaded the majority of my set file to Alex Churchill's Multiverse, so who cares about some weeks old ramblings? Instead, let's talk about some random designs!

Shortly after my first article was posted, I was dismayed to discover that WotC's design for Karn Liberated covered much of what I had conceptualized for use in designing Om, one of three enemy-pair planeswalkers outlined for the set. Having finally wrapped up a rough draft of all 90 monocolor commons, I decided it was time to go back to the drawing board and concoct a replacement:

» Click to Reveal «

This design came about as convergence of both a top-down concept (an arbitrary desire to make a vaguely biblical Metatron-esque character) and a frequent habit of inserting minigame-style mechanics into designs wherever possible. The gimmick of having each ability require the naming of a card comes from Metatron's description as the voice of God, something that I've transferred to the design as direct as possible, requiring the player to announce the various decrees of Gogan. Historically, there have been a number of powerful cards that require naming another card: Cursed Scroll, Demonic Consultation (and its derivatives), Pithing Needle, and Cabal Therapy. Conjurer's Ban is certainly not a card that many would think of when asked to name cards of this sort, but its effect fit the flavor and can be subtly powerful as a repeatable ability, ideally forcing your opponent to fill up his hand with a given card so that you can unleash a devastating minus-ability.

The ultimate, much to my chagrin, draws a bit too heavily from an off-color well and will probably be most commonly used (if it ever is) to name Cruel Ultimatum, or Time Stretch, or whatever else becomes the defacto best card to cast as many times as possible. But hopefully the fact that there exists so many awesomely broken cards to cast in abundance means that the fun-factor is greater than I imagine and worth fudging the color pie a bit. As an aside: any rules gurus want to tell me if the ability works as templated?

Moving on...

The excellent feedback I received from the designs I posted as part my diagramming article lead me to remodel the Sanguine Surrakar cycle to fit Jay's suggestion, changing them from their original gating-style of play into creatures that require an off-color instant or sorcery to be in your graveyard. This revision pushed me to reconsider some earlier feedback from Chah, an assertion that I should explore some graveyard-oriented themes to help assuage the need that players be a bit more carefree with their spellcasting. At this point the set is running rampant with diverse thematic elements, so I may have to rein things in a bit in order to achieve a more coherent vision, but for now I'm fine with exploring whatever best supports the gameplay I have in mind. This push towards a greater emphasis on the graveyard lead me to dredge up some older designs that I had first developed to assist Havelock's own work during GDS2, as well as random odds and ends designed over the past few months. Perhaps most exciting of these are a cycle of allied-color incarnations:

» Click to Reveal «

Majesty's construction isn't especially exotic, and it's somewhat inappropriate that I'm designing a cycle of allied incarnations in a set with enemy-color duals, but there were a few interesting thoughts that lead me away from more exotic designs, like having her turn into Mirari's Wake. For one thing, the rules text that defines a given incarnation's graveyard power is really hard to keep to a reasonable amount, having a required 18 word clause just to start. This meant that I was intent on finding concise abilities for each of them to grant, a challenge since the original cycle explored most of the pertinent evergreen keywords, and doubling up on those keywords struck me as being lame as could be. The next consideration was that I wanted the graveyard function to have some connection to the creature's living ability, as well as successfully evoke the quality that was being incarnated.

This last bit has proven quite tricky, as Judgment and Lorwyn have joined forces to monopolize most of the obvious ideas to incarnate, and once you branch out into words like "majesty", connecting them to mechanics gets significantly more abstract. Instead of revealing the other four incarnations, I'm going to list their names and see what you guys can come up with in the comments. Because I'm an alliterative goofball, they all start with "m":
  • Misery
  • Malice
  • Might
  • Mirage (This one is a placeholder, as I couldn't think of a synonym for illusion starting with "m")
The last design I want to discuss has no render, so don't get your hopes up for more appropriated Kekai Kotaki artwork.

» Click to Reveal «

Inspired by Chah's article on designing answers, I decided I had suffered enough at the hands of miserable bastards who enjoy playing Myojin of Night's Reach and/or Sadistic Hypnotist and sought to find an amusing solution to powerful discard spells, primarily for a casual setting. And as I push towards more mechanical ideas related to developing a strong graveyard theme, having powerful responses to discard that aren't rooted in abusing the graveyard is an ideal that I strive for (in the name of diversification.) Being a rather niche card, I'm at a loss as to how to appropriately playtest this card, as it seems like something that might be absurdly undercosted in its initial context, but once put into other applications will be barely playable. But the designer's rule of thumb seems to be that you should aim for "dangerous" until development tells you otherwise.

I don't think much needs to be said about the card itself, as it simply cuts out the creature from cards like Obstinate Baloth and Wilt-Leaf Liege and tells you to "dream big".

As always, comments and criticism are appreciated, and stay tuned for a new contest coming soon.


  1. So with Gogan, a player could potentially name any card in the game right? Playing any number of Time Spirals or Cruel Ultimatums seems busted. Also, it's a little weird that you could play instants or sorceries that would copy creature spells.

    What if it was "Reveal an instant or sorcery card from your hand. Until end of turn, whenever you cast a spell, copy the revealed card and play it without paying its mana cost?"

    Majesty is awesome! Can it be a 4/4?

    One thing that makes Obstinate Baloth-type cards good is that they also have legs. Since you can still beat with them, they remain pretty useful even if you're not playing against a discard heavy deck.

    The other important element is that they're free abilities, which means you don't have to lose tempo by holding mana open early on (which is when you're most likely to slapped with Mind Rot/Blightning anyway), and you don't have to tip your hand that you've got an ambush available.

    With those two things in mind, I think Pelora's Blessing is ok as a narrowly focused, sideboard style answer card, but I don't think it would actually have much repeatable value for casual players.

  2. Well, it's not actually any number, as you still have to pay mana for the spells you do cast, and you have to have however many cards in hand. But yes, it's certainly a bit weird. Nonetheless, it's pretty important to me that I maintain the "name a card" gimmick, so any revision should try to maintain that structure.

    Of course, it isn't unimaginable that the ultimate is a variation of "I win", though that may mean the Loyalty cost needs to be pushed up.

    RE: Majesty - Protection from creatures is a pretty severe beating, so I'm wary of how much power she can have. But as soon as I get around to testing, I will be ready to fiddle with numbers.

    RE: Blessing - Comforting words! As I designed it as a response to the EDH environment, I hope it's about as strong as every other mediocre hate-trick that I like to squeeze into my decks. But it is scary to think of someone finding a way to use it as a faux-Flash.

  3. Apart from being totally out of color*, I actually love Gogan's ultimate. It's not an auto-win; a player has to have spells in hand to cast and know which spell to replicate for the most effective results. That said, if we can limit it to spells in the game or in your sideboard, that would be more interactive.
    * I mean, this effect hasn't actually been done before, so it could be put into any color(s). It seems more natural for blue, but I can see arguments to make it WB.

    Why doesn't Majesty give the same benefit it has itself like all the existing Incarnations? Why +1/+1? I'm thinking it should just be Hexproof (but then it should be GU). Regardless, there are a lot of expectations players have for Incarnations based on the existing tight cycle. Some of those need to be broken, but not so many players feel robbed.

    Pelora's Blessing is imminently printable. It's narrow, sure, but it's conditionally amazing. One irony though, is that if your opponent does slip in a few early discard spells, the Blessing will be worse later on since you also have to have a creature card in hand.

  4. My instinct tells me that the ultimate, if it were a spell, would be U or UB, as it's a fusion of tutoring and copying. But like I said, I'm fine bending the pie a bit to fit the flavor on a ridiculous mythic.

    Regarding the nature of incarnations, keep in mind that only the five uncommon incarnations follow the template you describe. Glory and Genesis are entirely different beasts, and I'm taking some inspiration from the direction of the Lorwyn incarnations, who are all a bit weird. (Except Dread.)

    That doesn't wholly justify this design, but it may cause you to rethink how players may perceive such designs.

  5. While I don't consider the Lorwyn Incarnations related (other than creature type), Glory and Genesis are fair points of exception.

    Even so, there aren't any Incarnations that have one ability on the battlefield and another in the graveyard. While things-that-haven't-been-done-yet certainly shouldn't restrict future designs, I don't feel like Pro: Creatures and Hexproof+1/+1 are related enough to feel cohesive. *shrug*

  6. Glory actually does have two distinct abilities, Flying on the battlefield and an activated ability in the graveyard.

    But that's neither here nor there. Ideally, you're supposed to connect with the flavor of Majesty granting your creatures a certain physical "majesty", that they are now bigger than before and can't be target because they're beyond such things.

    Obviously, nothing is set in stone, and if you don't see, you don't see it.

  7. Gogan- Interesting. I really like the first ability. The second ability isn't great, because while it creates an interesting mini-game, it probably whiffs the first time. Kinda awkward when you're using 3 loyalty on it. For all three abilities, I'd change it to say "Name a nonland card", as stopping an opponent from playing basics with the first, then nuking them for all the say Forests in their hand seems pretty good. I'd go for:

    Gogan, Dark Messenger (M)
    Planeswalker - Gogan
    +1: Name a nonland card. Until your next turn, the named card can't be played.
    -2: Name a nonland card. Each opponent sacrifices all cards of that name they control.
    -7: Name a nonland card. Search all cards you own for any number of copies of that card and play them without paying their mana cost. If you searched your library this way, shuffle it.

    Majesty- I like it!

    Majesty- 4/4 2GW Hexproof, Enchantments you control have Hexproof.
    Misery- 2UB 2/5 Unblockable, Sorceries you control have "Target player loses 2 life."
    Malice- BR 5/2 Flash, Instants you control deal double damage to creatures.
    Might- 2GR 3/4 Double Strike, Lands you control have "T: Add RG to your mana pool."
    Mystery- UW 1/7 Vigilance, At the beginning of each players turn, untap all artifacts you control.

    Pelora's Blessing- It's a really narrow hoser, which really isn't up to modern standards. I mean, compare it to summoning trap.


    Pelora's Blessing 1G
    Enchantment U
    Whenever a creature card is put into your graveyard by a spell or ability an opponent controls, you may sacrifice Pelora's Blessing. If you do, put that card onto the battlefield.

  8. Majesty is fine as is, but I like the idea of Incarnations that boost things other than creatures as a "throwback with a twist". I think the lorwyn incarnations explored this space by having them give abilities while in play (Even dread kind of gives you Deathtouch).

    Honestly, I'd drop the Land requirement. It's less important on Rares for limited play, and it really adds a lot of complexity/text for a multicolored card.

  9. Think more Mythic, Duncan!

    Part of my justification for allowing it name basic lands if you so choose is that his middle ability has such high variance. If you drop him and suspect your opponent is holding X Plains, you can try to call them on it and hope for the best. But in most typical circumstances, by the time Gogan comes down your opponent is unlikely to be holding an abundance of any one card.

    That said, your first two adjustments are certainly reasonable adjustments should testing prove scary, but that ultimate is seriously boring.


    I like your incarnation cycle, and find it especially amusing that you made Malice into one of the creatures from the GDS2 multiple choice test. Might and Misery are probably the weakest conceptually, in the sense that they don't quite fit the word, but they're still solid designs.


    While Torpor Orb certainly as a greater number of functions than Pelora's Blessing, I'd still say they're completely willing to print hosers that might do absolutely nothing.

  10. Also, the land requirement may be complex, but it's in place so that off-color decks aren't acquiring the abilities through self-discard/dredge.

  11. I mean, it's super high-variance if you just drop him an use it. Against a mono-colored deck that you've been +1ing to lock them out of land drops, it's just going to wreck them. Not that it's bad, but it's swingy in a way that isn't very interactive.

    The Ultimate, as written now, is neat. But it wins the game pretty much automatically if you have even one spell in hand (Just name Bloodbraid Elf). Having you build around it means A) The spell stays on color B) You actually have to work with the ability to win. And it's just not great to have the game end due to a card you might not have ever seen/heard of before.


    I understand why the requirements there, I just don't think it's particularly necessary. If off-color decks are are willing to jump through the hoops required to get these guys into the graveyard, let'em. Johnny loves that.

    Misery fits in with the griefer lifetrip mechanic in NPH, while Might should probably just be called Multiplicity.


    I love Torpor Orb, it's the kind of hoser that makes cards worse, but not blank. The problem is that your Blessing is more of a Seed Time effect: Super Narrow, and still only conditionally good. I mean, if I bring in Torpor Orb against a deck with ETB effects, I can be relatively certain that it's going to be good when I cast it. Blessing /might/ be good, but you still need to draw it with a creature and have your two mana open for the rest of the game. Torpor Orb is a good example of how the hosers they print now aren't as narrow as those of the past.

    In EDH, it's a trick that only works once because then you aren't going to get hit with discard until you tap out. The enchantment version is always going to be at least decent, also provides some hate against Mill, and acts as a Rattlesnake in multiplayer. That means it warns others off of you, which provides interesting interactions with the table.

  12. Whatever design you choose for Gogan's ultimate, I think it's going to need to require you to show a physical copy of the card you're making copies of. Otherwise, there are just too many issues with people getting the text wrong - this isn't Magic Online. With that in mind, I think Duncan's design is pretty good among those with the "name a card" template.

    Searching every card you own might be a bit too close to "win the game" in casual, however (name Lightning Bolt). I don't think any current planeswalker ultimates can so reliably defeat an entire table of opposing players (maybe Karn if he exiles Emrakul).

  13. @ Duncan - You're making a lot of great points on all accounts, but I do wonder if you might be approaching Pelora's Blessing from a perspective too strongly rooted in the idea that good design should result in a good card. I say this because it's clear that WotC is completely willing to print terrible cards like Distant Memories and Dormant Gomazoa, as well as horrible narrow hosers like Psychic Surgery, Tunnel Ignus, and Magnetic Mine. Is your enchantment obviously a better card? Yes. But I feel there's still reason to explore a narrower, worse card that can yield awesome stories of that time you had X creatures in hand and got to dump them all on the table.

    @ Jonathan - As I primarily play online, it's very easy for me to overlook memory concerns like that. That's a very distinct reason for why I have to alter the ultimate.