Monday, August 8, 2011

CCDD 080811—Goblin Bangchuckers

Cool Card Design of the Day
8/8/2011 - Today I want to talk about Goblin Bangchuckers. I do intend to write about my experience at GenCon, but I want to do it right and that means later. In short, it could have gone better but it was absolutely worth the trip.

Why is a card as bad as Goblin Bangchuckers worth discussing? Because it's not the weak play value that I dislike, it's the weak design. Let me clarify before I go on: it's okay to make a card that's bad in terms of how much it helps your deck/strategy. (In fact, it's vital to the game that there be a few bad cards to give new players their first easy lesson in card evaluation.) It is not okay to design a card that no one likes.

That's a broad claim, so I'll justify its components so you can tell me what I missed. Goblin Bangchuckers is not for Spike because it's not efficient, it doesn't reward skill (much), and it has a low expected value in terms of resource advantage. It wants to be for Timmy, providing a suspenseful moment and an exciting experience, but it falls flat because the effect is so marginal. It has some Johnny potential because untapping it infinitely will guarantee you a game win, but the same is true of a great many cards—most of which are more reliable if your combo doesn't go infinite.

Wizards cares about more audiences than just the three psychographic profiles. There's nothing here for Melvin (beyond the untap-before-resolution trick Johnny already found) but it's not a total miss for Vorthos. A lot of folks enjoy zany and/or sadomasochistic goblins and this is both. "Bangchuckers" is also pretty cute if you imagine these dumb little goblins calling their explosives 'bangs' and trying to find better ways to propel them at their enemies. That said, this shtick is drawn from the shallow end of a deeper well and isn't really awesome enough to carry the card on its lonesome.

We also need to consider the hardcore player, the casual player and the new player. Hardcore players would consider running this card in limited if there were a multi-untap card, something M12 conspicuously lacks. Casual players might think this is cute but will be turned off quickly by the downside mechanic. New players, well, they may assume the cost and/or rarity means the card is good and put it in their decks. They'll learn something when it turns out terribly, but—and this is important—it won't be a fun lesson; it will be frustrating and they may even feel betrayed by the game. (There's a column there all to itself.)

Are there players that love cards because they're terrible? Probably a few. Do we need to cater to this crowd? Nope, there will always be something bad and that's what they'll latch onto.

So, how could this card have been made different? If it cost RR, Spike would play it as an efficient body with a corner-case ability. If it dealt 5 damage instead of 2, Timmy would play it for the big boom (as well as Spikes who can get over the randomness). If it didn't require a flip and just straight-up dealt 2 damage to a target and itself, Johnny would take notice (suddenly Spirit Mantle makes this a Shock/turn instead of a shock-every-other-turn-maybe). Here's my proposal:

A few important changes here: It doesn't tap to use its ability. That removes the combo potential (which isn't great) but it also encourages combat, which is always good. More importantly, it means the 'chuckers are never just sitting around waiting to do their thing, they're proactively attacking or at least chump-blocking. It also deals the backfire to you instead of itself now. Not only is that more historically consistent (Char, Jackal Pup, Brothers of Fire, etc) and at least as resonant, it makes for a much more interesting card: After how many failures does it become more of a liability to you than it's worth?

I did waffle a bit on the exact trigger. I didn't like "Whenever ~ attacks" because you can kill any small creature before blockers are declared and it also removes the Juggler's Dilemma (see below). What I really wanted was for it to resolve before damage and after blockers but that wording is pretty wonky: "Whenever ~ blocks, becomes blocked, or attacks and isn't blocked" or "Whenever ~ attacks, after blockers are declared..." Maybe there's a better way.

The biggest problem with this version is that it's no longer a bad card (which we're assuming was a goal of this design). It's still expensive for its body, but the chance of repeated Shocks is promising. Like Fire Juggler, it doesn't read as terribly impressive, but your opponent often has to treat it as a 4/2 in combat. The fact that it can (sometimes) take out a Merfolk Looter regardless of whether the defender blocks or not is actually pretty strong. That raises the point that it's also more interactive because the opponent can block it with a Runeclaw Bear to get rid of it for sure, begging the question "how much are you willing to spend to keep it alive?"

Do you have reasons to like the printed version that I missed? Would you play this version? How would you change Goblin Bangchuckers to give it more meaning?


  1. I like this card because it's bad. I run it in limited because sometimes a red deck just wants to chump block and try to get through an extra 2 damage.

  2. "Are there players that love cards because they're terrible? Probably a few. Do we need to cater to this crowd?"

    I think Mark Rosewater once said that was the point of One with Nothing: it's terrible, but in an interesting way that makes players look for ways to make it work.

    Here we go:

  3. I keep thinking that maybe I'll use Goblin Bangchuckers in a draft with Goblin Chieftain. It hasn't happened yet, but it seems reasonable. I think it's an interesting card, at least for Limited, and it can enable bloodthirst.

    It would be nice if the reward for making it work were a bit higher (and personally I dislike coin flipping cards, because they never seem completely random), but I don't think it's quite as terrible as you suggest.

  4. People who group One with Nothing together with Chimney Imp, Mudhole, & co. annoy me. OwN is not bad in the same sense that the other cards are bad. It's doing something efficiently. The thing is, you very rarely want to do what it does.

    OwN = excellent way to cleanly and neatly amputate both of your legs
    Mudhole = a messy attempt to stitch that wound on your leg, that ends with a bloody mess and eventually your demise

    Of course, amputating your legs is not the answer when you get a small cut. But it's there. Remember the Owling Mine.

    One the topic of the 'chuckers: I'd change the original ability to always shock the target and additionally shock itself when the coin flip is lost. That way, you never feel that you've wasted 2RR for the chance to lose a coin flip.

  5. While they're not great, they were surprisingly effective in the last draft I played. Using their tap ability was definitely a last-ditch gamble strategy, which I guess is fitting.

  6. I draft at least one in my red deck (10th-14th pick) as anti-Illusion tech.
    Remember, they tap and target the Illusion as a Cost. This triggers the Illusions self-destruct clause which will go on the stack and resolve before the Bangchuckers' ability does.
    Since there is no longer a legal target, the 'Chuckers will not hurt themselves.
    Check out the M12 FAQ if you don't believe me:

  7. While I don't think Bangchuckers are the least playable card in the set by a fair margin, I must admit that you all have persuaded me that they are at least a bit better than I thought.

    I particularly like the guaranteed illusion kill and the idea of chump-blocking with a free 50/50 chance for a shock, possibly trading with a Stampeding Rhino.

    I also like Anon#1's solution of guaranteeing the shock with a chance of also killing the 'chuckeres.

  8. Tangentially, a comparison between Bangchuckers and Mogg Assassin represents an interesting lesson in design evolution.

    As R&D moves towards more proactive decision making, Bangchucker's drawback is no longer magnified by the whim of you opponent, except the corresponding reward for a successful flip is diminished and the cost of the card is made more severe. And yet the Bangchucker is also more "synergistic" with any spell that permanently or temporarily raises toughness, whereas the Assassin requires something like Privileged Position to negate its penalty.

    Assassin was nonetheless stronger in TSE than Bangchuckers is in M12, I believe.

  9. Goblin Bangchuckers is awful. I would much rather have Goblin Artillery back. Wouldn't Hanabi Blast be a good spell version for this slot?! Too bad about its flavor issues…

    If we need a coin flip card, I like an attack trigger more than a trigger off combat damage. And for the investment, I want to be able to off an Elf or two before my luck turns sour. I think to sell red’s philosophy, these should be better as attackers than blockers, so even though it hurts the flexibility of the design, I think maybe just an attack trigger would work better.

    Last thought: Why couldn’t they have printed it as is, but with haste? That would have been a big improvement!

  10. Spike: This is a surprisingly playable limited card that rewards a skilled drafter as a late pick. Sometimes it can feel completely unfair.

    Timmy: Awesome flavor, hilarious stories, lots of fun randomness. Coin-flips strike me as a very Timmy mechanic.

    Johnny: An interesting build around me for drafts AND an interesting tool for my Jalum Grifter coinflipping EDH deck?!? Or maybe my Nin self-punishment deck?

    Vorthos: Heh, Bangchuckers. Oh man, Goblin Grenade is also in the set!?! I heard you like bangchuckers, so I put some bang in your chuckers so you can bangchuck while you chuck bang!

    Melvin: I draft at least one in my red deck (10th-14th pick) as anti-Illusion tech. Remember, they tap and target the Illusion as a Cost. This triggers the Illusions self-destruct clause which will go on the stack and resolve before the Bangchuckers' ability does. Since there is no longer a legal target, the 'Chuckers will not hurt themselves. Check out the M12 FAQ if you don't believe me:

    Could it have been made better? Sure. But Red is already pretty deep as a color in M12 limited and this card plays to it's limited roles fine.

    But the most important role in the set is to make players go: "Heh, Bangchuckers" It shows off the games sense of humor, and makes the card immediately memorable. Even if it never sees play, that's awesome design.