Tuesday, August 16, 2011

CCDD 081611—Battlehonor Knight, Bloodlust Vampire or Warfury Barbarian

Cool Card Design of the Day
8/16/2011 - Ophidian has quite the legacy. A free draw as a reward for damaging your opponent feels great and has been used by twenty-some cards since. What then would come of the same mechanic if we just replaced "player/opponent" with "creature?"

We still have a creature that could draw you extra cards, but now it's impossible to force your opponent to let it happen (save Lure or provoke and cards that give your opponents tokens). That might sound terrible, but we've actually just turned the mechanic into a new form of evasion. Well, not brand new since the effect is basically identical to Infiltration Lens.

Conveniently, that precedent also answers the question of how interesting this twist on the mechanic is. Infiltration Lens led to some tricksy equip choices and skill-testing decisions. The two-card swing was huge though, and tended to simplify the decision toward not blocking whenever vaguely affordable. With a one card swing, the correct choice shouldn't be as immediately apparent every time and that suggests fairly deep gameplay.

You will have noticed that I left everything but the rules text blank on the card above. Since this is a (basically) new ability, it could go in any color, with room for execution and flavor to match. I don't know the best answer, but I'll run through some possibilities. The traditional ability we're playing off of is primarily blue and secondarily green. We usually don't want to put two similar abilities in one color because they will be confused too often and because we'd be missing an opportunity to show the differences between colors. So blue is almost certainly out and green is probably out.

This ability could be white. White currently depends on flying for evasion and first strike for virtual evasion. Adding a new form of virtual evasion could open up some options for the color. The white slice of the color pie isn't big on drawing cards, but it does care about bravery and honorable combat and wouldn't be averse to rewarding its bravest soldiers to charge into dangerous enemy ranks.

It's not until now, seeing it on an actual creature, that I fully realize this version of the ability triggers on defense too. It's not just evasion, it's also aversion. Or something... that describes your opponent hesitating before she swings in. That's not what I was going for, and it does change the feel, but it seems fine. I suppose we could make it "deals damage to a blocking creature" but that feels fiddly and we don't even know that encouraging blocking sometimes will be counter-productive.

This ability could be black. Black depends on intimidate (and occasionally flying) for evasion and death touch (or even regeneration) for virtual evasion. Maybe it doesn't need this ability? Black's color pie enjoys occasional card drawing, but usually at the expense of life or creatures. That said, black loves killing things and combat is fine place to do that. We could flavor this ability in black as a form of bloodlust.

That's not terrible, but black would really rather focus on death triggers rather than any old combat trigger.

This ability could be red. Red depends on mountainwalk and haste for evasion and sometimes first strike for virtual evasion. Of the three, it seems like red could use some new evasion the most. Card drawing is no more a priority in red's color pie than in white's and it even shares the love of combat (though its less hung up on the honorable part). It's really easy to see this mechanic in red, flavored as an euphoric love of battle.

I like this ability in red the best, but it's not a bad fit in white either. It wouldn't show up more frequently than its older brother, so it won't break the game or ruin the pie wherever it goes. What color would you put it in? How would you theme it?

I've listed all these guys at uncommon despite being basically vanilla. It's not a hard concept and Scroll Thief has shown its brother can be printed at common in a core set, so maybe this could be common too. I leaned toward uncommon exactly because it's so similar to a well-known ability, but, I dunno.


  1. I'd go green, considering A)It already gets the ophidian ability B)The ability is functionally similar to Rot Wolf C) Green loves pseudo evasion that gives opponents choices.

    In terms of flavor, I think the rot wolf "eating things makes me stronger" works well. It's basically the flavor of the vampire. Or it could be bringing back meat for its tribe/pack. That feels green. Finally, it'd be great on a spider, just saying.

  2. There's also similar precedent in Blue though, see the vaguely-not-quite-similar Saprazzan Heir, Chambered Nautilus, and Drelnoch.

  3. I really didn't even consider green or blue because of the overlap, but the templating precedent from these blue creatures ("whenever ~ becomes blocked", like the Lens) reads different enough from Scroll Thief that blue and green might be contenders after all.

    Blue doesn't really need more evasion between flying and unblockable, but it also has precedent for this ability. I'm not sure what the theme would be and the existing cards aren't really helping, which has to be a knock against putting this in blue.

    Green could use some evasion since it just has, uh, trample. Green doesn't tend to want to evade, but this is a very I-want-combat mechanic so I think it fits green's philosophy, despite ending up acting like evasion much of the time. It would probably be themed as predatory hunger, not unlike Rot Wolf.

  4. I also say green. Green is in more need of alternative forms of evasion than any other color, and already has a love of creature combat and card drawing. It supports every element of the mechanic. That's more important than "it might get confused with the ophidian ability" which is still true even if it's in another color, since effects which trigger when damaging players are far and away more common than effects that trigger on creature damage.

    If it *had* to be in one of the three colors above, for some reason, black is my choice, because it comes closest to being Vampire flavor (Mirri the Cursed has the same trigger for her +1/+1 counters). It also works as a "Sign in Blood" variant that gets the blood from another creature instead of from you. Draining knowledge from their victims is within the realm of vampires I think. Though green is still the better fit overall.

  5. This is definitely green. White and red just don't get this kind of card-drawing. (White has had occasional cantrip creatures, so I guess those are okay, but card-draw from combat feels wrong in white.) Green gets creature-based card drawing in all sorts of flavours.

    I agree that black is better than red and white, because black is a secondary card-draw colour along with green. But black's card-draw is usually in exchange for its own life or creatures.

    I could actually see this in blue as well. It'd be somewhat odd, but there is the Saprazzan Heir precedent and the others mentioned by hamiltonianurst.

    Ultimately, though, if I saw this in a printed set, in green I'd go "huh, cool" and in any nongreen colour I'd go "huh, weird".

    ...Of course, there's also the possibility of artifact creatures. I think after green, this might feel second-most natural on an artifact creature, actually.

  6. I agree that while the mechanic is very good, it does tend to feel more on the green side of the color pie: learning through combat, survival of the fittest (not the crad) kind of way, or on the U/B overlap: a creature that drain the knowledge of the other creatures. White could be modeled to is dealt damage by a creature and go on defenders. Red needs more of looting the fallen feel in order to be color-pie consistent. Also red tends to prefer having evasion than deterrants of attack, making your opponent and yourself swing in with everything each turn in order to maximize haste and dirrect damage, so it should have the blocking creature clause I think.