Wednesday, September 14, 2011

M13 Bits and Pieces (2)

Once we've had a chance to playtest the commons with terrain/lair, we'll decide whether to move forward with it or not. When we do, we need to have more organized discussion about the archetypes and subthemes we want present and at what frequency.

Enemy Colors
It's great that terrain is focused on allied color pairs because that's an important lesson new players need to learn. We've had discussions about how to design so that players are encouraged to run two-color allied decks over three-color decks (without prohibiting the shard option), but we haven't talked much about enemy color pairs. This is usually an option and we need to consider it. Will those pairs simply have to do without terrain cards; look to splash the common ally (GwU); get their own terrain pairs at a higher rarity; or get no support at all?

Top-Down Design
Turns out it's really easy to design top-down cards in a vacuum but considerably trickier in the context of a set. We have a lot of very specific roles to fill (common white flier with first strike, for instance) and it's very easy to start designing bottom-up. There's nothing wrong with bottom-up design and there's always some in every set, but we need to maximize our flavor and resonance to keep up the same pace modern core sets have established. I'm as guilty of this as anyone, if not moreso. Where we're at now is fine but we need to hit this note harder before we're done.

When we discuss what subthemes we want to explore in and across each color, the biggest thing we need to check ourselves on is keeping them subtle. We can't go overboard on our themes our the core set will lose its universal appeal. It doesn't take many cards to establish a sub-theme and we're already pushing terrain pretty hard with 10 commons (compared with 5 scry cards across rarities in 2011 and 10 bloodthirst cards in 2012 total). For a prime example of a minimalist sub-theme, 2013 has a one-card griffin theme in Griffin Rider. (There are other griffins, but they would've been there anyhow; only card actually cares about griffins.)

It's great to have little linear hints like that throughout the set to give players a small push in one direction, but we don't want to spell things out or force hands and we do want the core set to feel open so that players are encourages to take many different types of cards.

Other Requirement for a Color
We created a (loose) skeleton for each color based on the last three years but that only covers one set of parameters we need to design to. We also need to make sure each of the major fantasy races gets significant shelf space and that a few of the slightly offbeat Magic races make a showing as well (but not too much). We need a range of bombs, good cards, playable cards, context-sensitive cards and terrible cards. We need a reasonable curve, making sure everything doesn't cost 3 or have WW in its mana cost. We need cards that fit various themes, we need cards that support different archetypes and we need cards that just stand on their own.

That's a lot to juggle. Gives you some perspective: When you see something that could've been done better in a real set, chances are good that change would've made two other things worse.

As helpful as it's been to me to see my white commons in a deck and shuffle it up to see how some hands play out, it's not like that's a context anyone is terribly familiar with it. "That deck is looking good!" "Compared to what?" So I did the same thing for M12 and put together a deck with two of each white common to see how they look and play side by side. You can see for yourself: Here's my latest M13 white commons deck. Here's the M12 white commons deck. (These links take you to the main Wizard's Familiar page. Click the 'Enter' button to see the deck).

A few things I notice. My deck is too good. That is, the power level of my cards seems a bit higher overall than in the real deck. There are a lot of close analogues—not an accident—like Stormfront Pegasus and Leonin Skyhunter, but there are some significant differences too: Gideon's Lawkeeper is much better for a defensive control strategy where Sunblessed Tactician can only shine in an aggro/tempo strategy. My deck has more Power than the other (25 vs 20 "off" and 26 vs 23 "on"). I don't know if it's too much, but it's definitely something to watch out for. My pile seems to have fewer bad or conditional cards; that's an issue.

Do you detect any other interesting differences?

Terrain's Name and the Set's Subtitle
Chah suggested in yesterday's thread [Land] Turf and [Land] Lair. I'm pretty fond of both of those, leaning a bit toward 'lair' on account of the awesomeness of "Swamp Lair," "Mountain Lair" (and despite the lameness of "Plains Lair.") That also sets us up to use 'lair' in our set's subtitle, which just can't be wrong. Hoping for more feedback and suggestions before I make something official.

Random Thoughts We Needn't Worry About... Yet
The Core Set has become the place to release updates to the rules, new terminology and evergreen keywords. There's very much no need for this, but it is an option to consider. At the top of my list would be ditching the spell fizzle rule and re-working regeneration. That said, we're probably best off doing nothing like this since it's not something we can really announce and propagate.

Wouldn't it be cool if one could draft the core set in combination with the set before it, the set after it or both? That may not be possible to accomplish in a satisfactory way and if it is, it wouldn't be easy. But wouldn't it be cool? Not in place of triple-core draft, but as another option. Just sayin'.


  1. From the look of what I've read so far about this M13 project, I think you're a little too hung up on things that belong outside of design. Don't worry about your deck being too good, that's production's job, although paying attention to conditional cards does seem to help design. Another thing I don't think you guys need to focus on too much is the name for the Terrain mechanic. Just go with something and don't worry about it, that'll get finalized much later in the process of creating the set. As for a subtitle to the set? That sounds like a marketing job to me. Then again maybe you do want to do all these things, since they're isn't another team that'll take care of these things later anyway :D

    All that being said it's pretty cool what you guys are doing here and I'm looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with.

  2. Anonymous makes some good points, but I think one of the strengths of this exercise is that it forces us to see all of the work Wizards does for even something as simple as a core set. More so for a set like Innistrad.

    Take, for example, the Terrain mechanic. Right now it's just a word that means nothing. But what if instead of just "Terrain" we go with Lair? Or something like:

    Forest Fortress
    Plains Palace
    Island Dock
    Mountain Cave
    Swamp Lair

    I can see a Kird Ape gaining +1/+2 from retreating into it's Forest Lair, but why does a Mountain Cave give creatures first strike? Does this matter in any game play sense? No, Terrain is just Terrain. But does it matter in creating resonate, top down cards? Obviously.

    Ideally, these decisions would be made as part of some sort of process, but as I've worked I've noticed more and more that, say, a lone Griffin Rider influences a lot of other design decisions.

    I mean, we could just make this into a BOO draft where people just submit a color we throw it all together and go. But if we want a set that feels more coherent, fiddling with the little stuff helps.

  3. Now that I look over the White cards again, the three 2-drop slots all contain top-notch excellent creatures, and that followed by the 3-drop Mastadon seems brutal. By normal standards, there shouldn't be so many effective attackers in the same cost.

    Purely for experiment, I'd still be interested to see if some kind of funky balance could be established, using good blockers or cards that punish toughness-1 creatures etc. so that White gets a fast start but still needs a lot of work to push on in the middle game. But of course, I don't think it would be worth it if it's balanced only by a power creep in the other colors.

  4. On a comparison between the two decks, m13's has a much higher curve which is a result of too few conditional cards (which are cheap).

    On enemy colors, I think making them splash their mutual ally will work best; it makes use of the cards we design for the allied pairs and doesn't detract from the lesson we're trying to teach.

    Finally, on rules, I agree that Regeneration changing is a good one, and I'd support changing the spell fizzling rules as well. Protection could also do with some streamlining (maybe just can't be targeted or dealt damage by, and obviously rename it because of the huge mechanical shift). Lastly, I'd like to try to find a more intuitive way to handle layers so that Turn to Frog isn't indecipherable for non-judges.

  5. Note that Lair is already a land subtype (vide Treva's Ruins and the rest of the cycle).

  6. Lair Dweller 2R
    Lair lair - As long as you control a Lair, ~ has first strike.

  7. I changed the permissions on both google docs. Anyone can still view it, but you need explicit permission to edit. I've sent invites to those addresses I knew, but if I missed you--or if you're new to the project and would like to help--find a way to get me your gmail address (bearing in mind that anything posted here is likely subject to spam-bot detection).

    Those docs are:

  8. Here's where I landed for the Black Commons for our first pass. I agree that it's not perfect, but I'm actually okay with that since I understand Design is an iterative process. -Nich

    M13 Black List

    Festering Goblin B (C) Creature-Goblin Zombie 1/1 When Festering Goblin dies, target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.

    Bogcurse Lich 3B (C) Creature-Zombie Wizard 2/3 Whenever you play a Swamp, target opponent loses 1 life.

    Boot Scorpion B (C) Creature- Insect 1/1 Deathtouch (Any amount of damage this deals to a creature is enough to destroy it.)

    Barony Vampire 2B (C) Creature-Vampire 3/2

    Siltspiller Wraith 1B (C) Creature-Wraith 2/1 Swampwalk (This creature is unblockable as long as defending player controls a Swamp.)

    Eerie Nosferatu BB (C) Creature-Vampire 2/2 B: Target player dealt damage by Eerie Nosferatu this turn loses 1 life.

    Vaportrail Imp 2B (C) Creature-Imp 3/1 Island Lair-As long as you control an Island, Vaportrail Imp has flying.

    Organ Thrull B (C) Creature-Thrull 1/1 Sacrifice Organ Thrull: Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand. Activate this
    ability only during your turn.

    Spitting Asp 1B (C) Creature-Snake 2/1 Mountain Lair-As long as you control a Mountain, Spitting Asp has first strike.

    Brain-Eating Zombies 5B (C) Creature-Zombie 4/4 When Brain-Eating Zombies enters the battlefield, target player discards a card.

    Dark Favor 1B (C) Enchantment - Aura Enchant creature When Dark Favor enters the battlefield, you lose 1 life. Enchanted creature gets +3/+1.

    Specter's Wail 1B (C) Sorcery Target player discards a card at random.

    Undying Masses 2B (C) Instant Put any number of target creature cards from your graveyard on top of your library. Then draw a card.

    Steal Strength 1B (C) Instant Target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn. Another target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.

    Eat the Weak 3BB (C) Instant Destroy target non-Zombie creature. Put a 2/2 black Zombie creature token onto the battlefield.

    Skulltap 1B (C) Sorcery As an additional cost to cast Skulltap, sacrifice a creature. Draw two cards.

    Blood Tithe 3B (C) Sorcery Each opponent loses 3 life. You gain life equal to the life lost this way.

    Hideous End 1BB (C) Instant Destroy target nonblack creature. Its controller loses 2 life.

    Douse in Gloom 2B (C) Instant Douse in Gloom deals 2 damage to target creature and you gain 2 life.

    Evil Presence B (C) Enchantment-Aura Enchant land Enchanted land is a Swamp.

  9. Btw, I want to playtest each color's commons this weekend, (like five different decks) but I'm having a hard time determining what the final lists are for the other colors, and even the common colorless card(s).

  10. Thanks, Nich. Any chance you could mock them up in Magic Set Editor?

    I'll combine everyone's work into one file so we can test various decks.

  11. Jay, I'd love to, but I'm actually not going to have access to MSE today. I'm visiting my brother in MD and we're going to play with paper proxies. I do have a nice Excel template for paper proxies if you'd like me to email that to you.

  12. Here's the XML files for the red commons not currently in the Wizards Familiar database - currently working on getting the ones that are already there into MSE to re-export them into one total folder.

  13. If you all could just send me your cards in MSE, I'll put them into one file and publish to Wizard's Familiar so we can test any combination. I've got White, Blue and Black so far.

  14. R deck
    (You may need to clear your browser cache if you viewed the last set of decks.)

  15. This is fun...

    The current configuration assumes that the tap lands are common, right?

    I hope we can also test the converting lands to see if there really is a late "turn on" moment for splash cards.

  16. I don't have MSE on my Mac (Working on it), but green is at least full as of right now. (See spreadsheet for the 20) If someone else could mock it up, I'd appreciate it.

  17. Sorry, Chah, hadn't seen your comment – I just sent the green commons in MSE to Jay.

  18. pasteur hooked us up with the mocked up version of the green cards.
    G deck
    (You may need to clear your cache to reload the set.xml file.)

    Now we just need the lands and artifacts. Jules, let us know if you'll be able to finish that up today or so. If not, I'll fit it in tonight or something.

  19. There's only one colorless common (Expedition Map). Duh.
    The full 101 commons are now available for testing online at Wizard's Familiar and here is the MSE file for those interested in printing out some cards for a physical playtest.

  20. Great work guys, I'm hoping I can corral some folks to do some testing this weekend. Should be moderately fun.

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