Tuesday, September 27, 2011

M13 Goblin's Lair

We've done enough testing to be confident that Lair is a solid, grokkable and fun mechanic to showcase in our core set. We've even established that the land-specific ability word is vastly preferred among playtesters. Get used to hearing about Mountain Lair, Swamp Lair and friends because it doesn't look like they're going anywhere. I've added the subtitle "Goblin's Lair" to differentiate our set from the inevitable real thing. We can change this later if we find something more appropriate, but I like that it hints not only at the content of the set but the authorship.

That's the good news is. The bad news is, there's still a lot of work to be done. There's a fascinating and important argument happening on the docs (and a bit in the comments of the last article) about what kinds of abilities we should put on Lair cards. I'll sum it up for you here and my compatriots can fill in the holes that I miss.

Edited! I wrote this up last night and originally proposed a new exercise for all my readers, but since then I've reconsidered the timing. We're not quite ready for that yet. Our mechanic needs more work. We've established that we'll be using Lair, but we've only really tried out one implementation of it. While I have faith in that implementation, it would be foolish not to explore the other possibilities to find our boundaries and make a more informed decision.

The current 'rules' for designing Lair in Magic 2013 are:

1. There will be 10 commons, one for each color and each of its allied color's land types. (We have not determined whether Lair will also appear at other rarities and whether the other rules would apply to such.)

2. Lair appears on creatures because of the flavor implications. Spells don't live places.

3. They are static abilities so they can be turned on after the permanent has been cast.

4. Each land type's Lair ability is the same in both the commons on which it appears.

5. Each ability is a simple keyword or power/toughness boost, associated with the color of the ability's land type.

6. The ability is either something the card it's on couldn't normally get, or else the card is bigger or cheaper than it would be otherwise.

7. A card with Lair turned on should be slightly worse than the multicolored equivalent would be since it's easier to cast.

8. A card with Lair inherently promotes multicolored play and should not also promote monocolored play (via Corrupt-like land-counting or Leonin Skyhunter-like mana requirements).

We can try breaking any one or more of these rules and see how that goes. There are quite a few cards on the terrain design doc that already do, they just haven't been playtested yet. If there's a particular deviation you're interested in exploring, let me know, find or make some cards, test them out with some friends and strangers, and then let us all know how it went. If my primary designers don't volunteer for something to test in the next day or so, I'll delegate something no one else has claimed to them.

I know Gregory was dissatisfied with rules 5 and 6, so I hope he'll investigate the alternative he proposed: A card's Lair ability will allow it do something that color of card normally could, but at a lower cost or bigger size (as I understand it). I'm inclined to test out exceptions to the static ability rule (#3) to see how ETB and/or death triggers feel. Grab a rule and get breaking!


  1. I'm not particularly dissatisfied in general with implementations like 5, only with some of the specific ones you used. For example, if all the Swamp Lair creatures gain deathtouch, your total allotment of deathtouch for the set will appear on non-black (and non-green) creatures. Flying for Island Lair, on the other hand, is a good choice because there are many of fliers in every set and both Black and White are allowed their share of it.

    The issue with 6 is more development, by which I mean: if design did make all the Lair creatures too strong, development would fix it. One of the main reasons to have two separate teams is that design too easily falls in love with its babies (it's only natural to do so) and can't objectively develop them. You will need one or two that are really good. Several that are adequate when they have Lair and slightly worse without it, and a couple that are just weak overall. Your #6 rule reads too much like you're asking for powerful cards only. Rule #7 counters this somewhat.

    For rule #2, what if I'm standing in Swamp when I cast my spell? Wouldn't that make sense? It's actually very much like the Ravnica "if B was spent to cast" mechanic. Creature-only mechanics are fine, and probably Lair should be one, but the way you dismiss it in this rule sounds suspect to me.

  2. #8 is the rule I'm most interested in. If you look at the Hybrid mechanic as an example, it was used for multicolor in Ravnica, but in Shadowmoore it was used for monocolor. The aggro 2-drop "Blade" cycle in Alara Reborn was even used to promote 2-color play!

    That's why I didn't understand the argument that the WW Pegasus is bad because it doesn't fit into multicolor play. If all the Terrain cards have color intensive costs like that (although not necessarily a 2-drop), within that set Terrain would encourage two color play, so the cards aren't required to play well in a multicolor deck in the first place!

    As for WW being hard to play even in a 2-color deck, I think a 2/3 flyer on turn 4 is good. If it's not good enough, it could be a 3/1 for WW.

    Beginners love potential upside in cards and dream scenarios, and tend to ignore costs. They get stuck with a useless Fog in their hand many times and still love the card because of the one time Fog won them the game. So even if they don't understand how many Plains they need to cast WW and don't get to play it often on turn 2, I can't picture them hating the mechanic because of it.

    I also don't think it needs to have Terrain turned on by the time it's cast. That would make it the same thing as multicolor. The flexibility of casting it without the extra bonus is what makes Terrain special. Kird Ape doesn't get a +1/+2 when it's cast on turn 1.

    A Wooly Thoctar is a 3-drop and is powerful because it has 3 color requirements. But what's fascinating is that a 1-drop like Wild Nacatl can also have 3 color requirements! Nobody complains that a Matca Rioters isn't full size on the turn it's cast; rather they enjoy growing it over turns. The only question is, is it as satisfying when the growth takes place in one step (I drew my Island, now it flies!), rather than incrementally like the Rioters?

    As for not being easy to turn on the Pegasus by turn 3, I would say Esper Stormblade was also not easy to turn on by turn 3 but players didn't hate it for that. This is actually an opportunity to make your land draws exciting, and possibly even make a mini-game out of fixing your cards with Viridian Emmisary variants etc.

  3. For those coming into the discussion late, I want to point out that each of these rules is summarized here because it's been discussed at some length earlier and it would be impossible to reprint every discussion that's come before. That doesn't mean further thoughts on anything are unwelcome, in fact that's the point of this article.

    Nich was having trouble posting a comment, but he let me know he'll be investigating alternatives to Rule #1. I'm guessing that means he wants to try the assymetrical assortment, but we'll see.

    To Greg's point about deathtouch as a lair keyword, yeah. I'm thrilled about island=flying, plains=lifelink and forest=+1/+2, but the mountain and swamp keywords aren't slamdunks. First strike is fair for red, just a bit strong and therefore limiting. Haste isn't ideal since it can't "turn on" later. Deathtouch shouldn't usually be as common as we're making it. Intimidate is a fair option, but has the downside of always playing aggressive whether the other abilities have largely had one offensive and one defensive application. We could give black Regeneration, but that hurts the poetry of the cycle a bit by adding a colon. Swamp Lair granting red and blue cards Swampwalk (the last of the unclaimed keywords primary or secondary to black) feels counter-intuitive. Maybe we should try it before dismissing it though.

    Anybody want to invent a new evergreen keyword primary to black?

  4. Another configuration that occurs to me is
    Plains Lair = Flying
    Island Lair = Hexproof
    Swamp Lair = Lifelink
    Mountain Lair = First strike
    Forest Lair = +1/+2

    Curiously, white and blue can easily swap flying as well as flash.
    FYI, I'd rather not use vigilance if we can avoid it because it tends to be either irrelevant or back-breaking—and never interactive.

  5. Why oh why do we want hexproof more and more associated with islands? I hate to bring up a personal grievance... but it's there. Seems a bad road for Magic to be on.

    In the meantime, I would argue that Intimidate can work for Swamp Lair, with a "Fearsome Phantasm", skulking + intimidate in blue being flavorfully different from an "Angry Cyclops" or Bladetusk Boar. It's unfortunate that it is solely offensive, which shifts the roles of some of the non-Lair cards, but if we're trying harder for top-down, Intimidate at least scans understandably.

    Could we consider +2/+1 for Swamp Lair? Unholy Strength was in Alpha, after all. I'll see if I can't work more on this.

  6. In the event that Nich hasn't posted it anywhere else, here's a link to some notes he wrote up on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/notes/nicholas-grayson/lair-rules-2-8/10150296038810404?notif_t=note_tag

    Though I'm not especially involved (at the moment), I think there's some really sound logic in pushing Lair as three-color ability, though I would argue it as being best suited to the Jund triumvirate, as the flavor of their creatures connect far better to the word "lair". That is to say: dragons have lairs, demons probably enjoy a lair, and bears of exceedingly large girth most certainly hang out in lairs. Whereas I don't really think of Horses and Herons as taking part in the lair culture.

  7. Black = lifelink is also fine, but since the Red one is an "attack every turn" creature, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. I think the reason to avoid too much deathtouch is that it's pseudo-removal. The Red one isn't pseudo-removal, it acts like a kind of evasion.

    That means that for defensive deathtouch, there will be one Blue Swamp Lair creature with deathtouch and one Green creature with deathtouch. That doesn't seem too much.

    We could also change the Blue one to be a flyer that can only block flyers, although that would be texty. But I kind of like the current one that has flash because it feels like a different use for deathtouch.

  8. The other thing in deathtouch's favor is that while the rules may be layered, the way the card works in most situations is how you would expect it to. It may not be as pure as flying, but I don't think we have to worry too much about seeing it in common in decent context.

    While I'm not usually a big fan of flash in general, I do like the Swamp-lair-merfolk right now. It's interesting how toughness works on deathtouch creatures as opposed to first-strikers. It might be better served as a 1/2? But that's a discussion of the other blue cards vs. Youthful Knights, etc. and is definitely a development question.

  9. I added a section to the wiki where we can write as much as we like on each rule.

    It occurs to me that there is a rule #9 that hasn't been accepted yet but is under consideration: A Lair card should have no other abilities. There are a couple exceptions to this in the set as it currently stands, but there are arguments against: simplicity and maintaining the purity of the cycle.

  10. What's the link to the main M13 page on the Wizards wiki?