Wednesday, October 26, 2011

M13 Party with Top Down

I was originally going to make the next major group task a discussion about the strategies and sub-themes we should enable within and across colors, but Mr. Marques' article about our project prompted another idea that should be both fun and productive. He explained that the first thing R&D does when designing a new core set is to choose the reprints (which we've already mostly done informally) but the second thing is to brainstorm a mess of resonant top-down cards. Such is the genesis of recent core set homeruns like Reassembling Skeleton, Prized Unicorn and Ice Cage. We haven't really done that yet.

I don't remotely regret the route we've taken so far (and I'm not sure it wasn't better, at least for our purposes), but I am sure there's still quite a bit to be gained from that exercise. Doing it now can help inform the upcoming thematic discussion. I hope that those of you who have been reading along casually with us will participate on this one. I want to see well-known fantasy tropes represented on resonant cards. Remember, if your audience sees your card and thinks "cool, that's exactly what a centaur would look like on a card," it's resonant and probably top-down. If they see it and think "that's a neat ability, I'd like to play with that," it's probably a bottom-up/mechanical design. There's nothing wrong with bottom-up design, but we've already got plenty from the skeleton and plenty more will come during development.

Try this: Make a list of cool things you've read or seen in a Fantasy book or movie. Go through the list and find the things that haven't been done to death and try to imagine what that thing would like as a Magic card. It often helps to identify the core elements that make that thing special. It doesn't have to be a creature. It could be a spell, a place, a magic item or even an event. One example:

Cyclops. They've been done a few times in Magic, but not too often. People expect a Cyclops to be big (bigger than a human but smaller than a giant), dumb, one-eyed and a little emotional (they're very sensitive about their monocled nature). A red 3/3 feels like the right place to start and I seem to recall that's what most have been so far. We could focus on the eye. If Two-Headed Giant of Foriys can block more creatures than normal, maybe our cyclops can block fewer, but Hulking Cyclops has been there already. Tar Pit Warrior sort of covers the easily-blinded (to death) approach. Let's investigate their emotional nature. Maybe they're easily provoked. Bloodrock Cyclops and Ekundu Cyclops seem to have the simple executions of that concept handled.

What else do Cyclopes do? I visualize one uprooting a tree and swinging it as a club. Not sure why, but let's trust that for a moment. How would we do that? Trees come in two forms in Magic: Treefolk and Forests. The former is not what we're looking for so this Cyclops needs to care about Forests. He could sacrifice them for temporary power boosts or for +1/+1 counters, but that feels like a lumberjack. This is kind of a natural fit for Lair.

That feels decently resonant but not amazing. Not worth pushing for another implementation of Forest Lair when our competition is Kird Ape. Let's look at how Odysseus defeated the Cyclops. They tricked him into a stupor and used a big old log to jab his eye out (that might explain my tree association). On a card, I feel like we're giving our opponents a way to turn their equipment into a serious weapon. Putting that on a card, well, it fits the story okay, but it just reads quite strangely and doesn't make all that much sense as a card.

Okay, forget about what they did after he was asleep, maybe we can focus on the Cyclops' drinking problem. What does he do all day? He smashes, he drinks and then he sleeps. Kind of a nice, simple life in some ways... Er, I mean, what a bastard!

This build is pretty straight-forward:

Where do we find Cyclopes? They live in rocky caves (aka Mountains) on Islands (aka Islands). We could make an actual Mountain Lair or Island Lair card here. Mountain Lair is redundant on a red card and I'm terrified to think about what a blue Cyclops would be up to. (Apart from trying to philosophize his way back into normal society.) A red Cyclops with Island Lair, on the other hand, could work. I found this picture of one throwing a rock at a boat.Throwing, eh? If only there were something red and blue have both done that could represent that.

None of these are brilliant. Frankly, half of them are terrible. But that's the life of a designer. You can't be afraid to fail and you can't overvalue ideas. I'm only going to choose the best among these to share as an actual submission and I'd say the Apes of Rath execution is the only printable one: It's simple, respectful of the color-pie and doesn't stretch the choices we've already made for Lair. Honestly, most top-down designs shouldn't use Lair at all since it's primarily a bottom-up mechanic. Is Drunken Cyclops good enough to take a slot in M13? Maaaybe. If we find something better to replace it, everyone wins.

Post your submissions on the wiki in the top-down design submissions section. I'll select the best with the help of my design team and your opinions. Don't just spam us with everything you can think of. I showed the four cards above to demonstrate process, not as an example submission. It's also important to remember that everything submitted on this site or in the google docs associated with it is public property. Anyone, especially Wizards of the Coast, can print them and owes the original author nothing. We're not here for profit or glory, but for fun and learning: If someone from Seattle should happen upon a few of our designs and decide to print them, all the better.

Now go, my wayward minions! Design and conquer!


  1. I'm studying the Odyssey in a classical studies class right now, and one of the notable qualities of the cyclopes in that story is that they do not obey the laws and customs of Greek society at the time, instead doing whatever they please. I suppose that can translate to simply "attacks each turn if able?" It wouldn't be all that exciting, but a 3/3 or 3/2 for 2R with that ability would certainly be indicative of that cyclopean quality. The only other thing off the top of my head is that they are the children of Poseidon, so the Island Lair actually isn't all that far-fetched. You could pull an Innistrad and have a cycle of uncommon enemy-color lairs, maybe?

    I've been chipping away at work for a Greek-inspired setting for a bit now, so I'll share some of the stuff from that, though I can't promise that it'll all be that interesting or applicable.

    Here's a Siren design I'm particularly proud of:

    Seductive Siren 2U
    Creature - Siren
    U, T: Target creature gets -2/-0 until end of turn and attacks you this turn if able.

    For a common Gorgon I'm trying a functional reprint of Moonglove Winnower, or something with similar stats.

    For a big, mythic Hydra I've basically taken Butcher Orgg, made it green and made its stats more efficient.

    A Dryad with hexproof and forestwalk is a possibility.

    I'm still figuring out how to do a good "riddle" for a Sphinx. There have been a few good attempts at that lately but I think there's still room to improve.


    Hellgate Hound 1RR
    Creature - Hound
    ~ can't be blocked except by three or more creatures.

  2. I posted a cycle at

    Do we discuss submissions here though since the wiki is better for submissions and editing than discussing?

  3. Stubborn Cyclops 3R
    Creature Cyclops
    Stubborn Cyclops assigns its combat damage as though it weren't blocked.

    What I love about this design is that it's kind of a disadvantage, but it feels like evasion. It also serves as a huge wall on defensive ALA Crumbling Colossus.

  4. @Trevor Your cards are interesting, but I'd encourage you to consider a few things:

    A) How much would your cards cost in mana if they weren't lands? A 4/6 Flying dragon typically costs at least 6 mana. Getting one for "free" when you play your land might not be too fair. Even getting a 1/1 for free was a little over the top (See Khalni Garden)

    B) Is there a way to simplify your cards? Most magic cards have one ability, at most two. Maybe your cards could be creatures with that ability? Or lands with the ability, but not the token?

  5. Duncan you're right. I designed the first 2 as 6 CMC artifacts. I was thinking that tossing the dragon away when you tap the land was enough of a draw-back but I don't think it is. I'll make some edits. They are rare though, not common.

    In other news, I think Stubborn Cyclops is fantastic. The one-eyed means it clobbers your opponent instead of whatever is blocking it because it can't see.

  6. Ok, I re-did them all as man-lands which makes them more fragile and lends itself to using activated abilities that can have appropriate costs associated with them.

    I also switched the dragon around so that the opponent is doing the stealing and you get the dragon but only when you can pay the activated cost for it (I compared to celestial collonade).

    I think they are all better and much simpler this way - thanks for the nudge Duncan.... and there was very little change to the top-down flavour.

    They mostly work quite well as man-lands but I'm not sure about blue. I think it needs to be re-done from scratch with a more top-down idea. And Rat's nest is still a little clunky.

  7. I like Stubborn Cyclops too. It's at least more inspired than mine if not better. At 4/4 4cc it's at least uncommon, but 3cc 3/3 might work at common. The ability pushes it toward uncommon anyhow though so that works.

    Trevor, I like the inspiration for your path. It may prove too confusing to have lair cards with the lair ability words and lair lands with lair in the name. That said, let's explore at least one more possibility. What if the land offers up its one non-mana ability only when you control a creature of the associated type? Something like:

    Bear Cave (unc)
    ~ ETB tapped.
    T: Add G.
    1, T: Target Bear gets +1/+1 and gains trample until EOT.


    Dragon's Roost
    Land (rare)
    ~ ETB tapped.
    T: Add R.
    R, T: Target creature gains flying until EOT. ~ deals 2 damage to it when it loses flying. Activate this ability only if you control a Dragon.

  8. That Dragon's Roost seems, as Aaron Forsythe put it recently, "too flavorful." It takes too much text/mechanics to convey the flavor so that the flavor actually gets muddled in the attempt to parse it all out.

  9. I really don't think I like the idea of referencing specific creature types on land - it makes them more conditional / tribal / parasitic, which I don't think is very good on lands, especially in a core set.

    I also agree that this makes the cards so oversimplified that you really wouldn't get the flavour until you play with them 20 times and then someone points out the flavour to you, and then you go "oh, I get it". With top-down cards, the flavour should be just more obvious.

    Jay check out the man-land versions (just revised). Only Goblin's Lair has lair in the name, and I think that would be ok if these ended up as a rare land cycle because of the prominence of that one as also the name of the set. Alternatively, we could just rename that one.

    It's tempting to re-do the man lands with actual lair abilities too but I think that would take them out of top-down land entirely.

  10. Jay's Reckless Summons is pretty sweet. I assume the cost is XGG, not XXGG?

  11. While I definitely agree Dragon's Roost isn't worth printing, wordiness isn't its problem: Picking things up and dropping them is one of the last things we think of dragons doing.

    Reckless Summons is XGG. Curious that wrapping the mana cost tag around it hid the X.

    Trevor, I've added some specific feedback about each of the lands in your cycle at the bottom of your wiki page.

  12. Even if that ability was connected to something more strongly throwing-oriented (like a Giant) it's still too many words. If you put that ability on a Bloodshot Cyclops sort of dude I'd have the same complaints. It's too fiddly in the attempt to represent the flavor concept.

  13. Actually, I love the Forest Lair cyclops. I got it instantly, you just need to ensure he's got a big ol' tree in his hands for the art.

  14. What if the Grayceon Cyclops idea is mixed with Wooden Stake? "Whenever ~ blocks or becomes blocked by an equipped creature, sacrifice ~."

  15. I'm not sure why people what to attach a drawback to these guys. Drawbacks aren't fun, and players generally dislike them. It's kind of good to note that three of us included Cyclops Gladiator in our Red Skeletons as a reprint. I'm not sure that it captures "Cyclops" too well, but it hits Gladiator right on the nose. Especially if we use the new "Fight" terminology. I'd probably just go with one cyclops in the set, and it is a flavorful reprint. Granted, I'm not really sure if we're following the reprint numbers or not at this point, or what's really become of the skeletons we worked on. Just sayin'

    Also, I've posted comments on some of Jay's and Trevor's top down designs on the wiki, fwiw.

  16. The reason for drawbacks here is mostly because the blinding of the cyclops is pretty much one of the most famous and well-known aspects. "This monster got blinded by a big sharp stick" doesn't really translate well to anything other than a drawback.

    And I don't think a fairly minor drawback on a creature that's only slightly over the curve is going to make much of a swing in popularity either way. Especially if on a card that's basically going to just be Limited fodder anyway. These examples haven't exactly been high-profile cards, just flavorful hole-fillers.

  17. Drawbacks are also a really important part of the game. They allow people to get things that are situationally powerful by manipulating the drawback to their advantage.

    I think the price of Liliana is strong evidence that player's don't all dislike drawbacks. Maybe Spike doesn't like drawbacks... until Johnny shows how to exploit them that is.

    The trick is to not go crazy with them as a way of undercosting things but to use them when warranted (for flavour or other reasons).

  18. Spikes can certainly overlook drawbacks if the raw power one gets in exchange is good enough. Dark Confidant is one of the quintessential Spike cards, after all.

  19. 3R
    Creature - Cyclops
    CARDNAME can't block 1/1 creatures.

  20. Q: What does Trevor do when his wife and kids are out doing their own thing for the evening?

    A: Leave comments about every single current submission in the top down wiki by everyone else, and re-vamp his own current list. Apparently.

  21. I like HavelockV's cyclops too. Makes sense that it can't block little guys hovering around it's legs. I would suggest that can't block creatures with 1 toughness is better than 1/1 though.

  22. Classist Cyclops
    Creature - Cyclops
    CARDNAME can't block or be blocked by creatures with power or toughness of 1 or less.

  23. Jay that's it exactly but I don't think it's classist, it's about not seeing the little guys. I think it should be Oblivious Cyclops, and the art should have a soldier bashing away at the Cyclops' knee with the Cyclops looking around bewildered.

    On the other hand hand, your name brings this top-down design to mind:

    Finicky Vampire
    Creature - Vampire
    Creatures with power or toughness of 1 or less have protection from CARDNAME

  24. Arrogant Bloodlord seems simpler.

    Also, sadly, Cyclops Gladiator doesn't get Fight directly in the update - the damage is unfortunately nonsimultaneous.

  25. It is though I like that instead of being arrogant to the small and being able to be outright destroyed by just one, this guy is still tough enough to require some small guys to gang up and triple block him. I think he's better. But good point about Arrogant Bloodlord being so similar - and to recent to do this in a core set.

  26. Hi, what do you think of this?

    Sword in the Stone 3
    Artifact - Equipment Rare
    Whenever Sword in the Stone is attached to a creature, tap that creature.
    Equipped creature gets +2/+2.
    Other creatures you control that share a type with equipped creature get +1/+1.
    Equip 2
    “Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of England.”

  27. Honestly, Jay's Sword in the Stone is one of the best designs I've ever seen. (linked here for convenience:

    That said, it's an interesting idea. Seems Konda's Banner still has some room for exploration.

  28. Drawbacks appeal to two types of players and are reviled by the third. Johnny/Spikes either enjoy drawbacks as a challenge to build around, or enjoy the extra strength afforded to such cards. The problem is that those cards just don't appeal that much to Timmy. And Timmy is huge, especially when it comes to core set commons and uncommons. The nuance of mana curves come later for most players, so drawback heavy creatures aren't going to be the first thing they want to see when they open a pack.

    Consider this: Will O' the Wisp is rated higher than Dark Confidant on Gatherer.

  29. Agreed. Core sets shouldn't have too many cards with drawbacks. Corollary: the ones it has should be very well done.

  30. New round of revisions posted on the wiki thanks to feedback from Jay & Pasteur... including a complete revamping of the land cycle, and the birth of a Sphinx cycle.