Tuesday, September 20, 2011

M13 Playtesting Commons with Lair

We now have a preliminary set of 101 commons ready for playtesting the lair mechanic (recently known as terrain). You can grab the MSE file to print your own or you can test virtually at Wizard's Familiar.com (search for cards from the set 2013). Here are some sample decks. W, WU, U, UB, B, WB, R & G. Feel free to post your own combinations.

I printed off a subset of these cards last night for a quick test with the wife who is an extremely casual player. Specifically, I took a queue from the new Booster Battle product and created a group of nine spells and eight land for each of the five colors with the idea that a player would choose any two colors, shuffle them together and play. Each stack included two each of both of that color's lair/terrain cards and five other cards to fill out the curve.

Brenda married green and white while I married blue and black. We just had time for three games and my fliers won each one but that only shows a flaw in my card selection for each color: I should've put a spider in the green stack. More important was what my wife had trouble with and what she didn't.

Without any preface or explanation of any of the cards, she immediately got that her Mastodon Calf was a 3/5 if she had a Forest and that my Vaportrail Imp had flying if I had an Island. For context, she had more trouble remembering what first strike, lifelink or deathtouch did and which was power and which was toughness. Note to self, needs more reminder text.

Afterward, I pointed out the connection between the lair cards and asked her which implementation made more sense, was easier to read or looked cooler. 'Plains Lair' beat out no ability word and 'Terrain' overall. She did have to think about whether she liked the bare version better for simplicity though, so that's something I'll be keeping a close eye on in future tests with other players.

Afterward, I combined the red and white cards to see how enemy colors would combine and it was actually very interesting. Finding one of my two Forests to turn on my Mastodon Calves and Kird Apes was really exciting, but the deck wasn't a lump without them either.

Work's super busy this week so I won't be as active as I'd like, but I hope to test with some casual players over lunch or at board game night. I doubt I'll be able to get the serious Magic players I draft with to play since they tend to be focused on the newest real sets. Your job? Get out there and playtest! It's fine to figure out problems with the colors or balance overall, but remember to focus primarily on the question of how lair plays, any stumbling blocks it might cause and which implementation reads best.

There are a number of reasonable ways to playtest cards IRL. I like to print directly from MSE— nine cards to a page—to labels which I then cut with a paper cutter and apply to bulk commons. You can also print to normal paper and put the cut cards into sleeves with actual cards. I've also got a cheap black and white label printer which I either just put card names on or copy and paste exported images onto. You could also just write nine card names on a sheet of paper, cut it up and slip those into sleeves.

If you haven't seen Gregory Marques article about this project yet, check it out. I'm particularly concerned about his observation that lair may hard to keep track from an opponent's perspective, so keep a keen eye out for that possibility.


  1. I don't think that Dogpile works as a sorcery. If you are in your main phase, you won't have any attacking creatures.

  2. Ha. That's definitely a typo.

    I got to play briefly over lunch with a casual player and a friend who hasn't played in 15 years. Once again, they never had a question about Lair and we're able to play it quite intuitively. Louis played red-green and enjoyed his very strong Kird Apes and Saberclaw Cougars while Doug played white-black. When he got some of the two islands in his 34 card deck, his Imps and Dodos rocked the house. When they didn't, he had to work for a land victory, but luck gave him the steam to do so.

  3. Oops! Dogpile was originally accidentally a second Traitorous Instinct, and I guess I totally flubbed fixing that. You can also see my horrible templating on Lightning Armor, but for informal play I think it probably suffices.

    On another note, can't wait to add Flame Slash to this set! (solves Kraken Hatchling, makes Mastodon a house) More testing notes later.

  4. I think Flame Slash was necessary in ROE because of all those high toughness creatures. But I don't think it's good for most sets because it blurs the distinction between Red and Black.

    Kraken Hatchling answers Kird Ape and other scary stuff while still being a liability to its caster, because its uses are narrow.

    Kraken Hatchling doesn't need an answer card in particular because you can attack into it and finish it with a 2-3 point burn spell, or you could just attack with two creatures.

  5. Interesting. I was thinking of it more in terms of as a Spitting Earth-style card with an upper bound in terms of damage. I'll try to watch how the fat vs. weenies play out. (While obviously focusing more on Terrain.)

  6. First reporting.

    Festering Goblin – Change to a sacrifice effect Vicissitude Goblin 2B (C) Creature-Zombie Goblin 2/1 Sacrifice NAME: Target creature gets -2/-1 until end of turn.

    Bogcurse Lich – Change to a Human rather than Zombie and rename Bogcurse Schemer. I want to be sure to include at least one common Black wizard for crossover with blue. And this effect should play well with the controlish deliberate play style of UB.

    Boot Scorpion – I don’t want to remake a card that was just printed in Innistrad. I like the scorpion flavor more, but what can you do. Suggest changing to a less defensive creature. Maybe the effect could be “Whenever a creature blocks NAME, that creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.”

    Barony Vampire – Plays well. The reason I went with this over Giant Cockroach or Nether Horror was to boost my Vampires count since they are Black’s characteristic race. (See Maro’s 10/19/09 article “Care for a Bite?” for more about Characteristic vs. Iconic.)

    Siltspiller Wraith – This has been my favorite bear and it’s played well. I only was able to use its swampwalk once, but it drew removal a lot.

    Eerie Nosferatu – Change from BB to 2B. The double-B isn’t necessary, nor is there any reason to stick so closely to Wicked Akuba’s stats. I’m also thinking the ability might be tweaked to “1B: Target player dealt damage by NAME this turn loses 2 life.” This way it’s an easier splash for my Lair build.

    Vaportrail Imp – In the Bu build, this guy is too fragile. I found I had to hold off playing it if I didn’t have the Island on the battlefield because my opponent never felt bad about chumping it. Also, as a 3/1 it wasn’t trading a lot, just dying in combat. I suggest a 4/1 for 3B to start, and maybe even a 4/2 for 3B.

    Organ Thrull –Boy do sacrifice effects stink now that damage isn’t on the stack. This is a purely defense oriented card, though a first turn drop does let it attack a few times. I found people really happy to trade with it when I attacked them though because they were afraid of what it might do later in the game. I also made a deck that had two of them in it, so on defense it was fun to sac one for a copy of another in the ‘yard each turn like quasi-regeneration. Even though this could be tweaked stats wise, I’ve been happy with it as a 1/1 for B.

    Spitting Asp – I like this one as is and I agree that the comparison to Youthful Knight is a good teaching experience around the pie. Could there be more examples of this between other colors?

    Brain-Eating Zombies – This card is a house and fits the high end of the common Black creature curve really well. I did die more than once with this in hand. But I never wiffed completely on the effect (even though a lot of times my opponent discarded a filler card from their color they couldn’t use.)

  7. First report (continued...)

    Dark Favor – I played it mostly turn two on Festering Goblin or Boot Scorpion. I never got to put it on the Spitting Asp which was the dream. This is really good for the BR archetype.
    Specter’s Wail – I drew it late where my opponent was mostly flipping a coin for two cards in hand. And once I drew it early, but it drew a Negate. But it’s cheap so I never felt bad when it’s effect was weak.

    Undying Masses – Twice I didn’t have anything in my graveyard I cared about and just cycled for 2B. But instant speed card draw like this in Black with no drawback feels weird, so maybe it should be a Sorcery. Since I was able to get some use out of it by cycling, I am reluctant to drop the cantrip. Maybe this will be fully utilized in the Ub build with a mill component. I didn’t try that one.

    Steal Strength – Wow, this card was really good. I was trading in combat a lot. My opponent found this card pretty annoying.

    Eat the Weak – Okay, this card ranges from good to bonkers. It wasn’t ever a dead draw for me. While flavorful, the non-Zombie clause is just so irrelevant, even against a second Black deck. I have a couple of suggestions. We could change it to a Sorcery but I don’t think that changes too much. We could change the restriction from non-Zombie to nonblack. One idea is adding a condition somewhere to the effect. “Destroy target creature. If it was dealt damage this turn, put a 2/2 black TYPE creature token onto the battlefield.” Or “Destroy target creature that was dealt damage this turn. Put a 2/2 black TYPE creature token onto the battlefield.” One more thing, I think the flavor should be switched to Vampires, but that’s a side issue.

    Skulltap – Now that the instant version has been printed in Innistrad, it’s back to the drawing board for this slot. I liked this card though, especially with all the cheap creatures Blue, Black, and Red have. I never felt bad about sacrificing things for draw. Maybe we could play up some tension with Lair a bit: “Dire Contract B (C) Sorcery As an additional cost to cast Dire Contract, sacrifice a land. Draw two cards.”

    Blood Tithe –Only drew it once, but I had better plays in hand and won before I needed it.

    Hideous End – Black is playing pretty fast, so this was right along the curve for me and let me swing in on turn three. This is great in the mono Black and BR builds.

    Douse in Gloom – I played it only once. I was having a hard time maximizing use of it. In one game I cast it before combat to keep a damaged potential blocker out of combat and to gain a little life. (We were racing and I could kill my opponent’s White fliers.)

    Evil Presence – The best this did was delay Lair for my opponent by two turns and also assure my Siltspiller got killed right away. I drew it late one game when I really needed a creature. Otherwise I liked it.

  8. One more thing. One of the guys I was playing against is an old school player whose now very casual. He occasionally goes to pre-releases, and buys his kid cards, but doesn’t play with people other than me or my bro. He had no problem understanding Terrain, and said the Red deck should have Kird Ape. (I didn’t have a RG deck to test then, but I was happy that he guessed a reprint!)

  9. To people who have testplayed: Was there a moment where a player forgot about opponent's Lair? (Attacking past a 2/3 Mastadon every turn with your 3/3, then forgetting that the opponent played a Forest and now it's a 3/5, etc.) Was it hard to keep track of?

  10. Good notes, Nich, can you add them to the google doc so folks can respond inline?

    Chah, I haven't seen folks surprised by lair yet. From an experienced player's perspective, it seems trivial to keep track of because you automatically set a mental note when someone plays a Vaportrail Imp without an Island to watch for Islands. Would love to hear more independent data though.

    I think Flame Slash is fine for core. Whether it fits in 2013 or not is another question.

  11. One thing we need to test somewhere along the way is:
    - How will players draft Terrain? (Especially new players) Will they branch off into multiple colors? Will they be tempted to use too many off-color lands at the detriment of their main colors?
    - What kind of land fixing works with Terrain?
    - Should there be a mini-game around getting or disrupting splash lands?

    I'm not sure what the stage to test them should be. And probably not all of them can be tested fully with the resources we've got. But they're things to consider first before saying "OK, we're going with/not going with Terrain. Let's design the commons/Find alternatives."

    I really think the success of this idea depends on how much you can support splash lands without supporting 3-color play. If people are allowed to focus on 2 main colors, it would be much better for beginners.

  12. As long as we're not requiring three color play or communicating that as the primary strategy, we're fine. Players will do only what they're comfortable with, so long as that option is available to them.

  13. Do we want this set to be the set where beginners win with Tendrils of Corruption and Fiery Hellhounds while good players win with multicolor Terrain decks? It's not horrible, but it would feel weird if the theme of a core set is not friendly for beginners, even if they have other options.

    Also, what if a beginner really likes Terrain? Or if s/he sees other players winning with Terrain or hear them talking about how Terrain is the way to go. Will s/he have to understand how to balance the ratios of colors in 3-color decks in order to compete with players who do?

    I don't agree with the comments in Excel - Terrain can be applied in many ways. It doesn't have to represent 3-color play. While splashing lands of other colors in most sets means you might as well play spells in that color, it doesn't have to be that way.

    I think it's worth looking for ways in which the type of play that beginners are able to understand is also the style that is strategically correct. (2 main colors, 1-3 splash lands, rather than a 7-6-4-ish build with different mana ratios every time)

    If the environment is slow (I hope it will be after M12 was so fast), spells are easy to splash, and the power level of Terrain cards are pushed (I hope they are), 3 colors decks will naturally be strong.

    Anyways I'm just saying Terrain isn't one thing. Other than the topic of "how many colors do we want players to play," we should also think about whether we want there to be a "turn on moment" or if it just feels bad when the creature doesn't have the bonus right away. We should also think about whether messing with the opponent's land or taunting the opponent to kill a Viridian Emmisary is fun. (How did these aspects feel in playtest?)

    It would be hard to go into the "Ok, let's flesh out the rest of the set" stage without testing variations of Terrain play first.

  14. I agree with a ton of what you're saying Chah, but one thing I'm hearing is "let's explore all the things terrain can do." I would love that sentiment if this were an expert expansion because we'd want to do all the cool things we could with terrain. In the core set, we want to do all the simplest, most straight-forward things and nothing more. If someone finds another way to use terrain that still qualifies as dirt simple, let's consider it, but I honestly think we've already found that baseline.

    I definitely agree that we don't need to pigeon-hole a player running terrain cards as being two-color, three-color, one-splash-one, one-splash-two or whatever. We want all of those to be options. Keeping terrain cards easy to cast is what facilitates that. Keeping a *few* other cards color-intensive incentivizes players to limit their colors, but doesn't restrict them from branching out.

    I think some of the other questions can be left up to the player. If you play UB evenly, you don't need to worry about your lair cards being off, but if you play BrG, turning lair on will be a very real and uncertain goal in most games. That's a good thing.

    Whether land destruction, fetching and similar effects work is something we need to playtest, but I'm betting heavily that we will want at least some because it increases interactivity.

  15. I see three plans we could go with for common Lairs. Plan A is what we’ve been doing so far. It has Lair granting off-color keywords to reward you for playing the other color’s basic land. It would be the same off color keyword provide to both allies to keep things simple. I would also like it if we did maybe a cycle of 1-drops that have each color’s native keyword to further cement the color pie. (Spirit Soldier, Zephyr Sprite, Boot Scorpion, Pouncing Jackal, and a rare Treefolk called Oak Elite. (Green gets a rare because it’s a 2/3 for G which is a marketable card.)

    Plan B is what Greg proposed in the blue shared sheet. Each card has an on-color effect if you control a land the Lair specifies. He proposed Turtle Banisher. Another example could be:

    Goblin Herbalist 2B (C) Creature-Goblin Shaman 2/1 Mountain Lair-When NAME enters the battlefield, if you control a Mountain, target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.

    These would all be different effects, but play into the limited archethypes we are planning for each color pair (and subsets within, like Rb and Br.)

    Finally, Plan C is a combination of both plans. You keep a cycle of the keyword granters to show some color bleed and then you have some pseudo kicker cards with activated abilities, etb or dies effects, or even spells if we want.

    Is there another implementation Plan that we haven’t thought of that someone wants to suggest.

  16. Thanks for bringing Greg's proposal to my attention. I hadn't noticed that yet. I'm not sure I understand his logic. Why would swamps/black grant a blue card a blue ability?

    What's the argument against the approach we've taken so far?

    The precedent in Worldwake doesn't have to restrict our design, but it at least validates the current path.

  17. The reason I want to "explore all the things terrain can do" is not so that we can do every cool and tricky thing that terrain can do like an expansion set, but rather so that we can pick whichever one that promotes a play style that is friendliest to new players.

    Even if there are a variety of options, if one of them is strongest, it becomes "required," sort of like how going aggro was required in Zendikar.

    I think ETB effects are also a good way to use Terrain. Maybe they could be in Uncommon?

    I like the Kird Ape ability better because it has a lot of factors that are different from multicolor. I think that even if we do ETB effects, Kird Ape ability should stay in.

    As long as we're doing the Kird Ape ability, the current system of reinforcing that Island=flying on both common cycles seems good, but maybe the ETB style could go on uncommon.

    By the way, are we going to do spells with Lair? If we do, we need some flavor for casting spells from a Lair?

  18. Right. Again, this is where we're feeling the negative effects of doing this over the internet rather than in person. More room for misunderstanding and less interactive collaboration.

    The Terrain design doc is where we're making all these proposals. Let's do test other possibilities to see if any of them read / play / feel better than the current batch.

    Nothing mechanically stops us from making spells with Lair (and we've got more than a couple decent examples in the doc) but that might not fit the theme. Potentially we could flavor the spells as actions of implied creatures with lair. Like "Rage of the Kird Ape" or something. Might as well test those out too.