Monday, October 17, 2011

M13 What a Color Wants

The Mind Control discussion got me thinking about what players want from each of their colors. We could switch things up like crazy while staying within the color pie and end up with each color playing very differently than normal, but I think that would be a mistake. As important as it is to respect what effects a color can use on a card, it's probably more important to respect what kind of gameplay a color enables across cards. Here's a rough list of strategies players enjoy and expect from each color:

aggro control combo
white white weenie walls & wrath felidar sovereign
blue fish go polymorph
black suicide black MBC reanimation
red deadguy red ponza storm
green elves midrange tokens

We can abstract this even further by asking what kind of actions does a player picking up one of these decks look forward to making?

curving out forcing opponent into overcomitting and then destroying it all gaining an insurmountable amount of life
playing a cheap threat and spending the rest of the game preventing your opponent from answering it playing reactively to optimize each turn, usually including card draw and counterspells cheating a singleton threat out of your deck for the win
playing risky guys on the gambit that they'll finish your opponent before they finish you killing everything for profit (life, cards, tokens) until opponent is helpless discarding or self-milling in order to reanimate massive threats on the cheap
emptying your hand as fast as possible to overwhelm your opponent destroying your opponent's resources so they can't play chaining spells together into something more devastating than the sum of its parts
playing lots of guys and pumping them up accelerating into large threats making as many creatures as possible
milling your opponent out drawing tons of cards playing threats so resilient your opponent simply can't answer them
playing lots of guys and pumping them up accelerating into large threats for virtual card advantage making as many creatures as possible
taking extra turns neutering your opponent's deck via targeted milling invalidating your opponent's strategy by playing the perfect defense
playing versatile cards and adapting to any scenario playing comeback cards playing win-more cards

That's a lot of fun things to do and I'm sure I missed a great deal more. The point is that if I play blue because blue decks let me draw cards and counter spells and those are the things I like to do, a set with no relevant blue card draw or countermagic runs the risk of disappointing me. Note that I may also enjoy taking extra turns but probably won't give up on a block just because it doesn't have a Time Walk variant. The difference is in a combination of how frequently I expect to be able to do these things (which is more a function of precedence) and how frequently I ought be able to do these things (which is more a function of a format- and set-specific balance).

Can we cut this another way, taking into account the psychographic profiles? Here's a table of just one of the rare cards from recent core sets that each kind of player should enjoy in each color. This doesn't remotely cover all the kinds of things Timmy likes to do in white, Spike in blue or Johnny in red (nor the cross-over appeal inherent in many of these cards) but it illustrates specific examples of cards that allow a player to do at least one of the things he enjoys.

Timmy Spike Johnny
White Honor of the Pure Day of Judgment Mesa Enchantress
Blue Sphinx of Uthuun Divination Traumatize
Black Cemetery Reaper Royal Assassin Sanguine Bond
Red Flameblast Dragon Manabarbs Wild Evocation
Green Arachnus Spinner Birds of Paradise Doubling Chant

A set doesn't have to have a Mesa Enchantress that rewards playing auras, but it does need something Johnny can dial to 11. Spike won't blink if there's no Manabarbs variant (there usually isn't) but he will let you know if there aren't enough skill-testing cards (and loudly). While the flavor on Arachnus Spinner is great, Timmy will be happy as long as you've got something splashy and/or something that tells him what other cards to run in his deck for maximal awesomeness. Combine that with white's common-good theme, blue's pursuit-of-knowledge theme, black's power-at-all-costs theme, red's just-smash-already and green's be-the-biggest theme and we have a group of needs for each player in each color that have to be met to some extent.

Why am I looking through these different windows into the same idea? Why am I worried about the idea at all? It was spurred by the question, can a set live without a Control Magic effect, but it leads to a broader litmus test for set quality. Does every player get to do the kinds of things they enjoy doing in their favorite colors? Mind Control is a favorite among many, to be sure, but I don't see it as the kind of thing that players will be up in arms about if it gets a miss in one set. As design and development progress on M13, I hope to review this list of fun things players look for and make sure that the ones that should be common appear at common and as many of the others appear somewhere if possible.

I encourage you to add more things certain players like to do in certain colors to the second list.


  1. It is interesting to note that "destroying your opponent's resources so they can't play" is not fun, and has been more and more absent from Magic. As a result, we haven't seen much in the red control box lately, despite attempts to give red control type cards such as Chain Reaction, Slagstorm, and Blasphemous Act.

  2. The important thing is that every color has some way to deal with creatures. Blue without mind control is fine (See Innistrad), but that doesn't mean that you can just avoid giving blue any answers to creatures on the board. Even green gets answers to creatures now, it's just too important to avoiding huge ground stalls. And it's more fun.

  3. Other types of fun:
    - Finding incidental combos and interactions.
    - Making your own monster with Auras etc.
    - Growing your monster (with +1/+1 counters, etc)
    - Making the opponent's cards or actions cause damage to that player.
    - Using tempo tricks at just the right moment to waste the most of opponent's time/mana.

    Zac Hill's article this week seems extremely relevant, mentioning the types of gameplay they try to avoid these days.

  4. Blue cards that satisfy a number of these goals and are (mostly) uncommon.

    Anti-Draw-Go Curve Fountain 1U
    At the end of your turn, if you activated every mana ability on permanents you control and spent all the mana in your mana pool casting spells, draw a card.

    Tap Dance U
    Enchant a permanent an opponent controls
    Whenever enchanted permanent becomes tapped, tap or untap another target permanent.

    Not-So-Cryptic Command 2UU
    Choose one — Either counter target sorcery or instant spell; return target creature to its owner's hand; untap two target permanents; or draw three cards then discard three cards.

    Demonic Illusion 2UU
    When ~ ETB, search your library for a creature card and put it OTB. ~ becomes an aura; attach it to that creature.
    When ~ or enchanted creature become the target of a spell or ability, shuffle enchanted creature into your library.

    A lesser version of Ephiphany or a mono-blue Tap the Wellspring

    Merfolk Rage U
    (hellbent) If you have no cards in hand, draw a card.
    Draw a card.

    Leviathan of the Depths 6UU
    Protection from non-blue spells and non-blue creatures.

    Time Mage 0
    When ~ ETB, take an extra turn after this one. You can't win the game.
    2UU, skip your next turn: You can win the game again.

    Wall of Lies 2U
    Prevent all combat damage ~ would deal or be dealt.

    Comeback 2UU
    If you have three or fewer cards in your library, shuffle your graveyard into your library.
    If you no cards in hand, draw two cards.
    If you control no creatures, return target creature to its owner's hand.

    Winmore 1UU
    Draw X cards where X is the number of cards in your hand in excess of the number of cards in any opponent's hand.

  5. I think Time Mage needs to do something like give you an emblem that says "you can't win the game unless you pay 2UU" so that you can just plop it down for a free turn then sac it to some sac outlet for fun and profit, then gravedigger it back on your extra turn, etc. etc.

    I like the rest of these a lot, especially Tap Dance.

  6. Time Mage has a lot of issues. An emblem might solve it or he may just be too crazy.

    The more I think about Tap Dance (which seemed awesome 30 minutes ago), the more I realize it's almost useless as written. You can't keep any creatures from attacking with it because your opponent taps his attacking creatures simultaneously and can wait to cast spells after combat. You can't deny them mana because they can activate mana abilities faster than the trigger can resolve. (You can untap blockers or counterspell mana, however).

    If we take off the "opponent controls" restriction, however, you can put it on your stuff and that gives you control over when it triggers. Seems strong.

  7. I was trying to figure out a way to fix Tap Dance as well. Shame, because if Magic worked differently, it certainly would be clever.

  8. Tap dance could say: "When ~ CITP, tap enchanted permanent. Whenever enchanted permanent is untapped, tap or untap another target permanent."

    This way you get to untap something during their untap step, too late for it to untap. They could still tap for mana in response but have to use it in their untap step.

    But, it's way undercosted then since it is actually more powerful than Claustrophobia this way since you will be tapping their most powerful thing every turn (other than what you enchanted), or you might even untap one of your own lands to represent a counterspell, etc.

  9. That's actually pretty brilliant because then they could choose not to tap the enchanted permanent this turn in order to prevent you from getting to tap something next turn. Nice one, Trevor.