Tuesday, November 15, 2011

M13 Back on Task

I'm not going to lie, I couldn't find a way to make this post interesting or educational. It's more for the collaborators to discuss logistics than anything truly exciting. The upshot is that we've done some footwork and are ready to get knees-deep into the card file again. You're more than welcome to read on, but I promise it will be boring. Fair warning.

We put together a basic skeleton back in September as a first draft and to get something we could playtest early. Since then, we've examined some of the choices we've made about our featured mechanic[1] and designed a couple neat cycles and a dozen or so solid top-down cards to help add new resonance to the set. It's time to start our second draft. Let's incorporate those cycles and as many of the top-down cards discussed over the last couple days as we can, pitch what no longer works and revise the keepers.

It's not going to be fun or easy removing cards we like from the file, but we have to remember that a card doesn't make a set. A lot of these will never been seen again, but many will be saved for future sets (in our case, those sets will be theoretical, or real amateur sets or even actual sets, thanks to convergent design). The point is, being a fun, interesting or elegant card isn't enough: it must serve the needs of the set (Resonance, Accessibilty, Play Value, Innovation, Nostalgia) better than any other card or combination of cards that we can muster.

Let's review the five-card cycles we've got right now: the common Chasm Drake cycle (Elephant Rider, Ethereal Stalker, Dogs of War & Army of Munchkins), two common lair cycles, the common cantrip cycle (Withstand, Exclude, Afflict, Zap & Wildsize), the uncommon Sunblessed Tactician cycle (Streamtide Philosopher, Bogcurse Schemer, Taunting Minotaur & War Oak General), and the mythic planeswalkers cycle. Hmm. Maybe we should fit in a rare cycle just for completeness.

Also, since we're entering a stage where we'll be doing a lot more playtesting, I'd like to work primarily in MSE, updating card files as we work. To that end, I've created a DropBox folder where we can share our files. I've given access to most of the known collaborators. If I missed you or you want to join in, I'll need your email address. DM me on Twitter if you don't want it public. Nothing (that I know of) prevents us from working on the same file at one time and overwriting each other's changes, so any time you would open a file, make a copy with a new name and edit that. We'll be able to make notes within individual cards pretty easily and i've added meta-cards so that we can leave color-specific notes or general notes as well, though we really need to keep a central repository of notes as well. Probably, we'll create a new google doc with one tab where we add our latest update at the top. We'll figure that out.

For now, I've got the latest version of all the commons and I've added the cycles and the new top-down cards. I went through the Google Doc and added the white uncommons, rares and mythics. I'd like the team to do the same with the rest of the set as we currently see it. Yes, it'll change drastically between now and the time we're finished, but we're going to need the full set to playtest much further than we've already done. If you remove a card, don't delete it until you've copied it to the 99 file since we may need it again later or will at least want a record of it for reference.

[1] Check out the section under Rules of Lair on the wiki, where a few of us have explored alternatives to our initial set of design rules. In particular, Nich has done a lot of work on the possibilities of asymmetrical use of lair and lair on auras. I hope to have a more in-depth discussion about which rules to stick with and which to change soon.


  1. Good news is that we can add a code to the Illustrator field to keep these sorted better than MSE currently allows. The code is Color-Rarity-Type where type is just C for creature or S for spell or non-creature. By sorting on this field, we can see the cards sorted by color, then rarity, then creatures before spells and then in alphabetical order, much like in a skeleton but with no manual re-ordering.

    The bad news is this dropbox folder has only existed for two nights and we've already spawned multiple branches of the same file due to simultaneous editing. That's a problem. Wondering if we can use a file management system like Subversion to keep things straight. Let me know if you have any thoughts.

    Also, core collaborators, I have your emails from when I gave you editing permission for the Google Doc. I'd like to set up a google group so we can communicate more easily, but I won't assume you want your email addresses shared with the others (or that you even want to be on such a listserve). Let me know either way.

  2. I do like the moving of the code from a prefix of the cardname to the illustrator field.

  3. Also, can we discuss the cycle management within the set? To me, having six cycles in common does feel a brush too many, but that's my opinion.

    Do we have a plan for a loose common or uncommon "Planeswalker's"-card cycle? In my drafts I had been pitting the Mountain-Landfall uncommon as Koth's Hammermage, but that might be flawed from the beginning for overlap. (Note- I'm not a fan of the Chasm Drake or Tactician cycles, to be honest, but that's not necessarily important.)

    At mythic we also potentially have a decent cycle of Sovereigns in the skeleton. The Timmy/Johnny love seems suitable.

    And lastly, I think we should probably have a discussion on the design of the black planeswalker at some point, but that probably can wait/be its own post. (I have ideas! but don't we all.)

  4. Giving out my email is fine, and a Google group is a good idea.

    @Pasteur: We definitely should have Planeswalker's cards, but should discuss whether to have C/U, C,R or something else. The Sovereign cycle in it's current form has some major problems (which Greg pointed out), and I agree that we could do with some black PW discussion, especially because it'll probably affect a black common slot.

  5. Pasteur, there are only four cycles at common. Six cycles _total_, (unless we add the Sovereign cycle—which I hadn't noticed until now).

    The black planeswalker will definitely get its own post/discussion. At least one, considering how much goes into designing a PW.

    We should definitely have at least one card in each color associated with that color's planeswalker. We've seen a common cycle paired with an uncommon cycle or with a rare cycle so far. That's probably the way to go, but we shouldn't feel strictly limited to that. It may be fine to have only one cycle and it may be fine for that cycle to not be limited to one rarity.

  6. We currently have two cycles of vanilla creatures, two cycles of lair creatures, a cycle of Chasm Drake-derivatives, and the cantrip cycle.

    This means five creatures at common are spoken for before we get to any top-down designs, classic reprints, or necessary-mechanics-to-include. (The spell cycle, currently at one out of ten, seems less obtrusive.)

  7. Hi Jay! I know I've been out for a while, but I'd like to do some playtesting. Is the set of commons on wizardsfamiliar.com the most current one?

  8. @Pasteur I am in total agreement with you as to the strangling effect cycles of creatures specifically can have. This is another good reason to split the Lair cycle into 5 clockwise Lair Creatures and 5 counter-clockwise Lair Auras.

    I have been playtesting with seven (7!) cycles at common (French Vanilla Fliers, Small-sized Vanilla, Medium-sized Vanilla, 1-drop EBT Creatures, Planeswalker Cantrips, CW Lair Creatures, and CCW Lair Auras) but because it's not all creatures, it doesn't feel obtrusive.

    @Jay, we also need to decide on the common Lair effects soon. We can do that at the time when we determine out how to represent Lair at Common. I like Plain Lair first strike so much more than Mountain Lair first strike. (Gnarly Badger is my boy!)

    Alsom, I am excited to discuss Planeswalkers and splashy Rares soonish. It feels like we've been holding off on what will sell the set for so long.

  9. What two cycles of vanilla creatures? I see 1 vanilla creature in black, 3 in green, 2 in red, 2 in blue and 1 in white. I don't see even one cycle among them.

    The cycles that we do have absolutely count toward the set's requirements. The Zap cycle are classic reprints. The 'landfall' cycle support the basic-lands matters sub-theme. Not all of the Chasm Drake cycle is top-down, but some are. The lair cycles *are* the set's main theme. The planeswalker cycle will basically be spells the set already needs with proper names attached to them.

    If there's a cycle or even just a card that doesn't do *anything* for the set as a whole, it should be removed. I don't believe that's the case with any of our existing cycles. If playtesting shows differently, we'll make that change and have learned a lesson from it.

    I wanted to get a better sense of the set overall before making final decisions on how to execute certain things (like what exactly each type of lair grants). (And I wanted to do the top-down exercise before that.) Now we're about to start serious playtesting that will help us make these decisions.

  10. For what it’s worth, all the M# core sets have had two cycles of vanilla commons. I don’t don’t see a good reason to buck the trend. Here’s what was in those set’s cycles and what my suggestion would be for M13.

    Magic 2010 July 2009

    Smaller Cycle Silvercoat Lion (1W 2/2), Coral Merfolk (1U 2/1), Warpath Ghoul (2B 3/2), Goblin Piker (1R 2/1), Runeclaw Bear (1G 2/2)

    Bigger Cycle Siege Mastodon (4W 3/5), Horned Turtle (2U 1/4), Zombie Goliath (4B 4/3), Canyon Minotaur (3R 3/3), Centaur Courser (2G 3/3)
    * Green additionally had Craw Wurm Common

    Magic 2011 July 2010

    Smaller Cycle: Silvercoat Lion (1W 2/2), Maritime Guard (1U 1/3), Barony Vampire (2B 3/2), Goblin Piker (1R 2/1), Runeclaw Bear (1G 2/2)

    Bigger Cycle: Siege Mastodon (4W 3/5), Armored Cancrix (4U 2/5), Nether Horror (3B 4/2), Canyon Minotaur (3R 3/3), Spined Wurm (4G 5/4)

    Magic 2012 July 2011

    Smaller Cycle: Armored Warhorse (WW 2/3), Coral Merfolk (1U 2/1), Warpath Ghoul (2B 3/2), Goblin Piker (1R 2/1), Runeclaw Bear (1G 2/2)

    Bigger Cycle: Siege Mastodon (4W 3/5), Amphin Cutthroat (3U 2/4), Zombie Goliath (4B 4/3), Bonebreaker Giant (4R 4/4), Vastwood Gorger (5G 5/6)

    Magic 2013 Nich’s suggestion:

    Smaller Cycle: Regal Unicorn (2W 2/3), Shoreline Sorcerer (2U 1/4), Barony Vampire (2B 3/2), Goblin Piker (1R 2/1), Cylian Elf (1G 2/2)

    Bigger Cycle: Siege Mastodon (4W 3/5), Hightide Serpent (2UU 3/4), Undead Unicorn (3B 2/4), Frost Ogre (3RR 5/3), Alpha Tyrannax (4GG 6/5)

  11. I definitely agree we should have at least two vanilla creatures at common in each color, but I wouldn't call any of these cycles. A cycle needs to be tied together by a unifying mechanical theme. "No rules text," while certainly an identifiable attribute, isn't so much a theme as the lack thereof. If they all had the same mana cost or P/T, that would be another story.

    This half of the discussion is purely semantic though, so yeah, whatever.

  12. Updated the master file (112411) with the comments from the red and white tabs.

    Dare I ask us to ever so subtly, as we consider different cards and replacements, potentially include a few Defenders? (Maybe wall of spears, who knows! If only kraken hatchling had it.)