Saturday, December 17, 2011

21 Ways to Design a Card: Dual-faced Cards for Time Spiral 2

In 21 Ways to Design a Card #10, I tried to explore some new ideas by breaking fundamental conventions about cards. However, it seems that most of the ideas I mentioned had already been mentioned or explored, such as in Magic designer Gregory Marque's article, as well as in other games such as Duel Masters.

In this post, I'd like to post some designs that invoke nostalgia, similar to what Time Spiral did.

In reality, there probably won't be another focused nostalgia set in the veins of Time Spiral since new players won't know the card references, and nostalgia for veteran players can be invoked by revisiting planes and mechanics anyways. But this is for fun and exploration.

This is the first one.

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The next one evolved out of a card I designed last year.

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All of these cards have a common problem: they have mana costs on both sides.

In the future, there could conceivably be dual-faced cards that can be cast from both sides. If so, the most intuitive, self-explanatory rule would be: "If there's a mana cost printed on a particular side, you can cast that side."

To preserve that possibility, the nostalgia cards above need to be able to work within that framework. If it has a cost printed on the other side, it has to be castable on that side. However, one important rule that dual-faced cards should follow is that the text of the back side is easy to remember. For a dual-faced card that can be cast from both sides (let's call them dual-cast cards), it's doubly important that players can easily remember, infer, or see every detail of the back side without pulling it out of its sleeve.

There could be uses for double-faced cards where it's extremely easy to know the back side's text, and I believe there are some that also serve some purpose in the game besides just plain wackiness. (The morph example and the suspend example are some examples. They may turn out to cause other problems but remembering the back side isn't one of them.)

However, the nostalgia cards above don't fit that requirement. They require memorization unless you're a veteran player who has played with the originals, so they probably aren't fit for dual-cast cards.

As I discussed with the Unfinished Omniskelion, maybe these cards shouldn't have a mana cost on the back side. The memory issue isn't as much of a problem if you never have to directly cast the back side. Once the mana cost is deleted, the back side will be functionally different from the original card, so the names would also have to change to prevent issues with Gatherer, Oracle, etc. (Although it would be interesting to consider if cards with different names could have the same art.)

At the best, maybe they can be rares and mythics. You could remember what they do if you only had one or two of then in your deck. 


  1. These are fantastic cards. DFC has so much design space I hadn't even considered.

    But you missed a trick: Reserved list cards. :D

  2. How about you just make regular DFCs that act as homages to older cards? Is it worth all this ridiculousness just so you can say that a card literally transforms into an older card? Is it such a big deal if Dragon Egg transforms into a Dragon Hatchling? The Omniskelion is the right way of doing things.

    DFCs already push at the limits to how much impracticality is acceptable to make a cool idea work. I posit that being able to actually cast the back side, and/or having a back side with the same name as an existing Magic card go too far past that limit and are no longer worth the work. Saying "only non-veterans would have to memorize them" or "you'd be able to memorize just one or two per deck" really doesn't take the impracticality of these seriously.

  3. I'm assuming someone has brought this up before, but...

    What about Fire//Ice? Split cards and DFCs occupy adjacent design spaces. I don't know that having DFCs that can be cast on each side is a good idea, but if you did, I think seeing a fan favorite like Fire//Ice done this way would be a strong sell. After all, the big thing MaRo kept bringing up for DFCs is that they allow for more art-space than Flip cards.

  4. Thanks, Bass. I misread the word "Reserved list cards" and thought it was "Reversed list cards." I imagined a dual-faced card that transforms into a checklist card. "This card is a: Northern Paladin [ ]/Southern Paladin [ ]/Eastern Paladin [ ]/Western Paladin [ ]" etc.

    I think printing a Reserved list card on the back side would still be in violation of the essence of the Reprint policy, if the back side can be cast.

    @Alex Spalding,
    I can't be sure if it's worth the complexity to do these cards. However, just saying "Dual-faced cards are already complex, so anything more will make them too complex" isn't a good reason.

    Cards have several types of complexity and there's a trade-off between different complexity types. I think that cards often increase one kind of complexity to reduce another.

    For example, if there's an effect that says "target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn." and you add the clause, "Activate this only as a sorcery," that increases the complexity of reading the text (after all it's longer), but decreases the complexity for opponents trying to figure out if it's safe to attack or not.

    The cost of dual-faced cards is the logistic complexity. It's a hassle to use sleeves or checklist cards.

    That logistic complexity doesn't change by being able to cast the back side, or having existing cards on the back side.

    Dual-cast cards increases complexity in the sense of choice-making between two modes, but it reduces the grokkability barrier of many mechanics.

    Mechanics like morph or threshold explain with many words how the card is printed one way but actually becomes something else in another state. You have to apply that in your mind. But with Dual-faced cards, you just see that it has two states, just like a Split card visually shows it's two spells in one.

    As for the choice-making complexity, I believe morph and suspend create a good kind of choice-making that Wizards is ok with. Choices such as "Do I suspend this now, or do I wait until I draw 2 lands to hard cast it?" or "Do I cast this face down to surprise the opponent, or do I cast it face up so I can cast something else next turn?" are very deep choices, but it's not the kind of paralyzing chessiness of a cluttered board full of activated abilities and static modifiers.

    By the way, I said that the fact that non-veterans would have to memorize the back side is a problem. I didn't say it was a reason that makes dual-cast cards ok.

    I did say that needing to memorize only a few cards from your deck might turn out to be ok in the best case scenario. I was thinking of Ravnica block, where they considered whether Transmute was a problem because you have to remember what cards had what mana cost in your deck. They concluded it was ok, but that was before the New World Order of design, so I can't be sure if they think the same way now.

    Using dual-faced cards as Split cards is problematic in that you need to remember what the other side does. During games, you can't pull it out of the sleeve to check what the other side did.

    Remembering the cost, Instant/Sorcery speed, targeting restrictions, etc. is especially important, but you'd also want to remember other details such as "was it a Soldier or a Warrior?" as well.

    I think dual-faced cards that can be cast from both sides need to be for mechanics where you can either print all the relevant information on the front side in some abbreviated form using some kind of icon or transparent mana symbols (morph or suspend). Or, some cases might exist where you can infer all the text on the back side based on the front side. (For example, if the cost and P/T is always the double of the front side, etc.)

  5. There's another problem with this plan: why would you ever put a Dragon Whelp or Liliana in your deck instead of one of these? Shout-outs to old cards are one thing, but obsoleting them is a really bad way to make an homage.

    Multiskelion is the way to go, and I'm 95% sure that something of that nature will see print in Dark Ascension.

  6. "That logistic complexity doesn't change by being able to cast the back side, or having existing cards on the back side."

    It certainly does change. The existing format doesn't deal with the issue of having two different modes for casting the spell shown on two different faces of the card. You're only ever casting it one way, which is the way that you are looking at (if you have the card in a sleeve) or have at least the mana cost always available (if you're using a checklist). If there is more than one way to cast a spell (whether it's a Charm, a split card, a spell with kicker, a spell with morph, etc.) all that information should be available when looking at the card in your hand. Making one of those modes something you cannot see any information about while its in your hand is a bad idea.

    You bring up suspend as an example of acceptable complexity, but suspend has actually been regarded as a mistake in hindsight. The mechanic was not terribly popular. Most players did not have a good time working out the trade-offs of time vs. mana, and were simply confused. It turned out to be a bad level of complexity for being such a central mechanic.

  7. @Alex: That's actually his argument: the decision complexity of Suspend isn't a problem, but it's completely ungrokkable, which the DFC implementation would do a lot to resolve. I'm not sure it's worth doing, but it certainly has upsides.

    As for the nostalgia proposition, I think being able to cast either face for anything other than a DFC of two vanilla creatures or something completely mirrored is way too much to remember.

    We could probably do a White Knight/Black Knight DFC or the equivalent, but hatching Dragons/summoning Demons is going to be an issue even if they're versions without mana costs.

  8. I mean, if the requirements for "knowing what it takes to cast a card" are just the name and the casting cost, just print the Name and Casting Cost on the bottom of Double Sided split cards. Fire on one side, then a little note of Ice 1U on the bottom. Just like the power and toughness note of existing DFCs.

    The issue I'm seeing here is that DFCs are really standing in for much simpler design technologies. I mean, is dragon egg really "better" than a card that just sacrifices to put a firebreathing dragon token into play? Or the Skelion, why not just "Remove a +1/+1 counter: ~ deals one damage to target creature or player. ~ loses all other abilities." Instead of jumping though all the hoops of DFCs, just make these into regular cards. After all, Magic isn't a game that's well designed to handle DFCs. Fortunately, it's got a wealth of abilities that mimic the effect in the vast majority of cases.

  9. @Jules, thanks for explaining what I was trying to say.

    As for the Dragon, I don't think it's much more complex than some cards like Mayor of Avabruck. If there wasn't a mana cost on the Dragon side, I think it should be ok.

    Even if there was a mana cost on the Dragon side, it's much easier than casting Green Sun's Zenith, where you need to know the text and costs of cards in your deck.

    The problem is when someone plays it for the first time. Will that person be turned off and feel Magic is not for him/her because of it?

    I'd say that's what rarity is for. Also, for this particular card, I think it's like Fireball, where even though it's complex, it makes you want to learn it. I think people will want to learn to play a Dragon Egg that turns into a Dragon, and much more so for having art of both forms.

    @Duncan, what you said in your second paragraph can also be said for Werewolf cards in Innistrad. Werewolves could just be flip cards. Or even normal-faced cards that describe how they change and what they become using text. But would that actually be simpler design technology?

    The contrasting transform conditions for day to night (no spells by any player vs. 2 spells by 1 player) are really easy to remember when it's on two sides of a card. You immediately see that the card has two states. The transform condition for each state is on the respective side. When information is chunked that way, it's ready to go right into your head.

    Try putting the description of both transform conditions on one side of a card. It becomes quite a long paragraph, like the reminder text of suspend. It becomes something you need to sit down and decipher. Some people will put it down before they get what it's about.

    So I think there's nothing wrong with DFCs doing something that could technically be done with text.

    By the way, this post isn't about "what is the best way to make DFC that are castable from both sides?" I do have some other ideas about that, but these aren't that.

    This post is about exploring "what happens when you put a known card on one side of a DFC for nostalgia purposes?" And one of the results of that exploration was, "you get an unwanted mana cost on the back side, because that cost was printed on the original card. That might conflict with other future uses of DFCs."

    So I'm not saying "let's make DFCs castable from both sides to make nostalgia cards cooler." Rather, it's a side effect that I don't know how to solve yet.

    I don't think Fire/Ice should be a DFC, even it had the back side's mana costs shown on the front. Nostalgia cards have the same problem, but for Fire/Ice there's no reason to try to make it work in the first place. Split cards aren't about transformation or having different "casting modes" of the same spell like morph or suspend. Split cards are about choosing between two different spells, and they already have a perfect visual representation of that, by showing two cards side by side.