Wednesday, December 14, 2011

CCDD 121411—False Memory

Cool Card Design of the Day
12/14/2011 - It's tempting to find new ways to use existing mechanics. A lot of that urge is healthy and results in exciting new twists that can be leveraged to great effect in second and third sets. Sometimes it's a trap. Today, I want to show you the result of such a trap and explain why it's not a great thing.

Isn't that cool? You can't cast it on its own, but you can cast it from your graveyard. Slap this puppy in your Narcomoeba dredge or Skaab Ruinator self-mill deck and you'll get some very efficient, free draw. Exciting for Johnnies and Spikes alike, right? We've got a non-trivial hoop that ties conventiently into existing strategies and a nice little reward.

This card shares pedigree with Evermind and Ancestral Vision. And that's the problem. I don't remember many folks getting excited about Evermind because it could only be played in the Arcane deck and that was pretty limited even at the height of Kamigawa. A lot of folks loved Ancestral Vision, myself included. Trading patience for mana turns out to be a great deal. The trouble comes when you add Bloodbraid Elf and cascade to the mix. Since the absence of a mana cost equates to a mana cost of 0 (under most circumstances), you can cascade into Ancestral Vision with Ardent Plea and get your Ancestral Recall without having to wait.

False Memory doesn't fit into as many decks as Ancestral Vision (IE, every blue deck) but it isn't as parasitic as Evermind. While not all blocks have viable self-mill cards, many do and there's more than one way to get cards into your graveyard. It does have the same problem with being cascaded into. We can print cards like False Memory as long as we don't print any more cascade cards and then ban or restrict the combination in formats like Legacy and Modern, but cascade is far more fun and I'd much rather give up seeing mana-less cards than cascade.

There is one more wacky solution: Instead of defining the CMC of a card with no mana cost as 0, we could define it infinity. That actually makes sense since 0 CMC sounds like something you can cast for free while ∞ CMC sounds like something you can't cast, which is the case. It solves the cascade and problem and it also cleans up a lot of templating that has to make exceptions for lands. On the other hand, it also makes Dark Confidant just a bit worse (read: infinitely worse, literally). So ∞'s out.

I've got one more trick up my sleeve, but it's even weirder: The CMC of a card with no mana cost could be undefined. Cards like Dark Confidant and Bloodbraid Elf would ignore cards with no mana cost in this model, because they have no CMC to evaluate. I can't think of any card interactions that break under this model; let me know if you can. The downside is that being undefined is not a trivial concept and could act as yet another barrier to entry for new players. Ultimately, the simple answer is we just can't make False Memory.


  1. I'd say cards without mana-cost are already confusing enough for new players ("I can't cast this for free?"). Undefined seems like a simple step up. Besides, these cards are not that common (literally), as you mentioned.

  2. It's unfortunate that False Memory becomes less cool when you just make its raw mana cost, say, 8UU.

    It's similar to the way the Sword in the Stone realistically plays the same at an equip cost of 9+ or with no equip cost, but there's always some tradeoff between coolness and logic-of-printability.

  3. I don't think infinite cost is a problem because of Dark Confidant, because you don't need to play them in the same deck. But it could be a problem with cards like Erratic Explosion.

  4. I love, love, love cards like this. Great design, even accounting for the trickiness of its interactions with other cards.

  5. Honestly, I prefer when this sort of thing is done in the style of Dark Withering. You still get to be clever and find ways to enable your spell's cheaper cost, but you aren't *forced* to do so, and you aren't completely screwed over if you can't set it up right. Make this cost 6U or something similar and it will end up being played identically 99% of the time, with a little bit more flexibility in the late game. You please all the same people that the original version does and you don't turn as many people off it who might be attracted to it but shy away from the lack of a "backup plan" for casting it.

  6. Less elegant solution: "Cast False Memory only from your graveyard".

  7. Whoa whoa whoa. Hold the presses!
    Less elegant? I'm going to have to disagree with you there. Sure it doesn't use flashback, but it avoids the cascade problem and the why-doesn't-this-spell-have-a-mana-cost confusion with one very grokkable (if unusual) line.
    I love it.

  8. It's still worse than "actually has a high but potentially usable normal mana cost."

    What do you actually *gain* by giving this no mana cost, by giving you no alternative to jumping through hoops? How is the card improved, other than being aesthetically pleasing? Would Dark Withering have been improved by having no mana cost, only a Madness cost?

  9. Well, the full text of the card would need to be:

    You may cast CARDNAME from your graveyard, but not from anywhere else.

    Draw three cards.

    Exile CARDNAME.

    That doesn't seem like much of an improvement. I think Jay was completely right originally: the card is not worth printing.

  10. Hmm. I did forget about the entirely-requisite exile clause.
    While it is now moot, I will nevertheless answer Alex's question: Aesthetics are important.

  11. I created something similar a while back, except it was a creature.

    Dread Spire
    (no mana cost)
    (nonexistant mana costs cannot be paid)
    Flying; Trample
    Dread Spire is blue.

  12. I love aesthetics myself. But I don't want them to come at the expense of better gameplay. And I really don't see how such a card becomes easier or more fun to use by taking away the mana cost. Maybe more fun, but only for a slim section of the community that likes things better when they're forced to work harder for them.

    Those sorts of super-Johnny-bait cards are fine once in a while. That kind of player needs toys to play with, after all. But I guess one of the things that really irks me about this in particular is that, when you've jumped through your hoops, your reward is really very mundane. Whoop de doo, you saved 1U off of a Concentrate. Hatching Plans has the same problem. That isn't really what the uber-Johnny wants to be spending their energy on, I'd think. There ought to be more bang for that buck. There's some appeal just from the card's challenge of "try to use me" but that falls flat without a proper reward to validate that effort beyond a feeling of "aren't I so clever." That's why I like this mechanic on, say, Haakon, since he's a legitimately interesting card that opens up lots of potential to exercise creativity, and that more than justifies the complications in using him. Doing the same thing on a simple card-drawing spell moves away from interesting and is just cute. I don't think we really need more cute, at least not when it's something that will be actively unappealing to large numbers of players.

  13. Actually I think it might be interesting to do a mini-theme on CMC in a core set, like the mini-theme on enchantments in M12.

    If we brought back Heretic's Punishment and this card at 8UU, it would play into both that and also the graveyard mechanics that will still be around in Innistrad for another year in standard after M13 comes out.

    A need for cards in other colours that care about CMC gives us some great excuses for reprints like Consume the Meek, disembowel, Accelerated Mutation, crumble, diving offering, etc. or new cards like:

    Mentored Meekling W
    Whenever a creature with CMC 2 or less enters the battlefield, ~ gets +1/+1 until EOT.