Friday, December 2, 2011

M13 Designing Lair (2)

I want to try to summarize some of the great proposals that were suggested in part one, but first let me suggest that perhaps we are thinking too small with lair. Right now, [landtype] Lair means "As long as you control a [landtype]..." That's been working well for us, but we should at least consider the possibility of creating a more universal ability word. By replacing the [landtype] variable with the [characteristic] variable, the ability word now handles all threshold-1 scenarios. I found 23 common creatures with this set-up and 18 non-common ones, so it may be worthwhile to find one ability word that binds them all under the same verbal concept.

"Lair" would not do it. I don't think Kithkin Greatheart, as fond as he is of giants, would hang out in a filthy giant lair nor would Cliffrunner Behemoth spend much time in, uh, in red and/or white lairs, whatever that means. We've discussed what name to use for this ability multiple times and we're mostly very happy with lair when it cares only about land types and appears only on creatures. Again, I lament that 'affinity' is taken since that would be perfect. 'Awareness' might work. 'Presence' and 'bond' have potential. Trevor had some good suggestions recently too. I like 'skill' and 'proficiency' but they both fail the above test. 'Boost' and 'ability' are a bit generic, but I think that's exactly what we need if we go this route.

Let's see how it looks on some existing cards (click to zoom):
You may notice that the template for Jund Hackblade isn't identical because it adds the redundant words 'another' and 'permanent'. While it's possible for weird spells to make Griffin Rider a griffin and thus count itself, printing 'another' on that card would be more confusing than helpful. Luckily an ability word is tied more to a concept that specific rules text, so this seems fine. BTW, we should totally reprint Hedge Troll in 2013.

So it could work. Cool. The question remains, however, should we do it? What I'm proposing is actually a first: an evergreen ability word. Do we gain something from making the connection between these cards (or more specifically, future printings of cards like these)? There was a cool conversation inspired by Nich's idea to keyword firebreathing that helped solidify a lot of the criteria for doing so in my head. I'm sure there's an article on dailymtg too. If you can find that, please share.

We certainly aren't saving space on the card since the ability word text is purely additive (-). It doesn't look like the ability word will limit how we can use it in the future (+). We certainly intend to use it a fair bit in this set, and if it is a good thing, future sets could benefit from it freely (+). But does it codify something that doesn't need codifying? This one I'm not so sure about (?). We've had enough debate to justify an ability word for lair in 2013 and I feel good about that but does that extend to an evergreen ability word? Perhaps, like firebreathing, we'd be explicitly labeling something that players already intuit the theme of just fine. What do you think?

If we do go this route, it frees us up to make non-creature spells with Ability. (Err, that's pretty awkward, isn't it? 'Ability' is probably too generic. Or too already-a-rules-term-y. Let's call it Boost until we find a better name. It also raises the question of whether we use any non-land type of Boost in 2013. I would argue against, since we don't want to confuse new players or muddy our theme.


  1. As an outside observer, I think "Harmony" is a flavorful and strong keyword for what it looks like you're trying to accomplish. With a strong enough keyword and simple enough ability (e.g. Hedge Troll), I think the mechanic can be supported at common of a core set.

  2. I do think we can change the name of Lair to be called Boost. The name is abstract enough so that all sorts of land connections can be covered, such as a Human Merchant travelling through sea routes etc, or even Instants and Sorceries that uses a terrain.

    If we can find an abstract term that's more specifically related to land, that would be better since we can save the word Boost for other keywords in the future. Maybe we can call it Terrain Bonus or Terrain Boost. Totally inelegant, but it's exactly what it is.

    I'm not sure about an evergreen Boost. Ability words don't provide any new functionality to the game rules, so there isn't much benefit from ever-greening it.

    There's also the Kicker problem. As we know from R&D articles, it covers too much design space, so that other mechanics look like repeats of it. It's better to give flavorful and evocative names to small chunks of that design space.

    One benefit to consider would be, would it make scanning the board to check for a condition easier?

    I'm not sure it will, since it's hard to read cards from across the board anyways. I think we mostly just read the card when the opponent casts it, then we just remember what cards do. At best, I think it will help players parse the text slightly faster on first read.

    Ability words often add flavor to an ability, like Morbid, but it doesn't have that benefit here.

    In this set there is reason to use an ability word for Terrain/Adaptaion/Boost (saving mind space for a mechanic that's used often), but in future sets that only have one Griffin Rider or something, the ability word might even look needlessly daunting to new players. New players don't know yet that an ability word doesn't mean anything rules-wise, so they might think "Oh, is this another thing I have to learn before I can understand what the card says?"

    In some corner cases, new uses of Boost might feel more creative if it's keyworded rather than stated in plain text, the way "Protection from converted mana cost 3 or greater" or "Protection from everything" feels creative when keyworded. If Forestwalk hadn't been invented, players might be surprised seeing a card saying "Boosted by Forests opponents control." But that's not enough reason I think.

  3. Bond is the best one, in my opinion. It makes sense for all of the ones you posted, and would work very well on spells - a spell that is tied to a specific land WOULD be 'bonded' to it, after all. It does add flavor, too - but perhaps, obvious flavor.

  4. Bond definitely feels the best as a name. It's much more elegant-sounding than the other options.

  5. Appreciate the feedback, guys. I was also thinking 'bond' works very well. Now the flavor has to do with the fact that you, the planeswalker, have a mana bond with a particular type of land. So it's okay for Islands to give a creature flying, because it's not that the creature lives on the island or flies out of the water, but that if you as its master can remember the source of all blue magic, you can instill it with blue power.

    'Bond' also works nicely for Kithkin Greatheart and Griffin Rider (even though I'm interpreting it entirely differently) because you can see those little dudes bonding with their gigantic/winged buddies. It even works in the Cliffrunner Behemoth scenario. 'Red bond' and 'white bond' isn't terrible.

    That said, Chah has done a good job of confirming my suspicions that the benefits to evergreening this ability word just don't compare to the costs. His example of looking across the table helps clarify that we're basically making an easy to understand and remember ability slightly easier to understand at the cost of needless words.

  6. Bond does fit, but I feel it has a similar problem with Lair, in that the #1 bond that Magic creatures have with land is with lands of their own color. Especially with Magic lore about planeswalkers forming "mana bonds" with lands to summon creatures.

  7. I'm not convinced this actually needs its own unique word. Usually abilities get keywords to make them easier to talk about and improve player communication.

    In this case, the proposed keywords are working backwards; they're actually creating more confusion than just the full text on the card.

    I really think lair is fine as a "silent" ability word. There are plenty of card functions like cantrips or pitch cards that exist only as designer slang, without ever appearing explicitly in the rules.

  8. The bond with a creature's primary color of mana is implicit. Anything extra feels... extra. Check out the render of Hedge Troll. That feels like a green card that loves forests above all, but loves plains too. It does to me anyhow.

    And yeah, if we never find a word that really resonates or sells the mechanic, we'll just use none, but I'm feeling pretty good about 'bond'.