Saturday, January 14, 2012

CCDD 011412—Belittle, Extinguish, Reject

Cool Card Design of the Day
1/14/2012 - I've been exploring simple options with which to complement the most common spells in the game quite a bit recently. There have been exceptions, but most of the time I've come up empty. Naturalize, for instance, is a card that I have yet to see an alternative for that is as simple and useful. Today I want to show you my experiments in creating alternates to basic countermagic.

First up is a minor mutation to Mana Leak.

So it's exactly the same, except the 'ransom' is 2 instead of 3—which is worse, except that now the spell isn't completely worthless in the late game when your opponent always has 2-3 extra mana laying around: In that scenario, you get a card. You are effectively cycling the spell at that point. If that's not compelling enough, it doesn't just cost you 2 to cycle it, but your opponent must pay 2 as well, helping to ensure that they don't have enough mana to then cast another spell that turn.

One could argue that this is core-set-worthy, but it just feels a little too fancy for my tastes. Can we go simpler?

My twitter followers probably remember that I tweeted about something like this not too long ago. Several of them didn't care for it because they feel it's too limited in scope. I suspect that was a tournament-player-specific response and it may well be that this isn't good enough for constructed play at any level, but it is simple and fits blue's condescending nature very well. For the sake of the game, I like how limited it is: The ability to counter any spell for just 1UU is not to be overestimated and it can be argued that it prevents players from playing big, fun spells more. Perhaps the numbers should be tweaked to affect CMC 4- or something, but I quite like it as a blue analog to Smother.

Finally, I want to show you an alternative I like for Cancel itself. Know that I'm not suggesting that this replace Cancel forever or even for more than one set, and I'm certainly not trying to argue that it is as good as or better than Cancel. My only claim is that Reject is simple enough, flavorful enough and limited but not too limited.

Blue looks down on the other colors. I mean, each color likes itself better than its allies and them better than its enemies, but they do it in different ways. White believes itself pure and just, holier than thou. Green believes itself strong and forthright, staring life in the eyes unblinking. Red is raw and unrestrained, eschewing deception for true passion. Black is capable and wise, it won't be fooled by the same lies that bind your hands. Blue seeks knowledge and perfection, only it can see how misguided everyone else is.

For that reason, it is natural for a blue mage to disregard anything a non-blue mage does out of hand. On the other hand, Chah correctly points out that blue mages love arguing with other blue mages. His assertion is self-proving. Yes, we do enjoy that. But no one spell can represent every desire, every method or every philosophy of its color. And it's not like that aspect hasn't been covered: Gainsay, Dispel, Spell Pierce, Negate, and Remand all hit that note very well. This note? Frazzle (the overcosted version of Reject) and Flashfreeze.

Finally, I like that Cancel and Reject are the same converted mana cost, but Cancel requires a commitment to blue in its mana cost where Reject requires that commitment in its targeting restriction.


  1. I'll reiterate what I said in the M13 files. I hope it can spark off discussion.

    On 2cc counterspells:

    R&D doesn't want control to be strong, because it's not fun overall, but it doesn't want to kill control decks completely either, because control has its fans, and control keeps other types of degenerate decks in check.

    I think the type of control decks that R&D wants to kill is the "just say no" decks that counter something every turn right from the beginning of the game.

    So Force Spike shouldn't exist in Standard, and cards like Mana Leak should only be brought back for a limited time.

    If countering only starts around turn 3, then it's more acceptable. The control deck has to try very hard to remove the threats that it couldn’t counter. It also means it can't just pack more and more counterspells backed with card draw; it has to mix and match various answers for various categories of threats, where counters are only part of the equation.

    I've heard designs like Belittle suggested by other people too. (Like Patrick Chapin in an interview video, although I think his was UU. It seems Luminum Can, a frequent commenter here, also came up with the idea independent of the others.)

    But I don't think it solves the "just say no every turn" problem. The opponent is going to cast relevant 1-3 cc spells throughout the game so it won't be a dead card. It would be similar to Mana Leak in power if not stronger. I think Mana Leak, like Lightning Bolt, isn't inherently balanced and shouldn't always be around. The same is true for Belittle.

    The key to balancing 2cc counter spells (other than limiting what it can counter like Negate or Remove Soul) is to make sure 2cc counterspells cause tempo loss for the caster.

    Familiar's Ruse and Deprive are examples of that. They were so thoroughly "balanced" that they actually didn't get used much. I think Jay Treat's Return to Sender (UU, Counter target spell but refund the mana) hits exactly the right spot and is quite a significant design for that reason.

  2. On the role of hard counters in control decks:

    A control deck needs to answer many different decks, unlike a more aggressive deck that can try to outrace an opponent's deck.

    But a control deck plays a much slower game, so it needs to handle every type of threat. But each opponent's deck will have a different configuration. Some will have lots of creature threats. Some will have lots of artifact threats. How does one deck hope to adapt to all of them?

    Hard counters (counterspells with no restriction on the category of spells they can counter) serve as wild cards, a kind of absorber that absorbs the gap between your answer suite and your opponent's threat suite. Without this catch-all nature of counterspells, it would be hard for the slower control decks to exist.

    While cheap answer spells that answer a wide range of things should have some holes or things that they can't answer (like Doom Blade not killing black creatures), it's ok for counterspells to not have such a restriction, because they already have a built-in hole: they only answer things at a very specific timing. If you don't have mana, or draw a counterspell after an opponent cast a threat, the threat slips past your answer. Cancel already has "Counter target non-turn-2 spell" written on it in invisible ink.

    The "target non-Blue" clause on Reject looks very grafted and unnecessary to me.

    Also, I think "counter target non-Blue spell" goes further than balancing control decks, it could go as far as to kill them. Actually, Cancel isn't the backbone of current Blue decks, so making a weaker version won't have a big impact. But imagine if Mana Leak said "Counter target non-Blue spell unless its controller pays 3." I think the deck would have a really bad matchup against Blue aggro decks. While it's true that every deck has its weaknesses, I'm thinking that maybe having a really weak matchup is much more of a liability for control decks than for aggro decks, because you can't get lucky and win quickly.

  3. Casting counter-magic really should cost something more than two mana. Here's my example.

    Counter target spell. Discard a card.

  4. What's wrong with Essence Scatter?

    To me, that's one of the most straight forward countermagic designs and makes flavorful sense with blue. Or, drawing off your previous post:

    Uninvite UU
    Counter target creature or planeswalker.

    Ostrasize is to Remove Soul as Despise is to Uninvite.

    Of course, you laid out some pretty good justification for not mentioning planeswalkers in the core set. So...

    Snap Counter UU
    Counter target creature or sorcery.

    I agree with Chah that blue rarely cares about color, but I think limiting the counter by spell type makes a lot more sense, it just feels more blue. Snap counter also has the benefit of A) Giving every color a good answer to countermagic (artifacts) and B) encouraging enchantments.

  5. In response to claims that Patrick Chapin or whoever made up Belittle... Does nobody remember Prohibit? From Invasion? I guess it was pretty forgettable, but still. See also Spell Blast and Spell Burst for the scalable versions of Belittle.

    While we're throwing around simple counterspell designs, I do find it astonishing that the reverse of Negate hasn't been printed yet. I called it Challenge: "Counter target permanent spell", probably costing UU. I can kinda see that Wizards want to promote decks with permanents, and creatures especially, because that's where most of the interaction comes from. So from that point of view it'd be an unusual set that'd want Challenge. But still, it's so simple; not just fewer words than Uninvite or Snap Counter, but simpler conceptually. And most sets do want a hard counterspell somewhere.

    1. Prohibit actually sees a lot of play of play in Pauper, enough that it's a fairly valuable card on MTGO. (Not to mention the rarity of Invasion block cards.)

      I think in terms of modern design, the only thing holding back a new Prohibit/Spell Blast/Spell Burst is the commitment to avoid referring to Converted Mana Cost on commons, while also acknowledging that it would be pretty silly at uncommon outside of something like ZZW.