Saturday, April 21, 2012

M13 Trajectories: Sirensong Rapture

This is a series where I pick a card from our fan M13 set and discuss how the design changed during the design process.

Today's card started out like this:

Designed by Wobbles, this card was born in the early stage of the set's design, when we were just settling on a returning mechanic for this virtual core set. Jay was pushing for a keyworded version of the Kird Ape mechanic, but many of us were skeptical (including me). To convince us, he proposed that everyone try designing some cards with this land-themed mechanic as a test of its potential. We came up with some cool cards that combined the effects of different colors and we the exercise to be extremely fruitful. Cards like Steward of Valeron or Consume Strength are insanely fun to design, and the way that a card like Impatience combines effects from different colors to create a meaningful effect as a whole is elegant.

However, we may have strayed too far from core set territory at that time. First of all, core sets try to have cards that do one simple thing. It's easier on new players that way, and core sets like M11 and M12 have shown that you can still provide deep gameplay while sticking to simple effects.

Secondly, core sets try to lay down the basics of what colors do. Cards like Recoil are very special because we have previous experience with bounce spells and discard spells as separate cards. Expansion sets entertain us with many quirky forms of "variant Magic," but that wouldn't be as enjoyable if "normal" Magic didn't also exist to establish the baseline.

It was Jules who found what we now think is the right spot for using the Kird Ape mechanic in a core set.

The complexity level feels right. I also like how it feels like a worse-than-average Black creature before you control an Island and a better-than-average Blue-Black creature once the condition is met.

Anyways, once we had better defined and simplified Lair, we were no longer focused on designing cards that form self-combos with the effects of two colors anymore. It seemed there was no room for cards in the style of Impatience, despite how cool it was.

The main designers went on to each design a set of Commons for an assigned color as a starting point. I was assigned Blue, and when I went on to design a card for Blue's weak pseudo-removal Aura slot, I remembered Wobbles' Impatience card. This is what it became:

The cost was changed around many times, starting with 2UU. Perhaps it's balanced at 1U.

I have a soft spot for this card. I've always had a problem whenever Blue got an efficient common removal card like Narcolepsy or Claustrophobia that's no less effective than White's Pacifism. Since Blue gets to counter creature spells, Blue's answers for creatures on the battlefield should be weaker than other colors. I like how this card is a slow and roundabout way of plotting a creature's demise, which fits Blue perfectly.

Cards that force a single creature to attack, such as Incite, have traditionally been very weak, as you can only kill creatures through blocking that you would already be able to handle. If you can't handle a fatty or evasive creature with your current blockers, you'd at least like to be able to nail a small utility creature that has powerful tap abilities like Prodigal Pyromancer or Merfolk Looter by forcing it to attack, but they can easily bow out of the attack by activating their abilities. It's a pity since the incite effect itself is straightforward and creates interesting situations on the board.

Most of the playable inciting cards have been mass-inciting cards such as Siren's CallIncite War and Curse of the Nightly Hunt, or repeatable inciting cards such as Alluring SirenHeckling Fiends, and Rage Nimbus. One of the few examples of a strong inciting card that only affects a single creature is Lust for War, but it relied on a very forced mechanic to make it playable  why does the creature's attack cause 3 damage to its controller? The flavor connection isn't strong. Another way would be to make an attack-forcing spell as a cantrip, although the flavor there is also not very strong.

Because of this, I'm a fan of how Sirensong Rapture manages to be playable despite forcing only a single creature to attack, and it does so in a way that feels more or less natural (as long as you get the I'm-entranced-by-a-sirens's-song-and-walking-in-a-dream-state flavor). I'm glad Wobbles designed this combination of effects because this card makes me feel "Why didn't this card always exist?" and that's a good quality for a new core set card to have.

This is a highly subjective matter though. Not everybody on the team liked this card. There was an interesting discussion about whether the "forced attack" mechanic belongs more in Red and not so much in Blue. My stance was that while the mention of the word "attack" on the mechanic makes it feel like it's about aggression and war, when you think about its purpose, it's actually an ability for defensive decks that want to set up a good block rather than an offensive deck that wants to attack.

In terms of the planning and patience involved in using the card, cards like Sirensong Rapture indirectly bring about the removal of a creature in the next turn, and that play style fits a patient and manipulative color like Blue. In contrast, Red wants results right away  if it wants to control the board, it can burn the creature. If it wants to get a blocker out of the way, it can call upon its burn / Panic / Act of Treason effects to attack right now.

One type of attack-forcing Aura that makes sense to play in Red is Uncontrollable Anger and Furor of the Bitten, where the forced attack is used as a drawback to a powerful size boost. Red and Blue each have access to different effects to pair with the forced attack mechanic (+2/+2 and -3/-0 in this case, but it could be something else), so there's definitely a benefit to keeping the forced attack mechanic in both colors.

I hope you enjoyed this. On Monday, I'll talk about a Johnny card with a creature locked inside, as we count down towards the release of Avacyn Restored.


  1. I definitely approve of Sirensong Rapture, as a similar card exists in my own custom design files as a creature with an activated ability. Seeing the Aura version, now, I think it's a much cleaner and more elegant form for the concept than what I'd made.

  2. I think that making this card blue is the right way to go. It's an elegant and flavorful blue removal spell.

  3. I spent some time working on whether Lust for War would work in the set (it ended up getting cut early enough on) as it's a very fun card in the right environment.

    The "when you think about its purpose, it's actually an ability for defensive decks that want to set up a good block rather than an offensive deck that wants to attack" line is one that always strikes me a little bit funny. As designers, it's true that we need to look at both the abilities used on the card and the end gameplay results; for my part I'm intent on keeper the former fitting. Blue has plenty of ways of dealing with creatures - outside of countering them, it can tap them outright, bounce them, grasp them, control magic them, or use any of its myriad evasive abilities. It doesn't need the siren ability, and as a result I don't think it should have them.

    Red decks can set up creative blocks too, with their occasionally awesome walls (or Gardeners) or be willing to take a hit to score some damage. I disagree with premises that imply that a more playable card is qua more blue. (Or that Red decks must want to play blindly, stupidly, or less-cleverly).

    It seems the natural state of abilities is to end up in blue. As a designer, I think being vigilant about not letting them drift there is worth its while.

  4. I have to disagree.

    The ability used on the card fits Blue not just through the end result, but also through flavor (influencing minds). Red can also have a flavor of rage but Blue can also have it flavorfully. It's like the different flavors of Mind Control and Act of Treason.

    You mentioned the color pie as if this is about spoiling Blue with a disproportionate share of the color pie, but it's actually more about substituting Blue Pacifisms with a weaker ability (and it's an ability it had since the beginning) since Blue isn't supposed to be an efficient removal color.

    Bounce and Counters are a different category from straight-up removal and they can exist alongside whatever Aura removal or other type of pseudo-removal Blue gets.

    Blue's power shrinking is better for pairing with this effect than Red's power boosting, unless you want to 2-for-1 yourself when you block the power-boosted creature. That said, if you can find another Red ability to flavorfully pair with forced attacks, that is fine; I'm not saying Blue forced attack effects are always better than Red forced attack effects. Maybe there can be a first strike guy that incites opposing creatures into attacking. I'm not saying the ability should be removed from Red, I'm just saying it shouldn't be removed from Blue.

    In the mean time, I said shrinking power is something Red can't do, and that there is value in the incite effects also being in Blue since there are things only Blue can do with the ability. For the sake of color pie variety, when two colors can do different things with an ability, both of them should have it.