Monday, April 23, 2012

M13 Trajectories: Sultan's Lamp

Hello. My name is Griselbrand. Let's play a little game, you and I.

If you win, there will be a reward. Great power shall be granted.
If you lose, your soul is mine.

Sound fair? Good. Here are the rules.

» Click here to see the rules «

Welcome to M13 Trajectories, where I discuss how card designs in our fan M13 set changed based on input from various people! Today I talk about a card inspired by a mini-game.

The game you just played can be played using trinkets placed on a table. With some variants, the person who takes the last piece wins; with others, the person who takes the last piece loses. Either way, it's an easily "solvable" game like the game of tic-tac-toe.

One time during design, I was trying to come up with a card to fill a hole in the file for a Johnny artifact slot, and I thought I could design a card that emulates the game above. It became this:

The idea was that it would start players on a mini-game, challenging players to plan out their turns in order to be the one who casts the seventh spell. It's like the game you played above, except it's interwoven with the Magic game that's taking place on the board.

I like cards that create mini-games like this. Johnnies can see this card as a creative exercise of building around a card, while Timmies can enjoy it more as a wild ride with an unpredictable outcome.

I also hoped this card would appeal to Spikes who like to show off their superior ability in reading hands and planning how the turns play out. This card would create mind games, revolving around guessing whether a player has a cheap instant or not. Also, a player with a devious mind can put the opponent in a hard spot by playing just the right number of spells so that there will be exactly 5 counters on the lamp while you are ahead on the board. For example, when there are 4 counters on the lamp, you could cast a threat as the 5th spell and dare the opponent to counter it. Your opponent wants to counter it, but if she does, your next spell will be the seventh spell. Or, you could play a Giant Growth on your attacking creature to bait out a Doom Blade so that after combat, you can cast the seventh spell. It must be a moment of great relish for a Spikey player to put the opponent in a spot where that opponent is forced to cast the 6th spell so that you get to cast the final 7th spell. While the card is probably too risky to appeal to Spike, I imagined these mind-game scenarios and I really wanted to make it work for Spike somehow.

However, when I thought about it, this implementation had practical problems. Whenever a player casts a spell, there is a delay before the counter is put on the lamp, since the triggered effect uses the stack. The person who responds to it can then either respond before the trigger resolves, or let the trigger resolve first and then respond with his or her own spell. That's too complex for players who don't understand the details of the stack or triggered effects and are just playing intuitively. Also, when multiple spells are cast at instant speed, one after another, a whole pile of triggers will be generated. During resolution some of the triggers will be resolved and some of them unresolved, and that may cause memory issues; the triggers will be hard to track outside of a program like Duels of the Planeswalkers or Magic Online.

Because of this problem, the wording had to change a lot over the course of design. By the time I submitted this card, I had changed it to this wording:

If a spell a player cast would resolve, put a charge counter on Absorbant Lamp as that spell resolves. Then, if there are seven or more charge counters on Absorbant Lamp, sacrifice it and put a red 5/5 Djinn token with flying onto the battlefield under that player’s control.

This uses the word "as" to avoid it from being a triggered effect. However, this text probably requires even more technical knowledge than the original.

Jules suggested this wording:

Spells have "Put a charge counter on Absorbant Lamp. Then, if there are seven or more charge counters on Absorbant Lamp..."

I also considered:

As an additional cost to cast spells, players put a counter on Absorbant Lamp. Then, if there are seven or more charge counters on Absorbant Lamp...

In the end, it was Jay who suggested a way to cut the Gordian knot.

Since seven is a big number to remember, Jay then brought it down to three and the text was changed to only count spells cast in the current turn.

This change made the card much more manageable.

As I mentioned earlier, I liked how this card might appeal to both Johnny and Timmy. You can imagine how Johnny would try to build around it with Gut Shots, Gitaxian Probes, and Think Twices. I wanted this card to appeal to Spike too, but unfortunately it is probably too risky to appeal to Spike, even for the type of Spike who wants to show off and say "Haha, just as I planned. I knew how the turn was going to play out. You walked right into my trap!" I suggested a change to the card so that it doesn't sacrifice itself when the condition is met.

This version should have more build-around value for Johnny since it can produce multiple tokens over time. Also, Spikes who don't like the risk factor of a one-shot version might still like this repeatable version since even if the opponent gets a token through a fluke, the Spike can come back by playing skillfully and triggering it more often, especially if his or her deck is built for it.

I suggested changing the flavor from a magic lamp to a gong that opens a portal when you strike it three times. Pasteur suggested that the creature token should be an Efreet to fit the flavor change; the token's not coming from a lamp but rather from an eerie portal to another world.

Also, I made this version check for a spell's resolution rather than the casting of a spell. This way, the active player is not guaranteed a token by simply casting 3 spells in a row without yielding priority; the opponent has a chance to steal the token with a well-timed instant, so the mind game factor is still there.

I expect this card to have wacky implications in multiple formats. You can imagine the chaos this would cause in a multiplayer game. I like how it warps game play in a way similar to spells such as Grip of Chaos or Scrambleverse, without turning off players who hate randomness. If you had this card in Limited, you could try to maximize your potential to cast multiple spells in one turn by running spells like Disentomb, Portent, or Saving Grasp. That would be a fun thing to pull off.

It remains to be seen if this card is acceptable in a core set. While this version of the card is in the back of the files as a candidate, we're still not sure whether the spell should check for the resolution of a spell or the casting of a spell. As a core set, we want to use as few game terms as possible, and "resolve" might be less intuitive that "cast." Also, the flavor of a Lamp with a Djinn seems to be more popular among the team, since it is a well-known trope.

I hope you enjoyed this. Come back on Friday, when I talk about the perfect 2-mana counterspell.


  1. it would probably would be very fun in limited :) do you accept ideas for cards? i got a bit disapointed with the lack of good vampires in AR, especially because i wanted to make a BR aggro vamp. so i created this one.


    {X}{B} Tap: Target non-black creature gets -X/-X


    link for card

  2. Our current members for the fan M13 set are just people who submitted a lot of designs to it, so yes we accept ideas. But we are offering all of our ideas for WotC to use freely so please only submit ideas that you don't mind relinquishing any rights to. (We'll credit whoever submitted the idea of course.)

    That vampire looks super powerful. It would need some condition like "Tap, tap X other Vampires" or "Target tapped creature gets -X/-X" or some other condition, otherwise killing something repeatedly with a low-cost creature is too good.

  3. Ok thanks for your advice i'm new to MTG, and creating cards for a balanced game must be a hard but rewarding job, i have no problem relinquishing ideas since...well i'm just taking ideas for the original game :p i still have problems understanding the value of some cards before testing them. your blog is great by the way

  4. ok this is more balanced version

    Dusk Sycophant (B)

    (X)(B)(B) tap: Target nonblack, tapped creature get's -X/-X until the end of turn.