Friday, April 27, 2012

Testing for Exploration vs Testing for Fine-Tuning

I've played a few Sealed matches of our virtual M13 set and I've been watching how people draft the set in a Community Draft that I'm running in the forums. (A community draft is like a simulated draft in the Limited forums. The forum viewers collectively vote on the picks made by one seat in the draft, while the other seats are drafted by the moderator or some collaborators.)

My impressions are:
  • It's actually kind of fun!
  • The fun might not last...
  • Bond isn't actually doing anything in the set??
  • This is going to be hard to playtest...!!
Here are the details of what I mean.

It's actually kind of fun!
This set is somewhat fun already, which was genuinely a surprise for me. I expected it to be terrible at first.

First of all, we are sticking to mostly core set stuff, and have lots of guidelines as to what an ability should cost. As MaRo once wrote, Magic with just normal cards like French vanilla creatures is still very fun, and partly it was fun like that. Another part must be due to design members individually having tweaked the set through playtests with their playgroups, removing unfun cards in the process.

Second of all, our power level is way too high compared to an ordinary set. Which is a problem, but this kind of creates a feeling of intoxication as the cards are better than what I'm used to in an ordinary core set. Look at these Uncommon cards. All of them are a savage beating. (Click on the images to enlarge).

How does this compare to a real core set? The tendency in Uncommon from M10-M12 is:
  • Each color gets 1 clear "Ace" creature.
This is your Air Servant/Cudgel Troll/Serra Angel/Howling Banshee slot. Red has gotten cards like Dragon Whelp or Volcanic Dragon here. Sometimes the 2nd best creature is almost as good, such as Water Servant or Awakener Druid. But in our set, we have 4 of these guys.
  • Utility, efficiency, build-around, defense...each color gets a variety of creatures.
The real life core sets didn't have all awesome beaters at Uncommon. But that doesn't mean it's about nerfing them to boring levels, but rather about making them good in a different way. A White Knight is different from a Serra Angel, which is different from a Roc Egg

In M11, Red had Fire Servant and Earth Servant as the big guys, but it also had a tiny but a powerful utility creature in Prodigal Sorcerer (like other colors might get something like Alluring Siren or War Priest of Thune here). Ember Hauler is efficient and nifty rather than overbearing, much like Black Knight. Cards like Chandra's Spitfire and Fire Servant provide a build-around-me factor. Also, while Red doesn't have one, most colors have one defensive creature such as Wall of Frost or Reassembling Skeleton.

So it's not "Uncommon = powerful beater," but it's also not "make some of them awesome and some of the boring in order to be balanced." It's about making them each good in a different way.

Anyways, when I open up my Sealed pools and see all the numerous potentially game-winning Uncommons and Rares in each of my colors, it's kind of exciting and I think "how do I put in as many of them as possible to abuse them." But there's not that much depth to that and as I get used to the power level, I don't expect this kind of excitement to last.

The Offensive Commons

The second reason it feels fun (for now) is that we have too many good common attackers. Both sides are attacking. I guess we did a good enough job of nerfing defensive creatures, and there are many evasive creatures, some with intimidate. I have no trouble getting a power 2 or 3 attacker on the board right away, and the opponent also does so to put me on my toes.

The variety in creatures is low. The creatures are mostly offensive beaters of one type or another. Here's a list of the 2-drops for each color: (Once again, you can click on card images to enlarge them.)

As you can see, in every color except Blue, EVERY 2-drop has power 2 or higher (or the equivalent of that, as 2 tokens). What we are doing is funky to say the least. In most sets, if there are two creatures in the same converted casting cost in the same color, usually one of them is an offensive creature with on-curve power and the other is some kind of utility creature with some nifty ability. Here are some examples from M11:

With the M11 commons, every color has at least one creature with off-curve power that serves some utility/defensive purpose. Green and White, being the creature colors, have multiple 2-drops with on-curve power, but Red and Black each have one on-curve creature and one off-curve creature. Blue being a weak creature color has no on-curve creatures at 2cc.

What this achieves is that the creatures feel more varied, and you can build your curve differently based on each deck's plan. If they were all offensive beaters, they will all be interchangeable substitutes for each other. Some would be better than others, but they would all serve the same purpose of attacking quickly. (Of course, another point to consider is that decks can differ not just in what kind of 2-drops they want, but also in how many 2-drops you aim to draft for that deck. But still, it helps if decks can differ based on the kind of 2-drops you draft, not just in the quantity of 2-drops that you draft.)

Also, when every 2-drop has on-curve power, it could lead to a hyper-aggro environment, so putting in utility creatures helps slow down the pace of the environment.

The fun might not last...

Currently, it's somewhat fun because these threats appear on both sides of the board and attack. However, I also get the feeling that maybe in 4-5 more sealed matches, it would start to become stale really fast. I feel as if almost everything is around the power level of a Stormfront Pegasus. Everything serves a similar role and there isn't the feeling of building a deck that has its own inherent strategy as you do in real core sets. Many of the individual cards are kind of fun but there isn't the depth that makes you want to play it over and over yet - at least that's the feeling I have now.

The paradigm of differentiating the roles of creatures within the same mana range might not be an iron rule, but it allows different decks to have a different early game. It's my opinion that it's just plain better to do so, allowing people to draft decks deliberately.

While I think it's ok to deliberately change things for a new plan, in our case we just weren't planning slots for "on-curve creature" vs "not on-curve creatures." Now that we're in the Development stage analyzing this, I would like to call on the design and development people in this project to come up with development-designs for common creatures of any converted mana cost that don't have on-curve power.

I would also like to call for reprint suggestions for creatures that aren't on-curve, because looking through examples of these creatures help us think about the effects that these creatures could possibly have whenever we produce our own designs. We also need reprints anyways.

At the same time, it might be fun to leave a portion of the cards with high power. It would be an extremely warped environment where it's right to keep all three power-2 2-drops in Red, but even in a core set it could make sense to leave three power-2 2-drops in White so that it behaves effectively as a weenie color. (Although personally, I don't particularly see a point in making one of the good attacking 2-drops a tapper since I believe cards should be as different from each other as possible rather than be cool for doing everything).

One hypothetical paradigm would be to have a higher number of efficient low-drops than usual, and to also counterbalance that with a higher number of defensive creatures like Vine Trellis or a 3cc 2/3 that are good at bouncing off these 2/2s and 2/1s. Core sets have been avoiding this so far in order not to stagnate the board, but it might be ok to have these defensive cards if there could also be many cards that help aggro creatures push past these defensive creatures. Some examples are Goblin ShortcutterVulshok Heartstoker, or some kind of Invoker. It's important that the effects that help aggro creatures to continue attacking do not require the investment of a card like Panic Attack, because one-shot cards like Panic Attack would dilute a deck's threat density when aggro decks need a lot of redundancy. If such an effect can be devised, these attack-enabling effects would be much more useful to aggro decks than they are to control decks. Aggro decks can grab those blocker-negating effects while control decks go for value, hopefully creating a divide between fast decks and slower decks.

Full Zendikar block draft (Zendikar-Zendikar-Rise of Eldrazi drafts) was available on MTGO for a limited time, and was actually quite intriguing despite not having been developed to play together, because there were tools for both aggro decks and slower fatty decks. It seems draft cubes often feature a contrast between aggro decks vs. slower card advantage decks that use signets etc. to ramp into late game bombs. It would be interesting to do this except with a more core set feel. Having a slightly higher number of aggressive 2-drops might actually help in doing so.

Bond isn't actually doing anything in the set??
As I mentioned earlier, I've been running a community draft of the set, and being the moderator, I've had the opportunity to watch each player's picks. (The community collectively plays one seat in the draft, but there are live drafters behind the scenes for the other seats.) Although we are only about to reach the end of the first pack, it's been an extremely interesting experience.

The drafters each have their characteristic drafting styles. I've seen many of the drafters pick a card that I disagree with at first, but then they follow it up with similar picks and as the picks progress I can see a legitimate deck strategy forming. There is a player who picked Blood in the Water highly despite it being a weak indirect form of removal, and then followed it up with more and more removal, many of them good ones like Chandra's Outrage.

I've definitely experienced situations in Limited where the more removal you get (even the bad ones, such as Weakness), the more they cover for each other's holes (since they're each good at removing different things), and the weak removal spells allow you to save up the better removal like Doom Blade for the biggest creatures, so that their overall value grows as a whole. He even managed to secure a late pick Mind Rot and a Wyeth's Bounty which are not amazing on their own but in such a removal heavy deck will help attain card advantage so that the player may actually be able to remove everything the opponent plays.

Another player picked some high-drops in the beginning, then followed it with a high number of mana Elves and land-fetching creatures for a solid strategy.

Another player picked flyer after flyer, which would produce a steady stream of damage. If he could either pick some tempo tricks (unfortunately Frost Breath is currently not in the set) or some blockers, that would form a very scary strategy.

It's heartening that this is happening in draft, even if Sealed feels like it might turn monotonous after repeated sealed matches. It means that it's possible to draft different styles of decks. (Although I don't feel that it's nearly as archetypeful as it should be.)

That's the good part about the draft. A more concerning part is that the Bond creatures, the highlight of our set, don't seem to be creating any interesting dynamics in the draft. In the first pack, a Windborne Pteron wheeled around the seats. The people either had something better to take, or they weren't in the exact color pair of WU and didn't want to splash.

It's still unclear what the Bond mechanic provides for the set. The original point of the mechanic was that it could tie in with Ravnica dual lands that we guessed would come after M13. Then, some of the appeal first mentioned for the mechanic was that Kird Ape was a cool card, and it feels good when your card is receiving a bonus, especially the turn you play the required land and it "turns on."

As we examined the strengths of this mechanic, we theorized a style where people splash colors lightly, in a way that is different from the all-out multicolor of Ravnica or Shards of Alara. It's easier on beginners who don't know how to build a complex mana base. It's like "multicolor lite" where the multicolor costs are optional and less punishing if you don't get it, rather than having the card stuck in your hand when you're color screwed and can't pay a cost like "2WU."  When people are using splashed lands to turn on Bond, the moment you draw the splash land is more dramatic compared to casting the Bond creature when you already have the requisite land. We wanted to encourage splashing colors so that those dramatic moments would happen more often. To encourage merely splashing colors rather than heavy 3-color play, we decided there would be plenty of cards to incentivise commitment to your main colors, and there would only be a normal level of mana fixing.

One problem was that while the Bond creatures were arguably very likable, they didn't affect the way you play the game at all, unlike something like Bloodthirst.

We figured that at the very least, it could create interesting dynamics in draft and also make the act of building a sealed deck less than trivial. We also considered the possibility of a deck type that "builds around" Bond by combining land-fixing spells (Green mana fixing and Blue mirage effects) with every Bond creature you manage to pick up. We also tried to create as many cards that affect lands as possible without making unfun land destruction effects.

To make Bond creatures create interesting dynamics in draft, we decided that their costs and sizes would be such that they are decent without turning on, but better than what is usually allowed for their cost once they turn on, so that you could pick them up first and then gradually figure out which ones are your splash colors as you see more picks.

Currently, this hasn't happened. I find playing Sealed with the current set to be an exercise in identifying the color with the highest concentration of power cards (such as the Green cards below), then finding the color that forms the best curve with it. Since I often get many power cards in every color, there's great freedom in picking a color, and the Bond creatures are often not a big factor in choosing my colors. Sometimes there are potentially splashable Bond creatures but I don't want to for the sake of consistency.

And as I mentioned, people in the draft that I've hosted so far haven't been incentivised to splash colors. (Although this is only one draft of course).

This set really wants one more colorless mana fixer such as Terramorphic Expanse to facilitate a little more splashing. We've been avoiding it since it can create surprise interaction with Bond at instant speed, which might be a cool interaction in an expert set but possibly too chessy for an introductory set. But perhaps we should say what the heck and do it anyways. (However, it may mess up the common card count if we do both Terramorphic Expanse and Expedition Map.)

But mostly, I blame the power level of the Uncommons and some of the Commons. I have a feeling that they might be making the Bond creatures not feel special enough to splash.

Another problem that the high power level is causing is that we can't tell if the Bond creatures would cause a shortage of creatures for players who aren't in the two colors of that creature. For example, let's say a Kird Ape in a pack is unattractive to players who aren't in the exact color combination of RG. For those players, it will be as if there's one less common creature in the pack to choose from for their decks. Each color has 2 common creatures with Bond, each with their color constraints.. Depending on how easy it is to splash colors, and depending on how willing players are to play these creatures without activating Bond, there may be a shortage of creatures during drafts. This needs to be accounted for and calibrated somehow, but currently the overall high number of playable cards might be masking this problem so that this shortage is not felt.

This is going to be hard to playtest!

I imagine there to be at least two very distinct types of testing: testing to explore many possibilities, vs. testing to fine-tune the set and make everything mesh. To compare to a painting, it's as different as trying out many different sketches vs. putting on the oil layers.

The test I mentioned is about testing how Bond really affects Limited if the power distribution of the surrounding cards were balanced, and fine-tuning the non-Bond cards we designed is not yet an issue.

I imagine that with most Magic sets, the early exploratory tests for a set would only need to establish whether a particular kind of play pattern or a particular mechanic is fun and actually works. For example, it might be about finding out whether pairing creatures with Soulbond is fun or not and what the best implementation is. When testing to figure out the right implementation for Soulbond, you don't need to get some Uncommon Air Elemental variant to the right power level in order to find out things such as "it's best when you are allowed to re-pair pairs."

In this set, though, we have a peculiar situation in that our mechanic that doesn't affect play much, but affects the way you draft or build your deck. The power level of the Bond cards in relation to the other cards in the set is very important for testing what kind of effect it has on Limited. We actually have to get the power levels of the surrounding cards mostly right.

To solve the power level problem, the next few tests could use M13 Bond-related cards in a mix of M11 cards. Perhaps we could generate 6 M13 Boosters and 6 M11 Boosters and only use the Commons and Rares from the M13 Boosters and only the Uncommons from the M11 Boosters. We could allow any land-related cards from the M13 Boosters to also be used.

Another reason why this mechanic is difficult to develop is because while strategically our Bond creatures only provide about as much game play decisions as French vanilla creatures do, in terms of complexity, the Bond creatures have long text and they can't be counted as French vanilla creatures. (Although their status seems to be easy enough to keep track of.) Each color will have 2 vanillas, around 2 French vanillas, and 2 Bond creatures, which makes it very vanilla-heavy in terms of strategy. Although French vanillas like Garruk's Companion are not a blank in terms of strategic significance and can definitely contribute towards the formation of an archetype, it would still be difficult to craft many different playstyles in the set if there is less space for creatures with original text. Perhaps this can be solved by devoting a higher number of common slots to creatures than usual. The Bond creatures call out for specific color combinations, and in sets where cards require to be in a certain archetype to be good, booster packs are allowed to be more dense with playables.

So those are my thoughts after my initial testing. I hope to be back with more as testing progresses.


  1. A few suggestions for 2-drop common reprint:

    !!Sparkmage Apprentice!! instead of Chariot or Fodder (great brake vs. aggro, especially against Scourge of the Seas. Also lets you justify cutting a more powerful removal card somewhere else)
    Courier Hawk instead of Youthful Knight
    Drudge Skeletons instead of a black beater
    Vampire Interloper instead of the other black beater
    Goblin Striker instead of Runaway Chariot

    I know the common tapper had a lot of discussion, but the current version seems too good. There's a lot to be said for the standard Master Decoy stats (and it could be a functional reprint as a scout). Or maybe Squall Drifter could be another option.

    Also, I really like Fa'adiyah Seer. I know it's weird for core, but it's a land-y block (and I love the card). If you keep testing and you need another 2-drop to slow things down, Kithkin Zealot might be a good place to look. It might need a functional reprint to give it a better type, but it's a solid aggro-stopper.

    1. Sparkmage would mean cutting Runebrand and Goblin Arsonist, the former of which is fairly fundamental to our set's removal at this point and the latter of which is a favorite among our lead designers and developers.

      Drudge Skeletons isn't core anymore; Scourge of the Seas *is* Vampire Interloper.

      I'd rather replace Runaway with the standard Goblin Chariot, but Striker isn't a bad idea either. Chah has had a problem with Homewood Trapper, but the card is a great signal, and another great direction to take the role of tapper (for a single year). (Squall Drifter, [thankfully, within CSPx3] has Snow.)

      Green is the one exception to our reprint rule, so I like the suggestion of Seer. Rather than sticking to the colorshifted Sindbad, I think 1G 1/1 "T: Reveal the top card of your library. If it's a land, put it into your hand. If it's not, forget it." is probably a solid wording. (Also doesn't have the weird-as-hell Miracle interaction).

    2. I'd definitely suggest reconsidering Homewood Trapper. Nothing in the set that I've seen suggests a particular good reason for a 2/2 tapper and even today I can't figure out why Whipcorder had those stats. Holy Justiciar seemingly received an additional point of power just to compensate for how expensive it is (or because Zac Hill was deadset on putting Jon Loucks' cards into AVR).

    3. Homewood Trapper exists because we wanted a less efficient tapper. It's an important but annoying effect that's been well supported for a long time. That he doubles as a Silvercoat Lion makes him versatile rather than powerful. We shouldn't have many such cards because we need to support separate archetypes, but having a couple is just as important as varying power level and aggressiveness. He was 2W briefly, but that felt wrong. Still an option though.

    4. Goblin Tunneler is an example of a card that wasn't good in most decks but useful in some decks. It worked with Fiery Hellhounds in a heavy Red deck, as well as Scroll Thief and Child of Night. That's the kind of thing I'm looking for.

      Looking back at what I wrote, I talked about both a card's power level and a card's power stat (as in P/T) and it might have been confusing.

      I'm looking for cards with a decently high power level but low power stat. Some cards like Merfolk Looter are very powerful but have power 1.

      Courier Hawk and Goblin Striker don't seem to serve any particular purpose. They're probably weak in any deck, unlike Goblin Tunneler.

      Drudge Skeleton seems too defensive that it would probably cause a stall, but who knows.

      The Seer seems to be a bit wordy, and it's also a repeatable source of card advantage so I wouldn't use it as a core set common.

    5. If we want to nerf the tapper, we don't need to make it double as a 2/2 bear. Why didn't it feel right at 2U? Do you think it's because the numbers didn't line up? It doesn't have to be a 2/2 with activation cost of 2 in the first place. For example, we could just use the tapper from Avacyn Restored. That should feel fine at 3. Also, the reason we put Rune Brand and Goblin Arsonist in the set is so that they can be used to kill powerful utility guys without spending a full card, but currently most of our utility guys have stats like 2/2, 2/3, or 3/3.

      I don't get the argument about signalling.

    6. To me, RB and GA are there to kill ancillary utility guys, but also to serve as a first-line-of-defense countermeasure to 3/1 creatures (of which we have several).

      Should we assume that white does need *a* 2/2 creature? Assuming that it does, and assuming that we can't just reprint Gideon's Lawkeeper (which seems to be your ideal card), I think Trapper does an admirable job.

      The point about signalling is that since Blinding Mage/Lawkeeper were solid cards, and Silvercoat Lion as well, putting them together represents a strong signal for White in draft. Since the card generally can only provide its power in one of the two roles, it's not as though white's overall power level is increased; but it allows for a star common. (This is me restating what Jay said, more or less.) In the coreset much more than in expert sets, making some cards noticeable good and others not-as-good is important for new players in easing their Limited experience.

    7. The rationale for making the Trapper a 2/2 seems distinctly misplaced — if you're intent is to design a less-efficient tapper, don't compensate by obscuring its gameplay purpose and turning it into a fully-functional bear, because you've actually just made an ultra-efficient bear instead of a less-efficient tapper.

      To me, Kor Line-Slinger and Avacynian Priest are the ideals for which a "less-efficient tapper" slot should aim, as the ability is qualified in a relevant manner and the physical attributes fit the function of the card and the environment they're in. In M13, I can see a strong justification for 2 toughness, as Runebrand (like Geistflame) is a highly playable and splashable spell that a "less-efficient tapper" should be protected from. But that second point of power just makes me scratch my head.

    8. I agree with Metaghost. I like restricted tappers. Jay was interested in using "target non-white creature" on a white removal spell. Tappers have been too strong, so it might make sense to use that clause here. I'd also like it to have toughness 1.

      I don't get Pasteur's point because Blinding Mage, Gideon's Lawkeeper, and Homewood Trapper are all first-pickable, so it doesn't change the dynamics in any way.

      Besides that point, the argument that having a clear first pick helps signalling needs explanation. Imagine a pack with Blinding Mage, Stormfront Pegasus, and Assault Griffin. The player who opens it takes Blinding Mage as the clear first pick. The other players see Pegasus and Griffin and think White is open, taking the wrong signal. How did it help for signalling that the Blinding Mage was far better than the others? If it was foil Pegasus, Pegasus, Griffin, would it be any different? The guy would take one of the flyers and the others would see 2 flyers left and think White was open. For signalling, it doesn't matter how much better the picked card was, as long as the other relatively weaker cards of that color in the pack are still high picks.

    9. That depends on the level of the drafters. At a high level, you get passed a pack, figure out what rarity is missing, and narrow down colors by which cards of that rarity are better than anything left in the pack. I agree for the more general case though.

      That said, I like Homewood Trapper precisely because it plays as an upside bear and looks like a tapper. That allows players to pick it for one reason, and then be surprised when it plays out differently without having to feel like they made a bad pick, or at least, that's the hope.

    10. Remember that the Avacyn Restored tapper also has the funky exile a Zombie rider. Also, it seemed really bad at the pre-release; maybe it'll be better in draft, but it felt really awkward.

      Back to the original problem, if I understand Chah correctly, the set needs more common bears and uncommons that do things other than just attack efficiently, because right now the land bond guys don't get a chance to do much.

      I still like Squall Drifter (yes, he needs a functional reprint; not a big deal).

      What about an upgraded Infantry Veteran?
      Veteran Squire (common)
      creature - human soldier
      T: Target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn

      A "hellbent" red looter?
      Barbarian Looter
      creature - goblin barbarian
      T: Discard a card, then draw a card

      Or maybe it's worth reconsidering off-color activations? I know the subject got a lot of discussion early on, but maybe some of the basic Roofstalker Wight style cards could do a better job of expressing the set's color-combo theme.

    11. I very much want to see Homewood Trapper printed eventually*, but I don't know that M13 needs that over, say:

      Persistent Evangelist 1W
      1/1 Human Cleric
      W, T: Tap target nonwhite creature.

      *Probably at 2W. He's exciting at at 1W, but the point was that he's not good at attacking or tapping, but can do both.

  2. FWIW, I've not been following M13 in detail, but your analysis sounded very convincing to me.

  3. This was such a good article, Chah. Really great.

    We did make an effort to add weak commons in the set, but we never made sure there weren't too many good cards (common or otherwise). In the context you've shared, it seems obvious that we can't have as many good cards as we do because it throws off a lot of important internal mechanisms of Limited Magic.

    Part of the solution, as you said, will just to make some of the good cards only good in specific archetypes, reducing their universal appeal, but you've also convinced me that there needs to be an overall reduction in power level. Guess we'll have to nerf some of our favorites or replace them with mediocre cards.

    I've done enough testing to know that bond is fun to play with, and I believe you're right that having most cards in the set be equally strong is pulling focus away from them, so I'm eager to see if reducing the set's power level brings bond back into the spotlight.
    I wouldn't take a 9th+ pick Windborn Pteron as a sign though, because a white Hill Giant is strong enough without flying. Guessing people saw "island" and their non-blue draft and passed it, a natural tendancy to be sure, but one that players would learn to overcome after a few drafts (aka Depth).

    I'm glad you expounded on your position about the two-drops because I wasn't getting it over Twitter, but you've clearly demonstrated an unintentional deviation from varied aggression levels to mono-aggressive (except for blue).

    I agree that we need more 1-power two-drops. Whatever shuffling we do here will rippled heavily into our one- and three-drops and I'm confident that with some work we can get similar effects with less total power across that range. A one-power Shortcutter for 1 (aka Raknak Diversion) could help, for instance.

    I'd support replacing Expedition Map with Evolving Wilds. It supports basic lands better and dual lands worse, which helps us push toward CD or cDe decks instead of full-on 3+ color decks. While I'm sure that some players will be caught off-guard by bond turning on at instant speed, I don't think it will happen so often or be so traumatic that it offsets the joy the clever player pulling that trick will experience.

    Overall, we're actually lighter on fixing than normal, at least in Green. Rampant Growth is just Explore and Cultivate is just Borderland Ranger. I believe this was Duncan's push originally and I still want to test it enough to know whether the set is better this way or not, but I quite like how amazing Borderland Ranger becomes here.

    1. Great article Chah!

      I'm still not happy with Evolving Wilds' bond tricks, but Traveler's Amulet/Wnaderer's Twig could replace map pretty effectively. Heck, we could even use Armillary Sphere though that lets you do weird things like splash double-cost cards.

      As for power level, the uncommons are definitely an issue, but we also have things set up so that the good commons are threats rather than removal in an almost Rise of the Eldrazi-esque manner (outside of red). I've yet to see that work in a fast environment, but it may be possible with the sort of heavy offense + heavy defense setup you proposed. I'd normally say "try it out," but since we're on such a limited time frame we may just need to revert to a powerful removal scheme.

    2. The reason I'm a big proponent of Map is that if we step back from having seen plenty of Twigs/Amulets every set since Journeyman's Kite, it's a fairly straightforward card that I think hits the Core flavor best.

      I mean, I've never once shied away from or regretted playing Map in an M13 deck; if we're sticking to only one common colorless fixer, I don't see a strong argument that Map isn't doing its job.

    3. Does Map vs Evolving Wilds have to be an either/or conversation? Can it be both? (Innistrad had both Amulet and Wilds, and was not particularly pushing a land theme to interact with.)

    4. Most recent core sets had 20 commons of each color and 1 colorless common. The question is, is there some logistic reason why it has to be that way? If we could keep it at 20 commons per color and add an additional colorless card, that would be great. Otherwise, I am loath to cut it down to 19 commons per color + 6 colorless (when we don't have a particular need for 4 more colorless cards) but we may have to.

    5. Right, all large and core sets since the change have had 101 commons.

  4. I disagree with the analysis of the 2-drops, to be honest. The biggest change I can see are the switch from Goblin Tunneler to Goblin Shortcutter. That *is* in increase in power from a P/T angle, but isn't necessarily a more powerful card (in cases of getting in the last points of damage/actually finishing the job).

    I look at Runaway Chariot as a Jackal Familiar, rather than as a two drop. Youthful Knight is more of a defensive card than an offensive card, and even with power=2, has much less power than Squadron Hawk. Eerie Nosferatu is a three drop at best, the green and blue commons are mostly the same. I just don't think your argument is supported by these cards; (I also don't know how much is gained from looking at the two-drops of a set without looking at the other cards.)

    We have built a set where there are some viable aggressive strategies, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a wide variety of decks to build, right?

    1. I think you misunderstood what I meant when I said the common 2-drops have high power. I was talking about P/T. I want to replace them with cards that are about as good but don't hit for 2 damage. Goblin Shortcutter hits for 2. Goblin Tunneler doesn't hit for 2. That affects the speed of the environment. That affects the variety of strategies to pursue. I want cards that are lower in power from a P/T angle but are about as powerful in a different way.

      - Runaway Chariot is a 2-drop. If you cast it, you can't cast another 2-drop you would have cast in its place.
      - Youthful Knight is just as much an offensive card as it is a defensive card. It has much more power than a Squadron Hawk. To get more power out of a Squadron Hawk, you need to spend many high picks on it rather than spending one pick on Youthful Knight. Cards that get conditionally good like that is exactly what we want for diversity.
      - Eerie Nosferatu is a two drop at best, three-drop or later at worse.
      - This is not just about the 2-drops; the other cards in the set are also about attacking. There isn't a balance of utility vs beater in any of the slots.
      - Currently, there isn't a wide variety of decks to build. If players were not able to get all-on-curve-beater decks, there would be more incentive to weave synergistic strategies with the creatures that you get. But right now, it's just attackers, removal, and overpowering cards like Savage Brawl.

    2. That Chariot attacks for 2 on turn 2 like Jackal Pup doesn't reduce it's two-drop-ness.

      Two Youthful Knights are better on defense than offense, but each YK is better than a bear on attack.

      Squadron Hawk is a monster. A monster who's risks make up for his power in Limited... but shouldn't be printed because of Constructed.

      How is Eerie Nosferatu a three-drop at all? You're counting on not having a second Swamp?

      I suspect Chah is right that too many of our common creatures are about attacking and we need more variety. Let's review the file and see.

  5. Likewise, I'm not in line with your analysis of the uncommons. I get the feeling that your problem is really with Stone Thrower (a favorite of Jay's), which is a card with an attractive upside, but is worse than Prodigal Pyromancer in many decks. Goblin Offensive and Blaze are both usable but *much* worse cards than Fireball. I don't see a single card that I would truly describe as a "savage beating" - Arcing Fury can be a HOUSE, but also naturally opens you up for a two-for-one. Pyroclasm is limited playable in the M13 we've constructed, but still is more likely to kill your guys than theirs (if you're in red). Combust is Combust is Combust; and our tenth uncommon, the Swashbuckler, has Timmy appeal but certainly isn't too strong. Our uncommons *are* each good in a different way.

    1. You are just mentioning the spell slots like Pyroclasm or Combust that haven't changed in structure from previous core sets. I didn't say those cards were the problem. The Uncommon creatures are the problem because they are all the same big types, except for Swashbuckler. Please, go look at the spoilers of a couple of real sets and see if there are so many big beaters.

      I was going to write in a future post that the Stone Thrower cycle is our strongest asset so far, giving Sealed pools multiple paths to go giving you a legitimate choice to focus on a color or not. And basic landfall is a good way to hit the land theme we've got. While I'm against everything being big, this one deserves to be big for a pinger because it matches the flavor so perfectly and it only gets to activate its ability once in a while. Blaze trails slightly behind Fireball, Goblin Offensive trails behind Blaze, but the problem is that there are two of them. This is exasperating. Are you just playing with words? How could you say "they're both weaker than Fireball so they're ok?" The number of those game-closing X spells don't matter?

    2. Blaze is an auto-play, but is streets behind Fireball. Goblin Offensive shouldn't even be played in most decks - it's a slow, slow card that admittedly does something cool if you have enough time, but just isn't worth it usually.

      From my experiences playing with the set, 3/3 is not a big body. Paying five mana for one isn't a great bargain; but would you be happier if we cut Bloodsplatter devil down a peg and made his ability more prominent? Something like:

      Bloodsplatter Devil 2R
      2R, T: Sacrifice another creature: Bloodsplatter Devil deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

      This would act as a utility creature, never a big beater, and would still combo with Matron Willow/Dragon Fodder.

      For Wanderlust Giant, a vanilla 5/5 for six is hardly efficient and hardly unstoppable (while definitely supporting GR Ramp decks).

      So, speaking specifically and not generically, we have two 3/3s, one of which isn't a problem, a 5/5 for six that certainly isn't a problem if the Earth and Fire Servants weren't, and Flaring Firebird. I'd definitely be willing to support trimming the Devil down to being just a utility creature, but the Firebird probably needs some work as well.

    3. Instinctive thoughts on the red uncommons:

      1. Further distinguish Bloodspatter Devil from Stonethrower Giant, ideally by doing as you say and dropping the Devil to a distinct utility position.

      2. What's the aggressive low-drop? I'm assuming it's just not listed; if not, why no aggressive low-drop? (Stormblood Berserker, Ember Hauler, Crimson Mage, Chandra's Spitfire)

      3. Does the set need Blaze at uncommon? Why not reprint one of the rare variants, like Banefire? (P.S.: Two uncommon X spells feels weird.)

    4. 2. Daring Swashbuckler is an aggressive one-drop uncommon. It's a 1/1 for R that can attack as a 3/3!
      But really, I think that question gets at a little of the dissonance. Red in m13 at present is more aggressive at common and more lumbering at uncommon.

      3. It may in time prove best to cut Goblin Offensive, but I think Blaze is a fine decision. There is a rare X spell as well, and Blaze provides the simplest antecedent to that in a very core way. In the meantime, though, Offensive *does* hold its own pretty well. Time will tell whether or not it does need cut.

    5. You're right that Goblin Offensive is a slower card than I put it. I don't think the set needs two X spells at Uncommon, but maybe the Offensive will feed some archetypes. I kind of feel concerned about the X1RR cost (having a generic 1 cost plus an X cost might be confusing to some players) but that's an issue other than power level.

      It would definitely feel that the Uncommons are more varied if the Bloodspatter Devil had toughness 1. Or, if it was moved to Rare to be something like:
      Bloodsplatter Devil 2R
      2R, T: Sacrifice another creature: Bloodsplatter Devil deals 2 damage to target creature or player. Put a +1/+1 counter on Bloodsplatter Devil.

      The Firebird may have to be moved to Rare, or the activation cost changed to 3R or something.

      Daring Swashbuckler seems fine since it's a risk to attack it into a 2/2. It's one of the few Uncommon creatures providing variety. I wish it used the top of library instead of a coin flip because interrupting the game with a coin flip might be annoying for some players.

    6. To Metaghost's question: We had Daring Swashbuckler, a 1/1 for R that gets +2/+2 if you win a coin flip upon attacking or blocking, but I forgot to put it up there.

      We have a Rare X burn spell too so we could arguably cut Blaze, but Blaze or Fireball are such iconic X spells and such a good introduction to what an X cost is that I feel players should be exposed to it at Uncommon.

    7. A rare Bloodspatter Devil not only has to compete with the other red rares (whose spot it isn't worth) but also stops it from being a limited build-around.

      We *do* want an uncommon flier in Red, but it may be prudent to have some sort of slow-recurring Phoenix rather than the blaze-of-glory Phoenix (or, alternatively, some sort of Hatchling).

      This also reminds me that it'd be prudent to add Reach to Matron Willow, to balance out the cycle.

    8. There are two X-Burn spells in the set? Huh?

    9. I support a Bloodspatter Devil that starts at 1/1. I'm actually not sure we really need the Devil. Stone Thrower is our repeatable damage effect, the Devil just offers a sacrifice outlet, something we've done nowhere, consciously.

      As cute as Goblin Offensive is, I'm not sure it justifies a second common X spell or the awkward mana cost. What about Goblin Scouts, Goblin Warrens, or…
      Mogg Orgy 4R
      Put X 1/1 red Goblin creature tokens OTB, where X is the number of creatures you control.

      Are you seeing the Flaring Firebird as too powerful?
      As a 2/2 flyer for four, that you can pump to 8/Dead for six, it's usually notably worse than Dragon Whelp.

  6. Maybe it's worth revisiting whether the uncommon landfall creatures belong in this set at all. Not only are they very powerful, but increasingly it seems like they undermine the main theme.

    1. Our main theme, as weird as it may sound is to play 2 main colors and while splashing 1-2 other colors. Our reasoning is that playing heavily in 3 colors would be harsh on new players who are just learning about attacking and casting instants and don't know how to build a complex mana base. We currently have some cards that encourage splashing, and some other cards that reward you for being heavy in your main colors rather than straddling 3 colors. This may be a mistake, but just having 3-color or 4-color play in a core set would also be a mistake.

    2. Right, but Stone Thrower Giant and the black equivalent (the drain life guy -- I forgot its name) push you towards mono-color.

    3. The main theme is Lands Matter or Fool's Gold if you want to be poetic. Hmm, maybe that should be our subtitle. The bond commons and the landfall uncommons support this theme. That said, Chah's absolutely right that we don't want to push player's into too many colors because those decks are hard to build and we want players to learn about the value of allied color pairs, not how to wash out their decks.

    4. Jay, I understand what Chah is saying, but the uncommon landfall cards don't encourage players to build limited decks with 2 colors or a splash.

      Instead, they create a mono-colored draft around plan. The way to get the most out of something like Stone Thrower Giant or Treefolk's Blessing is to pack as many of the appropriate basic into your deck as possible.

      If you want to support a mono-draft plan, that's great. But if you're looking for more support for the 2-color + maybe a splash land bond deck, they're not the right tool.