Monday, May 21, 2012

Design Challenge #2: Results

This challenge was a doozy.  ("What exactly is a doozy, HV? Also, are you aware that the 1950's ended a while ago?")  Rearranging the color pie is extremely difficult to do well, because the whole thing is already an intricate feat of checks and balances.  Of course, Goblin Artisans readers are a clever bunch.

The challenge was:
Mark Rosewater has stated that red's slice of the color pie is too narrow.  For this challenge, you must come up with an idea or mechanic to add to red.  You may move something from another color or create something entirely new.  This mechanic should be sufficiently flexible that it can appear in every large set.  
For this challenge, submit an essay of 50-150 words explaining your idea and a core set common or uncommon card demonstrating its use.
One trap that several contestants fell into was inventing a new keyword. Since the challenge specified that this mechanic should be printable in every large set, giving it a keyword meant adding a new evergreen keyword to the game. There's an extremely high bar for evergreen keywords in terms of simplicity. (Except for Protection, which got tenure in the 90's and has been coasting ever since.) Because of this, most attempts to create a new keyword for red cards were doomed from the get-go.

Among the remaining entries, a few stood out as particularly straightforward yet flexible enough to make over and over again.


Honorable Mention

Winners: Kevin Gold and Wobbles

Kevin writes:
The mechanic theme I'd give to red is one-shot "this stuff doesn't untap next round" effects, particularly for lands.  Red wants to burn their cards as fast as possible to kill the opponent as fast as possible, the opposite of blue.  So something like the following:
Passing Drought (Common)
Tap two target lands.  They don't untap during their controller's next untap step.
It's sort of fixed land destruction. Unlike land destruction, this doesn't randomly hose someone with a bad draw throughout the rest of the game, and it doesn't make the game unfun for that person.  It just knocks them off their balance in development, and gives red the chance to drop one of its little dudes on the same turn. The same idea is broad and can apply to creatures as well ... think Red Exhaustion ("Heat Exhaustion").  No permanent tap effects, though.  Notice how in many cases, this card can also throw Blue's counters off-balance, which also seems in-flavor.
and Wobbles writes:
Red seems like a good place for the "ice" ability, especially for non-creatures. It's mana denial, tempo, and artifact destruction all rolled into one. It also fits a "stun" flavor, a surprise attack that feels very red.
Tap target land. It doesn't untap during its controller's next untap step.
(PICTURE: Goblins shooting a slug out of a cannon)
Yes, this takes it out of white/blue where it has been. But blue has bounce, and both can still tap creatures. This is a unique little space that gives players the joy of disrupting mana, while avoiding actually preventing the opponent from playing in the long term.
This feels very red by being temporary, and it's definitely safer to print than Stone Rain.  However, milder land destruction is still a griefer strategy, and everyone hates not getting to play their spells.  This card is best when it's not fun: on turn two, perhaps after a Stromkirk Noble. It also seems hard to find the balance point for cards like this.  How do you make them not too oppressive in the early game without being weak in the late game?  Still, I dig the simplicity of these designs, and can definitely imagine a variety of uses for the effect.

Third Place
Winner: AlexC

My new evergreen mechanic for red is: Rainbow mana. Let green keep the efficient tappers for G, but red gets (slightly less efficient) mana of any colour. Wild Cantor, Manamorphose and Smokebraider become more naturally in-pie for red. Try to avoid just straight-up creatures that tap for mana, although [you] can do so occasionally, but generally keep a bit more distance: use either instants / sorceries, or triggered abilities on combat damage, start of main phase, land tapping etc. This would mean that in some sets red is the better colour for multicolour mana fixing, in some sets it'll still be green via landsearch, and sometimes both will be options with a different feel to each.
Sample Core Set common:
Pyrokinetic Ritual
Sorcery, 1R, common
Add three mana of any one colour to your mana pool.
This is a natural choice, since mana rituals are already in red's slice of the pie.  I like that there's a built-in way to differentiate between red and green fixing.  We haven't seen many rainbow rituals before, and I suspect they would play very differently from either Seething Song or Birds of Paradise.  I'm not entirely convinced it would work smoothly; usually, if you want access to a color of mana, you want that access to be reliable, not a one-shot effect.  Overall, though, I like this idea a lot, and think it would change red decks in an exciting way.

Second Place
Winner: Jack V

I propose to make permanent the "alternative world" placement of "bounce a creature you don't control" in red. The advantages of this are:
* It's really simple
* Unlike "bounce" and "bounce self" it's not currently in any colour
* It fits directly into red's "charge ahead now, sort out the problems later" philosophy
* It fulfills a similar function to "target creature can't block" but is EVEN SIMPLER to understand.
* It fulfills a useful niche in red rush strategy, letting red eke through a few more points of damage without removing interaction by making blockers irrelevant
* I believe it opens up design space that wouldn't be used in blue (e.g. explicitly aggressive bouncing, bouncing based on small size, combining damage with bounce, much weaker bounce spells that would be eclipsed in blue)
Proposed core common card:
Return target creature an opponent controls to its owner's hand.
R&D did this back in Planar Chaos, and I did love playing Stingscourger.  This ability fits red philosophically and strategically, and it has a huge number of applications.

Of course, permanently shifting a core blue ability does bring up a big question: how will red and blue bounce spells feel different?  (Planar Chaos didn't need to address this, because it removed blue bounce entirely.)  Sorcery speed is one way, but bounce spells are already played on opponents' creatures most of the time.  Jack touches on this a bit in his essay, but it would take a lot of time and discussion to figure this issue out.  I think it's a solvable problem, though.

First Place
Winner: Nich Grayson

Reckless Acts AKA "Sacrifice NAME at the beginning of the next end step." 
By Nich Grayson 
I suggest a return to recklessness. Low rarity Red creatures can lack elements that separate them from other colors. Often times only a keyword validates why it’s Red. Make "sacrificing" a delayed trigger rather than a cost for some of Red’s abilities to show that its creatures go out in a blaze of glory. A standard template for the cards like Dark Maze, Deathknell Kami, Pyric Salamander, Varchild's Crusader, and Goblin Cannon mechanically demonstrates flavor and opens up a lot of design space, much like deathtouch did. I can definitely imagine creatures with reckless abilities getting printed in future sets. 
The card below has a Stun ability you can use once each turn, or you can pop the creature to get a bunch of activations all at once and still attack with it!
Ambush Breaker (Uncommon)
Creature - Human Berserker
R, T: Target creature can't block this turn.
R: Target creature can't block this turn. Sacrifice Ambush Breaker at the beginning of the next end step.
What I like about this idea is that it feels perfectly red.  Ever since Dragon Whelp, red mages have enjoyed the opportunity to say, "@&#% this, I'm going all in," and turn a lot of mountains sideways.  Cards with the potential to go postal give us the Arc Runner experience without being quite so narrow.  I think Nich's card would actually feel better without the first ability — who wants to tap your 3-power guy instead of attacking? — but that's a minor nitpick.  This is definitely my favorite mechanic to add to red.

Thanks very much to all competitors!  The next challenge will be up soon.


  1. Aw man, that's some really good stuff.

  2. While I don't entirely disagree with Havelock's rankings, I will say that I can't see R&D wholeheartedly embracing Nich's proposal simply because it's a "downside" mechanic at its core. The rationale for why that makes sense in red is rock-solid, and I'd love to see a greater splash of the concept outside of your typical Ball Lightning variants, but I just don't see it as something that could further define red in a way that the other suggested mechanics could be.

    1. I think R&D avoids downside mechanics as major themes for sets, but they're fine on individual cards. Don't Fling, Phantasmal Bear, and Bloodthrone Vampire fall into a similar category?

    2. I thought the idea was to develop a mechanic that could be applied broadly?

      If M13 has a vertical cycle of "Reckless" cards, has Red's mechanical foundation been significantly broadened?

      What do the commons look like? Probably a lot like Goblin Deathraiders:

      Reckless Goblin
      Whenever ~ attacks, you may have it gain +2/+0 and trample until end of turn. If you do, sacrifice it at the beginning of the next end step.

      Designs more in line with what Nich proposed ARE portrayed in a distinct and interesting manner that would set them apart from Hellspark Elemental (or Qasali Pridemage), but there's a lot of tension there that I wouldn't be happy about seeing at common.

    3. Not necessarily broadly; one or two cards per large set is enough. The main goal was to find the next Act of Treason so that making red commons is less of a pain.

      Reckless Goblin seems fine to me, and very much in line with Nich's proposal.

      But I do agree with your point about tension.

  3. Good stuff, people! These design challenges are heating up.

  4. Funny that two of us came up with virtually the same concept.

    Red is a griefer color, though. It always has been. Extremely aggressive decks are griefer. Storm decks are griefer. Stone Rain decks are griefer. Jokulhaups? Counterburn? Mono-burn?

    There's no such thing as the Red-midrange aggro deck. It doesn't exist. That's just not what Red is about. Do you know when a cards "sacrifice me" ability is actually going to matter? When you're going to win the game that turn.

    R&D knowingly or unknowingly has begun to acknowledge this, and made these cards weeker. Which makes red weaker. QED

    1. I'm not quite sure what your thesis is. That red should embrace its griefer nature? Or that the new expansion to the pie should be something that does more to pull it out of its aggro rut? (In which case I think Jack V's proposal is probably the best.)

    2. FWIW, I would argue that red is the least griefer color after green. Land denial strategies certainly do qualify, but most of its other strategies are not something I would describe as griefing. Probably we just have different definitions.

    3. I mean, I guess I'm talking more about "noninteractive" than actively griefing. Noninteractive decks are a form of griefing, I guess, but certainly have less "feel bad" going on. Still I don't consider Dragonstorm style decks "good magic"

      Mostly, I'd fix Red by printing most of the good blue creatures in that color, instead of Blue. Blue getting good creatures is just ridiculous to me. There's no specific mechanic there, but I don't think any of the following:

      Delver of Secrets
      Snapcaster Mage
      Grand Architect
      Phantasmal Image
      Phyrexian Metamorph

      Would feel out of place in Red. There's not single common mechanic there to shift, but all of those cards would be A) more fun in Red, B) Less supported by counterspells etc.

    4. Agreed, Dragonstorm and its ilk are un-fun abominations.

      Blue getting strong creatures is here to stay. R&D wants people to win by turning dudes sideways. I'm sure they regret making Delver and Snapcaster quite as powerful as they are, but they're going to keep on printing good blue creatures.

      At least they're getting rid of Mana Leak. Good riddance.

    5. I'm happy with good creatures, but geez, would it kill them to make a few of them Red? The problem is that the "traditional" good red creature looks like Goblin Guide or Jackel Pup.

      When these creatures are backed by strong burn, it doesn't give opponents a chance to meaningfully interact. Even if they kill it by turn 3, they've put themselves into burn range and largely out of interactive matches.

    6. Absolutely. Red has been deeply pigeonholed because of its reliance on fast creatures and burn.