Monday, July 23, 2012

CCDD 072312—Prized Memories

Cool Card Design of the Day
7/23/2012 - Two things Spike loves are card advantage and difficult choices. This card requires each player to sacrifice some portion of their deck in order to enjoy the card advantage, the trick being that you have to guess how much your opponent is going to give in order to "bid correctly."

There are a few dials we can turn to improve this card, but first let's figure out the baseline because there are several things happening here. First, it's an Ancestral Recall that anyone could get. That's clearly exciting but very risky. How terrible would you feel if you paid a card and a mana to cast this, and your opponent exiled one more card than you, getting all the benefits? In a normal deck, it would be devastating.

What if, on the other hand, you can make that win-win? If they bid enough to beat you, you will have reduced their deck size by N+3 cards, where N is however much you were willing to risk. In a dedicated milling deck, you'll be casting on yourself or one mana Traumatizes much of the time. Your opponent will already have a smaller deck once you've cast a Mind Sculpt or two, and they know decking them is your primary route to victory, so that limits what they can afford to bid.

Even if you don't want to go mill, Prized Memories fits the newly reprinted Battle of Wits deck to a tee, letting you spend excess deck for the card draw that will dig you to the pieces you need to win. I mean, provided you play enough cards. I have no idea if this card is good enough to go from running 230 cards to 260, for instance.

With those options to break the symmetry in mind, is this still the mini-game we were hoping for? Can we improve the design? I see three knobs we can play with: Mana Cost, Number of Cards Drawn, and the Bid Format. Changing either of the first two immediately removes the punch that this is almost Ancestral Recall, but they may well be a price we have to pay. At 3UU, this becomes a Jace's Ingenuity that could favor our opponent, so that's gives us our upper bounds. At one card, this is too marginal to fight over so two cards is our only other option. In that scenario, it needs to cost less than 2U to be considered over Divination. 2U for three cards and U for two cards seem like the most reasonable options if U for three is too strong.

(There's one more crazy option where the winner draws as many cards as she exiled, in which case the stakes rise with the bids, but so does the risk of self-milling. I would personally only explore this option if another designer/developer insisted.)

What about changing the nature of the bidding? Right now, bidding is simultaneous and both players pay regardless of who wins. How does the card change if you only pay when you win? The player with the smaller deck is more likely to bid a non-zero number this way, since he doesn't have to worry about being milled and not drawing for them. That seems like an improvement to the gameplay, though I'd want to test both ways to be sure.

What if bidding isn't simultaneous? If the caster has to bid first, the onus is on her to figure out what the others would be willing to pay, but the card plays out faster and causes less frustration in the milling / Battle of Wits scenarios. Maybe incremental bidding would be interesting. I bid 20, you bid 21, I bid 23, you bid 25, trying to push each other further and further over. That sounds fun, but I suspect it just slows things down in practice.

What do you think? How would you tweak Prized Memories? Is it even worth tweaking?


  1. I'm not sure what direction to take the card, but I'd be sure to playtest it with Shelldock Isle.

    Another costing option would be to make this cost UR. Between the recklessness of Slogging (even if it's for Recall rather than Shock) as well as the riskiness that comes naturally with bidding cards makes it red enough in my book that I wouldn't think twice. At that point I'd probably make it an instant and keep it Draw-3.

    1. And with Laboratory Maniac :)

    2. Why have I never seen a Doomsday pile with Gitaxian Probe and Laboratory Maniac?

  2. I tried to frame it with a "repeat this process" clause, where each player may exile a card from their library each iteration until only one player exiles a card, but it got wordy and as you mentioned, it slows things down.

    You could also try "each player exiles any number of cards...player who exiled the most cards from their library this way draws three cards." That diminishes much of the interaction and, because of the NAP/AP resolution, the person who plays it could be at a distinct advantage.

    1. Plague of Vermin handles all of that excellently.

  3. Ian suggested that "draw three" is pretty tame, so I asked what other reward could the players be bidding over, bearing in mind it pretty much has to interact with the library in some way. His answer was awesome: Search your library for a card and play it without paying its mana cost.

    While Ancestral Recall is exciting in that it is a massively undercosted effect, and additional cards have a power and allure to themselves, it also feels very generic. Find ANY card you want AND cast it for FREE is exciting. That's something to fight over. That you take a chance of accidentally exiling every copy of the card you most want to cast by bidding high enough to win it adds a neat bit of tension.

    1. I don't know. This is a tough nut to crack. Exiling cards from the library is pretty much the least valuable resource in the game, so it's easy to go for broke with very little draw back. And it's hard to balance because there isn't a maximum deck size to prevent players from making the cost even less relevant.

      That said, I think bidding over drawing cards is plenty exciting, fwiw I still enjoy Pain's Reward at it's 4 cards for 3 mana ratio. Unfortunately, that card basically just plays like a much worse Browbeat. Bidding cards that give symmetrical rewards are just like Punisher cards, but worse. It's quite hard to break the symmetry on these when your opponent can influence the outcome.

      Finding any card could be interesting, but it'd be really hard for development. "Instant Win" cards and creatures exist in most formats, so introducing another way to cheat them into play that's so swingy has to be costed out of a realistic range (6+). At that point, your probably better off just casting the spell. It's an interesting cost if it just tutors for the card, and it's a design space that has been visited in Demonic Consultation, Tainted Pact, and Desperate Research. I could certainly see Desperate Research getting reprinted at some point or seeing a new twist on the mechanic.

      I could even see:

      Almanac Alchemy 3G
      Starting with your opponents, each player predicts a different number of lands in the top ten cards of your library. Reveal the top 10 cards of your library. The player whose prediction was exceeded by the least puts those lands onto the battlefield under their control. Shuffle your library.

  4. The whole time I was reading the card I kept thinking, 'playtest with Laboratory Maniac' over and over. T2 Rampant Growth (or Explore) into T3 Lab Maniac and Prized Memories wins the game.

    Technically you should be down one card from the Rampant Growth but even then, after Prized Memories resolves, they have to exile their entire deck and then Prized Memories makes them draw and lose. They can't afford to underbid you or overbid you. I guess their best option is to tie your bid and lose twice for style points. :P

    Obviously it dies to removal but it's still a pretty threatening win condition especially in formats with ways to get it out even faster.

    Also, though it's comparatively WAY less of a threatening interaction, don't forget to playtest with Misthollow Griffin. (though now that I think of it, it's probably not that important)

    I absolutely love the design though. Something tells me that there is probably some mathematically perfect bet if this is played on turn one with both decks not being able to abuse it. I don't know what that number is because I'm terrible at math but I just have this feeling.

  5. The opponent's careful bidding won't help, even in the case of 60-card Maniac vs. Battle of Wits. "Choose a number" effects allow overbidding, so the Maniac player could bid 78 billion and the only way to deny them the immediate card draw is by bidding even higher, causing both players to lose their libraries no matter how many cards they're playing.