Wednesday, July 25, 2012

CCDD 072512—Defining Moment

Cool Card Design of the Day
7/25/2012 - Another unexpected factor of designing cards for this site is that I'll write down an idea or burst of ideas as they come to me, just as I used to, but I almost never write about them immediately. I let these cards ruminate in a folder, allowing the excitement that inspired them to ebb, so that when I see them again, I do so with fresh eyes and can evaluate how worthwhile sharing them would be. It's an impressive coincidence that the oldest card in the folder is exactly one year old today. Neat.

But that's not the card I want to share today. I may never share Sneaky Looter, in fact, because a fair number of these cards prove to be either flawed, interesting only in an unlikely context, or perfectly fine but just not worth discussing. The oldest card I'd like to talk about is Defining Moment.

Part Righteousness, part Erratic Explosion, the most interesting thing to me about this design isn't the potentially devastating pump or the fact that the card is hybrid, but the way it handles the 0 CMC case. Normally, a card like this would just whiff when you hit a land, but that sucks. Yes, it's part of the gamble, but the card's already highly variable just from the range of spell costs it could reveal; Can we not do better?

For Defining Moment, the answer is to give the creature first strike when you reveal a land. For a 4/4, that could be great but for the small creatures more likely to be the target of a pump spell, it's pretty conditional. I'm fine with that; this "consolation prize" doesn't need to be amazing—what's important is that it's not strictly irrelevant. The ability to stack the deck (metaphorically, that is—literally stacking the deck would ensure you get the big bonus) by casting this on a creature where you'd be happy to get either the boost or the first strike alleviates a great deal of the pain some players feel when playing "random" effects.

There are still some questions to be answered. Does this card need to be hybrid? While I'll often use a hybrid mana cost when the card could go either way, simply as shorthand for "this could be red or white, whatevs," Defining Moment bleeds enough red into white (like the randomness) and enough white into red (like the combat restriction) that it kinda does need to be hybrid. You could easily make it mono-red by letting it target a creature at any time and giving only a power bonus, but I don't think this should be mono-white at all.

If you were to make the bonus +X/+0, you would definitely want to make another otherwise optional change: Instead of making the first strike conditional, you could make it guaranteed. Doesn't that undo the clever stuff I talked about above? Doesn't it outdo it? This is a hard design question to answer. It certainly looks better to the player, and that's a merit, but is it better for the game? For me, the removal of an extra 'if' clause and the resulting brevity makes this the better solution even if it doesn't feel like we're making up for the worst case reveal. What do you think?

Here's how I'd print this as a mono-red card today:

(Upgrades I'd make to the hybrid version, if we kept that, would be to make it uncommon, restrict it to blocked or blocking creatures, reduce it's cost to R/W, and clarify that we care about the revealed card's converted mana cost.)

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