Thursday, July 5, 2012

M13 Designer Diary IV

Today I look at the red cards from M13 and the lessons we learned choosing/designing them. Here's part three. Here's a directory with all the card links from the final set. And here's the text spoiler Chah posted.

Red Commons

Goblin Arsonist is the awesomest red common one-drop creature since Mogg Fanatic.

Kird Ape is the poster common card for the set. It hasn't been printed below uncommon for somet time because of its power level, but it inspired the entire bond mechanic (via Ogre Savant) and we put it front and center so that players could enjoy the nostalgic beater.

Goblin Shortcutter is better than Goblin Piker. Enough so that you wouldn't want it in every core set, but we knew the Piker needed a rest and we liked the work Shortcutter's been doing.

We still needed a small vanilla for red, and that's where Greataxe Mercenary comes in. A 3/1 for 2R is very fair. It's not better than Pikers in most cases, but it is more exciting. Pikers does more damage and can trade with larger creatures, but the extra mana is significant to a red curve and having no extra toughness leaves it weak against 1/1s (and 1/4s, but at least not 1/3s).

It was proposed that we swap the Mercenary's and the Piker's stats, so that we have Goblin Piker and a 3/1 that stops one block because that ability is usually better on a more expensive creature, but most of the team was too excited to be rid of the Pikers for a set. What do you think?

Goblin Chariot was for a good long while not a reprint. Chah had an aggressively costed but very cool 2/2 for 1R with haste and must-attack (a lot like Reckless Brute) and then for a while we had an auto-kicked Goblin Bushwhacker: 2R 1/2 haste, "When ~ ETB, creatures you control get +1/+0 until EOT", but when testing showed the RG aggro deck to be clearly dominant, we had to scale back how many R/G aggro cards we were pushing.

Goblin Swindler is our Rummaging Goblin. I'd pretend to be shocked how similar they are, but it was inevitable. The ability was obviously going on a 1/1 goblin. I am pleased they're both common and Wizards didn't move looting back to uncommon as in M12.

Molten Ravager is a bit wierder than Fiery Hellhound, but one of very few red commons that can support a Control strategy which we haven't seen in a core set for some time.

Goblin Gardener was our original idea for red's bad land destruction spell. It's can be a two-for-one and that makes it look pretty good (I was nervous putting it at common at first), but it's weak as a creature and slow as LD so even when it's good it's not great. That's exactly where we want our LD and the fact that it's maindeckable also helps support land interaction which is important to keeping bond interesting.

Minotaur Cultist started as "Cave Goblin" which was a R 1/1 and then a 2R 2/2, but lining it up with Bladetusk Boar makes it feel more different from Dark Cove Pirates and also brings back a well-liked intimidate body. We also needed more Minotaurs and 3/2 just feels more bull-person than goblin anyhow.

Bonebreaker Giant was Frost Ogre until we settled on Mass of Ghouls in black. We couldn't have identical vanillas in the set, certainly not in allied colors. While it was Frost Ogre, there was a contingent that wanted to reflavor it. Do you think Frost Ogre is an acceptable flavor for red? Why or why not?

Chah hates Charged Blood because it doesn't do enough to be worth a card. For Spike, that's true, but this card isn't meant for Spike and not every card can be. Stapling Reflexes and Unnatural Speed together makes sense thematically and both abilities are tempting additions for a Timmy's army.

Dragon Fodder was paired with Trumpet Blast for a long time because the weenie rush deck is awesome. When we didn't have room for the Blast, we made the Bushwhacker version of Goblin Chariot. That didn't last either, but the card's still cool and useful. It is interesting that Wizards chose to rename it Krenko's Command which makes sense to tie into red's legend for the set, but was it worth a new card slot? (Probably)

I was tired of Lava Axe but it fills a fairly important role in red (strategic reach) that can't be easily filled with similarly simple cards, at least not without feeling derivative with 3R = 4 or 5R = 6.

Act of Treason was mostly an auto-include. The set would live without it, but anything that gives red a distinct non-damage effect should be preserved where possible.

Nobody doesn't love Chandra's Outrage. Sometimes overcosted and underfocused, it's amazing how often it's exactly what you need to kill some 4/4 or 6/4 nasty and the player-shock is just a sweet bonus.

We kept Melt for Scrap from an early stage because it fills the Shatter role, but looks better and has neat flavor. Smelt is a cleaner solution (to replacing the now officially obsolete Shatter) and while I don't necessarily regret Melt, it's probably better saved for an expert set.

Fry === Searing Spear. (Nailed it!)

In all seriousness, it's an interesting question: "When is it right to make a strictly worse version of a card?" Searing Spear and Craterize are both a full 1 mana worse than Lightning Bolt and Stone Rain. Wizards original solution to making less efficient versions of these classics was to offer a consolation effect, as in Incinerate and Demolish. Ultimately, that move was read as an admission that a strictly worse version isn't good enough and that limited the effectiveness of the move. By printing Searing Spear and Craterize in the core set (where the simplest version of an effect is doing its best work), it sends an unambiguous message.

I'm amused by all the response that Craterize is unplayable terrible. It's worse than Demolish and no one played that, after all. Why would anyone play LD that costs more than Stone Rain? Because Stone Rain is gone. Possibly forever. We'll see more Melt Terrains and Scorch the Fields, but four is the new benchmark for LD. And it's true that four is much much worse than three, particularly for a mana denial strategy. But in the same way people swore they'd never play Cancel, people will eventually adapt to Craterize. I'm not saying it'll see much constructed play, because "destroy any land" just doesn't have the same impact as "counter ANY spell" but you have to consider it by its own merit and not the arguably broken pedigree that it replaces.

Chah proposed Forced Exodus when we found we needed more main-deckable land destruction to mess with bond. The team simplified the template, but the basic concept is untouched. Why would we mess with something that resonant? "Boom. I blew up your home. Come at me, bro."

Berserker's Rage is a very red card because it trades long term (card) advantage for immediate power. I love casting this on Greataxe Mercenary when it's blocked by a 1/1 or 2/2. You still lose your creature, but getting in 4-5 extra damage for 2R just feels so right. That you can actually achieve card parity by casting this on a double-blocked creature doesn't hurt. Rage started at +1 for R but that was too marginal. While +4 for 2R was considered, the aggro players were satisfied with this exactly where you see it now.

It's kind of shocking it's taken this long for a red trample trick like this to make it mainstream. Wait, this card isn't real yet? Get off your ass and print this already, R&D!

Runebrand is our little burn effect. Smaller than a Shock, it's still quite good in M13 thanks to the huge number of threatening X/1s running (and flying) around. The cantrip comes from when we're thinking of making a cycle of planeswalker signature spells that cantripped, as if you were learning from their example. That didn't last, but Runebrand did.

New Red Uncommons, Rares & Mythics

Daring Swashbuckler is fun little card. It has all the potential but none of the consistency of Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede. I don't expect Spikes to love this purely random card, but Timmy should, and Johnny can find some a neat combo or two in this set alone.

Wanderlust Giant started as a 4/4 but we pushed him to 5/5. Was it make sure he gets played and his Annex effect is relevant? Not really? We just didn't think he felt Giant enough. Size is important in a thousand mechanical ways, but when your flavor is "Giant", it also affects resonance. Heh.

Every core set needs a Phoenix. Since our simplified recursion version didn't work out, I'm glad we had Flaring Firebird left to represent.

Stone Thrower is part of our landfall cycle and shows that while we didn't want to make Prodigal Pyromancer a sustainable effect (because of the high number of X/1s), we did still want to support red's repeatable damage ability. I love this guy.

Chandra's Reins was one of Chah's clever designs. I love the chaotic mini-game it creates and that red is well suited to win a tug of war like this.

It's not a new card, but I want to mention our decision to print Blaze in place of Fireball. Since X spells are confusing for new players, it makes sense to simplify them wherever possible. The disadvantage to that and the reason Fireball was printed in the last few core sets is that occasional complexity is good for the game because it adds depth, at least when it's attached to a card as resonant and awesome as Fireball. My proposed solution was to make a new iconic X-spell that captured that excitement in a simpler way. After a lot of discussion and design, we put Blaze in at uncommon and a fancy X-spell at rare. Piercing Ray didn't make the cut in the end, but I'm sure you'll see it eventually.

Eager Ogre is a card with a lot of promise. "Hello, I'm a 3/2 for R, you should clearly run four of me in all your aggro decks." Like all strong R creatures, it has a drawback: You can't play any other creatures (okay, Horned Turtle is fine). On the other hand, your opponent can't play any 1/1s and if they do play a 2/3 or smaller, your Ogre will eat it on the way out. I'm pretty sure this is broken at R and needs to be RR, but we didn't get to test it as much as needed, so who knows. In any case, this card will stand out and get players talking.

Mogg Luck Lord is one of my favorite cards in the set. I love everything about and am sure many other players will too. Except for one thing: It looks to the intermediate player like it doesn't do what it should. If you tap it and get a goblin, can that goblin attack? New players will assume it does and experience players can work out the timing to see that it does, but skeptical players with less knowledge can easily convince themselves otherwise. I was tempted to add the reminder text (via Ethan Fleischer): This works.

We're not 100% sure Efreet of Twisted Bargains should be red and not black or black-red, but we are 100% sure it's awesome. Old school.

Explosion Elemental's story has already been told.

Fuel the Fire is a nice build-around rare for the pyromantic mage.

Hoards Unlooted is the biggest mistake in the final fire. In the vast majority of cases, designing collaboratively with the team resulted in much better designs. In this case, we have an awful card that is the result of Design by Committee. We were enamored with the idea of a card with the theme of stealing from a dragon and when it occurred to us that we could make the red part of the Gifts Ungiven / Realms Uncharted super-cycle, we jumped on it. Unfortunately, we had different goals for how we wanted the card to play and the end result is broken, terrible and sadistically unfun to play against all at the same time. A single playtest would have shown that, but this was an eleventh hour change. While I'm not glad this card is in our set, I'm grateful for the experience that setting a hard deadline gave us and the lesson of how easy it is to make abominable card when the clock is ringing.

Arcing Fury started as a 2R uncommon. We loved the card, but that was too cheap and too common for sure. This is a fun aura to cast and players are excited to open it because the potential to make a good monster great or a great monster absurd is intoxicating, even if it's still a trap.

I'm not sure what it says about me, the set or the team that so many of my favorite cards are red, but who can deny the awesomeness of Heat-Shimmer Djinn? Read more about it here.

Remember all that time we spent brainstorming constructed playable, resonant, mythic red dragons? And it looked like we settled on Ancient Red Dragon? We changed our minds. Awkward, right? The trouble is as awesome as ARD was, he was just too texty for the core set. I'm not convinced this our replacement is a slam-dunk, but I am happy with it. Check out Great Firecracker. It's big enough and fast enough to be playable in Standard, it has the potential to grow very large, and it does some very dragonny stuff, burning down your opponent's kingdom and all that. Appealing to Spike, Timmy and Vorthos while being resonant and not too obscure? I'll take it!

I want to call out Pasteur for his great work on the set in general, but in red specifically. He helped shape the color to become what it is from the very beginning and I'm impressed how fun it is. Since I forgot to do so earlier, I also want to thank Nich for his work on black and Chah for his work on blue. Both brilliant and very influential. Since there's only one color left, I'll also thank Wobbles for his early work on green. Because of time conflicts, Jules wasn't assigned one of the core colors, though he did pick up artifacts and lands for us. Even so, his influence in the second half of design wasn't limited to a single color and was, you guessed it, fairly profound. I enjoyed the added perspectives the team brought to the set overall and to specific cards we worked on together, but it's fascinating how much individual vision we gained from divvying up the initial skeleton by color and designer and I'm quite happy with the result.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's very good to explore flavours for red other than fire and lava... but I can see the argument that a core set isn't the place for that. I'm somewhat on the fence. I think there's probably enough fire and lava in the other red commons that Frost Ogre can be a nice exciting hint that there's more to red in some other worlds.

    Mogg Luck Lord and Eager Ogre are both fantastic. And the proposed reminder text on the Luck Lord would be hilarious.