Friday, September 7, 2012

CCDD 090712—Lost Time

Cool Card Design of the Day
9/7/2012 - Gaining or losing a turn is a big deal. One way that Magic handles big effects is to simply require more mana to cast them. Another way is to make their use conditional such that you have to jump through hoops (beyond the hoop of getting X lands into play). For particularly swingy effects like Mind Control and Time Walk, a non-mana hoop is a nice variation, if not a necessary balance. Lost Time is an attempt to add hoops to Time Walk in the form of a mini-game.

At face value, I'm very happy with this card. It reads like players are in a mana-fight to avoid losing a turn. But as a designer, it's not enough to find something that reads like it plays well, I have to figure out if it actually works and in this case that required running through scenarios. If you're wondering why this costs 2UU when the effect isn't "worth" more than 1U, given the possibility of backfiring, the answer is entirely mechanical.

If you're on the play and you cast Lost Time for U on your first turn, your opponent has no chance (Elvish Spirit Guides not withstanding) to avoid its effect and send it back to you. That's clearly unacceptable: It's even better than Time Walk. At 1U you can cast it turn two on the play, and your opponent can pay 1 at the beginning of her second turn to send it back your way, having lost half her mana for the turn. You can pay 2 during your upkeep to send it back, having lost 2/3 of your mana for the turn. She can't pay 3 and loses her turn. How often will it play out like that? Nearly every time. That predictability combined with the fact that we just spent two turns of the game with players stuck on 1 mana, and we're looking at a miserable card.

At three mana, your opponent pays 1 at the start of her third turn and can hopefully cast a Grizzly Bear. You pay 2 before laying your probable fourth land and casting, perhaps, a two-drop of your own. She pays 3 on her fourth turn and will have one mana up if she gets her fourth land out. If you got your fourth land, you use all your mana on turn five to guarantee your opponent loses her next turn. If not, you lost your turn. That's not a terrible scenario since it can go either way and can be reasonably impacted by mana acceleration on either side of the fence. Even so, we'd be remiss not to look at least one step further to see if it's not better still.

At four mana, you'll be casting Lost Time on your fourth turn only if your top 10 cards were 40%+ land. That's not unlikely, but it's not something most decks would count on. If you cast it turn four, your opponent pays 1 on her turn, you pay 2 on your fifth, she pays 3, you pay 4 on your sixth, she pays 5, you pay 6 on your seventh turn and she would pay 7 on hers… but can't. Again,
provided each player plays a land every turn and no one accelerates, Lost Time will steal one of her turns. If you don't get your fourth mana until turn five, she'll need to pay 7 on turn eight or you'll need to pay 8 on turn nine. You can see there's a lot more room not just for the number of lands drawn to factor, but for Mind Stones and Cultivates to affect the equation.

Beyond the simple question of who ends up getting burned, consider how the minigame of Hot Potato has affected the game. In every scenario, more and more of the game's mana is distracted from casting spells to avoiding the Whammy. In the low mana cost scenario, a player who can lead with an efficient threat may be able to keep it on the board while everyone else is floundering, but in the medium cost scenario, it's the late game spells that are kept off the board while players can continue to cast their cheap and moderate spells. The first is too game warping, but the second is interesting; vaguely comparable to "Each player sacrifices two lands."

A mana cost of U is right out and UU is too strong. 1UU seems printable but risky (particularly with Birds of Paradise flapping about), but 2UU seems reasonable.

Finally, it's worth noting that Lost Time's effect isn't the same as Time Walk. Yes, in multiplayer costing a player a turn isn't equal to gaining yourself one, but I'm talking about the fact that the enchantment triggers during one's upkeep step. That means you do get to untap. If you've got relevant instants in hand (or activated abilities on the board) and no creatures to attack with, you can choose not to pay Lost Time's upkeep cost and lose your turn, without actually suffering any ill effect beyond missing your draw step. Given that single discard costs B and double discard costs 2B, losing one card to a 2UU spell really isn't so bad.

What do you think? Is the card busted or unplayable at 2UU? Is the game better off with cards like this or worse? The tension of the minigame is fun, but losing your mana isn't; does the placement on the curve make the effect interesting or infuriating? Is the effect worth fighting for? What about losing two turns (for ~6 mana)? Would you rather have a card with the same mini-game that rewards it's last investor rather than punish it's defaulter?


  1. I like the card as-is, and imagine it's cleaner and more fun this way than with some variety of "the last player to pay for this ability successfully gains an extra turn". I'd certainly want to test it at 1UU, and even potentially as an artifact at 4, but 2UU seems most likely to be right. As with many similar effects, this could be potentially very strong with Planeswalkers.

    I also am really interested in seeing a Proust-themed set or block.

  2. Playing things out in your mind is definitely an important step to make sure cards don't read one way and play another, and I'm glad you did a step-by-step analysis here.

    Even though the process of putting a card through scenarios should not inhibit initial idea generation, or replace final testing, I do think it's an important heuristic in between that, and it has got to be a factor for deepening understanding of how effects work in the game, getting more out of testing, getting new ideas, and generally designing better.

    As for the card, the card looks really interesting and the cost seems right to me. Besides twiddling the casting cost, another knob that could be adjusted would be to not make it gain a counter on every player's upkeep (even if every player pays).

    However, I don't think WotC likes to push this is the type of effect (or even print very often) since not being able to play out your spells because of a mana tax can be stressful. I'm sure that decks that abuse the card would find a way to not be affected so much the taxing.

    By the way, it would be interesting to think of some cards that work as hot potato cards in multiplayer.

  3. Love the overall idea and design of the card. Since it could work against you, I think the cost could even be 1U.

  4. Why not UUU? Although I am afraid of what a deck like Faeries (all instants) would do with it.

    1. This is a distinct possibility and one I would definitely try in testing.

    2. I would like to see a few more cards aggressively costed at UUU, WWW, and so on. Other than black Wizards seems to avoid it. It would be nice to have a reason to play a single color once in a while.

      Land Destruction could probably fit here too.

  5. I'm not sure how well this design works, period. At 4 mana it's competing with the meat-and-potatoes section of Limited and Constructed decks alike, and this is a card that will not only backfire against you on a regular basis, but backfire in a dramatic way - you handed your opponent a free Time Walk! I wouldn't run this unless I was confident I could make it work for me in the vast majority of occasions, and I can't think of a deck that would do that. Of course, there are players who *love* solving problems like that…

    I love the increasing drama of this card, though, and wondered how that drama could be kept while making this card all-upside.

    Lost Time (rare)
    At the beginning of your upkeep, put an age counter on CARDNAME. Then any player may pay {X}, where X is the number of age counters on CARDNAME. If no player does, exile CARDNAME and take an extra turn after this one.

    For a really sinister variant on this…

    Time of Mourning (rare)
    At the beginning of your upkeep, put an age counter on CARDNAME. Then any player may sacrifice X permanents, where X is the number of age counters on CARDNAME. If no player does, exile CARDNAME and take an extra turn after this one.