Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Challenge #8: Critique

Axxle submitted the following combat-based mechanic for critique:
Brawling Goblin
Creature - Goblin
When ~ attacks, you may have it fight target creature.
This is a simple and elegant trigger.  The flavor implications are quite clear and resonant.  But there's a huge risk in printing a card like this, one which is not entirely obvious without some historical context.  (This overview will be familiar to many Goblin Artisans readers, but I think it'll be interesting to some.)

Over the past several years, R&D has severely cut down on repeatable removal at common.  Let's look at a rough list of cards from Mirrodin that can do repeatable damage to creatures:

Spikeshot Goblin
Viridian Longbow
Granite Shard
Bosh, Iron Golem
Goblin Charbelcher

That's two commons, one uncommon and four rares.  But what happens if we run the same search on its distant descendant, Scars of Mirrodin?

Barrage Ogre
Bloodshot Trainee
Furnace Celebration
Heavy Arbalest
Livewire Lash
Spikeshot Elder
Tower of Calamities
Koth of the Hammer
Molten-Tail Masticore

Five uncommons, three rares, and two mythic rares.  Not much has changed on the high end, since mythic rares didn't exist in the days of the original Mirrodin Block.  But look at the low end: absolutely no repeatable removal at common!  What happened?

Two things happened: first, the New World Order cut down on complexity at common.  Repeatable damage creates complex board states, which slows down gameplay due to analysis paralysis, which Mark Rosewater likes to call "chessiness".

Second, repeatable removal is extremely effective in limited formats.  Common pingers have always been first-pickable.  If the correct move is to always snag Sparksmith or Spikeshot Goblin, drafting becomes algorithmic and repetitive.  (This article may be of interest.  Money quote from Zvi: 'If you think another color is that much better than red, then by all means go ahead and get yourself an "I pass Spikeshot Goblin" T-Shirt.')  That kind of predictability makes draft formats less fun.  Also, notice that the uncommon repeatable damage sources in Scars of Mirrodin are not just "cram this into any deck and win" cards; they require some work to set up.

Brawling Goblin is a potential source of repeatable damage.  In particular, its interactions with auras, equipment, and pump spells are quite powerful.  Slap a Volcanic Strength on this guy on turn two, and your opponent is in a world of hurt.

I have no doubt that Axxle thought about this problem, though, because Brawling Goblin + Volcanic Strength is nowhere near as unbeatable as, say, Spikeshot Goblin + Bonesplitter was.  The Fight trigger will deal damage to Brawling Goblin as well.  Also, it has to attack to function, so a sufficiently large blocker can stop it.  What's more, the fact that Fight triggers on attacking gets rid of most of the analysis paralysis.  There's a lot to admire about this new design.

Still, although Brawling Goblin is not a return to powerful common pingers, it does have the potential to dominate games from a very early turn.  For this reason, I think it is too risky to print at common.


  1. It's interesting to consider this as revision for Provoke, which I believe has been noted as a popular mechanic that they'd like to revisit, except it lacks sufficient depth to innovate upon and still suffers from a lot of the problems outlined here.

    Solid analysis, HV.

  2. Got beat to the provoke comparison. This card is also crazy if there's any kind of goblin tribal support; if he's attacking alongside Goblin Wardriver and Goblin Chieftan, he's going to Lightning Bolt a blocker.

    Still, provoke worked in the "creature block" setting, so if you were going to make a block with a very high proportion of creatures, this would be something worth considering.

    I'd still put it on an uncommon lizard though.

    1. I must have missed when Goblin Grappler dominated the tournament scene. Heck, white even got a strictly superior version that also never made the cut. Grappler was even just fringe playable a best in limited.

      The fact is that there aren't enough 0/1s in Magic to make this guy into anything more than a bad Mogg Fanatic. Any time it attacks, it's either going to A) Fight and trade, B) Not fight because it can't kill anything, C) Be enchanted with a toughness boosting aura. No one is afraid of A or B, and C is an appealing Johnny trick that should have plenty of answers in any format. It's not like it's Spikeshot Goblin here, this creature has to survive the creature it fights and any other blockers that can deal it more damage.

      This card is safe to print, although I think it's more likely we see a version that is a 1/2 uncommon that has t: This fights target creature for 3 before we see this guy. As is, fighting with a 1/1 just isn't exciting, and a combat trigger is more complex than a tap ability. Neither version would be as disasterous as a straight pinger though, and that's what Wizards is avoiding recently.

    2. That's a fair point. However, I'm pretty sure that auras, equipment, and pump spells have all gotten significantly better since Legions. In fact, I've played against casual decks with provoke + equipment; it's pretty oppressive. There's nothing quite so depressing as knowing that you just can't play any creature that they won't immediately kill for free. Whether it's overpowered or not, it's definitely anti-fun.

    3. I mean, Auras have improved, but equipment gotten more fair/far less common recently. And most of the playable auras are intentionally hard to beat on any creature, that's what makes them playable. It's pretty hard/oppressive to deal with any threat with ghostly wings.

      Could this be common?

      Prized Candycorn G
      Creature- Unicorn C
      ~ must be blocked

    4. Sure, but you can race most auras. Spectral Flight on Goblin Grappler is much, much harder to race than Spectral Flight on Merfolk of the Pearl Trident.

  3. I wonder how this compares with the Kaijudo "attack other creature" mechanic?

    I would probably make this an uncommon and have the trigger cost R, especially if there are synergetic (tribal/equipment) effects present (which there should probably be).

    1. If Brawling Goblin were to survive the fight, he would then also deal damage during combat, which is not the case in Kaijudo. This card's wording allows it to fight any creature regardless of which player it's attacking and regardless of whether those creatures are tapped or not.

      I tried making a card that emulates the Kaijudo creature-attack mechanic, but the dynamic falls apart when you factor in the ability of creatures with Blocker to intercept such attacks.

  4. I actually don't think I'd want to see this mechanic printed at any rarity. Fight essentially creates a "mini-combat" between two creatures, and tying this combat to the actual combat feels really inelegant. It's also sure to cause confusion among new players, who are likely to have questions about whether combat rules apply to the fight (or vice versa.) And in the end, the gameplay you get out of this isn't that interesting - why not just give this critter provoke and +X/+0, where X is its power?

  5. Fight as a combat trigger isn't that different from Cyclops Gladiator, which I thought was a pretty good card. The gameplay encourages attacking, and the feel of a brawler attacking another creature has some resonance to make the "fights" keyword easier to digest.

  6. I like the idea, but having an extra fight in addition to normal combat just doesn't seem like what people would expect.

    It seems like a much simpler version is "{T}: ~ fights target creature" and wizards haven't printed THAT yet IIRC, let alone at common. And I think we SHOULD have that (green removal!) and will soon.

    Alternatively, you could make a creature attack and then fight another creature instead of the usual combat step. That wouldn't do much unless you tweaked the rules to say "This can attack other creatures. If it does, it can't be blocked, and the creatures deal damage to each other in the combat damage step(s)."

    So I think we might see something like this, but only after the simpler implementations have been explored.

    1. Well, there is Nightfall Predator, but that's certainly not common.

    2. Oops, yeah, I meant a card that just did that, not on top of another good-but-complicated mechanic as well.