Saturday, October 13, 2012

Challenge #10: Critique

Jules Robins submitted the following card for critique, along with Narcomoeba from Future Sight:

Wailing Drake (Common)
Creature - Drake
Traumatic (This deals damage to players in the form of putting the top cards of their libraries into their graveyards.)
He wrote:
I looked through the list and got an idea for contraptions (which I'll include at the bottom) but didn't have time to refine it into something printable, so instead I looked to Narcomoeba. Initially I wanted to just stick this in a set with a self mill theme a la Innistrad, but thinking about it I realized that Narcomoeba doesn't offer a very big reward there when compared to, say, Silent Departure. The card is much better aimed at players who hate getting their cards milled. Now they can defend themselves! In order to really drive the point home, a 1/1 flier ought to somehow stop the milling. 
In this setting I'd keep the Jellyfish at uncommon. It would also be remiss of me not to note that this mechanic is a streamlined version of an idea Wobbles presented when we were working on a Waterworld block.
Traumatic is very much like Infect.  It creates an alternate life total: the number of cards left in one's library.  Cards in library are a limited resource, and there's lots of other ways for players to interact with them, so this is much less parasitic than Infect.  However, there's one huge problem with it: starting at 53 life is pretty good!

I think it's very easy for us as designers to forget that not all decks are 40 cards.  Most Magic gets played at the kitchen table with 60+ card decks.  And in that world, Traumatic is a major disadvantage.  Suppose you cast Wailing Drake on turn 3 and attack with it every turn.  If it didn't have Traumatic, you'd win on turn 10.  But with this keyword, you'll empty their library on turn 16!  That's an awfully slow clock.  (For comparison, Contagious Nim gets there on turn 8.)  Also, damage from Traumatic creatures doesn't stack with damage from non-Traumatic creatures, so chewing through that massive life total is going to be even harder.  One could try beefing up the power of Traumatic creatures to compensate, but that would make them extraordinarily good in limited formats.

In general, it's okay (if perhaps undesirable) for a mechanic to be significantly worse with 60 card decks.  Dimir's milling theme was only ever effective in limited play.  But it is rather problematic for a keyword ability to be a disadvantage.  Keywords are focal points of sets, and they're important for hooking players.  It's hard to get excited about a Traumatic creature when it would be better without that ability.  


  1. I think you missed the big problem with Traumatic here - that is, a lot of decks really, really, *really* want cards in their graveyard. If you are playing against a dredge deck, or a green/blue self-mill deck, you are making your opponent very happy every time you swing with Wailing Drake.

    R&D has talked about how, during the development of Scars of Mirrodin block, there was talk of making cards that benefitted you for having poison counters. In the end they decided against it - they didn't want the infect-deck player to have to think "well, I know I can get through 2 more poison damage this turn, but what if they have one of those I-want-a-lot-of-poison cards?"

    Now, I know that mill isn't a heavy theme in every set, and self-mill definitely isn't. But in a set where Traumatic were a theme, Narcomoeba suggests the presence of *other* cards that want to be milled, which strikes me as an anti-synergistic failure of design.

    1. Well, Jules' idea was that Narcomoeba was a hate card against milling strategies. I didn't interpret his submission to mean that there would be a critical mass of similar cards.

  2. I know of two other people (myself being one) that have entertained the notion of this mechanic. My version is called Espionage and was originally set as Espionage X and triggered on damage dealt.

    The second version was suggested by one of my readers and reads (Whenever this deals damage to a player, that player puts twice that many cards from his or her library into his or her graveyard.)

    I feel like it's much more of a threat if it's double the amount of damage it would normally deal in milling.


      A link to one of my designs using Espionage.

    2. Yeah, I'm a big fan of this mechanic, for reasons I'll probably get into more in my article on potential mechanics for Dimir in #Fakecrash.

      Two things to note:

      1) Wailing Drake is way too small, as Havlock points out. For a creature to deal a "comparable" amount of milling to damage (against a 60 card deck), you've got to mill about two and a half cards for every damage you deal. Considering that blue normally gets at least a 2/2 flier for 1UU, that means Wailing Drake wants to be AT LEAST a 5/2. That would put a comparable clock on an opponent, but...

      2) What's going to fight with a 5/2 and live? Probably not much. Magic where every creature has the equivalent of Deathtouch doesn't sound fun.

      That lead me to the version I purposed for MadOlaf: Double the damage it does to players. That's not a perfect ratio, it's still a little too good in limited and too bad in constructed. Fortunately, there's a fix for that: Rarity. Power down the commons a touch (Maybe Wailing drake becomes a 2/1, for example), while boosting the ratio on a few uncommons and the rares to be more in line with where such cards need to be for constructed. You could even imagine a mechanic that dealt triple mill damage, but that would read worse because the stats of the creatures would have to be so much lower.

      There's no mistake that I've suggested this mechanic to at least two different designers (Thanks for the shout out Jules!). I'm sure that some version of it will show up eventually. But the important part is not to dismiss it as a disadvantage solely because the creature it's on isn't as efficient as it should be.

      That's just an issue for development. :)

    3. Yeah, double the power seems like a pretty good fix.

      However, I'm using the word "disadvantage" to mean "ability that the creature would be better off without". Like Echo or Phasing. Note that a French vanilla 5/2 flyer for 1UU would be much, much better than a 5/2 flyer with Traumatic as it is in Jules' submission.

    4. Good point, that may create a feeling of disappointment (like poison in reverse, where poison creatures were not excitingly-sized, but could be good with the addition of poison).

      Come to think of it, it may be amenable to a technical fix of tintning the power side of the P/T box blue for milling creatures, to indicate "here's the number, but there's a caveat, don't think it's just a 5/2". They could have done the same thing with poison if they'd wanted. I'm not usually in favour of gimmicks, but this seems like it might make things more intuitive.

    5. You can also just give it the Crosstown Courier treatment.

    6. Crosstown Courier seems like an odd design for me. It's obviously there to support a Mill theme, but the fact that it kills faster through damage seems off.

      Moreover, as far as perception goes, the p/t box is more important than the strength of the ability. At least, Maro has mentioned that Undying polled better than Persist largely because the stats on an Undying creature can be bigger. A large portion of an audience isn't going to think "Geeze, I wish this guy was a regular 5/2 for 3", they're going to say "5/2 for 3? That seems insane!".

    7. It seems like the prevailing reaction to Crosstown Courier is that it's a bad design because it kills with damage before it kills with milling. …Assuming you're combating your opponent with nothing but Crosstown Couriers.

      Am I not allowed to play this alongside my Doorkeepers to speed the mill clock? Is it a terrible thing that I can promote two strategies at once, leaving my options open and my opponent's guessing?

    8. Crosstown Courier is a fine card. Keywording his ability would be the mistake, because then you'd draft a deck full of Crosstown Couriers, win by dealing 20, and wonder, "Why did I even bother with that?"

    9. Ah. Yeah, I wouldn't keyword it. Nor print more than a vertical cycle (at the very most).

    10. I'm slightly late here, but I'd just like to note that since setting up Multiverse two years ago, I've seen at least two people create something equivalent to "traumatic" on Multiverse. I've also seen it proposed as a blue keyword mechanic on the Wizards design & development forum, and seen it on other custom card making forums as well. I've seen it called "psionic", "mindstrike", "erosion", and other things I forget. People really like this mechanic, and keep designing it independently.

      As such, I'm very confident it's come up in design discussions within R&D. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it printed within the next few years.

    11. Alex is right. Mad Olaf said he came up with this type of mechanic, too - along with others. One of those others was me.

      Three years ago, for the Great Designer Search 2, my world had a mechanic called "Trauma." Trauma dealt damage to the player in the form of twice that many cards milled.

      The very same problem you guys talk about here about "60 life" was something I noticed and pre-emptively addressed with the "twice" clause.

      I don't think the issue brought up by Evan with regarding Dredge would be an issue since the set that the mechanic appears in would not feature such mechanics that love being milled. Also, if there's any concern that Trauma(tic) wouldn't be great because it isn't awesome outside of its block: it's not the only mechanic the block would feature.

      Well, I'm glad that it looks like this sort of mechanic will probably be printed some day. Thanks for the input, Alex.

  3. Wobbles, your argument seems backwards to me. Surely, since Undying is stronger than Persist, you can put Persist on creatures with more attractive stats. Compare Scuzzback Marauders to Nearheath Stalker.

    Also, see Aaron Forsythe's comments on drawback mechanics:

    1. I was assuming he wrote Persist where he meant Undying and vice-versa.