Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Set Design Pitch: Muraganda

HV: This set pitch is by Devin Green.  My comments are in blue.

Muraganda: Time of the Dinosaurs

This is a set I've been tinkering with for some time. It began as a top-down attempt to bring Dinosaurs into Magic, and to pull slightly away from the relentless fantasy of each and every world Magic visits. Naturally no world visited by a Planeswalker could (or should) be completely devoid of mana and magic, but the magic of each world works differently. Muraganda is teeming with naturalistic magic, the magic of survival and fitness and adaptation. And, of course, Dinosaurs.

Rampaging Therax 6G
Creature - Dinosaur
The Taal have three words for predator. Vorak hunt. Nychus hunt the hunters. Therax hunt the world.    

Provoke is an interesting ability. It evokes the idea of hunting, plus it's only on 9 creatures so there's lots of room for new designs. Alongside fight it makes the game feel like a wild world full of dangerous predators. But you aren't playing a dinosaur, and I think the central mechanic should evoke the idea of fighting for territory and resources, for fitness.

Now that's a dinosaur!  I like Provoke for dinosaurs, and giving this only three toughness and costing it at 6G keeps it from being too oppressive.

Territory Taal 1G
Creature - Taal Scout
Natural Order - When a creature enters the battlefield under your control, if no creature has greater power, you may put a land card from your hand onto the battlefield tapped.
Maps never occurred to the Taal. If they couldn't remember the way, it must not be safe.

(The Taal are the stand-ins for humans in the set by-the-by, they exist in each color but they're primarily in White, Red and Green.)

Natural Order is the centerpiece of the set. It rewards playing creatures at its most basic level. It can result in some pretty kooky value plays. It can make advancing your board into a backbreaking finishing move. But it does all that with a sub-game, and sub-games are the best thing about magic.

Natural Order is very precisely worded to include your opponent, and allow you to play chains of same power guys. This is because the wording actually got more confusing without that (I did a poll and found that more than half the people I asked thought it would work this way even when worded "When a creature enters the battlefield under your control if it has the greatest power...", so I just made it clearly work that way). I also don't like the idea of having your opponent shut your engine down by keeping pace with your creatures. Stalemates are lame.

This is a bit of a "rich get richer" mechanic, but it has a built-in safety valve of sorts.  I also like that it very strongly encourages people to play big creatures.  Still, I'm a bit worried that it takes things out of the player's control.  It would take some playtesting to figure out the potential of this one.

The hardest part about designing has been Blue. Blue has some considerable amount of its slice in brainy, flashy magic, which has little place in this world. But blue is also the color of inexorable advancement, and in this more naturalistic world that means something pretty interesting. There have been creatures in the skies for a while on Muraganda, but blue gets the first Dinosaur that flies.

Archeopteryx 2U
Creature - Dinosaur Bird
Natural Order - When a creature enters the battlefield under your control, if no creature has greater power, target creature gains flying until end of turn.

This was the first card designed for the set. I think it does such a lovely job of evoking the evolution of flight. Whereas Territory Taal provides resources as creatures you control dominate more land with their thunderous footfalls, Archeopteryx offers your band of creatures a more adaptive advantage. It's a very mystical take on evolutionary theory. I like the notion that a Planeswalker can use their mana to combine the adaptations of their creatures with magical-artificial selection. This is what blue Natural Order will do the most. Red is more about aggression, so its natural order could panic, or shock your opponent. So on and so forth.

Does this really want to be 3/1?  It's somewhat anti-synergistic with itself because of its high power.  The flavor is also bizarre; why is it "target creature" and not just the Archaeopteryx itself?

To support the idea of a more naturalistic magic, the other set mechanic is Primordial, the Imperiosaur mechanic:

Molten Blast RR
(Spend only mana produced by basic lands to cast ~)
~ deals 4 damage to target creature or player.
When mountains burn, even Therax know to retreat.

To make cards like this dynamic without having them all have heavy color requirements, a selection high quality mana-artifacts or powerful non-basic lands could be put into the set. I originally borrowed the Common Manland cycle posted on Goblin Artisans by Jay, which was totally sweet. I never really design multicolored cards, but having some sweet multi-lands and making the set more gold is another option. I just don't want Primordial to be pure upside for limited, where basic mana is the norm.

Imperiosaur is a cute card, but I really don't think this kind of effect is worth keywording.  Even in a strongly gold set like Ravnica, most of your lands will be basic.  Also, why would you put high quality mana rocks and nonbasics in a set along with a keyword mechanic that discourages you from playing them?

T: Add 1 mana of any color to your mana pool.
Natural Order - When a creature enters the battlefield under your control, if no creature has greater power, untap ~.

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

What is going on here?  A land that taps for any color of mana with a massive upside?  I know we're designing and not developing, but this is just silly- you can play as many 1-drops as you want on the first turn, as long as you do it in ascending order of power.  Power level issues aside, this sort of acceleration is heavily encroaching green's slice of the color pie.

Black is another color that feels a bit restricted without access to flashy magic, but I think an emphasis on Black's Weakness tech gives it a nice place to live in a Power Matters set.

Shredding Swarm 3BB
Put two -1/-1 counters onto target creature. Put two 1/1 black Dinosaur creature tokens onto the battlefield.
The scavengers of Muraganda occasionally forget to eat only the dead.

Shredding Swarm does a lot of work, sometimes it's a removal spell, sometimes it helps you win the Natural Order fight, and it gives you a bit of a board presence. Removal will be touchy to design, since having lots of giant creatures makes it a necessity, but having those creatures easily removed undermines the central mechanic. I think the best solution is to have a solid array of value removal. I don't like locking us into a -1/-1 counter set just for one card, it seems like creatures getting bigger would be strong and flavorful here, but this is early design and I'm just kicking ideas around.

This is a fine portrayal of scavengers and a good interaction with Natural Order.  As you say, however, this may not want to be a -1/-1 counter set.

I'm hoping to create a Dinosaur set that isn't nearly as fast as Zendikar, which is obviously the set that this would be compared to most readily. That means no Plated Geopedes, but aggro is still a thing. I've been thinking about is a Red creature that forces looting, because that would be sweet, also players need to loot more.

Skullcracker Stonebrow 1RR
Creature - Taal Warrior
Whenever ~ attacks, discard a card. If you did, draw a card.

A fine design in a vacuum, but I don't see what it has to do with your theme.

If the set were to be made real, I'd like people to remember it as the set that brought the classic value plays of Magic past together with the aggressive, creature based world of Magic today. That might be an impossible dream, but it seems like something to shoot for. Plus, you know, DINOSAURS!


Hooray for dinosaurs!  Provoke is a solid choice for a dinosaur set.  I'm not yet convinced that Natural Order has found its ideal implementation.  The wording is slightly awkward, there are a lot of triggers to remember, and it seems swingy; the player who controls the biggest creature is usually already winning.  If there's a better implementation to be found, that would do a lot of work for this set.  There are also some color pie issues to be fleshed out, but overall I'd say this set is off to a strong start.


  1. Natural Order should just be changed to fit the Evolve mechanic of GDS2 ("Whenever a creature with power greater than CARDNAME's power enters the battlefield under your control")

    You're going to have issues revolving around how each color will be skewed towards creatures in draft, and you've already noted the issues with flavor -- how will blue and black interpret primordial magic?

    There are some good ideas here, though. I think a "power matters" theme would work well (it's already appeared as a sub-theme throughout Innistrad), it's interesting, and most importantly, it has a lot of flexibility and design space.

    Let's keep mining the flavor of a primeval plane, then -- what other ideas and tropes should we try to harness?

    1. As a side note, I'd much rather we didn't use Ethan's Evolve mechanic, because I don't want to cover the same territory he already worked on.

  2. Was Beastlands perhaps meant to not untap during your untap step?

    1. Maybe? It still lets you play infinite 1-drops on the first turn, which seems bad.

    2. We made it clear that we were judging on the merits of the ideas and not the card designs. What we took away from this design was, you could use Natural Order on lands. Here's how I'd design that card:

      ~ ETB tapped.
      T: Add R to your mana pool.
      Natural Order - Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control, if no creature has greater power, untap CARNAME.

  3. Dinosaurs are cool. I like "power matters" though I feel like the Natural Order mechanic is a bit of a miss for Limited - if you don't have a steady curve, you're going to have a lot of feel-bad moments where you play Natural Order spells that aren't in the, well, natural order. I would also caution against using a made-up race as standins for humans. Odyssey block's new creature types were unsuccessful among players. Shredding Swarm is your strongest design, but I don't think you want your Dinosaur tokens to be 1/1s.

    As with all designers, I would avoid submitting flavor text - it distracts from your design and isn't really part of design.

    What I would like to see this set do: blue and artifacts seem like they would have a hard time fitting in the primitive world in a flavorful way. I'd like to see what those sections of design look like.

    1. I was also put off by the idea of a stand-in race for humans. What's wrong with humans? (Granted, my attempt at Muraganda had no native humans, but that's because it was tribal, and because the other half of the set, the visitors, were mostly human.)

      Again, if you're inclined to submit flavor text, please do. Many cards are beloved solely for their flavor text. Uthden Troll, anyone? Flavor matters.

    2. Many cards are beloved for their artwork, but art is not design. Good flavor text is very, *very* hard to do, and cringeworthy flavor text does make it to print sometimes (Innistrad Ancient Grudge is a particularly egregious offender.)

      Bad flavor text can distract from the overall impression of a card just as much as bad artwork. It's also a poor idea to rely on it to convey flavor, as templating may require the removal of the flavor text.

      I think it's important for designers to know their strengths. If flavor text isn't a strength (hint: if you don't have a lot of experience in creative writing, it's probably not), it's better off being omitted.

    3. When I look at a card design, I immediately think about how it would feel to play it in an actual board state, what decks become possible because of it, and how it affects the set's style of game play. I don't see how bad flavor text can possibly distract attention from that.

      Since we are trying to make a world, a flavor text that explains something about the background world would contribute something to that world, regardless of whether it is written with great skill in creative writing or not.

      Also, sometimes a card has a potentially strong top-down flavor connection behind two effects on the card, but the flavor explanation connecting those effects is not immediately clear unless all parts of the card including card name and art point to that. (For example, Chaos Warp, or Civilized Scholar/Homocidal Brute) While flavor text should never be the sole factor playing up the flavor behind a card's effect, a flavor text that points out the designer's intended flavor connection between the effects would at least be of help when others go on to work on the card.

  4. I keep repeating myself, but, while the idea of dinosaurs is great, I do not see any strife in this world, no way to emotionally attach myself to the Taos, or with some dinosaurs. Ultimately, while the return of provoke and dinos is great you need to create another backbone upon which players might attach their interests.

    However as far designing goes, I like many of your cards. I would personally like to see natural order change to something more like TOTALPOWERMATTERS X: when ~ enters the game if the total power of the creatures you control is X or more, something positive.

    Try looking at the Naya shard of Alara for inspirations.

    1. Repeated addition is cumbersome. It's why I don't like the otherwise popular game, Smash Up!

  5. I like dinosaurs a lot.

    Mechanically I prefer the evolve mechanic used in GDS 2, with "When a creature with greater power enters the battlefield, put a +1/+1 counter on this" although I'm not sure.

  6. How about this name and flavor text for Rampaging Therax?

    Gabobobobobo 6G
    Creature - Dinosaur
    'The Taal world "Ga" means "meat," "Bo" means "eater of." Thus, Gabo means predator. Gabobo is a hunter of other predators. Gabobobo means...'

    ...sorry, I'll try to put up a more useful comment later.

    1. I totally used that kind of flavor text in the GDS2.
      Literal translation: “Thunder on a sunny day”

  7. Here is another pitch that we received. There may be a viable idea for this set.

    What is the name of your set? Prehistorica (no really, just kinda the theme)

    What is the core concept of your set? The set is basically a prehistoric themed set. It has a lot to go with cards like Muraganda Petroglyphs. So a lot of things that help vanilla creatures. This causes some creative wording on some buffs. There is a Wall (totem) subtheme to the set as well. These are walls that can be animated, which works in conjunction with the glyphs as well.

    Submit seven designs for common cards which represent some of the basic mechanical themes of your set. All five colors must be represented. You may repeat colors and/or design colorless cards.

    Attached is an MSE file with many more than 7 cards, most of which are cycles. Hope you like it. Mechanics are:

    Black - canabilize -- Sacrifice a creature. Put a X +1/+1 counters on CARDNAME, where X is equal to the sacrificed creatures converted mana cost.

    Blue - invent -- Sacrifice a permanent. Search your library for an equipment card and put it onto the battlefield.

    Red - enrage -- Put {param1} +1/+1 counters on CARDNAME. At the beginning of your next upkeep, you may use CARDNAME’s enrage ability again or sacrifice CARDNAME. This ability may only be used once per turn.

    Green - provoke

    White - enchant walk -- This creature is unblockable as long as defending player controls an enchantment.

    Card Name: Buibui Petroglyphs
    Card Color: G
    Mana Cost: 2G
    Type & Class: Enchantment - Glyph
    Card Text: Creatures with no abilities get +0/+1 and may block as though they had flying (This creature can't be blocked except by creatures with flying or reach.).

    Card Name: Quicksilver Totem
    Card Color: U
    Mana Cost: 1UU
    Type & Class: Creature - Wall Totem
    Pow/Tou: 1/4
    Card Text: Defender (This creature can't attack.)
    If you control an artifact, CU05 loses defender (This creature can't attack.) for as long as you control an artifact.

    Card Name: Glyph of Life
    Card Color: W
    Mana Cost:
    Type & Class: Instant - Glyph
    Card Text: Until end of turn, whenever an attacking creature deals damage to target Wall creature, you gain that much life.

    Card Name: CR16
    Card Color: R
    Mana Cost:
    Type & Class: Enchantment
    Card Text: Creatures you control deal damage as though they had first strike (This creature deals combat damage before creatures without first strike.).

    Card Name: CG05 medium vanilla
    Card Color: G
    Mana Cost: 4G
    Type & Class: Creature - Elephant
    Pow/Tou: 4/4

    Card Name: CB04
    Card Color: B
    Mana Cost: 1BB
    Type & Class: Creature - Human
    Pow/Tou: 1/1
    Card Text: When CB04 enters the battlefield, you may Cannibalize. (Sacrifice a creature. Put a X +1/+1 counters on C04B, where X is equal to the sacrificed creatures converted mana cost.)

    Card Name: Mzulia Petroglyphs
    Card Color: U
    Mana Cost: UU
    Type & Class: Enchantment - Glyph
    Card Text: Equip costs for equipment you control cost 0 when you equip them on a creature with no abilities
    Interestingly, the names of Prehistorica and Muraganda should be swapped!

  8. Muraganda is a bit of a soft/sore spot for me. On the one hand, I know this theme is rich and am confident Wizards will eventually print a primitive-themed block. On the other hand, I had been secretly planning to revisit this whale of mine one day, doing it the justice it deserves while examining all the mistakes I made the first time (like Mr. Marques did recently, but with more regret). If we do build this set, it… complicates my plan. Quite possibly for the best.

    As with Frontier, I suggest anyone designing for this plane in round 2 consider my failures and successes with it from the GDS2 as well as Ethan's.

  9. Provoke is solid, but I think Fight obsoletes it.

    1. They sound like shroud and hexproof to me. Close but filling different roles.

    2. Oh yes, that's what I was going to say. I think you can have provoke, but fight generally seems simpler and more useful, so I'd go with fight, and only use provoke if it's actually better than fight for something.

    3. Fight and Provoke do different things. Because Provoke uses the combat step, it has some interactions that Fight doesn't have.
      - If your opponent Provokes your small creature with a big Provoke creature, you have the option double-blocking that provoker so that it doesn't do it again.
      - You can Provoke a big creature with a small Provoke creature so that anther attacker can get through.
      Provoke is also different due to being repeatable. A repeatable Fight effect would be unbalanced, where as Provoke would not be.