Tuesday, January 15, 2013

CCDD 011513—Pistolera Vs The Locals

Cool Card Design of the Day
1/15/2013 - The myriad of attack mechanics we came up with discussing Bloodcall inspired me that we must surely be able to find a combat mechanic for Frontier. Whether it's called Desperado or not, there must be something fun, new and Western. I still haven't nailed it, but today I share two executions of Cover, a mechanic meant to simulate the necessity to take cover when in a shootout.

This first version says that damage against your creature doesn't count unless your opponent pays to make it count. Once you get it, I think it makes enough sense, but reading it is confusing: "all damage that isn't paid for." Say what?

The second execution puts the onus on you, but makes sense as soon as you read it.

It's unfortunate that you have to pay instead of your opponent, but now you control whether the creature lives or dies. You also only have to pay enough to keep your creature alive. Four damage coming at your 3/3? Pay 2 and you're fine.

Guns in Magic
Now is as good a time as any to discuss guns in Magic as it relates to the Western genre. There's a general rule that Magic card art should never involve guns because they are too modern a technology and push Magic from Magepunk to Steampunk or SciFi. There have been exceptions over the years, but none that the Creative team will defend as good choices for mainstream Magic.

So we have three choices for Frontier: We can break that rule boldly and give our cowboy wizards some Winchesters; We can try to make the Western Magic set without firearms; Or we can give up entirely on the premise and never make Frontier. Whether the last option is correct or not, it's not an interesting choice for us because it doesn't challenge us. The second option is definitely a challenge; How do you express a genre while omitting it's largest motif? The first option doesn't require any fancy design solutions, but will require some impressive justification.

My gut says that guns won't ruin Magic and that the Western Magic set not only justifies but deserves guns. Magic is no way a traditional Fantasy IP. We've had Alpha Tyrranax, Gomazoa, Clone, Arcbound Crusher, Etherium Sculptor, Insectile Aberration, Phyrexian Digester and countless other flavor bleeds. The trick is that when Magic introduces a non-Fantasy concept, there's always a spin that makes it work. Guns could be wands with an ergonomic design. Guns could be the same magepunk technology that powers constructs and golems. Maybe instead of bullets, they fire darksteel pebbles, brimstone (or flowstone) or even the souls of the damned.

If we keep hard and fast with the no-guns rule, what does Frontier look like? We can still put gritty heroes in a dusty frontier, where the comforts of civilization have been prioritized after basic survival. We can still focus on the conflict between outlaws and justice, or the misunderstandings between settlers and natives. You lose a lot of the cowboy when you take away his ability to murder poker cheaters with a single action or for a gang to ambush the law in the middle of the street, but remember, we're not just taking the gun out of the Western, we're also putting Magic in. Quick, deadly Magic that perhaps everyone has easy access to.

Maybe that's our hook: Why sacrifice the comforts and safety of the city to venture into the wild desert? Haven't you heard? It's a Mana Rush! There's mana flowing through the veins of the red earth out there like home has never seen. And though you will have to fight for it, there's mana enough to make a lucky and hard-working prospector rich beyond their wildest dreams. And hey, even if you don't feel like digging in dangerous places for a chance at untold wealth, all those crazy prospectors are going to need a place to rest their head and a hot meal to eat. You've always wanted to open an inn, right?


  1. The history and literary tradition of the gaucho precedes the presentation of the north american cowboy by a century or two. Poncho-clad, fighting for sustenance and honor amongst the desert and the scrubland, the classic weapon with a storied tradition is the knife, not the gun. There's a whole slew of Argentine tropes and characters that I'd investigate if I were trying to promote or develop a western-Magic IP.

    As for guns, I agree that they probably wouldn't break Magic. After all, it's hard to do anything on an individual set that Magic couldn't bounce back from. But at the same time, I'd caution very strongly against it. I think it's a bold step to take, and I don't think it's a necessary one for a successful and flavorfully-satisfying Frontier. At real-Wizards, the discussion over the inclusion of guns would surely involve not just MaRo, and the heads of Creative, but also Wizards upper management. I hate to bring real-world politics into the arena, but if there were a good time to bring guns into Magic, this would not be it.

    Magic wands are something that *Magic* has done very little with so far. Using that novelty and very precisely executed design, you could without a doubt make (artificer's? pyromancer's?) wands fulfill a smoking-gun motif. It's not the only way, but keeping the power tied to a weapon is one way to go. Another option is just to use combat mechanics that inspire a one-on-one or shootout type of flavor, but that's something we'll do regardless.

    1. The taboo on guns sounds a lot like the taboo on referencing the human creature type in abilities like "sacrifice a human" than existed before Innistrad made it work. That said, it surely wasn't a decision Wizards took lightly, and neither should we.

      I included a couple "Spellslingers" in my Frontier submission meant to evoke the gun flavor. They had attack triggers similar to the Teachable spells from Athambia Academy. Consider:

      Bloodfire spellslinger 2R
      Creature - Goblin Outlaw
      When ~ attacks, you may have it deal 1 damage to target creature.

  2. Also, brimstone wands that shoot the souls of the damned is really really sweet.

  3. Wow, this is a very well-written rebuttal to the argument that a western setting won’t work in Magic. The missing gun-trope being the biggest strike against it. I am really impressed with Jay’s counter arguments and need to think about it. My current feeling is that Magic has so much it can do, we shouldn’t try so hard to make one of the few things that isn’t doable work. But I’m also intrigued by the idea that we shouldn’t skip it just cause it’s hard. Very JFK of you, Jay.

    1. Thanks, Nich.
      To be clear, I'm not arguing Frontier is a better choice for our set project than Ankh-Theb or Ekkremes, but I don't think it's a worse choice.

  4. Cover is an interesting trope to address. I like both of these implementations, but ultimately both feel really Spike-y (trading mana for damage) and cover strikes me as a somewhat Timmy trope. What about this?

    Cover (Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to this creature other than in the first strike combat step.)

    Now first strike represents a "quick draw" talent which might make flavorful sense in this world.

    1. You just made first strike even first-ier. Whoa. I think this mechanic is far too insular to print (not to mention confusing to people, mentioning "all but first strike combat step").

    2. Perhaps:

      Cover (Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to this creature except by creatures with first strike or double strike.)

      That feels a lot clearer, and has *mostly* the same effect.

      I like this cover because it's very clear-cut. You deal with people firing from cover either with hired quick-guns *or* by blasting them with spells. Canceling out cover by paying mana feels, well, a bit too "game"-y and doesn't resonate well with me.

      I also feel like this cover would be a good mechanical fit for blue, which is something Frontier is struggling with at the moment.

    3. I love the flavor of your Cover, Evan, and I think it's a lot closer to usable than mine.

    4. Cover makes some sense mechanically in blue, given Fog Bank and Guard Gomazoa. I can't tell if it would be frustrating if it appeared as a frequent keyword mechanic. I do really like how well first strike can be made to evoke that quick-draw feel.

    5. Let's consider how frustrating it would be for each color.

      White and red both have first strike and double strike, which are the natural counters to cover. Red also has direct damage, making it the color that probably cares least about cover. White also has a bunch of other tools at its disposal - pacifism, chump blockers, etc.

      Black is king of direct creature removal, and is unlikely to be strongly fazed by cover.

      Blue has cover itself, which essentially creates stalemates against other cover creatures. (I like the flavor of this a lot, by the way.)

      That leaves green. I think it's honestly okay for one color to not have a strong defense against a particular keyword. Green also has creatures that are likely to be bigger than the cover creatures, rendering the cover less helpful. It's also possible that we want cover to be secondary in green - it certainly fits flavorfully (hiding behind trees) and somewhat mechanically (it's kind of a one-way conditional Fog.)

    6. Hmm. We have already have a Cover mechanic in Magic: Absorb.

  5. I love the idea of wandslinging.


    But "Cover2" is really darn close to "1: +0/+1 until end of turn".

    1. In that sense, I just expect some sort of card like

      Battlefield Tactician
      W: ~ gets +0/+1 until end of turn.
      "You gotta know which barrels are bullet-proof"

      ...and by bullet I mean wand. I really like the idea of wands or some sort of charged magical weapon.

    2. Agreed. We don't need a mechanic for wandslinging; we can convey it all with art and flavor… but if anyone has a bright idea, it'd be worth considering.

    3. One of the nice things about top-down flavor is that you can use one card to build a lot about the world. Take Zendikar, for example. Cards like Expedition Map and Trusty Machete at common suggest that there are *lots* of maps and machetes (well, they are common, after all.) You don't need twelve map cards to suggest the prevalence of maps.

      Similarly, if we want wand-guns to exist in this world flavorfully, I'm not sure we'd need a ton of wand-gun cards, or a mechanic built around it. One (at common) might be enough.

    4. Honestly, just putting first strike on a couple common guys or high power, low toughness creatures could suffice.

  6. One thing that i think we are overlooking here is the fact that magic the gatherings #1 most recognizable aspect is its CREATURES. The reason Innistrad worked, was that in capturing the horror theme, and Horror Genre for that matter, is riddled with different MONSTER tropes, which easily translate to creature cards. If you look at the block as a whole, the spells that have less tie-in to the horror theme (More abstract flavor) are the sorceries, instants, enchantments, etc. But even those (when given great art and convincing enough names) worked with the proper introduction of flavor. i think that in order for "frontier world" to succeed, there has to be an answer for why there would be all (or most) of the staple creatures of Magic.

    Here is an idea that i had in the shower this morning (Birthplace of all ideas):

    Word has gotten out that there is a large amount of GOLD to be found in the distant and uncivilized lands of the Youskill Valley (Or some frontierey name). The appeal for riches has caused numerous GROUPS of INDIVIDUALS to head to this area, in the hopes of STRIKING IT RICH.


    HUMANS from the EAST (WHITE & BLACK):
    This is the easiest one. The humans arrived last, and brought with them a NEW TECHNOLOGY known as a "BOOMSTICK" or some other gun like term here. These EQUIPMENT are used to imprint SPELLS onto them, which can be fired as "bullets" allowing even the most common folk to be able to take down even the mightiest of foes. Some Humans see the opportunity to make a better life for their families (WHITE) while some want to get rich at any cost (BLACK).

    GOBLINS from the NORTH (RED):
    The goblins arrive on their Rail system, which the crafty little buggers have created (INTRODUCING THE MINECART / RAILROAD trope). The can also offer comedic relief as the tracks are haphazard int he goblin way and all over the place, and they like to just ram a mine cart filled with explosives into caves (blast mining).

    MERFOLK from the SOUTH (BLUE):
    Word of the riches of the valley have reached the depths of the sea, and caused merfolk to leave their watery homes in hopes of "striking it rich" These merfolk use their vast knowledge of the sea and underground natural springs in their "erosion mining" techniques. (kind of like pan sifting)

    The elves are native to the lands and are displaced by the humans (THE ELVES HERE HAVE A NATIVE AMERICAN VIBE AND ARE SPIRITUALLY TIED TO THE FORESTS AND LANDS SURROUNDING THE VALLEY.) they are also like the PETA of the land and do not like the native creatures being used as PACK ANIMALS, because they believe that everything has a soul.

  7. so the first set would introduce all of this as being a functioning new magic plane.

    The second set revolves around this idea:
    The "GOLD" that was rumored to exist in the land DOES EXIST, and the people of the land STRIKE GOLD. but they discover that the gold is not NATURAL GOLD existing in the land as they thought, but actually DRAGON's GOLD. So when the mines start breaking through into the HOARDS of dragons and WAKING THEM AFTER THOUSANDS OF YEARS or something equally dramatic, then the second block goes off.

    in the third block giant squid creatures erupt from the earth and kill everything, or something...


    1) the "Dig" mechanic would work well here, but maybe change the name to "Prospect"?

    Goblin Miner R
    Creature - Goblin
    Sac: Prospect (to prospect you reveal cards from top lib until basic land card and put into your hand.)

    2) SHOWDOWN or HIGH NOON or similar mechanic representing a duel. I see this as an action word:

    Creature - Human 2W
    SHOWDOWN - When this enters the battlefield, you and target opponent may reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a sorcery card. Then each of you may play those cards without paying cost.

    showing a gunsling trope ish thing

    Creature - Elf
    SHOWDOWN - When this enters the battlefield, you and target opponent may reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a creature card. Then each of you may play those cards without paying cost.

    something like that.

    1. Oooh:

      GAMBLE (Pay X. Reveal the top card of your library. If its CMC is twice X or less, cast it for free. Otherwise, you may put it on the bottom).

    2. What about cascade instead of showdown?