Monday, January 7, 2013

Frontier: Disquiet on the Western Front

HV: This pitch is by Pasteur.  Here are the pitches from rounds one, two, and three.

Which set are you pitching?

What is the name of your pitch?
Disquiet on the Western Front

What are the major mechanical themes in the set according to your vision?
Top-down Western (Desperado), Land-matters (Dig and Hideaway), Battlecruiser Magic

Into the Sunset
Exile target attacking creature. You gain life equal to its toughness.

Dowsing Spell 5U
Counter target spell.
Dig 2 (2, Discard this card: reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card. Put that card into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.)

Elvish Settler 1G
Creature - Elf Scout
When ~ enters the battlefield, you may play an additional land this turn.

Dead Man's Hand 2B
Target player discards two cards, then loses life equal to the number of cards in his or her hand.

Coalbright Ignus 2R
Creature - Elemental
When ~ enters the battlefield, add RRR to your mana pool.

Dwarven Deputy 2W
Creature - Dwarf Soldier
~ can block an additional creature.
Desperado 2 (When this blocks or becomes blocked, it gets +2/+2 until end of turn.)

Lesser Sandwurm 6G
Creature - Wurm
There is always a greater power.

Sandvalanche 3RR
~ deals damage equal to the number of lands you control to target creature.
Dig 2 (2, Discard this card: Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card. Put that card into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.)

Sombrero Automaton 3
As long as all lands you control are tapped, ~ is a 1/1 Scarecrow artifact creature.
At the end of your turn, if ~ is a creature, put a +1/+1 counter on it.

Wanted Dead 1B
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
When enchanted creature dies, draw two cards.
"or Alive" is quickly neglected.

Sandshifting Wurm 4GG
Creature - Wurm
Haste, trample
When ~ enters the battlefield, untap all other creatures.

Æther Oasis 2U
At the beginning of your upkeep, put a thirst counter on ~.
Remove a thirst counter from ~: Return target creature you control to its owner’s hand.
All who drink of it return.

Thistledark Mineshaft
Hideaway (This land enters the battlefield tapped. When it does, look at the top four cards of your library, exile one face down, then put the rest on the bottom of your library.)
T: Add B to your mana pool.
B, T: If each player lost life this turn, put the exiled card into your hand.

Dwnn 1WW
Legendary Creature - Dwarf
Desperado 4 (When this blocks or becomes blocked, it gets +4/+4 until end of turn.)

There were many excellent designs in this submission.  I particularly liked Into the Sunset, Sandvalanche, Wanted Dead, and Thistledark Mineshaft.  

The implementation of "land matters" here didn't seem splashy enough to be the central set theme.  Dig is an excellent mechanic, but it's definitely a utility mechanic, the kind of thing (like cycling) that sits in the background.  I think Hideaway is a good choice, since it has lots of design space left.  Getting rid of the "free spell" aspect certainly opens up lots of possibilities.  However, it's not clear that it would work at common.  The Dig/Hideaway combo is very cute, but it's still a synergy that revolves around the hand and library rather than the battlefield.

We all loved the idea of a combat mechanic named "Desperado", but bringing back Bushido just doesn't make sense here.  It's highly generic and wants to go into a core set, like Battle Cry, and therefore needs a similarly generic name.  

On one level, it's nice that the ways in which these cards promote Battlecruiser Magic are subtle: Elvish Settler instead of Ondu Giant, and Dwarven Deputy instead of Sporecap Spider.  But we also thought that the message just wasn't coming through clearly enough, and a player who looked at these cards wouldn't understand where they were pointing.  We were also concerned about the level of splash.  A card like Lesser Sandwurm is significantly less appealing than Ulamog's Crusher.  Where's the Yamato Cannon?


  1. One challenge of this design exercise is lack of context. Lands matter and battlecruiser magic fit together naturally, but I wouldn't put them together any time soon because even though ROE didn't have a land theme, people will connect it to Zendikar.

    The lack of splash is another problem (though all of your individual card designs are clean). The Eldrazi had two markers of definite identity that made them stand out. Maybe you don't need that many, but at least one would help. This could be a keyword mechanic or the big guys could be the only multicolored cards in the set.

    Annihilator does a great job of being terrifying without ending the game immediately, and I think both of those properties are necessary if we want the huge guys to work well in battlecruiser gameplay.

  2. I just want to note that an issue I had with this submission was that no matter how well-wrought the designs were, none of them were remotely exciting. As Ari stated, Battlecruiser Magic was subtly inferred in a very intelligent manner, but when you say "Battlecruiser Magic", I want to see some goddamn Battlecruisers.

    Rise of the Eldrazi casts a terrible shadow that can cause some second-guessing regarding just how to represent such a conceit, but should the team continue to work on Frontier within that framework, it's recommended that someone illustrate why we care to work hard at developing our mana bases.

    Dwarves ain't cuttin it.

  3. All of these comments are definitely correct. I spent too much time trying to figure out "What does Blue do in the desert?" and fiddling with a mirage/gating/flurry of spells mechanic (that didn't quite make the booster), and not enough time working on the sandwurms themselves. (Likewise, the Coalbright/Oasis combo doesn't have any payoff in the booster on its own.)

    If I was submitting this for a GDS, that might be a lethal mistake; for GA I might have the good fortune of calling upon the same audience that posted hundreds of comments in the search for the Mythic Dragon last spring. If there's any crowd that can make compelling giant creatures (and probably enjoy the process), I think we could have it.

    I could potentially see a Fallow Earth/Plow Under effect being the calling card of the sandwurms; but while being overpowering and daunting to develop around, that might still lack the splashy Timmy appeal (since it's an effect that's easy to underestimate).

    I probably should've included the Angelic Sheriff over the Dwarven Deputy, but I wanted to show Desperado on a strong-but-fair common, and not skew the color balance too much. Likewise with using the Dwarf with No Name over a splashy mythic Worldwurm - I definitely have a weakness for balance over splash.

    1. Yeah, we'll definitely have targeted crowdsourcing threads once all the pitch feedback is published. (I have a few ideas for splashy Sandwurm mechanics.)

    2. I definitely don't want to see repeatable Fallow Earth, but I could be okay with an ETB or death trigger.

      That gets me wondering about a land-grab sub-theme which could play into the battlecruiser magic by making players fight to reach the cost to cast their yamato cannons.
      Eminent Domain 2GG
      Take control of target tapped land.

      I like Lesser Sandwurm a lot. It's simple, but terrifying, particularly in a set where you can expect to cast it (unlike Axebane Stag, which makes my heart hurt a little). I don't disagree that the perfect booster could've used an Emrakul.

  4. As I read this, I'm becoming unsure that Western-world is an appropriate fit for Magic. Fantasy, yes, but not Magic. Magic requires a wide diversity of creatures and cultures; Western landscapes are typically desolate and empty. Duels in Magic are complex and time-intensive; duels in Westerns are over in a single shot. In addition, I'm not sure how blue can feel Western and also feel like blue - the Western archetype suggests certain values in conflict with each other, but research, intelligence, careful planning, and logic are not among them. I don't know if some combination of flavor, worldbuilding, and mechanics could make this idea work, but I don't think this is it.

    In addition, Innistrad pulled off its theme with its mechanics very well. Horror is, at its core, about things dying. So you have some mechanics: cards that get more powerful when things die, creatures who have to be killed twice to stay dead, and cards that get more powerful when you, the player, are about to die. Even without the names of those mechanics you can understand this is a horror set. How do I understand from these mechanics that this is a Western set?

    1. One of the central themes to Western storytelling is a scarcity of resources. There's not enough time, not enough land, not enough gold, not enough oil, not enough water, not enough bullets. Obviously that doesn't sound like it would make for a very fun Magic set - we like cards and mechanics and themes that give us plenty, not "not enough". But the things that come out of this *are* very good for us in worldbuilding for Magic - conflict, and a need to go *do*, a need to go get and have or defend what is yours. The desert itself is a fascinating place, and full of tropes and creatures and magical possibilities to use. Between towns trying to flourish under harsh and harrying conditions, dry dangerous dunes hiding who-knows what, mineshafts spiraling recklessly underground, and anything else we choose to add in to the world, I think there's at least something to build on.

      I should re-emphasize that while I consider the spaghetti westerns important, they're not the sole text to draw from when working top-down. There's plenty to work with from There Will Be Blood (or Dune, for that matter) in terms of resource-races, or Martín Fierro, for that matter.

      In terms of mechanics playing westernly in the dark, well, I'll admit I don't have that entirely polished yet. There's a lot of design and development necessary to make a "flurry of spells"-style strategy work without remaking straight-up Storm. Do I think we can do it, or at least that it's worth exploring? Definitely, though that would still probably be a small part of the set. The idea of battlecruiser magic, however, isn't far removed from the ideal we might look for. Standoffs and small skirmishes build up and eventually lead to a climactic conclusion? Still, this is definitely something to think about.

    2. I agree with Pasteur that Western can work with Magic. I'd like to add that the frontier doesn't have to be about scarcity of resources--it only seems desolate because it's on the edge of discovery and hasn't been colonized yet. The west has value, that's what draws people to it, it's just untamed.

      Western themes of trying to grab all the land and build something from nothing feel very much like Magic. Every game you start with nothing, discover new lands, and become more powerful. A 'race for land' (or gold) feels very appropriate.

      Another note that seems important to hit is that of self-reliance. When you've left civilization behind, you can't trust anyone, and have to look out for yourself. The Bounty mechanic from the wiki is one way to do that. If the 'Loner' mechanic from AVR were more fun that could be a possibility.

    3. Anyone who isn't familiar with Deadlands is going to have to take our word for it: I GUARANTEE there's plenty of magic in the Western.

      In regards to blue, one of the central conflicts of the western is civilization versus savagery, manliness versus sissyness. For specific tropes, blue gets the mad scientist, the snake oil salesman, the dime novelist and the hex-slinging huckster.

  5. I had a few ideas for nailing the blue conundrum (not to say that others might not have others). The first thing I would play up would be a species of Walking Mirages, (creat-type:Illusion? Illusion Rogue? Elemental Illusion?) that can do some of the grunt work as far as ground creatures go. Hexproof, evasion, good-blocking or cloud-blocking, all are pretty flavorable.

    The second thing would be putting the speculators (and prospectors, to a degree) firmly in the blue camp. Whether we'd want to port in a dusty sort of Vedalken or not is debatable. Whether they ally themselves or contend against the land-hungry vampire clan (in an oil-guessing/gold rush type of competition) is up in the air as well. Regardless, carefully and logically planning mines seems like it has an opportunity to be very blue.

    Divining or dowsing for water (Divination!) is also an old fantasy thing that's not difficult to bring to the Magic stage.

    Whether we do desert jellyfish (xerizoas!), vizzerdrixes (I have an idea for this; it's more relevant if we can include a small jackrabbit in green), merfolk secluded to the oases, giant tortoises, or desert ospreys, there are definitely options to round out blue's creatures.

    1. I've been working on a version with blue tortoise people (tentatively named Turnse) and playing up the flavor of divining where to dig for gold, but this is a great list of ideas.

    2. I have to agree in principal to the blue problem, looking back at my own submission I only had one blue card - you'll see what it is when the feedback from it is posted ;) . However we can find ways to incorporate blue creatures into the mix. Magic always adds a twist to it's world and adding wizards into an old west style set is doable. Also blue is the colour of technology so we could think along the lines of artifact or equipment subtheme occurring. What if living weapons returned to blue and artificer started working as gunsmiths. Also a major part of the old west was expanding the railroads. What if a blue species was seeking a way to create a crossland railway.

      Merfolk or faeries may not feel at home here, but maybe other species could shift into blue. Prior Innistrad could you ever imagine seeing a blue zombie theme emerging. Alternatively the right blue planeswalker (either an existing or original design) could from the foundation for the blue side.

      Admittedly these are not brilliant ideas, and if we were past the playtesting phase it would be too late (they're already a little late to the party). But I felt like throwing something out there.

  6. This is a very strong submission, but I still feel Frontier is a no-go. It's interesting to me that to pull it off properly, you have to embrace an American West flavor, in a way that Kamigawa was Japanese, or Mirage was African. But no one wants to embrace the American Westiness of Frontier. No trains or Native Americans, just generic west flavor. That's one of the major reason that I don't think it's possible. Anyway, Magic is not a conducive IP for a western-styled expansion. There are too many tropes that are either incompatible mechanically (playing poker) or genre specifically (shootin' guns). In addition to that, the tone is just way, way off. I don't want to play a watered down version of a Wild West setting that doesn't have whores, boozing, and corrupt lawmen. Why do we want this for Magic again? It's pretty forced.

    1. Your points are valid, but I'd argue that they only preclude it's use as a mirror of Innistrad. I'm not sure we can make a block with a theme of being in a Western film, but I do believe that a block themed around the ideal of the old west is possible.

    2. @Nick
      I think we tend to take for granted how much work the Creative department does to make a theme look right for Magic. Even with Innistrad, there was strong resistance within R&D because doing a set based on Horror sounded silly - and it is in fact silly, if you just think of Lon Chany werewolves, Swamp Things, Mummies, and Bela Lugosi Draculas from campy Universal monster films that the set is based on.

      Take the Werewolves for example. If they just had those Lon Chany-style "humans with wolf faces," that may have seen silly. Even for something as simple as this, they had to come up with a new look for werewolves (half gorillas and half wolves). Once they did, they looked bad-ass enough to fit in with other Magic monsters, and they also felt different from werewolves in other intellectual properties.

      Doing a Horror-themed Magic set may feel like the most natural thing in the world, but it only feels that way in hindsight. It only feels that way because we've already seen how the worked it out. We need to keep in mind that it wasn't an automatically valid idea.

      How to represent technology in a Magic set is a valid concern. It's not that guns are too powerful - guns seem much less powerful than the crazy advanced artifacts we see in planes like Mirrodin (cloning machines, etc). Also, if you just take a magic-charged wand and add a trigger to it so that anyone can use it, it would be like a gun. However, the difficulty is how to keep it feeling like Magic, and you're right that it could be tricky. But sets like Innistrad make me think that it's very doable.

      Finally, the judges in GDS2 felt that the flavor of the Western world was one of the most compelling settings submitted, and the audience loved it too. There's plenty of reason to try to adapt a Western setting into Magic set.

    3. A better example of what I wanted to say would be how they translated Frankenstein Monsters into Magic.

    4. Exactly. As with all things, Magic has to put its own unique spin on the Western. That won't be trivial, and that's how you know it'll be awesome when it happens.

  7. @Jules: In a post-Innistrad design world, I think the only way to do a flavor driven set is top down. If you’re not brainstorming a bunch of Wild West tropes for individual cards, you’re not going to capture your audience. Frontier would be a top down design, evidenced by the fact that the judges seem to love the world and hope to find cards that deliver the setting properly.

    @Chah: I don’t disagree that Creative does a good job putting things in a Magic pretext. (Although, having seen the Underworld movies and playing the RPG “Werewolf: The Apocalypse,” I don’t think their take on werewolves was innovative or unique.) Finding a Magic feel to top-down horror is nowhere near as challenging as top-down Wild West. There’s just a lot of overlap with Horror, and even before Innistrad, I had little trouble imagining it. But too many of the vital Wild West tropes would either never transfer, or would get lost in translation. Making a Wild West Magic set is Fool’s Gold for designers. Even if you successfully crack major trope incompatibilities, you’ll have to take a step back and decide whether what you have passes a strong enough resemblance to be called Wild West. If our goal is a much more generic rugged frontier world, it frees us from having to hew too closely to the most important tropes, but then you also can’t truly call is a Wild West set. It’ll be a something else set, with a frontier world backdrop.

  8. What If desperado was +X/+X where X is toughness before combat started instead of having a number - that would differentiate it from bushido