Wednesday, March 6, 2013

CCDD 030613—Orelian Lightkeeper, Caustic Fumes, Artificial Inception & Cyborgclops

Cool Card Design of the Day
3/6/2013 - This post tripled in length from what I intended when I started. Shrug.

Two of the mechanics suggested for Ekkremes are sunburst and colorless-hybrid mana, aka "twobrid." We've argued whether these mechanics are complementary or at odds influencing how many colors players will use in their Limited decks, but HavelockV and I agree that they at least shouldn't appear on the same card. While that creates fascinating interactions, it's complex both on paper and in practice. Let's explore a couple possibilities.

The only difference between sunburst on a colored creature and an artifact is that you're locked in to paying at least one color of mana. That and it feels different. Suntouched Myr is a card you can play in any deck but particularly one with as many artifacts and as few colored mana symbols as possible—so that you can run all five basic lands in roughly equal proportion. Orelian Lightkeeper instead prompts you to create either a three-color, base-green deck or a two-color deck with perhaps a third color splashed.

You would expect to see 2C sunburst creatures like this in a few other colors, if not all of them. You'd probably also expect some 1C or 3C sunburst creatures, and even a 4C version somewhere, perhaps only at uncommon. All of these require at least two colors to be decent and push you to splash more colors and/or add some Pentad Prisms or Shimmering Grottos.

While that's not the mechanic that will sell the set or lead to memorable combats, it's certainly a solid backbone for a set and easy enough to layer the flashier keywords onto.

Flame Javelin and Spectral Procession left their mark on Shadowmoor players and have a lot of us asking for more. Upon closer inspection, these cards were loved much more for their efficiency at their lowest cost than for their color flexibility. Yes, you usually played every copy you got of either in Limited regardless of your main colors, but the same could not be said for Beseech the Queen or, um, the other two. *cough*

I managed to make a reasonably appealing card in Caustic Fumes, but I'm not sure it's any more appropriate for the game than Dismember was. We can use the same justification they did for Phyrexian mana and just claim that it fits the flavor of the set and the bleed it affects is merely one swing of the great pendulum. I would prefer not to test our audience like that unless we're sure it'll be worth it. Which I'm not.

The problem being that it's really hard to design twobrid cards that are appealing but not as powerful as Flame Javelin or Spectral Procession. You know, common. Don't believe me? Let's make a black common creature.

2/B isn't going to get there. Let's move on.

2/B 2/B could get us a Walking Dead, Highborn Ghoul or maybe Giant Scorpion because that's about the best you could get at common for BB. Would you pay 2B for those? Mostly that'd be fine. Would you pay 4 to play any of those in your non-black deck? As anything but your 23rd card? Me neither.

2/B 2/B 2/B already doesn't look common, but let's pretend. Figure the average cheapest payment in Limited will be 2BB which gets you Highway Robber, Liliana's Shade or Perilous Shadow. I'd be happy to get any of those for BBB or 2BB. At 4B, they're all sub-par but potentially playable. At 6 mana, they're all miserable.

From that, I'm not sure twobrid will stand on its own. No problem, right? We'll just buddy it up with a mechanic that makes it awesome. Here are the possibilities I see…

You can reward players for spending more mana. That makes sense because it works like an X spell. You can pay less and get less or you can pay more and get more. The problem with that is even though you have more flexibility when running Artificial Inception in a blue deck, the card is at its most powerful in literally any deck.

We can reverse it and reward the player for trying to stick to the colored costs. That reinforces her instinct to try and cast the card as cheaply as possible, but it also makes casting Artificial Inception for 2U less appealing both in cost and effect.

This particular execution makes casting this for 4 a non-option, but I'm sure you could design cards where the most expensive effect is just a terrible terrible deal rather than a complete non-choice like this. Could you design cards like that without making the effect at the cheapest level broken? And while keeping the card common? I'm not so sure.

You could split the difference. Here, the blue effect is better, but both effects are fine. At UU, you get two cards (which is pretty damn good, but maybe justifiable), at 2U you get to draw two and discard 1 (worse than Divination), and at 4 you get to draw two and discard two (which isn't great, but I at least feel comfortable offering that effect to all colors).

I'm not condemning all three of these options, but I am skeptical they could carry twobrid in the set. Feel free to explain options I missed or other executions that make any of these options tantalizing.

A final possibility for twobrid:

We could explore stranger mana combinations like 1 2/B, but that's far too ugly for me to contemplate and seems to undermine the point/value of twobrid. What about 2/B B? Hmm. Maybe. Under the model that all twobrid spells have some number of 2/C symbols and exactly one C, you're now making XC cards. "You can cast this for 2B or BB." "You can cast this for 4W, 2WW or WWW." That sounds pretty good. Let's try one out:

That mana cost isn't pretty and it's a little hard to process, but I can imagine a fair proportion of decks being happy to pay RRR, 2RR or sometimes 4R for a 5/2. Push it to 4/3 and I think Cyborgclops could be an easy fifth pick or so in draft. So we've found one reasonable implementation of this model. Can we make enough to populate a set? Design some common 2/C C and 2/C 2/C C cards in the comments.

I can't leave without addressing this similarity between Cyborgclops and Orelian Lightkeeper: If you think of the former as costing 4C than both are NC creatures that are affected by how you cast them (another argument against using both in the same set): In one case, you're rewarded for playing more colors and in the other for playing fewer, but both cards are playable in both mono- and many-colored decks. Maybe that means they'll play well together because they're more similar than they look, or maybe it means we're making players learn two different mechanics where we could use just one. I'd be quite curious to test it out and see.


  1. How does Artificial Inception work if you spend UUUU?

    1. #1 lets you draw 4 and discard 2.
      #2 lets you draw 4. Whiiich is even more broken than UU:Draw 2. That option would need templating to avoid that possibility.
      #3 lets you draw and discard 2, but needs better templating to clarify that.

    2. I was thinking #4 was obsoleted by #3, but your point shows that it was not:

      Artificial Inception 4 — 2/U 2/U
      Sorcery (cmn)
      For each mana spent casting ~, draw a card.
      For each nonblue mana spent casting ~, discard a card.

      Nope. Damn. Still broken (drawing 4 and discarind 0 for UUUU). One more try:

      Artificial Inception 5 — 2/U 2/U
      Sorcery (cmn)
      For each mana spent casting ~, draw a card.
      For each mana spent casting ~ beyond 2, discard a card.

      Which would be:
      draw 2 / discard 0 for UU
      draw 3 / discard 1 for 2U, 1UU and UUU
      draw 4 / discard 2 for 4, 1UUU, 2UU, 3U & UUUU

      That's too good for 4. It's also weird that it doesn't matter how much U you spend. Perhaps fine, just not what I was expecting.

      Can anyone make this card work better?

    3. Adding an additional 1 to Artificial Inception 5 could fix it.

      Artificial Inception 5 — 1 2/U 2/U
      Sorcery (???)
      For each mana spent casting ~ beyond 1, draw a card.
      For each mana spent casting ~ beyond 3, discard a card.

      Which would be:
      draw 2 1UU
      draw 3 / discard 1 for 3U, 2UU and 1UUU
      draw 4 / discard 2 for 5, 2UUU, 3UU, 4U & 1UUUU

      Wordier, and even less appealing mana cost but fair. Rarity wise this might need to be uncommon. The final effect is still a bit strong so what if we try

      Artificial Inception 6 — 2/U 2/U 2/U...

      ...and at this point we have left design and headed straight into the murky world of developmental. I think its time for bed.

    4. Yeah, it's all so clunky.
      We need something cleaner.

      Pure Thought 3U
      Sorcery (cmn)
      Draw three cards, then discard a card.
      If you spent only blue mana casting ~, don't discard.

    5. Stay 1UU
      Draw two cards.
      Go 4
      Draw four cards, discard four cards

      Here is another Colored/Colorless split cards:

      Tall GG
      Target creature gains +4/+4 and reach until end of turn.
      Short 2
      Target creature gains +1/+1 and is unblockable until end of turn

      I think split cards are just easier than twobrid to parse, and have the added advantage of being more flexible with the kind of effects they can have.

    6. Nice. I'd love to see more symmetry between the two halves, so it's more clear what the split card represents, but I think this is an excellent suggestion and could well be the solution.

  2. One thought that did cross my mind when dealing with Jay's post was how does this work as alternative man cost

    Mini AI
    ( 2/U* can be paid with U or any 2 nonblue mana)
    Draw card for each mana spent on ~ then discard a card for each man spent on ~.

    Mainly does would our Ekkremes set be better or worse with an alt twobird. Does taking away the ability to pay UU make a difference with this any other card?

  3. Let's start simple.
    Vanilla creatures:
    2/W W — 2/3
    2/U U — 1/4 or 2/3
    2/B B — 2/2
    2/R R — 3/2 or 2/3
    2/G G — 3/3 (maybe?) or 3/2

    Basic abilities:
    2/W 2/W W — 2/3 with flying and vigilance
    2/U 2/U U — 3/1 with flying and ~ can block only creatures with flying
    2/B 2/B B — 2/2 shade
    2/R 2/R R — 3/2 with haste
    2/G 2/G G — 3/3 with trample

    The shade is a natural fit because it wants to be in a black-heavy deck anyway. Anyone else see something interesting here?

    1. The shade is also nice because late game you might want to play it for 4B so that you can use your other swamps to pump the shade right away to block.

      2/C C seems like a nice place to be, you normally wouldn't play White Knight and Black Knight in the same limited deck, but playing 2/W W and 2/B B cards together works perfectly fine.

  4. I think there's a reason the twobrid cards were a single rare and an uncommon cycle.

    I'm starting to doubt that there are twobrid common cards. It's like hybrid in Ravnica: just too confusing to have a lot of it. I'm especially wary of putting that reminder text with "converted mana cost" on common cards. Maybe Ekkremes just has a cycle or two of twobrids at higher rarities where we can do the crazy templating like "For each U spent to cast this..." that would be too complex for common cards.

    I think we could have a sunburst-like ability word that keys off of number of colors spent to cast it.

    Orelian Lightkeeper 2
    Creature - Elf Warrior(C)
    Starburst--If you spent two or more colors of mana to cast Orelian Lightkeeper 2, it enters the battlefield with 2 +1/+1 counters.


    Vilkan Enforcer
    Artifact Creature - Golem (C)
    Starburst--If you spent R to cast Vilkan Enforcer, it gains haste.

    And if you think that can't sell sets:

    Angel of Punishment
    Creature - Angel (M)
    Starburst--When Angel of Punishment enters the battlefield, if you spent WUBRG to cast Angel of Punishment, destroy up to five permanents.

    This might be too powerful.

    Anyway, that's my two cents.

    EDIT: Chops did an excellent job above of making twobrid common creatures. I still fear it's rather complex.

  5. I've been trying to find ways to make the cost more interesting, where the body is good early, but the effect the creature brings is one you're happy with later on.

    2/U 2/U U - 1/3, When ~ enters the battlefield, return target creature to its owner's hand
    2/B 2/B B - 3/1, B: Regenerate
    2/R 2/R R - 2/1, When ~ enters the battlefield, return target sorcery card from your graveyard to your hand
    2/G 2/G G - 3/3 Flash

    It really is hard to make appealing 2/C 2/C creatures, but I wanted to try a cycle with ETB effects that are worth paying 4:

    2/W 2/W - 1/3, When ~ ETB, untap all creatures you control.
    2/U 2/U - 1/3, When ~ ETB, target creature gains flying until end of turn.
    2/B 2/B - 2/2, When ~ ETB, remove a counter from target permanent.
    2/R 2/R - 2/1, When ~ ETB, destroy target artifact.
    2/G 2/G - 2/2, When ~ ETB, target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.

    1. The nice thing about the complexity of twobrid cards is that it's hidden in the mana cost. Well, except for two lines of reminder text which would definitely be on our commons. Point is, I like James' 2/C 2/C cycle.

  6. I find 2/C 2/C much more aesthetically pleasing (and easy to read) than 2/C C. The only difference is that it can be cast for 4 (or 6) which seems unlikely to make a card problematic. Each of Chops' 2/C C cards looks like it would work fine as 2/C 2/C.

    1. In all seriousness, I think the aesthetic of these really have to be spot-on. In many ways, twobrid is more about the look of the cards than the gameplay. And I certainly agree that 2/C C is no 2/C 2/C in that department.

      So let's take a look at Chops' list like that.
      2/W 2/W — 2/3 — WW, 2W, 4
      2/U 2/U — 1/4 — UU, 2U, 4
      2/B 2/B — 2/2 — BB, 2B, 4
      2/R 2/R — 3/1 — RR, 2R, 4
      2/G 2/G — 3/2 — GG, 2G, 4

      All of these are playable at 2C and good at CC (except B's 2/2), but still pretty terrible at 4. That said, 2/C 2/C is strictly better than 2/C C for the same body and just because you can play these for 4, doesn't mean you have to. (And if you ever do, you'll be glad you can cast it at all)

      So, it all comes down to player perception. If you slap one of these bad boys down in front of a player, will there first reaction be "Sweet!" or "Whaat?" and when they go to make their deck, will these be in or out. Remember that a lot of good cards get left out because they appear bad.

    2. Gah, I'm such a tweak:
      If we push the green one to 3/3, then black can be 3/2 and everyone's got something to write home about.

    3. I think they could be French like the Spined Thopter cycle.

  7. It's okay to have some bad cards. Even then, if I'm drafting and need an off-color card to fill out my deck, I'd rather the Beseech the Queen that can be played either when I pull some off-color swamps OR whenever I've got enough of my main colors in play. Compared to a Ghastly Discovery that I will never, ever be able to play until I pull an island, that's a pretty good deal.

    If it isn't too much to do at common, you could go the Reaper King route. Something like 2/U 2/W instead of 2/U 2/U. The difference between UW and 4 isn't as big as that between UU and 4. You might have a situation where a player running UW will pay 2W or 2U to play that card. Alternatively, 4 might be acceptable to a mono-red deck for something like say, Azorious First-Wing, but that's assuming someone wants to play Millennial Gargoyle.

  8. I've also been against putting Hybrid and Sunburst together, not because of how the text looks, but because it pulls players in multiple directions and it's not clear what the card is telling you to do.

    For the exact same reason, I don't think we should have Hybrid cards that have different effects based on how much generic or colored mana was spent. I feel it's too much Melvin-only appeal at the cost of making everyone else say "huh?" Each card should have a clear purpose and message (although they can have infinite subtler implications hidden in them). We could make clearer cards with split cards or multikicker.

  9. Even without using text that references what kind of mana was paid for Hybrid and twobrid costs, I don't think the veins for Hybrid use has been exhaused. Just like the Blade cycle introduced the C(B/D) costs, there aught to be something left.

    One example is twobrid multicker.

    Deep Insight 2U
    Draw a card, then draw an additional card for each time ~ was kicked.
    Multikicker (2/U)

    Well, this doesn't look shockingly new, although it does lead to an "optional monocolor" set, where there are rewards for a mono deck if you want to draft one but you're not forced to.

    1. On a related note, 2/C is great on activation costs, especially ones you want to use multiple times per turn:

      Hellhound Replica 3
      Artifact Creature - Hound
      2/R: ~ gets +1/+0 until end of turn.

      Beast Replica 5
      Artifact Creature - Beast
      2/G: Target creature blocks ~ this turn if able.