Friday, March 29, 2013

Set Design: Open Thread

Readers, it's been a long and interesting journey from our eight original pitches to the final three. Our discussions have been productive and illuminating, and I have no doubt that any of Ankh-Theb, Ekkremes, or Frontier would be a fruitful design project. Nonetheless, the time has come to choose which set we're going to design. The Goblin Artisans authors will soon make a decision.

This thread is for feedback on that decision. Which set do you think has made the most progress during pre-design? What obstacles do you see ahead? Where is the best potential? What themes or mechanics are most exciting? Which questions are still unanswered?

This seems like as good a time as any to articulate our mission statement: we are trying to design a large standalone set using the standards of Magic R&D. Thus, we'll work within the framework of New World Order, the color pie, player psychographics, etc. Please keep these issues in mind while commenting on the viability of our options.


  1. I feel like, in terms of a Magic set, Ankh-Theb has the most available design space.

    Ekkremes has had some very thought-provoking and game-changing ideas, but none of them really synergize or work together, and a set driven entirely by its new fancy mechanic isn't what we're looking for.

    Frontier seems to be lacking in focus, with its ideas all over the map - and though the Wild West is a very rich vein, but it's apparently difficult to tap into it in terms of Magic the Gathering.

    In essences, Ekkremes and Frontier have no 'theme' to resonate with the audience - Innistrad was a theme of 'horror', and Scars a theme of 'invasion', for instance.

    Ankh-Theb, on the other hand, has powerful, resonant, and universal themes, ones that are easily represented by mechanics, and work well in Magic.

    1. The majority of our discussions regarding Ankh-Theb have revolved around flavor.

      The majority of our Frontier / Ekkremes discussions revolved around mechanics.

      We talked "make a mummy." But not about what the other worlds are. Ekkremes has been pitched as a manaless weird mana world, a factory plane, and a take on anime style neo-Japan.

      It's hard to design for resonance and not mechanics if we haven't even decided on a trope. We've placed no boundaries, no restrictions, just said what if its this or that.

      I for one feel like Ankh-Theb is low hanging fruit. The other two worlds require more thought and more work and I feel would be more rewarding.

      Honestly, I think we should open three threads, spend a week designing top down cards for each, and see where the support lies and which has the most promising ideas.

  2. How long do we have to post our assessment? Over the weekend at least?

    1. Yes, definitely. We'll wait until discussion dies down at the very least, and probably not less than a week.

  3. I feel like you have done a lot of discussing but it is still unclear whether we have found the conclusions and whichever set the judges choose, I think we need a really clear mission statement over what the major themes and mechanics are.

    With that in mind there's no reason we can't take the best elements of each set, so I vote we create Ankremetier - A technological plane which has lost touch with magic only to rediscover it when the pharaohs of old Ankh emerge to conquer the world by using their mystical powers to summon giant sandwurms to crush the Ekreme's massive sunpowered contraptions. The only hope for the mechanised world is a small band of cowboy planewalkers in the wrong place at the wrong time. This plane aint big enough for everyone.

    This set would sell itself. Your welcome!

    1. I'm all for this.

      I don't think any of the three sets really have enough going for them to "feel" like a big set.

      Innistrad's "horror" theme didn't just focus on one villain, it had Werewolves, Ghosts, Vampires AND Frankenstein. It also had a major theme of the human survivors. And that didn't even fill a full block, it only got two sets in before it switched focus to Angels vs. Demons.

      Ravnica block doesn't have one mechanical focus, it has 10+! Several mechanics GDS competitors thought were enough to carry a whole set wound up being just a 4th of a set.

      Each of these sets solve a problem the others struggle with. Ekkremes has a really cool mechanic/hook with Mechas, but it has nothing to fight against. Frontier has this awesome setting, but it struggles with having a compelling villain or a new way to "duel". Ankh Theb has great villains, but it's lacking an innovative mechanical hook or a good conflict.

      Finally, and I think this is the coolest reason, all of these big genres were happening around the same time in the real world. Industrial Revolution, Cowboys, and the first real explorations of ancient Egypt were all taking place in the mid-late 19th centuries. That's just about as contemporary as I think Magic is willing to go, but it has a thematic congruence (Greed, Modern vs. Historical clash, Exploration) that I think is neat.

      Mummies aren't as interesting in Ancient Egypt, Big Robots need Big Evil to shoot.

      My write in choice is "All of the above!"

    2. An industrial revolution set, where rampant expansion and over-mining unearths powerful relics and vengeful gods of a bygone age? That sounds awesome.
      I wouldn't put it in Frontier-land though. I would make the focus this industrial setting that struggles to combat the threat it just uncovered. It has a lot of good draws-- a society that grows too much, too fast, and now has to pay; the rediscovery of magic; and a lost civilization.

    3. Yep, that would be cool too.

      Really, Guns/Gunwands are pretty advanced technology, which is why I'd mix a bit of Frontier in there. It also has a desert setting like Ankh-Theb, so it'd make a bit of sense there. Gold has been discussed as a cross over mechanic, as have things like farming.

      Still, I would be surprised to see ten gallon hats, saloons or horses really making a huge showing in a combined scenario.

    4. ok that makes sense, I wasn't seeing how saloons would fit in this combined world either. A version of Dig that put cards into your graveyard could play well with some of the egyptian graveyard mechanics, and it would be an opportunity to use Unearth on noncreature artifacts
      Buried Loot 5
      T: discard a card, then draw a card
      Unearth R

  4. Ekkremes:
    The potential: The idea of technology vs. magic is a very primal one, and having the potential for having giant robots makes this by far the most appealing set for battlecruiser Magic.
    The challenges: Finding mechanics that are appealing to Johnny, Timmy, *and* Spike. Figuring out how to do a plane of technology that doesn't feel like Mirrodin. Letting go of the idea of making contraptions work.

    The potential: Out of the three proposals, this one has the most potential for untapped top-down design. Combat in a Western world is fundamentally different than combat in a traditional fantasy swords-and-sorcery world, and thus Frontier has the most potential to make combat more interesting.
    The challenges: Making guns make sense in Magic while still feeling like guns. Handling the tropes of duels and showdowns in a satisfying manner. Finding a place for blue in Western flavor.

    The potential: Lots of Egyptian imagery is familiar to players. Honestly, though, I'm not sure what the mechanical potential is here. What's unique about Ankh-Theb *besides* flavor that we couldn't do in another world?
    The challenges: Finding enough elements of Egyptian culture that translate to a world of magical dueling. Finding ways of expressing ancient Egypt through mechanics as well as flavor. Making it feel like its own world and not Innistrad with pyramids.

    I'm most interested in moving forward with Ekkremes and least interested in Ankh-Theb.

    1. Well said, Evan.

      I think we've more than demonstrated that each set has potential and I look forward to the challenge of fleshing out any one of them, but if I had to vote, Ankh-Theb wouldn't be my choice. Between Frontier and Ekkremes, I feel like Frontier has better resonance while Ekkremes has the more exciting new mechanic.

      This is not meant to sway opinions, only to add data, and give folks the chance to debate.

  5. A potential concern: Theros. I believe Theros will be the "Greek mythology" block from what I've seen. I don't know if that makes Ankh-Theb a better or worse choice. Better: We really get to see how we tackle mythology differently the way that the two M13s formed an interesting contrast. Worse: I'm afraid we'll run into trouble if we go down that road. I expect this process to take some time and I think Theros would really influence Ankh-Theb, making harder to create a good stand-alone set.

    My vote is for Frontier. I think it has enough freedom to create cool designs while also allowing for a cohesive environment. It's also hasn't been done in any capacity before which is exciting. I do think we need some kind of story for it though.

    1. This is totally speculative, obviously, but I don't know that Theros is really going to limit itself to Greek mythology. For one thing, Magic doesn't base its sets on existing Intellectual Property, it designs its own worlds. That means that Theros isn't limited to making Zeus or Athena cards. So if I were Wizards, and I were designing a "Mythology" block, I wouldn't limit myself to Greek myths. I'd use Egyptian, Babylonian, and maybe Norse/Irish myths too.

      After all, they've already designed one game around that concept:

    2. That's just to say that I'd expect Theros to hit quite a few of the Egyptian tropes (curses, Gods, maybe even Mummies).

      Not a bad thing, just something to consider.

    3. We certainly will not complete this project in less than six months.

    4. As such I really don't think pursuing Ankh-Theb is a good plan because we're bound to be influenced by Theros. Between the other two, I think our current mechanical position is much stronger for Ekkremes, but I'm not sure how well we can make it mesh flavor-wise. I'd wager that doing giant mechs without feeling too modern is nigh impossible.

      As such I have to vote for Frontier. It's got plenty of issues that need to be worked out, but our problem with it is too many themes, not too few, and MaRo's always talking about themes that get cut down in development. That indicates to me that we're on the right track and it's time to find better implementations for our resonant pieces.

    5. Ben makes a good point. There are both good and bad aspects of overlap with Theros. You can learn a lot when you're designing in parallel to a real set; maybe you have discussions like "this is too crazy" and then the real set goes over the top of that. Maybe you couldn't solve a problem but then you see the real set solve it, and you learn more for having worked with it.

      I do think 6 months is enough to get most of the design ideas out, even if development isn't finished.

    6. I don't think they will have Egyptian themes in Theros, though. They want Magic to go on for decades and decades. They would not use up another earth mythology so easily in one block.

    7. Ekkremis has one strong mechanic, and I really want to be able to build a build a mecha out of parts.

      (Which is why I made such a mechanic in my old post here, which I keep mentioning.

      However, Ekkremis has the least flavor, and the one mechanic that is guiding it looks like it's going to be more or less detached from whatever else the rest of the set is doing. The split version of the DFC parts cards play only with other such cards.

      We would need to build an overarching theme that encompasses the subtheme of these linear mecha parts cards. It's not impossible to come up with a world where giant Mechas are important but still feels like a MtG world (something like Escaflowne?), to come up with other subthemes for that world, and to figure out how those subthemes are interwoven.

      Another challenge is keeping it separate from Mirrodin. I guess it's not impossible since they did do four horror sets almost in succession (Shadowmoor, Rise of Eldrazi, New Phyrexia, and Innistrad) Mirrodin had metal life forms; maybe this world should probably have machines strictly as tools, robots, and vehicles. There could be a "modern society" feel with tanks vs. dragons, or it could be very gritty, low tech steampunk, or it could be about magic-imbued artifacts.

      So we have a linear mechanic about mechas, the overall theme of a world combating some giant monsters with giant mechs, and not a lot of flavor. It's doable, but it's close to starting from square one.

    8. I agree with Jules that the abundance of options we have in Frontier is a good thing. We have solid flavor, and we also have a large collection of mechanic candidates, even if we don't necessarily agree on them.

    9. I definitely picture a Final Fantasy IV setting for Ekkremis. Establishing a central conflict in the set would go a long way to help define the abilities we want to see present.

      Frontier is the one most grounded in a familiar trope. But while the central concept is great, we've had a difficult time translating those concepts to unique gameplay. There might be design space in Revealed Cards, but I suspect it's far more limited than we'd want as the primary set anchor.

    10. I think there have been multiple good candidates for Ekkremes's flavor-- Dickensian Factory World, Artifact vs Enchantment World, etc.
      Factory World lends itself to lots of top-down designs:
      Union Dues 1W
      Enchantment - Aura
      Enchant Creature
      Enchanted Creature has, "at the beginning of your upkeep, pay 2/W 2/W or sacrifice this"

      Soot Allergy 2B
      Target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn for each artifact you control

      Lunch Break 2G
      Gain 4 life.
      Until your next turn, activated abilities of artifacts can't be activated.

    11. I second the Dickensian factory plane.

      I think we can really build off of the concept of class structure. The only question is how to make machines work.

    12. Is Dickensian Factory Plane compatible with Giant Fighting Mecha? If not, I know which gets my vote.

    13. I think Dickensian Factory Plane is compatible with Medium Fighting Robots. See Real Steel or the short steampunk story Steampunch.

    14. To me the point of mechas is that you can combine parts and build it your own way, so they don't absolutely need to be giant. I guess it could fit into a factory plane.

  6. I believe that of the three, Frontier has the most universal vision. I think mechanically, it is currently the weakest, but everybody is on the same page as to the style guide, as it were. We all know what a block of Wild West Magic will consist of, even if how the individual cards will work is still in massive flux.
    Ekkremes doesn't have as strong of a unified feel to it. Just looking at the comments above, there are at least two or three ways that the world could be could be conceived. The premise just isn't concrete enough to not have conflicting views.
    Ankh-Theb's vision is strong; Ancient Egypt is again something everyone knows the feel of, but there does seem to be a lot of uncertainty as to the time frame involved. Are the pharaohs long dead, buried in the sand, and there are new rulers in place? Or are the undead pharaohs the current rulers, in an Egyptian Dark Barony? Are we building pyramids or excavating them?

    I also had some ideas for Frontier's conflicts that fit all five colors into it, based at least a little on Deadlands, which should be a strong influence anyway.
    Sheriffs vs Outlaws: Very much a white vs black conflict. Protect the weak vs steal for myself.
    "Railroads" vs Natives: This is civilization vs nature, obviously blue vs green. I think actual railroads are too high tech, but bringing the city to the wild is part of what makes the West the West.
    This just leaves Red. I was stumped for a little bit, since the Wurms have been green, but someone mentioned Hellions on a previous thread, and guess what? Hellions are red! Using Hellions gives a Red vs Everyone conflict, so all five colors have a major theme. Once the flavor of the ten pairs are figured out, then the world building should give a strong idea of what concepts have to be included mechanically and which can be flavor only.

    1. Ooh, Railroads.

      Pitch: Frontier, the western setting we know and love, is a battleground for several groups of mages. The focus of their conflict is not only the precious resources of Frontier, but also the construction of Magical Channels known as a Link

      Link are a new type of enchantment

      Corridor of Brimstone 1RR
      Enchantment-Link (C)
      Chain (You may target a non-aura enchantment as you play this. If you do, this card enters the
      battlefield attached to that enchantment. If this would leave the battlefield, unattach any enchantments attached to it)
      Whenever you cast a spell, Corridor of Brimstone deals X damage to target opponent, where X is equal to the number of cards in this chain.

      Frozen Path 1U
      Enchantment- Link (U)
      3, Tap an untapped creature you control: Tap target creature. If this chain has three or more links, that creature doesn't untap durning its controllers next untap phase.

    2. Neat.
      Should you be able to chain to your opponent's links?

  7. Looking back over the threads there's clearly a lot of support for all three but if I had to make a serious punt for just one these pitches then Ankh Theb gets my backing simply because Ancient Egypt setting has the most resonance with the core concepts of magic.

    Don't get me wrong all three ideas are strong and would make great card games but I'm I still feel unconvinced either Frontier or Ekreme would produce a set didn't feel like another TCG.

    There have already been card games with cowboys (such as Bang!) but even with wurms in a desert I just can't view a Western Setting as being Magic. We never really seemed to settle on a wand slinging theme that resonated and possibly that has more to do with guns not being particularly involved with magic, hell even archers struggle to find a place.

    Ekremme's also seems promising but I can't help look at Mecha and think the same thing - there's a strong card game here but is it really the thing players expect when they open a new magic set. Magic primarily lives in high fantasy and low technology, so building complex mechanoids and guns feel out of place. Don't get me wrong I have no problem with artifact creatures but the Rune-Goldbergesque build your own robot feels very out of a place for an aspiring planeswalker who should really being spending his turn trying throw lightning bolts or summon up angels. Looking to build a set around the "How you cast this spell" matters theme looks to be the strongest mechanical heart of any pitch we've designed but I don't know if the factory plane is it's best home.

    With Ankh I still feel it's underlying themes of greed, mysticism, eternal conflict and ancient Egypt tropes are most strongly tied to mtg and although it does feel as though we need to settle on the major mechanics to push the set forward (truthfully all sets seem to have plenty of these sort of problems). I suggested earlier that Sunburst would find a nice home and the five suns of Egypt. A land matters theme also feels at home (though I'm not advocating the return of landfall) and a way of representing pharoahs and the undead must be manageable within the what must be now hundred of new graveyard/back from the dead mechanics we've all pitched. Finally I actually really liked the Tablets of Law idea from way back in the early days of the pitch although I don't where other people's minds are with this.

    That's my two cents, feel free to respond, argue, agree or ignore as you see fit.

  8. I am having a tough time summarizing my thoughts because there are so many interesting mechanics and variations of concept that have been discussed/shared. Plus, some of them were presented for one plane, but could work well in the others.

    The flavor is possible for all three settings. No matter which one we go with, we have a version of the idea that will work in a Magic context.

    The trick for me is which one has the most opportunity for mechanical depth. We need a sweet mix of creature mechanics and spell mechanics (possibly land or artifact mechanics). I'm still scouring the past few month's posts looking for all the mechanics that I liked at the time to get a better sense of where we are. It's been such a long process that I forgot my final round submission was Ankh-Theb!

  9. I'll admit to being somewhat biased here - I like Ekkremes the most and Frontier the least, and generally have throughout discussions.

    Frontier always seems similar to Zendikar in theme: Wild West - guns = Adventure World (especially with giant wurms subbing in for Eldrazi). This is an unfair, general comparison; Zendikar just also had a lot of good flavor, so I'm associating them. The mechanics are solid, but there's nothing that excites me.

    Ankh-Theb shares the desert theme (which I like) and has more very good flavor in ancient Egypt. I think ancient Egypt is unique enough to Magic to allow for good untapped flavor and world building. The mechanics are not really there yet, but as other people have said, Ankh-Theb would be a good fit for Dig and Sunburst, two solid mechanical helpers. I was excited by one of the undead discussions suggesting creatures come back with shadow from the dead.

    Ekkremes has an exciting mechanic in mech building - however that winds up being implemented - and flavor in a factory world. I'm not sure where Sunburst, 2-brid, etc, fit in flavorwise with the factory though. It may be entirely too fiddly and complicated for New World Order and especially New New World Order (was that an April Fool's joke?)

    1. Since flavor is very flexible, whatever flavor we settle on for Ekkremes will depend on the mechanical direction.