Thursday, March 14, 2013

Set Design: Unanswered Question #5

Today's question is again about the high-tech world of Ekkremes. Most recent sets feature struggles between different factions. It seems quite likely that one main faction in this world will be the technocrats: the people who are building all these awesome artifacts that we're in the process of designing. But what is the other faction? (Or factions?) Keep in mind that we must avoid repeating the Mirran vs. Phyrexian war. Also, note that flavor can get nailed down after we've worked out the actual mechanics: finding a rival "mechanical heart" is what we want, not just brainstorming the flavor of another faction.

So, readers, how can we characterize a faction that works against the machine faction?


  1. It's going to be hard to avoid repeating the Mirran vs. Phyrexian war when your technocrats are, in effect, doing the same things Phyrexia has done in the past with the obsession with machinery.

    Your best bet for a relate-able faction would be a pure magic focused group that wants to avoid all uses of artifacts. They would naturally trend toward red/green while your technocrats could be white/blue with black being on either side of the conflict as it benefits them.

    It sound a bit like a Gruul vs. Esper conflict which could be neat provided you flavor it the right way.

    1. Yes, that was about how I imagined the color pie dividing, though I might like some black on both sides. And there's probably some white separatists, and maybe a handful of red engineers, because at the heart of things, nature vs. technology is a green vs. blue conflict.

    2. What if you expanded this into an artifacts vs. enchantments subtheme? Green enchantresses vs. blue artificers?

    3. Sounds like a very natural extension.

    4. It's not the easiest thing to do, but it would be quite refreshing to have a three-way conflict in a set, rather than the ubiquitous two-way or Magic-special five-way conflict.

      Maybe Tech vs Nature vs Magic (which awkwardly forces us to read both tech and nature in that set as non-magical).

      Maybe Cyborgs Vs Mechs Vs Aliens.


  2. Actually, I don't think it'll be too hard to differentiate Ekkremes from Scars of Mirrodin / New Phyrexia because that block is about one race of metal creatures being consumed by another. The Original Mirrodin is where we run into danger of repeating ourselves because you had the Viridians who hated technology and were fighting against pretty much everyone else. That wasn't the crux of the set or the plot, but it was notable.

    One possibility other than the fairly obvious Earth parallel of environmentalists versus industrialists is that we could cast the people using technology as the good guys. They're desperately trying to survive against a raging natural environment and macgyvering clever inventions is their only chance.

    1. That raises the question: what is the threat that requires the technocrats to start making people into twobrid cyborgs? Demonic invasion? Vampiric oppression? Zombie apocalypse? Some weird disease?

    2. We've already seen those plagues. I'm thinking a natural world problem. Maybe a solar event has super-sized all the creatures (sunburst) turning the tide of dominance from civilization back to nature. Or maybe the humanoids fell through some planar anomaly and were deposited in The Land of the Lost.

      OR—and I'm particularly fond of this one because it ties into much of what we've already planned—The Eldrazi themselves invade this industrial planet and the inhabitants build giant fighting robots to battle them back. Godzilla Vs Voltron!

    3. Yeah, I'm also incredibly excited about Pacific Rim.

      The conflict of the set could be that by killing everything in nature that isn't resistant to the footprint of industry, the only thing that's left are creatures that eat metal, reflect lasers, and become stronger when exposed to pollution.

      There's no real villain though; just an ecosystem out of balance finding a new equilibrium.

    4. I'm as excited for Pacific Rim as the next guy:

      Any I'm as happy as anyone to just make that set. That said, it was also a bit of our hook for Frontier. Frontier could use something different, or we could combine Frontier and Ekkremes (cough, cough and the conflict be between industrialized cities and pioneers. Giant Robots vs. Cowboys.

      Another theme that could be explored would be the proletariat vs bourgeoisie. Certainly, the description we have so far is of a world with Dickensian factory floors used to build Giant War Machines. Maybe these machines are used by an elite class to wage war on each other.


      Transform and Combine:

      Jury-Rig- I like this a lot. Even with the transform and combine mechanic taking some of the role of building giant monsters, it's just too cool to keep assembling these pieces to make your machines bigger and bigger.

      Jay's take on Riggers- This would help to reinforce some of the Worker's themes in the set, but they could also be the "bootleggers" of the world. They make knockoff copies of various devices to supply the urban underground:

      Unfortunately, these copies aren't very good.

      The Unionists- There'd be a certain faction on the plane that would be trying to organize resistance to the Factory lords. Little would they know that they were largely being manipulated by one lord to undercut the operations of the others.

      Leadership (Whenever ~ attacks or blocks, all other creatures you control gain +1/+1 and attack or block if able.)

      Loxodon Organizer 4W
      Creature- Loxodon
      Leadership (Whenever ~ attacks or blocks, all other creatures you control gain +1/+1 and attack or block if able.)

      This certainly has the feel of creatures kind of acting on their own, and certainly working together. It's also nice because it makes it easier for regular creatures to fight the big machines, and leaves players open to sneaky Saboteurs.

      Saboteur: Some creatures are trying to undermine the factory state, others are employed by rival planeswalkers to disrupt the competition.

      Chilling Apparition 2B
      Creature-Spirit (U)
      {B}: Regenerate Chilling Apparition.
      Saboteur — Whenever Chilling Apparition deals combat damage to a player, that player discards a card.

      Industrial Cartographer GG
      Creature- Elf Rogue (C)
      Saboteur- Whenever Induestrial Cartographer deals combat damage to a player, you may search your library for a Forest card and put that card onto the battlefield tapped. If you do, shuffle your library.

      TLDR; Giant Robots versus Communism.

    5. @Wobbles
      I could also see us abonding the 'Magic vs Machines' trope and doubling down on Factory World, like in George Gone's pitch. Robots vs Communists is a compelling idea. On the MSE forums, someone developed an interesting Worker mechanic for Ekkremes, Overtime:

      Creature (C)
      W, T: Tap target creature
      Overtime (Once per turn, you may untap this and put a depletion counter on it. The next time it would untap, remove a depletion counter from it instead.)

  3. Can we instead use the term Machine Faction instead of Mechanical Faction. Cause, you know...

    I imagine the opposition quite clearly as the most basic, of the earth elementalist shamans, tapping into the remaining raw mana of the plane. I recommended Retrace before for Ankh-Teb, but it could work here too. A better choice, and also a returning mechanic, would be Entwine. Tweaking a returning mechanic is fun and gives players a touchstone, especially when it can be used on different card types than the other major mechanic. Plus, it's a good fit if Ekkremes becomes shifts to a battlecrusier design. All that mana can be used to Entwine the spells in mid to late game.

    What, Mirrodin was also an Artifact set with Entwine? Is that a dealbreaker?

    1. Good call! I fixed it.

      I like the elementalist shamans, but I don't think Entwine paints that clearly enough. Also, I'd like the flavor-bearing mechanics to be new ones. (Usually, returning mechanics are things like cycling, flashback, and kicker that have little resonance.)

    2. Sure. Whatever the mechanic ends up being, whether it's new, returning or whatever, I think it needs to be an instant/sorcery mechanic that would constitute a hefty number of cards. Something that doesn't lend itself to folding into an artifact deck. So we can truly present two opposed factions in design along with flavor. Some sort of new take on "Splice onto" perhaps. Ooh, maybe I can cook something up that's entirely new, but uses the Arcane subtype.

    3. A couple of rough mechanics, without examples.

      Arcane vigor N (When you cast this spell, if there are at least N Arcane cards in your graveyard, return one at random to your hand.)

      This is an instant/sorcery only keyword that rewards playing a lot of instants and sorceries without too much repetitive play. The threshhold is to keep it from breaking, and should be the same number on every card with it in the set. I think 3 is a fair number to test. If you don't want to do Arcane spells, it could be:

      Leyline N (When you cast this spell, if there are at least N cards in your graveyard that share a type with it, return one at random to your hand.)

      Still for Instants/Sorceries only. I like using Arcane though because there are a fair number of generic Arcane cards we could reprint that don't use Splice or reference Kami.

      I also have a Key Ability idea:

      Spellcraft— You get a spellcraft counter. Then, EFFECT for each spellcraft counter you have.

      This could fix the Odyssey Bursts and keep the set from shifting to a graveyard focus. Now you only get credit for spells you cast. Plus, while only instants/sorceries give spellcraft counters, permanents could reference them. Like a Storm Crow that gets +0/+1 for each of your spellcraft counters.

    4. The beauty of bringing back a parasitic mechanic is that it gradually becomes less parasitic. Like poison. That said, I'd rather see Allies or Snow come back before Arcane.

      I like Leyline quite a bit. The only way it becomes abusive is if every card of the type you care about in your deck/graveyard has Leyline. If that turns out to be a real concern, we could add that you exile one or more of the other cards.

    5. There are nearly 50 Arcane spells that could be reprinted (although the names Path of Anger's Flame, and Inner Calm, Outer Strength might sound a little weird). There are many basic effect commons among this list, and even some attractive Rares, (like Cranial Extraction and the Shoals). If we used Arcane in a new way, it could well represent the non-Machine Faction. And if the way we use them happens to be compatible with previous uses (as the RTR guild mechanics were with Rav guilds of old) all the better. Here's the list of 46 reprint ready Arcane spells:

      Cleanfall, Ethereal Haze, Otherworldly Journey, Pure Intentions, Quiet Purity, Shining Shoal, Cut the Earthly Bond, Disrupting Shoal, Eerie Procession, Eye of Nowhere, Heed the Mists, Ideas Unbound, Murmurs from Beyond, Part the Veil, Peer Through Depths, Petals of Insight, Reach Through Mists, Stream of Consciousness, Toils of Night and Day, Call for Blood, Choice of Damnations, Cranial Extraction, Death Denied, Death of a Thousand Stings, Pull Under, Sickening Shoal, Swallowing Plague, Three Tragedies, Waking Nightmare, Aura Barbs, Blazing Shoal, Crack the Earth, Crushing Pain, First Volley, Lava Spike, Path of Anger's Flame, Spiraling Embers, Sunder from Within, Unearthly Blizzard, Unnatural Speed, Inner Calm Outer Strength, Joyous Respite, Nourishing Shoal, Rending Vines, Strength of Cedars, Uproot

    6. Pitch number two: Return to Kamigawa

      Is it likely to ever actually happen? No. But lets say that following the Kami War TPTB in Kamigawa decided to reinforce the barriers between the spirit world and that of the corporal realm. And hundreds of years past. In the absence of Kami, the denizens of Kamigawa were able able to pursue a secular focus on science, research, and technology. They even sent a planeswalker out to other planes to study their moons. But then the Kami began to return.

      The previous Kamigawa explored a traditional Japanese culture. What if a return to Kamigawa focused on more contemporary Japan? One where old Samurai traditions still held, but were adapting to the rapid modernization of society. And Giant Robots. One good exploration of Anime tropes deserves another.

      Arcane and Ninjitsu could return and be joined by a Giant Robot Mechanic and Riggers (Which are already Kiki-Jikiesque).

      Spirits would also need some neat, new mechanical hook:

      Sorei (When this creature dies, you may exile it remembered by a creature you control. Whenever that creature deals combat damage to a player, its controller may cast the remembered card.)

      Frost Fiend R
      Creature — Spirit (C)
      R, Sacrifice Frost Fiend: Frost Fiend deals 1 damage to target creature.

      Naturally, some Kamagawans would ally with the Spirits against the new, modernish world. But others, like some of the Demons, have shed their spirit nature and joined the corporeal world (Seriously, why isn't Silent-Blade Oni a Spirit? All of the Demons in Kamagawa were demon spirits)

      I'm on the fence with Bushido. On the one hand, it's obviously great. On the other, I already have 5 keywords, 3 of which are on the corporeal side. That's awkward. It's absence could also show that Kamagawans are moving away from their traditional martial arts and towards more technologically advanced means of combat.

      TLDR; Giant Robots vs. Anime Tropes

    7. I love everything about this except for two significant problems: Kamigawa is one of the least popular blocks ever, and returning there doesn't give us a good start in the eye of the (theoretical) consumer. And—despite all the awesome differences—it's the same conflict as last time.

    8. I think WotC values its planar identities highly, as it has learned to do with its Planeswalkers. Changing Kamigawa too much from its original concept should be avoided.

      However, I am in favor of a return to a more modern Kamigawa with mechs and anime style steam-punk, provided it doesn't stray too far out of Magic's brand. The caveat is, Kamigawa's concept needs to stay intact. It's a plane where the physical and spiritual realms co-mingle. This time though the spirit war is over and they are once again in harmony. The threat would need to be somthing else. I powerful mech producer decalring war, etc.

    9. I agree with Jay. Kamigawa block was a bust, and I'm not eager to return there. We can make a new mecha plane.

  4. Could it be a "Mono Colored" mattered set? Each of the five colors is fighting with each other to control the newly restored mana of the land. It can still be an artifact heavy set as you would need a lot of colorless cards to be able to build a Mono colored deck.

    Each color would it's own mechanic. In addition to that there are many ways to push players toward playing one color.

    The set could have a higher than usual amount of spells with more than one colored mana cost.

    So the theme of the set is a Mechanical world that has recently been "reintroduced" to mana. Each color is trying to assert it's dominance over the newly found power.

    Pillage: Whenever ~ deals damage to a player add R to your mana pool at the beginning of the next main phase.





    1. I feel ill at ease with monocolor play as more than a minor theme. The genius of the mana system is that you can't just play all the best cards, because they aren't in one color; you have to decide how much you're willing to stretch your mana to get good cards from other colors. I think a major monocolor theme comes with the risk of losing deck diversity.

    2. The problem is that mono-color matters doesn't pull away from Artifacts, since they can be played in a mono color deck as easily as a multicolor deck. Mechanically, it would be nice if the opponent to the Machine Faction didn't play well in the same deck. Then everyone ends up playing the same stuff.

  5. Another option I mentioned elsewhere is that Ekkremes is a post-apocalyptic world. The War of the Giant Machines has already happened, and everyone lost. Humanity's remnants survive in the wreckage and those who don't want to be victims of the growing gangs or the wild predators that are now back on top of the food chain must scrounge for pieces of tech and cleverly jury-rig them into weapons, armor, robots and/or powersuits. Perhaps these folks are riggers or technomancers.

    If that's not enough, the consider that not everything was destroyed in the war. Those in power saw this coming and built underground facilities. Now that they're re-emerging with their advanced tech, the survivors will have to work together to stand any chance at all.

  6. "A world without mana rediscovers magic."

    That was the tagline from Circeus's original submission for Ekkremes, and I still find it compelling. The weak and downtrodden embrace this new source of power, while the technocrats feel their grip on the world loosen. It's a world where myths become real, where ancient stories of mana and magic come true.

    A retemplated Sunburst has the legs to carry this magic faction:
    Solar Flare 3R
    Sorcery (C)
    Sunburst - ~ deals damage to target creature and its controller equal to the colors of mana spent to cast this.

    Alternatively, we could frame the contest of Magic vs Machines as Enchantments vs Artifacts, assuming it doesn't pull the set in too many directions. There were some good ideas from Sephorgia's development:

    Enchantment Creature - Elemental (C)
    Enchantments and Enchanted creatures you control gain vigilance

    Enchantment Creature - Elemental (C)
    Imbue (when this dies, exile it imbuing target creature)
    ~ and creatures it's imbuing have flying

    1. Funny how much that tagline and description sounds like Harry Potter, aka Athambia Academy.

      Regardless, there's a really good story behind 19th century industrial London suddenly finds Magic is real…

    2. Maybe that's why I liked the tagline-- Athambia Academy was my favorite of the original submissions.

      If we keep twobrid, it fits flavorfully into this world as well-- Some industrialists are starting to run their machines off colored mana, which is more energy-dense.

  7. Actually, there's another idea I've been recently toying with: what if, in the absence of traditional colroed mana, the color philosophies have been dulled? Now, all of a sudden unexpected tensions arise and otehrwise unlikely alliances (e.g. Blue merfolks and green elves, white dwarves and red Goblins...) start fraying at the edges, while tribed that had issues with each others (i.e. the traditinal dwarf/elf divide) find themselves growing closer. The set takes place in the middle of this massive, chaotic restructuration of the power balance.

    (I've posted on the forum I wouldn't be commenting anymore on the blog, but my belief that Google would show my real name (as it tries to do on otehr services) proved to be inaccurate. yay.)

    1. In other words, we don't necessarily need a "machine faction" as such: we can have people in all "factions" using machine or not. I never envisioned artifacts to be as major a theme as it was in Mirrodin anyway. More to the level of Alara block as a whole, which does have more artifacts than a typical block withut being overwhelmed the way the mirrobin blocks were.

    2. I'm not sure. Blue merfolk vs. green elves is not a conflict that's going to sell any packs.

    3. Those were just the first generic examples tht popped into my head. I was envision something closer to the political gripings of Ravnica than the super well defined sides of Innistrad, Kamigawa or Scars of Mirrodin.

    4. Well, Ravnica still has very well-defined factions in the form of guilds. I think every modern set really wants clear factions. And I think each faction being one of the five colors is perhaps not novel enough.

    5. How about this: these factions, before they suddenly found themselves colored, had opposite relations to each otehrs than in the original color wheel. (i.e. white is allied with black and red and enemy to green and blue)

    6. How would that matter on cards?

  8. I think part of the problem with all of our set suggestions are the lack of clear, unique conflicts/factions. Those conflicts drive the narrative of the block a lot more than just the setting. That was part of the lack luster response to Frontiers battle cruiser thread: Eldrazi vs cowboys is a fine theme, but having a dues ex machina for a villain is a bit lack luster, especially compared to something that rises organically out of the setting.

  9. The mechanical heart of the faction opposing artifacts need to have a special relation to colors, I feel: If we're working with sunburst (advocates many colors, no loyalty to one color) and artifacts (colorless, no loyalty to one color), focusing on the loyalty to one (or a few) color(s) could be the key. If we're bringing back an old mechanic, I like Chroma the best, but I also think we could weave in a sub-mechanic, which I'll give the playtest name "essential".

    Crag Giant 3R
    Creature - Giant (C)
    Essential - if this was cast only using red mana, it enters the battlefield with two +1/+1 counters on it.

    Infusion of Life 4G
    Instant (U)
    Target creature gets +3/+3 until end of turn.
    Essential - if this was cast only using green mana, instead that creature gets +7/+7 and gains trample until end of turn.

    Astin, Chainbreaker 3RR
    Legendary creature - Human Shaman (R)
    Chroma - whenever an artifact is destroyed, ~ deals damage to its controller equal to the number of red mana symbols in the costs of permanents you control.
    When ~ enters the battlefield, destroy target artifact.
    Essence - if this was cast using only red mana, instead destroy all artifacts when it enters the battlefield.

    1. I don't think our set should have more than one "castings costs are wacky" mechanic. Twobrid and Sunburst is already too much, and adding Chroma or Essence on top of that would be bonkers. Magic is about what happens on the battlefield, not about how you cast your spells.

    2. We could consider chroma or essence in place of twobrid or sunburst. I will point out that artifacts support essence as much as they do sunburst. Chroma, on the other hand, is definitely at odds with artifacts. Whether that's great or terrible is still an open debate.

  10. One angle that presents itself to me is the other faction focusing on harmony amongst colors and views artifacts which anyone can use as undermining people's reliance on one another. The most straightforward implementation being:
    Harmony--SOMETHING for each color among permanents (creatures?) You control.

    I.e. Bloom Tender

    1. Interesting. It seems a bit more swingy than Domain, but possibly more satisfying.

    2. It's worth noting that Harmony works really well in a set alongside twobrid, giving you a reason to put a {2/U}{2/U} creature in your green Harmony deck.

    3. That is nice. Though if the twobrid creatures are artifacts, it's a bit unfortunate flavor-wise that their opponents get synergies from them. So maybe the twobrid spells shouldn't be artifacts?

    4. The line between too much ability to play competing factions together and too little mechanical synergy in a set is a hard one to walk, but we do have some guidelines.

      I'd say Scars of Mirrodin was too far on the unplayable together side. You never played Plague Stinger in a Metalcraft deck or Carapice Forger in Infect. On the other hand, if things mesh too well you just end up with a pile of cards rather than actual decks.

      I'm not sure that having twobrid be on artifacts is a no go, it's possible that we just make them desirable for everyone like Changelings in Lorwyn. That said, we would need to keep lots of colorless artifacts around to make decks unique.

      As for Harmony vs. Domain, I hope it's more satisfying, but can't say for sure. What I can say for sure is that it's far more interactive since nonlands are much easier to deal with, and goes a long way towards averting the "one big stack" problem. Playing colorless artifacts in your Domain deck is great, but they're less appealing when they actively inhibit upping your Harmony count.

    5. Makes sense. I think this might be a fruitful direction to pursue.

      One possible problem with Harmony is that it can create board complexity. You don't want to have cards like Matca Rioters that count colors, because they change size too often and too suddenly. So we'd need more Tribal Flames and similar one-shot effects.

    6. That's a good point, it would be really annoying to have a 5/5 with 4 damage on it shrink to 4/4 and die when you lost your only blue permanent. Harmony effects that boost power seem alright though.

      We talked earlier about using more Enchantments in the Magic faction, that's a way of getting resilient colored permanents for Harmony. A card like Ajani's Mantra might be good in this environment just to guarantee you have a white permanent out.

    7. Most of the "colors matter" suggestions are a little odd in that they all play well with artifacts, which allow you to play monocolor or multicolor fairly easily. In fact, it's easy to see Sunburst, Twobrid, and Essence on artifact cards.

      Harmony (and Chroma) are nice in that they don't mesh well with artifacts. We may also divide things up with just aggressive RG vs Jury Rig control or something like that.

      Also, Harmony may be better off as a threshold mechanic, something like: "Harmony - if you permanents you control are at least 3 colors, do -". That way you still reward decks for playing those cards, but you reduce the board complexity from a lot of constantly changing numbers to just "Is Harmony on?"

    8. Harmony is a great idea. I agree that permanents with Harmony should have a one-shot effect, or an effect that only requires counting at a certain time.

      For example,

      Harmony Shaman 2R
      Creature - Viashino Shaman
      Harmony - ~ enters the battlefield with charge counters equal to the number of colors among permanents you control.
      R, T, remove X charge counters from ~: ~ deals X damage to target creature or player.

      The Harmony ability could also be,
      Harmony - At the beginning of your upkeep, if there are three or more colors among permanents you control, put a charge counter on ~.

      The reason for this is that I didn't like how Metalcraft made your cards either a hero or a zero. I also didn't like how it suddenly turned off during combat. Also, we don't want a lot of counting.