Thursday, April 4, 2013

CCDD 040413—Trees

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/4/2013 - My biggest complaint with the game of Magic is how often mana screw and mana flood can decide games. Yes, it's important that your mana curve isn't guaranteed and that there's something that can give new players a chance against old players, and to give players a scapegoat for their mistakes. But sometimes it just wastes your time. I want to see less of it, and for that reason, I support including some kind of smoothing mechanic in most if not every set.

Cycling is the cleanest mechanic for this and today's card is meant to explore the question,
What if cycling was free sometimes?


  1. It's good, but it feels a lot like the onslaught lands, especially later in the game where you probably aren't using all your mana anyway.

    Here's my twist:

    Early Growth
    Land (U)
    If you control 4 or more lands at the beginning of your upkeep sacrifice early growth and draw a card.
    T: add {g} to your mana pool.

    1. I think I like this better than Trees, since Trees is no help if you play it on the second turn and proceed to flood out. It's a little annoying that Early Growth can keep you off your five-drops if you're stuck on lands, but since it's less likely to get played in ramp decks, it doesn't seem like a big problem.

  2. This could also have "This enters the battlefield tapped unless you control a basic Forest." to be truly a free inclusion. (In that case, the cycling could cost {1}.)

  3. Tree Bear (common)
    Creature - Bear Treefolk
    Forestcycling 0

  4. I agree that even though the variance in Magic's mana system is meaningful, it still isn't 100% perfect; Magic's system requires "patches" in the form of cards that are designed to combat mana screw and mana flood. For example, Magic is meant to be played with two colors most of the time, but it just isn't possible in Constructed without the support of various Dual lands.

    This isn't all negative and it's true that the fact that you need to learn how to choose and combine these tools to fix your mana base adds skill, depth, and probably variety to deck design.

    However if we were to take a rules-based way rather than a card-based way to reduce mana screw (without eliminating it), one way might be to allow players to start with 8-card hands. The number 7 means something to the human psyche and is an elegant number, so I wouldn't want to touch it directly, but the "play or draw" rule could be changed to say, "The person who plays first doesn't need to skip the first draw step. The person who plays last starts with an extra card as compensation." So, on the first turn the player on the play would have access to a 7 card starting hand + the 1 card s/he drew, and the player on the draw would have access to an 8 card starting hand + the 1 card s/he drew that turn.

    I wonder if it would make combo decks too strong or kill too much variance. I doubt it because in Standard the power of combo decks have been kept low, and in Legacy that's what players used to do (at least the players who went first) - play first AND draw. But maybe it makes something like Elfball or Eggs too stable or go off too fast in Modern? But it seems to me that's a kind of balancing act that developers need to meet anyways, regardless of what the starting hand size is.

    Another way would be to allow a free mulligan per match or something like that.

    I guess they must have tested things like the above ideas already, though. (Especially since there are Vanguard cards that make players start the game with different hand sizes.)

  5. I remember an article talking about designing Street Wraith as "would you pay two life to start the game with a 56 card deck". I think the answer was "not quite". But if you're playing a green deck anyway, this _might_ be playable even if it didn't have an ability.

  6. Here is the problem with this design: when do you want to cycle it? When you have too many lands. So then why give it clunky, inelegant text to make it free to cycle? A land that cycles basically says, "If you have been mana FLOODED, get something else". But if you want something to help with mana SCREW, that's something else entirely.

    You want free cycling on spells, not lands.

    1. And yet, the existing landcycling cards are generally poorly received. The basic landcycling cycle in Conflux has an average gatherer rating of 2.07, the two-type landcyclers in Alara Reborn have an average rating of 2.3. The Scourge cyclers fare a bit better, with Twisted Abomination getting 4.1, but it's generally not a well-liked cycle. These cards will only help people's mana troubles if they get put in decks, so it's curious that Wizards keeps failing to print attractive landcyclers.

    2. Ideally, each deck plays different spells, so putting cycling on just a few spells won't work so well for reducing mana screw. (It does help narrow spells become maindeckable.)

      Cycling on spells would only work towards reducing mana screw if:
      1) It's put on a staple spell that every card of that color wants (not a good situation).

      2) The cycling is so efficient that it's put in the deck only for cycling (not a good situation).

      3) It's put on a whole lot of cards. Like there's a new evergreen mechanic where cards with that mechanic can be played as land like Kaijudo. It shouldn't be on every card, but the cards that do have that ability can display the info somewhere in the card frame rather than as a keyword ability that takes up text space.

      Otherwise, I think it's better to put the cycling on lands, because unlike spells, decks can be varied even if they use similar lands. To be more playable, the cycling land needs a condition where it doesn't have to enter the battlefield tapped.

  7. Is there a design that can help with both mana flood and mana screw? Hmm...

    Perfect Land
    Legendary Land - Rare
    Perfect Land enters the battlefield tapped.
    T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
    T: Reveal your hand. If you reveal at least 5 nonland cards, search your library for a basic land card and put it into your hand. If you reveal at least 5 land cards, draw a card.

    1. Holy crap, that's broken.
      I hear "T: Draw a card" is pretty good on a land.

  8. I think man-lands and other activated abilities are generally better ways for lands to help fix land flood. There's not much that turns extra lands into an asset better than Kessig Wolf Run or Lavaclaw Reaches.

  9. I think most of the Magic community evaluates Street Wraith incorrectly from a developmental standpoint. The two life is certainly a cost, but even if Street Wraith were free to cycle it wouldn't be an automatic four-of in every deck. The bigger cost at work is that you're giving up part of your ability to mulligan because when it's in your opening hand it doesn't tell you what you're actually playing with. If you have nine different free cyclers it's probably worth giving up your ability to mulligan to play a 24 card deck, but the same isn't necessarily true of other numbers.

    As for this actual proposition, I like Chah's approach a lot, but it's a much bigger commitment. We've all seen the response to rules changes like M10's and there would be a lot less issue taken with the printing of Trees.

  10. Lots of great observations here, folks.

    I want to call out one very important but entirely subtle aspect of cycling lands, and Trees in particular: It fights land flood and land screw. The trick is that you run more lands in your deck.

    Compare a Limited deck with 17 lands versus one with 18 lands, two of which are Trees. The second deck is less likely to suffer mana screw because it's more likely to draw lands. But it's also less likely to suffer mana flood because you are able to cycle away two of the lands when you don't need them. Sometimes you will have played one of the Trees as one your first six land drops (that's what you're playing them for, after all), but that will happen about half as often as not.

    Bass is absolutely right that reducing the cost to cycle is unnecessary because you will by definition have enough mana to pay for the cycling cost when you want to cycle them away. That said, it will often cost a turn to do so. Upgrading the cycling cost to 0 makes playing as many Trees as possible even better, giving players further incentive to run them and enjoy the benefits of their mana smoothing.

    The only reason not to reduce the cycling cost is if it makes the cards too good not to play, which is where the conditional comes into play. I chose the requirement to own a matching basic land to encourage playing fewer colors, again nudging players toward making more consistently playable decks.