Wednesday, April 17, 2013

CCDD 041713—Terror of Misthaven

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/17/2013 - The big problem with Giant Robots Versus Giant Monsters is that it doesn't matter how massive the creatures are, when they tangle in combat, the result is exactly the same as with regular creatures. Either both die, or the one that's +1/+1 or bigger wins. That's not a deal-breaker, but a challenge. We just need to find a way to keep combat between epic creatures epic. I've got a few ideas about that.

I'm going to start with the most awesome, least reasonable solution.

I want to reiterate that I understand this is far too long and weird to print, but I'm sharing it because it's a unique and intriguing idea that solves the problem very well. Here's the reminder text for Immeasurable:
Terror of Misthaven’s exact power and toughness are unknown, but at least 6. The first time an effect would affect a 6/6 but not a larger creature, reveal cards from the top of your library until their total converted mana cost is 6 or higher. That is Terror of Misthaven’s true power and toughness. Put those cards on bottom in a random order.
Basically, we don't know how big it is and we only find out when it makes a difference to game rules. If it takes 6 damage, if it's targeted by Disembowel or Vedalken Shackles, if someone with six or more Swamps casts Mutilate, etc.

Immeasurable gives us some suspense. What will happen when my Terror tangles with your 7/7 Mech? From our 5'10" perspective, they're both just friggin' enormous. How could we possibly know? Well, we'll find out when it happens.

While I expect this could be templated better, my next iteration keeps most of the mystery while being significantly shorter and more intuitive:

This is a one-time, free, activated ability: It's in your best interest to keep your horror alive and dealing crushing damage, but also to keep your opponent guessing about its true size for as long as possible. That means we don't have to establish a convoluted trigger, we can just let you decide when to reveal just how horrible it really is.

That also means you can reveal it when it goes unblocked in an attempt to finish off your opponent, at the cost of hidden information. Which leads to a possible variant where you know how big your Scourge is before your opponent does, allowing bluffing:
Immeasurable (As CARDNAME ETB, exile the top card of your library face-down under it. Turn that card face-up any time. As long as it's face-up, CARDNAME gets +X/+X where X is the exiled card's CMC.)
I like that quite a lot, but once you've revealed your creature's true size, further battles suffer from the original problem of being predictable. So let's consider some options where every fight is suspenseful.

I'm disappointed Unpredictable takes seven lines, but at least the effect is intuitive: Whenever Orggstalker fights another creature, it gets a previously undetermined boost. Most of the time, it's random, but you can use library manipulation to fix it, or just peeking effects to know when you can safely attack… or bluff that you can safely attack.

If mostly random isn't doing it for you, how about this:

My favorite part about Vicious is that the best cards to reveal are other giant monsters, which makes you feel better about not being able to cast all of them quickly, and also gives your opponent a feeling of dread since they know what terrible things are now coming for them. This keyword is still six lines, which is justifiable, but means we won't have any french vanilla Vicious creatures at common (and that's probably fine).

Even so, I've got one more variation to consider, the shortest of them all:

We could keyword Manaplasm's ability, rewarding players for doing something they want to do anyhow—cast spells—and making our fatty's size variable but not random. You can either cast your creatures before combat to make the Howler big going in, or you can save your instants until after blockers have been declared to surprise your opponent… or both.

Which of these did you like? Do any other solutions to the same problem pop to mind? I can't find it at the moment, but Wobbles (I think?) proposed a mechanic for Frontier where players bid mana when their creatures fight...

EDIT: Here's the improved version of Scourge of Cliffmoor:

And here's an improved version of Orggstalker:


  1. Some interesting (and weird) keywords. I guess my biggest problem here comes down to the dies to removal argument. Magic has plenty of fatties, but the only ones that seem really epic in the way you want them to are the Eldrazi. The major Eldrazi had a clause that prevented them from really dying (and more importantly, graveyard shenanigans) and that helped carry the flavor, to a degree. I wonder if we can't import Mistmeadow Skulk Technology and just make our monsters protected from spells and creatures that are simply too small to effect them.

    Misthaven Monster - 5GG
    Creature - Horror
    Protection from CMC 5 or less.

    My other variation is a morph variant:
    Misthaven Mutant - 5GG
    Creature - Mutant Horror
    Monstrous 1GGG (you may cast this face down as a 2/2 creature that ETB with 4 +1/+1 counters on it for {6}. Turn it face up any time for its monstrous cost. The counters remain attached.)

  2. This is really interesting space to play around with! I think the versions where the controller knows the boost beforehand are going to work a lot better because people will get upset when their own creatures "fail them."

    Vicious and Immesurable get my votes for best implementations if only because Primal will lead to less actual creature combat.

    Unrelated note: for shorter reminder text "blocks or becomes blocked" is the same as "blocks or becomes blocked by one or more creatures" barring Curtain of Light. The trigger only differs if it specifies "a creature."

  3. Terror of Misthaven might not be printable as a keyword, but it would be a pretty fun idea as a single rare. Could lead to some confusion about when its size needs to be determined, though. (Does it really matter how much damage it's dealing to my 1/1 Saproling?)

  4. I'm not sure this is keywordable, but the simplest version I can think of that makes fatty combat unpredictable is:

    Whenever ~ blocks or becomes blocked, reveal the top card of your library. ~ gets +X/+X until end of turn, where X is the revealed card's converted mana cost.

    1. I agree that this is probably better as a single card than as a mechanic, because having too much of this running around makes combat too swingy.

      As to wording "When this would deal damage, reveal the top card of your library. ~ gets +X/+X until end of turn, where X is the revealed card's converted mana cost."

      It's also nice to avoid moving the revealed card, because you don't have to flip for every creature.

    2. That's a much better template for vicious. Brain fart that I never even thought we could just leave the revealed card where it was.

  5. Out of your options, the one I like best is Primal. It plays into the "play big stuff" theme very well, and little stuff isn't irrelevant after you cast the first spell since it'll make them bigger for a turn.

    I'm not sure why Jules feels Primal will lead to less creature combat. It will certainly make combat more interesting simply because every spell turns into a potential Giant Growth and it will make instants a lot more valuable.

    1. But the vast majority of spells are sorcery speed. Usually the creature will grow, then attack making it very difficult for the other player to block profitably. This is the reason 3xZendikar draft was such a fast limited format: blocking was bad.

  6. "Unfathomably large" is really, really cool. But there's a much simpler way of achieving the same effect:

    Unfathomable Horror (uncommon)
    Creature - Horror

    Whoa, *what*? Simply put, ∞/∞ means the following:
    - if it damages a creature, that creature dies
    - if it damages a player, that player loses the game
    - damage doesn't affect it
    - -X/-X and +X/+X don't affect it
    - if it fights another ∞/∞ creature, both die

    So how do you deal with this thing? Every color has answers. Red and green can fight it with their own ∞/∞ things. Red might even have "∞ damage to target creature" spells. White has pacifism effects, o-ring, guard duty, etc. Blue has unsummon, mind control, and counters. Black has straight up removal (Doom Blade, etc.) Any color can chump with 0/1s.

    What do you think? Is this feasible?

    1. Love it.

      Love it double since you made it uncommon.

    2. Feasible? Sure. Phage played around in this space already, and they're not ungrokable. I would just hesitate to make this a thing. On one card it's cute but there isn't much design space here, it's just too dangerous an ability. The ability to ramp into an instantly lethal creature puts this into Blightsteel Colossus range-costing, and the swingyness of it means you don't want it to be able to be reanimated. Might be a neat Eldrazi when they come back.

      Fun fact: early Magic rules introduced the concept of Mondo, a magical infinite number that was the default for infinite effects. They knew some combos allowed unbounded damage/thoughness/life and wanted rules for it.

    3. Awesome. If we're sadists, we put a -∞/-∞ effect somewhere in the set.

    4. "Target creature gets -∞/-∞ until end of turn" seems totally reasonable on a common sorcery.

    5. Nice outside the box thinking. I'm glad you shared this idea, Evan.

      Two concerns: ∞ ruins a lot of things. ∞ direct damage, for example, is just "destroy target creature" which red doesn't get, and there are also an awful lot of cheap effects that deal a creature's power in damage; and this actually compounds the problem we set out to solve, that combat between our battlecruisers is too predictable.

      That said, those concerns mostly relate to making a bunch of these creatures. I think we should try hard to make a single mythic rare with these stats. Talk about splashy!

    6. Cast Call for Blood, sacrificing Unfathomable Horror, targeting another Unfathomable Horror to give it -∞/-∞. Its power and toughness are now undefined according to math. That kind of little issue aside, this would certainly be a mythic I was happy to open.

    7. I think this idea is brilliant, but not good. I don't want to be in the position of explaining to players whether or not ∞ - ∞ = 0.

    8. Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

      1) ∞ - ∞ is indeed mathematically undefined, and that's not pretty. The best way I could go around that is to add a rule to the game (ugh) that says "If any effect would subtract ∞ from a number, it instead sets that number to -∞. If any effect would add ∞ to a number, it instead sets that number to ∞." So -∞/-∞ on Unfathomable Horror would turn it into a -∞/-∞ creature, and it'd get put into the graveyard the next time SBAs are checked. Not super elegant, but I think it feels intuitive.

      2) Jay's concerns about ∞ damage feeling similar to destruction. I'm interested in the flavor questions this poses. Blasphemous Act does damage greater than or equal to the toughness of all but 3 black-bordered creatures. Does 13 damage not feel red? What about 15? 20? 100?

      3) Fling and its ilk present real development challenges. 9 mana for a vanilla ∞/∞ was a guess. If you can manage to ramp to 9, do you deserve to then win the game with a 2-card combo? It's possible that might feel unsatisfying, though my gut says that you're already in endgame territory at that point. Flinging a ∞/∞ is definitely a fun way to win. Is it a fun thing to lose to? That's important, too.

      4) Random tidbit: the largest vanilla creature in the game has 8 power for 7 mana. It's uncommon.

      I wonder if this could support more than one card. RoE has only 9 actual Eldrazi cards. Could a big battlecruiser set (Tesla, maybe?) support 9 cards with ∞ power or toughness?

    9. All colors might have answers to ∞/∞ creatures, but they don't all have answers to a player gaining ∞ life. Do we really want the people who talk about how amazing Predator's Rapport is to be right?

    10. I have a real issue with this idea for a number of reasons:

      1) It makes any huge creature from now on out look bad. You know the cool thing about BFM, part of the inspiration for Tesla's mechs? It's huge! It's too big to fit on one card! Awesome! Now we're giving players an infinitely big creature at uncommon? A 20/20 now looks lame.

      2) Coming from someone studying for a degree in math, I'm not sure this in any way is good for beginning (or even entrenched) players to encounter. It's not intuitive, and making extra rules to make it work does not seem like a good solution to me.

      3) I think the other card examples - red dealing infinite damage = Murder, nongreen colors getting infinite fatties - really hurts the color pie.

      4) And this is what puts the nail in the coffin: It's lazy. Part of the fun of Magic is discovering cool combos that let you make an infinite/infinite monster that blasts things. It's the same reason R+D doesn't put "You win the game" as planeswalker's ultimates. Making a card that it + Fling = autowin is way over the power level modern development pushes. Competitive Standard deck combos right now (like Tier 1 or 2): Angel of Glory's Rise + Fiend Hunter + Burning-Tree Emissary + Undercity Informer. 4 cards! Something that can be disrupted and dealt with and, yeah, occasionally win. But not all the time.

      TL;DR: I don't like it.

    11. You make a lot of good points. I'm curious, though: by the time you get access to 9 mana, are there not plenty of 2-card win combos? Vizkopa Guildmage + Exquisite Blood in Standard comes to mind; there are plenty more in Modern. R&D wants to avoid turn 2 wins and turn 3 wins; I don't think they much care about how many cards a win combo requires.

    12. To be fair, the Guildmage (or another creature) has to connect to set up the game-winning loop. But yes, at 9 mana (or 10 with Omniscience for example), there are a lot of "easy" ways to win the game. There's even "end step, Exarch, my turn Splinter Twin". What bothers me with Fling (or even a "gains trample til EOT" spell) is that the responses consist of
      1) Countering the spell.
      2) Murdering/tapping/halting the creature that turn (doesn't work for Fling).

      Down the line, it makes Fling effects, trample effects and even stuff like Traitorous Blood really really hard to justify. I believe R+D said that they had to be careful with sorceries - any sorcery at all - right after printing Quicken.

      Yes, there are other combos that auto-win. But I don't think that tips the scales enough versus all the other things to justify this.

  7. I like the idea of this. Immeasurable is cool. I think it's the words "Exact" and "True" that are most exciting.

    Immeasurable 6 (This creature’s exact power and toughness is unknown. It’s at least 6/6. Whenever it becomes the target of a spell or ability, or after the declare blocker’s step, reveal the top card of your library. Its power and toughness becomes 6 plus the revealed card’s converted mana cost.)

  8. I think this works rules-wise. Every time you manage to kill it with damage, it might survive and get stronger. You can try to get around it by overkilling it, if you point lightning bolt at a 1/1 second-wind you'll kill it even if they reveal a grizzly bear.

    Second Wind (The first time this would die each turn, exile the top card of your library and put X +1/+1 counters on this, where X is that card's converted mana cost.)

  9. How about just the Mindshrieker ability?

    "2: Target player puts the top card of his or her library into his or her graveyard. Mindshrieker gets +X/+X until end of turn, where X is that card's converted mana cost."

    If it's on an already-giant creature, it normally won't matter how often you activate it unless it's fighting another giant creature, so you don't need to spell it out. (Although you could add that so they're less gamewinning if unblocked.)

    It feels like it gives the controller control over the ability, but they still have the choice of paying in advance and knowing how big the monster is, or attacking and betting the other player won't dare to block.

    And if both monsters are giant you can have several rounds of "I activate twice, you activate once, etc", giving the feel of trading giant blows?

    1. I was just revisiting this post, and I think this is far and away the best suggestion. I *really* want to play a giant-robots set with a keyworded version of this mechanic in it. Great work!

  10. Why exile the card under the creature? Why not just give +1/+1 counters?

    I suppose there may be some memory issues then if other cards give +1/+1 counters, but I think we can get away with making the ability disappear with any +1/+1 counters- which also creates a fun little interaction where your opponent may want to give you one +1/+1 counter in exchange for knowing the size of the creature.

    Immeasurable N (0: If there aren’t any +1/+1 counters on ~, look at the top N cards of your library and reveal one. Put X +1/+1 counters where X is that card’s converted mana cost. Put the cards on the bottom of your library in random order.)

    Many of the given implementations will have almost 50% no bonus because of lands. This one tries to avoid that, though the sheer increase in terms of words makes me wonder if that was the right choice.

    I don't like making the giant creature shifting in size each battle, that just doesn't feel right to me- I much prefer the idea of "it's big, but you don't know how big until it's forced to bring out the big guns".

    I do kinda like you knowing how big it is before your opponent does as well. In that case, you don't really need the top N but I would recommend using +1/+1 counters anyway just to keep things simpler.

  11. I really don't think big creature combat is really a problematic as you describe, Jay. The stakes get higher (these creatures are huge threats), but it's a rare game where both players cast Giant Monsters and think to themselves "Man, nothing cool happened in that round".

    One of the features that I'd go for on Mechs to make combat/the cards more exciting is to make their Toughness huge. 3/8's, 5/12's. That makes them super sturdy, so you've got to really out number them to win. After all, if you've got a card that's two cards big, you should really have to team up to kill it.

    1. I don't know that it's a huge problem either. It was identified as a reason not to do Mecha Vs Monsters, and I wanted to show that the idea is worth fighting for.

    2. Good suggestion re: toughness -- encourages attacking (I think?), and feels like it would lead to some really cinematic moments.

  12. This is an excellent idea.

    As I read them I thought, "exiling a card face down, hideaway style is probably the way to do it", and of course, it's there.

    I think also, instead of it being +X/+X it should be, "power and toughness each become equal to that card's converted mana cost" but then there's the problem of lands. +1/+1 counters could also be a trick.

    But... here's the thing. Isn't this Morph?

    Morph does exactly what you want this mechanic to do. Keep it's power and toughness secret. So what is in Morph that might work? A mana cost is good. You want a 'shields down' moment. You also want some control over it.

    So I don't know.

    It's a really nice idea. A big, terrifying monster, but you don't know just how big... I think the way to sort it is playtest the most obvious version and see what's the fun part and try to maximise that.

    It has a sexy, 'wow' factor worth trying to crack.