Saturday, April 27, 2013

Designing Suvnica, Week One: Leaving Town

We all know that you can take the cards out of the city, but can you take the city out of the cards? Much of what defines the established guilds’ identities is a natural extension of Ravnica’s conceit of a city-plane. The guilds' goals and means were crafted to fill roles in a city setting — government and police, churches and entertainment, economy and civil engineers, etc. Once the city was established as a hook in designing the set, the guilds’ identities naturally gravitated to filling the civic roles the setting demanded.

While we’re designing Suvnica, we’re going to start by working the other way around. Let’s avoid the assumption that we’re working with a city-plane where the guilds are the crucial cogs in the civic machine. In fact, let’s not even start conceptualizing the plane. Doing that will encourage us to push guild identities in a particular direction. I think that it would be more interesting to craft the guild identities in a vacuum, and afterwards trying to figure out what kind of world demands that these guilds coexist.

As a quick aside, I’m going to continue referring to the color pairings as guilds, for lack of a more generic-yet-evocative synonym. When coming up with possible identities for the color pairings, don’t lock yourself into thinking that the groups need to be structured to the point of being a “guild”. The formality is a placeholder for the time being, and one of these weeks I’m sure we’ll find a more fitting word.

So, the game plan goes as follows. Each week for the next five weeks, I’m going to pick two guilds for us to focus on that week. I’ll give my analysis of how the guild’s component colors influence its identity on Ravnica and propose an alternative approach, along with a few sample cards. The reader challenge each week will be to do as little or as much of the same as you want: describe a new identity for the color pairing and/or submit card designs. (There are more specific parameters for submissions at the bottom of the article.)

I haven’t yet formalized a schedule of which guilds we’ll be tackling each week, but I do have some guidelines in my head. I’m going to stick with one allied- and one enemy-colored guild per week, without overlapping colors between them. This week, for instance, is not-Blue week, so Orzhov and Gruul are up to bat. Also note that while the current plan is to tackle two guilds a week, plans may change to more or less depending on the volume of reader submissions.

Rethinking Gruul: Building from the (Stomping Ground) Up

Recommended Gruul reading:
  1. It's Not Easy Being Green
  2. Seeing Red
  3. Aaaargh!!!
  4. Designing for Gruul
  5. Rage Agaist the Machine
As I alluded to in yesterday’s introductory article, many (though not all) of the guilds lend themselves to a means/ends division between their colors. I’ll be discussing how I see the current guild based on this model, and then I’ll flip the roles and try to describe my vision of the new guild.

Gruul, as it exists, has a very green philosophy: they seek a return to the natural way of things. However, their methods are incredibly red: an incredibly emotional mission of revenge on the guilds that disenfranchised them, unrestrained aggression against any obstacle standing in their way. At the end of the day, they’re the underdogs of the Ravnica story, written off by the other guilds until they start to get a little too unruly.

So let’s flip it.

Instead of red means to green ends, we now have a guild whose primary purpose is to tear down any restrictions on freedom, accomplished by being bigger, stronger, and more stubborn than anyone else. Instead of the underdog, we now have the bully. This is the guild that will pick a fight with you on a whim, regardless of how much of a threat (if any) you pose to them. No matter how wide the berth you give them when passing them on the street, they’ll go out of their way to shove you because you’re still in their way. Note that they don’t do this because they want you to know they’re stronger than you; they do this because they know that they’re stronger than you. What you know or think is completely irrelevant to them. And telling them what they can or can’t do is inviting yourself to the nearest cleric.

Rethinking Orzhov: It's Gold; It Doesn't Need to Glitter

Recommended Orzhov Reading:
  1. The Great White Way
  2. In the Black
  3. Playing by Their Own Rules
  4. Designing for Orzhov
  5. Precious Gold
Ravnica’s Orzhov gathers power through the trappings of a church and religion, focusing on tithes and tribute, spirits and the afterlife, community and subservience. Its goals are black and its means are white.

Suvnica’s Orzhov, on the other hand, is a group that ensures society’s and civilization’s secured existence through selective assassination and dark sorcery. The heads of this guild meet routinely to determine the individuals and groups that represent the greatest threats to their utopian ideals, and determine how best to eliminate those threats.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept it...

You’ll notice I didn’t give a whole lot of info on the new identities I’m proposing for these guilds. What's there can be summarized in just a few words (Gruul: the bully for bullying’s own sake; Orzhov: assassinations for the benefit of community). That was intentional. I don’t want to pin down a very specific creative identity for our new guilds just yet. We’ll keep this pretty loose the next few weeks. What’s more, my vision isn’t the only one you’ll be designing in. Designers are encouraged to create their own unique identity for each guild and play in that space. That said, here is the design challenge for this week:

Part One – Creative

You may provide a brief (4-5 sentence max.) description for a proposed new creative identity for either Orzhov or Gruul guilds (or both, if you want). Your creative vision should be distinguishable from their Ravnican counterparts, but should still feel like each of its component colors contribute to the identity in some way.

Part Two – Design

The actual design challenge here is simple: Start designing cards that fit into one of the new proposed identities for these guilds (either mine from the article, one of the ones in the comments below, or one that you contributed yourself). The cards you submit should resonate with the new identity that you’re designing for. You can do a bunch of submissions, and unless the volume of responses is overwhelming, I’ll try to discuss them all in next week’s article. If you’re doing more than a couple submissions, I suggest trying to mix it up by designing cards in different rarities, colors and creative identities.

There are two big limitations I’m imposing for now. First, don’t design counterparts to any of the Ravnica cycles just yet. This means no legendary champions or leaders, no guild artifacts, no guildmages, no cards in one color that give a benefit if you used the second color to pay for them. We’ll be doing plenty of work with cycles after we’ve finished a round or two of reimagining the creative identities, so if you have ideas for a guild cycle, save them. We will get there.

The second limitation stems from the first. We’re not looking for guild keyword mechanics yet. We will be doing that, and it will be a lot of fun, but for now we’re just starting to explore the guilds with fresh eyes, and I want identity to inform mechanics, not the other way around.

The submission cutoff is Thursday at 12pm Eastern. Feedback on other people’s designs is encouraged. I’ll be providing feedback as well.

Next week we’ll go over the proposed creative identities, take a look at the various designs, and discuss another challenge. Good luck, and have fun with it.

- Jay


  1. The new Gruul doesn't at all strike me as the bullying type. A bully's motivation is very black-- wanting control and taking pleasure in other people's suffering. All that red wants is to be able to have fun and do what it likes. Meanwhile, Green isn't necessarily focused on being bigger and stronger than the other guy-- just on growing naturally.

    With that in mind, I propose the following creative identity:
    "The Gruul is a loose association of adventurers, wanderers, travelling merchants, and the like, who love to ignore restrictions and believe above all else in doing what feels natural to them. The only things tying them together are a fierce love of nature and a cheerful willingness to help other Gruul in need. Many Gruul tame wild animals for transportation, entertainment, protection, and sustenance."

    Resourceful Salvage
    As an additional cost to cast ~, discard a card.
    Return up to two target cards from your graveyard to your hand.

    Hit-and-Run Bandit
    Creature- Human Rogue
    First strike, haste. Whenever ~ deals combat damage, return it to its owner's hand.

    Wild Indrik
    Creature- Beast
    ~ can't be blocked by any combination of creatures with less than 4 total power.

    1. I very much prefer this incarnation. Red seeks freedom, they revel in their passions, and they aim to squeeze as much out of life as they can - and green seeks to appreciate, to grow, and to discover the potential within themselves and the world.

      By combining these two, you can get the original Gruul - a guild devoted to protecting the potential of the wild, and who passionately and fervently fights for nature - or this Gruul, one devoted to adventuring and trailblazing and discovering.

      Really nice job, Ipaulsen. Exactly the route I was going to go down.

    2. I like your vision of the philosophy, and Resourceful Salvage and H&R Bandit definitely tell you a story about the guild. Wild Indrik less so, but it's still an interesting design.

      I'm wondering whether Resourceful Salvage shouldn't exile itself (and possibly the discarded card as well), as cards in this school tend to do.

      The evasion ability on Wild Indrik can probably be phrased better, but I can't think of how off the top of my head. Maybe "this creature can only be blocked by one or more creatures whose combined power is four or greater"? I'm not sure yet.

    3. This is beautiful. Not only does this feel very different from Gruul (while still feeling Red/Green) you've found a really neat hidden space to give a broader identity to two of the flattest colors! Good work.

      If I may suggest some designs.

      Haarg Hill Caravan {3}{R}{G}
      Creature - Human Scout
      {t}: Add {R} to your mana pool.

      When Haarg Hill Caravan enters the battlefield, put a 1/1 Human creature token onto the battlefield with "{t}: Add {G} to your mana pool"

      Wildeye Shield {R/G}
      Change the target of target spell with a single target creature to a creature chosen at random.

  2. I think the flip is much more pronounced with enemy colors, which is what Maro was discussing in his original Simic article. Take Grull, their goal is a "State of Nature" style anarchy. Is that red or green? The way they achieve this goal is through creatures battling each other. These are things red and Green have in common. Defining allied colored pairs by what they /don't/ have in common. The "no restrictions on freedom, survival of the fittest" is a Gruul philosophy already. What might be interesting is if you don't want Gruul to be underdogs, maybe this isn't a City-plane, but more of a wild plane.

    Meanwhile, the Orzhov color pair is spot on. Enemy's don't share common goals so your method works well here.

    1. In general, the means/ends is definitely more pronounced in enemy colors, but I do find that, at the very least, one color drives the philosophy (ends) of most of the allied guilds as well.

  3. For Orzhov, the white goals and black methods just scream "totalitarian"-- think "1984". For this one I'm much more satisfied with the suggested creative definition, so I'll just make some cards:

    Good of Many
    As an additional cost to cast ~, sacrifice a creature. Put a +1/+1 counter on each other creature you control.

    Relentless Inquisitor
    Creature- Human Advisor
    At the beginning of each opponents upkeep, name a card. At the end of that opponent's turn, he or she reveals his or her hand and discards any revealed cards with that name.

    Enforcer of Sameness
    Creature- Avatar
    Creatures other than ~ are 1/1 and lose all abilities.

    1. Good of Many makes sense in white from a philosophical standpoint, but mass +1/+1 counter distribution like this is typically the domain of Green, especially in conjunction with a sacrifice effect. To stay in white, it would make more sense as a temp P/T boost: Each creature you control gets +X/+X until EoT, X equal to power of sacrificed creature.

    2. You're right. How about:
      Creatures you control get +1/+1. As an additional cost to cast ~, sacrifice a creature.

  4. Suvnica Orzhov fervently believe the city is full of sin and vice and needs to be cleansed. They will do so by summoning angels and demons that act as judge, jury, and executioner for those guilty of any sort of moral trespass. Think of them like current Azorius, except instead of jailing and punishing any transgression percieved or otherwise, they are willing to murder for it.

    Executioner Demon
    Creature - Demon - Common
    First strike

    Angel of Morality
    Creature - Angel - Uncommon
    Angel of Morality gets +1/+1 for each creature your opponents control with greater power than toughness.

    Weight of Sin
    Enchantment - Aura - Rare
    Enchant creature
    At the beginning of your upkeep, put a stone counter on Weight of Sin, then enchanted creature's controller loses 2 life for each stone counter on Weight of Sin.
    Enchanted creature gets -1/-1 for each stone counter on Weight of Sin.

    1. Nice vision, interesting designs.

      Demons tend to be big splashy rares, so you may want to rethink the creature type of your french vanilla common, unless you think that there will be tribal support for demons in the guild and/or set (and there might be, based on your description)

  5. I think this project is really interesting for the philosophy behind the guilds.

    I don't think that's quite where I'd have taken anti-Orzhov. I'd say Orzhov is characterised by (i) good of the organisation over good of the individual or the population (ii) ruthless (iii) organisation.

    I'd say the reverse would be idealistic people who are very lone-wolf and a bit morally gray. Say, Batman (when he's beating people to death and championing a stable non-crime-ridden society, not when he's acting on impulse.).

    1. Batman doesn't beat people to death!

    2. Remember that week when half the questions on Blogatog were about where batman falls into the color pie?

      Batman isn't black. He doesn't act out of selfishness (mostly, depending on who's writing him and how deep of a psychological analysis you want to conduct on a fictional character); and he isn't willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals (no guns, no killing, no humor).

    3. Batman's blue. He's a detective. Yes he uses fear (black) as a tool to protect the people (white), but mostly he's a giant nerd that overthinks and overplans everything. He also tinkers. So blue.

  6. {R}{G}:
    A race of volcano-worshipping Cyclopes or Titans that rely on the power of fire to clear out room to grow. (Mechanically, plays board-wiping burn spells and mana rituals to cast fatties, rather than attacks quickly like Gruul.)

    A legion of Batmen fighting evil but using secrecy, fear, and extra-judicial means as their weapon.

    1. Nurturer of the Roamspace {2}{G}
      Creature - Wurm Druid
      When ~ enters the battlefield, reveal the top two cards of your library. You may put a land card and/or a creature card with converted mana cost 5 or greater from those cards into your hand. Put the remaining cards into your graveyard.

      Volcanic Paradise {2}{G}{R}
      Search your library for a basic land card and put it onto the battlefield, then shuffle your library.
      Untap each land you control. You can't cast noncreature spells this turn.

      Caller of Storm and Eruption {4}{G}{R}
      Creature - Wurm Druid
      When ~ enters the battlefield, return any number of Lands you control to their owner's hand.
      For each land you returned to your hand in this way, ~ deals that much damage to each creature.

      Knight of the Warning {2]{W}{B}
      Creature - Kor Knight
      Double strike
      Whenever ~ deals damage to a creature, that creature's controller discards a card at random.
      "I carve my message of warning on the flesh of the criminals."

      Shadow Vigilante {1}{W}{B}
      Creature - Kor Knight
      When ~ enters the battlefield, you may destroy target creature that dealt damage this turn.

      Target of the Shadow Legion {B}{W}
      Enchantment - Aura
      Enchant creature
      Enchanted creature gets -2/-0.
      Whenever a creature you control attacks, it gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

  7. First of all, what an awesome project! I want in on this!

    Next; the actual challenge.

    Creative: "Luurg":
    The "Red goals with Green Means" doesn't have to be all violent (but I like where you're going with bullies). Green might be ruthless but is not always about fighting. I feel like Gruul didn't tap enough into the "meditative" and "tranquil" sides of Green. Perhaps we are looking at some sort of loosely defined, monastic creed?

    Creative: "Vrohzo":
    I think you really hit the nail on the head with the "Black means to White Ends" being a peaceful community carefuly groomed by ruthless use of force. Assasinations are only one way of doing so; Torture and threats fits the bill as well. We are definitely out of Church territory here, in fact, I think we want our B/W guild to extort the living much in the same way that Orzhov does the dead.

    With that, let's try a common, an uncommon, and a rare of each "guild":

    Budoka of the Free Road 2G
    Creature - Human Monk (C)
    R: Target creature cannot block ~ this turn.
    "My path is mine to walk and mine alone. Stand aside, stranger, or feel the earth rise up to meet you."

    Chainbreaker Gang 3RG
    Creature - Goblin Warrior (U)
    When ~ enters the battlefield, choose one: Destroy target aura enchanting a creature you control, or destroy target artifact, or target creature with defender loses defender (this effect does not end at the end of turn).

    Voice of Freedom RG
    Creature - Avatar (MR)
    Whenever a creature you control becomes the target of an ability you don't control, if the source of that ability is a permanent on the battlefield, destroy that permanent.
    "Do not meddle in affairs that do not concern you, intruder." -Nikya, to Jace.

    And B/W:

    Enforcer of the Peace 1WB
    Creature - Human Soldier (C)
    Whenever a creature attacks you or a planeswalker you control, its controller loses 1 life.

    Riot Calmer 2W
    Creature - Human Rogue (U)
    1B: Target creature gets -1/-0 until end of turn.
    "How tragic that such forceful gestures must be taken into use to convert people to the common good."

    Blade of the Law 3WB
    Creature - Spirit Assassin (R)
    When ~ enters the battlefield, destroy target attacking creature.
    3WB: Exile ~, then return it to the battlefield under your control.

    1. I like a lot of this. A couple of comments, though: Chainbreaker Gang seems weirdly wordy and specific for the Gruul. Enforcer is good, but not white. Riot Calmer is also good, but -1/-0 is blue-- maybe it should be -1/-1 and cost more, or be limited to attacking creatures for flavor. Blade of the Law needs to have flash to work the first time you cast it. Otherwise, though, these cards seem pretty awesome, both design-wise and power-wise.

  8. Ipaulsen's Gruul is my favorite so far—and I agree that bullying =/= not caring what others think—but I would lend one more perspective:

    Red wants to be wild and free, and green wants to grow wild and free. The end is to grow unbounded and the means is chaos. The Luurg believe in no limits and flourish anywhere and everywhere, but there is no rhyme or reason to any of it. They value life and growth and exploration for their own sake.

    Luurg Vinelasher 2GG
    Creature-Human Shaman (unc)
    Whenever a land ETB under your control, put a +1/+1 counter on ~.

    Wrassle 1G
    Sorcery (cmn)
    Target creature you control fights another target creature. At EOT, put a +1/+1 counter on each of those creatures that's still on the battlefield.

    Ooze Party 1RRGG
    Creature-Ooze (mythic)
    At the beginning of your upkeep, put a +1/+1 counter on ~, then put a copy of ~ OTB.

    Lizard Bro 2R
    Creature-Viashino Barbarian (cmn)
    Whenever ~ attacks, you may search your library for a card with the same name and cast it. If you do, put it OTB, tapped and attacking. Shuffle.

    Boulder Toss 1R
    Choose target creature an opponent controls at random. ~ deals 5 damage to it.

    1. A better ooze:

      Unkillable Ooze XRRGG
      Creature-Ooze (mythic)
      ~ ETB with X +1/+1 counters on it.
      Whenever ~ is dealt damage, if it's on the battlefield, put a +1/+1 counter on it.
      When ~ dies, put two token copies of it OTB with half as many +1/+1 counters on them, rounded down.

  9. One of the reasons I was so excited by Zefferal's proposal for this series was that I had been inspired by the same line in the same MaRo article that talked about using one color in each guild for the motivation and the other for the methodology. I only made one card at the time, but I'm so glad Jay is pushing us to explore this so much deeper. Here's that one card:

    Ritual Purification {W}{B}
    Sorcery (rare)
    Each player chooses a color and sacrifices all creatures he or she controls that aren't that color. Then, players gain life equal to the total power of creatures they sacrificed this way.

    I was definitely think of Vohzro as a color pair that loves purity and unity and has no qualms about achieving it through mass violence.