Thursday, April 11, 2013

Exploring the Afterlife Pt 1/3

I'd like to talk about some mechanics for representing the afterlife in an Egyptian set.

The first one is a mummy mechanic.

(*I've suggested using the mechanic of putting a creature under a land to represent entombing, as well as many Unearth variants, but because the discussions for our Egyptian set pitches have become scattered, I can't be absolutely sure if no one has proposed this combination of those two things before.)

Flavorwise, this mechanic, Mummify, also answers the question of how to represent Pyramids (or tombs in general) in an Egyptian set. The Egyptians believed that as long as things such as your name, your image, and your body remain on earth, your spirit can continue to exist in the afterlife. That belief is reflected in this mechanic: as long as nobody messes with your tomb, you can keep coming back. Here's another example:

Strategically, though, it's almost the same as a repeatable unearth without the "Exile it at the beginning of the next end step or if it would leave the battlefield" clause because land destruction doesn't happen very often. If the entombing clause is to be strategically relevant, there would need to be several cards in the environment that can interact with the opponent's lands.

Now, Wizards has been toning down the power of land destruction effects over time because games just aren't fun when you can't cast spells. Most land destruction spells cost 4 or more and aren't really playable. However, it's very possible to create playable land destruction spells if the land destruction is tacked on to an expensive spell with another effect, such as Acidic Slime or Into the Maw of Hell. Also, other effects can mess with lands without outright destroying them. Here are some examples that might fit into an Egyptian set:

Brink of Disaster is another such card.

To safeguard against the threat of recurring unkillable creatures, the environment can have a healthy dose of exiling cards such as Condemn as well.

This is in part a type of "biodome" design seen in Rise of the Eldrazi, where a mechanic that is not otherwise feasible becomes acceptable within the set's specially constructed Limited environment.

However, unlike Rise of the Eldrazi, where the giant creatures that cost 8 or more were too hard to play except in a special Limited environment, this is a reverse case where the mechanic is too powerful to allow for Limited unless there are specific playable Limited answers designed for them. This leads to an interesting situation where the mechanic can potentially be balanced both for Limited and Constructed.

In Limited, players would only have access to a few creatures with Mummify, since they would be at Uncommon or higher rarity. At the same time, since Limited players can afford to play clunky removal spells like Into the Maw of Hell or Trostani's Judgment, these spells can be reasonably used to combat the Mummy cards, which aren't as abundant.

In Constructed, players may only have as much Constructed-caliber tools for fighting recurring creatures as they always had. That could make some of the top-notch Mummies Constructed-playable.

In other words, the mechanic has a different level of impact for each environment based on how much playable land interaction effects exist in that environment. Land interaction cards can be specifically designed to only be playable in Limited, so that mummies remain strong in Constructed.

So I'm not worried about the lack of tools to balance the power level of cards with this mechanic. Some concerns I have for this mechanic are:

  • It's probably not doable at Common, unless it's reworked into a simpler form.
  • It's similar to a pre-existing mechanic, Unearth; is it interesting enough? Although the repeatability makes it different, it would be interesting to consider some variants. 
So this is my first idea for representing the afterlife. I'm interested in what you think.


  1. I really like this representation of mummies as it matches the flavour and play we want for our set. The only issue I see is that creatures constantly returning from the dead might be too strong. Especially when mummify allows cards like Honoured Warrior Slave to repeated chump block in the late game, with a cost of four but a gain of 3 life virtually every time. Perhaps we need a few more rules/limitations to stop these guys being too strong in long games.

  2. I think this is just Unearth. Entombing things under lands and giving the land this bizarre ability, and all you're doing is playing it again. It leads to repetitive gameplay... there's a great desire to have "Entomb" and "Mummify" be keywords in an Ancient Egypt set, but it has to do something other than be a complicated, complex Unearth.

    My suggestion, something quick, simple, and different:

    Entomb (When this creature card goes to the graveyard from anywhere, you may exile it entombed on a land you control. Whenever that land activates a mana ability, its controller may add one mana of the entombed card's color to his or her mana pool.)

    So it's a land variant on Cipher. You entomb creatures on lands when they die to get more mana. Might not be fun, might not be what the set wants/needs, but the point is to make creatures being exiled onto lands intuitive and something to do, not just an extra hoop of complexity just to make it more flavourful.

    As for Mummify, how about this?

    Mummy's curse (Whenever a player attacks you, if this creature is in your graveyard, that player loses 1 life.)

    The problem is that it dissuades attacking, which prolongs the game, but, again, it's trying to take the theme beyond "Unearth/Undying/Persist". Those three make it very hard to design a fresh, new, reanimation mechanic, so why not try to capture another element of the mummy?

    1. Entomb is certainly exciting. Much stronger than this:
      I doubt we could put it on common cards or cards that cost less than, say, 5. I do love how it's a reverse City of Shadows.

    2. Your Mummy's curse inspires a cycle:

      King of Killing 3BB
      Creature-Human Wizard (rare)
      At EOT, if ~ is on the battlefield or in your graveyard, destroy target creature that attacked you this turn.

      King of Tales 3UU
      Creature-Human Wizard (rare)
      Whenever an opponent draws a card, if ~ is on the battlefield or in your graveyard, you may draw a card, then discard a card.

      King of Scarabs 3GG
      Creature-Human Wizard (rare)
      Whenever a nontoken creature dies, if ~ is on the battlefield or in your graveyard, put a 1/1 green Insect creature token OTB.


    3. Entomb might be less powerful if it only triggers when it dies. But you're right, much like Cipher, it probably can't go on anything less than 4 CMC. I think another trick would be to put it on high-toughness creatures, but things like sac outlets would probably break it in other formats if they're any cheaper.

      While I'm glad you think it's exciting, the point of it was more, "If you're going to attach creatures to lands, it should do something intuitive." Lands just don't have much space to really graft onto them abilities.

      I think, if you're going to make a cycle, it's probably worth giving it a keyword so that it's easier to tell which cards in the graveyard can do something and which cards don't.

      Thanks. :)

  3. I agree that it's possible to balance for this version of Mummify in Limited, but I'm not sure the kind of balances it will need are things we want to play up much. I am fine with 5+ cmc LD and will say that LD that's mostly unplayable in other environments would become quite playable when it answers an unanswerable threat like Mummify.

    Demented Pharaoh exemplifies the dangers of this keyword. It actively removes interactivity from the game on more than one axis. The creature itself can only be answered with LD, instant-speed exile, or larger defenders. If it has any ETB or LTB effects, those will happen every turn with no chance to stop them. If one of those effects is something like discard that strips away your options, you're counting on a top-deck to save you… except you can resurrect at instant speed before I get the chance to cast the Craterize I just drew.

    The solution I'd put forward comes from Chah himself, who mused in another forum that perhaps instead of resurrecting creatures with mana, you have to trigger it with some special event. Perhaps:

    Disturb N (When ~ dies, exile it under a land you control. Whenever a creature attacks you, put a curse counter on ~. If it has N+ counters on it, return ~ to the battlefield.)

    Another option is to make Mummify less repeatable:
    Mummify (When ~ dies, exile it under a land. That land has "Sacrifice this land: You may cast a card mummifed under ~.")

    1. My thoughts:

      Disturb – Why exile it under a land? Think about it, if it's under a land, you're putting counters on the exiled card, not the land? Just to reanimate it? Just exile it and put counters on it like a reverse suspend.

      Mummify – You sacrifice your land, then you have to pay the cost, which is harder to do because you lost the land. Sacrificing lands is a very Spikey thing, certainly not something that would work as a keyword.

    2. "sacrificing the tomb" makes a lot of flavorful sense for this version of Mummify. It's still repeatable since you can repeatably mummify your creature, but at least you're investing a lot of time and resources that way, and it's still disruptable:
      Flickering Mirage {U}
      Exile target land. Return it to the battlefield under it's owner's control at the beginning of the next end step.
      Draw a card.

    3. Agreed, Disturb would work much better from exile without a land involved at all.

      Getting back a creature can be a pretty big deal. Sacrificing a land to do it shouldn't be easy or cheap; that was my goal. I agree this Mummify would appeal to Spike more than Timmy, but I think you're dismissing it prematurely.

    4. I'm thinking that sacrificing lands is even more Spikey than discarding cards. Players want to cast their spells. Land destruction, disruption, and permission have all been lessened. Having a keyword mechanic, that will show up on around 10 cards – just at common – that require you to destroy your own lands is going to be a horror.

      Think about it, Jay: you're very vocal about reducing mana screw, but this is a mechanic that requires you to mana screw yourself.

      Remember the Zendikar design diaries: they played with mechanics that revolved around losing lands and none worked.

      That's not to say mechanics can't eat lands; Retrace and Cycling both work because you're required to have the lands out, and they give you something to do with excess lands in your hand that you can't play. But Mummify requires you to go back a turn.

      How about a reverse Retrace?

      Resurrect (You may discard this card from your hand to cast a creature card from your graveyard. Resurrect only as a sorcery.)

      Or, how about this?

      Entomb (When a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may exile this card from your graveyard entombed on that land. You may cast entombed cards as though they were in your hand.)

      This makes it the same level of difficulty as before: you can only cast it once off any land, and the cost is its mana cost, but instead of you mana screwing yourself with pseudo-stone rains, it triggers off something you already want to do, and becomes a kind of Landfall mechanic.

      There may be a problem in the late game: you play a land and stick half a dozen entombed creatures on your land, but, since you won't be able to play them all, it shouldn't be a huge problem. And land destruction, even Craterize, inherently become more powerful because a well-placed Craterize can get rid of *all* entombed creatures *forever*.

      I actually quite like it, it has the right feel.

    5. Ah, so I see the disconnect. I wouldn't put this version of Mummify at common at all. I'd probably put it on 2-3 uncommons and 5-7 rare/mythics.

      Also, there's nothing forcing you to set yourself back a turn. You would really only use Mummify when you've got nothing better to do than sack an excess land and recast a dead guy. Suppose I play Honored Warrior Slave on turn 4 and he gets bolted immediately. On turn 5, I play a fifth land. If I've got any creatures I can cast from my hand, why wouldn't I? If I don't, then I must have land in my hand, and I'd *gladly* trade a land drop to have something to do this turn.

      Entomb really is pretty neat. All of these land-matters variants have had the same multi-room tomb thing going. We can fix it, but it makes a fairly long keyword longer still:

      Entomb (When a land enters the battlefield under your control, if there are no other cards entombed under it, you may exile this card from your graveyard entombed under it. You may cast this as long as it is entombed.)

      That's 6 lines and probably the only text for our uncommons. You could add one or two other lines to a rare/mythic.

    6. I think the key with this version of Mummify is that even if you never sacrifice the land and recast the creature, you still *feel* like you saved it. Cards that can recur themselves are pretty popular with players, even when you have to give up resources to do so. Gigapede and Jarad, Lich Lord are both rated 3.9 on Gatherer, and Gigapede isn't even very good. Sacrificing lands isn't automatically a turn off, Sycthe Tiger and Ruinous Minotaur are both rated 3.8, and Rogue Elephant 4.3!

      It might be an issue that players might mana-screw themselves and then not realize why they lost-- It's telling that there were only four cards in Zendikar block that made you sacrifice lands. That's the problem I would be more worried about, because it looks like land-sac Mummify would actually go over well with casual players.

    7. Landfall-Entomb is neat, and makes good flavorful sense, here's my attempt at the wording.
      Entomb (When a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may exile a single card with Entomb from your graveyard entombed under that land. You may cast this card while entombed.)

      Is the mechanic to complex for Common? The possibility of repetitive gameplay might be a reason to limit its numbers, but I don't think it's too complex.

    8. Jay – on your mummify example: if I have five lands, and no cards in my hand, and I sac a land to mummify, I am livid if I draw a 5-drop next turn. Sacrificing lands sets you back a turn, no matter how you do it. Discarding lands from your hand is different as you can do it when you can't play a land and you're not going down a number.

      As for the multi-room tomb, I don't think it's a problem worth complicating the keyword for... yet. If people are kind enough to think it's good enough to try, playtest the simplest version first and see how it goes. The multi-room tomb thing might be a great catch-up mechanic and way to break stalemates, rather than a swingy gamebreaker.

  4. How's this: Mummify 2W (When this dies, you MAY exile it entombed under a land YOU CONTROL. That land LOSES ALL ABILITIES and gains “T, 2W: Put the entombed card onto the battlefield with haste. At end of turn, exile it entombed under this land.”)

    What this does is:
    - The land loses its mana producing ability, so it's like sacrificing as a cost. That's actually connected to normal game play. (Rather than requiring other cards in the environment to make the land clause matter.)

    - The land loses the unearthing abilities from other entomb effects, so it doesn't make sense to entomb more under the same land.

    1. If I kill your creature while it's visiting, then you can entomb it under another land, or not exile it at all. The original land remains broken. Of course, there's literally no reason to ever do that to yourself, so it may be moot.

    2. I guess that James is right in that players will "sacrifice" the land when they shouldn't and mana-screw themselves.