Wednesday, May 8, 2013

CCDD 050813—Core-Set Allies

Cool Card Design of the Day
5/8/2013 - How can you simplify Allies to make them appropriate for the core set? It's neat and fun that each Ally activates whenever a new one joins the party, but it's a lot to keep track of. It also leads invariably to stacking of triggers, something I'm sure we want to minimize in the core set, since the LIFO nature of the stack, and the stack itself, remains elusive and confusing to new players. What we can't afford to lose is scaling: Each Ally needs to get better the more that you have.

Today I propose that if you make all the Allies virtual-vanillas (creatures that have an effect when you first cast them but can be treated like vanilla creatures afterward), you'll have the simplest tribal scaling effect possible:

You still have incentive to run as many allies as you can, because each one you've already got makes new ones stronger, but you only ever have to worry about the text/effects in your hand. Since this triggers less frequently than the original allies, it means they can also be more efficient, either in cost/body or in the robustness of the effect. Considering that these are specially formulated for new/casual players via the Core Set, what do you think? Are these too boring or still too complicated? Do they go too far afield?

This is tangential to the purpose of the post, but I can't help but muse whether these new cards should have the Ally creature type or some new one. Ideally, the would be Allies so that they are instantly less parasitic by building off an existing card-base and also have some nostalgia. The reason we'd consider not making them Allies is primarily whether playing with both will be confusing because of the different triggers, and secondarily whether one set of Allies makes the other set too good. What do you think?


  1. If the goal is to be linear without being complex, this achieves that goal.
    But somehow I don't feel as excited by these cards as I am with Zendikar Allies or Slivers. I guess I like growing things as opposed to riding the momentum and attacking every turn with one-shot effects.

  2. One good thing about Zendikar Allies is that playing the first one didn't feel bad, since you could get more bonuses for it later. Hagra Diabolist onto an empty board is so much more appealing than Ashgrove Diabolist.

  3. The lack of the "fighter" type of creatures is very prominent and it makes the card type a lot less appealing, since your first couple Allies are very disappointing to cast. You'd either need something that put +1/+1 counters on all your allies or to reintroduce the ones that got bigger when you cast Allies to capture that flavor, which was a big part of what made them fun.

    1. I don't know what you mean by the lack of a "fighter" type creature, Robert. Can you elaborate?

      It's obviously more exciting when you cast later Allies who are powered up by their forebearers, but all of these except Tigersinger do something the turn they ETB, and only Loremaster is below curve when casting it by itself.

      At higher rarities, I would include cards like this:

      Giant Ally 4GG
      Creature-Giant Ally (rare)
      ~ ETB with a +1/+1 counter on it for each Ally you control.

      Zeus Ally 2RRR
      Creature-Elemental Ally (unc)
      When ~ ETB, Allies you control gain pro:red until EOT and ~ deals X damage to each creature and player, where X is the number of Allies you control.

      Leader Ally W
      Creature-Human Soldier Ally (rare)
      ~ has P/T equal to the number of Allies you control.

    2. Fighter, Wizard, and Cleric were the three "sub-categories" that R&D used internally to classify the different ally mechanics.

      Fighter: +1/+1 counter when an Ally ETB
      Wizard: Spell-like ability scaling off # of Allies
      Cleric: Effect that gives all Allies a bonus

  4. These are perfectly serviceable designs, but I have the same problem with them that I do with M14 Slivers: namely, if a tribe is defined by a particular shared mechanic, create a new tribe rather than "overwriting" the old tribe with the new mechanic.

    This avoids the awkwardness when players try to put the old cards and the new cards together and prevents disappointing fans of the old tribe.

  5. Ant can't post to the site right now, but had this idea:

    creature - warrior ally
    When ETB, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME for each ally you control. Then put a +1/+1 counter on each other ally you control.

    That's obviously a rare version (and possibly still undercosted), but you could make a common version:

    Common Fighter Ally 4G
    Creature—Warrior Ally (cmn)
    When ~ ETB, put a +1/+1 counter on each Ally you control.

    1. I think this version does a good job of staying fairly straightforward while addressing the feel-bad potential of playing early allies (though not eliminating it entirely). I wouldn't have been surprised if this implementation had shown up in M14.

      As for the changed old tribe vs. new tribe thing, I think old tribes are definitely the way to go. Yes, there will be people upset by the change, but I'd bet a lot more players would be upset by something new that was "essentially just Slivers."

    2. I'm a big proponent of using old tribes whenever we can, and I don't believe that Allies, in particular, only exist with the sort of mechanical gameplay that appeared in Zendikar. Veteran players can get new stuff for their Allies decks, and that's a good thing.

      I don't believe that a significant amount of players will actually be upset with a different mechanic associated with new Ally cards. I can see how Slivers' flavor is entwined with the "Sliver mechanic," so I don't think that should be changed. When I say that, I mean that M14 Slivers are completely O.K. and approved by me. I just mean that they should always grant other Slivers abilities, even if they now are functionally slightly different.

      I've long wanted Allies to be in a Core Set, and I believe it should happen someday. Now that we're going to get Slivers soon, it probably won't happen for at least another few years.

    3. Thanks for posting for me here Jay!
      my goal with the +1/+1 counter thing was to go off of your idea above, but include an easy french vanilla option for the "fighter" type ally that gets better the more allies it has. The rare version acts as a general as well, giving out +1/+1 counters to his buddies.

      What I really find so fascinating about this game is that when a particular type of card is made with a pattern, it becomes uncomfortable for people when that pattern is broken. In the case of allies, each one interacts with other allies by caring about how many you control. Since that is common to every ally, if you were to make an ally that was different, that would be jarring. but there are plenty of "tribal" creatures with similar gameplay to the allies that are NOT allies (compare Harabaz Druid Elvish Archdruid), so I dont see why there couldnt be allies that have different mechanics from that of the zendikar allies.

    4. Although it's worth remembering that Slivers in M14 isn't the first time Wizards have revisited an old tribe with a new mechanical identity. For example, the Zubera in Champions of Kamigawa all did something when they died varying on the number of Zubera that had died this turn. But then they came back in Betrayers of Kamigawa, this time giving a larger effect but only if the creature died due to "overkill". Similar but different, just like the new Slivers and these new proposed Allies.

    5. There are a lot of patterns in games and Magic. They are important to mental clustering, which eases the burden of memorizing 11K cards. They're also pleasing to humans generally because we naturally classify things and like to make predictions based on trends.

      It's important to start patterns and to complete them, but it's not always best to complete them in the way players expect. If I start with 1,2,3… most players will expect me to finish with …4,5,6, but all patterns are simple and I can surprise you by revealing the pattern was never N+1 by completing it with …1,2,3 or …10,20,30 or …5,7,9 and so on.

      Much of the time, you do want to do what players expect because it makes them feel smart and comfortable, but sometimes you need to keep them on their toes with something unexpected or they'll get bored.

      In the case of Slivers, it's close-minded to argue that M14 Slivers don't follow The Sliver Pattern because they don't affect our opponents' slivers. The better response is to realize that there's been a larger pattern all along, and we've only seen a part of it until now. Better still, is to see that there may be even more to the pattern that we haven't encountered yet.

  6. Bring back Zubera! (kidding of course)

    Honestly, I'd be more excited if these had scalable activated abilities, like the Onslaught tribes did with the Wellwisher/Sparksmith/Battlefield Medic/Information Dealer/Shepherd of Rot cycle, but all in one creature type. That would reduce the feel-bad of the early drops.

    Defensive Ally
    Creature - Ally - Common
    1, T: Target Ally gets +0/+1 until end of turn for each Ally you control.

    Offensive Ally
    Creature - Ally - Common
    1, T: Target Ally gets +1/+0 until end of turn for each Ally you control

    Sneaky Ally
    Creature - Ally - Uncommon
    1, T: Look at X cards in target player's hand, where X is equal to the number of Allies you control. Choose one of them and exile it.

    Subversive Ally
    Creature - Ally - Rare
    1, T: Counter target spell unless its controller pays X, where X is equal to the number of Allies you control.

    Spawner Ally
    Creature - Ally - Rare
    1, T: Put a 1/1 green Insect creature token onto the battlefield for each Ally you control.

    I'm not sure if there are enough scalable abilities like this but you could always have some like this and some that just say "1, T: Allies gain flying."

    You may wonder why they all cost 1, T: I like the idea of all of the abilities having a small activation cost as well as tapping in order to set them apart from any other Magic tribe. It's not as perfectly iconic as Slivers, but it would stand apart from any existing.

    1. I really like these effects for one reason: the flavor of the ally mechanic is supposed to represent a group of adventurers that are stronger as the group is bigger. the one thing that I never liked about the zendikar version is that they were one way. what i mean by that is that you could play a fighter type ally with three allies on the battlefield, and he would come in lets say with +3/+3 because of your three other allies. if on your next turn those 3 allies all got killed somehow, you would think that your fighter would no longer get +3/+3 because his group is three smaller, but he doesnt. Your version addresses that by keeping all of the creatures static, but having their special ability scale with the party size. I like it a lot!

    2. That's a valid point, but unfortunately this isn't a solution we can us: It runs directly contrary to New World Order. If you have a Defensive Ally and an Offensive Ally on the board and attack with three creatures into my four blockers, I don't just have to evaluate the tons of blocking decisions I could make, but also the nine different outcomes of each. It's too much for most veteran players to handle, and not something I would ever want to require of somebody just starting to play.

    3. Jules is absolutely correct. The days of Ghost Warden are gone. Notice that Aquus Steed is an uncommon, and its effect isn't even variable!

    4. Very true, but then isnt the answer to make the scalable abilities NOT be abilities you would want to use in combat? or better yet, just put a rider on them that says "use this only at sorcery speed"? These ideas are too cool to me to just throw them out without trying...