Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tesla: 5 Ways to Position the Mecha Mechanic

We are still trying to figure out how to position the Mecha mechanic for our Tesla set. (To see what the Mecha mechanic is, click here.)

Should building a Mecha be risky? Should it be safe? Should it happen very often, or should it be a rare occurence? Should it be merely strong, or game-endingly powerful? Should Mecha Parts be abundant in the set, or should they only be a small portion of the set?

Some combinations of answers will not make sense; for example, if Mechas are a small portion of the set, they probably can't join up very often. (Although it's interesting to think, "What if they could? How would it work?")

Here are some configurations that can make sense.
  • The All-in Aura Style
  • The Totem Armor Style
  • The Banding Style
  • The Crown of Empires Style
  • The Scavenge Style

The All-In Aura Style
This is the style where you can use your Mecha as an Aura to boost another Mecha. Much like an Aura, you get 2-for-1ed when your creature is destroyed. This is the first style we discussed.

It can be used to create a high-risk, high-reward type of gameplay. It's possible to make the joined Mecha very large since it's balance by the risk factor.

I personally don't think that type of swingy game balance is fun, though. Rise of the Eldrazi encouraged players to go big, but part of why it worked was because it didn't put the player at risk for doing so. The Levelers and Invokers did great things in the late game, but posed no opportunity cost for inclusion in your deck. The Umbras protected you from 2-for-1s. The Eldrazis often Annihilated something while dying to a Smite or Daggerback Basilisk.

The Totem Armor Style
This is the second style we discussed, where the Mechas are like Auras, but when the Mecha is destroyed, you can return one half of it to your hand. This protects you from 2-for-1s, much like the Umbras in Rise of the Eldrazi.

We can still have enormous Mechas that have Eldrazi-style sizes, but they will be balanced by a high transformation cost. For example, maybe there are Bodies that turn into an 8/8 or larger size, but they cost {8} or more to activate their Combine ability.

There are a variety of conditions we can set for determining which half of a destroyed Mecha is returned to your hand:
- The controller chooses.
- An opponent chooses.
- The dice chooses.
- The active player chooses.

This style facilitates rebuilding a Mecha after it's destroyed. We can try to create a type of back-and-forth game play where Mechas are built, destroyed, and then rebuilt with a different combination of parts. Depending on the condition that we choose for returning a part to hand, we can allow removal spells to handle problematic parts while still protecting the Mecha player from getting 2-for-1-ed.

This kind of Parts-destruction and recombination potentially creates a fun style of games. But we haven't been able to test it enough to judge it yet. In the games we tested this, Mechas were destroyed only 1-2 times so far.

The Banding Style
The Mechas can be like creatures with Banding. You can join them up on any turn where you feel that their abilities are better combined rather than used separately. If the situation changes and you want to utilize them separately again, you can disband them easily by paying mana.

For example, imagine that you have a 2/3 Head with deathtouch and a 3/2 Body with first strike. On some turns, you might want to combine them to get an 5/4 Mecha with first strike and deathtouch. (5/4 is the Body's stats with +2/+2 bonus.) It's invincible in combat, but it can only attack OR block, not both. On other turns, you can leave back the 2/3 Deathtouch Head for blocking while attacking with the 3/2 first striking Body. In some cases, you might want to attack with both separately, or block with both separately. You can join and disband them as needed.

With this style, the ability to disband the joined Mecha can serve as protection from 2-for-1 blowouts. The focus is on figuring out which formation/mode you want each turn, and it's not so much about making a giant Eldrazi.

The following style is a sub-category of the Banding style:

You can have the Head attack in the air while the Body plays defense. (Maybe the opponent has a Daggerback Basilisk on the ground so you don't want to combine them.) Or, you might decide it's better to combine them and attack.

With this example, all of the Heads are aircraft that fold up into robot torsos when they combine. They each have flying and one other ability, and they lose the flying aspect when they join. The Bodies are all colorless defenders (because they have no mana crystal/control unit guiding them), and they gain the ability to attack when they join.

This setup gives both the Heads and Bodies useful things to do while waiting for a partner to join up with. It's also easy to strike a balance where they are late picks in draft (so that they make it around the draft table to the Mecha drafter) but are not useless. Creatures with flying can be weak but useful, and Defenders can be given big enough sizes to be useful without turning into high picks.

The Crown of Empires Style
All of the styles so far require that the set has plenty of Mecha parts in each pack so that they can actually transform. Another path is to make Mechas a very fringe draft theme that is only occasionally accomplished. It's similar to trying to assemble a combo with Crown of Empires, except it's a little easier. Maybe Bogbrew Witch is a good comparison.

It can be part of a larger theme where you're trying to assemble a combo out of artifacts. Mechas are just one of things you can assemble in the set.

One example is a mechanic for hooking up multiple artifacts. Jay, Jules and others have posted some versions of this already.

So if you attach this to an artifact creature, you can gain 2 life on each turn that it attacks. If you've played with Sun Droplet or Vampire Nighthawk, you know what effect 2 life per turn can have on a game.

You can combo it with something like this:

Based on how you wire them up, you can draw a card every turn for {2} without paying life, or you can draw 2 cards per turn for 3 life and {4}. It lets you make Rude Goldberg combos like the Station cycle in Fifth Dawn did, except it will happen often and will happen in Limited.

There can be cards to help these combos happen.

A cycle of cards like this can help you build a combo to let you adapt to the board state at hand. These cards can help Mecha cards, while also having uses for other strategies as well.

There can be a theme of searching for cards:

This would fit into a postapocalyptic world where you are salvaging remains of lost technology to piece together a contraption. Innistrad was a Tribal Graveyard set of sorts; Tesla can be an Artifact Graveyard set.

With cards like the above, you try to fill up your grave a bit (with help from Scavenging run), then cast it when you think you have enough scrap in your grave to keep the factory running for a while. Another version of Feed the Machine:

The Scavenge Style
This is a style where you combine a Head and a Body from the grave. The mechanic could require that both parts are in the grave. Another possible version requires one part on the battlefield and one part in the graveyard as scrap. It's similar to the Scavenge mechanic in Return to Ravnica.

If the combined Mecha is destroyed, both parts die, but you aren't blown out because you didn't invest 2 cards from hand in it.

I've tested this style a little with Jay and Jules.

It certainly makes the mechanic a little more resilient. With the All-in Aura style and the Umbra style, you often don't want to put your Parts in combat because they might die before they combine, and this solves that problem. But with this Scavenge style, the opposite problem happens; your opponent never wants to block your Part or attack into it. It didn't feel right to me.

It might be possible to make this mechanic more balanced by attaching a high transformation cost to it, similar to Scavenge. (It could cost anywhere from {6} to {8}, for example.) People blocked and traded with Drudge Beetles all the time.

Alternately, we could set a hoop that you must jump through to combine your live Part with a scrapped Part. For example, maybe you can only combine the parts if the live part dealt combat damage to an opponent this turn.

One awkward factor is the question of what happens when you have a living Head and Body. It seems fair to allow two living pieces to combine, but in this style they're not protected from 2-for-1s (because you're not risking a 2-for-1 when you dig a part from the grave) so when you combine two parts from the battlefield, you might get blown out. But it's weird game play that you have to wait around for the parts to be destroyed before joining them up safely.

Another awkward factor is what happens when the joined Mecha dies. If the Parts go back into the graveyard, they will be available for recombination again. That's probably too easy. It would be best if the Part that was reanimated gets exiled, but that would be difficult to keep track of. The most realistic option so far is that both halves get exiled upon death.

This style might sound good on paper, but I haven't experienced good game play from it so far. It might be worth it to keep experimenting with, though.

Thank you for reading. I would love to know what you think about each style of balancing Mechas, which one you prefer, and what other styles exist.


  1. The Totem Armour style is the impression I've had of what you've done so far. I think it sounds pretty cool. But I'm quite intrigued by the Banding style as well. It offers more choices each turn, which is both good and bad.

    I'm not keen on the All-In Aura or Crown of Empires style. Mecha are going to be the most distinctive new thing that Tesla offers, so I think you want them to happen in Limited regularly, and not put off Spikes with the risk of 2-for-1s.

    The Scavenge style sounds odd. I can see the flavour of it, but I can't quite picture the gameplay. It seems like it'd be quite a lot different to how I've envisaged Mecha so far.

  2. The Scavenger Style reminds me of my scrap yard concept which I hadn't described yet. Whenever a part or a mech dies, it gets exiled. Transformation/combination allows you to choose another part in play or one in exile. Unlike the graveyard, Exile is one shared zone, so there could be turns where you destroy an attacking mech in combat and then use one of its exiled parts to make your own mech during your turn.

    Link 2W (You may untap, transform, and pair this with a PART TYPE you control or a PART TYPE card in exile by paying their link costs. When this dies, exile it.)

    Because Exile would be a growing resource as games progress, the Transfo rmation/combination ability should have some cost. This keeps the numbers of cards you can afford to use from it each turn low. Otherwise I could attack and lose a mech with two cheap parts in hand knowing I can make two new mechs after combat. But if I need to cast and then pay to transform/combine. It won't be easy to make two new mechs. Colored activation costs are another way to adjust how people access the parts in exile.

    Oh, I used pairing instead of combine for a few reasons. First, it's a known concept that's already been rule vetted. Second, the exile concept allows us to greatly streamline mech reminder text to

    (This is one creature made up of two paired cards. If either card becomes unpaired, exile it.)

    1. Why the need for exiling the parts? The graveyard is a better analog to a scrapyard and the ability reads the same if you replace "or a PART card in exile" with "or a PART card in a graveyard".

    2. Good point. But the only way to get a part into exile is to play it and have it get killed. As designers we have control over other means of putting cards there. The graveyard is unregualted in the sense that there are numerous ways to put cards I'm it, and previous sets have made cards that might force us to design with them in mind.

    3. That's true. If we weren't designing in a vaccuum, the main impact would be on the combine cost and the p/t of the bodies. I think that as long as the mana cost of the head plus the combine cost is in the 4+ mana range, the abuse will be much less. Not to mention that another mecha deck gets the same benefit from someone self-milling.

      There's the flavor argument too. Not using the graveyard as the scrapyard is a flavor fail for sure.

    4. Whenever anyone suggests being able to do things with cards in exile, the card SadisticMystic always mentions is Demonic Consultation (and its variants such as Divining Witch). It's the most extreme case, but there are plenty of others not quite so intense. The point is exile is not actually regulated either.

  3. I'm intrigued by the banding style. I think that having a cheap disconnect (I think even if it was {1} it would be fine) may be the best solution to the two for one problem.

    1. We could take the inspiration even farther:

      Rotorcraft 2U
      Artifact Creature-Construct (cmn)
      Combine {U} (Whenever ~ attacks, you may pay the Combine cost of any number of attacking or blocking creatures you control. Transform and combine them until EOT.)
      This creature gets +2/+1 and has flying.
      If this creature would leave the battlefield, transform and return all but one part, chosen at random.

      or the simpler, less combat-oriented:

      Combine {U} (Pay the Combine cost of any number of permanents you control: Transform and combine them until EOT.)

    2. I like the attack trigger on combine because it solves an issue I had with Link. Link didn't account for the possibility of attacking with a Part and then linking it and another Part that has summoning sickness during combat. The fact that Combine's only until end of turn also fits Chah's goal of building and rebuilding mechs.

      I don't like combining more than two permanents though. I would prefer the result is a single mech made of two parts. Also, the name of the keyword shouldn't also be the name of a key action. (Combine is used twice, but with different meanings.)

      Combine COST (Whenever this creature attacks, you may transform and pair it with an attacking PART TYPE you control until end of turn by paying their combine costs.)

  4. What if the DFCs never go into players' decks? You draft them and they're part of your sideboard, and some mechanism allows you to put them into play and/or flip them over.

    1. So there are going to be spells or effects that fetch a part form the sideboard.

      In that case, maybe each Part can serve both as either a Head or a Body (Head on front, Body on back) so that any two Parts can combine.

      Maybe a base 4/6 trample Body can turn into a Head that grants +2/+3 and trample.

    2. Exactly.

      Or if we go for jury-rigged 'contraptions' it could be that the two sides represent possible uses for the same part.

      Power Converter (A)
      Activated abilities of this contraption cost up to {2} less to activate.
      Power Converter (B)
      Increment each instance of a number (including X) in activated abilities of this contraption by 1.

    3. Yeah, that's the mechanic I mentioned before.

  5. What if all the mechs were double sided. On one side was an artifact creature, and the other side (back) was an equipment.

    Whenever the artifact creature dies, it goes to the graveyard "transformed" to symbolize the fact that the creature broke and its parts are in the yard.

    then whenever "special" artifact creatures entered the battlefield, they would look for parts in the yard, and auto equip them, to symbolize building up the mech.


    front Side:

    Lifelink Mech 4
    Artifact Creature - Mecha
    Mecha 2 (When THIS enters the battlefield, you may pay 2 mana and return target equipment in your graveyard to play equipping THIS. When THIS dies, it enters the graveyard transformed)

    Lifelink Part
    Artifact - Equipment
    Equip 2
    Equipped creature has +2/+2 and life link

    1. That's not a bad idea, and at the very least, reminding us how similar equipment is makes me think it's fine for mech parts to add up power and toughness.

    2. If we are going to have the back side be Equipment, that opens up a lot of options. It doesn't necessarily have to be about recovering a dead part when a new part enters the battlefield.

    3. I'm very interested in this idea. Could this play well alongside other, non-Mecha DFCs in the set? Would it be weird if noncreature artifacts transformed (through mana or some other trigger) into powered-up or upgraded versions of themselves, and artifact creatures transformed by being broken? I think the flavor can handle that, but I could be wrong.

      This seems like it could play nicely alongside (entirely separate) cards with a "Sacrifice an artifact"/scrap token theme, if we wanted to pursue that, since you could sacrifice a mecha in play as another one comes in in order to equip it.

    4. Upgrading noncreature artifacts by transforming them sounds interesting.

      Robots turning into reusable parts (equipment) upon death makes sense in terms of flavor, but will play very similarly to Living Weapon. We need to either make it Living Weapon, or make it different in a meaningful way.

      But Living Weapon has built-in card advantage, so the space for cards that are balanced while look exciting is very small. (I think Tom LaPille said something along those lines.)

      I'm not a fan of making a token type solely for the purpose of sacrificing them.

  6. I promised to post my thoughts on the second mecha draft, that we did last week, somewhere on Goblin Artisans. This is the latest Tesla post, so I guess this'll do.

    I think the choice of common and uncommon mecha cards were great. The commons with static abilities (or regeneration), and the uncommons with ETB triggers that turn into attack triggers, made for excellent gameplay. The colouredness of mecha does indeed work out as an excellent design for draft purposes.

    I didn't want to go GB Mecha after what you said about the last draft. But I wanted to play mecha, and after my first two picks were WG there just seemed to be many more green and black mecha than white ones.

    Good removal is a problem for mecha. I saw a few instances of removal in my games. The times when the 2B -2/-2 spell was used on a small mecha to kill it before it could combine? Fine. The times when the 2G Naturalize was used on a large mecha after all that mana was spent assembling it? Felt too backbreaking. It's not just destroying the best mech part you've stuck to the battlefield, it's also undoing a lot of investment. The "recycle the other part" clause is good, but it feels like it's not enough.

    As a corollary, I don't like the bodies that cost {6} to assemble. I'm not especially keen on the way that combining adds summoning sickness either. Occasionally you can attack with the old half and then combine it in 2nd main, but more often there's a board stall making it pointless or worse to attack with the uncombined version, so it just means that if you finally draw a 4-drop Head when you have 5 lands, you'll get to cast it this turn, combine it next turn, and eventually attack with your mecha two turns after getting both halves on the board. Blech.

    I'm not sure how to square this with your ideal that mecha get build, destroyed, and rebuilt multiple times. If I'm killing your mecha (on my turn), I'll generally choose to let you keep the Head if you've got other Heads, or the Body if you've got other Bodies. So it's going to be pretty hard to engineer a situation where I actually get to rebuild my mecha differently. (I might manage to rebuild the same mecha if I have a white or green or black Disentomb effect.)

    On drafting: I didn't feel I had to take mechas every pick early on. But OTOH I guess all three of us had some mecha so maybe that means we didn't establish ourselves firmly enough.

    On other aspects: +2/+2 is normally enough on the bodies, since each mecha will have two abilities as well. (This also means that I don't think the artifact mecha parts should be vanilla, unless perhaps the artifact body gives +4/+4 rather than +2/+2.)

    I think the mix-and-match nature of the mecha, where you don't get the same combination each game, is great. For one thing, it means the terrifying deathtouch body + pinger head combo doesn't happen every game. But it also just makes for great variation.

    Basically, even with the rough edges it was a lot of fun, and I'd like to play it again :)

    1. Thanks for the feedback, AlexC!

      Once again, BG Mechas were opened in great numbers in the draft. I need to check if the packs are really random!

      Since we added transformation costs to the Mechas, we definitely should have taken away the summoning sickness.

      I do feel that it should be possible to destroy a specific Mecha part, otherwise a player could recycle the same part over and over again. I want each of the Mechas to provide really different abilities, but if a single part can be reused indefinitely, we can't have parts that are really good (in general, or in a specific matchup) like lifelink, etc.

      You get to build and rebuild mechas if you lost your Mecha during an attack, while you might not get back the part you need if you lose your mecha to an opponent's removal, which I hoped would create an incentive for players to attack with Mechas. If you have a spare Body or a spare Head you're hoping to use for your next combination, I guess you could keep it in your hand to hide the information.

      I feel that these choices are better in the long run, and that removing summoning sickness while keeping the removal at sorcery speed should help a lot, but I also need to watch out for the fact that it might be unintuitive for players.

      I was worried the sizes of the Mechas might feel underwhelming considering player expectations of giant robots, so I'm glad to hear you thought +2/+2 was enough. I need to hear more opinions on this though.

    2. I definitely agree it needs to be possible to destroy a specific mecha part. All the more so assuming we're going to make rare mecha parts as well, which will be even more likely to need answering.

      I think the mechanics as they stand certainly do encourage attacking with mechas. I particularly like the uncommon ETB triggers transforming into attack triggers, which also serve to encourage that.

      Personally I wouldn't feel summoning sickness would be intuitive if the two parts have both been on the battlefield for a turn. Not sure what to do about the late-game case where I've got, say, a Body on the battlefield and a ton of mana; I'm not sure you should be sitting in fear of my casting a Head, combining them, and smashing in with some terrifying unexpected mecha.

      I think +2/+2 along with two abilities will usually be enough, as long as we don't make any 0/8 creatures or Fog Banks in the set.