Monday, December 9, 2013

Chanukah Wrap-Up

Chanukah finished a few days ago, but I wanted to put up some cards for the last two days. I have those posted down below, but before we get to them, I wanted to talk about the CPotD series a little bit.

I don't really talk about design philosophy a whole lot - "show, don't tell" being a mantra tattooed into my writer's brain ages ago - but for the purposes of the rest of this piece, it's probably worth discussing it explicitly.

When I'm designing cards, I almost always try to take a top-down design approach first. Bottom-up design serves an important purpose, but I always feel like the results lack a certain amount of personality that the top-down attempts are able to achieve. In the early stages of Suvnica, it was much more important to me that the guilds have a creative vision guiding their design distinct from their Ravnican counterparts than it was to start coming up with guild mechanics and playstyles. Likewise with Jay's WACs. I try to figure out how I can capture whatever story the art is telling first - then I start factoring in whatever restrictions are in place that week.

A few weeks ago I was thinking about a super top-secret project I'm hoping to have done by the end of the year</redacted> and then I thought doing a few one-off Chanukah themed designs would be a nice counterpoint to it.

I genuinely have no idea how familiar anyone here is with the Chanukah story or customs, but I'm going to explain the top-down idea I was trying to capture with each of the cards. I feel like too many of these ended up being inside jokes that there was a good chance only I was getting. So here goes:

The first day was the most straightforward of the bunch. The gist of the Chanukah story is that, once control of the Second Temple in Jerusalem was regained from the Greeks, the Jewish priests were left with only one untainted jar of olive oil with which to keep the Menorah (Candelabra) lit. The Menorah was meant to be constantly lit, but the jar was only enough fuel for one day. The miracle of Chanukah was that the single jar of oil lasted eight days instead of one, enough time for more untainted olive oil to be produced.

When I was trying to boil that concept into a card design, I abstracted the idea into "something that is supposed to last only once but lasts much longer." The fact that it was to keep something ablaze pushed me into red, and the idea that it's referred to as the Chanukah Miracle pushed me towards the miracle mechanic.

The second most recognized part of the Chanukah story is that of Judah Maccabee and his brothers, the warrior priests who reclaimed the temple in the first place. To be honest, the maccabees weren't covered in great depth over the course of my Jewish education. I only have vague recollections of participating in a play when I was 5 or 6 and I was one of the maccabees. Wikipedia told me that they used guerrilla tactics (flash, first strike), and I already knew that they fought to regain control over the temple, which is where the Brooding Saurian ability came from. They were fighting for their nation and to restore things to the way they were, so {G}{W}.

Moving away from the story of the holiday and into the holiday itself, the thing most everyone looks forward to about Chanukah (besides from Sufganiot and Latkes) is the presents. Of course, not everyone is great at presents. When well-thought-out gifts are exchanged with gift cards it can be disappointing. Unless, of course, you're a blue mage. In retrospect, my modernized Ancestral Recall is clearly broken. It may be salvageable by letting the opponent choose which nonland permanent he or she gains control of, but probably still too broken.

As an alternative to presents, it's customary to give kids a little bit of money during the holiday. In modern times it's more common to give chocolate coins instead. Since the custom is referred to as Gelt (Yiddish for Gold) I thought gold counters might be a fun direction to go in. There was a lot of leeway here as far as color pie restrictions. Gold counters aren't officially in any color's pie really. The mana aspects could push them Red or Green (more likely green), but the life payment option definitely feels more black.

As a paired concept, kids play dreidel with their gelt. A dreidel is a four-sided top, each side displaying a hebrew letter -- Nun, Gimel, Hey, and Shin. Players sit in a circle, put some gelt into the middle, and take turns spinning. If you land a Nun, nothing happens and the next player takes a turn. With a Gimel, the active player takes all the gelt left in the pot and everybody antes up again. On a Hey, the spinner takes half the pot, and on Shin, the spinner has to add a coin to the pot.

I thought Time Stop would be a fun way to show nothing happening, and getting everything sounded like gaining control of something to me, so that was half the puzzle. Getting half of something was a little harder. I settled on the idea that getting half of something is what you settled for in a pinch and hoped you had the opportunity to do it again -- thus getting your one-shot spell back for a second shot. Shin was easier - I knew the number 1 had to play into it, and I knew it had to be a downside, but I also wanted to make sure that there was upside as well, so we ended up with Tremor (or really Desert Sandstorm).

Since the game is so closely tied to gelt, I wanted the gold counters to factor into it, hence the last effect.

No one I know has ever put up a chanukah bush, but they exist. Abstracted: A tree that sits in your house for a few days and then gets pitched away? A Forest that cycles. That's already been done a couple of times. What about a forest that then gets used for kindling?

Here are the two that I didn't post yet:

After lighting the menorah each night of Chanukah, my family sings a song called Maoz Tzur. It's basically a recounting of a number of times when the Jews were being persecuted and through divine intervention were saved. I played with a few different ideas of a song remembering times of persecution, and ultimately ended up with a song to memorialize the dead. And of course, if you're going to have a Chanukah Song, Adam Sandler needs to be the one singing it.

And on the last day, we wrap up (ha!) a few different themes. The major custom of Chanukah is to light a small menorah in your home, starting with one candle the first day and adding one each day until the eighth and final day of the holiday. And since candlelighting is immediately followed by the opening of presents, go ahead and tutor for your entire wish list.

I'm really eager to get feedback about this exercise. What did you all think about the individual card designs? What about the top-down approach? How much of my explanation was necessary (or even interesting) and how much of it was self-explanatory from the cards?

In any event, I hope every has (or has had, or continues to have) a happy holidays.


  1. Everlasting Oil, Maccabee Brothers, and the dreidel cards all seemed completely self-explanatory to me. (Disclaimer: I had a Jewish education for most of elementary school.)

    I didn't quite understand the flavor behind Gift Exchange. If I'd thought harder about Chanukah Bush Grove I would have figured out why it had cycling, but the red mana still feels weird; one doesn't normally burn bushes after the holidays.

    1. Yeah, some of them are stretches. I was just trying to figure out something interesting to do once I was already (re)cycling the land.

  2. I enjoyed the series and I'm glad you explained some of the less well-known details. Dreidel Game is much more impressive to me knowing where you were coming from and how you got there.
    Hymn looks too cheap (and could probably be a sorcery) and Menorah looks too weak, but fun ideas regardless.

    1. Hard to gauge the cost of Hymn - it would need testing. You're right about it being sorcery speed though.
      Menorah's a puzzle Johnny is going to want to break - better to keep it on the weak side.