Wednesday, April 23, 2014

CCDD 042314—Spike Bait

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/23/2014 - A friend put together the Gatherer-Terrible Cube and we played last night. It was a blast. We did 2HG where my Andradite Leech was basically unstoppable, my partner drew her Pus Kami when she had 8 mana and a spirit in her graveyard, but Grollub never ever attacked or blocked. Ethan talks in that article about the kinds of cards that made the cube, but what stood out most to me were the cards that were legitimately good, but had been rated low because they had an optional ability that was unappealing.

An important aspect of Limited is including cards of various power levels so that some are obviously good to players new and old alike, and some are obviously bad, but there are also cards in between that stronger players can identify and use. It occurs to me that those don't always have to be subtle:

Spike Bait is strictly better than Nessian Courser (in formats without unusual artifact hate, or devotion) but most new players will avoid it like the plague because "why would anyone want One with Nothing… and for 7, no less!"

The question is whether this kind of in-your-face design would help new players to cross that bridge and realize that a card can be good despite weak, conditional or outright negative rules text; or whether it will just make players mad to lose to such an obviously terrible card.


  1. Reminds me of the invoker cycles, which had reasonable limited stats and a place to dump mana in the late game. Interestingly (and unlike with Spike Bait) I think there's a curve of player experience where both really inexperienced and really experienced players would snap them up but those with moderate experience would fall into the perception trap you discussed above.

    1. There were a few cards like that in RTR block too... (Kraul Warrior and Selesnya Sentry).

    2. Yeah. I think Spike Bait is hilarious for making the point about how different players value cards differently, but I think for actually teaching players, cards like the invokers would be a lot better.

      Wizards usually avoids putting deliberately useless text on cards because players don't expect it, and I think that's right -- there's plenty of place for useful complexity, we should be able to achieve the same goals without useless complexity.

    3. Checking Gatherer, I see that players really didn't like Kraul Warrior or Selesnya Sentry. That's much more telling than Spike Bait because those cards have strictly positive abilities and the only problem with them is how expensive they are.

      So those cards are clearly achieving the same goal as Spike Bait, while actually be decent designs (because they're not suggesting you do something that would hurt your chances of winning).

      The question I'm left with is whether these better examples are good for the game where Spike Bait isn't. Is the line between "wants to help" or not, or is it between "players like this" or not?

  2. I think this only counts as good design if your set has an intrinsic reason to do this, for example, to enable Hellbent or Threshold or something (neither of which do I expect to see again).

    I am very disappointed by cards where the answer to "Why?" is "because we could," and I think without some motivation this is a bit too close to that.

    1. I agree with both points. It's worth noting this is something only Development would do.

  3. Relevant article:

    1. Upon revisiting that article, I am even more strongly on Zac's side.

    2. This is 150% relevant (despite being 'about' something slightly different), thanks for reminding us of this.

      It's amusing how similar his examples are to Spike Bait.

      (I'm still torn between Zac's and Maro's positions, but it's clear that designs like Spike Bait are basically unacceptable at a fundamental level.)

  4. This topic reminds me so much of Odyssey Block. I can't believe how many unattractive looking creatures were at Common in those sets.

    Aven Trooper (Pay a ton of mana and discard a card for a P/T boost.)
    Barbarian Bully (Discard a card at random for a Punisher effect.)
    Cephalid Aristocrat (When targeted you have to mill yourself.)
    Cephalid Scout (Pay a ton of mana and sac a land to draw a card.)
    Cephalid Snitch (Sacrifice to remove pro black for a single turn.)
    Dwarven Scorcher (Sacrifice for a small Punisher effect.)
    Earsplitting Rats (Each player discards when it etb.)
    Filthy Cur (Damage is redirected from it to you.)
    Fledgling Imp (Discard a card to give it flying for a single turn.)
    Longhorn Firebeast (Its Punisher is sarifice it or 5 damage to an opponent.)
    Mad Dog (sacrifice it if I don't attack with it.)
    Nullmage Advocate (Give an opponent a card back from there graveyard to Naturalize.)
    Pardic Swordsmith (Discard a card at random for a double Firebreathing effect.)
    Shieldmage Advocate (Give an opponent a card back from there graveyard to prevent damage dealt to a target.)
    Spellgorger Barbarian (Lose a card in hand at random while its in play.)
    Thought Nibbler (Reduces your handsize by 2 cards.)
    Treacherous Werewolf (Threshold give it +2/+2 and "When this dies, lose 4 life.")

    So more than a few of these cards had fine bodies, and their drawbacks helped the graveyard theme of the set. I'm glad Magic has advanced beyond this sort of design. Even something as simple as changing "At the beginning of your end step, if Mad Dog didn't attack or come under your control this turn, sacrifice it." to "Mad Dog attacks each turn if able." goes a long way towards making cards more appealing.

    1. Indeed.

      I wonder if Magic's early spiikey interest in drawback mechanics were accepted at a low threshold but when they spiked so hard in Odyssey that it broke the camel's back.