Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tesla: Scrapheap

A few weeks back we were looking at mechanical space to complement the starting points we already have for Tesla design. A lot of artisans were excited by the graveyard interactions hinted at by Mine/Scrounge and made a wide range of suggestions.

There were a multitude of strictly graveyard-centric mechanics, and we might well end up using any one of them if it fills the set’s needs, but at this point we’d be better served exploring what Tesla can do with the graveyard that Innistrad or Odyssey never could.

Chah and Jay gave us some excellent starting points. First let’s take a look at Feed the Machine:

We should be extremely cautious about printing mechanics that read as drawbacks. Players tend to shy away from them, even if the gameplay is fun once you get there. Of course, it might be worth biting that bullet if the mechanic does exactly what we want. So Feed the Machine needs to convince us first that it’s perfect for Tesla, and second that we can’t accomplish the same goals without reading like a drawback. It certainly looks like the play patterns will capture relentlessness, straining resources to their limits, and turning raw materials into something manufactured. Exactly the feelings we’d want if we decide to capture a runaway industrial revolution. Can we achieve all that without the downside?

Jay proposed this version, which looks far more like a mechanic I’d expect to see in a Magic expansion. But it doesn’t fill all the same roles as Feed the Machine. There’s no inexorableness, no desperation, and no feeling of impending disaster. You’re in complete control. Those aspects might be central to what we’re trying to accomplish, or they could be nice add-ons. If all we need is something to marry filling your graveyard and caring about artifacts, Manufacture could fit the bill.

But if we’re abandoning the flavorful play patterns, we have to consider another mechanic with which we’ve already play around in this space.

Salvage could certainly show up on some factory-style cards, but it allows for additional interaction by thrusting creatures into combat and has a lot more design space at common. On the flip side, Salvage is bound to make for much wordier cards than Manufacture. Choosing would come down to how much focus we want to draw with this particular piece of the puzzle.

Positive Spin

However we look at it, repurposing scraps out of the graveyard is going to play into the dangers of technology. That’s perfect for a Tesla that’s post-apocalyptic or otherwise gritty, but we’ve also been looking at interpretations of progress that feel more like the new frontiers of the Enlightenment. I know, not the first thing you think of when you hear “graveyard,” but let’s take a look.

Okay, so Jay’s Jury-rig also fits well in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it brings connotations of ingenuity and inventiveness.

There’s some question as to whether we really need the cost reduction. On the one hand, the mechanic’s plenty strong without it, on the other, it might feel bad for your more expensive and consequently more exciting artifacts to remain out of reach. Either way, things are likely to get too repetitive if we let players bring back the same card time and again.

Obviously this idea is taking a few hints from Unearth. So we should ask ourselves: "is it actually better to have the ability on a separate card?"

Recovering a different card gives the players more room to get creative and feels more like coming up with ideas. Putting Unearth on artifacts feels more like discovering buried secrets (which admittedly is a pretty excellent fit with Mine), but it also avoids Jury-rig’s greatest weakness: keeping players from casting their spells while they wait to get more value. That’s not the end of the world; we see similar behavior from mechanics like Overload all the time. The real question is whether we can capture the advantages of Unearth without losing all of the deckbuilding direction of other versions. I’m going to go with yes.

Having the people of Tesla dig up an ancient evil in their hubris may be too close to the Eldrazi, but if we go that route, we might start here.

I'm sure these aren't the only two ways to make a graveyard mechanic that fits especially well in Tesla. I bet we can even do it without referencing artifacts! I look forward to seeing what creative solutions we can come up with.


  1. I strongly prefer Manufacture to Feed the Machine. Awesome flavorful drawbacks are good for individual cards, but not for keyword mechanics.

    I think Salvage should either grant instantaneous effects or +1/+1 counters. Having to track whether a bunch of permanents have static abilities on or off is mentally taxing.

    Unearth seems much better than the alternatives. Developmentally, it's just vastly easier to make appealing cards that reuse themselves than appealing (but non-broken) cards that reuse other cards.

    1. I'm sure flavorful drawbacks can be possible for a batch of cards too, as the Legendary mechanic shows.

      For Feed the Machine, it's not so much the flavor though. I want to create:

      - An "army-building world." An environment where people get to play token-making cards very often.
      Usually, repeat token-makers have to be at higher rarity like Necrogenesis and/or high cost like Urza's Factory, and you can't have a play environment based on those cards.

      - A kind of "time limit" like vanishing or fading, except with a mini-game attached.
      You can try to keep it around longer while the opponent can adapt his or her play to make sure it goes away. You get a choice about what turn to cast it, weighing how many activations you're likely to get vs. how likely it will impact the game at that stage.

      It's possible that these won't turn out to be good things, but I think the mechanic is worth looking into as it can create a new Magic environment. One thing that it is not is that it is not the same as Manufacture.

    2. You don't lose the entire minigame with Manufacture, though it certainly becomes less of a focal point. I'm interested in what led you to "army-building world?" We've seen a bit of that with Convoke in M15. It can work, but given the number of issues it causes creating board stalls, I wouldn't go out of my way to do it more frequently than other factors push us there.

      (If anyone wants clarification on the board stalls: attacking is a terrible proposition on a board where, say, we each have five 1/1s , two 2/2s and a 3/3. With fewer creatures somebody might be able to drop a 5/5 and start attacking, but since attacking is bad, nothing dies and it gets harder and harder for any attacks to be worthwhile.)

    3. On Salvage, that was my intent for common, at least. I could definitely see holding off on things like Dumpster Diver for the mechanic's first outing.
      The +1/+1 counters point is interesting too. I wonder if just wrapping the bonus into the trigger and always giving a counter would be enough space for Salvage to play with.

    4. @Havelock
      It's true that it's easier to balance things that reuse themselves. But I think it's still possible to balance cards that reuse other cards from the grave. If you have to pay the cost of both cards in the same turn, it would be like kicker. Say, a 1UU Divination that lets you grant unearth to an artifact. You could pay 3UU to get back and sack an Aether Spellbomb to get a virtual "Draw 3 cards" effect. Based on what artifacts are in the environment, you could also get a 2UU "Draw 3 cards" with Conjurer's Bauble. Unlike Kicker these are very conditional.

      The higher the base cost of the spell is, the harder it is to pay that extra 1 or 2 mana, because you're not playing 1 land per turn anymore at that stage. So I think 5 or 6 drop cards with this mechanic can be appealing both without the "kicker" and with the kicker.

      I like the Unearth granting version because it serves a specific need - making Mechas work. I also suspect it would make Cogs play more creatively, if you get some degree of choice over what you draw.

      Mechas really need a way to tutor for them in order to function. But just having rampant tutoring and reanimation is bad, so there needs to be some form of limited tutoring.

      Self-milling with unearth-granting is one form of limited tutoring that is not too stable as a way to fetch a bomb every game, and doesn't require the opponent to keep removing a bomb repeatedly.

    5. @Jules RE:Army World
      The idea of an "army world" I mentioned comes from the "factory world" idea that was considered for a while. Tesla isn't necessarily a factory world, but I'm just explaining what I thought:

      I think of a factory as churning out products in a regular pace, machines rhythmically stamping at pieces of metals as they pass through on conveyor belts. I think the best way something would feel like a factory is if it makes something every turn.

      To me, if you just activate something intermittently, it feels more like a tool rather than a factory. For example, a kitchen blender is a nifty tool that converts thing A (an apple) into thing B (apple juice). Whenever you need it, you take it out, convert the resource into a product, then put it away.

      But with a factory, you don't just fire up a factory when you need it, make one auto or piece of furniture, then shut it down until you need it again. It's the way factories make many, many copies of something at an unwavering industrial, clockwork pacing that makes it feel like a factory.

      So I was thinking that these factories can feel special by making something every turn for a few turns before they run out of resources and die. What should they make? Utility artifacts? Equipment? In Magic, when you're going to get say 3-4 tokens of something out of a card, it would probably be best to make them token creatures.

      Hence an army world. You fight the opponent's factories by playing your own factories, or by attacking their resources so you can "kill" their factories.

    6. @Jules RE: Board stall
      It's true that too many tokens can cause board stall. But that is why these factories need to have a built-in time limit. Something like vanishing or fading (except the time limit can be extended or shortened based on what happens on the battlefield, or how many instants and sorceries you play).

      There are many balanced Common cards that make 3 tokens. Imagine a card that makes 3 tokens, except it does so over several turns rather than at once. That's what the Feed the Machine factory is.

      If it turns out that the factories are too easy to keep alive forever (after all you do draw 1 card per turn even if they don't hit the bin immediately), it could be balanced by require exiling more cards. Or there can be cards in the environment that can attack the opponents' graveyard, like exile-from-grave-touch. There can be a sprinkling of cards with a "exile a card from an opponents grave" as a rider effect, or an Induce Despair type of effect that feeds on a card exiled from grave rather than a revealed card.

      It's quite possible that "army world" isn't what we want anyways. In the GDS2, Shawn Main proposed a token army world and Maro told him the Blight part was the only part that interested him.

      However, I still think it merits exploration. Just like Battlecruiser Magic where people regularly cast 8+drops sounded preposterous but actually worked, somewhere there should be a way to make army magic work.

      If you could paint a bleak world where monstrous factories are churning out armies of droids using the remains of a destroyed civilization while freedom fighters are trying to sabotage those factories (for example), then it would be worth it to try to find out how to make it work. Other directions should be possible with this too, I'm just saying it would be a very distinct environment.

      I think that with mechanics like Battalion, Overthrow or a sorcery-speed Morbid where you want things to die during your own turn, you can go a long way to keep the board from cluttering. There could be uncommon pyroclasm-type boardwipes (that hopefully mostly affect tokens). Or, the environment could benefit from board stalls - maybe that gives you time to assemble a giant Mecha, and you can tear through the ranks of token armies with them.

      After saying all this, I'm not particularly pushing for this, I just don't want to kill off the option just because it does things you don't usually want to do in a Magic set. I believe it can be made to work if it needs to, and it can create a very distinctive environment if it does.

    7. Agreed on the Jury-rig front. As for Army World, I was probably a bit too dismissive, but to make it work I'd want something to put on the lategame heavy-hitters that allows them to plow through armies without completely invalidating them. Obviously something significantly cleaner would be needed, but I want something to play like:

      ~ can't be blocked except by three or more creatures.
      Whenever ~ becomes blocked by a creature, it gets +0/+1 until end of turn.

    8. Medicine Factory {2}
      Artifact—Factory (cmn)
      Process (At your upkeep, you may exile an artifact card from your graveyard. If you do, put a charge counter on ~. Otherwise, remove all charge counters from ~.)
      {T}: Gain X life, where X is the number of charge counters on ~.

  2. I'm not especially enthusiastic about this design space, but the graveyard-as-a-resource is much more distinctive and steampunk-y than the unearth / reanimate-artifact stuff. While we're on the subject, I'd also want to consider delve, which is exactly on target mechanically and also has pretty good steampunk flavor.

    1. For me Delve falls squarely in the category of "mechanics we'll use if they perfectly fulfill our needs." It certainly would work in Telsa, but it would work plenty of other places too and there's no home-run thematic connection like Scry in Theros.

    2. You don't think Delve sits rather closely to the proposed Salvage on a spectrum of mechanical flavors?

    3. Slightly more than average, but unless we end up in Post-apocalyptic-waselandia (which we might), not to such a degree that it stands out from the crowd. Compare to Dredge (searching for the remains of Atlantis), Threshold (as the technological singularity), or Retrace (as manufactured goods). Flavor is flexible.

  3. I'd like Gnome Factory and Recycling Plant both a lot more if their tap abilities were swapped.

    1. Yeah, their names should be swapped. Feed the Machine belongs more in Mad Max meets Terminator world.

    2. Also the loot ability makes the dangerous upkeep more palatable since it helps you pay sometimes, and it makes the tap-whenever perhaps too easy.

    3. That strikes me as a dangerous way to evaluate a mechanic. Unless we plan to have every Feed the Machine card keep itself alive we're going to get some very skewed impressions. Mostly my bad since that's a problem for Manufacture too.

  4. Salvage makes me wonder. What if we were stealing cards from opposing graveyards?

    Salvage (Whenever ~ deals combat damage to a player, you may exile a card in his or her graveyard.)

    The nice thing about this is that it's not really dependent on your opponent playing a particular deck or way, because it's largely up to you to kill your opponents creatures anyhow.

    We might narrow it from 'card' to 'permanent' or 'creature' but not artifact because then your opponent really might not have any, and not land because that's not something we want players to kill.

    Notably, this makes putting cards into your graveyard with mine effects always bad (when it hits 'any card') or potentially negative (when it hits a subset of cards). In that case, we'd make mine a little or a lot better than it is currently. Good thing? Not at all sure.

    1. In that case, we could just not have mine at all. Or, there could be a mine effect that mills/exile-mills the opponent for 2-3 cards and does something based on what was milled.

    2. This is setting off gongs in my head (the good kind) because it fixes how Magic normally works to better match the expectations we get from human nature. Everyone assumes getting milled is bad, but more often than not it's a bonus. In a set with opponent-Salvage it actually behaves the way we expect it to!

  5. Jury-Rig / MacGuyver should almost certainly exile rather than sacrifice. Yes.

    1. Unearth definitely has potential too.

      Back in Gear is weird. I don't get any flavor from that, and it could be simpler.

    2. I was thinking something along the lines of "harnessing the new power source to operate our modern technology has awakened the ancient evil." I'd certainly be happier with a simpler version, but the only really extraneous part seems to be the cost reduction (which also necessitates more obtuse wording up front). I was worried about it costing a million mana to retrieve the big creatures late, but we should certainly at least start with the simpler version.

    3. Whenever you cast an artifact, you may cast ~ from your graveyard. It gains haste. Exile it at EOT.


      Whenever you cast an artifact worth more than ~, you may put ~ OTB from your graveyard. It gains haste. Exile it at EOT.

  6. I really like Feed the Machine. It just needs to reward a player more clearly for the extra upkeep cost. It's gotta be something beyond keeping the artifact in play. Luckily artifacts have a growth theme that could be this reward (one that also works towards our themes for the set).

    Gnome Battery 2 (UNC)
    Feed the Machine (At the beginning of your upkeep, put a charge counter on this permanent, then sacrifice it unless you exile an artifact card from your graveyard.)
    X, T: Put X 1/1 colorless Gnome artifact creature tokens onto the battlefield, where X equals the number of charge counters on NAME.

    I used the Cumulative Upkeep format where you get the counter first because it mitigates the upeep cost even more and makes it attractive as a mechanic. It's a little thing but I believe it greatly helps players make the leap to try Feed the Machine.

    1. At first I phrased the Feed the Machine mechanic as "Feed the Machine - At the beginning of your upkeep, exile a card from your graveyard. If you do, put a token onto the battlefield. If you don't sacrifice ~."
      This version plays the same way, but it feels like you're getting something out of each upkeep you pay. But the version I posted has much cleaner text.

      Also, Feed the Machine should go on creatures too.

    2. A creature version of Feed the Machine:

      Centaurean Prototype {1}{G}
      Artifact Creature - Centaur
      Feed the Machine (At the beginning of your upkeep, you may exile a card from your graveyard. If you don't, sacrifice ~)
      When ~ dies, put a +1/+1 counter on a creature you control.
      "The experimental body was short lived. But we can use our findings to enhance others."

      Or, going Nich's route

      Towering Giant of Babel {3}{R}
      Artifact Creature - Giant
      Feed the Machine (At the beginning of your upkeep, you may exile a card from your graveyard. If you don't, sacrifice ~)
      Whenever you pay ~'s upkeep cost, put a +1/+1 counter on it.

    3. How about "Whenever you feed Towering Giant of Babel, put a +1/+1 counter on it"?

    4. That's nice.
      Feed the Machine (At the beginning of your upkeep, you may feed ~ by exiling a card from your graveyard. If you don't, sacrifice it.)
      Whenever you feed ~, put a +1/+1 counter on it.

    5. I like this version a lot better, especially if the pump effect is baked in. Feed the machine with activations feels a lot like a factory, but they get messy quickly once we note that activating the cards on your upkeep when you can't pay the cost both violates the flavor and will be unintuitive to beginners.

    6. Feed the Machine (At the beginning of your upkeep, you may feed ~ by exiling a card from your graveyard.)
      Whenever you feed ~, put a +1/+1 counter on it.
      Whenever you fail to feed ~, remove all +1/+1 counters from it.