Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge Review 110714—Code Geass

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Here's the challenge we're reviewing today.

We've discussed conquest under other names on this site, and I think the keyword has real potential. In fact, the only way it's not inevitable for Magic is if it's undevelopable: If you compare it to affinity, it's clear how swingy the mechanic is. Sometimes it will do literally nothing, and sometimes it will reduce the colorless cost of any spell it's on entirely. Conquest appearing on colored spells helps limit that impact because the colored cost remains, but if it appears on a lot of creatures it still stands to snowball itself quickly. The calmer comparison is to convoke, which requires you to attack with your creatures rather than tap them, allowing you to continue putting pressure on your opponent but not without risk.

Conquest doesn't seem like a terrible choice for Britannia, though it seems ideal for a faction whose primary identity is aggressive swarming, where I read them as deriving their advantage more from superior technology and tactics. I would expect it to be a RWg mechanic rather than BW. Invasion Troopers is cool, but seeing "attacks each turn" on a white creature is quite jarring.

At first I read outrank as "Soldier, I command you to take this bullet for me" which is super-black, but now I'm thinking it's more "Sir, let me take this bullet for you" which is super-white. That the same keyword can be read either way is a pretty neat way to fit on a black-white faction. Mechanically, damage redirection is historically white, but the fact that this creature is off-loading its own harm on its 'allies' is plenty black to me. I would consider forcing all the damage to go to a single creature, though, both thematically and to limit operational fiddliness.

Hard to tell how well balanced Munitions Officer is. As long as you've got another soldier, it's effectively a 4/5 for {4}{B}, but if the vast majority of soldiers in Code Geass have lower toughness, that limits the mechanic's effectivness considerably.

Limiting how much damage can be redirected seems reasonable, though I quite expected the number to represent the creature's rank among the Britannians. Something like this:
Rank 2 (0: Redirect all damage that would be dealt this turn to ~ to a soldier creature you control of lower rank.)

Imagine having an entire faction of Arbalest Elites. Wait! Banish those dark thoughts. Oppress limits what your creatures can shoot down, so Patrolling Guards can only kill X/2s every round without risk that cost two or less.

The steps oppress takes toward being printable at common for power level reasons it loses for comprehension complexity reasons, and it retains at least as much board complexity. Attacking or blocking with 2 or 3 oppressors on the board will often be suicidal, and figuring out whether it is or not will commonly be a real mental exercise. No way this is common (but kudos for nailing oppressive flavor through gameplay).

Hissing Miasma is the closest and only precedent I can see to make this mechanic black.

Enlist is an action keyword that makes a specific token. I'm guessing that enlist 2 makes two 1/1s rather than one 2/2, a question that would bear out quickly, and where the wondering doesn't hurt the reading of the mechanic. While it's presented in its simplest form here, as an action keyword, enlist could appear as part of an effect like "Enlist 1, then gain 1 life for each creature you control" or "Sacrifice a creature, then enlist X, where X is that creature's power." Enlist is obviously white and pretty easily justifiable in black (who likes expendable creatures), though it feels more like a swarming mechanic for the rebels than a superior-resources mechanic for the oppressors to me, even if the flavor of forced enlistment is pretty strong.

It's a rather interesting question whether an effect as simple as this warrants a keyword. I can see numerous arguments for and against. I'd love to hear yours, but for now I'll stick with "depends on the context." EG, do we need any effects to trigger whenever we enlist new recruits?

This templating perfectly matches how WotC has done it, but I think there's a better template based on what's useful to all game design: Share the core idea before any exceptions to it. Half-way through reading retribution I'm still thinking, "they forgot to put 'When ~ ETBs'" because I still have no idea what is happening or when it's happening. Better presentation:
This creature ETB with a +1/+1 counter on it if you were dealt damage since your last end step.
Or, if we're not planning to make any X/0s:
When ~ ETB, if you were dealt damage since your last end step, put a +1/+1 counter on it. 

reubencovington was right to stick with the existing Magic template—that can never be wrong for an unofficial designer—so this is in no way a criticism of his submission, just a thought that occurs to me while reading it.

Retribution is the opposite of bloodthirst. Simple but important tweaks to existing mechanics are an excellent place to look for new mechanics and the flavor of a dominant force girding its followers further after an attack from dissidents is pretty strong. It's also quite white-black. There is a very big negative for retribution, though, and that is that instead of encouraging hesitant players to attack, which is both generally more correct and helps games to end, this keyword discourages attacking and will lead to longer games and more stalemates.

Detain is a known quantity, so it's safe to assume it can work. Whether there's enough design space left for it to explore is the primary remaining concern. That and whether it makes sense in black. Honestly, that's a bit of a stretch for me, both mechanically and thematically. For white/Britannia, it makes good sense to me.

It may be that the additional design space suggested for Code Geass is repeated detain triggers, perhaps all mana-activated attack triggers. I'd be fine with that, except that it's quite texty. Subjugating Soldier is a common with 7 lines of text and no other abilities. Which is a shame, because this is more interactive than Gideon's Lawkeeper.

Hierarchy is an update to offering, trading in the flash for the ability to eat any creature. That sounds like an improvement to the keyword, though I'm not immediately convinced it's something we want enough of to put at common. But I'm not sure it's unworkable, either. I will say that if I'm going to sacrifice a creature to use this mechanic, I want something splashy on the other end. Sacking a {B} or a {1}{B} creature to get War Hero on turn 3 isn't nearly good enough. Hierarchy feels mechanically black and thematically white (if you squint) so I'm good with it there.

A bit of a tangent, but this leaves me to wonder if you couldn't make a similar mechanic about soldiers being promoted in the wake of their commander's death. Morbid? Or morbid as a cost-reduction mechanic?

If equipment tokens are ever going to be a thing, "Equipped creature gets +1/+1" and equip 1 will definitely be their abilities, though the "named Weapon" part probably won't make muster. It's interesting to note that despite there not existing any cards that made noncreature tokens until very recently, many older cards were worded to handle that possibility. The biggest cost I can see for equipment tokens is confusing which of your tokens are creatures and which of them aren't, particularly when you've got one token attached to another (though confusing those two tokens isn't a huge problem as long as they're together).

As an artifact-related mechanic, this feels more natively white to me than black, but bonus points for addressing the "better equipped" nature of Britannia, and it's not like this is anti-black. Fun to compare Armament Technicians to Satyr Grovedancer (which hints at the question, "Is it worth making +1/+1 equipment tokens instead of +1/+1 counters?")

Counters on lands are a bit cumbersome because of the way people place and move land cards, but they do happen and could be justified by a cool mechanic. It's kind of neat that I can play two Britannian Beachstormers and cost my opponent 2 life whenever she taps either of the lands I targeted, or that she can kill my first Beachstormer and I can reactivate its counter by playing a replacement. On the other hand, leaving counters around that don't currently do anything is a shame, and we need to be careful about mechanics that limit how much mana our opponents can generate, particularly when they scale exponentially (three of this can cost 9 life per turn). I get this as a black mechanic, but it couldn't be any less white.

I want to rename this keyword 'mentor:' My older, wiser creature instructs my new recruit and so it hits the ground running. Neat to think that the keyword doesn't lock you into a particular effect, and so some creatures might gain haste or who-knows-what instead. I'm guessing Ipaulsen very consciously chose this upgrade direction, perhaps to differentiate it from evolve, or to mitigate drawing smaller creatures late in the game, or for flavor. Even so, my instinct says that the better mechanic wants you to tap a smaller creature instead, or perhaps any creature at all. Organize feels white as-is, the opposite direction would feel black and white.

I like that I could make my Britannian Grunts a 2/2 for {W} at common, though I'd rarely tap my Siege Mastodon to get it, and I'm not sure I'd do much more than tap my Glory Seeker for it.

Freaky. As a keyword, reign reads terribly. It's strictly better than an all-downside mechanic like islandhome, but islandhome makes it clear you're getting a bigger creature for your mana, and you can mitigate it as well. You can opt not to use reign at all, but players will focus on shrinking one of your creatures for a measly 2 life. The real value though, is in what comes next. Britannian Occupiers gains vigilance if any of your creatures has a -1/-1 counter on it. It's like a reverse outlast: Your creatures get smaller and individuals among them benefit from the loss.

The keyword is plenty black, and thematically white (and the lifegain portion is white-ish, mechanically). The second ability's condition is black and white (with different flavors) and its effect is white (and can be black on black cards).

Maybe new players value lifegain enough to think it's worth the -1/-1 counter, in which case they'd appreciate reign at face-value where skilled players will appreciate it based on its synergies, which would be a cool combination, but I get the impression that LSPs hate losing anything, including size on their creatures.

The thing about putting -1/-1 counters on your creatures is it's both narrow and risky. If you put it on an X/1, it won't be a creature anymore and effects that check for -1/-1 counters won't benefit. If you put it on a creature that survives, that creatures becomes less useful in combat and more vulnerable to removal. It can be done, as Devoted Druid and Cinderhaze Wretch demonstrate, but the payoff needs to consider both the immediate loss of power and the additional risk of a smaller creature. Vigilance is pretty nice on a 2/4, but it won't often be worth a -1/-1 counter on its own. What gives me hope for reign is that you can use it just once to turn on a number of your creatures.

That said, it's pretty awkward that outside of Block Constructed, I always want to pair reign creatures with the likes of Devoted Druid and never actually use reign.

I'm not sure why this ability word is named 'subjugate' since it seems to be a reward for playing a tribal deck. I guess the player subjugated all the other creature types out of her deck beforehand? Ignoring that Creative detail, I get the flavor of how Brittania might be happier as long as any crowd is homogenous, even if they're not all the tyrant's preferred type. It speaks to both segregation and military organization. "If I've got all trained soldiers, they'll work together well."

If it weren't for the very unnerving flavor behind subjugate, I'd say it's not a great fit for black, but boy is that flavor unnerving.

Debrief the Team (which is not a creature) could probably be stronger/cheaper. Dev concern.

I'm conflicted. I really like loyalty as a mechanic (though I'm not entirely sure we want to make enough loyal cards to warrant a keyword), but I'm not sure it represents Britannia. Maybe it does? It definitely qualifies as a white mechanic. Black creatures don't care to hurt themselves to save others, but black masters love to surround themselves with disposable minions (that's kind of a conceptual paradox of black).

Devoted Soldiers seems like the perfect loyal card, but that makes me wonder how many good loyal cards there can be.

"If all attacking creatures are Soldiers…" Double negatives are bad. Don't do what Donny-Don't does.

'Battalion' is already taken, but 'squad' and 'formation' are up for grabs. Maybe 'training?' Whatever the name, this ability word is similar to subjugate but only punishes you for attacking with different creatures, not for having them. Superiority is a bit stronger thematically.

Note that this is equivalent to:
Whenever you attack with a non-Soldier, Elite Squadman loses lifelink until EOT.

It takes some effort to process lockstep as worded. If you have another creature and all your creatures are tapped—presumably because they are attacking now or attacked earlier—then it can regenerate for free, any number of times. If you have two tapped Formation Adherents, you can activate Pestilence as often as you can afford to and never lose it. More commonly, if you attack with two Formation Adherents, they can't be killed in battle. That sounds too powerful, and the unlimited regeneration is weird, but I like the core idea here. Thematically white, mechanically black.

Leadership almost feels too simple/generic to be a keyword, but I like it a lot. It seems pretty easy to use, has decent flavor, and feels quite white. It's a bit of a stretch in black, but if you think about it, commanding others to go into battle while you suit-up isn't exactly contrary to black's ways. What would help sell this as a keyword for me is if there were effects that cared about your creatures with leadership. Maybe "Target creature gets +2/+1 until EOT. If it has leadership, all your creatures gets +2/+1 until EOT instead" or "Creatures you control get +1/+1 for each creature you control with leadership."

Hierarchy gives you a spell effect for curving out. It's the thinking man's evolve. A less noticeable difference is that hierarchy doesn't become harder to trigger every time it happens, but as long as it's not progressively making a bigger threat—as Hierarch Apprentice isn't—that should be fine, even fun. I can buy it as a white mechanic. It feels odd as a black mechanic, but I think it will engender gameplay that feels like a wealthy faction with a highly tiered organization. It is worth wondering how many kinds of effects are reasonable for a trigger like this: Probably not as many as we'd like.

Subjugate has some logistical issues*, but there's definite potential here. I get the flavor it's currently using, but I would love to use this ability on a parasite and I think it's so perfect for that I wouldn't use it anywhere else. Feels very black, arguably white too. The ability on Incursion Force feels white, which is enough to convince me this can be a white-black mechanic, though this card doesn't feel like an incursion force. Creative concern.

*With soulbond, players could put paired cards right next to and even slightly on top of each other, but you shouldn't be touching your opponent's cards, and they'll be moving quite independently of each other.

Conquest is a solid mechanic. Perhaps inevitable. It's pretty mean, but conquest is more than a little mean. I wouldn't put a card advantage effect on common conquest cards like Invasion Vanguard—at least not below 6 or so mana—as its not hard to imagine that spiraling into a win quite quickly, but I think this could support 15 cards pretty easily. It's very black. It's not exactly un-white, but that could be massaged by sticking to white effects and white flavor on those cards.

Keyword and ability word mechanics are hard. Because they represent a component that would be reused across a dozen or two cards, it's hard to gauge how strong/ideal they are without actual designing all those other cards. And many of them are quite context-dependent; broken in one format and useless in another. Given all that, I applaud your work this weekend. Very few ideas seem ready to go, but there are quite a lot that have enough merit to iterate on and even playtest.

Thanks to Alex for rendering the cards, and thanks also for lending us your world to test our mettle. I'm quite pleased with both the quantity and quality of the work the artisans mustered for this challenge.


  1. FWIW, Oppress is a CMC-matters mechanic, not an attacking-matters mechanic. I agree my card shouldn't be common, since among other things I definitely wasn't thinking about the card in multiples, but you can do effects that don't muck up combat math at instant speed: like tap target thing with lower CMC, whenever a creature with lower CMC blocks this creature [bad thing], all opposing creatures with lower CMC get [bad thing] (the last one isn't common).

    Personally I find it hard to agree with WOTC's stance that mentioning CMC is a red flag under NWO (was anyone actually confused by Scourge?) and I dislike "costs more" as a hack for not mentioning CMC even more. e.g. Can I tap my morph creature to organize Brittanian Grunts? If not, why not?

    1. I think until WOTC finds a better wording than Converted Mana Cost it has to be Red Flagged.
      It is wordy, complex and not easily groked for new players.
      Watching a 12-13 year old who doesn't play much easily understand something like raid or delve but getting extremely confused by something like disdainful stroke is really interesting.

    2. Oh, so all oppress cards only affect creatures with lower CMC, but only Patrolling Guards damages attacking/blocking creatures? Wow, I misinterpreted the heck out of that. The CMC thing is an issue, but not a deal-breaker, and Far Better than some nerfed all-Arbalest mechanic, as you know.

  2. You're totally right about the double negative. I put it there because my original wording was "as long as only soldier creatures are attacking" but I convinced myself that might not be intuitive with Human Soldiers.

    Your wording totally dodged that, so kudos!

  3. With the Technicians the token is named "Weapon" not "Warrior."

    As for Attacks each turn if able on the Invasion Troopers that was actually a copy/paste error from the original design that was a red card.

    My favorite of the other entries is probably Loyalty or Organize

    1. Fixed my typo.

      I see that Invasion Troopers was originally red. That explains that.

    2. I actually took it upon myself while doing the renders to switch Armament Technicians and Invasion Troopers into different colours. Armament Technicians makes at least as much sense in white as in blue, but I should perhaps have checked with Reuben before putting Invasion Troopers into white with the "attacks each turn if able" line - that might have been better either in black, in black with "can't block", or in white without that line at all. Sorry Reuben for the distracting change.


  4. Thanks all for the suggestions! There's some fantastic material here for me to take away and iterate and playtest with.

    I'd treat Armament Technicians as implying that the set can have neither creature tokens at common nor counters on creatures, because "this glass bead sitting on a creature" needs to be unambiguously "a Weapon attached to that creature" and "this glass bead sitting by itself" needs to be unambiguously "a Weapon not attached to anything". That is a pretty hefty pair of restrictions for any mechanic to bring with it. But it does seem like it'll have rather interesting gameplay. (Or will it just become oppressive? With 3 Weapons on the table and spare mana, any random 1/1 attacks as a 4/4 and then my defensive 1/3 blocks as a 4/6.)

    1. Remember, of course, that Leonin Scimitar is quite a reasonable card, so every time a creature makes one of those it is basically a 2 for 1 and must be costed accordingly.

      I might prefer this slightly toned down version:

      Sylnic Travelsword 1W

      Armed 1 (When ~ dies, put an equipment token into play with Equip 1 and "Equipped creature gets +1/+1")


      The idea being that it will always be Armed equal to its base power, and doesn't allow the flexibility while on the field.

      How ugly and horrible is it if the equipment tokens have Equip 2 instead? I think that is much more development friendly, so that moving these things around takes a significant part of your turn.

    2. I was actually quite tempted to suggest that "equip 2" was also a likely cost the +1/+1 equipment token for power reasons. I didn't because it loses so much simplicity and elegance, but it may just be necessary.

      I'm not eager to see Armed 2+.

    3. Would you rather it be:

      Armed (This creature enters the battlefield equipped with an equipment token that has Equip 2 and "Equipped creature gets +1/+1.")

      I don't hate taht.

      By the way, you claim we haven't done non-creature tokens, that isn't technically true, in light of Prototype Portal. I think there are one or two others.

    4. Indeed.

      Gold tokens and mine tokens. Statement is corrected.

    5. Oh yes, and gold tokens were stated as being planned to be a major theme of Khans of Tarkir before they concluded it would fight with the wedge theme too much. Good point -that's reassuring that they consider noncreature tokens a plausible major theme of a set.

      (There are a few other noncreature token makers. Imperial Mask springs to mind. And of course there's two-card combos like Followed Footsteps / Rite of Replication etc on things like Stalking Stones.)

    6. Equip 2 definitely seems like the minimum developable cost for an equipment token that gives +1/+1. If they gave +1/+0, you might be able to pull off Equip 1, and give more of a reason to not be a +1/+1 counter.