Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tesla: Experience the Magic

We've been looking at mechanical space Tesla can use to hit its progress theme. The key points being:

  • Fun to play with and against
  • Printable on multiple commons under NWO
  • Improvement over time
  • Continued progression through a number of states
  • Encourages new playstyles and decks

Last week Jay proposed we look at another bit of the Chroma design space for Experience.

Past Experience

But as with Devotion's evolution from Theros to Born of the Gods, we have a bevy options for how to use Experience.

Unlike Devotion, Experience always grows larger (well, okay, there are ways to shrink it, but Magic sets contain a lot more Shocks than Cremates). Experience feels like building upon what came before. And most importantly, there's a good chance that it's fun. The problem with Chroma wasn't any of the specific areas of design space so much as the lack of identity that their concurrent printing created. After seeing Devotion in action, I'm excited to give Umbra Stalker a chance to shine.

As for how to implement the mechanic, static abilities like the one above aren't the way to go, at least for lower rarities. It's a lot to keep track of, and unlike Devotion (which still only used static checking on the mythic rare Gods), the relevant cards aren't the same ones you'd be paying attention to anyway.

I made this example particularly egregious for demonstrative purposes, but statically modifying toughness will lead to confusion like players accidentally killing their Shades of the Past by Zombifying something post-combat. Really what we want to do it check the experience value once and be done with it.

But here we run into a different issue. Most Magic players don't know how to cast a spell. In fact, unless you're a judge, you probably don't know how to cast a spell. Go ahead, check The Comprehensive Rules, I'll wait. Anyway, the particular issue here is that players won't know whether Routine Procedure would count itself (it wouldn't). We could clarify that in reminder text, but even so it's going to serve as a disappointment if they thought for a second that it might.

If we don't take the lengthened reminder text approach, our best recourse is to make it clear whether the card will be in the graveyard or not by choosing less fraught timing. We could take another page out of Devotion's book and put Experience in enters-the battlefield triggers.

But that doesn't really avoid most of the feel-bad created by instants and sorceries. I get my Experience effect all the while watching the colored mana symbol on the card itself mocking me from the battlefield. And thus we arrive at my proposal.

Death triggers make it clear that the card they're on is in the graveyard to be counted. They offer lenticular space for veteran players to worry about the order creatures die in and what to kill or leave around while other players glide blissfully along and still understand how to play their cards. They allow us to print cheap cards with Experience without accidentally enticing players into holding off on spell-casting while they wait for a bigger effect. All that is incredibly important for limited play and convinces me that this is the implementation we want to try out at common.

The remaining question is: does it hold enough appeal for higher rarities?

I think so.

So what do you think? Is there a problem I missed, a better implementation, a particularly perfect design? Does Experience excite you as a player?


  1. Tesla is going to have a large artifact theme. These cards directly compete with an artifact theme, as they promote color, not colorless. (Obviously artifacts work well with a monocolor theme mechnically, but not quite 'emotionally'.)

    Devotion was mostly on ETB so that the creature would count itself, so you would never have a 'dead card' in hand. A lot of these designs fail in that regard, except for the 'dies' triggers. However, even 'dies' triggers have problems...

    New players are really bad at playing with 'dies' triggers. They will pretty much treat the card as if it doesn't have the trigger, until it dies, and then hey, free bonus! (Mark Rosewater talks about this in his article "Lenticular Design".) If we put all the effects on 'dies' triggers, many new players won't ever think about these effects.

    Another problem is that it's a lot easier to count mana symbols on the battlefield than it is to count them in the graveyard. On the battlefield, you just look over your cards - but graveyards are typically a singular pile of cards, meaning you have to look through them and count your Experience each time you cast an Experience spell... Heck, Threshold was already considered a bad mechanic because it required you to count the number of cards in your graveyard. If that was sufficient to make Threshold unfun, then isn't a mechanic that counts the mana symbols on SOME cards in the graveyard going to be way worse? I think so.

    Another problem is that cards on the field - with Devotion, typically their Auras and Creatures - are much easier to interact with than your opponents' graveyard. It's a lot easier to screw with your opponents' Devotion than it is to screw with their Experience. An effect that ramps up and up and up is certainly fun, but it also can feel overwhelming for the opponent, and even make their efforts to fight back feel futile.

    The thing is, this mechanic is no doubt fun! It's exciting, it grows and grows, and it rewards you for taking part in the game. But the problems that surround it, to me, outweight its benefits. I think this is the right direction, but I don't think Experience is the final destination.

    1. I addressed all of the points about timing (I only recommended the death triggers and maybe instants/sorceries) in the post, but the rest of this hits home. Thanks for the feedback.

      Of note, we should actually be happy about LSPs' blindness to death triggers, they wouldn't be anywhere close to NWO compliant otherwise.

      Also, the point about being hard to track symbols in the graveyard still stands, but Threshold's biggest problem was that it was on static abilities. "Is this on?" is a much simpler question than "Is this on yet?" Only checking once instead of continuously relieves a bit of mental tax and also mitigates the hopelessness of the constantly growing count, but that doesn't mean they're not still big enough issues to sink the mechanic.

      But the point that most struck me was the artifact one. I'd been looking from too mechanical a perspective, and from that vantage point they play nice, but you're entirely correct that the foci feel at odds.

    2. Do note that this only is "checking once" if you're only playing one Experience card. Multiples in your deck = more tedious checking.

      Yeah, you did a good job of addressing the timing. I just thought I'd note it myself, to help better explain why death triggers have such polarized pros/cons.

      I agree that death triggers are handy to sneak under NWO. But I think your mechanic being in the LSP 'blind' spot (to use your analogy) is a bad idea. :P

    3. That's fair. I really have no data on whether it gets ignored until it actually comes up or just isn't thought about in how combat might play out and assumed the latter. If it's the former, then I agree 100%.

    4. Maybe half the players I know splay their graveyard vertically so they can see what's no longer in their deck, even without any graveyard mechanics. But yeah, a lot just pile it up and forget about it. I expect I'd use a die to track my current experience in a deck with the mechanic. None of that is to negate the claim that experience is more cumbersome than devotion and threshold put together.

      Related tangent to "experience contradicts artifacts:"
      Call to mind the way Fate Reforged transitions from gold set to normal set by including mono-color cards with off-color activations or that count permanents of other colors…
      What if we did color-ish artifacts without messing with their colorless mana costs by putting experience on artifacts (and not on colored cards).

      Wood Golem {3}
      Artifact Creature—Golem (cmn)
      ~ ETB with a number of +1/+1 counters on it equal to your experience with green. (Each {G} in the mana cost of cards in your graveyard counts toward your experience with green.)

      Flame Altar {2}
      Artifact (rare)
      {2}{R}, {T}, Sacrifice ~: Add to your mana pool an amount of {R} equal to your experience with red. (Each {R} in the mana cost of cards in your graveyard counts toward your experience with red.)

    5. (I don't love that idea, but maybe it'll spark something.)

    6. Pro: No confusion about whether it counts itself.
      Con: They're always dead cards if you haven't got any cards in your graveyard.

  2. I would have guessed that most players know Routine Procedure doesn't count itself. Consider Archangel's Light, Rakshasa's Disdain, sorceries with threshold, Past in Flames, and Kindle.

    I suspect that more players will be confused whether Blaze Fueler counts itself. "We handle all the death triggers before putting it in the graveyard, right? How else would Aerie Ouphes and Stalking Vengeance work?"

    1. I hadn't considered that interpretation of death triggers. Hmm.

  3. Weird wording for clarity (and power):

    When you cast Routine Procedure and it goes to the graveyard, gain life equal to your experience with white.
    When Routine Procedure goes to the graveyard, if you cast it, gain life equal to your experience with white.

    1. How about: (Each {W} in this card's mana cost and in the mana costs of cards in your graveyard counts towards your experience with white.)?

    2. Also, if we go with that wording on all things including creatures, you totally negate the "dead draw" aspect of the mechanic, which is a handy bonus to negating the confusion.

    3. Ooh, yes. That is a distinct improvement.

    4. I don't know, then we can put on any card with any timing and it'll always make sense and feel good.
      (faux sarcasm—looks good)

    5. Note that we can only use experience on non-permanents if we go with this version.

    6. Why is that, Jay? It could simply be part of the mechanic that it counts itself + graveyard, that way it works with permanents.

    7. Because then you have to count up all the mana symbols in your graveyard and the mana symbols on your permanents too, but only some of your permanents—the ones with "experience."

  4. I like Experience if the main artifact mechanic is twobrid.

    Not sure how the flavor fits with milling being represented by digging and such, though.

    1. The flavor's far from nailed down, but I think you have the right of it as far as meshing Experience with an artifact-heavy set.

    2. Agreed, this is perfect with two-brid and would address my concerns about not feeling 'right' alongside artifacts. That would actually be the intent - with colorless artifacts it feels weird, but with twobrid you see a 'new dawn' of color and artifact combined.

    3. I agree on the fact that it feels wierd for Tesla

    4. Since experience gets stronger as the game goes on, and generally much larger than devotion, we may actually depend on the colorlessness of artifacts to help mitigate its power.
      But if not, colored artifacts (twobrid or otherwise) would interact well.

    5. Experience could be used to represent the evolution of artifacts over a three-set block.

      Set 1 - just artifacts
      Set 2 - twobrid artifacts as the new mechanic
      Set 3 - Experience as the new mechanic

      That way Experience would get the maximum number of colored cards to play with without diluting the artifact theme over the course of the block, and would only appear in the third set in case there are concerns about design space/complexity.

    6. The set design project that originally spawned Tesla was originally envisioned as a standalone large set, but even if we go for block evolution, I think it's more useful to consider the two set paradigm that Wizards will be using going forward.

  5. What about experience that counts card types (for each card sharing a type with CARDNAME in your graveyard, effect)?

    1. I think we discussed this before, but it still appeals to me (and I don't remember why we stopped discussing it).

      Note that we could use "experience with artifacts" across the board and not just on artifacts.

    2. It's generally a bit harder to track because it's harder to splay the graveyard to show the type-line than the mana cost. But artifacts have a unique border, so even that minor issue goes away. Let's give it a try.

    3. Experience with artifacts is indeed smart, given that they have a distinctive frame in the graveyard. I think it's arguably even easier to count than mana symbols!