Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tesla Horizons: Self-Contained, Board Tracking, and Explicit Progress Mechanics

We're moving forward with exploratory design for Tesla, and after looking at different ways to mechanically represent our progress theme last week it's time to examine what some of those implementations might do to the surrounding set.

We looked at too many options to examine in just one post, so for this week we're just going to look at the first couple.

Personal Growth

The first category is progress mechanics that allow a single card to improve itself. That's a pretty broad category that can have gameplay ranging from forbidding attacks like Primal Cocoon to encouraging them like Power-Up:

The one point of consistency is that players are going to be sinking time (and potentially other resources) into improving a single card. That makes removal much more likely to cause blowouts. Balancing around that isn't hard, but making fun gameplay is. Our best bet would be to tone down the removal like Rise of the Eldrazi and Theros did to the point where anything can be answered, but it's inconvenient to do so.

The other notable impact choosing this category has is locking in what counters we can use. We don't want to have, say, both +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters showing up in conjunction because it makes it difficult for players to keep track of what's happening on the board just by looking at it. Power-Up uses charge counters in order to be compatible with noncreature artifacts, but that choice would mean no +1/+1 counters for Tesla.

Circuit Board

Both of those issues can just disappear if instead of each permanent monitoring its own progress we track progress with the permanents themselves.

The potential downside is that permanents have a tendency to leave the battlefield, which might undermine the progress analogy. We don't want to remove that interactivity for the sake of the metaphor because that will leave players feeling helpless every time their opponent does something powerful.

It's possible that the number sometimes going down won't ruin the feeling, but if we go down this path we'll have a careful balance to strike between building ever larger boards and keeping every permanent answerable. Even if we succeed, more clogged boards generally lead to more board complexity.

Steady Progress

The other option is to look for a quantity that neither has to be tracked on an individual card nor shrinks. I floated a number alternatives last week and some of you came up with more. But let's start with the most basic; count progress explicitly:

Progress counters could just be referenced by cards that give them to players, but without a high density they'll spend much of the game having to be tracked for no gain. The alternative is to give them inherent rules baggage like poison counters or my old proposals for gold. Depending on the implementation that could also make the cards a bit less parasitic, but the counters would need to feel like progress themselves to avoid making cards that grant them too complex.

Your task for this week is to design a common that fits into one of these potential Teslas, whether that means playing with one of the above mechanics, or experimenting with something else in the same space. To help get the gears turning, here's one more example card for each category: (Self-Contained: Lorescale Coatl, Board-Tracking: Predatory Sliver, Explicit: Gus.


  1. Wind-Up Scavenger is a neat card, but I don't think there is any way this fits at common. They did fit the Expeditions into common (although just looking at the textbox of Khalni Heart Expedition, it is shocking that is a common), but putting it on a creature just makes it way too far. Also, recall that Zendikar is often quoted by Maro as having the least complexity of any set, so it could afford the space for the Expeditions. I can't imagine that Tesla will end up being on the simple end of the spectrum.

    Would this look way better if instead of the second part, you just wrote:

    Remove three charge counters from ~: Return an artifact from your graveyard to your hand.

    That might work (although I'd probably want that particular one to be uncommon). Here is one of the simplest things we could put on a card. Does this fit at common?

    Cogwork Veteran 3
    Artifact Creature - Construct (Common)
    Whenever ~ becomes tapped, put a charge counter on it.

    Remove a charge counter from ~: ~ gets +1/+1 until the end of the turn.


    1. Yeah, definitely not set ready. The activations read more cleanly, but don't allow us to use effects that impact the board because of board complexity. We could try to do without those, but otherwise we need a trigger or a sorcery-speed restriction in the activation.

    2. I agree board complexity is a serious issue here. I don't agree that the trade of board complexity for comprehension complexity that comes from wrapping an activated ability behind a trigger is worth it.

      I do think that if you use my template it is wise to avoid affecting the board too often, I tried to keep my sample super clean in that regard.

    3. I'm not disagreeing, just noting pitfalls to be mindful of. It's unclear exactly how much of this mechanic we'd want at common, so it's conceivable that we can get away without any messiness and just avoid affecting other permanents altogether.

  2. Progress Counter
    A player with 10 or more progress counters wins the game.

    1. I really dislike the 10 counters win setup. Poison was toeing the line on interactivity with Proliferate and simple ways of granting Progress are going to be just as uninteractive unless we tie it to combat, in which case it's basically Poison redux.

    2. Progress Counter
      At the end of your turn, gain life until it equals your progress.

      Progress Counter
      You may look at the top X cards of your library at any time, where X is your progress.

      Progress Counter
      Spells that target you, a permanent you control, or a card in your hand, library or graveyard cost {1} more to cast.

      Hmm. Was just brainstorming different possibilities for The Progress Rule, but going back to an old scrap idea, what if there a bunch of different progress tokens and you could choose any in your pool whenever you gain one?

      Chemical Progress
      Progress Token
      Whenever you cast a blue spell, artifacts cost you {1} less to cast until EOT.

      Biological Progress
      Progress Token
      Whenever a creature ETB under you control, target creature gets +1/+1 until EOT.


    3. The multiple options setup looks like it would be fun, especially with a later release adding option to your old progress cards. Unfortunately we can't list all the options on a card and I think telling players they can make tokens they might not understand because they haven't opened is a recipe for disaster. Therefore the idea is probably best saved for a supplemental product where we can ensure they get all the tokens.

  3. Continuing the idea I had last week:
    Clockwork Healer 3
    Artifact Creature - Cleric Construct (Common)
    When Clockwork Healer enters the battlefield, gain life equal to your progress. (Your progress is the highest converted mana cost among Artifacts in your graveyard.)

    The advantage of this over using counters is that it doesn't require players to keep track of something that might not matter, since it's easy to figure out when it comes up. The biggest issue I see is that it's cheatable, so we would need to avoid things like efficient looting effects. It's also not entirely permanent, since thing do mess with graveyards.

    1. Good catch that a single loot or Careful Study could shortcut this. Making such effects inefficient could help in Limited, but we should keep an eye toward Modern and older formats that might be able to abuse it as a matter of course.

    2. Policy seems to be "worry about Standard and Limited, then ban anything that's problematic in older formats." Otherwise Treasure Cruise never would have seen the light of day. I think we could pretty easily ensure that standard didn't have any looting below three-ish mana and avoid breaking anything.

  4. Flaming Innovation 1R
    Sorcery (C)
    You get a progress counter. Flaming Innovation deals damage to target creature equal to your progress.

    I also love the idea of progress counters meaning (You win if you have 10 or more progress counters.)

    What about that "presence" thing metalcraft was a riff on?

    Masterful Understanding 1U
    Instant (C)
    Draw a card.
    Presence--If you control nine or more permanents, draw two cards instead.

    It's odd to just hit a threshold, but counting number of permanents might work as a progress theme. Same sort of ideology as cog.

    1. I feel that things which go through more than two states feel a lot more like they're progressing than ones with an on/off switch, but if we do decide to go that route, Presence and Metalcraft are certainly worth looking at.

  5. Spare Parts
    Sorcery - Common
    Move all charge counters on artifacts you control onto target artifact.

    1. This is Johnnytastic enough that I'd probably start it at uncommon, but of course it depends on the rest of the set.

  6. Coal Energy Drink {1}{G}
    Sorcery (cmn)
    Fossil Fuel (Exile a card from your graveyard. X is its CMC.)
    Target creature gets +X/+X until EOT.

    Basically, a version of "equal to your progress" that consumes resources but doesn't work for static effects as a result.

    1. More complex, but more reliable:

      Coal Energy Drink {X}{G}
      Sorcery (unc)
      Fossil Fuel (You may exile a card from your graveyard. If you do, X is its CMC.)
      Target creature gets +X/+X until EOT.

    2. Very interesting space. I'm thinking the exiling should come before resolution so players know what's happening while they respond, and that also might open us up to effects with scaling numbers of targets (though that would involve a bit of rules wonkiness behind the scenes since costs are paid after targets are selected).

    3. Shining Shoal can work, so I think that could work too. "As an additional cost to cast a Fossil Fuel spell, you may exile a card from your graveyard with CMC X. If you do, that spell costs {X} less to cast." Or some such.

      Feels like a very interesting way of gaining-then-consuming resources. I'm not sure it particularly feels like progress though.

  7. I posted this in the last Telsa update, but it was late enough that I think people missed it.

    Gnomify (To gnomify, put a colorless Gnome artifact creature token onto the battlefield with "This creature's power and toughness are each equal to the number of Gnomes you control.")

    This falls under board tracking because the tokens count each other, even if the spells and permanents that create them don't. There are a lot of different ways the key action could work.

    Mobile Gnome Home 4 (Uncommon)
    Artifact Creature - Gnome */*
    NAME's power and toughness are each equal to the number of Gnomes you control.
    Whenever NAME attacks, gnomify. (Reminder text.)

    Cobblesmash 2G (Commmon)
    Destroy target artifact. Gnomify. (Reminder text.)

    Repair Crew Station 3W (Rare)
    XXW: Gnomify X times. (Reminder text.)

    1. I played with this mechanic in a similar game, and it was pretty oppressive. it is a natural and neat idea, but I think it is undevelopable.

    2. It does feel like a form of progress, though I feel like it would be even better for phyrexians or slivers.

    3. It feels like Phyrexians, or Slivers... or the creations of a malicious antagonist we haven't made yet that is going to be so cool in Tesla.

    4. As cool as Gnomify looks, I don't think it's a viable set mechanic in it's current form. First off it has too much board complexity for NWO. Crusader of Odric had to be uncommon just for the difficulty of tracking its own size through combat and creatures dying. Adding more of them to the board just makes it that much harder to figure out what will survive when the dust settles.

      Even if that weren't an issue, I'm with Tommy on it's developability. Pack Rat was ludicrously oppressive at rare; in order to keep Gnomify from doing the same thing we either need to severely limit how often it shows up (which robs it of its fun) or attach astronomical costs to Gnomifying, which will make all the cards look terrible.

      Looking for a way to salvage the idea, I'd start with:

      Gnomify (To gnomify, put a colorless 1/1 Gnome artifact creature token onto the battlefield with "This creature gets +1/+0 for each other Gnome you control.")

      That way it's always clear what will die in combat unless first strike is involved and your creatures never become completely unanswerable.

    5. For what its worth, I tried that in my game as well, almost verbatim, and it eventually got cut for just not being interesting enough. Obviously, my game isn't Magic, and I could imagine the mechanic being usable, but that is my experience anyway.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. The */* effect on my Gnome tokens is simple to understand, but I am aware of the Red Flags it raises under NWO as far as board complexity. I don't think it plays anything like Pack Rat though. Pack Rat lets you cash in extra lands, unneeded removal spells, etc, for more rats. Gnomify would only let you trade in the specific cards we made with it (or specfic triggers) for extra Gnomes.

      I don't like the shrinking effect after combat damage killing other gnomes though. It's the worst thing about Slivers hardwired into the mechanic. I think a lot of concerns can be addressed and the fun of the mechanic can be retained with a keyword similar to Battle cry.

      Wind Up Assault 3W (Common)
      Put two 1/1 colorless Gnome artifact creatures with coordinate onto the battlefield. (Whenever a creature with coordinate attacks, it gets +1/+1 until end of turn for each other Gnome you control.)

      Even though the reminder text references Gnomes specifically, the full rules text would be +1/+1 for each other creature you control that shares a creature type with it. I'm imagining the keyword would only be on one creature type this time, but is open for future iterations.

    8. Thematically this feels better if the bonus only counts other attackers, but yes, it is much more printable.

  8. Progress: it had the same problem as arcane spells: it only worked with the same kind of spells.

    Gog work: i think it leads to a lot of triggers and not a lot happening.

    Power up: charge tokens or of all ages, so messing with them is viable with other sets, so can print sorcerys and instant refering to them. It has also some nice desing space