Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tesla Horizons: Graveyard Shift

As we continue exploratory design for Tesla we'll be looking at all of our options for mechanically representing Tesla's progress theme (as discussed here). Each piece will examine what a few of the possible implementations might do to the surrounding set.

The first post looked at cards that improved themselves, tracking progress with the battlefield, and explicitly counting progress counters.

The second post investigated using lands and mana to track how far you've progressed.

Today we'll see if we can track progress using the graveyard rather than the battlefield.

Body Count

The most straightforward option is just to look at the graveyard as it is, most likely counting some subset of cards in it.

We could just as well use some sort of three-tiered Threshold variant, but whichever way we go there are a number of similar effects on the environment.
  • Players have to track what's in the graveyard.
  • There's lenticular complexity in players trying to get their own cards into the graveyard.
  • The number will almost always increase over time.
  • We get the flavor of incorporating elements of what came before into new innovations.
  • It gives the set a grungier feel. We're not going to hit "the golden age" by looking at graveyards.
  • We'll need more death than usual. Two major candidates are sacrificing artifacts and self-mill.
But there's no reason we need to regard the graveyard as a static resource. After all, the whole point is that it grows as the game goes on.

Dying Off

Repurpose doesn't mirror technological progress quite as closely since creatures with the ability that come down later won't get access to the old triggers, but I think the analogy is still plenty strong to hit the note we want. By far the biggest upside is cutting down on the complexity of tracking graveyards. Once something's dead players are free to ignore it completely. The other side of the coin is that the progress is perhaps too easy to reset.

Pushing Up Daisies

Salvage goes the other way and uses what's already in the graveyard as a resource. There may be something to play around with in this space, but I don't think this is it. I posted an uncommon because commons should probably stick to one-shot triggers to keep board complexity down and at that point it doesn't feel much like making progress.

Some of these concerns could be addressed by designing the mechanic more linearly and having cards care about anything that you've salvaged rather than just what they nabbed themselves. Then it's not as easy to undo as Repurpose and even simple commons that aren't improving themselves can still feel like they're building toward something larger. Something like this:

Cost You Your Life

But ultimately, even without any fancy zone changing we can do more with cards in the graveyard than just count them. We've already looked at Experience, and as Jade Phoenix suggested, we can use what's made its way into the graveyard as a barometer for how long the game has gone.

This version of progress precludes too much self-mill or discard in the limited environment if it's going to do exciting things with higher CMCs. I personally like death triggers here because they both avoid feel bad moments when the card gives you a progress effect for less than its own cost and gives players a baseline on which to evaluate the cards.

Keep Digging

Now it's your turn. How can we best track progress with the graveyard? What else should slot into a set that's using this approach? How else can we use this space?


  1. Progress is brilliant. I am throwing all of my votes and love at Progress.

    1. I want to try progress. Seems fun.

      Consider the question of whether to Pacify your opponent's largest threat or use Rite of the Serpent. The former doesn't progress your progress or hers. The latter progresses both, perhaps significantly.

    2. It's certainly interesting space. My main concern (aside from everpresent CMC wording) is whether it will prove undevelopable for Standard. With the 2 set block paradigm this means we would need 5 blocks in a row with no easy way to get expensive things into graveyards.

    3. 5? Dang.

      We can make easy ways to fill the graveyard, as long as we make Standard-playable cards that also remove single cards from graveyards incidentally.

      We can also mitigate that danger by limiting progress effects to nice-to-haves or in the best cases very good, but never bomby/broken.

    4. We can certainly live with making nothing with the mechanic Standard playable even with really high CMCs, but it's a pretty big sacrifice for something that would be the central mechanic of its set. Incidental graveyard hate is going to make for incredibly swingy games where the opponent either draws their hate or doesn't. Even Riddle of Lightning + Blast of Genius formed a tier 2 Standard deck.

    5. Wizards almost always seeds one crazy powerful card for Constructed for each mechanic. I don't think all the progress cards have to be terrible. I also don't expect that drawing your gy-hate in response to a good progress card will be much different from drawing your removal in response to Brimaz, Polukranos, etc. We definitely need to be careful not to allow a completely broken deck, but let's not discard an idea because it's merely possible we might screw it up.

    6. I agree with your conclusion, I just think the combo deck is a bigger iceberg than it looks like and we need to be wary of it. I certainly wouldn't throw this mechanic out before playtesting.

    7. I realize it's not technically a graveyard-matters mechanic, but a possible alternative (that I think might have already been discussed here) is to say "Your progress is equal to the highest cost among spells you've cast." That's a little more complicated to track, but it's a better flavor match, stops most shenanigans, and is guaranteed to never decrease.

    8. Yeah, I'm a bit worried about tracking if we both have tuck effects and players aren't constantly tracking progress, but it seems avoidable for one limited environment and less likely to be an issue in Standard, so I'd love to try it.

    9. I think another way to track "progress" would be a land counting mechanic. Total lands in play, or basic lands of a type.

    10. Jules has half-rejected counting lands in play for feeling to 'naturey' …but what if we're counting the number of NON-basic lands in play?

      Could Tesla be the Nonbasic Land Set?

  2. Riffing off of repeated salvaging, here's a version that only triggers once, but still represents progress as new cards you play with the mechanic grow stronger as the game goes on.

    Coppercloak Stalker {2U}{2G}
    Creature-Artificer (unc)
    Salvage (When ~ ETB, you may exile a card from your graveyard.)
    Spells that target ~ cost your opponents {X} more to cast, where X is the worth of a card it salvaged.

    Smelt Spike {R}
    Instant (cmn)
    Salvage Artifact (You may exile an artifact card from your graveyard.)
    ~ deals 2 damage to target creature. If it salvaged an artifact, it deals damage equal to that card's worth instead.

    Taking a page from Hoard:

    Resourceful Armorer {1}{W}
    Creature-Dwarf Soldier (unc)
    Hoarder (When ~ ETB, you may exile a card from your graveyard.)
    Whenever ~ attacks, it gets +X/+X until EOT, where X is the highest worth among cards you've hoarded.

    and one step back in your direction:

    Resourceful Armorer {1}{W}
    Creature-Dwarf Soldier (unc)
    Hoard (When ~ ETB, you may exile a card from your graveyard.)
    Whenever ~ attacks, it gets +1/+1 until EOT for each card you've hoarded.

    1. I'm a bit concerned about finding a workable as-fan for the CMC variants. Too low and you won't get a sense of progress. Too high and they'll come up so frequently you'll have to salvage again before anything bigger dies and the numbers will often go down.

    2. I've got no problem with progress coming slowly. As long as it's impactful when it happens, that delay will make the reward sweeter. And when you can hurry it along, you'll feel great.

      Hoard and Hoarder are immune to the concern of progress ever dropping.

    3. My concern is that if there's too long a gap between counting progress, they won't even feel like connected events to the players. To get the right feeling it should immediately register as "that's bigger than the last trigger".

    4. You're sure enough about that instinct not to test it?

    5. Not really, no. We may have difficulty testing it since we'll all be aware we should be paying attention, but it should be doable with an outside pair of eyes.

      I have a tendency to to pick apart every challenge a given idea faces, which tends to make me overly pessimistic about their chances.

    6. I greatly appreciate the scrutiny you've given Tesla, and it's clear the set will benefit greatly from it. Still, consider the design maxim:

      Perfect is the enemy of done.

  3. I still like the idea of counting lands in your graveyard. It's certainly true that we don't want to support that with cards that will encourage players to mana-screw themselves, but there are a ton of cards that put lands into the yard without reducing the number you have in play or in hand.

    For instance, consider Balustrade Spy and friends from Gatecrash.

    Data Mining {2}{U}
    Sorcery (cmn)
    Mine (Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card, then put those cards into your graveyard.)
    Draw a card for each land card in your graveyard.

    Coal Cruncher {4}
    Artifact Creature-Construct (cmn)
    When ~ ETB, mine. Put a +1/+1 counter on it for each land card in your graveyard.

    Realms Uncharted {2}{G}

    Cartographer {2}{G}

    Drown in Filth {B}{G}

    Knight of the Reliquary {1}{G}{W}

    Uncover Ancient Sites {1}{G}
    Sorcery (cmn)
    Search your library for four land cards with the same name. Put three into your graveyard and the rest into your hand. Shuffle.

    1. I should say, the reason I like lands here is that it feels like industrial progress to profit from destroying ecology, and every deck is sure to have not only a bunch of lands, but lands to spare after a certain point.

      Scrabblemancer {1}{B}
      Creature-Rat Wizard (cmn)
      When ~ ETB, mine.

    2. I'm wondering whether we'd want to go with Mine or a Treasure Hunt version. This version is easier on the development team and leads to higher numbers, but the possibility of hitting multiple lands is much more exciting.

    3. Would definitely have to test Mine, Dig and Treasure Hunt to see which serves the set better.

      Hunt can do much more, but it can also whiff on lands entirely, making it good on cards that don't count your dead lands, but potentially awful on those that do.