Wednesday, April 1, 2015

CCDD 040115—Primal Dissolution

Cool Card Design of the Day
4/1/2015 - I'm not a fan of pranks, so I'll tell you right now I'm not serious about this keyword. Take a look and we'll discuss.

Primal is interesting, but more for designers than players. It's strong, but not in the way it presents itself. Oh, and it adds the busywork of searching and shuffling.

It's neat that just having Swamps in your deck is enough color commitment to cast the spell whether you've got any in play or not. At least, theoretically. In practice, it makes splashing a single card perhaps too easy, and would occasionally exacerbate color-screw in a 2- or 3-color deck.

Spike enjoys incremental advantage, such as thinning land from your deck to increase the chance of drawing spells. But you can use primal to thin your deck even if you're using black mana to cast your spell, and usually should.

Shuffling is completely fine for one-off effects that make it worth the time and effort. Primal only causes one shuffle per card, but as a keyword we can expect to see it on a good number of cards, and the effect really isn't splashy enough to justify the work.

The goal of reducing color-screw is admirable, and getting an incremental bonus out of the effect adds legs to the mechanic, but the method primal employs to get there is poor. Can you think of a better solution? What if Primal Dissolution had swampcycling instead of swamp primal?


  1. With two B in the mana cost, this doesn't strike me as a splash-able card. Is that the intention?

    1. It's primal that makes it splashable. You can put Primal Dissolution and two Swamps in literally any deck and be guaranteed to be able to cast it with any three land.

  2. Maybe an enchantment that allows players to exile a land from their deck to produce 1 mana of any color that land could produce.

  3. Cards that let you grind the lands out of your deck in the late sound like something far too good to me (as a mechanic anyway), and I most certainly wouldn't put that mechanic on such an efficient card as Go for the Throat!

  4. I really like the idea of this, but I agree that the execution is sloppy. It's got way too many implicit Spike functions, and way too little explicit value to the new player.

    Is there a way we could take this cool idea - your commitment to Swamps 'pays' for black mana - and do something else with it?

    Here are some random ideas I got...

    Swamp Primal Ver.L (For each Swamp card you permanently reveal in your library as you cast this spell, you may pay for a {B} with {1}. Then shuffle your library.)

    So... this one... is weird.

    What happens if you have a permanently revealed card in your library? Iunno! I think it'd be interesting, though! Basically, you'll never be able to reveal those Swamps again - they're permanently revealed - so it fulfills all of the function of exiling, without the deck-thinning. And, as an interesting and hidden bonus, you'll see that Swamp coming if it's on top of your library.

    However, can the rules really handle revealed cards in your library? I see no reason why not.

    This "solution" was inspired by a mechanic called Warp I saw over at MTG Salvation.


    It's difficult to make a mechanic that cares about 'commitment' but that also is only good for players who aren't committed enough to actually cast the spell for its cost. I tried a lot of stuff for this, and a lot of them had the problem that they were looking at things you really only could do if you didn't have color screw issues. :P

    1. I wish revealing cards in your library and leaving them revealed were an option. The problem is it's impossible to objectively shuffle your library when you can identify different cards within it. If there were a single, well-defined method for shuffling, it might not be an issue, but it's even difficult prescribing how to randomize one's deck.

    2. It's very difficult for players to avoid cheating with face up cards below the top of the library. You see where they're going while shuffling, when they're coming if the library's not perfectly lined-up.

    3. I hadn't thought of the shuffling issue... normally, I'd say that shuffling would unreveal any revealed cards, but that would invalidate this mechanic. Shame... I was proud of my solution.

      Thanks for the valuable, if bittersweet, feedback. :P

  5. "Swamp Forfeit - You may pay 1 and exile a swamp you own from outside the game to pay B. Your opponents may play land cards exiled this way."?

    Just spitballing.

    1. Relevant for 15-card sideboards (though it's a tough sale), but in Limited or Casual… oh. Your opponent gets a free land? Heck, I'd think you could pay {0} if you're going to give them a free land. Fun with swampwalk.

    2. Yeah, I imagine we could balance spells where paying 0 (for the colored component) is probably safe. I don't want to break the kitchen table pie, but is "not being able to cast it the normal way" a big enough drawback to prevent infinite splashing?

  6. There are better ways to make something splashable:
    Make it more expensive (which exists as 2-brid), make you pay life, sacrifice lands, discard cards... all of these would be interesting

    1. Twobrid and Phyrexian mana have both seen print. There are limitations to their use, but I expect we'll see at least twobrid again.

      Sacrificing lands to mitigate color screw seems dangerous since it might well upgrade your problem to land screw.

      Discarding cards (presumably that match a color) could work, though without madness it'll feel pretty bad. What if we cycled them instead?

      Shift (Rather than pay {B} in this card's mana cost, you may pay {1} and discard a black card. If you do, draw a card.)

      Cycling is also a useful bonus effect, though being able to do it with any card of the color might be too useful…

    2. Shift is interesting. I agree that cycling is too severe. What if shifted cards just went to the bottom of your library? That way we don't need to worry about the "free discard", and we negate the feel-bad a little.

      I agree it should draw a card. If it didn't draw a card, I'd argue that it should just pay for the {B} outright rather than filtering it.

  7. You're right, that's fascinating from a design perspective :)

    My first thought is, we already have a mechanic which allows you to splash a spell but only if you dilute the proportion of playable cards in your deck by adding otherwise not-very-useful swamps -- namely, costing black mana. You could tweak the values of swamp primal so it needs more or fewer swamps than it would be splash the card without.

    But what if the cost was something else -- say, searching-for-and-exiling 1-cost creatures, or 6-cost creatures, or artifacts, or something else you don't want too much of in your deck...?

    1. What if instead of removing Swamps from your library, you added them?

      Attune (Rather than pay {B} in this card's mana cost, you may pay {1} and shuffle a basic Swamp card from outside the game into your library.)

      Shuffling is quicker than searching and shuffling, and players wouldn't use this ability except when they needed it. With attune, you could splash for Primal Dissolution without putting a single black mana source in your deck. Is that good or bad?

    2. I find this idea interesting. You're basically diluting the quality of your draws to pay for a spell's color cost. This mechanic has two problems:

      1.) It doesn't reward commitment, it forces commitment upon you. For that reason, all Attune cards would need to be color-neutral effects, since you don't need any commitment to black in the deck to cast them for colorless.

      2.) The 'cost' of this choice is completely invisible to most new players. Everyone I've met new to a card game has not realized the price you pay by adding more cards to a library. For example in Dominion, most newbies just buy everything, not realizing they're diluting the quality of their draws - and in Magic, you get too-big decks, or more relevantly, people playing unplayable cards, not realizing it would "replace" the draw of a more playable card.

      To newbies, they would probably Attune almost every single time. And that's an issue, because Attuning to get Swamps - to reduce the quality of your draws - is an invisible cost, and will often lead to their defeat in an invisible way. They will lose the game because they drew a Swamp when they could have drawn an out, and they will not realize that's what happened.

      Learning experiences are important Magic, but the game must provide the tools to learn on its own. This mechanic presents a valuable lesson - that you want to hone the quality of a deck - but what it does not do is actually teach that lesson.

    3. Agree wholeheartedly with Inanimate, but the idea of a few splashy rares doing it seems really interesting.

      Unstoppable Flood
      Sorcery - Mythic Rare
      Return all creatures to their owner's hands. Shuffle ten Island cards from outside the game into your library.

    4. What if we make the cost explicit?

      Discover Swamps (Rather than pay {B} in this card's mana cost, you may pay {1} and put a basic Swamp card from outside the game on top of your library.)

      Swamp Guide (Reveal ~ in your hand and put it on top of your library: Put a basic Swamp card from outside the game into your hand.)

    5. Yeah, I agree with Inanimate. I'm interested in the possibilities of Discover/Guide but I'm not sure it's going anywhere. What I was interested in in the original was the potential trade-offs in deck-building, like mana fixing or requiring a mass of tribal cards, but in a new way I've not seen before by requiring a different number of cards in your starting deck.

      But paying for a spell by decreasing future deck quality just doesn't seem promising:

      * It means you have to make NO compromises in deck-building in advance
      * The cost is nill on game-winning bombs, and pretty low on any useful spell.
      * It's makes the rest of the game slightly less fun
      * It doesn't have much strategy value -- it's usually worth using the spell if it gives you a benefit and not if not
      * Depending how it's worded, it's likely to involve a lot of shuffling, and also to be opaque to beginners for all the reasons Inanimate explained.

      And it's basically the same as "discard a card" except you can delay the payment and/or discard a fraction of a card.

      I don't know. Is there something that this would let us do "discard a card" wouldn't? Is there something that would make the tactical trade-off interesting, fun, or preferably both? Even though this is unworkable as-is, what draws us to it?

    6. Good critique.

      Discover and Guide do require you spend precious sideboard slots on basic lands in Constructed. I have no idea if it's playable in Constructed.

      The cost is nil on a card that literally wins you the game. If it just puts you ahead or saves your bacon, but drawing lands for the next 1-3 turns might slow you enough for your opponent to catch up, then it's extremely relevant.

      It does make the rest of the game less fun, assuming drawing land isn't a good thing. Could be great in a landfall deck. Or with Goblin Charbelcher.

      In addition to making the downside an upside, it's also possible to negate it with shuffling effects, or self-mill. (Which can then combo with Life from the Loam, etc)

      Discover and Guide explicitly don't shuffle.

      But I mostly agree. Unless you need land, it's basically giving up your next draw step. It's the 'unless' and those other strategies you can build your deck around that make the mechanic worth considering.