Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tesla: Ascendancy

Last week we generated ideas for capturing a feeling of anticipation in Tesla's gameplay. Today I want to take a look at one in particular: jack's Ascendancy.

Part Invoker, part Flashback, and part Revolution, Ascendancy certainly gets players looking ahead. What's more, it looks fun and exciting.

One fairly minor issue brought up in the comments is that Ascendancy doesn't enforce spells' color requirements, and even adding color to the cost allows one cost to pay for other off-color spells. One solution would be to somehow use the cards' costs themselves.

Unfortunately, Capacitor suffers from a much more serious issue. It robs the mechanic of some of its anticipatory feel. Rather than a super-expensive flurry of spells, you'll more often get a moderately expensive couple of spells. Part of that is a problem for the original implementation as well: you may finally finish the wait to get to {8} only to find you still only have a single Ascendancy card in the graveyard.

Critical Mass is the obvious approach to solve that issue. It creates a much smaller hoop and manages to be even more parasitic. In exchange, the payoff is always exactly what we want.

This version would require an especially high as-fan to make triggering the ability possible in Limited. We could help that along by restricting it to a couple of colors (likely blue and red) and putting it on a couple of low-powered commons like Dynamining to help the Critical Mass drafter get late picks.

I'm pretty sure it can be done. The real question is: should we? Is it okay to put a reward so tantalizing that is has to be unusual to achieve on commons? Should you, the Planeswalker, have an ultimate?


  1. I definitely like the feeling of anticipation these evoke, but one potential problem with Critical mass is that only every 4th one works. It's a pretty big feel bad to put a bunch of lower powered cards like Dynamiting in your deck, and then draw 3 of them in a game.

    1. For that reason, I think I like ascendancy the best of these. The power level scales directly with the number you draw, and even if you have to ascend with only one card, at least you still get something, and your other ascendancy cards will still work when you draw them later. I don't think the color issue is huge, it's a pretty big cost to put cards into your deck that you can't cast, just to hope to get them into your graveyard, and there are a lot of effects you can justify as colorless once you get to 8 mana.

  2. In trying to solve the issue of the colorless-Ascendancy cost, Capacitor and Critical Mass (excellent names, by the way) open the door to much more serious issues.

    Capacitor, as you note, has none of the feelings of anticipation. It's an interesting mechanic, but much more obviously parasitic than Ascendancy, and falls out of the experience we were trying to cature.

    Critical Mass is interesting, but it requires you to cast three over-costed spells before you then cast a fourth to get all three for free. The fact it requires four spells to work, and only works on every fourth, is a major issue. In addition, it doesn't even fix the color-issue - you can dump those cards into your graveyard from elsewhere, just like you could with Ascendancy.


    One idea I had - just now - was to somehow incorporate the colors of the spells into the cost. Something like "For each color of spell you're casting this way, you must pay at least one mana of that color for this cost"... however, though intuitive, it's both unwieldy and texty wording. So that's a shame.

    When I was thinking about Ascendancy originally, I had the idea to just make all of the Ascendancy spells things we were comfortable doing as monohybrid. In other words, if an artifact could do it, then an Ascendancy spell could do it. We wouldn't see a Shatter with Ascendancy, or a Demystify, but we could see token generation, Shock, etc. This limits our design space for the mechanic greatly, but if it makes it work, I think it could be worth it. (If we decide to even go with Ascendancy)

    On this note, I think it might be a good idea to assemble a list of 'artifact/color mechanics'. Things like mill, small burn, token generation, +1/+1 counters, buffs, that are available to artifacts and to one or more colors. That way we can prepare for stuff like monohybrid, and unexpected situations like Ascendancy.

  3. Thank you for exploring my mechanic!

    FWIW, I made up the original very quickly so it's definitely not polished, but what I liked about it was that one card by itself gives you _some_ anticipation, since even an 8-mana lightning bolt may be useful in the late game, but gets better in multiples (or with mill). And once you've got at least one into your graveyard you've got a slowly ticking clock.

    I'm lukewarm about variants that only trigger when you cast more cards. That's a lot more parasitic because it gives you no benefit at all unless you can cast several of them, and even then, the benefit may not be great. And it might be a bit more balanced, but that also means -- there's no big payoff to dream of. This feels like a case where people will hope to activate a whole bunch of cards at once, but that if they end up activating only one or two, they may get a pleasant surprise that even really-expensive-flashback can be powerful card advantage in the late game. Whereas the more parasitic mechanics set people up for "it looked really cool but when I played it it always sucked" which isn't exciting for a prominent mechanic.

    I also think, as I understand wizards development process, they normally test whether mechanics are INTERESTING in the design team without worrying about balance very much and without worrying about templating very much. I really think they'd do something like, play with ascendency and just say "oh, and, obviously you have to include the coloured mana component of each card you want to cast". And THEN, only IF it turns out to be something they want to put in the set, will they ask templating how to word it so it has the effect they want.

    I think it's good to try variants on the mechanic, but only to find out what's fun -- I don't think it's worth redesigning the mechanic NOW to try to fix the edge cases.

    I liked some of the variants, although they make me think of more of an incremental build-up mechanic, like "Keyword (when you cast this, you may cast one/all cards in your graveyard that cost less than this and have keyword)". That has a similar sort of "trigger multiple cards at once", but it feels more like you're building something, and less like you're reaching for a combo.

    1. Jack: That last idea is very nice. Here it is written out, so everyone can see it more clearly:

      Ascend (WHen you cast this, you may cast any number of other ascend cards in your graveyard that cost less than this.)

      You're right, that does 'build up' a lot better. And though it uses the graveyard - something I generally think we should avoid in anticipation mechanics - it does so in a way that says "look forward to drawing a bigger one!", rather than "look at your graveyard", so it's a marked difference from other graveyard-mechanic proposals. (Perhaps still not enough of a difference, but as you note, playtesting decides that.)


      Your comments about it being more important to make an interesting mechanic than a balanced/templated mechanic are DEFINITELY true. As far as I recall, many mechanics don't have actual rules-text on cards during design - they just say "you know how this works", and they figure out the templating stuff later, after they verify if it's even interesting enough to be worth the effort.

      Great thoughts here, jack. Thanks!

  4. On the chance anyone missed this fascinating and hilarious post on the machine-learning algorithm that designed some Magic Cards:

    I bring this up because the first response defined one of the algorithm's arbitrary keywords and it applies here:

    "Anyways, fuseback obviously is:
    Split A
    Split B
    Fuseback (You may cast both halves of this card from your graveyard. Then exile it.)"

    Basically Capacitor after translation, but very cool nonetheless.

  5. I don't have any problem with ascendancy's colorless cost. You've presumably cast all the spells in your graveyard already, or at least built your deck with the intention of casting them. Even if you're intentionally self-milling, you still have to get to eight mana before you can go off, and you're probably going to need to cast some of these spells in the meantime just to make it that far.

    shorter template:
    Ascendancy (8: Cast any number of cards with ascendancy from your graveyard without paying their mana cost. Exile each as it resolves.)

    1. Yeah, that reminder text is clearly better. Thanks.

  6. Here's a modular riff on dynamining:

    Dessicate {1}{B}{B}
    Sorcery (unc)
    Destroy target monocolored creature.
    Build Up (When you pay to cast a sorcery or instant, if that mana could also pay this card's mana cost, you may cast this card from your graveyard without paying its mana cost.)

    1. I'm not sure how to interpret Build Up. Could you explain?

      If it's meant to enforce the color pie, it could be something like this:

      Build Up (Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery that shares a color with this card, you may cast this card from your graveyard without paying its mana cost.)

    2. Ben Nassau:

      That's not the same, I think the idea was this:

      If I cast an instant or sorcery that costs {5}{G}, and I pay {2}{B}{B}{G}{G} for it, then in that payment I could also have paid for Dessicate's {1}{B}{B}. So I can cast it.

    3. Ah. I think that needs to be clearer.

    4. it definitely need to be clearer