Friday, January 8, 2016

Spotlight Challenge 2—lpaulsen

This fortnight, lpaulsen is going to take lead on this challenge:

Come up with a new kind of mana cost or iterate on an existing one, and design 5 commons and 5 non-commons that demonstrate its value.

lpaulsen's first submission is due 1/17. I'll review it 1/18.
lpaulsen's last submission is due 1/25. I'll review that 1/26.

lpaulsen is strongly encouraged to solicit ideas and feedback from the rest of the artisans, and the community is strongly encouraged to help lpaulsen as much as you are able.


  1. If you want to go big, I think some of the most exciting "costs" a player can "pay" is milling themselves, or returning permanents to their hand.

    A more unusual idea would be to somehow let your opponent make some of your choices in the next combat. I don't know if you can write that into a mana cost, or if it is even a fun idea.

    1. I like the milling-cost idea. Let's see...

      "You may pay {N} with {1} or by exiling the top 7 cards of your library."

      That's nice because it lets players shave mana early, or if they're mana-screwed, but pay the full price late in the game when they're low on cards.

      Does it do enough in Limited? Would changing the number milled to (say) 5 help? Would that make this too strong in Standard?

    2. Probable development nope on this one!

      Dredge, flashback, bridge from bellow, necromeba, delve say too hard to balance if it is mill!

      Exile might fix this. In addition you have a major feel bad issue for new players and making this a spike only mechanic could be dangerous...

      I would need to see some cards to warrant it.

    3. What I like about the milling effect is that these cards will typically "cost" more in Limited than they do in Standard, which means we can make Standard-playables that don't warp Limited too much. Here's one example I came up with:

      Scary Demon NNNBB
      Creature- Demon (Common)

      Playing this turn 3 will put a Limited deck on a 6-ish turn clock. Turn 4 will probably be the typical time to pull it out-- it's still slightly above Black's curve-- and players who draw it late can happily pay the full 5. In Standard it might come down as a vanilla 4/3 for BB, but that actually isn't the scariest aggro creature ever, especially considering how sad it is to draw 3 of them.

  2. One interesting idea I've seen is a series of cards that gave you or permanents you control loyalty counters and/or loyalty abilities, and spells with loyalty costs that had to be paid by removing counters from yourself. The second gimmick of these cards was that nearly every one cost 0 mana.

    It doesn't fit the challenge, but I think it might be good inspiration.


  3. Brainstorming ideas...

    Color combinations-
    Used: Multicolor (all permutations), hybrid (ally and enemy pairs, twobrid), colorless
    Used as one-off: "Spend only M on X" restriction
    Unused: More-than-two hybrid, colorless-X, "not-X"

    Mana sources-
    Used: Snow
    Used as one-off: Basics-only, creatures-only
    Unused: Nonbasics-only, tribal, watermarks

    Additional or alternate payments-
    Used: Life, bouncing permanents, sacrificing permanents, tapping permanents, discarding/exiling cards from hand
    Used as one-off: Eldrazi Spawn, milling, benefit for opponent, lots of other things
    Unused: counters

    If I've missed important things or categories, please comment and say so!

    1. Color requirements
      colorless + colored cost and colorless/colored cost hybrid have not appeared yet.

      the others are not really mana costs, are they?

    2. If you wanted to secretly do a world submission over a mechanical one, you could try putting colorless or phyrexian Mana in a new setting.

    3. Counters as additional payment isn't unused - putting -1/-1 counters on your own stuff was a theme of Shadowmoor block. Giving your opponent's stuff beneficial counters is relatively rare though.

  4. If I'm using a new mana cost I'd like the design to be an actual mana symbol, let's call it {N} (not just an additional cost). Some random ideas:

    Poison mana-- ({N} can be paid with {1} or by gaining a poision counter. A player with 10 or more poison counters loses the game.)
    Probably too strong, unless we print it in Return to New Phyrexia with the return of infect.

    Refund mana or "Half-mana"-- ({N} can be paid with {1} or a reserve counter. If you paid it with {1}, you gain a reserve counter.)
    Possibly too parasitic?

    Innistrad mana-- ({N} can be paid with {W} if two or more spells were cast last turn, {B} if zero spells were cast last turn, and {1} otherwise.)
    Way too specific, but I like the idea of costs that are variable, not "either-or" or "both-and".

    Factory mana-- ({N} can be paid with {1} or by tapping an untapped creature or artifact you control.)
    Oh wait, I've reinvented convoke.

    City mana-- ({N} can't be paid with mana produced by a basic land.)
    Massive power difference between Standard and Limited. Might be possible in Return to Return to Ravnica or the like.

    Muraganda mana-- ({N} can only be paid with mana produced by a [Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, Forest]).
    Another massive power difference, this time in the other direction. But the shocklands give me hope.

    1. Opinions? Feedback? Like/dislike? Which direction should I be taking this?

    2. I think you should move away from "which lands can you play in your deck" costs since they will always mean you have to choose between limited and constructed for your designs.

      A better starting point would be Lorwyn-Block stuff. The Silvergill Adept cycle or even Champion both represent alternative costs that rewarded you for synergy with the other spells you were playing. That can be intersting in limited and constructed for different reasons. In limited it influences pick orders and changes signals, and in constructed it restricts your pool of cards. Both Fish Decks and Infect Decks are sort of in this vein, or Esper Dragons in the current standard.

      Now, what could we do instead of Tribal Reveals? On that I'm stumped at the moment, but I'm convinced it's a better starting point that something that depends on lands.

    3. Good idea. How about something to help with mana screw?

      ({N} can be paid with {W} or by paying {1} and revealing a white card from your hand.)

      Kinda marginal, but interesting. I'm starting to realize that these mana designs fall into 2 categories: those that make paying for stuff easier (e.g. Phyrexian and hybrid) and those that make paying harder (e.g. colorless and snow).

    4. I think that this contest has a trap: you are trying to create a new mana symbol, but perhaps you should iterate on an older one...

      By the way threebrid could be an option too, no?
      Also there is the non-land source restriction of the big Myr (costed {2}).

    5. I like the reveal cards from your hand restriction just by color (saw this with morphs and in the magic like card game EPIC). Reads well if you get rid of the whole symbol with a card reveal, but those could potentially get worse/feel bad if people are holding on to cards to cast them? Maybe not, as a player with no cards in hand probably doesn't need a cost reduction mechanic.

    6. I agree that this contest is probably a trap. however the obvious answer to me is purple mana. Just make a new mana color that can only be made by cards like Birds of Paradise. Its a backwards compatible solution like the recent mana in OGW.

    7. In my opinion OGW colorless mana *is* purple mana. Or at least as close as we're ever going to get.

  5. Pay by putting a +1/+1 counter on a creature an opponent controls.

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  7. The key is to think of alternate resources, I think. Magic has the following notable resources:

    Life, mana, cards, land drops, permanents, tapping, time

    Now, another important thing to realize is that the more renewable the resource, the more 'fun' it is to pay with. Mana and tapping are good, because you get those back every turn when you untap. This is one reason that Convoke is such a fun mechanic!

    Life requires more effort to get 'back', but it's still technically renewable. What makes Phyrexian mana very interesting is that your opponent's interactions with you pressure you into seeing the resource's value differently. (This is true of Convoke as well.)

    Land drops can never be gained back - it'll permanently set you back the entire game. That's why Goblin Jockey was a failure. I'd say that 'exile-mill' has the same problem... it's too permanent of a resource paid.

    Cards, like the pitch-cycle, are an interesting one. You draw a card every turn, so it's sort of renewable - but you might have to ditch a specific card that you can't get back. That's a problem, but clearly the mechanic works well enough, as pitch-cards and the Shoal cycle are beloved by quite a few people. (Though at the same time, I doubt casuals and new players would like these cards as much.)

    This is a lot of words without an actual idea proposed, but hopefully the concepts presented here might provide some inspiration.

    Personally, I'd look into Snow type resources - ones that come from specific sources - or into mechanics like Convoke - which play in interesting space.

  8. OK, I've got it down to four candidates:
    -Mill mana
    -Reveal mana
    -Delayed mana
    -Colorless hybrid

    Example cards are here.

    If you can, please comment saying which of the four mana costs you would be *most* and *least* likely to enjoy on cards. Thanks!

    1. Oh, and thanks for all of the helpful comments you've given already! Each of these ideas is partly based on someone else's comment.

    2. The wording for 'reserve mana' is incredibly confusing. I can convert mana to reserve tokens whenever I want? Or just when I play a card with reserve mana in its cost? How many can I convert when I do that? Just the one?

      Of the ideas presented here, I like reserve mana the most, though it is parasitic beyond all get-out currently.

      Here's an alternate wording:

      "Reserve mana" can be paid by removing a reserve token from yourself or with {1}. If you paid it with {1}, gain a reserve token.

    3. Those seem like good ideas. My brief impressions.

      Mill Mana -- likely to be swingy. The first mill mana card you play might be effectively free, but you might not play multiples at all.

      Reveal Mana -- I'm definitely interested in this idea, I'd like to see where it goes. I'm not sure if it will go somewhere or not, though, if there were enough reveal mana cards, you could play with more of them and fewer (if hopefully not none lands) but that will hopefully not be the case. So when is it useful, when you're reducing the colour-count of your main colour by a little bit? Is that interesting enough?

      Reserve mana -- yes, template needs to be cleaned up. I like the idea of "half mana" a lot, but I'm not sure when it will be exciting, and is currently very parasitic. Playing a slightly-overcosted creature on turn 2 or 4to play a slightly undercosted creature from a small list on turn 3 or 4 isn't as snazzy as it feels like it should be.

      Colorless Hybrid -- obviously a plausible idea, given the colorless cards we've just seen. My biggest concerns are "can we design a mana symbol for it" and "does it add enough new over colorless mana symbol"?

    4. I would prefer, in order:

      colorless hybrid
      reveal mana
      mill mana
      reserve mana

    5. I messed up on reserve mana by not clarifying that it's different from my earlier "refund mana" proposal. Now there is no parasitic "half mana" behavior, just the "pay in advance" behavior.

    6. Oh! Yeah, sorry, I completely didn't realise that.

      OK, then that's a lot less complicated. If it's mandatory, it even functions as an interesting "charge up" mechanic where you have to plan your spell a turn in advance, like a mini-suspend.

      OTOH, do you have to reveal a card with a reserve cost or can you just buy a reserve token at any time? There's no rule problem with that, but I imagine it might cause a certain amount of tedium if people always feel they have to buy a reserve token if they have any mana left over, JUST IN CASE they draw their one reserve card next turn...

    7. Yeah, the idea is that "pay 1 mana for a reserve counter" is now an ability that all players have at all times. Presumably it will only matter to players who have reserve-mana cards in their deck, or as a bluff in that block's Limited. I suppose there are also a couple of corner cases with stuff like Praetor's Grasp.

    8. In order from most to least liked:
      -Colorless hybrid
      -Mill mana
      -Reveal mana
      -Delayed mana
      (See also: "in order from most to least Spikey")

      Colobrid is clean, exceptionally powerful, and easy to put on commons because it won't break Limited. I'm not sure it's quite time to explore it though, given that the set with non-hybrid colorless hasn't even come out yet.

      Mill mana would require some dev tweaking with the numbers, and I don't love it, but I like it more than the other two.

      I'm confused by what the point of reveal mana is supposed to be. My reward for playing a bunch of green cards in my deck is...getting to cast them with lands that don't make green mana? Am I supposed to play a 4-color deck with a horrifyingly unstable manabase to make best use of this? I suppose it could help with color screw, but I'd wager that mana screw is a million times more unfun than "just" color screw, and normal twobrid helps mitigate that anyway.

      Reserve mana: I don't like the idea of invisible player abilities that are only relevant to one block of cards.

    9. OK, thanks for the feedback! I'd better get designing now and there are 2.5 clear votes for colorless hybrid, so I'll run with that. Coming up: two cycles from Ruins of Zendikar and/or Emrakul Takes Shadowmoor (not sure which yet).

  9. I don't understand the Reserve Tokens. Can you pay for one any time? And it has to be done before you cast the card?

    1. Any time, but you only get it on the following upkeep. So, yes to both questions.

      I had two options for how to implement reserve tokens-- with or without the upkeep clause. With, it's a pure-upside mechanic that lets you 'store' mana for certain spells, kind of like echo: "you may pay for this in advance". Without, it's a little trickier to plan for and evaluate: "you must pay for this in advance".

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  11. I also agree, a new type of mana cost is more exciting, but is HARD to do right, iterating on an existing one is often a better way of showcasing other aspects of design, choosing what's in and what's out, choosing representative cards, etc.

    What possibilities might there be for iterating?
    * Phyrexian mana (or renamed to be the same mechanic without phyrexians) only appeared once and was interesting, is there anywhere it could go?
    * No mana cost, does that count? It's been used a tiny bit, is there a way it could be used more?
    * Hybrid has been used multiple times, but is a solid design, is there room for more?
    * Snow mana was a good idea, but struggled with being parasitic. Is there any way to resurrect it for a new block -- it might be less parasitic than purple. Instead of "snow-covered plains" have "snow covered" cards which you can play on an existing permanent to make it Snow?

  12. I will offer that the new kind of mana cost doesn't have to involve a new mana symbol.

    1. I feel like this should be obvious but I'm not sure what counts and what doesn't. Do split cards count as a "new sort of mana cost"? Alternative casting costs that include mana? Invent a symbol for "generic mana" so "2G" becomes "qqG"?

    2. Fair point. But I was having trouble thinking of things that weren't mana symbols yet qualified as mana costs. Often they reduced to stuff like convoke or "as an additional cost" that wasn't really so much about the mana.

      That being said, I'd love to hear ideas for innovations in mana cost that don't correspond to mana symbols.

    3. You name several in your excellent list. Your mill-mana could also be a keyword rather than a new symbol. Which is better probably depends.

  13. OK, Jay's clarification helps a lot here.
    I think that now the important question is which kind of new mana opens up the most design space and/or the most interesting design space.

    How would the game go if reveal was important? (Fate rreforged had an interesting answer to that)

    How would the game be with reserve tokens?
    (I fear it can eat complexity points and cause memory issues, but it is not that big of a fear)

    How would the game be with colorless hybrid?
    (Colorless Hybrid probably fits Tesla/artifact world)

    How would the game be with mill mana?
    (Dangerous with flashback, delve, necromebas delve and co. but that is a development consteint more than a design one. Can we make this "fun" is the real question, and not just to spikes)

  14. The reminder text on <> opens up the possibility of a mana symbol not merely meaning a choice like phyrexian mana or hybrid mana, but a specific quality or action. I think there are a lot of design opportunities in this area.

    J (J represents having an opponent put a 1/1 red Survivor creature token onto the battlefield..)

    K (K represents tapping an untapped creature you control.)

    L (L represents having an opponent scry 1.)

    M (M represents putting a card in your hand on top of your library.)

    N [with color indicator] (N represents sacrificing a [same color as N mana symbol] creature.)

    O (O represents tapping half your untapped nonland permanents, rounded up.)

    P (P represents putting a +1/+1 counter on a creature target opponent controls of his or her choice.)

    1. I agree that these represent interesting design space. I don't agree that they should be represented with a mana symbol. Mana symbols are for, well, mana (or for an option that involves mana, like X and Phyrexian mana). K and N on your list roughly correspond to convoke and champion respectively, both of which are totally happy sitting in their cards' text boxes instead of the mana cost. The others strike me as being similar-- they're good ideas, but I can't see a good reason for them to be mana symbols. The mental math around lands and CMC gets a lot easier if the numbers and symbols in the upper right corner correspond to an actual amount of mana.

  15. So are you doing a cycle of commons in each color?

    Is the second cycle going to be Uncommon, Rare, Mythic? Or just five Rares? And will they be the same color? I think it would be interesting doing multicolor Colorless hybrid. For instance: (C/G)(C/W).

    1. Yep, I went with Ye Olde Common Creatures as the first cycle. For the second cycle I might go for something looser. For example, a lot of sets have a Build-Around Color Pair Uncommon cycle or a Snazzy Constructed Rare cycle with differing card types. Both could be good fits for your multicolorless idea.

    2. I was thinking multicolorless could give a new spin on three color decks.