Friday, April 15, 2016

Tesla: Kick into Gear

Hello again, everyone! Since last time, there's been some great progress on the Tesla set skeleton over at the Multiverse, kick-started by the Filling in the Skeleton challenge and Skeleton Key article. We've been on a 'big picture' kick lately, so this week, I thought I'd zoom in a bit and examine a single mechanic - Research - in more detail.

To kick things off, let's remind everyone what Research (currently) is:

Research began its life as a variant for Kicker. Kicker is the perfect mana sink, but it also has a problem - it is an additional cost, not an alternative costs, as it tends to be nowadays. (See: Awaken) To 'bring it back in spirit', we decided to add a small, incidential bonus to the spells when kicked. Small enough that costs weren't significantly affected, but big enough that it justifies why it's a new mechanic.

Shuffling it back into the library was just the right thing. The new version shuffles only into the top six, but is still not super likely to come back before the game's over. However, the bonus wanted to make sense, so I pushed for each Research card to feature a 'game-ending' bonus when researched, which justifies the bonus. On Canister Instability, the bonus burns - on other spells, opponents lose life, or pump a creature and give it trample, or mill the opponent, or make fliers,

Of course, this isn't the only Kicker option we have.

Overload and Replicate are previous well-liked variants of Kicker, which stumbled onto a very rich vein of design space that also justifies their unique existence. 

These mechanics are still alive-and-kicking, with plenty of design space left, and are good candidates for the "kicker slot" in Tesla - and for the "returning mechanic" slot, as well! As they were both relegated to Izzet in the past, there's definitely some design space left in {W}{B}{G}.

However, when it comes down to it, while they have the good qualities of Kicker, they also share the mechanic's problems...
Swift Kick by Mathias Kollros
Kicker is a fascinating mechanic. It promises flexibility - the ability to cast a spell for cheap, or to power it up for a price. However, that flexibility also makes for some tough, even unfun, decisions. As Mark Rosewater discusses in Here's the Kicker, a player who is aware of the potential payout of a card is far less willing to play it in "suboptimal" conditions, even if the card is necessary for them to win and/or survive.  

This same problem has come up on other cards - such as Aven Cloudchaser, as Rosewater discusses in Lenticular Design - causing this kind of card design to go out of favor. To use his words, "the card creates a bad experience for the beginner. By leaving the [card] in his or her hand, the beginner will become frustrated because he or she wants the [card] but feels obligated to wait." 

He then goes on to say, "[A good lentcilaar card for beginners] wants to encourage the player to use it. Beginners want action and want to feel like the game is moving forward. Also, you want to give them the tools to help push the game toward a conclusion."

And yet, we still see Kicker variants - as recently as Awaken - that do not achieve this! Is there a way to make a Kicker mechanic that makes it alright for a player to cast the spell without kicking it? That possibly even incentivizes it? Surprisingly, the solution didn't lie in kicker, but in another mechanic entirely...

Introducing Discovery! or, as I referred to it while working on it, "kickback". Not only because these cards let you "kick back" and relax, but also because it's a combination of kicker and flashback. Clever, right?

Yes, this combination is technically possible with just flashback, as the Increasing cycle shows. However, there are a lot of benefits to making it its own keyword. For example, Aerial Espionage lets us Peek, but Squadron Deployment doesn't, due to a difference in flavor that wasn't possible in the Increasing cycle. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier when discussing Overload and Replicate, a "simple-enough and deep-enough tie" can justify making a new mechanic entirely.

And beyond even these points, there is a very interesting vein of design space in Discovery...

Artifact Cycle for Tesla

Yes, we can change card types entirely! This cycle is meant to represent 'moments of discovery' - largely based on accidental discoveries throughout history - that lead to world-changing inventions. These cards convert a passing 'accident' into a consistent 'invention' which produces half the effect, but is permanent.

And as Continuumg has shown, we can even use this mechanic to produce off-color archetype supporters at uncommon. Incredible!

While I think Discovery has a lot of promise, it has undeniable problems. It adds more DFC slots in the set, and is pricy in comprehension complexity. For this reason, I have one last, simpler, 'mana sink' mechanic to suggest, which is also (coincidentally!) based on a mechanic that isn't Kicker...

Develop is a mixture of Cycling, Research, and Biking. The reason I didn't go with Tricycling, which puts it under the third card on top, is because I wanted to preserve a sense of anticipating the uncertain. Of course, if this causes too much shuffling, we can always change it to Tricycling in development.

While this isn't a Kicker mechanic, it fulfills the same purpose as a mana-sink, as it lets us put larger spells in the set than normal. In addition, excess mana can be used to Develop cards you draw late that you don't want right now, or might not want at all. Lastly, it is a homerun on a feeling of 'anticipation and progress', which Tesla is trying to cultivate.

Leaping Master, by Anastasia Ovchinnikova
That concludes our discussion about Kicker, and its many many variants, for today! 

Which of these mechanics most excites you? Which one do you think would be best for Tesla? Let me know in the comments, or over at the Tesla Multiverse page. Until next time, have a great week!


  1. Discovery is super-exciting. And DFCs don't feel like too much of a blunt instrument in this case, since we already have another 'transform' mechanic in Revolution. I'm all for it!

    I've also got some other ideas for an alternative to Research:

    Canister Instability 2.0 2R
    Sorcery (Common)
    Develop (If CARDNAME isn't developed, you may put it into its owner's library fifth from the top as it resolves. If you do, develop it.)
    CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature. If CARDNAME is developed, CARDNAME also deals 5 damage to that creature's controller.

    The idea is that the first time you cast the spell, you can choose to get it back later with upgraded effects. This also rewards drafting multiples.


    Canister Instability 2.1 R
    Sorcery (Common)
    Development 2R (2R: Shuffle CARDNAME from your hand into the top seven cards of your library, then draw a card.)
    CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature. If CARDNAME is developed, CARDNAME also deals 5 damage to that creature's controller.

    This one is more top-down R&D-- giving up resources and tempo now in return for a big payoff later. Also rewards drafting multiples.

    1. I worry that people might forget they developed a card. Also, does this develop the individual card, or all cards with the same name? I'm guessing the latter, but it's ambiguous.

      Your second proposal is nice, but I'd suggest using my wording (which draws first), that way it's more clear exactly how far off the card is.

    2. I have the same question about Research.

    3. Jay: Ahhhh. I hadn't even foreseen that... a Kicker variant that makes it possible to redraw the card DOES make that a lot more confusing!

  2. Also, um... is there a rules reason why the mana cost of a transformed Discovery card can't be printed on the transformed face? That seems pretty important.

    1. No actually, there isn't. There was before Westvale Abbey was spoiled, but now that the side with the mana cost isn't defined as the front face, I think we could certainly do it.

    2. The reason I avoided it is because of the off-chance that trying to cast a transformed card 'resets' it to the front face (because the front face is all that exists in zones other than the batlefield). If that isn't a problem, or if it's a problem we can easily fix, then let's give the backside the mana cost!

    3. If we can, getting the cost out of the keyword would make it much more clear that you don't pay that as an additional or alternate cost for the first casting.

    4. I'm pretty sure we can. I hadn't thought of that possible confusion, that definitely makes it worth fixing any potential rules weirdness in order to move the cost to the back. It also makes how the CMC works on the back far more obvious (for whenever that comes up)

  3. Discovery is awesome!

    -It solves the problem of allowing lots of artifacts in the set/player's deck while feeling like the denizens of the world are inventing artifacts (not a Mirrodin world where the world is actually made up of artifacts)

    -It forms a sequence of effects that has a nice flavor story as well as mechanical implications. There currently isn't a whole lot of cards that form a "sequence" like that other than planeswalkers.

    Although Shadows over Innistrad just did DFCs in a similar vein to this, this feel like a big vein with lots of possibilities to explore like kicker (although maybe not quite as big as kicker, but still big). A spell you can cast as one card type on one side, then later as another card type on the second side - that could be in many sets, creating many sub-styles of cards, serving different needs of the sets.

    I love the style of the Instant/Sorcery side representing an "experiment" or "event" that lead to a discovery and the other side representing the "invention" that came out of it. However, making the flip side have an off-color activation and a colorless activation may be too much. Just having the experiment-result form a story is enough meaning for the player to try to digest at first glance.

    1. I'm glad it appeals to you for the same reasons it appealed to me! The thing that defined Kaladehs the most in Origins (in my opinon) is colored spells 'bundled' with artifacts, to represent that they are invented and made, not naturally occurring. That's why I liked artifact-Discovery so much.

    2. Yes, good job, I agree they're a great fit!

  4. With Develop, I don't like the finnicky-ness of shuffling just a few cards. I feel like some skilled guy might be able to track the location of the card that's being shuffled in, even if I can't do it myself.

    I do think the general direction fits what many people often wish in a game - "If only I could draw this later."

    Wasn't there another mechanic that puts a card from hand into the library, X cards from top, face up or transformed until the library is shuffled? Was there a specific problem with it or did it just feel to weird?

    I would like to see "Discovery (When you cast this, put it in your library 3 cards from the top, transformed until shuffled. You may cast it from the top)"

    1. I was looking for simpler iterations on the mechanics, and the "face-up in library" thing isn't as simple as I was looking for.

      Premonition (that's the mechanic, from Reuben Covington's Dreamscape) is the mechanic you're thinking of, by the way.

    2. Upon checking, it may have been myself who suggested this particular iteration of the suspend that-uses-the-library-as-a-countdown mechanic.

    3. So you did! Yeah, it's certainly a good twist on the mechanic, but it also doesn't work well as a mana sink, unless we go with the Kicker variant.

  5. I like the idea of using Overload in G&B - the word itself has that mechanical/technical feel that might be at home in Tesla. Alongside normal pumping/protection effects similar to what we saw in red and blue in RTR, green and black have some fun options.

    Scrapheap's Reclaim {X}{B}{G}
    Sorcery (r)
    Destroy target nonland permanent with converted mana cost X.
    Overload {X}{1}{B}{G}

    But what if we explored more alternative costs?

    Scrapgrowth {G}
    Instant (c)
    Put a +1/+1 counter on target creature you control.
    Overload {G}, Sacrifice an artifact

    Rustblood Contract {2}{B}
    Sorcery (c)
    Target player draws 2 cards and loses 2 life.
    Overload {B}, Pay 2 life

    Or global effects you could build-around from a deck-building level?

    Chimera's Cry {B}
    Instant (u)
    Target creature gets +2/-2 until end of turn.
    Overload {2}{B}{B}

    While there may not be a lot of space for them, there's also the potential for overload on permanents. It's best to keep it to ETB-abilities of course, because permanent text-changing without any marker for indication is a clear no-go.

    Bountiful Behemoth {4}
    Artifact Creature - Construct (u)
    When ~ enters the battlefield, put a +1/+1 counter on target creature you control.
    ~ can't block.
    Overload {7}