Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tesla: Types of Archetypes

Hello again, everyone! We've been hard at work over at the Magic Multiverse, filling in and polishing up the various archetypes, including the ones we discussed last time. This week, we're going to look extensively not only at the philosophy behind archetypes, but at the different kinds of archetypes - and we're going to use these lessons to design better archetypes, and cards in those archetypes, for Tesla.

Archetype of Imagination by Robbie Trevino
Why even have archetypes in a set at all? It's possible to design a set without them; you just fill the set with cards inspired by its themes, mechanical or flavorful. Tesla could just be filled with cards that are artifacts, or that are flavored after South Asian animals, or that feel like they come from a steampunk world. And when you'd be drafting this alternate-universe Tesla, you'd still have to draft around colors; and heck, synergies would still be present amongst individual cards, or collections of cards. Fugitive Freelancer would still be a 'combo' with Living Autopsy, for example. The set would still be communicating its themes, and it'd still have synergies in Limited... so what's missing?

Archetypes are, primarily, a structural skeleton for designers to work with - when you define an archetype for each color, you make it a lot easier to design for each color, and to produce a Limited environment that guarantees synergies like the aforementioned one. However, they also serve another important purpose: archetypes serve as messengers for the set's themes, the set's mechanics, and even the basic lessons and strategy of Magic as a whole.

Archetypes serve as a simple vehicle with which Magic can communicate basic lessons about the game. In games like Super Mario Bros, it's easy for the designer to teach players, as they have far more control over how players experience the game - sequentially, for example. In Magic, we don't have that benefit, so 'guiderails' like archetypes help us convey things to players - such as "artifacts are important in Tesla". Some of these lessons are actually quite important to new players - such as "paying life is often worth it", and "gaining life is not good on its own".  While archetypes cannot teach new players these lessons, archetypes facilitate the act of learning.

There are three major categories of archetypes, and they each convey a different message, and a different lesson, to a wide variety of players. Most of these archetypes convey a similar sort of message - 'this set cares about this thing' - but the lessons embedded in these messages vary considerably, and the target audience for that archetype does as well. Let's discuss the differences between these archetypes.

A/B Archetypes

A/B archetypes consist of A-cards, 'enablers', and B-cards, 'rewards'. A classic example of an A/B archetype is Madness in Shadows over Innistrad; Madness cards require you to have a way to discard them, and each Madness card serves as a reward for doing so. Another example is life-gain in Battle for Zendikar. This archetype's {B} cards often reward you for gaining life, while its {W} cards provide the life-gain.

The 'enablers' for an A/B archetype often don't communicate much to the player - for example, Catalog and Tormenting Voice are reprints. However, the 'rewards' for an A/B archetype speak very strongly to the player - "this is a thing you might want to do". For example, also in Shadows over Innistrad, there is Pyre Hound. The 'prowess' archetype is also an A/B archetype, and this 'reward' tells players, very strongly, that they might want to play some instant and sorcery spells.

A/B archetypes often help new players realize 'truths' about Magic. For example, the life-gain archetype in Battle for Zendikar incentivizes players to try playing every life-gain spell, and in doing so (and probably losing), they'll begin to realize that they may be overvaluing life-gain (as new players often do). Likewise, the popular {B}{R} "sacrificing creatures" deck teaches players that sacrificing your resources can be good for you, and the {U}{R} "instants and sorceries" deck teaches players the importance of having a certain density of creatures in your deck, even if they're just tokens.

Linear Archetypes, or, A/A Archetypes

This category's most prominent member is the classic tribal archetype, which focuses on a creature type. In Battle for Zendikar, for example, we saw the Allies deck. What distinguishes these from A/B decks is that they don't require a separate 'enabler' and 'reward' - in the Allies deck, for example, the enablers are the reward. Hence, the name 'A/A archetype' (thanks Tommy Occhipinti for the name)

Tribal decks can, and often do, include A/B elements, but they almost always include A/A elements as well. For example, vampires in Innistrad had Vampiric Fury - a reward- and Rakish Heir at uncommon, an A/A card.

A/A archetypes are one of the most popular of the archetypes among LSP's, if not the most popular, because they provide a quick and exciting direction for them to take. Magic is an intimidating game; each set introduces hundreds of new cards, and it's daunting for new players to begin making a deck from that. However, when you are specifically looking for, say, Goblins, it's much easier to begin making a deck.

This is how A/A archetypes help players learn to evaluate cards - new players often just make a tribal deck by jamming all of that tribe they have into a single deck, and after they realize that doesn't work so well, they'll start having to decide which Goblins make the cut, and which don't. By limiting the number of cards they have to decide amongst, it's easier for them to start identifying what makes cards good, and what makes cards bad.

Strategic Archetypes

Strategic Archetype
Lastly, there's the largest and most abstract kind of archetype of them all - the strategic archetype. This not includes mechanics as a whole, such as Landfall, Morbid, or in Tesla's case, Raid and Recharge. However, it also includes broad strategies, such as "go wide" - often a {W}{R} archetype - "ramp" - often {R}{G} - and "aggro" - often {B}{R}.

Strategic archetypes are more subtle than other archetypes, but still require synergy, and at a certain level, a dedication to their archetype. For example, aggro cards are far worse in a control deck, and an aggro deck requires a critical density of aggressive cards. Likewise, control decks require a critical density of answers and bombs. So even here, you can see how aggro is like an A/A archetype, and control is similar to an A/B archetype. The reason they aren't A/A and A/B is that they lack signposts - cards that indicate to LSP's what direction they should build their deck towards.

As the 'signposts' of strategic archetypes are cards like Voldaren Duelist, which requires some experience to recognize as an aggro card, this is why the lessons of strategic archetypes are geared specifically to intermediate players. Strategic archetypes help intermediate players learn the 'ins and outs' of strategies, things like 'what makes a good aggro card?', by practicing them in a smaller format. Many Limited formats include aggro, midrange, and control archetypes - the classic trio - as a result of this. Some also include ramp and combo.

As one can see, archetypes are almost natural 'stepping stones' for LSP's to move from being brand new, towards being experienced players. The more narrow collections of cards give new players a smaller set to experiment with, and through loss and success, identify the variables that make up a powerful card, and in turn, a winning deck.

Remembering these lessons is important for creating archetypes in your set. Just making archetypes because 'that's what sets have' is wrong; your archetypes need to serve a purpose. When you design an archetype with a goal, it gives it a more unified direction; and if that goal is to teach good gameplay, well, if often produces better gameplay as a result!

This is a lot to take in, but if we try to keep this in mind when designing the archetypes for Tesla, I'm sure we'll be met with great success.

Until next time, have a great summer!

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