Monday, September 12, 2016

CCDD 091216—Modular Cockatrice and friends

Cool Card Design of the Day
9/12/2016 - 'Modular' is the wrong word because it already means something in Magic. Ignore that. (Although these do play well with modular creatures.)

The concept applies though. Well, okay, the normal English version of the concept does; the Magic meaning is also already taken and means something else (although this is a somewhat modular mechanic).

I'm not helping. It's a weird mechanic, so I'll just show you. Then we'll talk.

Modular Cockatrice gains an ability when you put a +1/+1 counter on it. What makes it modular—and not simply Baloth Pup, Lightwalker, or Dead Reveler—is that you get to choose which ability it gets. What makes it weird, is that you mark that choice based on where you place the counter on the card. And if you get a second counter, you can have both abilities. If you want them.

I chose Cockatrice as my reference, because it's a card that has a lot to gain from this mechanic: It has two useful abilities that aren't quite as useful together. Modular Cockatrice lets you choose which one you want when you Battlegrowth it, and whether you want both abilities when you do that again. (And I replaced Cockatrice's proto-deathtouch with lure because I misremembered. The point stands either way.)

This immediately presents logistical issues: You'll have to be careful moving your card about or your counters will slide out of place; and you're forced to use counters that fit. Fortunately, the traditional coins, glass beads, small dice, and rips of card/paper all do, but that remains something Magic has never codified before.

Forgive my hasty photochop: The circle in the illustration is hiding in the top-left.
This does present a few neat combinations, and the choice between them should be relevant in the vast majority of game states. It's like Primal Clay in that way, but you can 'kick' it anytime; there's a dream to achieve; and you have to earn it, which always feels good.

On maybe one rare, we could create a push-your-luck thing, where the first counter is great, but the second counter is terrible, making you reconsider cards that add 2 or 3 counters at once. Except, can't you just put counters elsewhere on the card? Are you limited to how many you can fit? You aren't normally, and players usually use dice when there are more than a couple. So the downside approach is useless. What else?

Modular Nighthawk is neat, sure, but how many cards can we make like this, and will that ever be worth the graphical treatment, communicating how the mechanic works to players, and the physical logistics it imposes?


  1. A nifty idea, but the logistics are a big issue. Not everyone uses glass beads or dice. Packs might have to come with a counters card in the token slot with cutout lines drawn on it.

  2. Personally I'd use a coin.

    Hired Specialist 1BB
    Creature Human Mercenary (C)
    Hire (Hired Specialist enters the battlefield with a coin counter. Choose heads or tails for that coin)
    As long as hired Specialist has a coin on heads it has death touch.
    As long as hired Specialist had a coin on tails it is unblockable.

    1. Karmic Tip G
      Instant C
      Put a coin on target creature.
      Scry 2

      Rob 1B
      Sorcery U
      Move all counters from target creature an opponent controls to target creature you control. You may reverse coins moved this way.

      Changling 3UU
      Creature Shapeshifter R
      1: Put a coin on Changling until end of turn.
      Changling gets +1/+0 for each heads coin and +0/+1 for each tails.
      If Changling has two or more heads coins it has hexproof. If it has two or more tails it has first strike.

    2. Karmic Trip is why I like the +1/+1 counter solution: It's less parasitic and doesn't create what-does-this-even-do cards.

      Maybe we could codify double-sided tokens (coins) with +1/+1 on one side and -1/-1 on the other...

  3. I think Dead Reveler or DFCs might be the best Magic can usually do with this sort of thing, since both of them can cleanly show two different static states without one state needing to being strictly better than the other. (Compared to, say, Monstrosity or Level-Up, where progression, and not just change, is to be expected).

    I'm sure something like this exists in the back catalogue of Magic somewhere, but another way to do marking using in-game materials:

    Blueprint Nighthawk {1}{B}{B}
    Creature - Vampire Rogue
    Imprint - When Blueprint Nighthawk enters the battlefield, exile up to two cards from graveyards.
    As long as Blueprint Nighthawk has a creature card imprinted, it has lifelink.
    As long as Blueprint Nighthawk has an artifact card imprinted, it has deathtouch.
    As long as Blueprint Nighthawk has a land card imprinted, it has flying.

    Eight lines, but a very readable text box on a card, at least.

  4. Cool effect; it raises some rules questions:

    When (if ever) can I move counters on a creature around?

    Does the controller of the creature decide where counters go, or the controller of the effect putting counters on?

    1. You can only move counters when an effect tells you to.

      The person "putting" the counters will be the one to decide where they go.