Monday, November 27, 2017

Augment and Host

Unstable introduced a new card pairing mechanic like meld in which augments can be played to modify hosts. This is an exciting area of design for players because we love creating monsters. Their execution here does something very clever. There's also a shiny veneer I'd like to pull off.

Let's discuss augment.

Because augment can only be played on a creature you already have on the battlefield, it's functionally identical to an existing card type: the aura. In fact, we can re-create augment as a black-bordered aura ...ish. Check it out:

Pretend 'effervesce' isn't an awful word for this flavor.

What makes augment different from most auras is that you can only attach it to a very limited creature type. Of course, there's a very good reason for that: Augment cards change the ETB-effect of your host with a new, repeatable trigger. Matching an effect up to a trigger is a awesome and fun idea—one that Goblin Artisans caught onto ourselves back when we were exploring the idea of combining creatures.

What we never thought of—and what makes host/augment looks so fun despite the fact that it's an A-B mechanic where the B half is literally useless without the A half—was the idea of always getting the effect from our first creature when it ETBs, and then also getting more of that effect via the new trigger our second card gives it.

While we can re-create that effect using some kind of templating (as shown above), Unstable does the very clever thing of having the augment card cover up the left portion of the host creature, over-writing the ETB trigger with the new trigger.

That's neat and visually appealing. It also solves some of the annoying little detail problems that plague card combination: What happens to the monster's name, mana cost, card type and creature types? When we augment Feisty Stegosaurus with Rhino-, we get Rhino-Stegosaurus, a rhino dino creature with a single mana cost. That's so clean!

It's not quite as clean an end-result as meld was, where the final text box and power/toughness box look just like a regularly printed card, but it's modular—which is a huuuge upgrade for gameplay—and they did it without double-faced cards—which is significant logistically.

It's odd that augment cards are creatures that you can't play by themselves and that don't have a mana cost (although it's nice how those two things go together), but that's an impressively small price to pay for the ability to combine any augment with any host to create something unique and exciting.

I have to point out one more really clever thing here. Because they made host a supertype rather than a creature type, it gets covered by the augment's type line, making the resulting monster ineligible for further augmentation, without requiring rules text to make that happen.

The messiest thing this solution brought about is that artifact hosts had to have their artifact type appear outside of the type line so that they would remain artifacts after augmentation. They could have avoided that by not making any artifact hosts, but it's vital to a five-color A-B mechanic like this to have colorless As and Bs to help make combinations possible as often players want. (Note that artifact augments don't have this problem because they are the left half of the final type line.)

I'm excited as a player to play Unstable and augment some hosts. As a game designer, I'm deeply impressed with the elegance and visual impact of their solution. And as an armchair Magic designer I'm interested to mess around (more) with the idea of cards that can trigger other cards.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. This execution really neat to see. It's also perfect having this be a small, silver bordered set is the perfect place for this because such a parasitic design would really feel out of place in a more traditional set. I'm a bit concerned that these look cooler than they'll play. As you point out, Augments are basically Auras (with really neat tech for solving the removal responces) which means that while they look different they're really limited to how competitive they really are. Unstable limited looks pretty removal light, which means the actual play format has the risk of devolving into Theros/Acacyn Restored Voltron creatures/Contraptions running away with games that don't feel interactive. Hopefully I'm wrong, but it's a concern, especially given the era the set was designed in.

    I was also really impressed with the ability to change the trigger on these. I'd love to see a black bordered ability word that just reenters a creature to the battlefield. It might still be too weird. It's like a flicker effect that doesn't have a ton of other interactions.