Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Multiple Choice Magic Design Question of the Day 4

4) Which of these Ravnica keywords has the largest design space?
 a) Radiance
 b) Overload
 c) Cipher
 d) Forecast
 e) Haunt
 f) Bloodrush

Click through to see the answer and my rationale.

'Design space' is a measure of how many significantly unique cards you could reasonably print with the mechanic in question.

Radiance multiplies an effect's targets, but they can be spell effects or abilities of permanents. Overload multiplies an effect's targets, but only spell effects. Even though overload is a much better and more popular mechanic, Radiance has the larger design space simply because the number of card types you can use it on is so much higher. (Also, overload is always one-sided and total, where radiance might not hit all the targets you want, and often some you don't. That makes it harder to print common overload cards.)

If your Google-fu is strong, you know you can eliminate cipher, because Mark says "This is probably the mechanic with the smallest design space of all 20 guild mechanics. We even had a problem making enough cards to fill up this block." Even if we didn't have that, it's a keyword that can only go on sorceries and instants (and doesn't want to go on instants), where you have to find a repeatable effect that's relevant after combat. Brutal.

Forecast is keyword that allows the effect to which it is bound to repeat. Like cipher, the number of repetitions is only limited by your turns, but unlike cipher, all you have to do to forecast each turn is pay mana and keep the card in your hand, no combat or keeping a creature on board is required. That makes forecast much less interactive, which makes it dangerous, which limits what effects we can use. The other big difference is that you can only forecast during your upkeep, which makes you want sorcery-like effects that are relevant pre-combat, where cipher wants sorcery-like effects relevant post-combat. That gives forecast the luxury of effects that affect combat, like granting evasion or other combat boons. Forecast can appear on any card type.

Haunt is similar to cipher in that you need an effect you want to happen more than once, and it has to be relevant after combat. Unlike cipher, it can go on spells as well as creatures. It's tempting to compare haunt's merits to forecast to decide which is better (Forecast), but that doesn't help us answer which has more design space. Though haunt was printed on one instant, Seize the Soul was a rare and we can assume the same playtesting that showed cipher shouldn't be instant would show haunt shouldn't have been either. That means forecast compares to haunt much like it did to cipher, with the exception that haunt wants creatures to die (where cipher wants them to survive) and that haunt can target enemy creatures (where cipher can't). So again, forecast can have combat effects where haunt can't really. Haunt effects will only happen 0-2 times, where forecast effects are limited only by time; haunt effects require creatures to die, which you might not have control over, where forecast effects are limited only by mana; All that means that haunt effects can be bigger/splashier. On the other hand, forecast has almost no flavor limitations, where haunt really wants to feel like ghostly/death stuff. These two are very close, but I believe forecast has larger design space than haunt.

Bloodrush only goes on creatures, and aesthetically requires that the bloodrush effect parallel the creature's stats and abilities precisely. A set only needs so many combat tricks, particularly in two colors. While you can eliminate Giant Growth when you've got Slaughterhorn, it's hard to make room for many bloodrush creatures. That said, how many sets could you introduce, say, 6 new bloodrush creatures, if that was something you wanted to do?

We've eliminated overload, cipher, and haunt. How do we compare radiance, forecast, and bloodrush? Radiance loses out to these two because it's so difficult to find effects that you can apply to arbitrary numbers of creatures, especially at common. That so many of them can cancel themselves out is also a problem (like when Wojek Siren impotently watches one red creature block another). Between bloodrush and forecast, we've got a mechanic that only appears on creatures (but could theoretically appear on any simple creature) and one that appears on any card type (but the list of repeatable effects is so limited). The number of simple creatures that could be bloodrush-ified is much larger than the number of tiny effects we want players to use over and over.

F is the best answer. D is also a good answer.

Addendum: If you use just the keyworded portion of haunt and discard the rest of the mechanic as used in Ravnica, the options open up to most simple aura effects. I wasn't looking at haunt that way (and Mark wasn't either), but if you do, that becomes the best answer. I'll call E also a good answer.

This question asks something we're not used to thinking about. Not what mechanic is more fun, or more resonant, or elegant, only how much design space it has. It also requires some serious analysis. I'm happy with my answer, but it was a lot of work to come to, and I had no idea when I started. And I still wouldn't be surprised if someone posed an argument that affected my ranking.


  1. I went with E.

    I actually just read the Storm Scale article on Ravnica but only remember that he said Cipher was pretty narrow, so that rules out C. Bloodrush and Forecast seem the same to me; it's about turning a card in your hand into a spell (repeatable in Forecast's case) but it's still limited to permanent vs. spell. Overload is narrow because of the range of useful "each" categories. Radiance has literally no flexibility.

    I think there's more that could be done with Haunt (including "if this creature is haunted" or "target haunted creature")

  2. Oh, that is interesting! Several of these questions, we've debated exactly what the question means. Here, I think it's clear what's being asked -- but even reading your logic, I'm still very unsure if I agree or not.

    My ordering was quite different, although now I read your logic, I find your reasoning persuasive.

    I put haunt first. My reasoning is, the large problems with haunt are due to it being complicated to understand and to see what's going on the battlefield. But I think there's lots of untapped design, if you accept it wouldn't easily be used at common. There's the equivalent of flashback (admittedly, not usually for combat spells), where re-using a spell is valuable by itself. There are abilities other than an effect, like using haunt as a temporary enchant, with "haunted creature gets X" instead of "blah when haunted creature dies" (I think that still counts as "haunt", although I can see an argument against too). There's *other* ways to line up the effect, e.g. like cipher spells which trigger again when the creature does combat damage, and just vanish if it dies; e.g. creatures which you can recast when they stop haunting; e.g. effects which count the number of haunted creatures; e.g. static effects which affect haunted creatures (e.g. "Haunt // haunted creatures can't block"); e.g. effects which reward the haunted creature dying in a particular way.

    It's fiddly, because that's too unfocussed, you'd want to pick one or two ways for a set and use those alone, the way original ravnica used "etb/same effect" effects. I'm not quite sure, because you could argue, haunt has NO design space, because it's basically unprintable. But if you use it at all, I think it has a lot of wide potential.

    1. As to the other answers. I was too generous to radiance and overload. I reckoned they had the next-most potential. But now I agree with your logic that effects which can be applied to all creatures are wearing thin, maybe they're below bloodrush. (Although I'm not sure, bloodrush doesn't seem to have many places to go.)

      I feel like "bloodrush" is average-ish. There's not a lot you can do with "an X/Y creature with a keyword or short effect" that hasn't already been done. But it's a solid mechanic that could come back with slight variation in sizes and costs of creatures.

      I put forecast as even more narrow than cipher. I'm not sure if I was right. You're right, that you can do combat effects which cipher can't. But I also feel that it's really really limited by what repeatable, uncounterable effects have an effect, but don't cause the opponent to flip the board because they just go on forever and they can't do anything about them.

  3. My notes and answers, before clicking through:

    Radiance-- only goes on effects that target. Hard to make commons. NOPE
    Overload-- ditto, NOPE
    Cipher-- Only goes on i&s. Only abilities that can be printed as saboteur.
    Forecast-- Technically any effect on any card, but it has to be OK as repeatable and work on upkeep. Hard to make commons.
    Haunt-- Technically any effect on any card. Has to be OK as an effect that happens twice and OK as a death trigger, at least as it's historically been used.
    Bloodrush-- Goes on creatures. Not very interesting on creatures with the same stats.

    I'm going to go with E, Haunt. Haunt is a notoriously unsuccessful mechanic for other reasons, but fundamentally it's just tech to attach effects to another creature after a card is put into your graveyard. (The Guildpact designs use a death trigger by convention, but there are other possibilities.) It goes on literally any kind of card and can do basically anything an Aura can do. There are limits to what you can do with it and still have a resonant design, but the other options here are even more limiting.

    1. By the way, the most annoying thing about Haunt from a design perspective is that it isn't a "may" trigger. Because of that, it's hard to print positive bonuses for the haunted creature since you might be forced to haunt an opponent's creature.

    2. Still not convinced after reading Jay's reasoning. Bloodrush is a decent answer, but it only goes on combat tricks and the creatures generally aren't able to have any abilities that don't apply to the bloodrush effect (Pyrewild Shaman is the exception that proves the rule). So you're left with french vanillas and *maybe* saboteurs, and there's a very limited number of those you can make while still having the designs feel different.

      If you limit Haunt to its Guildpact application, then yes, it's somewhat narrower, but I still bet I could make a lot of relevant, fresh, balanced haunt cards-- at least one for every relevant, balanced, fresh bloodrush card that Jay makes. :-)

      Radiance is not an acceptable answer from my perspective, for the same reason(s) that overload is not acceptable.

    3. Yeah, radiance is terrible.

      See below.

  4. haunt cards

    I'm fascinated that Jack and Ipaulsen read haunt as just the part in the reminder text, and not the what-it-means-to-be-haunted part. It's certainly true that one could use the haunt keyword to graft any ability to a permanent, but I feel like the ability triggering on death and being the same effect you got originally are fundamental to haunt's identity. That's certainly true of the existing haunt cards and we're never going to see new ones, so it's hard to say.

    I'm curious to hear how other folks read this.

    1. I suppose you could make a card with exploit that doesn't have an exploit trigger, but instead says "If ~ exploited a creature, it has menace." There's a memory issue there, but it does feel like exploitation.

      Weakness Ghost {1}{B}
      Creature-Spirit (unc)
      Haunt (When this creature dies, exile it haunting target creature.)
      Creatures ~ haunts have -2/-1.

      That's not awful. Hmm.

    2. That's a good question, and I'm not sure.

      I think it's partly that "haunt", as a keyword, naturally makes people think of it as referring *only* to the keyword, whether or not that's the most useful usage.

      I also think it's that the condition original ravnica orzhov wasn't consistent enough, e.g. the difference between creatures and instants. It doesn't feel like it already has an identity.

      Partly, even if I don't know *why*, I feel sure that future cards with the keyword, if any, would choose a slightly different design which is both less confusing and more consistent. I think Mark Rosewater would agree, although I don't specifically recall him talking about it.

      I agree this is a bit of a cheat, since the ability words like bloodrush could technically say ANYTHING and have the same word. But I think, there doesn't seem to be any design space *close* to bloodrush, nothing that seems an obvious generalisation without just being completely different. Whereas haunt seems to have many alternatives that make more sense than the original.

      Maybe it's partly that keywords were relatively more common than ability words at the time it was printed?

      I would say, if there is a triggered effect, it should probably be on ETB and unhaunt both, but I think you could plausibly have the other cards that don't have that.

    3. As the tag for 9 on the Storm Scale says: "I never say never." I could see Haunt returning with some mechanical cleanup in, say, a future Innistrad block that needs a flavorful returning mechanic. For example:

      Watchful Elder 1W
      Creature- Human (Common)
      Haunt (When this creature dies, you may exile it haunting target creature.)
      Haunted creature has vigilance.

    4. To me, this feels like a different mechanic. Particularly because Haunt resulting in a death trigger is an important part of it's flavor identity. I can see this rethemed as "Legacy".

    5. Fair point. Chroma -> Devotion is a good recent example of a mechanic that technically could have been reused with no changes, but got a new template and new flavor instead.

  5. My first instinct is that Haunt has the most open-ended possibilities, since it can do almost anything an aura could to a creature you or your opponents control, and the creature it starts on has a lot of options as well. We can do static bonuses or debuffs, triggered "when haunted creature" attacks/dies/etc, and the relationship between the starting card and its afterlife effects can be tight or loose.

    Bloodrush would be a close second, but the set of instants targeting (buffing?) attacking creatures is I think smaller than the set of few-lined post-graveyard effects for instants, sorceries, and creatures.

    1. Glad to see I'm following the same thread the others were re:haunt. I imagine you could put bloodrush on a lot of different creatures? Similar to the expansion of bloodthirst to black vampires, I'd be interested in mono-black blood-themes, or maybe even multicolor?

      Tempered Scholar 3U
      Creature - Human Advisor
      When CARDNAME attacks, you may switch its power and toughness.
      Bloodrush - 1R - Target attacking creature gets +1/+4. Then, you may switch its power and toughness.

    2. Attack triggers with bloodrush seem problematic to me. I'd be more likely to go for saboteur triggers, e.g.:

      Sly Viper 2G
      Creature-Snake (Uncommon)
      Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, draw a card.
      Bloodrush 1G - Until end of turn, target attacking creature gets +2/+2 and gains "whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, draw a card."

  6. Radiance is the most flexible of these mechanics. Any spell or ability that currently reads "Creatures you control" or "Creatures your opponent controls" could be rewritten as a Radiance ability with little change in cost. Any spell or ability that currently targets a creature could conceivably be changed to radiance at an increased cost.

    All colors could have cards with radiance in their color pie which can't be said of bloodrush. Bloodrush also struggles to make distinct cards. There's already a lot of overlap between combat tricks on red and white, and green combat tricks only feel distinct because the pump toughness which goes away with bleeding bloodrush.

    Finally, there's development concerns with too many bloodrush cards in a format, because it significantly advantages attacking. I can imagine sets with radiance cards as a common theme, but bloodrush is much harder.

  7. Funny enough, as previous commenters did, I also went with Haunt, for similar reasons. It is indeed pretty difficult to make ton of acceptable commons, but I feel like the number of possible cards can go infinite, especially if you start to go in directions Jack and Dave pointed to.

    This is also where I think "design space" could have a better definition, or a more defined goal : just talking about the raw number of significantly different cards isn't enough. You seem to imply that it should also have enough support to go at common in a high enough proportion. Now I think this is a good thing to take into account, because the goal of design space is ultimately to have some idea of its usability and re-usability in classic sets, where a keyword need some commons to be supported and to see print.

    I now think there should be a differentiation between the notions of "how high is the raw number of cards with this keyword that could see print" and "how broadly supported the keyword can be in the context of a classic set and usual rarity repartition". The former being more of a thought exercise, and the latter being an actual useful tool for Magic set design.

    If I take the first notion into account, I don't see many different Bloodrush cards you can make, compared to Haunt. Ghor-Clan Rampager and Zhur-Taa Swine already look pretty similar to me ; and you said it, in the end it's all just alternative offensive combat tricks. You can't make them look really different as they share the same role. However from the point of view you took, caring about the feasibility of common cards, there is probably more to look at in Bloodrush rather than in Haunt. Haunt has the handicap of being already too complicated to go at common... (and that, the inability to go at common, is a problem you pointed out for other mechanics, such as Overload or Cipher. Heck, they actually also suffer from a "low raw number of different cards you can make" problem.) This is making it hard for Haunt to compete against the simplicity of Bloodrush.

    In the end, I think your standing is right, but this requires us to question what the actual goal of defining the design space of a mechanic is.

    I hope I made myself clear, and I apologize for my flawed English.

    1. Your English is great, and so is your reasoning. Availability at common is definitely a relevant part of design space, and it's a big part of what makes Forecast, Radiance, and Overload so hard to design for.

      My preferred criteria for measuring design space is "How hard would it be to design another set's worth of cards with this mechanic?". (That's something Maro often brings up in his Storm Scale articles.) I agree with you that Haunt design pattern from Guildpact limits what can be done at common due to complexity, which makes the design space somewhat narrower.

    2. Well said and good point.
      There do exist mechanics that start at unc, like proliferate (or grandeur), and that clearly limits the number of them that can be printed, even if the number of possible designs is huge. I suppose we can talk about practical design space versus theoretical design space?


    4. Good way to sum it up. Practical vs theoretical. I like it.

      I also like Ipaulsen/Maro's wording, when talking about practical design space : "how hard is it to design a set's worth of cards with this mechanic" seem to be the right question to ask yourself, because that's what will matter.

  8. Another vote for Haunt. Flavor aside, most sorceries and instants other than combat tricks could be printed with Haunt, appropriately costed. So could virtually all ETB triggers.

    1. I definitely also went for Haunt. Not that I think we should bring back haunt.

      I actually think Bloodrush is pretty narrow in terms of design space, but it is one of my favorites, and definitely one I chose to highlight in my fake Masters Set cube.

  9. I went with Haunt too. I'm 100% convinced it's the only right answer here. It has a lot of problems, but design space isn't really among them.

  10. I confused "could" with "should" here. Forewarn can go on any card but Bloodrush just on creatures.