Thursday, December 28, 2017

Multiple Choice Magic Design Question of the Day 9

9) Assuming the next four expansion sets will each feature one of these direct damage cards in the common shock variant slot, which two are least likely to see print?

Magma JetScattershotPyromatics,
BlazeGut ShotErratic Explosion

 a) Magma Jet and Erratic Explosion
 b) Scattershot and Pyromatics
 c) Blaze and Gut Shot
 d) Magma Jet and Scattershot
 e) Scattershot and Erratic Explosion

Click through to see the answer and my rationale.

Magma Jet is a great card and has only been printed at common in Modern Masters. Even so, it's right on the cusp of being uncommon and only because of power level. It's not likely to be common, but it could be.

Among storm cards, Scattershot is relatively harmless because it can only kill creatures, not players. It was common originally. But storm has always been a 10 on the storm scale (which is frickin' named after it).

Pyromatics has replicate, which will probably be reprinted eventually. It was also common originally. Allowing Pyromatics to be legal in the same Standard environment as Scattershot would make the latter even stronger; that particular combo doesn't alarm me too much, but their surrounding sets will have other replicate cards and other storm cards and that's definitely never happening.

Blaze is inappropriate for common because variable costs are often confusing for new players. That said, Blaze is the simplest X spell ever, and also the least powerful after Heat Ray.

Gut Shot can't be in any set that doesn't feature phyrexian mana, which we'll probably only see once more in Magic, but in that set it's 'completely' fine. I mean, as fine as a 0 mana colored card can be. (While direct damage is primary only in red, it can be colorless when inefficient, which a card that just deals 1 damage always will be.)

Erratic Explosion was common originally, and isn't usually too powerful for common. It is wordy and fairly complex, which red-flag for common under NWO, and it's also very high variance. Sometimes killing your target (who might be your opponent) and sometimes doing nothing at all. Explosive Revelation is a much better design, but as a 2:1 belongs at uncommon.

E is the best answer, and D is the next best answer. Storm's not coming back in an expansion set. Of the choices that exclude Scattershot, Erratic Explosion is the worst fit for common because it's such a mess to read and execute and almost always leaves you sad. Magma Jet is a bit too strong for common, but not moreso than Lightning Bolt. Blaze's {X}{R} cost should keep it out of common, but not more than storm should be left dead.

This question challenges your understanding of complexity concerns at common, the likelyhood of certain mechanics to return, and prioritizing multiple issues. Note that A and B were the worst answers (within their respective storm-or-not brackets) because while Magma Jet enables Erratic Explosion to do some scary things and Pyromatics helps Scattershot shine, you only need to remove one of those two cards from the equation to prevent those combos.


  1. First read - Blaze and Scattershot are the obvious no-gos at common, with Scattershot being more certain that it can’t be reprinted. Since Scattershot and Blaze aren’t together, we’ll check if any of the items paired with either is obviously bad. Erratic Explosion and Magma Jet are both too strong for common now. The other ones are fine (Pyromatics and Gut Shot could be printed in appropriate blocks at common just fine.) I think either D or E, leaning towards E - Erratic Explosion-like effects are now Rare probably due to complexity, whereas Magma Jet is simple enough, just too strong for common.

  2. I would bet zero of these ever occurring at common again (in a standard set), without serious changes to design philosophy. If I had to pick one that is most likely, it is certainly Pyromatics, but I consider Replicate a huge failure (and I have not once seen anyone on blogatog clamoring for more Replicate cards).

    R&D seems pretty opposed to including a Scry number higher than 1 at common. The closest I can find since Time Spiral is Calculated Dismissal which only gives Scry 2 under conditions that probably won't come up in limited.

    The other problem with Magma Jet is the power level is pushing the "too high for common" level (at least in most environments) and R&D has tried hard to make sure it is rare for players to first pick common removal spells.

    Obviously, as you note, Magma Jet is a fine common in a Masters set because the complexity of Scry 2 at common is a non-issue, but I'd argue more importantly because of the bump in overall power level of the format.

    So I think a 2R Sorcery Magma Jet would be printable at common as a stretch (in a standard set), but I don't think actual Magma Jet can be (barring serious shifts in R&D philosophy).

    I think Storm and Phyrexian Mana have a zero percent chance of coming back. Both were horribly mechanics with deep unresolvable developmental issues.

    Explosive Revelation is too weird a card for common, in my opinion. It has this high variance "sometimes the thing doesn't die" effect, but on the other hand if it does die it is pure card advantage. On the whole, that means this card at common is pretty okay, meaning it eats up some of Red's power points, but almost all players will despise playing with this card (though a few will love it). This is a recipe for cultivating net player unhappiness. Uncommon is a great place for this card.

    Finally, even ignoring the issue of X spells at common, Blaze is a terrible card for limited, and should not be printed at a rarity lower than Rare. Blaze is an INCREDIBLY powerful limited effect, likely to be first picked, etc. None of that is a problem at uncommon. The problem is that Blaze eats up a ton of Red's power points for a set, and then gets splashed in non-Red decks. To fix this, you really need to make the effect cost double Red, which then often makes the card bad. I think it is safe to call this an ongoing issue in Magic design.

    1. Agreed, except that I'd happily play XRR Blaze in any Limited deck with 7+ Mountains.

      Note that Erratic Explosion is the card being questioned, not Explosive Revelation.

    2. Yeah, saying Blaze costing RRX is "bad" was lazy, it is playable, but usually in the bottom half of Red uncommons, where was Blaze at RX is almost always the best Red uncommon, and is typically better than almost all Rares.

      Great cards do a lot of good (and to be fair bad) for limited formats, but almost all of that good is erased if the card is as easily splashable as Blaze.

      PS: I know my comments here are almost all about power level/development stuff, but a question about what a particular choice of common Red burn spell will do to a format is fundamentally a development question. (That's not a complaint, I think designers need to have basic development skills too, just an observation.)

    3. PPS: SOrry about confusing Erratic Explosion and Explosive Revelation, I kept double checking and confused myself. I think the point still stands that Erratic Explosion is good in a bad way, as you don't want to force Spike to play with it.

  3. Again responding without clicking through to test self.

    Any choice without Scattershot is out because of the evil, evil storm keyword. So eliminate A and C from the choices. Of the three remaining, the replicate skill is fine and reusable and is likely to return. Scry is available to red but it's the weakest at it so making it common is something to think about before doing.

    But I would say Erratic Explosion is too complicated as far as NWO thoughts of what should be available at common. I think it's less likely to be reprinted than Magma Jet. I'm going with E.

  4. Ah, oops. Figuring out which cards not to let into the same standard environment is an excellent question, but I completely missed it because so many of the cards looked unprintable at all, I was just "which of these is MOST unprintable".

    My answer was:

    Most plausible to print: magma jet. scry is fine, it's a fine scry card, 2 damage is a lot more like "shock" than the other options. I didn't even look at strength, the other options were so ruled out.

    Next: Pyromatics. Replicate is 5 on the storm scale, so it reasonable to print at some point, although not very likely.

    Next: Gut shot. Phyrexian mana is 7 on the storm scale, wizards don't want to return it because it had a reputation as way too strong, but gut shot is one of the more reasonable phyrexian mana cards, so if they return it in a more restrained way, it's a good candidate.

    Next (and the first of the ones I bet against being printed at common all): erratic explosion. OK card, but too fiddly for common (and too open-ended in damage to players).

    Penultimately: Blaze. Wizards never print X-damage-to-players at common since modern began, and not much before.

    Last place: Storm. No way. I debated switching this with blaze, as I'm not sure which is more likely to be broken "x damage to players at common" or "storm".

    I focused more than Jay on "shock replacement", it seems like a more complicated spell is not really playing the role of shock, even if some might be common in addition to shock.

    1. PS. Another very good question -- I think we're converging on a clear answer, but it involves weighing a lot of factors and it's hard to get right straight out of the gate.

      Looking at the other answers, I didn't notice common usually only had scry 1. I'm not sure if that changes my answer or not.

    2. The complicatedness of Scry N grows more than exponentially with N. With Scry 1, there are 2 options. With Scry 2 there are 5 (counting both Bottom-Bottoms as the same). With Scry 3, there are already 16 options to consider.

      Notice a few of the times it shows up at common are on things like Read the Bones and Foresee, where the complexity is alleviated by the fact that you are going to be drawing two of the cards, so the order of the top cards doesn't matter.

    3. PS: Because I'm a math nerd, here's the sequence, if you're interested:

      Scry 4: 65
      Scry 5: 326

    4. It does grow quickly, but scry 2 is not terribly hard.
      "Do I want 0, 1 or 2 of these? If both, in what order?"

  5. Scattershot is right out due to Storm, so that rules out A and C. Magma Jet has always been an uncommon but was common in MM17, so I guess that might make it OK? Replicate is a 5 on the storm scale, and Pyromatics was already common. So I guess I answer E but I don't feel good about that either.

    1. The NWO complexity bit is something I clearly need to read up on.

  6. My notes and answers (before clicking through):

    Magma Jet: Possibly format-warping at common, but otherwise unproblematic.
    Scattershot: The mechanic is a 10 on the storm scale, but the design itself is reasonably balanced.
    Pyromatics: Fireball-ish functionality probably wants to be uncommon under NWO, but no other issues.
    Blaze: Straightforwardly uncommon, but otherwise do-able.
    Gut Shot: Uncommon, plus whatever baggage comes with Phyrexian mana. 7 on the Storm Scale to see the mechanic return.
    Erratic Explosion: Between the swinginess and the complexity, no way is this a NWO common. Also, it's a bit misleading to describe it as a "shock variant" since it has the potential to deal so much damage.

    My choice: E, Scattershot and Erratic Explosion. Scattershot because it would require an expansion set with the storm mechanic, which I put at approximately 0% chance. Erratic Explosion because out of the others (all printable), it's the one that makes the least sense as a NWO common.

  7. NB: Pyromatics plus Scattershot is a nonbo. Replicate copies go directly on the stack without being played, so they don't contribute to Storm count.