Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Designing for Discovery: Test Your Mettle

Designing for Discovery: Test Your Mettle
By Larcent

"What an odd card," I muttered to myself when I first read Path of Mettle and Metzali, Tower of Triumph, when they were spoiled in Rivals of Ixalan.

I was not alone in that reaction. Luis Scott-Vargas called them "bizarre" in his initial set review. Melissa DeTora called it the "weirdest card in the set."

What makes Path of Mettle so unusual is that it asks players to discover a deck that resists the block's tribal theme. While three of the four tribes of Ixalan are represented within red and white, dinosaurs are the only tribe present in both colors, and the design of the set at least nudges players into focusing on the dino faction.

Path of Mettle absolutely doesn't care which tribe your creatures belong to. It wants to know what your creatures can do. This itself is a little unusual—there aren't many cards care about a creature's combat keywords with the exception of flying.

Within red and white in the block, there are 6 pirates, 8 dinosaurs, 2 vampires, and 5 non-tribal creatures that have at least one of the four abilities Path of Mettle checks for. That's doesn’t even account for noncreature cards that can grant those abilities.

Path of Mettle is not hard to understand or use. But it's a build-around card that resists tribal focus. It's not completely oblivious to it, though. It synergizes nicely with your dinos if they have enrage abilities.

Path of Mettle got me thinking of how a card designer could help somebody find a different type of deck within the bounds of a heavily tribal-oriented set like Ixalan. As a player that tends to drift toward blue and white whenever possible, I was a bit disappointed that the two colors had no tribal ties in the Ixalan set.

The decision to bring Azor, the Lawbringer into Rivals of Ixalan mandated to designers that a U/W deck needs to be viable in limited. And it is. The midrange flyers deck is showing to be pretty solid in limited with what has been added in the new set.

But there's more: There's a reason that the signpost Resplendent Griffin also uses the new ascend mechanic. Blue and white have been positioned to efficiently reach the threshold to earn the city's blessing, and they have some good payoffs for doing so. Both colors have accessible token creation (vampires or treasures). Both colors have combat auras in this block players will want to use, even with the risk of creature removal. Both colors are encouraged to rely on enchantments as a form of removal. A U/W deck in Ixalan tends to leave a lot of permanents in play as it takes control of the battlefield.

What about a creature that helped a certain type of U/W deck reach the threshold to ascend and didn't really care about the tribal battles going on in the set?

This is not nearly as powerful as Path of Mettle and Metzali—deliberately so. The white and blue cards with ascend are the payoff. Orazca Macaw is a tool to help get there if you build your deck right. And like Path of Mettle, it's not hard to know which cards you need in order to take advantage of the creature's ability. Those Waterknots and Squire's Devotions will do additional work getting you to ascend when Orazca Macaw hits the battlefield. If you've got Skymarcher Aspirants and/or Snubhorn Sentrys, the payoffs for reaching ascend very quickly can be quite strong.

I chose to count auras rather than just enchantments to nudge players specifically to focus on types of control and enhancement effects. If you've got an Orazca Macaw, perhaps you'd prefer Luminous Bonds over Baffling End?

Interested in a challenge? Green and black in the Ixalan block were in the same position as blue and white. It was the only other color pairing without a tribal identity. It did have a mechanical theme, though—these two colors were the only ones given the ability to explore with repeatable triggers and had other payoffs when creatures explored. What could be designed to help a player create a deck to take advantage of explore specifically in a B/G deck?

(Today's Guest Article comes courtesy of Larcent. If you would like to contribute a Community Spotlight article, check out Write for Goblin Artisans, then send a brief pitch of your idea to zefferal on gmail.)


  1. Thanks, Larcent for this. One of the major roles of Uncommon cards is precisely this: cards that scream "BUILD AROUND ME" at the top of their lungs. The (normally) ten uncommon gold cards that guide draft strategies in each set generally fill this function, as does the normal red enchantment that rewards you from playing the set's mechanic by Shocking a target.

    One cool thing about Path of Mettle is that, in a block which pushed tribal at the loudest volumes, it opens up a strategy that isn't at in conflict with it.

    Imagine a card that encourages you to play tons of equipment in Theros block. It would completely undermine the major theme of the set. Something to be aware of when designing cards that promote discovery.

  2. I like the space Path of Mettle opens up, a sort of "keyword tribal" that plays in a similar space as flying matters cards which ive always liked, only emphasizing speed instead of flight obviously. This isnt a design I made personally, but I think it shows what makes the space cool

    Unmatched Speed {1}{R}
    Enchantment - Aura (C)
    Enchant creature
    Enchanted creature gets +2/+0 and has haste and "This creature can't be blocked except by creatures with first strike, double strike, vigilance, or haste."

    The problem I think that both Path and its predecessor Samut had is that people have a hard time dentifying thats what theyre going for. I THINK thats because of vigilance, which I think to most people feels like the opppoite of speed-- it feels more like standing your ground as guard after an attack rather than the agility to attack and defend at the same time, which is the flavor justification used for Path of Mettle. Unfortunately, I can understand why its there on Path, at least. It was needed to make it feel more "equal". It would have the abilities RW shares, the strikes, then one red ability (haste) and one white (vigilance). Wizards still feels vigilance represents speed in its own right, though, based on Samut, but from a design perspective I get that path had it more for aesthetic balance reasons as well.

    I was surprised there didnt seem to be a lot of library manipulation to support explore. Not many payoffs either really, and while I think that would be the better angle to focus, but I would find a card like this interesting
    Undiscovered Species {B}{G}
    Creature - Snake (U)
    When ~ enters the battlefield or dies, you may choose one —
    • Search your library for a basic land card, reveal it, then shuffle your library and put that card on top of it.
    • Put target creature card from your graveyard on top of your library.

    Both abilities help support grindy gameplay like RIX and this can attack on a locked boardstate, and allows you to set up your explore triggers. Something I like about this design is that its a mashup in a vacuum, but makes sense in a format with explore.

    1. Why does flash not represent speed?

    2. I also don't read vigilance as speed.

    3. I tend to read vigilance as quick reflexes/reactions and flash as surprise/ambush. Though both of those are essentially types of speed.

      I've noticed that explore payoffs are too difficult to pull off in limited formats but grow very powerful in block constructed within Ixalan. I've faced some nasty G/B decks where that seemingly lackluster elemental from Ixalan became a 5/7 in two turns with the right support. And they get truly outrageous in multiples.

      I like the snake. One thing about the death trigger is that if it happens during your opponents' turn, you might not be able to take advantage of an explore trigger before you draw the card. I am not sure that's actually a flaw, though. It's something the player has to keep in mind.

    4. I think Wizards feels thats what Vigilance represents as well, burlt Im thinking most people dont feel that way, which is why I think a lot of people didnt get what Samut and Path of Mettle were going for.

  3. Challenge Design:
    Stacking Growth G
    Instant (C)
    As an additional cost to cast ~, put target permanent you control on top of your library.
    Target creature gets +4/+4 until end of turn.

    Excavator's Familiar 2BG
    Creature - Snake (R)
    Trample, lifelink
    Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, ~ gets +1/+1 until end of turn.
    Whenever a counter is placed on a creature you control, ~ gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

    1. stacking growth might be a problen in modern infect

    2. Stacking Growth. Hey, I've been exploring card designs that incorporate top-decking as a cost as well (though mine have also been graveyard recursion concepts). Interesting tension with explore here, because the easy answer is to put a land on top. But if you put a non-land permanent on top, you could get a +1/+1 counter with your next explore. The question is whether you can spare it and whether it messes with your own deck's tempo.

      Excavator's Familiar. I like that this both interacts with explore but also the green part of the merfolk's tribal identity in Ixalan (putting counters on creatures). So in a limited environment it doesn't push you away from merfolk in your deck, just like Path of Mettle doesn't push you away from dinos.

    3. I only ever design cards that will be a problem in modern infect. It's my calling.

  4. Born Again 1BG
    Enchantment (rare)
    Abilities that trigger when a creature enters the battlefield or dies trigger an additional time.

    alt template:
    If a creature entering the battlefield or dying would trigger an ability of that creature, copy that ability.

    Obviously, it's the entering that matters for this archetype, and I'd normally keep it at that, but dying includes black and adds parity.

    1. Is that B/G? Copying triggered abilities is Artifact only so far, but if I had to color it, on ETB I'd say Blue, and on death I'd say Dimir more than golgari.

    2. I don't know what you guys have as a spoiler policy here, but one of the leaked Dominaria cards shows who in the color pie owns the ETB duplication skill, though it doesn't necessarily have to be unique. I could see it also in green but maybe as a secondary or tertiary ability. Kind of like green has a very specific/narrow version of blue's cloning.

      I'm surprised they haven't added the black/death version yet.

    3. We don't have a spoiler policy. If it's official, we're generally happy to discuss. It's just been a little busy. I personally am waiting for images to go with that insane amount of text.

    4. https://scryfall.com/card/dom/XNDOI

      Although between Stristonic Resonator and Panharmonicon it's pretty much fair game if the restrictions are appropriate to the pie.

    5. Also, given that it's mechanically tied to a tribe in Dominaria, I'm not sure that necessarily means it's solely a blue thing. I forgot it was wizards only. That doesn't exactly scream "primary" access.

  5. Replies
    1. I'd laugh but I think they definitely had it mind when they gave GB the multiple explore triggers.

    2. Yeah was kind of a joke but would definitely have pushed the archetype.

  6. Grim Captain's Call Was intended to be a plant for GB in Ixilan because GB has all the tribes.

    That seems like an interesting place to design

    Deeproot Apostate 1GB
    Creature - Merfolk Vampire (U)
    Whenever Deeproot Apostate blocks or is blocked by a creature with one or more +1/+1 counters on it, remove those counters.

    1. Grim Captain's Call is one of my favorite dedigns from Ixalan. Its one of those "makes absolutely no sense outside of this world" cards, and it presents such a fun challenge.

      I dont like the idea of mixing the tribes just because they explicitly made that a thing they didnt do for Ixalan but i think you could form a compromise. Something like a green dinosaur or merfolk card that suits the playstyle of vampires or pirates in someway or vice versa with black.

    2. I think mixing tribes would be a lot of fun, particularly in BG. Pirates riding Dinosaurs, Vampire Merfolk. With such neat tribes, how can you not hint at the mashups to be explored when we return?

    3. I believe Mark gave an explicit explanation for why they didnt mix tribes. Id say another reason is they dont mix equally. Even if we take things like merfolk riding a dinosaur to make a Merfolk Dinosaur, that would contrsdict how they normslly do mounts, snd it would contradict even existing cards for the world because of the Empire dinosaur knights. Due to the precedence, theyve msde it even harder to mix tribes.

      Personally I think thats a little hamfisted anyway. Tribes dont need to share creature types to be played in the same deck at least for limited. Theyve been doing very well on this angle I think since SOI which was the first time I really noticed particular efforts to tie tribal archetypes to a specific gimmick (rather than overall archetypes like "the aggro tribe" or "the control tribe") instead of just focusing on critical mass of a type. Vampires werent just the aggro vampire deck, they were the madness deck. Spirits werent just the flyer deck, they were the flicker deck. That kind of thing I find fascinating.

      Of course that doesnt mean you couldnt mash types together but I think that makes it less necessary. Its the same reason I didnt like Lorwyns intertribal cards either. Its just forced to me. People will play a non matching creature type dude in their limited deck if the dude is good enough or fits an overall strategy.

    4. I was surprised when I actually started playing with Rivals of Ixalan how much it feels less tribe-oriented. On paper, when I looked at the set spoilers it felt like more of the same, but it didn't play that way it all, even with the tribal lords added to the set.

      I am surprised that removing counters wasn't a thing at all in this set. I could definitely visualize the vampires using that as a tool against the merfolk.

      I think your vampire could be monoblack, which would be kind of interesting if it remained a merfolk as well. Blow some minds.