Wednesday, April 25, 2018

CCDD 042518 - Steam Vent Remixes and Overdesign

I've been thinking a lot about rare land cycles a lot recently, and Ravnica's shocklands have been bugging me.

Steam Vents and friends are very strong. Few modern decklists don't include at least a few shocklands. Instead of paraphrasing MaRo, I'll just quote him direct-like:

This is my favorite dual land-cycle I've designed. The idea behind it was that I knew both the pain lands and the tap lands were a bit week, so I made a ten-card cycle that let you choose one or the other. To simplify the template and gameplay, I changed the pain land option to be a one-time 2-life payment rather than losing life each time you tapped the land for colored mana. Also, because I realized that no dual-land cycle since the original dual lands had had both its basic land types, I also added that to the mix.
Mark Rosewater, Get Ready to Duel
That seems like he just skipped some steps in iterative exploration of design, and mashed a bunch of stuff together. There's choosing pain or tapped, there's the single-time life payment, and there's the dual land types.

This reads so much cleaner, and picks just two of those "new" takes on dual lands, and the land types certainly aren't 100% necessary. This is certainly less powerful than Steam Vents, but still a strong design, and one that still would be used with the fetchlands. It also would have eventually allowed this to be a card.

By taking these iterative steps, more design space could have been conserved for future sets, in the card type with the least amount of available design space. But because Steam Vents mashed so much iteration together at once, anything that comes after it has to be better in some way or loses the appeal that these rare land cycles lend to their sets.

See what I mean? Steam Vents Remix is strictly worse than its inspiration, so to make something that's at least worth considering over it, we end up with this. That's too powerful.

Even without the land types, I'm pretty sure that this would see a tremendous amount of play. It isn't fetchable, but the 1 damage on ETB is negligible most of the time. 

When we look to resources other than life when it comes to landing this first turn, the payment becomes very steep. I wouldn't run that.

I might, however, run that. 

I imagine many a Legacy deck would run that.

This is why overdesign is as big a problem as it is. It is completely ok to obsolete cards over time. But we should not be preemptively obsoleting designs when we can. 

One more take on steam vents:

This deals 1 to you on your first turn, but becomes much more dangerous later in the game if your deck has a greedy mana base. That's the one I'll be putting into my next set.

One more thought. Ravnica is one of my favorite blocks of all time, completely independent of its shocklands (I prefer Karoos myself). But would it be remembered as fondly by the MTG community if the shocklands hadn't been as strong as they were, and if they hadn't interacted so nicely with the fetchlands? Legacy/Extended players at the time were excited by the potent mana bases that the set made available as much as anything else. How much goodwill did it receive simply for having Steam Vents and co.?


  1. An uncounterable discard outlet might be too strong for Dredge/Reanimator. Manaless Dredge would be able to potentially skip the whole discard-to-hand-size rigamarole.

    I like the very first design a lot. What if we had a Standard cycle of lands ala:

    Steamy Monastery
    When ~ etbs, it deals 2 to you.
    T: Add R, W, or U.

    1. Exile a card from your hand works as well. For normal magic, it's a major disatvantage.

    2. I like shock tris, but one tiny change I'd make is have it deal 3 instead dof 2. This reflects the slightly higher power as well as being more aesthetically appealing. I like that two color lands would deal 2 and three color would deal 3.

  2. I agree that cleanet shockland execution is appealing. One thing I noticed with lands, especially duals, is that it's hard to make designs that don't feel abstract or arbitrary when aimed at tournament play. I don't blame then for sticking with reprinting cycles as design space for duals is pretty shallow for something expected nearly every set.

    I actual think the pitch land is still pretty playable. I'd ditch a card for an untapped dual I feel like, pretty happily. Maybe actually playing it I'd be less happy. Probably not a four of in constructed but I don't know the math. I'd probably be sad after seeing more after the second one.

  3. I think the ETBT option is essential. If the damage is mandatory, sometimes it'll be the correct decision to miss your land drop and keep the life, which feels pretty bad.

    1. City of Brass/Mana Confluence/fetchlands (especially fetchlands) have the same issue though?

    2. Sure, but 1 life < 2 life, and for those you can at least put them on the battlefield and get the mana when you really need it. Holding cards in hand feels uniquely sucky.

      I also don't think fetches should ever have been printed, though, so....

    3. You know, one thing about fetched that really bugs me, ignoring sny game play issues... They have an evocative mechanic, but they don't flavor that way! Imagine if the fetches were all flavored as forks in the road type things. It makes me a little sad.

      I'll admit I didn't think of the issue that sometimes it is correct not to take the damage off your shocks. I'm not sure how huge that is, but it is a thing. I would argue rare land cycles however aren't aimed at the players that would struggle with the decision. A newer player that might not like losing life to their land drop would just go to a Refuge thinking "this one gives me free life, I'll go either this one anyway", and more advanced players are more willing to negotiate and build their decks with appropriate land ratios to compensate for the life loss.

    4. Yeah, good idea! "Plateau Crossroads" or something would have been a flavor win.

      Even for more advanced players, it's never fun to miss your land drop. They'd run these lands because it's correct, but they wouldn't feel as good about it.

    5. My argument was more that more advanced players would have the insight to build their land base knowing that maybe sometimes they won't want to play these lands, so they would play more of a mix of other lands to mitigate it's downsides, or just not ue it if the current meta is unfriendly towards it, such as heavy burn. I think it would get played more often than not, but that's still an option. The argument is moreso that higher level players would be able to weigh pros and cons and build their decks more appropriately, more than them not caring about perhaps occasionally missing their land drop. Nobody likes missing land drops, even moreso arguably because they're smart enough to know when taking a free two damage might give an aggressive deck the range it needed. Just that those players will know when it's correct to play these lands and when it's not (and newer players probably wont want to play a land that loses then life in the first place), mitigating the situation.

      I'm kind of playing devil's advocate in a way, as I think it's a relevant concern and I don't know well enough play patterns of other players to be able to 100% make these calls.

    6. Dual lands that new players don't even want to put into their decks are not FNM friendly, and are therefore not Standard friendly. It can be done, but realistically the set needs a multicolor theme with an abundance of fixing at lower rarities.

  4. It's amazing to me that they've never made an ETBT cycle that just have the basic land types.