Thursday, May 24, 2018

GDS3 Reflections: Ryan Siegel-Stechler, Challenge 3: Mechanical Engineering

Ryan is back today to discuss the mechanics he came up with for the Third Design Challenge. Click on through to read how he approached this challenge. The judge comments for Ryan's submission can be found here.

By Ryan Siegel-Stechler

When I got the mechanic challenge, I knew immediately that the judges were going to expect to see something with a significant amount of polish. As amateur designers, it would be insane not to have come up with ones’ own mechanics, and I knew that the expectations would be sky-high.

I had two trains of thought when it came to this challenge. One was that I wanted to make sure that I really knocked the socks off the judges. I’d had one terrible challenge and one good result in an uneven week of judging, and I really wanted to make sure that I stood out. The other was that MaRo had specifically given me one point of advice – to find a vein of flavor and milk it, because that had led to productive designs from my last challenge. That really resonated with me, as I thought that being too cute in the tribal challenge had led me to put silly playtest names onto my Imps, robbing me of the opportunity to tie mechanics into flavor and really make my overall cards shine.

I had two choices of mechanics in my pocket. The first was Bully:

Bully (When this creature deals combat damage to an opponent, you have the upper hand on that player until a source they control damages you.)

Bully was a creature-only Mardu mechanic that I’d toyed around with for years. Many designs on GA that I’d made were adaptations of Bully cards from my personal file.

My Bully submission would have looked something like the below:

I had a couple of concerns, however. One was that I’d already done a black/red tribe – putting myself in the Mardu colors would represent a pretty big overlap. Second, the noncreature cards in my submission mentioned “the upper hand” without having a good way to define it in reminder text. Lastly, some of the cards pulled in different directions vis-à-vis whether you had the upper hand on one opponent or several. Finally, despite the flavor being nice, it didn’t feel like “real Magic”. I decided to set this mechanic aside, even though I liked the cards I had for it.

My other option was a mechanic that I’d toyed around with since the very first set I ever designed, Heatwave, with a buddy of mine, David Conrad. He and I had designed an entire set, with several mechanics. One was battalion-before-battalion, one was a terribly wonky self-blink mechanic that counted attacking creatures and spells cast (yikes), one was a keyworded version of saboteur abilities that prevented the combat damage the creature would have dealt (double yikes), and the last was a neat little loose grouping of cards that cared about which spell they were cast as.

This unnamed, unkeyworded mechanic struck me as a really rich design space. We had basically only used it as an escalation mechanic in the set, but it was open ended enough to be used as a kicker mechanic for more or less any ability. It also scaled really well – casting one spell first let you do small to medium sized bonuses, but it got exponentially harder to cast two or more spells, letting you do really big, splashy rewards.

I decided that this mechanic would be my best bet. Initially I called the mechanic “Tempo N”, and the spells were cast “on beat”. However, since Tempo is already a game term for a type of deck, and due to confusion about “tempo” and “beat” being different words, I made a switch to “Rhythm N” and “in rhythm”, which I think made a huge difference.

I also really loved the musical theme. I made cards I didn’t submit based off of all kinds of top-down music tropes.

Here’s Also Sprach Zarathustra:

Here’s a bugle wake-up call (pre-Rhythm change, as you can see):

And the John Cena walk-up theme (also pre-Rhythm change):

Among the cards I submitted, Ominous Music and Raindrops on Rooftops were other top-down designs, specifically “DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNN” and “the exact nature sounds that I put on in the background when designing to help me think”.

I was super proud to win this challenge. Mechanical design has a ton of moving pieces to execute just right, and I really thought that I knocked both the gameplay and the flavor out of the park.

The biggest disagreement I had with the judges concerned higher tempos. I think that setting up your plays so that you can cast cards on Tempo 3, 4 or 5 at higher rarities leads to more “can you BELIEVE what I just did?!” stories, the type that Magic thrives on. Having those cards not always work might sometimes feel bad, but the Legendary Sorceries from Dominaria prove that the epic moments are worth working for.

The biggest point that I thought the judges were spot-on in making was that color-limiting the mechanic probably would’ve been smart. This mechanic couldn’t hold up an entire set, and suggesting it could by putting it in all five colors was perhaps a little overambitious on my part. I think that I would have made the mechanic Bant if I’d thought about it that way (especially since my Imps were Rakdos), but I’d be open to other interpretations for sure.

For homework, come up with a music trope of your own and represent it in a card (with or without Rhythm).


  1. Congrats on your Battleborn card!


    1. Thanks!! I’ve been getting lots of messages about it. :D

    2. I think given the finnikcy of Ryhtm 1 , the rarity limits of ryhtm 3 and the christmasland problem of Rhythm 4 means the mechanic may work better capped at two.

      Something like

      Ryhtym - If you cast another spell this turn....BLAH.

      Also would cut down on some of the complex sequencing brain stress.

    3. I agree, Surge is a great mechanic. ;)

      Kidding aside, I personally think the Christmasland quality of rhythm 3-5 is the biggest part of the appeal, as I mentioned in my penultimate paragraph. The ability for cards to say “here is a normal effect, here is a huge bonus if you do something hard” is very appealing to me, much more than tacking a Scry 1 onto a card that costs a half-mana less than it should.

    4. I'd be interested to see what would happen if you had a series of common, cheap Rhythm 1 cantrip-style spells that, instead of drawing a card, reduced the casting cost of your next spell if they're played in rhythm.

    5. I wonder what it means that the primary critiques of three of the better mechanics were "Make it more like Surge " and "Make it more like Bloodthirst "

      I know this happens to wotc at times, Raid in Ixalan was a series of Raid like mechanics that just iterated into being raid. Although as we saw with the Bestow/Scavange that may be a downside.

      I personally feel broadening Surge and broadening Bloodthirst would open up enough play pattern differnces as you could do differnt types of cards and bonuses other than +1/+1 counters or cost reduction.

      The Ancestor mechanic really worked a lot like "Scavange but it also gives abilties " while these could work as evolutions better

  2. The flavour for the music cards was really awesome.

  3. Oh, and I like the concept behind bully. My worry about it being in Mardu, though, is that those colors are so effective at removing creatures, making the bullying much too oppressive to be fun. Which is flavorful for bullying, for sure, but could potentially lead to unfun games.

    1. I love bully.
      My inclination is that tracking who's got the upper hand on whom is too fiddly, and to just say whoever last deal damage to a player has the upper hand on everyone.

  4. This was by far my favorite submission this week. Kudos on winning the week!

    I kinda agree with the judges about higher Rhythm levels. My gut feeling is Rhythm 2 is good at common, Rhythm 1 at uncommon (because it takes more recognition to see how it is a downside), and rhythm 3 at rare. Playing 3 things in a row feels plenty exciting in my opinion. Also, it has a certain aesthetic rule-of-threes feel to me.

    I was hoping to see one or two cards break that mold, maybe at mythic -- like your awesome phoenix -- and maybe a rhythm X card. In that sense, I think the package you put together felt really right to showcase the mechanic.

  5. I think submitting this mechanic without the red cards would have been a mistake.
    Rhythm flavorfully makes sense as a way to express Red's artistic non-combat side.
    Mechanically, this is going to want red for the same reason that Storm includes red and Prowess is U/R.
    It gives the most access to rituals and cantrips outside of blue.
    I think excluding blue and green would have made sense since they tend not to be very tempo oriented mechanically.
    The inclusion of white as the other prowess color makes sense, and this would be a great mechanic for a return to Tarkir and the Jeskai.
    I can see it now:
    Training Montage WRU
    Whenever you play a spell in rhythm you may play a card in your hand wihout rhythm as if it was in rhythm.
    Whenever you play a spell in rhythm put a +1/+1 counter on target creature you control.

    1. "excluding black and green"*

    2. Completely agreed. White and red are also lower on the curve than other colors, which works very well with rhythm.

  6. Metronome Keeper was my favorite card this round once I realized (from Jules's feedback) that you could play it in 3/4 time.

    One two-two, two two-twoes, three two-twoes, four two-twoes. *Song of Storms starts playing in the background*

  7. I just want to say, props for an amazing submission. You made me excited to go play a set that includes the Rhythm mechanic. I want to open these cards in the prerelease and have a good time. Great work!

  8. While I think tempo tackels gameplay from an interesting angle, I feel like it'd be a little too clunky. Playtesting would help alleviate that worry. Reading your thoughts here, I have one BIG thing I was very impressed with-- the "top down" of sounds! Wow, that's interesting! And they really feel like that! Raindrops is a little abstract but I got it, but especially stuff like Walk-On Music! What an exciting angle of topdown I never thought of. Really, really exciting, to wonder "what does it mean to make top-down sound effects instead of more tangible things?"

  9. I loved the flavor and the idea behind this challenge. Sequencing is a favorite of many players, including some good friends of mine, and this is a fun and evocative way to do it. I do agree with the judges, though, that it's going to be so difficult and infrequent to reach Rhythm 4.

    Doing so requires dropping so many cards, that it's almost card disadvantage to do so. And it's almost impossible to orchestrate in Limited I think. If you can make a format where it happens, then yeah, that's gonna be great and such a unique format! But I'm just inherently dubious it's possible.

    I did like the idea of the judges to make the Phoenix free on Rhythm 4. Rhythm 3 really feels like the top-end for Limited to me.

    But prove me wrong! How would you make a Limited format where Rhythm 4 is really achievable?

    1. If they ever brought back suspend it would be doable.

    2. I loved Suspend. It makes me sad that it's unlikely to return.

    3. I think you can actually do it as long as it isn't surrounded by the rest of Time Spiral's nonsense. I'm sure they've explored it and they'll probably do it again if they can find an execution that's less finicky.

    4. Based upon Ryan's comments, bouncing (particularly self-bouncing) would help enable rhythm a lot. I imagine that flashback would also help.

      Also, unrelated, but I am apparently awful at posting on Goblin Artisan correctly.

    5. Self-bounce, Raise Dead effects, card draw/filtering, rituals. As far as older abilities: Suspend, Rebound, Flashback. If you wanted you could make an (un)common that “counts as two spells when cast”.

      I played the Phoenix in a Limited-style deck while playtesting, and got it to go off once in approximately 30 playtests. For a Mythic Rare and a “Draw 7” effect, that seemed right, but I agree that it’s very rare for a Magic card to “fire” that infrequently.

  10. By the way, I love Stop Hitting Yourself.

  11. Did you ever think about/play around with designs that have varying Rhythm numbers? That's where I almost expected the rare/mythic rare to go when I was reading through your commons. So you can maybe play it early for a small Rhythm payoff or late for a big Rhythm payoff. Something like:

    Killer Aria (R)
    Rhythm X
    If Killer Aria was cast in Rhythm, destroy up to X target Creatures.

  12. Yours was my favorite submission, so I'm glad the judges agreed! I'd say that larger Rhythm effects would be pretty cool, though. I'd love to see a big splashy finisher for getting off a series of cards in rhythm, for example. A big setup for a big payoff might not be great in limited, but as a rare or mythic to play with in constructed I think it would be awesome.