Wednesday, June 6, 2018

CCDD 060618—GDS3 Riding

Cool Card Design of the Day
For the mehanic challenge in GDS3, I built and tested a number of mechanics. Ride came the closest to making the final cut over bloodspill. I'm really excited about ride because it solves so many of the classic mount problems in a fairly elegant package. I didn't submit it because it's super risky to claim to have found the holy grail so many designers have been searching for, and because bloodspill created the most novel gameplay.

Four lines of text is a bit much for something that boils down to "choose another attacker that can't be blocked unless this is" but this text is very clear, and it sets up fun riding effects you'll see in a bit.

This is a pretty minimal effect, but generates a ton of interesting gameplay. For the most basic example, say I've got a Steadfast Pachyderm and a Stealer of Secrets attacking you.
  • If you've got a Watercourser, my Pachyderm keeps you from blocking my spy and I get to steal a secret from you. (Maybe you pump your elemental to trade with my elephant, or maybe you just take it all.) 
  • Say instead you've got a pair of Runeclaw Bears; If not for my Pachyderm, you'd trade with my spy and let the elephant through. But because your bears can't reach my spy while it's riding my elephant, you've got to block the Mount first. Do you then block the spy with your second bear, or do you double block the Pachyderm?
The obvious next thing is a Mount with evasion. Let's compare Guiding Drake to Aerial Guide in order to get a better handle on the mechanic. Aerial Guide is a bit simpler because it attacks and makes your other creature flying for the whole turn, and there's really no room for rules confusion. With Guiding Drake, things are a bit more trickier. If you can block my Drake with one flying creature, you don't need a second flying creature to block its rider. If you've got Tightening Coils or Canopy Claws, you don't need any flying creatures, but you still need to block my flightless Drake before you can block the creature riding it.

Let me be clear, ride does take more mental capacity than similar solutions. Players will mess it up a couple times before they finally grok the full gameplay implications. Here's why I think that cost is worth it. The flavor is much stronger, and when looking at the gameplay interactions from that perspective, they are more intuitive. They are not simpler, and our brains are trained a little bit the other way, so adapting will take experienced players a few games, but ride generates new avenues of Magic to play and that's a big deal. Also, players are desperate for a real Mount+rider mechanic, and this one is seriously fun.
It's a very good sign for a mechanic that you can slap it on almost any vanilla body and get something relevant. Comboing with every combat keyword gives ride a ton of depth.
Compare Lightning Steed to Venemous Companion.
Compare Imperious Mount to Dauntless Steed.
Eager Mustang doesn't even have evasion, but still tells a great story and promises some sweet plays.
Dipping into my uncommons a bit early, I get to remind you that the Mount itself can be exciting.
Finally, I get to show you a mount that grants an ability to its rider!
Look how fun and easy it is for a mount to grant its rider abilities.
I mean, rawr!

Just as vehicles have their pilots, mounts have their riders, obviously.
I figured I'd stick with creature type pilot as the difference between a pilot and a rider is negligible.
I didn't go deep here, since these would never make the submission, but there's absolutely a handful of sweet pilots you could make for your Mount deck.

Speaking of which, now is as good a time as any to explain why I chose the phrase "non-Mount attacker." 'Attacker' opens up the possibility for your Two-Headed Giant partner's creature to ride your mount without increasing words (it's the same length as 'creature'). The 'non-Mount' clause prevents your Riding Wurm from riding your Nightmount. I was fine with one Mount riding another, but I didn't want a chain of five mounts riding one another, I didn't you to wonder if your Nightmount could also ride your Riding wurm back (and what that means for blocking them), and most importantly, figuring out how to attack with two Mounts and two non-Mounts has a possibility space of 2 where attacking with four Mounts when anything can ride anything else has a possibility space of 24, so keeping decisions reasonable is a priority.

I know you want to see some rare mounts. Let's start with the most required:

And finally, a ride variant for when we want to limit what can ride something else. While this gives us thematic control, the justifiable reason to use it is for power level. Compare Loyal Pegasus to Guiding Drake.

It is very natural for you to be feeling like you don't really get this yet. That's a good sign. We want to explore the unknown and we want to give players things they can explore. Until you get a chance to try this out, take my word that it's fun. It may well be flawed in ways I haven't realized yet, and you're welcome to speculate, but it's absolutely fun.

Design a Mount or Rider in the comments.


  1. What happens if we make our Mounts no longer Mounts? Can Johnny make a giant chain of creatures riding one another using Mistform Mutant? :D

    I love this idea a lot.

    Snippy Mount
    Creature - Crab Mount - Common


    Reckless Mount
    Creature - Hound Mount

    Even this simple it is super interesting. I am not at all sure which is better!

    1. Whoops, swap “Ride” for “Mount” on Snippy Crab.

    2. Nice.

      We can prevent (or allow) shenanigans like that in the rules.

    3. I like this design space a lot. Simple, resonant, and interesting.

      It seems to me a little inelegant to use the creature type to track what's going on (kind of reminiscent of how Walls used to work). I'd be tempted to make Mount the keyword:

      Mechanised Steed {3}
      Artifact - Vehicle
      Mount (When this creature attacks, an attacker without Mount can ride it this turn. A rider can be blocked only if the creature it's riding is blocked.)
      Crew 2

    4. I agree that tying it to the creature type is something we'd probably want to avoid.

      The question is, what makes most sense as the keyword? If it's 'Ride', it might give the impression the creature itself is doing the riding. If it's 'Mount', it could be interpreted as the act of mounting a mount, giving rise to the same issue as 'Ride'. Maybe I'm just overanalysing this though, the reminder text does clarify things after all.

    5. Oh this is such an interesting point!

      Ride could also be reversed to make some creatures "Riders" and they can turn other creatures into their mounts. Imagine the following:

      Cowboy Quickshot 2{w}{R}
      Creature - Human Rider
      Ride (When this creature attacks, you may have it ride another non-human attacking creature. They must be blocked together if able.)
      CARDNAME and the creature it rides have first strike as long as they're attacking.

      Another crazy idea would be to explore Meld for these cards...

  2. I'm still processing the information, but this is xciting! I find the tie to creature type an interesting angle that resly mkes this work. I'm very interested in this. I'd want to see how it feels to play, but this mechanic is very inspiring. You already pointed out how wonky it is for combat which would be my only problem but that's not an end all be all. A mechanic like this is definitely something ive been looking for for my own purposes.

  3. This is pretty close to some of the mechanics in last weekend's design challenge, but a cleaner execution. I'm glad you addressed the fact that this mechanic, at first, is actually fairly complex in gameplay, but I agree with you that players should get used to it fairly quickly, especially once they see the flavour aspect of it.

    I love how this creates a sense of cooperation between your own creatures, something I feel is untapped space in Magic. On top of that, it incentivises attacking, and even incentivises attacking with mounts that might not survive combat, in order to get a bonus effect. This way it should decrease board-stalls and increase creature combat (with a small caveat, Ill get to that later), and I think that's great.
    On top of that, by tying it to attacking only (and not blocking) you avoid all sorts of complex scenarios where a mount first blocks a creature and then helps a rider.
    There are so many directions in which to take this mechanic, that it would likely provide fruitful design space for years to come.

    The main question this raises for me however is, would the gameplay this leads to actually be fun? I suspect it would, but let's have a look at what we need to be aware of with this mechanic.
    If I only have one creature, and my opponent has a mount and rider, they're just unblockable. Noteable here is that the flavour might not convince everyone (people may see a rider and mount as one whole, and feel like they should be able to stop that). That's not very fun. Sure, this happens with menace too, but then only the menace creature cannot be blocked. Two feels a lot worse than one creature I can't block.
    We also have to remain vigilant of how large and/or evasive we make the mounts. If I'm attacked by a 2/2 rider and a 5/5 mount, and I have a 2/3 creature, then that feels good for the attacker (their 2/2 is now able to attack safely), but it feels bad for the defender (their 2/3 is no longer doing anything, other than being on chump-block duty).
    Lastly, there's some blowout potential. If I'm attacking with a 2/2 rider and 5/5 mount into my opponent's 2/3 creature, and they kill my 5/5 at instant speed, I lose my 2/2 as well, which doesn't feel great. However, that does feel very flavourful: it's mount died, and suddenly it has to fight on foot, on equal footing with the other creature. It also means there is more counterplay, which will feel very good for the defender.

    Please note that I'm just going over some questions that came to mind with this mechanic. I'm not trying to shoot it down (but it may come across as such), because I think it has a ton of potential, and I suspect when we see the Wild West inspired set from Maro's shortlist a very similar mechanic might show up.

    P.S. Did you have the chance to playtest this mechanic? If so, how'd it go?
    P.P.S. For what it's worth, I like this a fair bit more than bloodspill, but that's always easy to say in hindsight, and subjective to boot. I thought you approached bloodspill very well from an exploratory angle, and appreciated the experimentation of natural language (if blood has been spilled etc) to tie differing instances of the same mechanic together. I feel Magic sometimes gets hung up a bit too much on the intricacies of its rules-set, where things could be worded much simpler and still make sense to everyone. They do seem to be exploring this too with their reminder text (see Sagas)

    1. Hexproof Mount(Common)
      As long as ~ is attacking, it and the creature riding it have hexproof.

    2. Selfless Mount (Uncommon)
      If damage would be dealt to the creature riding ~, it's dealt to ~ instead.

    3. What happens if the mount dies prior to blockers? Is the rider able to be blocked? It sounds like the "rider" ability lasts until end of turn, not just while the mount is on the battlefield.

    4. I playtested it. It's very fun. It's slightly brain-burney; not too much for Magic, but enough to prevent it from becoming evergreen.

    5. I like Hexproof Mount.
      Selfless Mount could just as easily say "prevent that damage."

    6. You can't ride a non-existent Mount.
      "A rider can't be blocked while its Mount is unblocked" would clear that up, but reads a bit awkwardly.

    7. @Jay: Not quite, since this prevents damage once (from say, a Lightning Bolt before combat damage), where your suggestion prevents damage throughout combat, but that's nitpicking.

      @Wobbles: I think you could write the rules in such a way that a rider stops being a rider if its mount dies. That definitely feels natural imo

  4. I love this. Clean, flavorful, and (as you mentioned) it goes on a ton of creatures. The only thing you need to make it work is another creature, and Magic is full of those. There's overlap here with vehicles and soulbond, but I think Magic is big enough to have room for plenty of "the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts" attacking mechanic.

    I have two cautions. First, consider how the design of Ride will warp the design of your set. The lesson from triple Amonkhet draft is that an environment where blocking is unprofitable (or impossible) leads to noninteractive matches. A match between two Ride-heavy decks may often come down to a numbers race. I would make sure that defensive decks had enough interesting options to slow the tide of damage enough for them to get back in the game. (Bouncing the mount before blocks are declared can lead to a satisfying two-for-one.)

    Second, the fact that you've designed a mechanic with lots of design space is a very good thing, but, when you top-8 GDS4, I would highly recommend exploring one mechanic rather than designing a bunch of variants of it. Remember Ethan Fleischer's original design for Evolve from GDS2, where the payoff was always the +1/+1 counter, but the trigger was different every time? He got dinged heavily on that, and it turned out that there was a good amount of design space for the mechanic even if both the trigger and the payoff are the same. To that end, if you were to submit this, I'd avoid keyword variants like 'black ride,' 'ride 2,' and 'ride, ride, ride'.

    And, since you asked for a card design with ride, here you go:

    Manarush Strider (rare)
    Creature - Elemental Mount
    Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell that targets CARDNAME, if a creature is riding it, copy that spell. The copy targets the rider.

    1. Yeah, this set would need to ease back on other evasion.

      It's annoying, because good design involves exploring all the options, and we were asked to show off our mechanics in as many ways as possible, but you're right that the judges really only wanted to see one implementation.

  5. Oh, cool. I submitted something almost identical for the GA weekend mechanic design contest, for the same reasons, but I was much less sure (I hadn't actually playtested it).

    I agree, I'm not sure, but it was probably wise not to try in the real competition.

    Although I flavoured it as "escort". I also toyed around with what I thought of as a 'real' mount mechanic, the key there being, you need to block the mount dealing damage to it's full toughness, and then excess damage goes to the rider, but that version is still a bit too wordy to work.

    1. Awesome that we both sorted out the correct use of Escort from 5 years ago.

    2. Oh cool, I completely forgot that! :)

      Wow, this stuff has been around in my head a long time...

  6. Designing an evasion mechanic for the challenge is interesting. Evasion mechanics are usually evergreen, if only so that they can be used in lower numbers than a traditional set mechanic. That helps prevent the limited format become too much of a race.

    It also bothers me a bit that Mount only has relevance on attacking. Particularly the ones with abilities. This makes it even harder to deal with a mount creature, because a mount player who is behind will have less effecient creatures to try and catch up.

    Canadian Mounted 3R
    Creature Hourse Mount
    As long as another non-Mount creature is blocking the same creature as Canadian Mounted, those blockers get +2/+0

    1. One thing I love about Mounts is how they compare to vehicles. Crew can be used on defense, where ride can't, but a Mount without a rider is still a creature (both on A and on D).