Monday, June 18, 2018

CCDD 061818—GDS3 Slick

Cool Card Design of the Day
For the mechanic challenge in GDS3, I built and tested a number of mechanics. Slick was the last of my top choices. Ryan was lamenting hexproof on Twitter today, so it's time to share this one.

Slick is part evasion mechanic, part hexproof, all better than it looks.

It's no problem to pay {1} to block one slick creature or even two, when you've already got a creature to block with and nothing better to do with your mana, but often that mana is being used up to play those blockers.
Slick Apprentice and Rainforest Ranger don't look like much on paper, but they're effectively Slither Blade and Phantom Warrior for several turns in most games, and they have the distinct advantage that any spells your opponent might try to remove them with cost {1} more. Again, that may not sound like a lot, but in a world where Murder's not good enough compared to Go for the Throat, it's plenty.
Commons will mostly be limited to slick 1, with infrequent exceptions for over-costed or simply expensive spells.
At uncommon, we start seeing slick 2 more.
Here are three cards that grant slick. No set would have more than one. We can only grant slick at sorcery speed because it would confuse players when your creature gains slick after it's been blocked or targeted.
Can we put slick on non-creatures? I'd want to do user testing to see how that reads. It works, in that half the ability is relevant on anything, but is too confusing to make something that can't attack unblockable? We could, of course, treat slick differently on noncreatures and write only the hexproof part in the reminder text (but that wasn't helpful on Slickness).
Being able to grant slick 2 to anything is quite strong, but it's still no Whispersilk Cloak.
Slick began life as Attuned, similar to Elderwood Scion's ability. In that model, Coy Fiend was even better than Triton Fortune Hunter (long before Theros was announced). The two abilities don't combo as closely now, but cost reduction was problematic both for developmental reasons and because it felt bad when you didn't have spells to target your attuned creatures with. Where Coy Fiend had been an armored engine card, now it's an armored aggressor, and it's still very strong.
Tyrant of the Jungle is a touch more straight-forward, following in a line of snakes that draw cards.
What kind of weirdness can affect by caring about Slick? Why not get the mana your opponent spends?

Why do I think Slick is a good mechanic, given that we already have hexproof and unblockable and can put them together whenever we like?
Remember Invisible Stalker? That card was problematic. We are desperately in need of limited forms of hexproof. We've recently seen "hexproof from black" and "hexproof until this deals damage" and I dig those, but even those conditional variants are all-on against certain decks or in certain situations. Frost Titan and Kopala, Warden of Waves demonstrate an alternative that is strong and relevant without being hope-crushingly absolute.

Pairing that pay-to-target ability with pay-to-block isn't required to serve that goal, but it serves another goal (we're always looking for different kinds of evasion to interact along) while delivering a thematically complete package. I think Creative will find a better name than 'slick' but regardless of what they choose, it's intuitive that these creatures are tricky to get a handle on.

A final note about this mechanic. Slick is the good kind of rhystic. Some of you are asking what's rhystic, and some are asking what could be good about rhystic.

Rhystic was a mechanic from Prophecy that's like an inverse-kicker. Rather than reward you for paying extra mana when you cast your spell, rhystic cards rewarded you for your opponent not paying extra mana when you cast your spell. They were not popular because they weren't fun. You simply wouldn't use your rhystic cards while your opponent had the mana open to pay for them, and that encouraged players to pass the turn without spending all their mana. It was a mechanic that drew games long, discouraged playing your cards, and felt awful when the thing it talked about happened.

Slick also requires your opponent to pay mana, but there's never a question regarding when or if they'll need to. I can make an informed decision whether to leave my mana opponent for your slick creature or to spend it to do my thing. You know whether I've left mana open before you attack or cast your aura. And rather than offering a one-time response window, I can always pay to deal with your slick creature later. Slick generates play rather than squelching it.

I didn't submit Slick for GDS3 because it's not terribly novel. I think it could drop into a set going out the door next month with little fuss; It's hard to make an intuitive, thematic, and relevant mechanic, and I'm proud of that, but the competition was pushing hard for innovation, and so refined evolution wasn't cutting it.

Design a Slick card in the comments.


  1. Slick currently does not affect abilities opponent's control. Is that intentional? The other critique I have on Slick is that it's not immediately intuitive whether I have to pay per blocker or per blocked creature.

    I think that being able to create an intuitive mechanic that is a perfect fit for fixing a problematic feature of the game is a great attribute to have for a designer. It's unfortunate none of the challenges really let you show something like this off.


    Soapy Veil 3UG

    Creatures you control have "Slick 1" (It can't be blocked unless defending player pays 1. Spells that target it cost your opponents 1 more to cast)

    2: Target creature you control gains "Slick 1" (Opponents have to pay 1 more)

    1. Soapy Veil is a Rare Enchantment

    2. I would prefer to increase the cost of abilities too, but the template on Kopala, Warden of Waves is prohibitive for a keyword. There's likely reminder text (like Devin's) that can do it better. That said, I'm okay with it not affecting abilities because those require more setup and tend to be less efficient already.

    3. I like the static ability on Soapy Veil, but the activated ability is problematic for the same reason instants that grant Slick are. Is there something different that pairs well with it either mechanically or thematically?

    4. This is one place where informal reminder text gives you an excellent cheat. You can just do "Spells and abilities that target this creature cost N more." You don't even have to bother with the cast/activate differentiation because reminder text isn't rules text.

    5. Yeah. Devin's is "Opponents must pay [cost] to block or target this creature" and that's really good.

  2. Caustic Knight BB
    Creature - Knight (U)
    Slick 2 life

    (Does this work in the rules? It could instead use Phyrexian black mana.)

    1. Yeah, you can absolutely have non-mana payments.

    2. Some of them read really weird because their a cost your opponent has to pay:

      Lubricated Elemental 1GG
      Creature — Elemental
      Slick - An opponent puts a +1/+1 counter on a creature they control.

  3. You mentioned just briefly but I perked up when I saw the "hexproof if it hasn't done damage yet" tech on the new Palladia-Mors dragon they spoiled from the Core Set. I've been looking for a way to represent a creature ability triggering only once in a game, and I intend to fiddle with that text wording for my own designs.

    In my own case, it's a way to trigger token creature creation. So that made me think of this:

    Slippery Underbrush 2GG (Uncommon)
    Token creatures you control have Slick 1.

    1. Renound played heavily in this space, although s drawback for renouned is an interesting choice.

    2. Renown used the +1/+1 counter to help prevent memory issues. The dragon doesn't, but it's designed in such a way that you're not going to have problems remembering whether it has done damaged or not. And because it's a legend, you don't have to worry about having several of them out and not being able to remember which is hexproof. It's an elegant way of handling without using counters.

  4. Yeah, I've toyed with something very similar (sometimes the evasion version, sometimes the hexproof version, I think I tried both together but I'm not sure).

    I haven't playtested it, but it looks like a really good niche to me: a combination of a combat mechanic, and a replacement for hexproof. My biggest worry is that it will be all or nothing, but I think most of the game, even 1 mana more matters to the opponent, and less useful later on is a problem most creatures have. I even like the splashy higher numbers on rare demons or similar: they've not completely unstoppable but might need the opponent to topdeck more lands.

    I went back and forth on the flavour. Sometimes I wanted "just so tough spells bounce off" (as both abilities are more useful on stompy creatures). But something sneaky and evasive also makes a lot of sense (especially if it's commonly in G and U).

  5. For a sense of how often convergent design happens:
    I designed attuned in 2013.
    Nich Grayson designed deepsea in 2015.
    I designed slick in April.
    Devin Green designed vile just a few days ago.
    And that's just the folks in this community.