Tuesday, September 4, 2018

CCDD 090418—lowlander

Cool Card Design of the Day
Here's an idea I explored two seasons back. It started off called Highlander, with the intention that it would reward you for casting only one of a legend.

In Limited, this would almost always just be a 4/4 for four: Not great, but totally playable. In Constructed, it would be a 7/7 for four that thins your deck.

I'm always excited to find mechanics that are stronger in Constructed than in Limited, because the former has a higher power curve and cards that are equally powerful in both tend to be Too Strong for Limited.

I didn't love that involved an extended search-and-shuffle, and that it looks like it's presenting a choice when it's really not. So I iterated:
Lowlander (obviously named just because it's like highlander but not), gives the same gameplay but with fewer words, no busywork, and it's clear what the cost is and when you make your choice. Is it worth sacrificing three precious slots in your sideboard to make a single card in your deck strong? In this case, no. Can we make it so?
If those sideboard slots equate to card advantage, it starts to become conceivable. You'll have to work to find this card and play it, to make that sacrifice worthwhile still, so let's double the card advantage. Why not. (This card's still not as powerful as Cruel Ultimatum).
If that's our target, we definitely do not keyword lowlands and probably just print the one wacky card.

But there are a great many players who never use their sideboard, because they're not playing multi-game matches. For these players, any lowlands card is a slam dunk (or at least 5 of them).

And if we can make some that aren't rare, it becomes conceivable to draft enough to play (potentially even more than 4 total), and that could be fun.


  1. Do most casual players even know anything about sideboards?

    I would be afraid that any of the Lowlands mechanics would be a complete disaster for kitchen table magic, where Draw from Elsewhere is actually in Cardboard Carapace mode and people are drawing 10+ for three mana or playing 20/20s for 4 with Rando Jr...

    1. A lot of casual groups are aware of tournament Magic and build decks according to tournament rules, but you're definitely right that a bunch don't and some of those would think they could own 20 copies of DfE to draw 20 cards.

    2. I think by the rules as written, you *can* do that, right? Spawnsire of Ulamog, in casual settings, lets you get any number of cards?

  2. Lowlands is cool way to inject variance into limited and constructed, but I see a couple problems with it. Wizards chooses not to restrict cards in any format but vintage, one of the reasons they do this is it tends to cause too much variance, which these cards can easily tread into. More importantly though, it seems unprintable for casual magic where "cards you own outside the game" is literally the all cards in your collection.

  3. Lowlander is interesting. I think the correct number is 2 main and 2 side for both of these cards, and I'm worried they're both a bit strong at that power level (maybe CU's Mana cost is restrictive enough to balance it).

    What I don't like about these is that they front load a large amount of variance into just a couple of cards. Both Hearthstone and Yu-Gi-Oh have this problem, where certain very powerful cards can only be played as a single copy, meaning the player that draws their copy is a heavy favorite in the game.

    1. And Vintage. And Commander.

      You can mitigate this problem with lowlander by restricting it to cards above a certain cmc. I think Jay's instinct of 4cmc being the sweet spot is correct. Most of the OP nonsense on the Vintage Restricted List costs 0-2 mana, or is played with mana acceleration/cost reduction that makes it functionally a turn 1-2 card. Assuming no accelerants, by turn 4 the player without the OP 1-of should have at least had time to establish some decent defenses or attempt to execute their own game plan.

    2. Singleton is high-variance.
      One benefit of highlander we lose with lowlander is that it gives you four times as many chances to draw that one souped-up card.

  4. I was listening to the Beacon Creation podcast on a brainstorming episode about a The Dark + Ice Age mash up custom set and something from that episode got me thinking of how the heck to execute "this card can be stronger, if you kick out all the copies of it from everywhere". It seems like a cool decision to go "do I want more of this effect or do I need the big effect now?" but I just wasn't able to think of a way to do it that can't be cheated by playing one copy that didn't feel super inelegant. I'm also not even sure if this more interesting than it is in actual play. It may just be correct to always cast the bigger version up front for the same reason mill isn't really a valid way of dealing with an opponent's cards. You wouldn't necessarily have seen the extra copies that game anyway.