Wednesday, November 14, 2018

CCDD 111418—learn a lesson

Cool Card Design of the Day
During the weeks between learning I'd made the top 100 for GDS3 and the initial design test, I designed and playtested a Magic world and a number of potential mechanics for it, knowing that work would either be directly relevant or at least good practice. One of the keywords I tested had been stewing in my head for quite some time.

Learn a lesson is a keyword action that causes players to draw cards and lose life. You can apply it any player or group of players, and scale it with plain English. "An opponent learns a lesson." "You learn two lessons." Etc.

There are a huge number of cards that could be functionally reprinted with it: Abzan Charm, Ambition's Cost/Ancient Craving, Asylum Visitor, Baleful Force, Bloodgift Demon, Caress of Phyrexia, Champion of Dusk, Corpse Augur, Cryptbreaker, Curse of Vengeance, Damnable Pact, Dark Prophecy, Dusk Legion Zealot, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Graveborn Muse, Harrowing Journey, Hoarder's Greed, Kothophed, Liliana's Contract, Live Fast, Malakir Soothsayer, Metalspinner's Puzzleknot, Midnight Entourage, Mindblade Render, Minion's Murmurs, Moriok Replica, Night's Whisper, Ob Nixilis Reignited, Painful Lesson, Parting Thoughts, Phyrexian Arena, Phyrexian Gargantua, Phyrexian Rager, Promise of Power, Read the Bones, Sanguimancy, Seizan, Perverter of Truth, Sign in Blood, Skeletal Scrying, Succumb to Temptation, Toil, Vulturous Aven, and Wretched Confluence.
But my interest is in using it symmetrically like Seizan, Perverter of Truth, or Runed Servitor. Increasing the rate of card draw reduces variance and non-games, making more games more interesting. But if we played a variant where everyone draws two cards every turn, we'd find that's too much; we'd miss so many turns where one player pulls dramatically ahead, and the game would start to feel like a slog of trading creatures. That's why it's important that lessons aren't learned every turn, and that there's something helping to push the game toward its conclusion. The life loss seems insignificant, but can add up quickly, and more importantly makes players feel like the clock is ticking.
Here's an ambitious land cycle. It ETBs untapped, makes colored mana, and draws you a card. This is justified in three ways: It gives your opponent a card too; it costs you life; and the lesson is conditional. I'd want to playtest and tune this so that every deck running Forests isn't also running 4 of these. This is the kind of thing I wouldn't be surprised to see break in practice, but at least in theory, its symmetry makes it printable. The reason you have to control a Forest,  is that I want its player to have some control over whether lesson is learned or not, and so that you can't learn the lesson on turn 1, flooding the second player's hand, forcing them to discard.

Finally, here's one design interacting directly with our new keyword action.
Design a card that teaches a lesson.


  1. Shrewd tactician 2W
    creature- human adviser
    whenever you attack or block with three or more creatures add {W}
    whenever two or more creatures you control die during combat you learn a lesson

    1. Hi NaOs. I like it. The second ability's great and I like how the first ties in with it, though I wish they both cared about the same number of creatures. Also, white should offer some reward other than mana, as that's a green (or sometimes red) thing: Life? +1/+1? Untap?

    2. Definitely +1/+1 to target creature. the mana was so you could afford a combat trick that lets you safely attack with the the third creature. The potential for a combat trick feels more tactical than a simple boost but the boost still makes it easier for the third creature. I wanted it to be a battalion trigger. (though I now realize it isn't) Three dead felt like a lot to lose and a 2/3 loss sounded tragic enough. The second ability is going to be triggered by blocking with cheap creatures and now the three dead requirement feels better to me.

  2. Harsh Tactician 3WB
    Creature - Ogre Advisor (U)
    When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you learn a lesson.
    Whenever you learn a lesson, creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn.

    Could also be a spell: "Make an Example."

    Dark Inspiration 3U
    Instant (C)
    Draw two cards.
    B, Discard CARDNAME: You learn a lesson.

    I have a hard time not tying this ability to black.

    One more:

    Circle Celebrant GB
    Creature - Elf Shaman (R)
    Whenever another nontoken creature enters the battlefield under your control, you gain 1 life.
    Whenever another nontoken creature you control dies, you learn a lesson.

    1. Given precedent, it's unavoidable that we associate this with black. I'm proposing we make the conscious choice to set that aside and put it in multiple colors, if not all.

      I like Harsh Tactician.

  3. I've noticed that lately you have been using natural language a lot as pseudo ability words to capture mechanics. It still feels a bit strange (it's not something Magic has done much in the past), but I think I can get used to it.

    I do wonder how far we should push that. Replacing every bit of mechanical text with 'ability phrases' might actually make it more difficult for new players to learn the underlying mechanics.

    Another thing to keep in mind (which I think happened with one of your ability phrases, can't remember which one though) is that people have different associations with certain phrases. For some it ends up being intuitive, whilst for others it ends up doing the opposite.

    That being said, I think this is interesting terrain to explore, and I hope Wizards is willing to experiment in this area as well.

    1. In my experience, these phrases bundle up concepts in a way that makes them both more flavorful and easier to reference. It does seem like Wizards is hesitant to use these lightly, and wish there was some way to know whether that's because of effective research or not.

    2. Well, the reason might be that even though it is an intuitive reference to many people, it still requires you to memorize what the associated action is. If we 'mask' too many of the underlying mechanics with these phrases, then we're essentially creating a new lingo for play. The risk is that we overload people with new words (how flavourful they may be) to memorise, and possibly that we obscure the underlying mechanics too much.

      It's like teaching arithmetic. I might use intuitive examples, like some amount of apples that they have and receive. They'll get that. But in the end, I also want them to be able to think in a slightly more abstract manner, to work with just numbers, so they can apply it to different contexts. Does that make sense?

    3. Oh yeah. There's definitely a limit. I'm just not convinced we're close to it.