Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Great Redesigner Search: Mechanic

Welcome back to the Great Redesigner Search, a series where I redo all of my GDS3 entries. This week is a little bit different from the others, because I'm making all new cards as opposed to revising old ones. As always, you can read my original entries and judge commentary here.

I'm not going to mince words here – I blew it. My original entry for this round was a mechanic called bloodrun that was not really playable in any format. My mistake was 1. being too conservative and 2. playtesting in an environment that would absolutely not be replicateable in the "real world".

Redoing my bloodrun cards would be pointless since the issue was the mechanic itself. So instead, I've decided to show a set of cards for the mechanic I almost went with: Seal.

Seal is a keyword action that works like this: To seal a (card?), exile it, then return it to the battlefield facedown. Facedown cards are 2/2 creatures with no creature types, abilities, or mana cost. It's primary in white and blue, because blue has precedent (Reality Shift) and white has "destroy with compensation" effects (Generous Gift). It's secondary in black, mostly as a downside mechanic.

Seal plays around with face-down card technology. Instead of allowing you to cast your cards face-down as a discount, like with morph and its friends, it lets you disable your opponent's cards by turning them into vanilla 2/2s. There was actually quite a bit of space for this keyword action, and I was able to make a fair number of cards I was happy with. I eventually decided against it because I thought many games with seal would end with a bunch of 2/2s butting against each other and the format would become samey. Was that the right choice? Maybe, maybe not. Part of the GDS was being able to make the best decision you could without outside feedback (which is antithetical to how you'd actually be designing on a team, but whatever).

These cards are vaguely Chinese mythology/Taoist themed because of the enduring image of the exorcist monk sticking a talisman on an evil spirit to seal it away.


Every mechanic should have a card just named that mechanic that just does that mechanic and nothing else. Cheers to you, Vigilance.

Note that I have "nontoken" on most of these cards so you can't just fling a creature token out of existence. It's more for the effect working the way it feels it should than for balance reasons.

Exorcist Monk

This is a 2/3 so it can block the resulting 2/2. 

Seal Counterspell

I had no good ideas for a name or art for this, haha.

I'm not sure if this should be at common – usually fancy counterspells that interact with the stack in a weird way are red flagged, but this doesn't do anything more than counter the spell and give your opponent a 2/2. I also don't know if formats like Pioneer with control decks that wouldn't mind extra morph creatures would find this too strong.

Hopping Vampire

At the uncommon level, I have this card, which explores seal as a "one-and-done" effect that doesn't require you to mess around with counters. I'm also pretty happy with the power, toughness, and abilities here – if your opponent double-blocks, they'll probably have to throw away an okay creature just to stop this from connecting for 3 and blowing up their better creature.

I also couldn't do a mechanic called "seal" and not have a fantasy monster that wears a seal on its face all the time.

Seal the Mind

I'm interested in exploring the higher end of the Duress effect area. Is there something that could be a viable alternative to Thoughtseize? (I thought Specter's Shriek might do the trick but it went absolutely nowhere.)

This card is probably less powerful than Thoughtseize because 2 life is less important than your opponent getting a free creature, but the space is pretty interesting.

Purification Rite

This would probably be a signpost uncommon in the theoretical set that has Seal in it. Could it be mono-white? Possibly, but I think audiences are used to spells that can destroy any kind of permanent being either W/B and B/G. I also think that giving a single color access to an effect this strong at uncommon is probably a mistake.

Your Fate Is Sealed

I thought a weaker wrath effect would be an interesting area to take this effect. This is better if you have a lot of small creatures and your opponent has a lot of big ones, so this is a good fit for go-wide aggro decks. Since Seal is more of a control-focused effect in general (because giving your opponent 2/2s is easier for a control game plan to deal with), it's nice to have some cards that take it in a different direction.

The exile clause is on there so the card has something to do even if you've sealed your opponents' creatures already.

Corrupted Exorcist

Here's a Lord of the Pit variant. The effect could actually be upside if you have a lot of 1/1s running around. Since you're still keeping your creatures, I could see toning down the power a little bit – make it a 4/5 perhaps?

Wei, Unrivaled Under Heaven

While most of the other cards in this entry are themed as using magic to seal away your opponents' cards, this one is more like the mighty general cowing his foes into submission. This is the sort of card I like to see at mythic rare, where it has a very clean and splashy effect that makes you excited just to open it in a booster pack, much less cast it and watch your opponent's eyes bug out of their sockets.


  1. It's an interesting mechanic. I wonder how much designspace it really has, however.
    It feels like the kind of mechanic that shows up in one set and then probably never gets reprinted because they already used most of the good designs, which is probably fine.

    A limited environment with seal would be pretty neat and cause you to evaluate things like bounce or 2/3's quite a bit higher than usual.

    Can I ask why you have it exile them before putting them into play face-down, instead of just turning them face-down? Is it to reduce blowout potential of turning your opponent's creatures into 2/2s in combat? If it just turned them face-down you could also skip the non-token clause, which makes wording more elegant.

    1. It was to prevent weird stuff like "what happens if my opponent's 4/4 has 2 damage and I flip it over?"

  2. Designing mechanics to a deadline is so hard. I think they're always going to be too boring, or too swingy, or unimplementable, or just play badly. I wouldn't like to guess whether the best thing to show in the competition would be a an early-stage mechanic that might develop into something good, or something more polished but otherwise not up to par. I'd guess the first, but I'm not sure, either needs a lot of determination.

    I thought bloodrun had a plausible idea, but I agree, most of the cards needing an enabler to work at all, and even if it didn't need to be on your turn, cards that activate when you get attacked are too niche. I still wonder if something *like* that might work though.

    Hm. Maybe something like enrage but that triggers when *you're* dealt damage? Has that been done? I quite like that idea!

    Seal. Hmmm. That is interesting. There's a lot of flexibility in removing a creature (or spell, or permanent) but only partially. It makes a form of removal that can more easily be a rider, not guaranteed card advantage. And has a lot of other little uses, like sealing one of your creatures to refresh it, or promote a land or an artifact or a 1/1 to a creature. And I would love to see some of those effects on an official card for the first time, and imagine just KAPOWING an opponent's creature

    But it still feels like a niche mechanic. It would make a great azorious mechanic, but maybe not for more than a guild.

    I'm not sure why I feel like that. Maybe because turning it face down is functionally the same as "exile it, controller creates a 2/2 token" 90% of the time, so the extra oomph of turning it face down isn't more useful than exile. Although I guess it does get around creatures with removal resistance abilities without just wiping them away entirely. But then again if wizards wanted that they could print fewer destruction-proof creatures. Also the only cases where face-down would matter are enablers that turn cards face up or look at their reverse -- but adding those in will usually weaken the seal abilities we're trying to support.

    1. (Although I guess "when you're dealt damage" cards also have a big problem that they lead to stall-y games where players are disincentivised from attacking.)