Custom Card Game Design
Miracle is a bad mechanic.
It sounded great to me in theory. Then, at this weekend’s prerelease, I watched several people lose otherwise winning games because of a lucky Entreat the Angels topdeck. Then, in the final rounds, it happened to me as well. It wasn’t fun, and ultimately it will keep me from playing a sealed AVR event again (Draft might be a bit better, though I don’t have high hopes.)
It was pointed out to me by one of the first players at my LGS to fall victim to this, that miracles fall in the same category as many of the most broken cards in magic – free spells. Even though they aren’t free, the mana cost reduction they provide is significant enough that they have the same effect. Cards like Force of Will (which, although a staple in all formats in which it’s legal, is far above the power curve), Bloodbraid Elf, and pretty much anything with Storm on it, all fall under this category. ‘Free’ spells, or spells with drastically reduced costs, are difficult to balance around and easy to exploit. Top-decking is also not very skill intensive.
I don’t know how much effect Miracle will have in constructed. I can see it being so big that cards like Temporal Mastery and Entreat the Angels could see a ban, or I could see it not having much effect at all. But whether or not it affects constructed, it’s made for a pretty disappointing limited format.
So what does this mean for amateur design? Well, for starters, it means that I’m going back through the entire block, starting with Caeia, and finding every card that reduces mana costs, and I’m going to take a long, hard look at whether or not to change those cards. I’ve already got a few that fall into the category of ‘cards that need to be changed’ because of reduced mana costs (I’ve got a counterspell that, for mono-blue, basically is a reprint of counterspell.)
So… not much to say on the subject really, other than cost reduction needs to be approached very carefully.
In other news, Set #2 (Eldrazi Unleashed) has likely seen it’s last ‘theoretical‘ balance pass, meaning that I’ve reached the point where I need to playtest the set before making any more development decisions. Playtesting has proven difficult over the past few weeks, and so I’ve begun preliminary work on the final set (Codename Lime). Already, I can see some interesting challenges to the set. Storywise, the 3rd set of the block will be the last stand of the Toraians, and will feature them being pretty beaten down by the Eldrazi. Conveying this flavor through the mechanics is proving difficult.
For instance, take the first mechanic I’m playing with for Lime: Despair. At present, Despair is an ability word that triggers if the creature with Despair is the only creature you control, and the trigger is a negative effect. It could easily be worded to be a positive effect and be renamed Hope, but that isn’t the flavor I need to convey at all. The problem with negative abilities being keyworded is that it has a psychological effect on the player, makes them feel that the card is bad, or not fun to play because of the drawback. What will most likely happen with this effect is that the cards that have it will still have it, but it won’t given a name – the rules text will just be spelled out.
Something I’ve fought for awhile is putting dual lands into the block. Although dual color decks are still intentionally viable, the mono-color focus is something that I’ve been hesitant to dilute by introducing dual lands. Now that we’ve reached Set 3, I’ve given in to my stubbornness and realized that these are needed. And they make sense in set 3… Prismatic will have a much bigger presence in this set than in either of the last, with the Order of the Silver Flame (and their leader) playing a pivotal role in the story.
What I like most about these lands is how they look. The multicolor/colored frames that the prismatic cards have has always been visually appealing to me, but there’s something especially awesome about how it looks on lands. Balancewise, we’ll have to see how these play out. They are universal duals, and even can function in tri-color decks (not to mention helping enable the 5-color (colorless) archetype that sees little support in Set 2), so care has to be taken in regards to balance. I’m not entrely sure what you’d call these… Universal Shockaroos? Playtesting will show if these are too powerful.
First off, this card is obviously inspired by cards from Avacyn Restored. Before AVR was released, this card did something similar, as the flavor (A fallen angel lending it’s lingering spirit to a living fighter) was there before, but after seeing AVR the effect really came into being.
Epitaph is the newest mechanic for Set 3. The idea is that, the Eldrazi are taking their toll on the world of Caeia, and the memory of the fallen is one of the few things still driving the efforts of the survivors. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out once we reach playtesting, as this mechanic basically allows your dead creatures to double as combat tricks (and has interesting implications for Black’s discard theme and Blue’s mill theme.), so it’s difficult to tell exactly how to cost it. But I think it’ll turn out to be a winner.
That’s it for today. I know I don’t have a lot of reader here yet, but I’m still going to continue posting, if only for my own benefit. If you like what you read, please toss me a comment, and better yet share links to this blog with your friends, pass it around on twitter, mention to me to your favorite article writers/podcasters. There are sadly very few blogs out there that talk about custom design, and I think that’s a shame.
As always, thanks for reading!