Custom Card Game Design
Yet again, I started another project. It is called Siege of Ravnica and I have already posted it on the MTGSalvation forums.The Shandalar concept turned out to not have that much design space, so I looked for something else. This time, I crammed everything I wanted to design for quite some time into a single set:
The setting of Siege of Ravnica is that after draining and destroying Zendikar, the Eldrazi headed straight for the city-plane Ravnica, beginning to consume it as well. The Ravnicans are completely overwhelmed by the Eldrazi brood. Only when the guilds join their forces they are able to halt the advance. Meanwhile, the planeswalkers involved in the original Eldrazi storyline send out a rallying call across the multiverse, invoking planeswalkers to travel to Ravnica and fight the Eldrazi. Ravnica was already a hub for planeswalkers in the past, but now planeswalkers from even the farthest corners of the multiverse arrive.
So, basically this is Michael Bay: The Set; the ultimate over-the-top showdown. And that is kinda what I feel like designing right now. So, let go of your expectations of realism and appreciate this set for what it is trying to be.
First things first: This set has planeswalkers at common. And judging from the MTGSalvation thread, this seems to be a very controversial inclusion. There are two different points brought up:
Flavor concerns: Planeswalkers are supposed to feel powerful and unique. Making them common takes away from that uniqueness and is a severe flavor violation. This is, of course, a valid point. However, planeswalkers at common is a one-time thing, justified by the flavor of the set, and after this set, planeswalkers would go back to being mythic only again. The common planeswalkers are not Jace or Chandra, but planeswalkers that we have not met yet, who do not have such an eventful past that everyone tells stories about. There’s a precedence: A nameless planeswalker appears in the Garruk storyline and is being killed by Garruk only a few lines later.
I would just find it unfortunate if planeswalkers were always restricted to Constructed and we could never draft with them outside of Cube. That there will be a large quanity of them opened and thrown into the trash like other commons is an unfortunate side-effect.
Development concerns: There are several points made for the development issues regarding planeswalkers. One is that planeswalkers break limited and just don’t work. I say that this is complete nonsense. You can design planeswalkers so that they don’t warp the game completely around them, but are still viable. The other is that planeswalkers take away a lot of the complexity budget, and leave very little room for complexity beside them. With this I can agree, and you will see that the remaining mechanics of the set are very simple as a result.
So, how do common planeswalkers look like? Well, first off, they don’t have unique names. The flavor isn’t that Jace duplicated himself a thousand times and you see him running around everywhere. Each planeswalker is still unique, but there are so many of them, that you can’t remember all their names. As a consequence, they have no planeswalker types and you can have multiple copies of the same card on the battlefield at the same time. In addition, all non-mythic planeswalkers have only two abilities, where most forgo their ultimate, although you’ll see some that have a single plus ability and an ultimate at uncommon.
The lack of an ultimate is crucial to making these planeswalkers work in limited. Usually, commons are supposed to trade 1-for-1 in limited, and not run away with the game. Because of that potential, planeswalkers are viewed as the ultimate bombs in limited, although most creature mythics are better picks as they are more consistent. For example, let’s take a look at a recently printed planeswalker, Sorin, Solemn Visitor. What are possible outcomes when you play him in a limited game?
To make a common planeswalker work in limited, we have to remove the outcomes 5 and 6, and tone down the abilities just slightly so that the other outcomes are suitable for a common. You can see this applied in Ergamon Wildcaller. What can you do with her? At worst she’s a three mana Rampant Growth that gains you some life. That’s not exciting, but playable. She has the potential to do much more if she sticks around, but will she ever dominate a limited game? Unlikely.
A Siege in Flavor and Gameplay
The planeswalkers aren’t just there to cram more awesome stuff into the set; they are supposed to play very well with the rest of the mechanics of the set. The design goal is that the limited format should feel like a siege in gameplay. You build up a massive defense and the game stalls for a bit, and then a giant Eldrazi crashes in, sweeping through most of your forces. Planeswalkers give you something that you want to protect next to your life total and induce a much greater tension into the slower, more grindy gameplay.
Next time, I’ll show more of the set, talk more about the mechanics, and all that jazz. You can also check out my thread on MTGSalvation and see everything I have so far.