Custom Card Game Design

Pushed Uncommons

The natural tendency is always to take a flat power level as the starting point for a card. After you figured out what a card is supposed to do, you try to find a fair level, where it is playable but not oppressive. But some cards, even commons, have to be pushed above this mediocrity to make for a more interesting limited environment. If there can be no premium commons or uncommons in a booster pack, there’s just no excitement in looking through it. It is inconsequential which colors are open and which card you pick.

Of course, there is a limit to how powerful a common should be. They show up very often and can warp the limited format around them. But uncommons can and should sometimes be pushed to bomb territory. But still, I find myself hesitant to do so. Only after a few test drafts of Overworld I realized that the power level of the cards is far too homogenized.

In a blog post, Wizards stated that they intend each uncommon to be below the power level of Mahamoti Djinn, which is an odd benchmark to set considering I can think of a handful cards just off the top of my head that violate this rule: Cone of Flame, Elite Scaleguard, even something as simple as Serra Angel. Even if Mahamoti Djinn is a bit low, the limit should be somewhere below Cone of Flame or Elite Scaleguard. They often just win the game on the spot, which I think an uncommon shouldn’t be able to do.

The sheer power of an uncommon is not be something that should be pushed that far. That is what rares are for. Build-around cards are maybe an exception and can have game-breaking effects at uncommon if they support or enable a unique draft strategy. A good example for this is Angelic Accord. On the other hand, the efficiency of uncommons can be pushed without worries. In Overworld, I tried to do this for at least one card of each color. None of these uncommons are game-breaking, but they are still great, first-pickable cards.


2 responses to “Pushed Uncommons

  1. Udelude June 8, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    I agree. There should be some slightly more powerful uncommons, but to me, they should almost never be strictly better than existing cards. Ruthless Strike and Typhoon Bolt are good examples of that, but the other three, especially Amra’s Elite and Dance of the Tides, seem a bit too excessive. Amra’s Elite is a lot better than several existing cards (that 3/4 Mantis with reach whose name I can’t remember, for example), and seems Draft-breaking, to me. Dance of the Tides, compared to Ranger’s Guile, offers a lot more power and versatility. (It’s not strictly better, but I think you can agree it’s definitely better.)
    That said, those are nice designs, and I know they are supposed to be pushed, but some seem too much.

    • antaresmtg June 10, 2015 at 5:51 am

      Uncommons can be strictly better than commons from time to time. For example Giant Spider / Graverobber Spider or Blood-Chin Rager / Various Black bears. A problem occurs when you make a card that’s strictly better than one that’s already constructed playable. You couldn’t make a strictly better Duress at uncommon, but Tangle Mantis isn’t a problem.

      The problem with Amras’s Elite I think is less its power, but that it doesn’t play that well. If your opponent has 1GG open, if you don’t know the card, you’ll get destroyed. If you know that it exists, you just won’t attack and the opponent skipped a turn unless he or she has something else to do with the mana. So, you’ll have to leave 2GG open really, and at that point the riposte is superfluous.

      Dance of Tides is certainly very pushed. Maybe blue shouldn’t get such a powerful protective spell and not white or green? But I don’t think it breaks anything in limited at uncommon (at common it certainly would), or that it is too good in constructed.

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