Thursday, January 26, 2012

Signature spells, part deux

Disclaimer: This article contains custom card designs. If you are a Wizards of the Coast employee you have my full permission to use any designs or ideas within this article without my explicit written consent or prior knowledge, or without giving me any sort of credit. I love this game and I want to help it in any way I can.

 Last time, I talked about the Planeswalker signature spells that Wizards started implementing in the Core Sets starting in M11, and I "completed" the missing cycles for Gideon and Jura since there were no uncommon signature spells in M12.

This time I would like to continue the tradition and make some new signature spells for another character.

I am going to choose Elspeth Tirel (the character, not the card).

First I am going to lay some ground rules for my process for designing signature spells.

1. I design primarily for mono-colored walkers, as they have the greatest chance to be printed/reprinted in a core set.

2. I plan to follow the initial design philosophy of the cards being a mix of effects similar to the particular Planeswalker card, and those that synergize with the Planeswalker card.

When I designed these cards I chose Elspeth, Knight-Errant so I wanted all of the cards to be something that you could build a deck around with.

Here's what I came up with for my common:
Simple and to the point, yeah?
It's just Elspeth's middle ability. I new from the get go, that this card already existed in the form of Angelic Blessing, a palatable but hardly exciting card. So what did I do to make it more interesting? Made it cheaper and an instant, but more color intensive.

Next is my uncommon:

Now the synergy here should be obvious. If you use Elspeth's middle ability (or her Blessing), this guy becomes ENORMOUS and evasive. It works similar effectively with other pump effects, evasive combat tricks, and hoses black and red toughness-based removal. That part was a happy accident since red and black are enemy colors of white.

Now here's my rare:

It's a temporary mimicry of Elspeth's ultimate! Designing this was a teensy bit tricky. I already knew that Elspeth sort of, kind of already had a signature rare, at least in concept, in the form of Dauntless Escort, so I had to make this effect different enough from that one to stand alone as its own card.

I'd like to think that I succeeded.

As an added bonus, this actually has amazing synergy with the other Elsepth's ultimate. How fortuitous.

Let me know what you think!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Signature spells

Disclaimer: This article contains custom card designs. If you are a Wizards of the Coast employee you have my full permission to use any designs or ideas within this article without my explicit written consent or prior knowledge, or without giving me any sort of credit. I love this game and I want to help it in any way I can.

So Magic has these things called core sets, yeah?

A yearly catalogue of baseline spells and flavor, primarily intended to be a entry point for new players and a repository of useful effects for tournament level play.

Since their introduction into Magic, Planeswalkers always appear in a one-per-color-cycle in each core set.

Starting in Magic 2011, R&D started one of my favorite new traditions; Planeswalker signature spells.

The purpose of these effects was to introduce players, especially newer players or players who don't have the resources necessary to get a hold of a lot of product and might not ever see a Planeswalker, to said characters. After all they are significant cards and the main characters of the story, its a good idea that people invested in your product know who's important.

Someone just starting Magic isn't going to know who Liliana is, much less, why they should care. But when they start seeing her name show up on a lot of cards, they're going to grasp fairly quickly that she's someone important.

Here's the explanation for their design and concepting.

Now that's all well and good, except that there's a problem.
A big one.
Sorin and Gideon never got uncommons!!!

We can't have that now, can we...

Much better!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tales of lizard tails.

Disclaimer: This article contains custom card designs. If you are a Wizards of the Coast employee you have my full permission to use any designs or ideas within this article without my explicit written consent or prior knowledge, or without giving me any sort of credit. I love this game and I want to help it in any way I can.

So I once read in a Magic article (I can't remember by who, I think it may have been Jamie Wakefield) that one of the surest ways to get a dedicated audience for your articles is to make your audience care about you, the writer, on a personal level. Make them care about you and your well-being and your life behind the keyboard.

Is my pet leopard gecko, Cisco.

I've had her for 10 years. That's a pretty good chunk of time.

Two weeks ago, she split her tail open.

I. lost. my. shit.

In fairness, this isn't nearly as bad as it sounds like.
Leopard geckos possess a pretty groovy little quirk wherein their tails can fall off whenever they are threatened, like if a predator grabs on to them, they'll often drop their tails which will thrash about pulling attention away from them while they run away.

Nonetheless, I have had this lizard half of my life, so I was rather freaked out.

Immediately, I took her to an emergency clinic since my normal vet is closed on Sundays. It took a couple of hours, but the vets were able to stitch her up.

In honor of my lizard, here's a design:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

No article, just squirrels.

Disclaimer: This article contains custom card designs. If you are a Wizards of the Coast employee you have my full permission to use any designs or ideas within this article without my explicit written consent or prior knowledge, or without giving me any sort of credit. I love this game and I want to help it in any way I can.

No article tonight, just a cute design I thought of.

I might do an article about flying in green after this, though.

Lemme know what you think!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Random in Red

Disclaimer: This article contains custom card designs. If you are a Wizards of the Coast employee you have my full permission to use any designs or ideas within this article without my explicit written consent or prior knowledge, or without giving me any sort of credit.
I love this game and I want to help it in any way I can.

Eh, worth a shot.

So today, someone raised an interesting point on Mark Rosewater's (Magic lead designer) tumblr page.

He raises the obvious example that, overwhelmingly, these cards are just bad. The potential to lose what you were digging for in the first place makes almost every red looting spell (before Dark Ascension) not worth it.

I want to discuss the flip side of that coin, the flavor.

I feel that sometimes in concepting cards, especially in core sets, where they are less restricted by setting and culture, that Wizards falls back onto some of the more flanderized aspects of the colors.
In the case of red's random discard, the idea that red is the incarnation of chaos.

While effects that represent some form of chaos are indeed well within red's slice of the color pie, most of the best examples are those that benefit red in some way, by destroying something bothersome, or by forcing the other players to play by your rules. Discarding at random isn't chaotic, it's, well, stupid.

And while red is prone to living down here (points to the base of the head) in the impulse zone! It's by no means stupid. A red mage wouldn't ignore good advice given to it, and it surely wouldn't give away valuable resources given half the chance.

Now I feel there is one key exception to which the random discard works well; Insanity!(well, gambling makes two, actually, but I don't have an article for that, so you're stuck with this.)

The best example of this out right now is Desperate Ravings, you don't get to choose what to keep, because you're going crazy! Brilliant!

I think what I'm trying to say can be summed up rather succinctly; When a red card is given a random effect, it should be because it paints a picture, not because its red.

Here's an example I came up with:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Birthing Pod, Custom card

And here's something special; what I hope to make a recurring thing here on my blog.
Custom card designs.
I'm not sure how clear I've made it so far, but I am passionate about Magic card design, and I would love to do it for a living some day.
When I do it, I'm going to try to make it topical.

In this case, here's a card that I would love to see printed so that I may use it in Birthing Pod.

It's pretty self explanatory. A creature with a death trigger that helps me find what I need.
2/2 might be a touch over the curse for this, but I think it's fair considering it doesn't get you the card you need right away like Diabolic Tutor does.
It does seem pretty darn strong though, I can understand a developer pushing the cost up to 1BBB or 3BB.
Let me know what you think!

SCG Open and Birthing Pod

Yesterday Starcity Games ( held one of their recurring open tournaments near where I live in Atlanta, Georgia. Unfortunately because it kind of snuck up on me, I didn't have the time to readjust my deck to the current meta. Ah well.

Just so you all know, here's what I'm playing right now; what I consider the be the most fun you can have in standard right now. Birthing Pod.

11 Forest
9 Swamp
3 Buried Ruin
1 Woodland Cemetary

4 Viridian Emissary
3 Perilous Myr
2 Phyrexian Rager
1 Glissa the Traitor
2 Solemn Simularcum
2 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Skinrender
1 Entomber Exarch
2 Acidic Slime
1 Bloodgift Demon
1 Precursor Golem
1 Grave Titan
1 Massacre Wurm
2 Wurcoil Engine
1 Sheoldred, the Whispering One

2 Mortarpod
1 Doom Blade
1 Go For The Throat
2 Mimic Vat
4 Birthing Pod

3 Spellskite
1 Go For the Throat
1 Doom Blade
2 Beast Within
1 Brindle Boar
2 Sylvok Replica
1 Thrun the Last Troll
1 Kessig Cagebreakers
1 Acidic Slime
1 Grave Titan
1 Black Sun's Zenith

Some interesting choices, eh? I'll run you through some of them.

Not enough duals. Mostly because I haven't acquired a set yet. I'm working on it.
I'm not playing Bant-Pod, which is widely considered to be the best Pod archetype. I can't afford that mana-base.
No mana dorks. When I built the deck, it was because my local meta was swarmed with Red Deck Wins and Mono-Black Infect. Gut Shot, Geistflame, Virulent Wound. Basically, playing mana dorks in my local meta wasn't an asset, it was a liability. They would almost never be relevant.
So I cut them. Added more threats. It's actually worked out better in my opinion. Yes, I have less explosive starts, but I feel I have better late game because I have more late game. Try it out if you play Pod.

Viridian Emissary. 4 of in any pod deck. No question.
Perilous Myr. This is pretty good in any Pod deck, but I added a bunch of these guys after the first week I tested this build an opponent played a Mirran Crusader. Owch. This guy helps stem the tide of inevitable failure against Mirran Crusader.
Mortarpod. I have a lot of Aggro in my environment, this is amazing against them. It also has hilarious synergy with my large amount of Deathtouch creatures. I've also gotten into some amazing scenarios with them like having a Mortarpod out when I have a Wurmcoil imprinted onto a Mimic Vat.
So. Tasty.
Glissa the Traitor: I have enough artifacts that she's frequently relevant. Sometimes I cast her just to buy myself some breathing room. You'd be surprised how many decks get shut down by a first strike deathtoucher. Or maybe not.
Mimic Vat. I want some more value. This provides it. I tend to take it out more often than other cards, but it does some amazing (and sometimes winmore) things.

Solemn Simulacrum. Sad Robot. At least 2 of in every pod deck. No questions.
Phyrexian Metamorph. Again, this is an auto-include in any Pod deck. If you're not Metamorphing, you're not doing it right.
Bloodgift Demon. I realized I didn't have much game against decks with loads of flyers (Tempered Steel, for example). This helps that, and it's a great way to pick off enemy Planeswalkers.
Precursor Golem. Another guy that comes out a lot, but is good when it needs to be. There's quite a few decks that don't have the removal to properly remove one of these guys.
Massacre Wurm, Wurmcoil Engine, Grave Titan, Sheoldred. I really hope these are all self-evident.

Spellskite mostly comes in against Wolf Run. Ideally, it stalls me a few turns against the eponymous card while I get my fatties out. And my fatties are much scarier than theirs.
Brindle Boar is against RDW. The best case scenario is you clone it with a Metamorph or imprint it on a Mimic Vat. They don't stand a chance.
Sylvok Replica. Against Tempered Steel.
Thrun. Against counter-heavy decks. He's less than ideal to be honest, since Pod decks tend to tap out almost every turn, which doesn't leave me much room to regenerate Thrun.
Kessig Cagebreakers. Comes in against decks that play the waiting game. Attacking for 18 split across half a dozen plus creatures tends to wrap games up in a hurry.

And thems the basics of my Pod deck. Let me know what you think?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Getting to know me, part 2

Last time on "How to Shave your Thoctar", I posted half of my Essay questions from the Great Designer Search 2.

Here's the second part:

6. What do you think design can do to best make the game accessible to newer players?

1.      Continue what it’s doing now. The retooling of the core sets into expansions to be taken as seriously as block expansions was perhaps the best decision made towards Magic in its history. As the core sets function now, they perfectly bridge the gap between the new player and the experienced player. By having cards that everyone can desire and appreciate allows the new player to gain insights from their more experienced counterparts, and by making them annual keeps their freshness intact. I can easily recommend the most recent core set to any new player trying to get into the game with a straight face knowing that the cards are both A) playable and interesting and B) relevant to competitive gameplay. Furthermore, I would try to increase the overall competitiveness of the introduction packs. Whereas some people have found enjoyment from playing the precons against one another, all too often I hear new players asking which precon would be the best to get ultimately coming down to which deck had the best included rares. I realize that not all rares can, much less should be, competitive cards, but the ones that aren’t usually ending up having very affordable second hand prices. To increase the overall demand of the preconstructed decks by including cards that a multitude of player types will enjoy seems to be the best decision. With those recommendations I believe there will be a higher level of interaction among players of varying levels of experience, and given the inherently social aspects of the game, this could only be better in the long run for the game.

7. What do you think design can do to best make the game attractive to experienced players?

1.      Think of cards in terms of how playable they are across a multitude of routinely played competitive formats. I distinctly remember a conversation from an episode of Monday Night Magic. During the most recent changes to the banned and restricted list was released, Conley Woods explained that to Vintage players, a new set didn’t represent a significant change in their format of choice nearly as much as it does to players of formats with smaller cardpool sizes. He went on to say that, on the other hand, cards being banned or unbanned was roughly equivalent to a new set coming out, where unbanned cards could easily breed whole new archetypes of decks or breathe new life into pre-existing or formerly extinct archetypes. Just as much as a card being banned could very well kill any number of archetypes. While I understand the severe differences in card strength and availability, for a recognized competitive format to be so unaffected by the release of new sets seemed so incredibly unbelievable to me. This phenomenon is also present to a much lesser degree in Legacy and in Extended (much more so when Extended represented the most recent seven years of Magic rather than four years.) This sort of thing shouldn’t be forced by any means, but having one or two otherwise ‘junk’ rares per set or even block that were designed with an older format in mind wouldn’t be the death of Magic. Quite the opposite, these larger pooled formats have a significantly slower turn over rate than standard, and while there is a considerable amount of appeal for players of Eternal formats to know that once they’ve made their initial investments towards a reasonable eternal cardpool, that they won’t have to make continued investments every three months, I feel that by bye-and-large ignoring the most recent releases completely only further alienates some of these players from Magic as a whole. Furthermore, having more older format centric cards will create a brigde from Standard players to Extended players or Extended to Legacy players, strengthening what Magic means to them.

8. Of all the mechanics currently in Extended, which one is the best designed? Explain why.

1.      Of all of the mechanics occupying the current Extended format, the mechanic that I thing is the best designed is the Evoke mechanic. It comes across as a flawless combination of flavor and gameplay. Consider that the evoke mechanic only shows up on elemental creatures, many of which on Lorwyn are ideas incarnate, representing the hopes and dreams and nightmares of Lorwyn’s residents, and just as easily your own. Just like an idea, depending on how much time and effort (and mana) you invest into an idea, the more you get out of said idea. If you only have a small amount of resources to invest into the idea (early in the game, for example), you can only invest that much into the idea; if you’ve accumulated a fair amount of resources over the course of your duel, you can invest all that much more into the idea, and get the full impact of the idea. Absolutely brilliant. It doesn’t hurt that the vast majority of the evokeable elementals were quite playable. It also doesn’t hurt that the ability was so incredibly variable. In that the creature was sacrificed upon entering the battlefield allows for an incredible amount of interactions with other cards and abilities, often in and of themselves. Some of the evokeable creatures had evoke based upon a ‘when [this card] enters the battlefield’ abilities, and just as many had their evoke status based upon the presence of a ‘when [this card] leaves the battlefield’. This kind of flexibility allows for an incredible amount of design depth, and I would absolutely ecstatic to make more of these in the future.

9. 9. Of all the mechanics currently in Extended, which one is the worst designed? Explain why.

1.      This is a question that is nigh impossible for me to answer. There’s a lot of different people who play Magic, and there’s just as many reasons why they play. I’ve always considered myself among the group of players that are, for an appalling lack of better descriptions, ‘easy’. If it’s new, if it’s interesting, it’s good to me. I’m the kind of guy who’ll leave the preconstructed decks unaltered so that I can play them against other preconstructed decks. I’m the kind of guy that defends Serra Angel on Gatherer as, quite literally, not being ‘strictly’ worse than Baneslayer Angel. I’m the kind of guy that defends suboptimal cards for being useful and practical in a limited environment. I’m the kind of guy who will endlessly say “If you don’t like it, it wasn’t made for you.” To people for saying that some Johhny-focused card or the latest awesome but impractical fatty is unplayable. I’ve thought long and hard about this question since it first went up last week, and I, for the life of me, can’t think of any mechanics from Lorwyn on up that I wasn’t happy playing with. And honestly, I think that’s the best answer I could give to this question. It is my understanding that the process for weeding out less than ideal mechanics during design and development is very thorough. If an ability doesn’t ‘feel right’, it isn’t right, and it’s fixed until it does feel right. If it can’t be made to ‘feel right’, they kill it. I hope this answer doesn’t seem a cop out, but I think R&D has been doing an admirable job weeding out the riffraff.

1910. Choose a plane to revisit other than Dominaria or Mirrodin. What is a mechanical twist we could add if we revisit this plane?

1.      Lorwyn/Shadowmoor. I feel that given the events in the storyline could very well lend itself to some very interesting design spaces. With the end of the of the cyclical existence of day and night, I feel that there would be some very interesting visual appeal to having a hodge-podge world that mixes the idyllic fairy tale setting of Lorwyn with the gloomy bleak Brothers Grimm-esque nightmarescape of Shadowmoor. Furthermore, the two settings’ various themes are mirrored versions of each other and could lead to interesting mechanics. For example, cards that will apply +1/+1 counters when used on your creatures or -1/-1 counters on your opponents’. Or given that most of Lorwyn’s eight primary tribes experienced a color shift to a different color which reflected the mirrored reality of Shadowmoor could be reflected in the new mixed setting. Perhaps using Alara Reborn’s ‘gold + hybrid’ cards in a new way, such as an elf with green and white/black hybrid cast cost that would enter the battlefield as its Lorwyn variant if black was used, or its Shadowmoor counterpart if white mana was used. Or tribal cards that abused +1/+1 counters when using their Lorwyn colors, and -1/-1 counters when their Shadowmoor colors were used.