Posted tagged ‘Design’

A first look at Kaladesh

September 18, 2016

So, we finally have the complete spoiler. When the kitchen table players and the wannabe pros had already begun “brewing” and discussing 40€-planeswalkers and combo-piece artifacts, since the rares and mythic rares were – as usually – known first, I still had to patiently wait for most of the really interesting cards to be shown: the commons and uncommons.

It is still both too early to predict the dynamics of Kaladesh draft in detail and to decide which of its cards will enter my Limited Card Pool, but it’s possible now to start a meaningful discussion at least. As usually, I will focus on the gameplay aspects, although I want to mention that Kaladesh seems to be a really cool world!

The big new thing is, of course… energy counters. What, you expected vehicles? Those are admittedly stealing the show, but it is the new cost mechanic which fundamentally changes how the game is being played!

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My stance on energy is this: I expect it to play well in Kaladesh limited (that is obviously just an educated guess at this point), but it will not enter my Limited Card Pool. See, continuously managing these counters adds quite a lot of busywork to gameplay, and that is only justified if this mechanic serves a central role. For one block, it can do that, but energy does not play well if it is only a small part of an environment, even though most of its designs are somehow self-contained (providing you both with a way to create and to spend energy). Now, I can see a world where Magic would start to use both mana and energy permanently as two different kinds of cost, and I think this would make for a compelling game, but we are not going to live in this world, and this is fine, too.

One way to look at energy is that it is the newest flavor of introducing new gameplay aspects via adding extra logistics. +1/+1 counters, tokens, facedown cards, doublefaced cards and poison counters were among energy’s precursors, and here we go again: With energy counters, Magic puts a new slew of components into its virtual game box (and how embarrassing is it that they actually forgot to print those?) Tokens and +1/+1 counters are the only kinds of those additional components which I use in my Limited Card Pool, because they are the only ones which are generally useful enough to justify the extra logistical effort and the extra mental space they require from the players. Energy counters are actually the third of those additions that I (guess I will) really like, but they are still too fiddly for a minor theme (which they’d have to be in any Next Level Cube that doesn’t feel like a straight Kaladesh rehash).

It’s also relevant that a big energy theme in a limited environment makes playing noticeably harder – at least playing well. There is now an additional resource to be managed, and it works rather differently than mana: With mana, a reasonable default is too use as much of it as possible every turn. With energy, saving up will be a much more attractive alternative, although this can also become a trap. I am optimistic that this will lead to good gameplay in Kaladesh limited, but it could be rough for less experienced players in a more casual cube environment, especially without the glamor of a new and exciting world to divert them.

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Talking about glamor: Vehicles are doubtlessly the coolest new thing in Kaladesh! I will definitely use a couple of those in my Limited Card Pool. I am a bit wary, however, that too many of them could have a negative impact on gameplay, because they warp its dynamics pretty much: Since you effectively use multiple cards to get them active, you need to develop a good board presence. At the same time, they generally block better than they attack, while being invulnerable to most sorcery speed removal (at least before they get to block). All this points to frequent board stalls. Then there is the fact that you need to invest a good amount of resources into an active vehicle, while getting rewarded for this with a fairly strong creature – a description of swinginess. I am convinced that, like equipment, vehicles will become a permanent enrichment for Magic, but they also might prove hard to balance and look cooler than they actually play.

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Finally, there’s fabricate, the inconspicuous third new mechanic. It looks really uninspired, like escalate, but it is a lot more coherent and does not seem quite as disconnected to the set’s other mechanics. I admit I am a bit confused over the design of cards with fabricate, though, especially some really mediocre-looking uncommons with fabricate 2. They would only make sense if creating multiple artifact creatures were really strong, but I just don’t see this – there are a few cards which like a high artifact count, and there is Inspired Charge, but overall I cannot make out a compelling reason for this. My pet theory: Those cards were finalized at a time when vehicles were still crewed by a fixed number of creatures instead of their total power. That would make sense!

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My overall impression: The power level of the set in limited is comparably low, although there are a few very strong common creatures, like Peema Outrider or Wayward Giant. Fast strategies are possible, especially in Red with support from Hijack and Renegade Tactics, but also in White if it goes wide on token creatures with multiple Inspired Charge. Generally, however, I believe the environment will be on the slow side, with tokens gumming up the ground, and players trying to get vehicles active, which will then tend to stall the board even more, until someone plays a breakthrough card. While I don’t believe that many games will be really fast, I am afraid they will often be quite swingy, with one player getting to “assemble” a big advantage before the other and decisively pressing it.

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For this reason, I am rather sceptical concerning the slower interactions that seem to be built into Kaladesh limited, especially the bouncing of your own permanents – I cannot imagine that you will usually have that much time. On the plus side, I hope this also means that games will be less often decided by bombs, which fortunately seem to reside mostly in the mythic rare and masterpiece slots. Especially, I did not make out any “mythic uncommons” so far, with the possible exception of Ovalchase Daredevil, which looks disgustingly unkillable for a 4/2 creature. Generally, I see a clear power level difference between commons and uncommons.

What are your first impressions of Kaladesh?

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Looking back at Eldritch Moon & Take the Crown

September 10, 2016

It’s a bit hard to motivate myself right now, but I do not want to cease blogging about Magic altogether yet. I had intended to write about Eldritch Moon and Conspiracy: Take the Crown from a Next Level Cube perspective, but then my computer died, and I still haven’t completely caught up with re-installing everything I feel I need on it, and working through the backlog of my computer-related activities, of which keeping my Limited Card Pool up to date is one. I finally did the latter – although obviously it’s still pre-Kaladesh yet – and will now briefly mention which designs from the latest two published Magic sets made the cut.

About Eldritch Moon in general: I’m not the set’s biggest fan, at least not from the point of view of single card design. I still strongly dislike double-faced cards for RL play (and, even more importantly, draft); I still believe madness is a too swingy mechanic, rewarding you too much if its pieces come together, and punishing you too much if they don’t; and I still think delirium is just taking up too much mental space in a game. That is already most of what Eldritch Moon is mechanically about…

Then there are tribal matters cards, which I do like on principle. However, for the sake of backwards compatibility I will not adopt human tribal, which would be terribly confusing with many older cards which are humans but don’t say so in print, and wolf tribal can not be separated from werewolf tribal, which would require double-faced cards.

This leaves three tribes I use. Among those, I have zombies firmly in Black. Both Innistrad blocks offer some blue zombie tribal stuff, but that fails to reach the necessary level in both quantity and quality to convince me to put zombie tribal in two colors, since I decided against „splashing“ a tribals matter theme in a secondary color. As for the black zombie tribal designs in Eldritch Moon, they just did not survive the crunch – some are fine by themselves, but lost out to similar cards I already use.

Vampires matter cards, which I also only have in Black for similar reasons, offer a couple good designs though, and so do blue spirit tribal cards. Spirits in my pool still reel from the removal of all arcane cards, and consequently all spiritcraft cards (triggering off casting spirit or arcane spells), which left mostly soulshift as a spirit tribal mechanic – the exception being Blue, which is slowly gathering spirit tribal cards from the Innistrad blocks. I decided I want a clear split in colors between soulshift and other spirits matter, so white spirit tribal from Innistrad is being left out.

I was disappointed by the designs with skulk in Eldritch Moon, although I like that mechanic in principle. With emerge, it was a bit the other way round: I took a fancy to some of those cards by themselves, but realized they would require too many specific support cards in a Next Level Cube if they were to be a meaningful addition. As for escalate, I consider it a superfluous design in a space that is already full of too many slightly varying similar mechanics. With access to 23 years worth of Magic cards, I just don’t need it. It doesn’t help that the more interesting escalate cards tend to be overpowered and/or complicated, with the latter escpecially being an issue if casual players try to play around them.

Like in Shadows over Innistrad, there were some recurring creatures in Eldritch Moon, but I do not like how those affect gameplay, so I do not use them. Eldritch Moon also dabbles in insteries matter, auras matter and equipments matter designs. The first delivered a few nice cards, while the others suffered from not being compatible with my approach to those themes – for example, I do not want to mix auras matter and equipments matter on the same card.

As a final note, I was disappointed by Eldritch Moon‘s only “devilpops” design, which lacked the elegance of those from Shadows over Innistrad.

So here is what made it, 30 cards all in all:

 

geist-fueled-scarecrow-ashxdrogskol-shieldmate-ashxsanctifier-of-souls-ashxfaithbearer-paladin-ashxsubjugator-angel-ashxolivias-dragoon-ashxwailing-ghoul-ashxstromkirk-condemned-ashxskirsdag-supplicant-ashxgavony-unhallowed-ashxmarkov-crusader-ashxfalkenrath-reaver-ashxthermo-alchemist-ashxderanged-whelp-ashxweaver-of-lightning-ashxbedlam-reveler-ashxnoose-constrictor-ashxwoodland-patrol-ashxswift-spinner-ashxsomberwald-stag-ashxwolfkin-bond-ashxgrapple-with-the-past-ashxclear-shot-ashxmausoleum-wanderer-ashxtattered-haunter-ashxexultant-cultist-ashxnebelgast-herald-ashxlaboratory-brute-ashximprisoned-in-the-moon-ashxdrag-under-ashx

 

Most of these are simply basic, elegant designs on a good power level, something I am always on the lookout for. Some were added to my Limited Card Pool without any specific card leaving to make room for them (although I am continuously culling cards to stunt the growth of my collection in general), while some were direct replacements. Among the latter are Drogskol Shieldmate for Affa Guard Hound, Faithbearer Paladin for Dawnstrike Paladin, Falkenrath Reaver for Goblin Raider, Noose Constrictor for Darkthicket Wolf (but consequently allowing Rootwalla back in), and Tattered Haunter für Vaporkin (for tribal reasons only).

The more specific cards enhance existing themes in my Limited Card Pool: Vampire tribal, spirit tribal, insteries matter, and self-milling (the only kind of milling I allow). Imprisoned in the Moon is especially important as a maindeckable answer for special lands at common. Sanctifier of Souls made the cut as a well-designed, interesting, but not suppressive rare.

Some noticeable cards which I considered lengthily, but didn’t make the cut: Lunarch Mantle and Faith Unbroken are too swingy; Long Road Home is too close too Feat of Resistance; Stensia Innkeeper doesn’t make for a great gameplay experience while not fulfilling an essential function; Noosegraf Mob has a cool concept, but is just a little too strong; Assembled Alphas are a bit too powerful for a splashable creature; and Geist of the Archives makes repeated scrying a little too easy – too much card selection goes against the very idea of limited play.

Now to Conspiracy: Take the Crown! Obviously, I do not care too much about the reprints in there, although I am always searching for updates to cards in my pool with a more current wording (for example, Skulking Ghost from Eternal Masters now saying that it’s a spirit is great). Also, since I do not play multiplayer, the vast majority of original Conspiracy cards make no sense in my Limited Card pool. Even those which do not feature specific multiplayer mechanics are usually not balanced for one on one limited play.

Two cards still made it:

 

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Sinuous Vermin complements my other monstrosity options (Ill-Tempered Cyclops, Ravenous Leucrocota) nicely; and Leovold, Emissary of Trent replaces Sidisi, Brood Tyrant – both designs are a bit loaded for my taste, but Leovold is more straightforward.

Next up is Kaladesh, which has a couple of really interesting designs!

Fixing random cards, part 1

March 25, 2016

Welcome to my first Zeromagic entry in almost three years!

If you wonder why I’m back here from oozero, you can read about in in this entry there (the latter half, which is in German). If you only want to enjoy some Magic content, however, I will just start!

This new series is a mashup of my fixing old cards series from oozero, and my looking at a random cards series I used to do on Zeromagic years ago, both of which having been very well-recieved by my readers. Fixing cards is more creative and more fun than just analyzing and evaluating them, but the strict chronological progression I followed so far became tiresome for me, and it also meant that there was no hope to ever get to newer cards. This is why I will now instead “fix” randomly selected cards to mix things up. Instead of explaining everything about how I handle this in detail, I’ll just go ahead and let you figure it out – it shouldn’t be too hard!

Just one small thing: “LCP” is the abbreviation I will use in this series for my Limited Card Pool. I will denote if a card I consider fine is in that pool (at the moment when I write this – that pool is changing over time, of course), and if not, why not.

Skyshroud Troll

Skyshroud Troll

This card is fine – nothing to fix here.

LCP – no, because it loses out in the crunch to Wolfir Avenger and Cudgel Troll.

Augur of Bolas

Augur of Bolas

Again, a perfectly fine card.

LCP – common.

Gray Ogre

Gray Ogre

While I have nothing against vanilla creatures in limited, and a 2/2 for three mana is never quite unplayable, it will always feel bad if you actually have to include it in your deck. Such cards should not exist. Also, a 2/2 is a bit small to portay an ogre, although that is an issue with creatures from Alpha in general, where bears were 2/2 and giants 3/3…

I believe a good basic concept for an Ogre has already been conveyed on an existing card:

Hulking Ogre

LCP – common.

Felidar Sovereign

Felidar Sovereign

I really dislike alternate win conditions, and I am not a big fan of cards which are bombs in limited, yet unplayable in competitive constructed. While I can accept the existence of strong rares in limited, they should not come with an alternate path to victory if their presence in combat alone is not enough to win the game. I’d rather have a powerful creature end the game directly via attacking if it cannot be dealt with.

What it boils down to is that I just want to streamline this design, while having it require a bit more of a commitment to White – some might call my version boring, but I consider it elegant (and it’s not as if an elegant card with this concept already existed!) It should also have a better shot at constructed than the original (excluding casual constructed, of course). Please note, though, that I design my cards for limited environments with access to a healthy amount of reliable removal – a description which does not really fit most modern environments.

Felidar Sovereign fixed

Cancel

Cancel

A fixed version of this card already exists. It’s called Counterspell! No, that is not overpowered – it just does not fit Wizards‘ current philosophy of making the game mainly about expensive permanents and catering to the preferences of bad players.

That aside, the card is okay in limited (although rather weak), so there’s nothing to fix about it in itself.

LCP – no, because I just use Counterspell, duh!

Blade Sliver

Blade Sliver

And yet another fine design. I explicitly like that it pumps all slivers – that is what slivers are (well, were) all about! The old slivers also add a very unique and interesting dynamic to a limited environment.

LCP – staple common.

False Orders

False Orders

Hey – I already fixed that card!

Belbe’s Percher

Belbe's Percher

A bit weaker than necessary, but still fine for limited.

LCP – no, because of several more attractive options, and because the “high-flyer” ability feels more at home in Blue.

Stun Sniper

Stun Sniper

Completely fine again!

LCP – uncommon.

Twisted Image

Twisted Image

Also fine.

LCP – no, because it lost out in the cantrip crunch, and I already use Inside Out.

Tracker’s Instincts

Tracker's Instincts

Fine, although I do not especially like the dynamics of off-colored flashback costs

LCP – no, for the aforementioned reason.

Whirling Dervish

Whirling Dervish

Protection from a color just does not play well in limited. That issue is exacerbated because this card is quite weak unless this protection matters. I found another way to express the dervish’s ability to avoid harm, while making its strength less dependant on it. One thing I cannot mend, however, ist that neither the mechanical concept of the card nor its art have anything to do with real dervishes or their whirling.

Whirling Dervish

Hindering Light

Hindering Light

Perfectly fine.

LCP – common.

Marshal’s Anthem

Marshal's Anthem

I dislike a bit how unrelated the two effects on this card are, but other than that, this is a good design hitting a good power level for a rare.

LCP – no, because I have enough anthem effects and resurrection effects and prefer to keep those separate.

Karplusan Yeti

Karplusan Yeti

From a limited vantage point, this is a tad too strong for my taste, although I admire this card’s elegance (but not its artwork). I do not believe it is so overpowered that it needs to be fixed, though.

LCP – no, because it is too powerful and suppressive, and I prefer the more moderate green version of that effect on Tracker.

Illusionary Mask

Illusionary Mask

And another card I already fixed!

Tuknir Deathlock

Tuknir Deathlock

Some say the mana costs of the legendary creatures from the Legends set have been assigned randomly, and seeing this creature, I wouldn’t want to argue. Ignoring the mana symbols, this is a Nantuko Disciple with flying. Why is that red-green, and why does it need to be uncastable? I have no clue.

I have decided to keep a card’s color identity when fixing it, so I gave Tuknir an ability which fits better with his identity.

Tuknir Deathlock

 

That is it for this time!

 

WWWWW as PDF

February 15, 2013

It took me some time, but I finally managed to get a pdf version of WWWWW online, so that you can download it and print the cards without trouble! You will find the link to the pdf file at the bottom of this German blog entry, labeled WWWWW-all.