You’re a Designer, Harry! #2 – What Can I Get You Folks?
Welcome (back), designers! For those who’ve missed the last article or need a refresher:
This “You’re a Designer, Harry!” column I’m writing (Ah, I should have picked a better name!) is related to Magic: The Gathering design. Instead of just designing a Magic set, I’ve decided to write about the process as well, which you can read about every Wednesday here on Red Site Wins. However, this is more than just following the process I go through creating the set, as my readers are involved in the design of the set as well. What I mean is that the design and creative decisions that go into defining the set are open to be affected by the readers from their feedback. You can write a comment at the end of this article about why a certain thing should be a certain way or suggest a new idea for another aspect of the set, and etc. (or you can tweet me at @bradleyrose). I’m like the lead designer of the set, and you (if you so choose to be), in addition to other participating readers, are part of my design team.
So here’s where we’re at now in designing this Magic set: The theme of the set is “four colors matters.” Taking into consideration the input I’ve received from last week, I’ve decided to bring back hybrid to support the “four colors matters” theme. This is in terms of gameplay mechanics for the set.
Might I Suggest a Bottle of…?
Jay Treat suggested a couple of radical ideas to consider regarding the “four colors matters” theme: Anti-mana and literally a four-color block.
Anti-mana, represented by !C, where C is one of the colors, like W, means all colors except that one. So, if you have the !W symbol in the mana cost, it means you could pay for it with blue, black, red, or green. To me, this looks like a “super hybrid” mana symbol, where it goes beyond two colors. This could be something for later in the block, so we’ll keep anti-mana in mind.
And a four color block would be missing a color from the whole set. And, a further suggestion from Jay would be to have black be missing to balance out the set Torment, which had an imbalanced ratio of colors, being heavy black (Judgment sought to restore balance by being heavy green-white, but I digress). I’m disinclined to go in this direction since the balance of the five colors in terms of the color pie is very important, and when it comes to removing a color (and the associated gameplay mechanics), it feels like it would have to be handled very carefully. And then we’d need to figure out what this means creatively and for how the rest of the sets in the block would turn out. Perhaps a five-set block?
Lastly, in terms of gameplay, troacctid mentioned split cards. In the past, split cards have always been sorceries or instants. And they’ve been monocolored on each side, multicolored on each side, and even had each side be the same color (this is probably not the way we want to go if we even employ split cards). Now, about the card types… if we ever did permanent types on the split cards, I imagine all hell can break loose. Even if it’s something as simple as artifacts and enchantments. Because you can animate an artifact into a creature, would that mean a double-artifact split card become two creatures on one card? How do you handle that? Does it have banding or something? The reason why this might be the case is because, as per the rules for split cards, a split card has all the characteristics of each side in every zone other than the stack. As a creature, it would have two powers and toughnesses. Yikes. Well, we don’t have to permanents, anyway. We can always innovate in terms of making one side a sorcery and the other an instant. That’s never been done before. But, if we’re not going to do permanents, then that would mean the purpose of split cards being multicolor might be for naught depending on the “four colors matter” mechanic. If the mechanic depended on the casting of four colors (it would have to be intricately designed to accommodate that), split cards aren’t even all of their colors on the stack anyway. It only takes on the characteristic of one side. Hmm.
Or How About a Bubbly of…?
As for the creative side (the flavor), reader Preston suggested basically this:
The plane is a world divided into five different civilizations, all separated by geographical barriers. Each of these geographical barriers are aligned with a color of mana that separates a single civilization from the rest. The civilizations are trapped within their barriers and each one decides that the mana associated with the barrier trapping them is something to not embrace. Thus, each of the civilizations only employ four colors of mana in their way of life. With only four colors of mana, each civilization have grown to be very different from one another. Think like the shards of Alara, except, with four colors of mana (and different flavor reasons for separation, of course).
And as each civilization grows, they aim to overcome the geographical barrier that suppresses them. Eventually, those barriers will be broken, and they’ll each discover four other civilizations. But, how did those geographical barriers come about in the first place? That’s something I’d like feedback on. Is it a naturally occurring phenomenon? Is this how the plane works? Is there a scheming antagonist behind this, like Nicol Bolas?
First, I’m going to go on an aside. For those of you who don’t know, each of the mana symbols used on cards have a corresponding letter (white: W, blue: U, black: B, red: R, green: G). This is useful to know because, at least in design, whenever a mana cost or other mana symbols used elsewhere is referenced, the letters are used to communicate those mana symbols. For example, Runeclaw Bear costs 1G. Cancel costs 1UU. And so on.
So, anyway, you can try to imagine what each of the different civilizations would be like if they grew without a color of mana. What would the WUBR civilization be like? What about the RGWU civilization? I would repeat what Preston suggested for the flavor of each of the civilizations, but, for those of you who haven’t read his comments on my article last week, I’d rather you to not be biased in whatever worlds you come up with on your own.
However, what may possibly aid you in your take of each civilization is a suggestion by Jay Zeffren via Twitter: Take each of the guild philosophies (the two color pairings) and subtract all guilds that exclude the “missing color.” For example, if a civilization is lacking green mana, then have it be the opposite of the values and ideals that are represented by the WG, UG, BG, and RG guilds. Hopefully, this will spark your creativity.
And What Name Might This Reservation Be Under?
Reader koga305 brought up a point where since this set would debut these four-color groupings, we’d need a good name for that type of grouping as well as good names for each of these groupings. For example, each of the ten dual-color pairings is called a guild. And each guild has a name, like Boros and Izzet. Each three-color (allied) trifecta is called a shard, and each shard has a name, like Bant and Jund. Informally among many Magic players, the enemy-colored three-color groupings, such as WUR, are called wedges. So, what are we going to call a four-color grouping? And what are we going to call each of these groupings (I referred to them as civilizations when describing the flavor of the world above, but that was just for ease of explanation).
We’ll Start with an Appetizer, Followed by the Main Entree, Then… Dessert!
pureval suggested that we could divide up the civilizations across multiple sets, like the Ravnica block. I think this would be a great idea, and here’s why: The first set, being the large set, typically, would introduce three of the five civilizations. Since a large set has four keyword mechanics, we could devote three of these mechanics to each of the civilizations, and the fourth mechanic can be used for supporting the “four colors theme” itself. The second set can introduce the remaining two civilizations and introduce two new mechanics, like a second set does. The third set could represent what happens with all of these five civilizations meeting up / other things happening with antagonists, etc.
Would You Like a Box to Go?
We’re not going to get into the nitty-gritty of card designing just yet for those of you anxious to be involved in that since we’re going to need to handle the world-building, gameplay mechanics, and overall set/block design. So, here’s what we’re going to be tackling until next week:
- What do you think of anti-mana?
- Should we change direction and go for a four color set? If so, how would you suggest going about it?
- In terms of the world of civilizations being trapped within geographical barriers representing a color of mana each, what would each of these civilizations, that developed with one missing mana, be like? Think about their philosophy, their way of life.
- What do we call each of these civilizations? And what is a four-color grouping called? Faction? Society? Nation? etc.
- If you think we’re going to be sticking with the set the way it is now, and not go with a set missing a whole color like black, then you can go ahead and start thinking of new keyword mechanics that support “four colors matter.”
- In conjunction with the last bullet points, fitting to each civilization, what would their identifying mechanic be?
…And Here is Your Check.
Next week, if we’re sticking with the civilizations divided world, I’ll be posting a culmination of the ideas of the world based on the feedback on this article. Also, possibly what’s antagonizing these civilizations with the geographical barriers. Then, from there, I’ll be listing my brainstormed keyword mechanics that would go with each one. This is in addition to the “four colors matter” keyword mechanic.
All right, so that’s what we have for this week. I’d love to hear your comments, questions, suggestions, critiques, and concerns; and I’m excited with where the set is taking off. Talk to you soon!