You’re a Designer, Harry! #4 – White Out

Hey, you!

Today, we’ll be looking at possible gameplay mechanics specific to one of the civilizations (what I’ll call “tiers” for the rest of this article, just to try out the term). Considering that it’s highly likely that the first set of our Magic: The Gathering block will contain the tier without white (and that white is normally ordered first when listed among the other colors), it’s fitting to start with it. First, I’ll reiterate and expand upon what the tier is all about flavorfully, then I’ll brainstorm some mechanical executions to match that flavor. But before all that, I’ll talk a bit about the whole set overall.

Lactose Intolerant

The term “tier,” suggested by Stric9, is one that I’ve chosen to give a chance in the form of this article, but I see “tier” as a name that won’t last outside of designing the set for ease of referencing. The term “civilization” has too many syllables judging from the terms for two and three-color groupings (“guild”, “shard”, “wedge”). Two syllables seems to be a nice maximum for a name, though, one-syllable would be best. One way I thought about how to name the tiers was to take the term for a group that banded together because of a common trait among its members. Here’s some up-to-two-syllable entries for “association”: band, bunch, clique, club, combo, congress, crew, crowd, family, gang, league, mob, order, outfit, pool, troupe, union, zoo. Hopefully that’ll spark something among all of us to determine our name for four-color groupings. What we want to avoid, though, is the term representing some kind of structured group since, especially in today’s tier’s case, the four-color grouping is far from organized.

The anti-mana symbol (a colored mana symbol that is all colors except one), represented by “!C”, where C is one of the five mana colors (W, U, B, R, G); is still a possibility for this block. However, seeing as how it ties into how hybrid mana symbols represent two colors (or one color in Flame Javelin and friends’ case), anti-mana feels like a logical transition after the first set. Now to determine whether it fits in the second set (where it’s the second half of the introductions of the tiers, which makes it kinda weird that that first half didn’t get anti-mana), or the third set (where the conclusion/climax/resolution is supposed to happen among the five tiers, which might be weird since the tiers wouldn’t be separated anymore). So, perhaps the first set would be best, but we don’t want to cram too many new mechanics in the set. If we put anti-mana at uncommon, then maybe it’ll be O.K.

One note about the non-green “steampunk land”: The “flying matters” possibility is further supported by the fact that every color except green gets flying (for the most part) in some form. Green hates flying. It even actively seeks to destroy flying creatures. As such, being without green would make sense to embrace flying. Even with the iconic creatures aligned with each color (white has angel, blue has sphinx, black has demon, red has dragon), green is the odd one out without flying while the rest do have them (or are capable of having it, in the case of demons). Then again, green doesn’t really have an iconic creature on the same level (wurm?) as those other ones, but that’s a topic for another time and place.

Lastly, I want to mention that each of the tiers eventually break through their respective barriers by the third set. However, they do so by different means. The no-white tier does so through evolution. The no-blue tier does so by chance (probability). The no-black tier wants to grow, including past the barrier. The no-red tier wants to destroy the barrier itself, not necessarily to grow. The no-green tier wants to break free from the confines of their barrier, but not necessarily to grow or because its goal is just to be rid of the barrier. The motives I just mentioned may or may not change, though.

Now, let’s move on to talking about no-white-land.

No Vanilla Ice Cream

Each of the tiers on this plane are separated by one of five geographical barriers. The No-White Tier is trapped from the others by the white-aligned barrier: a wall of blinding light. This has lead to the behavior of the denizens of this land to avoid looking in that direction. Eventually, they migrate underground where that blinding light can’t reach. They start to embrace the darkness, and, as time passes, they lose dependency on sight and more on the other senses. The creatures become blind. And once this happens, they can emerge to the surface again, where the wall of blinding light does not affect them anymore, and they merely move past the wall.

However, there’s something not right with the barrier as I described it above and last week. If the wall is blinding light, once someone is blinded, can’t they just then move past the barrier? Koga305’s comment last week helped illuminate this flavor problem to me. So, perhaps the blinding light doesn’t just blind, it also scathes the soul? Something that is quite punishing/wrathful to the person who decides to “break the rule” and look at the blinding wall of light. Do you have any suggestions for how exactly this wall of light affects individuals that look at it?

Living with all the colors but white mana leads to a lifestyle just the opposite of white’s. The no-white tier is the least populated of the five tiers because it doesn’t have the structure or the putting-the-needs-of-the-group-over-the-self quality that white possesses. This tier is just a collection of separate entities surviving, either they be individuals or small clans or groups with a common interest or held together by family/friendship. There’s no sense of right and wrong, which leads to the behavior of simply trying to survive and taking various actions to ensure your survival (keeping secrets, preemptive attacks). It’s a cutthroat way of life. There’s no honor, no self-control, no trust.

As for the types of creatures, we can start by looking at the color black. Seeing as how each color is dominant in only two of the five tiers (dominant colors being the two colors in a tier that are already enemies of the missing color. In this case, red/black), there needs to be representation of some of the black types of creatures spread across those two tiers. And the other tier that black is dominant in is the no-green tier. And that’s in the clouds. What I don’t see happening is a zombie in the clouds. Well, for the most part. There could be a creature or two that are weird and are in that tier. That leaves this tier. We should have zombies permeate some amount of this tier’s cards.

Other creatures are vampires, bats, skeletons, imps, spirits, specters, shades, rats, horrors; and, of course, humans. And any others I may have missed. Vampires would be solid. Bats would make great sense since bats are blind. Skeletons already can’t see. Imps can fly, so perhaps that’s best for no-green tier. Spirits can fly, too; but they feel more at home in blind-people underground-land. We can do gremlins, too. And we can come up new creature types. Basically, there’s a lot of possibilities here, but we want to hash it out anyway, so we don’t find ourselves lacking some creature types in one tier for a certain color.

Lastly, I want to mention the approach I took to defining the flavor of a four-color grouping. First of all, cutting out a single color means that the values that are shared by the adjacent ally colors (green and blue, in this case) should be cut out. The values shared by green/red and blue/black, however, stay intact. And, of course, red/black is all the more supported with the absence of black. With that in mind, I took the philosophies of red/green, red/black, and black/blue and combined them. As such, the core strengths and weaknesses of this tier are:

Strengths: flexibility, uninhibited by consequences, sneakiness, and brute force.
Weaknesses: no rules/laws to enforce, no self-control, lack of trust, no foresight/preparation.

No French Vanilla, Either!

The no-white tier needs a mechanic that represents fully about what its way of life is. I’ve come up with a few rules for what the mechanic should abide by. One, cards with this mechanic cannot benefit other cards, especially not benefiting other cards with the same mechanic. This is because they’re all selfish individuals, and we can’t have any cooperation, mechanically, among your cards. The mechanic should either represent the blindness flavor, the evolution flavor, the underground flavor, or some combination of the previously mentioned. It would also help if it were unpredictable, to embrace the dominant red flavor in the tier. Here are some implementations I’ve come up with:

First, I want to state that I haven’t yet playtested these proposed mechanics. That’s something I’ll hopefully do by next week’s article to see what worked and what didn’t. Anyway, playtesting the mechanics is important to make sure that any given mechanic is actually fun and contributes toward a healthy Magic set. An easy way to playtest the mechanic is to design a few cards that have the mechanic that you come up with and stick them in a deck with existing cards that accommodates the mechanic.

And if you’re having trouble designing the few cards you need to use in the first place for playtesting, you can try a trick where you just take existing cards that have an equivalent keyword mechanic (some keywords are more powerful than others, like deathtouch compared to flying) and replace the old one with the new one. For example, you can replace infect on a card with your brand-new keyword. For easy reference, here’s a list of cards that mention infect.

So, make some cards and play with them in a deck and see how it works out. Then another way of playtesting the mechanic is to design the commons (normally of just one color, but this is a multicolor set), then just put a deck together composing of all those commons. In this case, design all the commons that would belong in this tier, then putting it together.

Right, I was supposed to introduce some mechanics. Here they actually are:

Blindness (You can’t play cards from your hand.
Reveal the top card of your library: Play the revealed card if able. Otherwise, put it on the bottom of your library. Activate this ability only if a card wasn’t put on the bottom of your library this turn.

The mechanic emphasizes the blind flavor of the denizens of the tier. Using the top of the library also leads to unpredictability, which plays up the red part of the tier. It also isn’t beneficial to play multiple blindness cards, which fulfills the non-cooperative nature of the tier (every individual for itself). But, the drawback doesn’t strictly worsen you. It’s a drawback, sure (how black), but for a potential greater reward as you can do a combo of a string of playing cards (land, spell, spell). However, you gotta be careful with creature destruction spells when you’re the only one with creatures on the board. And so on and so forth. It’s risky, yet potentially rewarding, and it’s at its best when there’s just one blindness card.

Blindness (You can’t look at your hand.
Reveal a card from your hand at random: Play the revealed card if able. If you do, draw a card. Otherwise, exile the revealed card.


Blind Bear 1G
Creature – Bear
Blindness (You can’t look at your hand.
Reveal a card from your hand at random: Play the revealed card if able. If you do, draw a card. Otherwise, exile the revealed card.

This is a variation of the above mechanic. It rewards you in a different way in that, instead of being able to keep going until you’re stopped, you’re able to keep going until you run out of gas. Instead of using the library for randomization in the playing of cards, it makes the hand hidden then randomizes from there. Also, note, that having multiple of these cards on the battlefield still doesn’t help you benefit more.

Blindness (You can’t see what each of your opponents’ nontoken creatures are. Whenever an opponent’s creature would deal damage, you can see it until end of combat. Your opponents may play with their creatures face down, but those creatures don’t count as face down.)


Blind Boulder-Tosser 1RR
Creature – Dwarf Warrior
Blindness (You can’t see what each of your opponents’ nontoken creatures are. Whenever an opponent’s creature would deal damage or be dealt damage, you can see it until end of turn. Your opponents may play with their creatures face down, but those creatures don’t count as face down.)
When Blind Boulder-Tosser enters the battlefield, Blind Boulder-Tosser deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

This one is very ambitious. Well, “ambitious” being messing around with the rules and hoping the rules can accommodate a mechanic such as this. I believe I took care of any potential problems with this mechanic in the wording, with it being specific to creatures that are in card form, so they can be hidden easily. Also, the “you can see it” for that period of time when power and/or toughness would matter. But, of course, every blindness needs an additional piece of text to interact with it in an interesting way. Dealing damage, in this case, may be unfavorable toward the player since something with high toughness may be hit. But, this just means the cards themselves can be a little “extra good” to compensate for the drawback.

Underneath — As an additional cost to casting this card, choose target land you control with nothing underneath it. This permanent enters the battlefield underneath it. As long as the land this permanent is underneath is tapped, EFFECT.


Underground Gremlin 1B
Creature – Gremlin
Underneath — As an additional cost to casting this card, choose target land you control with nothing underneath it. This permanent enters the battlefield underneath it. As long as the land this permanent is underneath is tapped, it has lifelink.

Again, this mechanic does not benefit from other cards with the same mechanic. Remember, this is a good thing. A potential problem is people consistently checking what a card does underneath a land (physically). However, this is much less random. It also has potential rules problems, but if we don’t try crazy things, we may never end up with any breakthroughs.

Hold the Sour Cream

Those are a few I’ve come up with for now, and I’ll need to playtest these to see how they really work. Perhaps any of you have mechanics of your own that you can come up with for the no-white tier. Or you might like to playtest these ones, too. Either way, next week, I’ll talk about the next tier in addition to whatever progress has been made for the mechanics of this tier.

Thanks for reading!




About Bradley Rose

I'm a Timmy/Johnny Melthos red/white/blue kind of guy. And, no, that combination doesn't have anything to do with an affinity for the United States. Here's how I got into Magic: Once upon a time (let's say the year 2000), I bought my first Magic: The Gathering product in the form of a starter of ...Starter 2000. And that's when Trained Orgg's eyes and mine met for the first time. It was true love. Until I traded most of my Magic cards away for Pokemon ones. Whoops. O.K, so once upon a time (This time, 2001), I got into Magic: The Gathering with a shiny new One-Two Punch theme deck of the Odyssey set. And, surprisingly enough, I didn't trade away my ol' Trained Orgg, so in the deck it went, and we fell in love all over again. Flash-forward nearly a decade, and I've won the / Wizards of the Coast "Design Your Own Card" contest. That was neat, but then, a few months later, the Great Designer Search 2 happened. I managed to make it to the top 101 of the 1000 applicants. So, after years of reading Mark Rosewater's Making Magic column along with a rising interest in game design, I managed to prove that (while not the best) I'm more of a Magic designer than the average bear. I'll keep working on putting more ranks in my Magic design skill, and the design articles I write here will help me do just that. Hopefully, any of my readers with a serious interest in Magic design would feel inclined to pursue their interest as well, either by participating in my collaborative design articles or working on making Magic on their own. This effort toward improving my Magic design capabilities correlates somewhat with a single goal I would like to accomplish before I die: Have lunch with Mark Rosewater. Also, I still have that Trained Orgg, and we're still madly in love with each other.

Posted on April 27, 2011, in Articles, You're a Designer Harry!. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I’ve been scouring various dictionaries and sources of synonyms and I’m still searching for the appropriate phrase for “tier.” Other ways of thinking about it might be “facet, aspect, core, form, phase, or state.” I particularly like “aspect.”
    Moving on. The different variances on “blindness” are all very interesting. However, playing cards off the top of the deck seems way too binding to me. I can’t see you ever getting anywhere with a deck if once you aren’t able to play a card, you become locked out of casting spells the rest of your turn and you’re still stuck with a handful of cards. On the other hand, playing cards randomly from your hand seems like a unique possibility especially when you’re playing with playsets of a card or you’ve managed to narrow your hand down to one or two cards. In either case, the cards would have to be balanced in a way that makes playing blindly still fun and useful. This holds true for not being able to see your opponent’s creatures either. Otherwise, it might be a mechanic that players would avoid. Having a particularly powerful creature with blindness might be worth playing cards from your hand randomly. Or casting a powerful clairvoyance spell that blinds the player for a turn or more could be fun. As long as there is some noted benefit to casting or battling blindly then I think the mechanic can work.
    Underneath has potential, but might be limited by its use in creatures. What if you cast an aura underneath a land and it then had shroud? Or what if you allow for instants and sorceries to be “charged” underneath lands and then cast later? The more I think about that though, the more it might broken. I’m imagining casting spells when I don’t need them and then completely shutting down or destroying a player later. As I said, underneath could work, but might be a bit limited.
    That is my two cents for the day.

    p.s. Do you have a name for the world they’re on yet?

    • Stric9,

      I’m not quite sold on aspect. But, you know what? If a guild can represent two colors, and there’s nothing about the word guild that hints at the flavor needing to be about two colors, then perhaps we can just further define the five tiers and see what kind of groups they are. They are civilizations, societies (except for the nonwhite one), and whatever word we can come up with for these separated bodies of people. More words to toss out there before I move on: fellowship, alliance, union (ew, makes me think of the “real-world” version)

      You’re right about how blindness needs to make sure that its enjoyable for players to play and not just something to avoid. It’s tricky to design because blindness is inherently a drawback, so, for flavor reasons, I tried to come up with ways that limits the player (and makes sense flavorfully as something associated with vision). At the same time, it has to benefit the player.

      But because red is dominant in the color grouping, I saw that randomness can be a way to “balance” the limitation in that it could be potentially beneficial. Like coin flip cards. And because black is also dominant, sacrificing some part of you for a greater benefit fits in with black’s philosophy very well.

      I believe there’s way more implementations of how you can “blind” yourself and still tie benefits to that style of play. Just gotta find it!

      You’re also right about underneath. It’s pretty messy when it come to Auras and counter-mixing. We better come up with a better implementation of the underground flavor. Speaking of which… (looks below to the next comment)



  2. I’ll chime in with some of my ideas. First of all, I like “pool” as it is a one-syllable word and it relates itself with mana.

    I have some other ideas. I don’t like Blindness, as it seems too complex for common and uncommon. It took me 7 hours to realize that you couldn’t topdeck a Blightsteel Colossus and cast it without paying it’s mana cost.

    Underneath has potential, and it can have very useful design space, but memory issues plague it. What about:

    Underneath {when you cast CARDNAME, put a cave counter on a land you control.)
    As long as a land with a cave counter is tapped, EFFECT.

    It kills the memory issues but gets better in multiples – a tradeoff.

    Another idea is Morph. Maybe the citizens need to convert to a eyeless amoeba because of the light. What about Transfigure? It has great flavor alongside with morph, and you have to love the elegance Transfigure has.

    • Prophylaxis,

      “Pool” is a pretty strong word! I think I might test out using that to see how I feel about it (Says “pool” out-loud to himself over and over).

      You’re right, that’s a concern. I guess “play it if able” can be confusing. Especially when somebody really doesn’t want to cast Doom Blade, and the only creature on the board belongs to the Doom Blade player; questions about whether refusing to target their creature can be possible.

      Time to throw it out! OUT!

      I like your proposition of underneath. Though, having the land tapped doesn’t seem very exciting since, because of the removal of mana burn, underneath permanents will always get the benefit. They might as well have it all the time.

      O.K., well, there is a little bit of tension in that getting the benefit during your own turn means you can’t use the mana on other players’ turns to cast instants or activate abilities and whatnot. So, depending on how the cards are designed (benefits that are relevant to your own turn and not just at any time, such as trample and vigilance), it can be dynamic. Or it could be restricting (making a +1/+1 bonus as long as cave-counter land is tapped means you can leave your land untapped for your counterspells until your opponent decides to attack and blocking with that creature with the +1/+1 bonus is needed).

      What if the land was untapped, as a requirement? …Erm, well, then there’s certainly tension in the mechanic. You might hold back on your spellcasting when you have an underground creature on the battlefield, so that it can get the benefit. But, the rewards can be great. Hey, what about this implementation:

      Underground — When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put a cave counter on a land you control. EFFECT for each untapped land you control with a cave counter on it.


      Underground — When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put a cave counter on a land you control. CARDNAME gets +1/+1 for each untapped land you control with a cave counter on it.

      OR (slightly different wording for benefits that are redundant)


      Underground — When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put a cave counter on a land you control. CARDNAME has haste as long as you control an untapped land with a cave counter on it.

      I also thought of morph, but, for some reason discarded the possibility of exploring morph once again. However, this could be a mechanic we bring back because this grouping covers FOUR colors. That’s enough colors, probably, to have morph on enough cards to make it O.K. AND, morph cads don’t interact with each other (for the most part), so it further supports the tier’s philosophy. Having morph may just be the answer. It also fulfills the quota that I didn’t think we’d fill: bringing back on existing mechanic.

      Hmm. Underground plus morph: too similar to Jon Loucks’ Great Designer Search 2 world? Or is this set a suitable home for his morph + underground theme?

      I’m not sure what the flavor connection between Transfigure and the blind creatures of the underground world is. If you were suggesting, though, that it be used in conjunction with morph for this tier, there’s room for only one mechanic per tier. If you meant it for it to be used as a possible mechanic for another tier alongside this tier’s morph mechanic, then I strongly suggest only having either transfigure or morph be brought back as a returning mechanic (I’d like to stick to just one returning mechanic). If transfigure turns out to be more of a perfect fit for another tier than morph is for this tier, then we can do it.

      Thanks very much for your input!



  3. I love the second iteration of Underground. It’s flavorful and simple. Also, if Underground turns out to be the mechanic for this tier(pool), then I’d suggest we ditch all other mechanics.

    Underground kind of works well with other cards that have Underground, and it works on its own. Maybe we’ve stumbled on a Allies-tier parasitism for the set?

  1. Pingback: You’re a Designer, Harry! #15 – Comment Ketchup « Red Site Wins

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