You’re a Designer, Harry! #8 – Go for the Gold (or Hybrid)

Hola, world-weavers! Last time, we talked about how we tweaked the design skeleton yet again. And we’re probably about to do it again. Does it seem like we just keep shuffling things around in a little rut in this grand scheme of a design process? That’s not how I see it. I imagine these articles I write to be like me, as the lead designer of the four-color set, holding a design meeting every week to discuss the set. However, members of the design team attending these meetings are in a constant flux! It’s a different number of people present at every meeting, which means some things don’t come into light until later when “Designer X” comes out and makes an observation that changes everything (not really everything)! Then we (gladly) take a step back to focus on a vital part of the set or go back to the drawing board completely.

I wouldn’t say that, today, we’re going back to erase the metaphorical whiteboard containing scribbles of everything we’ve done, but I would say that we’re going to, once again, adjust the design skeleton. But, we’re at a major junction, and I don’t know which route we should take. What’s happening for sure is we’re going to simplify, once more, the kinds of multicolor cards in the set.

Conjunction Junction…

Presently, we have a mix of hybrid, gold, and hybrid-gold cards. The plan was to have two-color gold and hybrid, four-color hybrid-gold and gold, and four-color anti-mana cards. These are what make up the multicolor cards, and that might be too complex right now. We need to trim some fat and KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). So, there’s two possible routes: We stick with traditional gold cards, or we go for all-hybrid. Both possibilities would take the set into different directions.

If we go gold, we’re going to lose the flexibility of hybrid. There will need to be heavy mana-fix support (but also making sure that the mana-fixers don’t accidentally encourage going five colors). We shouldn’t do anti-mana since that’s more of a “super hybrid” mechanic. We could do hybrid for one small part, and that’s to make four-color cards with three mana symbols (a la Esper Stormblade, except with one more traditional colored mana). Obviously, Alara Reborn did it.

And then if we go hybrid, we won’t need mana-fixers. In fact, we might need the four-color mechanic to do some support in discouraging players from going completely five color! Well, this didn’t really happen as much in Shadowmoor because there was both an encouragement of going monocolor or two-color, and there were only two-color cards. This set would probably have to feature more-than-two color hybrids. You know, like, four-color hybrids. Except, done better than what was proposed with that one card in the first article of this series (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Good). Also, anti-mana would be a superbly natural fit!

…What’s Your Function?

You know, there’s also another consideration. This mysterious four-color mechanic that I keep saying will be in the set could influence whichever one we decide to choose. I’m going to list a bunch of possible four-color mechanics and go over what’s so great and not-so-great about them. The ones listed here, I believe, are just the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. Here we go.

(You’ll see that I list mechanics in almost identical form. This is because the wording needs to be different depending on the type of effect. It’s a templating thing. See the difference between Auriok Sunchaser and Concussive Bolt. There’s even more variation when you look at Galvanic Blast.)

If four nonCOLOR colors are among permanents you control and cards in your graveyard, EFFECT

As long as four nonCOLOR colors are among permanents you control and cards in your graveyard, EFFECT

The advantage of this mechanic is that it hoses the strategies of splashing a fifth color in your deck for instants/sorceries (removal). The disadvantage of this mechanic is that it’s way too easy to activate and keep activated while it’s way too hard for your opponent to disrupt this mechanic from being active. The effect this has on hybrid is that it restricts your hybrid choices from even flirting with the fifth color, even if you were going totally honest and straight four colors. This type of effect seems to marry well with gold.

If four nonCOLOR colors are among permanents you control, EFFECT

As long as four nonCOLOR colors are among permanents you control, EFFECT

Ah, much simpler. I like it. However, it allows splashes for fifth colors. Perhaps if the set is designed to make it really hard to go five colors. This includes how mana-fixing is designed. Also, it’s easier for your opponent to disrupt, which is good. This turns hybrid from being too good from the previous mechanic to being a valuable commodity for keeping this mechanic activated while not straining your mana base. Especially when you’re going through the trouble of achieving four colors and somebody goes for one of your crucial creatures’ throats.

If COLOR is not a color among permanents you control and cards in your graveyard, EFFECT

As long as COLOR is not a color among permanents you control and cards in your graveyard, EFFECT

This isn’t cool. The set then becomes more about swearing off a color than about four colors. It even rewards monocolored decks for being monocolored. The counting of cards in the graveyard keeps you swearing off that color, but it’s too easy to just not include in your deck. No bueno. This goes for the other two parallel iterations, so I won’t even go into those.

Imbue (Whenever you cast a spell, for each of its colors, if this has no charge counters on it with the same color, put a charge counter with the same color on this.)

EFFECT as long as exactly four colors are among counters on it (CARDNAME).

EFFECT if there are exactly four colors among counters on CARDNAME (it).

Whoa, lots of stuff going on here. First of all, colored counters. Jay and Jules last week had played around with ideas for using colored counters for mana-fixer designs. Since that was limited in the amount of cards that would be appearing in the set, it was more O.K. than the usual amount of blasphemy. But this is for a major mechanic permeating throughout a whole block. Colored counters?! Are we crazy? There could be potential difficulties with keeping track of the colors, which would lead to memory issues and probably cheating, accidental or on purpose. Then again, every single one of these cards could use Jay’s idea of separating the counters by having art that separated the colors for you, so you’d simply place a counter where the appropriate color was. But what if somebody bumped the table? Or you attack with a creature with this too excitedly?

Anyway, that’s the first thing. The second thing is that it’s separating the mechanic into two abilities. One for keywording (so cards such as rares could just include one word instead of the whole mumbo-jumbo) and one for the ability that makes he mechanic actually work as something useful. It’s kinda weird. This hoses permanents with this mechanic in the late-game because you’ll be short on spells. That’s where hybrid comes in (and anti-mana, of course) to save the day. At least double the color in the same amount of cards as multicolor! There are the same benefits for gold, too; except, it’s harder to pull off because it’s just not hybrid. Fear not, gold. Mana-fixing has your back.

…Connecting Words, Phrases, and Clauses

It’s a short article this week. I’ll have to further discuss this next week! However, this could be a good thing. Perhaps; you, reader, would make an excellent case for why we should go gold or hybrid, or vice versa. Or maybe we should just stick with gold and hybrid, the way we’ve been doing it all along. Then you’ll have saved us all from a whole heap of figuring, and we move on to figuring out other things based off that decision. Something like that. Anyway, I’ll see you next week!




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 May 27, 2011, in Articles, You're a Designer Harry!. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I agree that Hybrid and Gold shouldn’t both be done in large numbers. In Shadowmoore sealed, you had to make so many piles to sort your cards in. With a mix of gold and hybrid cards, it could be a headache.

    There’s a chance that 4-color hybrids will make that worse. If you go with hybrid, and 4-color hybrids are abandoned, you will need to find another way to communicate the set theme.

    • Bradley Rose

      I think that many factors, as mentioned in later comments than this one, are counting against hybrid for the four-color goal of the set. See my later comment(s) on what my set’s vision is.



  2. I think the real question is not whether you want to do gold or hybrid, but what you want to do with the set. If the set is about factions, gold would be better. If the set is about color matters, hybrid would be better. It depends on the set theme.

    If you do something new, this might be reversed. If the set is about choosing two 2-color factions and building an alliance deck of those two factions, hybrid might be better for creating overlap as well as for housing more than just 5 factions. If the set is about playing 4 colors but not 5, hybrid would often cause you to accidentally play a permanent of a 5th color so gold might be better.

    • Bradley Rose


      It’s quite intriguing to do a four-color set that is actually about joining two 2-color factions. There would be so many cards available to each faction. A white-blue-black-red deck would use white, blue, black, red, white-blue, white-black, white-red, blue-black, blue-red, and black-red cards. …Wait, that’s madness. Well, it’s a good thing that I’m actually envisioning something else.

      I actually want to do a four-color set. Ravnica did two colors, Shards of Alara did three. We’ll already had domain happen a couple of times, but there hasn’t been anything four-color specific – except for the Nephilim cycle from Guildpact. That’s part of what charged me to do this, as well. There needs to be more four-color cards!

      So, I’m leaning more towards gold. There’s a possibility of bleeding a little bit of hybrid just as Ravnica block and Alara Reborn did, but that’s it. It also depends on the four-color mechanic chosen. Speaking of which… Seeing my later comments regarding your proposed mechanic(s).



  3. Sorry, I don’t want to be negative. I should be providing more suggestions about what could be done.

    I think you should go on with whatever you intended to do.

    I don’t have a perfect understanding about set skeletons and how they are used in design. But what I understand is that they are used to spot dead ends and difficult spots in advance before you paint yourself into a corner (such as physically not having enough slots for a set theme). Also, it allows you to avoid redundancy in card designs so you can get to a play-testable stage as quickly as possible.

    As far as dead ends go, I think you have enough space to flesh out factions (especially with Ravnica, Shards, and Shadowmoore serving as proofs) and I think some kind of mana fixing that only works for 4 color decks should be possible, even if it has to be a brute-force method.

    While there’s no clear set mechanic yet, it seems sets often go into design with only part of their identity forged (like “make lands important”), and they have to play around with a lot of things before the designers can settle on the set’s final mechanical identity (like landfall).

    When you do flesh out the set’s identity with card designs and mechanics, you might have to re-adjust the skeleton, but that’s probably ok.

    With many of the problems I mentioned, you’d have to go to the stage of playing with them to be certain.

    As for the possibility of hybrid and gold causing headaches, maybe you can do a cube draft using existing hybrid cards and gold cards together and see how it works. You could also take some existing 4-color gold cards, change their costs to 4-color hybrids and put them in the draft.

    • Bradley Rose


      First off, I do not think that you were being negative at all. I am completely open for your pointing out any flaws in the design. It would make me re-evaluate the decisions made for that part of the design. However, of course, if you do provide alternate solutions, that would make things easier. However, by no means are you required to do so. You haven’t been out of line at all, and you’re being a valuable contributor toward the set. If you were interpreting my silence, I just have been busy, especially with Memorial Day.

      So, please keep suggesting and discussing without fear! Do not worry about whether you’re only simply stating things that don’t work. It’s all good!

      Your mentioning of how sets go into the “designing cards” phase with only part of the complete design done is something I like. We could even just split up the design into five mini-designs, one for each faction, and then put them together when finished. This is actually what happened for the Shards of Alara set. There were five three-person teams for each shard designing cards for that shard separately from the other design teams. So, what we could do, at some point, is to press forward with designing each faction one-by-one. However, we still are in a place where we need to figure out how the set works from a macro level mechanically (and thematically, even). The flavor of five isolated factions seems pretty solid, so it’s flavorfully O.K. on a macro level.

      And, yeah, design skeletons are meant to be re-adjusted! And just think of the set skeleton as a bunch of empty seats at a theater. And what we’re doing is determining what kind of people are sitting in these seats, and many times, we’ll have to keep re-adjusting what’s going in these seats. Sometimes, we only say something, like, “I want a girl here.” or “I need a happy nerd here.” then figure out what their details are, specifically, later. Really, I just put whatever I want in terms of info for each of these individual seats, so it’s pretty easy to make use of one myself. I just mirror what the actual Magic designers do and use their card codes as well as organize it they way they would (creatures then noncreatures, for example).

      It’s normal for design to go to playtesting only to be going back to design again. That’s why playtesting is there, of course; and you know that already, at least. It would be, “Well, in theory, it was a great mechanic. In practice, it’s not and (perhaps) causes [SOMETHING] to happen, which we don’t like!”

      I love the idea of testing the experience of using hybrid and gold cards together by doing a cube draft. I don’t interact with a lot of Magic players nowadays, but perhaps I’ll still do it. I have a group of friends I visit every so often (every six weeks, around there), and two of ’em I can count on for testing out this cube draft with me. At the very least, I can solo it. Also, the only four-color cards in existence are actually just five cards: the Nephilims. But, I get what you mean. That’s O.K. I can just use them or mock up some cards. Something. I’ll figure it out.

      Thanks very much for this feedback. It’s fantastic! The set is slowly, but surely, benefiting from all this feedback; and, someday, it will have it’s mechanical, thematical, and flavorful identities all in place. Every week, I hope that this gets accomplished. And we have yet to get there. All in due time!



  4. I think it’s very difficult to design a mechanic that rewards multicolor, but only up to 4 colors.

    It might be better to separate cards that reward colors and cards that make you exclude a color from your deck.

    Mechanics that make you exclude a color from your deck are tricky because players don’t like drawback mechanics. But how’s this?

    Vow against color (When you cast this, choose a color. You can’t cast cards of that color for the rest of the game.)

    Vow against color (When you cast this, choose a color. As long as this is on the battlefield, you can’t cast cards of that color.)

    Vow against color (When you cast this, choose a color. When you cast a spell of that color, sacrifice this.)

    Knight of the Vow 1WW
    Creature – Knight
    First strike
    Vow against color
    If your opponent controls a permanent of the the color you vowed against, CARDNAME gets +2/+2.

    Assassin of the Vow 1WW
    Creature – Assassin
    First strike
    Vow against color
    When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, destroy target creature of the color you vowed against.

    This could use the “place a counter on a part of the art” tech, or the color you vowed against can apply to all cards with vow.

    There can be token-like extra cards in packs that signify a color. You can put it under the creature like an Aura to remind the color choice.

    Other cards would have to reward playing multiple colors, with mechanics similar to sunburst, off-color kicker and activation costs, 4-color gold bombs, etc.

    There would certainly be a balance where some decks want to play fewer colors so that it can flexibly vow against color the opponent is playing, while some decks will forgo vow cards and try to play as many colors as possible. I think that’s ok. Triple Shards draft felt monotonous to me because it made you only play one of 5 decks. It’s good to have more choices.

    Even if there’s only one color you can effectively vow against (the one color you’re not playing in a 4-color deck), if the opponent is playing many gold or hybrid cards, vow could still be effective.

    • Bradley Rose


      I love the execution of the mechanic since “vow against” is such a clean way of communicating in few characters the act of excluding something – in our case, a color. With that said, as Jules mentioned in a later comment, the vow mechanic doesn’t do much to help four-color play. However, you acknowledge this and mention what would be required from the set: a lot of cards that encourage going four colors through various rewards (activated abilities, four-color bombs like the Woolly Thoctar cycle for Shards of Alara‘s three-color theme, etc). With that said, Shards of Alara didn’t actually have a three-color mechanic. Perhaps we can get away with not doing a mechanic that is four-color specific but make sure the cards themselves encourage going four colors. …That would be tough, for sure.

      Having a restrictive mechanic like vow would help the four-color cause; but, as you said, players don’t like drawbacks. Drawback mechanics are, in general, not cool; but your abilities that use the vow as a positive do some good towards fighting the drawback-ness of the mechanic.

      The use of counters you mentioned, especially with counter cards included in packs, makes my head cook with possibilities. There’s something I’ve been contemplating, flavorfully, for the third set, which I’ll get into in my article-writing. And now I’ve got a proposition for one line of attack for how to mechanically illustrate what I have creatively. So, thank you, and I’ll explain when I write about it, of course.

      Thanks again for the feedback!



  5. Even if you use the Vow mechanic above, you could still encourage 4-color play with cards like this:

    Hunter Beast 3WG
    Creature – Beast
    1R: This turn, if CARDNAME is unblocked, you may assign its combat damage any single creature.
    1U: CARDNAME gains flying until end of turn.

  6. Chah,
    these are all solid points, and I guess what it comes down to is what exactly Bradley has in mind to create. I think vow certainly has potential, but as you noted, it doesn’t do a whole lot to force 4 color decks. I guess the question is how much we’re trying to weave the story into the gameplay: if we’re okay with draft decks not all being four colors, then I think not forcing it will make a more dynamic limited environment, and we can still promote 4 color in constructed by making powerful nonlegendary four color cards with vow abilities. I suspect it won’t be worth locking yourself out of your spells for a tiny bit more versatility, even if the mana isn’t an issue.

    That said, both of these work much better with gold than hybrid. With hybrid, vow hoses you even when you exclude a color and constructed players play three colors rather than four.

    I’ll also second the point on Shadowmoor: with only two color hybrids, Shadowmoor-Eventide sealed pools were still nigh unbuildable, so I think four color hybrid’s prospects are suspect. That said, we still have the Ravnica option, in which case I’d recommend a few two color hybrids at lower rarities and only using four color hybrids on rares/mythics.

    Another interesting proposition would be not to make a color limiting mechanic, but rather really push one portion of each color’s pie, then make all of the cards from the faction that hates it anti-synergistic with that aspect. For instance, we could make 95% of blue cards fly or care about flying, then make 95% of cards in the no-blue clan anti-synergistic with flying, for instance:
    This is otherwise a good thing 1G
    Enchantment (U)
    Creatures you control have trample.
    Whenever a creature you control attacks and isn’t blocked, put a 1/1 green Saporling token onto the battlefield under the defending player’s control blocking it.

    The problem is of course that this,
    1. Greatly limits designs (thus causing creativity to reproduce like rabbits), and
    2. Adds a lot of nearly superfluous text to cards when they’re being played ‘as they are meant to be.’

    • Bradley Rose


      I, of course, don’t want to feel like I have a restrictive hold on the set; but, then again, I am the lead designer, so I would have to ultimately make the decision. Having draft decks that can be less than four colors would certainly make for a bunch of different kinds of decks! My goodness gracious. Just as long as the four-color theme can be recognized by the players, despite how many colors actually go into their decks.

      I remember Shadowmoor + Eventide sealed. It was crazy.

      If we go with just a tiny bit of hybrid, I’m still afraid of the frustration where the color you are including a card for is restricted by the other color that the card is. It depends on how the four-color mechanic will go!

      As for your interesting proposition: That is pretty interesting! It’s like approaching the issue of making players go four colors from the other direction: Make the players not want to go a particular color. However, the mechanics themselves can also help for this kind of approach. For instance, if we choose morph for the nonwhite faction, there can be just no white cards with morph. Then we’d need to make playing morph appealing enough, so that including white cards would be not-so-appealing; like having powerful nonwhite four-color gold cards with morph. Mmm.

      And your flying example, of course, reminds me of the nongreen faction’s possibility of being the “flying faction.” I think that sounds very appealing since it would have backwards compatibility with so many cards in Magic. Morph, of course, works with past morph cards. …Er, not saying that we’re going to go with morph and not something else like Chah’s lurk mechanic.

      Thanks for the creative juice-flowing!



      • Bradley,
        I think using synergy rather than anti-synergy has potential, but would require making mechanics so that you’re stretching to get enough synergistic cards, and the synergy would have to be strong enough to be worth pursuing instead of removal. To this end, I doubt Morph is what we want because making enough synergy for it requires a whole lot of parasitism.

        On hybrids, I think we could avoid the issues with Vow by making all of the hybrid cards fairly mediocre and two-color allied hybrids. That way, if each clan has two main colors, the hybrid cards it plays will be on-color, and being weak, won’t be worth splashing in one of your lesser colors.

  1. Pingback: You’re a Designer, Harry! #9 – The Sixth Faction « Red Site Wins

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

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