You’re a Designer, Harry! #9 – The Sixth Faction

Two weeks ago, we discussed whether our four-color set should go gold or hybrid. I reasoned that the as-of-yet-to-be-determined four-color mechanic may help in making the call. As such, I came up with just a couple of ideas for the mechanic. Since then, I’ve received some great feedback regarding the matter of “gold or hybrid.” However, I’m not going to talk about that this week.

NOTE: I’m going to be using the word “faction” to reference the four-color groupings that appear in this block. This is the third article in a row where I’ve noted that I’m using this label. From now on, let’s just assume that I’m going to stick with “faction” until I’m convinced to use a different word.

ANOTHER NOTE: I apologize for skipping last week’s installment of You’re a Designer, Harry!. Sometimes, other obligations can steal away my attention from You’re a Designer, Harry! like a dementor’s kiss does to souls. Or something like that. And I believe I just made my first Harry Potter reference in this article series with a Harry Potter reference for a name. Speaking of which, Harry Potter 7 Part 2 comes out soon. Go figure. Anyway… as I was saying, Life got in the way, and I’m sure most, if not all of you, would be understanding. Now, with that out of the way…

I’ll stop for a moment with working on the mechanical part of the set and focus on the creative part. I’m doing this for a couple of reasons: One, we haven’t been discussing the flavor part of the set for a while, and I felt like our readers who specialize primarily on flavor could use some love once again. The second reason is that something that Chah of Goblin Artisans mentioned in his feedback to me two weeks ago spurred me to talk about the creative side in this article.

Here’s three variations of a mechanic that, in his feedback, Chah proposed as an idea for the non-faction-aligned global mechanic in the set that would support the four colors theme:

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.)

He noted that the proposition of colored-counter use (with the memory aid of placing the counter on one of five helpfully-divided-by-colors sections of the art) would be used with this mechanic. Another idea he had was to have the booster packs of this set contain, in place of the token/counter slot of booster packs, colored cards that would be placed next to these vow cards.

This feedback led me to think of having colored counters placed on players. What about vowing off multiple colors? Now, I don’t think that this is necessarily the right way to go with vow (being able to vow against multiple colors instead of vow forcing just one color vowed against …which would require the proper templating) or if we should have vow be in the set at all (and remember: we’re not discussing the mechanical aspect in this article); but it does remind me of something I’ve been pondering for the third set that I haven’t shared yet – until now.

In our set’s plane, there is a world where five different factions are all separated from one another by different geographical barriers that each embody a single type of mana. To the north, the nonwhite faction are blocked off by a wall of light. Off the east coast, the nonblue faction is inconveniently trapped on a spherical island forever-swirling-around in a giant whirlpool. South, the nonblack faction are held back by a yet-to-be-determined force embodying black. Westward, within the confines of the volcanic mountain range are the nonred faction. And, finally, the nongreen faction are kept from the earth by green’s colossal, deadly vegetation beanstalk, and thus, they live among the clouds.

So, if there are barriers blocking off these factions from different directions, what’s in the center of all of these barriers? What scheming, malevolent force is hiding in the middle of all of these separated factions? But, wait… What if what’s going on in the center isn’t necessarily the “big evil” of the block (like the Phyrexians, Nicol Bolas, or the eldrazi)? How about a sixth faction that has five barriers to deal with, it being the faction in the center and all? So, does this mean swearing off all colors? Yep, that’s right: The colorless faction.

Ah! Colorless? How can there be a whole group without any color? What would they be all about? After all, each color has a philosophy. So, these guys would be without a philosophy. No way of life. The Eldrazi could get away with it because they were big, huge evil monsters we didn’t really understand. A faction, though, is a group of peeps. Like the other factions. How can colorless denizens be different from artifact creature “robots?”

Well, I… don’t really know. Yet. However, one idea I have is that since this faction is shunning the colors, they’re already doing something. A faction without a philosophy is deciding to shun? But, they’re supposed to have no values! Ah, so how about balance is brought back to the force by embracing the antithesis of what they are shunning?

For example, the tension between red and blue is one of emotion vs. logic/knowledge. However, the colorless faction, since it’s shunning both, it would be doing away with logic AND emotion. They are emotionless and go against the pursuit of knowledge. White and black is putting the needs of the group over the individual vs. the individual over the group. How about not putting the needs of anybody over anything?

And you could start thinking of what it means to shun these things in a mechanical way, but we’d be doing design-related stuff. O.K., O.K., just one – vowing against logic can mean the colorless faction likes to discard the cards in their own hand. Having zero cards in hand may be in line with a zero theme: zero colors, zero cards in hand, zero lots of things. O.K., enough design!

Now, the colorless faction won’t appear in the first set at least. Perhaps second, but I’m leaning more toward a third set twist. With that said, as for choosing hybrid or gold, one possibility of doing hybrid is because of MTG Color Pie‘s GDS2 world. I slipped up and haven’t actually spoke with him, yet; but if he were to bring his vision back to life in the form of a sixth colorless faction for this block; well, that would be just dandy. Here’s his posterchild of a card:

Also, perhaps reading Mark Rosewater’s color pie article for artifacts would help (“Just the Artifacts, Ma’am”). Oh, and here’s MTG Color Pie’s blog post related to his colorless hybrids.

(And ideas from Jonathon Loucks’ GDS2 set.)

What do you all think of a sixth faction in the third set, and the introduction of colorlessness as a twist? If this is something that you could see happening, how does this affect the hybrid vs. gold decision? And, yes, I do realize that part of making this decision is dependent on my vision for the block. Do you have your own input for the set’s creative direction?

Thanks for the feedback, guys. Catch you next week when I get back into gear with the design part of the set.




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 June 2, 2011, in Articles, You're a Designer Harry!. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. That “Colorless Hybrid 1.0” is a huge nut to crack. So far that is the most perfect representation of that idea I can come up with (which is ironic that it was the first one too). It looks like it is going to be easy, but once you look at the idea that each color will have access to it. This is going to be one of those mechanics that if you don’t do it right, it will feel way off. Look at Phyrexian mana and that cycle from Shadowmoor.

    Good luck with this and I’ll be very interested to see where you take this.

    • MTGColorPie,

      The “colorless hybrids,” if used, would be in the second or third set (I’m leaning toward third set since it makes for a great twist for the obligatory “3rd set twist.” (I seems too much to introduce a colorless faction in the second set then provide a twist on that (along with the other five factions) and push things even further.

      It may not be used depending on whether the block will exclusively use traditional multicolor cards; or, even if we go hybrid, whether mechanically representing colorless in this block is even a right move. Lastly, even if a colorless faction is used, perhaps the colorless hybrid doesn’t make as much sense in this block as it does in another one. But, if all is right in place, then I do believe that this whole block will be a super tough one to design, with the issues concerning four colors along with issues concerning colorlessness.

      Perhaps doing all H in the mana cost is best for these types of cards. Is it appealing to do 3(w/2)(w/2)? I like it if it’s just (r/2)(r/2), and the like. So, if I wanted to do a colorless hybrid common soft counterspell, perhaps I would do it like this:

      Colorless Counterspell
      Counter target creature spell.

      …Is this breaking the game? Hmm. Giving access to all colors to be able to counter creature spells for 4 mana. Black can destroy for less mana, red can burn them out depending on their toughness, and white can exile to get around it. ….But, green. That wily green is not supposed to be good at hurting creatures. I’m not sure if this is too much.

      It’s tough! Anyway, thanks for the input.



  2. I’m thinking the nothing faction is going to be impossible to actualize. Nothing’s about nothing, including Seinfeld. Why would a people even forswear “everything?”

    While it’s wise to think about the creative, trying to divorce that exercise from design can only hurt your set. It’s important when considering creative options to visualize how that would work in the actual game. The peak that you give us about discarding your own hand is relevant and sounds like a faction only One with Nothing could love. A faction that can only win via combo with conditions like The Cheese Stands Alone (or whatever that’s called IRL now).

    I have but one counter-offer for your sixth faction: I can imagine a supposedly utopian society that believes in perfect neutrality and moderation, such that they are against too much emotion at the same time that they are against too much rationality, instead demanding the perfect middle. This actually feels very Buddhist to me and while you needn’t model it off of that culture, just knowing that a society something like that actually exists gives us hope for creating a fictional version.

    What kind of abilities and strategies would a faction of ultimate moderation leverage? Sadly, I’m not sure that’s any easier a question to ask. Maybe countermagic, discard and removal? Oh no wait, that’s for the nothingness faction. Also, those were the hallmarks of Louck’s failed sixth color.

    Speaking of… while you didn’t miss the relevance of Jon Louck’s un-color mechanic to this discussion, I would suggest that if that mechanic can exist anywhere, this is the place for it. Well, thematically it is. I’m not sure how well “you must pay colorless” works in an environment full of four-color decks. Although, maaaybe that’s exactly the tension we need to keep people out of five-color decks.

  3. I think a Colorless faction is a tricky thing to deal with since it’s hard to give it an identity or a set of abilities.

    You can’t give it an exclusive ability, if everyone accesses it. Rise of the Eldrazi found a good niche for colorless as “high-cost spells that every color can try to build up to.” Because of the very high cost, they can give Eldrazi a new ability like Annihilate without setting it up as a new color – there’s nothing to compare to that cost in other colors. If you want to do something like that, you would need another way to give it its own niche.

    Also, how do you make it function as a faction with some degree of linearity?

    Instead of making colorless a real faction that you build decks around, it is possible to just make it just represent a flexible type of spell that everyone can access, with different degrees of commitment. It’s like some cards in Scars of Mirrodin like Grasp of Darkness, where it has a faction watermark that doesn’t mean anything except for flavor.

    But if you want to make colorlessness merely a tool to make spells flexible, I think hybrid already provides a ton of flexibility, especially in a set where people have access to 4 colors.

    Colorlessness could have interesting implications if there happen to be lots of cards that hate out specific colors in the set, because the colorless cards would be immune to them. (I’m not sure if there should be lots of color hate in a multicolor set though, although maybe it could be a new style of multicolor, though with problems to work out.)

    So even if you do this, it would be hard to make it an actual faction that affects how you build decks around it.

  4. However, I think the imbue mechanic of caring about mana spent can potentially be used in many ways to reinforce a multicolor theme. I think imbue should be used on colored cards first.

    For example, there could be a mechanic where a creature becomes the color of mana you spent to cast it, so it helps trigger color triggers like the changeling mechanic does for tribal.

    Also, it can help promote the “2 main colors, 2 splash colors” system. For example, there can be a RG creature that enters the battlefield with +1/+1 counters for each green mana you spent and deals 1 damage upon ETB for each R that you spent. Imbue can make players want to focus on a few colors as their main colors, even when they have access to four.

    Imbue can also make splashing meaningful. For example, there could be a RG creature that gains extra abilities or CIP effects if you spend W or B mana.

    You’ve got to make the “4-color Magic” part work before giving it a twist. If imbue appears first on colored cards and then it appears in the third set as a way to give colorless cards colored abilities, it will still feel like a twist.

  5. By the way, I think the 2-main, 2-splash system is really important for this set.

    Mark Globus talked about how they considered using either Wedge color commanders or four color commanders for Commander, and they settled on Wedges because 4-color combinations aren’t so distinct from each other.

    I’ve mentioned that problem too, and it’s a major obstacle in giving the color combinations a distinct identity. (As well as not spoiling Magic by giving all decks access to almost the same set of effects.)

    Your idea of giving each shard two main colors and two splash colors, instead of four main colors, is one answer to those problems. I think that’s the best direction we have so far. I think there’s a lot to figure out about what it means to play 2 main colors and 2 splash colors, especially in Standard. While it’s a common thing to splash colors in limited, in Standard you don’t splash colors, you just play them.

    Finally, I’d like to mention that this isn’t so new as an idea. Sunburst is somewhat similar, and Firespout is extremely similar. I vaguely remember something in the 1st GDS talking about spells that care about the type of mana you spend. I designed the RG creature I mentioned in the previous post independently; I think many designers think about it. Maybe it can be done as a set theme, but the success lies in what interesting things you find to do with it.

  6. (What I meant about something not being completely new pertains to imbue, not the 2-main 2-splash concept.)

  7. Imbuing something with colorless could be interesting.

    Colorless Elf (2/G)
    Imbue – For each colorless mana you spent to cast this, it gets +1/+1.

    Colorless Manastone 3
    T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
    Imbue – If you spent any colorless mana to cast CARDNAME, it enters the battlefield as an artifact creature with that many +1/+1 counters on it.

    This is kind of clunky, but some sort of implementation could be made that makes colorless into a faction that you actually build around, rather than a just flavor entity.

    Then there could be colorless lands in each pack. But it doesn’t go as far as making a mana symbol that requires colorless mana payment as Jonathon Loucks’s set.

  8. The Colorless Elf above should have a tap ability that produces colorless mana.

  9. Have you considered adding some videos to your article? I think it might enhance viewers understanding.

    • Bradley Rose

      Actually, yes! But I never went through with this due to not having the proper environment/materials for doing videos. Thanks for the feedback, friend!

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

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