You’re a Designer, Harry! #12 – Mechanics, the Decisions Torn

Welcome back to You’re a Designer, Harry! Or, if you’re new here, hooray! In that case, here’s a summary: This is a collaborative Magic: The Gathering set design article series. We’re designing a four-color set and are currently attempting to nail down some mechanics. If you have anything on your mind regarding the improvement of the set design, please do: speak up! …No? Well, without further Ado —

O.K., here’s some further ado. Unlike last time where I’ll say at least a bit of a blurb about each faction’s woes + mechanics, we won’t be focusing on the other factions besides the one that come to mind recently: The “nothing” faction and the colorless faction.

For the colorless faction, since its philosophy is about nothing (or, rather, having no inclination toward any sort of philosophy), what if its mechanic was about… nothing? More specifically, about vanilla creatures? Here’s what I mean:

I realize that this may be confusing for players, though. What, the creature loses the ability, then it stops resolving (Even though, it just removes the fact that it has that “enters the battlefield” ability and the ability in the middle of resolving on the stack continues until it is finished resolving. At least, I THINK that’s how it works. …Oh, boy, a bad sign. Even I’m not completely sure it works as I intend it to be)? What? That’s not how it works? Confusion and frustration ensues!

NOTE: For those not familiar with the term “virtual vanilla,” it stands for a creature that functions like a vanilla creature beyond the first turn being on the battlefield. Virtual vanillas might have enters-the-battlefield effects or an ability that only works in your hand, like cycling. Examples of virtual vanillas are Æther Adept, Lightning Elemental, and Barkhide Mauler

On that NOTE: For those not familiar with the term “vanilla,” it stands for a creature with no abilities. Like with ice cream, vanilla means it’s just the basic: a creature with a power and toughness. An example of this is Runeclaw Bear

Well, we might as well NOTE the other terms now that we’ve covered the other half already: There are vanillas and virtual vanillas (function like vanillas in the long-run), but there are also twists to vanilla: French vanilla. A French vanilla creature is a creature with only a keyworded ability. Examples are Battle Hurda and Garruk’s Companion. What’s NOT a French vanilla is a creature like Fiery Hellhound, even if its effect is basic. It needs to be a keyworded ability.

There are also “double dip French vanillas.” This is when there are two keywords on the creature. You usually see flying paired with another keyworded creature because flying is so basic (it doesn’t even have reminder text like the other keyworded abilities). Examples of this are Aven Fleetwing and White Knight.

Lastly, there are even virtual French vanillas. This is when a creature, after the first turn it enters the battlefield, functions like a French vanilla. An example of this is Acidic Slime

The one thing that is interesting to me to think about is whether Lightning Elemental categorized as a virtual vanilla or a French vanilla (or both). Anyway, enough with this aside!

You may want to go back up and reread the words before this italicized aside to continue on with the following train of thought below.

I’m only wording it like that because I’m trying to target virtual vanilla creatures, too (and for the creatures with this ability to be able to play well with each other, because they’re virtual vanillas, too)! If only there was a way to reference an inactive ability! Or the fact that they’re virtually vanillas! You guys got any suggestions?

On this note, while we’re at it, and this may or may not be applied to a faction (the best fit of the five seems to be the nonblack faction, if it is applied as a faction mechanic at all), but here’s a tangential mechanic design:

Better, yet; let’s revisit the colorless faction mechanic and apply the technique above:

My concern is whether or not having just the word “flying” there (along with other keywords) after the dash would be confusing for players in that they might think the ability is there all the time.

As you may have noticed, this looks similar to my proposed civilization mechanic for the nonblack faction. It granted a keyworded ability (indicated by the mechanic’s keyword and a dash before it), but it was an “on switch” that only stayed “on” as long as your board state continued to have each of its creatures have two creature types or more. The issue was the condition.

In this mechanic’s case, it’s a keyworded ability that triggers whenever the condition is met. This functions like the allies mechanic. Instead of requiring that you have all of your creatures meet the condition in order for it to “turn on,” allies has you simply have a creature enter the battlefield under your control to trigger it.

But, what about revisiting the “two creature types” quality? That’s simple enough. The flavor of race/class (being civilized) may be a little wonky outside of the context of the set, but we can make sure that, within the set (and the rest of the block) that a creature having two or more creature types means “This creature has a race and a class” (Well, for the most part, if not every time). So, let’s see what it looks like:

So, that’s about it for this week. The white, blue, black, and red factions will get their day in the sun.
I just won’t be right now.

Catch the next article when we do the “fun part” of #mtg design and design individual cards! Better yet, these will be planeswalkers and legendary creatures (read: Commander) specifically (No, #mtg is not dying or anything of the sort . Thanks for reading, guys!

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 July 22, 2011, in Articles, You're a Designer Harry!. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I like the new trigger condition for civilize better, but I still think that the backwards compatibility issue is a big one. It’ll be less of an issue the further we get from Lorwyn.

    On Zen, you might be able to do something more backwards compatible while catching (most) virtual vanillas by using Torpor Orb’s precedent. “Whenever a creature that doesn’t have any abilities that doesn’t trigger when a creature enters the battlefield enters the battlefield under your control, …” On second thought, that doesn’t look so clean, but it all worked so nicely in my head. :grumbles:

    More to come if I can come up with it.

  2. Zen is MUCH better than bare. The current trigger feels way too much like Allies (and weak Allies at that), but I do see potential for some interesting mechanic of the form “mechanic—keyword.” (Just not sure what, yet.)

    That said, it’s not what I expected when you suggested a faction that cares “about vanilla creatures.” You went with “give them an ability that likes things that don’t have abilities” where my mind went to “give them no abilities.”

    I actually thought to myself, this is a clever way to deliver the required proportion of vanillas for the set: Make them all part of one faction. Is that a boring faction? Not if you make these vanilla creatures cost-effective. Not if the faction’s non-creature cards all care about vanilla creatures in a Muraganda Petroglyphs kind of way. Actually, there are tons of possibilities:

    CARDNAME deals damage to target c/p = to the # of creatures you control w/ no abilities.

    Destroy target cr w/ abilities.

    Target cr becomes a 4/4 with no abilties [until EOT]

    Creatures with no abilities can’t be blocked by creatures with abilities.

    Maybe not your cup of tea, just a thought.

  3. Bare and Elegance are unprintable at common. They’re way too complex. Also, they’re self-contradictory–aren’t they supposed to reward you for playing simple cards? What a bunch of hypocrites, right? Zen is simpler, but it doesn’t solve the self-contradiction problem; also, the way you have it templated, it actually doesn’t work (ability words can’t self-reference). And even if it did work, I guarantee players wouldn’t use it the way you want them too. It would become “Whenever a creature token enters the battlefield.”

    Just making any reference at all to creatures with no abilities is probably too complex for common no matter what you do. Muraganda Petroglyphs is a pretty basic effect with the mechanic and it still causes a lot of confusion. I think you’re going in the wrong direction.

    What about bonuses if you didn’t attack or block this turn? That feels very “Zen”–being rewarded for doing nothing. Like you’re meditating.

    Zen Loxodon 3W
    Creature – Elephant Monk (C)
    Zen (At the beginning of your upkeep, if ~ hasn’t attacked or blocked since your last upkeep, put a +1/+1 counter on it.)

    Zen Knight WW
    Creature – Human Knight Monk (U)

    Zen Master 2WW
    Creature – Human Monk (R)
    Other creatures you control have Zen. (Each instance of Zen triggers separately.)

    Zen Rhox 4G
    Creature – Rhino Monk (C)

    ‘Course, I’m not exactly sure how “Colorless” this version is feeling. I naturally want to put these cards in white and green.

  4. I think the good thing about bare and zen is that it tries to capture a philosophy for colorless:embracing simplicity and nothingness.

    At the moment, the implementation seems too artificial – the card changes itself to artificially match its ability’s condition.

    I think Bare is a case where morph-tech can help.

    Zen Master 2G
    As ~ enters the battlefield, turn it face down. (face-down permanents are colorless 2/2 creatures.) It enters the battlefield with +1/+1 counters on it equal to the number of creatures you control with no abilities.

    Otherwise, if you want a virtual vanilla creature that counts as a creature with no abilities, you can make it into a token-making sorcery.

    Warcry Goblin 1R
    Put a red 1/1 Goblin Warrior token onto the battlefield.
    Until end of turn, creatures you control with no abilities get +1/+0 and have haste.

    Another direction you can go is creatures and spells that make other creatures lose their identities.

    Rage Inciter 2R
    Creature – Human Shaman
    When ~ enters the battlefield, turn target nontoken creature face down. (Face-down permanents are colorless 2/2 creatures with no abilities.)
    Face-down creatures you control get +2/+0.

    Mindblanker 2U
    Creature – Human Wizard
    When ~ enters the battlefield, turn target nontoken creature face down. (Face down permanents are colorless 2/2 creatures with no abilities.)

    Master of Meditation G
    Creature – Human Monk
    When ~ enters the battlefield, turn target nontoken creature face down. (Face-down permanents are colorless 2/2 creatures with no abilities.)
    When ~ leaves the battlefield, turn target face-down creature face up and put two +1/+1 counters on it.


    Master of Meditation 2G
    Creature – Human Monk
    When ~ enters the battlefield, turn target nontoken creature face down or turn target face-down creature face up. Put two +1/+1 counters on that creature. (Face down permanents are colorless 2/2 creatures with no abilities.)

    Then you can have other spells and permanents that reward either ability-less creatures, or colorless creatures.

    It could be weird to have a halfway morph ability. But the benefit is that these cards can work with other cards even in a linear strategy. For example, in Limited you can have a deck themed around colorlessness, and still mix creatures that have color into the deck without feeling bad.

    Also, it would feel like these guys are working to change the world into a colorless place, which I think is a neat identity for coloressness.

    I think it would be neat if these colorless guys had their own race.

    Concerning Civilize, this card comment by Aaron Forsythe brought home to me the problems that could happen.

  5. You need other ways to make vanilla creatures a valid strategy, the above mechanics seem to me like they’re more like keyworded-creatures masquerading as vanilla creatures. Functionally they’re not, and only their own ability claims that they are, indeed vanilla.

    Perhaps you should look into parts of the card other than their abilities to create interesting creatures. I think this is true elegance. An idea- extend the basic subtype to things other than basic lands. What does basic mean, other than what you can target with some spells? That you can put Any number of them into your deck. Creatures which allow you to play more than 4-of would be an interesting mechanic without being an actual ability.

  1. Pingback: You’re a Designer, Harry! #13 – A Vanilla Lot, Eh? « Red Site Wins

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

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