You’re a Designer, Harry! #14 – Lurking, Prowling, and Hiding

Welcome to the latest installment of You’re a Designer, Harry! Last time, we talked in detail about the inclusion of a vanilla faction in the set and the implications of doing so along with the reasons why we should do so. Today, we’ll be talking about its neighboring faction, the nonwhite faction. More specifically, about three different possible mechanics in detail.

Some of you may know Jules Robins as @JulesRobins from Twitter, as Jules Robins on Quiet Speculation, or as Jules Robins when he comments frequently on this design column. Well, I met up with him in-person recently, and we talked design. It was pretty much a syncing up of the latest design efforts on the set, and we last left off in our conversation (we ran out of time!) of wanting to playtest Lurk.

Robin’s in the Batcave

For those of you who have been following this column for a while, you may remember that Lurk is a mechanic proposed by Chah (@ChahMTG2) for the nonwhite faction. And there were two different versions of it. You can see his original submission of Lurk cards here. Now, let’s go over again how these two Lurks work (Note: I’ve modified Chah’s original lurk in the following two versions’ wordings):

Lurk {COST} (You may pay {INSERT NUMBER HERE} to exile this face down under a permanent you control. Put it onto the battlefield face up any time by tapping the permanent it’s under while it is untapped and paying the lurk cost.)


The above version of lurk functions very much like morph. There’s a lurk cost to pay for putting it onto the battlefield face up, and then there’s an initial cost to pay to make it lurk under a permanent in the first place. This is just like how you must pay {3} to put a card with morph from your hand onto the battlefield. Above, I labeled it with “INSERT NUMBER HERE” since that cost is to be determined from playtesting. I’d imagine it to be costing less than {3} since both mechanics have a vulnerable drawback (a 2 toughness on a morph creature and the only way to bring a card out of lurking is to tap the permanent it’s lurking under). So, {1} or {2}, but {0} seems not so bueno.

Ah, speaking of which: I’ve been stubborn with not letting go of morph as an option for the nonwhite faction for a while now (Thinking, “There’s just gotta be a way! I just haven’t thought of it, yet!”). That is, up until recently. After doing some more figuring regarding the vanilla faction, it dawned on me that if the vanilla faction will indeed exist, that morph cannot coexist with it. This is because the color that’s not included in the vanilla faction will have to have each of its creatures with an ability. And when a morph card is face down, it has no abilities! So, it’s one or the other. I’d say that the vanilla faction is a much better choice for the set rather than bringing back something that’s been done more than once in Magic blocks.

Anyway, the second version of lurk is as follows:

Lurk {COST} (You may pay this card’s lurk cost and exile this under a permanent. When the permanent it’s lurking under leaves the battlefield, put this onto the battlefield.)


Ah, much cleaner. And less feeling-like-this-faction-is-one-that-lives-among-the-underground-darkness. Well, shoot. Also, this means that lurking under lands is highly undesirable, and, to a lesser extent, artifacts and enchantments. Well, unless the environment is designed to accommodate lurk specifically by including more land/artifact/enchantment destruction. …Ew. Or more sacrifices that way. Or flicker effects! …But, wait, that’s a white effect, and what is that doing in a nonwhite faction. Now, this is just a mess. Thus, let’s just go with the first version of lurk, if anything.

However, I realize that the way I worded the first version of lurk is quite messy. I was trying to effectively do this: “{COST}, {T}: Put the card lurking under this onto the battlefield face up.” Well, that just looks weird. Let’s see it as the whole ability:

Lurk {COST} (You may pay {INSERT NUMBER HERE} to exile this face down under a permanent you control. That permanent gains, “{COST}, {T}: Put the card lurking under this onto the battlefield face up.”)


Well, what do you think? The text is shorter; and, like the first version …of the first version, it gives purpose to lurking under permanents. It makes use of them as a cost for coming out of their lurking mode. It also gives a reason for why you’re choosing a particular permanent because of the tap symbol in the cost. And it’s definitely much better than waiting for a permanent to leave the battlefield, especially when it came to noncreatures. Looks good a possibility.

In Design Space, No One Can Hear You Scream

As for other possibilities in terms of mechanics for the nonwhite faction? Let’s talk mechanics besides morph that we could bring back that would fit nonwhite’s flavor.

First off, regular readers of Mark Rosewater would know now that modern design calls for each large set to bring back an old mechanic as part of their efforts to keep up Magic‘s longevity. The same goes for modern Core Set design as we can see with scry in M11 and bloodthirst in M12. The reason for this is that Magic only has so much design space, and when a new mechanic such as a keyword or an ability word is introduced, there’s a certain amount of design space associated with it. It’s the Magic designer’s responsibility to make use of all of that design space, but one issue is that a single block, most of the time, does not provide enough card slots for that design space to be used up. That’s why we gotta save those keywords for blocks/sets to be designed in the future.

For example, splice only interacted with Arcane cards during Kamigawa block. There’s potential for splicing onto Goblin or Equipment! …So, someday, when it makes sense with the block/set to bring it back, splice will be back.

Now, for the possible mechanics we could bring back for the nonwhite faction: Prowl and Hideaway.

Swords to Prowl

Prowl would be a strong choice because of how it depend upon the creature type. This makes the vanilla faction more relevant. It also “feels” like it would make sense in the nonwhite faction because of how beings in the darkness can be, all, prowling. You know? However, one issue: What creature type(s)?

Morningtide had it right with tying all prowl cards to the creature type Rogue. Otherwise, it’d be kinda sad to have some cards work only for part of your prowl cards while other cards would work for your other prowl type of cards. But, this is a four-color faction all about not being white. So, what creature type doesn’t appear in white that appears in the rest of the four colors? And what would make sense for the flavor of the faction? Mutants tend to not be white, but what the heck are they doing being mutants for this faction? And Goblins usually don’t appear in blue while Vedalken are never green. The answer? Come up with a new race.

This actually goes back to Chah’s lurk mechanic proposal again. He proposed introducing a new race of people that exist in this underground faction. And I think that would be a great idea. The flavor of the faction, currently, says that the denizens of this faction moved underground to avoid becoming blinded only to have evolved away their sense of sight because of living in the darkness (to which they move back up to the surface as blind creatures). And, because I wouldn’t know what this race would be named, yet (just like with the names of the factions themselves); I’ll just call this race Fel, at least, for now. The Fel was named by Chah as seen on his lurk cards.

Another issue would be noncreature cards with prowl. Prowl works by drawing upon the existing creature types of the card. But, that would limit prowl to just creatures, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unearth, devour, and bloodthirst only appeared on creature cards, for example. So, this can be O.K., but it raises the question of whether we want to involve tribal to enable noncreatures to use prowl.

Currently, I’m voting to go as clean as possible and not bring back tribal. I believe we can do without it and still create interesting cards. We can still design cards that interact with prowl without having to use prowl itself. At least, this is my belief. Here are some sample cards:

…Something like that. There’s lots of room to play around in with prowl in terms of costing and effects tied with prowl. I mean, for goodness’ sake, there were only a handful of cards designed with prowl in Morningtide!


The other mechanic I’ve thought of possibly bringing back is hideaway. Really, Hideaway is not complex, has practically 100% room to grow, and the face down nature along with the name is strong with the flavor of the nonwhite faction. The thing is, though, is that using hideaway means we need a way to use the face down exiled card that is consistent with all the commons, at the very least. We wouldn’t want a hideaway card triggering off of lifegain and another hideaway card that is tied to an activated ability that can only be activated during the upkeep. Or whatever. Nay!

The first thing that popped into my head, probably because of the recent playing with bloodthirst, is a bloodthirst-style trigger. You would be able to play the hideaway’d card only when a creature you control has dealt combat damage to an opponent. Pretty solid trigger, I’d say.

Here’s why: It encourages combat. That’s always good. It makes it so that the opponent has some interaction with the mechanic, which is great. And it also makes hideaway not TOO good in that a hideaway-caring creature doesn’t always have the luxury of being able to get through to the opponent, either with itself or another creature. Lastly, getting a benefit when hurting the opponent is very black.

Speaking of color flavor, the random-ness of only being able to choose from the top four is quite red. Red and black are the two central colors to the faction. Aha! And hideaway matches up flavorfully! Hoo wee. Exciting.

What’s even more exciting is how much synergy it has with the rest of the set’s mechanics. Well, most likely. The nonred faction will most likely care about the top of the library. Aha! The due library manipulation will help hideaway (perhaps). Also, the nongreen faction being able flying means evasion which means getting through to deal damage. Woo, trigger (assuming we go with that trigger)! Lastly, vanilla creatures + hideaway could put your opponent into a pickle when they’d rather not block that huge power/toughness creature yet not want you to trigger all your hideaway cards.

So, it’d look something like this:

Hideaway (This permanent enters the battlefield tapped. When it does, look at the top four cards of your library, exile one face down, then put the rest on the bottom of your library.)
You may play cards exiled with CARDNAME as long as an opponent was dealt combat damage this turn.

Anyway, what are some other fair ways to be able to interact with your newly-gained face down exiled card? Should you be able to play the card right away? Is the above implementation not exciting enough (the interaction in combat then being able to play a card [pay for its mana cost in its entirety, mind you])?

Perhaps there can be some variation on the condition, but there will still be something that is the same about it across all implementations of hideaway. For example:

Hideaway (This permanent enters the battlefield tapped. When it does, look at the top four cards of your library, exile one face down, then put the rest on the bottom of your library.)
You may play cards exiled with CARDNAME as long as a(n) {permanent type} entered the battlefield this turn.

(Of course, this particular implementation of hideaway could be very bad since it costs mana to cast nonlands, and that would mean casting nonland cards that are hidden away with not all of your mana available.)

You get the picture. The thing is, there’s so much you can do for a condition, that it’s hard to pick what really should be the common condition for the hideaway faction.

Lastly, we may want to modify hideaway to be “Hideaway X” so that there would be more versatility to the mechanic. Right now, the mechanic has two values that the number in “Hideaway X” could be referring two. One is the amount of cards you exile face down. The other is the number of cards you look at from the top of your library. So, here are two possibilities:

Hideaway 2 (This permanent enters the battlefield tapped. When it does, look at the top four cards of your library, exile two face down, then put the rest on the bottom of your library.)

Hideaway 2 (This permanent enters the battlefield tapped. When it does, look at the top two cards of your library, exile one face down, then put the rest on the bottom of your library.)

Say, Gee, What’s your Diagnosis?

And with that said, it’s time to wrap it up. So, here are the deliverables:

  • Should we keep lurk? If so, what version of lurk should we go with?
  • Should we go with prowl? If so, should we use tribal? Either way, what’s the best way to make prowl work in the nonwhite faction? A new creature type? What about an existing one?
  • Should we go with hideaway? If so, what’s the best condition for hideaway cards to interact with? Should we modify hideaway (“Hideaway {NUMBER}”)to be more versatile?
  • What other existing mechanic should we bring back instead of prowl or hideaway?

Leave your thoughts, suggestions, etc. in a comment below! Thanks a lot for reading, and we’ll see you next time (or sooner, if you catch me on twitter)!


Bradley Rose
Twitter: @bradleyrose

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 August 20, 2011, in Extras. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. “After doing some more figuring regarding the vanilla faction, it dawned on me that if the vanilla faction will indeed exist, that morph cannot coexist with it. This is because the color that’s not included in the vanilla faction will have to have each of its creatures with an ability. And when a morph card is face down, it has no abilities! So, it’s one or the other.”

    I think this is the wrong strategy. Inter-faction synergy is not bad, and in fact, I would say it is desirable. It would make the Limited format a lot smoother. Look at Alara block’s intersections between Bant and Naya (using Exalted to pump creatures to 5 power and trigger Naya abilities) or Jund and Grixis (combining graveyard effects and Devour with Unearth), or Ravnica’s synergy between Selesnya and Golgari (make tokens, use them as sacrifice fodder). If one of the factions has Morph and the other faction is based on vanillas, hurrah! They’ll work well together, and in Draft, decks with a vanilla theme will be able to pick up Morph creatures to help pull it together. They might even be happy to get a colorless Grey Ogre. This is a plus, not a minus.

    • I just noticed this went up: On inter-faction synergy, it’s a double edged sword. It makes cards play a lot more nicely with one another, but in doing so encourages five color decks and thus undermines the four colors matters theme. It could still work if we have something like (I believe Chah’s) Vow Against, so perhaps we should figure out our four colors matters mechanic first. The anti-synergy was intended as a subtler way of pushing four colors without putting cards that explicitly told you not to play a color.

    • Troacctid,

      It’s not that I’m not avoiding inter-faction synergy all together, it’s that I’m avoiding it when it comes at the cost of dipping into encouraging five-color play. The thing is with Shards of Alara is that it wasn’t a problem if players went four colors or even five. In fact, Conflux showed that going five colors was encouraged.

      This set is unique in that in order to achieve its goal of four colors mattering, it’d have to be careful not to push people going into five colors. Because that would defeat the purpose, and it’d be domain all over again. So, when designing components of the set, mana-fixing cards or faction mechanics, we’d have to try to not let there be any reason to go five colors without seriously hurting your gameplan.

      If we went with morph, the fact that there would be morph cards that were in the sworn-off color would still entice some players to go five-color because there would be synergy there. This will not do. When we create synergy, we have to make sure that the parts of the set that have inter-faction synergy don’t show up in the colors it’s not supposed to.

      Thanks for the feedback!



  2. Some random, out of order thoughts (I’ll add more at some point). I don’t think Hideaway needs a parameter change per se, but to make it more exciting we could go more in the vein of the original lands. Activated ability that can be used only if you’ve dealt combat damage, but casts it for free. By making the activation say, 3 mana, you can make big spells feel like a bargain hopefully without breaking anything (the combo deck would have to bash with weenies).

    I’d be slightly worried bringing Prowl back as is. My understanding was that returning mechanics were supposed to stay the same in a core set, but evolve in an expansion. At the moment, Prowl is doing exactly the same thing as in Morningtide, so we’d need to choose more of its space to explore.

    I’m kind of unsure about the face down Lurk variation:
    Pros: It’s cool. It feels right. It’s simpler than morph. It works well in the set.
    Cons: It’s possibly too close to morph. It might not work to grant an ability with an unknown cost.

    Anyway, I think in person design meetings went very well (if too short), and we should definitely do so again. A lot of the above issues would be a lot easier to sort out through playtesting, so maybe we should design some more cards with each variant and try them out for feel and function, more thoughts in the next week or two.

    • Jules,

      I see your point about Prowl. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t done anything to evolve the mechanic. I only simply changed the creature type (and even chopped out the tribal instants and sorceries). With this said, it’s a strong case to not go with Prowl, even if it plays well with strong, beefy vanillas.

      Hideaway is a different story in that it went from being on lands to nonland permanents. And with varying costs and conditions (Well, the condition of combat damage to the opponent being at least across all commons, if not all uncommons as well), there’s more room for fresh twists.

      As for lurk, hideaway feels better. It feels more black/red-tric (deal combat damage to the opponent to gain a benefit – a benefit that was from a random four cards) than lurk does. Lurk feels more premeditated than hideaway, which is a blue thing. I just hope hideaway holds up in playtesting!

      Speaking of which, I forget whether you said you were going to be there on Wednesday (tomorrow).



      • Sorry I didn’t get back to you on this, I forgot to mention that I was going out of town last week, on which note: I will be at Kennedy’s this week (tomorrow) if you’re available to discuss/playtest.

        On hideaway, I share Wobbles’ concern that it’s a lot of text. We can spend our complexity points here if we want, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can only have a one-line ability on top of Hideaway and a way to cast it. We may find enough interesting designs regardless, but it’s certainly a limitation.

        I also think Chah’s suggestion of turning Lurk into a lego-bot mechanic has some merit. On top of feeling in flavor, it lets the ‘shard’ be flying-centric without as many cards having to say flying on them as long as you assemble everything on fliers (and who doesn’t want evasion?). Moreover, it would solve the clunkiness issues that finding equipment would have while preserving the mechanized feeling.

  3. I think Prowl is also good mechanic for the Vanilla shard. The Vanilla theme needs lots of support cards that make it worthwhile to play many Vanilla creatures in your deck. (Even if those cards aren’t Vanilla themselves.) But they can’t all be Uncommon creatures with “Vanilla creatures you control get +1/+1.” The theme has to exist at common.

    Prowl could go on many common creatures and spells. Prowl could trigger off of a creature type (such as Beast or Hunter), and you could give that creature type to all of your Vanilla creatures. Or, you could make variant of Prowl that checks if a creature with no abilities dealt damage that turn. I think it’s flavorful for a non-blue shard.

    • Chah,

      With only so many mechanics to go around in the set, I wouldn’t want to ultimately settle on a vanilla-matters mechanic since that would make it that much harder to come up with designs for the other factions because of the one-less mechanic slot. This is why I’ll settle on not doing a “no abilities” variant of prowl, even though that was a good suggestion,

      You’re right about the support cards. I’m hoping that there will be enough interesting designed cards that don’t have to rely upon a mechanic created specifically for them. And I feel confident we’ll succeed with this goal!

      As for making my theme exist at common, there will at least be “vanillas are awesome” non-creatures. So, these effects can exist on common instants, sorceries, auras, and perhaps an artifact. Will this be enough? We’ll see.

      Thanks for chiming in (once again!). I’ll get to the rest of your thoughts when I have more time!



  4. I think bringing back Hideaway is exciting, because it can go on creatures and other types, and that would be a big twist.

    You can make cards that say “Cards exiled with Hideaway cost 1 less to cast” or “If you would exile cards from your library with Hideaway, exile an additional card.” to give it a degree of linearity.

    By the way, if you want to change the way Hideaway or Prowl works, you should change the name of the keyword, like landcycling or multikicker did.

  5. I don’t think the Face-down Lurk should require tapping the host creature as a cost.

    – If the host creature is killed, the Lurker is stranded forever. People often don’t even want to play Auras because it causes them to lose card advantage. If there’s no tap cost, you could put it onto the battlefield whether the host is dead or not.

    – The best part of Face-down Lurk is that you can give a creature a mystery augmentation. Will the host creature suddenly regenerate, gain shroud or deathtouch, or gain a saboteur ability? That makes combat interesting, like morph. However, with a tap cost, this ability can only be used for surprise blocking. This ability really wants to be used to help attackers as well as blockers

    I see that the tap cost was introduced to prevent face-down guys from popping off a host and surprise-blocking too often. It’s a legitimate concern; the mere presence of a face-down Lurker could discourage attacks too much. I think this can be solved by making the face-down exiled guys enter the battlefield tapped, instead of requiring an untapped host.

    By the way, I feel that Face-down Lurk creatures who can be Lurked out for total cost that’s cheaper than the card’s casting cost will feel very weird if you play them. You would exile it, then put it into play the same turn. It basically plays like a Convoke where you only tap one guy, and it won’t feel like Lurking in the shadows at all. You could make a Lurker that costs less to Lurk out if its host is dead, creating tension for the opponent. “Should I kill that host or not?” But I don’t recommend Lurkers where the purpose is to cheat on the cost and pop off immediately.

  6. I think the Face-up version of Lurk is the better of the two, because it’s simple and has creative uses.

    It’s like a Griffin Guide except you can cast it as a creature if you wanted to. The biggest benefit I see with this is, you can mix and match creature cards in your hand to make your own monster, without losing card advantage.

    Imagine your hand contains some shadowy bat thing with flying, a scorpion-like thing with deathtouch, and a horned beast with first strike. You can choose to cast them individually, or cast two or three of them merged together. You can choose which one is the main body and which one is just lending an ability. Each combination costs something different, and it could create fun choices. If it dies, you lose the main body but the parts you invested pop off and become creatures.

    That said, I don’t know if it’s the best match for this shard. I don’t mean the flavor. I know the original intention of the Underneath mechanic was to represent something being underground, but I think it’s ok for flavor and mechanics to change and develop in tandem with each other so they wrap around each other, like mana crystals turning into Eldrazi Spawn in ROE. For example, Lurk could have the flavor of creatures who can turn themselves into shadow form to hide in dark places, sometimes taking over the shadows of other creatures.

    But the way that this mechanic plays (mechanical flavor?) might not feel so much like darkness. Prowl or Hideaway has something hidden come at you from nowhere, which does feel like darkness.

    The mechanical feel of face-up Lurk might actually fit the non-Green steampunk shard more. It’s like Izzet meets Simic. (You can use your cards inventively like Izzet, and you can make your own creature like Simic.) I realize Simic is green, but the flavor of this mechanic can be used for artifact creatures in non-Green colors – mechanical lego-bots that can be fused together as needed. Just a thought.

    Finally, some minor points:
    Face-up Lurk creatures that don’t give abilities to their host could be high-costing huge guys. You could Lurk it under your best permanent and it would be like a Baloth Cage trap or Cobra Trap, daring your opponent to touch that permanent.

    You mentioned the lack of blink effects in non-White colors, but I don’t think this mechanic should be about proactively sacrificing or blinking the permanent yourself. I think it’s possible to put enough sacrifice effects and bounce effects in a non-White world, but it would feel like a weird, arbitrary procedure for cheating creatures into play. I can’t think of a resonant flavor for that other than the Xenomorphs from the Alien movies, which I don’t think is good for this shard.

  7. These are some interesting mechanics. Common themes: Alternative casting cost, damage related, Hidden Cards

    I think these can be more properly expressed by building a new mechanic around them, rather than trying to shoehorn in an existing mechanic.

    Most of all, I like prowl. It’s a great concept. Unfortunately, it’s got all this creature type baggage because that’s the block it came from. You’ve got PLENTY going on between the different Shards before you ask players to worry about tribes within a shard.


    Bloodcost: X (You may cast this for its bloodcost if an opponent lost life this turn.)


    Affinity for Damage (This spell costs 1 less to cast for each life an opponent has lost this turn.)


    Conscript (Each creature you control that has dealt damage to an opponent this turn reduces this spells cost by 1 or by one mana of that creature’s color.)

    Three ways to do the same thing. Blood cost might be to similar to Prowl, but that didn’t stop hexproof vs shroud. Affinity for damage is a little ugly, considering spells are going to have very few generic mana symbols in this block. I like Conscript, but it has a few memory issues. Probably not to many, considering those creatures will have survived, and you’ll be casting immediately after combat anyway.

    While I’d love to find a way to get the face up lurk mechanic to work, cards on the battlefield need to either A) Do exactly what they say on the card. IE If it looks like a creature, it better be able to attack or block. or B) Be a morph. Having cards littering the field that are Haunting creatures or just ambiguously facedown is a recipe for confusion.

    Hideaway is a neat mechanic. It just has a lot going on. It was fine on rares, but it’d mean a million lines of text on commons. Even if you tied it to a single trigger, it seems messy.

    Hope that helps

  8. Conscript also has the problem of allowing free spells. You really want to be able to limit this down to one spell a turn.

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

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