You’re a Designer, Harry! #16 – Nonblack Vs. Nongreen

Welcome back, brave adventures of four-color Magic design! Last time, I went back over all the comments that had yet to receive a reply from me among the first fifteen articles. It was interesting to go back to some old comments to see what was suggested and forgotten, especially with how the set has evolved since the time of those comments.

This week, we go over the (perhaps embarrassingly so) first playtest of this four-color set. I had a testing session with Jules Robins of Quiet Speculation. We tested out a couple of the factions’ mechanics (or lack thereof): The nongreen faction’s “lego-bot” mechanic (which was previously concepted as lurk for the nonwhite faction) and the nonblack faction’s use of tokens.

The nongreen faction is blue-and-black-centric. Given the nature of how the “lurk” mechanic assembles creatures under other creatures, granting them extra abilities to make one super creature with several hiding under it, the mechanic felt more right existing with this faction rather than the red-black faction. It feels like that mad scientist flavor that currently exists in Innistrad. Besides, with how lurk had transformed and the other mechanic options for red-black faded away, the randomness, the recklessness of red was lost. “Lurk” feels more calculating now (Do I hardcast, or do I “lurk?”).

I must mention that just as Shards of Alara did with its divided worlds and the mechanics, we want to have the factions’ mechanics of this set to both define the flavor of their four-color identity as well as have synergy with each other. The red-green-centric faction, the nonblue faction, is focused on vanilla creatures. “Lurk” benefits those vanilla creatures by combining the “oomph” that vanilla multicolor cards provide with the abilities that “lurkers” provide to its hosts.

As for the nonblack faction, many ideas were tossed up: tokens, multiple mechanics based around creature types, auras, Basic, and even a different take on banding called “team up.” With the case of auras and team up, using those as an identity for this faction felt like it was stepping on the toes of the “lurk” faction (or “lego-bot” faction). Too much “build-your-own” creature stuff going on. Sure, these would benefit vanilla creatures but at the expense of a redundancy feeling.

So, it was decided that we playtest tokens, to go for the “army” feel; which, hopefully, doesn’t step on the toes of vanilla creatures too much. The vanilla creature faction just cares about lack of abilities while the token faction cares about the token-nature of a creature – and puts out many tokens.

Jules and I realized that tokens can be vanilla creatures themselves. This means that some spells that produce vanilla tokens would be benefit both factions. This made me think about whether or not this would blur the lines of distinction between the two factions too much.

Jules suggested that token-producing spells can be differentiated by the number of tokens being produced. All the single token-producing spells can be vanilla creatures which may or may not come packaged with another effect, to give the vanilla faction simulated virtual vanillas. Then there are spells that will produce at least two creatures. This is something we’re trying to shape the identity of the token set: All the token-producing sorceries and instants that are supposed to be attributed to the token faction will always grant multiple creatures.

Now, now. Don’t panic. We can do this. Some of you may be thinking about how this will lead to board stalls in Limited. And, to that, I say: You would indeed be right. However, that’s why the set design will shape an environment that will make it more easier to break up board stalls either with evasion or some other kind of method.

Well, anyway, besides all that hoo-hah I just said, we decided to playtest the two mechanical themes of each faction. To get to the core of the feel of each mechanic, we didn’t worry ourselves about constructing four-color decks with the four-color mechanic that will eventually be in the set along with testing out mana-fixing designs to smooth the mana base. We went with each of the factions’ central colors, threw in Core Set cards along with designed cards that had the mechanics we were trying out. Here are the cards we tried out:

For the nongreen faction:

For the nonblack faction:

I know. I know. The tokens might seem crazy to do. Too many tokens, and too repetitive! Just too many creatures, you say. Well, it turns out that while, yes, this was the case, having outlets for evasion and encouraging attacking made things a bit better.

The Token Tapper did wonderful things during the playtest. First off, it made you want to draw your token spells. Whenever you had a token-producing spell, it was on. You also might be encouraged to take more token-making cards in a draft. This is good! Secondly, the Token Tapper broke up stalls.

As an aside, our previous incarnation of Token Tapper was at common and tapped two creatures per token. Upon writing this, I realized that the Human Tokens spell would tap six creatures! That’s way too much swing. Now, that spell only enables you to tap up to three target creatures. Also, repetitive effects need to go to uncommon. I was contemplating fixing the card as “Whenever one or more tokens enter the battlefield under your control, you may tap target creature.” But, this made it lame so that a spell like the Human Tokens one would only tap one creature. …And it might confuse players into thinking that only one creature per turn can be tapped. It’s actually one creature per effect can be tapped, whether the amount of tokens for that individual effect is putting down one or thousand tokens. …Anyway, the way we have it now is that each token entering the battlefield can cause a creature to become tapped.

…Let’s move on.

Some of the astute of you may point out that the green 3/3 Ooze spell can’t work without a legal artifact or enchantment. This was intentional. We wanted to reward you for being able to find and destroy an artifact or enchantment. Also, another observation is that this only produces one token. So, yes, this would be a card that belongs in the vanilla faction, technically. Well, if the set had watermarks, this would have a vanilla faction watermark, even though it works for the token faction.

Speaking of which…

Because of how the factions are currently working now (nonblack faction = tokens, nonblue faction = vanilla, nongreen faction = lego-bot “lurk”), we can’t have any tokens in black, no vanilla creatures in blue, and no lurk cards in green. That last part should be easy, but we gotta watch it when we feel the urge to design a simplest of simple blue creature or a token-producing black spell. Doing this is crucial since it will then inherently encourage the four-color play when the last color doesn’t work with your mechanical theme at all.

I believe there might have been an instant speed combat trick that benefits token creatures that was designed, but I forget.

We played games, swapping the decks of Core Set cards and proxied up designed mechanic-relevant cards. We made some discoveries:

For “lurk,” we found that having a higher power and/or lower toughness on a “lurk” lego-bot creature meant that we would want the lurk cost to increase by a lot. That’s because of the possibility of “cheating” your big creatures onto the battlefield by paying a low “lurk” cost then sacrificing the creature it lurked under. If it has a low toughness, then the tension of choosing whether or not to hardcast a creature is lost. If it has a low toughness, and it would be dying anyway, then it makes your decision more based on whether or not you can get away with blocking with one less creature. If the host is going to die, anyway, then might as well give deathtouch to the host, so it can kill something, no matter how big it is. Then, once the host is dead, the “lurker” comes out in its true form, with a high power and that deathtouch ability again. Of course, having a low amount of life against an army of tokens makes you more want to block “NOW!” rather than later.

Another thing: we discovered that we really want power/toughness boosting at common. Initially, we were only going to do keyword-granting at common to simplify the mechanic. The uncommons and higher rarities would have the more complex iterations of “lurking” creatures. This is because when your creature is a 2/2, and you have something awesome to lurk under it, you’re going to want to have choices that would include making it bigger. Having a 4/2 or a 2/4 seems much more appealing. THEN you lurk another creature granting first strike or something. Heh, woo.

Lastly, for the plan to shape this environment to include more evasion-type of creatures, a cute thing to include for this set would be landwalk. Suddenly, landwalk is super-awesome in a four-color set. I can imagine an lurking islandwalk Serpent. However, this can become dangerous if it makes players not want to play their lands to avoid the landwalkers, which would possibly become annoying and make players feel bad. Perhaps protection? Well, we’ll see with more playtesting.

I’m cutting it more short this week as I’ve run out of time. So, I’d like to leave you with this: What do you think about tokens for the nonblack faction? Should we do another type of mechanic? And what about the move of “lurk,” in its current form, to blue-black (This means the nixing of the flying steampunk flavor)?

On a final aside: The Basic mechanic was something I was excited by in that there would be an ability word for the mechanic, and all of these would key off of a basic permanent entering the battlefield. Since this is a four-color set that uses basic lands as a way to fix mana without going too far into five colors, it seemed like a perfect fit. However, then it seemed too perfect. I was afraid players would confuse this nonblack factions’ mechanical identity caring about Basic to be a main mechanic that permeates all factions. Oh, and this would have meant Basic Creatures. One thing I would have liked is the following guy:

Of course, I realize, this may be REALLY REALLY broken. But, Basic creatures don’t have to do this at all. In fact, they don’t have to do anything besides have Basic in their type line. Other cards would care about that typeline. For example:

This makes Rampant Growth super-awesome for this faction. …If this would ever even happen. Tokens? Or Basic? Or something else?

Thanks for reading, guys! And thanks, again, Jules, for helping me with the playtest. Catch me in two weeks, or sooner if you’re 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 September 13, 2011, in Extras. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting article. Honestly, while I enjoy the flavor of “no tokens in black, no vanilla in blue” it’s just not going to translate into decks. People are going to play their token making cards in Black decks. That’s just going to happen. People will play efficient vanillas in their blue token decks.

    Instead of fighting this, I’d just embrace it.

    Make the Vanilla tribe care about creatures without abilities, that way tokens get some of that splash love. Make the Lurk creatures into what they are (Elephant Guide style Auras) and have them make tokens when the creatures die. That way, Lurk cards and Token makers get along, but those tokens don’t work as well with the vanilla guys because they have abilities. Finally, add a subtheme among the basic guys that they like to have Auras grant them abilities. This plays nicely with the Lurk guys, but less well with tokens, as if Tokens get bounced you lose the Aura and the Creature. Or something.

    The important thing is that, like Ravnica, you won’t be able to stop people from playing cards outside of their Faction. There just aren’t enough cards in the set to support each group individually, and it’s too prescriptive for deck builders. Instead, these cards should work pretty well with the cards from other factions. Not perfectly, you still give incentives for people to play the Token deck, but enough that the inevitable lurk creature there improves the play experience.

  2. A few notes before I get into commentary:

    The unposted Lurk creature was:

    Lurk Bird 1U
    Lurk U
    ~ and the creature its lurking under have flying.

    There were two token tricks (which never came up):

    Unearthly Reflexes W
    Untap target token creature. It gains first strike until end of turn.


    We Won’t be Marginalized 3W
    Token creatures you control get +2/+2 until end of turn.

    We also discussed making:

    Token Warden G
    Whenever a token enters the battlefield under your control, you may gain 1 life.

    On making Lurk into Elephant guides, while it seems nice in theory to promote synergy, having a token faction and vanilla faction cards creating tokens already pushes the envelope for the number of different tokens we can have. Adding another unique on for every single Lurk creature simply isn’t feasible. I also think we loose a lot of the Megazord feel on the lego-bots if they aren’t creatures.

    Finally, I’m liking Basic more the more I think about it. At first I was concerned that it didn’t do anything in limited, and making a bunch of things reference it made it just as parasitic as Arcane. Then I realized that Arcane’s parasitism wasn’t an issue in limited where it was in a biodome, but for casual and eternal play. I think we can do basic, but all of the cards that care about it would need to be relevant even if you were only playing with basic lands. No “Basic creatures get +2/+0 until end of turn.” Though that would work with Living Plane…

    Finally, I’m somewhat concerned as to whether or not cards like Naturalizing Token will feel like cheating in the vanilla sect. The Borderposts were okay in ARB, but they could be cast in a way that was in line with the set, and it’s not like these cards would have empty text boxes.

    Anyway, all in all it was a great play-testing session and gave us a lot of insight into the mechanics’ inner workings. More to come.

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