You’re a Designer, Harry! #17 – Basic Adventuring Party

Hello again, readers, to You’re a Designer, Harry!, a column where my readers’ feedback impacts the public process of designing a Magic: The Gathering set. I started writing with the idea to do a column like this because it was pretty fresh idea compared to what I’m used to seeing (non-design, non-collaborative Magic articles). And this column started strong, were hopes were high and comments were abundant. …And where are we now? Sputtering ever behind! This must be fixed!

Ever since the Great Designer Search 2, thanks to the collaborative nature of the competition and the use of Wizards Community wiki, a Magic design community had grown as strong as ever. It’s still ever-thriving as websites devoted to Magic design had sprung up: Goblin Artisans, Designer Fun on Channel Fireball, and many from the #mtg Twitter community (I’m trying to get #mtgdesign to be the official hashtag for Magic design, but it seems that tag is too many characters, especially considering the nature of tweeting about Magic design. #GDS2 is long over, too). This column had been a result of the GDS2, with me being a former Top 101 candidate.

In particular, I’d like to compare this collaborative set with another that has since the start of this column sprung into existence: Magic 2013. Spearheaded by Jay Treat, finalist of the GDS2, of Goblin Artisans, they’re attempting to design the next Core Set. This gives them a real deadline as well as the ability to measure their success by comparing their set with the real thing. And, finally, they start by designing a Core Set, which is important for budding Magic designers. It’s quite an impressive project started.

When I first started this column, I was more focused on the novelty of doing a collaborative design with other Magic design enthusiasts, both of the veteran and novice varieties. However, I had an oversight in that I should have started with doing a Core Set. I had never designed a whole set before! I did not realize this until the column, and the set, had progressed far enough that I decided there was too much invested for us to scrap the four-color project and start anew.

So, flash forward to now: Jay Treat has made a wise decision that I was too late to recognize when I started this back in April. And now that the project on Goblin Artisans has started, it’s even more important that “You’re a Designer, Harry!” sticks with doing what it’s doing now. Otherwise, if we wanted to design a Core Set, we might as well help contribute Jay Treat.

Now, where are we on our set? Well, there isn’t that much of an update from the last time we left off this set. I hadn’t playtested, and I apologize for this. I’ve been mulling over deciding what to do with the nonblack faction. After my discussion with Chah on Twitter regarding the referring to the token-ness of token cards used for themes/strategies in Magic , I started to think more and more about how referring to token-ness isn’t really that great.

I was initially going for referring to token-ness (by this, I mean “Target creature token gets +3/+3 until end of turn.” and the like) because of the fact that this was a set made up of five separate identities a la Shards of Alara. Because of this, and because it’s a set that goes for four colors, the maximum you can go with color to have an identity that’s separate from four others, I wanted to make sure to explore themes that would otherwise not be able to show up as a major component of a different set. It’s important for preserving design space to ensure that when there is an opportunity to do something that can never really otherwise happen in other Magic sets, such as the case with Urgent Exorcism, that you make sure it gets done then. I see this set as a place with five of such opportunities.

For example, I’m not sure a set can be made where one of the major mechanical themes of the set is “vanilla creatures.” There’s not that much you can do with that. …However, in a four-color set, where the theme only has to account for 20% or less of the set: Now, we’re talkin’. Perhaps this is the time to do vanilla creatures moreso than any other time that would be. That’s where I thought that referring to the fact that a token is a token, like “Creature tokens you control gain first strike until end of turn,” would something that needs to take place in this set.

Anyway, I thought that perhaps this wasn’t the right place to do a faction that cared about whether the creatures you control were tokens. I wanted to explore other options. The two I’m wrestling with currently are the basic type and the “four-person adventuring party” theme. I’ll go over both, and you can tell me which one sounds like the way to go. Of course, playtesting is an absolute must and is inevitable, anyway. Best to do so early on rather than later when you see all your guesstimations end up making your hard work based off of ’em go up in flames of disaster.

First, the basic type. This faction would contain cards that either had the basic supertype or a mechanic that cared about basic permanents. Or both, in at least a couple cases. Having a mechanic that cared about basic permanents would already have backwards compatibility with basic lands and all the cards that have something to do with putting basic lands onto the battlefield. This mechanic would bring meaning to the basic permanent cards, whenever one entering the battlefield (most likely) bringing about a bonus to these basic-caring cards. Going this route would have great synergy with the set since the set is caring about basic lands for mana-fixing already.

Second, that “four-person adventuring party” thing I mentioned earlier. What I mean is the classic medieval fantasy group that travels around and works together slaying evil and such. This is reminiscent of Dungeons & Dragons and Final Fantasy. I settled on this because I thought about how interdependence is a big thing with green/white philsophy, which antagonizes the independence spirit of black, the color that the faction is hating against. Green/white is all about the teamwork, and what would be better than a team of people working together doing what they do best at their occupation to strengthen the group overall.

How I executed this was to have a very, actually, interdependent design based on a mechanical structure of abilities. The main ability for each creature (the one that would care about another creature you control being of a particular class creature type) would be “As long as you control a BLANK, CARDNAME has flying.” or something of the sort. In this case, it would be one of four different creature types: warrior, soldier, cleric, and wizard. It’s a good balance of two melee types and two ranged/spellcaster types. Cards with the Warrior subclass would only be in red and green. The white and blue parts of this faction would be about soldiers. Green/white would be clerics, and red/blue would be wizards. Hooray. Then there would be abilities like this:

Creature – Human Warrior
CARDNAME has flying as long as you control a Wizard.

Creature – Human Cleric
CARDNAME gets +1/+1 as long as you control a Warrior.

Does this feel too much like Allies? Well, there’s no enters-the-battlefield triggers. It’s all about maintaining the group’s benefits by keeping each person alive as long as possible. …Long as possible? LONG?! What a minute, perhaps the white-blue-centric faction can gain synergy with this by having a mechanic that cares about the opposite of their nonred-ness: non-impulsive-ness. Long and patient type of stuff. Perhaps regarding keeping things around for as long as possible; and, in this case, your team.

Well, I’ve just about run out of time for now. What do you guys think of using one of these two suggestions for the green-white-centric nonblack faction? Are there any other suggestions you have? Thanks for reading, and 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 September 28, 2011, in Extras, You're a Designer Harry!. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Yo! Sorry I haven’t really commented on many of your design posts, but I think its finally time to donate 10 cents (worth of opinion… A shame I can’t charge people for opinions).

    I think there could be a lot done with the 4 person adventuring party (maybe even go so far as to work out a casual game type from it), so personally I think it would be fantastic to first try and work that in with the set. It also sounds like a lot of fun to try, and maybe from it you could design another Planeswalker type card too.

    • Josh,

      Thanks a lot for writing. You don’t have to apologize. I don’t expect my friends to read my articles, much less actually leave a reply; so the fact that you made it this far is fantastic. With that said, if I never posted on Facebook whenever a new article of mine is up, then I would have a practically zero-percent chance that my friends and family would read my article.

      Anyway, thanks for the ten cents. I really am getting excited by this adventuring party theme, especially with so many comments NOT advising against it and even for it.

      As for turning it into a casual format: That sounds like super awesome. I love casual formats, especially the ones that affect what sorts of cards go into your deck (like Tribal Wars, where at least 1/3 of your deck had to be creatures of a shared creature type).



  2. Overall, I was trying to say that referring to tokens is just a tool for creating a play experience. It think it’s important to focus on how tokens play differently from ordinary creatures (some sets might have effects like “creatures you control get +2/+1” or “whenever an attacking creature you control dies, do this”) rather than focusing on using phrases and wordings that haven’t been used much by previous sets such as “target token” or “equal to the number of tokens you control.” (Although if you think it would lead to new design space, brainstorm it by all means.)

    That said, I’m starting to think that in this set, having a few cards that refer to tokenness would be good. The vanilla faction and the token faction will have a large enough overlap already, so it would be nice to have a few cards that set those strategies apart by referring specifically to tokenness.

    If you do create a play style around tokens (the way Thallids and Saprolings created their own playstyle), then referring to them like “sacrifice a token” rather than “sacrifice a Saproling” would have the benefit of making them more open-ended and less insular.

    If there’s a mechanic (let’s say, a keyworded version of the Penumbra Spider’s mechanic) that makes tokens, then having cards that grants an ability to tokens would make sense.

    It would be interesting to think what the flavor of tokens could be, if they are going to be used heavily. In most sets, it’s about conscripting your forces or just calling or copying any creature. But if it’s tied to a particular mechanic in this set, it could have a particular flavor meaning. It could be about a process of getting the creature like necromancy/magic mirrors/spores/procreating or it could be about the type of creatures that it gets like mindless puppets/oozes/shadows. Finding a good flavor for tokens could help you build a play style around it.

    I like the class interaction system because it would interact with the vanilla faction.

    I actually tried something like it too, on my GDS2 Wiki.

    I wonder if the Allied mechanic started like this, and then they changed it. But I think it has potential and if it works, it will be good in a different way than Allies. The Allies was a great mechanic, but it didn’t feel like an adventuring party.

    I like the way a creature can become something else based on what else is on the board. You can adapt your strategy based on what you draw. But to some, it might feel like they can’t control how their deck will play because they don’t know what bonuses they’ll be able to trigger. I wonder if some kind of mechanic can be invented so you have some choice of what you trigger.

    I think the main two things you need to watch out for are:
    the complexity of scanning the board to check for bonuses your opponent’s creatures have, and
    situations where your party suffers a blowout when one of your members dies to removal and the remaining teammates lose their bonuses mid-combat.

    Maybe phrasing it like “Whenever this attacks, it gains flying until end of turn if you control a Wizard” would make it better on both counts.

    • I believe that you thinking there would be room for caring about token creatures somewhere in the set if there’s going to be an abundance of tokens (as in Innistrad’s geists) is correct. Whether or not that’s going to happen anymore is to be seen because of this new direction for the nonblack faction: the adventuring party.

      I clicked through to the links you’ve provided, and I totally remember viewing your world. I remember what I most liked about your set was the fact that 1) You used Cyclops as a tribe, 2) You brought back Eyes as a major race, and 3) You made the heavily-flavorful connection between Cyclops and Eyes. I was enamored.

      Anyway, you totally did the same thing I’m doing here with the adventuring party theme. I see you also used the same kind of way to go about the teamwork among classes: The card gained abilities by having those kinds of classes present elsewhere among your permanents. Now, with what Jay Treat suggested in the later comments, I can see that the best way to go about this is to have cards that grant abilities to other permanents of specific types.

      You’re right that I should keep in mind the different ways to set up the condition for the ability to go off as well as the swingy nature of losing a member of the adventuring team.

      Thanks a lot, Chah.



  3. I like the adventuring party idea very much. Thinking about what each color can add to its selected Class type, I think you should swicth them a tiny bit:

    WU should have Cleric. Think about the defensive nature of those two colors and the class. White Clerics prevent damage and gain life. Blue Clerics give your other adventurers hexproof and flicker things.

    UR is a perfect fit for Wizard. I can already imagine the different ways both colors approach the class.

    RG is a good fit for Warrior. Barbarians and wild men are offensive-minded, but each color reflects it in different ways.

    GW should have soldier. The White versions are obvious, but in Green it gives you archers and long-ranged units. I think Soldier is complimented by GW much more than Cleric would be.

  4. I think that building around tokens/vanillas is a good idea, but can’t you just cut the division and make it Muraganda Petrographs-like? So much more appealing to me.

  5. “The opposite of their nonred-ness.” Brain… melting!

    Whether you keep the adventuring party’s mechanics completely different from Allies or not, you should totally put Ally on each of these guys’ creature types.

    Your green Warrior example makes no sense to me. Why does green care about Wizards and why does it have a flier? I get what you were doing, but you executed it the opposite way from intuitive. I’d much rather see:

    Creature – Wizard
    Warriors you control have flying.

    Creature – Warrior
    Clerics you control get +1/+1.

    Creature – Cleric
    Soldiers you control have lifelink.

    Creature – Rogue
    Wizards you control have Curiosity.

    Oh, and while I like how your colors line up with your classes, Warrior and Soldier feel too similar while Rogue feels left out.

  6. I’m curious (if slightly skeptical) to see how your basic idea would pan out. What makes a non-land basic? Is a Grizzly Bear basic? Would Grizzle Bears have to be errata’d as a basic card? Do all vanillas get errata’d? Do any cards get errata’d? Do basic non-land spells only exist in your set? If so, can they really be considered basic?

    If we assume you don’t add the basic supertype to non-land cards, there’s still potential for cares-about-basic. Imperiosaur, Rampant Growth, even Fulminator Mage all fit. What else?

    Basic Idea 1U
    Draw a card for each basic land you control. Then discard one fewer cards.

    Basic Decency W
    Prevent the next X damage target creature would deal this turn where X is the number of basic lands you control.

    Basic Instinct R
    Enchanted creature has haste and must attack each turn if able. When it dies, ~ deals X damage to target creature where X is the number of basic lands you control.

    Eh. On the plus side, not all cards have to count basics. You could have a basics threshold, count basic land-types, sacrifice basics, give basics extra abilities. The well isn’t deep, but there is water in it.

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