2/11/2013 MM: "Nuts & Bolts: Initial Playtesting"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Making Magic, which goes live Monday morning on magicthegathering.com.

Thank you so much for these articles. A behind-the-scenes look at the design process is always fascinating.

 

Goblin Artisans
a Magic: the Gathering design blog
Then, you throw all that out, change a plus (+) to a minus (-), "push equipment", lower the cost and you have Skullclamp.

Welcome to WotC, please leave your integrity about following a process at the door.
Then, you throw all that out, change a plus (+) to a minus (-), "push equipment", lower the cost and you have Skullclamp.

Welcome to WotC, please leave your integrity about following a process at the door.



Is your point that, because of mistakes like Skullclamp, the advice he is giving is unsound?
Then, you throw all that out, change a plus (+) to a minus (-), "push equipment", lower the cost and you have Skullclamp.

Welcome to WotC, please leave your integrity about following a process at the door.



And what does Skullclamp have to do with this article?
IMAGE(http://pwp.wizards.com/1205820039/Scorecards/Landscape.png)
Very useful advice for game design in general, and especially for custom set design. 

For people designing custom sets in their spare time, it's of course really hard to playtest, because that needs at least two people and preferably more, whereas a custom set can be designed by just one person. (Not saying it can be done /well/, of course.)

I guess that just means there's need for more integration between custom set design tools like Multiverse and tools for actually playing with custom cards. I have been musing about adding gaming table functionality to Multiverse for a while... it'd be quite a big feature, but it'd be so useful for letting people try out their custom cards. 
First of all, I agree with you Mark that you should start at the common rarity. Not because mechanics should be present at this level, but because it's easier to find the heart of a mechanic if you limit yourself to other concerns than draft-capabilities or pure power.

Instead of WotCs overall strategy to estimate the rarity by effectiveness - which can result in overpowered mythic rares - I categorize cards by game impact or game-shifting capabilities. Although it might sound similar, it's quite different:

"We also tend to scale creature size based on rarity." - That's not an issue for me. A vanilla 9/9 only has an impact, if your opponent can't block it and even then it's dependant on how much lifepoints your opponent has and/or how easy it is to prevent the loss of life.

"two-for-one the opponent by destroying something while also providing you with a resource" - It's especially about 'enters the battlefield' effects. I won't have a problem with a creature that kills another creature when it comes into play. A spell hat let's your opponent discard two cards; a bounce effect that returns multiple creatures or a search spell that finds two land cards could be all common in my opinion. As usual, it depends on the fact whether or not your opponent can handle this easily. Even a kill spell that destroys two creatures could be common (see Ashes to Ashes), if it's situational or more restricted instead.

Speaking about whether or not it's easy to handle an effect brings me to another point - There ought to be three fundamental facts in Magic:

Each color tries to achieve advantage in all/each of these categories


  • cards

  • mana

  • lifepoints


However, every color does so in a unique way. Black uses discard spells to generate card advantage. Red destroys lands and uses spells to achieve mana advantage.

A quick side note: In the computer game Borderlands 2 you have 5 different characters. Similar to the color cycle in Magic (white, blue, black, red, green), you could formulate a character cycle in Borderlands (Commando, Assassin, Siren, Gunzerker, Mechromancer). The important fact: All characters ought to be unique (that trivial), but in addition share some common concepts:

  • each character can either heal hitpoints, regenerate shields or avoid taking damage

  • each character has some abilities to extend the duration of their main skill

  • each character can reduce the recharge time of their main ability


It's simply a necessity of the game. Transfer this back to Magic and you see that this resembles the three points above. And similar to Mark's comment about "mechanics ought to be common", these three points ought to be present at common rarity as well.

Whenever I design new cards on my own, I test them in a pauper star constellation. 'Star' means that you assume 5 players. Each player is limited to a specific color. Each player has two friends and two enemies. The friends are those two colors befriended to your color and the enemies are those two colors that oppose your color.

The advantage: On a 1:1 setting, you don't catch all aspects of the game. F.e. in a 40 cards game with one enemy, a 'grind' ability seems to be easy and you can overshoot it. You could even think about making this a guild-mechanic. In a Pauper Star setting however, it becomes obvious that this has to be a minor subtheme.

You can also design cards that add a nice strategy into this game. White could also heal another player. In this way, white can prevent that anyone wins before they do. 'Not-losing' might be a good way of winning.

For a multicolored set, you could also play a Pauper Star game. But instead of being limited to a single color, you're limited to a color-combination. Your enemies are all those other combinations that do not include either of your colors.
Instead of WotCs overall strategy to estimate the rarity by effectiveness - which can result in overpowered mythic rares - I categorize cards by game impact or game-shifting capabilities.


It's not like that. They don't care if a common is good enough or a rare is bad. However, rare tends to be more exciting to put powerful cards. In addition, there are cards that are pushed solely for Constructed, so they have no place except in mythic rare.

"We also tend to scale creature size based on rarity." - That's not an issue for me. A vanilla 9/9 only has an impact, if your opponent can't block it and even then it's dependant on how much lifepoints your opponent has and/or how easy it is to prevent the loss of life.


This is not true. There is a point where it's too much for common. You don't want white's common fliers to be Serra Angels, stopping black's biggest creatures with ease, because of sheer size. You also don't want a 9/9. It's unkillable without a black or white removal spell. And it most likely wins in two hits. Sure, it will not always connect, but that's like saying a 20/1 for should be common. You want to avoid swinginess in common (unless the swinginess itself is conditional).

That said, I do want them to push green's big creatures (and they have). Hopefully, at some point we'll have common Vorstclaws against mythics Rampaging Baloths, because big fatties is a place where strictly better by rarity shows a lot.

"two-for-one the opponent by destroying something while also providing you with a resource" - It's especially about 'enters the battlefield' effects. I won't have a problem with a creature that kills another creature when it comes into play. A spell hat let's your opponent discard two cards; a bounce effect that returns multiple creatures or a search spell that finds two land cards could be all common in my opinion. As usual, it depends on the fact whether or not your opponent can handle this easily. Even a kill spell that destroys two creatures could be common (see Ashes to Ashes), if it's situational or more restricted instead.


There are forms of card advantage in common. Mind Rot (and sometimes 4-mana versions) are always there. Creatures that draw one card or make discard one card, too (Elvish Visionary, Oculus, Drainpipe Vermin, Phyrexian Rager). But you need to be careful where to put card advantage at common. Bounce spells are very powerful if they work on more than one creature. Quicksilver Geyser was very strong.

Removal spells are already among the best commons. You don't want to make them better, or you would have to make other cards worse. Yes, they can do some things besides killing the creature, but not more card advantage. Farbog Boneflinger, as incredibly overcosted as it is, was awesome in Limited. Wicked Pact was insane in Masters Edition IV. Those were uncommon. Even the common Forge Devil was good.

I greatly enjoyed this article. I find it a great shame that this is only a yearly series.

I'd also be interested in a series that is about what article 1 said the series would be about - the nitty gritty that we haven't hear about. Maybe this could be twice-yearly, with an article aimed at amateur designers in February and an article following the idea of the original 'nuts & bolts' in August/September.

I'd just like to reiterate how useful this article was to me. I'm starting work on a board game and though it's not much like MtG, there's a lot of cross-transferrable info in this article. I'll be referring back to it a few times, I'm sure.

Just in case you, Maro, aren't sure whether this is worth continuing, I would honestly state that this and State of Design are regularly my 2 favourites of the year. I notice a lack of responses on this forum but I imagine that's simply because there's nothing to dispute - not because people aren't reading and finding this useful.
There's a reason that the correlation between power and rarity is a divisive issue. It's really simple.

Concentrating power in cards of higher rarities is good for limited. Concentrating power evenly across rarity is good for constructed.

The former is pretty obvious. The latter is true because it makes a broader variety of decks possible. A large set only contains around 53 rares and 15 mythics (as of Avacyn Restored; I couldn't find numbers for RTR and GTC), which means that if these cards define which decks are played there's only half to a third as much variety as if there are a decent number of commons and uncommons that form the core of viable decks. Even if fully half of rares and mythics are playable in top-tier decks, that's only 34 playable rares per large set. If we halve that number for small sets and assume a typical standard metagame (let's call that a large core set, one block with a large and two small sets and one block with two large and a small), that's a pool of 34+34+17+17+34+34+17=187 rares. Less than 38 per color.

A deck with sideboard contains up to 55 nonland cards. If those rares are the sole defining cards of standard, we're screwed.

So if both of my initial points are thus true, then they're pulling Magic in two completely different directions. Why did they settle on the limited side, with mediocre staple cards and bomb rares?

Because A) limited is more lucrative and B) making people hunt down rares and mythics and thus buy more packs is more lucrative. 
I greatly enjoyed this article. I find it a great shame that this is only a yearly series.

I'd also be interested in a series that is about what article 1 said the series would be about - the nitty gritty that we haven't hear about. Maybe this could be twice-yearly, with an article aimed at amateur designers in February and an article following the idea of the original 'nuts & bolts' in August/September.

I'd just like to reiterate how useful this article was to me. I'm starting work on a board game and though it's not much like MtG, there's a lot of cross-transferrable info in this article. I'll be referring back to it a few times, I'm sure.

Just in case you, Maro, aren't sure whether this is worth continuing, I would honestly state that this and State of Design are regularly my 2 favourites of the year. I notice a lack of responses on this forum but I imagine that's simply because there's nothing to dispute - not because people aren't reading and finding this useful.

I echo these sentiments entirely. As an admin of a site dedicated to custom cardset creation, these articles are gold dust to our community.
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