Lands!

Yes, today we’re making lands! Lands are fun. The design space on those is quite different from creatures. You need to make a repeatable effect that’s most of the time easy to activate, and is both interesting and not over powered. So far, I find designing instant and sorceries to be the hardest, especially common and uncommon ones. One of the greatest challenges no matter which card type is to make something that is balanced and doesn’t look like anything but is well designed and will play nicely with other cards in the format. Ask Zach Hill about it, he was the lead designer on Dragon Maze, but also M13, one of the most popular core edition in limited, and the idea of core sets is to be more or less simple and classic.

It seems I lied last week saying I would make non-legendary cards this week, because these lands are unique landmarks of Skies of Arcadia, and they have powerful effects. They will be legendary. Let’s get to it; today we are getting three cards! I’m going to drop them all here in their original design and discuss them all together, for a change.

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My first remark is that creating lands is terrible online! My favorite websites either don’t have a correct background for lands, or don’t have the correct icons for making mana, or show passive abilities bellow active ones… Annoying. Anyways! Maramba is our first land and it’s fairly straight forward. The design of it if simple and the development will be the most important part. If you have ever followed one of Mark Rosewater’s many media outlets (podcasts, blogs, etc.), you might know the difference. Basically development is in charge of balancing the designs. This is pretty technical and definitely harder than design, as far as I’m concerned, the science to back up the creativity. To put it much simpler than it actually is, making sure all numbers on the cards are right. Developers will check cards mana cost, power/toughness, damage non-creature cards can make, life or card advantage they can create, among other things.

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new version

I feel like Maramba could be ok, as it is a good land (makes two mana) but pretty much forces you entirely into mono-red. Still, we can’t have it be a free double land for red decks, as it was in its first version; that’s still too good. Let’s try and make it come into play tapped. Mono-red doesn’t strike me as the color that will want to ramp the most, pure red decks being aggro ones with lots of cheap creatures most of the time. One shouldn’t be able to make a red deck heavier solely relying on Maramba, because what you want is constant blazing fast plays from the first turn onwards. Yet, it is still possibly broken as is, because it reads “comes into play tapped and makes two mana” in a red deck.

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new version

Crescent Isle was a powerful design. I definitely didn’t have a perfect idea of how powerful it is to make a land that regenerates creatures. Still, I did know I just couldn’t give it away for free, so I made the land less effective for mana, and make it regenerate only legendary creatures, the flavor being that Crescent Isle is shelter for our heroes. The card made me think of Eiganjo Castle, which saw modern play with John Finkel (in the 2012 player championship) but there is actually 3 lands able to regenerate creatures. Two are kinda cute, as they regenerate elephants, or insects and rodents. But the last one is very powerful and similar to my design, and it is Yavimaya Hollow. I’m going to try and not let myself be too influenced by it though, otherwise I’d just end up copying it. My conclusion was that limiting the land to making colorless mana and regenerating legends wasn’t enough yet, so I added the mana cost. It turns out to be slightly less powerful than the hollow, but still very potent.

createcard (7)Dark rift’s ability is a very cool idea. It’s also very prone to be very broken. You have a mana accelerator, which can be very strong in black, which has access to some pretty twisted things for high mana costs. On the other hand, being able to hide creatures away and have them come back, triggering enter the battlefield abilities, could lead to crazy combos as well. So we need to make sure the cost of those abilities makes them a commodity players can’t easily abuse: put a creature away to get a mana boost, and be able to retrieve it later on by paying back. To ensure this and keep it simple, I’ll just bump up the price. It should be expected that borrowing from dark magic sources will cost you in the end! To be honest, I’m not quite sure how crazy it would be if you could exile a creature and return it for twice two manas in two turns, but it would be what we call an outlet (a reliable way of doing it over and over) and that’s powerful. I could have as well bumped the price to return the creature from 2 to 3 instead of 4, but somehow I was happy with the “it’s going to cost you twice as much” thing. Always think twice when you borrow from black! Lastly, the land needed a colorless ability, as black would be too powerful, and you don’t want the land to be useless when not doing creature shenanigans, either.

I’m mostly happy with the land designs. The mechanics are fun and effective, and the power balances weren’t the most complicated to make happen either. I swear next time I’m going to keep off the legendary permanents though, so look forward some great unimpressive stuff! 😉

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Assembling the dream team

Today we’re meeting the main character in Skies of Arcadia, young pirate captain Vyze! Sorry ladies, while Aika could qualify as the main character since she’s Vyze childhood friend, she is only a very important secondary character, as the captain makes the calls and generally speaking the game revolves around him a little more. We won’t complain too much though, as Aika is still a very cool gal.

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Version 1

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Version 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So… Version 1 was crazy. Even back then I figured quickly that a 3/3 first strike for 4 with an activated ability and can transform into a 6/4 flying first strike, would be pushing it. The second version was a 4/3 first strike for 5 that turns into a 5/3 flying first strike, but every time it did it it would cost its controller 3 life. One thing that gets my attention right away is that I was trying to push first strike in blue. I knew what I was doing back then, but I guess I really wanted our hero to be a fast swords-master.

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Is that a unicorn?

But first strike is VERY rare in blue. In fact there is only two blue creatures that are exclusively blue, aren’t (illusionary) walls, and still have first strike. They are both old, and one is red hate, and the other is a wacky blue hate creature. I don’t count Sejiri Merfolk and Cetavolver, because they are related to red and white and that’s where they got their first strike.

I do like Vyze ability to block two creatures, since he’s got first strike. Version 1 forcing blocking player to throw 2 creatures against a first striker that can get +2/+1 was just silly, and I picked up on this as well back then.

Version 2 might have been a little more reasonable as far as fighting skills are concerned (barely, actually), but it had yet anotherability! Vyze 2.0 can go fetch The Delphinus, his boat, the same way captains Gilder and Drachma from last week do. We have 4 upsides to Vyze, not even pieces of a design but really pretty much 4 separate powerful abilities. We need to do something about it. Am I going to push it and try and keep all of them, as I confess I have been so far? Let’s see.

createcard (3)So! It’s been difficult, again. The original designs are too busy and a power balance in Magic is a delicate thing. I was very tempted to keep first strike, but it combined with the +1/-1 too efficiently. I toyed with the idea of making Vyze 3/3 or even 3/2 hinder it, and also making Vyze lose first strike when he gains flying, which was fun but definitely too far fetched.

Vyze now is a 3/4 that can turn into a 4/3 flyer and block two creatures, while also picking cards. I think he is way beefy for a blue creature with a very competitive cost. Actually he’s as good as the two 4 mana sphinxes, which is good to know.

At the end of the day, I think the biggest question for the captains, is how powerful will it be to be able to fetch their ship. If you factor in that those cards are legendary, and keep in mind I’m thinking more in terms of limited play (which is not a good excuse as the cards should be well balanced in all formats), I think we can have some good fun with those.

Next week, I’ll start looking at non legendary cards for a change, and maybe even non-creatures 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Aye aye cap’tain

This week I’m introducing a couple of pirate captains. First one is Gilder, and as far as I can remember he had no particular reason to be associated to green, other than he does wear vivid colors and owns a parrot. I also wanted the main cast of the game to have a character in each color of Magic! As usual let’s first take a look at the 10 years old version of this design. 1375749013 Before you ask, The Claudia is the name of Gilder’s ship, quite obviously. His other ability has been printed on 9 green creatures so far. Most of the time though, the effect’s potency has been regulated. Lone Wolf is a small power creature, Rhox is a 6-mana-double-green (awesome) rare card, and Gurzigost is also a pretty powerful rare, with tricky downside, an ability that needs to be paid for, and one of the weirdest card name and illustration ever. The rest is huge expensive guys, apart from Pride of Lions, that seems to me like a fantastic limited card. So let’s ask ourselves how much it should cost to have this ability on a creature with an ok body. As you can understand, I don’t want to get rid of the activated ability, because The Claudia is a card that I have designed as well, and I like the idea of fetching it. One thing to keep in mind though is that this will provide card advantage, and The Claudia better be a legendary card, otherwise a player could just fetch a new one and throw it on the field every turn and that would way too much. Knowing that it will probably be a good card though (more or less by virtue of being legendary), we should definitely consider this ability a powerful one. The one that makes Gilder hit through blockers is a good ability too, if a little weird to play. Why not keep it? Let’s see what we can do to balance the card’s mana cost and power/toughness then. 1375835629 (1)My opinion is that Gilder should be a good enough creature on its own, so that I can slow down the fetch ability a little and still have it be a useful card. Being able to fetch a legendary card is extremely powerful, quite possibly beyond repair. But what could I do if I wanted the captain to find his ship? I didn’t want him to sacrifice himself, it would defeat the purpose. I figured I could add a cost, of a color that matches one of The Claudia’s, in order to make the ability a little harder to activate. I also had a quick look at 3/5 for 5 rares and I found out that most of them had a fairly powerful upside, and were almost always costed with two colored manas. Considering that I had two fairly potent upsides in mind for Gilder, maybe 3/5 would be overreaching. If you consider 3/4 for 5 rares, it gets a little more eclectic. Most of them have several colored manas still, and while some have a powerful upside, lots are lesser rares with mostly boring abilities. It makes me feel like my 3/4 would still be good, with its two abilities. I do believe that 3/4 is better than 4/3 with the embedded combat trick that comes with it. What would be the point of pushing 4 damages through, if at the same time your rare died to a 3/3 or 3/2? If you can be a little safer getting 3 damages through I feel like it’s a much better deal. The point is attacking repeatedly. I which I could bring in the 5 toughness, but again with two abilities… Moving on! 1375836176 Drachma is our good ol’ rugged pirate with a (huge mechanical) prosthetic arm, devoting his life to the chase of a whale, Moby Dick’s style, on his ship The Little Jack. The monster Drachma is chasing, is called Rhaknam and is affiliated to the color purple, the color of ice. I think that’s why I decided Drachma would be white, one the two colors we have left. White doesn’t seem like the worst that could be associate to purple Ice magic, and blue is taken since it fits Skies of Arcadia’s blue, corresponding to air. This is also why I had Drachma be protected against white. This makes it a sub-theme of my edition I guess, with Fina and Enrique already protected against their own colors. My goal here is not to remake a new version of my old-school designs, but rather to fix them. I don’t think Drachma will need too much fixing. The life gain ability is somewhat good, especially since it’s almost unconditional (no need to sacrifice the creature, has it’s often the case). Protection is obviously good too though not busted, especially one a medium size creature and against white who is not the color with the most removals. White creatures fighting him would likely enough die anyway, and the damages he deals to a white player, while pretty consequent are not huge just yet. The third ability, as I mentioned before, is important for flavor. We need to keep it if we want the captain to be able to get his ship, which was the original intent. I think he compares reasonably to some crazy 4/4 for 6 rares, including Angelic SkirmisherJace’s Mindseeker and other Niv-Mizzet. Let’s fix him still. 1375923218 I think my main concern was that Drachma could hit white players for free too easily, and now it’s mostly solved. 3 damages a turn on a special color for a 6 mana rare is not so bad. Drachma is also similar to Gilder that way, another 3/4 captain with upside AND card advantage! I made the activated ability cost one mana as well, because it feels nicer than giving it away for free. I didn’t want to make it so expensive that it would prohibit casting a spell after using the ability in the same turn though. You don’t want to spend a whole turn looking for a card, do you? So what do we have this time? Those captains are packing quite a bit, though making them dorky 3/4 for 5 and 6 probably helped tuning them nicely. I hope I didn’t bring them to an unreasonable power level, and I hope it can still be ok if I make sure their corresponding ship cards are not power houses themselves.

So is the Skies of Arcadia edition fun so far? Are you looking forward meeting the main hero Vyse, yet? Stay tuned, it’s coming soon!

2-for-1 post: Aika and Enrique

We’re cruising! Let’s see if we can go through card designs a little faster this time.

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Here is Aika. She packs some nice punch, doesn’t she? A little too much, I believe. This mini Inferno Titan (not that the card existed at the time) is basically a 3/1, which admittedly isn’t so good for 3, and Flames Of The Firebrand stapled together, for only a slightly less practical mana cost. Such a nice burn spell coming with a 3 power creature is pushing it, for that price. Let’s see how we can fix her.

We are going to try and take Aika down all the way to uncommon if that’s possible (uncommon legendary creatures only exist in Legendary oriented editions though).

1375316503Pretty simple, right? So is it acceptable now? It’s hard to say. Two damages divided as you want is still better than shock, or it would be if the card wasn’t sorcery speed now. We did mention that the body wasn’t all that fantastic, and at this stage two red manas does get a little annoying. Still, we get 3 power, and two damages that can be either a removal, or sometimes a removal and 1 damage to opponent, and even 2 removals when you’re lucky. Easy 2-for-1 and potential 3-for-1 has to make it a great card.

Quick mention of a rule point now.

Oracle rules (the reference for card rules) always specify “divided between one, two, or three target[s]…” until damages are over 4, but the principle remains the same. The fact is, even when the card says “any number of target[s]” you can’t assign less than 1 damage to every target; it’s not legal. That isn’t the case of Fireball though; since the damages are divided automatically, you can pick any number of targets, and let the division happen. As long as you don’t pick 0; we don’t divide by 0 around here. Now you know how to deal with a board full of Phantasmal Images!

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Ok let’s try and fix a second design then!

Skies of Arcadia had a yellow color that was linked to lightning magic. Yellow not existing in Magic I got behind the most obvious thing about yellow folks of the country of Valua: they are the bad guys. Black it is, then! Enrique is different though, he’s a Valuan prince, and he rebels against his people.

This makes a great case for this variation of the infamous black knight.

So is Enrique well designed? This is pretty delicate call, mostly based on his cost. It is obvious enough Magic designers don’t want to be giving first strike to a 2/2 without making it cost two colored mana (and have an extra ability, which Enrique does). It is hard to say whether it is by tradition or by design though. There are tons of crazy 2/2 for one colorless and one colored mana. On the top of my head, Scavenging Ooze, Skylasher. I would venture it is in regards to limited, in which first strike just can skew close-combat games pretty efficiently and frequently on turn two, and also possibly later on, whereas other awesome creatures might have abilities that are more constructed oriented. Still, it’s a stretch to think a 2/2 first strike is as crazy as the previous bomb I mentioned. Other fact that might make my design not that over-powered: I have a feeling, though unexplained, that protection from black when you are black is less powerful. That might very well just be psychological, though.

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The fixed, conservative version of Enrique isn’t quite as good, obviously. This should be acceptable though. I believe Wizards of the Coast really want limited to not have 2 drops that dominate the board easily, so I could imagine that version is still considered too powerful, but it is a rare after all! In recent memory, one-colored-mana two drops with first strike have a downside. By the way, I really was attached to the flavor of having Enrique not being entirely black. Otherwise going for a complete black knight, for two black mana, but protected against black, would have been an easy solution.

Another side note about flavor. There is no “Noble” creature type! For some reason I thought there was, and I’m a little surprised to be honest. I’m not sure why that is exactly. It might mean that unless they want to establish a strong kingdom themed edition, this is too much honor to give a card that’s just passing by in the history of planes, to be a prince of a king. But at least a noble! I think they also like to limit the number of different creature types, because dilution prevents all sorts of cool effects, if not full tribal strategies. I’m going to use it though, because I feel it’s a nice and flavorful creature type. Who knows, Wizards designers might be keeping this creature type for a future awesome use! 🙂

Intermission

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What just happened?

Say hi to Chaotic Command!

Inspired by Lorwyn’s cycle of command cards.

I’m not going to detail the whole thing, since I didn’t really try to make a real card here, just have a bit of fun 🙂

I really like the idea of being able to play a spell that just does different things depending on what colors you decide to play it with. It’s worth noting that you need three colors minimum to be doing so though. The colors mix will also prevent you from using the common Naya, Bant, and similar alliances.