a series of interesting choices thoughts on game design from paul sottosanti


the pacifist and the pugilist

Last Thanksgiving, I was drafting with a guy named Zak Walter who had invented a deck of what he called "draft conditions". They had evocative names like The Astrologist or The Pacifist and each one had a limitation on your drafting or your deckbuilding. Now, I'll never get tired of just straight up drafting Magic cards, but it was an interesting twist to the process as battles become more about the archetypes (who wins: the Pacifist or the Pugilist?) rather than the players. It also gave people a reason to draft fun decks, gave them an easy excuse when they lost, and just made the whole night a lighthearted affair.

Not long after that I took the most memorable conditions from that night, brainstormed up a bunch of my own, added a few from Dan Kline, and made my first set of twenty conditions. These things really need a more evocative name: draft limitations? draft personalities? draft avatars? dravatars? I don't know. Anyway, Friday night I was drafting down at the San Carlos PopCap offices (where Plants vs Zombies was made by an extremely small team) and we tried them out for the first time. We had twenty conditions and twelve players so I gave everyone a random one and then put the remaining eight face down in the center of the table. If you didn't like your condition you were allowed to swap with one of the conditions in the middle, but you could only do this once.

Here was my initial set along with comments on how they played:

The Arkmaster - Each creature in your deck must share a creature type with another creature in your deck.

I have high hopes for The Arkmaster although no one had it on Friday. It forces you to make some tough decisions if you open a powerful creature early with a rare creature type like "Sphinx" and should make you reevaluate your priorities even for more common creatures based on their types.

The Ascendant - Each card you draft must have a higher converted mana cost than the previous card drafted, if possible.

Brad Smith had the Ascendant, and it seemed to work out beautifully, providing lots of interesting choices. If you're not excited about a pack, you can take the most expensive card, hoping to reset your restriction as long as the next pack doesn't have anything even more expensive. There was also a natural reset built in at the end of each pack with the basic land that's often a fifteenth pick, but your neighbors can wreak havoc with that by selecting it and passing you a spell last, forcing your restriction to carry into the next pack. Brad opened a Flameblast Dragon and then was able to pick up a Volcanic Dragon in the very next pack since there wasn't anything costing seven or more. He was undefeated and seemed to have a great time.

The Astrologist - Secretly write down a number before the draft. The converted mana cost of the cards in your deck must add up to that number.

Stone Librande had this one, and chose to write down 70. Despite a couple bombs like Grave Titan and Serra Angel, it ended up being too high, and he was forced to play two Stonehorn Dignitaries in order to stay at 40 cards. Those kept coming up against me when he would've preferred drawing cards with more action, and I was able to take him down in three close games. Otherwise his deck performed admirably.

The Banker - You must always take the most rare card out of the pack. (Foils beat cards out of the same rarity, otherwise you choose.)

This was inspired by the infamous MTGO "bottom right" drafts where you always take the card in the bottom right of the pack. No one had this on Friday, but I have a feeling it's one of the most harsh conditions, because you'll often spend a lot of time taking the worst uncommon out of every pack before you can finally start drafting commons. Might need a benefit to balance it out.

The Builder - Your life total is 5 plus one for each card in your deck with a converted mana cost greater than three.

No one had this either. I'm a little wary of it giving the player too much freedom right now. You can draft pretty much normally and still end up with 16-18 life, which should be plenty against the gimped decks of your opponents. I think I might change it to two life per expensive card and also increase the threshold to five mana and above. This one is a little weird because it's not a restriction as much as a temptation, but for now I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt.

The Celestial - Cards other than basic lands in your deck must have the sky visible in the art.

I enjoy the art based ones greatly, but this one does suffer from a lot of ambiguity. I'd say whether or not you can get away with using this one depends greatly on the group you're playing with. If they're easy going and are willing to trust the judgement of the player who has it then it's worth having.

The Compulsive - You can't draft a card that's the same type as the last card you drafted, if possible.

Laura Shigihara, who did all the music for Plants vs Zombies, had this one. I didn't get a chance to play her but I think her deck turned out well and she had a good time. I also enjoy how you can select the basic land to reset your restriction and open up your options for the next pack.

The Elitist - Each creature in your deck must have a keyword or ability word.

No testing on this one yet. Seems solid though.

The Explorer - Your deck can't contain more than four copies of any basic land.

I had this when I played at Thanksgiving and I had a blast drafting a five color deck. This time Tod Semple (the Plants vs Zombies programmer) had it and didn't enjoy it much. Part of the problem was that M12 doesn't have much in the way of mana fixing, and he's not a particularly seasoned drafter so he likes being able to focus exclusively on two colors and just ignore the rest of the pack. Experienced players will enjoy this one I think.

The Fatalist - Before opening each pack, you must choose either "first 4" or "last 8". You must pick randomly for those picks during this pack.

No one had this one, but after thinking about it more I'm planning on changing the "before" to "after" (decisions are often more fun when you have more info), "first 4" to "first 3", and "last 8" to "last 9". The goal with the last two changes is to make it more of an interesting choice; I think with 4 and 8 you'll pick "last 8" almost every time since that still leaves you 7 strong picks per pack. With 3 and 9 I think you'll have to mix it up.

The Individualist - Your deck can't contain any two creatures with the same power and toughness or any two non-creature spells with the same mana cost.

This one suffered from some poor templating (it's fixed already above) which caused some confusion, so I didn't get particularly good data on it. I think it's one of the more interesting restrictions though.

The Jester - After opening each pack, choose odd or even. All cards selected during that pack must have that converted mana cost if possible.

Dylan, Stone's son, had this one and seemed to enjoy it. He started leaning towards odd once he realized that the basic land often prevented him from picking freely when he picked even (we counted zero as even) though. Maybe zero should count as neither so that it's a more balanced choice.

The Librarian - The name of every non-land card in your deck must start with a different letter.

Seems like this will work although no one had it.

The Opportunist - You may take two cards out of each pack that you open. You must play all of your cards except for the last and second to last picks.

This was a disaster. First because the player misread the restriction and thought he could take two cards with every single pick, and second because I balanced it terribly. I don't know why I thought the occasional double pick was enough to offset having to play 42 spells in your deck. I just didn't do the math. I'm not sure how I'm going to fix this one but I'll probably start with changing the last part to "except for the last five cards of each pack", giving them 30-33 spells.

The Pacifist - Your deck can't contain any cards that have a weapon in the art.

George Fan, the designer of Plants vs Zombies, had this one and chose to go for a green/blue Turbo Fog deck after picking up an early Rites of Flourishing. He hit an early snag when he realized that Fog hilariously has weapons in the art, and then another when he saw that Merfolk Mesmerist is carrying a wand, but he stuck with it and got a second Rites and four Jace's Erasures. He defeated all comers until running into my aggressive Pugilist deck and then later falling to the Individualist's Elixir of Immortality.

The Painter - You can't draft a card that's the same color as the last card you drafted, if possible.

Straightforward, seemed to work well. Also can reset the restriction by selecting the basic land. There's quite the competition for those lands!

The Pauper - You can't have any rares or mythics in your deck.

Gives you a lot of freedom at the cost of having to pass up some powerful cards. Rachel Reynolds had this and drafted an aggressive mono-blue deck that unfortunately lost to the Pacifist thanks to two Kraken's Eyes.

The Pugilist - Your deck can't contain cards that prevent opposing creatures from blocking your creatures (anything that grants flying, intimidate, protection, landwalk, etc).

I gladly kept this one and drafted an aggressive W/G deck featuring Sun Titan, Dungrove Elder and Overrun. There were numerous cards I couldn't take but I was still able to put together a solid deck and ended up going 4-0. I enjoyed how it made for very interactive games and there weren't very many stalemates at all.

The Sorcerer - Your deck can't contain more than nine creatures.

No one had this one. The condition seems solid but the number might need a bit of tweaking up or down.

The Storyteller - Non-land cards in your deck must have flavor text.

Not a terribly interesting condition in a base set draft since almost every single card seems to have it. Overall I like it though.

So that's the initial set. Overall they were a success but I plan to come up with some extra ones and start rotating them in and out and tweaking them as I go. Feel free to take these and try them out with your group. If you do, let me know how it went!

Comments (8) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I don’t really do casual magic, but this actually seems like a lot of fun. I’m definitely going to give it a try sometime.

    Really enjoying the blog by the way. Good stuff.

  2. This idea is really cool, and I look forward to trying it out with you sometime.

  3. This sounds awesome.
    Is each player’s archetype public information during the draft?

    • Good question. I’ve been debating it but I think it’s a bit better to have them private and then reveal after the draft. That way you don’t have people hate drafting cards and whatnot based on their neighbor’s restrictions. More likely than not some people will reveal them during the draft through complaining though. :)

  4. Sorry about misreading my card! I did have fun, the low power level of my card still led to an interesting deck. I probably would have tossed it back for another if I had read it properly, but the fun in getting forty optional double picks overrode how terrible it seemed the restriction was.

    Thanks for the interesting evening!

  5. This is fantastic.

    May I suggest calling them “Conspiracies”? Give them the flavour that these are the kind of millennia-spanning schemes that Nicol Bolas would come up with.

    For example, “The Ascendant” could be renamed “Ascend to Godhood”, while “The Banker” could be called “Trophy Hunting”.

    Fantastic idea.

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