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


exploring penumbria

Jonathon Loucks had a troubled trip through the Great Designer Search 2. He set himself up with the difficult task of fitting the concept of "light vs dark" into Magic, which sounds simple in theory but is actually quite difficult in practice. His submissions were often too complex and he was often called out by the judges for submitting cards that players of his caliber would enjoy but that would be too much for more casual players. His final submission abandoned one of his more complicated mechanics, Illuminate, in favor of a new "all colors vs colorless" theme that the judges (correctly, I think) felt was less an embodiment of "light vs dark" than a replacement of it.

So how would I fix it?

One issue that makes light and dark so tricky to represent in a Magic set is that ideally you need your representations to work within all of the colors. For this reason I liked Jonathan's original direction, which was that darkness is represented by hidden information (showcased by Morph) and light was represented by illumination (though, like the judges, I disagreed with the specific implementation of Illuminate). That said, there are some challenges inherent in trying to make revealing cards a theme of your set:

(Morningtide, a set that I lead designed, flirted quite heavily with including a reveal subtheme. More on that in a later blog post.)

  1. One of the best aspects of Magic is the hidden information. The secrecy of your opponent's hand and draw step adds uncertainty, which makes the game interesting in countless ways. (Try playing Magic with open hands sometime and see how much worse it is.) This is the main reason that Wizards has pretty much never printed a constructed playable card that permanently reveals the opponent's hand.
  2. Players want to cast their spells. A reveal subtheme naturally leads you to having reveal as a cost, which requires players to hold spells back in order to reveal them at a later date.
  3. Revealing adds a large memory burden onto the players. I either have to write down what I saw so that I won't forget, or risk walking into it a few turns later and feeling really stupid because I should have known better.

So why do I still want to use revealing?

I think it's because if there is ever a time to make a set themed around revealing, this is it. The light theme is perfect, and I think it needs to be the first set in the block so that everything can be set up to support it. One of the problems in Morningtide was that much of the environment was still made up of Lorwyn cards, and that set wasn't built with a reveal subtheme in mind.

Let's continue down this path, although it's fraught with peril. Here's what I'd do:

  1. Denote a number of cards in the set as representing darkness or light. White would have more light cards, of course, but would also have some darkness cards as well. I'd start with White at 80/20, Green at 60/40, Blue at 50/50, Red at 40/60, and Black at 20/80. There would a roughly equal number of cards in each color that are unaligned.
  2. Light cards would revolve around revealing hidden information (but in limited amounts) and then taking advantage of that information. For example, a light-themed spell might ask you to target a facedown card or a card in your opponent's hand and guess the name of it, exiling the card if you're correct. Or another might ask you to choose a card type and you draw cards equal to the number of cards of that type your opponent has in their hand. Predict would be a natural reprint.
  3. Darkness cards would revolve around Morph and removing or re-hiding known information. Examples would be looting (draw a card and discard a card, allowing you to ditch a card they've seen if you choose), changing your morphs (pick up a facedown card, then put a card facedown from your hand), and shuffling your library.
  4. There would be reveal triggers sprinkled throughout the set that would do something when the card is revealed. For example, a cycle of common lands that come into play tapped and draw a card for the owner when they're revealed. (You'd probably also have to pay a mana so that they're not broken in half with multi-reveal cards in older formats.) There would also be one or two morph cards that let their owner do something good when they're revealed, so that there's a bit of a risk when using light cards to peek at the darkness morphs. These would also trigger when you flip the morph over naturally.
  5. I would keep Dig as a mana smoothing mechanic. It fits the world nicely. I like the "bottom of library in a random order" wording too.
  6. All other mechanics at common would be kept quite simple. Energize (gain a bonus whenever you play a noncreature spell), one of Jonathan's mechanics, would be a good start for light. Shroud is an obvious fit for darkness, although not something you want to use too often. It could be ramped up slightly if there were more non-targeted spells that interact with permanents than usual, though (like edicts).

The goal here would be to provide an ebb and flow of information as the light player reveals cards and the dark player endeavors to use them or hide them again. There also might be space for some darkness cards that reward the player for keeping secrets. Perhaps darkness has a cycle of cards that count the number of facedown cards you control and does something based on that? And then light has a Break Open variant that also deals 3 damage to the creature. (I've always thought that would've been an awesome card for Onslaught block. Usually it's removal, but once in awhile it backfires spectacularly. It's even better in this set since you can set it up with reveal cards sometimes and you only have to cast it blind if you're desperate or want to get lucky.)

Anyway. Am I sure that this is the right direction? Not exactly. I'm starting to wonder if this would work better in an online game, where the computer could keep track of the revealed cards for you. But I do think there's something compelling here. It's part information warfare, part structure for setting up fun combos, and part an excuse to revisit the world of morphs, but this time with a little more interactivity beyond just guessing based on how much mana they have available. I would be excited to try it out!

Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.