The Cube According to (not) Gatherer, Part 10 – Un-Wizards Design
We’re doing something different today, folks. This week, we’re not using random cards culled from Gatherer to fill the Cube. Oh, half the cards will still be randomly selected. And after each random card is added, I’ll design a card based upon the Cube’s needs. But today’s random cards won’t be Magic cards. Not by the strictest definition. Because we’re adding custom made, and randomly generated cards.
There’s a possibility my first seeds won’t be Cube appropriate. Heck, odds are strong we sprout pure gibberish. Up until now, I was jurisprudent with my veto power; most ‘problem cards’ were challenges to rise up to. But in this log, I expect to use my veto power like a commando predator, imparting collateral damage on the expendables with total recall. Kindergarten Cop.
Also I plan to monkey with casting costs. Some designers are filled with good ideas, but don’t grasp power level. Randomly generated Magic cards make wild guesses at cost. These bots don’t understand how the game is played, and only mimic the aggregation of cards fed to them (through a slot in a large metal box with a red spinning light on top, I presume.) By allowing myself to alter the cost, I’m increasing the number of possible cards I can accept.
Random Cards from Real Designers
We’re heading to my personal stomping ground: Multiverse. Mulitverse is as a database for custom Magic: the Gathering card sets. There are a number of websites out there for displaying your Magic: the Gathering creations, and many are quite pretty. Unlike these pretty card repositories for cybersurfing lollygaggers, Multiverse encourages the production of entire sets.
That’s useful for our purposes, because most Multiverse cards were designed to play nicely with other cards within the confines of a set. Instead of cats imgs stapled to “: deal 500 damages”, designers on Multiverse fill niches where Wizards could potentially go. Which is not to say that there are no pictures of cats wearing tutus there. But there’s less of them (and even that card is poking fun at itself.)
Enough exposition. Card! Card! Card!
, : Add , or to your mana pool.
Ooh… a signet. The cube doesn’t include artifact mana yet. And Bloodmage Amplifier (designed by Draxiefrax) is a solid alternative to Rakdos Signet, hedging closer to Graven Cairns as opposed to Shadowblood Ridge. The hybrid mana cost also helps to diminish one of the problems with signet cycles. Sometimes Ravnica drafters would pick up any old signet. If they were more interested in mana acceleration than mana fixing, it almost didn’t matter which of the ten they put in their deck. One or two would eventually float by them when there were no other relevant picks. Ravnica was supposed to encourage two-color guilds, but off-color signets encouraged four-color splash. Bloodmage Amplifier at least requires a minimal commitment to one of the dark, chaotic forces.
When Gatherer shipped me Seaside Citadel in log seven, I balked. The Cube already included a land cycle, and I didn’t want to base another land cycle off Citadel, since I don’t know how many non-basics Gatherer will send my way. So I set the oven to low heat, and let the Citadel stew. I have no mana-producing artifacts yet, so I’m willing to fill in the rest of the cycle. I don’t know what’s coming down the line, but I know I can’t save all my design for the end.
I’m stealing Daxiefrax’s original names for these cards. I don’t know how Daxiefrax imagined his/her ‘amplifier’, but I like the idea of using chalice-like art to represent amplification.
Alright Multiverse, that was useful. But it wasn’t all that weird. Why don’t you give me something interesting.
Type: Piece – Pawn
Mobility – Left and Right
Range – 2
Ranged Arc – Forward
Ranged Power – 2
Okay, I guess I asked for that. This card is an absolute mess which has nothing to do with Magic. I should know. Out of over 64,000 cards on Multiverse, this is one of mine. I was working on a game that combined Magic with a chess board. Never got there. I’m also sure this card’s name is a reference to the game ‘Space Invaders’, since this piece moves back and forth and shoots ‘down’.
I’d translate this into a working Magic card, but that’s not the challenge. I need a functional card to spin from. So let’s try again…
,: Untap target artifact.
This card would be great if it wasn’t a reprint of Voltaic Key. I can get real Magic cards from Gatherer. Try again.
Exile each player’s hand and shuffle them together. Then in turn order, starting with you, deal a card exiled this way until there are no cards remaining.
Mess with the bull, and you get the horns. Æthernado plays fast and loose with the Comprehensive Rulebook. Cards you own aren’t allowed to enter opponent’s hands. That’s why Shared Fate and Knowledge Pool are worded the way they are. Sure, it would be easier to draw from your opponent’s deck, but it’s an opening for less scrupulous opponents to walk away with your cards. We’re big girls and boys here, though. I’m sure we can handle the occasional Æthernado. Especially if everyone uses different colored sleeves before playing.
That said, I need to change that cost. Acheron xl restricted this card by tripling down on Red mana. But I remember playing against Windfall. It and Tolarian Academy were the first two cards banned in the broken environment eventually known as ‘Combo Winter’. Æthernado isn’t Windfall. It won’t give you ‘plus seven card advantage’ if your opponent grips seven and you hold nothing. No, instead it will slap four cards out of your opponent’s hand, sweep them up, and hand them to you. That’s plus eight card advantage.
Granted, if Æthernado yoinks your opponent’s Green cards, and you control no Forests, then not as much was gained. But the potential to demolish your opponent’s game with a single card will always be there. I know waiting to get to six mana isn’t as fun, but it’s probably what’s fair. Also, this card shouldn’t include more than two colored mana in its cost. I’m guessing that Acheron xl did that to make Æthernado more difficult to abuse, which, in her/his mind, let him/her drop the cost. But that’s not fun. If I’m ripping my opponent’s cards out of their hand and shoving them into mine, then I want to cast those cards.
I’m costing this at . To make up for its high cost I made the card an Instant, so you can play it after your opponent draws a spell at the beginning of their turn. Technically, that’s a functional change… but I feel it’s more related to the cost than to what the card does.
Another semi-functional change. Acheron xl didn’t leave any notes on this card, so I don’t know if he/she intended to reveal all the cards that were exiled. That’s technically what would happen. I get the impression that she/he probably didn’t think of that. That’s a lot of random information suddenly thrown into a game for a card that’s more whimsical than practical. I’m going to assume that was the original intent, and add ‘face down’.
When you plan to shuffle your opponent’s hand into yours, you don’t mind if your opponent draws a few spare cards first. How about we help out.
I wanted to make a Replicate spell where forcing your opponent to draw cards was part of the Replicate cost. But it just wouldn’t template right. I struggled with wording that wouldn’t deck your opponent as part of the cost. Eventually, that card lead me to the Twisted Charm. Not what I wanted, but I like it anyhow. Branching Bolt lets you choose one or both modes because there may not be enough valid targets. With Twisted Charm, there might be enough targets, but that doesn’t mean you’re willing to give an opponent that extra card. Or you aren’t willing to lose your permanent for a top deck. I didn’t restrict which player’s stuff could be targeted…
Random Cards Generated via Neural Networks
I don’t have the space here to do RoboRosewater justice. The quick and dirty explanation is that two teenagers took every Magic card ever, uploaded them via floppy into an Apple IIe, hacked into a WOPR military supercomputer to extract its power, put bras on their heads, hooked a Barbie doll to a 9-volt battery, flipped a switch, and burnt their computer to a husk when it was blown out by a bolt of lightning. When the billowing smoke cleared, Kelly LeBroc walked out of their closet, and into their hearts/shower.
Admittedly, I might be confusing some details with the John Hughes coming of age seminal classic Weird Science. But the process is the same, mostly. The end result is that a Persian ballistic missile punches its way up through the living room floor. So it checks out. If you want to find out more about RoboRosewater, you should really go here. If you want to learn more about Weird Science, reverse your biological clock to pre-teen, go back in time and space to your old house in 1985, and forget that the Internet ever existed and that watching a movie on VHS for the tenth time was an acceptable alternative to watching Romancing the Stone on HBO for the third time. You know as dumb as it sounds, it was surprisingly great.
Okay, then. Let’s see what kind of tangled mess RoboRosewater gives us. My version of ‘random’ is to go to Twitter and take the most recent card posted. I’m sure I’ll need to throw away four or five cards before I get anything that…
Oh. That’s… I don’t know if reasonable is the correct word. But you could print this card. The card is functional. It raises a number of questions, though. Such as…
- Horsemanship? I wasn’t happy the first time it popped up, and I’m not thrilled to see it again. But I have no real objections to the mechanic. I just liked it better when it was called ‘Shadow’. But I can’t complain that Roborosewater combined an evasion ability with an ability that triggers on combat damage. I wonder if that was an accident, or if Roborosewater made the connection?
- Put a creature on the battlefield from your hand? I’m not sure if that’s a White ability, but I’m letting that slide. The casting cost needs to increase. This card is nigh-unblockable, so we’re looking at a free creature every turn. That said, I could imagine a designer using a cost of five before development upped it to… well in the real world it would probably cost . I like better, though. The most expensive creatures in the Cube cost seven anyhow (except for Spawnsire of Ulamog.) At , we’re asking the person playing this card to commit to White, but also keeping the card a threat.
- +1/+1 counter on target creature with flying? Oddly, if your opponent controls the only flying creatures, this becomes a drawback. I’d change the wording to ‘flying creature you control’ if I designed this card. But the third ability wouldn’t even be here if it was my card, so, you know, whatevs.
- Gold Monstrosity? This card is neither multi-colored, nor is it a monster. But now I’m getting picky.
Let’s add some art, reminder text, and alter that cost.
That +1/+1 counter still bugs me. Not because it’s a bad mechanic, but because it’s such an aside on an otherwise bonkers card. The more I think about it though, the more I like the idea of that sentence tacked onto other small and mid-sized cards in my cube. There’s already a lot of hate against flyers in Red. It’d be nice to see an incentive to fly. The cube wants more cards that supply counters anyway. Oh, and since Twisted Charm is our second modal charm in the set, why don’t we work on completing the cycle?
Unlike Twisted Charm, the first two options are gimmies. But I made sure to add a third option that you might not want to go off.
Let’s see what other foolishness RoboRosewater filtered through its memory banks.
RoboRosewater is on a roll. I wanted to show off how erratic it could be, but it churned out two reasonable designs. And this card comes from the ‘least intelligent’ of the three bots Roborosewater uses (the picture on the card tells us the bot’s level of ‘intelligence’. The older the computer, the less optimized the system.)
Still, the Drood isn’t perfect. I see three problems with it:
- Drood of Rantist doesn’t specify ‘until end of turn’. That would make the boost permanent. But leaving ‘until end of turn’ off of a card is a common mistake among human designers (Oboro Envoy passed through multiple levels of quality control, and every one forgot to add ‘until end of turn’ to that card.) Drood wasn’t made by a human. But I’m going to attach ‘until end of turn’ to this card anyway. It’s an inoffensive change, and choosing not to do it makes the card unreasonable.
- This land doesn’t produce mana. But a number of lands from Magic’s early years didn’t. Oasis, Safe Haven, and Bazaar of Baghdad for example. If those cards showed up, I’d accept them. So I can accept this.
- The ability is too powerful. It’s tempting to say it’s fine because it’s difficult to gauge the power of lands, especially lands without mana abilities. What exactly does the loss of a land drop cost?
Here’s a card that we don’t talk about much: If you enchant a land with Forbidden Lore, it turns that land into a Drood of Rantist. Except Forbidden Lore ties up two cards in the process, and is more vulnerable to removal. If there was an artifact that tapped to give a creature Unholy Strength until end of turn, I’d argue that artifact would be pushed at , but might reasonably cost . An instant speed boost to any creature every turn is a valuable asset. Just look at the costs involved in Horned Helm to get a similar amount of flexibility.
So how much does a land drop cost? I think Safe Haven gives us that answer. Since it was reprinted in Time Spiral with a community rating of 3.5, Safe Have is a good example of a balanced non-basic land that doesn’t produce mana. And before it was reprinted in Time Spiral, its ability was put on the Mirrodin card Synod Sanctum rated at 3.920. The Sanctum is more vulnerable (which matters quite a bit when you’re storing other cards inside it.) and costs an additional two mana to activate. But Safe Haven could only return the creatures during your upkeep. The two cards are reasonable alternatives of the same ability.
In other words, a non-mana land can have the ability of a strong one-cost artifact, or a weaker two-cost one. We’ll need to add some mana to Drood’s activation to make up the difference.
This should put us somewhere between the excellent Trusty Machete and the passable Tawnos’s Weaponry. Drood won’t be active early, but it should make a mess out of combat mid to late. That’s fine. You probably didn’t want to drop Drood before your mana base was established anyway.
Drood’s text is a bit sparse, though. I’m heading over to The Quotation Page and picking up a random quote to match my randomly generated card. Let’s see… oh good. I was planning on rejecting a number of them, but the first quote is acceptable. Not a perfect match, but you can’t expect much better with pure randomness.
Though, I got to admit, I was tempted by another quote on the page. Pity it wasn’t first…
“Nothing shocks me. I’m a scientist.”
The set already included a modal spell with two options, so I updated that spell by adding a third option you might not want to activate.
Eventually, I’ll need to change the name and art to make it more charm-like.
I tried to make a black or green charm for this cycle… but it wasn’t coming to me. So I figured I’d pass out more counters for flying creatures.
Huh. I only got eight cards in this week (twelve if you count the signets) and I’m approaching 3,000 words. But I guess these random cards required a good scrub down before I put them in the Cube.
That’s okay, though. We finished with a few shiny jewels in the box. I originally planned to toss in a few more non-Gatherer cards. But I suppose we can pick up four (or more) cards from random designers in the cube for my next article as well. Click here to jump to part 11. Or perhaps you’d enjoy flipping through the According to Gatherer archives?