The Cube According to (not) Gatherer, Part 11 – Random Generator Blowout Bonanza
Just like Log 10, I’m adding four cards to the cube designed by un-employees (unployees?) of Wizards of the Coast. Then I designed four cards as shoe horns to wedge these clown feet into a size six cube.
As before, I’m altering costs on choice cards. As Drew Carey might point out at the setup of a game of ‘Who’s Magic Card Is It Anyway?’, “Just like royalty payments from Napster, the casting cost doesn’t matter.” Oof. The turn of the millennium never felt so long ago.
BNF Magic the Gathering Generator
The Backus-Naur Form Magic: the Gathering Generator designed by Alex Churchill, is what crotchety old timers used to randomly generate cards before you whippersnappers invented neural networks and fidget spinners. Instead of a computer that learned human syntax through comparing and contrasting repeated reiteration, Churchill taught a computer to love and speak Magic-ese using a series of if/then commands. A lot of them. At approximately 20,000 characters, the page of code that covers qualified targets and similar subjects alone is approximately as long as the short story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs.
All this code lends a tremendous amount of variety in the way the generator combines abilities. RoboRosewater, however, can do one thing the BNF generator can not. RoboRosewater can be flexible. It can go outside the boundaries set aside for it, and it does so because Magic designers often go outside the boundaries of their own syntax. RoboRosewater can experiment and surprise, because humans experiment and surprise, and RoboRosewater is nothing but a good mimic.
That said, there’s strength in BNF generator’s design, and value in playing by the rules and respecting boundaries. Magic is a game overflowing with strange and unique combinations. As the game expands ever outward, more and more unused and untapped space exists within the boundaries of ‘what’s been done’. There will always be a need for creating exciting new mechanics, but if every card broke the boundaries of the game, we couldn’t play the game. It would constantly play us.
BNF, however, doesn’t understand restraint. Since there’s always a chance a card’s text could keep going, sometimes BNF piles on more and more mechanics, swinging back and forth from marginal, to game devolving, and back to trivial in a single breath. I had to hit refresh a few times to get one of these monsters, but here’s an example:
Legendary Enchantment (white)
All multicoloured creatures can block any number of creatures.
When ~this~ enters the battlefield, target artifact gains ”Discard a sorcery card: put a 1/1 white Soldier creature token onto the battlefield” and ”Pay 4 life: put three 1/1 white Cleric creature tokens onto the battlefield” and ”Sacrifice a Cleric: all untapped permanents gain protection from blue until end of turn” and ”Sacrifice ~this~, sacrifice five Clerics: ~this~ deals 1 damage to each of two target attacking or blocking creatures for each creature on the battlefield. If a creature damaged this way would be put into a graveyard this turn, exile it instead and put a 1/1 white Cleric creature token with haste onto the battlefield” until end of turn.
But I got veto power. Occasional unreasonable cards don’t bother me. I skip them, and move on. Let’s see what BNF cooks up.
Target opponent reveals the top three cards of his or her library. that player puts a artifact card from among them into hand, and exiles the rest.
That’s an interesting take on a mill card. Instead of filling your opponent’s graveyard when you mill them, this card might give them an artifact. That said, the card in question doesn’t exile enough to be worth the cardboard. Even if it exiled five cards, it would still rate worse than [[[Tome Scour]]]. I could increase the number of cards exiled and call it part of ‘altering the card’s cost’, but I’d rather toss this back and draw again.
I skipped showing you a few cards I vetoed with impractical parameters. For example: One of the cards needed tapping an untapped legendary black creature every turn to take advantage of its ability. I also got this:
T: Add U to your mana pool.
Congratulations, BNF! You re-created Island. I know this might not mean much to you, but it’s rare to see BNF recreate an existing card. I also came across this snippet of text from another entry:
As long as an opponent controls a library, haunt.
I wish the card was a viable choice. But it played more birds than a John Woo/Alfred Hitchcock movie festival.
Okay, this next one I think we can do:
Sorcery – Generated (red)
Target player reveals the top X cards of his or her library, where X is the number of lands on the battlefield. that player puts a sorcery card from among them into hand, and shuffles the rest into his or her library.
Splice onto Generated: X
I wouldn’t worry to much about ‘Generated’ and ‘Splice onto Generated’. I think Alex was sad that Instants and Sorceries only featured one possible subtype (Arcane) so he made an alternate one (BNF was conceived before ‘Trap’ existed.) The cube already includes one Arcane card (Pull Under) and a couple cards that trigger when Arcane is cast, so we might as well flip Generated back to Arcane.
The Splice cost on this card is tricky. I get the impression that BNF saw there was an X in the spell, and decided that it could make the splice cost whatever X is. But X is the number of total lands on the battlefield. That’s not impossible to pull off, but it sure ain’t easy. It’s a moot point, though. I already gave myself permission to alter costs on cards as I see fit, so I’m changing the splice to something reasonable.
While we’re at it, let’s clean up this ‘target player’ nonsense. Normally, I’d let it slide for the rare shot that targeting your opponent with this spell and forcing them to shuffle their library might win you a game. But by allowing this spell to target the opponent, we’re forced to reveal cards instead of simply looking at them. And revealing fourteen random cards from an anyone’s library in the middle of a game is problematic. I don’t want the game to stop so a player can glean minor advantages.
To be honest, I think that splice cost is too low for real Magic. The ability let’s you tutor an Arcane spell for every Arcane spell you cast. It’s like a buyback of that stops working when it no longer matters. But with so few arcane spells in the cube, I’d love to see someone abuse the low splice cost.
Speaking of which… I guess I need to add a few more arcane sorceries to the mix. And red could use more spells that sacrifice. But too many mandatory sacrifices would make keeping creatures on the battlefield a struggle. Oh, and red could use a simple direct damage spell, too. Hence…
Deep IQ is a series of charts intended to parody what a human opponent might do, for the purposes of testing a deck when you’re alone. It was published in InQuest Magazine way back in 1996, and I wrote about it in my article ‘Seven Solitaire Formats for Magic: the Gathering‘ (it’s format number seven if you’re interested.)
Most of the effects Deep IQ dishes out already exist as Magic cards. I don’t want that. I already use Gatherer to generate random existing cards. Instead, I want to use Deep IQ as a platform to construct a creature with a random power and toughness, and with potentially random abilities. The result shouldn’t be complex, but I don’t mind. So far, Gatherer only generated one french vanilla creature. I could use more.
I’m playing fast and loose here. Since Deep IQ was built in 1996, it’s full of oddball keywords for creatures like Rampage and Phasing. I don’t mind getting Horrible Hordes from Gatherer if it pops up, but it would be strange if I was limited to only anachronistic cards. So if Deep IQ ships me a random keyword (it did), I’ll pull something random from Wikipedia’s List of Magic: the Gathering Keywords.
Deep IQ is built in six stages to represent how far the game is progressing. So the first step is to determine which stage I’m on. Rolling 1d6 gave me a four. Since there’s two creature options for stage four, I flipped a coin and got a 2/4 with a plus seven bonus on the creature bonus chart. Rolling 1d16+7 I got… two keyword abilities. It doesn’t matter which ones, since I’m on my way to Wikipedia.
I’m not blessed enough to own a 118-sided die. Random.org will do. I got 56 and 86. That’s… Rampage and Phasing?! Hahaha! You got to be kidding me! Okay, Universe, I know well enough to heed your advice. I saw Final Destination. If I don’t use these two abilities, I’m sure a safe full of pianos will plummet atop me some day.
I guess I still need to set a value for Rampage. Rampage appears on fourteen cards: Rampage 1 five times; Rampage 2 six times; Rampage 3 twice; and Rampage 4 once. I rolled a random number between one and fourteen and got… fourteen. The Universe continues to mess with me. Rampage 4 it is.
How do I cost this? I’m not even sure what color it is. Rampage was mostly Red and Green (don’t ask me to explain Chromium,) while Phasing belonged to Blue (don’t ask me to explain Katabatic Winds.) There are very few gold cards in the set so far. I don’t want to make another one if I don’t need to. So I guess this is an artifact?
So… what do I do with this? I’m unwilling to build on Phasing or Rampage [snicker] at this stage of the cube. I was hoping a basic creature would lend itself to another basic creature, like Lightning Elemental did in log six. But the only thing I can think to do here is make a bigger version of the same card. That seems unnecessary.
What Dreamfuel Dragon needs is some kind of Lure effect. This set includes an aura-theme, so the obvious choice would be to make a Lure variant and call it a day. But if I was the sort of guy that chose the obvious path, then I wouldn’t be writing this article series in the first place. The insects could use another nest. Let’s do that instead.
‘All creatures must block target creature’ is swingy. I try to avoid using it as a tool, except when I want to deliver a haymaker. ‘Target creature must be blocked’ isn’t good for Rampage. Your opponent can still block with one creature at a time. But if multiple creatures must block, and you only present one attacker, that Rampage 4 kicks in. Rawr!
Random Cards From Other CCGs
Enough with the cards designed by chance. I want a card designed with intent. Just… not the intent of being a Magic card.
A lot of designers saw the runaway success of Magic and said to themselves, “Hey! I could do that!” Many could not. Have you seen Sim City the CCG? You build a city, while your opponent builds a city, and nobody cares. No, really. You could play the game in separate rooms and compare notes afterwards to see who won which game on which round. It’s probably be more exciting that way. And the card ‘art’ was pictures of generic buildings and overweight facilities managers. If a kid showed me a binder full of these cards, I’d try to find a way to make him or her a ward of the state.
If I’m to steal a card from a non-Magic game, Duel Masters is my second national bank. First published in 2002, Duel Masters was Wizards attempt to feed off the niche market Yu-Gi-Oh! carved out. But instead of reinventing collectible card games yet again, Duel Masters used Magic’s engine (color pie, mana cost, combat) added a few new mechanics (no damaging opponents, instead break their shields) multiplied creature power (no toughness) by a factor of one hundred, and called it a day.
Duel Masters never quite caught on in the states, but it performed well in Japan, and is still in publication 18 years later. Unfortunately, most of these cards are printed in Japanese only. But an English core set with eleven expansions is a deep enough pool for our purposes.
Rolling a twelve sided die, I get… twelve, leading me to the last expansion set in English: Thrash of the Hybrid Megacreatures (why did we ever stop printing this game?) There are 60 cards in this set. Plugging in a range from 1 to 60 at random.org gives me card number 44, or…
Oh, okay. This card is easy to translate:
- You can ignore the upside down ‘1’ on the original card. In Duel Masters, you could choose to play Necrodragon Zalva bottom side up as a ‘land’. It taps for one mana. We don’t need to translate that mechanic, though, since it appears on every Duel Masters card.
- I’m torn between giving this a cost of or . Is giving your opponent a draw worth two +1/+1 counters on your Hill Giant? I’m not sure. Ideally, this would be a 5/6 or a 6/5 for . But I don’t want to mess with the power and toughness if I don’t need to. In the end, I figured it was best to use the cost and p/t that Duel Masters went with.
- “Creature – Dragon Zombie” infers the Necrodragon flies. It does not. Flying isn’t a mechanic in Duel Masters. I could add it for flavor reasons, but I could also, you know, not. I’m going to argue that being undead makes the dragon’s motions awkward, and prevents it from flying well. I don’t like that answer either. But… I mean… look at those tiny wings in the picture. How much lift could they possibly support?
- This ability should probably be on a Red card. Ah well. It’s not an absurd stretch.
I think it would be funny if Necrodragon won a game by forcing an opponent to draw the last card in their deck. The cube includes a few cards to encourage a mill theme, but the follow through is lacking. I like the first card I made for this theme (Upend Memories from log one.) And I figured a black Upend Memories that nabbed a creature would make a good bookend.
I don’t think anyone can put their finger on what’s arcane and what isn’t. But a card that shifts a few cards to the graveyard probably counts. I also went back and made Upend Memories arcane while I’m at it.
Now we got the easy choice out of the way, let’s taste test a set that’s not ‘Diet Magic’. Since we don’t want a card featuring a pile of statistics, we should aim for a game with lots of words on their cards. And the game itself should be a marked success, since more expansion sets mean a larger selection to choose from, which means the card chosen at random will feel more random. That’s why I chose Redemption CCG.
No, seriously. Although you can’t tell by the booster box art, Redemption is the foremost Christian CCG (CCCG?) It features card art and quotes from the Bible. The first player to redeem five lost souls wins. A Tournament environment exists to “foster fun and fellowship.” And despite releasing 1995, only two years after Magic: the Gathering’s release, it’s still going strong with six starter sets and eighteen expansions, and a full card list exists at their Wikia page. Pretty good for a game I never once encountered gracing a store shelf. Still not convinced this is a thing? Here’s a post on their forum page in which players guess which card the previous player is thinking of based on the clues given. It features over 17,000 comments, and almost 100,000 views.
Let’s do this! Choosing a random set, I get ‘Faith of our Fathers’. And in that set, I randomly generated…
Okay. This is going to need some translating. In the top right corner is the creature’s ‘strength and toughness’. I don’t know why Bible characters use strength and toughness and not Faith, Hope and Love. But admittedly that wouldn’t be very balanced, since everyone knows the greatest of these is Love [I Corinthians 13:13].
A toughness of zero would be problematic on a Magic creature. Luckily, this is an enhancement… a kind of Enchant Creature granting a bonus. Although… this looks more like equipment to me, so let’s call it that.
If you’re wondering what X is supposed to represent, it’s written under the artwork of the card, above the Bible passage. Yes, the templating on this card is terrible. And this is one of the easier cards to read. At least the picture on this card consists of dark colors. When the background I light colored, the white text is almost impossible to read. It’s been decades since their game first released, and the makers of Redemption have yet to learn the wonders of beveling.
According to that well-hidden and vital text, “X = the number of Babylonian evil characters in play.” This is where things get messy. What’s a Babylonian, and how do I put it on the battlefield? Does this give a bonus to my creature’s power equal to the number of Nebuchadnezzas I control? Oooh! Double obscure reference!
Babylon was a neighboring kingdom of Judea. The Judeans did not like them. Probably because they tended to conquer Judea. But that didn’t seem to be the big sticking point for most Judeans. The problem was that Babylonians were super proud. They were the New York Yankees of bronze age civilizations, with their fans always talking about how good they were. Eventually, they got their comeuppance when the Syrians rolled through the neighborhood and asked everyone if they were interested in being crushed under the heels of an empire.
The Babylonians also built the tower of Babel (hence the name.) But assuming that was a bad thing, everyone got real confused, babbling (hence the name) and populated the four corners of the Earth. So if the Babylonians are to blame for that, so’s everyone else. Really, it feels like the Babylonians get bad PR. Head of Gold mentions both Babylonians and ‘Evil Babylonians’… but I’m assuming the ‘evil’ part mentioned here is an unfortunate racial slur to be ignored. [As an aside, even if Babylon was an ‘evil’ civilization, I’d probably label them as White using Magic color pie rules. They like to build things as a group (see also: the Hanging Gardens.) And pride in your nation is a White trait, no matter how nefarious your zealotry may be.]
Since I don’t have a better analogue, I’m going to say that ‘Babylonian’ means ‘Human’. Because… um… they were totally human. ‘Immune to silver brigade’ sounds close enough to ‘Protection from artifact creatures’ for me. Capture up to X Humans… when? I guess if I’m not told, then I get to decide for myself.
A couple notes:
The original card asked you to gain control of X Humans. But it also said that X was equal to all the Babylonians in play. Or, in other words, gain control of X Humans where X is equal to the number of Humans in play. Right. Let’s just gain them all and call it a day.
The effect on the original card didn’t ask for the enhancement to be discarded when it gained control of all the Humans. But I don’t think it was supposed to go off every turn either. I figured sacrifice made for an acceptable compromise. Besides, wouldn’t it be frustrating if your opponent could gain control of all the Humans every turn?
There’s a lot of text here. The Bible quote would reduce the card to unreadable. I guess that means that if I want to maintain the integrity of this card in the set, the next card I design needs to include Daniel 2:38 as flavor text, yes?
In Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezza has a dream about a patchwork statue with a head of gold, overwhelmed by a mountain. Daniel, a prophet, informs the King that he is that head of gold, resting upon an ever changing kingdom. But one day his kingdom will be consumed by the mountain, representing God’s strength and permanence.
Where Head of Gold focuses on the leadership side of a king and his people, I made ‘Children of Men’ to represent the great mass of people that follows their king, whoever they might be.
I’ve been wanting to use Masquerade more. This seemed like a good time to make a vanilla creature with the mechanic. Child of Man could be anyone. I suppose I need to design more cards that call out other card names if I want to keep this relevant, though.