Tricks of the Trade - Week 4 - Mechanics and FlavorLogin or register to post comments
|Thu, 2012-03-01 08:10|
: Exile ~ with four time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When the last is removed, cast it without paying its mana cost. It has haste. You may only activate this ability from your hand, and only at any time you could play a sorcery.
So one of the key roles of a mechanic is to make key abilities within the set easier to understand and more relatable to each other. The second, role is related to the last one, a mechanic needs to show what is Key to the set, what it is about. Mechanics are often the most notable thing in your set to someone looking at it for the first time. Because of this, your mechanics also need to be exciting and directly show your topic/message, as they are the main factor that make your set different from some one elses. In Agralnat , I needed to emphasize the idea of growth and evolution, so I chose three mechanics that could join forces together to show how three different kinds of things in the game would evolve.
On the other hand, when it seems like you need to make a mechanic appear from thin air, you have to remember that there is something guiding what that mechanic needs to look like. The flavor of your world is still with you, and you should refer to your list of common tropes to see what kind of things are needed in your world. The two most crucial factors on my list were possessions and money. For possessions (treasures in this set), I aim to create a subtype for artifacts that means nothing alone, but is supported by a few cards. For money, I knew I had to start with a totally new mechanic. I thought about what defines money (it can be spent), how it is stored (usually on your person), the kinds of people that would use it (merchants and mercenaries), and how it would be attained (working). Ultimately, I took a lot of inspiration from the eldrazi spawn tokens (brood birthing ). Obviously gold isn't a creature, so I changed it to a counter for players, similar to experience counters from Agralnat, except that instead of memories from your past that make you a more powerful planeswalker, these were precious resources to be spent wisely. All keywords should have a form of interaction, and I knew that I needed cards that would improve if you paid them (the mercenaries) and cards that could generate it (merchants and general laborers), in order for it to really matter in the set.
1. Never make a drawback into a major keyword for your set.
This is why phasing, cumulative upkeep, and fading were all considered to be failed mechanics. Your mechanics "sell" the set to people looking at it for the first time, and are supposed to excite them about the flavor of your world. If a good chunk of the cards in your set feature a keyword that makes you sacrifice them unless you pay at the beginning of your upkeep, players won't be excited when they look at the cards, instead they will feel repressed by them, like their ability to use these cards is being constrained (granted, if the topic of your set was taxation, it could work, but it will still look very discouraging to players). Whenever you think of a great drawback based keyword that could fit your set, try to make a spin on it that makes it an upside. The obvious example here would be to switch the payment to your opponent, and change the penalty for not paying to some good effect for you...
2. Avoid creating a mechanic for each color in your set, or just too many mechanics to be supported in general
I have actually created a set that broke this rule myself, and I can tell you it was a train wreck of a project, which I never finished (it was called reconcile if you want to find it, I do have the link, but I'd rather not show it). One of the most difficult things for a new designer to understand is that your set can only support so many of your cool ideas. Pick the 2-4 mechanics that best firt your set and run with those, leaving other ones for later projects. Be especially conscious of which colors are getting which mechanics, and try to spread them evenly so that each color has at least 1-2 mechanics to play around with. For example, the ability to create spawn tokens was in black, red and green in rise of the eldrazi. Look for each mechanic to be usable in at least 2 but preferably 3 of your sets colors. Be very cautious of using a mechanic in only one color.
Until then, may you allow function to follow flavor.