Tricks of the Trade - Week 5 - Making the Cut

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Thu, 2012-03-08 08:36
Creative Direction Award
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Tricks of the Trade Week 5 - Vying over the same slot

It's a hard truth, but sometimes, you have to be able to call your own baby ugly. This is the toughest job for a magic designer, and is at the center of the issue I want to discuss today. Cuts. When you use a design skeleton for your set, you are directly mapping out every slot you have available, and carefully considering what kind of cards they need to be to create a balanced set. First, I am going to cover how and why we create multiple cards to fill a slot, then I will discuss how you evauluate which of those cards need to be cut from the slot, and finnally, I will discuss what we can do with the creations that we cut.

Words of Wisdom

Mark rosewater is famously known to say that "99 percent of designs never make it to print". A lot of the designs that don't make are the wacky ideas we have for mechanics, but about 66-75 percent of unused design in a set comes from the use a skeleton. Rosewater also states that his sets would be exponentially worse if he never created the 99 percent of cards that never make it in. One of the most useful things a designer can do is to look at a problem from every solution, and decide after trying everything you can think of, which version will fit best. When we begin create cards to fill up our design skeleton, we are going through the same process. Creating as many different variations on a slot is essential to figuring out which will fill it best. But how do we turn something as simple as "CR01 - Creature, small, new keyword 1" into multiple designs?

It's getting awfully crowded around here!

The easiset way for me to start this process is to create the version of the code that just creates exactly whats written (what I refer to as legal text) ...

Spoiler:
CR01-v1 Red mana symbol
Creature - Goblin Colorless mana symbol
Sacrifice a gold counter: CR01 gets +2/+1 until end of turn. You may only activate this ability once each turn.
1/1

From here, the next step is to think of variations upon the design. Here are the the most commons ways we create variation...

1. Change the CMC (up or down) - If you can create multiple versions of a slot with different CMC's than you are very flexible if you end up too heavy in one cost, or lacking in another. Creating the proper mix of CMC's in each color and rarity is more of a development issue (AKA a whole new article), but if you map out what cards would look like at different CMC's during the initial design step, you can catch and correct yourself before you realize you are off.

2. Change the creature type - try one or two other types for the card, and let the flavor follow that type. For example, a Elemental version of the card might look like this...

Spoiler:
CR01-v2 Red mana symbol
Creature - Elemental Colorless mana symbol
Whenever you gain a gold counter CR01 gets +2/+1 until end of turn.
1/1

An elemental would resonate with the accumalation of gold more than being given it. By working with different creature types, you can often find new ways to use your abilities, and create interesting subthemes.

3. Try a different angle on the effect - It's worth trying new ways to work with an ability, and test the waters with "arthouse" designs. The whole point of creating multiple cards for one slot is to find as many ways to work with your topic/message inside the card code as possible. You may learn a valuable lesson from your creation, even if it fails...

Spoiler:
CR01 v3 1 mana symbolRed mana symbol
Creature - Goblin MercenaryColorless mana symbol
~ enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it if gold was spent to play it.
2/1

In that case, I realized that I was punishing players for not aquiring gold quickly enough. The text certainly resonates well with the mercenary ideal, but because of the way gold is aquired (it takes some time, but comes steadily through workers), I knew it would be very difficult to play this for full value on turn two. From this design, I created the idea of until end of turn gold spending, which both works better with the way gold is aquired (players aren't punished for dropping the first version on turn one, they can pump it later if they get gold), and resonates more powerfully with the flavor of the world (the goblin only cares about what you gave him recently, he will only work hard for you when he gets payed, and every turn is a new day where he shrugs off the loyalty bought from him yesterday).

4. Incorporate an element of the flavor if is not already present - Try creating versions of less flavorful cards (vanillas and french vanillas usually) that do include a theme, or at least hint at one. You might find a real gem by combining a theme with a "trope" card, and that is always more interesting to see in a set file than a vanilla/french vanilla (though they do have their place). In my skeleton, CR05 codes for Creature,small, firebreathing...

Spoiler:
CR05 1 mana symbolRed mana symbol
Creature - Lizard Colorless mana symbol
Red mana symbol: CR05 gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
1/2

Spoiler:
CR05 1 mana symbolRed mana symbol
Creature - Lizard Colorless mana symbol
2 mana symbol: CR05 gets +1/+0 until end of turn. Any player may activate this ability.
1/2

By adding the "any player can pay" effect to the card, I both include the mercantile "trading" feel of the set, and make a design that shines in multiplayer politics. It should be noted that a certain number of cards in a set do need to be less flavorful to provide a baseline for newer players, but at least try creating the designs, and if you do want to include them, you can always create a less flavorful version of another card to maintain the baseline.

Hey, this is my slot!

So you know how to create multiple versions of a slot, how do you choose between them? Every designer has a different process where they narrow things down, but I like to use the most resonant version. If at all possible, play a few games with the different versions to see which designs work better with the overall set, or just mentally think about how your mechanics mesh together. For example I was at one point working on a mechanic that cared about you having a threshold of gold. Flavorwise, it meant you were wealthy and respected, and the card would do more for you. I realized though that far more of my mechanics focused on spending gold (which I think is what most people get money for, and therefore overrides the other flavorfully) and that It would create an enormous dissonance to have a mechanic that wanted me to hold on to it in an environment that encouraged spening it. You have to be willing to scrap a great idea for the good of the set, and know that your cards will actually play well together. In the example of CR01, version three is definitely out, because it punishes the player for not having gold more than it rewards them for having it (this is a kind of drawback, the card that doesn't reach it's potential when played without something). The second version is actually very interesting, but most likely wont mesh well with the rest of the commons. This takes me to my next point, where cards go when they get kicked out.

Now where do I go?

The first thing to remember is that a card should never be eradicated. I always keep a secondary file with everyhting I ever tried in relation to the set. This lets me look back upon what I tried, and learn what I did wrong. The other great thing is that it can lead to inspiration. Maybe I shouldnt use "gold spent to pay it" at common, but it could be a great idea for a cycle of rares representing the largest creatures in each color (Angel, Demon, Dragon, Leviathan, Beast). Since most of those cards will have a CMC of 6 or greater, players have a lot more time to aquire gold before they could actually play them anways, so they dont have to feel bad as often about missing value. Also, since they are rares, they will be seen a lot less often in drafts, and will be able to have cool, odd effects that don't fit entirely with the rest of the set. Rare is the best place for designs that dont mesh with the rest of the set, because they don't show up much.

As for CR01 version two, he might slide in entirely in tact, just not at common. A lot of your common designs will not fit in your set for both flavor and space reasons. However you can fit them in at uncommon sometimes, because the cards will show up less than commons (though they will affect draft much more than a rare would), and because higher complexity and "arthouse" designs are more acceptable at uncommon.

Conclusion

I hope you come out of this article understand how to create vaiations on a design slot, why we do that, and how it has long term value. Know which cards should be cut from your sets, and how you can still use "failed" design to make your set better.

The topic for next week's article hasn't been selected yet, no one actually submitted any ideas for what they would like to see...
Please PM me or reply to this thread with any articles you would like to see, I would be more than happy to help out with any difficult issues.

Until then, may you have the honesty with yourself to be able to call your creations ugly.

My Hub
I really hate Mythic Rares...
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Thu, 2012-03-08 14:59
Anuttymous
Anuttymous's picture

This has been quite useful - I rarely make multiple cards for a single slot, and I must admit I do find myself not liking something or having to change it. It also annoys me when I make a really awesome card, but then it doesn't fit at all, and should be cut. I think you might notice a couple like that in some of my sets - awesome but illogical.

Anuttymous the Gathering
Anonymous + nutty = A-nutty-mous (no mice involved)
Ask me if you need any help

Thu, 2012-03-08 20:43
Balaam
Balaam's picture

This is a good guide here. Like Anuttymous I usually only make one card for a slot. But now I think I might consider multiple ways to get across the same general mechanics for a possible card. Hopefully, it'll keep from making a lot of cards with repetitive abilities.

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Sun, 2012-03-11 13:49
Guitarweeps
Head Administrator
Guitarweeps's picture

This is probably the hardest part for those that get emotionally attached to their creations. I hate throwing away what I consider a creative concept.

Check out my updated set hub.

Mon, 2012-03-12 06:20
Creative Direction Award
ﻼ's picture

Hey everyone, I just want you guys to know that I will be unable to post an article this coming Tuesday/Wednesday like I usually do. It's finals week at my college, and I am preparing to complete all of that craziness. I will either post an article up somewhere around Friday (when finals has ended), or I will simply not have one this week, and will put one up the Tuesday after this one. Thanks you for your patience and sticking with me as I try to complete this article series.

My Hub
I really hate Mythic Rares...
TRUE WEEB ANIME OR NO ANIME AT ALL
NO TOLERANCE FOR WIMPY FALSE ANIME
School Days taught me everything I need to know about relationships