A "Brief"' Discussion on MTG Development - Understanding CMC Part OneLogin or register to post comments
|Thu, 2013-08-22 07:42|
Creative Direction Award
A Quick Explanation
Hey everyone, I've been noticing a huge trend start in both professional magic design (Wizards of the Coast) and freelance design (people like us who don't work for wizards and mostly design for fun). Simply put, cards are being costed very aggressively. This article is going to be the first part in a series that tries to explain exactly how to cost cards, and explain mathematically what keywords and power/toughness combos are worth. There's a lot of great material on how to design cards, but just not enough on how to develop them. This kind of information is crucial for creating a well balanced, enjoyable set, especially for freelance designers, who don't get to have a huge department behind them working on developing the cards they make. I will probably cover creature design, then instants and sorceries, with less common types being the last I cover. As one final note, this is not meant to be a short or easy read, I am trying to be as exhaustive as I possibly can with what I consider to be a very important subject matter for magic designers. Without any ado, part one of this series!
A "Brief" Discussion on MTG Development - Understanding CMC part one
In magic, each converted mana cost is allowed to have certain effects and mixtures of power and toughness. As a developer for your own set, you need to make sure your cards are at the appropriate Converted mana cost (CMC for short). Among the many things that determine a cards overall power level, arguably the most important point is the cards converted mana cost. Jace's Ingenuity and Ancestral Recall have almost exactly the same wording (the only difference is that recall lets you target any player), but the Ancestral Recall is so much stronger ebcause of the difference in CMC. Its tough to say exactly how ancestral recall ever got printed, even looking through Alpha we can see cards like Jayemdae Tome and Verduran Enchantress, which are considered to be well balanced card draw engines even under today's standards. My best guess would be that Richard Garfield wanted to create the boon cycle (Lightning Bolt, Giant Growth, Healing Salve, Dark Ritual) and refused to make it a loose cycle (every card costs exactly 1 of its color, and contains the number 3 at least once, thus making it a strict cycle). The point of this article is to help freelance designers understand exactly what is, and far more importantly what is NOT allowed at each CMC, so that we can avoid creating cards like ancestral recall, that are literally 4 CMC off where they should be.
The Concept of Fractional CMC and How to Determine a Cards Power Level
Simply put, magic doesn’t have enough spaces within its CMC’s to accurately cost every ability. To determine a cards power level, you must ask yourself how much every attribute of that card is worth. Try to add them up in such a way that the final value equals the cards actual CMC. Lets look at cards like Typhoid Rats or Trained Caracal for example. They are french vanillas(cards with just one simple keyworded ability), but we can’t say that deathtouch or lifelink costs a full 1 CMC from them. Being a 1/1 also must cost something (probably around ½ a CMC), and so we can say that on such small cards, lifelink and deathouch are also worth around ½ a CMC, thus adding up to 1 CMC total. Looking at a double dip French vanilla like Knight of Meadowgrain, we definitely can’t divide each of its attributes as whole numbers. I would say being a 2/2 is worth 1 and ¼ CMC, the lifelink is worth ½ a CMC and the first strike is worth ¼ a CMC. It is of course possible for a card to go well over what it should be getting at a certain CMC, which may well be the case with knight of meadowgrain if those abilities aren't really worth that little. Lets look at Baneslayer Angel next. Being a 5/5 is worth probably 4 ½ CMC, flying is worth ½ a CMC, lifelink is worth 1 CMC, and the protection abilities maybe around ¼ CMC each. That totals to 6 and and a half CMC being the appropriate cost for that kind of a card. You have to round when you have remainders left over like that, which is why many cards are overpowered or underpowered (the correct cost would actually involve half a CMC like on Little Girl .) Just for fun, lets attempt to make Baneslayer Angel fit as best we can. Being a 5/5 is worth 4 CMC, flying worth ¼ a CMC, First strike worth ¼ a CMC, lifelink worth ¼ a CMC, and both protection abilities worth 1/8th CMC. The question becomes, should some of those effects really be worth that little? If you can clearly see that they are not, you need to increase the CMC. As you've seen, to find the right CMC for a card requires using these fractional costs, and it is very possible to go even lower than ½. Examples of things that are worth less than ½ might be the anti regeneration clause on cards like Dark Banishing, which could be worth 1/4th. I'll cover creatures first for the purpose of these articles, and more specifically what I believe each evergreen keyword is worth in terms of CMC.
Understanding Scaling mechanics
Some mechanics are not always worth the same amount of CMC. Depending on what kind of creature has the mechanic, it can be far more valuable than on another creature. The most basic example is with lifelink. Lifelink tends to cost ½ CMC or 1 CMC, depending on the power of the creature it is on. A smaller creature like Trained Caracal gives you less life, and so you can get the effect at around ½ CMC, but on a larger creature like Voracious Hatchling, its worth much more as it can become up to a 6/6. OP cards come from not properly valuing how much better some mechanics are on certain creatures. Oddly enough, it can also work in reverse for a mechanic like deathtouch. The lower the power of the card with deathtouch is, the more it tends to be worth. On a creature like Grave Titan, deathtouch is still relevant, but he can already beat quite a large number of creatures without it, unlike Typhoid Rats who needs it to be able to kill almost anything.
Looking at each Evergreen Mechanic Separately
Deathtouch: This is a tricky one. Typhoid Rats is the most aggressive case of this keyword. In all honesty it might cost somewhere around ½ a CMC (assuming being a 1/1 also costs ½ a CMC). The major thing to watch out for with this effect is the toughness of the chosen card. Deathtouch is a mechanic that tends to slow games down if the creatures that have it are too hard to kill. Make sure most cards with deathtouch will usually trade with the creatures they meet in combat. If you want a card to have deathtouch and a high toughness, it needs a much higher CMC like Giant Scorpion. As far as Vampire Nighthawk goes, you should be very careful with making cards that efficient, and raise CMC and/or color density accordingly. If we try to squeeze everything into a formula for nighthawk we get this (2/3 costs 2 CMC, flying costs 1/3 CMC, lifelink costs 1/3 CMC, deathtouch costs 1/3 CMC). Should those abilities really cost that little to get?
Defender: Drawback keywords like defender are also a special case. Generally speaking, most cards with defender fall between 2 and 4 CMC. While being unable to attack does weaken a card, we still need to be careful about clogging the board with huge defensive cards. If the creature has very low power, it can have less CMC, but for any wall that’s capable of killing a lot of stuff like Wall of Spears or Crude Rampart the CMC needs to be fairly high for a defender. Defenders should help decks get to the late game safely, but should still be possible to destroy once your opponent starts hitting 5 or 6 CMC cards. As for cards with defender that can get rid of the effect, you should cost them almost as if they didn't have defender at all. Honestly a card having defender doesn’t usually let you lower the CMC by much, at most you can lower the CMC by 1/2.
Double Strike: Boros Swiftblade and Fencing Ace show the most basic rule for using double strike. The cards power should be half of what it would normally be for its CMC, because pump effects on double strike cards are that ridiculous. In the case of higher CMC cards, you can do funky things like make the doublestrike apply to multiple creatures (Kinsbaile Cavalier), grant undying or another keyword (Hound of Griselbrand) or other fairly strong effects, as long as you still cut the power by half. I would shy away form cards like Silverblade Paladin (too low a CMC, 4 would be the correct cost) because doublestrike is one of those mechanics whose strength is determined by power more than CMC. There are a lot of cards in magic that let you mess with that stat fairly cheaply so you should always go higher than you think you need to for double strike cards, and follow the rule of CMC = 2 times the power of the creature.
Fight: Prey Upon and Pit Fight are the standards here. In all honesty fight is a pretty tricky form of removal to use, because it requires having a creature large enough, and is therefore less reliable than more commonly used cards like Doom Blade or Oblivion Ring. Thus fight can be very aggressively costed. Even Ulvenwald Tracker proved that repeatable fight is okay at very low CMC, though I would warn against pairing that with any kind of protection ability or high toughness.
First Strike: You usually see this costing maybe ½ a CMC. It’s a very good keyword, but it really only becomes relevant when fighting against creatures with low toughness, deathtouch, multiple blocking creatures or creatures with the exact same stats. Usually, you will want the power of a creature with first strike to be no higher than the CMC it has. You should also be careful what you combine with first strike, as it is a very synergistic keyword (especially with deathtouch).
Flash: Flash is worth either ½ CMC or 1 CMC, depending on how much presence the creature has. If it has a particularly good ETB effect, or can be used well as a surprise blocker, make it cost 1 more CMC than normal, otherwise, ½ CMC more is usually fine.
Flying: Perhaps the most commonly used keyword, flying tends to be worth roughly ½ a CMC. On cards that particularly benefit from the evasion (say Hypnotic Specter), it should be worth slightly more.
Haste: This is a very hard mechanic to judge the power level of. It allows a creature to immediately get in the action, but beyond the first turn (barring a bounce spell), the ability will never be relevant again. This is most definitely a scaling mechanic. On Raging Goblin, it mostly just allows you to get it for 1 free point of damage early, but on Volcanic Dragon, it lets you immediately swing for a potential 4 to the face. Like most keywords, it tends to be worth somewhere around ½ to 1 CMC, and you need to use your best judgment when deciding which one to use. Generally ask yourself how devastating this creature getting to attack a turn early is and if it seems really good, value Haste at 1 CMC rather than a half. One kind of haste deserves special mention, the Goblin Chariot style haste. If you up the CMC of a very normal card by 1, you can add haste fairly easily (in this case Grizzly Bears).
Hexproof: This needs to cost at least 1 CMC. I don’t care that Wizards released Geist of Saint Traft or Invisible Stalker. They are both way out of line because Wizards didn't understand how to properly cost this relatively new keyword. A creature with hexproof is so hard to deal with, and can still receive the benefit of any equipment or auras you have. There are of course ways to deal with them like Wrath of God, Pyroclasm, Diabolic Edict, and killing the creatures in combat with some style of Giant Growth spell or just a huge creature, but in limited especially, these methods may not be readily available. Always value hexproof at 1 CMC. Round up for cards with this keyword. Invisible Stalker should have cost and Geist of Saint Traft should have been a 1/1 so there was more risk involved in attacking with him (½ CMC for 1/1, 1 CMC for hexproof, 1 ½ CMC for crazy angel making ability vs 1 and ¼ CMC 2/2, 1 ½ CMC angel ability and ¼ Hexproof). If your card is valuing hexproof at 1/4 CMC chances are it needs to cost more or have something radically changed.
Intimidate: This is also a scaling mechanic, namely scaling with how often creatures of the chosen color tend to be played by opponents, and of course with how many colors the card with intimidate has. If it’s on a particularly underplayed color for creatures (like blue or possibly black), it is quite valuable, as it nearly makes the card unblockable, and usually should be valued at around 1 CMC (see Accursed Spirit). On colors that have more creatures played, such as white red and green, it usually not worth more than ½ a CMC. It is worth noting that like flying, it is more valuable on cards that particularly benefit from the added evasion, like Blind Zealot or Heirs of Stromkirk. On multicolored cards, this effect is far less valuable, and so it can almost always be valued at ½ a CMC, if not even ¼ (see Immerwolf).
Landwalk: Like intimidate, which flavor of landwalk it is makes a big difference. Nonbasic landwalk is very strong because of the way most decks mana bases are built and so it is probably worth around 1 CMC. Basic landwalks are usually not worth more than ½ a CMC. Honestly landwalk is a fairly weak form of evasion that is kind of hard to build around, and so it can be quite aggressively costed, especially as many high level competitive decks don't use many basic lands.
Lifelink: I discussed this earlier, but this is one of the hardest scaling mechanics. The difference between small and large creatures with this effect is impossible to overstate. It can be worth ½ a CMC on something that a 1/1 or 2/2, but once you get past 3 or 4 power, you need to value it at 1 CMC or were going to have another Baneslayer Angel on our hands. Ask yourself, how much should gaining this creatures power every turn (until it dies) really cost?
Protection: The mnemonic for this ability is DEBT. Can’t be dealt damage by, enchanted by, blocked by, or targeted by X. Protection should cost anywhere between ½ CMC to 1 CMC. The strongest forms of protection are from red and black, because both colors have good creatures, lots of spells that target to kill creatures, and damage effects and each is worth maybe 3/4 or 1 CMC. Protection from blue is almost worthless, as blue decks rarely run a lot of creatures, have very few damage effects, and contain counterspells. Notably protection only effects a card once it’s on the battlefield and thus a card with protection from blue CAN still be countered, since it’s on the stack (even poor Progenitus). You need the cant be countered clause to deal with that problem (see Scragnoth). Protection from blue will still stop Mind Control, targeted bounce, and Dehydration style effects, but that pretty much all it’s good for so i wouldn't value it at more than 1/2 a CMC, possibly even as low as 1/4 CMC. Protection from green is okay because it does have a lot of big creatures, some negative enchantments like Arachnus Web , and a couple targeted kill spells. Protection from white is also nice, as they have a lot of targeted removal, negative enchantments, and relevant creatures. I would each at 1/2 to 3/4 CMC.
Regeneration: This particular keyword has gone through a lot of iterations over time. The best policy for regeneration seems to be weakening the creature’s toughness so that it has to keep paying for the effect and draining the mana pool of it's controller if they want to keep it alive. I would definitely consider Drudge Skeletons balanced, and I think is the best cost for regeneration. Other fair ones include 2 or 3 life or sacrificing a creature. As for how much you need to add to the CMC, I would say probably up it by 1 over what the P/T of the creature might normally be. You can also try the Cudgel Troll style regeneration. A 4/4 for 4 is very good, but by cutting 1 toughness off and putting it in Lightning bolt range, he gets regeneration at a very reasonable cost, because he can die quite easily to lightning bolt if you don’t leave mana up to protect him, and thus he eats away your mana base if you want to use this keyword.
Reach: This is a very simple keyword, just used to help defend against flying creatures. As such, it tends to be very affordable (Ezuri's Archers). This keyword is probably never worth more than ½ CMC, though it is vital to have enough cards with reach in colors like green that don’t get access to flying as much as the others.
Trample: Like lifelink, this mechanic scales very hard. It can be worth as little as ¼ or ½ a CMC on 1/1’s or 2/2’s (see Defiant Elf and Pygmy Razorback). On larger creatures, it is extremely valuable, as it negates one of the best strategies for dealing with huge creatures (chump blocking). I would value trample as being worth around 1 CMC on anything beyond 6/6, and being worth ½ CMC on 3/3-5/5 creatures. There are also many small creatures that have built in mechanics that can make them larger like Battering Krasis or Kavu Predator, and inherit trample on these cards should be worth at least ½ CMC.
Vigilance: The cost of vigilance should scale with how much you would want to use the creature in question for attacking and blocking. On Serra Angel, it’s worth about ¾ CMC (assuming 4/4 cost 3 ¾ CMC, and flying ½ CMC). Vigilance on a 1/1 or 2/2 is pretty weak, as they don’t tend to survive combat anyways, but combined with first strike, or on creatures that have 3 or more power it can be very good. I would recommend costing it at ½ CMC usually, and maybe up to 1 CMC on something bombtasic (especially if it has lifelink, because that lets you gain life with both combat steps).
I'd love to hear some feedback on this series, as I'm interested to see how you guys feel about it. Love it or Hate it, let me know!
Join me in the next article, when I discuss part two, the cost of commonly seen non-evergreen abilities on creatures!