Pattern Recognition #199 - A New Set - Mechanics
10 June 2021
10 June 2021
Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am a Smart Ass, so I can take it.
And welcome back to my sub-series on building a set! Last time, I broke down color distribution across the set, helping make the whole thing a bit more bite-sized to build in pieces. It'll help in the long run, I assure you.
But today, we're going to be looking at the five tribes of this set, and the core mechanics that I have chosen for them. Each mechanic isn't new, as, well, I suck at making mechanics, and by reiterating older ones, I hope to breathe new life into them and make them a little more viable across multiple formates.
Now, all chosen mechanics are creature based mechanics, those that are designed to work for creatures, and not just use them as a vehicle to exist when you could just as easily slap them onto an artifact or enchantment and call it a day. In addition each mechanic had to be something I could at least make the token effect to justify in that colour pairing and more importantly, had to synergize a little with the mechanics of the adjacent color pairings. It was both easier and harder than I expected, and in the end, it all came down to the choice for the mechanic to act as an anchor for the others. Which is weird, because I'm not normally a player, so that is something outside my defaults as I trend toward or instead.
Anyway, let's get to it.
W/U Nobles - Renown
Renowned was a mechanic that has only been printed in Magic Origins, with a single new card in Modern Horizons 2. As a mechanic centered in , it also expanded into and , a fact I will now utterly ignore.
As a mechanic, Renown N works with the reminder text of "When this creature deals combat damage to a player, if it isn’t renowned, put N +1/+1 counters on it and it becomes renowned." It appears on the Storm Scale as a "4", which means that Mark Rosewater thinks it's a good fit for a Standard Legal set, but does have some implementation issues to work through before it can be brought back. So why not do some of that legwork here?
Part of 's problem in the game is that it's the colour-pairing of control. If you want to stop your opponent from doing anything, this is what you break out. But when I talked about my colour breakdowns way-a-ways ago, I noted that this pairing actually has a very viable and resilient aggro option with cheap evasive creatures and into the mid and late game with larger options and more benefits on the side.
What I want to do with Nobles having Renown is to lean into the 'glory' aspect of their design, and going out and doing things is a vital part of that. In the theme of the Wild West - and at this point, I'm also looking at adjacent ideas in terms of time and space - the people in charge were not just those that stayed in their fancy castles and manors and gave orders. There were no such things on the frontier. No, they still had to go out and do things with their people, they couldn't stay behind their walls unless they were being portrayed as the villains.
I want Renown to play into that, the reward for action rather than reaction. And this is a space that can have things applied to it. Encourage combat, and reward players for it. Which is what should be done in the first place. You know, with what I'm doing here and all that jazz.
But I suppose I should put my money where my mouth is, and show off the first card then. What is this, preview season? Yes!
Uncommon Renown Noble
Creature - Kor Noble
Renown 1 - Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, and it is not Renowned, put 1 +1/+1 counter on it, and it becomes Renowned.
Creatures you control that are Renowned have Flying.
Here we have an example of the mechanic being in play, as well as trying to be slightly optimized for Draft environments with a lower casting cost, lower rarity and having a relevant keyword. More importantly, it acts as a pseudo-lord for that Keyword, encouraging a more unified deck-building process without needing to invest money or wildcards into Rares.
Now, remember that this isn't set in stone. It's a concept for the idea. We'll see how things pan out in the end.
U/B Rogues - Duelist
OK, I lied. As I was writing this and taking a break, I realized that my initial choice for this, Morph was bad in the long run. So I went back to the drawing board and came across one of my long-term salvage projects.
I knew that Bushido was a poor mechanic, one that I addressed in the past directly in how defensive it was, but I also knew that there was room for improvement there, so in the end, I decided to take a chance and work it in here.
As part of my creative process, I fell into the trap of thinking of the rouges as the bandits of the world, as the villains. But I caught myself before I fell into the trap of my own creation. I don't want there to be bad guys. Just different flavors of good guys. So I stepped back and looked around. I had already settled on Rogues as the creature type to represent this allied colour pair, but what did it mean to be Rogue?
It means to be independent, to act while eschewing others. I want someone who acts for themselves, but doesn't need to destroy others to do it.
I'm thinking characters like the titular Maverick, or closer in archetype to the less pleasant versions of Robin Hood. A character of action, who acts by themselves.
And what do these people do? How do they interact with others? Well, they are more than willing to fight for what they want, but they also want to keep things personal in nature. And looking over the history and storied, I found the concept of the Duel to be one that stood out.
So I had a name, and a mechanic to fix. Bushido's problem, as I laid it out, was that it was too defensive. That by requiring the creature to block or be blocked, then limiting the effect to a +X/+X effect meant that Bushido itself was hobbled.
The answer to this is already in the game. The answer is Howling Golem and cards like it. Where the mechanic triggers on attacking or blocking, and so why not turn that into a Keyword?
Duelist - Whenever this creature attacks or blocks, (do this thing).
A rouge attacks or defends, and that means getting into fights. That means picking them with care, to fight just who you need to, and to duel them. Duelist is also intended to overlap with Renown in , where the self-actualizing creature fights to improve themselves and because they have something to prove.
Actually, let me show of my preview card for this mechanic, to show you want I am thinking. Again, this is not the final design, but a proof of concept.
Uncommon Duelist Rogue
Creature - Kor Rogue
Duelist - Whenever this creature attacks or blocks, Scry 1.
Whenever one or more creatures you control with Duelist attacks, you and the defending player(s) draw a card, then discard a card.
So here we have a creature that not only gives you a scry effect in combat - just in case, you know, but then also allows you to loot afterward, but only on the attack. I felt that making this second effect symmetrical worked out best, as it would also give the defending player a chance to draw into a response if needed. That you would Scry 1, then Draw 1 then Discard 1 is actually pretty good. I'm not sold on the balance between the casting cost and its power and toughness, but then again, this is still in the conception stage.
And honestly, who can go wrong with a shout out to Wizard's own magazine - The Duelist?
B/R Warlocks - Spectacle
Of the five mechanics I want for this set, this is the only one that isn't inherently creature based, but does synergize quite well with creatures in general. For those not in the know, Spectacle was the mechanic from the most recent Ravnica block, and it reads:
Spectacle (Alternate Cost from its mana cost) (You may cast this spell for its spectacle cost rather than its mana cost if an opponent lost life this turn.)
To whit, if you hurt someone, you can pay the Spectacle cost for a card, and this can have various effects. First, the cost could just be cheaper, such as with Dead Revels, or if you cast the card for the alternate cost, you get an additional effect, such as with Rafter Demon. But mostly, of the ten existent cards with this mechanic, it's eight of them with the former, and two with the latter.
I want to change that, and try to open up Spectacle into alternate costs that aren't just mana costs, and as a side effect of being in a Tribal Set, more creature focused.
In terms of practicality, I want to create a theme in this set of the Warlocks using the Spectacle of their spells to give the impression of being more powerful than they are. They don't want to fight, they want to just be left alone, and will respect others who want the same, but if you pick a fight with them, they will put on a show as they destroy you. Enough of a show that you might not be sure what's actually happening.
It is also my intent to demonstrate how Spectacle and Duelist overlap with . These are the individuals who have power, have sacrificed for that power, and now? Now they're going to prove it. They are going to go out, they are going to get involved and you will not miss what they're going to do for the world.
Uncommon Spectacle Warlock
Creature - Viashino Warlock
If this creature enters the battlefield, and its Spectacle cost wasn't paid, it gains Menace.
Spectacle - When this creature enters the battlefield, if this cost was paid, this creature deals damage equal to its power to target creature.
Spectacle - When this creature enters the battlefield, if this cost was paid, target player discards a card.
Here, I created a creature that wasn't a Mechanic-Lord, but rather a creature that had multiple Spectacle costs. You can pay either cost, or neither, but not both. This is, in a way, like the multiple kicker creatures from Invasion Block, or maybe not as it's an exclusive or, not an inclusive or for the logically minded.
But here I can show off that you can include multiple alternate costs on a creature and in doing so, you can customize it how you want, or how it is cast in the face of your mana pool. There are options here. You just have to use them.
R/G Shamans - Enrage
Shamans are a well supported tribe in terms of pre-existing creatures that fit into it. I already talked about this when I explained my choices for Tribes, so I don't need to go over it again. Anyways, the choice of Enrage, the Dinosaur Mechanic from Ixalan came because I wanted to keep the mechanic in color, though losing out on . And I'm OK with that as that colour was already in the minority in terms of cards with that ability.
Mechanically, Enrage is a triggered ability that was read as "Whenever this creature takes damage, do this thing". It's very simple, and most importantly, does not differentiate between combat and non-combat damage. There are a variety of outputs for this trigger, and it's literally open ended in what it can do.
Sad that it's a 6 on the Storm Scale, but that's just one man's opinion. I'm going to make this work! BWAHAHAHAH!
In terms of flavor, I want the Shamans to be portrayed as the more immediate version of the Warlocks. Whereas the Warlocks would respond to threats with a threat counter-display of their own threat, their Spectacle - Shamans will be more immediate, more visceral. They get angry and hit right back. Hurt them, and they will hurt you right back. Maybe not directly, but they will certainly give it a shot.
Of course, I have to admit, that I'm going to bend my own rules here. You see, during the initial design and white-paper work on this set, I conceived of simply doing Dinosaurs here (with Nobles being for example). And when I trimmed back to dual colours in order to help focus things, I decided to keep the Dinosaurs as a 'supplementary' tribe, or rather a non-tribe for creatures that didn't fall into the purview of the actual job-based tribes. And that affected my choice here. I originally wanted to just do Ixalan Dinosaurs 2: Electric Boogaloo, but that fell by the wayside and what you see is the remnant here.
Enrage overlaps with Spectacle in where you have a person who will throw themselves into a conflict and no matter what, they get something out of it. They can be heedless of their own safety as is the wont of , but to them, it's the results that matter. If they win, and get through, then they have triggered Spectacle on combat damage. If they're blocked, then they will be hurt and they trigger Enrage. It's win/win for them, they just have to make it count.
Uncommon Enrage Shaman
Creature - Insect Shaman
Enrage - Whenever this creature takes damage, create a 1/1 Red and Green Dinosaur token. That token deals damage to target creature equal to its power.
I'm not happy with this, and it's a weird combination of Raptor Hatchling and Overgrown Armasaur with Apex Altisaur. Curiously, this token can "Bite" the Uncommon Enrage Shaman, creating another token. Probably killing the Shaman in the process unless it gotten some toughness improvements.
You know, in thinking about that, I think it's funny. I might just keep it.
Anyway, I feel like I haven't shown you the full width and breadth of what you can do with Enrage, and I look forward to have a screaming Shaman come charging out of the underbrush, ready to ruin yor day because of a stray spell.
G/W Scouts - Explore
Designing a set is a collaborative endeavor, and as such, sometimes I will have to recognize that I misstep and let my ego get in the way of a good set. And trying to shoehorn Rebel in at a Tribe was the wrong thing to do.
In the end, I find that the arguments presented by legendofa with regards to the creature type of Scout to be more persuasive in terms of the themes I am going for. Scouts are the people who journey forth and see new places. They are a well-established character archetype across movies and television.
They are the Explorers.
So it only stands to reason that those who go out and see new places so that others might find their way would get the Explore Mechanic to support them. Mechanically, when you are told to Explore, you Reveal the top card of your library. Put that card into your hand if it's a land. Otherwise, put a +1/+1 counter on this creature, then put the card back on top or into your graveyard.
The thing about Explore is that you either get a land into your hand to further use, or your creature gets bigger and you can either keep or discard the card in question. This surprisingly useful mechanic is already a good mechanic, and incorporating it into only makes sense. You can make your creatures bigger if you don't find a land, and honestly, being able to put a land from the top of their library into their hand isn't going to break the game. Or failing that, tossing a card into the graveyard if it's a bad one. I mean, it's not like doesn't get cheap graveyard recursion now and then, so you can possibly get the thing back.
Explore is a simple(ish) mechanic that works well on the creature itself, and on cards that check when someone else explores. While the mechanic is very simple and pretty linear, by creating cards that say "Whenever a creature explores, do a thing", you can create more varied effects.
Let's hit up the last demonstration creature:
Uncommon Explore Scout
Creature - Kor Scout
When this creature enters the battlefield, it explores. (Reminder Text)
Whenever another creature you control explores, put a +1/+1 counter on a creature you control. That creature gains Vigilance until the end of turn.
Here, Exploration is a mechanic that can work by itself or as part of a larger machine, and that's something I again hope to work into the set.
Scouts are the people are will emerge from the wilderness with tales of what they have seen, and are willing to draw people to follow them. They lead the way to and from; but this job is not without risk. But isn't risk part of the reward?
Explore overlaps with Enrage in not directly, but when you have a creature that's bigger by even a single point, then it can survive just that little bit more, allowing you the opportunity to be Enraged just a little more. Bigger is definitely better where this is concerned.
On the other side of things, in , Explore and Renown don't really have a full overlap. Both mechanics can make a creature bigger, but they don't interact save perhaps through the +1/+1 counters they share. Something that has laid vicious claim to over the years. Sad to say, I can't really force a connection here, but maybe one of you, my audience can?
That's it for this week. Next week is going to be my #200 issue! Woo-hoo! I know what I'm going to do there, so I hope you'll join me then.
Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!
When I read at the beginnig „Each mechanic isn't new (…)”, I thought <What? Wild West theme without dueling gunslingers? You had a good idea on Duelist keyword some time back!>
But you didn’t fail me after all, Old Fogey …
June 11, 2021 5:46 a.m.
On the other hand, I am skeptical about multiple Spectacle costs on one card and “If (…) it’s Spectacle cost wasn’t paid” clause. It’s way too much words on a card and feels unintuitive to follow when each of the scenarios happen. What I’d propose instead for the same card is:
Uncommon Spectacle Warlock
Creature - Viashino Warlock
Spectacle - When this creature enters the battlefield, choose one:
- It deals 3 damage to target creature
- Target opponent discards a card at random
But that’s me – I’m sure you’ve got couple more ideas in your sleeve as you propose multiple Spectacle costs, and maybe some will convince me
June 11, 2021 5:50 a.m.
And being pulled to the table to show a connection between Exploring and Renown I can think of two words: experience and fame.
The more travels you had, the more endeavours you’ve endured, the more recognisable you are as a person. But not only this. It makes you smarter in overcoming next obstacles or whatever the future brings. Which all narrows down to being stronger, expressed with +1/+1 counters. I see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Shatterhand in here!
June 11, 2021 5:56 a.m.
I addition to what rotimislaw mentioned, there is another concept that nicely bridges between 'explore' and 'renown'; 'patronage'. If you think of the classical notion of an 'explorer', they almost always required a patron; some person or group who was willing to fund the expedition in return for a portion of whatever knowledge or treasures it might return. To translate that into mechanics, on the UW side you could have 'cares about explore' effects that trigger on explore in general or on certain outcomes (adding counters, revealing lands). Coming from the GW side you could have creatures that use 'patrons' as a resource to enhance the exploration. For example:
Whenever you explore you may tap a creature with renown. If you do, explore again.
June 14, 2021 10:39 a.m.
I was thinking a bit about connecting proposed mechanics of and and didn't came up with much more than using the output of one to feed the another, something like vortical42 mentioned:
Smooth Leather Holster - Uncommon
Remove a +1/+1 counter from target creature your control: It gains First Strike until end of turn
Frontier's Map - Uncommon
Discard a land card: Target creature can't be blocked this turn