You Make the Card 4 – Round 5 (Submit the Mechanic)

YMTC - Black

So it all comes down to this.

I knew that non-arua would win the vote, but I didn’t expect it to be by that much. That’s all fine and good.

Now it comes down to those of us in America and Canada submit our designs. I feel bad for the rest of the world, since obviously the community is larger than just these two countries. I’m sure it has to do with something on the legal side of things, but I have no knowledge of what it could be. Hopefully one day we can live in a world without lawyers. But back to the good part.

If you haven’t submitted your design yet, stop and take a breath. You only get one design so you better make it a good one. Already I’ve seen hundreds of submissions that people have sent in and I’m noticing a huge pattern here:

You’re rushing things.

I was going to spend some time about what Black can and can’t do, but I feel like we need to take a step back and look at card design in general. Most everyone is getting the idea of what Black is, so that’s good. And I think the benefit of submitting a top down design is fantastic since we can convey the flavor easier. However, everyone’s so excited to submit their card they’re losing perspective on several things. I tweeted out this link to one of Maro’s posts on basic design but I feel like people need to see it again, and again.

And again.

Before we get to that review, I want you to look at your design and ask yourself some honest questions:

  • Is it fun?
  • Would you put it in a deck?
  • Would you be happy to see it when you draw it?
  • Would you be happy to see it played against you?

While the 4th question is a little awkward, let me explain. There comes a point in every card’s life that you just don’t want to see it played against you. Either because it’s too powerful, you see it all of the time, or a combination of both. Primeval Titan is a fun card that you play, but you get tired of seeing your opponents play it. What about Black Enchantments? Recurring Nightmare is a hugely fun card for you to play, but when your opponent has it, you’re just groaning and complaining about why would WotC print such a broken card? Cards that create repetitive gameplay gets tiresome. Cards that create repetitive gameplay gets tiresome. Cards that create repetitive gameplay gets tiresome.

Listen, I’m not saying your card can’t be good; balancing cards that are fun for the person using them while not completely ruining the game for your opponents is very hard to do. But saying “I’ve got an idea for a Black enchantment”, scribbling down your first idea then submitting it doesn’t give this contest justice. You can come up with a ton of different Black enchantments but if they don’t follow the first three questions, while maybe touching on the fourth, then why are you submitting it?

Please, take a breath and learn what you’re most likely doing wrong when you rush your design (cribbed from Maro):

#1 – The card is too complicated

You have 300 characters for the mechanic of your card. That’s more than 2 tweets, which is an amazing amount of space. If you can’t make your card work within two tweets, don’t submit it. In fact, the shorter the better. Now that terms like “die” and “exile” are in use, take advantage of them. Wordier cards don’t mean better or funner cards (See: Ice Cauldron).

You’re doing one of several things:

  • The card has too many abilities
  • The card has too many flavor “add-ons”
  • The card is hard to understand
  • The card has too many memory issues

I get that you have one shot to try and impress WotC, but you don’t shove everything into one card. Does it fit the flavor you’re trying to promote? Can you describe the concept of the card in a few words? You don’t have to fit all fringe concepts and problems with the card, that’s what development is for. You’re trying to get the idea and possibility of the card out there, not get it ready for the Pro Tour. It’s not your job to do that, just give WotC the idea. Take apart your card text, and put as few words on there as you can while making the card do what you need it to do. I promise it will not only look better, but “feel” better as well.

#2 – The abilities on the card have no synergy

This is another one of those “try to cram everything into one card” issues.  What I see is “This effect is Black, and so is this one. Let’s combine them!” It doesn’t work out like that. You’re creating a card that just doesn’t flow well if you do this. Not every card in Design is perfectly worded, but I’m sure they make sense together. While I don’t find too many of these (but there are these types of cards lying around), I have another problem with what people are talking about related to this issue:

#2.5 – The abilities on the card have too much synergy

Too much synergy? How can that be? I’m a guy that loves to have synergy in my deck. Notice the key word in that sentence: “deck.” I’ve seen way too many cards where they’re trying to do everything at once. Because “A” happens, “B” must happen so “C” must happen as well. It’s almost like everyone is trying to make Rube Goldberg machines out of one card.

Stop it.

This comes from the “card is too complicated” and “too many abilities” camp, but this is a huge one. Stop trying to make your card combo with your own card. Some of the designs make sense like creating Zombies from dead creatures. But don’t give ways for controller of the card to put creatures in the graveyard. The card is not only too powerful, but you’re talking out the fun of the game. While trying to make a “build around me” card, you’ve basically designed an “only play me” card. Let the card breathe and find its space.

#3 – Making the audience do something they don’t want to do

This goes along with the “Is this fun” idea. I’ve seen cards that have a “goal” of something, like creating a huge token creature, but to get there is a real pain. Why are you making the player jump through hoops to get this? Is the effect big enough for you to do all of that work? Do you really want to go through all of that just to get that bonus?

Some people get drunk on the idea of being all powerful, especially when it comes to game design. They think that they’ll be able to make their lab rats go through a maze and be happy at the end of it. You really think that’s going to happen? How many of you like this card:

Search the City

This is what you’re designing when you do this. Seriously. That’s what I’m seeing in plenty of cards. You’re making the player do all of these things for what? Don’t make your player do all of these things; if they don’t want to go through the hassle, then they won’t want to play with your card.

If you need more help, Please read this posts by Mr. Rosewater to help refine your idea:

Right now I’ve read a ton of entries where people pay life for cards, or reanimate creatures, or sacrificing permanents, or discarding cards or any combination of those. You can’t get ritual effects in Black anymore (so please stop trying to design them), and I’ve seen plenty of enchantments that add counters to do something (with many being referenced with the types of effects seen above). Black’s pie is more than that. Take a look at Black cards (hopefully in Modern design) and see what type of things you can do. You don’t have to directly reference anything, but do more than just what everyone else has done. Know what has changed since Magic has first come along and realize that using Gate to Phyrexia as it being a reference to do anything is just plain wrong. Do your research. I wish I could talk more, but we’re run out of time here.

Please, take a deep breath, and look over what you have. If it can lose text, lose it. If you’re trying to do too much, break it down.

If it isn’t fun, why do you want to see it printed?

2 thoughts on “You Make the Card 4 – Round 5 (Submit the Mechanic)”

  1. I’ve always been a fan of the seldom-seen “power/toughness reversed” mechanic, but I can’t see that working in black or a non-Aura enchantment. So, I’ll just keep watching from the wings.

  2. The legal requirement of being a U.S. or Canadian resident annoyed me. Maybe it’s just because I’m a U.S. citizen living outside the United States. Oh well.

    My idea, though, was “Whenever an opponent’s life total changes, that player discards a card.” You can use it offensively, effectively turning all your creatures into Abyssal Specters, or as a way to punish things like Martyr of Sands and Thragtusk.

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