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A Pirate's Life for Me

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Last week, we began to assemble a design skeleton for Life (the first set of the hypothetical sea-based block Life, The Universe, And Everything) and I received an interesting response when I asked you about the pace of assembling the initial skeleton. If you look at it now, you’ll see that the majority of the respondents were fine with the pacing, and approximately equal numbers fell to either side.

That’s not how it was at the start. I didn’t post anything about last week’s article on social media outlets until almost twenty-hours after it went up, and the initial response to the poll (with an admittedly small sample size) indicated that I’d glazed over the skeleton building. I suspect the shift has to do with the initial readership consisting of more people casually browsing GatheringMagic and the latter consisting of diehard design enthusiasts, but why don’t we find out for sure?

[poll id=150]

With that, I’m going to let things sit as they are, but I’ll once again point to Mark Rosewater’s article on the subject for anybody looking for a more involved look at picking creature sizes and mechanics.

The Heart of the Matter

We left off with a discussion of a returning mechanic and a common design skeleton that looked like this:

CW01 – creature, small, team pump

CW02 – creature, small, flying, enchantment removal

CW03 – creature, medium, flying

CW04 – creature, small, first strike

CW05 – creature, small, vigilance

CW06 – creature, small, flying

CW07 – creature, medium, lifelink

CW08 – creature, medium

CW09 – creature, small, flash

CW10 – creature, small, flying

CW11 – creature, small

CW12 – sorcery, token making

CW13 – instant, tapping

CW14 – instant, protection granting

CW15 – sorcery, enchantment removal

CW16 – instant, life-gain

CW17 – sorcery, pump, flying granting

CW18 – enchantment, Aura, creature removal

CW19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CU01 – creature, small, flying

CU02 – creature, small, mills

CU03 – creature, medium, flying

CU04 – creature, large

CU05 – creature, small, hexproof

CU06 – creature, small, flying

CU07 – creature, small, bounces

CU08 – creature, medium

CU09 – creature, small

CU10 – sorcery, card-drawing

CU11 – instant, bounce

CU12 – instant, counterspell (hard)

CU13 – instant, counterspell (soft)

CU14 – sorcery, mill

CU15 – sorcery, card drawing

CU16 – instant, −X/−0

CU17 – sorcery

CU18 – enchantment, Aura, creature removal

CU19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CB01 – creature, small, intimidate

CB02 – creature, small, deathtouch

CB03 – creature, small, lifelink, haste

CB04 – creature, small, flying

CB05 – creature, small, enters-the-battlefield (ETB) discard

CB06 – creature, small

CB07 – creature, medium, intimidate

CB08 – creature, medium, creature revival

CB09 – creature, medium

CB10 – creature, medium

CB11 – sorcery, creature kill

CB12 – instant, −X/−X

CB13 – instant, +X/+0

CB14 – sorcery, discard

CB15 – sorcery, draw cards and lose life

CB16 – sorcery, edict (target player sacrifices a creature)

CB17 – sorcery, drain player

CB18 – sorcery, creature revival

CB19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CR01 – creature, small, haste

CR02 – creature, small, first strike

CR03 – creature, small, firebreathing

CR04 – creature, small, damage player

CR05 – creature, small

CR06 – creature, medium, haste

CR07 – creature, medium, intimidate

CR08 – creature, medium, trample

CR09 – creature, large

CR10 – instant, +X/+0, trample

CR11 – instant, damage creature or player

CR12 – sorcery, damage player

CR13 – instant, artifact destruction

CR14 – sorcery, panic effect (“can’t block”)

CR15 – sorcery, damage creature or player

CR16 – instant, damage creature

CR17 – sorcery, threaten effect (gain control of creature until end of turn)

CR18 – instant, first strike granting

CR19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CG01 – creature, small, deathtouch

CG02 – creature, small, reach

CG03 – creature, small, mana producing

CG04 – creature, small

CG05 – creature, medium, flash

CG06 – creature, medium, reach

CG07 – creature, medium, vigilance

CG08 – creature, medium

CG09 – creature, medium

CG10 – creature, large

CG11 – creature, large, trample

CG12 – instant, +X/+X

CG13 – sorcery, life-gain

CG14 – instant, hexproof granting

CG15 – sorcery, land searching

CG16 – instant, artifact/enchantment removal

CG17 – instant, fog effect (prevent all combat damage)

CG18 – sorcery, flyer removal

CG19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CA01 – equipment, power/toughness boost

CA02 – Equipment, evasion granting

CA03 – mana related

CA04 – sac effect

CL01 – color fixing

CL02 – ETB untap a creature

Before we pick between adding scry, cascade, or morph to the file, we’d do well to figure out what else is going on here mechanically. I’m inclined not to make any sort of swimming ability and leave the dichotomy of being above or below the surface in the capable hands (wings?) or flying, most notably the skyships that this world’s Pirates sail about on.

What better place to start, then, than defining said Pirates mechanically? The Pirate life has a lot of aspects to explore: plundering ships, digging for buried treasure, mutiny, curses, and perhaps most importantly, being part of a crew. All great captains in history have had ships full of sailors behind them, and making sure that Pirates work well in groups will do a lot to make them play like the scurvy dogs they are.

Shanghaied

A lots of tribes play well in numbers—that’s the point of Goblin Chieftain and friends—but in my mind, one people really stands out from the rest: Lorwyn’s Merfolk. There’s more at work here than just cards that benefit your finned friends; the Merfolk in Lorwyn fit together to form intricate machines far more powerful than the sum of their parts.

I’m not sure that Pirates need to reach quite that level of Johnny ecstasy, but this train of thought certainly got me wondering about what could replace the taps/becomes-tapped model. The major constraint is that the interlocking abilities need to work and feel natural alone. To start, I went back to that list of Pirate hobbies I made; what has a nice, straightforward mechanical implementation? Looting, which now conveniently fits in red.

This option is perfectly plausible, but it would be great to represent the ships, too. I wanted the crew to be aboard, but trying to have multiple creatures acting as a single ship quickly started to slip into banding territory, and I decided to look for a new approach. What if the captain had control of the ship, and the crew just helped him out?

Yo, dawg, I heard you like keywords, so I put a keyword in your keyword so you can read reminder text while you read reminder text.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit ambitious. What if we took a hint from the saying that, “A captain goes down with his ship?”

With this approach, a lot of Pirates would need enters-the-battlefield abilities, which is less flavorful than the saboteur triggers that the first option allows. Between that, the fact that this approach doesn’t really scale with more ships to board, and the difference in comprehension complexity, I’d rather take the first approach.

Restructuring

With that decided, it’s time to start molding the design skeleton around this set’s needs. We can change one of blue’s draw spells into some sort of Sift variant, make one of black’s discard effects hit every player, and add more looting to red. But beyond that, the fact that Pirates want to play in three colors means that we want to make this Limited environment more multicolored-friendly than the norm, and the best ways to do that are adding more color fixing and slowing down the environment. Let’s specify CA03 a bit further as a color fixer, leaving us with the changes in bold:

CW01 – creature, small, team pump

CW02 – creature, small, flying, enchantment removal

CW03 – creature, medium, flying

CW04 – creature, small, first strike

CW05 – creature, small, vigilance

CW06 – creature, small, flying

CW07 – creature, medium, lifelink

CW08 – creature, medium

CW09 – creature, small, flash

CW10 – creature, small, flying

CW11 – creature, small

CW12 – sorcery, token making

CW13 – instant, tapping

CW14 – instant, protection granting

CW15 – sorcery, enchantment removal

CW16 – instant, life-gain

CW17 – sorcery, pump, flying granting

CW18 – enchantment, Aura, creature removal

CW19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CU01 – creature, small

CU02 – creature, small, mills

CU03 – creature, medium, flying

CU04 – creature, large

CU05 – creature, small, hexproof

CU06 – creature, small, flying, loots

CU07 – creature, small, bounces

CU08 – creature, medium, grants flying

CU09 – creature, small

CU10 – sorcery, card-drawing

CU11 – instant, bounce

CU12 – instant, counterspell (hard)

CU13 – instant, counterspell (soft)

CU14 – sorcery, mill

CU15 – sorcery, card drawing (Sift-style)

CU16 – instant, −X/−0

CU17 – sorcery

CU18 – enchantment, Aura, creature removal

CU19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CB01 – creature, small, intimidate

CB02 – creature, small, deathtouch

CB03 – creature, small, lifelink, haste

CB04 – creature, small, flying

CB05 – creature, small, triggered discard

CB06 – creature, small

CB07 – creature, medium, intimidate

CB08 – creature, medium, creature revival

CB09 – creature, medium

CB10 – creature, medium

CB11 – sorcery, creature kill

CB12 – instant, −X/−X

CB13 – instant, +X/+0

CB14 – sorcery, each player discards

CB15 – sorcery, draw cards and lose life

CB16 – sorcery, edict (target player sacrifices a creature)

CB17 – sorcery, drain player

CB18 – sorcery, creature revival

CB19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CR01 – creature, small, haste

CR02 – creature, small, first strike

CR03 – creature, small, firebreathing

CR04 – creature, small, damage player

CR05 – creature, small, loots

CR06 – creature, medium, haste

CR07 – creature, medium, intimidate

CR08 – creature, medium, trample

CR09 – creature, large

CR10 – instant, +X/+0, trample

CR11 – instant, damage creature or player

CR12 – sorcery, loots

CR13 – instant, artifact destruction

CR14 – sorcery, panic effect (“can’t block”)

CR15 – sorcery, damage creature or player

CR16 – instant, damage creature

CR17 – sorcery, threaten effect (gain control of creature until end of turn)

CR18 – instant, first strike granting

CR19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CG01 – creature, small, deathtouch

CG02 – creature, small, reach

CG03 – creature, small, mana producing

CG04 – creature, small

CG05 – creature, medium, flash

CG06 – creature, medium, reach

CG07 – creature, medium, vigilance

CG08 – creature, medium

CG09 – creature, medium

CG10 – creature, large

CG11 – creature, large, trample

CG12 – instant, +X/+X

CG13 – sorcery, life-gain

CG14 – instant, hexproof granting

CG15 – sorcery, land searching

CG16 – instant, artifact/enchantment removal

CG17 – instant, fog effect (prevent all combat damage)

CG18 – sorcery, flyer removal

CG19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CA01 – equipment, power/toughness boost

CA02 – Equipment, evasion granting

CA03 – color fixing

CA04 – sac effect

CL01 – color fixing

CL02 – colorless producing, sac to draw

Of course, Pirates aren’t all there is to the world, and Life is going to need at least one more new mechanic. In an effort to evoke the high seas, we’ll want players to feel that they’re exploring and uncovering the mysteries that lie below. We need green and white to take part in a theme for the sake of Limited, and they aren’t exactly the colors of mystery, so we’ll leave that theme for the returning mechanic and look toward adventure.

Charting Progress

The theme of exploration has historically been tied to lands. That is . . . the theme of Exploration has historically been tied to lands. That’s fine if it works, and it fits well in white and green, but playing Exploration doesn’t feel like you’re exploring. That gameplay demands an element of the unknown. These themes together immediately made me think of hideaway. I experimented with a bunch of alternatives, but in the end, I decided that cascade is a good enough fit for exploration that it’s not worth trying to shoehorn morph into the set, and unfortunately, scry does more to remove mystery than anything else.

Cascade will work better at a low density, so I’m restricting it to Naya colors (R/G/W), and that means we need a mystery-evoking mechanic that’s not in red. Moreover, these themes occupy similar space, and we need to make sure to keep them mechanically distinct so the set doesn’t feel monotonic.

Dredging Up Ideas

While thinking about sunken ships, it occurred to me that the graveyard could serve our purposes, but run-of-the-mill Disentomb effects certainly don’t feel mysterious. The issue is that normal recursion doesn’t play like drawing a card—it plays like a Demonic Tutor from (what is usually) a much smaller library. Recurring random cards will let a dredge variant fulfill its original purpose of drawing cards from graveyards without changing Magic into something unrecognizable.

Bulking Up

With our mechanics in place, we’re free to finish a preliminary sketch of Life’s commons. Interestingly, blue end up with the least to do, but that’s probably for the best—it will naturally have more tropes to play up than the other colors.

CW01 – creature, small, team pump

CW02 – creature, small, flying, enchantment removal

CW03 – creature, medium, flying

CW04 – creature, small, first strike

CW05 – creature, small, vigilance

CW06 – creature, small, flying

CW07 – creature, medium, lifelink

CW08 – creature, medium

CW09 – creature, small, flash

CW10 – creature, small, flying, trawl

CW11 – creature, small

CW12 – sorcery, token making, cascade

CW13 – instant, tapping

CW14 – instant, protection granting, trawl

CW15 – sorcery, enchantment removal

CW16 – instant, life-gain

CW17 – sorcery, pump, flying granting

CW18 – enchantment, Aura, creature removal

CW19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CU01 – creature, small

CU02 – creature, small, mills

CU03 – creature, medium, flying

CU04 – creature, large

CU05 – creature, small, hexproof

CU06 – creature, small, flying, loots

CU07 – creature, small, bounces

CU08 – creature, medium, grants flying

CU09 – creature, small

CU10 – sorcery, card-drawing

CU11 – instant, bounce

CU12 – instant, counterspell (hard)

CU13 – instant, counterspell (soft)

CU14 – sorcery, mill

CU15 – sorcery, card drawing (Sift style)

CU16 – instant, −X/−0

CU17 – sorcery, reorder top cards

CU18 – enchantment, Aura, creature removal

CU19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CB01 – creature, small, intimidate

CB02 – creature, small, deathtouch

CB03 – creature, small, lifelink, haste

CB04 – creature, small, flying

CB05 – creature, small, triggered discard

CB06 – creature, small

CB07 – creature, medium, intimidate

CB08 – creature, medium, creature revival

CB09 – creature, medium

CB10 – creature, medium, trawl

CB11 – sorcery, creature kill

CB12 – instant, −X/−X

CB13 – instant, +X/+0

CB14 – sorcery, each player discards

CB15 – sorcery, draw cards and lose life

CB16 – sorcery, edict (target player sacrifices a creature), trawl

CB17 – sorcery, drain player, trawl

CB18 – sorcery, creature revival

CB19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CR01 – creature, small, haste

CR02 – creature, small, first strike

CR03 – creature, small, firebreathing

CR04 – creature, small, damage player

CR05 – creature, small, loots

CR06 – creature, medium, haste

CR07 – creature, medium, intimidate

CR08 – creature, medium, trample

CR09 – creature, large

CR10 – instant, +X/+0, trample

CR11 – instant, damage creature or player

CR12 – sorcery, loots

CR13 – instant, artifact destruction

CR14 – sorcery, panic effect (“can’t block”)

CR15 – sorcery, damage creature or player

CR16 – instant, damage creature

CR17 – sorcery, threaten effect (gain control of creature until end of turn), cascade

CR18 – instant, first strike granting

CR19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CG01 – creature, small, deathtouch

CG02 – creature, small, reach

CG03 – creature, small, mana producing, trawl

CG04 – creature, small

CG05 – creature, medium, flash

CG06 – creature, medium, reach

CG07 – creature, medium, vigilance

CG08 – creature, medium

CG09 – creature, medium

CG10 – creature, large, trawl

CG11 – creature, large, trample

CG12 – instant, +X/+X, trawl

CG13 – sorcery, life gain

CG14 – instant, hexproof granting

CG15 – sorcery, land searching

CG16 – instant, artifact/enchantment removal

CG17 – instant, fog effect (prevent all combat damage), cascade

CG18 – sorcery, flyer removal

CG19 – enchantment, Aura, boon

CA01 – equipment, power/toughness boost

CA02 – Equipment, evasion granting

CA03 – color fixing

CA04 – sac effect

CL01 – color fixing

CL02 – colorless producing, Sac to draw

Putting It to the Test

From here, the next step is designing a bunch of commons to playtest with. So, for next week, I want to see your WHITE common designs for Life. You can post them in the comments, tweet them to me @JulesRobins, or e-mail them to me (julesdrobins at gmail dot com). I’ll try to adapt everything to fit together, and I’ll fill any remaining holes.

Just remember that the skeleton merely outlines requirements we need to fill; don’t throw out a good design just because it doesn’t fit a prescribed slot; things can always be reworked. I hope by this time next week, we’ll be able to move on through the other colors. I’ll see you then!