Published on July 31st, 2013 | by A. J. Asplund
Epic Custom Magic Night: Fixing a Broken Mechanic
Recently, a number of us that write here participated in an event described as a “Make-your-own-Magic Booster Draft.” As one of the participants, I thought I would share my story about developing a new rule for the world’s most popular card game.
Magic is Broken: Film at 11
Allow me to begin by stating an important opinion on Magic: The Gathering: the resource mechanic is broken. The resource used to play cards (mana) comes from specific types of cards (lands, for the most part) and generally must match one of the five types (colors of magic). As all the cards come from the same game deck, the randomness of drawing cards not only impacts what cards you have available to play but also whether you have the cards necessary to pay their cost. Drawing too few or too many resource-providing cards, called “Mana Screw” or “Mana Flood,” respectively, is a fundamental part of the game.
Throughout the years, Magic has tried to work around the problems inherent in the resource system. Some cards, such as dual-colored lands, ease the restriction on the resource type. Others, such as those that let you search your deck for land cards, make it easier to get the resource-providing cards that you need. One set even took a radical leap and introduced a mechanic for which some cards could be played without the basic resource (mana) at all. But, as a general rule, Magic: The Gathering rarely ever strays too far from the fundamental resource mechanic.
Why is it important that I lay this out? This was my challenge. This was my quest. I set out to fix the “broken” resource mechanic.
Time to get Serious
I had a relatively simple goal. I wanted to emulate the “any card could be used as a resource” mechanic present in card games like WoW TCG or Call of Cthulhu. However, I wanted to keep it within the Magic rules framework. Whatever I did should feel like an exciting element from a new set and not a ham-fisted attempt to change the nature of the game. This called for a new keyword.
Designing a new keyword is slightly more complex that I imagined. I wanted the keyword to fit within the existing structure but still fundamentally alter the resource mechanic of the game. This meant I had to do a lot of reading of the comprehensive rules document, the fundamental core of the game. I took it upon myself to mirror the structure and language of the game such that a Magic judge could look at it and understand the intent.
To my surprise, Magic had rules regarding face-down cards: Rule 707. I spent a lot of time learning about the keyword Morph and two specific cards, Illusionary Mask and Ixidron. Having not played the game since 1994, this came as quite a shock to me. Although face-down cards are most typically associated with the keyword Morph, Rule 707.2 provided the structure I needed: “Face-down spells and face-down permanents have no characteristics other than those listed by the ability or rules that allowed the spell or permanent to be face down.” My design centered around this rule.
My new keyword went through a number of permutations. Finding a way to word it such that it would make sense within the greater framework was more difficult than I expected. I also had to take into account the idea that although the comprehensive rules are clear about things, there are occasionally instances in which players do not know what the comprehensive rules say. The final result was the new keyword, “Landsoul.” [link to rules addendum]
Bringing a set of cards that had the new Landsoul keyword proved to be interesting. Based on creative reasons, I only put the Landsoul keyword on creature cards. For mechanical reasons, I further limited it to single color creature cards. The net result was that roughly 15 of the 45 cards I brought introduced this new resource mechanic.
When it came time to play, I observed that a few people had drafted Landsoul creature. To a certain extent, Landsoul cards felt a bit like split cards. You could play it as a creature or, in the alternative, play it as a basic land. Although its value in constructed play seemed obvious, it still worked well in a limited format.
One player recommended that I make all of the Landsoul cards similar to Flip or Transform cards. That actually came up early on in the process. I decided not to go with it because it had occurred to me a card with the ability to give other cards Landsoul might be terribly interesting. The idea that any card could be turned into a resource (via another ability) seemed too good to pass up.
Of course, like any good Magic set, there’s more than just mechanics. I wrote an entire backstory for the cards I created, but that story will have to wait for another time.