Monday, October 27, 2014

A.M.R. - State of Mind (Original Mix)

Just discovered this song in my collection.  I have a bunch of trance that I downloaded from 2007-2008, courtesy of nmestar99 on the forums back when that place was still alive and chugging away.  Most of it is a bit dated for my current tastes but there are definitely some good gems lying around in there.  Trance is so good.  I'm making a playlist out of all of these old goodies so that I can go through them and see if there is anything else good lying around in there.

Every time I think of this blog I keep on thinking to myself, what am I supposed to write??  And I think of a bunch of things that I could write about, complaints, feelings, whatever, and I keep on feeling self-conscious about all of it, and then I just end up not writing anything.  Well....screw it all, I should just write...whatever.  That after all is the whole point of this thing, right? is a bit hard.  I've "grown up" in that I can no longer in good conscience blurt out whatever is on my mind.  I think that's neither a great thing nor a terrible thing, really.  I mean it's great that I've matured and am more self-conscious and people probably got annoyed or at least displeased by my old writing style way back when...heck, I've gotten annoyed at other people for the same reason.  But it's a tradeoff too...

I tried using oil pastels today!  Me and B have been meeting weekly for art sessions, which has been great!  It's nice to have someone else to go get you motivated and force yourself to go out and actually do stuff.

This was what I came out with today:

It was pretty fun!  I liked the oil pastels a lot more than expected; I think most of the picture is meh but blending the light/shadow of the wooden bridge was super satisfying!

I was not feeling that great today, actually yesterday at some points not feeling quite up to snuff either.  Part of it is needing to take care of myself better, rest when I should, blahblahblah.  I've also been fighting a minor battle with stress recently these days, it seems that my body is always feeling a bit more stressed than my conscious mind knows it should.  It's really annoying; I never used to have this kind of feeling but it happens to me nowadays--that "fight or flight" response feeling despite not actually having anything of impending doom coming.  So that's annoying to deal with.  Sometimes I am just not all there, like...not doing the things I should be doing, letting time while away.  It's important that I catch myself during those times, I think.  I wonder why it happens to me more often now than it used to?  It worries me a lot when I think about it, actually.  It's really frightening.  It could really just be that I'm stressed because I feel like I'm not accomplishing anything...maybe blogging about it will help?

Or perhaps really it's just a loneliness, maybe even a specific kind of "loneliness" that I didn't use to feel before.  That feeling is there, I'm sure of it, and perhaps more than I let myself know at times.  Maybe I can do something about it too.  I guess sometimes I let that kind of eat away at me without realizing it.

I've been drafting MtG with my brother's group on Wednesdays, which is quite fun!  I will probably skip this week just because I need time to do stuff like trip planning and because Thursday I've got OHC following by Risk of Rain with friends, and Friday early morning I leave for LA.  All of the trip planning stuff is a bit stressful; the LA one is basically figured out (yay) but my East coast trip is not really ironed out and it's difficult because I want to find Kiki, but really she is always difficult to pin down.  It's not the end of the world if I can't find her, but really...

Then there is the Japan trip which needs to be figured out, I think that one is a bit stressful just because it really is time for it to be figured out (two months away) and there is a lot of planning still to be done.  Despite that, good progress has been made so far so it really is just a matter of putting some hours into it.

I have been getting the itch to try designing a new MtG set but I haven't really come up with anything solid yet.  I think I need some mechanical ideas or at least some sort of theme to tie things around before I can start just going and seeing what is possible with design.  Last time with my Ravnica sets it was super easy because I already knew exactly what I wanted to do--just do RTR with different cards and a new keyword for each guild.  The difficulty there was that multicolor design space is limited so it was difficult to find a mechanic that really fit each guild, but in the end I actually think I did quite well if I do say so myself.  Let's actually take a trip down memory lane here and re-examine the mechanics of Return to Return to Ravnica (RtRtR):

Azorius (WU)
Mechanic: Decree -- At the beginning of your next upkeep, [effect].

Example card:
Azorius Adjudicator - 1WU
Creature -- Human Judge
Decree -- At the beginning of your next upkeep, you may return another nontoken creature to its owner's hand.

This was actually a really great design and one of the standout successes of RtRtR.  The wording is a little weird and there might be a better templating.  People were asking whether the ability triggers every time, but I think it's pretty obvious/clear that the ability only triggers once (otherwise it would say "at the beginning of your upkeep".  This wording has been used for the "pact" cards anyways.
Anyways the mechanic actually played really well.  I had a 1W 2/2 creature that had Decree -- you may tap target creature and that was a super-satisfying design because the timing of Decree works out exactly in tandem with the timing of summoning sickness, so your decree trigger is on the same turn that you can swing in.  So that was pretty cool to see actually come together.  I think this was a really nice fit for the Azorius guild as well, and created some interesting blocking scenarios where you were less willing to block in fear of losing your decree trigger.

Golgari (BG)
Mechanic: Ingest (You may exile a creature card from your graveyard as this creature enters the battlefield. If you do, it enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it.)

Example card:
Golgari Gravewurm - 2BG
Creature -- Wurm
Ingest (You may exile a creature card from your graveyard as this creature enters the battlefield. If you do, it enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it.)

Sort of like "reverse Scavenge".  The trick here was to make creatures that were slightly behind curve when played without Ingest but slightly ahead of curve when you could Ingest.  There's also an interesting tension for spending cards in your graveyard as a resource and there was a really nice enabler I designed called Delve which was B - mill yourself for 2 and you may return a creature from your graveyard to your hand.  That was an awesome card because at first glance it seems like another Raise Dead variant but it actually doubles as an Ingest enabler so turn 1 Delve is actually a really nice play even if you don't get anything.  Some of the fancier Ingest cards had interactions with +1/+1 counters, like as long as it has a +1/+1 counter it has trample or something.  Or there was one where you can remove the +1/+1 counter and pay to give creatures -1/-1 or something.  In hindsight I should have made the mechanic "Ingest X" so that the higher-rarity Ingest creatures could exile multiple creatures to grow even bigger.

Rakdos (BR)
Mechanic: Kamikaze -- Whenever [cardname] attacks, [effect].  If you do, sacrifice it at the end of combat.

Example card:
Faceless Menace - 2BR
Creature -- Demon
Kamikaze -- Whenever Faceless Menace attacks, you may have it gain “Creatures with power less than Faceless Menace’s power can’t block it.” If you do, sacrifice it at the end of combat.

You'll notice that the power is pushed a bit in this set.  A 4/4 for cmc4 seems a bit too strong for me nowadays, but I guess at the time my average impression of power was a bit skewed and I didn't realize for example how significant it could be to have a 3/3 for 2G (nessian courser in theros was good!).  Kamikaze was probably the weakest mechanic in the set here.  It was a flavor hit I think, because it ties into Rakdos's explosive nature where you just do whatever it takes to get in there.  However, it's a bad mechanic because it forces you to do something you don't want to do--sacrifice your guy.  Usually the effect is such that you really want to think before you just throw away your guy, even if it doesn't seem like your creature is relevant on the board anymore.  So even though it's an interesting tension for short-term gain vs long-term benefit, I think in the end it wasn't that satisfying to play with.

Selesnya (GW)
Mechanic: Herd -- [effect] as long as you control four or more creatures.

Example card:
Selesnya Trooper - GW
Creature - Elephant Soldier
Herd — Selesnya Trooper gets +1/+2 as long as you control four or more creatures.

This was another problematic mechanic as it was too win-more.  This one was actually designed by someone at mtgsalvation and I blatantly stole it.  The problem with this mechanic (besides being too similar to Battalion) is that keeping four creatures on the board was actually too hard even with token-producing support.  Furthermore, it led to huge blowouts when your fourth creature got removed mid-combat.  And, it led to you not being able to make early-game trades well because you wanted to keep your creatures alive.  This was sort of a development issue and maybe it could have been fixed by adding some more creatures like the "Wall of Fungus" that I made -- 0/2 uncommon for 2G that spawns 1/1 saprolings whenever it takes damage (yes, I made this card before Hornet Nest!) -- cards that allow you to take early game trades.  I at least made a 2G 2/2 that gave you a 1/1 when it died, so that was something.  But overall the Selesnya game plan was a bit too susceptible.  I'm not really sure what the best solution would be other than to either try to deal with it via balancing (tricky) or just come up with an entirely different mechanic.

Izzet (UR)
Mechanic: Chain Reaction -- If another instant or sorcery spell you control has resolved this turn, [effect].

Example card:
Phaseshift - UR
Target creature becomes unblockable until end of turn.
Chain Reaction — If another instant or sorcery spell you control has resolved this turn, that creature also gets +2/+0 until end of turn.

This was another mechanic stolen from mtgsalvation.  This one was a perfect fit for Izzet, which is a guild traditionally geared towards Johnnies.  It's a bit difficult to work with for limited because you need a high concentration of instants and sorceries, but having to do elaborate setups is exactly what Johnny feeds off of anyhow.  In addition, the spells here also fit the Izzet gameplan of just ending the game out of nowhere with unblockable huge creatures and such, and firing off volleys of spells.  The rares were also really flashy, with one that duplicate-cast all of your sorceries and instants, which was pretty amazing *if* you could go off with it.

So there you have it, those were the mechanics.  There were still some balancing and design issues when I left the set for RtG (Return to Gatecrash), but all in all it was a pretty fun thing to design and playtest and have people play at work.  Return to Gatecrash was a little bit less successful in my mind because I didn't have as strong mechanics.  Let's look at what I had:

Simic (GU):
Mutate [cost] (If you cast this card for its mutate cost, it’s an Aura spell with enchant creature. It becomes a creature again if it’s not attached to a creature.)

Yeah, this is just Bestow.  I wanted Simic to be about Auras because in my mind Simic was all about improving creatures (G brings the huge creatures, U brings modifications to them that make them evasive and/or better) and auras seemed like it would be their expertise.  So having auras that could also serve as creatures somehow, or something like totem armor, would make sense.  The idea was that you'd have "Cytoplasts" which would be biomasses that could either fight on their own or be infused onto other creatures.  In the end I'm not sure bestow was exactly the right way to do this but it was tested and tried so it was pretty simple in terms of making sure it worked.  I experimented with some other costs and ability combinations for the bestow creatures which turned out interesting, including a 1/1 flyer for U that bestowed for 2U (and gave flying), and a 0/3 for 1U bestow for 3U that had U - gets +1/-1 until end of turn, which was pretty interesting (maybe a bit too complex for common?).

Boros (RW):
Rally — When [name] enters the battlefield, creatures you control get [bonus].

This was difficult to find a lot of design space for, but it fit the boros theme.  Before I had a really degenerate sliver-like version of this where it triggered on attacking, but now it triggers on ETB.  It's still really strong since if you curve out right you basically have an anthem effect, but the bonuses were kept small enough (+1/+0, +0/+1) that it was still reasonable.  In the end I think this ended up being pretty alright?  I forget...

Orzhov (WB):
Soul Drain X (Whenever this creature is blocked, target opponent loses X life.)

This mechanic was *weird* was also super interesting.  There are basically 3 situations here--when your soul drain is less than your power, you almost always want to block the creature, just as normal.  When soul drain is equal to your power, then you only want to block the creature if you're sure you can kill it.  When soul drain is *greater* than your power then it's weird and you really only block if you know you can kill it.
It was a nice fit for Orzhov because it's a lose-lose situation for the blocker, and lets Orzhov just grind the other guy out.  The common WB soul drain card is a 1WB 1/4 vigilance soul drain 1, which is pretty much the poster child for Soul Drain here.  The other standout design is a 1/1 for W with Soul Drain 2 and 1W: gets +0/+1 until end of turn, which was always interesting to play with.  My friend was convinced that he was overpowered, but I didn't really think so as 1W is really quite a significant cost early game and 1 damage is not significant late game.

Dimir (UB):
Stealth [cost] -- (You may cast this face down as a 2/2 creature for 3. Turn it face up any time for its stealth cost.)

Yeah, this is morph.  Probably not the best choice since morph is usually better when you have a bunch of different morph cards at common, but it is actually a nice flavor fit for dimir since they are about being sneaky and such.  I usually had a lot of flip effects here, like the common 2/2 flyer for 1UB that unmorphed for 2UB and gave another creature -2/-2 (probably too strong).  I really had a lot of trouble thinking of a good Dimir mechanic.  It was hard.

Gruul (RG):
Ambush — [cost], Choose a blocked creature you control: Put this creature into play tapped, attacking, and blocked by the same creatures as that creature.

This one was the worst of the bunch just because it was too complicated.  I think it was an interesting mechanic, but as a set mechanic it's too complicated for people to understand what it is doing and it complicated combat too much.  I like that it basically is a way to use creatures as combat tricks and possibly have them turn into full creatures afterwards, which is kind of like bloodrush but in a different way, and I think Gruul is really all about combat tricks and combat stuff (attacking!), but this is just too complicated and you have rules questions about multiple attackers being blocked by the same blockers, etc.  I thought of an alternative mechanic for Gruul based on a hybrid card I had, which is basically something like Evoke -- you cast a card for a reduced cost and it gains haste, usually some creature with an ETB effect.  But I'm not sure how well that would work out, design-wise.

Anyhoo, I've gone on for way too long here so it's time for me to call it a night...

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