Last week I wrote about Keyforge and its intriguing attempt to “fix” Magic. I want it to succeed, but it won’t. Nothing will ever supplant Magic as the grindy, pay-to-win king of the CCG genre. It’s got too much market share and the pay-to-win stuff is a feature, not a bug, for the most committed players. There are ways to create something better than Magic though.
I’m committed to Dead Parents Dungeon right now—
—shut up, I am—
—and even though I’m too lazy to do any actual work on it, I take that commitment seriously enough that I’m not getting into it too deeply.
Only a little bit.
Ideally, it’d be electronic. A lot of the bitch is based on real, physical cards, so why electronic? Electronic cards can be changed. A card that costs 5 to play today can cost 4 tomorrow. Imagine grouping cards by seasons and shifting their power up or down four times a year (if by some unlikely chance a Magic developer is reading this, you’ll have to imagine it with a lot of aspirin). Is this card valuable now? No. But it could be.
Good ol’ Lightning Bolt
Magic believes in bad cards. I believe in cards that are good in certain contexts; Lightning Bolt is a solid card when your opponent starts with twenty life and you can put 4 of them into a 60-card deck. In Commander, when your opponent starts with forty life and you have 1 Lightning Bolt in 99 cards, it’s garbage.
But lots of Magic cards are only good in the context of a draft format, which requires you open those cards from a freshly-bought Magic: the Gathering booster pack. Those cards are terrible everywhere else and they’re called ‘draft chaff’ as a result.
No one wants to buy cards that are going to be useless in less than a day. An all-electronic format lets you change things to keep certain cards relevant.
Or to turn useless cards into another currency. Sure, money is one. Cashing in mediocre commons for a penny a gross is the obvious solutions. But consider turning two obsolete Wicked Pacts into a merely Reckless Spite.
The difference is it’s a little bit faster.
Consider the ability for casual players to create their own formats with very basic tools. As is, most fan-made formats have very simple rules because of the necessity of deck construction. Even modern, a non-fan format, uses card frames as a simple (if not absolute) indicator of which cards are allowed in it.
You heard me. Search for the most expensive Magic cards. Right after the Power 9, nine cards printed early in the game’s past that are banned or restricted because they are dramatically overpowered, the most expensive cards in Magic are lands. After that, it’s more cards from the first set, Alpha. Then it’s more lands.
Does whatever an Island can
Does whatever a Plains can do
Here comes the Plains-Island
The land system in Magic is bad. There are strictly-better versions of basic lands and that shouldn’t happen in any system, but here access to good cards is limited by money. A different throttling system is needed. Magic uses a system of gradually incrementing values of different types to keep decks limited in function and speed. There are better ways of implementing that than through randomly drawing the cards you need to play the game.
The makers of Magic insist that the randomness of drawing lands keeps the game diverse, but not drawing the lands you need to play the game—land screw—is in no way part of a healthy game. I mean, these are the same people who tell you that land destruction is dangerous because…players don’t like having their lands screwed with.
Worse, there are plenty of lands which do more than gain mana and when there are restrictions on targeting simpler lands, those restrictions affect those more complicated lands as well.
Last week, I mentioned the Epic system of having free spells and non-free spells, and only being able to cast one free spell a turn. I don’t think it’s a good system because that means every card has to have about the same level of power, but it’s a start.
You could take that system and count turns. As the turns tick up, the cards become more powerful. Some cards may even be explicitly weak in the early and mid game, but more powerful in the late game. Or vice versa. Or any combination.
Consider a turn count which limits players equally in the total casting cost of cards they can play.
A turn counter which limits players equally in the maximum cost of cards they can play.
A turn-incremented counter which limits play as above, but can be cashed in by one player to lower both players’ limits.
Cards which lock an opponent out of X of their counters for turn.
Cards for any of the above which accelerate a player above that limit.
Cards which require you to have X or more cards in your hand before you can play them.
Same as above, but based on cards in play instead of cards in hand.
Same as above but requiring you or an opponent to have life below a certain level (or another victory condition or game currency ABOVE a certain level).
Magic’s land system is bad, it needs to be improved, and there are a lot of alternatives.
Constructed formats are cancer. In constructed formats, you buy (or pull) cards and assemble them into finely-tuned decks. The alternatives are draft formats, in which you open Magic booster packs and players take turns pulling cards from those random packs until they’ve assembled a deck from those limited resources (Cube is another draft format, but that’s about it).
Constructed formats are the primary formats of Magic and most cards that are opened are either sold on the secondary market for constructed formats or labeled as ‘draft chaff,’ useless cards sold in penny and nickel bins. It’s a waste.
Now obviously, players shouldn’t have to pay $15 and wrangle up a team of folks for a draft every time they want to play Magic. But money buys good cards and victories; a good player with bad cards will lose to a bad player with good cards most of the time.
There should be customization and players should be able to play with archetypes they like. But there are ways to do that which are more of a skill test than buying cards. Fewer, more functional cards with a more consistent power level or with alternative effects or a system where the cards in a player’s deck aren’t determined by the cards they own would work.
That system could be a full or partial draft. It could be a series of global enchantments like the Planechase series. Consider a ‘river,’ a set of five cards randomly drawn at the start of a game which replace ‘blank’ cards in a player’s deck.
Like this, but not literally named “river.”
One of the alternatives available for an electronic format would be ‘shadow cards.’ Like the river, a series of unique cards that “can’t be included in decks” are drawn, drafted, or otherwise selected at the start of a game. Then cards of a certain type can be discarded and played as one of those shadow cards. Consider cards that get bonuses from being played that way.
Alternatively, link it into Keyforge’s “choose a house system.” Cards have two (or more) different effects for two different houses, but you chose a house at the start of a turn. Maybe the second (or third) house for cards are determined at the start of the game or drafted and added to cards in a regular constructed format.
Back to the Dungeon
But seriously, I have got to get back to working on Dead Parents Dungeon. I just need to do some number revisions after the last playtest. It’s mundane work and I tend to avoid that like the plague, so I’ve been putting it off. It’s the point at which I usually bail on projects and even if my teeth are only sunk into DPD at a surface level, it’s important I keep it there and keep intending to dig in deeper.
Trying to refocus these next few weeks. We’ll see how that turns out.