The "Almost" Mechanics

Posted in Latest Developments on March 29, 2002

By Randy Buehler

This week it was time for R&D as a whole to get involved in the “You Make the Card” process. Mark looked at every one of the over 5,000 mechanics that were submitted and narrowed the list down to around 100. He and Aaron later pared the list down again to about 25 based on variety and uniqueness, and then brought that list to me and the rest of R&D so we would have the opportunity to veto any cards that we just weren’t willing to print as green creatures. We exercised our veto power several times and I thought it would be interesting to look at the vetoed cards and tell you why.

First of all, I’ve got to say that the list was fantastic. There were some really original ideas and I suspect we’ll steal some of them over the next few years. By far the most controversial card was the one we dubbed “Mulligan Man”:

Mulligan Man (submitted by Gerald Pfeifer)
If you draw CARDNAME in your initial hand, you may reveal it to all players. If you do, shuffle your hand into your library and draw a new hand of seven cards.

How good is this effect? To figure that out we spent a lot of time arguing about what would happen if we printed an otherwise blank card with this ability. So if you draw it later in the game, it’s a completely dead card. But if you draw it in your opening hand, you get a free mulligan. We quickly realized it would need to say “draw that many cards” in case you had already “Paris mulliganed” down to less than seven cards. But even that version of the card seemed scary as a combo enabler. Without a four-of card limit the card would clearly be broken because you could play 53 of them and essentially pick out your opening hand of 7 (after a lot of shuffling). Of course, you can’t legally play 53 copies of him but we sometimes find hypothetical arguments like that useful. Even with just four of them you still have about half of your draws where you can cash them in if they don’t have all the combo pieces you want. You can also treat the card as a free Urza's Bauble in the sense that you have an effectively 56-card deck for purposes of figuring out your opening hand. We never actually figured out precisely how good Mulligan Man was, but it’d be really dumb if he was the only green card in assorted combo decks so we did veto him from the list. We’re going to keep arguing about him, and we could print him some day, but we certainly don’t want to wind up deciding to kill the card you all vote for, so we vetoed him.

Doublestrike Dude (submitted by Wayne Alward)
CARDNAME deals first strike and normal combat damage.

Twice the damage equals half the turns. A tricky balance issue to be sure.

This was one of my favorite designs. Over the years several people have proposed “doublestrike” as a Magic mechanic and this might be the most elegant way to implement the idea of doublestrike I’ve ever seen. This is so good that at first I thought we could introduce doublestrike as a keyword and using it on like a dozen cards with Wayne’s text as the reminder text. Eventually, we realized it might be flawed as a keyword because you just can’t put it on cheap creatures. Even a 3-mana 1/1 would lead to insanely easy quick kills -- turn 1 Llanowar Elves (or Birds of Paradise), turn 2 Doublestrike Dude, turn 3 any combination of 3 Giant Growths and/or Reckless Charges and/or other 3-power enhancers. That’s 20 damage on turn 3. Anyway, the real reason we vetoed Doublestrike Dude is that green is the wrong color for him. First strike just isn’t something green is good at. This card should be either white or red.

We also vetoed Josh Williams’s suggestion of “CARDNAME can’t be sacrificed.” At first it seemed like a nice simple ability, but we were afraid it would lead to some potentially confusing situations. If you’ve got that guy and I play Chainer's Edict, can you choose to sacrifice that guy, thus satisfying the Edict, but then have his ability prevent you? Or do you have to choose somebody else? The rules are clear (you would have to choose somebody else), but we thought enough people would get confused that we didn’t want to print this ability. Along a similar line we vetoed a totally different card because we thought it would be confusing when combined with the main mechanic of the Onslaught block -- but I obviously can’t tell you anything about that one.

Magic Rules Manager Paul Barclay was also given veto power, which he wound up using on just one card: James Doyle sent in “M: Target spell targeting CARDNAME until end of turn instead lasts permanently.” Making your Giant Growths permanent would be a cool ability, but the rules of Magic just can’t handle it.

Rosco Schock submitted the following mana accelerator: “: Choose land or nonland and reveal the top card of your library. Repeat this process until you reveal a card of the chosen type or you choose to stop. If you choose to stop, add to your mana pool for each card revealed in this way.” It’s kind of a cool mechanic, and if you put the revealed cards into the graveyard (the obvious choice) then it would interact with the Odyssey-block in an interesting way. However, it’s really swingy. If it goes on a cheap creature, it has the potential to allow people to play enormous creatures on the first few turns of the game. Meanwhile, it’s not an interesting ability for a fatty. We think cheap mana acceleration is really dangerous for the game, so we vetoed it.

Nicholas Danylyshen submitted “As CARDNAME comes into play, choose a number. All spells with a converted mana cost equal to that number can be played for free.” This just screamed "COMBO ENGINE" to us. Everything that lets people play cards for free has set off alarm bells inside R&D ever since the Urza's block “Time Spiral” turned out to be so much better than was intended.

Any creature that immediately came back from the graveyard could enable a two-card infinite combo -- not a good idea.

There were also two cards where we demanded a tweak. The first said “Whenever CARDNAME goes to the graveyard from play, return it to play.” As written, this is just plain broken. Combine it with Phyrexian Ghoul and your creature is as big as you like. Combine it with Goblin Bombardment and your opponents all die. We do enough cards where “sacrifice a creature” is the cost that we demanded a new clause be added that says to return the creature to play “at end of turn.” With that clause, any weird combo decks can only go through their loop once per turn. Mark thought that was the initial intent of the submission anyway -- that the submission was designed to create an unkillable creature -- so he added the clause and then the (slightly) new card made it to the final vote.

The second tweaked card originally read, "When CARDNAME leaves play, target opponent searches your library for three different creature cards and reveals them to you. Choose one and put it into play. Put the rest into your graveyard." Cards that do things when they "leave play" are abusable, and this one's ability was so good that we couldn't take the chance. A gating creature, a Boomerang, even a Flicker (let alone weird cards like Vanishing) would allow this creature's ability to be used more than once cheaply. Having it trigger when the creature died seemed like a good compromise that would let us keep the card at a higher power level.

The final list of ten mechanics is really pretty good, in my opinion. Whatever you vote on will be a good, fun, powerful card. Let the campaigning begin!

Randy may be reached at

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