Stunt Double

Posted in Latest Developments on August 19, 2016

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Hello and welcome to another week of Latest Developments! For the first time in a while, I have a preview card for you at the end of a preview season, and the full set hasn't been previewed yet! But don't worry, you can see more about the set this weekend from the various stores around the world that are hosting Conspiracy: Take the Crown preview events. If you can't attend one, maybe you can follow social media and see some of the cards from one of the events. It's a pretty novel way to finish off a preview week, and a way I really hope you enjoy it.

Managing Complexity in Conspiracy

One of the holy grails of designing Magic cards is making simple and evocative cards that tell a great story without a ton of rules text. If you look at cards from the early days of Magic, especially Legends and Ice Ace, you see cards that have incredibly long text boxes dedicated to getting the flavor of the card down perfectly. Take a look at Blizzard, for example. It really tries to sell how flavorful the card is by giving you a complex array of instructions without actually doing much. That's on the wrong end of the spectrum. On the good end of the spectrum are some of the better core set cards like Mind Control, Lightning Bolt, or Fog. Simple and sweet. Now, the rules text on those cards did decrease as Magic went on, and we got better at making them work in the rules, but we can now print them and give players interesting cards that are easy on the eyes. Maybe not Tenth Edition foil Time Stop easy (that is a beautiful card), but easy none the less.

Just because we can put more words on cards in Conspiracy sets to deal with multiplayer aspects doesn't mean they all need to explicitly state that they scale or otherwise get better in multiplayer. Many of the most popular multiplayer cards of all time, like Mind's Eye or Rhystic Study, don't explicitly call out the number of players in the game, they just get better as that number scales. Morbid was a mechanic used in the original Conspiracy for that exact reason—the more players you have, the more likely you are that the abilities will trigger. We want some cards in Conspiracy: Take the Crown to have this kind of simple text that makes them better in multiplayer, but does so without wonky wording to call it out explicitly. Let me present you with Stunt Double:

Stunt Double is the kind of card we could make in a Standard-legal expansion. That's definitely true. In fact, we have put versions of it into sets on multiple occasions. The thing about this card is that it is an okay fit in a Standard-legal set, but not that exciting. It is kind of hard to make the flash aspect of the card work out in ways that are really exciting. One of the advantages of Conspiracy: Take the Crown, as a multiplayer product, is that we can create cards that are pretty simple on their surface, but are a lot more interesting in actual gameplay. These cards can go into the set and be a lot of fun, but not require huge text boxes to create great flavor.

Simple Pleasures

One of the goals of both the first Conspiracy and this one was to (as much as possible) include cards in the set that drew some of their interesting decisions or gameplay from the multiplayer aspect of the games, rather than just from being complex. While the Conspiracy sets were not held to quite as strict of a New World Order requirement as our regular sets, we didn't want them to be twice as hard for players to understand. After all, if you are playing in a four-person game, the number of relevant interactions on the battlefield will likely be much higher than in a one-on-one game. That's fine, as long as those interactions lead to fun gameplay rather than a ton of on-board tricks. One of our rules for using the hidden agenda cards in both Conspiracy sets is that they needed not to act as on-board tricks that would require players to have an intimate knowledge of the set to play around. We want Conspiracy: Take the Crown to be a product that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels and enfranchisement, rather than one where the Spikest players are consistently rewarded for on-board tricks. After all, winning games in Conspiracy Draft should require some amount of ruthlessness and deal-making with other players, rather than it being played just like a single-player game.

That isn't to say a lot of the cards in Conspiracy don't have long word counts—they do, because they're often doing things that can be very complicated in the rules sense, but we try to mitigate that as much as possible by using flavor to help people understand what is going on. Both the monarch mechanic and voting require a lot of work to explain on the rules of a card, but once you get down to actually playing with the cards, they tend to be pretty straightforward. We want Conspiracy to be a fun experience for everyone involved. Hopefully that means you feel like your games were decided by actions you took as a player, rather than by misunderstandings. (Unless those misunderstandings were on purpose—I have "misunderstood" a vote more than once to get something I wanted out of a card, or to betray an alliance without exactly betraying it.)

Lessons Learned

I didn't play a ton of Conspiracy: Take the Crown in its design or development—the time frame happened to overlap with Eldritch Moon, so I was pretty busy. But I did play one very memorable design playtest using a mechanic that didn't make it into the set.

One of the first ideas for a "twist" on conspiracies in this set was to have a secret mission that you could go on and get a reward. Basically, if you ever met the condition on the card, you could trigger it, flip it up, then get either a static bonus or a spell effect. They were pretty cool in theory, in that it led people to making some very interesting decisions while playing, often avoiding killing someone right away so they could figure out how to trigger their secret mission.

Stunt Double
Stunt Double | Art by Joseph Meehan

In my first playtests with secret missions, I got one that said "kill the player to your left." Great, easy one to complete—just need to attack. So, we are playing our game, and to my left was Dave Marsee, at the time one of the members of our Magic Duels team who worked on digital within R&D. Dave is really the nicest person on Earth—very sweet and unassuming. And I had to kill him.

So, on my third turn, I attacked with a flier. His response was to say, "Gosh, well...okay, I guess I take 2." I played another creature. On my next, turn I killed his creature and attacked for more damage, but he again took it with a grin. He was less happy on my next turn, when I once again attacked him. Then, when he was finally down to low single digits, I took him out. Dave was frustrated because he likes playing multiplayer, but he didn't understand why I was picking on him. Why I had ignored everyone else, many of whom had much bigger threats on the board or in their decks. I flipped up my secret mission to reveal why he had to die: he had the misfortune of sitting next to me, and inside of his bones was a card. A single sweet, sweet card. I drew it and passed the turn.

"A card!" Dave said. "A card? You did all of that for a card?"

I sort of shrugged. "Yeah...well, that's what my card told me to do."

So, the thing is that a card is a pretty sizable reward for completing a quest on a hidden agenda. It could've been more, but considering it doesn't cost you anything in your hand, it's hard to make that large of a swing not be over-the-top. We wanted something to incite people to play the game differently, but it ended up doing so in a pretty unsatisfying way. I was less concerned about politics and more about completing my quests. We do quests pretty well in regular Magic, and one of the best parts about Conspiracy is that it sends you on very different quests than in regular games of Magic. The net fun of the game where I was doing what my card told me to do was just not that high. In the end, I think games like that were the reason we moved away from that mechanic and toward the ones that stayed in the final set. It's good to have conspiracies that change how the game is played, but we need to make sure they don't take the fun politics out of the game.

That's it for this week. Next week I'll be going into our vaults and showing you what our Future Future League decklists looked like for Eldritch Moon Standard.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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