Last week, I started showing the vision design handoff document from Wilds of Eldraine written by Chris Mooney. It was long enough to break into two parts. Most of this article is the actual document as it was written by Chris, with my commentary in blue boxes below their text.
Bargain is a workhorse mechanic that helps to tie into various other themes of "Netball." It's a simple mechanic (a subset of kicker) that rewards both Food and Role tokens in a way that also cleans up the board state.
Bargain is not essential to the "Netball" experience, but it has been enjoyed by vision and play designers so far for its simplicity, flexibility, and potential Constructed appeal. It is especially nice that it's a hidden information mechanic in a set that already has lots of mechanics that add information to the table (Adventures, Sagas, Roles, etc.).
Another point Chris brings up here is "hidden information." If too much of your set is all public information, it makes the game computational. That is, you can plan out future turns in your head. The game gets extra Spike-y and slower because players must keep track of all the information. By having something hidden (usually in the hand), you are adding in an unknown element that allows players to react more in the moment, which, for most players, is more fun. We try to make sure that sets have some amount of hidden information, which Chris points out is a big advantage of bargain.
I have two main concerns with bargain. The first is that this set has a high level of sacrifice going on. At one point, we had cards that sacrificed Food, sacrificed enchantments, sacrificed creatures, or some combination of the three. To simplify, we've removed most of the creature sacrificing, but it's possible that bargain will continue to cause issues with various sacrifice strategies blurring together.
The second issue is that bargain is currently worded just like kicker, however, many of the designs in the file give the bonus of cost reduction, which technically does not work with the current wording. It's unclear as of now whether the cost-reducing cards will stick around, but if they do, the words on this mechanic may get worse or become untenable. This is mostly a concern for digital.
Right from the start, everyone agreed Adventures should be in "Netball." Adventurer cards were popular among players and useful for creating powerful Constructed cards.
"Netball" will be the third appearance of Adventures after the original Throne of Eldraine and Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate. The twist here is that we will debut off-color Adventures, with a spell of one color and an instant or sorcery of another.
The team also talked about wanting to bring a bit more flavor to adventurer cards since the mechanic has such a natural ability for storytelling, but the original set had a lot of very mechanical effects. That said, we acknowledge that Adventures are hard to get right (especially for Limited) and that there are many other storytelling tools present in the set.
Finally, we wanted to acknowledge that Adventures are debuting on noncreature artifacts in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate. We think this set's lean toward enchantments themes means it could be a cool place to do some enchantments with Adventures. Our current cycle harkens back to the original courts of Eldraine and uses Adventures to make cards with heavy color requirements playable in the early game.
Sagas are another mechanic people were excited to have in "Netball" right from the start. Our plan is to use Sagas to tell recognizable fairy tales. There are currently ten multicolor Sagas at rare (one per archetype), plus a smattering of other standalone Sagas. We don't think this structure needs to stick and could imagine this set having a disorganized number of Sagas ala Dominaria or Theros Beyond Death.
We talked about a few mechanical tweaks on Sagas. "Happily Ever After" was a Saga variant where the final chapter of the Saga stuck around permanently like a regular enchantment. "Choose Your Own Adventure" were Sagas with chapter abilities that had multiple potential options. "Sagauras" were Sagas that were also Auras. These were all neat but would add unnecessary complexity when the set already had a compelling theme for its Sagas (top-down fairy tales) and enough complexity going on already.
Minor Theme: Enchantments
While not fundamental to the structure of "Netball," our team thinks that having a minor (or potentially major) "enchantments matter" theme would work well here.
- Enchantment and enchanted are very fairy tale–sounding words that are evocative in rules text.
- Roles and Sagas are both new kinds of enchantments being introduced to this setting.
- No sets in the preceding or following year have an enchantments theme.
Initially we were interested in dramatically scaling back the amount of Food that appeared in "Netball" compared to Throne of Eldraine. However, our focus on top-down fairy tales kept leading back to Food-related designs. This was especially true once Hansel and Gretel became one of our ten story archetypes. Currently, the plan is for Food to show up about as much as it did in the original Throne of Eldraine, being the main mechanical hook of the black-green Limited deck.
While Food was not so popular in the original Throne of Eldraine, it was hard for us to disentangle those feelings from specific powerful behated Constructed cards like
Our approach to Food is to provide more proactive outlets for sacrificing Food that help players convert that resource into things other than life to help from having overly long Limited games. We'd like to avoid rewarding players for "eating" their Food the usual way. Additionally, since Food is in the set mostly to support Limited themes, we don't think it's necessary for Food to show up much on Constructed rares. (Though, of course, that option will still be on the table if Set and/or Play Design is interested in it.)
The Story Archetypes
"Netball's" Limited environment is built on a traditional "ten two-color draft archetypes" structure. The unique twist for this set is that each of these ten archetypes is mapped top down onto a fairy tale. This structure has proven to be popular with players and helpful to designers. To keep things clean, I tend to refer to each "fairy tale + draft archetype" pairing as a story archetype.
The goal of this structure is to help "Netball" feel like a storybook, with several different small storylines running in parallel with one another. Additionally, the nature of Limited gameplay means that you will always end up with cards from one story archetype showing up in another story archetype's deck, so the structure also heavily reinforces the mixed-up fairy-tale theme.
Delivering on this set structure is a high-effort task, since it will require coordination between design and creative throughout the process. One of the complicating factors is that focus-group testing showed that players preferred to see Magic's unique take on fairy tales as opposed to retelling them exactly as the source material.
However, I see attempting this story-archetype set structure as low risk. Unlike factions, these story archetypes have a lot of flexibility in how much space they need to take up. They could appear on anywhere from three to ten cards, and they need not all be the same size. Plus, if the proverbial house of cards collapses, top-down card designs and creative worldbuilding are still in line with the larger themes of the set, so it's unlikely that any work will go to waste.
Here's a list of what comprises each story archetype:
- Each has a multicolor uncommon legend as the draft signpost who is a character from the story.
- Each has a multicolor rare Saga that tells the story. (We like these but don't think they're required.)
- Each has a multicolor uncommon off-color Adventure. Some of these are story archetype aligned, some are not, but we think they should probably be either all or nothing.
- Each has some number of commons and uncommons. These cards are purposefully not tightly structured. Some stories have more memorable characters and/or moments. Some draft archetypes require more support. Not every card that supports a draft archetype needs to be story aligned as well, but we do think it's nice if the key commons and uncommons for each story archetype are clearly aligned with one another.
The last page of this document includes a breakdown of the story archetypes at time of writing.
- Roles are uniquely fun. Few mechanics in Magic are so naturally delightful on flavor alone. Roles are the heart of "Netball's" mixed-up fairy-tale theme. I think the most successful version of "Netball" is one that does whatever it can to make Roles shine brightest.
- Keep focus on flavor. Fairy-tale flavor is the lifeblood of this set. Roles, Adventures, Sagas, and story archetypes are all major set elements that exist primarily to help deliver flavor.
- Battlefields get cluttered. Adventures, Sagas, and Roles are all mechanics that put more face-up information into the game than usual. Watch for opportunities to keep decisions and complexity hidden in hand.
- Source material is limited. There are only so many fairy tales, and only so many resonant designs that can come out of them. While we should avoid executing on tropes the same way Throne of Eldraine did, do not be hesitant to rerun a certain story element with a new mechanical execution or a clever twist.
|Story Archetype||Story Confidence||Archetype Confidence||Other Notes|
Tap Stuff Tempo
|High||Medium||People don't know this story beyond "there's a queen with ice powers," so we felt like tapping creatures was a decent representation. We wanted to avoid fliers because of the blue-black Faerie archetype. I've put a few "stun counter" cards in the file since so many fairy tales involve someone being frozen, put to sleep, or otherwise trapped.|
|Medium||High||We've always wanted blue-black Faerie typal in the set. Players like it, and Creative wants to push Faeries. All flying tribes are challenging, but we're trying to push in more of a trickster direction with typal rewards on spells.|
|High||Medium (New)||Used to sacrifice Rat tokens, but there was too much sacrifice in the set of different kinds of permanents. New direction is more about swarming with disposable tokens (that can't block) and getting value from them dying.|
Little Red Riding Hood
|Low||Low (New)||Story is resonant but doesn't have much to work with in terms of creating an archetype. Creative is interested in moving toward their take on Billy Goats Gruff, but the Vision team wasn't sure what kind of deck that would be either. This is the least themed deck currently; Erik suggested the current direction of a simple midrange attacking deck that used combat tricks.|
Beauty and the Beast
|Medium||High||Story connection leans heavily on the word "enchanted." Many alternate stories have been suggested here, but Beauty and the Beast is still the front-runner.|
|Medium||Medium (New)||Used to be a "go tall with Auras" deck, but it didn't feel distinct enough from green-white, and sacrifice seemed like something Roles uniquely enabled. Story connection is weak, but Snow White as white-black is strong.|
|High||High||This time around we want Adventures to be focused here.|
Hansel and Gretel
|High||High||This deck has lots of alternate uses for Food to apply lots of midgame pressure.|
|High||High (New)||Went from a slow "count your permanent" strategy to a more proactive, attack-focused strategy.|
Jack and the Beanstalk
Ramp/Big Spells Matter
|Medium||High||We know we want to do this story, but it's sometimes been tried in red-green or green-white. This deck cares about mana value 5+, which is enabled in this set uniquely by Adventures.|
That's all the time we have for today. I hope you've enjoyed this look at the Wilds of Eldraine vision design handoff document over these last two weeks. As always, if you have any comments on the document, on the articles, or on Wilds of Eldraine itself, you can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).
Before I go, I want to congratulate all the Wilds of Eldraine teams for making an awesome set and give special thanks to Chris Mooney for letting me share their vision design handoff document.
Join me next week when I start my card-by-card design stories from Wilds of Eldraine.
Until then, may you live happily ever after.