This entry is part 18 of 41 in the series In General

Grandpa (Eric)

By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth


This month on “In General” my articles are focusing on the topic of design in Magic. If you missed it last week, be sure to check out my article about Bushnell’s Law and simplifying the game for new players. This week, I want to specifically focus on what I call the dearth of design. These are undeveloped areas in my opinion, and I want to share a couple ideas I’d like to see take hold in the game.


Skip and Reverse

I love Uno. I like to get drunk and play Uno with my friends. I like to get drunk and play Uno with my friends until it turns into a bacchanalian festival of epic vulgarity. There are a couple of sweet cards in Uno that I think should make the jump to multiplayer Magic.


First, let’s talk about “Skip.” Time Warp is an old and much adored card that impugns the sanctity of the turn order. This is strictly a rare or higher and is sometimes even dubious to print at all. After so many years, though, I think our comfort level with Time Warp has reached a point where we can push this idea a bit further.


Skip is very similar in concept, but it essentially lets multiple players take an extra turn in the normal turn order. This is obviously a profound and powerful effect within the game, but the concept is quite intuitive. After all, the text box would be remarkably simple: “target player skips their next turn.” The true complexity of the card comes in sequencing. You have to make advanced reads about the state of the game and each player’s board multiple turns from now to fully grasp the significance of casting Skip.


The most interesting question to me is: what does Skip cost? If I take an extra turn, that puts me ahead. But if I take an extra turn along with a bunch of other people, then I’ve gained something, but others have gained as well, and I’m not guaranteed to be ahead. This leads me to think that it should be cheaper than Time Warp, because it will have less net impact for me.


This is the lesson that Death by Dragons failed to grasp. Six seemed roughly appropriate if I got a dragon, but giving away a bunch to other players is not as good as just having my own and shouldn’t be quite as expensive. The fewer players there are in the game, the better Skip becomes, at least down to a two-person contest where Skip is at its maximum value: I gain something and no one else gains anything. In a one-on-one situation, this net effect on the game is identical to Time Warp and should therefore be equal in cost.


How do you reconcile these disparate positions? Skip is more situational and therefore potentially worse, but in the closest comparison it should cost at least five. Perhaps some line of text that decreases the generic mana cost for each additional player in the game beyond two…? I don’t necessarily want the job of templating this card, but the idea is sweet.


“Reverse” works in a remarkably similar way in terms of its net effect. Each other player except the target is granted an additional turn in relation to the skipped player, but the mechanics of how this occurs are far more complicated and trample over one of the most sacred boundaries in the game of Magic: turn order. There’s no card that changes the turn order, so far as I know, and I doubt that there ever will be such a card. Obviously, this would only have a place in casual multiplayer, but that’s true of many sweet cards that have seen print in recent years.


The intricacies of Reverse are what makes it so appealing to me. Skip hoses one player, but Reverse hoses one player and fractionally hoses each other player in decreasing amounts around the table until you start seeing a positive effect for those immediately to your right. Yet, it has no real benefit for you. You can’t Reverse your way to the top so to speak. How much would you spend to hinder another player and make incremental changes to the balance of power for each other player? Situational value calculations are some of the most interesting mental exercises in Magic and this card would fascinate me to no end.


Abilities In The Command Zone

Oloro and Daretti were important first steps into a wide-open design space: abilities in the command zone. There are a number of simple extensions of this concept. If you can gain life while your commander patiently awaits his chance at battle in the command zone, why can’t you draw cards instead? Think of the possibilities! Taking extra combat steps, generating additional mana (or mana that doesn’t empty from your pool), power and toughness boosts for your creatures–all have potential as future riders on a legendary creature.


When it comes to activated abilities, I’d like to see some design where the command zone activated ability enables a second ability that works while the commander is in play. For example, what if we made a variant of Splinterfright that milled cards during your upkeep while it was in the command zone? Then it would be bigger when you want to put it in play. Better yet, what if we made a hybrid of Sultai Ascendancy and Karador, Ghost Chieftain? Side note: has chieftain always had two i’s in it? I swear last year it was spelled chieftan. I think they changed something in the Matrix. [Editor’s note: the author is, in fact, a crazy person.  It always had two i’s]


Trustbusting White Removal

It’s no secret that White gets a bit more than its fair share of the color pie. With regards to removal, White has ownership over the best spells in the game and also over a diverse taxonomy of different types. I recommend that White’s removal conglomerate be broken up into a few distinct regimes and that those regimes be distributed more evenly across the colors that historically lack strong removal.  


Let me start by going over what I think should stay in White. White removal plays best and has garnered the most resonance with players when it leaves behind some permanent on the board. This is usually, an enchantment, but a few creatures have popped up in recent years that can act as a sort of White Nekrataal. I think that every color should have its own version of Nekrataal, corresponding to is specific type of removal. Blue has Dungeon Geists and Shaper Parasite, Red has Flametongue Kavu, and Green should get some etb fight trigger on a creature. More importantly, I don’t think that White should have such dominance on enchantment based removal, although I do think that attaching it to a permanent should be a strict condition for common removal in all colors. Chain to the Rocks is a good direction to go, Path to Exile should be left behind. Pun intended.


Blue and White share much of their removal: tapping, putting things into/on top of libraries, shuffling permanents away, and enchanting them with various negators like can’t attack, can’t untap, and can’t activate abilities. These should probably just be migrated completely into Blue, or at least shifted so that it is a predominantly Blue card type and White receives it less often. Pacifism is a classic and iconic card and I hope it never goes away, but I do think that you can recast the flavor of the card to make it appropriate in other colors. Dedicating one’s self to scholarly pursuits feels Blue, so a Blue Pacifism might be about becoming a professor rather than a farmer.


Destroying attackers and blockers as a punishment or in the spirit of peace feels White, but it could easily be recast as something that feels Red. You can extend Red’s flavor affinity for the combat step out further to give it control over killing creatures during combat. Think of a color-shifted version of Smite that calls on the flavor of a critical hit. A weaker defender miraculously overcomes a superior attacking creature with a lucky shot. “Lucky Shot” or “Critical Hit” would even be good names for such a card (you get that one for free Rosewater).


Red desperately needs more effects like Chaos Warp. I would argue that cards like Path to Exile should be moved to Red to be more consistent with this line of thinking. Red can exile anything by turning it either into a random thing, or something that Red has control over. What if Song of the Dryads were renamed “Turn to Stone” and made the permanent a Mountain instead?


What I’m leading up to here is the idea that every color should have some access to every type of effect. This is a highly contested issue that has been swaying back and forth amongst some of the top personalities in charge of the R&D department for years. I, for one, am on Aaron Forsythe’s side. The flavor and the costs have to be appropriate to the card and color, but there are several ways to imagine basic effects within the game.


Consider Disenchant, a card that’s sorely missing from Blue, Black, and Red. It destroys magic and magic items. How does each color do this? White may break a curse or redeem some past wrong like Aragorn forgiving the debt of the ghost army. Red-aligned beings might simply destroy or crush the offending magical object or destroy the location the curse is placed on, burning a building or some such. Green might toss the Wand of Orcus into the gaping maw of the Tarrasque. A savvy Blue mage would examine the schematics and find a weak point or important component to remove, maybe even develop a whole new technology to negate the desired effect…ya know, like an orbital laser platform. Black can confine the object to a “Phantom Zone” or send it straight to hell.


Boom! We just made a Black Oblivion Ring.


Red Card Draw

In short: everyone else can do it, why can’t Red? Red is easily the worst color in eternal formats, largely because of its inability to interact with the actual cards we play the game with. When you do see Red appearing in Legacy or Modern it is usually doing one thing: Burn. This seems to be the only thing that Red can do efficiently and in formats where everything is dominated by efficiency, Red needs ways to contribute.


For the last couple years, design has made a concerted effort to give Red access to more card manipulation tools, but they haven’t quite broken through into the tournament scene yet. Don’t get me wrong, I think Wild Guess is great territory to explore. Great strides have been made here. But, without a true way to draw cards early on in the game–and actually generate card advantage once in a while–Red will continue to make a very one-dimensional contribution to decks.


Sleight Of Card

This is a light-hearted idea that I think would be hilarious and confusing and all around good fun. Remember those wonky old cards that would always change the color of things? They were the silliest!


First we have stuff like Deathlace, and then we got versions with sweet new mechanics like Whim of Volrath, and then we got the nostalgic modern update with Moonlace. Let’s develop a new twist on this old not-favorite: a card that replaces instances of card type words. You could change a Doom Blade to say that it destroys non-black planeswalkers. That would be hot. Perhaps we’d even get a card that directly changed the target card’s card type. Turning creatures into lands so they can’t attack, or making enchantments into creatures so that Black could finally destroy one, would also be hot.


Lightning Round

Before I go, I’m going to hit you with some rapid fire ideas for cards. I‘m not a designer, nor a developer, nor would you ever want me to be, but I’ll say this: The first time I released some of my card ideas, I correctly predicted the existence of Rakdos’s Return.




Siege Tower Shield

I’ve wanted an equippable Doran ability for a long time in order to enable various “booty” deck ideas.



A new model of Red control effects: take a random thing.

A new model of Red control effects: take a random thing.




Yet more color-shifting through a change of color perspective. In my head there are no limits on which abilities can be spread around.



Melee Combat

Red needs more hate enchantments. They seem to be the only good Red cards anyway.



Opportunity Theft

A variant on Mindslaver that doesn’t actually cost the target their turn. Still powerful, but it reduces the despair from not being able to participate in the game for three turns in a row (mine, theirs, mine).


That’s all folks. As always be sure to leave your feedback in the comments below, support on Patreon, and join me again next week.



“In General” is the place where I share my ideas on unconventional topics that are often only tangentially related to Magic. This column is a mixed bag where I collect and present ideas that don’t have a home anywhere else. If you want a column about strategy, psychology, design, economics, philosophy, internet culture, and referential humor, you have come to the right place.


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