Sunday, October 20, 2013

Custom card: Corpse Ignition

The artist is Sergio Diaz, you can see more of his stuff at his blog, .

This card was mostly inspired by Drown in Filth , but making use of some of the special properties of Horde, that there are token cards in the deck. It can be Volcanic Geiser that both hits Horde in its deck and might kill a creature if you're lucky. We'll see how it does in playtesting.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Custom Card: Ghoul Eater

Here's another custom card for Horde that we've cooked up, and the artist has just given his permission to use it.

The artist is Ron H. Bruhn, AKA calfCut on deviatART. A big thanks to him for allowing us to use it. I looked around on deviantART for quite some time to find something that looked like it ate flesh and had the right color palette for a black card. Eventually I stumbled on this one

I decided to go with "Wiitigo" rather than "Wendigo" to match Magic's two previous cards that made use of the wintery cannibal demon, Wiitigo and Shape of the Wiitigo. Many monsters from Native-American folklore have a large number of possible pronunciations and variants, so why not match the one that Wizards used?

This was actually a bottom-up card. One piece of design space that is unique to Horde is that the Horde deck has token cards in it. This little guy peeks at the top card and om-nom-noms it if it's a zombie token to regenerate. The double-black mana in the ability cost was chosen so that this ability wouldn't get spammed and used to just do extra damage to the Horde. Hopefully it will fare well in playtesting.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Custom Card: Pyromancer

I've gotten art use permission from the artist, so I'm posting another custom card. This is another Clutch mechanic creature, playtest name "Surrounded Pyromancer".

The art is by Teemu Norvasto, you can see more of his work at his blog here: .

We'll start playtesting this card, I've personally got high hopes for it. You need to have an instant-speed trick that doesn't rely on attacking or blocking, since the mana will empty from your pool when the Horde enters its combat step. So it can't help cast a Divine Verdict or similar spell, but a Punish the Enemy it can. I hope he's a balanced and useful card, but playtesting will reveal if that is the case.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Custom Card Development Log: First Clutch Playtest

Today we playtested the first Survivors' Cube custom cards, a few creatures with Clutch and the cycle of abandoned lands. A few of the Horde's custom cards came out as well. Here are the notes on how the custom cards performed.

Survivors' Cards
  • Two of the Abandoned Land cards ended up coming out, Abandoned Harbor and Abandoned Farm. Abandoned Harbor ended up doing exactly what we wanted it to do, I drew it when we'd just been hit with a Plague Wind and dropped it untapped and held off the zombies for a turn. Abandoned Farm came out but didn't end up being used. The boost may be too small. But it does boost the whole Survivor team, not just one player's dudes. Outlook is positive for the Abandoned Lands.
  • Eager Slayer (with clutch 1-- gets +2/+2) proved to be exactly what we wanted. She is a cheap, effective but somewhat unreliable defender, and a poor attacker.
  • Mage's Boomstick (clutch 4 for a charge counter, spend four counters for four damage) charged far too slowly, the wizard shotgun never got fired.
  • Rugged Survivor's (clutch of 3, get +1/+1 counter)  didn't happen soon enough, he ended up being a chump blocker.
  • Fleeing Necromancer (clutch of 5, reanimate a creature) never happened, the whole game. Even when he wasn't on the field.
  • Apocalypse Cryomancer (clutch 5, tokens enter tapped) also didn't happen.

Mid playtest, we changed some of the clutch numbers to be lower and just wrote on our proxy prints with pen and played again. After these changes, Fleeing Necromancer actually triggered. Rugged Survivor started being a decent blocker. With clutch 2, everything has a (roughly) 35% chance of triggering. This ended up being much more fun.

So we are changing Clutch to be always two or more creature tokens. We playtested higher numbers, and the events were rare enough that the cards almost never triggered, or the event happened when the creature wasn't on the battlefield. We've kept one design that uses a higher number as a silly crazy card with a very small chance to trigger, which we have removed the ability word from. All the other Clutch spells are being balanced to accommodate the number always being two.This also makes the text always the same, matching up with Morbid and Threshold. The updated cards are going on the Custom Cards page

We've recently added a Grave Betrayal to the Horde Deck. It's absolutely brutal if the Survivors don't draw into any enchantment removal. Which we had none of in the colors we ran. But our Horde deck now has a large enough number of enchantments that the Survivors have incentive to run it. This brings up an interesting point about the cooperative deckbuilding experience. There are a few things that every team needs in this format. Enchantment hate, some spot removal, and black/artifact creatures to block zombies with intimidate. We had enchantment removal in other colors, but didn't run them since the pools were weaker. But the team as a whole suffered for it when grave betrayal chained into a Plague Wind.

Horde Deck Cards

  • Selective Reanimation: [Enchantment: The Horde reanimates the strongest creature, rather than randomly]This card was designed to take advantage of the Horde's random behavior, and modulate it. It proved to just be far too weak and trigger far to little to remain as a card in the Horde deck. It might have some potential as a Hard Mode Emblem, but as a non-token card it doesn't pack enough punch.
  • Hell Is Full: [Enchantment: when the Horde's graveyard has 10 or more creatures, any that die go back to its hand] A top-down design based on the name, the design we owe to a friend. The number 10 proved to be a little to high for this card to matter, since by then the Survivors had drawn into some enchantment removal or graveyard hate. We playtested with 6 instead, when it DOES come online, it's almost totally unbeatable. design just doen;t work at all. Another option is to put counters on it whenever a Horde creature dies, and have it activate when a threshhold is reached or remove counters to activate.
  • Zombified Pets: [3/4: has protection from target Survivor] Top down design for encountering your own zombified loved one (dog). Wording needed to be changed, it should be targetable in the graveyard and the wording prevented that. Having protection from a player is a cool piece of design space that couldn't be in many other formats, and the top-down-design is nice, but it will probably need some added punch to be deadly enough to earn a spot in the Horde.
  • Second Unlife: [Enchantment: all zombies that die for three turns come back] This was a top-down for the trope "It's getting up again!". This card worked as expected. The players were able to play around it since the Horde didn't have any particularly nasty creatures out at the time, but overall the design seems solid and working.
  • Rotting Books: [Enchantment: each turn, each player must discard a spell or give the Horde a zombie] This was a bottom-up design trying to get the players to discard without being as severe as Oppression. The Horde almost always just gets the extra 3 or 4 tokens. not once did a player discard a spell. The idea needs work and testing. Maybe make it two tokens and discard any non-land card.
  • Zombified Friends: [Sorcery: Each Survivor discards a creature, the Horde gets them] A bottom up design. It doesn't work often, since the Survivors usually play their creatures pretty fast. And doesn't really explore any design space that is unique to Horde. Cut from the designs.
  • Bloated Boomer: [3/1: if takes lethal combat damage, summon 4 tokens] Top-down design for the Boomer in Left 4 Dead. If you get up in his grill and shoot him, you get covered in bile and attract a zombie horde. Isn't unique design space and proved quite easy for the Survivors to deal with. The top-down design is nice but without change this card is going to get cut.
  • Zombie Mutation: [Sorcery: Horde trades tokens for zombies from graveyard] A design that two of us came up with independently. Proved modestly effective the one time it came out. it has a large chance of dumping a good board for the Horde. Changed into an enchantment that does one a turn,
  • Infested Safehouse: [Enchantment: If the Horde reveals 0, gets 4 tokens] Got counterspelled. But has a 40% chance of summoning four zombies, so we're leaving it in the playtest for now.
  • Power of Rot: [Sorcery: Tokens get +3/+3, die at end of combat] Got counterspelled. Unfortunately, it also doesn't really explore any unique design space, it's just a black Overrun but much worse. It also doesn't really do much unless the Horde is already doing well.
  • Rain of Undead: [enchantment: if the horde has 2 or less creatures, gets extra reveal] Worked great. It eventually ate some enchant removal, but pumped out a couple extra waves of zombies. Probably going to continue unchanged.
  • Gravewrought Titan: [6/7: must be double blocked, blockers get +1/+1 if have different controllers]Performed admirably. He died, but all 3 survivors had to contribute a blocker. they happened to have those in excess, but that won't always happen.

Overall, the playtest was very informative and a lot of fun. The Survivors' Cube is beginning to stabilize somewhat, the pace of edits to correct for balance problems has slowed. Tweaks are still being made, but it's beginning to converge to the power level we want.

Revised Cards:
Here are the new versions of all the cards we tested (and have the artist's permission to post the image). The Clutch creatures are all changed to balance against the 2-token threshold, and the lands have had their flavor text shortened to one line.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Rules: Card Pool Size and Difficulty

Other sets of Horde rules use different knobs to turn to adjust difficulty to scale with player number. The player scaling is one of the challenges of doing Horde, since one wants to keep the format simple, yet fun enough for repeated play. Often the four-player game gets so easy that it's not fun after the second or third time.

Some reduce the life total of the players, so that large teams have less life. Note that the originally published rules have MORE life for more players, which is simply making an already easy game even easier. Reducing the life total doesn't change the stabilization rate of the Survivors and doesn't make the Horde any more deadly. It just lets some early-game luck on the Horde's part create an overrun once in a while.

Others adjust the total number of cards in the Horde Deck, adding more cards for more Survivors and making the deck smaller for fewer players. This again doesn't change the ease with which a team can stabilize. It will make the game a little longer, and add a couple more chances to run into a Plague Wind, but once a team stabilizes they're usually swinging through for 10-20 damage each turn to deplete the Horde of cards. This doesn't make the Horde any more deadly and doesn't combat the four-player stabilization problem.

Another rule is adjusting the token to non-token ratio in the deck. A Horde with more creature tokens is more deadly, since longer runs are more likely. This does make the Horde harder to beat, and combats stabilization a little bit since players may be forced into chump blocking before they wanted to. The disadvantage is the amount of additional setup and breakdown time, counting tokens to make sure you have the right number or choosing which weaker non-token spells to remove. One could perhaps combat this by writing on the front side of the sleeves what player number they should be taken out at. This factor makes token ratio scaling unfavorable by my evaluation.

We've just started playtesting a new rule for adjusting the difficulty of Horde Sealed for the number of players: The more players, the smaller each Survivor's card pool is. Our initial tests have proved promising. This may provide an elegant and easy way to scale by player number. There are more players to block, more mana on the board, more spells cast, but each has access to fewer high-quality cards, less synergy, and must have a more fragile mana base. This is a knob to turn that isn't available in Horde with constructed decks.

Our initial rules are 2 Survivors: 90 cards, 3 Survivors: 75 cards, 4 Survivors: 60 cards. In all the games before this, a four-Survivor team is VERY dominant and rarely loses. Perhaps this will take them down a notch. It may take them down two notches, we'll have to see.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Custom Cards: Clutch

The 600 card sleeves ordered for the Survivors' Cube finally came in, so we are starting to test the custom cards for the Survivors' Cube. We've been testing the Horde Deck ones for a couple weeks, I'll post on those and their results later.

We're designing custom cards to put in the Horde Deck and the Survivors' Cube. However, there are already lots of Magic cards out there. Like 13,000ish at time of writing. If there's something that could be printed on an ordinary card, we'd like to avoid making a custom one for that and just obtain a regular card from our Friendly Local Gaming Store. We're trying to have a fun limited environment, but designing a full 400 card cube from scratch is a lot of work. And there's no shortage of perfectly good cards to use, no need to reinvent any Magic wheels. But there is design space that doesn't exist in ordinary Magic and is unique to Horde. I'll talk about just one particular piece of design space, the Horde's reveal action.

The Horde reveals cards from the top of its deck until it reveals a non-token card, then plays everything. This is something that doesn't occur in ordinary Magic. That means there is some design space we can fill up without making anything that is similar to an already printed Magic card. We used this to design the one mechanic unique to our Survivors' Cube, which we are calling "Clutch".

"Clutch" got its name because these cards give you a bonus when you really need it: when the Horde reveals a bunch of tokens. Each card with Clutch has a number, and when the Horde reveals that many or more creature tokens, it triggers. Because of the way we've decided to have the Stack work for the Horde's reveal, a few effects we would have liked to have don't work, since the tokens aren't yet on the battlefield when Clutch triggers. This is a somewhat unreliable mechanic (since you have only a little control over how many creatures the Horde reveals). Creatures with Clutch abilities tend to be stronger the higher the number (thus, strength is inversely proportional to probability of triggering). Clutch goes on permanents. Though currently it is only on creatures (and one artifact), we could put it on an enchantment or land.

It's an italicized mechanic like Morbid or Battalion from recent releases, but the triggering number varies from card to card. I'm not actually sure if this is OK with the rules of the game. Since the text varies from card to card, it's certainly an ability word, not a keyword. But other ability words like Threshold and Battalion are always "seven or more cards in your graveyard" or "attacking with three or more creatures". So  this may be bad design. If it were changed to "always 4 creatures" or something, we'd lose a couple designs and have to rebalance but it wouldn't kill the mechanic. If someone rules-savvy knows the answer to this, please drop me a line, contact info is in the About tab.

We had a few choices when setting up this mechanic. One option was a "Horde Storm" type mechanic, that copied an effect once for each token the Horde revealed. Given how broken Storm already is, we decided not to do that. The other option we passed on was "When the Horde reveals exactly <clutch>  tokens, do <effect>" While this elegantly captured the "when the horde reveals zero" effect, it made the other effects much less likely to trigger. I ran the statistics and graphed them. X or more also won't lead to the feels-bad moment if the Horde revealed just one too many tokens.

Everyone love mathematical tables! Note I assumed "with replacement" as a first approximation for these. That is, assuming the next card always has a 60/100 chance to be a token, despite the Horde deck being finite. It's approximately a Poisson distribution. This level of approximation is below the error from ignoring things such as poor shuffling and player shenanigans anyway.  I'll have to actually take data from some real play tests to make a histogram sometime. Playtesting will have to reveal how often Clutch triggers and how useful it is when it does.

So that's the first iteration of our Clutch mechanic, which we are starting playtesting. More Clutch cards can be seen in the Custom Cards tab.