Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cost of Doing Business


Let’s start off with a disclaimer: there are no new card designs in this post. If you happen to be a Wizards of the Coast employee, read on!

We’ve been discussing design space that could complement the mechanics we’re currently exploring for Tesla. Iteration and some versions of Cogs care about Converted Mana Cost, a term Wizards doesn’t generally put on commons. Now we could certainly spend most of our complexity points for the set here and print them anyway, but this is actually a more general problem for Magic, so first let’s try to solve it. How can we make the concept of cost comparison available at common under New World Order?

First thing's first. What exactly is the problem? New players don't understand what "converted mana cost" means. It's opaque terminology that stops them from playing the game while they try to figure out what their cards are asking them to do. The problem is twofold. The first issue is that it sounds complicated. "Converted?" Converted from what? To what? What cost is it referring to? It looks a heck of a lot like Setessan Griffin has two "mana costs" on it.

But even once someone understands what they're looking for, it's not entirely trivial to find. First off, the relevant number doesn't appear anywhere on the card. Deriving it is not all that tricky and players need to learn to do that anyway, but how are they supposed to know if it changes when they Convoke a spell or cast it with Bestow? Clearly if we want to make this space available at common, something's going to have to change.

The most obvious approach is to do the same thing that Magic 2015 did for power and toughness setting effects (which Chah suggested all the way back in 2011).


Is there a wording that clearly conveys what we mean by “Converted Mana Cost?”




This looks clean and easy to apply to a wide range of templates, but I’m not confident that players will get the right interpretation. With a card like Lash Out are players going to assume that {G}{G}{G} “costs less” than {4}? Perhaps we can clarify that the number is an amount of mana and not a cost unto itself.



This seems like it ought to work, but it may disrupt intuitive understanding of spells on the stack — why wouldn’t Stormscape Familiar keep Sun Titan from triggering Kurgadon under this wording?


Both of these terms do an excellent job of conveying that we’re looking for a purely numerical value, but I don’t think either is really useable. How do you use “amount of mana” to word Spell Snare or “how much mana” to word Clash?




These wordings might make it clearer that it’s a fixed number (especially if we opt for reminder text); we could even go with “base mana cost,” but the whole “converted” part is less clear. Some players might think they’re looking for an exact match.



Seems awfully redundant, but this is actually pretty clear…



Casting cost is a stand-in from ye olden days, but we might be able to get some additional clarification from something like total cost, base cost, or “numerical cost. However, whichever we go might with, it's hard to see how we could word something like Dispersal Shield without an X, which many (myself included) would argue precludes it from common anyway.

Well, that’s my two cents, I don't see a clear winner, but I suppose if the answer were easy Wizards would have implemented it already. The data we really need is how players who don’t know what CMC means interpret these wordings. If you’re going to be around any newer players in the near future, please show them one of these examples and see how confident they feel that they know what it means. That info would be a great boon to all of us, and eventually to Magic in general.

29 comments:

  1. The problem with using just a number: Generic, colorless mana has a number right there. So either they're gonna get confused about how it interacts with colored spells, or they're going to make the assumption that many new players do, that {1}{W} means "one white mana".

    The problem with saying "cost": What if I cast a Gut Shot by paying life? I didn't spend any mana, so did it really "cost" 1 mana?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The first issue is probably insurmountable, but the second only really offers a limitation for a block with Phyrexian mana. On larger time scales there's no avoiding some measure of confusion. Of course, a more minor version of the issue arises with lots of alternate cost mechanics, so it's probably not printable anyway. Thanks for the insight.

      Delete
    2. The second isn't just about Phyrexian mana. Any form of cost reduction or alternate cost will invite that same question. For instance, if I cast things with Etherium Sculptor, don't they "cost" 1 less to cast? It says it right there on Etherium Sculptor!

      Delete
    3. I was just saying Phyrexian mana was even worse because there might be a question in players' minds as to whether they were technically "paying" the mana, but yeah, the general issue is probably insurmountable.

      Delete
    4. I'm confused about issue 1. If players are thinking {1}{W} means "one white mana" then they're playing the game horribly wrong anyhow.

      Delete
    5. Agreed, I just meant looking for exact matches, but as mentioned below writing out the number would probably help.

      Delete
  2. My favorite proposal from the last post was just saying "mana cost" (no "converted"). It creates a little bit of ambiguity with stuff like devotion, Frontline Medic, and Rage Extractor, but there's only one number that one could reasonably associate with the term, and it is better than most proposals at avoiding the Etherium Sculptor issue. Basically, the reasoning is that the word "converted" confuses more than it clarifies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That one's here on Spell Snare. "Converted" seems to be problematic because it sounds more complicated than it is, but just using "mana cost" not only leaves room for ambiguity, it requires that we come up with a new term for cards like Djinn Illuminatus.

      Delete
  3. Unfortunately, I think WotC has sunk enough research into this that without some findings of our own, the case can't be made. They KNOW CMC is ugly and confusing, and with the focus on NWO I'm sure they've tried for a replacement. (Not to mention how much common design space that would release.)

    "Converted Mana Cost" is an intimidating mouthful, but it's unambiguous. These alternatives have the opposite problem. Would you rather somebody avoid a card they don't understand, or misinterpret one and build a deck around a mistake? I suspect the latter is much more humiliating, and the former can be solved by asking a friend or pulling out your phone.

    I don't mean that this is a dead end, because this would be a wonderful puzzle to solve, but we'll need a lot better than "there's no clear winner here."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed, I was hoping that bringing it up with a bit more emphasis might draw out enough ideas to find something good enough.

      Delete
    2. With great respect for R&D, we mustn't overestimate them. They didn't figure out how to fix Oblivion Ring until last year or how to fix Turn to Frog until this year. They're working on these for sure, and they the most qualified to do so, but there's only a dozen of them, and they can't figure everything out. Given that many of them have also concluded it's a lost cause, that's all the more reason to keep searching.

      Delete
    3. Apologies, I didn't mean to suggest we must defer to them. Rather that we'll need to get either an obvious home run, or some hard data.

      Or both.

      Delete
  4. We've actually mentioned the wording "base power and toughness of X/Y" on Goblin Artisans!
    http://goblinartisans.blogspot.jp/2011/05/wording-for-diminish-effects.html

    I don't know if that post had anything to do with the new wording on M15. But if not, I'm still glad that I was thinking of the same thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought I'd remembered that, thanks for tracking it down!

      Delete
    2. It's good news for both parties either way.

      Delete
  5. One way to use "costs less than" or "costs more than" without incurring the Etherium Sculptor problem is to change the wording on Etherium Sculptor to "You may pay 1 less to cast artifact spells" or something like that.

    Another way is to say that Stormscape Familiar actually prevents a Sun Titan from triggering Kurgadon; that 6-drop is considered as "costs 5 mana" because you paid 5. Don't know if that's good or not, but it should definitely be considered.

    Then Dispersal Shield could be "Counter target spell if it costs less mana than a permanent you control."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd be okay with either, but the second scenario begs some interesting questions. Assuming we use the new wording anyway, do we bother redefining CMC? Doing so is a big functional shift for a lot of cards and weird to make the old cards behave differently without a single new card with the same wording to hint at it. Of course, if we leave CMC alone and just start using the new wording, we can never reprint anything that mentions converted mana cost.

      Delete
    2. Like intimidate replaced fear.

      Delete
  6. To start:

    Krosan Drover 3G (Scourge Common)
    Creature - Elf 2/2
    Creature spells you cast with converted mana cost 6 or greater cost {2} less to cast.

    ***

    I think converted mana cost as a concept should be retired. As a result, when asking players to look at a card's mana cost, the numerical numbers should be written out. The only reason Krosan Drover uses 6 when it says "converted mana cost 6 or more" is because it asks you to turn Craw Wurm's 4GG into 6 and then check to see if you can use Drover's cost reduction effect. Once "converted mana cost" is removed from the wording, use six rather than 6. This will also help players understand that you're not asking them to compare generic mana symbols to colored mana symbols.

    Next, it seems the comprehension problem of checking mana cost at common occurs mostly when it's being checked while spells are being cast (because of alternate costs and cost reduction effects, etc). When a card is in your hand, on top of your library, in a graveyard, or on the battlefield it is much less difficult to determine its correct mana cost. The comprehension problems at that point are just whether WW costs less than 3W. So cards that ask you to determine a card's mana cost while a spell is on the stack should be moved out of Common.

    I agree we need to add a word in there somewhere that means the total mana cost and not specific mana cost (as Djinn Illuminatus or Past in Flames refer to it). I propose the term mana value. It's a mathematics term, like base. And though it looks weird now, it isn't used by the game template in any other way, so it’s harder to misinterpret. Plus, it follows the line of thinking used with the introduction of concepts like color identity, and base power and toughness. Here's how it would look with Krosan Drover.

    Krosan Drover 3G (C)
    Creature - Elf 2/2
    Creature spells you cast with mana value six or greater cost {2} less to cast.

    And here's how it looks with the other example given:

    Protection from mana value three or greater.

    Whenever you cast a creature spell with mana value six or greater, put three +1/+1 counters on Kurgadon.

    (Each clashing player reveals the top card of his or her library, then puts that card on the top or bottom. A player wins if his or her card had a higher mana value.)

    Choose target creature or player. Draw three cards, then discard a card. Blast of Genius deals damage equal to the discarded card's mana value to that creature or player.

    Counter target spell with mana value two.

    Destroy target creature with mana value three or less. It can't be regenerated.

    {T}, Sacrifice Ratchet Bomb: Destroy each nonland permanent with mana value equal to the number of charge counters on Ratchet Bomb.

    Destroy target nonland permanent with mana value three or less.

    Counter target spell if its mana value is less than or equal to the highest mana value among permanents you control.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll bet cash money that if you ask a player that knows how to cast a spell that costs {2}{W}{W} and a spell that costs {4}{W} which one costs more or how much they cost, they will have the exact same answer we expect. It's easy to clarify in the rules that a spell with mana cost {2}{W}{W} "costs less" than a spell with mana cost {4}{W} and that will line up with player expectations.

      That said, the confusion with cost reduction mechanics is a concern. We could eliminate the confusion in cards going forward by avoiding CMC evalution for spells on the stack and/or replacing cost-reduction with payment-reduction, but we don't want to completely baffle players using old cards, so we need some backwards compatibility.

      Chah's suggestion of the meaning of existing cards is worth considering, though I'm leaning toward Nich's suggestion of "mana value" because it requires no sweeping changes to the game and seems pretty clear.

      Another similar option is 'worth.'

      Counter target spell worth two.
      A player wins the clash if his or her card is worth more.
      Counter target spell worth as much or more than the most expensive permanent you control.
      Protection from anything worth three or more.
      Gain life equal to that card's worth.
      Deals as much damage to that creature or player as the discarded card is worth.

      Delete
    2. I like this idea, though we'll need more data to determine if "mana value" or "worth" are the right terms. Referencing known numerical quantities certainly seems like a good call.

      Delete
  7. Something to consider, that I don't think has been expressed in the comments as of yet, is that the solution may lie beyond the alteration of rules language.

    Which is to say that if we accept the utility of CMC as being a mechanical concept to be preserved, perhaps the graphic presentation of mana costs didn't appropriately adjust when they shifted from "casting cost" to "converted mana cost".

    We can see in Duel Masters — as well as Hex:Shards of Fate, and likely many other CCGs — that the solution was to explicitly present a numerical total cost and append the specific colored resources that are a part of that cost. While such a presentation has its own faults (How coherent would two-brid costs be? What about X-spells?) it is worthwhile to consider whether the new frame may have been altered to include a little bubble that provides a given card's CMC, thus freeing the rules text to be abbreviated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. looks like we had the same idea. I agree that some graphic treatment is needed to make the concept of converted mana cost more accessible.

      Delete
  8. I've got a bold proposal: Make a new symbol for 1 generic mana (i.e., an empty gray circle), and instead of using a number in the mana cost, use that many generic symbols. In order to make room for long names, arrange the mana symbols vertically on the right of the art. Now that there are no numbers in the mana cost, we can put an actual number in the top right of the card stating outright what the total mana cost is. I mocked up a quick sketch in Paint for Blast of Genius: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/100560/BoG_generic_mana_symbol.png

    Then in card text you can refer to total mana cost, and the number it refers to is printed right there on the card. Is this solution more clear? I think so. Is it an ugly and non-symmetrical frame treatment? A little. Is it worth it? I don't know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Something I was thinking is what if the "authenticity" bubble were to appear on all cards (albeit only foil on rare+ like it is now) and contain the CMC in it. I'm not sure how detrimental that would be with regards to how players read a card, but it would be a way of leveraging the new template to place the CMC value in the rules box.

      Delete
    2. This idea seems viable, but not very clean. If we had Magic to start over again I could see the argument for total+specification costing, but now it requires redundancy on the card face and a random number that seems extraneous until a card asks about converted mana cost. If we want to do something like this I think we need to integrate it into the mana cost. Perhaps a bar with the total value divided up into sections to show color weight.

      That said, I have a more minimalist aesthetic than most, so I'd be interested to hear where others' opinions lie.

      Delete
    3. There is data on this. How many people loved the future frames from Future Sight and how many hated them?

      Delete
    4. I find them hard to read, but that's more about the weirdness of the futuristic frame than about the layout itself.

      Delete
  9. So, this is something that a while back on twitter (https://twitter.com/WalkThePlanes/status/456627227174506496)

    In my mind, there are three things that make Converted Mana Cost an unsuitable term. The first is that the technical language kills the flavor. The second is that it refers to a number that is not the amount of generic mana required for the spell. And finally it's not effected by things that change a cost (familiars or trinispheres etc.), despite the word "Cost" being right there.

    To me, any proposal has to hit those three things better than current language while still being at least as grokable as what we've got now.

    The discussion that matches those best so far would be value or worth. I would add mana total to that list.

    ReplyDelete