Possibly Misguided Vintage Card Design Theory!

I tend to avoid the CCF (card creation forum) - style threads on TMD for a variety of reasons, but it really is a topic that interests me a lot. I love game design and I love vintage and I'm fascinated by the idea of thinking about magic and/or vintage holistically, and considering what impact different changes could have if cost and inertia wasn't a factor.

I began talking about this in a B&R thread but it got pretty off topic so I'm staring a thread here for people that are interested in talking about how one might go about designing cards explicitly for vintage. I'm less interested in going deep on any specific examples, and more interested in the kinds of problems that could be solved by card design, and what approaches people have to solving them.

the original conversation is here, but there's a lot of typical B&R drama in that thread too, so the short short summary is we're discussing what sort of card could be printed to counteract "problem" decks in the metagame. I don't want to clutter this thread up with any disagreement about what counts as a problem deck, so please approach anything here as a hypothetical ... if (shops/dredge/misstep) decks were a problem, what sort of card would reduce that problem. If you want to disagree on whether or not these are problems worth solving, please do so in the B&R thread 🙂

My feelings to start:

@ChubbyRain said:
The formula for an effective hate card is complicated. The best hate cards are typically broad enough that they can be used effectively against fair percentage of the metagame, thereby justifying their SB slot

I want to call out, I think anything that could be called a hate card is really the wrong approach entirely and rarely works. (Grafdigger's Cage and Containment Priest probably worked, credit where credit is due).

When I think of good printings that solved real vintage problems without restrictions, I think of the aforementioned Dack Fayden "solving" Tinker, Delver of Secrets dethroning the glut of Jace, the Mind Sculptor + Dark Confidant decks, and the evidence today that the best single card against Workshop decks isn't Energy Flux, it's Oath of Druids. Gifts Ungiven got people to stop arguing for the restriction of Goblin Welder (believe it or not a LOT of people argued for that VERY loudly), but there are people who probably preferred playing against Slaver. None of these cards single handedly made a bad metagame a great one, but I think they all did more good than harm.

This hasn't really happened too many times in vintage, but when it has, it happened without trying, and I think it could be engineered. What all of these cards have in common is that they're not hate cards at all, they're generally useful cards that contribute to a deck's "Plan A", and just happen to have some form of strategic superiority over another deck.

Hate cards basically all have the same set of problems. I'm dipping into deckbuilding strategy here, and this might seem obvious, but bear with me.

In order for a card to help you win a game of magic, it has to generate an advantage.
In order for a card to generate an advantage, it has to cost you less than it costs your opponent.

I don't mean this in the strictly literal mana sense (though that is important), but rather your spend across all of your resources, both in the game and in the meta-game of deckbuilding. If you Lightning Bolt a Young Pyromancer after they've made 2 tokens, you're behind on that trade. That trade can still be correct, but only if you have a deck that can so sufficiently handle 2 Elementals on the board that it's worth losing a card over -
that advantage doesn't come from nowhere, it has to be somewhere else in the deck, you have to have already spent the cost in card-slots to run it.

The typical hate card is a permanent that your opponent cannot win through, using his Plan A. The default game plan of a deck facing down hate is to run removal. This is not universally the case, but much of the time, hate cards are specialized where the removal is more general, which means right off the bat, the cost for you to run 4 hate cards is more than the cost for your opponent to run 4 removal spells. Within the Oath matchup, an Abrupt Decay for an Aegis of Honor is an even trade, neither player is ahead - but your deck ends up worse against the field, and in aggregate, Oath wins in the metagame on that trade overall, even if it doesn't end up ahead against your deck. This can be mitigated with a hate card that does better than trade with removal (like Rest in Peace) or a hate plan involving a mix of cards that require different types of answers from your opponent.

This is exacerbated by decks that have non-removal answers to hate, immortalized in the magic phrase "There are no wrong threats, only wrong answers". Two current examples are Hollow One out of Dredge and the Inferno Oath deck which is designed to pretty consistently hard-cast its Oathable creatures. If we assume that Leyline of the Void perfectly counters Dread Return and Ingot Chewer perfectly counters Hollow One, you're already on the back foot. If you draw a mismatched Leyline of the Void when they draw Hollow One, you're behind ... but if they draw a mismatched Nature's Claim when you draw your Ingot Chewer ... you're still behind.

What all this comes down to is that in the metagame at large, a hate card doesn't incentivize an opponent not to play a deck. It costs you more to run the card than it costs them to run an answer, so iterated over a tournament in any mixed metagame, the hateful decks get paired agains the hated less and less.

I guess this has gotten pretty far afield from card design ... but probably the most common thing I see when someone suggests a card design for vintage is a specialized hate or answer card. There are already a ton of hate cards that don't see play in vintage, and even the best hate cards don't seem to be metagame shifting in any noticeable way.

I think there's a lot more room for impact in vintage card design if we consider two things:

  • Look for designs which cost less to play than they cost to answer. Low mana isn't enough. Cards that are flexible in other matchups, cards that replace themselves or leave something behind when they're removed - that's more important than the disruptive effect being more powerful.

  • Consider the inherent drawback of specialized cards as a tool to weaken decks. I've long believed that strong hyper-specialized mirror cards are a good tool to keep overpowered decks in check. Picture an artifact that was very powerful in a Workshop mirror, and weak elsewhere (I imagine something along the lines of Kill Switch but I suppose it would have to be better). If you can incentivize some Workshop pilots to run that card over something more general purpose, their position relative to the field weakens if they want to maintain an even matchup against other Workshop decks. Consider how important Steel Overseer is to Workshop mirrors, and how important Mental Misstep is to Mentor mirrors, and then consider how good Overseer is against Mentor compared to Misstep against Workshops

If cost-cheating or taxing effects were a problem ...

True Sight
No spell may be cast except by paying its mana cost. (A player may pay a spell's additional costs.)
No mana cost of any spell may be increased or decreased by any other ability.
Ethereal. (This spell is in effect while it is on the stack.)

last edited by BazaarOfBaghdad


This falls into Brassman's issue with traditional hate pieces. The opponent plays a Sphere or has a Force in hand, you play this and it's essentially a 1-for-1 trade. It actually doesn't stop Mental Misstep as worded. The Phyrexian Mana is part of the mana cost, which is why you can cast if off of Snapcaster Mage but you can't cast a Force of Will. Ravager Shops isn't overly dependent on Spheres but uses them as a tempo boost and you are providing them that by casting the spell. In most cases, I'd rather have a removal spell as that's a 1-for-1 trade that I get to choose what to target.

I think the card would see play in various Storm decks as it essentially allows them to circumvent the most commonly played hate (Force, MBT, Spheres), consolidating the slots dedicated to Hurkyl's Recall and Defense Grid. I don't see that as an improving the Vintage format though. You are making it harder to interact with one of the more broken decks in the format. In essence, it's an example of my concern in the other thread of a hate card unlikely to have its intended purpose and inadvertently leading to worse gameplay.

edit: @Brass-Man jinx...dammit. You win that one. 😛

last edited by Guest

@bazaarofbaghdad See this is exactly the kind of effect that doesn't interest me? I'm not saying this card would be bad or ineffective, but problems creep up.

If you play a card like this against a Mentor deck and they draw one of their already maindeck Fragmentizes, you're not really in an interesting position. If they have a hand that doesn't happen to have Force of Will in it, this doesn't even really hurt them. Note that as written, that effect doesn't actually stop Mental Misstep because phyrexian mana is paying it's mana cost, but I'll take it as a good faith argument and assume we want some wording of the card that prevents them from paying 2 life but not one mana. In that case Misstep is still a fine card, it's just very slightly worse, to the point where they're probably still ahead, given the fact that you lost a card to do this.

This card absolutely does a number on Sphere effects, no doubt about that - but you're really only doing better than removal if they have a hand with 2 or more Spheres, and if they have a very typical aggro hand this is going to do nothing at all.

Dredge loses their Dread Return and Hollow One which is a neat side effect, though you wouldn't put this in a sideboard just for that.

Oath probably doesn't care at all.

But what does it cost you to run this card? You can't be running anything with alternate casting costs, so if your'e playing a deck that would otherwise have that, you're sacrificing that option to get this. I'm not sure if you want it to affect Delve or not (I don't know how to make the wording different off the top of my head), but if you want that, you're sacrificing your access to Delve cards as well.

I think for most decks running this card makes your position worse in the metagame than it makes your opponent's (I think this is going to be a problem the new Damping Sphere has as well, but the way). Looking at this card I think there is one exception though. As this is basically only good at answering Force of Will, and Sphere, but bad at answering any aggressive hand, it could be a good fit in a deck that is weak against Force of Will and Sphere, and strong against aggressive hands. A pure combo deck like Outcome or DPS might use this as a better Hurkyl's Recall. I think pushing combo could be a positive effect overall, but I don't know if it's the specific effect you were going for? I feel like it doesn't really do anything for any other deck.

edit: @chubbyrain jinx!

last edited by Brass Man

Please understand that my original post in this thread was started before Andy posted his second post.

@bazaarofbaghdad haha, totally fine, I don't want you to feel ganged up on 🙂 I'm not even saying that my set of rules is the best way to design cards for the format, just that it's the way I've been thinking about it, and I wanted to know how other people think about it, so in that sense, it was kind of a perfect response because it provided an alternate view! I'm curious how other people have thought about this subject in a more conceptual sense, as well.

As to the merit of the card, I was definitely thinking the main idea was the concept; the card can be strengthened or weakened as need be with extra details. Andy, you're right I missed the Phyrexian mana detail.

At first I just wanted to hose Misstep, but gave up on much of that for better ideas. I thought hosing Force and Spheres (and Metamorph and Foundry Inspector) would be more fun. Weakening Force, by the way, greatly weakens Misstep since Misstep is more of a liability when it can't be fodder material. I would have liked this to have been playable for a Fish-style deck, but knew it would have to cost 3 mana and have more abilities for that to happen, and the 1-mana version is far more elegant. I was content with it enabling combo. I thought forcing the combo archetype into some amount of White (not a usual color for the archetype) was probably a fine cost. If that allows combo to become too prevalent, Force would have to be traded in for other hate like Arcane Laboratory. Making blue decks run enchantment kill is fine also.

Finally, I really like the "Ethereal" keyword ability that I added. There's probably some cool design space in making the stack affect the board, essentially turning all static effects, if countered, at least into instants with split second.

last edited by BazaarOfBaghdad

Andy, would this land version be more in line with what you're asking?

Saintly Hermitage.
[Legendary] Land
Add 1 [or W]. The mana cost of a spell or ability paid for with this mana may not be increased by abilities under an opponent's control.

last edited by BazaarOfBaghdad

So somethinh along the lines of:

Hidden Garden
T: Add 1 C.
T: Add one mana of any one color of your choice for each artifact your opponent controls.
2: Sacrifice -this- to destroy target artifact or non-basic land.

"Life's a garden, can you dig it?"


Split Second
If an opponent has 3 or more artifacts, you may play -this- for free.
Destroy 2 target artifacts.
(Split Second so they can't ravager or ballista in response to destruction, or Bounce with PO).

These are two ideas that help versus both Workshop decks and PO decks, and possibly splash versus others.

Sage of the Natural
Human Elf
-this- cannot be countered
Activated abilities of permanents require one G mana in addition to other costs.

Hoses fetchlands, wastes (for opponent), ravager, balista, trike, diving top, planeswalkers, time vault, etc etc
Would be very helpful for dude.dec (aka hatebears), but would prolly make jund too strong in modern.

Hippy Treelover
R/G (1 cmc, either color)
Human Activist
Cannot be countered by blue spells or abilities.
-this- cannot attack or block.
Pay 2 life, give -this- +1/+1 until end of turn.
Sacrifice -this-: Destroy X tagert artifacts, where X is -this- creature's power.

Obv implications.

Toll Bridge
Legendary Land
Creatures cannot attack you or planeswalkers you control unless opponent pays X, where X is that creatures CMC. Tokens require 1C to attack.

Exile Toll Bridge: prevent all damage and lifeloss dealt to you, planeswalkers or creatures you control this turn.

Helps versus many matches (storm, aggro, dredge), added exile clause so no Crucible shannagins. Seems fair as a Legendary land that does not tap for mana. Maybe too close to glacial chasm?

Equal Opportunity
When ever a token etb, that tokens controller must sacrifice it or another token.

Mentor, Pyro, Oath, Dredge, Saheeli, Stoneforge. This card would shake things up I think.

Are these good, too little, too much?

last edited by Serracollector

I personally think that Green is under powered right now, I and would like to see something bring it back as creature main stay color

Primal Moon
All non-basic lands are forests

last edited by moorebrother1

@bazaarofbaghdad I like a card like this but is should an artifact for 2 mana or a land like Cavern of Soul's that you pick a card type and use it to cast those spells at true cost.

Eden, Land of True Intent
When this land comes into play select a card type

Tap of one colorless mana

You may tap this land for any color mana to cast card of the chosen type and cost reducers, cost enhancers and cost fixers have no impact on this spells casting cost.

last edited by moorebrother1

The best Idea I've seen for a "fix vintage" card was:

card text: Players cannot play spells that cost more than the number of lands they control.

Choose whichever permanent you want it on, but this stops....Vintage. I personally would love to see it on a Leyline that costs 5-6 mana just for the LuLz.

Fastbond and Elves become the best things ever. Storm would have to wait til turn 4+to win. Same with 4+ land? Belcher (lulz). Stops all turn 1 spheres including Thalia. Makes Gush HORRIBLE. Stops turn 0 FoW, and Misstep. Duress and Thoughtseize become better. Dredge just auto loses? Oath would still be good, but prolly not hardcasting those Titans and Grizzles.

Death's Shadow would become a thing in Vintage.

I feel like literally every suggestion in this thread is exactly the sort of thing I posted about not liking. Reactive design that answers a specific threat while making the decks that run it worse relative to the field. Was my post unclear or too long to bother reading? Do people just not agree with my thinking on the subject? If not, that's completely fine, but I'd be interested in a discussion about where we differ.

@brass-man On the contrary, I recommended a Green - Blood Moon in the hope of helping green creature style decks. This card is no better that Blood Moon except slightly cheaper and would allow green creature decks like Elves a way into the format.

I think we need to expand the format. I like your premise for card design, because what people fail to realize is there was a time before a set of cards existed and a particular deck did not exist. Like how Dredge did not become a deck in Ravnica but cards from Time Spiral made it work with Bazaar.

I am looking around at Modern and Legacy and some core decks are missing in Vintage for various reasons. Reanimator is dead, Dark Depths decks are kind of coming back. Elves is dead. Fish decks are dead. Grow decks are dead. Painter decks are dead.

We have a different format and I like it, but expanding it to include creature style combo, and some better Aggro options is good.

When we think of Aggro in this format we think of Shops for obvious reasons, let's expand that. When someone says combo most people think or Storm or Paradoxical, that is great but what about Sneak and Show or Academy or Red Storm.

Vintage like all of the other formats builds on existing efficiency, which is why it took some months before a Paradoxical deck got going and why Storm decks look very different now than they did a year ago.

How do we break efficiency norms? Usually with cards like Treasure Cruise or Dack Fayden that are too efficient, and then we complaint about the remaining very efficient cards like Mental Misstep and Workshop.

To expand the format, we need to either break efficiency of existing cards and create new efficiencies that do not exist yet.

@moorebrother1 said in Possibly Misguided Vintage Card Design Theory!:

@brass-man On the contrary, I recommended a Green - Blood Moon in the hope of helping green creature style decks. This card is no better that Blood Moon except slightly cheaper and would allow green creature decks like Elves a way into the format.

For clarification, do you think that the red Blood Moon has helped red creature-style decks and allowed red creature decks into the format?

@brass-man I have seen Moon man decks popping up lately. They do not play well on MTGO, but I think they lack a Win con playing as a prision deck. A green deck plays aggro and this is better disruption than say Root Maze or Null Rod. With Thorn gone you cannot play any green style Aggro and win. I know there are arguments about token decks but you can race them with Elves and win.

There is a reason Elves can be played in Legacy and not in Vintage and it is not because of Mental Misstep or Chalice of the Void or Young Pyromancer. It is the lack of disruption to stick a win-con in time before tokens.

I personally do not care much for Legacy and Modern is too slow. But, some of the card synergies are never tried in Vintage. It is not because they are not good just not efficient enough to be played in Vintage.

If we want to grow the format getting decks that people know how to play from other formats to be playable here is a good thing. I'm not trying to oversell that argument FYI, just saying if you own Elves and you just need say 4 to 8 cards to play Vintage you would.

last edited by moorebrother1

All the "answers" fall into the same problem that some control deck or combo deck will probably be able to abuse it. I think you really need a new build around card (or a serious general change in power level of cards from other colors) that isn't a Blue, or an Artifact (and isn't really playable by traditional blue or workshops decks). Red, Green, and White are all basically just used as secondary colors to Blue/Colorless. There is a lot of design space there. Its just a question of what exactly would said card have to read to actually have an impact on the format (and not be playable by an existing archetype).

@brass-man Hey Andy. I agree with you that pure hate cards are quite boring and they don't tend to make the cut for even "hate" decks in the long run. The reason Containment Priest was a bit of an exception is that apparently a 2/2 Flash Bear is still good even when the ability isn't relevant in a given game state. Tactics and gameplay have to be considered when designing a card to have an impact on any format and Vintage is no exception. Does this mean that I think "hate" cards are patently the wrong way to go? No. I just think that they are often the only way R & D THINKS they can go when faced with the challenge of weakening archetypes that may be too powerful while boosting others. The most interesting "mechanic" I see that a poster suggested earlier is "For each artifact your opponents control do X." I think that could be a fascinating mechanic to introduce to Vintage, but the major issue with it is that it might ONLY have a universal impact on Vintage and thus would not be relevant to Standard or Modern.

The other design space I've been wanting them to mess with is the mulligan decisions. I think it would be very interesting to have cards that give you boosts during the mulligan decision process but only if you meet certain requirements of cards in hand. Like perhaps something along these lines:

Font of Premonition 1W



When Font of Premonition enters the battlefield you may exile target creature, instant, sorcery, or land.

Prescience - If this card is in your opening hand you may reveal your hand to all players. If you reveal a creature card create a Blaspheme Token. If you reveal a sorcery or instant card create a Potion Token. If you reveal a Land card create Harvest Token.

Sacrifice a Blaspheme Token: Pay X life where X is the number of turns you've taken this game. Exile target creature.

Sacrifice a Potion Token: Pay X mana where X is the number of instants/sorcery in your graveyard. Exile target instant or sorcery.

Sacrifice a Harvest Token: Exile target land. Play this ability only if an opponent produced 3 or more mana this turn.

Now obviously this card is somewhat in the vein of a "hate" card because it is utility removal, but I think it is along the lines of an interesting mechanic. Prescience could be an interesting wrench to throw into Vintage that wouldn't just be a total replication of Leylines. I hate to say it, but I think Leylines were lazy design on the part of R & D and that they could have done WAAAY better with the "pregame" mechanic idea. I think that is an uncharted realm that we could dive pretty deep into without breaking any format particularly. Now I haven't balanced my proposed card hardly at ALL in my head, but I think it's a more forward thinking utility type of card that would attract players. What do you all think? How could Prescience be reworked to maybe be a new mechanic? Thoughts?


last edited by Stormanimagus

@stormanimagus I love your creativity so well done. However, I can't imagine the bonus I would need to get though for showing my opponent my entire hand at the beginning of the game for free.

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