Milling for 53
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Milling for 53

National Game Design Month 2020

It’s November. It’s time for National Game Design Month!

Just like with National Novel Writing Month, National Game Design Month (NaGa DeMon) gives you one month to meet your goal. The objective is to design a game and playtest it at least once with one or more other people. It doesn’t matter what medium the game is.

My project is designing a Jumpstart-style Magic: The Gathering product, with brand-new cards, themed on the plane of Fiora — the world of Conspiracy!

There’s a couple innovations here that will make this gameplay and flavor pairing feel fresh compared to their associated previous incarnations:

Returning the Conspire Mechanic

I’ve long wanted conspire to return as a mechanic for a Conspiracy product, but it just never made sense to do so for each opportunity. There are multiple mechanical themes like voting, monarch, “draft matters,” and the conspiracy card type. These are great for augmenting the multiplayer, draft environment Conspiracy appeared in. Having the “color matters” of conspire take up some of the mechanical space here is a hard sell.

But for Conspiracy: Jumpstart, it just so happens that the solutioning for the Jumpstart half of the product also solves for conspire!

The Multicolor Jumpstart Pack Problem

Original Jumpstart had monocolor decks (for the most part). This meant any mashing of two packs resulted in a 40-card deck with a rock-solid mana base. For example, let’s pair the white Angels pack with the blue Above the Clouds pack. You get:

You’re reasonably not going to have trouble casting your spells, including ones with multiple color pips in their mana cost. That’s 9 sources of mana for each color.

But when it comes to making Jumpstart packs with gold multicolor cards, you run into a problem. Let’s say you have a white-blue pack. And a black-red pack. Let’s say each multicolor pack has TWO lands that are like the Thriving land cycle. Like the Vivid lands cyle:

We only just barely get there. Seven virtual sources of mana for each color is achieved here, which is acceptable for a 40-card deck. But only because we’re using two Vivid lands per pack. On top of this, you really should avoid spells in the pack that require double of any one color (Though, I guess if you have multicolor packs, you’d just do instead do one of each color).

Solving Character Color Identity

Now why do I care about multicolor? Why don’t I just stick with choosing a single-color lane for each pack? Because of characters like these:

I want to design new versions of these characters for Conspiracy: Jumpstart (Yes, I know, Brago is dead. Think of this product like Commander Legends or Modern Horizons where the characters that appear aren’t from a snapshot in a certain moment in time but from any point in history). But I think monocolor versions of these characters would be a disservice to their identity.

That’s where Juliet Louis’s current solution for her own Jumpstart project comes into play — use hybrid cards! I won’t go into the details of her work here, but hybrid solves for multiple-color identities while also enabling your Jumpstart decks to play well.

We can then use this flavor solution as a mechanical tool for supporting conspire. But this isn’t a multicolor-focused product. So we’ll need to take care to use hybrid only as much as we need to.

Returning War of the Spark Citizen Tokens

Fiora is similar to Ravnica with sprawling city and a system of government. But with a city comes, well, citizens!

Every Conspiracy: Jumpstart pack will have a way to create one or more Citizen tokens that are all colors just like in War of the Spark.

While hybrid cards are a good tool, I can only include so many without accidentally making Conspiracy: Jumpstart communicate hybrid as an identity. Together, with Citizen tokens, we can get there with fulfilling our mechanical needs without compromising the product’s feel.

Theming the Packs

Most of original Jumpstart’s themes were focused on a generic concept. This was either mechanical or flavorful. A red pack could be about Goblins (mechanical) or lightning (flavorful). Among the pack themes were planewalkers, like a Chandra pack.

For Conspiracy: Jumpstart, I want to capture focusing on characters like the planeswalker packs did. With such a large cast of interesting characters, combined with wanting to keep the scope of this project small, I decided to have every pack be about a single character.

I only have so much time in a month, and I’d rather spend that time creating packs that are each a love letter to a Conspiracy character.

But, also, a cool thing that results from mashing two character packs together? It feels like you have two characters conspiring together as the theme of your 40-card deck!

Illustrated by Lucas Graciano

Proposed Pack Structure

To help communicate that this product isn’t multicolor focused, each color will have a monocolor base (for the most part, at least, like original Jumpstart). The hybrid cards included will all include that one particular color.

For example, the Grenzo deck will be base red and have a few hybrid cards of blue-red, black-red, red-green, and red-white. This plays like a monocolored red deck, but the hybrid cards help sprinkle more color for conspire’s sake.

Here’s a template for what each 20-card pack will usually contain:

For a Grenzo pack, the black-red hybrid slot will be taken up by the legendary creature card for Grenzo. Planeswalkers as a character focus isn’t off the table and their associated planeswalker card will take up the “flex card” slot.

You may notice the artifact creature slots and raise an eyebrow. This is because of Muzzio — I want to ensure there’s some artifact creature support from whatever pack pairs with Muzzio’s pack. (But make them colored artifact creatures to keep up support for conspire.)

Besides, Muzzio’s creations were a big part of Conspiracy packs, playing a key role for the “draft matters” cards (colorless cards help make sure colors wasn’t a barrier for wanting to draft a “draft matters” card). Including a prevalence of artifact creatures can contribute to those “Conspiracy vibes.”

Addressing Conspiracy Expectations

As we’ve seen with Zendikar Rising with landfall and devotion with Theros Beyond Death, some mechanics, in players’ minds, are tied with a set’s identity. As such, players might expect the following:

But doing a Jumpstart-style Limited format inherently means “draft matters” won’t exist as you knew them in Conspiracy. Despite this product taking place on Fiora and not needing to be beholden to Conspiracy’s mechanics — I did put Conspiracy in the name for a reason.

It’s Conspiracy: Jumpstart, not Jumpstart: Conspiracy. As such, I’ll do my best to capture the mechanical spirit of what we knew before. So that you might get a tinge of that feeling of when you were drafting Conspiracy in the past. Stay tuned to future blog posts on what that’ll shape out to be.

Project Scope and Development

I’ll be designing 20-card packs and releasing a blog post update a pack at a time. However, how many packs should I do?

I decided to give myself about three days per pack. I think one day per pack is too grueling, as I also want to write about the pack. Two days is possible, alternating between a heavy design day and then a day writing about it. But sometimes I have long days at work. Thus, three days is the safer bet.

If I want to support a multiplayer Jumpstart format, for four players, the bare minimum would need to be eight packs, with two packs per player. And that’s all I want to shoot for. Keep the scope as small as possible.

Eight packs to do in an estimated 24 days. Then six days of padding for card revisions and playtesting. The pandemic makes playtesting with another person difficult to do in-person, and I’ve only seen 1-versus-1 Cockatrice games for custom Magic playtesting online. I might be forced to waive the requirement to test with other people besides myself.

In the meantime…which eight Conspiracy characters will I choose?

Illustrated by Jason Rainville



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