For those in the community who know me, I enjoy the hinterlands of Faeria deck design. I’m the idiot promoting Egg of Wonders, 3 Wishes, Meteor, Day of Dragons, good ol’ Magnus and his dear wife, and many other oddball cards. I promote them for a couple of reasons, but the most germane remains the most compelling: I enjoy stress-testing all the ways the game can be played.
But, if you have ever watched me stream, you realize that such tinkering and exploration is rarely better than 50%. The “viability” of many cards and deck archetypes in Faeria remains rather low. Part of the problem is not specific to Faeria. Game design and execution is a different ball of wax than the Super Mario days. The plethora of resources, and the expectation of activities like “net-decking” remains a powerful influence on the design process for developers. The influence of “perceptions” versus “realities” is utterly different. In the past, balance was largely focused on bugs that inhibited a given game from functioning. The idea that a developer would actively change the product to meet with player’s expectations was completely foreign. Not so today!
Hence, as the latest update from Faeria developers reveals, balance of any archetype (in this case rush in the Red or Yellow variety) is a careful merger of perception and reality. And though many of us, who have played this game for a long time, will tell you that playing against rush is rather dull, it is so far from being overpowered that any movement which seeks to tone down its effectiveness in a coming patch will likely sentence it to a long and slow death this quarter of 2017 (but of course, I can’t complain since I rather dislike the archetype!).
To my thinking, this opens up a more fruitful line of questioning, which was also touched on in the article: what is the state of the board, and the state of colour, in Faeria? The reason this proceeds from a reflection on nerfs to rush decks (and in general from the perception that these are too strong), is because ultimately all balance changes come back to this unique tandum: board and colour. Colour, of course, we have seen in Magic the Gathering. Board in Chess. Faeria (to my delight, since its inception) has tried to marry the two ideas. So, how are we doing?
Land Placement Misconceptions
Whether you play greedy decks (which I define as decks which incorporate a great deal of their Faeria gathering into their cards – cost reductions, Faeria ramp, or structures that grant Faeria – rather than pursue control over the Faeria wells), control decks (that try to gain board/well control), mid-range decks (which have the flexibility to farm or rush), combo decks (which seek to cycle through their entire deck to deliver a 1-2 punch), rush decks (which ignore nearly all but face), and troll decks (my personal favourite – decks that seek to test a particular card, or win the game with an unusual condition: i.e. Mill, Meteors, Tarum, or our lord and master Krog…), all decks interact with the board to some degree.
There is a serious misconception that rush players don’t need to know how to properly build lands. Nearly the reverse is the case. If you are playing rush, or playing against it, you are far more likely to think very carefully about your land placement. This is (to my thinking) a large reason why people dislike playing against rush decks. The floor for concentration is very high in the first few turns. Use of the board is the easiest place for a new player to make mistakes, and in this game, though it is often not apparent to the players, the killing blow can come in one significant swing of tempo, all because of a misplay in LAND development.
The Colour of the Board
So far, the greatest area for growth is by unlocking the relative homogeneity of colour-board combinations. There are no truly defining interactions built into a given colour. To be sure, we have Green’s attempt at this with things like Oak Father and Colossus, and the relatively unused Neutral Explorers kit. What I mean, is something persistant and colour defining, which elevates the power of investing your colour wheel in a special land with more significance. This could take a couple of forms; I think the most interesting are a colour only card which focus on controlling/developing the board in a unique way for each colour: i.e. your deck must contain X Red cards to include this card in your deck list. Another option is something between Event and Creature types (like a persistent effect analogous to Enchantments in MtG). Let’s consider some ideas from each.
Colour Only card: board control
Of course, some of these concepts exist in a small form (Wild Growth, Sunken Tower, Meteor, etc…), but what would happen if we extended the power of these mechanics, with the stipulation that in order to access the following, you must have 20+ cards of that colour in your deck.
Green: land development.
Green is the colour which best represent opportunities for development in board mechanics. Wild Growth in particular has so much potential, yet it could use some further synergies. Some examples include:
3f FF: Tiki Treesinger (2/4): Production: if this creature is on a forest, create a forest at random.
4f FFFF Full Bloom (Event): For each forest you control, create another forest at random.
Red: land destruction
Meteor is iconic, and awesome. Whenever you get a chance to play it, you know that it is because you sacrificed the time (and probably your chances at winning the game) to build a deck in which you could see it go off! And Land-hate may not be the most important design idea to incorporate, but I think it is more important than we think. While Meteor, like Krog, will likely just be there for the occasional giggles, it is worth emulating this feature in more accessible forms. Some examples include:
3f MM: Shedim Craghopper (3/2): Last Words: Destroy a random land your opponent controls.
6f MMMMMM Earthquake (Event): For each mountain you control, destroy a random land your opponent controls.
Blue: land alteration
Baeru is really good card design because it fits with Blue’s theme of shifting and changing everything. It also gives Blue the right kind of advantage: time to build up and control the board. I think more cards that mimic this kind of effect at different price points would be an extremely valuable way to enhance Blue’s power. Some examples include:
3f BB: Gabrian Waterspinner (1/1): Gift: Convert target land to a lake.
6f BBB Tidal Wave (Event): For each lake you control, convert that number of your opponent’s lands into lakes.
Yellow: land conversion
In the alpha version of this game there was a mechanic which allowed you to take over your opponent’s lands. This was a novel idea in my opinion, and though it didn’t quite work in that version of the game (because things were much slower in general), I think it is worth considering. Some examples include:
6f DD: Shaytan Pillager (6/3): Production: Convert the land this creature is standing on to your control.
6f DDDD Desert Storm (Event): Convert 2 random lands your opponent controls to your control.
Myth card: board control
The idea with myth cards is that they act like semi-permanent enhancements, over a period of turns, altering your capabilities in terms of the board. Examples will follow the same themes as the “colour-only” cards.
3f GG: Verdant Hymn (Myth): At the start of your next 3 turns, create a Forest at random.
6f GGG: Ruunin’s Breath (Myth): For the next 3 turns, whenever you make a forest, give a friendly creature +1/+1.
5f MM: Stony Silence (Myth): For the next 3 turns, whenever an enemy creature dies, create a mountain at random.
6f MMM: Ignis’s Wrath (Myth): For the next 3 turns, whenever you make a mountain, deal 2 damage to your opponent.
5f BB: Frog Song (Myth): At the end of your opponent’s next 3 turns, create a 2/2 Frog with jump on a lake you control.
6f BBB: Baeru’s Blessing (Myth): For the next 3 turns, whenever you make a lake, give a friendly creature protection.
4f DD: Iona’s Tears (Myth): For the next 3 turns, the first time one of your creature’s dies, create 2 deserts at random.
6f DDD: Sandstorm (Myth): For the next 3 turns, drain 1 life from your opponent for every 3 deserts you control (rounded up).
The Board without Colour
If you have played recently, you will know that the prevalence of multi-coloured decks is at an all time low. After 3-wishes was introduced and nerfed, the relevance and potential of multi-coloured decks became even less competitive with the inclusion of mobility for Green and Slam as a mechanic. Why? In part because anyone trying to build more than one colour must sacrifice early tempo to build up land types – usually at the minimum 4 turns. There are some ways to ramp land (Elementals or Earthcraft), but by-and-large, you fall very far behind if you don’t have good draws. Multi-colour decks are by nature less consistent.
To be clear, colour can also be seen as merely a veil for certain levels of power. In other words, each colour in Faeria has a range of cards that work together as a unit; to isolate the particularly strong cards from one and attempt to incorporate them into a deck with analogous strong cards from another should not be easy. Otherwise all decks would use these powerful cards and have no consequences for doing so. Land requirements help to create a necessary barrier. But, in the current state, the barrier is rather thick. We have some basic ideas of multi-colour cards, but frankly this is an untapped and necessary area of development for Faeria to truly grow.
The reason is that you dilute the unique character of a colour by introducing mechanics to the mono-version which are accessible to other mono-colours. Slam, for instance, or jump (which is a better example) is shared by 3 colours, but lots of the cards that use them only require 1 land type. This kind of design ultimately shuts the door on further development. The solution is to keep mono-colour cards as unique and vibrant as possible (with only a few overlapping mechanics, like taunt or flying) while investing the cross-over via multi-coloured cards. This allows for far more development of the character of a colour, far more specific types of interactions without diluting the feel of a colour.
I truly believe the game needs another 100 cards before launch. I know this is not practical (especially in terms of the art), but there is a good reason for this. It has already been preparing to “launch” for a number of years; this coupled with the problem of having a small staff to handle a huge influx at launch, and the problem of having so many overlapping mechanics between the colours means the game will not have as much to grab consumer’s attention as we might realize.
The extra cards (which of course will eventually come in expansions, etc – to my mind too slow), would implement more KEY WORDS for each class, a handful of creatures and events which represent this, and would also introduce another layer of multi-colour cards: both in the 2 and 3 colour variants. Not only would this fill out the lacking depth for a number of archetypes in the card game (aquatic, flying, ranged all being very poorly represented as strategies), but it would add more layers of complexity for players to evaluate.
As I step back and look at development for Faeria, and the balance trends, I am struck by the need to keep the board relevant. But just as important is the distinctiveness of the colours. If there are few opportunities to make compelling, chess-like maneuvers, Faeria has diminished a little. Likewise, if there is a blandness of deck-design because the options are so limited, or the cards are too strong/weak, or one colour simply does it better, the colours need to be reinvigorated with their own identities. Does Green truly need mobility? Perhaps; I would rather have seen Slam be turned into a Green-only type of mechanic (altering it slightly so that it is more like Trample in MtG), and help Green control the board with overwhelming numbers of forests. To give them essentially the Warp technology of Yellow’s Desert Twister takes something away from the game. We must, I think, dig down a touch deeper than these surface-level adjustments. I look forward to the direction the developers take Faeria, trusting that, whether in coming expansions or just around the corner, they may inject the game with a much-needed investment in the importance of the board, and the uniqueness of each colour.