What if a card created counters that didn’t actually do anything? You’d have to rely on other cards to make those counters function. The real twist: those counters don’t always do the same thing. That’s the concept we’re exploring with this edition of Crash Test Magic.
I’ve previously expressed my admiration for top-down game design, where you have a concept (a card that does what zombies do in zombie movies!) and design a card to fit it (this card comes back into play from the graveyard!). Star counters are the exact opposite of that. I had a mechanic in mind, worked on it a little, then wrapped some flavor around it that hopefully makes a little sense.
The idea stems from my Robot Viking Magic set database. I use this great program called Magic Set Editor, and when I make up a new card design, I put it into the RV set. Looking through it last week, I noticed I had a lot of cards making different kinds of counters. That’s bad design. Imagine you’re in the middle of a game with counters all over the place. “Is that a -1/-1 counter on my Abyssal Persecutor, or a Voodoo counter?” “No, I think it’s a Destiny counter. Or maybe a Burrito counter.”
So I thought of ways to unify the counters. The problem was, they all had different effects. That lead me to the idea of generic counters that would be further modified by subsequent cards and effects.
There are a couple of interesting aspects to this kind of design. For one thing, you can really build it into the mythology of the set you put it into. Star counters lend themselves to an astrology theme, and you could create your own fictional astrological signs and systems to replace our familiar Zodiac.
Second, you can create some very powerful effects for relatively low casting costs because getting anything out of a Star counter is almost always going to be a two-step process. There’s an inherent lack of card advantage built into the mechanic. I wouldn’t consider this a weakness as long as the entire set was balanced around that, although obviously these cards might have little interest in older formats.
Third, they’d be a lot of fun in limited formats. You see your opponent putting lots of Star counters on things, but what is he building up to? There’s an unpredictability to them that’s more interesting than totally random stuff like coin flips. You can control the effects of your own Star counters to some extent by building powerful effects into your deck that interact with them, but your opponent might throw down Starfall and obliterate your plans.
It has the same weakness that other set themes that only interact with themselves suffer. The Spirit and Arcane mechanics from Kamigawa were a pretty abysmal failure even within that set (I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone actually splice a spell). Outside of Kamigawa block, those cards are pretty much useless. Star counters could suffer the same fate if they weren’t powerful enough.
Below you’ll find a small gallery of potential Star counter card designs. I’ve only scratched the surface of possible Star counter mechanics and cards here. I’m hoping you guys can think of a ton more, or maybe some reasons this would be a terrible, unworkable idea (it’s still interesting when my ideas get deconstructed brutally).[Gallery not found]