I've been playing card games for a very long time. I've been designing cards for only slightly less. Blox Cards is oversaw by a community of players, so I think it's time I give you all my experience and knowledge in one handy-dandy page.
Constantly being expanded as I have time.
- 1 Note 0: Your cards suck
- 2 Note 1: Creative =/= Development, Creative < Development
- 3 Note 2: Beware your Creeps
- 4 Note 3: Why do people play card games?
- 5 Note 4: What makes a card beautiful?
- 6 Note 4.5: Flavour Justifies Everything
- 7 Note 5: Design Destroys Design
- 8 Note 6: Accretion
- 9 Note 7: Interesting =/= Fun
- 10 Note 8: Fair/Unfair decks
- 11 Note 9: The role of Randomness
- 12 Note 10: Acclimated Complexity
- 13 Note 10.5: Complexity Types
- 14 Note 11: Card Power
- 15 Note 12: Investment
- 16 Note 13: The Fog of Balance
Note 0: Your cards suck
And you're going to be told that they suck, repeatedly and often. You're going to grow an attachment to your cards, and it will hurt to be told that they suck, and you're expected to just get over it. To quote a card designer over at MTG: "Card design is a baby killing factory. It destroys the ugly babies, and keeps the good ones."
If you've ever heard about how Sparta killed half of its babies due to being weak, it's just like that.
You don't see 90% of the cards I create, and the 10% you do see has tons of problems with it.
This is the first note because when you start designing cards, it actually emotionally hurts you a bit. You'll feel hurt often when designing cards early on; I still do when I really fuck up. Don't be discouraged by it, though. Ultimately, the game's health is more important than your card. That means that every time you DO manage to make a good card, you contribute to the game's health.
At the same time, this means that calm and rational communication is needed. Because people have a bad idea doesn't mean that they're stupid - the vast majority of ideas suck.
Note 1: Creative =/= Development, Creative < Development
Four people have overseen the game. In order: Icytea, Drager, IcyTea, Myrmiredon, Myrmiredon + Friends.
(Drager quit midway due to PEEPSTERS' old effect. Any sane person would.)
Take note to how different the game was when Drager oversaw it, and how different the game was when I oversaw it.
Under Drager's rule, the game was nearly perfectly balanced. Games were heavily skill-testing and rewarding, but you saw the same decks over. And over. And over. And over.
Under Myrmiredon's rule, the game was merely decently balanced. Games were skill-testing, but also very wild and could lead to extreme plays.The number of different decks played, and the number of viable decks skyrocketed; I very rarely see the same deck from different people.
(We don't talk about IcyTea. Let's just say don't develop games you don't play.)
Currently, a ton of different people are in charge, and anyone who is skilled and passionate can help. (Shoutout to Visleaf for being here behind the scenes the entire time and putting up with everyone's crap. It's obvious but it has to be said: Without you, this game wouldn't exist.)
Why the radical change? Because there's two different parts of card design: Creative and Development. It is very rare to see one person good at both. I don't say it never happens merely because I'm sure someone is good at both somewhere.
Creative card design is all about making fun ideas. If it wasn't for creative people, you wouldn't have the sheer number of different decks to play with. The game would get stagnant and boring due to doing the same things repeatedly.
Developmental card design is all about balance. If it wasn't for developmental people, you wouldn't be able to play any of those fun decks because one would be OP. The game would get stagnant and boring due to losing against the same thing repeatedly, or if you're playing the OP deck, it gets stagnant and boring due to doing the same things repeatedly. This is why Development > Creative; without development, you have a broken, unplayable game. Without creative, you have a merely boring game.
If you're bad at one, that's fine, but don't try to be that one. Ask someone who can be the other to do that for you. Give rough amounts for cost, health, power, and numbers in effects instead of precise numbers; that way, people care about the effect, not the balance.
If you can balance, give someone creative a set of parameters (IE: Make a card that costs X that does something like this).
Ideally, you want multiple people covering both of these bases. The game's been creative for a very long time, so it's about time we add some polish and balance to the mix, eh?
Note 2: Beware your Creeps
Do you want to know how to kill a card game?
It's not boring effects, it's not OP cards. It's Power Creep and Complexity Creep.
As more cards are added, decks inevitably get more powerful.This is power creep. Note that this is inevitable; you can slow down power creep to such a crawl where it'll take years for it to actually kill a card game, but it WILL eventually kill a card game. If you want to know why card games rotate their cards so you can't use them forever, this is the the reason why (beyond money). The reason why it destroys games is because eventually, you'll have to print absurd cards just to keep up, which will make turn one kills the norm - and then how do you make stronger cards?
Complexity Creep is the same idea for complexity; as more cards get added, the game gets more complex. This is because you not only have to memorise more cards, you also have to memorise boardstates. Complexity Creep is not inevitable; You can remove complex effects, make cards easier to understand, and remove tons of triggers on the board. You'll actually see it's more fun that way because there's less stuff you have to keep track of.
Whilst power creep destroys competitive events, complexity creep destroys new players. Complexity Creep is ultimately more dangerous, as you can just ban cards or purposefully play weaker decks. You can't just add in new players.
Note 3: Why do people play card games?
There are three overall reasons to play card games. I will call these The Experience, The Expression, and The Extermination. That's the 3 Ex's for mnemonics. Each player appreciates these three core aspects to different degrees.
The Experience: These players play for a thrill. You know those cards with absurd, over the top effects like Jeeeeesus and Priestess Zanzel? These cards are designed to cause thrills, and are designed for players who play for the experience. Cards that do good on this end are cards that simply make you go "wow" if seen or played. Rad is a good example at the common level.
The Expression: Have you ever played against someone who made a yellow control deck? How about taking a gimmicky card like Fenrier or Treas0ner and making a ridiculous combo out of it? These people play for the expression. Players like to express their creativity or their love for certain objects. Archetypes usually do well under this regard. To design for the expression, add in secret, hidden cards such as Pancake Break, and make sure that players who want to play gimmicky decks don't have their dreams utterly crushed and burnt.
The Extermination: These players play to challenge themselves. These players want you to know that they're skillful and enjoy proving themselves. Cards such as CrazyCaleb, Deadeye, MO the Travelling Merchant, Nerfmodder, and Titano's Cavern are all examples of cards designed for these players. And yes, you do have to design for these players; they won't just be happy playing the best cards. You need to make sure the best cards and strongest decks are all challenging and stimulating to play with and against.
The big lesson is this: Not every card is made for every person. Some cards that people hate are cards that other people love.
There's a second note here. For this example, I'll use Trick or Treat:
|Both players summon a random fighter.|
Trick or Treat is not a very strong card, and has equally a high chance of making you instantly win as it does making you instantly lose. However, Experiencers love trick or treat for its weird shenanigans and amusing boardstates.
For the exact same reason Experiencers love it, Exterminators hate it. They can't play around it or make interesting choices - sometimes, this will steal a game out of nowhere, and they have no ability to control it. Back when this summoned tokens, I once had to deal with a turn 1 Forgotten One. I was not happy.
With one group of people loving this card, and one group of people hating this card, what do you do? Do you remove it to make the people who hate it happy, or keep it to make the people who love it happy?
I, personally, would go for the second choice. Provided it's not seriously impinging on Exterminator play (Like Delirious Ooze did), then I value people loving the game other people merely liking it. Damn the haters.
Note 4: What makes a card beautiful?
There's also Flavour and Mechanical beauty in cards.
For an example in mechanical beauty, look at Luckymaxer:
|Put four Mechanical Spiders into your hand.|
|(Mechanical spiders are blue 200/200 tokens that don't generate icons)|
This is an extremely simple effect. It may not look like too much, but watch this:
Because the spiders go into your hand, you can hold them back. If your opponent boardwipes, you play four spiders and laugh.
Assume for a moment that your opponent has a massive fighter but nothing else. Luckymaxer keeps you alive for five turns; you just play one spider a turn.
You can discard the spiders to generate icons. Sure, a 200/200 on its own isn't that good, but if you discard two spiders, you get 600 power on the board and get to play, say, korblox archer.
All of these wondrous plays from seven words. Not bad, Eh?
This is known as Elegance, and is the holy grail of card design. Elegance is when a card has small amounts of text (is easy to understand), but does hundreds of different things. Or, more broadly, when something has tons of depths and does a lot, but is actually very little in terms of size. Other examples of elegant cards include Qdhxx, Calmfoxz, Clockwork, Eye of Heaven. An example of an inelegant card would be Brickmason.
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing else to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Remove unnecessary aspects of cards.
What about Flavour? This one's tricky, because one of Blox Card's most lacking areas is beauty in flavour. This is easy to understand, as Flavour is a strange concept to put into words. I'll list some examples.
There are two kinds of Flavour: Thematic Flavour, and Ludonarrative Flavour.
We'll be using Biostream as our example for thematic flavour.
|Put three cards from Hexaria into your hand. One increases health by 300, one increases power by 300, one decreases power by 300.|
Hexaria is a turn-based RPG with some card game elements. This card attempts to recreate Hexaria by taking three of Hexaria's cards and putting them into Blox Cards. This is thematic and on-flavour. This card is generally liked because of this.
While uncommon, it's perfectly fine to take a theme ("Zombies", "Hexaria"), and create a card using mechanics that match the flavour. This is known as a top-down design, while the more common method of mechanics into themes is bottom-up.
Ludonarrative, on the other hand, is best described as how the card's gameplay tells a story. An even stranger concept, we'll be using Glaciem Mage to explain.
|Lock a target fighter for 2 turns.|
|All frost mages befriend a toothy deer from birth. This teaches them not to give random animals frostbite.|
Glaciem Mage locks a fighter for 2 turns. Let me ask you a question: Why? Of all of the effects we could've given the mage, why did we give it the ability to lock?
The answer is because it's an ice mage. The locking represents the mage freezing a target for two turns with its ice magic. This is known as Ludonarrative flavour; the gameplay itself matching the flavour. Note that you can use the same basic gameplay element for different effects; Subata, for example, locks himself while he prepares his weapons to attack. Police officers lock fighters to signify arresting people.
Blox Cards sucks on flavour. For example:
|After this card attacks, deal 200 damage to who it attacked.|
Why does Pyramid Head, a psychological villain from Silent Hill, do what it does?
As the creator of the effect, It seemed like a fun effect and I was under tons of pressure to create 110 cards in 3 hours. Sorry!
ADDENDUM: I'm also going to add another category: Ludoaesthetics.
|Haste. Whenever Cindering enters play or dies, deal 600 damage to your opponent.|
Did you notice what's special about this card?
600 health. 600 power. Costs 6 red. Deals 600 damage to your opponent. Has a 6 in its tier box. Has a hexagon in its icon box (SOONtm)
People find this amusing and constantly joke about the card really being called sixdering; this was entirely intentional. I actually wanted the card to deal 1500 damage on summon, but in order to not violate the aesthetic of Cindering, I decided to simply give Cindering a 600 damage trigger twice for roughly the same effect.
If Cindering costed 5 or 7 icons, I would be getting a lot of complaints from people with OCD - More so than the questionable power level of the card.
Sometimes, the look of card stats, icons, and effects themselves can be aesthetically pleasing. This generally happens when the numbers repeat (Sixdering), the numbers ascending or descending (As an example, a 1-cost 200/200 that makes you gain 300 life), doubling (Indoorsnowball's 1,2,4,8 pattern). This can even manifest in multiple cards - The Mythic shadows have a common that costs 3, an uncommon that costs 2, and a rare that costs 1.
Another example is not having a bio. For very simple effects like Eye of Heaven (60 red, You win the game) not having a bio can add a layer of style, class, and boldness. We typically don't do this because people wonder where the bio is - and only for very short, stylish effects.
Note 4.5: Flavour Justifies Everything
A warning to people that flavour and aesthetics in cards are not as important as mechanics. This is a problem because you can use flavour to justify anything if you try hard enough.
There are some things that colours are not allowed to do. Green, for example, isn't allowed to draw cards, because it's the control colour and the control has to be weak early on. Drawing cards makes its control - and its aggro - stronger than it's allowed.
"Primal Harmony" - "Draw two cards". That's a very flavourful green card I've just created. That does not, however, make it allowed.
Blue isn't allowed to deal damage to players or enemies.
"Ice bullets" - "Deal 200 damage to a target creature." Flavourful. Not allowed.
Also note that flavour can be used to justify dissonant flavour. For example, one of my pet peeves are guns and robots and cars in green. It's the colour of nature, and life, and manipulating the primal forces. Robots are not alive and guns are not natural.
... But you could say that that robot is tending to nature, or that that gun is being used to fend off werewolves from the farm. Which is ugly.
Note 5: Design Destroys Design
Here's two cards. These are both good designs, but let's see if you can figure out the problem with them.
|Whenever you gain life, generate a targeting blip and BonesMcCormick gains 100 health and power.||Whenever this card is targeted, you gain 500 life and put a random yellow card into your hand.|
Oops! You just made an Infinite combo! Damario just broke the game again!
Now, the interesting thing here is that Alone, both cards are perfectly safe. Together, though... Ew. This is an example of design destroying design; some cards are simply incompatible with other cards. In short, You can't have both.
When you get into this sort of situation, ask yourself if there's a way to preserve both cards - we could remove the blip from Bones, for example. If that isn't solvable, experiment with both, and see which one leads to better gameplay.
There are more subtle ways this manifests. For example, one of my current issues is if Blue should have lifegain. If it has lifegain, it dramatically hurts burn decks. If it doesn't have lifegain, that makes lifegain decks monogreen, which they shouldn't be. I can only choose one; which one should it be?
Note 6: Accretion
The Ultimate Answer is a blue/red deck that existed for around a month at November 2015. It was an OTK deck that drew cards constantly until it had thunder bolt/lobster, Jayson13, 2 Avotes, and Fuchsia Eyes Red Dragon. (Fuchsia was very similar to Cindering back in the day.) It's called The Ultimate Answer because it was unbeatable if you didn't play dedicated lifegain.
It got there by spamming cards that lock all fighters for some turns.
Back in the day, only IcyTea locked everything. Then came along Indigo Eyes. Then came along Tiny Tank's two turn lock. Then came along Police Combatant. Then came along Hideaki. With just 9 cards, we've managed to lock for around 15 turns. Chuck in some fatherchristmaz, some infernal acolyte/stalker, some card draw, and some targeted locking, and you can see the problem. There were too many cards that locked everything.
Now, there are tons of cards that lock now, yes. More, even. But the lock is much less consistent and there are gaps... For now. If we add more locks, dedicated lock decks like this will sprout up again. As a result, we aren't allowed to make new cards that lock everything without making sure we don't add to the pile and make The Ultimate Answer again. This concept - that we need to limit the amount of effects that do a thing - is known as Accretion. It gradually accumulates.
Different effects have an upper limit on how much they can accrete. Preventing cards from being counterattacked is an insanely powerful effect - it's only allowed on a handful of cards.
Note 7: Interesting =/= Fun
I'm going to talk to you about Ultras.
Ultras are an archetype that completely ignore icons and colour. Instead, Ultras care about the amount of Ultras in play, with the really scary Ultras only coming out when there's plenty of smaller ones. The smaller ones remove all your coloured icons so you can't use them as free fighters, and these are all black fighters because they don't generate icons.
Sounds interesting, doesn't it? It's intellectually stimulating. What exactly do Ultras look like? There could be so many pitfalls with making such a design. How do you reward such a payoff? Are they aggro or midrange? Oh, can I make a turbo deck with them? So many questions to shake my hand off t-
Is it fun?
... A classic mistake is to get so caught up in how something is interesting that you forget to think if it's fun. Those two can overlap, but aren't the same. Some designs can be considered masturbatory - they're there to be interesting and nothing else. Avoid these, for they don't add to the game.
Games are meant to be fun. Do not lose sight of that.
Note 8: Fair/Unfair decks
Borrowing some more MTG terminology, there are what are known as Fair and Unfair decks. I REALLY hate the names for these two types of decks, so I'll be calling them intended and unintended decks instead.
Fair/Intended Decks are decks that play the game the way it's "meant to be played". These decks care about card advantage, generating icons, hitting the opponent's face, or fatigue. The vast majority of decks are Intended.
Unfair/Unintended Decks are decks that exploit a certain aspect of how a card functions to win the game. A quick test to check if a deck is unfair is "If I remove a single card from the game, does the deck cease to exist?" If the answer is yes, you have an unintended deck. Examples include innocuous things such as Eye of Heaven and Inceptiontime, to combo decks such as Reese Combo and Turbo, to glitches such as Suicide and any deck Damario builds. Note that unintended decks are not necessarily a combo deck, although all combo decks are unintended.
The reason they're called fair and unfair is because little kids tend to look at unfair decks and say "Hey, that's not fair!" The problem is that there are "fair" decks, such as rainbow midrange and the ultimate answer, which are absolutely unfair (With RM, you start with 6 more icons than your opponent, and with the ultimate answer, your opponent can't play the game.), and there are "unfair" decks, such as Kariu Miracle and Green/Yellow Mill, which are completely balanced and allowed. This is why I prefer intended and unintended; Decks like the ultimate answer are unfair, but they play the game in a way it was intended. Kariu miracle isn't how you're supposed to play the game, but it's fair.
"Fairness" is a spectrum. For example, Monoblue aggro is a more intended deck than Dust, which is a more intended deck than Caverns, which is a more intended deck than Kariu Miracle.
Both Intended and Unintended decks are fine, but you want unintended decks to be relatively rare. Let's compare the two:
|Is more interactive - two intended decks poke and jab at each other.|
|Is more creative - It requires skill to find unintended decks, yet alone make them good.|
|Are harder to counter - with the most powerful decks of this kind, you need very specific cards to answer them.|
|Are more binary - You either do your stupid combo and instantly win out of nowhere, or you fail to do your stupid combo and whiff completely.|
Have caution with unintended decks; the strongest unintended decks will always be stronger than the strongest intended ones, and as time goes by, the more these decks appear.
Let's not have a repeat of Dredge, folks.
-Looks at stormchaser's gambit-
Note 9: The role of Randomness
By the very function of shuffling a deck and drawing only a portion of it, card games have randomness embedded into them. Why?
This is a very deep chunk of game design theory, so I can only gloss over this area, but it is the fact that card games have built in randomness into them that has kept them around for 25 years. This begs the question: Why is randomness good? ... The answer to that is very complex.
While this post has all been about card games, this particular note is about games in general. Games are crafted emotional experiences which are accessed via a challenge. Depending on the emotional experience you wish to create, you will employ different tools to create that effect. Like all things that go into a game, randomness is simply a tool to be used - and the main reason for randomness is surprise. Randomness, when put into a game, creates a mixed bag of effects.
At its most obvious level, randomness is good because it adds variety, making sure that no two games play exactly the same, which in turn removes tedium and repetition. This is the same technique employed by rogue-lite games such as Binding of Isaac and Darkest Dungeon. This is one of the main strengths of card games as a medium, and should be exploited to its maximum potential.
At a subtler level, randomness also allows weaker players to win. This is not necessarily an upside, but should be considered depending on type of game you're creating. In a card game, you need as many people playing as possible, and players (especially ones that have never played a card game before) need a better reason than "git gud" in order to keep playing a game they'll enter losing over and over and over. In a game like chess or go, the fact that the stronger player always wins is the entire point, so these games minimise randomness as much as possible.
Randomness is also openly despised, and for good reason. When implemented poorly or obviously, randomness feels like the game is cheating you out of a hard-earned victory, and that is painful. A traditional trading card game should be player versus player, not player versus game.
With that said, here are some basic tips with randomness:
The floor and ceiling of a random effect should be narrow. The floor is the worst possible outcome, and the ceiling is the best possible outcome. The wider apart the floor and ceiling are, the less control skilled players have over the effect. This distance is often called the delta of randomness (A delta being the mouth of a river.)
Very random cards shouldn't be strong. This way, Exterminators don't feel forced to play random games. Experiencers love random effects and don't care about being optimal.
Avoid tokens of randomness. People really don't like coinflips and dice rolls and percentages because it reminds you that the effect is random. However, they have no issue with shuffling a deck and drawing an opening hand, despite that also being just as, if not more random. This is because it doesn't "feel" random - it's not as obvious as coinflips. If you can, try and find a way to hide the randomness - use weasel words like "sometimes" instead of percentages, for example.
Note 10: Acclimated Complexity
Here's a story that's been passed around the dev team.
Once, a very popular roblox youtuber played our game. He played a few games, and quit the game in frustration due to the game's glitches.
One of these glitches was a card called Stayblue.
|Effect: Stayblue can't attack.|
He attacked with StayBlue... And it just locked itself. Nothing happened. This made him pretty irate. Why couldn't he attack with StayBlue? It's a fighter, this game is broken as hell!
Now, if you're reading this, you probably know why. It's just a simple issue of reading the card. Stayblue's effect is that it can't attack, therefore it can't attack.
But, our youtuber was at such a low level of experience that he didn't read effects, or even understand that effects existed. As funny as the situation is, and as easy as it is to call our friend here stupid, he isn't. The issue is he hasn't acclimated to this game's complexity.
This may sound very obvious, but it's important: People don't understand games they've just picked up. Blox cards, in general, fails to realise this. This game is very, very bad at teaching newcomers.
However, even experienced players can stumble on some of the more complex cards. Take, for example, Revelling Satyr:
This is a card with four different forms with four different abilities, none of which are explained in advance. When this card came out, even people who have been playing the game for a very long time struggled to fully understand the card. Now, of course, people understand it and similar effects are fine... For the pros.
This note urges people to be cautious about complexity, removing it where possible. Charges and Targeting are two effects that most players struggle to learn, despite how obvious it may seem to veterans.
Note 10.5: Complexity Types
Note 11: Card Power
So when it comes to power, there's a few things to take note:
First off, there's two kinds of power.
Vacuum power is simply the power level of a card in a vacuum, without considering any other card. At least in the very high-end of cards, this has actually gone down - The very best modern cards are worse than merely top-tier cards of yore, such as old Korblox Archer, Korblox Deathknight, MahBucket, AntiSammeh, Valletta, Eye of Overseer, StickMasterLuke.
Metagame power is the power of a card in relation to a deck. This is a much harder thing to stifle, because the power level of decks increases naturally over time simply by the addition of new cards. There's a joke going around that we just nerf everything - IT'S NERF OR NOTHING - and this is exactly why; despite the overwhelming majority of balance updates being nerfs or straight-up card-death, it's undeniable that the average competitive Blox Cards deck is stronger than it was, say, a year ago.
You only have a few cards at the insane level of vacuum power, and a few cards at the unwanted trend level of vacuum power - most tend to bulge in the middle. But because these cards are just bad compared to the top 25% (A general estimate), they don't see use.
Here's the thing: Buffing a card does not necessarily increase the number of cards that can be played. Take, for example, a simple card like ThatGrimGuy. ThatGrimGuy is a very good card. But it's only good because there's no better card for ThatGrimGuy's niche. The existence of ThatGrimGuy effectively "bans" ("bans" in the sense that they'll never see serious play) several cards, but if you buff a card to be equally as good (pretty much impossible), or stronger, then all you've accomplished is changing nothing, or making ThatGrimGuy unplayable.
And that's just a simple card. What about the really complicated, niche cards, like Deadeye?
Or Hallow's treats?
Or Traumatic Clown?
How many cards do you think these "ban?" Would buffing these cards unban those cards, or simply unban them and "ban" a different set?
Note 12: Investment
Investment is my personal lens and philosophy when it comes to designing cards.
First off, before we can talk about investment, we have to talk about advantages. There are several kinds of advantages in this game:
- Icon Advantage. The person with the most icons has an icon advantage. Cards that give icon advantage tend to cost no coloured icons, such as TheChakraTree, furyblocks, and the acolytes.
- Board Advantage. The person with the stronger board has board advantage. Cards that give board advantage either destroy cards or have good stats. Take note that thanks to BC's board-centric rules, this type of advantage is far stronger than others.
- Card Advantage. The person with the most cards (total in board and hand) has card advantage. Cards that give you card advantage make you draw cards, X-1 your opponent (see korblox archer, dodgeball player Red), or create tokens.
- Inevitability. The person who is more likely to win as the game goes long has inevitability. In order to gain inevitability, draw less cards, put powerful control wincons in your deck (Myrmiredon, Skeleton Armada), and focus on icon advantage.
- Tempo Advantage. Tempo is a very hard concept to explain, but it refers to exploiting time-sensitive momments and plays. A person can use small stun effects and combat tricks in order to gain tempo advantage. Cheap cards also help with tempo.
- Consistency. Another advantage is deck consistency. An effect you have to build around in order to be good, as well as parasitic cards (archetypes), are allowed to have stronger effects than non-parasitic cards because they've paid the investment of consistency.
All these advantages are interconnected, for obvious reasons.
The prime tenet of Investment is simple: When you are trying to gain advantage in one field, you should have to give up the ability to gain advantage in another. Or, to put it simply, by playing something, you have to give up something else.
A great example of a well-designed card using the lens of investment would be the acolytes. Acolytes cost 4 white, meaning they have a steep tempo loss. They don't have attack (usually), meaning they don't contribute to the board. However, they do set up icon advantage.
A great example of a poorly-designed card using the lens of investment would be the first few iterations of Sylrath.
- Sylrath was a 100/400 that's cheap and costs no coloured icons, making it good for board advantage and icon advantage.
- Sylrath drew a card when it entered play and could 2-1 rather easily, making it great for card advantage.
- Sylrath was cheap and could trade up with stronger cards, making it decent for tempo advantage.
- Sylrath costed WW, meaning any deck could play it, making it incredibly easy to place into a deck, meaing it did not have any consistency investment.
What was Sylrath "giving up", exactly? It suffered with inevitability, but only extremely grindy control decks that use Blacksymphony or Myrmiredon care about that. We call cards that have no investment "safe." Safe cards should necessarily be weaker than cards that have high investment. Safe cards, however, are allowed to exist - Pillager is such an example.
The benefits of having high-investment cards its that it adds higher levels of decision making in deckbuilding and the game. It makes each resource matter more as only a handful of your cards can create that resource. It also allows more cards to see play, as it enables a higher variety of cards to have a niche that they're good at, because there's less cards that do everything you'd want out of a card.
Note 13: The Fog of Balance
Imagine you've made a new set of cards and you want to playtest them. You get a group of friends and privately playtest them with vigour for a whole month.
How many games do you believe that is?
Now imagine you release these cards, and people buy packs and test 'em out.
How many games do you believe are played in the first day? Is it more or less than the amount of games you've playtested?
The answer is that, when a set releases, more games will be played with that set than will be played by the entire testing team in the first day. For larger games like hearthstone, it could be more than the first hour or even the first minute. Your players will know far more about the game than you ever will. To further complicate matters, you're trying to make a game that can evolve over time - If you know what the best deck is, your players will find it out in seconds. In order for the format to have a chance at not being solved, it has to be so difficult to crack that the person who's building it can't discover the best strategy by themselves. How can you balance sometrhing like this?
Oddly enough, how many people play a game has an effect on how balanced that game is - The less people play a game, the more tolerant to imbalances the game can be. Given how a single error in balancing can radically alter the game - You missing a key interaction, or a card failing to be a good counter to a powerful strategy, or plain old lapses in insight - With limited insight and no room for error with a larger game, how can you possibly balance a card game?
I provide to you an interesting answer: Don't bother.
While you can't balance the game, what you can do is make basic predictions about the metagame - What general strategies will be good, what counts as skillful gameplay, and maybe a handful of pillar cards (such as lobster and 2hex) that clearly help up certain decks. You don't know what the game will end up as, but you can have a rough idea of a couple splinters of possibility your game introduces.
Instead of trying to fully balance the game, instead aim to make sure that each possible manifestation of the metagame has skillful, rewarding gameplay, as well as deep choices in deckbuilding.
There will likely always be a singular best deck, but as long as it's not blatantly too strong, and that deck promotes skullful and rewarding gameplay, is it truly a huge problem?
The main way you can encourage this is to balance cards based on how well they uphold the qualities of "fun" - The most enjoyable way to play a game should be the best way, so it makes sense to try to put your emphasis on making sure that the more enjoyable cards are powerful.
Another way you can encourage this is by designing less extreme effects. An extreme card, such as Mzh3000, Telamon, MyCutenessKills (MCK), and such, are cards with a very powerful effect locked behind some drawback - Telamon has an insane cost, Mzh3000 requires your opponent to have a ull board, and MCK requires you to build your deck in a very specific way.
There is a time and place for extreme effects - Telamon is a very cool card, and MCK's extremeness enables an entire deck on its own. However, because of how extreme the card is, any error in its balance will be magnified. If there's an error in a modest card like Blockerwiz or SharpTH, it won't be a huge error, and the card will only be slightly worse or slightly better than you anticipate.. If there's an errror in MCK, it could completely change the card from being completely useless to format-warping. In short, you better be sure thart your extreme effect is perfectly balanced, which is very hard given your lack of information and inherent inability to perfectly see the game.