On Counterspells...

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
Shadow Era doesn't have them, and I like it that way. It's incredibly annoying in electronic TCG's to have to press the "I do not have a response" button after every single play my opponent makes. (Because there's no other way to provide the opportunity for the user to counter the action he wants to counter.) But there are a couple of effects this will have on the types of decks that become viable that we should take into account as we look at cards Kyle is revealing.

Any card you play in a TCG is vulnerable to something. Ongoing abilities can be destroyed. Allies can be defeated in battle or hit with a burn spell. The player thinking about using these cards performs a cost/benefit calculation in their head before playing a valuable card: vulnerabilities have to be played against the potential advantage the card can yield. In essence, you don't want to drop your glass cannons when you know your opponent can just burn them away when their next turn rolls around, so it's better to just leave them in your hand until your opponent has fewer cards in their hand that could cost you your expensive allies--that way, you maximize the utility you can get out of them. In most games, if a player has one or two cards in-hand, you can make a few assumptions about what kinds of cards they are. You can assume it/they:
  • Aren't draw cards
  • Most likely aren't burn cards (because they would've already burned you with them)
  • Might be a heavy-hitting creature/monster/ally too expensive to play right now
  • Might be a card that fails the cost/benefit test described above
  • Is/Are most likely to be something the opponent is saving for when you play something juicy

This adds danger to playing that big ally in your hand because, well, lot of good it'll do you if it's frozen, webbed, burned to death or out-right counterspelled. Oh, but wait, it can't be counterspelled! Hmm... What does that say about the paralysis and burn cards? Might they be this game's anti-ally counterspells? Maybe...

I think we should start looking at these cards not for what role they would play in another TCG, but rather what void they would fill in Shadow Era. Paralysis cards in MtG almost always take a backseat to counter cards for obvious reasons (unless they're REALLY cheap--like, say, Icy Manipulator). Paralysis effects are temporary stall tactics and because they stay out longer, they're more vulnerable to unexpected destruction a few turns down the line. Burn cards are faster and more versatile, but their effectiveness is at the mercy of the size of the opponent they're hitting--dealing 2 damage to a 7/7 is shrug-off-able--outright countering the 7/7's appearance on the board however...not so much. Counter cards are instantaneous, have lasting effects (it's dead for good, rather than just inconsequential for a couple turns), consistently disabling (rather than maybe disabling) and are harder to stop because the target has to counter it RIGHT THEN or be stuck with the consequences. Because paralysis/burn cards are generally seen as being inferior to counter cards, I think we've been looking at them as though they are as non-threatening as they would be in MtG or WoW.

Okay, so that's the impact the absence of counter cards might have on cards which could best fill the gap they left. But what about how people actually play?

Without the lurking possibility that the other guy's hand has a counterspell in it, those sweeping, truck-sized ability cards suddenly became a whole lot better. Imagine what Wrath of God would look like if there was no possibility that the opponent could keep it from going off. Cards that change the field as much as Wrath of God are tempered by a) their cost and b) the fact that if the opponent is properly prepared, they can be prevented from going off with card negation. But you can't block abilities in Shadow Era, can you? In discussions of Nishaven, Tidal Wave, Ice Storm, and Supernova, we (myself included) have generally been comparing these sweeping cards to their equivalent cards in MtG, WoW and Yu-Gi-Oh!. But a somewhat-hidden aspect of these MtG et. all cards is their ability to be blocked or otherwise prevented. Objectively, the Shadow Era mega-sweeping ability cards would have to be viewed as being better than their MtG, Yu-Gi-Oh! or WoW equivalents, in that they are at least as powerful as a card in those games that sweeps the field and has the added text "this card cannot be negated" as well.

I'm not sure how big a difference this is, but I'm pretty sure it ain't nothin'. I'm also not convinced that a proper counterargument to this proposition would be anything along the lines of "yeah, but everything in Shadow Era is equivalent to a card in whatever game if it had the extra 'no negation' clause added to it, so it all evens out." I say this because I think it makes the bigger, heavy-hitting cards better more so than it does smaller cards--after all, who would bother spending three to counterspell Shock in MtG?

Honestly, I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I like the counterspell-less environment, especially since the alternative is a UI that would get annoying at a devilish speed. But at the same time, I don't know how I feel about every ability getting to go off with impunity.

Anyway, it's just something to think about...

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  1. Narziss's Avatar
    I agree that taking away counterspells makes the game roll faster as we don't have to wait for the other player to respond or choose to not respond after everything that is cast. And also (at this point) it seems that no cards or abilities can be used during the opponent's turn, which once again, makes the game roll better.

    It is an illuminating observation, which I hope the dev takes into consideration, that although such a way of making the game is fine, however, some cards (e.g. Tidal Wave) become so much more powerful when there is no way of stopping them.

    Perhaps, however, one way to get sorta around this would be to introduce cards that pre-counter cards. For example, imagine an ongoing ability card that says, "The next ability or ally card your opponent plays is countered." This will force the other player to have to play some worthless card before playing their Tidal Wave. While this may not prevent them from playing their Tidal Wave, it stalls the game a bit until the Tidal Wave lands.

    Also, there could be an ally like Meddling Mage, that "pre-counters" a named card.

    Another possibility, I think even better possibility, would be to include discard cards. This could be the "new" counterspell (without having to be played on the other player's turn). Basically, make an ability card that says, "look at target player's hand and select a card; that player discards that card." Such selective discarding powers can be a preventive measure to cards like Tidal Wave, and they are available to players on their own turn.

    Discarding powers are better than counterspells in that you can make the opponent lose a powerful card right when you have the resources available to play the discard card (and not necessarily when they chose to play the e.g. Tidal Wave). In MTG, a player might wait until the other guy is tapped out (i.e. exhausted all his resources) to cast their Wrath of God in order to ensure that they will not have mana open to counter the Wrath of God. This makes selective discard cards more powerful.

    However, what balances the selective discard cards is that you can't do anything about an opponent who top-decks or draws the Tidal Wave on his own turn. And discard cards become useless when the opponent is down to 0 cards and players the one card he draws on each of his turns.

    To summarize, I think you have important observations that should be taken into consideration, and a preventive measure might be to include selective discard cards and keep the gameplay as it is.

    Perhaps a combination of "pre-counters" (next ally/ability played is countered), "selective pre-counters" (e.g. Meddling Mage), "discard" abilities, and "selective discard" abilities could balance the game with its absence of counterspells and response cards.
    Updated 08-09-2010 at 07:05 PM by Narziss
  2. tomohr's Avatar
    This is a very interesting thought... Actually something I was just thinking about myself. I could see how not having a counterspell would be great and keep the flow of the game fast, but this is the thing that I want to see happen eventually -- having players be able to respond to things that the active player is doing. The game needs to be more active when you are not on your turn, luckily enough it goes fast so you don't have to wait that long, but why not have a few cards that you can use only when its your opponents turn, i.e. if you are hunter you could have like a 3 or 4 cost card that would respond to a ally attacking that would catch him in a trap and he would not be able to attack until the end of his next turn (so he would lose a turn).

    just a thought, gotta go play more