Disorganized Thoughts About Card Games: Volume 1

Control: Shadowverse, Magic, and The Structure of a Turn

When designing a card game, one of the most important things to do is to account for players looking to play the slow game. Make your game look like a race at breakneck speeds and you'll steer people away who think it's about playing solitaire and hand dumping until your opponent's life hits zero. However, to promote games to last too long leads to matches of “nothing happening”, where players spend ten turns playing draw-go before a spell gets played that can make new players think the game is incredibly boring. The balance of control and aggro is one that has always plagued card games, but the matter has almost always come down to the structure of a turn.

Magic: the Gathering is bar none the most important card game to the genre's history. The game drew people in with its fantasy aesthetic and kept them playing with its intense skill requirements and resource management. It's easily the most popular competitive card game in the world, with storied players taking the world by flusterstorm, and with twenty-five years of play names such as The Deck, Cryptic Command, Force of Will, and Lightning Bolt strike fear into the hearts of people who forgot the player across them left mana open. Control in Magic thrives around one aspect: instants and cards with the keyword “Flash” can be played at any time in response to an ability or card the opponent plays. This one rule is what forms Magic, and allows its control decks to shine. Without it, the game would lose so much of what makes it unique. However, with the advent of mobile games, ventures into the world of card games without interaction on the opponent's turn have sprung into prominence

For a game where people complain day in and day out about aggro, Shadowverse manages to do many things right. Its aesthetic is anime, and it's from the same people who made Granblue Fantasy, so it's drawn in crowds that way. The evolve mechanic is incredibly fun and a powerful toolbox for certain decks, pushing the balance of wanting to push damage, or wait for strong effects on evolution. However, I believe the game exemplifies one of the things control players in Magic looking at many other card games see, especially through its only strong control deck, Artifact Portalcraft. Control decks in most games outside of Magic try to achieve the same end goals as those in Magic do, that being grinding out board and hand advantage before dropping a game ending bomb, but it's the approach that matters. Magic does it primarily through counterspells, forcing the opponent to spend resources before saying “Oh no you don't,” and draining the soul from your opponent's unresolved Krark-Clan Ironworks. Most other games do it by focusing on denying the opponent board presence after things are on it, usually by trading or spells. However, this causes control to falter in three situations, all of which are demonstrated in Shadowverse as it is today.

  1. Creatures are not played for their stats, but their enter the board or leave effect.
  2. The format revolves around spells, which cannot be countered in a game such as this.
  3. Problematic cards are nigh impossible to remove.

Evidence of the first is Midrange Swordcraft. A deck that has been top of the rotation format food chain for a while now, Mid Sword is known for having powerful spells-on-a-stick with strong alpha strikers like Arthur, Knight King and Sky Fortress. The second is prominent in Roach Forest, a combo deck that doesn't care about interaction because it just OTKs you. The last manifests itself in Tenko Havencraft, which revolves itself around a permanent type called an amulet, which has little viable removal in rotation. While it is definitely possible for control to exist in a game like this, over time it will only get more and more difficult.