Rant of Valakut: Rupture the Spire, part 1 Ben Iverach-Brereton September 28, 2020 Rants of Valakut Slay the Spire is a deck building roguelike video game where you battle a series of monsters to ascend a strange tower. The cards you play will help deal damage to the monsters and shield you from harm. You begin each game with the same small deck of cards, and as you progress you can add or remove cards from your deck to help against more powerful foes. You’ll need the help, too; the further you go the harder it gets, and if you ever die you lose your progress and have to start all over from the very beginning. Each encounter is broken down into a series of turns. You draw a fresh hand of cards and play them before the monsters take their turn and attack you. Cards have mana costs, and you only have three mana available each turn, so you probably won’t be able to use every card in your hand. Anything you don’t play gets discarded, and you’ll draw a fresh hand the following turn. Don’t worry about milling out, though; like other deck building games, such as Dominion or Ascension, you shuffle your discard pile into your deck whenever it runs out. You do still have to keep an eye on your life total, mind you, since doesn’t reset between encounters. “This all sounds well and good,” you might be saying, “but I came here for Magic content, not a review of some video game!” To that I have two points: One, if you’re a fan of Magic I think you’ll also enjoy Slay the Spire. And two, I’m getting to the Magic part, don’t worry. The Magic Part If you’ve read any of my other Rant of Valakut articles, you’re no doubt aware that I like to find new ways of playing with the cards in my collection, whether that’s experimenting with new Planechase variants or building Horde decks for cooperative games of Magic. All of these formats tweak the rules of Magic, but are basically still the same game. What if we completely reworked the core mechanics to be more like Slay the Spire instead? Is it possible to build a brand new game that still uses Magic cards? I think it can be done. I call it “Rupture the Spire.” For Rupture the Spire to work, I plan to overhaul the structure of a Magic turn and redefine several keywords and game actions. In my mind this is a bit like tweaking how “Amass” worked in Attack of the Dreadhorde, just on a larger scale. In Dreadhorde, cards would still say that they “Amassed,” but the actual mechanics of what happened needed to be different because of how the Horde deck worked. In this same vein, a creature with deathtouch in Rupture the Spire might deal bleeding damage instead of killing something outright, and a creature with defender might need to be the first target of a spell instead of being unable to attack. These creatures would still have the “deathtouch” and “defender” keywords, but the meaning of those words words would be new. This may be my most ambitious project so far, and it’s one I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. I’ve done some initial playtesting, and it shows promise, but there’s still a lot I need to figure out. Still, I’m excited to share what I have so far. There’s far too much to cover in one article, so stay tuned for more updates! For now, though, let’s start with a general overview, and touch on some of the core ideas of the game. The Map The video game Slay the Spire takes you through a map of various types of encounters, including combats, merchants and rest sites on your way to the top of the tower. At the end of combat you can add new cards to your deck, while rest sites will let you upgrade your cards or heal. Encountering a merchant allows you add or remove cards, for a price. I want Rupture the Spire to have a similar “map” structure, broken down into encounters, but a full map is a bit awkward to do for a physical card game. I think we could get a similar feel by using a deck of locations instead, probably in the form of nonbasic lands. Each location would be a combat encounter, rather than being a mix of combats, merchants and rest sites. If the combats had your choice of rewards, such as the option to modify your deck or heal, then we wouldn’t need dedicated merchant or rest encounters. In this way the game will still be broken down into smaller encounters, but will be significantly streamlined. Eventually I’d like each location to have its own rules that modify combat, but that’s something to figure out much later. Unlike the cards used in an encounter, we’ll probably have to completely ignore the rules text on the nonbasic lands, and draw inspiration from the name and art instead. For instance, a battle on the Tendo Ice Bridge would probably be a precarious battle with a chance to “fall” somehow, while winning a fight at the Radiant Fountain would let you heal more than usual. Like I said, the exact rules for each location aren’t important right now, but I find it useful to keep the idea in mind as we sort out other mechanics. For now, let’s just say that your first encounter is always at the Unknown Shores, at the mid-point of your journey you’ll reach the Gateway Plaza, and your final encounter will be in the Rupture Spire. – A game consists of a series of encounters. – After each encounter, you’ll get the choice of modifying your deck, or recovering lost life. – Encounters take place at locations, drawn from a deck of nonbasic lands. One-Versus-Many Encounters in Rupture the Spire should play out like small, self-contained games. Unlike a typical game of Magic where you’ll summon creatures to fight for you, in Rupture the Spire you’re going to be on your own. Your deck will only contain noncreature spells, while creature cards will serve as the combat threats. I’m taking a page directly from the Slay the Spire video game with this one-versus-many approach, and it’s what will drive a lot of our design decisions going forward. The lonely fighter struggling against waves of monsters is exactly the narrative I want to capture, and denying access to your own army of creatures is a great way of ensuring that you always feel outnumbered. That said, Magic wasn’t designed with this asymmetry in mind; getting cards to work with this new structure will require a lot of tinkering. Don’t worry, we’ll get there. The Spell Deck If the player only gets access to noncreature spells, what cards do they get? Slay the Spire starts you off with a mix of Strike and Dodge cards, suitable for dealing or blocking damage respectively. Rupture the Spire is obviously going to be a bit different, but giving the player a standard starting deck with some combination of offensive and defensive cards makes sense. The player will have an opportunity to add better cards as they progress, so it’s ok if the starting deck isn’t great. In fact, it would be good if the cards in the starting deck were a little weak and clunky so that players have an incentive to replace them. For simplicity, we’re going to focus primarily on red burn spells for offense, while we’ll have to get a bit more creative for the defensive spells. While white and blue tap effects might work, I’d like to find another solution. Possible Starter Deck 1 x Burn Bright1 x Fists of Flame1 x Flames of the Firebrand2 x Frost Breath1 x Scorching Dragonfire4 x Shock2 x Thrill of Possibility Buy This List This deck has a couple of combat tricks in it, like Burn Bright. Without friendly creatures to target they normally don’t do anything. That said, I have an idea for how these cards could be useful in Rupture the Spire. I’ll explain more about it in part 2! A New Hand Every Turn We’re building Rupture the Spire to work more like a deckbuilding game than a game of Magic, which means that each turn you’ll discard your hand and draw new cards. When your deck runs out, you’ll shuffle your graveyard into your library and keep playing. I’ve found that a hand of five cards is the right size for this game instead of seven. Mana In order to cast your spells, you’ll start each encounter with some lands in play, rather than having them hiding in your deck. Playtesting helped me determine that six mana was a nice middle-ground of resources. This gives the player enough mana to make decisions, but not so much that they can do everything they want. At the start of each encounter you’ll put six basic lands into play. Personally, I’m opting for Wastes, because they fit the aesthetic I have in mind, but any basic should do. I’m ignoring colour restrictions, and allowing mana to be used as if it were mana of any type; not only does this simplify things, but it will keep our options open later on regarding what spells we can include in the deck. After all, we’re already restricting ourselves noncreature spells only, so why limit our colour choices too? – Discard your hand and draw five new cards each turn. – You start each encounter with 6 basic lands in play. – Mana may be used as if it were mana of any type. The Monsters Once you’ve got your deck ready, you’ll need some creatures to fight. These will be taken from a separate threat deck, and the number put into play will be based on your progress and location. How we determine the number of creatures you’ll face each encounter is unimportant right now, but it will probably be based on their converted mana cost. For now, all we really need to know is that there will be around two to six creatures per encounter. Additionally, when the encounter starts, it will trigger all of the creatures’ enters-the-battlefield effects. After that, you’ll start your first turn. – Creatures are drawn from a separate threat deck. – Encounters will have two to six creatures, based on converted mana cost. – Encounters later in the game will have more creatures in them. – When an encounter starts, the creatures’ enter-the-battlefield abilities will trigger. Details Pending I’m excited about Rupture the Spire, and I hope you find it interesting, too. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please let me know in the comments. There are a lot of different ways you can tackle a project like this, and just because I’m doing it one way doesn’t mean it’s the best way to approach it. That’s it for now, though. Next time I’ll go into specifics regarding the structure of a turn, as well as the mechanical changes I plan to make to combat tricks. I hope you’ll join me then! 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