The Gods Unchained Mana System, designed by ADWCTA
Hello, my name is ADWCTA, and I am the Lead Balance Designer for Gods Unchained. We have some exciting news to share with you today: A brand new mana system!
The Gods Unchained design team has a motto:
“Stand on the shoulders of Giants. . . and explore beyond their limits.”
Games like Magic: the Gathering and Hearthstone broke new ground for the genre of collectible card games, and brought us to where we are today. A quick glance at Gods Unchained will leave no doubt as to where we looked to in history for our base inspirations. But, every game, no matter how revolutionary for their time, have limitations that can be improved upon.
Few things define the strategic aspect of a card game as much as its resource system. MTG’s system is infinitely flexible, but equal parts frustrating with a third of games being decided before they are even played. HS’s system offers top accessibility, but handicaps deck interactions between decks of different archetypes, necessitating long game times and falling into the trap of increasingly rock, paper, scissors determined outcome. Our design team has studied the resource system of these (and many more) predecessors, to create our own unique system that delivers a more engaging, more strategic experience.
It’s my pleasure to introduce Gods Unchained’s new resource system: Mana Locks.
In Gods Unchained, you will unlock one mana lock at the start of each of your turn and refresh all empty mana gems. There is one lock on each of your first five mana gems, so you’ll be unlocking one gem turns 1–5, just like any other traditional automated system. The sixth mana gem, however, starts the game with two locks on it, and won’t be accessible until turn 7. There will be two locks on your seventh mana gem (accessible turn 9), three locks on your eighth mana gem (accessible turn 12), and four locks on your ninth mana gem (accessible turn 16). Summarized below:
As opposed to forcing an inflexible endgame by turn 10 (like the incremental system of Hearthstone) our Mana Locks stagger the endgames into stages, beginning at turn 5! I won’t dive too deep into the game theory and mathematics behind this, but we expect this change to create snappier games with more interactions between players.
“…snappier games with more interactions between players.”
Mana Locks open up exciting new possibilities for deckbuilding. Aggressive decks will have permission to push harder, midrange decks more space, and attrition decks more badass finishers. We expect decks to meet each other more often in the middle while favoring outcomes determined by strategy, rather than chance or arithmetic.
Aggro Sets the Pace
A truism in any collectible card game is that aggressive decks set the pace for the entire “meta” (the diverse cast of decks in a card game). Aggressive decks are filled with low-cost tools that seek to overwhelm the opponent before a proper defense can be set up. By stalling access to the sixth mana gem, we set the efficiency point of such decks to turn 6.
In Gods Unchained, aggressive decks will be structured to utilize all their resources and win before turn 7 unlocks more powerful stabilizing counters. In turn, this requires slow decks to heavily interact and deny this specific breakpoint — the first double-locked mana gem. Even the slowest decks will be pressed to answer threats by stacking low-mana cards. The result? More balanced, interactive, and fun games.
Build the Anticipation
Moving past the early game to the mid-game, at its most visceral level, we wanted to capture that feeling of hitting the next level in an RPG, of unlocking the next power-up or resource. We wanted to retain that feeling of “Ah ha! Now I can finally play my MUCH more powerful card!” without the messy randomness of MTG’s resource system or the HS’s feeling of “Aw shucks, this creature I just played will be immediately outclassed the next turn.”
Our Mana Lock System effectively guarantees that starting on turn 5, your top of the line creature will NOT be outclassed for at least 1.5 turns. This creates powerful incentives to run 5, 6, 7 mana creatures, changing the strategic layers of the mid-game. Heightened board security means more interaction and more satisfying combat. In this way, turns 5, 7, 9, 12 and 16 are each mini-endgames where mid-ranged decks can thrive.
Epic Battles at the Top
If you’re a fan of slower grind-it-out decks, have no fear. We’ve got you covered too. By slow rolling resource availability with the Mana Lock System, we can make 100% balanced cards at the top end *extremely powerful*, and positively gamewinning-ly-megaawesome-superridiculous-give-your-mama-a-heart-attack powerful cards at 9 mana. Cards with truly Godlike power levels will be at your disposal. The gap between playing two 4-mana cards and an 8-mana card will be wide, rewarding patience. If both decks pack late game monsters, the results will be spectacular.
Take a look at some of our Genesis Set balancing changes below for a visualization of the top end power levels.
Another interesting thing that happens when we reduce the total amount of available resources per turn, is that the game naturally becomes more balanced. This is an effect of the nature of turn-based card games, where both players do not take their turns at the same time. The more resources a player can stack in each turn, the more difficult it becomes to respond to this advantage, and the more the game devolves into “who can take their critical resource turn first”? In a game of randomized card drawing, the answer is usually: Chance. While we can’t completely fix this problem without applying the more complicated (and far less accessible) design of simultaneous turn-taking, limiting the total pool of resources each turn helps us mitigate the swingy nature of late-game game-deciding battles. Compared to a traditional linear mana progression system, the Mana Lock System is 30% more stable on turn 10. Less swing, more interactivity. Gods Unchained will make you earn your victory conditions honestly.
Fun from the Start
With the mana locks taking care of the fun and excitement at the top end, we next turned our attention to the lower end of the mana spectrum. One of the odd relics of modern TCGs is that games don’t often start until a couple of turns in. For the first turn or so, players often do nothing. 1-mana cards are artificially handicapped in both MTG and HS to have low tempo for their mathematical value, in order to force a longer game.
While that may work for some games, it makes for a pretty boring start. So we solved the problem by shaking up the mana system on the lower end as well, restoring 1-mana cards to their full mathematical tempo.
With the mana lock system in place, players will naturally carry more lower-mana cards in their decks, regardless of archetype. In most card games, these cards are overwhelmingly mediocre ((e.g a 2/1 creature for 1 mana). Not in Gods Unchained. We want you playing from turn 1. Our standard one drops will be 2/2s or 3/1s, WITH a small ability. If you build a deck that can’t make early plays, you’ll quickly find yourself in a dangerous position. Take a look at this Genesis card, and how it was rebalanced with the new mana system:
And they won’t be alone. There will be plenty of strong tempo-neutral 1-mana cards in our free to play core set. In fact, a disproportionate number of cards will be 1-mana cards, taking advantage of the high-value ceiling they can achieve. Keep up, or perish.
Genesis Improvements — Balance Update 1!
We’ve been working day and night on this, and we’re super excited to announce the first balance update to our Genesis Set as we move into our closed beta. You’ll find many of the cards you know more flavourful, more unique, and some with interesting twists. We’ve had 3 separate QA teams exhaustively testing the game, and we’ve made improvements to address: design space and balancing issues, functionality in the new mana system, balance among classes/tribes, cardpool support for archetypes, and general updates to refresh old designs with more interesting and fun aspects.
Each time we changed a card for balancing purposes, we applied the principle of making it more interesting for you, the player. We won’t go into every card that changed, but here are a couple of examples:
The new Mana System and our existing God Power Selection System form two unique pillars around which every card in Gods Unchained will be designed.
They were selected by our design team as the two most efficient ways to have maximum impact on strategic gameplay while preserving the easy to understand nature of card games. You can still jump into a match of Gods Unchained and have an immediate grasp of how the game functions, but our layers of strategy will unveil in a different manner from any card game you’ve played before.
We hope to position Gods Unchained as a game that not only stands on the shoulders of our predecessors but also pushes the genre forward toward a more engaging and strategic experience. If you’d like to chat about our mana system(or simply say hi to our team and community), come join us on Discord!
ADWCTA is a game enthusiast who loves exploring diversity and balance in games. He lives in NYC with his partner and a rabbit. He ranked top 10 on Hearthstone leaderboards for Arena and homebrewed decks to Legend rank for constructed. He is also a streamer, podcaster, and content creator for the Grinning Goat; the man behind the Lightforge Tier List valuation algorithm; and Lead Balance Designer of Gods Unchained.