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Collisions in Multiverse, Part 2

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The letter F!our weeks ago, I began exploring the Multiverse comments that we made while developing Alara Reborn. Today we'll see more of them. Just like last time, I'll introduce each person the first time he or she makes a comment. Let's begin right where I left off!

Zealous Persecution


I am "TML" and Alara Reborn lead developer Matt Place is "MP".

MP 8/21: This could just cost WB if we wanted... Stronger than Simoon but not too good.
TML 8/21: Let's do it!


Zealous Persecution lived in the file with a mana cost of 1 ManaWhite ManaBlack Mana for most of Alara Reborn's development. At that cost, Constructed playtesters in the Future Future League ignored it. Near the end of development, Matt looked through the file for cards that might do good things for the Standard environment if they were a little more powerful. This was one of the cards he found, and he chose to push it to White ManaBlack Mana to see where that put it. Playtester Mons Johnson became excited about the change and built some black-white decks with tokens. Those decks showed us that the card was powerful enough for Constructed but was unlikely to cause problems, so we printed it there.

In the real world, Zealous Persecution has been adopted by black-white token decks similar to the one that Luis Scott-Vargas played to the finals of Pro Tour–Kyoto. Giving each of one's creatures a bonus has obvious applications in a deck that contains Bitterblossom, Cloudgoat Ranger, and Spectral Procession. However, mass shrinking effects are also very strong against those same cards, so the card is a very powerful weapon for black-white token decks to use against other black-white token decks!


Imagine a world in which you were the only player who knew about the black-white token deck and few other players were playing large amounts of token generation. In that world, it's possible that Zealous Persecution would not be strong enough for you to put in your deck. However, if you won a Pro Tour and players around the world copied your deck, this might motivate you to add Zealous Persecutions to fight everyone else. This would make your deck better against other copies of itself but worse against all of the other decks that don't have tokens.

Cards that enable this kind of "cannibalization" help foster a metagame that corrects itself. If token decks get too strong, they will start using this against each other, and then non-token decks will get relatively stronger and push them down. Zealous Persecution has turned out a little bit differently in the real world because so many strong Standard decks create lots of tokens. However, we can't predict the exact changes that Standard will experience in the real world. Had the format unfolded differently, this card might have served that role.

Demonspine Whip


Del 5/28: Why X and not "1: +1/+0"?
AF 5/29: For me it's a visceral thing. X sounds so powerful!
Del 7/24: Development comments express mild preference for the X template.
LS 7/31: I said the same thing about Helix Pinnacle. I blame Rosheen.
Del 10/9: Sticking with this template because the alternative isn't really any more clear (and adds words to the card).


"Del" is Magic senior editor Del Laugel. She is an expert at card templating, which means making sure that Magic cards are written consistently. To see what she's concerned about here, let's compare the wordings on Soldevi Simulacrum and Helix Pinnacle.

One card is written "1 Mana: do something once", while the other is written "X Mana: do something X times." However, they have very similar functions. This is generally something we avoid because it is confusing to print cards that do the same thing but have different text. In the case of Helix Pinnacle, we knew that in practice players would tap a ton of mana and put that many counters on it, and the X template does a nice job of matching that. Other benefits of this template include working with Rosheen Meanderer and saving lots of clicks on Magic Online.

One danger of this sort of templating creep is that people will latch onto an exception like Helix Pinnacle and see it as a precedent that can be followed. Alara Reborn lead designer Aaron Forsythe, represented here as "AF", chose to put Demonspine Whip into the file using the X template rather than the 1 template. To Aaron, this was simply a question of what reads better. All of us in Magic R&D are very familiar with our game, but we still have visceral reactions to cards that get past our experience. One of Aaron's reactions was that this card was just cooler to read with an X Mana activation, and I agree with him. The 1 in "1 Mana: Equipped creature gets +1/+0 until end of turn" can only be 1 no matter how many times you activate it, but X could be anything—even 1!

The story here ended happily. "LS" is Lee Sharpe, a Magic judge and Magic Online developer who helps out with templating. He also supported going with X, and the X template in this case was shorter and no clearer. Therefore, we went with X.

Anathemancer


Anathemancer is a card that has more than carried its weight in Standard already. However, its journey from design to print was quite roundabout, and this is by far the largest Multiverse comment field I'll share with you today. "AJ" is Alara Reborn developer Alexis Janson, "SW" is Magic playtester Steve Warner, "DAL" is Devin Low, and "KEN" is Ken Nagle. We begin our story with Anathemancer as a 2 ManaBlack ManaRed Mana 2/2 with haste that destroys a nonbasic land when it comes into play.


AJ 7/11: I'd rather see a spell that destroyed a nonbasic land, if we're gonna have an LD card people should have to commit to it instead of getting a 2/2 haste even when there's no targets.
SW 7/23: Agreed, and or make this so that it only gets a land if they have a certain amount of land already (so accel decks suffer a bit, but fair decks aren't getting punished)
DAL 7/30: I like the goal of slowing down 7-mana decks, but I don't love hammering people's ability to cast their 3-color spells on turn 4. We can accomplish the former without doing the latter. How about "CIP: Each opponent sacrifices a land." or the clunkier "CIP: Each opponent who controls 4 or more lands sacrifices a land."
MP 8/4: Going with a version of Devin's suggestion.

At this point, Matt replaced the previous land destruction clause with "When cardname comes into play, each opponent who controls four or more lands sacrifices a nonbasic land." However, we were playing full Shards of Alara block in the FFL, and some of my decks played only four triple taplands as their nonbasic lands. It was very annoying when I was told to sacrifice any nonbasic land, but the only one I could sacrifice was my most important land! I also found this line of text to be rather dissatisfying. It felt like we were trying to make a card that hurt nonbasic lands, but that we weren't willing to follow through with it and make a card that had teeth.


TML 8/6: This punishes Alara block decks much less if they are allowed to sacrifice a basic land as opposed to being forced to sacrifice perhaps their only tri-tapland. I understand that we want to protect decks that don't have nonbasics but those people will still be able to sacrifice the least damaging of the lands.
SW 8/11: I like this change a lot.
AJ 8/11: The text feels hacky/unnatural to me, but I'm glad it addresses the power.
KEN 8/11/2008: We do this in MapleStory a bunch, things like "discard 1 if they have 3+ cards in hand." It's interesting to specifically remove the "most lame part".
TML 8/15: I would almost rather not do this card at all than do a feels-weakened version of it.
TML 8/21: GM suggests "When CARDNAME comes into play, it deals X damage to target creature or player, where X is the number of nonbasic lands that player controls."
MP 8/25: New Price of Progress version.

Magic designer Greg Marques was also unhappy with the conditional sacrifice line of text, and suggested an alternative line that met our goals of hurting nonbasic lands but didn't feel weakened. I was willing to do nearly anything at this point to make the current text go away, so I posted it here and began advocating for it. Matt decided that the small-sized Price of Progress version was more fun, and changed to it in the file.

The last hero of the story is Ken Nagle, who noticed that few of our unearth cards had expensive unearth costs. Flashback cards like Chainer's Edict and Firebolt played very nicely; they did their thing once early in the game, then turned on again when a player drew a lot of lands. Ken started looking for places to put similar unearth costs on cards, and found Anathemancer. Against the slow five-color decks Anathemancer was most likely to be used against, even a high unearth cost would pose an uncounterable late-game threat. Matt liked this idea and decided to implement it.

We're very happy with the way Anathemancer has played out in the real world. It saw plenty of play at Regionals, and proved to be an effective weapon against decks that play tons of nonbasic lands.

Drastic Revelation


Drastic Revelation is a wonderfully odd card that was designed exactly as printed by Magic rules manager Mark Gottlieb.

AF 4/25: very visceral moment when you see what you drew, similar to Orcish Librarian. Good w/unearth.
DG 6/18: At first I was a detractor of the draw first then discard at random, since it would be simpler to say just mill. Now I am a believer, having played with it more. Definitely has an edge-of-your-seat moment!


Almost everyone did a double take the first time they saw this card. It's a lot of mechanical card manipulation to accomplish a simple effect, so it felt silly to write on a card. However, most of these people also changed their mind the first time they actually saw one cast, and Alara Reborn developer Dave Guskin helped protect it from those who hadn't yet seen or cast it. As it turns out, the action of drawing seven cards, looking at them, then discarding three of them at random is just more fun than merely drawing four cards. We like fun, so we made it this way.

Flurry of Wings


Magic cards are usually given their final names after developers finish making tweaks. This leads to comments based on playtest names that later appear quite strange. For example, Flurry of Wings used to be called "Aven Reinforcements." This inspired the following exchange between me and Mike Turian.

MT 8/12: Strange to call this Reinforcements when you can attack and play it.
TML 8/21: If they attack you back, you might need them! It doesn't bother me.


Now the card's name has nothing to do with reinforcements, so our comments look very strange. Such is the way of Multiverse.

Filigree Angel


I got carried away today and wrote a whole article with just the interesting comments from the uncommons, and we haven't even gotten to the rares or mythic rares yet! If you want me to, I could do a third article in this series. It wouldn't happen next week because that's a theme week, but I could make sure it happens. I'm not sure what I want to do, so I'll let you all decide.

 Do you want me to finish the rares in this style?  
Yes!
No!

Magic R&D is buzzing about the upcoming Grand Prix–Seattle/Tacoma, which will take place the weekend immediately after this article goes live. Many of us will be present at that tournament; some of us will be gunslinging, and others will be showing off our upcoming Xbox LIVE game Duels of the Planeswalkers. There will also be an opportunity for the public to play Two-Headed Giant Sealed Deck with Wizards employees on Sunday. We're very excited to see the new Standard format live in person as some of the best players in the world stop by on their way to Pro Tour–Honolulu. If you're in the area, I encourage you to come by for an awesome weekend of Magic!

Last Week's Poll

Magic Online Alara Reborn release events will run from now until June 5. Do you plan to participate in at least one of those events?
No 3590 81.0%
Yes 842 19.0%
Total 4432 100.0%

This Week's Poll

 Have you drafted triple Alara Reborn?  
Yes, in paper Magic.
Yes, on Magic Online.
Yes, both in paper and online.
No, but I have drafted Shards / Reborn / Reborn.
No. I have only drafted Shards / Conflux / Reborn.
I have not drafted with Alara Reborn.

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