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Dragon Along

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The letter T!he Dragon's Maze previews are over, so it's time to start talking cards or, in my case, stories about cards. Today, I'm going to flip through the Player's Guide and tell whatever stories of Dragon's Maze design that pop into my head. Hopefully, that sounds like fun. Let's get to it.

 

I often talk about how R&D will have major arguments over cards. While I think most players understand this, I don't believe they would be able to guess which cards those are. For example, Advent of the Wurm is one of those cards.

What could possibly be contentious about this card? Well, we tried to make it in Return to Ravnica and, with a little dramatic license, here's the argument we had. (Note: I was on the pro side.)

Pro: 1GGW instant, "Put a 5/5 green Wurm creature token with trample onto the battlefield." I like it.
Con: I don't.
Pro: Why not?
Con: Why isn't it just a creature?
Pro: Because we have the populate mechanic. We need cool tokens to clone.
Con: But the audience doesn't necessarily know that. Imagine if this card was in your first pack? Without the knowledge of populate, this card is confusing.
Pro: That's the beauty of Magic. People read cards and don't always get what their purpose is. But then it makes them try to figure out why. Why isn't this just a creature? Why is it a token?
Con: How about making cards that make them go "Wow, this is cool." And not have to go "Maybe this is cool. Let me hunt down why."
Pro: I'm not saying all the cards should do this but some should.
Con: Maybe a few—at higher rarities—later in the block.
Pro: Fine, we'll do it in Dragon's Maze.

And that is how Advent of the Wurm ended up in Dragon's Maze.

 

When Richard Garfield created Magic, he made a card called Clone.

Everyone instantly loved Clone because it did lots of fun things and shapeshifters are cool. Well, almost everyone loved it. The rules people didn't love it because the card didn't actually work. The problem was bad enough that for years we were forbidden from making clones.


In Urza's Saga, I did enough pleading that I got the rules manager to come up with what he thought was a workable set of Clone rules, so I convinced Mike Elliott, the lead designer of Urza's Saga, to put it into the set. Sometime after the art was done but before it went to be printed, the rules manager realized his solution for Clone didn't work and the card couldn't be Clone.

This meant we had to scramble to make a card that matched the art—a piece of art, by the way, that parodied the original art from Clone. In the end, we came up with this card:


A later rules manager would make Clone work, but our quick fix ended up being very popular. Nicknamed "Superman," Morphling is one of those cards that designers and developers keep drifting toward. I bring this all up because Ætherling, if the name wasn't a dead giveaway, is yet another Morphling variant.

The big controversy was that the card only had four activations, where all other "Morphlings" have had five. The argument was that the flickering effect both untapped the creature and kind of gave it shroud. The real reason the card only has four activations is the fifth one wouldn't fit. Trust me, we tried. Development would send the card out for people to evaluate and they kept getting the same note back. The flicker effect was key to the design but it was long enough that it prevented the fifth activations.

In the end, we chose to live with it, but I know my mailbox is going to fill up with players asking where the fifth activation is.

 

Sometimes it's the simplest of cards with the most complex of stories. A vanilla 1/3? What story is behind that? An interesting one, actually. Every Tuesday, we have a meeting called Card Crafting, where we take technical issues dealing with design and development and talk them through.

One of the recurring issues the team talks about is the similarity between black and red (also the similarity between white and green, but that's not the topic for today's story). The two colors have a lot of overlap and R&D has been spending some of our Card Crafting trying to find ways to make them more different.

One of the similarities was the observation that black and red tended to be the two colors that most often had creatures with power higher than toughness. If we were going to try and separate the two colors, we felt it was important to shift one of them to occasionally have a higher toughness than power. After some discussion, we decided that red made more sense as the high-power/low-toughness color, as its ethos is always about acting on impulse and never thinking things through.

This meant black needed to start having some creatures with a toughness higher than power. Bane Alley Blackguard is one of the cards that hint at this future for black creatures.

 

The third set of this block is in an interesting place. It wants to both fill in the gaps the guilds have from earlier in the block, but it also wants to carve out some new design space for the guilds. Blaze Commando is an example of the latter. The Boros deck in Gatecrash was all about spitting out creatures as fast as you could. Blaze Commando makes the Boros player have to consider how many instants and sorceries he or she is playing and adjust accordingly.

Blaze Commando also does something else that Dragon's Maze pushes players toward doing. The slower nature of the draft, along with the makeup of each booster pack, pushes players toward playing three colors. Blaze Commando was designed as a Boros card that plays with Izzet, the guild already playing lots of instants and sorceries. Dragon's Maze, as I explained over the last two weeks, had a lot of things it had to accomplish, so one of the best ways to do this was to have cards that addressed multiple concerns. Blaze Commando is one such card.

 

Designers sometimes geek out over the strangest of things. Bred for the Hunt is one such example. This card intrigues me because it is both a green-blue cards and a Simic card and the design works on both levels. Some of you might be saying "So what?" But I've been at this long enough that I know how hard this actually is to do, especially with the ease of simplicity that Bred for the Hunt has.

Why do we make a card with elements that we don't think the majority players will get? For a number of reasons:

  1. Some subset will always get it and to them it will bond them with the game. When you run across a joke that you know a few people will get, it makes you feel good. You're part of an elite club.
  2. The aesthetics will shine through even if the players aren't conscious about it. You see, aesthetics are important not because of the direct impact but the indirect one. Cards that are aesthetic just feel pleasing even if the observer doesn't understand why.
  3. If the card plays well, doesn't draw attention to itself, and isn't an issue for the creative team, then why not add in an extra layer?
 

I love my job. I love my family. Both require a lot of my time and attention. As such, I'm often burning the candle at both ends. One of the side effects of this is I've been known to fall asleep in a meeting or two. I bring this up because the story of this card's design starts in a Dragon's Maze design meeting. The team was trying to fill a hole and needed a multicolor Izzet creature, it they spent some time brainstorming. At least, that's what the team told me later. You see, I had fallen asleep. Several minutes into the brainstorm, I woke myself up. It was obvious the team was trying to make a card. I asked what it was looking for. My response a few seconds later was this card.

 

I'll let you in on a not-so-little secret. I love good top-down designs. I say "good" because truly special top-down designs are a rare commodity. The key is to find a mix of mechanics that hasn't been done before but also perfectly captures the essence of the card's flavor. Hired Torturer is one of these perfect flowers where everything just came together. As such, this is my favorite card in the set.

 

This is also one of my favorite cards in the set. Why? Two reasons. One is a designer reason and the other is a player reason. The designer reason is that I really enjoy the feel it gives to Simic. Simic is a mad scientist guild, but we seldom get to see them being mad scientists. Sure, we see the aftereffects of what they've created but we don't get a lot of chance to see them in the workshop. At least, we don't get to from any mechanical sense. Krasis Incubation solves this problem by being a top-down design of the experimentation.

My player love for this card comes from an earlier love I had many years ago.


Once upon a time, I had a little green-blue weenie beatdown deck. The key of the deck was that I got out a few creatures quickly and hit you for 20 within a few turns. To help this along, I really needed a cheap answer to blockers and at first glance I thought Cocoon was my answer. Sure, it made my opponents' creatures better but not for three turns, and by then they should be dead.

I quickly learned my error (you can only enchant creatures you control) but I kept playing with the card because it was fun. Whenever I see a card like Krasis Incubation, I'm always taken back to Cocoon. The biggest difference between Cocoon and Krasis Incubation is Krasis Incubation is both faster and more under your control. I know I'm happy to see it every time I play Simic.

 

Ever since this card was previewed I keep getting the same question: why isn't this land legendary? There are two answers to this question:

  1. We really don't do legendary lands any more: For starters, the game play of a legendary land isn't great. You need to put four copies in your deck to make sure you draw it early (it's land, after all) but you can't play the others. And then all the other copies turn into Strip Mine (a card infamous for being fun-sucking). It's also easy to get two in play without realizing it because they sit with the lands, which aren't as scrutinized. It's a mess, so other than very rare exceptions (Eye of Ugin, I'm ironically looking at you), we don't use them.
  2. The creative doesn't really need them to be legendary: Lands don't actually represent lands in the game, but rather they represent links to the mana found within the land. Any one particular place can be tapped multiple times for mana. You may not be able to have two copies of the same character but you can have multiple mana taps of the same place.

If we made an exception to Eye of Ugin, why not make one here? Because with the Eye of Ugin, we only wanted you to have one in play at a time, so we were able to use the legendary supertype as much for a mechanical restriction as we were using it for flavor. Maze's End didn't have this issue. We were fine with you having four in play.

 

Back when grind (the mechanic where you mill cards from the top of the library until you hit a land card) was the Dimir mechanic in Gatecrash, the design team discussed whether we wanted grind to have a number. To demonstrate why we might want to, we made a saboteur that was "grind 3." If memory serves, that creature didn't have flying.

When the Dimir mechanic shifted from grind to cipher, we had too many grind cards, so this one got pushed off. The Dragon's Maze team decided to make it the Dimir champion so it upped the grind from three to four and added flying.

 

Let me answer the question on everyone's mind. Is this Mana Drain?

Basically, yes. Technically, Mana Drain only created colorless mana, but that's splitting hairs. Plasm Capture came about because over the years we've talked about what Mana Drain should cost and what colors it should be. The counterspell ability was obviously blue but the mana generation felt either green or red. When you put the two abilities together, though, it just felt better as green-blue than blue-red.


Anyway, we were having this discussion for the umpteenth time during a Dragon's Maze design meeting and just decided to end the argument once and for all. What should Mana Drain cost? Green ManaGreen ManaBlue ManaBlue Mana.

 

Ah, Ral Zarek. Now, either you've been waiting for him with bated breath or you have no idea who he is. Let me explain for those of you in the latter camp. Several years ago, we were making the latest Duels of the Planeswalkers when the creative team came to a realization: we didn't have enough Planeswalkers. More accurately, we didn't have any Planeswalkers who fit two of the decks they wanted to have in the game.

None of the existing Planeswalkers made sense with either of the decks, so the decision was made to just design some new ones. If they proved to be popular, we could always find room for them in a set. Well, it didn't take long for us to start getting request to see Ral Zarek and Kiora on cards. We knew going in that if it was decided we wanted to bring them to the game, we needed to find the right spots. We were going to use them if they fit, not force them in.

It turns out Ral Zarek is natively from Ravnica and a member of the Izzet guild, so his inclusion in the block was a pretty no-brainer. The one big question was what set did he belong in—Return to Ravnica or Dragon's Maze? (It was felt that having an Izzet-affiliated Planeswalker in Gatecrash, the set with no Izzet cards, would be weird.) After some discussion, we decided that we wanted Jace in Return to Ravnica. So as to have a known Planeswalker as the "face" for Dragon's Maze, we would save Ral for the third set. I hope you all enjoy finally getting to play with him.

And what of Kiora? She'll be around eventually, once we find the correct place to put her.

 

Some of my favorite designs come about because we were trying to solve one problem and ended up solving others as well. Case in point: Species Gorger was made as an evolve enabler. The idea was simple. How can you help evolve creatures evolve more? Have more large creatures enter the battlefield. How do you do that? One way is to put them back into your hand so you can cast them again.

The next trick is to turn the unsummoning of your creature into a cost for getting a better-than-average creature. All you have to do is turn that negative into a positive as a deck builder and there's fun aplenty. I love that players are able to do things like reset unleash creatures or allow a creature with an enter-the-battlefield ability (such as detain) to repeat its effect. This becomes especially important as the Limited environment shifts to three-color decks.

 

Wait, isn't this Armadillo Cloak from Invasion?

The lifelink-like ability is now just lifelink, but essentially, yes. Why didn't we just reprint Armadillo Cloak? Because the creative team has never been happy with the flavor of Armadillo Cloak. It was done by a different creative team many years ago, back when we tended to get a little sillier from time to time. R&D really wanted to bring back the card mechanically, so the creative team re-concepted and renamed the card.

 

Early in Gatecrash design, I tried this thing where each guild got an iconic reprint. The choice for Boros was obvious—Lightning Helix. But, eventually, we made Firemane Avenger (basically battalion with a built-in Lightning Helix) and we decided that was cooler than doing Lighting Helix for a second time.

Then in Dragon's Maze, Lightning Helix was tried again. There were a few too many reprints so the card was tweaked and Lightning Helix became Warleader's Helix.




That's all the time I have for today. As always, I would love to hear your feedback on some of the cards I talked about today. Feel free to email me, drop a note in this thread or contact me on social media (Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+).

Join me next week when I explore a different aspect of Dragon's Maze.

Until then, may the magical cards bring you many stories as well.




Drive to Work #30—Lessons I've Learned, Part 1

This week, I start a new series where I examine the sixteen sets I've led the design for and talk about the lessons I learned from each one.

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Mark Rosewater
Mark Rosewater
@maro254
Email Mark

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Working for Magic R&D since October, 1995, Mark Rosewater is currently the head designer. His hobbies include spending time with his family, talking about Magic on every known medium (including a daily blog and a weekly podcast), and writing about himself in the third person.

 

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