Savor_the_Flavor

How to Design a Specter and More!

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Fade in. A smiling DOUG BEYER greets the camera wearing a sienna-brown suit with cornflower blue trim—a gimmicky reference to the colors of the Magic card back.

DOUG
Designing some of Magic's trademark creatures can be fun, and easier than you think! Follow the step-by-step instructions in today's episode, and before you know it, you'll be a world-famous Magic card designer—able to thrill the Timmies, inspire the Johnnies, and activate the salivary glands of Spikes with a thought! Ready? Let's do it!

Fade to title montage.


Upbeat light jazz plays. We see a montage of clips of DOUG teaching Vorthosian principles to other PLANESWALKERS, who nod and clap animatedly. In one clip, DOUG wears a Sliver Overlord costume and flips through a deck, then winks as he reveals a Mistform Ultimus card. In another clip, DOUG stands in front of an overhead projector, waving a dragon-shaman's staff excitedly at the words projected on the wall—the flavor text of Ghostfire. In another, DOUG fits a replica of a Mindslaver helmet over his head, demonstrating how the barb in the back inserts into his spinal column, and then mimics punching himself in the chin, mouthing "Ow, ow!" In the last clip, DOUG tries to fit a pair of boots on a toy rubber snake with exaggerated difficulty, then gives an "oh well!" shrug and a beaming thumbs-up at the camera.

TITLE: "FLAVORFUL DESIGN!"

Fade to:

DOUG
Are you tossing and turning every night, wondering how your card designs will ever please the Creative team? Well, worry no more—nothing ever pleases us! (chuckles) Hi, I'm Doug Beyer, your host for another episode of Flavorful Design, the show that helps you to design top-down Magic cards in a flavorful way! Today we're taking a look at a few of Magic's most setting-spanning, go-to monsters.

TITLE: "DESIGNING SPECTERS"


Slow background pan of Silent Specter by Daren Bader.

DOUG
Have you ever felt annoyed that scaring your little sister never leaves permanent scars on her sanity? (chuckling) Of course you have. The solution is to design some specters to do your dirty work for you. The specter is an undead being so terrifying that its proximity sends reason off to pack its things and catch a crazy-cab straight to Gibbertown. The specter's face is usually hidden under a cloth cowl or hood, as the abject horror of staring into its true face is thought to be the source of its thought-disintegrating power. Don't know how to put together a specter? Come this way?

DOUG looks into the next camera and turns to a diagram of a specter. He inexplicably produces a fourteenth-century French riding crop and taps at the diagram as he speaks.

Mechanically, specters almost always fly. They're shown riding winged creatures of the night, such as evil drakes, ghostly night-bats, overgrown wasps, or other, less describable flying creatures—so be sure to give your specter a flying ability. Specters tend to be small, hovering right around the 2/2 mark, but outliers can be bigger or smaller as long as it doesn't disrupt the overall pattern of specters too much.

The key to the specter is its discard ability. In honor of the original Hypnotic Specter, almost all specters have an ability that causes the opponent to discard cards—usually when it deals damage to them, but sometimes when it attacks or merely enters the battlefield. This is the lynchpin to the whole card design. You can combine the discard ability with other abilities—wither, morph, haste, or other tricks—but you'll want to hang onto that discard ability. If it's not there, it's probably not sanity-threatening enough to be a specter. You thought looking at your electricity bill was rough—try looking into the undiluted face of hell! (chuckles, then turns suddenly serious and ominous, staring at the camera) I did, once. It was like boiling my brain in the secreted acid of a thousand ecto-spawn.

(suddenly brightens again, whipping back around to the other camera) After the break we'll look at a creature that isn't just the scourge of Internet forums—it's also one of green's most beloved creature types. Or will we? Yes. We will. It's in the script. But pretend there's suspense about it, and stay tuned! (fingerguns)

Fade out.

ACT BREAK

Fade in:

TITLE: "DESIGNING TROLLS"


Slow background pan of Cudgel Troll by Jesper Ejsing.

DOUG
Welcome back. We're looking at flavor-driven design principles of some of Magic's most frightening creatures. As a card designer, you'll have to get comfy with some of the Multiverse's most foul-smelling, crust-ridden, ugly-tempered creatures. And I don't just mean your fellow members of R&D! (laughs maniacally into the sky, shaking his fists in the air for an uncomfortably long time, then turns suddenly serious, composes himself) Actually we're quite clean. That was an inappropriate comparison. I mean trolls. Trolls are yucky!

To design a troll, reflect first on the folklore about them. Trolls are mainstays of Scandinavian myth and other fantasy literature, where they are unpleasant, ugly, often person-eating creatures. In many cases, they're described as being strong brutes that stand taller than people. So, since the normal range for humanoids is 1/1 through approximately 2/3, keep your troll a tad bigger than that as a rule of thumb. Trolls are ugly beasts, which certainly impacts their art, but has no particular mechanical tradition in the game—unless you want it to.

The main mechanical convention that trolls follow, in strict fashion, is that they heal from what would otherwise be life-threatening wounds—they regenerate. The tradition of regenerating trolls was ensconced into popular fantasy by D&D, whose trolls regenerate also. That conception of trolls may originate from fantasy novels in the 1950s and 60s. Trolls in Magic regenerate almost without exception—and even Rendclaw Trow, a Shadowmoor sort of troll, still has the flavor of shaking off death via its persist ability.

Furthermore, although trolls tended towards red in the past, trolls these days are almost all green-aligned. "Medium to large non-flying green creature with a regeneration ability" is almost definitional of trolls these days. Follow these simple steps, and you too will be able to forge your will into trolldom! Just be careful not to forge your forum post into trolldom. You will be flamed, and you will not be able to regenerate from it. (winks)

Momentary whoop of an air raid siren. DOUG's eyes go wide in mock surprise.

Oops! You know what that sound means! It means it's time for today's Quick Quiz Question. Here's the question for today: What's a bit like a duck, a bit like a pterodactyl, and a bit like a dog? The answer when we get back!

Fade out.

ACT BREAK

Fade in:

TITLE: "DESIGNING DRAKES"


Slow background pan of Drake Familiar by Darrell Riche.

DOUG
Today we have a special treat. But first, the answer to our Quick Quiz Question. What's like a duck, a pterodactyl, and a dog all at once? A drake is the answer—and for the reasons why, let's turn to Miss Geraldine Simmons, our resident wildlife wrangler. Geraldine, welcome to the show!

Camera pulls out for a two-shot of both of them. Wildlife expert GERALDINE is seen wearing a khaki cargo vest and heavy falconer's gloves. Perched on her outstretched glove is a BABY DRAKE created by bad computer animation effects. Due to clipping issues and GERALDINE'S movements, the talons of the BABY DRAKE line up badly with GERALDINE'S glove, and DOUG'S line of sight seems to miss where the creature is supposed to be.

GERALDINE
Thanks. Glad to be here.

DOUG
Who's your friend there?

GERALDINE
This is Izzy, a juvenile Ravnican hunting drake.

The animated BABY DRAKE opens its mouth and emits a noise. It sounds like the screech of a hawk crossed with the snarl of a wolf.

DOUG
It certainly is! So tell us, Geraldine, what makes this creature like a duck? (smiles at the camera)

Geraldine looks like she's struggling not to roll her eyes.

GERALDINE
Well, obviously a male duck is called a drake.

DOUG nods, grinning.

GERALDINE
But more importantly, drakes are flying creatures. If you want to design a drake, you need to make sure it has flying. Drakes are masterful flyers, occupying a position in the food chain just above most birds of prey.

DOUG
Sure, sure. What else? What makes the drake like a pterodactyl?

GERALDINE
Well, like pterodactyls and bats, drakes have broad, membranous wings in place of true arms. They lack the six-limbed structures of dragons; dragons have four true legs in addition to wings.

DOUG
Fantastic! What else? How does this creature resemble a dog?

BABY DRAKE looks around and flexes its wings, occasionally looping its animation.

GERALDINE
Drakes are not sentient beings like humans or vedalken, but they're quite intelligent animals. As vicious but blue-aligned creatures, they are quite trainable and are often used as familiars by blue-aligned mages. Some have theorized that they have about the same ability to learn and recognize commands as dogs, pigs, or sea otters.

DOUG
Great! So, for our designer viewers out there, drakes should be blue, should fly, and should have about the same intelligence as a loyal dog. What about sizes?

GERALDINE
Drakes are small to medium flyers. They can typically be found in the 2/2 to 3/3 range, and are usually common or uncommon. Izzy here is just a few months old, and is already 1/2.

DOUG
And we were going to do a little trick here in the studio? (glances off-camera at producer) We're still doing this? Yes? I'm told we're going to give it a shot. I'm supposed to, what, hold up the scroll?

GERALDINE
(looking skeptical) Well, yes—to demonstrate how drakes can be loyal familiars of modern mages, uh, Izzy here is going to snatch a scroll from your hand and deliver it back to me.

DOUG holds up a rolled-up piece of parchment-colored paper, grinning expectantly.

DOUG
Let's do it!

The animated BABY DRAKE flaps its wings and shifts two-dimensionally from GERALDINE'S glove over to the general area of where the rolled paper is. There's an awkward cut where the piece of paper disappears from DOUG'S hand, and the BABY DRAKE suddenly has a CGI version of the "scroll" in its talons. Then the BABY DRAKE reverses course, obviously a mirrored version of the same computer graphics image, and flaps its way back to GERALDINE. There's a second edit, and suddenly GERALDINE is holding the rolled-up paper, and the BABY DRAKE is once again perched on her glove.

DOUG
(glances at producer) Amazing! Well, thanks for coming, Geraldine!

GERALDINE
Thanks for having me.

GERALDINE waves with the arm that was supposed to be supporting the drake, and walks out of frame. The animated BABY DRAKE disappears.

DOUG
Well, we've learned a lot today. When we come back, we'll wrap up with some quick tips on designing a smattering of other creatures.

Fade out.

ACT BREAK

Fade in:

TITLE: "DESIGN POTPOURRI"


Slow background montage of Tethered Skirge, Awakener Druid, Street Wraith, and Ember Weaver.

Fade to:

DOUG
Let's say you were feeling impish, and wanted to design an imp. Imps are small, black-aligned flyers. Many of them have a mechanic that suggests mischievous meddling—but just being a small flyer can often be enough to communicate the idea of a pestering imp all by itself.

Want to design a druid? Druids are generally green-aligned humanoids that have abilities that connect them to mana or the land. Druids need not be cloth-wearing, wood-wielding pacifists; they can crush the lights out of you, as long as they do it with the power of nature and the land.

Wraiths have swampwalk! Spiders tend to have greater toughness than power and have reach! Skeletons regenerate—or reassemble!

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Flavorful Design. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you tuning in—because you're on the other side of that screen! (chuckles, winks) See you next time!

Studio darkens and upbeat jazz covers up the audio track. We see an ASSISTANT run in to furnish DOUG with coffee. DOUG takes it and drinks it, and yells something at the producer. ASSISTANT removes DOUG'S mic clip.

END TRANSCRIPT

Letter of the Week

A couple of quickies this week. First, a few people wrote in to mention this:

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "You Down with O-T-T?":

Soliton is actually an Okra, because it is the term for a solitary wave function in quantum mechanics (specifically, in quantum field theory). Of course, it's quite obscure and I've only heard of it in physics papers and textbooks, but there you are. :)

--Lorenzo

I can tell you that that did not come up in my normal dictionary searches. That is the coolest. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Doug Beyer,

The art on Prototype Portal fascinates me. There is clearly a story going on there but I can't quite puzzle it out. Could you enlighten us? Thank you!

--Laura D.

Prototype Portal | Art by Drew Baker

Glad you like it, Laura! Here's the art description for that card, which gives a clue as to what's going on:

This object is an artificer's prototyper. It's an ornate ring that stands on its edge, about 12 feet high. The ring's inner edge emanates countless thin beams of energy, and these beams can trace out the shape of any object. Perhaps show the prototyping ring tracing out a lotus flower suspended in midair, for example.

As Drew Baker's art shows, the stretchy, silvery filaments inside the Portal are forming into an artifact. You might actually recognize what's being prototyped from the first Mirrodin block—Staff of Domination. See it?

Drew Baker's brain is the ultimate authority on what's going on with these figures, but here's my take. The Neurok artificer is in awe of the ingenious power of the prototyping artifact—and the powerful staff it's prototyping. He's gripped by an attack of grabbiness. SHINY. WANT. The other figure is simply preventing him from stepping into the pool of quicksilver over which the Portal is hovering. There may be more of a tale to be told here, though. What do you see?

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