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Developing a Planeswalker

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The letter P!laneswalkers are hard. One of the things that makes them so difficult to develop is that they have a ton of knobs to tweak. They have casting cost, starting loyalty, and the size of their pluses and minuses, not to even mention what the text on those abilities is. They are also one of the most important cards to get right in every set—both because they tend to be some of the most flashy and because they are an important part of our brand's identity. It's okay if a Planeswalker doesn't make a huge impact in Standard, but it should at least be cool.

To that end, the individual Planeswalker cards are the cards that usually get the most actual attention in a set during development. Sometimes they change wildly, sometimes it is a long testing period to get every last stat exactly correct. Because, early on, many other cards are also off slightly, the Planeswalkers need to be constantly adjusted as the set keeps developing and react to the stronger Constructed cards around them.

While I don't have a new Born of the Gods preview card to show off today, I do have the long and interesting history behind Kiora, the Crashing Wave. From very early on in block planning, we knew we wanted to unleash Kiora in this block. The questions were "where" and what she would look like. Because she appeared in Duels of the Planeswalkers , we had a reasonably good idea of what the creative was behind her and a general idea of what kinds of abilities she should have. We knew that she was going to be at least blue-green and would support a ramp-into-fatties deck.

Kiora, the Crashing Wave | Art by Scott M. Fischer

KEN 6/16/2012: Kiora is in. Creative options are GU and GUB.

3UG
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+2: Look at the top three cards of your library. You may reveal a creature or land card there and put it into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom in any order.
-3: Put a creature card from your hand onto the battlefield.
-8: All lands target player controls become Islands. Creatures that player controls can't attack unless they have flying, islandwalk, or power 6 or greater.
Loyalty 3

This wasn't the first version of Kiora, but it was basically what Ken Nagle had settled on for a reasonable version for his set. It hit all of the notes he was looking for and read exciting.

KEN 8/3/2012: Changed so it can't drop a 10+ drop immediately. Previous ultimate was kind of an emblem making opponent's land Islands and Island Sanctuary, but not happy with that emblem. New ultimate Overruns equal to your Forests and Upheavals equal to your Islands to try and keep with the flooding+fatties Planeswalker, and doesn't work very well early game.
KEN 8/7/2012: Worsened/themed to only CMC 6 or more creatures. Kiora and Garruk may be fighting for "summon big creatures" space.
KEN 8/15/2012: Trying new cheaty design from CBD. Converted mana cost 6+ -> "nonflying blue creature" which should work best with the set's large blue sea monsters.
KEN 8/29/2012: After talking with team and developers, we like some kind of "flood"-flavored ability and summoning a giant blue sea monster.

As Ken mentioned, this version of Kiora was very similar to what we envisioned Garruk doing in Magic 2014 . While the early design playtest versions of the Planeswalkers are not expected to look much like the final versions in numbers, we do try to get their abilities relatively close. In this case, we really just needed to get her abilities closer to being more unique among other Planeswalkers in the Multiverse.


2UG
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Each creature target opponent controls can't attack you or Kiora during his or her next turn unless he or she pays U or 2 for each of those creatures.
-2: Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.
-6: Search your library for up to three blue creatures without flying, put them onto the battlefield, then shuffle your library.
Loyalty 3


KEN 9/7/2012: No longer protects you. Now you must pay U or 3.
TML 9/17/2012: I expect to make this Constructed.
KEN 9/19/2012: Used to prevent attacking unless they paid U or 3, now Gaseous Forms up to 1 target creature until your next turn.
KEN 9/20/2012: Too many complaints about deck building with terribad nonflying blue fatties like Terrormaw Whale. Nissa had this problem with her Chosen. Changed the ultimate to gains T: for a choice of fatty sea monster tokens.
TML 9/24/2012: I'd like to try the middle ability at only -1. I am starting to prefer Ajani Vengeant's +1 to what is here, as that ability should have been green-blue anyway. Can there be only one kind of monster the ultimate makes? This won't fit with properly templated tokens, but I like it.




We knew that we wanted the plus to protect Kiora herself, but finding an ability that does that well in blue-green is hard. Freezing, though, is one that can work.

2UG
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Target permanent doesn't untap during its controller's next untap step.
-1: Draw a card. You get +1 land drops this turn.
-5: Until the game ends, Kiora gains "T: Put a 9/9 blue Leviathan creature token onto the battlefield."
Loyalty 3


KEN 9/25/2012: Now -1 to Explore. Stealing Vengeant's +1 for now. New template. Now only makes 1 kind of token.
AF 9/28: Weird pseudo-emblem.
Mago 9/28: Not sure why we wouldn't use an emblem here. It's interesting that you need to keep Kiora alive post-ultimate... but it's weird that I can't actually use the ultimate unless she's at 6 loyalty (even though it says 5 on it).
TML 10/1/2012: Made it an emblem, went back to the fog for novelty's sake.
TML 10/4/2012: Updated template.


2UG
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Until your next turn, prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to or dealt by up to one target creature.
-1: Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.
-7: You get an emblem with "At the beginning of your end step, put a 9/9 blue Kraken creature token onto the battlefield."
Loyalty 3


MJG 10/10/12: Looks like fun! However, the abilities seem pretty disconnected. What is the story here?
TML 10/15/2012: The story is "Put this in a blue-green deck with expensive big things and actually get to cast them." It's the perfect card for her Duels deck.


2UG
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Until your next turn, prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to and dealt by target permanent.
-1: Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.
-7: You get an emblem with "At the beginning of your end step, put a 9/9 blue Kraken creature token onto the battlefield."
Loyalty 3


As Tom mentioned, the place that players know about Kiora from before this set was in Duels 2012, where she had one of the most popular decks—a blue-green ramp deck. Getting a card that fit with that deck was a goal.

One unintentional issue with this version was that you could use it to prevent the damage to and from itself, meaning she basically had an emblem on suspend 4.


TML 10/25/2012: First ability tweaked for better wording, and so she can lock down Mutavault.
KD 11/7: Added "another" to first ability for sanity.
MJG 11/12/12: Damage prevention to a target doesn't feel blue or green to me—it feels white. The other two abilities look great, though.
TML 11/13/2012: We were thinking it is like fog and gaseous form.


2UG
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Until your next turn, prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to and dealt by another target permanent.
-1: Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.
-7: You get an emblem with "At the beginning of your end step, put a 9/9 blue Kraken creature token onto the battlefield."
Loyalty 3


SPS: 11/27/12: The interaction with Gideon Jura seems obnoxious. It would be ugly, but can this just not target Planeswalkers?
TML 11/28/2012: Now doesn't protect your own Planeswalkers.
AF 1/28: Did you discuss "damage" versus "combat damage?" Could shut off Chandra, other weird stuff.
TML 1/30/2013: I dig it. Now all damage.




It is around this time that Born of the Gods is getting ready to enter the FFL for real. We generally do a preview period, which is meant to get some broad strokes down for the set but not to get things final.

2UG
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Until your next turn, prevent all damage that would be dealt to and dealt by target permanent an opponent controls.
-1: Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.
-7: You get an emblem with "At the beginning of your end step, put a 9/9 blue Kraken creature token onto the battlefield."
Loyalty 3


TML 2/5/2013: CD points out that Explore is way sweeter at 3 than 4. Is that idea absurd? Can we do X?
Max 2/6: It's not too stupid to try but I'm fairly confident that -1 is too generous here. The +1 is no joke either.
ID 2/20/13: Not sure I understand your comment, Tom. Are you asking about trying this at 1GU?


The -1 was, in fact, a bit too generous. As a result, we tried upping the ultimate so an opponent had more time to interact with her before she went off.

2GU
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Until your next turn, prevent all damage that would be dealt to and dealt by target permanent an opponent controls.
-2: Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.
-8: You get an emblem with "At the beginning of your end step, put a 9/9 blue Kraken creature token onto the battlefield."
Loyalty 4


TML 2/21/2013: Trying new numbers that Erik suggested.
TML 2/28/2013: Minus one on starting loyalty and ultimate.
TML 2/28/2013: Now -7 on the ultimate.


We liked certain aspects of the card, but disliked how much it was a Fog machine. The problem was that she forced your opponent to overcommit to the board to deal with her and was almost impossible to beat if the player with her cast a Wrath effect. Part of this was that on her first use, she went out of range of the haste creatures we were playing in Standard, like Stormbreath Dragon. Putting her down a loyalty helped.



2GU
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Until your next turn, prevent all damage that would be dealt to and dealt by target permanent an opponent controls.
-2: Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.
-7: You get an emblem with "At the beginning of your end step, put a 9/9 blue Kraken creature token onto the battlefield."
Loyalty 3


TML 3/1/2013: Was too weak. Trying -1. It's so much more appealing that I want to at least reject it based on data.


2UG
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Until your next turn, prevent all damage that would be dealt to and dealt by target permanent an opponent controls.
-1: Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.
-7: You get an emblem with "At the beginning of your end step, put a 9/9 blue Kraken creature token onto the battlefield."
Loyalty 3


TML 3/4/2013: Going back to Erik's numbers.
TML 3/7/2013: Trying -8 on the ultimate due to FFL.
TML 3/14/2013: Now 3 to start, -7 to ultimate.


A lot of the tension in Kiora was how much you were using her Explore ability and how much you were using her + ability. We wanted to make players use both on a regular basis, and so getting her to the point where that was what was actually going on was key.


2GU
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Until your next turn, prevent all damage that would be dealt to and dealt by target permanent an opponent controls.
-2: Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.
-6: You get an emblem with "At the beginning of your end step, put a 9/9 blue Kraken creature token onto the battlefield."
Loyalty 3


EVL 4/4: This has played well for me.
TML 4/11/2013: To -6 on ultimate to put more pressure on control decks.
SPS 5/6/2013: I feel this plays "protect the queen" a little too good. Preferred this at 7.
TML 5/9/2013: New numbers. Was 3/+1/-2/-6.


The basic thing we found was that Kiora was way too good when she cast Explore three times, about right when you could do it twice, and not good enough when it was only once. This led us to trying one last set of numbers

2UG
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
+1: Until your next turn, prevent all damage that would be dealt to and dealt by target permanent an opponent controls.
-1: Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.
-5: You get an emblem with "At the beginning of your end step, put a 9/9 blue Kraken creature token onto the battlefield."
Loyalty 2


It took us a while to come to this exact configuration, but I am happy with where it ended up. It strengthened her a bit against the control decks, where she could alternate between plusing and minusing to get card advantage or ramp up to making Krakens. She was still good against aggro decks but they had better ways of actually killing her when she hit the board.


Next week, previews begin on DailyMTG. I look forward to revealing more about this set.

Until next time,
Sam ( @samstod )




 
Sam Stoddard
Sam Stoddard
@SamStod
Email Sam

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Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May, 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

 
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