e all know about the effect Wizards of the Coast R&D has on Constructed environments when they release new sets. The FFL (Future Future League) is the breaking ground for new cards in Standard and Block where cards that are too powerful get nerfed, while other cards are enhanced to balance the environment, but how does Limited develop? We sat down with R&D members Paul Sottosanti and Randy Buehler to get some insight into how the Champions
Limited environment developed and what we can expect from Betrayers of Kamigawa
Question: We all know how Constructed formats develop, but take us behind the scenes as to how Limited develops.
RB: One of the first things we do is play Sealed deck -- like, very early in design. As soon as design has 100 commons done, we play sealed with the commons, then they add the uncommons and we play more, and finally the rares usually get added in, but there's a lot of back and forth along the way where cards are adjusted based on feedback. Basically, we're constantly printing out the latest version of the set and playing Sealed. It's funny, because after I was here for a while, I came to the conclusion that it's more efficient to test Sealed deck than Booster. Since Booster draft is self-correcting, it's harder to tell if colors are too weak or two strong. In Sealed, you just play your best cards, so this tells you what colors people are playing and we adjust the sets from there.
PS: We still have to do enough draft to identify the draft-only archetypes, but I think we'll always be more Sealed than Booster. Draft comes in later in the process.
Have their been any surprises to come out of Champions Limited?
PS: Spirit/arcane was obviously going to be big. There's still discussion about Rend Spirit vs. Rend Flesh and which cards is better, so it means that things are pretty balanced. We expected Bushido to be strong in Limited as well -- I saw it as a balancing factor for non-Spirit world. We all knew that spiritcraft was going to be big, so we felt like we had to give the non-spirits cards something as well, and Bushido is part of that.
RB: The Legends theme was a big deal for us too -- we wanted to have splashy Legends in the set, but we know from experience that broken rare creatures can make Limited less fun. In Onslaught we did something similar, but people complained a lot -- this set is essentially applied Onslaught where we used the lessons we learned there to good effect. We made sure to put plenty of answers as commons so that you could deal with the broken rares and uncommons. Thus you have more great rares in this set, but fewer people complaining about the brokenness here.
What about Dampen Thought?
RB: Paul submitted the card when there was a call for splice designs. We were hoping that it would work out because we like to have interesting cards in there that might work out for draft, but it's so hard to fine-tune something like that precisely enough for the card to see play. We wanted it to work out this way, but didn't plan for it. I guess you could say we got a little lucky.
Do you think decks like Dampen that provide alternate wins in draft are good for the environment?
PS: Yes, I think it's cool as long as it's not so strong that it distorts things. Any time you get a good new deck a month or two in, it's a good thing. Hidden gems are nice, especially when people don't notice it right away.
How will Betrayers shake up the environment?
PS: Ninjas obviously have the greatest effect. Blue and Black get a flashy mechanic that can be very strong. We played around a lot with strength of mechanic during development. It initially came in a little weak, so we pumped the level up a bit. Okiba-Gang Shinobi came in with a cost as and it was a hotly contested issue around the office that it was too powerful. It was eventually pushed back to four mana, but you can see how we wanted to push the power level. The ninjutsu cost for Ninja of Deep Hours was one for a bit, but I think we found the sweet spot at two.
RB: Black is probably the best color. Many of the nerfs we made at the last minute were in Black so that we could even it out. Having alternate splice costs twists things -- the environment doesn't fundamentally change, but it provides new wrinkles. The no-mana alternate costs at rare allowing players to tap out but still trigger spiritcraft is cool, and it provides some interesting strategic elements to the format.
RB: I'm also very happy with the way the ninjas change combat. In most formats players tend not to block if there's any question about combat tricks. It's neat to change the "err on the side of not blocking" mentality into "definitely block" when you are facing black or blue, but it's only in two colors so you don't have to worry about that all the time. I think that worked out really well.
What cards do you think will be strong that may go overlooked initially?
PS: But I think the Baku and flippers further enhance arcane strategies . . . I'll defer to Randy on the rest here.
RB: We'd rather let the public figure this out -- we don't want to spoil anybody's fun. The rest is left as an exercise to the player.