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I enjoy guiding you through Magic development stories week by week, but there are other Magic developers who work hard too...

Seven Developers, Seven Styles

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The letter H!i there. I enjoy guiding you through Magic development stories week by week, showing you all the different paths and pitfalls, like your personal Magic development sherpa. But there are also several other Magic developers who work hard to make Magic as fun as it can be. These developers have a huge impact on every detail of making the sets great. And each Magic developer brings his or her own unique style to developing Magic sets and making the game fun.

This week I'd like to introduce you to the other Magic developers in more depth, and get some Eventide development stories from each one of them. I'll start by interviewing each member of the Eventide development team, then go to two more Magic developers with key Eventide contributions. You may be surprised to learn that developers focus a lot less on mana-costing than you might think, and focus a lot more on making sure that the sets are just plain fun to play, both inside of tournaments or outside of them.

The Eventide Team

The Eventide development team was led by Matt Place, and included Nate Heiss, Erik Lauer, Ken Nagle, and Mike Turian. Matt Place, Erik Lauer, and Mike Turian are all full-time Magic developers. Ken Nagle is a designer on Magic and New Business projects, while Nate Heiss is a full-time developer for Wizards Digital Games. Mons Johnson and Steve Warner are key Magic/New Business developers who added additional support beyond the team.

There is a lot of good teamwork there, and the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. Like the Slivers of the world of game design, each developer makes all the others more powerful. Here are their stories.

Matt Place

Matt Place

Name: Matt Place
Hometown: Kansas City, MO
Most memorable Magic tournament experience: Champion, Pro Tour-Mainz 1997.

What is the most important thing a Magic developer does?

My main job is to make Magic as fun as it can be for all the different types of players. I think many people would be surprised if they knew that most of my time is spent working on designing the right recipe for Magic and how little is spent on casting costs and other balance issues.

Name one of your favorite cards in real-world Standard, up through Shadowmoor.

My favorite card right now is Wilt-Leaf Liege. I designed the creature and its buddies and I really like what they do for Magic. My goal for them is to give players a fun and powerful reason to explore creature heavy Shadowmoor decks and I think they do that well.

Choose a favorite theme, cycle, or mechanic in Eventide.

My favorite mechanic is hybrid. On the surface hybrid just sounds like "easier to play cards," but as Shadowmoor and Eventide prove, there's freedom and depth to the mechanic. For example, do you build a mono-white, mono-green or green-white deck to best take advantage of the Wilt-Leaf Liege?

What's your favorite card in Eventide?

My favorite card in Eventide is Sapling of Colfenor. I have played her a ton in FFL [R&D's "Future Future League"] and she has saved my life and annoyed my opponents in many games. I am a fan of the indestructible mechanic. I love feeling like my creature is super sturdy and that my opponent will have to work hard to figure out a way to take her down.

What's one of the ways you changed Eventide during its development?

Often cycles that run throughout a block, like Ravnica dual lands, are designed during the first set of the block. Interestingly the reverse was true for the Shield of the Oversoul cycle. This was originally just a five card cycle that existed only in Eventide. After seeing how fun these cards were I knew we had to retrofit five more into Shadowmoor. Many meetings were spent on trying to get all twenty abilities on the correct cards, far from an easy task. We had to redesign all ten cards a few times to get it right. As you know, we eventually figured it out and got them all made at a powerful level. I'm proud we did; the cycle has received a lot of positive feedback.

Nate Heiss

Nate Heiss

Name: Nate Heiss
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Most memorable Magic tournament experience: About a dozen Pro Tours. Each had its favorite moments!

What is the most important thing a Magic developer does?

The most important thing a Magic developer can do is find the most fun parts of the design and really bring them to the forefront of the set. The second most important thing is to kill the things that would make you frown.

Name one of your favorite cards in real-world Standard, up through Shadowmoor.

Countryside Crusher! Why? Well besides being one of my personal best designs, I really like how it says "you will never draw a land again!" and what that means for how people build their decks.

Choose a favorite theme, cycle, or mechanic in Eventide.

I really enjoy the continuation of the cycle of creature enchantments that look at the colors of your creature. I think they have a lot of cool implications when you're building your deck and they can really be impressive in play when you match everything up correctly.

What's your favorite card in Eventide?

Wake Thrasher. That creature is my favorite because it ties into the Merfolk mini-theme of tapping and untapping from Lorwyn, and helps bridge that gap. The other reason is because I think it's the coolest blue aggro attacker in a long time. I've had it attack as a 7/7 on turn-four!

What's one of the ways you changed Eventide during its development?

Eventide had a very special quality about it coming out of design - it looked really good. Usually when a set is fresh out of design there are lots of loose ends for development to tighten up. It might have been because the designers did a more awesome job than usual this time, perhaps because they didn't have to worry as much about the main themes of the set since it was sort of set from the beginning. It might be because of our newer philosophy about blending design and development towards the middle of the process. Either way, it was a pleasant surprise, and I think one of the greatest impacts I had was the simple act of saying "Wow, this looks great!" and trying to stick as close to the design structure as possible while developing the set.
A developer's job is not only to weed out the bad stuff, but preserve and nurture the good stuff. Besides that, I think my biggest contribution is really working to increase the power level of cards that reward you for playing enemy colors. Cycles like the enchant creatures, the hedge-mages, and the mimics all started out at a lower power level. Since Eventide needs to hold its own with a much smaller card pool relative to Shadowmoor in Limited, we really needed to reward the people who worked hard to play enemy colors. By pumping up the power of those cycles a bit, players had the ability to plan ahead and get a nice payoff for their efforts. Because of these efforts, you might notice a few more cycles in the set than you might normally see, but overall the set will be more memorable because of this.

Erik Lauer

Erik Lauer

Name: Erik Lauer
Hometown: Wilton, CT
Most memorable Magic tournament experience: 7th place, Pro Tour-Rome 1998

What is the most important thing a Magic developer does?

A developer makes sure that Magic is fun to play, from table top Magic, to Sealed Deck, all the way through cutthroat Pro Tour Magic.

Name one of your favorite cards in real-world Standard, up through Shadowmoor.

My favorite real-world Standard card is Profane Command. It is very black, and very exciting to draw when all seems lost.

Choose a favorite theme, cycle, or mechanic in Eventide.

My favorite mechanic is retrace. It gives you something to do with excess land.

What's your favorite card in Eventide?

Unwilling Recruit. I love turning their [your opponent's] best creatures against them!

What's one of the ways you changed Eventide during its development?

The four-mana 6/6 "hatchling" creatures with four -1/-1 counters used to be three-mana 5/5 creatures. I loved drafting lots of those creatures, which would take counters off each other. It was pretty fun, despite all the bookkeeping. Some of the developers were not as fond of my "jellybean" decks, so called because of my covering my hatchlings with deadly, sinister -1/-1 jellybeans. So when we decided the enemy color combinations had too many three-mana cards, those were the ones to move.

Kenneth Nagle

Ken Nagle

Name: Kenneth Nagle
Hometown: Huntsville, AL
Most memorable Magic tournament experience: Pro Tour-Charleston 2006

What is the most important thing a Magic developer does?

Ensure the cards are fun! Also, to balance cards for both Limited and Constructed.

Name one of your favorite cards in real-world Standard, up through Shadowmoor.

My favorite Shadowmoor design is Wort, the Raidmother. The sickest spells I've ever cast have been with Wort conspiring alongside – a single red mana for Firestorm for 6 with conspire off of an opponent's Memory Jar, dealing 72 damage amongst three opponents' teams.

Choose a favorite theme, cycle,or mechanic in Eventide.

My favorite is chroma. As a Level 92 Magic player with thousands of Magic cards, I use only a very small fraction of my collection when building casual Constructed decks. When an extra-narrow build-around-me card like Thousand-Year Elixir, Locket of Yesterdays, or Necroskitter comes along that does something no other card can do, I hear it saying "I make this 0.0001% subset of your cards in your collection super-awesome." This gives me a reason to build a deck around it, no matter how good or bad it might be. The point is that after (literally) building every deck possible in the game, the narrow build-around-me's allow previously unreachable corners of gameplay to be probed and mined for fun.
A card with heavy colored mana cost is normally a crutch, but chroma turns it around and makes it a bonus, forcing players to reevaluate cards on a different axis. To build my Primalcrux deck, I dusted off my Gaea's Touches and Unyaro Bees that I previously wasn't using.

What's your favorite card in Eventide?

My favorite card in Eventide is Light from Within for all the reasons stated about chroma, additionally because Light from Within likes white weenies but LOVES white fatties, and finally because I'm on a crusade to make white more fun.

What's one of the ways you changed Eventide during its development?

I'll give you two stories. First: My two "wither players" designs – Stigma Lasher and Needle Specter – lost gas early in development. Stigma Lasher changed to only matter while it was in play and Needle Specter lost Wither. I felt these cards (along with their friend Cold-Eyed Selkie) had fantastic gameplay; it can be absolutely terrifying to pass the turn back knowing a Needle Specter is going to hit you, but you try hard to bluff anyway. I pushed hard to change these cards back to the design intent, and got them printed in their final forms.
Here's the second: I built the green-blue preconstructed deck Overabundance, and by extension, I got more play with the green-blue retrace rare Spitting Image than the other developers. That card went through a few iterations; it started as a monoblue Clone with persist in Shadowmoor (which is broken with Spike Feeder and friends), but that was yanked and replaced with River Kelpie. That left the opening for a green-blue cloning card in Eventide, and the playtest Spitting Image created legendary tokens to diversify gameplay. The raw accounting difficulty was too much, and the development team changed Spitting Image to make Clone tokens as printed. Once retrace was finalized to be an 'alternative cost to play from the graveyard', there was discussion to change Spitting Image to a creature card because we could (similar to Puncture Blast being a burn spell with wither). In the end, we kept the version of Spitting Image as printed because it had the most upsides and the biggest dreams.

Mike Turian

Mike Turian

Name: Mike Turian
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Most memorable Magic tournament experience: Champion, Pro Tour-New York 2000.

What is the most important thing a Magic developer does?

Make Magic fun and exciting for each player.

Name one of your favorite cards in real-world Standard, up through Shadowmoor.

Chameleon Colossus. It represents how the work I do can make for an awesome game. Also, the first time it was cast as a "real" card Mark Rosewater turned it into a 27,000+ power creature!

Choose a favorite theme, cycle, or mechanic in Eventide.

I love the -1/-1 theme in Eventide; -1/-1 counters really give the game a different feel. Also, it let us make cool cards like Thunderblust.

What's your favorite card in Eventide?

Doomgape. I love the fun of having an awesome monster, but at the same time thinking about how you can cash it in for 10 life!

What's one of the ways you changed Eventide during its development?

Worm Harvest began as a 1 ManaBlack or Green Mana sorcery. I made the following comment in Multiverse:
MT 10/23: Seems really sick in those 42 land decks with Life from the Loam.
I built a deck that used lands like Terramorphic Expanse, Scapeshift, Dakmor Salvage and other effects to fill the graveyard with land and then make a ton of tokens. We then moved it up to 2 ManaBlack or Green ManaBlack or Green Mana followed by 2 ManaBlack or Green ManaBlack or Green ManaBlack or Green Mana.After that change I left the comment:
MT 1/11: Was good at 4. I wonder how good at 5?
Now everyone can try it out!

Mons Johnson

Mons Johnson

Name: Mons Johnson
Hometown: Portland, OR
Most memorable Magic tournament experience: Pro Tour-Venice 2003 (playing Goblins, of course!)

What is the most important thing a Magic developer does?

Ensuring that Magic continues to be a fun, balanced, varied and evolving experience.

Name one of your favorite cards in real-world Standard, up through Shadowmoor.

Colfenor's Plans. I have played that card a lot; the interaction of it and various bounce tricks is a lot of fun. Plus I once drafted three of them in a draft!

Choose a favorite theme, cycle, or mechanic in Eventide.

I like the mimic theme the most. They offer a great reward, but at a significant deckbuilding restriction. It is a challenge to deck builders.

What's your favorite card in Eventide?

Shorecrasher Mimic. It has served me well.

What's one of the ways you changed Eventide during its development?

At one time Sapling of Colfenor had "Whenever Sapling of Colfenor attacks, put a -1/-1 counter on all creatures defending player controls." Reading this, it really seemed like an awful experience to play against. You get to see the indestructible 2/5 slowly kill your team, and any future creatures you play, with many decks having no way to kill the Sapling. The ability was also pretty underpowered against decks with few or no creatures. So, I built a deck, played against people, and commented on how unfun this was until it changed to the current version (which I like much better).

Steve Warner

Steve Warner

Name: Steve Warner
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Most memorable Magic tournament experience: Defeating Pro Tour Champions Place, Turian, and Mowshowitz all in the same tournament. (They still need to give me their trophies.)

What is the most important thing a Magic developer does?

Makes sure things are fun, but not over the top.

Name one of your favorite cards in real-world Standard, up through Shadowmoor.

Regal Force would have to be my current fav. Not an amazing tournament card, but oh so much fun!

Choose a favorite theme, cycle, or mechanic in Eventide.

I really like the "enhanced" hybrid spells like Cankerous Thirst that can do 0-2 things.

What's your favorite card in Eventide?

Cold-Eyed Selkie. It offers unlimited potential and has the key build-around-me factor I always nurture in sets' development.

What's one of the ways you changed Eventide during its development?

In contrast to the Shadowmoor Lieges, the Eventide Lieges were originally not going to give the creatures in their colors the +1/+1 or +2/+2 bonuses. Instead, the new Lieges in the Eventide design gave triggered abilities when you played creatures of the appropriate colors, like Deathbringer Liege does, but they didn't give any power/toughness bonuses at all.
I felt that if we truly wanted to continue the essence of what it means to be a Liege, we really needed to follow-up on the Shadowmoor Lieges and build on them, not to mention continuing the theme of the lords like Imperious Perfect from earlier sets. My side won the debate, and the printed Deathbringer Liege gets to tap, kill, AND pump creatures. Now that's a bringer of death!

In Conclusion

And that's how seven different developers helped bring Eventide to life. It's a great group to work with, very talented, perceptive, caring, and always quick with an awesome joke. It's an honor to work with each one of them.

Last Week's Poll

Thanks to The Mimic (aka Doug Beyer), for taking over Latest Developments last week. Under my own Mask of the Mimic, I wrote last week's Swimming with Sharks instead. Here's Doug's poll:

Which Mimic has the most potential in Constructed?
Nightsky Mimic 1648 39.3%
None of the above 715 17.0%
Shorecrasher Mimic 634 15.1%
Riverfall Mimic 485 11.6%
Woodlurker Mimic 377 9.0%
Battlegate Mimic 339 8.1%
Total 4198 100.0%

Nightsky Mimic took the top prize, making good on its promise to play the part of a 4/4 flier for two-mana. I'm a big fan of the way this cycle of powerful commons incentivizes you to concentrate hard on enemy-color spells in Constructed or in Limited. Eventide is overflowing with enemy-colored spells to trigger the mimics, like a conveniently curved turn-three Unmake. Looking one mini-block back lets you trigger Nightsky Mimic with a turn-three Doran, the Siege Tower. Looking further back lets you trigger Nightsky Mimic with a turn-four Ghost Council of Orzhova. And looking even further back lets you trigger Nightsky Mimic with a turn-three Vindicate. Put 'em all together, and you can hit for an awful lot of aerial 4's.

This Week's Poll

 Which Eventide Liege is your favorite?  

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