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Latest Developments Returns Next Week

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The Latest Developments column is off this week but will return next week with a guest author. The article below is the Latest Developments that ran in this slot last week.


Devin Low

Latest Develfopments

Devin Low
Friday, August 29, 2008


The letter W!ith all of the Noggles, Gwyllions, and Pucas in Eventide, the Elves of Eventide are few in number, but each one makes quite an impact, like a Twinblade Slasher with a savage gleam in his eye and two Forests untapped. That prompts the question: Why is the percentage of Elves in Eventide lower than the percentage in Shadowmoor?

The answer lies in the Great Aurora that separates Lorwyn from Shadowmoor. Before the Aurora, in the world of Lorwyn, Elves were a black-green race, whose natural beauty was matched only by their cruelty. But after the giant shift in the world, when the plane became Shadowmoor, the Elves were reborn as a green-white race who serve as the heroes of the story rather than the villains.

The Elvish color-shift is quite fortuitous for Shadowmoor's gameplay (and not a coincidence), since Shadowmoor is filled with allied-color hybrid cards. Lorwyn's black-green Elves would not have been able to appear on any of Shadowmoor's hybrid cards, since black-green Elves don't match any allied-color pair. But with the Shadowmoor Elves color-shifted to green-white, there are suddenly lots of opportunities in Shadowmoor for green-white hybrid Elves like Elvish Hexhunter, Safehold Elite, Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, and Wilt-Leaf Liege.

Although Shadowmoor Elves' color-shift to green-white enables Elves to appear on many hybrid cards in the large set, being green-white also bars Elves from appearing on hybrid cards in the smaller, enemy-color Eventide set. Since we knew that green-white Elves would mean no hybrid Elves in Eventide, we made sure to put lots of hybrid Elves into Shadowmoor: ten hybrid Elves in all, plus monocolored Elves. But once we get to Eventide, we do have to pay the (presumably Elvish) piper.

That's why Eventide's Elves are all monocolored cards. With Treefolk, mono-green Goblins, Elementals, Wurms, and Ouphes all crowding Eventide's mono-green creatures for representation, we had room for exactly four mono-green Elves. And while Shadowmoor had more room for a monocolored white Elf, the more compact Eventide did not.

Fortunately, Eventide lead developer Matt Place was a huge proponent of Elf decks throughout the development of Lorwyn, Morningtide, Shadowmoor, and Eventide. If Matt only had four Elf slots to work with in Eventide, he and the Eventide development team decided to make sure those four Elf slots were impactful, fun, and really had the classic feel of elves.

So let's take a look at the first versions of Eventide's four Elves in the earliest stages of Eventide design:

Growing Elf
2G
Creature - Elf
2/1
G: Regenerate CARDNAME
Whenever a green spell is played, CARDNAME gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

Rootwalla Elf
2G
Creature - Elf
2/2
1G: CARDNAME gets +4/+4 until end of turn. At end of turn, put a -1/-1 counter on CARDNAME.

Elvish Sidekick
GG
Creature - Elf
3/3
CARDNAME can't be played as the first spell during a turn.

Roger Dodger
3RR
Creature - Goblin
3/3
Haste
[SECRET MECHANIC]

These four early designs are far enough from their final forms that they are hardly recognizable. Especially the fourth "Elf", which didn't even start life as an Elf, or even as a green card.

So let's take a close look at how these Eventide Elves were designed and developed.

From "Growing Elf" to Nettle Sentinel

Monstrify The first Eventide Elf started existence as this design very early in Eventide's design.

Growing Elf
2G
Creature - Elf
2/1
G: Regenerate CARDNAME
Whenever a green spell is played, CARDNAME gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

The Eventide designers wanted to continue Shadowmoor's "color-matters" theme by rewarding you for playing spells of that color, and they started with a simple cycle of creatures that grow as you played the appropriate color of spells. Note that these powered up off of your opponents' green spells as well.

As Eventide lead designer Mark Rosewater explored the identity of the enemy-color hybrid pairs, he soon realized that regeneration was a natural fit for black-green hybrid cards, and that he wanted to use a lot of regeneration on those black-green hybrids. That meant he had to pull regeneration off of this mono-green card in order to use it on hybrid cards instead. That led him to this change:

Growing Elf #2
3G
Creature - Elf
3/3
Trample
Whenever a green spell is played, CARDNAME gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

But a funny thing happened while Eventide was getting designed. Shadowmoor was getting developed. And as Shadowmoor's own "color matters" cycles fell into place during development, it became clear that the second version of 'Growing Elf' was too similar to two of those cycles.

In particular, the Initiate cycle from Shadowmoor trigger when a spell of the appropriate color is played and let you pay 1 Mana for a reward. The reward of the green Nurturer Initiate is even to give a creature +1/+1. There was also too much similarity between Growing Elf and Shadowmoor's Duo cycle, with Safehold Duo getting +1/+1 until end of turn whenever you play a green spell.

It was time for a new "color-matters" design. Growing Elf #2 turned into this:

Morbid Elf
3G
Creature - Elf Soldier
3/3
Whenever another green creature you control is put into a graveyard from play, you may pay o1 to gain 3 life.

This design avoided the Shadowmoor overlaps, while still rewarding you for playing green cards, and still interacting well with hybrid cards. The designers later refined this to say, "Whenever another green permanent you control....", to allow green enchantments also to get in on the action. A little while later, it became more powerful by counting itself, changing to "Whenever CARDNAME or another green permanent you control..."

When the Eventide designers handed off their set to Eventide development, Morbid Elf was part of the handoff.

But although the developers agreed with the designers' goal of doing powerful "color matters" cards in a different way from Shadowmoor, they decided that the Morbid Elf design was not fulfilling that design goal. They still felt too similar to the Shadowmoor cards, and they did not feel like a powerful reward. In addition, the developers knew they had only 3-4 slots for Elves in Eventide, and they wanted to give Eventide Elves more power.

The development team cut the Morbid Elf cycle and asked the designers for a newer, more compelling "color matters" cycle.

Mark Rosewater came back with an interesting twist: cards that untap when you play the right color of spell, with tap abilities that made it a real reward to play as many on-color spells as you could. Cinder Pyromancer is the most straightforward example of the cycle.

But between Rosewater, Mike Turian, and Jake Theis, the green member of the cycle got designed a little differently. Instead of a traditional tap ability, this 2-power one-drop's tap ability would just be attacking. Here's the new design:

[Wilt-Leaf Watchkeep]
G
Creature - Elf Soldier
2/2
CARDNAME doesn't untap as normal.
Whenever you play a green spell, you may untap CARDNAME.

The Multiverse comments on the new design were unusually unanimous in their excitement:

MP 6/27: New card.
KEN 7/28: I love this fun guy!
DAL 8/2: I also love this fun guy! Also powerful!
NW 8/10: Fun guy. Powerful.
DAL 9/10: Next to H 2/1 Must Attack, this guy has new meaning.
KEN 9/27: This man may end up a 1G 3/2 or 3/3.
KEN 10/27: My #2 favorite DOU card (for now)!

Tattermunge Maniac entered Shadowmoor during development. The Maniac was actually designed later than this little Elf, and the idea of playing both in the same deck made this green weenie even more formidable.

With this many people trying the card out and declaring it fun and powerful, it was almost ready for primetime. All it needed was a new name, final art, retemplating, and a new creature class type:

From "Rootwalla Elf" to Twinblade Slasher

The Eventide designers started with this design:

Rootwalla Elf
2G
Creature - Elf
2/2
1G: CARDNAME gets +4/+4 until end of turn. At end of turn, put a -1/-1 counter on CARDNAME.

Mark Rosewater was exploring new ways to use -1/-1 counters, and liked the idea of a creature which could exert itself to super-human efforts to achieve gigantic size for a turn, at the cost of permanently weakening itself for the future. I find it funny that Rosewater was exploring similar ideas as much as a decade earlier with Spike Soldier in Stronghold!

Eventide co-designer Alexis Janson quickly noticed that Mark had neglected to add a "Play this ability only once per turn" clause, and Mark added it on. The designers then decided that if Rootwalla Elf was going to suffer from -1/-1 counters, it should inflict them too. With "curse," the playtest name for wither, this was the card a month later:

Rootwalla Elf #2
2G
Creature - Elf
2/2
Curse
1G: CARDNAME gets +4/+4 until end of turn. At end of turn, put a -1/-1 counter on CARDNAME. Play this ability only once each turn.

As the Eventide designers tried the card out in play, they noticed a problem. The first time you activated it, it went from 2/2 to 6/6, then to 1/1. The next time you activated it on your following turn, it grew to power 2 – 1 + 4...then at end of turn shrank to power 2 – 1 + 4 – 1 when "end of turn" triggered... then shrank to power 2 – 1 – 1 a little bit later in the cleanup step, when "until end of turn" bonuses fell away.

This was too much plus and minus seesawing generated by the same card's abilities. Time for a tweak:

Rootwalla Elf #3
G
Creature - Elf
1/1
Curse
1G: CARDNAME gets +4/+4 until end of turn. At end of turn, put a -1/-1 counter on CARDNAME. Play this ability only once each turn.

Rootwalla Elf #3 reducing the seesawing power and toughness...but as a 1/1 that got a -1/-1 counter at end of turn, it would have to have some external card pumping it up to keep it alive. Why not just sacrifice it at end of turn instead? And the gap between "end of turn" effects and "until end of turn" effects is something we try to prevent from coming up on the same card. The overexertion design was falling apart. Time to simplify:

Rootwalla Elf #4
G
Creature - Elf
1/1
Curse
1G: CARDNAME gets +1/+1 until end of turn. Play this ability only once per turn.

Alexis suggested that since black's Looming Shade ability is so similar to green's Rootwalla ability, this could be a good opportunity for a hybrid activation cost. Mark agreed, and also wanted to power it up, making those two final design changes before his handoff to development:

Rootwalla Elf #5
G
Creature - Elf
1/1
Curse
(b/g)(b/g): CARDNAME gets +2/+2 until end of turn. Play this ability only once per turn.

Foxfire Oak
The Towering Infernoak!
The Eventide development liked the card overall, but there were still issues to work out. The hybrid activation cost made this feel awfully similar to Shadowmoor's loose cycle of monocolored power / toughness pumpers that used hybrid activation costs: Rune-Cervin Rider, Parapet Watchers, Loch Korrigan, Blistering Dieflyn, and Foxfire Oak.

(As usual, the Treefolk of that cycle had the best playtest name by far. For a hybrid-firebreathing / woodbreathing 3/6 Tree-Fellow: "TOWERING INFERNOAK!")

Hybrid activation costs play great on that cycle of Shades and Firebreathing variants, since the hybrid activation cost lets you pour all your mana into that ability in a two-color deck, which you normally can't do for Shades or firebreathers in two-color decks. But since Rootwalla Elf #5 had a "Play this ability only once per turn" clause from its Rootwalla ancestors, you couldn't pour all your mana into it even if it did have a hybrid activation cost.

Eventide also had tons of Black or Green Mana activation costs already, including Creakwood Ghoul, Quillspike, Deity of Scars, and Odious Trow. It didn't need a fifth Black or Green Mana activation cost, especially when it did fit very well.

The final reason the developers took off the Black or Green Mana activation cost? Because they wanted this gutsy weenie to be an Elf, and in the world of Shadowmoor, Elves aren't black-green!

The developers changed the card into this version:

Rootwalla Elf #6
G
Creature - Elf Warrior
1/1
Curse
1G: CARDNAME gets +2/+2 until end of turn. Play this ability only once per turn.

And that's the card you know in Eventide boosters today:

From "Elvish Sidekick" to Talara's Battalion

Serra_Avenger The Eventide designers started out with this quirky green rare:

Elvish Sidekick
GG
Creature - Elf
3/3
CARDNAME can't be played as the first spell during a turn.

Sometimes this kind of design reminds me of Rosewater's previews of upcoming sets in the old Duelist magazine: "Coming up next set... a 3/3 Elf creature... that costs just Green ManaGreen Mana!"

Eventide co-designer Ken Nagle suggested tying the card into the color-matters theme. Rosewater agreed and pumped up the power:

Elvish Sidekick #2
1G
Creature - Elf
4/3
CARDNAME can't be played unless a green spell was played this turn.

Development often advises consults with a set's designers while the set is still in design. While developers sometimes have to make dangerous cards weaker, they also enjoy making fun cards more powerful. Matt Place first tossed around the idea of pumping up this Sidekick in Multiverse, leading to a classic Nagle response:

MP 5/14: Interesting, could probably give this guy trample!
KEN 5/14: As resident green mage, green gets Trample for free! Make other colors pay for Trample! Green's "Trample bonus" is +1/+1 when we neglect to give it Trample.
MR (5/14/07): Added trample (because it's free).

Eventide development also found that this Sidekick had a bizarre, unintended side interaction. When you attacked your opponent in Limited, and your opponent played a giant growth or a partly-green hybrid instant during combat, after combat you could play out your Elvish Sidekick off of your opponent's green spell. This was counter-intuitive and did not fit the intent of the card, so developers changed it to piggyback from only your own green spells.

That brought us to this:

Elvish Sidekick #3
1G
Creature - Elf Warrior
4/3
Trample
CARDNAME can't be played unless you played a green spell this turn.

After running it through the Future Future League and experimenting with different toughnesses, we promoted Elvish Sidekick to the card you know today:

At first glance, it's a two-mana 4/3 trampler that you can't play on turn two...or can you? There are tons of combos in current Standard that let you play this ridiculously large two-drop out on turn two. Here are some of my favorites methods—some you may have already thought about, but some you may not have:

Battalion Combo #1:

Turn 1: Llanowar Elves / Boreal Druid.
Turn 2: Nettle Sentinel and Talara's Battalion.
Turn 3 Imperious Perfect, smash for 10 damage.

Battalion Combo #2:

Turn 1: Llanowar Elves / Boreal Druid / Nettle Sentinel
Turn 2: Attack, then play another Llanowar Elves / Boreal Druid / Nettle Sentinel, then Heritage Druid, tap for three mana, play Talara's Battalion and another Elf one-drop.
Turn 3: Elvish Champion, attack for about 14 damage.

Battalion Combo #3:

Turn 1: Llanowar Elves / Boreal Druid / Nettle Sentinel
Turn 2: Manamorphose, Talara's Battalion

Battalion Combo #4:
Turn 1: Nettle Sentinel
Turn 2: Attack for 2, play Allosaurus Rider by "pitching" two cards, play Talara's Battalion
Turn 3: Imperious Perfect, attack for 13 damage.

As you can see, the results can be quite explosive.

From "Roger Dodger" to Bloom Tender

Question_Elemental This creature started Eventide design in quite a mysterious fashion:

Roger Dodger
3RR
Creature - Goblin
3/3
Haste
[SECRET MECHANIC]

Ok, it wasn't so mysterious as all that, since it actually had the "Secret Mechanic" listed in the file. But when I told Rosewater I was mentioning the card in an article, he asked me not to spoil it, since he still wanted to make that card some day. I agreed not to tell you what the Secret Mechanic is, but I will give you a couple of hints, and if that mechanic ever does come out someday, Mark or I will make sure to mention that you saw it here first. Or rather that you almost saw it here first.

Here are some of the comments on the card:

MP 5/14: There was talk of this going to green?
MR (5/14/07): This feels way more red to me. I want to be hurting my own guys.
MR (5/14/07): Added a sac effect.

At this point, Mark turned it into this version:

Roger Dodger #2
3RR
Creature - Goblin
3/3
Haste
[SECRET MECHANIC]
Sacrifice CARDNAME: CARDNAME deals 1 damage to target player.

You don't have to know the Secret Mechanic to know that adding this sac ability made the card better. Of course, if you did know the Secret Mechanic was, you would know that adding this sac ability made the card a lot better.

NH 5/14: I am not entirely sure, but this guy seems broken to me. I know that he's certainly awesome with Aether Flash type cards.
KEN 5/14: This guy is broke, and 1RR 3/3 landmillamplify Giant isn't?
MP 6/22: Is this better as a green card?

Ken's talking about Countryside Crusher, of course. In any case, Roger Dodger did turn into a green creature for a while, lost the sac ability, then finally left the set, in search of greener (or redder) pastures in some future set. That opened the way for a wave of hole submissions to fill the gap, from which came this explosive color-matters design:

Titanium Sparrow
1G
Creature - Flightless Bird
0/1
T: For each color of permanents you control, add one mana of that color to your mana pool.

Looks like some designer can't help making Birds of Paradise jokes.

What's fun about this design is that a turn-one non-green hybrid creature lets you play this Sparrow on turn two, then tap it for three mana of different colors on turn three. That's also what's potentially dangerous about this design. We had just made Devoted Druid in Shadowmoor as a two-drop that creates two mana on turn three. Were we really going to make one that creates three mana on turn three?

This is the design that would eventually become Bloom Tender. One potential issue on developers' minds was the power level of just making six mana on turn three and using it for normal purposes. Another was the possibility of infinite mana generated by this design. These infinite mana and infinite size combos are potentially quite fast:

Bloom Tender Combo #1:

Turn 1: Figure of Destiny, Oona's Gatewarden, or any other one-drop nongreen hybrid creature
Turn 2: Maybe attack, then play Bloom Tender
Turn 3: Play Umbral Mantle. Equip it to Bloom Tender. Tap Bloom Tender for three mana, then use that mana to untap Bloom Tender with the Umbral Mantle, making Bloom Tender 3/3. Tap Bloom Tender for three more mana, then untap him again, making him 5/5. Repeat until Bloom Tender is 71/71. Attack for 71 damage and the win.

Bloom Tender Combo #2:

Turn 1: Oona's Gatewarden, or other one-drop nongreen, nonwhite hybrid creature
Turn 2: Maybe attack, then play Bloom Tender.
Turn 3: Play Seedcradle Witch. Tap Bloom Tender for four mana including green and white. Activate Seedcradle Witch to untap Bloom Tender and give it +3/+3. Tap Bloom Tender for four mana, then untap it again with that mana, making Bloom Tender 7/7. Repeat until Bloom Tender is 91/91. Attack for 91 damage and the win.

We started playtesting these combos in the FFL as well as other Bloom Tender combos, in addition to Bloom Tender's raw mana acceleration being used for conventional purposes. While it was vulnerable to spot removal, the potential for turn-three kills, or even slower turn-five combos to make infinite mana, cast several more spells, and win that way was enough to make some developers want to be a little cautious and back off from the family of infinite mana Bloom Tender combos.

While backing off on the infinite mana combos, the Eventide developers also grew the card from 0/1 to 1/1. That took the card here:

Bloom Tender #1
1G
Creature – Elf Druid
1/1
At the beginning of your precombat main phase, For each color of permanents you control, add one mana of that color to your mana pool.

Ugh, having to refer to your "precombat main phase" is kind of a mess, and we like to avoid that phrase on cards if we can. And while the tap ability version of Bloom Tender had been explosive and sometimes made infinite mana and/or size, those combos could also be disrupted with commonly maindecked cards. And the temptation of infinite combo decks can be quite delicious in Magic, as long as they are not excessively overpowering.

We decided to go back to the tap ability version with the infinite mana and infinite size combos intact. As a perk, even though we reverted Bloom Tender's text box to the more powerful tap ability version, we let it keep the extra point of power it gained along the way.

And that brings us to the Bloom Tender you know today:

And that's how the initial designs for "Growing Elf," "Rootwalla Elf," "Elvish Sidekick," and "Roger Dodger" were developed into the final four Elf cards you see in Eventide today.

Last Week's Poll

Of the Shards of Alara Shard previews displayed in Magic Arcana this week, which is your favorite?
Esper 1780 30.2%
Grixis 1669 28.4%
Naya 1015 17.2%
Bant 962 16.3%
Jund 459 7.8%
Total 5885 100.0%

Keep an eye out as Shards of Alara previews get into gear, because there's a lot more to each of these shards than what you've seen already.

This Week's Poll

 Which is your favorite of Eventide's four Elf cards?  

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