Latest_Developments

How the Mimics helped Eventide reward enemy-color hybrid in a big way.

Mimics and the Mission of Eventide

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Welcome to Mimic Week! All this week on magicthegathering.com, the regular columns will appear as usual… but with a twist. Your eight regular writers, plus at least two guest authors who've written for the site before, are hiding in the ten regular column slots—maybe even their own—under a clever pseudonym: The Mimic! Can you figure out who actually wrote each article? Tune in Monday, July 28 for the answers!


The letter T!he Magic development process is the bridge between the design vision for a set and its implementation in actual game play contexts. It’s not enough for a set’s development team to tweak all the cards in that set and make sure they’re all balanced; their job is broader than that. They have to mold the raw clay provided to them by the design team into a practical instrument that can fit snugly into the needs of the players who will play with it. In other words, they have to consider a range of game play possibilities when making any change to the card file handed over from design. It’s a holistic process, one that involves action at the level of individual cards, but thinking at the level of formats and play styles.

Cards get tweaked. Sets get developed.

Design Intent

That’s not to say that design teams don’t have the larger picture in mind when they’re designing. They do. I, the Mimic, have been on one or two design teams in my day (okay, one), and I can tell you that there is definitely work done long before development to make sure that a set is fun and functional for a variety of formats and ways to play the game. But design’s main mission is to translate a vision into set themes, mechanics, and individual cards. Once the goals of the set are clear, and those goals have been incarnated in a complete set of cards that reflect those goals (and those goals have been reevaluated with playtesting, and the cards tweaked to reflect the new goals), their job is done. It’s development’s turn.

pure_intentions There’s a lot of power in development. After design hands off the card file, development “owns” it, meaning they get to call the shots about what happens to the cards at that point—and since development is the later step in that process, they basically determine what actually ends up in the set. (Of course, during the development process, there’s an open dialogue between the design and development teams, and all the members of R&D when it comes down to it. But still, the ultimate call for any typical card comes down to the developers.) I imagine that it’d be easy for there to be “activist developers” who took it upon themselves to simply replace stuff they weren’t interested in with entirely new set themes and mechanics, without any regard for the goals of the designers. But in my experience, that isn’t the case. The development team works hard to preserve the design intent, that vision that the design team built the set around. The developer’s job isn’t to alter the vision of the set, but to make sure the way that vision gets implemented works best in all the myriad ways that we play Magic.

Breaking Eventide

If I were to distill Eventide‘s design vision down into three words, they would be: “hybrid is awesome.” Even more than Shadowmoor, Eventide is about the power of hybrid creatures and spells. In the 301 cards of Shadowmoor, there was plenty of elbow room to explore not just hybrid mana costs, but also the entire web of mechanics that blossomed from that theme, including lots of rewards for monocolored play (in cycles like the Initiates, Cohorts, Mentors, and the monocolored hybrid spells).

Eventide is smaller, weighing in at 180 cards. In that smaller space it needed not only to show off the twist of enemy-colored hybrid, but also to provide enough enemy-colored hybrid cards to make an impact in draft, show off the themes of each enemy-color pair, and give players enough cards that they could build decks around white-black or green-blue effectively. In short, the set needed to focus.

To that end, the dev team did several things. First they cranked the ratio of hybrid cards to mono-colored cards slightly, compared to Shadowmoor, so that hybrid cards would stand out as an even more solid force.

Set # of hybrid cards Total # of cards
(excluding basic lands)
% of hybrid cards
Shadowmoor 110 281 39%
Eventide 85 180 47%

This difference is especially marked at common. Check out how the percentage shoots up in Eventide’s commons.

Set # of hybrid commons Total # of commons
(excluding basic lands)
% of hybrid cards
Shadowmoor 45 121 37%
Eventide 30 60 50%

Still, note that the absolute number of hybrid commons still went down by 33%. There simply wasn’t room to include more and still function as a proper set in limited and constructed. So again, the set needed to focus on hybrid even more. A great example of this, coincidentally enough, was the cycle of Mimics.

The Mimic on the Mimics

There’s no better place and time than in Latest Developments during Mimic Week to talk about this cycle. The cycle that became the Mimics always had the theme of “rewarding both colors” in mind from their initial creation way back during Eventide design. They all gave different rewards across the cycle, but they all became “happy” whenever you played a spell that was one or another of its colors. For consistency’s sake we’ll follow the white-black one through its various incarnations.

Jeweled Faerie
3(w/b)
Creature - Faerie
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME is the target of a white or black spell, draw a card.
3/2

This incarnation certainly rewards white-black spells, but it doesn’t reward white-black hybrid spells any more than it rewards random white spells (like Condemn, or hybrid spells like Barkshell Blessing) or black spells (like Smother, or hybrid spells like Scar). The card was changed to put more equity into white-black hybrid in particular.

Jeweled Faerie
2(w/b)(w/b)
Creature - Faerie
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME is the target of a white spell, you may pay 1 to draw a card.
Whenever CARDNAME is the target of a black spell, you may pay 1 to draw a card.
3/2

This definitely motivates you to watch for your opponent’s Unmakes, but mostly it just becomes a sick two-card combo with another common, the white-black Aura Edge of the Divinity (um, yes, I’d like a 6/5 flyer and two cards for three mana please, thanks), and it was outshining some of the other “jeweled” creatures in the cycle. This incarnation of Jeweled Faerie only lasted a couple days of playtesting. Its first stop was to become a ground guy with wither instead of flying.

Jeweled Cleric
3(w/b)
Creature - Wolf Cleric
Wither
Whenever CARDNAME is the target of a white spell, you may pay 1 to draw a card.
Whenever CARDNAME is the target of a black spell, you may pay 1 to draw a card.
2/2

Over the next couple of discussion-filled weeks, the “jeweled” cycle took a new direction: to mix better with Shadowmoor‘s allied-colored hybrid cards, they rewarded you for playing spells of the two colors’ ally.

Jeweled Cleric
3(w/b)
Creature - Wolf Cleric
Wither
Whenever you play a blue spell, you may pay 2 to draw a card.
2/2

This might trigger on a mono-blue spell, as in a legitimately two-color white-blue or blue-black deck, or on a hybrid card that involved blue, taking advantage of the power of hybrid. They stayed this way for a good long while, turning at one point to a more aggressive 2/1 for two body at the cost of their keyword (wither, in this case).

Jeweled Cleric
1(w/b)
Creature - Wolf Cleric
Whenever you play a blue spell, you may pay 2 to draw a card.
2/1

Hybrid was definitely mattering. And now, with their efficient stats, they were showing up in Limited decks more, and getting to do their trick more often. Their stats were so good, though, that development started to worry about these little commons dominating the gameplay of Limited, and not in a healthy way. They were in danger of turning into engines of card advantage that never attacked, despite their sleek stats.

Furthermore, with their mutual-ally-rewarding ability, the creatures in this cycle were mostly taking advantage of Shadowmoor hybrid, not Eventide‘s enemy color theme. Jeweled Cleric was incentivizing you to run the wrong kind of hybrid. One of Eventide’s precious common hybrid cycles was encouraging you to play allied color pairs. To fix both these problems, it was time for them to get another change, back into four-mana world, and away from the allied rewards.

Jeweled Cleric
2(w/b)(w/b)
Creature - Wolf Cleric
First strike
3/2

Certainly straightforward, but now they were just dudes. This one happened to be a pretty amazing fighter for a common, even to unfun levels (it dropped to 2/2 soon after), but that wasn’t the real issue. The problem was that the set really needed this cycle to reward hybrid again, so it was destined to get its “hybrid matters” powers back. “Hybrid is awesome,” remember? And not just any hybrid; these needed to be fun “build-arounds” for Eventide enemy-color hybrid decks in particular.

W/B Dryad
2(w/b)
Creature - Dryad
Whenever you play a spell that is both white and black, CARDNAME becomes 4/4 and gains flying until end of turn.
2/2

This was an entirely new turn for these guys. “Dryad” was the playtest name for the cycle that became the Duos in Shadowmoor, a cycle of creatures that gave rewards for playing spells of both of its colors, and double rewards if you played a spell that was both.

But like the Duos, shouldn’t these Eventide “dryads” generate rewards for playing white or black spells, and then double up on white-black spells? A lot of time was spent trying to get reasonable wording that would generate this gameplay:

"Whenever you play a white spell and a black spell in the same turn, this becomes [P/T] and gains [ability] until end of turn"? "At the beginning of combat, if you played a white spell this turn and you played a black spell this turn, this becomes [P/T] and gains [ability] until end of turn"?

Ugh. Those get across the spirit of working for white spells, black spells, and white-black spells, but they’re not pretty. Furthermore, the design and dev teams were playtesting the cards as they were, and they were becoming more and more interested in trying out a strict “you must play a spell that’s both colors” wording. It was growing on the playtesters; the exciting scenario of “C’mon, I really want to draw a hybrid card right now!” that the cycle created was just what the set wanted. Focus, focus, focus! “Hybrid is awesome!” Plus, the hybrid-only-reward ability was actually cleanly templatable, which was a plus, and the flavor of the “dryads” turning into huge monsters as a reward was pretty fun for a set about creepy creatures skulking out of the woodwork.

Finally, this cycle was doing just what the set wanted it to do. In fact, they were doing it so well that development wanted to expand their role beyond Limited and into casual or even tournament Constructed decks. After a brief and unfulfilling trip to the ho-hum safety of the Squire Zone...

W/B Dryad
1(w/b)
Creature - Dryad
Whenever you play a spell that is both white and black, CARDNAME becomes 4/4 and gains flying until end of turn.
1/2

...they became aggressive 2-power two-drops once again, ready to mix it up, just in time to get a brand new concept thanks to the creative team.

[Cliffcavern Mimic]
1(w/b)
Creature - Shapeshifter
Whenever you play a spell that is both white and black, CARDNAME becomes 4/4 and gains flying until end of turn.
2/1

After a few coats of creative, the Mimics got names, art, and flavor text, and were all ready for the set.

The Mimics do great things for Eventide. They have surprisingly high variance for commons, meaning that they do very different things from game to game based on what else gets played. Some games they just sit there acting like vanillas, fighting and dying like so many flexibly playable Krovikan Scoundrels. Other games they pull their trick once, pumping up for a quick Air Elemental-style poke in the eye while you deploy a Harvest Gwyllion or a Beckon Apparition token to the rest of your board. And some games they win the game all by themselves, growing into their monstrous forms over and over again as you chain together enemy-colored hybrid spells one after the other.

The Mimics make it clear what’s powerful in Eventide Limited and give you a place to start building decks in constructed. They increase the value of even minor spells that have those magical two-tone mana symbols in the corner, and do their job of reinforcing the idea that “hybrid is awesome.” Even though each card in the cycle, and each card in the set, had to be tweaked and twisted on its own, their designs were always influenced by the role they played in the set as a whole.

Last Week’s Poll

Starting in Lorwyn, a sixteenth creature-token-card/rules-card was added to Magic packs. Was the change good or bad?
Good 8064 79.9%
It's complicated 1234 12.2%
Bad 798 7.9%
Total 10096 100.0%

I’m happy to say that this one was a landslide. Overwhelmingly you guys enjoy the change of adding an extra card as a sometimes-rules-card, sometimes-token. Judging by the Latest Developments thread from last week, of course people love the tokens, and many folks see the value in the bonus cards that teach basic rules, explain new mechanics, and show off some quick combos for those new to the set or to Magic itself. I can tell you that R&D has enjoyed the tokens too—they may have even encouraged some designers to create more token-making cards.

Next Week’s Poll

Development put a lot of power into Eventide‘s hybrid cards, including (eventually) into the cycle of Mimics. I’m interested to hear if you guys think there’s one that has the most potential for Constructed.

 Which Mimic has the most potential in Constructed?  
Nightsky Mimic
Riverfall Mimic
Woodlurker Mimic
Battlegate Mimic
Shorecrasher Mimic
None of the Above


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