Making_Magic

When Worlds Collide, Part II

  • Boards
  • Print
Author Image

The letter W!elcome to Conflux Previews, Week 2 (of 2). Last week, I introduced you to the Conflux design team and showed off our very first preview card—Bloodhall Ooze. If you haven't had a chance to read Part I, I recommend you do so as Part II assumes you have. Today I am going to finish walking you through the overview of Conflux design as well as show off another preview card. As with last week, I'm going to wait until the card is germane to the topic at hand before I let you all see it.


Gimme Five

When last we met, I explained how the design team was looking for ways to expand upon Shards of Alara's design. The focus was the re-converging of the five shards back into the singular world of Alara. Each world was learning of the existence of not only four other worlds but two new colors of magic as well. This is pretty meaty stuff and offered design a number of different mechanical options to tie into. The three biggest ones were:

  1. Conflux could play into how each shard dealt with the other shards.
  2. Conflux could play into how each shard dealt with the two new colors.
  3. Conflux could play into what was created when the five shards crashed back together.

Let's examine them one by one.

  1. Conflux could play into how each shard dealt with the other shards.


I explained last week that often during Shards design that we had to hold off on certain effects that didn't make sense within a particular shard. We snuck in some cross-shard stuff where we could but always when there was plausible deniability. After all, for example, Esper does have enchantments and Bant does have artifacts. The first category meant that we could start being more brazen about cards in a shard that were meant to deal with other shards.

In addition, we were able to allow shards to have cards specifically designed to deal with the cards created to deal with them (what we call "trace buster busters" in R&D—a reference to the 1998 movie The Big Hit). In short, we pulled out all the restrictions that we had put in place during Shards design. The shards now knew of one another and could make spells accordingly. I guess I shouldn't say "all the restrictions," as we did keep one in place: shards were only allowed to use their own tools. If a mechanic or theme was introduced in Shards it had to stay within that shard in Conflux design.

  1. Conflux could play into how each shard dealt with the two new colors.


R&D has a love/hate relationship with color hosers. On one hand, we love that Magic provides its players with the tools to deal with any problems that come up in any particular metagame (any healthy metagame that is). If Thing A is causing a problem, there are cards that can be added to a deck to deal with it. Much of the ebb and flow of the game is that we provide our players with a wide assortment of answers. Color hosers (a.k.a. cards that specifically hurt one or more particular colors) have historically been a key tool in this goal.

The downside is that color hosers, if too strong, can wreck strategies making them unplayable. Both Alpha and Tempest (my first design) had this problem. Each had color hosers that made particular colors extremely hard to play. As an example, both Gloom and Dread of Night made white weenie exceedingly hard to play. What this means is that R&D walks a razor's edge when making color hosers. They have to be strong enough to be relevant but not too strong as to drive archetypes out of the game.

That said, Conflux really wanted to play around with color hosers. As shards learn of the existence of their enemy colors, the creation of magic designed to stop them seems like a perfect fit. And it was. Conflux has a number of cards geared specifically to hurt one or two of the enemy colors.

  1. Conflux could play into what was created when the five shards crashed back together.


Part of having the worlds come together was to show their reaction to each other. Another was to show what the world of Alara was like composed of five different worlds. How does one create things unique to this new combined world? Easy, make use of something that didn't exist in any of the shards in Shards of Alara: the five colors of magic.

This is what led the team down the path of its five color mini-theme. How better to show five colors comingling than by doing so in all in the same spell? Last week's Savor the Flavor, for instance, showed off this creature.

Click here (or don't click here if you don't want to see preview cards—although not my new preview card, this is just a repeat of something shown last week).

This clearly isn't from any of the five shards. No, creatures like this put the flag in the ground that says Alara is more than just Bant + Esper + Grixis + Jund + Naya. That is, this world is more than just the sum of its parts.

The Ball Keeps Rolling

I think a lot of people assume design is a bit more orderly than it actually is. I feel many people believe that the team sits down early in design, decides what we want to do, and then just spends the rest of the time executing our ideas. I think this myth comes from the same place that leads people to believe that an author figures out his story ahead of time and then just simply writes it down.

The creative path is seldom that cut and dry. Creative expression is as much about the journey as it is the destination. Sure, a card designer or an author has to have a general idea where to start, but once they do, they are at the whims of their design. Ideas are experimented with and tried out. Successes (and mistakes) cause momentum that pushes the design/story in certain directions. You stumble into areas of thought you never would have anticipated and come up with ideas that surprise you as you think of them. For instance, the nostalgia theme of Time Spiral block (including the "timeshifted" cards) grew out of our experimenting with the theme of time. The idea of timeshifted cards from the past would never have entered my mind on day one of the design. My point is that creative expression is seldom a neat and tidy process.

I bring this up here because Conflux design, like most Magic designs, was built upon ideas sprouting from the buds of other ideas. As such, the ideas aren't sequential in progress. Idea A didn't lead to Idea B which led to Idea C. Rather, different areas were explored simultaneously, causing Idea A to spring up as an interesting overlap between Thought Area 1 and Thought Area 2. Instead of talking in general terms, let me use some examples from Conflux design.

The Conflux design team was working on several different aspects of the set. They were trying to get a handle on what the intermingling of the worlds would feel like. This included finding ways to create an overall whole of Alara that was more than just a combination of its shards. They wanted to find natural extensions of what the Shards design team had done. They wanted to add some elements that would add some twists to Limited play. Each of these was a distinct and separate goal that the team had in mind as the design started.

One final thing I should add in: the block design had to incorporate three sets. Conflux didn't just have to follow Shards of Alara, it had to set up Alara Reborn. As I'll explain when we get to Alara Reborn previews, a lot of what this block was up to had to do with getting to where we wanted to end up. This put Conflux in a very interesting spot. We knew where our block was starting and ending. Conflux had to move us from point A to point B. So what is Alara Reborn up to? Not a topic for today, but I will say it was one of the more ambitious designs we've ever done.

All Together Now


Back to Conflux. So the design team had many balls in the air. One of the earliest ideas was the five-color mini theme. How better to show the smashing together of five worlds than the smashing together of five colors of mana? It allowed the team to both demonstrate some things unique to the world of Alara while also giving Conflux its own twist. The earliest implementation of this was five-color "gold" cards. While the team experimented with many different levels of five-color cards, in the end they discovered that a little went a long way. And by "a little" I mean more five-color "gold" cards than has ever appeared in a single expansion before.


While this five-color mini theme was growing, the team was also experimenting with ways to advance each of the five shards. How could Conflux add in three-color cards without overwhelming the set with "gold" cards? The answer was to find ways to make cards that acted like three-color cards without actually being three-color cards. Last week's preview, Bloodhall Ooze, was one way the team ended up going.

Today's preview card was another.

Click here to meet Ethersworn Adjudicator.

A 4/4 flier for 4 ManaBlue Mana that can untap itself is more than enough to encourage you to draft this card if you're playing blue. That said, an activated Mortify ability, definitely encourages you to think about also playing white and black. The idea here was to create cards that had a role in a single color but that required three colors to optimize. This style of card differs from a card like Bloodhall Ooze (last week's preview) in two important ways. First, Ethersworn Adjudicator works just fine in a single color. A mono-blue deck can think about playing it. Bloodhall Ooze doesn't do its thing without at least one other color. Second, when you choose to use additional colors, Ethersworn Adjudicator forces you to three colors where Bloodhall Ooze allows you the option of just playing two.

I point out the differences because the Conflux design team felt it was important to find a few variances in how to create monocolored / three-color cards.

Domain Street

So the set had dual three-color and five-color themes. What could be added to bridge the gap? It turns out the answer was sitting in Magic's past.

A quick aside to a change in design philosophy that started during Shards of Alara. The lesson of Time Spiral for R&D was that players like revisiting the past but that an excess of it was troublesome for newer players. We could no longer think of old mechanics as being less than a full mechanic for learning purposes (which was how we were able to rationalize having so many in a single block during Time Spiral). In addition we've had a lot of talks recently about how to fight complexity creep (an issue I'm going to write about later this year). One of the solutions was to be better about reusing old mechanics. As I often explain, we now think of old mechanics as being valuable tools. The end result is that we've made a conscious decision to be more assertive about using these tools. This is why cycling returned in Shards and why the fan favorite    CENSORED    is returning this fall in the set codenamed "Live." We've decided to stop reinventing the wheel when an old wheel can do the job. This doesn't mean every set will have an old mechanic returning, but it does mean we are feeling more secure about reusing old mechanics when they seem appropriate.

So when the Conflux team was searching for a mechanic that played well in a three-color deck and a five-color deck, we ended up with an old favorite from Invasion block. I put the name of the mechanic in the header so I know you already know what I'm talking about. Yes, domain (a.k.a. "Barry's mechanic"—that was its honest-to-goodness design name in Invasion) has returned, complete with its own ability word. (Back in Invasion, domain was just a nickname.) Domain works well because the cards are generally costed to be good when you have three basic lands out and very good when you have five.

This, of course, leads us to a different tangential discussion. Last week when I introduced Bloodhall Ooze I explained how we went back and forth when deciding whether or not to have the cards look for the relevant basic lands (as Wild Nacatl does) or look for the relevant colored permanents (as Bloodhall Ooze does). With the introduction of domain, the basic land option seems like a shoo-in. To be honest, we thought it was. Then playtesting showed us otherwise. Part of it was the synergy with the previous year's block (go hybrid!). Part of it was how hard it was to get the correct basic lands when the color demands of three or more colors forced players to play a lot of nonbasic lands. Part of it was our ability to be more aggressive on costing. And part of it was just the psychological impact of making the "gold" cards matter. We didn't come to this decision easily, and you might hear in a future column about the long and twisty path that led to the developers making the choice they did.

Anyway, domain is back with a few old favorites and even more new executions.

Land Ho

All of this leads us to another part of Conflux design—making all this multicolor play actually work out. One of the important lessons R&D has had over the numerous multicolor blocks, is how important mana and color fixing is in multicolor environments. One only needs look at the three multicolor-themed blocks (Invasion, Ravnica and Shards of Alara) to watch the evolution of mana fixing. Invasion made a noble attempt at helping players fix their mana, yet in the end we got a lot of feedback that the mana bases were unstable and thus too swingy.

With Ravnica, we added in common Signets and "bounce" lands for Limited play. We put in powerful tournament worthy rare duals for Constructed. In short, we upped the tools available to the players who wanted to play multiple colors. For Shards of Alara block we wanted to continue this trend.

Meanwhile, the Conflux teams were looking at ways to tweak things done in Shards of Alara. One such goal was to find ways to evolve cycling. Whenever we bring back an old mechanic, we take the opportunity to find ways to expand upon it, allowing us to offer new twists to an old favorite. In Shards of Alara, we played around with what we called "mega-cycling." These cards (Resounding Silence, Resounding Wave, Resounding Scream, Resounding Thunder, and Resounding Roar) used their cycling to create a much larger version of the spell.

So the team was looking for new uses of cycling and ways to help mana fixing when one day, the team realized "two birds, one stone"—basic land cycling was born. Plainscycling et al showed up in Scourge when Onslaught block was looking for its twists on cycling. Basic land cycling is the next evolution. Instead of getting a card with a particular basic land type, now you could get a basic land with any of the five.

To cut off a response I expect to get, yes this does infringe a bit on green's color pie. The reason we okayed it was that we've decided that color fixing is something we have to let bleed in multicolor blocks. We bleed a little every year as we push towards the block's themes (for instance, blue and red don't normally get a lot of graveyard-interacting cards, but they did during Odyssey block) and mana is one of the things that we are more willing to allow all the colors access to. Green is still best at this, and in most sets, the other colors will not have such efficient means to fix their colors, but for right here and right now, we've made the conscious decision to allow everyone to have the tools necessary to play in the sandbox we've created.

Conflux Capacitor

As you can see, this design has a lot of balls in the air. When it all comes together, though, it's surprisingly how unchaotic it seems. Each of the pieces meshes with the others to create a very intriguing set. I enjoy how it twists what was started in Shards of Alara and nicely sets up what is coming in Alara Reborn.

That, my faithful readers, is Conflux. I hope you get a chance to make it to the Prerelease this weekend so you can play with it and experience what I'm talking about for yourself.

That's all I got for today. Join me next week when I go digging for gold.

Until then, may your shard be with you.

  • Planeswalker Points
  • Facebook Twitter
  • Gatherer: The Magic Card Database
  • Forums: Connect with the Magic Community
  • Magic Locator