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Feeling Blue

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The letter L!ast week I talked about the process we used to assemble the commons and uncommons for Magic 2010. This week I've decided to give you an inside look at exactly how one of those meetings went. The meeting in question was the one about blue. Why blue? That's the one I was able to track down all the notes for (thanks to Aaron Forsythe). To keep my word count at a level that doesn't cause my editor Kelly to claw my eyes out, I've decided to just focus on common blue. I've gotten a lot of feedback that many of you like the down-and-dirty, behind-the-scenes articles, so if you're one of those people, this column's for you.


Before I begin, let me set everything up. Aaron gave the design team the following assignment: each one of us was to design our version of blue commons and uncommons. (Once again, I'll only be talking about blue commons). Each member then brought their version to the meeting. Brady Dommermuth (Magic's Creative Director) had a list of card concepts he wanted to see and not a list of actual cards. Bill Rose (vice president of R&D) had a conflict (one of the downsides of having a VP on your team) and missed this meeting.

This means that the four lists we were talking about were created by myself, Aaron, Brian Tinsman, and Devin Low. In order that is the Head Designer of Magic, the Director of Magic R&D, the Head Designer for New Games, and frequent Magic designer and the Head Developer of Magic. From now on, I'm just going to refer to each of us by our first name. Yes, this means that I'll be listing myself as Mark. (Mark does so love writing in third person.)

Remember that we were allowed to submit new cards or old cards with new flavor. Any name in brackets is one that was not an existing name. You will see that often people listed new names for existing cards because they wanted to repeat the mechanic but felt that there was a more resonant flavor they would like to see. Because I was much more focused on the color pie part of this exercise, I left the name of some of my new cards blank.

Here's how my list is going to work. I'm going to group mechanically identical cards together and clump them by how many people selected the card, starting with the ones that got the most votes. For each card I'm going to talk about why it was selected and what impact it had on the final list of common blue cards. Finally, remember that there are twenty common blue slots available, so that is how many cards each person submitted.

4 Votes

Cloud Sprite (Brian & Mark)
U
Creature – Faerie
1/1
Flying
CARDNAME may only block creatures with flying.

[Sprite/Slyb Sprite] (Aaron & Devin)
U
Creature – Faerie
1/1
Flying

All four of us wanted a one drop 1/1 Faerie. The main difference is that two of us had been Head Developer and two of us hadn't. The ones with heavy development experience were aware that Flying Men was acceptable. Brian and I, not aware of this, assumed we'd have to have a drawback, "high flying" being the obvious choice. This card made it into the set as Zephyr Sprite.


Merfolk Looter /[Researcher] (Aaron, Brian, Devin & Mark)
1U
Creature – Merfolk
1/1
T: Draw a card and discard a card.

This is another card that we all turned in. The only deviation was that Aaron was shooting for a slightly different flavor. While the Looter name has become the go-to nickname for this ability, the concept of looting is not a perfect fit for this ability. Aaron was interested in trying more of a flavor of study. We were very conscious of not changing too many cards names, so Merfolk Looter kept its original name and concept even though its concept is a little off from a flavor perspective.


Cancel (Aaron, Brian, Devin & Mark)
1UU
Instant
Counter target spell

This is the only card where are four of us turned in the same card with the same name. There is little more iconic for blue than counterspells, and Cancel is the current default basic one. Did we even entertain the idea of bringing back Counterspell? Well, there might have been one or two conversations.


Think/Mind Boost/Arcane Study (Aaron, Brian, Devin & Mark)
2U
Sorcery
Draw two cards.

What is as iconic to blue as counterspells? Card drawing. The interesting thing is not that we all included this card but that none of us used the same name. The reason is pretty obvious as Counsel of the Soratami is far from an ideal name for this card. For starters, it flunks the "Can you tell me what card type I am solely by my name?" test. Second it does very little to facilitate the "card drawing = gaining knowledge" flavor that the card so badly wants.

I did differ with the other three designers with one small mechanical difference. I wanted the card to be "Target player draws two cards" because I believe all card drawing should be targeted. (Yes, I would have made the Looter above targeted too if I had my way.) I'm a big believer in the idea that allowing people to figure out how to use cards in ways they wouldn't normally is a big part of what makes Magic such a compelling game. The first time you figure out that you want to make your opponent draw two cards (usually to mill them out) instead of drawing two cards for yourself is such an awesome moment that I want to make sure the opportunity for it exists. It also plays better in multiplayer play, allowing you to give cards to other players.

The majority opinion, and the reason Divination has the text is does, is that the base set should have the simplest versions of the cards, allowing the more advanced versions to exist in expansions. (At least I get my way everywhere else.) I do, by the way, much prefer the name Divination.


3 Votes

Horned Turtle (Aaron, Brian & Devin)
2U
Creature – Turtle
1/4

I was the only holdout on this card. In this slot I put a 0/5 flier you'll find below. The Horned Turtle is much beloved by R&D in that it's a relevant vanilla card for Limited. Also, R&D seems to have a thing for turtles. If I want to get a questionable blue creature in a set (low power/high toughness), I've learned to make it a turtle. (When we get to Zendikar, ask me about Convertible Turtle.)


Sage Owl (Aaron & Brian)
1U
Creature – Bird
1/1
Flying
When CARDNAME comes into play, look at the top 4 cards of your library then put them back in any order.

[Bittergage Sages] (Devin)
3U
Creature – Vedalken Wizard
2/3
When CARDNAME comes into play, look at the top four cards of your library and reorder them.

Here is another card that made it all the way to print. Everyone but myself put a version of this in their picks. Devin deviated only in that he made the creature a little bigger. The reason I didn't include Sage Owl is that there is a big discussion in R&D on whether cards that create "known draws" are fun. Sage Owl can often result in a player knowing their next four draws are useless and can create frustrating game play. The counter to this argument is that cards like Sage Owl are very popular among players, according to our market data, and thus they can't be as unfun as some of us imagine.


Snapping Drake (Aaron, Brian & Mark)
3U
Creature – Drake
3/2
Flying

Wind Drake (Devin)
2U
Creature – Drake
2/2
Flying

Devin was the odd man out on this card. Why? Because common blue has a fork in the road. Which common flier do you want, Snapping Drake (3/2) or Wind Drake (2/2)? Devin obviously went for the Wind Drake. The reason the rest of us went for Snapping Drake is twofold. First, there are more interesting 2 ManaBlue Mana 2/2 choices in blue common. Second, Snapping Drake is a better card for Limited, and blue has some recurring Limited issues that forces us to push areas in blue common that are good in Limited (counterspells are not that good in Limited most of the time). Interestingly, the final call was to put both into the set.

Boomerang/[Wind Blast] (Aaron, Brian & Mark)
UU
Instant
Return target permanent to its owner's hand.

Unsummon (Aaron, Devin & Mark)
U
Instant
Return target creature to its owner's hand.

Disperse (Devin)
1U
Instant
Return target nonland permanent to its owner's hand.

Another issue was what bounce (the nickname for spells or effects that put permanents back into their owner's hands) to give blue common. The two iconic spells are Boomerang and Unsummon. Aaron and I opted to include both. Brian and Devin were split on which to choose. In the end, Unsummon got the nod because Boomerang's ability to bounce a land on turn two occasionally causes problems. Devin turned in Disperse, the non-land-bouncing version from Morningtide.


2 Votes

Prodigal Sorcerer (Aaron & Mark)
2U
Creature – Human Wizard
1/1
T: CARDNAME deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

Prodigal Sorcerer is probably the biggest shock of the blue suggestions. Aaron and I were talking about if we wanted to bring back the "Tim" ability to blue as red is overrun with direct damage (the same logic, by the way, which led us to return the Fog ability to green). We both put it on our list only to revoke it in the meeting.

The major reason is that the Tim ability just doesn't make any sense in the blue color pie. Early Magic tried to connect it to blue's wizard flavor, but it never really made any sense. Second, even if we did do it in blue (which we concluded we wouldn't), we've made the decision that the Tim ability needs to stay out of common, as repeatable kill is just not something that we want existing in large numbers in Limited. The inclusion of this card on two lists, however, shows that we were very aware of trying to reconnect with the popular flavor of Magic's early days.

[Bonds of Sleep]/[Freeze In Ice] (Brian & Mark)
1UU/3U
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature target tapped creature/Enchant creature
Enchanted creature does not untap during its controller's untap step.

Blue has long had Auras that lock down creatures. Brian and I both wanted to see one; we only disagreed on the flavor. Brain liked it signifying a spell which put creatures to sleep while I like the flavor of them being frozen in ice. The reason neither of us won out (although Brian got a sleep-themed spell in the uncommon card Sleep, and I got my freeze-a-creature Aura elsewhere on the card Ice Cage—which when you get right down to it isn't all that far away from my card) is that Aaron liked the idea of moving the ability to green to use with an "entangling vines" flavor.

Obviously, Aaron won out (you can see a theme of Aaron getting what he wanted at a higher percentage than the rest of us—to paraphrase Mel Brooks, "It's good to be Lead Designer / Director of Magic R&D"). While green had some prior cards that messed in this area (such as Tempest's Root Maze), of all the color shifts in the set, this is still the one I'm most dubious about from a color pie vantage point. Aaron's point was that green really needed a creature control card for common and that ability's placement in green on the color pie, while a stretch, was still within bounds. Plus the vines flavor was very resonant.

The one other note about this card is that Brian's version required you to enchant a tapped creature but cost one less than my version.

[Confuse]/[Turn to Ice] (Aaron & Devin)
2U
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted create gets -4/-0.

It's interesting that this is one of the things (an Aura that shrinks power) I didn't include in my list but since wish I had, and I'm sorry that it didn't make it into the set. I like how this gives blue a different kind of creature answer in Limited. I think this effect just fell out due the fact that there were other creature Auras we wanted more. Well, maybe in Magic 2011.

Remove Soul (Aaron & Mark)
1U
Instant
Counter target creature spell.

This card made it in, renamed as Essence Scatter. (I'm not going to get into name changes on repeats; Doug is going to do a Savor the Flavor article on these sometime soon.) I like blue common having one common hard counter (meaning a spell that can counter anything such as Cancel) and one soft counter (meaning a spell that can only counter a subset of things or allows the opponent a way to work around it, such as Mana Leak). In the end, we decided for the base set to include one hard counter (Cancel) and two soft counters (Essence Scatter and Negate) at common.


Tidal Surge (Brian & Devin)
1U
Sorcery
Tap up to three creatures without flying.

One of the side effects of the smaller set size is that we have a little less room than we used to. As such, there were some effects we wanted that we didn't find room for. One was blue's ability to tap and untap other permanents. Brian and Devin both chose this card, as we were looking for a concept that used water as flavor for a spell.

[True Invisibility]/[Total Invisibility] (aka Protective Bubble) (Brian & Devin)
3U
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature has shroud and is unblockable.

[Invisible Stalker] (Devin)
3U
Creature –Spirit
2/1
Shroud
CARDNAME is unblockable.

Shroud was another victim of losing out to number. In addition, R&D has found that it is one of the abilities that is more confusing for new players so we left it out (in blue, that is—note that green is supposed to be number one with the shroud ability with blue coming in second). Unblockable does show up, but on a creature (Phantom Warrior). Devin, by the way, liked the shroud/unblockable combo so much, he used it on two of his submissions.

Twiddle (Aaron & Mark)
U
Instant
You may tap or untap target artifact, creature or land.

As I said with Tidal Surge, tapping and untapping never found space, and thus isn't in blue in this set. (Okay, the uncommon card Sleep does keep things from untapping, if that counts.)

1 Vote

[Aetherwing Spy] (Devin)
1U
Creature – Human Rogue
1/2
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME deals damage to a player, you may look at that player's hand.

[Mind Reader] (Brian)
U
Creature – Human Wizard
1/1
1U, T: Look at target player's hand.

Peek (Mark)
U
Instant
Look at target player's hand. Draw a card.

Brian, Devin, and I all tried to get some way in common to let you see your opponent's hand. I chose a one-shot spell, while Brian and Devin choose creatures that allowed you to look multiple times. In the end, we decided that seeing your opponent's hand added enough complication for the new player that we pushed it back to uncommon (on the card Telepathy—which incidentally Aaron, Devin, and I all put into our uncommon picks).

Blind Phantasm (Mark)
2U
Creature – Illusion
2/3

Fugitive Wizard [w/ new name] (Mark)
U
Creature – to be determined by what lords we did
1/1

[Pirate Crewman] (Brian)
1U
Creature – Human Rogue
2/1

I was trying to get two vanilla creatures into each color. Blind Phantasm and Fugitive Wizard were my picks for the vanillas I wanted to see. Brian chose a reflavored Coral Merfolk (Brian really wanted pirates in the set). In the end, blue got two vanilla creatures—Horned Turtle and the non-pirate version of Coral Merfolk—just not the two I had included.


[Eater of Memories] (Devin)
U
Creature – Worm
1/1
T: Target player puts the top card of his or her library into their graveyard.

[Amnesia] (Aaron)
1U
Sorcery
Target player puts the top 5 cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard.

Aaron and Devin both wanted milling (a.k.a. putting cards directly from the library into the graveyard) in blue common. Aaron chose a one-shot (which ended up in the set lowered in cost and renamed Tome Scour) while Devin chose a repeatable creature. Brian and I also liked milling but put it at a higher rarity. (I had made an uncommon 1/2 for 1 ManaBlue Mana that had "Blue Mana, Tap: Mill two cards".)


[Illusionary Minion] (Brian)
2U
Creature – Illusion
4/4
Flying
When CARDNAME attacks or blocks, sacrifice it at end of combat

This card was Brian's attempt to get a flavorful illusion at common. For the final set, the decision was to move so-called "skulking" (the "target me and I die" ability) from black to blue as a way to flavor illusions. It's scary until you realize it's just an illusion. This is seen on the common card Illusionary Servant. (Doug Beyer says that this idea, and not skulking, was supposed to be the flavor of Skulking Ghost in the first place.)


[Merfolk] (Aaron)
U
Creature – Merfolk Soldier
1/1
Islandwalk

Rootwater Commando [w/ new name] (Mark)
2U
Creature – Merfolk Soldier
2/2
Islandwalk

Aaron and I were each interested in having an uncommon islandwalking Merfolk. Due to space, islandwalk didn't make it, but we did get the card Serpent of the Endless Sea which plays into the "creature of the sea" flavor.


[Monarch Drake] (Devin)
4U
Creature – Drake
3/3
Flying

This was the card Devin made instead of Snapping Drake.

[New Unnamed Flier] (Mark)
2U
Creature – TBD
0/5
Flying

And this was the card I made instead of Horned Turtle.

[New Unnamed Untapper] (Mark)
4U
Creature – TBD
3/3
U: Untap CARDNAME.

I honestly don't remember why I made this card. I think I liked the idea of creating a creature that could untap itself. In retrospect, I'm not sure why as it mostly plays like a weaker vigilance. If I had to redo my list, Prodigal Sorcerer and this would definitely be cut for other cards.

[Vapor Elemental] (Devin)
2U
Creature – Elemental
2/2
U: CARDNAME deals and receives no combat damage this turn.

One of our tasks was to make cards where the mechanic and the flavor lined up. This was one of Devin's attempts to do this with a new card. This got cut because we long ago moved this ability from blue to white and didn't want to move it back.

[Water Weird] (Aaron)
4U
Creature – Elemental
4/4
CARDNAME can't attack unless defending player controls an island.

This was Aaron's attempt to fit a Sea Serpent–style creature into blue common. This card morphed during design and development to become Serpent of the Endless Sea.

[Wind Servant] (aka Pestermite) (Brian)
2U
Creature – Element
2/1
Flash
Flying
When CARDNAME comes into play, tap or untap target permanent.

Another attempt to get some Twiddling (a.k.a. tapping or untapping permanents) into blue. As I said above, this got lost to space issues.

Careful Study (Brian)
U
Sorcery
Draw two cards then discard two cards.

[New Unnamed Card Filterer] (Mark)
3U
Sorcery
Target player draws three cards and discards one.

Brian and I both wanted to get some card filtering into blue. Yet another casualty of space.

Flight (Aaron)
U
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature has flying.

[Gust] (Brian)
U
Instant
Target creature gains flying or losing flying.

Leap (Devin)
U
Instant
Target creature gains flying until end of turn. Draw a card.

Everyone but me wanted to get granting of flying into common. Aaron tried an Aura, while Brian and Devin tried Jump variants. In the end, Jump was chosen because no matter which version of the card was used it was going to be weak, and Jump had the best flavor.


[Freezeblast] (Devin)
U
Instant
Target creature gets -3/-0 until end of turn.

Devin liked shrinking enough that he included an Aura and an instant. The instant is the one that stayed, although it changed (and got weakened) to become Disorient.


[Lace] (Aaron)
U
Instant
Change the color of target spell or creature to the color of your choice until end of turn.

I've always talked about how blue had a larger slice of the color pie than other colors. Here's yet another ability of blue that we couldn't fit in the set, color changing.

Mana Leak (Brian)
1U
Instant
Counter target spell unless its controller pays 3.

Negate (Devin)
1U
Instant
Counter target noncreature spell.

Negate obviously made it in. Mana Leak was bandied about, but in the end development thought it was stronger than we wanted for a two-mana counterspell in the current environment. To all the control lovers out there, don't worry—the pendulum will swing like it always does.


[New Unnnamed Aura] (Mark)
1U
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
U: Untap enchanted creature.

For some reason, I seemed really gung-ho on blue being able to let creatures untap themselves. I do like the Aura much better than the creature, though, as the enchantment version allows you to combo it with things like tap abilities.

Phantasmal Terrain (Aaron)
UU
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant land
As Phantasmal Terrain comes into play, choose a basic land type.
Enchanted land is the chosen type.

This turned into the slightly more powerful Convincing Mirage.


Ponder (Aaron)
U
Sorcery
Look at the top three cards of your library, then put them back in any order. You may shuffle your library.
Draw a card.

[Uncanny Prediction] (Brian)
U
Instant
Look at the top four cards of any player's library. Put them back in any order.

When I joked with Aaron about how I noticed that a much higher percentage of his cards made it in from this exercise, his comment was "I was trying to get you guys to match my vision. Obviously, I was a little better at seeing it than you were."

Brian's card was just a Ponder tweak. As we were trying to be iconic when we could, we felt it made more sense to just use Ponder.


Robe of Mirrors [w/ possible new name] (Mark)
U
Enchantment – Aura
Enchanted creature has shroud.

The way I always liked dividing shroud was to let green be king of creatures with shroud and blue be best at enchantment and instants that grant it. Thus in my version of common, green had a common shroud creature and blue had a common shroud Aura.

Temporal Eddy (Brian)
2UU
Sorcery
Put target creature or land on top of its owner's library.

I'm not a big fan of bouncing things to the library. My joke is that I'd just rather make Time Walks (spells that let you take an extra turn).

Take Twenty


Twenty spells ended up at blue common. Thirteen of them appeared exactly as printed on at least one of the lists, albeit some with new creative elements. (Cancel, Coral Merfolk, Divination, Essence Scatter, Horned Turtle, Merfolk Looter, Negate, Ponder, Sage Owl, Snapping Drake, Unsummon, Wind Drake, and Zephyr Sprite) Four appeared in slightly tweaked versions. (Convincing Mirage, Disorient, Jump, and Tome Scour) That leaves only three cards that the team didn't hit on its first pass. (Ice Cage, Illusionary Servant, Serpent of the Endless Sea) Of these three, I'd argue that all but Illusionary Servant exist in similar design space to cards we submitted.

My point here is that it's very interesting how close the printed card set ended up compared to our first spitball takes on what blue common should be. I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the curtain. I'm curious if you'd like to see more of this nitty-gritty type of recaps on what went on in design.

Join me next week when I pick my favorite flavor.

Until then, may you take the time to show your work; you never know when you might have to look back at it.

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