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Spell Check

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The letter I!zzet is home to the masters of spellcraft on Ravnica. As Mark Rosewater explains in his article earlier this week, blue and red are traditionally the colors to which we give the most spells and the least creatures each set. In Return to Ravnica, we were eager to play up this spell-casting proficiency as much as possible for these mages and inventors.

The earliest glimpses of the overload mechanic were very exciting to me as a player. My early years of Magic revolved around Mana Draining spells to unleash huge Fireballs and Lightning Bolting pests until I found a suitable target for Control Magic. ForgetSwords to Plowshares, I didn't want to give my opponent that life. It would make it that much harder to burn him or her out of the game. I wanted to win with a different creature each match. With which creature? Well, that was up to my opponent. While I'd branch out to other colors, blue and red were my core colors in every event I played until and including the first Pro Tour. Izzet seems less concerned with enchantments that steal creatures, but I think I'll be able to adapt.

Street Spasm | Art by Raymond Swanland

When Ken Nagle first explained his design version of the mechanic as allowing you to switch from a single target to all legal targets, he mentioned off-hand a few examples. Regardless of what he might have actually told me, the following were what started permeating my thoughts:

Stone RainArmageddon
ShatterShatterstorm
BoomerangUpheaval
Lightning BoltSulfurous Blast
Act of TreasonInsurrection

Wow! Sign me up. If anything, it felt as if this mechanic would be offering too much. How were the other guilds supposed to compete with this?

Beyond that, how would we spread out these effects across rarities? They have common initial effects, yet you'd expect rares based on their overload effects and costs.

As it turns out, you've now had a chance to see the final set and see where the overload mechanic ended up. Ken Nagle has already delved into how the mechanic changed through development so I won't rehash that. In short, we worded cards to only affect either your cards or your opponents' cards, and overload didn't target everything upon overloading anymore.

Overloaded

Today, I'll run you through many anecdotes about cards, those that could have been and those that "are," in creating the texture of the Izzet guild.

Once we switched to the non-symmetric, all-upside versions of these cards that reference "you control" or "you don't control," development overhauled a number of the effects in the file, as you might expect. I don't know that the overloaded "Destroy all target lands" would have survived in development anyway, but I hope you are happy you don't have to worry about being victimized by a "Destroy each land you don't control" headed your way. Many of the cards survived intact, though, as one-sided havoc-inducing spells.

 

Blustersquall used to affect lands, and all permanents, but development decided we would prefer to make it a more focused card against creatures, taking two mana off the overload cost and denying it's possible role as a way to leave opponents defenseless by tapping all of their lands.

 

Mizzium Skin was victim of the functional changes in the new overload wording. It had been a trump to other overload cards by making each of your creatures that were targeted hexproof and spare them the misfortunes of the overload. In this new world of "each," it provides a more straightforward role against other spells.

Many of the cards I'd hoped for didn't make it through the process. We received the all-upside effects of Shatterstorm in Vandalblast, the Upheaval variant in Cyclonic Rift (not that we ever tested the card messing with lands), and the Sulfurous Blast variant in Mizzium Mortars (without hitting players). We even fit in another sweeper in Street Spasm that we differentiated from Mizzium Mortars by moving it to an X-spell later in development.

But what about the denizens of Ravnica aligning themselves with the Izzet guild? We certainly wanted them to carry much of the appeal in this spell-centric guild.

Spell-Loving Creatures

We wanted to make sure there were tempting creatures for your spell-heavy deck. There a great number of creatures in the set in blue and/or red that encourage play in a deck with many instant and sorceries. Let's take a look at them:

 


Goblin Electromancer: This little Wizard was an exciting card throughout playtesting. He led to some very explosive draws in concert with strong four-mana spells. For example, an early version of Cyclonic Rift didn't have overload at all, but instead drew a card at 3 ManaBlue Mana. Concerns over how frustrating draws with those card could be led us down a new path that got us to the final Cyclonic Rift. While I don't know anyone here predicted that we'd see it in Modern, it was fitting to see it played at a full four copies in the main deck of some of the better Storm decks at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica.

 

Nivmagus Elemental: While not a Weird, this card would be befitting of such a subtype. Here we have another card making a splash at the last Pro Tour. In this case, I think it is fair to say we expected it would do more in Modern than Standard and it was fun to see the result. I forget the origins of this card, but based on the number of exclamations I see under Erik Lauer's Multiverse notes, I have a guess. At some point, this Elemental used to care about the converted mana cost of the spells it ate, but we eventually opted for the simplicity and "safety" of a consistent number of +1/+1 counters, since Mons Johnson had built a scary deck in which it was eating miracles. That change certainly changed what form that Modern deck took.

 

Nivix Guildmage: There's not much more fun to be had than copying spells. This guildmage is also great at looting through your deck to find those very spells. Just don't throw away too many lands, so you can start copying things.

 

Hypersonic Dragon: This Dragon came from design being good against instants and sorceries and ended up working well with them instead of against them. His ability might not come up all that often but it can be a lot of fun to cast spells when you can't typically do so.

 

Guttersnipe: Perhaps the only card in this article so far without the Izzet watermark. This creature was certainly designed and developed to work with spells in true Izzet fashion. It originally triggered whenever it was targeted by a sorcery or instant, but once overload changed to the "each" wording this was reworked to much more open-ended. And so we have a spellfall version of landfall.

 

Izzet Staticaster: While not technically a card calling out instant and sorceries, it does have flash. Which gives it an instant tricky feel. And as part of pushing it more toward a role in Constructed as we went down the stretch in development, we gave it a toughness and the "and each other creature with the same name as it" clause, which conveniently gave it a feel reminiscent of an overload-wielding caster. We hoped this, along with Jace, Architect of Thought, would provide more insurance against Lingering Souls in Standard. In the meantime, it looks like Lingering Souls has found a home in Modern.

 

Blistercoil Weird: A mini-Kiln Fiend that untaps itself. Let me know when you figure out what to do with this.

I still haven't.

Spells Breeding More Spells

There haven't been all that many Limited formats where I'd expect to see so many players main decking Dispel, yet that has quite often been the case in major events I've watched recently for Return to Ravnica. This phenomenon is hardly just Izzet's doing, but you should certainly be on the lookout for instants flying everywhere.

This brings us to the two cards capturing the most ambitious nature of Izzet enterprises.

 

Epic Experiment: The name here is truly fitting. And it's an open-ended X-spell. It's the other-half of Genesis Wave. This card really wants you to jam as many instants and sorceries into your deck as possible. Forget about all those silly little creatures I was just talking about. Well, most of them anyway. As soon as this moved from X ManaRed ManaBlue ManaBlue Mana to just X ManaRed ManaBlue Mana it was one of the most tested cards in R&D. This past weekend we saw it doing well at Grand Prix Chicago digging into decks for more and more spells. There's no doubt more experimentation to be had here.

 

Firemind's Foresight: I have a secret for you. Erik Lauer really like Cones. Every set I've been on with him he has pitched some variant of Cone of Flame. I believe he is self-aware on this topic. They don't all make it into sets, but he keeps trying. Anyhow, it came as no surprise to me when he pitched the idea for Cone of Spells, which was the playtest name for this card. We spent a lot of time on this card in playtesting. It was a six-mana sorcery for much of its existence and could also get sorceries, but it was near impossible to win games after this spell resolved and super frustrating to know your opponent then had a counter, a removal card, and another card-advantage card. Ultimately, we felt we needed to move it up to seven mana, at which point we were fine with making it an instant for a deck that didn't want to ever tap out. It felt good to also have a card in the set specifically pointing toward instants.

Spells Pointing Back to Creatures

The vast majority of overload cards affect opposing cards and not your own. However, we wanted there to be an Izzet deck, at least for Limited, that went wide: trying to build up numerous creatures on the battlefield. This is accomplished in both subtle and direct ways.

The most obvious spells pushing and rewarding players for trying to build a board of creatures are in spells like Dynacharge and Teleportal. These cards boost your creatures as you try to either outflank or evade blockers—or both. Along with Mizzium Skin, these are the only overload cards that actually target your own creatures.


There are numerous other cards, though, that work much more effectively in decks working on creating a board presence. Frankly, the best way to maximize a spell that is going to affect all your opponents' creatures is to force your opponent to commit more to the board. And creating your own formidable crew is a good way to lure your opponent into committing more resources to the board. This holds true even for general all-stars like Mizzium Mortars. While many overload cards in the set can buy you a turn or two, those same cards are much better in setting up the final blow. Cyclonic Rift, Blustersquall, and Chemister's Trick are all good tools to win a game out of nowhere, especially if you combine them with the one-two punch where something like Dynacharge is the follow-up. In particular, Chemister's Trick is most effective if you can force your opponent into sending his or her forces into an array of your own creatures with enough power to pick off the attackers, assuming you aren't able to simply set up a game-ending play.


Also, the fact that overload is a mana-sinking mechanic pulls it toward a longer game. The tricky part is that Golgari is also generating effects with excess mana in the late game. And Selesnya is equipped in such a fashion to keep generating more and more threats. Meanwhile, Rakdos and Azorius are doing everything they can to stop you from stabilizing.

Nobody said it was going to be easy. Getting your Izzet deck to reach the correct balance of spells and creatures is challenging indeed. You are competing during drafts for relatively scarce creatures in these colors, especially ones that can ideally strike a balance between offense and defense. In the end, we made a number of tweaks here and there, including reducing the mana cost on Goblin Rally from 4 ManaRed ManaRed Mana to 3 ManaRed ManaRed Mana during development, to help make cards like Dynacharge shine more. There are also a number of versatile creatures in the set, especially those with other guild keywords, like Splatter Thug and Isperia's Skywatch, that will fit in nicely into this plan, although they are admittedly in high demand by at least one other guild. There are excellent Izzet decks to be found in both Limited and Constructed, if you can strike this balance. It will take some experimentation, but you are supposed to be game for that.

Best of luck unleashing these spells and thanks for reading,

Dave Humpherys


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