ast week, I talked about some Gatecrash design stories of individual cards. I only got as far as the letter G, so I'm back today to finish my tales.
If you read my column on the Gruul design in Gatecrash, you know that we tried hard to make fighting part of the Gruul keyword. That didn't work out, but we did want to make sure fight made an appearance or two in Gruul. Gruul Ragebeast is one such cameo.
Of all the decks I ever made, the one I played and tweaked the longest was a green-blue deck that I played at the very first Magic World Championships. (You can see the deck here.) One of the cards in the deck was a green enchantment from Legends (a world enchantment for those old timers who remember what that is) that gave all creatures haste. (This was written out at the time, as "haste" wasn't yet a keyword.)
I loved Concordant Crossroads, so when I finally came to Wizards and had the chance to start making cards, I pushed to get some cards that granted all your creatures haste. (I made them red because I realized that green wasn't supposed to be the primary color of haste.)
In Weatherlight, I made Fervor. I tried to make it but I got outvoted in development.
In Invasion, I made Fires of Yavimaya.
In Mirrodin, I made Mass Hysteria.
In Future Sight, I made Emblem of the Warmind.
In Unhinged, I made Yet Another Æther Vortex. Okay, there was a lot more going on but it did give all your creatures haste.
In New Phyrexia, I helped make Urabrask the Hidden.
Suffice to say, I like granting my creatures haste. I've had versions of Hellraiser Goblin in many designs, but that particular version never made the cut. The big change in Gatecrash was coming up with the idea that the haste was connected with "attack each combat if able." That managed to give the card a little different spin and finally make it all the way to print. The big question now is what kind of haste-granting card can I make next?
One of the things we enjoy doing in design is to question the idea that you should always play with four of every card. Having four copies insures consistency but it also makes the game play more likely to be similar to previous games. Having some cards that put a little pressure to diversify does a lot to make games play out differently. So is that what inspired the design of this card? No.
This card actually came from a very different place. The origin of this card was a concern by development that tokens were getting a little too strong. Development wanted to make sure there was available "token hate" if they got out of control. That was the impetus for Homing Lightning's design. I like it because the token hosing is pretty subtle.
Luminate Primordial, Diluvian Primordial, Sepulchral Primordial, Molten Primordial, and Sylvan Primordial
Return to Ravnica had a rare cycle of uncounterable spells (Supreme Verdict, Counterflux, Abrupt Decay, Slaughter Games, and Loxodon Smiter). Erik Lauer added these cards in development because he wanted to add some cards that would be relevant not only in Standard but also in Legacy and Vintage.
One of the things we felt was important was to make sure that Gatecrash didn't just feel like a rehash of Return to Ravnica. In order to do that, we had to make sure each set did some things the other did not. Part of this was making some cycles unique to each set.
As the Return to Ravnica cycle was aimed squarely at Spike, I decided to point Gatecrash's cycle at a different group, one near and dear to my heart—Johnnies. The cards looked a little something like this:
The entire cycle was cards that created token copies whenever they dealt combat damage to the opponent. Where are the other four? Well, they didn't make it. The cards weren't playing all that well in playtests, as getting the cards through to trigger proved hard to do. In addition, they polled low in our internal Rare Poll. (Every set, we ask Magic-playing employees to give us their first impressions of the cards.) The development team decided to take the best one (the green one), make it bigger, give it trample to help it get through, and then scrap the other four. Giant Adephage, the green one, was then moved up to mythic rare.
This left the set with a cycle-sized hole. Dave Humpherys (the lead developer for Gatecrash) realized the set was actually a little light for yet another psychographic—Timmies. Well, not all Timmies, but multiplayer Timmies in particular. There are many ways to play Magic,and we try to make sure that as many formats as possible get representation in each set.
The Primordials were created specifically for the various types of multiplayer play. When each Primordial enters the battlefield it does something negative to each opponent. I'm curious to see how they get used.
In my preview column on the design of Dimir, I explained why grind (the "mill until you hit some number of lands" mechanic) wasn't the named mechanic of Dimir. One of the reasons I didn't talk about was that we found out something else interesting about grind. It works best when some of the milling is grind and some of it is traditional milling.
The reason is simple. If you only have grind, then you know the number of times it takes to mill someone out is directly tied to the number of lands left in his or her library, which can mostly be figured out by counting the lands on the battlefield. Add in a few traditional milling cards and, all of a sudden, there's a lot more tension. Also, normally, losing lands to milling is good, as it means you aren't losing valuable spells, but with grind in the mix it makes milling lands a lot scarier.
If we had keyworded grind, that would have forced our hand to make most of the milling in the set grind to justify the keyword. De-keywording it meant we were more free to mix it up.
Wait a minute. This card isn't in Gatecrash. I want to talk about this card today because when people see battalion for the first time, this is always the card they then ask about. Isn't this card basically battalion? What's going on?
As I explained in my preview column on Boros, the battalion mechanic was designed by Shawn Main during Great Designer Search 2. That means it was seen by a lot of different people outside and inside the Pit. Odric was designed as a character for Duels of the Planeswalkers, and R&D was tasked with designing a card for him in the core set.
I'm not sure if the person who designed Odric had seen battalion or it was a parallel design but Odric was designed with exactly battalion. I'm on the design team for every expert expansion but I'm usually not involved too much in the core sets. As such, it sometimes takes time for me to see an individual card from them.
The first time I saw Odric, I went to the head developer of Magic 2013, Zac Hill, and told him we were doing battalion in Gatecrash. Could he please change Odric? Flash forward to the R&D slideshow for Magic 2013. When Odric popped up on the screen, I was a little shocked. I assumed he was going to change. I talked to Zac, who explained that they looked at other options but this card had a lot of restrictions on it. It had to have a certain flavor to match Duels of the Planeswalkers and the card was the rare card in the white intro deck. Odric was playing so well that they felt they needed to keep it.
Now, understand that each person in R&D is responsible for overseeing a few projects and his or her focus is in making what he or she is working on as strong as it could be. Odric was doing a lot of important things for Magic 2013 and there wasn't a good change, so Zac chose to keep it. I, on the other hand, was responsible for Gatecrash, and I didn't want one card in a previous set to steal a guild mechanic's thunder.
The compromise was to make Odric require three creatures rather than two. This way, he would be a worse version of battalion so it would step less on any Gatecrash toes. And that is how Odric ended up a hair's breadth away from battalion.
In my head, I have a little mental list of creature types I'd like to make a lord for. (R&D defines a lord as a creature that grants all creatures of a certain creature type an ability. I know some define a lord as having to grant +1/+1, but R&D finds that definition a little too narrow.) One of the creatures on the list is Rat.
The trick to making a lord is to find a world where that lord makes sense. This means (a) there has to be enough creatures with the creature type to matter mechanically (although having a lot in the past also helps) and (b) it has to flavorfully fit. Well, what better in a city world than Rats? And where there's Rats, wouldn't there be a Rat lord?
My one great failing of Gatecrash, by the way, is that I forgot to make an Ooze lord. With the Simic running rampant in the set I had both (a) and (b). Forgive me. I promise to make an Ooze lord the next world where the fates align.
I felt it was the perfect Orzhov card, so we planned to just repeat it. Along the way, we realized that what the set needed wasn't a Pacifism variant but an Arrest variant (the difference being that it stops activated abilities in addition to halting attacking and blocking). The answer was simple: just tweak the card to make it Arrest of Pillory of the Sleepless. We did it and added a mana and voila—One Thousand Lashes.
Let me start by coming clean. I'm a Johnny and I love Oozes. In fact, if you trace my career, one interpretation is that I've spent all my time at Wizards carefully crafting the craziest Ooze deck you ever seen. Here's how it usually works: I design some weird card in green. The card does something weird, making use of resources in an interesting way. Often, a token creature is made. I theme the card with an Ooze flavor and then try my hardest to get the creative team to play along. (Unlike Squirrels, the creative team likes Oozes.)
Next, I have to get through the gauntlet of the rare poll. While the rare poll is good at some things, highlighting the build-around-me Johnny cards is not one of its strengths. Those cards always end up at the bottom of the poll. The non-Johnnies don't know what to do with them—they tend to be narrow—and rate them low.
Normally, development gets rid of the stuff that ends up at the bottom, but I always come in saying, "Don't kill this one." I give my little speech about how we need our Johnny build-around-me rares and I have enough clout that I'm usually able to save them. Ooze Flux falls squarely into this camp.
So where did this design come from? Well, it started with my desire to find a card that would synergize perfectly with evolve creatures. After some thought, I got an idea. What if you had a card that could turn +1/+1 counters into a token creature? This way, you could remove +1/+1 counters off of evolve creatures and then make a creature large enough that it triggers the evolve and puts the +1/+1 counters right back on.
This was all well and good, but I wasn't done yet. You see, this card would also help another of my pet guilds, Selesnya. While working on Return to Ravnica design, I came up with the populate mechanic. One of the thing the populate really wanted was to find a way to make larger tokens to copy. Now, the card makes me care about +1/+1 counters, so that would have to be worked into the deck, but as I said above, I'm a Johnny, so I'm not scared away by hoops to jump through.
Anyways, I am very happy with this design. I'm glad I got another Johnny build-around-me rare printed. I'm happy I got another Ooze into the game. I'm excited to make a card that helps both evolve and populate. All this comes together to make what is my favorite card in the set.
So, for a long time R&D has had a rule. If a card is a hard counter (defined as a counterspell that could counter any spell without any restriction) it has to have in the mana cost. The idea behind this rule is that counterspelling is very blue, so we don't want decks without enough commitment to blue playing hard counters.
During development, Erik Lauer came to me. The development team was interested in making Psychic Strike without . He argued that it would still have two colored mana so it wouldn't be easy to splash outside of a dedicated blue-black deck. We talked about it and decided that we would try a hard counter with two colored mana that weren't . So, depending on how this goes, it will influence the rule in the future. (Odds are it's going to help us start relaxing it a little—the new provisional rule is hard counters require at least two colored mana, one of which must be blue.)
I've gotten a lot of email on this card. What's blue doing? Blue's not a creature-killing color. The answer is that this card is not actually a creature-killing card. Yes, the words "destroy target creature" appear on the card, but that is more of a technical means to do the actions of the card which, taken as a whole, do match the flavor.
Blue is the color of shapechanging. It is also the color of polymorphing (i.e., changing the shape of creatures into other creatures). Blue's polymorphing goes all the way back to the Mirage card Polymorph.
The purpose of blue's polymorphing is not that it uses it as kill but that it has the ability to change it from one threat into another. It's important, for example, that this card turns the creature into a 3/3 and not a 0/1. Perhaps the change can help you, but you still have a 3/3 to deal with.
I do admit that in retrospect I wish this card either exiled the creature or put it on the bottom of its owner's library. It is odd that it sets off death triggers and can be reanimated while the creature it turned into is still on the battlefield. I also wish it was a little more expensive just to make any type of creature removal more difficult for blue.
That said, I do feel this flavor is squarely in blue's color pie.
One of the tricks of doing a multicolor block is figuring out how to spread color fixing as widely as possible. Some colors, like green, have an easy time giving a player access to other colors. Others have a much greater challenge.
The trick in blue is to take advantage of blue's ability to change lands into basic land types. If you peek through past gold sets, you'll notice this is a well we keep going back to, mostly out of necessity.
One of the things I haven't talked too much about was one of the secondary goals of Gatecrash design. Yes, we wanted it to play well by itself, but we also had to think ahead to when it would be played with Return to Ravnica and Dragon's Maze. Each set in this block had to have block synergy built into its DNA.
What this means is that we consciously put in cards that took on an extra meaning when you started mixing and matching the various guilds. Stolen Identity works very well as a Dimir card but it has a secret second use. It's also good when splashed in a Selesnyan deck. Huh? Just a little taste of things to come.
Sometimes we plan the color pie and sometimes it just happens. I'm not really sure, for example, how black became the counter-removing color. I think it just showed up on a card that seemed flavorful in isolation and just started planting itself in R&D's mind as a black thing.
Time goes by and before you know it, we've made a handful of cards that have defined the ability as a black thing. I don't mind it and I think it works well in black. I just find it interesting that it more happened by inertia than careful planning.
In design, this card was called Science! and cost . Okay, it only drew you two cards back then, but still it was a designer favorite in playtests. The rule was when you played it, you had to work the word "science" into the sentence. It would result in conversations like this.
Me: Things are looking pretty bad for me.
Opponent: Yes, they are.
Me: If only I had some force for good to help me out. Oh wait, I do. The power of Science!
Just as I will always refer to Trepanation Blade from Innistrad as Chainsaw (the card was designed by Richard Garfield as a top-down chainsaw), Urban Evolution will always be Science!
In Ravnica block, my favorite guildmage was the Simic Guildmage. (Izzet Guildmage was a close number two.) Nothing's changed this time around. Simic still has my favorite guildmage. This card was designed to be evolve's best friend. First, it allows you to help make creatures evolve by pumping up creatures as they come into play. Second, it then gives you something very useful to do with the +1/+1 counters you've amassed.
The other thing I love about this card is how it manages to make creature growth and card draw intimately connected. The first is heavily green and the second is heavily blue, so it's not something you see intertwined all that much. I love how the Simic flavor ties it so neatly together. So if you ever have the chance to play Zameck Guildmage in Limited, give it a shot. You won't regret it.
Whew, I got to Z. (I have a theme week next week so I didn't have the space to go to a Part 3.) As always, I'd love for you to give me any feedback on these two articles. You can email me, write in this article's thread, or talk to me on any of my social media outlets (Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+).
Join me next week when I try not to Boros with Boros.
Until then, may you find your own favorites of Gatecrash.
Drive to Work #18—Artifacts
This week’s podcast I take a look at one of my favorite card types. (Okay, I like them all, but artifacts still rule.)