Odds and Ends: Kaladesh, Part 3

Posted in Making Magic on October 31, 2016

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Three weeks ago, I started my mailbag column for Kaladesh where I answer your questions about the latest set. You all gave me so many great questions that I ended up making this a three-parter. (Here are the first and second parts.) I took a week off to preview Commander (2016 Edition), but I'm back today to finish answering your questions. That said, let's get to it.

We were very aware that a Vehicle could crew another Vehicle. It came up early in playtesting. The big question we had to face was whether that was okay. So, we did what we do with problems like this: we examined the pros and cons.

Pros

  • It's fun—Having your car "drive" your train is silly, but it brings a smile to your face. One of the cool things about a trading card game is that you get to mix and match components. That means you have opportunities for combinations that flavorfully are not things that would normally ever happen, but games are escapist and it's fun being able make your bird carry a sword.
  • It's good gameplayMagic is at its best when it creates moments of discovery. Realizing that you can use your one creature to crew your first vehicle so that it becomes a creature and can then crew a second larger vehicle is such a moment.
  • It's less rules text—Early Magic tended to add text to cards for flavor rather than gameplay. What we found was leaving things a little more open-ended both created more synergy between the cards and made things easier to understand. Having Vehicles not be able to crew other Vehicles required us writing more words on the cards. In general, less words in rules text is better when we can help it.

Cons

  • It's a flavor missMagic works hard to create a fantasy world. Yes, there are going to be incongruities between cards, but we can control there being incongruities within a subset of cards.
  • Resonance helps gameplay—We try hard to have common sense lead how rules work. Would the player using what they know of the thing come to a certain conclusion? In the real world, cars don't drive trains, so having it work that way might cause confusion because the instinctual answer is "no, Vehicles don't do that."
  • Costing issues—Vehicles being able to crew Vehicles makes Vehicles slightly stronger and thus we have to cost Vehicles taking that into account. This might make Vehicles seem less cool, because this reason for raising costs is mostly invisible.

We went back and forth on this topic. Both sides had some strong arguments. In the end, interestingly, I think it being less rules text was what pushed us toward allowing Vehicles to crew Vehicles. We set Vehicles up such that it wasn't something you wanted to do often, so it wasn't happening all the time, but decided that it being possible as something for players to figure out would be okay.

The simplest answer is to take a look at the Kaladesh Inventions. Save the Gearhulks, which are in the set, almost all of the other cards are either too powerful for Standard (cards that are dominant in higher-power older formats would most certainly warp Standard; Sol Ring, as an example, isn't something we can just throw into a new set) or play into themes that aren't a perfect fit for Kaladesh (for instance, Painter's Servant is very odd in a set where color doesn't mechanically mean anything). It comes down to this. There are reprints we could put into Kaladesh (and there are some we have), but it's mostly not the class of cards that players are asking us to reprint.

Real quick for those that might not know the terminology: An evergreen mechanic is something that we use in (almost) every set. Flying, first strike, and trample are examples of evergeen mechanics. A deciduous mechanic is something we don't use most of the time but is available to any set that wants to use it. Hybrid mana, double-faced cards, and protection are all examples of deciduous mechanics. So what would it take for energy to become deciduous?

To answer this, I have to explain a few things. First off, deciduous is very different from evergreen. Evergreen mechanics are on a list. R&D makes a conscious decision surrounding which mechanics are commonplace enough that we just use them every set. When we change around what's evergreen, I usually write an article about it and tell you. Whether something is evergreen is pretty objective. Deciduousness is a bit more subjective.

Think of it this way: every non-evergreen mechanic is fair game if we need it. If flashback would make a certain block work, I can use flashback. The only issue is mechanics have a certain novelty refresh rate. If I use a mechanic in Block A and then immediately use it again in Block B, its impact in Block B is lessened because of its recent use. Now if it's an evergreen thing, we've written off it feeling novel. Flying is so good for gameplay, we gave up being able to withhold it and bring it back for novelty sake.

So the question about whether something is deciduous really is about at what rate we're willing to reuse it. How useful is it as a tool versus being something exciting? Hybrid mana, as an example, was splashy when we first introduced it but we quickly realized that it had a lot of important functionality. For example, we needed to find a way to make cards in Fate Reforged that functioned as both three-color to play with Khans of Tarkir and two-color to play with Dragons of Tarkir. Hybrid allowed us to do that in a way we couldn't accomplish with our normal tools.

This leads to the question, is energy more tool or more novelty? It's a bit of both. That's what makes this question hard to answer. I could imagine a world where we replaced all cards that had counters to represent number of uses (think of things like Serrated Arrows) with energy counters. They would function in a vacuum similarly but create some synergy between them. On the flip side, it requires players to understand another symbol and might cause some developmental concerns as the cards now have synergy with one another.

My best guess is that we will start for now to use energy in places where it plays a major role. If over time we start finding ourselves using it more and more, I could imagine us one day biting the bullet and accepting energy as a more deciduous thing, but I don't believe that's going to happen in the near future.

The basic functionality is the same. You get energy counters and then spend them on certain activations. Developmentally, how we crafted them, the energy economy, the types of effects we ended using them on—all that was radically different because energy in Kaladesh survived through development, whereas it was killed at the end of design in original Mirrodin.

One of the dangers of previewing the plane of Kaladesh in Magic Origins was creating expectations for what Kaladesh, the plane, would be mechanically. I talked about how we experimented with fabricate making 1/1 flying Thopter creature tokens, but it ended up unbalancing the mechanic as the Thopters were too often the correct answer. We did experiment with the set having more Thopters, but we found they weren't meshing well with the rest of the set.

This made us ask ourselves which path should we take: Should we change the set to allow us to incorporate more Thopters and thus bring us mechanically closer to what we previewed in Magic Origins, or should we lean toward keeping the set as-is and trying to find other ways to make Kaladesh, the set, feel like Kaladesh, the plane, as hinted at in Magic Origins? We liked where the set was, and decided that we were doing a bunch of different things to feel like Kaladesh—and that lots of artifact creature tokens, as opposed to lots of Thopters, was close enough.

Early crew cared not about the combined power of the creatures tapped but rather the number. For instance, crew 3 meant "tap three creatures," not "tap 3 power of creatures." As such, Vehicles had a lot of synergy with smaller creatures and creature tokens. White and red tend to have the most aggro strategies and thus have the smallest creatures, so when we were building the initial archetypes, we wanted to assign someone for Vehicles and red-white made the most sense. This decision pushed the creative team toward making the best Pilots Humans and Dwarves, as those were the humanoid creatures in those colors.

Flash forward to development. Vehicles are having issues because of their reliance on creature tokens (development had to cost them as if you had creature tokens because the synergy was so good, but then it made them bad when you didn't have creature tokens). That's when I suggested basing crew on power because we were trying something in the set codenamed "Ham" and it was working well. Development tried the change and it worked out well.

The problem was we had already established Pilots in white and red, as that was the Vehicle archetype. There was some discussion on whether we wanted to shift the theme, but the creative team had already gone down that path and white and red still worked fine with the new version of Vehicles, so it was decided to just leave the theme in those colors.

R&D has decided to stop using regeneration in new sets. (It's still supported in the game and the cards with it still have it.) In its place we're using "gains indestructible until end of turn." That's what you're seeing in black in Kaladesh.

Here's how R&D looks at a set: We have a whole bunch of goals to accomplish and we have X card slots to do it in. (249 in Kaladesh's case.) Kaladesh, like all sets, has lots of moving pieces. We have mechanical themes and flavor themes, we have various formats to care about, we have numerous player types to address, we have a story we're telling, we have synergy we're trying to create with the block before us and the block after us. There's a lot to do, and while 249 cards sounds like a lot, it gets filled up quickly. Why so little Equipment? We ran out of room. It wasn't a priority in this set.

Note that it isn't that we couldn't have cared about Equipment. Kaladesh thematically makes sense as a place to have Equipment. We chose not to care about it because we chose to care about other things. For instance, Vehicles chew up a bunch of similar mechanical space as Equipment, and Vehicles were something we chose to focus on. So why so little Equipment? Because we chose to do other things instead.

The sneak peek of the plane of Kaladesh in Magic Origins was meant as a teaser, not as a set of restrictions for Kaladesh. We were open to reprints, but the bar for using them was that they enhanced the set we were making and did so better than a card we could make from scratch. In other words, continuity of the plane between Magic Origins and Kaladesh was important, but it was far from our top goal.

Any set that has new mechanics (or brings back old mechanics) is going to create new things to track. Landfall makes you track when you've played a land. Flashback makes you track which flashback cards are in your graveyard. The issues from a complexity level are what we are making you track, how hard it is for you to track, and what ramifications it has for gameplay.

Let's examine energy. What do you have to track? Two things: how many energy counters you have and what permanents you have that require the use of energy counters. How hard is it to track? The first is pretty simple; it's a number you will most likely track using a play aid (counters, tokens, or a place you can write a number). The second is a little more complex, but not too much so. The game already requires you to track costs, so whenever you activate an ability, you have to figure out what resources it requires (mana, sacrifices, discards, etc.).

Remember that I'm talking about the ability to track it, not the strategic ability to understand how best to use it. I often talk about lenticular design, which is making things that grow in depth as you have the ability to understand more. Low-level energy use is "This object requires using some amount of energy. Do I have enough to use it?" That's pretty simple. "How should I best use this resource, as I can't do everything?" might sound complex on the surface, but as that's a question that comes up with mana every turn, it's not as daunting as you might think.

In short, energy is quite lenticular because understanding how to use it on the surface level isn't that hard and the larger strategic applications only need to be thought about when you have the capacity to think about them. In contrast, let's take delirium from Shadows over Innistrad. That's both a much harder thing to track and a more complicated mechanic to understand the repercussions of.

We put Zendikar Expeditions in Battle for Zendikar and you all really liked them. So much so that we decided to make it an ongoing thing. The problem is there's a gap between when we see something and how fast we can react to it. It's a minor miracle we were able to get Kaladesh Inventions into Kaladesh. That was us going as fast as we possibly could go. Shadows over Innistrad didn't have a part of the Masterpiece Series not because we wouldn't have liked it to have one, but because it was logistically impossible to do. So no, the Masterpiece Series is not just limited to new worlds (and remember, Battle for Zendikar was a revisit).

I like to say we always push the pendulum (think hanging rock swinging over sand) in new directions. Things will always come back to center, but we make sure it keeps swinging to different places. Part of keeping Magic fresh is steering new designs away from where recent designs went. Player psychographics are one subset of the vectors we care about.

Fabricate is a creature-based mechanic. As such, we decided it made the most sense to focus it on the three colors with the highest percentage of creatures (in order: white, green, black, red, and blue). This allowed us the most flexibility in the kind of designs we could do and the most room to do it. As we had made the decision to use Servos rather than Thopters, we were already deviating from what Magic Origins had done. As I said above, we did want continuity between Kaladesh in Magic Origins and in Kaladesh, but not at the expense of maximizing good gameplay.

When Shawn Main was working on the design of Magic Origins, he came to me to make sure that the ideas they had for Kaladesh were going to be something that would set us up well for Kaladesh design. That was the first time that I started learning about what exactly the plane of Kaladesh was going to be about. There was probably a year gap between that and us starting exploratory design for Kaladesh. Somewhere during that time is when I realized that energy might finally have found a home. The very first thing I said at our very first exploratory design meeting was "Let's see if we can make energy work." So, I had a hunch about it very early. It wasn't long after the exploratory design team had done some work with energy that I was sure it was a perfect fit for Kaladesh.

The Kaladesh design team came up with "feel like an inventor" as a way to guide the design. The creative team then took that and ran with it. I don't remember when the Inventors' Fair was finalized, but I'm pretty sure it was before we handed off the file to development, so pretty early.

Why do we have individual cards that have keyword mechanics from the past yet don't list the keyword? The answer is that we've found that you need a certain threshold of cards in order to justify using a keyword. Having just a handful of cards makes the keyword problematic, as it forces newer players to learn vocabulary without enough repetition to make it easier. Having one card say "metalcraft" on it is only valuable if you already know what the metalcraft mechanic is.

Then why do we repeat mechanics at all? Because as the game evolves, we find different themes to focus on—usually the kind of thing we would do just one of in a block. When we do it in larger numbers, focus on it and name it, all of a sudden it's something to give definition to a set. If everything that has ever been keyworded becomes off limits, we just make it harder and harder for ourselves to make new sets. Remember that the inspiration for new mechanics is usually something we've done, but at much lower volume. The compromise is that when something appears in enough volume that it's a theme, we usually label it. If not, we just write it out.

"And That Number Shall Be Three"

And we finally come to the end of "Odds & Ends: Kaladesh." I want to thank everyone who took time to send in questions; you asked some great stuff. As always I'm interested in what you thought of this column (as well as parts one and two). You can email me or write to me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week when I talk the talk.


"Drive to Work #378—PAX West 2016"

Magic had a giant presence at PAX West this year as we officially premiered Kaladesh. In this podcast, I walk you through my entire busy weekend.

"Drive to Wortk #379—Replies with Rachel #2"

School started back up, and that meant Rachel returned to carpooling with me, so it was time for another mailbag podcast.

Latest Making Magic Articles

MAKING MAGIC

Thank You for Being a Friend by, Mark Rosewater

Two summers ago, I wrote five articles where I revisited the color pie philosophies of white, blue, black, red, and green. The color pie is crucial to Magic because it's the backbone for ...

Learn More

MAKING MAGIC

Looking Back, Part 2 by, Mark Rosewater

To celebrate the release of Modern Masters 2017 Edition, last week I started telling some design stories about some of the cards in the set. I didn't finish, so this week is Part 2 of tha...

Learn More

Articles

Articles

Making Magic Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All

We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience. By clicking any link on this page or by clicking Yes, you are giving your consent for us to set cookies. (Learn more about cookies)

No, I want to find out more