Stories of 'Sifters and Sloggers

Posted in ARTICLES on October 17, 2003

By Randy Buehler

This week I would like to continue my tour of decks you will not see at States next weekend. I don't mean to give you the impression that we make the cards worse every time we find a good way to use them. In fact, we tweak numbers to make cards more powerful at least as often as we tweak numbers to make them worse. However, I've discovered over the years that people seem to enjoy hearing how broken things might have been, so that's what this article is about.

Last week I talked about a Mindslaver deck that was designed to monopolize all the turns in a game. Well, that wasn't the only deck we built for that purpose. (The FFL was quite weird and different when we were testing Mirrodin – the open-ended nature of design, especially all the engine cards, had us testing quite a weird assortment of decks. It was quite a lot of fun, actually.)

Timesifter, Twisted Abomination, Unholy Grotto

"Hellsapoppin' Gizmo" (which you'll know better as Timesifter) got quite a workout last winter. When the card first went into the set, it was a 5-mana artifact that triggered at the end of each player's turn and then put the revealed cards into the graveyard. It didn't take long before some enterprising soul decided to put that card into a deck with both Twisted Abomination and Unholy Grotto. Since the revealed cards went to the graveyard, you could just keep putting the "A-Bomb" on top of your library on every one of your turns, and you would get to keep taking turn after turn after turn until your opponent turned up something that cost at least 6 mana.

At first we thought this combo was kind of cute, so our first inclination was to add a mana to the Gizmo (sorry, "Timesifter"). Even at 6 mana, however, the deck was still decent. More importantly, the more we played with and against this deck the less clever that combo seemed and the more annoying it became. Eventually, we decided it was simply too easy to set the top of your deck up over and over again with Unholy Grotto so we changed it to remove cards from the game. You can still set it up, but you'll have to find a new card to put on top every time.

We thought that would be the end of the Timesifter deck, but it still kept getting played. It wasn't nearly as consistent, and thus it was no longer overwhelmingly powerful, but it would be pretty unhealthy to introduce a deck to the world that could routinely take all or most of the remaining turns of a game. R&D likes players to interact with each other and there isn't a whole lot of opportunity for interaction if one player never gets to play. Part of the problem was that many games would end as soon as a Timesifter hit the table. Since it used to trigger at the ends of turns, the person who played it would get to flip over their top card right away and (assuming his or her deck was running properly) immediately start taking all the rest of the turns. Even if the opponent had an answer in hand, they might be tapped out (or it might be a sorcery) and so they never got the chance to use it. In the end, we decided to guarantee that another player would always get at least one more turn after the Timesifter hit the table, and we did that by having it trigger at the beginning of each turn's upkeep. With this reduction in the overall power-level of the card, we dropped it back down to 5 mana. Further testing showed that this version of Timesifter was still fun, but was quite challenging to abuse and so that's the way the card got printed.

Moving 'Ambidextrous Knight' to white left a spot for Arc-Slogger

When Mirrodin first came in from design it included a red rare known as "Ambidextrous Knight," which was a 5-mana 3/3 that got +4/+4 if it was equipped with exactly two pieces of equipment. When white evolved into the color that gets bonuses for using equipment, that card clearly needed to move into white. Once it got there we decided it would be more fun if you just to keep piling more and more equipment onto your guy (a la Rabid Wombat) and so the Ambidextrous Knight turned into Loxodon Punisher.

My real point is that shifting the Knight into white left us with a red rare hole. We asked the designers to submit new suggestions and when they did there was one card that fairly leapt off the page: Arc-Slogger. Not everyone thought it was super-cool right away, but our "Johnny" contingent was instantly turned on by it, and so we put it into the set. Eventually, the rest of the team came to like it too and we actually got a little carried away making it better and better. The initial version was 4RR for a 4/5, but for a while we tested it at 3RR for a 3/5 that could deal three damage every time you activated it.

The Slogger Gambit

Arc-Slogger

The good news was that this card was pretty easy to test: Put 90ish cards into a deck with four of them and then see how often you got to play Arc-Slogger and then immediately win the game as soon as you got to untap. The bad news was that this happened quite often. At 3 damage, Arc-Slogger was essentially a one-card combo. You did have to have at least 85 cards in your deck to be able to activate him 7 times, but that cost simply wasn't high enough. In addition to being too powerful, this version of Arc-Slogger wasn't much fun to play with (or against) either. It was kind of interesting in theory to think about whether it was worth it to play a deck with more than 60 cards, and figuring out the precise number of cards to play was a kind of interesting puzzle, but when it came time to actually play Magic, all that thinking was already done. The gameplay itself that involved Arc-Slogger was fairly boring and straightforward.

We decided we had to go back to just 2 damage. Now if you want to use him to single-handedly win the game it costs 100 cards and more mana than you'll usually have access to in one turn. We decided to give him back his fourth point of power when we lowered the damage back down to 2, and we also decided to leave him at 5 mana.

The result is quite a good, fun, and interesting card. A couple FFLers continued to toy around with decks that contained Arc-Slogger and more than 60 cards, arguing it was still worth surrendering a little consistency in order to be able to activate him more than 4 times. I'm not sure what the right answer is to that question, but I am sure that the Arc-Slogger we published is quite a good card and one you should not be surprised to run into at States.

Last Week's Question

What do you think of Mindslaver?
Super cool, what an awesome card 5318 49.9%
Kinda cool 2714 25.5%
It's ok 1254 11.8%
Very frustrating, I wish you hadn't printed it 742 7.0%
Annoying 627 5.9%
Total 10655 100.0%

Excellent.


Randy can be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.

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