AMA with Origins Lead Designer Shawn Main

Posted in Arcana on July 30, 2015

By Wizards of the Coast

Just last week, Magic Origins Lead Designer Shawn Main did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on reddit where he answered a number of questions about the final core set. With Pro Tour Magic Origins coming this Friday, we thought we'd bubble up some of the most interesting questions from that AMA for your perusal.


Q. A lot of people think that you guys severely overrated how well Honored Hierarch would be received, including it in alternate art Clash Pack for instance.

Did you guys really think that card was going to take off? On that topic, which cards by a design basis do you think have exceeded expectations, and which do you think were kind of a letdown and didn't achieve what you wanted?

A. Cards go through a lot of iterations—at various points, Hierarch cost one or two mana, had a bigger body, just gave you mana once, or was a lord. Particularly with low-cost value cards like these, it can be tricky to find the perfect landing point.

The set is still fresh, so I still expect people's evaluations to move around, but in terms of reaction: Jace. Oh my, the reaction to Jace was way more subdued than I expected. Merfolk Looter is crazy powerful and rightly beloved. Even though people have started to latch on, I think players are wildly undervaluing the ability to upgrade your Looter (at the low, low cost of using its ability) into a spell recursion MACHINE.

I also expected to see some creative uses for Demonic Pact, but they're oh so much more creative. Pharika, God of Affliction to give your opponent enchantments so you can cast Shifting Loyalties? YOU'RE DOING IT RIGHT.

Q. Of the sets you designed, Khans of Tarkir and Modern Masters had the most popular Draft formats (and they're probably the two most popular Limited formats since Innistrad; congrats!). Why do you think they were so successful and how were you able to apply those lessons to Origins?

A. Thanks! Those sets had a really strong combination of clear themes with individual build-around cards that you could take in a lot of directions. With Origins, we latched onto the ten color pairs early, but seeded in some sideways strategies. There's a cycle of enchantments at uncommon that don't quite look like a cycle, but represent the Planeswalker's home plane and give you an alternate direction to build in.

Q. What did you expect to be the most influential card out of Magic Origins? Which is your pet card from the set?

A. I'm hoping Evolutionary Leap catches on. It's the kind of value card that's very satisfying when it's good, but with some variation in what you get so it's not just a consistency machine.

Firefiend Elemental is secretly one of my favorite cards. It's a Nik Davidson design and its playtest name was Man of Impeccable Timing. Haste plus renown is super fun. Get in when their shields are down.

Q. Which planeswalker was the most difficult to design/balance? Seeing as how it's been so difficult for people to figure out the power level of one-to-three mana flip walker, it must have required a lot of testing.

A. One of the biggest power level knobs we played with was the transform trigger—do they come back immediately? Do they come back next upkeep? We settled on having them be strong-but-reasonable creatures with a minor quest to immediately get you a full-fledged planeswalker.

I broke my design team apart into mini-teams to work on the planeswalkers, because I knew there would be so many different details that could be executed on in so many different ways. The frameworks for Gideon, Liliana, and Chandra all stuck, but we iterated a lot on Nissa and Jace. Jace started off with much more of a milling theme, and Nissa came with a baby version of Ashaya instead of a land.

Q. Would you rather fight 100 Thopter-sized Hangarback Walkers, or one Hangarback Walker-sized Thopter?

A. Obviously one Hangarback Walker-sized Thopter! I would need a Pyroclasm, nay multiple Pyroclasms to defeat all those Hangarback Walkers, or I would immediately be defeated. Now one giant Thopter, I just need one Shatter and can use my own Thopters to chump and buy time. ALSO, BEST QUESTION. I DECREE THAT YOU WIN AT QUESTIONS

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