Artifactual Development

Posted in Card Preview on September 13, 2016

By Ian Duke

Hello again! I'm Ian Duke, a senior game designer here in Magic R&D and lead developer of Kaladesh. What does it mean to develop a set? Well, the easiest way to think of development is as the second half of the design process. During development, we focus on executing on the vision of the set. Are the themes showing up in the ways we want them to? Are the colors balanced? Is the Limited environment fun? Is the set adding new decks to build in Constructed? Is the set accessible to newer players?

One of the things we thought about a lot during development was how we envision Kaladesh fitting in to the larger context of Magic. It's one thing to balance the set to play well with itself, and that's what we're thinking about when we work on a Limited format, like Booster Draft. But we also wanted to make sure that Kaladesh offered more for larger formats that it's a part of, like Standard, Modern, or Commander.

There's been a lot of excitement surrounding energy and Vehicles as the two brand-new, splashy mechanics of the set. Today I'd like to talk about the role of artifacts and planeswalkers in the set, and show off two awesome new preview cards.

Adding Color to a World of Artifacts

The design team's vision for the set was to make the player feel like an inventor. And what inventor would feel complete without a host of awesome artifacts to play with? We knew early on that artifacts would play an important role in the identity of the set and what it contributes to Standard and to Magic as a whole.

We did want to be careful, though. If we made the artifact-matters theme too "loud," it could risk drowning out the rest of the themes of the set. We didn't want to create another Mirrodin, which was all about artifacts and nothing else. In order to convey the theme of feeling like an inventor, we wanted to make sure that playing with cool artifacts was something you could do, not something you had to do.

One big risk with having lots of powerful artifacts in a set is that any deck can play them. If every deck is playing the same generically strong artifacts, then things start to feel like a soup of powerful cards without any real identity. That's the opposite of how a set that's all about invention should feel.

One way we tackled this problem was by making sure that some of the power of playing with artifacts comes from nonartifact cards that reward you for playing with artifacts. On its own, a particular artifact might not be quite strong enough, but when you start combining it with cards that care that it is an artifact, that can boost the power level up to the competitive level.

Glint-Nest CraneUnlicensed DisintegrationToolcraft Exemplar

This let us preserve color identity even in decks that had a lot of artifacts. Now it matters what kind of artifact deck you have, and different colors use artifacts in different ways. Cards with fabricate and other colored cards that create artifacts also let us infuse more color into artifact decks.

When we transitioned into testing Kaladesh in Standard Constructed, we were still exploring the balance of how strong our artifacts should be. For some designs, it was difficult to nail that sweet spot where it was strong enough for some decks and strategies, but not so strong that you'd put it in any deck. One way we addressed this was by aiming each artifact at a very different strategy. For example, we had artifact creatures that were fast and aggressive, but would have less impact if the game went long. Other artifacts were more combo-style cards that required a lot of building around to make work. But we still felt we lacked one more knob that would help us tune our artifacts to the right level.

That's when Ben Hayes came up with the idea of adding activated abilities that use colored mana to some of the artifacts. This would let us very directly impact which decks they could go in. The first candidate we settled on for this "experimental upgrade" was this cute little fellow:

Bomat Courier

Fondly nicknamed "the mailbug" in playtesting, Bomat Courier quickly found its way into both our hearts and our aggressive red decks. As a 1/1 creature with haste for one mana, Bomat Courier can often chip away for a few points of damage before an opponent can put a creature in its way. And because it's an artifact, it can power up or benefit from several other Kaladesh cards that fit nicely into an aggressive deck.

But the real strength of this little creature is in its abilities. Each time Bomat Courier attacks, it comes home with a fresh new card underneath. When your hand size starts to get low, or if the Bomat Courier is in danger, simply sacrifice it and refill on cards. It's not uncommon for Bomat Courier to deal 3 damage to an opponent and then draw 3 cards later in the game. Not a bad deal for two total mana!

Calculated Risks

We also aimed several artifacts to be in the "build around me" space. Normally R&D is wary of efficient noncreature artifacts with powerful abilities or combo potential, because they can be difficult to remove or interact with and can dominate a game if left unchecked. But in the spirit of a set themed around invention, we decided to be less conservative than we might otherwise be with some of these powerful artifacts. So if you're the type of player who enjoys brewing decks and trying to find the new breakout combo deck that R&D didn't anticipate—good luck! There just might be something there...

PanharmoniconGhirapur Orrery

Planeswalking for Variety's Sake

I've talked a lot today about aiming cards at different types of decks, and why that diversity of strategy is important for the health of the game. That's especially true of our planeswalker cards. With four different planeswalker cards in Kaladesh, we wanted to make sure they would each promote different types of gameplay and appeal to different players.

So far, you've seen three of the four. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is an all-around all-star who gives red decks some new angles of attack, including bursts of mana and a very red form of card advantage. Nissa, Vital Force is most at home in a midrange green deck that wants to grind out its opponents later in the game. And Saheeli Rai is for the true inventors, asking you to figure out what the most exciting thing to copy for a turn might be.

Chandra, Torch of DefianceNissa, Vital ForceSaheeli Rai

The fourth character to have a planeswalker card in Kaladesh is the Vedalken Dovin Baan. When our creative team introduced me to his character, they described him as a conniving bureaucrat who can detect and exploit flaws in his enemies and their plans. He sounded like the perfect fit for a player who likes to slow down the game, picking apart their opponent's plans piece by piece until finally the screws have been turned so tight that no hope remains and all that's left is utter despair...sorry, I'm daydreaming again. Can you tell I'm a control player at heart?

Dovin Baan

Dovin Baan gives control decks just about everything they could want: defense against creatures, card draw, life gain, and a pretty reliable "protect the king"–style win condition. Trust me, you do not want to be on the receiving end of that emblem. Ouch. So if you prefer a planeswalker who's more about drawing cards and countering spells than attacking with big creatures, then Dovin Baan's the Vedalken for the job.

Get Out There and Invent!

Thanks for joining me for a glimpse into the world of developing Kaladesh. I hope that you've been enjoying preview season, and that the wheels are already turning in that brilliant inventor's mind of yours. I can't wait to see what new decks you brew up, and how you'll surprise us next.

If you have questions, comments, or thoughts about the set, or anything else going on in the world of Magic, come stop by the Magic developers Tumblr at wizardsdeveloper.tumblr.com. We try to post a few thoughtful answers to community questions there each week, and we love hearing what you all have to say.

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