Frilled Mystic

Posted in Card Preview on January 4, 2019

By Melissa DeTora

Melissa is a former Magic pro player and strategy writer who is now working in R&D on the Play Design team.

Hello, Magic fans! Melissa DeTora here, and I'm back in article form to show you a sweet new card from Ravnica Allegiance. If you're new here or not familiar with who I am or what I do, I am part of the Play Design team in Magic R&D. My team is responsible for the competitive balance of Magic's most popular formats, mainly Standard and Limited. I used to write a weekly Play Design column here on DailyMTG, but that column is much more sporadic now and usually written by other members of Play Design. In this column we talk about Play Design philosophy and explain how and why we do what we do. Today, I'm going to get into our thought process and goals for today's preview card, and dig a bit into our philosophy of how we design for Standard.

Our story begins during Guilds of Ravnica set design. We were trying to craft a Limited format in which players could draft any of the five guilds, and branch out into three colors when the cards and mana fixing fell their way. Many of our Limited sets have ten draftable color pairs. Ravnica sets are unique in that generally the draftable color pairs are whatever guilds are represented in each set, which in this case is only five. As our goal is to design a deep Limited format, we looked for ways to get players to draft decks outside of the five guilds. Some of the things we did was add more Guildgates and splashier powerful cards, and single-card, directional build-around cards like Guild Summit.

Soon enough, we discovered that playtesters were drafting everything, in that they were taking the most powerful cards and fixing in each pack and playing three- and four-color decks. It was really hard to get a good mix of players in a given draft who were sticking to two colors but also felt that they had enough choice that they could switch the direction that their deck was headed. As we tried to find that right balance, we added a cycle of cards that went back in the other direction, to incentivize players to stick to one guild. Enter the uncommon CCDD cycle.

The name of this cycle may not make sense to many of you, but this abbreviation is something we use often in Magic R&D. C refers to one color of mana in a card's cost, while D refers to a second color. Therefore, CCDD means two mana of one color and two of a second, as you can see in the mana costs below:

  • Conclave Cavalier
  • Truefire Captain
  • Nightveil Predator
  • Golgari Findbroker
  • Crackling Drake

We had two main goals with these cards. The first was to provide players strong cards that give an incentive to stick to two colors in Draft. The second goal was to make awesome, appealing uncommon cards for players who didn't want to opt in to the set's themes. To accomplish the first goal, we gave the cards heavy color requirements. For the second, we wanted the cards to play great with what each guild is trying to do but not force the player to play heavily into convoke, jump-start, and so on.

Once we had our designs and got them to a spot where they were doing what we needed them to do in Limited, our next step was to play with these cards in Constructed. After all, they were pretty sweet and inspired many Play Design team members to build new decks! Some of the designs were super fun, especially at the competitive level. In Play Design, one thing we look for as we playtest Standard are cards and decks with fun play patterns. When we identify those, we look for ways to improve them and the decks they go in to make for a fun experience in Standard. As you can see from real-world Standard results, Crackling Drake and Golgari Findbroker are seeing quite a bit of competitive play. We thought these were the most fun cards of the five. Crackling Drake was my personal favorite card in Guilds of Ravnica, and I loved building decks with it. Golgari Findbroker is a simple value card for midrange decks. It's reminiscent of Eternal Witness, so we were sure players were going to find a home for it. As we playtested, we looked for fun ways to improve the environment around these cards so that they would end up in good spots in competitive Standard.

During our Play Design period for Guilds of Ravnica, we also began set design for Ravnica Allegiance. This set would have a similar set structure to Guilds of Ravnica, and we were especially looking to complete the CCDD cycle. As we were designing this cycle, we looked for cards that were inspiring to us or reminded us of decks we liked playing long ago. One card that did this for me was Mystic Snake.

I have so many awesome memories with Mystic Snake. I was a pretty competitive player during Invasion block and was really into building decks and playing them in tournaments. I did a lot of brewing. I loved Invasion block due to its multicolored nature and all the options it gave me. To this day, multicolored sets remain some of my favorite sets.

When Apocalypse was released, I remember being blown away with the fact that Wizards pushed enemy color pairs! We even got sweet new enemy pain lands! While there were so many awesome cards from that set that I couldn't wait to start building with, one of the cards that caught my eye the most was Mystic Snake. I played with this card so much, in so many different decks. One of my favorite decks from that era was Snaketongue, a three-color deck featuring Mystic Snake and Flametongue Kavu, and plenty of other two-for-ones. I was so excited about this deck that I booked a flight Milwaukee to play in the next Standard Grand Prix.

Now, this was 2002, and I was very young, and much worse at Magic than I was when I was in my prime. I also ended up cutting the Mystic Snakes from the deck (who paid four mana for things back in 2002, anyway?). I did not do very well at that Grand Prix, but I did get paired against Mike Turian in a feature match! Who would have thought that we would both end up working in Magic R&D years later?

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Two future Magic designers

I'm sure by now you can see to what I'm alluding to. I'm going to show you my Ravnica Allegiance preview card. But first, a very important piece of information I must tell you: the playtest name of this card was Mystic Snek.

Frilled Mystic

Designing the Simic card was one of the trickiest of the cycle. Historically, Simic cares about very specific things, such as +1/+1 counters and making creatures into different shapes and sizes. We wanted this card to be powerful and have a generic, appealing ability but still feel like a Simic card. In the end, the Mystic Snake design was what we liked best.

And there you have it. A story about how we had to solve a problem for Limited and ended up with a cycle of cards for two Ravnica sets that were appealing and fun for different types of players. These were some of my favorite cards to work on and build with, and I learned that even after many years, many cards, and many rules iterations, the core of Magic play has not changed very much. We're still casting cool creatures and finding awesome synergies. Magic history is a very powerful tool for play designers. We use our experience or our knowledge of Magic history daily, when thinking about power level, play patterns, and what makes Magic fun.

With Ravnica Allegiance on the horizon, we'll have cards from all ten guilds and a complete shock land cycle, which will greatly increase deckbuilding options for players. I can't wait to see what Standard decks get played. Thanks for reading, and have fun brewing with the new set!

Until next time,

Melissa DeTora

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