A New Challenger Approaches

Posted in Card Preview on May 21, 2018

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

It's finally time for Battlebond!

This is the . . . wait. I can't hear you.

Let's try that again.

It's finally time for Battlebond!

You can't see me right now (if you can, please come out from wherever you're hiding and let me know), but my hands are raised in excitement. I've been waiting to talk about this one for a long time. My Set Design team wrapped up all the way back in November 2016, and while that's not quite as long as Mark Rosewater had to wait for Unstable, I've still had to keep this one under the lid for years.

But not anymore. Today I can tell you all about it: what Battlebond is, how you play it, the kinds of mechanics in it—oh, and a bunch of preview cards, too.

Today, I will be showing off a ton of commons and uncommons to set the Limited stage and provide examples of what I'm talking about. And then, at the end, there's a pretty sweet rare that has a pretty good chance of becoming a Commander staple.

But don't scroll all the way to the bottom yet! You'll want to know some of this information as you prepare to go out and play Battlebond in stores.

Ready? Let's go!

Throwing the First Pitch

In the beginning, there was nothing.

And then, there was . . . a text message!?

Each year in the recent age of Magic, we try come out with an "innovation Draft" release. For example, the past two years that has been Conspiracy: Take the Crown and Unstable. Shawn Main has been pegged with figuring out what the next one in that chain would be.

And then Senior Magic Designers Ethan Fleischer and Shawn Main had a conversation that basically went like this:

Ethan: Should we make a supplemental booster release designed around Two-Headed Giant? That format is growing in popularity.

Shawn: That's an awesome idea!

In a "Doc-Brown-inventing-the-flux-capacitor" moment, the two of them had cast the initial DeLorean down a long track, which would send this whole set swirling into 88-mph motion.

Not long after, they were trying out their first prototypes. Magic's first ever Two-Headed Giant–focused set was born.

But what is Two-Headed Giant? How does it work? And how does drafting within that format work?

For a quick recap in Two-Headed Giant, you and a friend sit down and play Magic across from another pair of people. You have your own lands, your own cards in hand, your own permanents—but you share 30 life and a turn. You draw simultaneously, attack simultaneously, and so on. If your team gets knocked down to 0 life, you lose.

How does drafting it work? Well, you and your friend sit down at a table along with three other teams. You open a pack. You pick two cards together—talking as you wish—and put them into one stack. Then you grab the next pack and continue, taking two cards at a time, similar to a normal draft. Continue until all four packs are gone. At the end of the draft, you'll build two decks out of your shared card pool. So, importantly, you aren't selecting cards in a "one for me, one for you" way: you can build your decks after drafting finishes.

Anyway, to wrap up the story: Shawn Main led the initial exploration and design for the set, coming up with some of the core ideas. Because Shawn isn't here to introduce his team for the set, I feel like I should do the honors! Let me just put on my Shawn Main hat.

Meet the Initial Design Team

Shawn Main (Vision Lead)

I remember when Shawn walked over to my desk one day years ago and said, "I have an idea for this weird. . .multiplayer. . .Draft. . .thing. Do you want to play?" I walked into a room and tried one of the very first versions of Conspiracy, at a time when nobody else at Wizards was trying sets like that. That was the moment I realized the depth of Shawn's talent and ingenuity: he's not just a fantastic card designer, but he could engineer entirely new products, too. He was the lead designer and innovator for Battlebond. Sadly, he has since left the company for another exciting venture—but we still stay in touch, and I already can't wait to team up with him at GP Las Vegas for some Battlebond!

Sam Burley

You know him from doing art like Aether Hub and Supreme Verdict—but lesser known is Sam's talent as a game designer. He was one of two creative representatives on this team but brought plenty of design chops to the table as well. He even managed to get an art piece of his own into the final set! This multifaceted man helped bring the set to life in every way possible.

Adam Prosak

Adam was the experienced Play Design/Development representative on the team. His goal was to make sure the team had a vision and mechanics that could be executed on, and to look for balance concerns along the way. Doing his job well helped set up the rest of the process. I'd say he definitely was successful!

Robert Schuster

Rob is a multiplayer fanatic. I feel like he's tried every format under the sun . . . and probably some underground as well. He has a fantastic pulse on the community, and always reels us back to "Let's make the game fun." It's very easy when you're in the nitty-gritty of making a Magicset to lose sight of making the most fun cards possible, and infusing his love of fun into the set helped a lot with the design handoff.

Additionally, Shawn's team also featured Melissa Li and Jules Robins. But since Jules and Melissa are also on the Set Design team, I'll introduce them there instead. (Though, admittedly, having the same introduction twice would make some sense for Two-Headed Giant.)


Okay. Now it's time to take off Shawn's hat.

Shawn led the set and was about ready to hand it off to me for the full Set Design process. And that's when I put together my team, who I'd like to introduce to you now!

Meet the Set Design Team

Gavin Verhey (Design lead)

After finishing up the design of Commander (2017 Edition), there was another product coming down the pike, codenamed "Slingshot"—or as you know it now, Battlebond. (Who out there can guess where the codename came from? Let me know on Twitter.) Given that I had been on both Conspiracy teams, and led both Archenemy: Nicol Bolas and Commander 2017, I had gained a lot of knowledge about how to make these multiplayer products work—and Battlebond was a perfect fit!

Ian Duke

Ian is a design tour de force. He's calm, collected, and can always see three steps ahead. When I asked him a design question for Battlebond, he would pause for a second before giving an answer, and in that pause, it felt like he was playing out games at lightning speed in his head to reach a conclusion. He knew what areas to push on, and when to push on them. Ian was a fantastic guide and strong second here, continually looking at things from a Play Design perspective, and I learned a ton by working closely with him.

Melissa Li

We really wanted to bring the world of Kylem—the plane Battlebond on which takes place—to life. So, the set had a whole creative concept push associated with it, and, to bake that into this delicious pie of a set from the beginning, two creative representatives were put on the team! Mel is a fabulous person, a fierce Commander player (have you seen her on Game Knights?) and really brought an extra sense of fun to the team. And like Sam, she designed some really sweet top-down cards for the set as well. She has since left the company, but working with her on this project as her swan song was a true pleasure.

Jules Robins

Jules and I are sort of like a one-two punch of a duo. Every set I've led (that has been announced) has Jules somewhere in the mix of it. He was on m yArchenemy team. And my Commander 2017 team. And my Commander (2018 Edition) team. And my—oh, right, I can't talk about that one yet. Anyway, he was a welcome addition to the Battlebond team! I always love working with Jules.

Something Jules really brought to the team was the knowledge from Shawn's Vision Design team. Just like how Mel helped carry the creative vision all the way through, Jules helped carry the original vision all the way through while cautioning us against accidentally trying paths they had already spent time discovering didn't work. This was very helpful!

Michael Yichao

Something I really like to do as often as possible for my teams is bring someone on from outside R&D. There are a lot of great ideas and talents at Wizards, and I strongly believe they aren't just in R&D. It's fantastic to harness those when I can. Additionally, I really want to make sure I can capture the perspective of someone who doesn't look at the intricacies of sets daily. What is exciting, and what looks cool? Not just from a game designer standpoint, but from a Magic player Standpoint? That is really important, and sometimes in R&D, we can get too close to the set to see it perfectly. Plus, for Battlebond, a set which was supposed to have a more casual feel, that kind of perspective was crucial!

Michael Yichao, who worked on our WPN and Trade Marketing team at the time, was my pick for this. He had expressed interest in design work, and I had seen some of his cards come through for hole-filling. Additionally, he has a very creative background. I was happy to pick him for this slot! He has since left Wizards but ended up being a great fit—he even got a mythic rare into the set, nearly unchanged from brain to print!

Welcome to Valor's Reach

Like how Conspiracy led us to create Fiora, so, too, did Battlebond get its own world.

Kylem is the brand-new plane Battlebond takes place on. All of the new cards in Battlebond are set on this world, and the vast majority of them really focus on the stadium of Valor's Reach.

Many different forms of combat take place in Valor's Reach. Beings come from far and wide to watch competitions in the stadium. And by far, one of the most popular forms of combat is two-on-two battling. Many have fought here, and a few particularly notable duos have quite the fandom around them.

Also note, the fighting here is non-lethal. Unlike other worlds where it's often about brutally smashing the opposition, here you want to win with style. Crowds come from all over—it's important to put on a show!

Earlier I mentioned fandom, and Battlebond has plenty of it. Battlebond plays in a creative space no other set really has. (I know that me and the Creative team had a really fun time sliding all kinds of Easter eggs into the set—and I can't wait to see how many you all catch!) Battlebond has a lighter tone than a lot of our sets as well, allowing us to have real fun with our mixed vibe of sports and video games.

Art by: Mike Burns

Almost all of the world's most popular sports and games involve teams, which brings us back to one of the awesome things about Two-Headed Giant: you get to play with someone else on your team! You get to talk, laugh, and high-five them. We noticed it was a great opportunity for people to play with those who might not normally: a family member, a significant other, someone who is newer to Magic or hasn't played in a while—so we wanted to deliver an experience that was great for all of those players while maintaining Magic's fun, dynamic gameplay.

Where we landed was really making Battlebond about good, clean, traditional Magic gameplay. We wanted a lot of the cards to be understood quickly, especially at lower rarities. This is important because playing with double the permanents on the battlefield from two players ups the board complexity a ton. Trust me—there are still plenty of tricky plays and plotting strategy to be found in Battlebond.

Also, we knew it was going to one of the first times many people would be playing Two-Headed Giant. So, we wanted to make sure we captured all the awesome pieces, while reducing confusion around how the rules worked wherever we could.

What were some of the ways we did this? Let's get into it!

Power, Overwhelming

Now, as you can imagine, some pretty unique things can happen when you and a teammate play together that don't normally occur in regular Magic. There are a few different categories.

One is cards that say "each player" or "each opponent"—these affect everyone! So, if something says "each opponent discards a card," it's a lot stronger than normal. That means two cards instead of one!

Battlebond definitely has some of that. However, what we found quickly was that we preferred positive interactions for your team to negative ones for your opponent's. There are two main reasons for this:

First, we did some research and found that a lot of people became confused when it came to life total changes happening here. A card like Infectious Horror, for example, that reads, "Each opponent loses 2 life," caused a fair amount of pause among inexperienced 2HG players: was that 2 life or 4 that the team lost? The answer is 4, but the fact that even experienced Magic players who hadn't played Two-Headed Giant didn't know was telling. (As a result, the set only has one card that damages each opponent, and it's a rare that's pretty clear about how it works.)

Second, it's a lot more fun to do something awesome together that makes you feel like you got to team up than for one player to play a card that hurts both opponents. Doing something awesome together sets up this great "high-five moment"—something we talked about a lot during design—while playing one card that hurts both opponents just feels like a gut punch to the other team and isn't nearly as fun.

Okay. So let's finally see some cards. (And please keep in mind, most of these today are meant to showcase how Battlebond Limited plays out.)

Here's one card that was put into the file right away and was a perfect fit:

This is the perfect mana-acceleration spell for this set. Not only can you ramp up your mana, but you can also put it onto your teammate's land to turbo them ahead by a mana on that turn. A play you can expect to see plenty is a turn-two Fertile Ground on your teammate's land, and then they play a three-drop right away. That's the fun layup and alley-oop moment this set tries to set up.

Fertile Ground is a card that you look at in a little different context here, since it can also help out another player. But it's always mana acceleration for one of you. Then, there's a class of cards that have the potential to do something far different than what you're used to!

For example, check out this card:

Peregrine Drake untaps five lands when it enters the battlefield—but they don't have to be your lands! Though, up until now, this fact has mostly been used by opponents who find humor in suggesting that you untap their lands, it's finally relevant . . . and quite strong!

On turn five, your teammate can float five mana, then have you cast Peregrine Drake, untap five of their lands, and give them ten mana for the turn. This card is especially strong in this format, and something you will really want to pick up when you have the opportunity.

Heroes Never Die Early

Two-Headed Giant is played in single-game matches. The games tend to take longer than a normal game given twice the number of players, and with so many permanents on the board, there's a lot to consider. Most of the time, the games are full of great back and forth with wonderful and exciting haymakers thrown by both teams. Some of my favorite games ever have come from playing Battlebond.

However, it is still Magic—and because you're only playing one game for the whole match, having mana trouble is compounded. You do get a free mulligan to help mitigate that. But still, we looked for ways to reduce the chances anybody gets stuck on only a couple lands. We wanted as many games as possible to be awesome back-and-forth battles.

So, we came up with an idea: what if there were cards that were strong enough to make your deck but would help out everybody at the table?

I typed this card into the file:

You'll note a few things about this card.

The first is perhaps the name: GLHF—shorthand for "good luck, have fun"—often said at the beginning of a multiplayer online game, as the idea of this card was that he showed up early and wished everybody a good game.

The second is that the creature type is incredibly wrong. Sometimes you're changing a bunch of cards at once and . . . things happen. Maybe the drake only has one eye. I don't know.

But most importantly of all is that game text. This ended up being great! Evasive abilities like flying are especially strong in Two-Headed Giant, and this is a card you're going to usually want to play. And it was just another way to make sure everybody was in the game.

But why discard, too? After all, that's a lot of decisions to make at once. Cards for everyone!

Let me introduce you Soaring Show-Off:

There's plenty of internal discussion about whether this is stronger or weaker than a normal Wind Drake in Two-Headed Giant. On one hand, your teammate gets to potentially use their card first. On the other, you probably are low on mana after casting it, so you probably don't benefit from the card right away.

But either way, this card will often make your deck, and I can assure you, it feels so satisfying to play it and give your teammate the card they need off the top of their library.

There are a few different cards like this in the set at common (and, in fact, one later on in this very article). Keep your eyes open for them.

Setting Up the Assist

Creating cards like Soaring Show-Off was one way to make sure people's draws were smoothed out. But it was far from the only implementation.

In Shawn Main's design process, they had been looking for fun ways to encourage discussion between the two players and to create those great moments of teaming up. They created a mechanic called dramatic entrance. Here are some example cards:

The idea here: it was a kicker cost anybody could pay. In Two-Headed Giant, you could pay it or your teammate could pay it, and in normal one-on-one Magic, you could just target yourself and pay the kicker.

It had a lot of promise, but it had a few issues:

  1. You basically never wanted to play these cards without their dramatic entrance, and because your teammate had the mana for them, it was always right to dramatic entrance them. This just meant that ever casting them without their dramatic entrance effect was wrong.
  2. It rewarded hitting all of your land drops a lot of the time, as opposed to mitigating the games when you didn't. If you were short on mana and had one of these in your hand, but your teammate was hitting all their land drops, that wouldn't help you cast it any easier.
  3. The set was to come out hot on the heels of Dominaria, which was planning to use kicker as a mechanic already. We wouldn't want something so similar too soon.

There was one playtest early on in particular where Kelly Digges was playing the set. After expressing some of these frustrations about the mechanic, I could see where he was coming from. And that's when he said something crucial:

"It was so frustrating having these stuck in my hand while my teammate had plenty of spare mana. I just wish . . . I don't know. We could have both helped pay the cost for it or something."

If this was a comic strip, you would have seen a lightbulb flash on over my head.

I went back to my desk and started working on a new version of the mechanic. After running it by a few people and getting some tentative rules buy-in, I brought it to the Battlebond Design team and they were on board.

Let me introduce you to assist:

We did exactly that: both players can pay the cost for an assist spell.

This played great right away, and really helped smooth out most of the issues it had before. Now, you can share mana however you'd like to cast these cards! (Save for the color costs—you must pay that yourself. We also tried it as sharing color costs, but it was just baffling to players for the proper decision be putting a blue and black assist card in, say, the other player's white-green deck.)

In Two-Headed Giant, this is a really important mechanic at common that can do everything from smooth draws to giving you some really big plays early on. One thing we were worried about was that it might not be appealing outside of Two-Headed Giant at all—but fortunately that wasn't the case. We made a couple rares targeted at Commander play that can be political tools someone else might want to help you cast. You'll just have to wait and see what we came up with there, so I'll let the speculation begin.

You may have some rules questions about how assist works, especially in a format like Commander. I'll direct you to the mechanics article to learn all about it.

Have You Seen My Illusion?

Speaking of the mechanics and Commander play, a key piece of the mechanics puzzle for Battlebond is partner with.

In case you missed it last week, here's a taste of what's going on:

I have so much to say about these cards. Let's start back at the beginning.

If you wish to make a Magic card from scratch, you must first invent the universe . . . okay, maybe that's a bit too far. Let's just go to the beginning of Battlebond.

When Shawn was working on the set and its vision, he looked for mechanics that could highlight teaming up and these cool characters. Nothing we had done stood out louder than partner.

But there was a problem: partner was an ability for Commander. Not only did it do nothing in Two-Headed Giant, but it was actively confusing: could you play with commanders in this format, too? So, his first attempt was that he would make cards with "partner" simply a tag cards cared about, but they could also be commanders. For example, "Draw two cards. If you control a partner, draw three cards instead."

This was pretty one-note and parasitic, so it didn't really work out well. So, Shawn went onto something else: what if you could guarantee that two cards always showed up in packs together? That would be exciting!

And, so, the first implementation of partner with (then called "duo") was born. These always came in packs together—just like partner with—and the way these worked was that when one entered the battlefield, target player could pay a cost. If they did, that player would search their library or graveyard to find the card's buddy.

These were a blast: you played yours, and your teammate got theirs, and then you got to land them both on the table together! It really felt like a pair of new challengers was walking into the arena. We were on board with the mechanic—so we kept it.

As we played, we learned a bunch and made changes.

First, we learned that searching out of the graveyard was seriously unfun. The right thing to do was to not play the second part of the duo until the other one died to then just loop the two creatures forever. While that would provide extra utility if, say, your teammate drew the other part of the duo naturally, looping from the graveyard over and over was so frustrating that we needed to cut that part out.

Here's an example of what the cards looked like after that:

The other problem was that paying the mana to go find the other part of the duo was a bit tacked on and meant that getting them both into play at about the same time happened less. Additionally, it was basically never right to cast them without their duo cost, so the mana costs were a bit of a lie. It meant that sequencing did even more than it had already.

But there was a problem: the reason the color was there was so you could play them both in the same Commander deck! If you took that out, Toothy and Pir couldn't be played in the same deck together because of the color identity rule; if one was your commander, the other one wouldn't be within your color identity.

We needed to come up with a solution. After all, having these be commander options was important from the very beginning!

So, we began to investigate other options. For example, what if we gave the cards a new frame and a color indicator dot to show, in a subtle way, that they were two colors without radically tripping up gameplay? Here's an example our fantastic graphic designer James Arnold whipped up for us:

We tried many different frames, but none of them had people really enthused about the solution. At the same time, I was trying playtests with Commander players using these cards and kept getting the feedback that they wanted to search the graveyard as well to get their synergy pair again. Without it, the cards were going to be a lot less exciting for Commander. The Commander players really wanted them both as your commander.

Wait . . . both be your commander?

That's where partner with was born! We still wanted all the same functionality as duo, but also allowing for Commander play. We talked as a department about doing this kind of a riff on the mechanic, because it was a little unusual. We wouldn't be putting the play-as-commander rules on the cards, and it would be a variant on an existing keyword. We came down on the side of yes.

So, there's one final question to answer: why can't these pair with anything?

First of all, partnering with anybody is incredibly powerful. We would want to deploy that carefully, and not late in a set's process.

Second, flavorfully, these creatures really would always show up together. They were built to be played together. Separating them is fairly strange.

Finally, the right thing to do in that world, as we discovered when we playtested it, was actually the opposite of the goal: you wanted to play partner with not with their partner. By playing two halves of two different partner with pairs as your commanders, it means you start up two additional cards because you'll be searching for two different creatures—or, in short, four commanders! That definitely didn't feel right.

I assure you that someday we will see traditional partners again. There's a ton of space left there. When we started this project I didn't expect to end up all the way back around at partner. But I stand by it being the right call for the set, and I'm glad this is the direction we went.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter!

For the Alliance

In Shawn's exploratory process, they tried several different things with the Draft structure and tried to capture all the unusual things that could come up in a Two-Headed Giant draft. One that they quickly identified was color pairs.

When all ten color pairs were supported, figuring out how you should best build your decks was a real challenge. You could split up your colors in many different ways, and often you would get to the end of a draft and still not know what colors you were. It was sort of like a draft where you then had Sealed Deck building at the end. The set needed some way to nudge you.

Additionally, when considering your Draft archetypes, it isn't just about your archetype—it's about the archetype of your team. For example, my green-white deck and strategy might want to look very different depending on whether I pair with a black-red aggressive deck, a blue-black control deck, or a blue-red tempo deck. And, of course, the set should have rewards for these strategies as well.

With ten strongly themed two-color archetypes, that means you must build in synergies for a ton of different potential combinations, and that means the set risks feeling disjointed and/or you are unlikely to be able to support all the archetypes properly.

Shawn's solution for this was to really focus on allied color pairs, using five primary color pairs instead of ten.

Why allied over enemy? Well, allied pairs tended to have more natural strategies to build around that made sense. Decks like blue-black control and red-green ramp are things both natural fits, and there are plenty of great reprints to support.

Additionally, making the colors about allies meant that we could make the partner with creatures (then duos) enemy colors. Commander could use more enemy color legends, and it would allow for many of the fun opposites, creatively speaking, and partner pairs that Battlebond has.

Huh? What does partner have to do with this?

Well, partners should ideally go with one each into the player's decks. That helps make the great moments where you both slam one on the same turn more frequent. So, they should be the opposite of what the rest of the set is pointing toward: if the color pairs were ally colors, they should be enemy colors; if the color pairs were enemies, the partners should be allies. If you draft a blue and a green pair, for example, then if both your giant's two heads are playing ally color decks, the pair won't end up in the same deck together.

Now, with all of that said, you can still draft enemy color combinations. At each table, I usually see one or two enemy colored decks out of the eight. But there are some incentives to being allied colors: multicolor cards! There are some directional multicolor cards in the set, including five at common and ten at uncommon. They're great for nudging you in a direction. For example, here are two reprints:

These are strong Limited cards you'll be happy to put into your deck but can pass without regret if you aren't in those colors. (Though I have to say, Augur Spreeing your teammate's big creature for 4 extra damage feels pretty awesome.)

These serve to help people find direction and a place in the draft—and point people toward ally colors too.

Perhaps you've seen the Battlebond dual lands by now. (My favorite name for them so far is crowd lands because of the saying "three's a crowd," but I suppose we'll see what sticks.) If you haven't seen them, they look like this:

With the set heavily pointed at ally color play, we had to make these ally colors as well. It makes it clear what colors you should be trying to build, instead of being the exact opposite.

And if you're hoping for the enemy ones, have no fear: I have full confidence we will print them someday. They're very high on my list of cards to get into print.

Warriors Have Engaged the Enemy

One of Shawn's original ideas was having a specific kind of card that both players could draft to benefit each other. It was something that you could both work toward and try to make happen. Sometimes people would end up with just a few, and they could enhance each other, and every now and then you could "shoot the moon" and end up with tons of them for a really powerful deck. When I received the set, cards in that vein were included as "manuevers."

Those spells all had the maneuver subtype, and they would scale from how many were in your team's combined graveyards. At common, they mostly did small effects, and at higher rarities, there were a few big swings.

However, there were a few challenges with maneuvers. First, there was constant counting and tracking. Second, there wasn't a great way to interact with them. Third, making a ton of cards that all scaled off each other resulted in them being weak or incredibly strong, and finding that point in the middle was really tricky—if not impossible.

I loved the idea of a deck the team could draft together, though. So, what about something else? Something permanent based? How about . . . tribal!

In addition to being fun and popular, tribal—meaning creature types matter—is a great handhold for drafting. If you aren't sure what to do in a draft, you can always just grab everything with that creature type on it and go all in. This was immediately a popular idea. So, I asked Sam Burley what creature type we should use.

It needed to be something that could be in all colors and at a range of sizes. It should have a ton of reprints across Magic sets. And naturally, he told me a fit I'm sure you're all expecting for Battlebond.

That was, of course . . . Beasts!

Wait. Beasts?

Sam is a big Beasts fan. He envisioned them as these awesome monsters in the arena people would have to fight against—kind of like a "bonus round" that wasn't two-on-two combat. So, we started playing with Beasts.

The tribal elements worked out great and did exactly what we were hoping for. It was a lot of fun to draft together and made for interesting decisions, and people who were less experienced with draft that we brought in loved grabbing onto the Beasts theme. However, Beasts weren't really resonating with people flavorfully for this world. Plus, throwing Beasts against competitors isn't a story that many people wanted to highlight. Mark Globus, my product architect, asked me to see what else I could come up with.

I went back and combed through existing creature types that would work well here. I spoke with Sam again, and we came up with something different: Warriors! That made a lot more sense for this world.

Remember that Avalanche Beast from above? Well, here's what he looks like in his slimmer, Warrior form:

This card is a pretty strong linchpin of the Warrior deck and quite directional into red and black. (Also, quite good outside of that, too—"your team" in a game without teammates simply means "you!")

In Battlebond, the Warrior archetype is centered in black and red with a good amount in white as well. (This is because if you're the black-red deck, it's very likely your teammate is playing white.) Blue and green have some Warrior rewards at uncommon, as well as some common Warriors.

Additionally, I wanted to make sure that, because they're cards you will want to recognize when drafting or from a distance, they have a visual cue. We learned this in Battle for Zendikar with Allies, where it wasn't clear to a lot of players what was and what wasn't an Ally. And while the reprints still have their old artwork, all the new Warriors in Battlebond have glowing weapons. That's the trademark of a Kylem Warrior!

Playing Support

In Battlebond, we were looking for another mechanic that incentivized team-based play. Additionally, we weren't using a returning mechanic. (We ultimately ended up with partner with, which is sort of a returning mechanic, but it wasn't that way for most of the set's design.)

We tried out many options, but eventually came all the way back to the mechanic from Oath of the Gatewatch, the set that helped pave the way for a full-scale Two-Headed Giant set, and introduced: support! +1/+1 counters is a fun theme that can help you break through on a stalled board, and pumping up your teammate's creatures is a lot of fun. It's an easy way to spread some love.

We also tried to build in plenty of small synergies that are great with +1/+1 counters. Here's one example at common:

Daggerdrome Imp might not look like a lot, but when you have a teammate to boost up its stats right away it can start making some pretty big swings. The green-white deck has several +1/+1 counter-granting cards and rewards, and considering black is the color most likely to be in your teammate's deck if you're white and green, Daggerdrome Imp is a little fiercer than usual.

One other goal we had with support was to make some cards with it that would be exciting for Commander, Cube, and other formats. Stay tuned for those—they get much stronger than Expedition Raptor.

Double Header

Battlebond is all about twos! And not just because of Two-Headed Giant and the fact there are two of you—we tried it build it in all over the set.

For example, the set has mirrored pairs of cards that made sense—two halves of the same coin. Seen below, here are two reprint commons, reunited at last:

But it extends far beyond reprint pairs. The Creative team got really into the idea of twos for this set—so much so that Mel Li even gave it a name: "twosieness." Battlebond has twos all throughout the art, flavor text, and world of Kylem, and that feeling really comes through. Here's a common powerhouse assist card that features this look:

Two heads! A binox! Be afraid!

And your opponent certainly should be. Remember when I said you get to make some pretty big plays back and forth? Well, if your team goes all-in on this creature on turn four, that's quite a big threat you're landing early on! Or, if things really go well, maybe you can fuel this out on turn three after a second-turn Fertile Ground. It's good to have dreams.

The Fourth Quarter

One thing that may have raised your eyebrows when you heard about it was how many packs Battlebond needed for Draft and Sealed. Namely, four packs for Draft and six for Sealed, as opposed to the normal Two-Headed Giant format of five and eight.

How did this come about?

Well, we started with five packs, but we discovered a few things.

First, the draft was taking a long time. I love Draft, but drafting five packs can really drag on. Often people's decks were done by the end of pack four or very beginning of pack five, and so the last pack was an exercise in making your decks even stronger.

Second, because you had so many playables and had to build two decks, deck building took a while as people decided to divvy up cards. After nearly an hour of drafting, another 20-plus minutes of deck building as a team meant people weren't even sitting down to play their first game until around 80 or 90 minutes after the draft started.

Third, because there is no sideboarding in Two-Headed Giant—the games are one-game matches—a lot of the extra cards that were sideboard fodder had no real point. The set doesn't need cards like Demolish as narrow sideboard options; you are just never putting that in your main deck. Unless, of course, you're relatively new—in which case the main thing these cards do is harm less-experienced players' decks and take up space in packs.

During one of these drafts, Mark Globus wondered what it would take to make four packs work. So, we brought it back to the team. What would that take?

Well, we could cut out all the cards that basically never make your Draft main deck. And you'll notice that in Battlebond, a lot of those cards are entirely absent. There's still a power gradient—you have stronger and weaker cards, certainly—but I think I've seen every common and uncommon played and reasonably considered in a draft.

Second, we needed to make sure there were enough cards to help fill out people's decks. One great way to do that is to increase the cards that are playable by all decks, because you can take them and then decide later which deck they go into. It also means that if you're getting cut on a color, you can still find playables.

The natural fit for these? Artifacts! Battlebond has more artifacts than you would normally expect at common. A lot of them are straightforward curve fillers. You're usually not going to first-pick most of them or anything. But they're also all cards you're fine filling out a deck with—and often you end up with enough to make sure you can sort them wherever you need.

For example, check out this cute little reprint (it's another card that makes sure everybody gets to play the game):

And finally, as a small thing, this change meant not doing many nonbasic lands, since those eat up Draft slots but don't count toward the number of creatures and spells you need.

We tried it. And, as you now know, it was a success!

Drafting time was down, in a good way. Deck-building time was way down and in fact incredibly satisfying—you generally cut only about nine or so cards out of your card pool. There is something nice about finishing the draft, laying out your decks, talking with your teammate about a few options, deciding as a group, and then being ready to play!

Additionally, it has the nice effect of making the format more accessible. For people who are less experienced or coming back into the game, only needing four boosters for an entire team to play a draft is a nice touch.

With Sealed Deck, six packs is a breeze. Having fewer cards makes deck building quicker, and it still works out absolutely fine—especially with plenty of artifacts to assign around. Generally, the way I saw it work out was players would identify the weakest color, figure out the best ally color pair to split the remaining four colors between looking at their multicolor cards, and then start building. Time from packs being opened to games being played was astoundingly quick: usually around 20 to 25 minutes.

I know a lot of people have been curious about how this plays out. It really does work! Restrictions breed creativity, as Mark Rosewater says. I would recommend keeping in mind as you draft how many cards you have for each deck: you don't want to end up with 40 playables for one deck and sixteen for the other. (Though even then, there are probably fine ways to give the second deck a third color.) But we found that even less-experienced drafters could handle this process with ease.

Give it a try. I'd love to know what you think!

Winner Winner, Artifact Dinner

Okay, you folks have seen a lot of commons and uncommons shown off today. And for Limited texture, we made the cards we needed. But some of the biggest excitement out of the set comes in at rare and mythic rare.

While the experience of the set is Two-Headed Giant, we didn't expect many people would go play Constructed Two-Headed Giant after the experience. Much like how you drafted Conspiracy, played with your wacky cards, and then went back to playing regular Magic with those cards in other decks, such is the case here.

That means I needed many of the rare and mythic rare slots—and especially the new cards at rare and mythic rare—to aim at a particular format: Cube, Commander, Eternal formats like Legacy, or otherwise. If a new card wasn't exciting an audience for one of those formats, it would need an extremely compelling case to stay.

I have joked that Battlebond is me slipping another Commander set through this year. Between a bunch of new legendary cards for commander (like the partner with creatures) and a number of nonlegendary designs, there's a ton of sweet stuff here for the format. Including one cycle of cards that definitely has high Commander potential!

One cool idea from early in design was, "What if some of these characters had signature moves?" In a lot of video games, characters might have a special action they can do and/or are known for. The idea of seeing these characters in the art of cards other than their own, performing some cool effect, really appealed to me.

Welcome to the friend or foe cycle, kicking off with Pir's Whim.

These are five cards, and on each of them you choose friend or foe per player. You do something nice to your friends, and something mean to your foes.

In Two-Headed Giant, well, you're usually choosing friend for your team and foe for your opponent's (unless you really enjoying being the uncooperative head of the giant). But in Commander, they can make for a political tool to thank someone who helped you or set up future alliances. Or, they can simply be a way to gain an advantage over everyone else.

There are tons of artifacts and enchantments running around in Commander that this can nab. And note that the land you get can be any land. Go ahead, find your Maze of Ith, Gaea's Cradle, or whatever other extremely powerful land you have hiding in there. Share the friendship wisely.

Everyone, Get in Here!

Battlebond is a blast. A true labor of love throughout the process, from a text message to a prototype to the final set—it was amazing to work on.

I am so proud of this set, and I really hope you take the opportunity to go and check it out! It's like no other Magic experience we've offered so far, with all kinds of new decisions to be made. Is it worth going in on an early assist creature together or casting your own individual spells? What are the best ways to bluff when you're allowed to talk during a game? And, my personal favorite: do you have the guts to draft half of a partner with duo and hope you can wheel the other back?

Those are questions only you and your teammate can answer.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or feedback, I'd love to hear it! Feel free to send me a tweet, ask me a question on my Tumblr, or use good ol' fashioned e-mail at BeyondBasicsMagic@Gmail.com.

Grab a friend—experienced or not—then get out there and have a blast against all of your foes. Enjoy!


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