Hello DailyMTG readers! This is Melissa DeTora from R&D's Play Design team here to give you a new preview card from Guilds of Ravnica. The card I'm about to show you is one of my favorites in the set. It's a card that the Play Design team has heavily put through its paces and has been the centerpiece in many of our decks. Here is the card:
As many of you know, the Selesnya (green-white) mechanic in Guilds of Ravnica is a returning mechanic, convoke. Convoke has been a Standard set mechanic several times now. When we are doing a returning mechanic, we usually look for a new spin on it or a unique way to use it. As you look through the previews from Guilds of Ravnica, you will see some examples of this. There are cards that reward you for using creatures to help cast them, as well as cards that are stronger when you are casting convoke spells.
To have a successful Constructed mechanic, we need two types of cards: enablers and payoffs. Enablers are cards that you put in your deck to help use the mechanic, such as Merfolk Looter in a madness deck. Payoffs are cards that reward you for using the mechanic itself. In the madness example, From Beneath the Floorboards is a card that rewards you for discarding it by giving you a huge effect that scales with the amount of mana you pay. When the Play Design team is designing cards around a Constructed mechanic, one of our goals is to have both strong enablers and worthwhile payoffs so that players have direction on how to build the deck and to get players excited to build around the mechanic.
When Trostani Discordant first entered the hands of play designers, it was a convoke reward. The Set Design team was interested in a rare or mythic rare that rewarded players for using the Selesnya set mechanic, and Trostani was one of the shots at that. It originally had rules text that gave it +1/+1 counters whenever you convoked a spell. It was a fun card that got us to try out all the convoke cards in Guilds of Ravnica, but the design itself led to play patterns we didn't like.
1. It was a trap.
When a card has text saying "Whenever you convoke," it's telling us to play as many cards with convoke as we possibly can so that the card is at its strongest. That also meant that we needed to play cheap creatures and tokens to enable our convoke cards. The deck was very A+B; it only worked if you drew your creatures and tokens first, and your Trostani next, and your convoke cards last. If you drew anything in the wrong order, the entire deck didn't work.
2. It was too fragile.
After all that setup, all you were left with was a large creature. We didn't feel rewarded for playing this card, especially after all the work we had to do to get it into play. It was back to the drawing board.
After more playtesting and meetings, the Play Design team realized that we were rewarding players for the wrong thing. Rewarding you for playing cards with convoke is very narrow and prescriptive. We don't want decks to build themselves; we want players to discover strategies and combos on their own. If a card rewards you for playing convoke cards, you'll play convoke cards. While that gives players direction in how to build a deck, it doesn't encourage creative deck building. We looked for new designs for Trostani that enabled different kinds of Selesnya decks.
Some things we talked about while deciding Trostani's text were how do we encourage a convoke deck without it being a pure convoke reward card. That's where the anthem effect came in ("Anthem" is a term that refers to a permanent that gives your creatures a static +1/+1, named after the card Glorious Anthem). If Trostani were an anthem, players would want to play lots of tokens and small creatures, and would then look to play convoke cards because they work so well with a swarm of creatures.
Another way to encourage players to build a convoke deck was to have Trostani be an enabler herself. That's where the token-making came in. With an enters-the-battlefield trigger that makes tokens, players will naturally look for things to do with those tokens, like play convoke spells or pump them up. The end result of Trostani was a defensive creature that made tokens and gave a stat bonus to your team. She can be played without other token-making in your deck, since she gives 5 power and 8 toughness worth of stats by herself, but she becomes stronger if you are playing more creatures, token makers, and convoke cards.
When designing cards, one thing that the Play Design team frequently looks at is creature sizing. Why is Trostani specifically a 1/4? Selesnya is typically weak to sweeper effects and we wanted to make sure that this card could survive certain kinds of removal, including 3-damage sweepers. It's sad to have your anthem blown up by staple removal spells, so sizing this at 4 toughness ensured it could survive cards like Lightning Strike and Deafening Clarion.
Fun Fact: Deafening Clarion, designed by Andrew Brown, was originally named "Bronado." The Play Design team still calls it that to this day.
Finally, what's with that last line of text? We wanted to give Trostani a little more spice since the card itself was a mythic rare but was very low complexity and not very splashy. As we continued playtesting our format, we looked for holes that we had in Future Future League (our internal Standard-testing format) and ways to improve the card. We had been playing a lot of Hostage Taker, and Selesnya is very weak to that card since it is the color pair with the least removal and has little ways of gaining card advantage, especially when that card advantage comes in the form of getting your creatures stolen. We decided to add the Homeward Path text to Trostani as a way to counter Hostage Taker and any future Control Magics we make in Standard. Additionally, the Homeward Path text is strong in more casual formats like Commander, and having a new card that can appeal to players outside of competitive Constructed is a bonus.
Speaking of Control Magics, I have one more preview card for you. The card is part of our rare cycle of split cards. Our goal with split cards was for each half of the card to have a narrow but powerful effect. While each half has limited uses on their own, when the two cards are combined, you have a potent package. Here is Connive // Concoct:
That's all I have for Guilds of Ravnica previews. In the next few weeks, Play Design team members Dan Musser and Andrew Brown will be continuing the Play Design column with FFL decklists and M-Files, so don't miss it! As for me, while I'm only writing articles occasionally, you can find me on the weekly R&D twitch.tv/magic stream on Mondays from 2–5 p.m. PT, as well as on Twitter @MelissaDeTora. Thanks for reading, and, until next time, enjoy Guilds of Ravnica preview season!