Counter Spells

Posted in NEWS on February 15, 2008

By Mike Turian

Before joining Magic Online as its digital product manager, Mike worked as a producer for Wizards's technology department, a product manager for organized play, and as an R&D lead developer. He has played Magic Online since it came out in 2002 and Magic since The Dark.

I'm Mike Turian, lead developer for Morningtide. I'm filling in for Devin Low, who headed to Kuala Lumpur to follow all of the Pro Tour action going on there. This week I want to talk to you about my favorite Magic cards in Morningtide that use +1/+1 counters. My team spent a lot of time drafting Lorwyn-Lorwyn-Morningtide. I am excited to see what the pros draft and what they think of the format.

I was watching "60 Minutes" last night following their interview with Hillary Clinton. When she was done, the promo for the next story caught my eye. The United States Mint wanted to get rid of the penny. A penny costs more to make than it was worth in real money. They argued: why bother?

Apparently the good people at the U.S. Mint have never played Magic. If they had they would know what the true value of the penny is. Pennies make the best +1/+1 counters!

Say your opponent plays a Clockwork Hydra. He fumbles around in his pocket for a moment then looks up and says, "Hey, friendly article reader, can I borrow some change?"

Being the smart and generous human being that you are, you oblige. You realize that your opponent may accidentally forget to give you back your change. If you give him four pennies, great! Now, imagine using the Euro. If all you have are the 2 Euro piece, your four +1/+1 counters have just cost you 12 U.S. dollars. You would have been better off handing over a couple Morningtide packs!

Devin, being in Malaysia where they use the Ringgit, doesn't realize how good he has it. The Ringgit is worth about 30 cents. So if he uses four 1 Ringgit coins as the +1/+1 counters, he's only risking 1 dollar and 20 cents.

Daily Regimen

Daily RegimenI'd like to start by showing a simple Morningtide card that highlighted the +1/+1 counter theme. It was a fun card. Daily Regimen could be powerful when you started pumping mana into +1/+1 counters. This card could go in almost any Magic set and fit well. In Morningtide, it fit perfectly.

Some cards come into development and don't get changed one bit. Development debated whether or not this card should be a common. It swapped back and forth between common and uncommon at least three times before we eventually locked it in as an uncommon.

Taurean Mauler

Taurean Mauler

Taurean, Turian, hmm...that was suspicious.

Taurean Mauler started life being called "Changeling Randomizer." I'm not positive what the Randomizer did, but it did inspire this Multiverse comment.

GTH 3/20: ...Playing this would be a huge disruption to the gameplay (and turn everything facedown, shuffle, reveal, re-assign.)

While I love wacky cards, I felt that Morningtide had better wacky cards already in it, so I went back for a new design. The next version of Taurean Mauler, was something like this.

Taurean Mauler
Creature - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card is every creature type at all times.)
Whenever an opponent plays a spell, you may have CARDNAME deal 1 damage to that player.

This version is much closer to the final card, but fell down on a couple of counts. First, it wasn't very fun. As lead developer, I tried to remove any card that wasn't fun. This version of the Mauler was just a jerk. Second, what about this version was changeling? The ability has nothing to do with being a changeling. While I was ok with that for some of our simpler commons, a rare needed to embrace the awesomeness of changeling. I feel that the final version of Taurean Mauler did that quite well.

When I talk to people that don't play Magic and tell them what I do for a living, the following exchange occurs.

Them: "So what do you do for a living?"
Me: "I'm a game designer."
Them: "Oh, so you make video games?"
Me: "No, I make a card game called Magic: The Gathering. It is a lot of fun."
Them: "So you draw the cards!"
Me: "No, I create the words on the cards..."
Them: "So, you name them, then!"
Me: "No, I ..."

I don't name cards, I don't illustrate them. If the closeness to pronunciation of Taurean and Turian were just a happy coincidence or maybe creative felt I "mauled" Morningtide, I haven't asked. Magic Brand does have strict policies on vanity cards, so it is most likely a coincidence.

Countryside Crusher

Countryside Crusher I loved the fact that when people will look at the Countryside Crusher they see his awesome stats and his potential and wanted to build a deck around him. He has a cool advantage that would occasionally be a drawback. He was a great combo with kinship and played perfectly into the +1/+1 counter theme of Morningtide.

Sets start in design with all sorts of themes. Some themes live to the final version, like +1/+1 counters in Morningtide, but other themes slowly get changed or moved away.

Coming into development Warriors had the mini-theme of "I like to be a solitary fighter." You can see the remains of this theme in cards like Lunk Errant, Vengeful Firebrand, and Obsidian Battle-Axe.

Countryside Crusher started life within that theme as a very different card but had to move away. Here is a comment from Ken Nagle on the old version that offer a small bit of insight into why:

KEN 4/27: I think Mike Turian is in love with this card, this is a 3-drop red creature that trades with Spectral Force, which is unheard of, and even Flametongue Kavu and Sulfur Elemental are jealous. I think this guy needs to be Warrior-stamped with "discard a Warrior card to Char" or something. This guy could be Legendary, "Kratos, the Lone Warrior" and it might help his hoop instead of hurting it.

Ken was correct; I did love the old version of Countryside Crusher. I went to find a card I would love more.

The original version of Countryside Crusher would start milling a land as soon as it came into play. Often it would come out as a 1RR 5/5. That was until Paul Barclay built a deck.

Before the all-knowing Mark Gottlieb was rules manager, John Carter was rules manager, and before John, Paul Barclay was the man. When Paul Barclay built a deck, it could only mean one thing.

Something has gone wrong, very wrong.

I am so happy to see Paul playing a deck filled with proxies. I dread the day when it has real Magic cards in it. Proxies I could change; with ink and pictures, it would be much harder.

Paul had the following decklist:

Paul's Deck

Download Arena Decklist
Creature (4)
4 Countryside Crusher
Land (56)
56 Mountain
60 Cards

He would mulligan until he found a Crusher. That Crusher would come down, mill him down to his next Crusher and be a giant monster (hide your 2 Euro coins). If his opponent didn't kill three Crushers in a row then Paul would attack and win.

Was Paul's deck broken? No, I don't think so but it gave a glimpse into what Magic developers contemplate when perfecting cards. There were other problems with instant milling (rules and power level) for +1/+1 counters, so we decided to tweak the card.

The good news was that the new version of Countryside Crusher could count lands that went to your graveyard from anywhere. So it became a great combo with cards like Greater Gargadon and Boom // Bust. Countryside Crusher gave Morningtide an excellent "build around me" card.

Kinsbaile Borderguard

Kinsbaile Borderguard

Kithkin lovers, I hope you appreciated the fight to get this card made. A lot of people were insisting it should cost an extra mana, going up to 2WW.

Personally, I was a Kithkin player. I have always loved beatdown decks and white beatdown is one of my favorite archetypes.

Every creature lover in Magic would tell you that Wrath of God is the bane of creature decks. With Damnation in Planar Chaos, Morningtide wanted a great anti-Wrath card. Kinsbaile Borderguard delivered.

So many anti-Wrath cards end up best in decks with Wrath of God. Walk with me in trying to make an anti-Wrath card.

First, we want to make a card that won't die to a Wrath effect. Let's choose land. Next, we want to have the land make creatures since we aren't only trying to hose Wrath, but also promote creatures. So let's have the land create 2/2s for a fair cost, say 7, TAP.

We have done it! Urza's Factory! An awesome card in the most popular deck of recent Standard history that played Damnation!

Certainly, I could have walked through this exercise and created a better anti-Wrath land like Treetop Village, but rest assured, if Forbidden Watchtower or Spawning Pool had been as powerful as Treetop Village then they would be auto-includes in decks that played Wrath of God / Damnation.

Kinsbail Borderguard provided a great Wrath of God answer while not totally trumping the sweeper. Two Wraths would wipe out the Borderguard and then his buddies, and a Borderguard played post-Wrath would usually come out a much smaller size.

Kinsbaile Borderguard provided excellent combos with Cenn's Tactician, Rustic Clachan (reinforce) and every other +1/+1 counter giving card in the set. Even if he does turn out to be as powerful as some of my colleagues feared, the fact that he only fit well into Kithkin decks means that players should be able to find good answers to beat Kinsbaile Borderguard by finding cards to battle that type of deck.

Oona's Blackguard

Oona's BlackguardOona's Blackguard was part of a loose cycle in Morningtide. The five cards were Cenn's Tactician, Sage of Fables, Oona's Blackguard, Rage Forger, and Bramblewood Paragon.

Each card in the cycle came from a different starting spot, but they are tied together by the fact that they are the "race lords" of Morningtide. Each specifically rewarded people for trying out the race matters theme of Morningtide. As a bonus, they played directly into the secondary +1/+1 counter theme.

We wanted to maximize fun but quickly discovered that this effect was quite powerful. Development had their hands full with this cycle. Unlike traditional lords like Imperious Perfect, when you kill a Morningtide race lord, the power and toughness bonus they gave out remained.

Development moved their effects farther away from one another so that they could each be more unique. We tried out Cenn's Tactician as a vanilla W 1/1 that gave a +1/+1 counters to Soldiers, but needed to back away from that version.

Oona's Blackguard looked scary to many of us, but survived the process unchanged. It had a great flavor from the start. I loved the artwork—it reminded me to make sure I don't let any pumped up Rogues through for damage.


Burrenton Bombardier

I was worried when I first read reinforce.

I loved Giant Growth. Giant Growth was an honest Magic card. It promoted interaction, surprise moments and fun. Whenever I would develop a set I always pushed for more Giant Growth effects.

My worry about reinforce was that reinforce would too heavily disincentive blocking. While blocking does get worse when reinforce remained, it didn't get that much worse. I was worried people would stop blocking all together. This didn't pan out in our playtests, or in real life.

Reinforce does lead to extra awesome moments thanks to the +1/+1 counter theme. Whether it is pumping up Kinsbaile Borderguard, or giving an extra creature trample with Bramblewood Paragon, or wiping their creatures with a Festercreep, reinforce has proven its value to Morningtide.