: Coming Home to Flavor

Posted in Feature on June 25, 2012

By Doug Beyer

Senior creative designer on Magic's creative team and lover of writing and worldbuilding. Doug blogs about Magic flavor and story at http://dougbeyermtg.tumblr.com/

One of Magic's most crucial strengths is its elasticity. We get to push the game in weird directions, let it build in scale and expand in complexity, urge it to wander off to some uncharted nook of the possibility space. But then, after that block-long walkabout, it's able to snap back to its center again. Magic finds its way home, restoring itself to a state of classic game play and resonant fantasy mainstays that people can recognize and identify with.

Firewing Phoenix | Art by James Paick

This elasticity allows Magic to ramp up its twisty mechanics and intricate game play. It allows the game to periodically explode in a glorious spectacle, but then also be reborn new and fresh every year, phoenix-style. Magic 2013 is that baby reborn phoenix, squawking its way out of the ashes, fresh-feathered, with no sign of its old life in evidence. The core set is the homecoming, allowing Magic to roam, to explore, to run wild as it needs to throughout the year.

It's about that time. In the not-too-distant future, it'll be time to make our pyre-nest and be reborn. As the lead designer of Magic 2013, I'd like to welcome you home.

The Magic 2013 Design Team

A lot of you know me as the voice behind Savor the Flavor, the now-retired column about Magic's art, flavor, and all things Vorthos here on DailyMTG.com. And my main role in R&D continues to be working on the creative team, writing what needs written and giving every world, set, and card its own flavor-intensive sparkle (and we have a lot of goodies in the pipeline—oh man!). Every set passes through our team, and we love all those precious children—but Magic 2013 has a special place in my cardiac organ because I was the set's lead designer, and my awesome team has made you the best set ever ever in all of time no really let me show you it.

It's Mark Rosewater's tradition to introduce you to every design team, but I want to take a moment to talk about this posse of card-set-designing badasses as well.

Aaron Forsythe

As director of Magic R&D, Aaron has put himself on every core set design team since Magic 2010. It was Aaron's vision that laid out the model that Magic 2013 continues to follow, and he's a guiding light for simple, clean, top-down designs that resonate with fantasy flavor. As this was my first design lead, I was thrilled to be able to have Aaron's experience and oversight on the team. Aaron has a soft spot for core set design, as I do, and the set owes much to his insight.

Graeme Hopkins

I worked with Great Designer Graeme Hopkins before on the Zendikar design team and was excited to get him on my team for M13, on loan from the digital games group. Graeme has a powerful eye for simple lines of rules text that deliver a flavorful story, which is, in a word, hard. Again and again Graeme wowed me with his ability to create not just cool Magic cards, but whole assemblies of cards that helped define the shape of the core set.

Ryan Miller

Ryan Miller has been busy lately as lead designer of the new Kaijudo TCG, but he also contributes to making awesome Magic sets. Ryan's superpower is the ability to distinguish cards and mechanics that generate fun games from cards and mechanics that "read interestingly" (but play miserably). Ryan's instincts helped steer us away from dead ends of design that would have taken weeks of playtesting to sniff out, as well as contributing many cool cards to the set.

Mark Purvis

Magic brand manager Mark Purvis is the archetypal longtime player and has great insight into the mind of the collector and kitchen-table gamer. He's also one of my oldest friends, as we've been friends since middle school (which was a long time ago, so let's not get into specific numbers—look, the number of decades that we've known each other is greater than one, okay?). Mark is the person who introduced me to Magic back in the 1900s, long before either one of us worked at Wizards, so it was frankly surreal to be on this team, making our living making a Magic set together. Mark contributed excellent card designs and fought for the set's overall appeal to longtime, invested Magic players.

Doug Beyer (lead)

I'm the guy who gets to stand up here and leech the accolades from my team's hard work. Also I like flavor a lot. My claim to fame here is really a combination of experience on past core set design teams, a constant craving for straightforward but flavorful cards, and an investment in the way we've built core sets since Magic 2010. I believe that strong fantasy flavor isn't just fun—it helps you learn and understand the cards. Dragons that feel like dragons and Elves that do what elves do—that gets you out of rules-brain mode and into having-fun-with-smashing-armies-into-each-other mode. After design wrapped for Magic 2012, Aaron said, "You could do this. You could lead M13 if you wanted to." So that was that.

So what did we actually design? What's going to be waiting for you in Magic 2013?

Themes and Features of Magic 2013

These days, Magic core sets have a few features in common. They include a significant proportion of new cards, they deliver essential Magic game play that's accessible to newer players, and they connect with the flavor expectations of a broad audience by taking advantage of familiar fantasy tropes and simple, clean, top-down designs.

Odric, Master Tactician | Art by Michael Komarck

(If you want to read more about this philosophy of core sets, I've done a lot of blabbing about it in Savor the Flavor. I wrote about serving as the creative rep on the design team for M11 and told tales of building M12. I've chatted about why I'm so fond of the Planeswalkers' signature spells and about the tiny victories of flavor that make up the rank and file of your average core set.)

Beyond that basic core set philosophy, every core set finds its own niche. We vary things up. This year, we really focused on the characters who come alive in Magic.

M13's Legends

M13 sports a cycle of five rare legendary creatures. Each one is a unique character from somewhere in Magic's Multiverse—they are from Innistrad, Shandalar, Alara, and Ravnica.

Legendary creatures haven't been in the core set since before Magic 2010, in part because they have a bit of rules complexity to them, but also because we want the Planeswalkers to shine as the stars of the game. But this year we wanted to go a little deeper into Magic's roster and showcase more of the faces of the Multiverse. This let us do something really cool: create "sub-bosses" for Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.

In Duels 2013 (Which has released! It's packed with Magic 2013 cards! It's incredibly fun! Go get it!), you'll meet these five legends as opponents in the game, and as impediments to your ultimate goal. They represent some of the non-Planeswalker characters that you, the Planeswalker, run afoul of as you travel throughout the Multiverse. Furthermore, these five legends have mechanical themes that lend themselves to building around. They're cool on their own, but they also point the way toward putting together a deck around them. There's also a cycle of supporting cards at lower rarities themed to those legends and designed to work well with them mechanically. That way, each legend has its own feel, its own way of expressing the power of its own color, and its own mechanical theme that is present both in the deck it wields in Duels 2013 and the Intro Deck that features it in Magic 2013.

Odric, a white-aligned monster-slaying cathar official from Innistrad, likes attacking with a big army, so he's best in a strategy that swarms the board with creatures. Talrand, a blue-aligned merfolk summoner from Shandalar, keys off of the power of instants and sorceries, so he creates an advantage in a base-blue deck that runs fewer creatures and more one-for-one spells. Nefarox is an infamous black-aligned demon lord from Grixis on Alara, and his exalted mechanic points him toward a black-white creature deck with exalted creatures throughout the curve. Krenko is a red-aligned goblin mob boss from Ravnica and works best when recruiting hordes and hordes of goblin dimwits. Finally, Yeva is a green-aligned elf shaman from Ravnica, and she gives flash to green creatures, allowing for a tricky deck of creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities that foul up her opponents' plans.

These five legends do a lot of work in the design of the set. They tie Duels 2013 and Magic 2013 together by appearing as focal characters in both games. They help new players (or players who haven't played in a while—welcome back!) build decks by serving as cool, attention-getting tent-poles that suggest mechanical links to other cards. They even highlight mechanical recipes in Magic through their flavor links to other cards in the set, giving players a path toward building decks of their own.


All core sets have the usual "evergreen" mechanics common to all Magic sets: flying, first strike, trample—the usual. On top of that, core sets lately have chosen to return a flavorful mechanic from the past, and Magic 2013 is no different. We chose to bring back exalted, the Bant mechanic from Shards of Alara block, because it played well, was fun to build around, and lent itself to cool and flavorful cards. Exalted was centered in the Bant colors of white, blue, and green originally, but we chose to center the mechanic in white and black in M13. Black is a new color for exalted, but we felt that beyond white and its allies, black is the color with the most flavor of exalting higher powers. While white honors its paladins and angels with acolytes and squires, black pays loyalty to its demonic lords with cultists and dark priests.

You'll even find a powerful exalted land, Cathedral of War. The Cathedral is a great place to go lend your exaltation—and give another +1/+1—to your favorite attacking creature.

Remember the New

Our goal was to fill the set with new stuff that nevertheless felt like classic Magic cards. The core set should be a homecoming, a return to the pleasing home base. Again and again we relied on flavor to make the set feel like something you remember while actually being all-new.

Instead of the Angel's Feather artifact cycle from many, many past core sets, Magic 2013 instead sports a cycle of magic rings. Each ring is a piece of Equipment that works best when worn by a creature of a given color. They're fun and can be powerful, especially in decks that have a heavy concentration of creatures in one color. We had been trying to find designs for a cycle of artifact rings since M11 and I think we finally nailed it.

There are two new Planeswalker cards in Magic 2013. After Sorin and Gideon shook things up in M12, Liliana and Ajani come raging back to the core lineup with two new designs in M13. Ajani, Caller of the Pride, rings up at a sleek three mana and shows off his specialty of supporting and enhancing his allies. Liliana of the Dark Realms focuses on Lily's connection to her mana bonds, specifically calling out the power of necromantic Swamps. Those two join the Jace, Chandra, and Garruk from Magic 2012 to round out the core five Planeswalkers.

Then there's the army of one-off designs that are meant to evoke flavorful connections to classic fantasy and fun game play. I'm proud of my team's efforts to engineer so many little cardboard soldiers of Vorthos that they could fuel many, many flavor articles.

Thoughtful Reprints

Like every core set, there are plenty of goodies beyond just those major themes and new cards. Magic 2013 also has a host of spicy reprints from Magic's past. If you've never enchanted a Vampire Nighthawk with Rancor, let me tell you: first, that it's fun, and second, that you can do it all within a game of Magic 2013 sealed deck.

An underappreciated skill in Magic design is selecting reprints from Magic's past to cohere both flavorfully and mechanically with their newly designed brethren. I think we chose a fleet of reprints that feel different from past core sets, yet make sense as a first experience for a new player and a homecoming experience for a returning player.

There are plenty more reprints to be revealed in the coming weeks, and I don't want to spoil them all—by which I mean I really want to spoil them all but I want even more for you to see them in booster packs at the Prerelease.

Oh, and speaking of reprints:

No Titans

Yeah. It was time.

But there's one more big, shadowy, larger-than-life feature of Magic 2013 that I want to touch on.

The Sixth Planeswalker

I've already mentioned that Magic 2013 returns to the core lineup of Ajani, Jace, Liliana, Chandra, and Garruk. But I wanted another face to show up in the core set, an old face that could serve as a reminder that the good guys don't always take all the spotlight.

This particular character was controversial, not only because he would mean adding a sixth Planeswalker to Magic 2013, but also because he would be the first multicolor ("gold") card to ever appear in a core set. That breaks our rules—we think of gold as a theme that drives three-set blocks and allows Magic to go in more complicated directions, rather than a go-to theme of the core set. But I felt like if anybody is going to break all the rules, it's this guy:

We brought the elder dragon Planeswalker Nicol Bolas to the core set for a few reasons. The pace of story in a trading card game can be slow compared to books or movies or TV shows. We basically get one new plot point every three months, as a new set comes out. Bolas hadn't appeared in person since Alara block, and I felt it was important that he show his face from time to time to remind the do-gooders who's still plying his schemes in the background. His presence in the core set sends a message—this guy is important and dangerous. The shadow of Lord Bolas looms large and ominous over M13. In fact, you can see Bolas's horns on the packaging of Magic 2013 boxes.

One thing we haven't seen a lot of in Magic is Bolas's minions. We know he makes personal appearances around the Multiverse as needed, making demands of those who serve him and blithely devastating the minds of those who don't. We've even seen a couple of Planeswalkers who have come to work for Bolas's side in Sarkhan the Mad and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. But we rarely get to see those humble henchcreatures who are doing his dirty work, taking their marching orders from the big dragon, implementing the minute, ground-level details of Bolas's master plan.

In Magic 2013, we do.

Augur of Bolas | Art by Slawomir Maniak

Mindclaw Shaman | Art by Slawomir Maniak

In blue and red are two of Bolas's dirty-work-doers. Each in their own way, these creatures seek out magics for the millennia-old dragon, gathering ever more power for their draconic master. Both of these creatures help you work toward the long game, trading and digging for answers in the early going and building card advantage in the middle game. Augur of Bolas searches for knowledge in your library and Mindclaw Shaman reaches directly into your opponent's mind, in true Bolas-ian style. But Bolas's central color is black, and Bolas has a particularly powerful minion in that color.

Disciple of Bolas | Art by Slawomir Maniak

Survival and power: two of Bolas's favorite things. This third and final minion also helps Lord Bolas build up magics while helping him survive long enough to win a controlling endgame. Disciple of Bolas can be particularly nasty when you already have Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker on the battlefield, as you can steal one of your opponent's creatures with Bolas's ability, cast Disciple of Bolas once you have your new minion, and then fatally plunder the stolen creature's mind for its knowledge.

Finally, there's one more card themed to this dark dragon:

Gem of Becoming | Art by Jack Wang

If there's anything else that Nicol Bolas requires, it's mana. The Gem of Becoming is one of Bolas's mana artifacts that help him manage his countless mana bonds. The name calls back to the Pools of Becoming, a location on his personal Meditation Plane (a location we've seen before in Planechase).

Pools of Becoming

Gather these Gems of Becoming to help you fix your draconic tri-colored mana dilemma—again, it's all about survival and power for Bolas. If you live the longest, learn the most magic, and forge the most mana bonds, you will become invincible.

Get Thee to a Prerelease

I am beyond excited for you to see and play Magic 2013—as proud a papa as there has ever been. If you've been plugged into Standard and Innistrad Block, it's a great time to cleanse your palate and smash some good old Elves and Goblins and Drakes and Dragons into each other. If you're new to the game or you've been away for awhile, it's a fantastic time to get into Magic as we refocus on the basic fun and core strengths of the game.

Magic is building its nest of warm ashes, to be reborn after exploding in a spectacle of heat and light. It's preparing to return to its youth, to welcome back the halcyon days of fantastic armies summoned by planeswalking mages for the purpose of killing each other. I hope you're able to get to a Prerelease, bust some packs, and get to gaming.

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