Designing Your Fate

Posted in Feature on December 29, 2014

By Ken Nagle

Ken Nagle was a finalist in the first Great Designer Search and joined Wizards of the Coast as a design intern. He has since gone on to work on twelve Magic expansions, including four of which he led, as well as leading the design of Archenemy and the first Commander decks.

Congrats! You have chosen to read my article about Fate Reforged design. As the lead designer of Fate Reforged, I'll share some insight into the choices we made in deciding what cards were to be printed. I'll share two preview cards as well as two cards that didn't make it to print.

There is a smorgasbord of deep, interwoven design and creative elements at work in Fate Reforged. I'm excited to tell you about some of them while leaving the rest for you to discover on your own.

Free Will

Your free will powers your ability to choose, which ultimately decides your fate. Choice plays a large role in Fate Reforged.

  • From a story point of view, Sarkhan changes his choice, reviving a dying Ugin after Ugin's battle with Nicol Bolas.
  • From a deck-building point of view, you make the choice to add Fate Reforged cards to your decks or not, and it's my job as a game designer to design appealing Magic cards you'll want to acquire and include in your decks.
  • From a gameplay point of view, you choose when and how to deploy your Fate Reforged cards to the battlefield.

Story

Sarkhan has traveled 1,280 years back in time from Khans of Tarkir to arrive at Fate Reforged. (Time traveling is not something that Planeswalkers can normally do, but Ugin's Nexus is not an ordinary tomb for an ordinary Planeswalker.)

We expressed this story point as loud as possible from the first day of Fate Reforged previews:

Every Magic setting needs conflict (and every story, for that matter). Magic is at its core a game about powerful Planeswalkers on a battlefield. The conflict in Khans of Tarkir focused on:

  • Clan vs. clan conflict—the swift Mardu against the ruthless Sultai, for example.
  • Inter-clan conflict—who gets to be the next khan and rule over the clan?
  • And of course, Khan vs. Bear conflict. Recently, a bear ate more than a hundred of the apples from my apple trees, which is a definite conflict with me. Not kidding.

However, Tarkir isn't Sarkhan's home world for nothing. In Fate Reforged, the past, there are dragons! The dragons themselves have their own broods, motives, and breath weapons. In fact, Fate Reforged has the most individual Dragon cards and highest as-fan (average number of cards per booster pack, or "as you fan your booster") of Dragons than any set in Magic's history.

I'm excited to introduce Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury:

Kolaghan has the dash ability. You can read more about dash and its interactions in the " Mechanics of Fate Reforged ." Suffice it to say…she's fast! She's part of a five-card legendary Dragon rare cycle in the ally colors (WU, UB, BR, RG, GW). Each of them has an attack trigger ability that happens whenever a Dragon you control attacks. They trigger themselves, but they also trigger multiple times with multiple attacking Dragons. They truly are the dominant dragons of their respective broods. Their design borrows from my Utvara Hellkite design in Return to Ravnica (and I'm putting them both together in my Commander deck).

Deck Building

Another feature about Fate Reforged is its unique spot in the Tarkir block structure. The very first design decision made for Fate Reforged was "a small second set that's drafted BAA and CCB." That is, when Fate Reforged hits the shelf you will draft:

  • Fate Reforged, Khans of Tarkir, Khans of Tarkir

When Dragons of Tarkir is released, you will draft:

  • Dragons of Tarkir, Dragons of Tarkir, Fate Reforged

This makes Fate Reforged a "pivot" set, as we've been calling it. We wanted some cards in Fate Reforged to be stronger in the first draft format and weaker in the second, and vice versa. Because Khans of Tarkir and Dragons of Tarkir are very different sets with different mechanics, draft themes, and environments, Fate Reforged has to somehow split the difference.

Since this is a behind-the-scenes design column, but I only get two preview cards, I will give you a concrete example using cards that didn't make it to print. Here is a Fate Reforged playtest card that seemed clever and fun on the surface:

Egg of Knowledge
1U
Creature—Wall
0/1
When CARDNAME dies or is exiled from your graveyard to delve a spell, draw a card.

While it was a clever reward when played alongside the myriad delve cards in Khans of Tarkir, it became too blank during the later draft format. I killed this card. I still wanted some innovative delve-matters cards, however, and Gavin Verhey helped design this card:

Verheinous One
9B
Creature—Naga
4/4
Delve
If you delved a blue or green card to cast CARDNAME, it enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it and has hexproof.

This card shows an evolution of delve that a clever player can draft or build around without being forced to load up on other delve cards like the Egg required. It also manages to be a "fake wedge" card, which is another theme in Fate Reforged. While this design didn't survive intact, there's something like it in the set!

Gameplay

Just like Sarkhan Vol has seized control of the destiny of Tarkir, we wanted players to feel in control of their own destiny with Tarkir cards. There are three cycles of modal cards in Fate Reforged that begin "Choose A or B." While choices are something every Magic set has intrinsically with any targeted spell, Fate Reforged plays it louder: we put bullet points on our lists of choices! It would've been an even louder motif, but the Khans of Tarkir editing team adopted our bullet points for everything from Temur Charm to backwards-templating Primal Command.

You've already seen Crux of Fate, which belongs to its own spell cycle.

Let me introduce you to Outpost Siege:

The Siege cycle of rare enchantments shows a spectacular battle between a clan and a dragon brood lineage. Outpost Siege depicts the dragon lord Kolaghan and her sonic four-winged lightning brood attacking a Mardu outpost. They are in essence the "red" clans because of their dominant color.

This "modal enchantment" cycle uses new technology written into the comprehensive rules specifically for them, allowing the Khans/Dragons ability words to decide the enchantment's mode. The design's structure remained intact since going into the file.

As you can see, you were originally going to choose "which red clan will win?" We also hadn't named the legendary Dragons, like Kolaghan, yet. Moreover, we were trying to make first ability work with raid (and cards like Ponyback Brigade and Bloodsoaked Champion) while the second ability worked better with dash. One ability is better in the early game while the other is better in the late game, ensuring the enchantment is always impactful.

Let's see a big beautiful version of that art!


Outpost Siege | Art by Daarken

What the Future Holds

I wish I could tell you more, but I must leave the rest for you to discover. The Tarkir block is poised to be Magic's last three-set block (for the foreseeable future). We executed on a storyline that requires three sets to tell and wove hints and clues all throughout the sets. I can't tell you everything we did, lest I spoil the fun.

Thanks again for choosing to read my article, given your other options (like Mark Rosewater's other Fate Reforged design article here).

If have anything to express to the game designers of Fate Reforged, tweet to me @NorrYtt or send me an email, and I'll let the appropriate people know. I also have a YouTube channel.

BONUS!

Here's a list of playtest names for Fate Reforged cards that I have sitting on my desk. They have mechanically survived so their names offer some hints:

  1. Snicker-Snack
  2. Stinkwing
  3. Inventor
  4. Less Options
  5. Improvised Grenade
  6. Rewind Existence
  7. Sultai Reassembler
  8. Phantom Lancer
  9. Slow-Roasted Meal
  10. Protective Trench
  11. Picked for the Team
  12. Hire an Underling
  13. Fused Firecracker
  14. Steal Stats
  15. Recruit Two Ducklings
  16. Recruit a Boss
  17. Acidic Dragon
  18. Sword in the Stone
  19. Knowledge or Ignorance
  20. Jeskai Spellbender

All the cards listed above ended up in the printed set in one form or another. Maybe in the future I'll reveal some before/after photos.

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