Masters 25 is a journey through Magic's history. Full of cards that bring back memories of times long past, the set has been a blast to play with.
And that got me thinking—what is the design history of some of these wild and crazy cards?
Many of these cards have won Pro Tours, been hoisted as fan favorites, and become backbones of our game. But many of them predate Facebook, Twitter, and even our website—far before the point when we began actively talking about how we design sets.
Which means this is a perfect time for a dive into Multiverse.
Multiverse—known now as Drake—is where card comments and data are stored. It's where we make new sets, but also where the history of Magic and card changes are logged.
Now, sadly, not every comment or change is in there. We've migrated systems multiple times (like when we moved from Multiverse to Drake), and each time there were no doubt card comment casualties. Additionally, some of the really early stuff was done long before any system like this existed—so pulling up the comments on, say, Counterspell, isn't really possible.
But beyond those few restrictions? It's a treasure trove.
I looked through all the cards in Masters 25 and, in a fashion similar to the new-set-focused M-Files, pulled notes on many of the cards in the set from the places they first appeared.
Oh, and who is leaving these comments? This cast of characters heralds from the distant past. It's not just a look at the history of Magic cards—it's a look at a history of Magic designers, too!
Ready? Let's go!
Unknown: UU mana after testing
Unknown: Does not appear to be a problem at 1U. Still a good card, but not too good.
Unfortunately, Multiverse ate the names of whomever left these comments. (Multiverse assures me that it was an accident . . . and that the names were delicious.) For me, this just adds to the feel of unearthing history!
Accumulated Knowledge is one of my favorite draw spells of all time. It does great things for a control deck: cycles early on, and then slowly builds until it lets you capture the late game. Plus, it has all kinds of graveyard synergies, too! (Intuition, anyone?)
While the card probably ended up a bit too strong, showing up all over Pro Tour decklists, I'm still glad it exists. Who knows what might have happened if it had cost UU like the first comment suggested?
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
MR: I think iconic cards should seem cool in addition to powerful. While this is powerful, it isn't cool.
BR: Completely disagree. This is for Timmy, not Johnny.
ME: What, no protection from red?
RB: Seems cool to me, though I don't understand why it has protection from black without red.
HS: I would prefer to see it lose haste and trample and gain protection from red.
WJ: Took off haste and trample because card was too busy and because it was Timmy inflation.
BR: The idea for this card was a creature that has all keyword abilities. Timmy will like the version with all abilities.
BR: Mark wanted Akroma to have the ability "Whenever Akroma is put into a graveyard from play, return Akroma to play under its owner's control." I'm undecided between this and the original Akroma. Maybe both? Probably not.
BR: The point of this card is to have all abilities. As-is, it's not special. With trample, haste, and protection from red, it would be.
WJ: At what point did you realize that we were pulling your leg?
REI: Hey, she sucks now; she's got phasing!
ME: Changed rampage 1 to rampage 6; I assume this was just a typo. You don't want the card to be that weak, do you?
BR: Fixed. Old card was "Flying, first strike, protection from black, protection from red, Trample, attacking does not cause CARDNAME to tap, haste, amplify +4/+4, morph 4WW, cycling 2, fear, rampage 6, islandhome, flanking, shadow, phasing, snow-covered forestwalk, bands with other Angels."
BB: Early on we had discussed giving her an Avenging Angel–type ability. Creative would still like to push for this if possible.
PT: "The card is not ridiculous enough."
RB: Seems fine as-is to me
MR: I think a card like this will get some notice when it is first seen, but I don't think it will be memorable (no one will be able to tell you exactly what it does) or particularly flavorful. I'm not saying that I don't want to do a "kitchen-sink" creature, but I believe our main villain for the block is the wrong place.
RB: Phage is at least as villainous as Akroma, probably more. This seems like a fine place for a kitchen-sink creature.
Akroma was quite hotly contested, as you can see. Ultimately, she ended up quite a popular and iconic card that I'm glad we made . . . even if I do see Rosewater's point that the card was a bit of an odd fit for the character. We make story cards with a lot more care these days!
If you want to dive deeper into this, there's a Mark Rosewater article from twelve years ago that breaks it down piece by piece.
MR: Oh, and the readers of DailyMTG.com voted it in.
For Eighth Edition, we ran a poll online where players got to vote cards into the set. This resulted in several crazy additions—but one memorable one is certainly Blood Moon getting the nod. So every time you lose to a Blood Moon in Modern, just remember how it got there. (Yes, it was also in Ninth Edition—but I doubt it would have been if not for Eighth Edition.)
DAL: Here I'd like to salvage the Giant land to remake the gold as follows: "4RW, 5/4, Giants you control have 'RW,T,Sacrifice a creature: CARDNAME deals damage equal to that creature's power to target creature or player. You gain that much life.'"
AF: Is "CARDNAME" supposed to be the Giant you are activating, or is the Jarl always dealing the damage? This may be difficult to template in a readable way, as you have text spliced onto "this Giant" which refers to "the sacrificed creature" and "target creature." But I do like it. Could be "RW, Tap an untapped Giant you control, sacrifice a creature: . . . "
DAL: Team keeps.
DEL: AF's on the right track here.
DEL: Sucks to be the second player to play this guy.
MT: I wondered how this guy did in the casual pointing. Didn't really appeal to me (overly wordy).
AF: He shouldn't give the ability to Giants. He should just be lifelink Bloodshot Cyclops... Much easier to read and more likeable.
MP: We should change to AF's comment.
DAL: Team simplifies, changing to AF's suggestion. It's exactly Bloodshot Cyclops with lifelink that's gold, legendary, and can't throw himself. Cyclops was amazing in Eighth Edition Draft, and this guy is better. Team bars the Giant from throwing himself, because the lifelink doesn't work if you do that. Keeping the R off of the activation cost so that it matches Bloodshot Cyclops more seemingly exactly. Was "4RW 5/4 Giants you control have 'RW, T, Sacrifice a creature: CARDNAME deals damage equal to the sacrificed creature's power to target creature or player. You gain that much life.'"
DAL: Going to push this.
DAL: Pushed for Constructed. 4RW -> 2RW. Now sac ability hits just players. Added R to activation cost. This guy is Baloth/Hierarch level power. Test please.
DEL: Took out "creature or" to match previous comment.
DAL: 3R Brainflinger already sacs guys to hit creatures. Team thinks this guy is wicked powerful even without hitting creatures, and a powerful guy with "T: Kill target guy" is bad gameplay for tribal-world.
A beloved Commander card, Brion evolved quite a bit over time. The evolutions mostly speak for themselves (good work, Aaron!), but the one thing I'll point out is that "Damage-on-the-stack" note at the top. The rules changes removing damage from the stack were no doubt being discussed at some point just a little bit down the road in Magic 2010, and a pass was done to see which cards would be affected—which definitely made a pretty huge difference to cards like this!
ZM: Why do we need the first line? I think this is interesting and more elegant without it, and with this reworded to "Add 2 to your mana pool at the beginning of your next turn's precombat main phase." Otherwise, you get eight mana on your fourth turn this way . . .
MR: I like the fact that you can make some mana now or more mana in the future.
ZM: I want to make sure we understand what's going on here. The first turn you play it, you'll tap it for two on your next main phase, then on that turn you can tap it again on your upkeep to get an additional four. With an Elf and three lands, this is eight mana on turn three. You don't want that. If you do want the four-mana trick to work, this will need to be radically re-costed. I'm fine with keeping the first line if we want it, although I don't think the card needs it and I will take any chance to shave words off cards in this block at this point.
MT: Down to one mana for next turn as well.
DEL: Can this be just " . . . at the beginning of your next main phase" (like Mana Drain), or is floating mana across your combat phase a bad thing?
BS: Moving this to rare for numbers.
MAGO: Del, the problem with "at the beginning of your next main phase" (especially when the second ability produced two mana) was that you could play this card, play its second ability during the end of your turn, then play its second ability again during your next upkeep to wind up with four extra mana when your main phase began. Now that it makes only one mana either way, it's unclear if that's still a problem.
AF: Brady suggested making this produce any color. Me likey.
MT: Taps for any color.
PS: This seems really good now.
BS: Agree with PS.
AF: DAL—nostalgia to Phyrexian Lens, a fine Invasion rare.
AF: Unsure when I choose the color for ability two.
MT: Thoughts that this should add mana during the next main phase, to make tracking easier.
AF: Still unsure when I choose the color for ability two.
DEL: Was RA05 (filling the missing number).
DEL: Pretty template!
DEL: Dev and templating changes. Now uses counters and triggers during your turn.
DEL: Pulling the intervening-if clause because auto-yield fixes that problem in Magic Online. Changing so that you can get mana of different colors if it has multiple charge counters.
There's a lot of interesting bits to dive into here. If you gather up all the facts, it would appear Coalition Relic used to provide two mana for each counter. Crazy!
But perhaps the most interesting bit here is that the art for this card is originally from Apocalypse—a set released six years earlier. Even now, I still look through old art we've never used to see if it might fit somewhere. And in fact, I even helped find a home for one in an upcoming set . . . but that's a story for another day.
Eidolon of the Great Revel
DH: Pyrostatic Pillar on a creature. Shrug. Placeholder?
KEN: We want to not make more triggers?
DH: Moved to three mana. Yes, another trigger, but at least at rare.
TML: Appealing. Lots of neat stuff going on.
DH: Is this too confusing with strive and bestow?
EVL: Future Future League requested 1RR 3/2 -> RR 2/1.
DH: This isn't seeing much play. Is it supposed to be a 2/2?
DH: 2/1 -> 2/2. List as full Top25 and it's not seeing much play.
This card has the top25full tag, which meant that it was anticipated to be one of the strongest cards in the set. When it wasn't hitting, the Future Future League, which handles Constructed playtesting, brought it back into line. It certainly ended up hitting hard!
Grenzo, Dungeon Warden
DH: New attempt for Goblin legend. We have issues with space on this at the moment.
DH: Tried to shorten.
DH: Pretty sure I don't have the execution on this correct, although I feel like the parts are right. May be trying too hard to make multikicker go on here.
DH: Was "When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, exile the bottom three cards of your library face down. For each time CARDNAME was kicked, exile an additional card this way. T: Reveal a card at random exiled by CARDNAME. If it is a creature card put it onto the battlefield, otherwise put it into your graveyard." Now new. Much happier with this now.
DOH: Love it! Game needs more bottom-of-library mechanics. Also very multiplayer—in 1v1 the stress between attacking and dungeoning wouldn't work.
DH: Was still getting tension complaint from external team. Making it cost two instead of tap. Makes sense to me on a flood card. This guy might be too generously statted, but he's a legend.
Ah, the history of Grenzo. It's cool to look back at that original design. I believe the multikicker was two mana, and it didn't grow. All in all, I'm far happier with where we ended up!
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
MT: New Jace!
SW: The bounce might be a bit much on this guy. But I do like the ultimate.
KD: The -1 doesn't feel like part of the story, unless I'm missing something.
SW: I kinda wish his ultimate was something like "You gain 'Whenever an opponent draws, you may draw.'" We have had one milling Jace already. Although I like this one better for milling, it doesn't change the fact we have one already.
MT: Updated Jace. Reordered his abilities. Gave him Lee's wording.
KEN: Mr. Manaless Tome here loves having Loot Sphinx on D. I go the ultimate plan a reasonable amount of time because protecting Jace for four turns is often easier than dealing 20 damage.
GM: This ultimate is no fun to play against. If you play cards to try and beat it, you will have fewer cards to put in your library. If you hold your cards . . . well, if they didn't help you before, they're not going to help you later. It's too much of a "scoop owl" finish to a game.
KEN: I appreciate the lethality of his ultimate. Ajani Vengeant is a jerk because he freezes a land, forcing opponents to drop more, but then nukes them all. Theoretically you can claw you way back by holding lands, but I just scoop instead.
DEL: New first ability. Was mill two.
DEL: Last activation cost changed from -8 to -12.
There it is: the history of Jace!
You'll of course note the infamous Jace changing from mill two cards to looking at the top card of either player's library. Magic would never be the same. I am glad that ultimate moved up accordingly, though, because that would have definitely been a little too easy otherwise!
Magus of the Wheel
ID: All the previous Magi emulated permanents. Makes me curious about a cycle of instant/sorcery Magi, but not sure that can be implemented in a satisfying way. Also, is this too similar to Magus of the Jar?
DEL: Now I want to make Magus of the Staff of the Flame Magus.
KEN: Yeah, shouldn't be a Magus, should be a Spellshaper.
BH: Changed mana cost from 3R to 2R because all the Magus cards we've made so far have a converted mana cost that lines up with the card they are referencing.
BH: Changed activation cost from 2R, Sac to 1R, Tap, Sac, to allow future members of this cycle to have access to more exciting effects (by delaying them a turn with the requirement of tapping), and to decouple the mana activation cost from the CMC to give future members of this cycle an additional development knob besides power and toughness.
Magus of the Wheel kickstarted a supercycle, with one appearing each year in Commander sets! Is this the kind of thing you enjoy seeing? I'd love to know how people feel about these "supercycle-over-years" cards. Hit me up on Twitter and let me know what you think.
Ben's last note is crucial for the future of these cards; without those extra knobs, it's not clear to me how we could have made designs we would be happy with going forward because of power constraints. Making these Magi have a one-turn delay means we can print a lot more powerful effects.
And yes, Del, I too want Magus of the Staff of the Flame Magus. Un- set four, anyone?
AJ: New card from trope search.
AF: Wow. Cool hate card. Should it be some easier-to-cast color?
AJ: Cleaned up and simplified. Also, now you steal the draws. Talk to dev about hoser status and needs, if any.
AJ: Juiced; this could be mythic rare.
SM: What happens if you and I both have these? I'd prefer the original version that just shut down the draw. I liked hosing my opponents' card drawing so much better than being a mini Consecrated Sphinx.
AF: A replacement effect can only replace something once. So we each have one and we've each drawn one card, then you try to draw a card. Mine replaces, then yours replaces, then nothing else happens. You get to draw your card.
SM: I continue to wish this just hosed extra draws and didn't steal them.
MAX: Sphinx's Revelation – XWUU – Instant – Gain X life. Leap from the nearest cliff.
MJ: This could say "Players can only draw cards during their draw step."
ZH: Statted more weighted toward power to threaten planeswalkers.
ZH: Changed to "may" after feedback to avoid you decking yourself.
ID: Magic Online consideration—some kind of acknowledgement that this replacement effect has taken place would prevent players from forgetting it is in play and getting confused.
There are many lovely comments here. But what happened to that "may" Zac mentioned? After all, I've killed people because I cast Consecrated Sphinx when they had Notion Thief on the battlefield before.
Well, there is a place to look: templating comments!
Every card has a few different fields for notes. One of them houses comments about the design—which is what you are most familiar with, and what you'll typically find in M-Files articles. But there is also a templating comments field, where members of the editing and rules team can discuss how to write our cards. If it seems like there's something missing from the design comments that has to do with templating, it's probably hiding in there. Let's take a look!
KD: Needs a lot of work. Here's a version that hews closer to Chains of Mephistopheles. "If an opponent would draw a card except the first one he or she draws in his or her draw step each turn, instead that player skips that draw and you draw a card."
KD: Check whether a slight functional change could save this card from ugly words.
MAGO: This template confuses me. I don't know what "during his or her turn" modifies, and thus don't know what happens if my opponent tries drawing a card during my turn.
KD: Now two sentences for clarity. Still need to research "doesn't" versus "can't."
DEL: FAQ about interaction with that card that replaces draws to an empty hand.
KD: New text. Old text was getting mixed up between replacing draws and replacing cards. Going with the one that's closest to Chains. Another option uses unless: "If an opponent would draw a card, unless it's the first card that player draws in his or her draw step each turn, instead that player skips that draw and you draw a card."
DEL: My opponent doesn't have a draw step each turn. Maybe "in each of his or her draw steps"? That might have a similar problem.
KD: Matt suggests a functional change—"If a spell or ability would cause an opponent to draw a card, instead that player skips that draw and you draw a card." . . . But that interacts weirdly with another card in this set.
KD: Went with Del's suggestion. If this sticks, take another look at Chains.
While it doesn't call it out explicitly, it sounds like what happened was that it was decided a new template was needed, which removed the optional draw. And thus, you have Notion Thief!
Pact of Negation
ZM: I assume this is supposed to cost zero?
MC: I played with a couple of these and they were nifty. I do think the "if you don't pay" part needs to change so I don't auto lose if a guy is packing Disenchant.
MR: Corrected cost and changed to 0. Cycle still has the "removal makes you very unhappy" issue.
DAL: This will bug some eyes. "It's like Force of Will!"
MR: DESIGN NOTE #1—We have to talk about the "enchantment destruction hoses you" issue. All in all, I agree that this is a card that will excite players.
ZM: Very exciting card, very strong when going off or for winning counter wars. Watch out for bounce effects!
MP: Should think about these having mana cost and rules text of "You may play CARDNAME for no cost. If you do, pay 3UU during next upkeep, etc."
MT: Cleaned up old type of enchantment.
PS: Should be tried in non-blue combo decks.
MT: How are people feeling about these cards? Exciting, boring, frustrating?
BS: I like the idea of them. Some have complained about the drawback.
MC: What if you don't lose the game, you just skip that turn? That's a pretty hefty price, but it does not create a situation in which games are lost for stupid reasons.
DAL: "Skip two turns"?
BS: Sacrifice five lands? I semi-like the idea of "paying" the cost . . . if you forget.
AF: A tweak on the wording might help; "At the beginning of your next upkeep, you may pay 3UU. If you don't, you lose the game." And is five mana right for this? Most of the other effects seem costed somewhat normally—this one seems really expensive.
BS: I think the cost on this is fine.
AF: Yeah, I suppose I'd rather this not be a great card.
MT: Testing shows this card to be good. And of course totally awesome in Type 1. We will see what we have unleashed.
One of the wilder cycles we've ever made: the Pacts! I talked with Mike Turian about the history of these, and the Pacts (or at least this one) started as enchantments with flash in design, and had you pay for them next turn or sacrifice them, and when they were put into the graveyard you lost. (Hence, the Disenchant problem.) Eventually, once handed off to development, the Pacts turned into instants, and all kinds of downsides were discussed. Aaron came up with a good templating fix, and then the card was played. And as Mike points out, it turned out to be quite strong.
"We will see what we have unleashed," indeed!
NH: Come forth, my Ornithopter army!
WW: This could be sick in nonstandard formats.
AF: I'd like someone to actually break this before it gets nerfed. Tons of non-Spikes have shown this card much love.
BS: More likely trouble in Extended and Legacy than Type 2.
AF: Suggested tweaks include getting just one creature, or limiting it to getting green creatures. I prefer the latter. Getting Wood Snake/Wildebeest or Orangutan/Witness seems kinda neat.
MP: Now just gets one creature (could instead be any number of creatures, but green).
PS: I would prefer to search up any number of green creatures (if that's not broken). This just seems like something we've done before.
MP: Was any one creature with converted mana cost 6 or less.
DEL: You know, we've never done a creature card with an additional cost. Weird.
MP: Would like to change "any number of green creatures" to "any number of creatures."
DEL: Done. Okay that this now gets Ornithopters, etc.?
DEL: No longer optional.
This is quite the rollercoaster ride . . . especially in historical context.
Protean Hulk ended up breaking with Flash (another Masters 25 inclusion, but which sadly has had its notes lost to time) precisely because it could get creatures of other colors, and other times because it could get cards that cost zero. Even after noting that it could be problematic, eventually Matt Place made the decision to switch it from green to any color. (And, to his credit, it didn't break until Flash was unbanned in Legacy—and many people did love the card.)
BT: I speak for several people in saying "Common, please!" This card is unique in that you might be excited to open your fifth one.
DL: Was "You may play more than four copies of CARDNAME in your deck." Replaced with something that's more compatible with the Comprehensive Rules.
TB: My opinion is that this card should be pulled and that this mechanic should be expanded in the next Un- set.
DAL: We need to test more against this deck. It features almost no play decisions, so if it makes tier 2, I get nervous.
BS: This is better than we want it to be and should get more expensive.
BS: The team would like this better at common.
AF: If the first one really is 2/2, then it seems fine at uncommon.
DEL: Can this change to a 2/2 that gets +1/+1 for each other rat-dude?
DEL: Test this card in Magic Online's Tribal format? I'd hate to kill a casual format by accident.
DEL: R&D approved change to 2/2 that gets bonus for others.
A lot more contentious than you may have thought! It sounds like, once everybody bought into the idea (and decided it wasn't just Un- set fodder), the Rats originally counted themselves; they were three-mana 3/3s to start. Would that have ended up a strong Standard deck? Probably not—but that would have been quite the story if so!
MT: Was "Your opponents play with the top card of their libraries revealed. Your opponents can't play spells that share a type with the top card of their library."
MT: Now must take two.
AF: One is probably correct.
MT: Back to one card.
DEL: Unverifiable find. Okay to add "and reveal it" to that second sentence?
EVL: At one card, I think "nonland" is not needed. Okay I can take a land, and let you draw a card. Odds of mana screw are not high. The "take your spell, block and trade" route is probably better a high percentage of the time, and certainly more obvious.
AJ: Can/should this be forced? (i.e., if I have exactly one nonland, maybe they have to let me cycle it?) Oddly, this is the most fun Faerie I've played against; some percentage of the time, I actually get an exciting chance at drawing something. And who knows—maybe it's even better than what I lost!
DAL: Should this be forced? Risk is that caster has a feel-bad moment that puts them off the Clique forever. My instinct is optional, but I'd like to hear opinions.
KEN: I vote for nonland, optional. Taking my third land with this chained into Venser and Cryptic Command on my lands in play should not cross your mind when this hits.
EVL: I am fine with nonland and optional.
AF: If you cut nonland, you get to cut reveal as well. Is the card that powerful?
KEN: Players shouldn't have to endure Boomerang, Eye of Nowhere, Cryptic Command, Venser sequences on their second land drop because we wanted to save "words" on blue cards. I feel all blue bounce shouldn't target lands; let red bounce lands. Quashing lameness costs us "words" somewhere; I thought gameplay was paramount!
NW: That's not an either/or issue. With regard to this card specifically, I believe this would appreciate the cleanliness of excised words. Specifically, I don't believe that increase in power is too excessive for the visual gain. The card continues to be tested.
MR: This card so seems like a blue-black hybrid card. Is there a reason to make a monoblue card that feels like a black card?
Lots of knobs on this card! Optional, nonland, and, perhaps, most interesting to me, the number of cards. In retrospect, would you have preferred a different set of tweaks here? It's a great exercise to think about.
Well, that was quite the stroll down memory lane.
Would you like more articles like this? Also let me know that! If you enjoy them, perhaps we can dig back into the vaults every now and then like this.
Have fun slinging the myriad of spells from throughout time on display in Masters 25, and I'll talk with you again soon.