Leading Aether Revolt

Posted in Feature on January 3, 2017

By Ben Hayes

Ben Hayes has been designing games for over a decade and has been part of the Magic R&D development team since 2013. He led the FFL Team for Khans of Tarkir and the development team for Magic Duels: Origins.

Hi there! I'm Ben Hayes, a senior game designer in Magic R&D and the lead developer of Aether Revolt. Unlike other companies where "development" would typically refer to work in technology, at Wizards we use the term to describe the later part of our game-design process. At this stage, we're focused on taking the awesome ideas that the first design team came up with and putting them all together in a way that makes as many people happy as possible. The development process covers everything from how easy the set and mechanics are to learn to tuning the competitive Limited and Constructed play environments.

Given that Aether Revolt was coming after Kaladesh and in the same block, sharing the setting and many similar ideas, some of the biggest challenges and questions throughout the process were around how we wanted to position this set relative to Kaladesh. How did we want Aether Revolt to be different and unique, and in what ways did we want to magnify and complement the framework that Kaladesh had set before us?

Before I go into too much more detail, please let me introduce my fantastic team.

The Team

Ben Hayes (lead)

As I mentioned up there, I was the lead of this team. Before being given this opportunity, I was also the lead developer of Commander (2015 Edition), Commander (2016 Edition), Magic Duels, and Conspiracy: Take the Crown. I was also on both the design and development teams for Kaladesh, so I had already spent over a year working on the block before this team even began. Getting to lead a project like this was a dream come true for me, and I'm tremendously excited for it to finally be seeing the light of day.


Sam Stoddard

Sam is a senior game designer in Magic R&D on the development team, and he was in the role of my "strong second" on the team. He had two set leads under his belt at this point and was a great source of guidance to me throughout the process. Sam was the lead developer of both Magic Origins and Eldritch Moon, and he writes our Latest Developments column every week.


Ethan Fleischer

Ethan is a senior game designer in Magic R&D on the design team and was that team's representative in our group. He contributed a lot of card designs throughout the process as we iterated and needed to fill holes in the set. Ethan also brought an extremely valuable and different type of player perspective to the team, as everyone other than him came from a Pro Tour–player background, whereas he has experiences much closer to the kitchen table. Ethan was the lead designer of Commander (2014 Edition), Commander (2016 Edition), Journey into Nyx, and Oath of the Gatewatch.


Adam Prosak

Adam is a game designer in Magic R&D on the development team. He was also on the initial design team for Aether Revolt, so his role on this team was to carry over the knowledge of what the design team had previously explored and give more context to how they arrived at the decisions they handed off. Adam is also one of the biggest contributors to our Future Future League playtesting process, so he was a valuable resource to the team as we shifted into focusing more on what type on impact we wanted the set to have on Standard. Adam was the lead designer of Tempest Remastered and the lead developer of Legendary Cube, Eternal Masters, and the upcoming Modern Masters 2017 Edition.


Yoni Skolnik

Yoni is a game designer in Magic R&D on the development team. He was also with me on both the Commander (2016 Edition) and Conspiracy: Take the Crown teams, and on both those teams he was a consistent source of broad insights. Yoni has a great big-picture view of sets and environments, and it was excellent to have him on the team as someone I could always bounce ideas off and trust to give great and productive feedback. In addition to the teams I already mentioned, Yoni also contributed to the development of both Battle for Zendikar and the upcoming Modern Masters 2017 Edition.


Tim Aten

Tim was an editor in Magic R&D and has since moved on from Wizards. Tim was not originally assigned to the Aether Revolt development team, but he was one of the strongest players in R&D during his time here and by the end of the process he had put in as much work and contributed to as much positive change in the set as anyone who was officially on the team, so it was important to me that he be retroactively added to this list and recognized for that. Tim also contributed to the development of Dragons of Tarkir, Battle for Zendikar, Shadows over Innistrad, Kaladesh, Amonkhet, and Hour of Devastation. Tim was also recently a contestant on Jeopardy!, where he survived for eight episodes and won over $100,000!

Now that you've met the team, let's talk more about the set we made.

Revolt!

One of the most important elements of any Magic set is its mechanics. When a type of ability gets upgraded to being a mechanic, it usually implies that we want to put it on a somewhat large number of cards. And when a type of ability is on a large number of cards, it's naturally going to have a big impact on how you experience playing with the set. That may all seem obvious to some, but at the same time it can be easy to lose sight of the fundamentals when you're faced with a bunch of new cards. Speaking of mechanics and new cards, here's one!

Revolt is a new mechanic that works toward the goal of making the set have its own identity as well as building off the work in Kaladesh. From a flavor perspective, revolt captures a couple of different ideas. The first is that of recycling your old inventions into new ones; for example, if you were to "enable" it by sacrificing an artifact. The other idea with revolt is that it can represent revenge and fighting back; for example, if your revolt is "on" because your opponent killed your creature or shattered your Vehicle.

Revolt is intentionally very open-ended to play into the Kaladesh theme of wondrous possibility and invention. That it can be enabled by cards leaving the battlefield, as opposed to just going to a graveyard, and that it can be enabled by any type of permanent leaving, as opposed to just creatures or just artifacts, are intentional choices to push it to the height of potential combinations and excitement.

With a mechanic like revolt in the environment, you naturally end up wanting to make new versions of existing ideas in a way that works just that little bit better in this new context. For example...

This is a card, or type of card, that you're used to seeing in sets every now and then. What does Traveler's Amulet look like in revolt world?

By taking a little bit of power away in one area (you can't go grab a land the first turn you cast this), we're able to put that power back into the card in a different way that works more effectively with our themes and mechanics. If you take Countless Gears Renegade as an example, with Traveler's Amulet there's no way you're getting that extra Servo on turn two. But what if you have Renegade Map? No problem.

One of the most interesting things to me about building play environments like this is finding those familiar effects people know and applying them in a way that gives players new things to think about and discover.

More Energy

The question of how we wanted to approach energy in Aether Revolt was largely centered around how we wanted to fill out what Kaladesh had started. It's no secret if you look at Kaladesh that energy isn't evenly distributed among the five colors. From a game-design perspective, this helps to make the colors and strategies more unique and distinct. While that's good, especially when we are debuting something, Aether Revolt was in the position of finishing out the block, and we felt like this was the right time to show some energy love to the colors that got fewer cards and options in the first set. Because of this, as we leave the block, players will have the full suite of different combinations of colors if they wanted to build a deck around energy.

The Siphoner gives you a great rate of return on your energy spend, and with its evasion ability, it also gives you a pretty reliable source of energy gain. While the Siphoner works just fine on its own, as many energy cards do, it truly shines in a deck where you've got plenty of energy flowing in from other places as well. Even the addition of a simple Aether Hub on turn one or two before you cast the Siphoner means you'll be getting a card right away on your next upkeep, as opposed to having to wait one more turn.

And You're Still an Inventor

In Aether Revolt, we knew there were a lot of new themes we wanted to capture, but we also wanted to make sure we stayed true to the core ideal of the block. Having a good amount of new ways to feel clever and express your creativity and ingenuity was a vital way to carry over that feeling of being an inventor from Kaladesh.

There are a few phrases we sometimes print on cards that I have a disproportionate amount of love for, and "You win the game" is one of them. Hopefully before you even started reading this paragraph, your gears were already turning with all the ways you could use Mechanized Production, so I won't bother serving up any obvious clues for you.

Anyway, there's a few previews cards and some insights into Aether Revolt. I hope you enjoy playing with the set as much as my team and I enjoyed working on it. If you've got any questions you think I could answer, or just want to chat about the set more as it comes out, please feel free to tweet at me @benbhayes and I'll try to be as responsive as possible.

Thanks for reading!

—Ben

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