Magic 2011 Has Big Shoes to Fill

Posted in Feature on June 28, 2010

By Aaron Forsythe

Now comes the interesting part.

Part of the plan—a big part, actually—of revamping Magic's core sets with Magic 2010 was that new ones would be a yearly event, a big change from the perpetual biannual model that the game has had until now. We wanted to adopt this model for two reasons.

First, we have been having success with four sets per year for quite a while now, and we like what that rate of change does to the Limited and Constructed environments. But whereas coming up with enough individual cards to fill those sets has never been an issue, it's proven tricky to piece together four sets a year thematically. Coldsnap and Eventide struggled to captivate people as much as we'd like for different reasons, and I believe sets like Unhinged—when we get around to revisiting the Un- sets—can be released in the midst of a normal schedule. We needed to find a reusable fourth-set solution.

Second, we feel it is important for the core sets to be on shelves—and in the front of people's minds—for as much time as possible. When a new player tries to enter the game, I want the core set to be there to welcome him with open arms. The combination of new cards, which keeps enfranchised players interested in the line, and a yearly refresh should keep core sets on shelves and pegboards in both game stores and larger retailers longer than our previous model did.

It has been over two years since the initial planning for this new core set line, and finally we get to see the whole thing come to fruition. And based on the overwhelming success of Magic 2010, I expect Magic 2011 to firmly cement the idea of an annual core set as a permanent part of the game.

Building a BETTER Better Core Set

In some ways creating the follow-up to an awesome product should be a relatively easy task—the blueprint is in place and all the visionary heavy lifting is out of the way. In other ways, creating such a follow-up could have proven more difficult than making this original; after all, how many of the good ideas had we used up already, and how close to perfect was M10?

My Magic 2010 design team had been a who's who of veterans and managers across R&D—head designer Mark Rosewater, head developer Devin Low, design manager Brian Tinsman, creative manager Brady Dommermuth, and even my own boss, Vice President of R&D Bill Rose—essentially everyone that had to buy off on such a massive change to the core set. For M11, however, I was free to assemble more traditional design and development teams. Here's who I knew I wanted involved in the project:

The Lead Developer of M10. I can't give enough credit to Erik Lauer for how well M10 turned out. From the get-go, he just "got it." He implemented my vision with a deft touch and added his own brand of spice to the set, helping it integrate into the tournament environment with cards like Baneslayer Angel and Great Sable Stag. I wanted him leading the development of the second iteration of new core sets as well.

The Eventual Lead Designer of M12. As much as I'd like to handle the design of every core set we make until I retire, that's not practical, and a bit greedy on my part. Lots of other people in R&D are capable of heading up these sets, so I needed to pass the torch. Mark Globus, Magic's Senior Producer and a top finisher in the fabled Great Designer Search, was the man for the job.

A Member of the Creative Team. Brady was hugely valuable in M10 design, helping to flesh out concepts and providing lists of inspirational material, and I wanted to replicate that experience on the M11 team. Enter one Doug Beyer, author of Savor the Flavor and talented card designer.

Joining Mark, Doug, and myself on the design team were Greg Marques, a designer I enjoyed working with on Rise of the Eldrazi, and Tom LaPille, the team's development rep, weekly author of Latest Developments, and, as it would turn out, the eventual lead developer of M12. I love it when a plan comes together.

Here was our challenge: Make M11 deliver a similar experience to M10 for someone who had never played the game before (or had taken a long leave of absence), but make it deliver a significantly different experience for people who had played with M10.

I'm not going to get into a blow-by-blow account of all the percentages we adjusted, themes we tinkered with,and individual card choices we made in the months we worked on Magic 2011, as I want to save stuff for Mark Rosewater, Doug, and Tom to regale you with in the coming weeks. But I will quickly cover some of the big decisions we made.

A "New" Mechanic

Somewhere in all the core set discussions we'd been having over the past couple years, it was brought up that there are plenty of flavorful keywords in Magic beyond the handful of core set staples we refer to as "evergreen." It was at Erik's behest that we attempted to incorporate one such mechanic into M11, both to give it an identity distinct from M10 at first glance, and to make the new set play significantly different from the old one in Limited.

The mechanic chosen was scry (which I designed many years ago for the Fifth Dawn expansion), and while it behaves differently from most keywords we typically use—it has a variable attached to it, and it is technically a "keyword action" because it appears in sentences as opposed to by itself—but I contend that it is just as flavorful as any of our evergreen keywords. I particularly enjoy the card Crystal Ball.

The inclusion of scry in M11 doesn't mean it will be a constant part of Magic going forward. We didn't reevaluate scry as evergreen as much as we reevaluated our rules for how we use keywords. We're happy with how it worked out, and it's likely you'll see additional "keyword cameos" in future core sets.

Fewer Functional Reprints

I don't regret all the Runeclaw Bear and Essence Scatter "renaming" we did in Magic 2010—each was the correct decision for the game individually. I do regret, however, that we didn't differentiate between new designs and new names when we presented the amount of new content in Magic 2010, leaving some people feeling like we'd padded the numbers. That wasn't our intent, and rest assured that when I say "Magic 2011 contains 46% new designs," that number doesn't include the very small number of functional reprints in the set.

Keep You Guessing

Baneslayer Angel is back, Vampire Nocturnus isn't. Lightning Bolt is back, Siege-Gang Commander isn't. Elvish Archdruid is back, Captain of the Watch isn't. Mana Leak has been reprinted, Essence Scatter has not. Part of keeping the core set exciting each year will be a lack of predictability. We don't want cards to be on a schedule with regard to how long they'll be in Standard or how many consecutive times we're willing to reprint them. Take no card for granted! That said, just because one of your favorites may have disappeared in M11 doesn't mean we won't reconsider it for another core set in the future!

A Big, Splashy Cycle

During our initial design meetings, I was pushing hard for a big cycle that could be the "face of the set" and play a big role in differentiating M11 from M10. My initial proposal was for five "titans"—a cycle of Giants with impressive board-altering abilities. Many other ideas were put forth, but we ultimately settled on titans. It's good to be the lead sometimes.

In general, Giants in Magic are portrayed as oafish, club-dragging brutes, complete with standard-issue warts, animal-hide breechcloths, and flavor text that describes stepping on and/or throwing things. In my mind, however, is burned another image of giants: noble embodiments of force and element, living in expansive castles in the clouds or atop mountain peaks.

It took many iterations of mechanics to come up with the final version of the Titans in M11; I know the development team spent at least as much time working on them as the design team did. Each of them is a six-mana 6/6 with an ability that triggers both when they enter the battlefield and each time they attack. You've probably seen the white Sun Titan—M11's prerelease promo—on the Visual Spoiler. Here's his nasty black counterpart:

Yes, that's 10 power of creatures that threatens to quickly become more. Impressive!

Art by Nils Hamm

There's a lot more to discuss regarding the genesis of this set, from the increased focus on our planeswalker characters to the shift in tempo in the set's Limited play, but as I said before, I'm leaving those goodies for those dedicated souls who write weekly columns here.

Two to Remember

I'll leave you with a couple important technical changes that are in place with Magic 2011.

First—and I know we've talked about this many times before, but it bears repeating—Magic 2010 does not rotate out of Standard or Extended when Magic 2011 is released. Sets only rotate out once per year now, and Magic 2010 will rotate out with the Shards of Alara block this fall when Scars of Mirrodin is released. That means, for the first time ever, two core sets will be legal in Standard at the same time, albeit only for a few months.

Second, there is one minor rules change associated with this set (as opposed to the significant overhaul we did last year). The functionality for the deathtouch mechanic is changing. I'll admit that when we switched last year to not putting combat damage on the stack and requiring blockers to be ordered, it was a difficult challenge to get deathtouch to work similarly to how it did pre-M10. The solution we came to for M10 was rushed, cobbled together in the final weeks before the set went to print, and I (and many of you) felt unsatisfied by it. To that end, we revamped it. I can accept that changing the rules for a mechanic twice in thirteen months is undesirable, but in the long run I'm sure this will prove to be the correct decision.

Starting with M11, deathtouch no longer ignores blocking order in situations involving multiple blockers. Additionally, you only need to assign a single point of damage from a creature with deathtouch to each blocker, which makes deathtouch a potent combination with trample. A 4/4 with trample and deathtouch can assign one damage to a blocking 8/8 and the other 3 damage to the defending player. The full FAQ entry for deathtouch appears below. Note that it's subject to changes before the final version of the FAQ is posted, and not all the cards in the examples appear in M11.

That's it from me. Enjoy all the previews, and then enjoy the Magic 2011 core set. I promise it's every bit as fun and flavorful as its groundbreaking predecessor, if not more so.

***Revised Keyword Ability: Deathtouch***

Deathtouch is an ability usually seen on creatures. How it works has been changed. The new rules for deathtouch are as follows:

702.2. Deathtouch

702.2a Deathtouch is a static ability.

702.2b Any nonzero amount of combat damage assigned to a creature by a source with deathtouch is considered to be lethal damage, regardless of that creature's toughness. See rule 510.1c-d.

702.2c A creature that's been dealt damage by a source with deathtouch since the last time state-based actions were checked is destroyed as a state-based action. See rule 704.

702.2d The deathtouch rules function no matter what zone an object with deathtouch deals damage from.

702.2e If an object changes zones before an effect causes it to deal damage, its last known information is used to determine whether it had deathtouch.

702.2f Multiple instances of deathtouch on the same object are redundant.

* If a creature (whether it has deathtouch or not) blocks or is blocked by multiple creatures, those creatures must be put into damage assignment order during the declare blockers step. The creature then assigns its combat damage to those creatures according to the damage assignment order announced for it. It can't assign combat damage to one of those creatures unless each creature that precedes that creature in its order is assigned lethal damage. If a creature with deathtouch blocks or is blocked by multiple creatures, everything works exactly the same way with one exception: assigning even 1 of that creature's damage to a creature is considered to be lethal damage.

Example: The damage assignment order of an attacking Acidic Slime (a 2/2 creature with deathtouch) is Spined Wurm (a 5/4 creature) then Siege Mastodon (a 3/5 creature) then Runeclaw Bear (a 2/2 creature). Acidic Slime can assign 1 damage to the Wurm and 1 damage to the Mastodon, or 2 damage to the Wurm. It can't assign damage to the Bear. Each creature Acidic Slime deals damage to is destroyed.

* If an attacking creature with deathtouch and trample becomes blocked, the attacking creature first assigns damage to the creature(s) blocking it. Once all those blocking creatures are assigned lethal damage, any remaining damage is assigned as its controller chooses among those blocking creatures and the player or planeswalker the creature is attacking. However, since the creature has deathtouch, assigning even 1 damage to a creature is considered to be lethal damage.

Example: Yavimaya Wurm (a 6/4 creature with trample) is equipped with Gorgon Flail (an Equipment that grants the equipped creature +1/+1 and deathtouch). It attacks a player and is blocked by Siege Mastodon (a 3/5 creature). Yavimaya Wurm must assign at least 1 damage to the Mastodon. Its remaining damage may be assigned as its controller chooses between the Mastodon and the defending player. Notably, the Wurm may assign 1 damage to the Mastodon and 6 damage to the defending player. After that damage is dealt to the Mastodon, the Mastodon will be destroyed.

* If a creature with deathtouch and another creature both block or are blocked by a creature, the other creature may take into account the fact that any combat damage dealt by a creature with deathtouch is considered to be lethal damage.

Example: An attacking Acidic Slime (a 2/2 creature with deathtouch) and an attacking Yavimaya Wurm (a 6/4 creature with trample) are both blocked by a Palace Guard (a 1/4 creature that can block any number of creatures). The Slime must assign its 2 damage to the Guard. Since the Guard is being assigned lethal damage, the Wurm's 6 damage may be assigned as its controller chooses between the Guard and the defending player. Notably, the Wurm may assign all 6 damage to the defending player. It doesn't matter which creature's damage is assigned first, as long as the final damage assignment follows all the applicable parameters.

* The rule that causes creatures dealt damage by a source with deathtouch to be destroyed applies to any damage, not just combat damage.

* A regeneration effect can save a creature that's been dealt damage by a source with deathtouch.

* If multiple state-based actions would destroy a creature at the same time (because it's been dealt lethal damage and been dealt damage by a source with deathtouch), a single regeneration effect will replace all of them and save the creature.

* If a creature is dealt damage by a source with deathtouch, it'll be destroyed as a state-based action. That means there's no time to react between the time the creature is dealt damage and the time it's destroyed. If you want to put a regeneration shield on it, or sacrifice it for some effect, or anything else, you must do so before the damage is actually dealt.

* The rules that care about deathtouch function no matter where the source with deathtouch is. In other words, if a spell or ability causes a card with deathtouch that's not on the battlefield to deal damage to a creature (like Selfless Exorcist's ability does, for example), that creature will be destroyed. This isn't the same as damage dealt by a source that has changed zones; see below.

* If a source of damage hasn't changed zones by the time that damage is dealt, its characteristics are checked to see if it has deathtouch at that time. If the source has changed zones by then, its last existence in the zone it was expected to be in is checked to see if it had deathtouch at that time.

* If an object with deathtouch gains another instance of deathtouch, the extra instance of deathtouch won't have any particular effect. If that object deals damage to a creature, a single regeneration effect will still save it.

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