Premium Deck Series: Slivers

Posted in Feature on November 9, 2009

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.

Salutations and welcome to unofficial Sliver Week! Or, at least, my Premium Deck Series: Slivers article. I've been asked to share with you a behind-the-scenes account of the Magic R&D process that went into creating the Premium Deck Series: Slivers product.

Usually, ideas for new products come from R&D and then work their way through all the other departments. This time was different. As the lead game designer for this product, I wasn't involved until a strange-looking white-and-clear box was dropped off on my desk with an ultimatum to "find something compelling to put inside that."

Initial stages, first rudimentary concepts from the creative team
Unprinted mock up from vendor of the creative teams final submission

The Search for Themes

After some brainstorm meetings, an all-foil 60-card deck won the right to be inside this box. As a bling-matters deck designer, it was my task to determine exactly what 60 cards were going into the deck.

Our most compelling boxed sets always exude a strong theme. However, we didn't want to repeat any of these recently used themes:

  • Elves (Elves vs. Goblins)
  • Goblins (Elves vs. Goblins)
  • Dragons (From the Vault: Dragons)
  • Angels (Divine vs. Demonic)
  • Demons (Divine vs. Demonic)
  • Beasts (Garruk vs. Liliana)
  • Elementals (Planechase: Elemental Thunder)
  • Myr (Planechase: Metallic Dreams)
  • Zombies (Planechase: Zombie Uprising)
  • Vampires (Zendikar Intro Pack)

After some asking around, I had a short list of themes to choose from, and one of the lowest-hanging fruits was indeed Slivers. While it's a great idea, the problem is that it is quite possibly the best idea. Why is that a problem? Let me explain.

If you've ever been in an entertainment business that releases content on a regular basis, you come to realize that it's best to "spread out the awesome" across multiple releases. That way your audience finds compelling content in all your products rather than being spoiled by all the good stuff at the beginning, and the really good stuff has breathing room. You've probably noticed that TV series have mastered this art with cliffhangers and payoffs. However, movie sequels are notoriously poorer than their predecessors because they never "spread out the awesome"; there's never a sequel to a movie that bombs.

So, I was a bit nervous about Slivers because it fires what I felt was our very best deck-building bullet on the initial launch of Premium Deck Series. It's an entire foil deck in a foil deck box, ready to play! Does it really need any help to fly off the shelf beyond that?

But in the end, I bit the bullet.

The Candidates

Here is a full spoiler of all the Slivers in Magic:

NameCostType LineP/TMost Recent PrintingRarity
Acidic SliverCreature - Sliver2/2StrongholdUncommon
Armor SliverCreature - Sliver2/2TempestUncommon
Barbed SliverCreature - Sliver2/2TempestUncommon
Basal SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time SpiralCommon
Battering SliverCreature - Sliver4/4Planar ChaosCommon
Blade SliverCreature - Sliver2/2LegionsUncommon
Bonesplitter SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time SpiralCommon
Brood SliverCreature - Sliver3/3LegionsRare
Cautery SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Planar ChaosUncommon
Clot SliverCreature - Sliver1/1TempestCommon
Crypt SliverCreature - Sliver1/1LegionsCommon
Crystalline SliverCreature - Sliver2/22003 FNM PromosSpecial
Darkheart SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Planar ChaosUncommon
Dementia SliverCreature - Sliver3/3Time SpiralUncommon
Dormant SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Planar ChaosUncommon
Essence SliverCreature - Sliver3/3Time Spiral TimeshiftedSpecial
Firewake SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Time SpiralUncommon
Frenetic SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Planar ChaosUncommon
Frenzy SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Future SightCommon
Fungus SliverCreature - Fungus Sliver2/2Time SpiralRare
Fury SliverCreature - Sliver3/3Time SpiralUncommon
Gemhide SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Time SpiralCommon
Ghostflame SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time SpiralUncommon
Harmonic SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Time SpiralUncommon
Heart SliverCreature - Sliver1/1TempestCommon
Hibernation SliverCreature - Sliver2/2StrongholdUncommon
Homing SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Future SightCommon
Horned SliverCreature - Sliver2/2TempestUncommon
Hunter SliverCreature - Sliver1/1LegionsCommon
Lymph SliverCreature - Sliver3/3Future SightCommon
Magma SliverCreature - Sliver3/3LegionsRare
Mesmeric SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Future SightCommon
Metallic SliverArtifact Creature - Sliver1/1TempestCommon
Might SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time SpiralUncommon
Mindlash SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Time SpiralCommon
Mindwhip SliverCreature - Sliver2/2TempestUncommon
Mistform SliverCreature - Illusion Sliver1/1LegionsCommon
Mnemonic SliverCreature - Sliver2/2TempestUncommon
Muscle SliverCreature - Sliver1/12003 FNM PromosSpecial
Necrotic SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Planar ChaosUncommon
Opaline SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time SpiralUncommon
Plague SliverCreature - Sliver5/5Time SpiralRare
Plated SliverCreature - Sliver1/1LegionsCommon
Poultice SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Planar ChaosCommon
Psionic SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time SpiralRare
Pulmonic SliverCreature - Sliver3/3Time SpiralRare
Quick SliverCreature - Sliver1/1LegionsCommon
Quilled SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Time SpiralUncommon
Reflex SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Planar ChaosCommon
Root SliverCreature - Sliver2/2LegionsUncommon
Screeching SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Time SpiralCommon
Sedge SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time SpiralRare
Shadow SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Time SpiralCommon
Shifting SliverCreature - Sliver2/2LegionsUncommon
Sidewinder SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Time SpiralCommon
Sinew SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Planar ChaosCommon
Sliver LegionLegendary Creature - Sliver7/7Future SightRare
Sliver OverlordLegendary Creature - Sliver Mutant7/7ScourgeRare
Sliver QueenLegendary Creature - Sliver7/7StrongholdRare
Spectral SliverCreature - Sliver Spirit2/2LegionsUncommon
Spined SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time Spiral TimeshiftedSpecial
Spinneret SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time SpiralCommon
Spitting SliverCreature - Sliver3/3Planar ChaosCommon
Synapse SliverCreature - Sliver3/3LegionsRare
Synchronous SliverCreature - Sliver3/3Planar ChaosCommon
Talon SliverCreature - Sliver1/1TempestCommon
Telekinetic SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time SpiralUncommon
Toxin SliverCreature - Sliver3/3LegionsRare
Two-Headed SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Time SpiralCommon
Vampiric SliverCreature - Sliver3/3Time SpiralUncommon
Venser's SliverArtifact Creature - Sliver3/3Time SpiralCommon
Victual SliverCreature - Sliver2/2StrongholdUncommon
Virulent SliverCreature - Sliver1/1Future SightCommon
Ward SliverCreature - Sliver2/2LegionsUncommon
Watcher SliverCreature - Sliver2/2Time SpiralCommon
Winged SliverCreature - Sliver1/1TempestCommon

The Selection Process

I know that some Slivers are more beloved than others. However, I have a very large audience to serve. There are players who want four of each of their favorite Slivers sitting next to EDH players who want never-before-foiled Slivers as one-ofs. With only 60 slots to work with, I knew I couldn't please everyone.


Magic deck building is about finding synergy so that your deck runs like a well-oiled machine. Slivers are a tribe all about synergy. However, even in a tribe as synergistic and sharing as the Sliver hive, there are times when two Slivers just don't enjoy each other's company.

First up we have Crystalline Sliver versus Opaline Sliver.

Crystalline Sliver
Opaline Sliver

Crystalline Sliver prevents your Slivers from being targeted. Opaline Sliver's ability can only trigger when an opponent targets one of your slivers, which Crystalline Sliver flat out disables. These two also happen to be the only white-blue gold Slivers ever printed.

Next up we have Magma Sliver versus Crystalline Sliver.

Magma Sliver
Crystalline Sliver

Magma Sliver lets you skyrocket the power of your Slivers with its sick tap ability. However, it requires targeting your Slivers, which Crystalline Sliver prevents. Even though we definitely enjoy the power boost of Magma Sliver, we've already chosen Crystalline Sliver from above.

Next up we have Metallic Sliver versus Harmonic Sliver.

Metallic Sliver
Harmonic Sliver

Metallic Sliver is one of the original slivers (and Mark Rosewater wishes he'd had named it Silver Sliver). It doesn't do much except be a 1/1 Sliver (using dated "This counts as a Sliver" technology), but you can cast it with any color of mana. That's pretty snazzy for a five-color deck. Harmonic Sliver is a silver bullet sliver that can single-handedly dismantle your opponent's Myr deck or Sigil of the Empty Throne deck. However, since Harmonic Sliver's effect is mandatory, sometimes you will be forced to destroy your own Metallic Sliver. In general, players absolutely despise this kind of "bad tension."

Dormant Sliver

To the designer in me, Dormant Sliver seems like a cruel joke. On one hand, it enables my Slivers to draw into more Slivers but on the other hand, it grants all my Slivers defender, preventing me from attacking my opponent. There's certainly tricks to be had with Victual Sliver and whatnot, but there's always tricks with Magic cards, and on the whole I don't feel that Dormant Sliver is high on players' lists of most-loved Slivers.

Whoever designed Dormant Sliver must love Jungle Barrier way more than everyone else does.

Feel Bad

The next Slivers don't create dissynergy per se, but they certainly qualify as pairs that I wanted to avoid so players don't "feel bad" about it.

First up is Talon Sliver versus Fury Sliver

Talon Sliver
Fury Sliver

Since granting your Slivers double strike is just better than giving them first strike, Fury Sliver's bonus trumps Talon Sliver's. A deck doesn't really need both. Since Fury Sliver is actually one of the most damage-increasing slivers ever printed, it gets the nod.

Next up is Heart Sliver and Firewake Sliver.

Heart Sliver
Firewake Sliver

Both of these Slivers grant haste. Firewake Sliver does some more weird stuff. While my main colors just happen to be red and green, Firewake Sliver has a targeted effect that gets hosed by my Crystalline Sliver. The straightforward Heart Sliver does what I'm looking for without the weirdness attached.

Finally, we have Winged Sliver and Pulmonic Sliver.

Winged Sliver
Pulmonic Sliver

We have another case of the bigger Sliver totally encompassing the ability of the smaller Sliver. In this case, Winged Sliver is the cleaner and more famous of the two, so it wins out.

A Mythic in the Making

Making new products with old cards has always had it fidgety compromises, like making an old radio using new transistors or playing old sheet music compositions with modern instruments.

  • We have modern card frames.
  • We have modern rules, keywords, and templates.
  • We have a new Mythic rarity.
  • We even have modernized Creature subtypes.

For the most part, we update all aspects of old cards accordingly. While there's nostalgia in old frames/rules/templates, that nostalgia is forever locked in the old cards already in circulation. We can add zing to new cards with new frames/rules/templates during the modernization process. As a player, I appreciate that the cards in circulation offer both the old and the new.

The trickiest upgrade is the recently added Mythic rarity. While reprinted cards have moved up and down in rarity throughout Magic history, it's only been across a 3-rarity system of common/uncommon/rare. Mythic adds a fourth possible choice for a reprinted card's rarity.

If I were make a list of "the most Mythic cards in all of Magic: The Gathering history" it might look something like:

  1. Black Lotus
  2. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
  3. Progenitus
  4. Darksteel Colossus
  5. Platinum Angel

In my opinion, Black Lotus is the "most Mythic" of all Magic cards; I had heard whispers and tales of the Black Lotus years before I actually saw one with my own eyes. And indeed, as of Magic 2010 we have upgraded both Darksteel Colossus and Platinum Angel to the well-deserved Mythic rarity.

Slivers aren't without their Mythic candidates for upgrading. From the complete Sliver list above, the three candidates are:

We can safely assume these three cards would be mythic rares if such a thing existed so many years ago. The Premium Deck Series is slated to have just one, though, so which one should it be?

Short answer: Sliver Overlord. Sliver Queen is on the Reserve List, and thusly can't be reprinted as long as it's on there. Sliver Legion is a glorified Coat of Arms and much less of a deckbuilding centerpiece. Incidentally, Sliver Overlord makes for the best EDH General for a Sliver deck, though Sliver Queen works better in a non-Sliver EDH deck built around her infinite combos.

Next up is Muscle Sliver and Sinew Sliver.

Muscle Sliver
Sinew Sliver

Both these Slivers grant +1/+1, a "Lord" in the most traditional sense. Muscle Sliver is particularly famous—IIRC the first ever "better than Grizzly Bears" bear though it still avoids the "strictly better" comparison.

They literally do the same thing, so I chose the more famous and loved Muscle Sliver. Sinew Sliver is just a planeshifted Muscle Sliver anyway in adherence to the main theme of Planar Chaos. This decision also helps give the deck a heavier green tilt, which adds a tiny bit of consistency desperately needed in a deck.

Next up is Clot Sliver and Crypt Sliver.

Clot Sliver
Crypt Sliver

Both of these Slivers regenerate your Slivers. Clot costs while Crypt costs tapping (a Sliver without Summoning Sickness). The stickler is, again, that darned Crystalline Sliver bomboing with Crypt Sliver's targeting, so in goes never-been-foiled Clot Sliver.

I Love It When a Product Comes Together

Here's what it looks like sitting on the shelf at a store near you:

And that's it—the respawning of an old race and the birth of a new product series. If you've heard of Slivers, remember playing with and against them, want to give the geometrically scaling tribe a whirl, or are looking to bling-bling out your current Sliver deck, this is the product for you. Premium Deck Series: Slivers goes on sale November 20.

The end of evolution is upon us.

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