Raiders of the Lost Cabinet

Posted in Feature on March 8, 2010

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Welcome to Adventure Week! So what exactly is Adventure Week? To quote editor Kelly Digges: "This is a totally open-ended theme week about going on journeys, pushing comfort zones, and having fun." I always write on theme so I began my adventure by figuring out what exactly I was going to do.

I knew I wanted to do something a little untraditional. Also, I hadn't done a really offbeat column in a while, and those types of columns are definitely an adventure from a writing standpoint. All that remained was to figure out what kind of adventure I was to undertake. So I dug in deep and channeled my own favorite adventure hero ...

I too would be an adventurous archeologist. This meant I had to find to find a source for my own archeological dig. Someplace that had secrets from years gone by. Someplace deep in the bowels of danger. Or at least someplace the faint of heart would not venture ....

My desk.

I have a reputation for having the messiest desk in the Pit. Normally this would be a negative, but when we are looking for excavation sites, a huge plus. As I scoped out the archeological site, I soon stumbled upon the target for today's adventure ....

The Cabinets of Rosewater!

This is completely different than the File Cabinets of Garfield, where the Coldsnap expansion was discovered. No, these are a set of two large drawers that I have had as part of my desk since I began working here back in 1995 (fifteen years for those bad at math). When we moved a few years back, the movers were able to move my cabinet fully assembled, so I didn't need to unpack it.

What this all means is that there is dtill one place that holds fifteen years of my personal history here at Wizards. This is the subject of today's dig. Well, just the top drawer, as I'm going to try and stick to my normal word count. I am going to go through the top cabinet drawer and share with you what I find. Will this give you deep insight into the Magic design process? I doubt it. Will it be an adventure? I believe it will. So for those not too faint of heart, join me as we venture into ...

The Cabinets of Rosewater!

Well, the Upper Cabinet of Rosewater!

Before we open it, let's start by examining what's sitting on the outside.

What exactly is attached to the outside? These were a promotional item made for the 2002 Junior Super Series (an event we used to run for players 18 and under with prize money going towards education). They are Magic-themed refrigerator word magnets. You are supposed to break them apart and start making Magic-themed sentences. For some reason I kept all three copies intact and on my cabinets. There was another set of magnets made for the Super Series a year earlier, but that one didn't end up making it onto the cabinet.

When I attempt to open the cabinet, it will not budge. There appears to be some kind of lock. If only I had the tools to open it .... Oh, there's the key on my keychain.

As you can see the drawer is filled almost to the top. There are a lot of Magic booster boxes. What do they hold? Here's the first box I pull out.

I believe it is a Chinese Fourth Edition booster box. So what's in it?

German Urza's Legacy boosters. Not so predictable. Why do I have German Urza's Legacy boosters in a Chinese Fourth Edition booster box? That secret may be lost to the history of time. (Did that last sentence make any sense?) The answer is that I got some German Urza's Legacy boosters, and so I stuck them into whatever box I had lying around. I assume somewhere I have some Chinese Fourth Edition boosters. We'll see, won't we?

Next up ....

A Mirage booster box, one in English no less. What's inside?

Two thirds Mirage boosters and one third Homelands boosters. Homelands. Well, not every sarcophagus is lined with jewels.

Oh no ....

I'll be honest, my hopes aren't too high.

I'm sure most of you have a box of Homelands and German Urza's Legacy lying around as well.

Next, something other than a booster box of Magic.

It's one of Magic's very first set of Duel Decks (although they weren't called that). To promote the first Pro Tour held in New York back in February of 1996 (seriously, whose idea was it to hold a Pro Tour in New York in February?), Wizards made four pairs of decks representing the Quarterfinals matches of the event. This box is Shawn "Hammer" Regnier vs. Bertrand Lestree.

Hammer played white-blue Millstone Control. Lestree played green-white Erhnam Djinn / Armageddon. These decks look rather played.

Next up, something nearly on the opposite end of the spectrum from Homelands boosters ...

Yes, that is four unopened Revised booster packs. I swear that I had no memory that these were in here. See, I promised adventure.

Next I came across something quite nostalgic for me.

Any guesses what this is? For those that are having trouble reading the box, it says "Boga 2.41" I'll give you a moment.

Okay, Boga refers to Bogavhati the codename for Tempest, the very first Magic set I ever designed (it was both the first design team I was on and the first design team I led—yeah, we don't do that anymore). I'm not sure what "2.41" means. Magic has a numeric code to say what stage the product is in, but we are not so exact that we go to a second digit after the decimal point, so that's not what "2.41" means. It's not a date. I honestly don't know what it means.

I do know what Bogavhati is, though. The codename was taken from an Indian mythical land filled with poisonous snakes. (Tempest had a large poison theme in its design; more on that when I finally get around to writing my poison column.) This box holds Tempest playtest cards.

I thought it would be fun to show you a sampling of the playtest cards. These playtest cards might look a bit different, because our playtest cards have changed over time. These predate the web site, so I don't think we've shown many of them off.

Most of the cards I'm showing you would end up in Tempest, but not all of them. Let me quickly walk you through them.

White Sliver – When we started Tempest design, banding was part of Magic. By the time the set went to print, it wasn't. (To be clear, I mean part of ongoing Magic design, obviously any printed card is always part of Magic.) This card would end up being known as Talon Sliver and granting first strike instead of banding.

Divine Might – This would turn into the card Humility. The two biggest differences is that it was a sorcery and the creatures become 0/1. The reason for both of these was that the card Humble from Urza's Saga was originally in Tempest design and this was the larger, higher-rarity version of the card. In the end, we chose to stick with one, and the enchantment seemed to us like the coolest version. I know this card made many Magic judges and rules gurus curse my name.

Nullify – Tempest was packed to the gills with mechanics—so much so that I believe cards and mechanics from the design showed up in twelve consecutive sets. This mechanic would show up many years later (designed by a different bunch of people) in Time Spiral as split second (designed by the Coldsnap design team).

Time Stream – Tempest started design with enchant worlds (now called world enchantments). This was Everyone Takes Two Turns World. The card's slot would eventually go to Time Warp, our fixed version of Time Walk.

Chameleon – This card is Unstable Shapeshifter. The only real change is that the rules text got a bit shorter.

Blue Lice – The Lice would turn into Licids. This card is very close to Stinging Licid, with just one change (although a big one): the Aura it turns into is Invisibility rather than a riff on Psychic Venom.

Life and Death – This card would become Living Death. The biggest difference is that the templating team hadn't gotten their hands on it yet. The card as written would put back all creatures in play because it sent them to the graveyard where they would then return to play. Obviously the final card fixed this problem.

Genocide – This card would be printed as Extinction. I liked the name Genocide as the definition of the word matched the mechanic so exactly, but in the end we didn't feel it was a name we wanted on a Magic card.

Etheric Captain – Etheric was the design name for shadow. This card would become Dauthi Mercenary. The only change was that the activation went from to .

Obliterate – A few interesting things about this card, which obviously kept its design name (even though it was Obliterate much later, in Invasion). First, the card originally made you discard everything but one card. This is why one figure stood alone in the art. Second, the anti-counterspell text came later. And third, if you look at the hand-altered mana cost, this card started as a white card. White had been king of blowing everything up, but we felt that red should have some of that flavor as well. We were okay with this, a red card, destroying enchantments since we felt red could do that if it was willing to blow up everything else as well.

Demolish - For years I tried to get a one-mana Shatter into red. Obviously, I included it in my first design.

Red Color Hoser – I always love hand-written playtest cards. They demonstrate that the design process is a fluid one where new cards are constantly added. This card obviously became Havoc, with the only real change being the cost dropping by and the damage turning into loss of life. (Today, by the way, it would most likely be damage, as life loss is more a black thing.)

Chokwalla – This card was designed by Tempest designer Mike Elliott. It was designed to be a chuckwalla, a real-world lizard. This playtest card is actually misspelled, but we caught the misspelling soon after. The problem was that when we sent the card to the illustrator, he thought we had made up the name, so he invented a creature to draw. As it didn’t look like a chuckwalla, we had to make up a new name to represent what the art was. Thus Rootwalla was born.

Limited Options – This is the playtest version of Recycle. Development added two mana to it and cleaned up the text.

Crop Rotation – It's our friend Harrow. Yes, I wanted it to be called Crop Rotation as I thought it was a clever play on the mechanic. Note that the original version let you trade two for three and was a sorcery.

Letter Bomb – This card ended up turning into Booby Trap because the original mechanic was deemed too silly. I would later use Letter Bomb in Unhinged.

Scroll Rack – I'm very proud of this design. Note that the playtest version is almost identical to Scroll Rack including the name.

Grindstone – Another design that I Grindstone. Okay, my template wasn't quite as clean.

It's fun from time to time to go back and look what we did in an old set. It does a great job of helping me see what all has changed. It's very easy to get used to things, forgetting that they weren't always this way.

But enough reminiscing, we have more searching to do. The next thing I run into is this:

What's in it? Perhaps Alliances packs?

Hmm, Ice Age and Fourth Edition starter boxes. I say starter boxes instead of tournament packs as that's what they were called at the time. What's inside?

Ice Age and Fourth Edition Sealed Decks that I must have played probably fifteen years ago.

Next is a random series of boxes that hold exactly what you would expect them to:


Fourth Edition


Fifth Edition

Tempest decks

Seventh Edition

And Starter

Starter was a product released in the summer of 1999 geared towards beginners. It was after the Portal sets but before modern day intro decks.

Next I find some more playtest cards.

As with the Tempest playest cards, I take a little time to look at them.

Yawnee – This card ended up as Cardpecker. The idea behind the gotcha mechanic (which I openly admit was a poor design—making players not have fun in a set about having fun is a bad design) was to have things you could try to make your opponent do. It turns out it was just too easy to make your opponent yawn. For some deep-rooted biological reason, humans yawn when they see others yawn.

R&D Hates _____ – This card never made it to print. The idea behind it was making fun of how everyone always says R&D hates a certain color. The problem with the card is that although the joke was funny, the card simply did not play well, and in Un-sets the cards need to also play well.

Obligatory Angel – This card would become Collector Protector. The mechanic didn't seem to have any good connection to an angel so we changed it. I do like the name though.

Richard Garfield, Ph.D. – The original version of Richard Garfield, Ph.D. allowed you to swap cards for another of the same mana cost. We ended up tweaking this ability by just turning him into a walking Mental Magic (a Magic variant where any card can be played as any other card that shares its mana cost). I am pretty confident that this card is the most powerful Unhinged card. The Ph.D. in the name was a joke about how in the early days all of Wizards press releases referred to Richard as "Richard Garfield, Ph.D."

Polly Wanna Crack Skulls – This is Carnivorous Death-Parrot. Note that the original version made your opponent say a particular sentence whenever it dealt damage to them. This was changed to make you recite his flavor text because the rest of my team didn't like the original card as much as I did. While I do like the cleverness of the forced flavor text speaking (it triggers five gotchas in the set), I was sad the original never saw the light of day. Also the playtest name really made me laugh.

Cheaty Face – Cheatyface went pretty much untouched other than a mana shift from to but then, who pays the mana cost of Cheatyface?

Puddle of Acid – This card is Vile Bile. This playtest card makes me laugh for its reminder text ("Fingernails count."). This caused fights because it was pointed out that fingernails are not skin and thus the reminder text was inaccurate. This was fixed in the final template, which now calls out both skin and fingernails.

Fragile Zombie – I added this card because I liked my little drawing of the zombie. Unhinged was trying to make the art mechanically useful wherever it could, and as The Fallen Apart (what this card became) was one of these I was trying to show it on the playtest card. Notice the playtest version was only and sacrificed itself if you lost all the body parts.

Rigormortis Thrull – This playtest card is the perfect example of a mechanic that was still in search of its flavor. Once we figured out that it was a zombie that made its controller act like a zombie too, everything gelled. Okay, finding the name Working Stiff didn't hurt either.

Three-Headed Dragon – So I had this idea for a card that was three little cards all on one card, each card the head of a three-headed dragon. We could never make the mechanics work out so we had it killed.

"I Swear It's Not a 6" Beast – The playtest card was close to what we wanted both in mechanic and name but each took a little massaging to get there. Six-y Beast has a mechanic we might steal for black-bordered Magic one of these days.

Pants on Fire – The flavor here was that this Aura would slowly heat up, causing the creature to get stronger, but would blow up if it got too hot. In the end, we couldn't make all the text fit on the card.

Word to Your Mother Earth – This card ended up turning into a creature and moving to white to become Bosom Buddy.

Censorship Bear – I loved Censorship in Unglued so I decided to do the same mechanic in Unhinged. It was decided along the way that the flavor of a Bear caring about word choice made no sense, so the card became Keeper of the Sacred Word.

Art Approval – Another green spell that moved to white and became a permanent, this time an enchantment (called Drawn Together).

Mr. Roboto – I thought this name was funny, but half the design team didn't even get the reference. ("Mr. Roboto" is a Styx song from 1983.) The name became Togglodyte.

Rod of Spanking – Occasionally, design Rod of Spanking.

Urza's Hot Tub – Urza's Hot Tub is one of my favorite Unhinged designs that I did. This version of the card is not it, though. You can see the germ of where the card ends up, but it started a bit clunkier.

The one other question that comes up is why there are names of classical artists on all of the cards. The set had an "artist matters" theme, so I had to have artists for playtesting. The classical artist theme was my idea as a fun way to do it.

Next in my digging, I discover this:

This is the prototype of a game I led the design for probably eight or so years ago. It's not Magic, although it is a trading card game. Last year someone had asked me about the game but I couldn't find my files. As such, I was ecstatic to find the prototype. I might demo it sometime soon. Just a little reminder that I've done a few things in my fifteen years other than Magic design.

My last discovery in the cabinet is probably the most awesome.

Care to guess what these are?

If you said Alpha playtest cards, you would be correct. These are some of the cards Richard made when the game was first being playtested. Let's take a look at some.

Let me explain a few things. First, the mana cost works a little differently than it ended up. For example, Wrath of God costs 4WW, which means that it costs four mana total, two of which must be white. Second, the cards aren't in any way templated. Their abilities were just shorthanded. Three, Richard (aided by Skaff Elias I believe) picked all the pictures for the cards from images he had available.

I have no idea what these cards were doing in my drawer and was honestly shocked to find them, but that's the fun of archeology. You never know what you'll find.

Let's end today's adventure on that high note. I hope you enjoyed literally digging through my past. Let me know in my thread, email or Twitter feed (@maro254) what you thought of today's column.

Join me next week for Fun-Off, Part 2.

Until then, may you know the joy of your own past surprising you.

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