I do want to note before I jump in that many cards are designed by multiple people. Multiple designers turn in different cards that get merged or one person tweaks someone else's design or two cards get turned in that are the same. My point is that the cards I'm talking about today are cards that I had some part in designing. Many other designers are also responsible for these cards so please when I talk about designing them, please be aware that the hard work of many other designers were involved. (I don't know who they are—so that's why I'm not naming names.)
There are not a lot of Magic sets that have been put on indefinite hiatus, but I managed to lead-design one of them, a little set officially called Unglued II: The Obligatory Sequel. The set was originally scheduled to come out a year after Unglued. The set got cut very late in the process, so much so that we had all the art turned in, some of which would get used years later in Unhinged. Among these cards was a card I designed to be lord of the Atogs.
The idea was simple. What would the lord of the Atogs do? Well, he had to eat something for a temporary boost. On top of that he needed to have some connection to Atogs. Then it hit me, I knew exactly what the lord of Atogs would eat: Atogs! The answer, once I had it, seemed obvious. The other nice touch was that if you first fed other items to your Atogs before feeding them to the Atogatog, you could pass the power/toughness bonus all the way along.
Flash forward to Odyssey development. Randy Buehler, the lead developer of Odyssey wanted to have a cycle of multicolored Atogs in the set. I'll be honest, I don't remember why, but I had a design for the cycle. Anyway, when Randy told me they were going to add in those five cards, I suggested he make room for a sixth. Why? Because I had a doozy of a card I'd designed for Unglued II, an Atog lord. I even had art.
Randy's only change was to change the card from mono-red (which I had done as a nod to the original Atog) to five color. If memory also serves me, he changed the card from a 4/5 to a 5/5 to power it up. The Atog purist in me wished he'd changed it to 5/6.
From time to time I'll peek back at the Unglued II art to see if we can ever make use of any other of the cards. Most of the remaining cards are going to be a challenge, as the card concepts you'd expect for an Un-set don't make much sense in black-bordered Magic.
Cadaverous Bloom (Mirage)
Being a full-blown Johnny, I do so love designing engine cards. The funny thing about this card's design was that I kind of backed into making an engine card. Here's what happened. I was on the development team for Mirage. Back then, Magic R&D was four people (Bill Rose, Mike Elliott, William Jockusch, and myself—Henry Stern would start right before Tempest development and Joel Mick oversaw the R&D design and development but was officially part of the Magic brand team), and we were on every development team.
We had killed some rare black-green card and were looking for a replacement. Eager to show that I was capable of doing design, I always contributed cards for hole-filling (a process, by the way, that continues through today). For this card, I was trying to find a black thing that I could combine with a green thing. In addition, I wanted the card to be about something that both black and green dealt with.
After much thinking, it dawned on me that black and green were the two colors that got access to mana. Black got its mana through "rituals" that were one-shots, while green had more permanent mana enablers that stuck around providing mana every turn. The instant mana part of black, obviously was moved over to red many years ago when we overhauled the color pie, as red's flavor was much more about spending resources for short-term gain. But anyway, at the time, black had one-shot mana source while green had permanent mana sources. Was there a way to create a card that did both?
That's when I came up with the idea that the card could be an enchantment that allowed you to turn any card in your hand into a ritual. This way the mana was both temporary (in that you only got it the turn you sacrificed the card) and permanent (in that the enchantment stuck around allowing you to reuse it). Little did I know what a can of worms I had opened up.
The one last design note is that if I were designing the card today, I would have allowed the choice of in addition to and .
To the best of my memory, here's the initial version of this card:
As you play CARDNAME sacrifice two creatures. Put a Mutant blue creature token into play that is those two creature's stats and abilities combined.
The idea was pretty simple: make a giant monster by combining two creatures into one. Somehow the Rules Manager at the time (I believe Tom Wylie) said that it couldn't be done. We ended up making a creature that you could meld the power and toughness to by sacrificing creatures when it came into play.
A flavor that many people seemed to miss on the final version was that you were turning all your spare creatures into a giant dragon. That's why the card had flying, firebreathing, and the word "Draco" as part of its name. Many people missed this flavor, probably because we forgot to put Dragon on the type line. By "forgot," I actually mean we hadn't yet hit upon the idea of using multiple creature types on the type line. Even still, I'm surprised in retrospect that we didn't opt for "Dragon" over "Shapeshifter". How many creature cards in Magic's history had a dragon flavor that we opted out of using dragon as its creature type? Dracoplasm might be the only one.
Lobotomy (Tempest / Invasion)
Whenever we talk about top-down design, this is one of the cards that people will bring up as one of their favorites. The essence of extracting information out of someone's mind translated so well into a discard spell that removes all copies of the card that it seems like a perfect fit. Here's the one small problem: this card wasn't a top-down design.
That's one of the trickiest things about mixing flavor with mechanics. When it's done well, often you can't tell that the two weren't created together. So how did Lobotomy come to be? Well, Tempest was my first design (yes, my first Magic design team was also the first I ever led—we don't do stuff like that anymore) so I was flushing all the different ideas I had come up with since I had first laid eyes on the game. One area I was fascinated with was performing an action that then was used as an impetus for another action. (It should come as no surprise that I would later go on to create the imprint mechanic.)
In the case of Lobotomy, I was trying to think about how you could use a Coercion to trigger a secondary effect. I get to look through your hand and make you discard a card. The card I choose is then the basis for the second effect. Why would it matter what card I chose? That's when I hit upon the idea that once you hit a card you got to hit all copies of that card. I chose the effect simply because it seemed like an extension of the first choice.
The original version only looked in the opponent's library, but with playtesting we realized that it didn't feel right that some versions stayed while other went away so we changed it to hit all (at the time) out of play zones.
I liked this card so much that the first time we had reason to reprint it (in Invasion, the first multicolor themed block), I leapt at the chance.
Mirari's Wake (Judgment)
Just as a person is shaped by experiences in childhood, so too are Magic designers by cards that affected them in their early years. Mirari's Wake owes its existence to my love of an artifact from Alpha:
I had multiple different decks built around this card. One used Mana Flares and burn spells. One used Kobolds. I even had a deck where I animated it and turned it red just so I could deal 5 with it directly. All players have pet cards. The only difference for me was that I could use my love for this card to bring it back from the dead. (Okay, creepy-sounding, I know.)
During Judgment design, the team made the decision that since the set had a green-white theme (to balance out Torment's heavy black theme), we were going to make a number of green-white gold cards. (Good trivia question to spring on your friends: what was the only set to only have gold cards of only one two-color combination?) The question was: what awesome things could a green-white card do? I'm not sure how I got to thinking about Gauntlet of Might during Judgment design, but I did and I came to the realization that Gauntlet of Might wasn't red any more.
What I mean by that is that it had color-shifted. White had become the predominant "my team gets +1/+1" color, and green had taken Mana Flare away from red. This meant that Gauntlet of Might was now a green-white card. Bells went off in my head, and Mirari's Wake was the result.
I made a few changes, of course. First, I took all the global effects that helped everyone and made them just help your stuff. I remember playing against red decks with Gauntlet of Might and being annoyed how much my card was helping them. Second, I took away the color matters. Why does only one color get +1/+1? Why not boost all your creatures? The same held true for the land. Finally, I changed the card from an artifact to an enchantment, as it was the only way to get green and white into the card once I took away the color mattering.
Gauntlet of Might did hold a warm place in my heart for one other reason. Before I worked for Wizards, I lived in Los Angles and was a part of the local Magic scene. At the time I was freelancing for Wizards and thus had access to information on upcoming sets. Because of this, I wasn't allowed to compete in sanctioned tournaments, so I became a judge and started running tournaments.
I was happy organizing the run-of-the-mill tournaments, but my creative side made me want to run other types of tournaments. One of my favorites, and a favorite of my players, was a tournament we called an Enchanted World tournament. The idea was that while the tournament was going on, I the judge kept shifting what world the players were fighting in. Originally these worlds were from world enchantment cards (at the time called "enchant worlds," thus the tournament's name), but with time I branched out to any card with a global effect, mostly enchantments and artifacts. Gauntlet of Might was one of the staples that always went into the "world deck."
Why am I going off on this nostalgic aside? Because last week we made an announcement about a cool upcoming product that owes much of its existence to the Enchanted World tournaments and the various related formats that spawned from players wanting to do the same kind of thing. The product is called Planechase.
In it, there are these brand-new oversized cards called plane cards that represent the current plane on which the game (most likely a multiplayer free-for-all) is taking place. These planes from all over the multiverse (Vorthoses should have a field day) have an impact on the game and as the game shifts from plane to plane, all sorts of crazy stuff happens. There are 40 new plane cards in all, with 10 unique ones coming with each of the four available decks. The cards look amazing and create a casual play experience unlike anything you've ever played. Okay, unless you've played in an enchantment world tournament or something of its ilk; then it's something like that.
If you're a casual player who loves mixing multiplayer play with a touch of chaos, I definitely recommend checking Planechase out when it releases in September.
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker (Conflux)
While I wasn't very involved in the design of all that many Conflux cards, I did have a hand in helping to shape Nicol Bolas. You have to understand that the designers understood going into Conflux that a lot was riding on Bolas. He was the only planeswalker in the set, and he was a throwback to a long-time fan-favorite character. In addition, this set was revealing him as the "big bad," the evil villain puppetmaster behind the scenes. It was important that the card do him justice.
Because of this, just about every designer took a swing or two at their version of Nicol Bolas. Here was the version I turned in:
Planeswalker – Bolas
Loyalty - 6
+2: Destroy target permanent.
-4: Gain control of target permanent.
My card submission was based a lot on my understanding of how you write a "big bad" villain. The audience can come up with worse things (to themselves at least) than you, the writer, can, so allow them the ability to fill in what exactly makes him so evil. I chose these abilities because they were simple and iconic, allowing the player more freedom to define Nicol Bolas as they wanted to. How do you stop someone who can destroy or steal or CENSORED anything?
The reason, by the way, that I have to censor the ultimate ability is that we ended up using it on one of the planeswalkers in Zendikar. Suffice to say it also fit on one line and had a very simple yet flavorful yet powerful ability. In the end they kept my first two abilities with the tweak that the first one couldn't kill creatures and the second one could only steal creatures. Once Zendikar comes out I'll let you know what Bolas's ultimate would have done if I had my way.
Do you know who was responsible for creating this card? Why, all of you. Yes, Spiritmonger started as part of a promotion to allow the players to make a card. Long before "You Make the Card," Wizards ran a promotion where the public was allowed to write a card concept for a card. Yes, this card started as a fan-created idea.
At that point, R&D was brought in to create a card that matched the concept. I don't remember the concept verbatim, but it said something like this:
Spiritmonger is a giant, awesome creature that kicks ass.
The word from Magic brand team was that they wanted the card created by the players (or more accurately concepted by the players) to "be giant," to "be awesome," and to "kick some ass." The creation of the card was a group job as we each kept trying to one-up the other. The base ability came from the fact that I always thought Sengir Vampire was done incorrectly.
A vampire doesn't have to kill to become stronger. It just needs to get blood from its victim. Shouldn't damaging another creature be good enough? So, Spiritmonger got the improved Sengir Vampire ability. Regeneration was added because research showed that payers dislike their giant, awesome creatures getting killed. I have no idea why it changes colors. As Wild Mongrel demonstrates, this is just an ability we randomly throw on already powerful creatures. Spiritmonger was already black so it didn't really serve as anti-Terror tech. I assume we wanted something so make the card not just mono-black, as gold is more awesome. My one other memory of the card was that at one point it was a 5/5 and we changed it to a 6/6 to make it "more giant," "more awesome," and "kick more ass."
Squandered Resources (Visions)
There is this weird phenomenon that happens in Hollywood where some topic has never been the subject of a movie, and then all of a sudden two films come out practically at the same time—be it Christopher Columbus, volcanoes, or asteroids striking the Earth. For some odd reason, this phenomenon can also be seen in Magic design. I designed Squandered Resources, as did Mike Elliott and I believe Bill Rose. Independently, all three of us turned in cards that were practically identical. Why does this happen? I don't know, but if I had to guess I think it's because designing for a particular set might lead designers down similar pathways of design.
This is another gold engine card that I had a hand into that was a little on the broken side. If you can turn cards into two mana (see Cadaverous Bloom above), why not lands? Squandered Resources and Cadaverous Bloom were two of the key cards that led to what is now considered the grand-daddy of competitive combo decks, Prosperous Bloom (used by Mike Long to win the original Pro Tour–Paris).
That's all I got for today. I hope the trek through gold's design's past was fun. Join me next week when, well, I don't do anything, as it's the American Holiday Memorial Day. (It's also my birthday, by the way. I'll be turning the answer to the question of the life, the universe and everything, for those who care.) That means next week there won't be a new article. The week after, though, we have a fun theme week planned where I'll take you back to the very beginning.
Until then, may you have many golden opportunities.