Amonkhet and Standard Mailbag

Posted in Latest Developments on May 26, 2017

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Hello and welcome to another edition of Latest Developments! Today, I will be going over questions asked by all of you and hopefully give you some answers on Amonkhet, Standard, and everything in between.

@sparksjay: Biggest (published) lightbulb moment in design, that translated to a finished card?

Startled Awake // Persistent Nightmare. For a long time in Shadows over Innistrad design, we were talking about doing two double-faced cards per pack, but it led to some . . . not great gameplay for Draft. When we moved back down closer to one per pack, I was suggesting how we should be doing cards that we didn't do in original Innistrad block, and I mentioned we should do a double-faced sorcery. When people gave me a weird look, I rattled off the card almost exactly as it was printed.

@jtempkin: Was Amonkhet meant to be a fast draft environment? Or was this something that was on a tipping point?

As we were tweaking the Draft environment near the end, we actually ended up in a spot where we thought the environment was too slow and grindy, made a number of changes, and got to a spot where we thought it was pretty good. Obviously, in hindsight, some of the extra power in early drops we added ended up pushing the set to be a bit too fast, and we probably had too much memory of the format being grindy.

@gkourouleas: Did you think of Modern when designing the last sets? Do you intend to design any cards that might impact it in a good way (like Fatal Push)?

As Modern has become a more popular format, we have been putting more work into making sure our sets have some cards that could show up in Modern. Fatal Push is an example where we knew revolt was much stronger in Modern than Standard and wanted to make a very strong removal spell for Modern that wasn't white or "colorless" like Dismember.

@HairlessThoctar Should Marvel have entered tapped or sacrificed or not cast? In hindsight, what would have changed?

There are a number of things. First off, I think we should try to limit the number of cards getting random creatures off the top after CoCo and Aetherworks Marvel. I think we could've fixed the problems with the current card by either adding a mana cost to the activation or we could've not cast the spell. Certainly if we'd known about the extra six months with Eldrazi, we would've weakened it a bit.

@DurdleHerder: Do you think Gate to the Afterlife's triggered ability is strong/interesting enough for players to use without having God-Pharaoh's Gift?

Likely not, much in the same way that each of the individual pieces of Kaldra were a little weak on their own. The card is really intended to be part of a package, even if you haven't seen all the pieces yet. But don't worry; we're not pulling your leg. God-Pharaoh's Gift is in Hour of Devastation.

@CCG_Brothers: With Embalm and Aftermath, it feels like the NWO is no more. What's changed in design philosophy?

New World Order (NWO) is still here, but I will say that the complexity level of both Kaladesh and Amonkhet were a bit on the high side. Aftermath avoids NWO by not being common, and the common embalm creatures are pretty simple. We are certainly looking at ways to reduce complexity, and moving to two blocks a year had a few hiccups in that many of our current blocks really had enough mechanics for an entire year, not six months. We are working in the future on using slightly fewer mechanics and looking for ways to reduce complexity in ways that don't hinder gameplay.

@bheinous: How have the challenges & unforseen interactions created by the switches in standard rotations being addressed in regards to development?

The decision was made late in Hour of Devastation testing to move to the once-a-year rotation, and we spent a little bit of time frantically adjusting cards in both Hour of Devastation and Amonkhet to accommodate those. We also did things like adding more answers to Marvel in Amonkhet (Manglehorn is doing its job there) and just generally trying to adjust to the cards we knew would be in the format longer than expected. I think we needed to kill at least one card because of Eldrazi Displacer.

Luckily, there was a lot of time for Ixalan and onward, so we are very aware of the change going forward. As a whole, we are working on pushing the set's mechanics and themes less hard and trying to reduce the number of parasitic themes and mechanics since they are much harder to develop and more disruptive to 24-month Standard than 18-month Standard.

@Burzolog: Can you talk about how the new Play Design team is going to be interacting with Development?

Not really! Dan Burdick, the new Play Design Manager, will be writing an article early next month to talk about the changes with his team and how he envisions his team working. Play Design isn't the only change that we've made to our process, though, and those will likely get talked about around the same time. I will say that this—it is about more than just putting more resources into playtesting and has a lot to do with putting more work into getting the sets balanced and functional earlier on so we have more time to iterate and experiment on a set that is working, rather than struggling to get things to work.

@DesignerDanF: Other than play design's addition, what lessons has WOTC learned from the recent standard problems?

There's a lot I could say here, but Mark Rosewater is going to cover much of that on June 12, so look for his article then.

@_Riccielle_: What do you think about the mana curve in standard now? Thought-knot seer is great and don't see play? Development mistake on supporting it?

That is less of a problem with mana curve and more with mana base. We knew that we were going to have the pain lands in Magic Origins, which would help support the colorless-mana Eldrazi when they came out. We also knew that mana base would rotate out before too long, just in case we made them too strong. We were not expecting them to be in Standard this long, and as a result, we didn't put any lands into Amonkhet that would actually help you cast them while being dual lands. In an alternate world where our duals in Amonkhet were not cycling but something like the filter lands or the Nimbus Maze cycle, people still might be casting Eldrazi.

@jwiley129: Why does Red get 2 mana 1/3's with Prowess and not Blue?

Blue can get this, we just haven't made one yet. Red two-drops are really hard because we don't give red Grizzly Bears often, especially with upside, but red also needs to have a low curve to be an aggressive color. We can give blue things like Welkin Tern or 1/1 flyers with some kind of bonus attached, but red is pretty limited with its only good form of evasion on a two-drop as menace. As a result, we are much more likely to put that 1/3 with prowess into red than blue when trying to get the set to work for Limited.

@CaptainRedstorm: Why do Non-Chandra Red mythics seem to be aimed at casual players more so than other colors? Most of them arent remotely tournament playable
We have had quite a few hits—Thundermaw Hellkite, Bonfire of the Damned, Pyromancer's Goggles, Dragon Whisperer, Inferno Titan, Kozilek's Return—the list goes on. That being said, red mythics are some of the hardest. One of the challenges is that red's color pie and what is fun don't always line up great. A lot of what makes red decks strong in Standard is aggressive creatures and burn, and we don't put too many of those as mythics. We also have a bit less leeway on some of the weird and powerful mythics that other colors get like big card draw. If we make powerful midrange or control creatures, they are just less likely to show up in Standard because of how red tends to be positioned in the format.

@VorthosMike: Why are angels male?

What on the dev/mechanic side is different, despite a trope being flipped on its head?

One of design's goals in Amonkhet was to create a feeling of unease with the setting, a place that looks cheery, but something feels off. There are a lot of things that are just a bit out of place—like male angels and the names on many of the removal spells being upbeat-sounding things. New players may not even notice, but for people who want to really get into the lore, these kinds of little tidbits are there to discover.

@MTGLordOfLeaves: Why were minotaurs chosen for Amonkhet? Why were the discard-matters creatures split between minotaurs and jackals instead of focusing on 1?

We needed a mid-size humanoid creature, and with Jackals taking up the small-red spot, Minotaurs were one of the races creative settled on. Discard-matters was intended to be a black-red mechanic, and other than the Minotaur lord, we put very little thought into what creature types those would go on—we mostly let creative make those calls. I think, in hindsight, it might have made more sense to try to tie that into one tribe, but it wasn't something we thought a lot about early enough to make those decisions—especially since a lot of the discard and heckbent stuff was added in mid development.

@EverUncertain: Why didn't we get Miscalculation in #MTGAKH?

Miscalculation is a bit stronger of a counterspell than we want in Standard. With Censor currently seeing a lot of play, I think that means it is in a more correct spot for power level. I do think we have the ability to make some stronger counters for Standard than we have in the recent past, but going all the way to Miscalculation is more than is likely needed.

@WUBRG: For Standard, why not Restrict cards rather than Ban them?

You: latitude to fix meta

Players: feel less ripped off/ get to play their cards

The problem with restricting cards is that it adds too much randomness to the games—you draw it and get to play the broken thing, or you don't. Beyond that, I don't think it would've done enough to fix the problems, especially for Emrakul, the Promised End, which can still be searched out with Traverse the Ulvenwald. Beyond that, there are some messaging problems of letting people know they can play just one copy.

@Gavken: Has all your testing in the FFL for this standard been completely thrown off by the change in rotation?

Our FFL testing for the Amonkhet standard is very different than the real world due to the rotation change and banned cards. By the time we get to Ixalan, our testing will demonstrate much more accuracy. Many of the problematic cards will have rotated out, and we will have had time to test the format without the ones we banned. All that being said, we know we are going to miss cards, but we try to create formats that can be fun even with mistakes running around. This happens in most Standard environments; this one just had larger problems than most.

@MaxPlaysMTG: Would love to know more about AKH reprints. How did Mindcensor/Magma Spray/Renewed Faith/Essence Scatter fit into your views for standard?

We have been actively trying to put more reprints into our sets—sometimes that works, sometimes not. Many times, those efforts fail and we need to change the card to be something a little less powerful or at least have different numbers. Aven Mindcensor was there more because it was a cool card that wouldn't mess up Standard too much and might even do good things if there were strong search effects like Traverse the Ulvenwald in top decks. Magma Spray was there for Scrapheap Scrounger and other graveyard cards. Essence Scatter is a card we do print pretty frequently, and Renewed Faith was a flavor win and a fondly remembered card.

That's it for this week; I hope you enjoyed this. Join me next week for more discussion about the development of Magic.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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