Artifacts and Color

Posted in Latest Developments on October 3, 2003

By Randy Buehler

The debate over Mirrodin's coloriffic artifacts

The Mirrodin design team spent a lot of time early on debating some very theoretical issues about the nature of artifacts. What sorts of things do artifacts do and how do they fit into the rest of the Magic game? What makes them special and what makes them fun? Mark Rosewater has already begun sharing some of these conversations with you and I'm sure we'll talk more about them over the coming months, but one issue that seems particularly relevant to artifact creature week has to do with color-affiliated artifacts.

Mirrodin has a bunch of artifact creatures that get better or more useful if you happen to have access to the right color of mana. I'm talking about cards like Soldier Replica, Bosh, Pewter Golem, and Copper Myr.

In the previous ten years of Magic, colored mana symbols had never appeared on artifact creatures, but now they're all over the place in Mirrodin . . . . So what happened?

One of the big debates the designers had about the nature of artifacts was whether they had to be able to go into any deck. Obviously one of the defining characteristics of artifacts is that you don't need any colored mana to get them into play, but there's a lot more to the question than that. Given sufficient colorless mana, should any deck be able to extract full value from a particular artifact?

Gauntlet of Might

Some people argued “yes” – their idea was that artifacts were inherently colorless. Gauntlet of Might, according to this line of thought, should have been made as a red enchantment, since it clearly belongs exclusively in red decks. Because of this theory, several incarnations of the Mirrodin file had alternate activations for every single colored mana symbol. So under this model, for example, Wizard Replica would be “ or , Sacrifice Wizard Replica: Counter target spell unless its controller pays .” This style of costing – where the card's ability is better if you have the appropriate color of mana, but still useable even if you don't – probably looks familiar to anyone who has seen the cycle of Heartwood Shard. By the time we were done developing Mirrodin, we only wound up using this strategy on five cards, but those five cards turned into a pretty nice cycle.

The Sunbeam Spellbomb also show the influence of this line of thought – you can't get full utility out of a Spellbomb unless you have the appropriate color of mana, but you can play with the card and get something out of it. Pyrite Spellbomb isn't dead in a nonred deck.

I don't mean to belabor this point, but it was a very important philosophical debate for us while we figuring out how to do Mirrodin. Everyone knew that if we were going to do a set that was half artifacts, we were going to have to do some that were better in decks of the appropriate color. Limited play just wouldn't work out very well if color had no meaning to half the cards. In addition, we like for Magic to feel and play different each year, but it still has to feel like Magic. Magic just isn't Magic without the five colors and their unique personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.

The artifact creatures in Mirrodin are a perfect example of where we finally wound up on this issue. You can play them in any deck you like, but you only get full value out of many of them if you're running lands of the appropriate color. We didn't go so far as to attach alternate, colorless activation costs to their abilities, but we did still stay true to the philosophy that every mage, regardless of color affiliation, would find some use for them.

So after much debate, we decided that it was okay to have color-affiliated artifacts. On the one hand we knew we needed them for Limited play, on the other hand we felt we needed them for aesthetic reasons, and on the other other hand (I saw Once Upon a Time in Mexico this week, so I've started thinking in terms of three hands) they just felt right at the end of the day.

Of course, there was still one interesting question left to debate: Should we have any color-affiliated artifacts that were completely useless outside their intended color. Was Gauntlet of Might actually a mistake, or was the added flavor that comes from making it an artifact (instead of an enchantment) worth it?

This last issue didn't get decided until Mirrodin was deep into development. In the end, the development team decided that Gauntlet of Might was not a mistake – it felt quite cool to us and we thought that thoroughly color-affiliated artifacts were fair game. We wound up including three of them in Mirrodin and each of the three artifact-friendly colors got one. (I talked a few weeks ago in my article “White and Artifacts” about each color's relationship with artifacts.) Blue got Proteus Staff, white got Leonin Sun Standard, and black got Nightmare Lash.

So next time you attack somebody with a Titanium Golem or blow up an artifact with a Goblin Replica, ask yourself if it feels right. Did we cheat by simply printing colored cards that are dressed up to look like artifacts? Or are color-affiliated artifacts a necessary part of what makes the Mirrodin environment work?

On an unconnected side note, any of you who stopped playing Magic Online because of the version 2.0 situation (or maybe decided not to start playing) might want to go check out the two articles that got posted on our Magic Online webpage earlier this week. We have now declared victory over the 2.0 demon and we're throwing a party to celebrate.

Last Week's Poll

What do you think of Aaron Forsythe's move from the Web team into R&D?
How dare you guys steal Aaron away from us?! 876 12.6%
Good for him! And good luck to him. 3138 45.0%
Ask me again once I see how good his replacement is. 1406 20.2%
Who? 1546 22.2%
Total 6966 100.0%

Follow-Up to Last Week's Article

Yes, there are ways (like Artificial Evolution) to remove the legendary status from Krark's Thumb. I never meant to suggest that the card wouldn't work if there were two in play – it works just fine. I also didn't mean to suggest that we couldn't figure out how to word it – we had several possible wordings on the table, but we couldn't get the functionality we wanted in the form of a wording that we thought would be easy for players to understand once they got 2 (or more) into play. For the record, if you do somehow manage to get two copies of Krark's Thumb into play, you get to flip 4 coins instead of 1.

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