Born of the Mail Bag

Posted in Latest Developments on February 7, 2014

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.

I hope everyone enjoyed the Born of the Gods Prerelease. I am very happy with how the set plays in Limited, and I believe that it has quite a few great cards to add for Standard. If you want to see how, Born of the Gods Super Sunday Series Finals will be held at Wizards of the Coast's offices—so tune in to Twitch.TV to see the coverage.

But, I'm not here to talk about that right now—I'm here to answer questions sent in by readers by email or Twitter. If you have a question that you would like to get answered in a future mailbag, send them to me by clicking on "Email Sam" at the bottom of this article.

So, without further ado—

I'm doing a Latest Developments mail bag about Born of the Gods development. Send me your questions!

@samstod The black limited cards all seem to have an aggro-angle to them. This seems like a 180 from the Theros. Why the radical shift?

Born of the Gods's Limited has a more aggressive design as a whole—some of it is trying to give players additional options to Theros, which was very much about "build up." I think the biggest change in regards to black in the format is actually what is leaving, instead of what is coming in. One of the most powerful cards for black in Theros was Gray Merchant of Asphodel, who will now be showing up one-third less than before. Black decks will now have to focus on more diversified strategies to win in Born of the Gods/Theros Limited, including more beatdown.

@samstod how much of current standard archetypes did you figure out in your future league? How did it affect BoTG card choices?

The Future Future League had all of the major decks in the Theros Standard metagame, although our versions were generally a few cards off. We weren't playing as much with Pack Rat and Desecration Demon in Mono-Black, for instance, and our Esper decks had more Ashioks. Our Mono-Blue deck had cards like Claustrophobia. Our Red-Green Devotion decks often included Reverent Hunter. Boros Reckoner in Red Devotion decks was coming up a lot.

The key for us is that we can find many of the top archetypes but have a hard time tuning the decks. That's just sort of what happens when the cards keep changing. We figure out what the basic outline of the card pool is, and then make sure that there are enough new and interesting things going on that the environment will be fun and interesting. When we developed Born of the Gods, we took the opportunity to try and give some decks that we thought were a little underplayed some extra goodies and to have some new options for the decks that currently existed, to make sure that they felt different after the new set—with cards like Fated Infatuation for Mono-Blue, or Bile Blight for Mono-Black.

I'm doing a Latest Developments mailbag column about Born of the Gods development. Send me your questions!

@samstod for drafting, do you try to make the 2nd set of a block more powerful so the 1 BNG pack will outshine the 2 THS packs?

Outshine is not the goal anymore—what we hope to do over the course of a Draft environment is keep adding packs that shake up the format and make it feel different over time. In the past, because the new packs were in the end of the pick order, some of that did happen. Alara Reborn, Apocalypse, and Morningtide were big offenders, but that is something we have moved away from. The problem with dramatically raising the power level of the later sets as a tool to change the environment is that it tends to create an environment that is just about maximizing how many packs of the final set you could play.

By moving the newest pack to the front of the drafting order, we were able to better sculpt how the environment will change by putting more build-around cards that change the usual pick orders in the second and third packs. For example, as an earlier question noted, we made black more aggressive in Born of the Gods, overall, so people will be more likely to draft black aggressive decks in Born/Theros/Theros, raising the frequency that they will draft cards like Boon of Erebos or even Fleshmad Steed.

I'm doing a Latest Developments mailbag column about Born of the Gods development. Send me your questions!

@samstod What changed from THS to BNG that allowed it to become do much easier to deal with the gods?

Yes. One of the concerns development had about this entire block was that some of the most flashy cards were giant indestructible creatures. We are generally pretty good at getting power levels about correct, but we are always going to miss in some direction on all cards, and we may miss quite a bit on a few. If a few of the Gods were too powerful, the answers that existed for them in the environment needed to be strong enough that we could have a metagame that was able to change and evolve. We put Fade into Antiquity into Theros as a mono-green answer for Gods just in case we were way off base, and even something relatively weak like that would be preferable in sideboards to nothing at all. We added Revoke Existence (and to a lesser extent, Gild) as even more answers in Born of the Gods, so that there would be more playable answers to Gods if they became too prevalent in the metagame.

I'm doing a Latest Developments mailbag column about Born of the Gods development. Send me your questions!

@samstod Revoke Existence feels earlier in the block than usual good "central mechanic" hosers (usually 3rd set). Intent or Coincidence?

Yes—see the above answer for the intent part. I'll go into a bit larger explanation here, though, in terms of timing. While it is true that we have traditionally waited until either the third set, or even the next large expansion, to print central-mechanic hosers, we have generally found it important to be more aggressive.

As an example, we put Creeping Corrosion in Mirrodin Besieged because we were afraid of the metagame becoming just as warped as it was during the first Mirrodin sets. Rather than just put in a hate card that was a super-efficient one-shot (or Ancient Grudge, which appeared in Innistrad to hate on Mirrodin), we put Creeping Corrosion in as an inefficient answer if everyone is playing a few artifacts, and incredibly powerful if enough people are playing decks that are almost all artifacts. In a similar way, we have more efficient enchantment removal running around from sets around Theros, but very little that exiles. We want the exile removal to, on the whole, be less efficient unless the metagame actually needs it.

After seeing how Theros has played out, I do not think the Gods are going to be enough of a problem that people will begin main decking Revoke Existence, but I am glad that we have a safety valve in place just in case.

I'm doing a Latest Developments mailbag column about Born of the Gods development. Send me your questions!

@samstod Did you consider a cycle of enchantment lands similar to the artifact lands from Mirrodin?

I believe Mark Rosewater said it best—once bitten, twice shy. Development did talk briefly about these, but ultimately we knew that they would end up either being way too weak or keep us from doing interesting things later in the block—not to mention making cards in Standard, like Ethereal Armor and Sphere of Safety, pretty scary.

I'm doing a Latest Developments mailbag column about Born of the Gods development. Send me your questions!

@samstod How many different devotion counts did you try on the minor gods before settling on seven? Can you share deck lists that were OP?

While I can't share decklists right now, we tried a few numbers, but most of that related back to the question of how hybrid symbols would count. The God themselves add one additional colored symbol, but we would need the number to be between eight or nine if they counted hybrids twice, otherwise cards like Nightveil Specter would turn on the respective God by themselves.

In the end, we decided that single counting was the best, and that only adding one (beyond the additional number for the God's own cost) was enough to make the more playable in two-color decks, but still feel a little different from the Theros Gods.

Last chance - if anyone has any questions about Born of the Gods for a mailbag article, send them my way.

@samstod which card made you giggle the most in play testing?

Raised by Wolves. Born of the Gods has a lot of unique tokens (more than we generally like to do in a small set), and this led to Lead Developer Tom LaPille attempting to condense it to use a token that already existed in the block. Well, there is only one 2/2 green token in the block. So, for a while, the card was Raised by Pigs. Considering my unyielding love for the Boar token in Theros, I was a little sad when creative decided that it was worth making a new token to pay off the trope.

These came together pretty quickly, actually. When design plotted out how bestow would evolve over the block, the plan was that the first set would have square stats with keywords, and the second set would have non-square stats. Boon Satyr ended up being developed to being non-square in Theros, but we otherwise saved those stats for Born of the Gods.

The biggest change that happened with the cards in development is recosting the bestow. The cards are really intended to support Limited, and many of the cards ended up getting a mana added to their bestow because of how powerful they were. In the end, I think they ended up great—and are some of the strongest commons in the set, despite being very simple.

How long does it take to make Duel Decks, from initial planning to print? For example, how long ago was Duel Decks: Heroes vs. Monsters dreamed up? Was it at the same time of Theros being a concept? —Simon R.

Depends on how you start counting initial planning. I am the current development rep on the Duel Decks, and I have themes sketched out through 2017, although they are obviously subject to change since the individual sets that make them up are still in design and development.

Sun Titan | Art by Karl Kopinski

If you are looking at them at a more individualized level, this is how the schedule generally works: About eighteen months before the Duel Decks comes out, I talk with creative and other members of R&D and get the go-ahead to proceed with the theme that I have chosen. I then send the information to Chris Millar—an external contractor who we use to design the first version of the decks. A few weeks later, I get the lists back and I get to work. After initial playtests, I decide on which cards I can lock into the deck and work with creative in selecting the ones that would work best for alternative art.

From there, the way I proceed depends on if it is a Planeswalker Duel Decks or a preview Duel Decks—as their goals are different. The Planeswalker Duel Decks is more about showing off the characters involved, and the preview Duel Decks is more about giving some of the themes of the upcoming block. Due to the needs of the preview Duel Decks, the cards being previewed will often change a few times in development because the actual cards in the set change. The decks continue to evolve and change to be better balanced against each other.

Around this time, playtesting happens with both myself and other developers, as well as with our customer service representatives, who come down for playtests for a few hours each week. This goes on for a few weeks, then when I have decklists that are closer to being finished, creative spends some time reviewing the decklists, making any vetoes before the decks come back for final playtesting and tweaking. All in all, this process takes about five to six months, and the actual decks are given to editing to finalize about nine months before they are released.

Well, that's it for this edition. Again—send in questions, and I will try to answer them in a future column.

Until next time,
Sam (@samstod)

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