Collisions in the Multiverse, Part 3

Posted in Latest Developments on June 12, 2009

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

Twice in the past two months, I've used this space to show you Multiverse comments from Alara Reborn development. The previous two parts of this article covered the commons and the uncommons. Today, I'll finish off the set with the rares and mythic rares. Let's go!

Filigree Angel

Filigree Angel's comes-into-play ability changed late in development. For a long time, its text box looked like this:

When CARDNAME comes into play, gain life equal to the total converted mana cost of all artifacts you control.

I and others had the vague sense that something was off about this card, but we weren't sure what it was for a long time. The moment when it came into play was exciting because it gained a ton of life. However, in a heavy artifact deck, an uncomfortable amount of math was sometimes required to figure out how much life you actually gained. For example, pretend you have three Borderposts, a Court Homunculus, and a Sphinx Summoner in play when you cast a Filigree Angel. With the previous version of the card, you would gain 23 life, but only after adding up a lot of numbers. The amount of adding required to get to that point was a buzz-killer.

I gain thirty-three life

Other playtesters were concerned about the sheer amount of life it gained. We were putting it in decks with recursive cards like Sharuum the Hegemon, as well as lots of Borderposts and expensive noncreature artifacts that were difficult to remove without dedicated hate cards. A Filigree Angel returned to play by Sharuum already gained 14 life before any Borderposts were taken into account, and this felt excessive to some. Here are the comments.

MT 8/1: This gains a stupid amount of life.
TML 8/4: Nate gained 13, then 20 with two copies of it against me today. Then again, I won that game despite being an attack deck. I find this card sometimes frustrating but mostly reasonable. See Feudkiller's Verdict, etc.
MP 8/4: Should this say other and cost a lot less?
TML 8/11: I don't mind it costing a lot and counting itself. More and more lately I'm killing it with its trigger on the stack, which feels like a big win. That "shields down" moment is awesome.
MT 8/13: I think it should cost 8 and maybe be a 4/4.
MP 8/14: Going with MT's suggestion.

Mike Turian's suggestion here made the card more balanced, but didn't change our collective fundamental unhappiness about the card. At one of our large group playtester meetings near the end of development, playtester Steve Warner brought it up again, and we all decided together that we felt something was off. Someone suggested that we change the card to gain 3 for each artifact instead. This solved everyone's problems. It gained less ridiculous amounts of life, and there was far less math involved. Now, all one had to do was count one's artifacts, then multiply by three.

MP 9/18: Per playtester meeting changing this to 3 per artifact.

Filigree Angel

This comment field amuses me because it shows the different styles that Magic playtesters have in Multiverse. Matt Place and Mike Turian are both very terse and direct in their comments, while I tend to include more explanation. However, I've been getting terser over time. I have also noticed that playtest cards I write have been getting less and less detailed. Perhaps in three years I will read in Multiverse like Mike and Matt do now.

Nemesis of Reason

I am currently responsible for building the decks that come in each set's Intro Packs. This means that I interact with rares that are in Intro Packs more than most people in the Pit. Both Filigree Angel and Nemesis of Reason appear in Intro Pack decks, so I spent plenty of quality time with each of them during playtesting. I had the nagging sense that something was off about Filigree Angel but never came up with a solution. For Nemesis of Reason, however, I knew exactly what I thought was off about the card.

The Unthinkable
Creature – Beast
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, defending player puts the top 10 cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard.

It made absolutely no sense to me that an unopposed Nemesis of Reason dropped an opponent to zero life at about the same time it finished milling the opponent to death. Either the number of cards it milled or its power and toughness needed to change so that it didn't race itself. In my playtesting with the intro pack decks, I found that often my opponent would pile a bunch of creatures in front of it to kill it when I attacked. With only 5 toughness, it wasn't hard for my opponents to muster enough power to make that happen. Giving the card low power and high toughness would solve both of these problems.

Nemesis of Reason escaped the Alara Reborn development team's notice for a while, but while it did so it accumulated a pile of Multiverse comments.

MP 5/16: Love how this guy is fairly simple. What if he had high toughness low power?
TML 6/30: Would prefer that the body and ability didn't race each other. This card would still be popular as a dragon that happened to mill people, but at these numbers its purpose is confusing.
MJ: I think that this guy would be better as 2/7 or 0/8
KEN 8/28/2008: These seem like sloppy stats, it's in a weird Szadek, Lord of Secrets + Oona spot that doesn't have the fun or power of either.
TML 9/2: Agree with the previous two posters. The retired MP 5/16 comment suggests that Matt may also agree!
MP 9/8: Cost 1 more and was a 5/5.

Nemesis of Reason

As you can see from the comments, it took a while for this guy to change. However, the change from 5/5 to 3/7 made the card much clearer in purpose. It also wildly improved the card's power level in the blue-black Intro Pack deck. Both the green Alara Reborn Intro Pack decks have plenty of 5- power creatures, but no creature in any of the decks can deal 7 damage in single combat without assistance from devour. The creature with the highest natural power in those decks is Valley Rannet, and it was almost poetic how perfectly Nemesis of Reason now beat it in combat.

Jenara, Asura of War

Near the end of development, Alara Reborn lead designer Aaron Forsythe identified a few cards that he thought were fun to play with independent of their power level, then asked if the set would be more fun if those cards were in fact strengthened. One of those cards was Jenara, Asura of War, which at the time cost five mana and added a +1/+1 counter for only . Matt responded to the request by pushing it down to three mana. We soon adjusted its activation cost to .

MP 9/8: Pushed heavily, now only costs 3!
KEN 9/9/2008: This played like a powerful singleton threat after my opponent's sweeper. Feels printable.
TML 9/10/2008: This is extremely printable. At GWU and only W to pump it was bonkers, but it now plays reasonably. I hope she makes it out the door like this.

Jenara, Asura of War

I had an aggressive Bant deck already built, and when I saw this card's new numbers I put it right in. The first discovery that I made was that the card was indeed very fun. It was great on turn two off of Noble Hierarch, it was great later in the game because of how large it could get, and putting spare mana into a creature to grow it unboundedly is fun. The second discovery was that its power level wasn't totally insane, so we felt comfortable printing it.

Uril, the Miststalker

One of the saddest moments in Magic is when one puts an awesome aura onto a creature only to see it die to a removal spell before anything cool happens. Uril, the Mistsalker was born of a desire to make creature that was both safe and awesome to put auras on. It entered the Alara Reborn file just before the design handoff as a more expensive 7/7 creature with the following text box:

CARDNAME can't be the target of spells or abilities your opponents control.
CARDNAME gets +6/+6 as long as it's enchanted.

Ken Nagle often puts playtest versions of cards that strike his fancy into his Elder Dragon Highlander decks. He discovered two things when he added this version of Uril, the Miststalker to one of them. The first was that Runes of the Deus on this guy was fun. It is not every day that one attacks with a 16/16 creature with trample and double strike, but that's the sort of thing that can happen in Magic when a large creature and a five-mana enchantment combine. The second thing he learned is that it was a letdown to put a second enchantment on it and receive no mechanical bonus for it. The deck that he put Uril, the Miststalker into also included Dragon Scales, Dragon Fangs, and Dragon Breath, and he wanted multiple enchantments on Uril to mean something.

KEN 7/28/2008: I've been playing this guy in my EDH deck. He feels like the loudest Runes of the Dues target ever, but he's better with Dragon Fangs/Breath/Scales.

Around the same time that Ken was playing that Elder Dragon Highlander deck, Matt made a pass through the Alara Reborn file looking for opportunities to make cards that inspired whole decks around them. Ken's complaints inspired him to change Uril to get +6/+6 for each attached enchantment.

MP 8/6: Now super wombat.

This change excited me enough that I wanted to make a deck. However, I discovered that there was still very little impetus to put many enchantments onto Uril. A 13/13 Uril was very similar to a 20/20 Uril in practice. Either way, if it didn't have trample it would be chump-blocked over and over and if it were granted trample it would quickly end the game. I was sad that the best thing to do was still to put a single Runes of the Deus on it and play no further enchantments. However, I had an idea!

TML 8/15: Recommend +3/+3 per aura to encourage people to put lots of enchantments on instead of just one that gives trample.
MP 8/18: Going with Tom's suggestion.

At this point, the card also changed to a five-mana 5/5. I enjoyed that the previous version of Uril, the Miststalker combined with Runes of the Deus was enough to kill a player unopposed and I was glad that his new numbers retained that ability. However, Magic playtesters found his newly efficient numbers combined with his self-protective ability very appealing and became concerned about its power level. This led to a bunch of number tweaking late in development.

MP 9/8: Costs 1 less and gets -1/-1.
Del 10/9: Mana cost up from 2RGW to 3RGW.
Del 11/12: Mana cost down from 3RGW to 2RGW, bonus from +3/+3 to +2/+2.

This left Uril in a place where the playtester body was happy with him. Personally speaking, I was happy that Runes of the Deus still allowed him to deal twenty damage and that it remained quite satisfying to put multiple enchantments on him.

Uril, the Miststalker

As it turns out, this card is efficient enough that it saw play at the Shards of Alara block constructed Pro Tour–Honolulu this past weekend in decks that had zero Auras. That format was full of targeted removal like Path To Exile, Terminate, and Maelstrom Pulse. Uril, the Miststalker was one of the strongest large creatures that dodged those cards, and that was enough for many players to add him to their decks.

This concludes our journey through the Alara Reborn Multiverse comments. Based on the results from my poll two weeks ago, many of you enjoy this style of article. I also enjoy writing them. Therefore, I'll be making this a regular feature for each set we release.

Before I go, I would be remiss if I did not point you to our announcement from Wednesday about the rules changes that Magic 2010 will bring. I don't have anything to add to what Aaron Forsythe and Mark Gottlieb said on Wednesday, but I recommend you read that article if you haven't yet.

Last Week's Poll

Will you (or did you already) watch the live webcast from Pro Tour–Honolulu on Sunday June 7 at 4:45 p.m.?
Yes 1092 33.2%
No 2196 66.8%
Total 3288 100.0%

I was happy to see that a third of you watched the webcast. I had a ton of fun doing coverage at the Pro Tour. Watching very strong Magic players play Magic is always fun to me, and it was exciting to watch the Pro Tour explore a format that we played during playtesting. My favorite part of the tournament as a writer was the Quarterfinal match between Paul Rietzl and Tom Ross. The banter across the stage between Rietzl and fellow Top 8 competitor Brian Kibler was often hilarious, and Tom Ross's deadpan was an excellent comedic foil to Rietzl's antics. Even if you didn't watch last Sunday, an archive of the video coverage from the Top 8 is now up on the Pro Tour–Honolulu 2009 coverage page.

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