Common Comments

Posted in Latest Developments on October 30, 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.

The majority of the cards that most Magic players interact with when they first play with a Magic set are commons. This experience might come from buying a few packs and adding a few cards to your existing decks, going to a Prerelease at your local store, or drafting over and over again, but no matter how you experience Magic, a set's commons often serve as your introduction. Here in Magic R&D, we understand how important the commons are to a set, and we spend lots of time talking about them. Today, I'll show you some Multiverse comments that were made about Zendikar commons, and talk about how they changed, or didn't change, during development.

Spreading Seas

Magic developers like having specific answers for common problems that Magic players face. Single big creatures got you down? Try Doom Blade. Having trouble with artifacts or enchantments? Perhaps Naturalize is what you're looking for. However, when a block focuses on something that Magic doesn't normally have tons of strong answers to, we have to make sure that there are enough answers to the new thing that players don't feel helpless. Zendikar is just such a set, since we do our best not to print strong and cheap land destruction.

The Zendikar designers were aware of this, and knew that there was a cycle of enchantment-esque rare lands in their set. Black, red, and green are the colors that get land destruction cards, and the Zendikar design file contained Desecrated Earth, Demolish, and Mold Shambler at common to provide players with the tools they needed to deal with potentially threatening lands. However, people who played blue and white together in Zendikar Limited would be without an answer. To rectify this, Zendikar lead developer Henry Stern put an enchant land into the set that turned the enchanted land into an Island. This doesn't destroy lands, but it gives blue decks a tool to deal with a land like Emeria, the Sky Ruin that they might not have had otherwise.

HS 10/20 new card

Later, in a Future Future League playtester meeting, Ken Nagle expressed frustration with how Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Emeria, the Sky Ruin were uncounterable ways for decks to get problematic effects past his Trap control deck's counterspells. He said that when he was looking for ways to deal with them, he ran across this card, but that he didn't feel it was strong enough to play in a Standard Constructed sideboard. Writing "draw a card" on it, he said, would push it over the edge and into potential playability. We asked Henry to make the change, and he did.

Spreading Seas

HS 10/22 added cantrip per FFL request.
KEN 1/12/2009: I can imagine this answering enchantmenty rare lands in glacial control mirrors.

Our goal with cards like Spreading Seas is that they act as pressure release mechanisms. Although we didn't find that any of the rare single-color lands in Zendikar created a broken or annoying deck, there is some nonzero chance that someone out in the real world might find such a deck. If that happens, we need for there to be enough tools that players can respond effectively. Spreading Seas would not likely have been strong enough to be such a tool in competitive Standard without the cantrip clause, but as Ken posted above, with that addition we thought it would be good enough if such a tool was needed.

We engineer Magic sets so that they are full of cards like Spreading Seas that serve as pressure release valves if some particular thing goes wrong. The better we do our job, the fewer of them you'll need to use, but they are always there just in case!

Into the Roil

One random day, I was going through the Zendikar file and staring at all of the kicker cards. I discovered during this pass that some cards had colored mana in their kicker costs, but others did not. Was there some sort of rhyme or reason to this? I discovered that there was not. Had there ever been?

The last place we did kicker in a big way was Invasion, so I went back to that card file to find out what we did. I discovered that in Invasion, creatures with colorless kicker costs had kicker abilities that made them bigger and other spells with colorless kicker costs did more of the same thing if they were kicked. Examples of these are Ardent Soldier and Explosive Growth, which simply become larger versions of themselves when kicked. On the other hand, cards with colored kicker costs had kicker abilities that made them do things that were different than what they did otherwise. For example, a kicked Duskwalker gains fear, and a kicked Dismantling Blow lets you draw two cards on top of destroying an artifact or enchantment.


Ardent Soldier

On each of the Zendikar cards that didn't match that convention, I posted something like this:

TML 12/16/2008: This does not match the Invasion kicker conventions. It does something new with the kicker, not more of the same, so under Invasion rules it should be kicker 1U.
AF 1/4: Changed 2 to 1U.

Into the Roil

Aaron Forsythe changed the rest of the Zendikar kicker cards to match this convention as well. It is hard to quantify how much this improved the set. However, there are many things in life that we do not register consciously but still influence how we feel about what is around us. For some fraction of our audience, consistency among kicker costs may be one of those things. I'm glad we made the change.

Crypt Ripper

Crypt Ripper is not the sort of card that cause Magic developers to lose sleep at night, but it caused some amount of controversy during its trip from design to print. Mark Rosewater included it under the pseudonym Hasty Shade in one of the very first Zendikar design files. It accomplished two disparate goals at once. First, he wanted to find good places to put haste in black. Second, he was looking for cards that reward a player for having lots of land in play in subtle ways. Drawing a Hasty Shade would make a player who had ten Swamps in play quite happy, so in it went.

Some designers and developers complained about Hasty Shade as soon as they saw it. Why, they asked, would you put haste on a shade? You'll attack with it on the turn you play it, and be sad when you can't pump it. Other people found the wonky combination of abilities lovable, and fought to defend it. Through it all, Mark stalwartly defended its presence in the set to anyone who would listen. However, like any card in Multiverse, it began to accumulate comments, here from Graeme Hopkins, Devin Low, Mike Turian, and me.

GTH 4/15: This guy is funny, everyone laughs the turn it gets played ("nice 3B raging goblin"), then is surprised when he smashes them the following turns. It's like those combination of abilities broadcasts "bad" so strong it actually surprises them it's actually a shade.
DAL 5/27: I personally hate haste shades and haste firebreathers because it's such a giant nombo, but I accept that everyone else seems to like them.
MT 7/24: As much as I love shades, haste feels totally weird and played bad today.
TML 7/30: Haste made him feel worse in actual play to me than it would have felt without it.

Crypt Ripper

Through it all, Mark never stopped loving the card, so he didn't take it out. This forced us to spend more time with it, and over that time we seemed to slowly get over our feelings about how weird the combination of abilities was. Some of us even began to like him, and one of those people was me! Lead developer Henry Stern never formed a strong opinion on the card one way or the other, instead choosing to wait and see how the group's opinion evolved.

TML 8/7: I am coming around on this guy. He's quirky in an adorable way.
MJG 9/5/08: Meh. This combination of abilities, especially on a 4 drop does feel like a good fit. That being said, I suppose if we are ever going to do it, doing so with a set encouraging lots of lands makes some sense.
HS 9/8 some people seem to like it.
TML 9/22: I was so depressed that I got none of these in today's draft. This was mainly because I was mono-black until pack three, but I still wanted them.

The second comment here comes from Mark Globus, Magic R&D producer. In the end, the amount of love that Hasty Shade had earned convinced Henry to keep the card in the set. In fact, it earned enough love that when Henry needed to make black stronger in Zendikar limited, he improved it from a 1/1 to a 2/2. Later, Creative changed it from a blank Multiverse record named Hasty Shade to a creepy skeletal thing named Crypt Ripper, and it went off to print. Before that, however, Mark declared his triumph.

MR 1/14/09: I am very happy to see this card still in the set.

Vines of Vastwood

One common way that we discover potential changes to cards is to try and build Constructed decks, then observe places where no card exists to do something we want. In the case of Vines of Vastwood, Matt Place discovered in the course of some deck building that he wanted a reasonable green instant he could use to protect his creatures. Vines of Vastwood in the file at the time was a Giant Growth effect when not kicked that gave shroud to the pumped creature when it was kicked. Matt proposed switching the order of these two abilities to create the card he was looking for.

MP 11/18: For constructed, I would like to see this cost G and give shroud. Then kick for 1G to give +4/+4.
MP 11/24: I talked to Henry and I have permission to play this at G for shroud, kicker G for +3/+3!
AF 1/9: Was G, 1G +3/+3 shroud.
TML 1/12/2009: This played incredibly well for me today. Protecting for just G is awesome.

This last comment was inspired by a monogreen deck that I drafted in a Zendikar playtest draft. While playing that deck, I got to use one Vines of Vastwood to save a Timbermaw Larva from a Journey to Nowhere while I only had one Forest untapped. Next turn, I attacked with my 9/9 Larva, pumped it to 13/13 with another Vines of Vastwood, and killed my opponent. This was awesome, and I spent a few minutes running around telling various people just how awesome it was.

This inspired me and others to make mono-green Constructed decks with four Vines of Vastwood, which taught us another lesson. Sometimes you draw two copies of your Giant Growth effect and want to cast both of them on one creature. If that card automatically gives your creature shroud, you can't cast the second one! This felt really bad, so we decided to make only your opponents unable to target the creature.

Vines of Vastwood

AF 2/5: Now Trollshroud, as it was awk that you couldn't play two of these on the same guy.

Internally, we call the ability that keeps opponents from targeting your creature "troll shroud" to distinguish it from shroud. We call it that because Troll Ascetic is the first famous card to have it.

The fact that I could write an entire article about the stories behind four commons demonstrates the level of care that Magic R&D puts into every part of a set. No nook and cranny of Zendikar was safe from our scrutiny, and we're honored that so many of you have chosen to explore our new world for yourselves.

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I had a lot of fun watching the Pro Tour Top 8 matches live during the webcast. It made me nostalgic for the rush of playing in high level Magic tournaments, but I'm glad I get to make the game now in return for not being able to play on the Pro Tour. Thanks for your responses!

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