Developing Eldritch Moon

Posted in Latest Developments on July 1, 2016

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 everybody! Preview Week is in full swing, and I hope you are excited by what you have seen so far. There are a lot of things in this set, like meld for example, that were very difficult to pull off not just for the development team, but for teams all over the building—from creative, to frame design, digital, and of course rules management. Meld in particular was a very tricky mechanic to create, and one of the main creative reasons behind why we came back to Innistrad. I hope that it is as exciting for you all to see and play with as it was for us to come up with.

Today on Latest Developments, I have a pretty exciting preview card using a different mechanic: escalate. But, before I get to it, let me introduce you to the members of the Eldritch Moon development team.

Sam Stoddard—That's a me! This was my second expansion lead, after Magic Origins.


David Humpherys—Dave was the lead of Shadows over Innistrad and the strong second on Eldritch Moon. Dave has led the second-most sets of all the current developers, behind only Erik Lauer, and has a wealth of experience that I was able to draw on. As the development manager, he also had a ton of other wisdom to impart in terms of both working on sets and dealing with members of my team. Also, as the lead of Shadows over Innistrad, we were able to work together to make sure that both the sets would really meld. He also stole my reprint of Unruly Mob, for which I will never forgive him.


Bryan Hawley—Bryan Hawley was the carry-over from the design team to the development team. He had a lot of excitement for the set, and spent a ton of time coming up with awesome designs. One of his roles on this team was to make sure we were keeping up the goals the design team. Within R&D, Bryan wears a number of hats, including that of the person who manages all of our collation. With all the challenges of meld cards doing weird things with the print sheets in Eldritch Moon, he was a truly invaluable asset to the team.


Jackie Lee—Jackie was the design team member on the set. Her role, besides making cards, was to ensure that the desires of the larger design team were being upheld as the set changed. Jackie had a lot of very strong opinions about the color pie, which was important for the set. Whenever we have a set like this that is trying to bend things to be darker than normal, there is a tendency to try and bend the color pie further than we probably should—and Jackie was always there to make sure we didn't go too far.


Melissa DeTora—At the time the set was being worked on, Melissa DeTora was the most recent development intern. As the person with the most recent experience on the Pro Tour, one of her roles was to be very realistic about how powerful the cards in the set were. It's easy for people who have been in development for a long time to become a little out of touch and to lie to ourselves about whether or not things are working. Having people like Melissa who can kick the tires and just generally be the strongest players in the room helps ensure we are making the right decisions when developing the set. I am very excited for Melissa to be back in the building in just a few days, and I'm looking forward to seeing her break cards once again.


Now that the team is out of the way, it's time to talk about the actual set, and my preview card. Let me set the stage.


When the set came over from design, we had a lot of answers for what the Eldrazi were doing in the set, but fewer for what the people of Innistrad were doing. The set on handoff had a mechanic similar to the card Unruly Mob, which wasn't novel enough for the set. I cut it from the file and set about finding a new one. We came up with the ideas that led us to emerge pretty quickly, but the good-guy mechanic was much harder to nail down. After several iterations on mechanics—none of which really worked—I looked for some help.

Talking with Mark Gottlieb, the design manager and the advisor on the set, I managed to get a mini team run by Ethan Fleischer to look at new mechanics for the set. While we didn't end up using any of the exact mechanics that he came up with, this exercise did a great job of showing what kind of mechanics the set wanted, based on what kind of mechanics were in this and the surrounding blocks. Ethan suggested entwine, which was a fun mechanic but not quite right for the set. I came up with the idea of an entwine variant where you have more than two options.

The original version of the mechanic was going to be only in white and black, and showcased the two sides teaming up. So the white cards all had "black" additional costs (like paying life), and the black cards had "white" additional costs (like tapping your own creatures). It was an interesting idea, but it made it almost impossible to make enough cards. We were also interested in moving escalate into red, and there were no really good ways to do that with the current paradigm. While many of the creative elements of the cards remained, the cards themselves moved to generally finding the additional costs they wanted, rather than branching out too far.

With that, let me present one of the most exciting cards with this mechanic in the set. Presenting Collective Brutality:

Harnessing the Power of Brutality

While each of the effects of Collective Brutality are a little weak on their own (especially at two mana), and at one discarded card per additional mode, the trick is versatility. Giving -2/-2 won't kill every creature in Standard, but it will kill a lot of them. Duressing an opponent with this won't hit planeswalkers, but there are generally enough targets in most decks to hit a majority of the time. Finally, you generally wouldn't want to spend a card just to drain an opponent for 2, but that does occasionally get you just over the hump to win a race. That's just how Charms work, though. It's when you add the versatility of any mode that things really shine—and unlike other Charms, this one will let you use all of the modes you deem worth the investment.

The card really shines when you can use those cards you are discarding for your own benefit. The most obvious way to take advantage of this is madness. A turn-three Collective Brutality with -2/-2 to take out a Duskwatch Recruiter, Fiery Temper to kill a Sylvan Advocate, and the Duress effect to get a Collected Company will really take the wind out of an opponent's sails. Later in the game you can get similar benefits from the card, throwing away extra lands or multiple madness cards in one turn to make a big swing.

Thinking beyond just the obvious madness applications, Collective Brutality is perhaps at its best when working with delirium-based aggressive decks, which Eldritch Moon has quite a lot of cards to help out. While it can be difficult to get the required number of card types in your graveyard naturally by turn three or four, Collective Brutality lets you achieve delirium very easily by discarding something like a land and an enchantment. It helps clear the way for your now-much-larger creatures, and can even strip away a Languish or Declaration in Stone from an opponent's hand to keep them from getting back into the game.

One of the things I like most about Collective Brutality is how much skill it takes to play the card correctly in games. I think as the Standard season progresses, we will see a lot of discussions come up during coverage regarding the decisions players make about using the card—many of which will have giant ramifications in games. Making a good read on a matchup or board state and deciding to go with discarding the second card for the 2 life drain will not come up a lot, but it will help decide the closest of games. While we may not see quite as many debates on it as we saw on whether or not to use Merfolk Looter, I suspect there will be a lot of debate surrounding when to use each mode of the card. I think it's important that not every card has this level of flexibility and choice, but creating some number of them is great for competitive Magic.

That's it for this week. Next week, the entire Eldritch Moon set will be available for you to see, so I won't have a preview card, but I will have more insights into how the set was made.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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