Development Under Siege

Posted in Latest Developments on January 21, 2011

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.

Hello, and welcome back to the first week of Mirrodin Besieged previews. First, I'll introduce you to the development team.

    Erik Lauer

I seem to be getting tons of opportunities to talk about Erik these days, as just two weeks ago I told you that he was the lead designer of Masters Edition IV. Erik is a busy man, though, as he spends lots of time developing paper sets too. Erik led the development of Mirrodin Besieged, which is the eleventh major set in a row that he has been part of the development team for. That's one hell of a run, and represents an enormous collected bank of Magic knowledge. He put that knowledge to good use while working on this set.

Erik has since taken over responsibility for the Future Future League, which tests the Standard environment as it will exist when sets leave Wizards and enter the real world. I've been enjoying his vision for Standard more and more internally, and you'll begin to see that vision with Mirrodin Besieged.

    Tom LaPille

You've seen Tom's work on Magic a few times before, as he was on the development teams for Magic 2010, Worldwake, and Magic 2011, and he was the lead developer of Masters Edition III, Archenemy, and Masters Edition IV. You will continue to see his work in the near future, as he was on both Mirrodin Besieged and "Action" on the path to his first set lead on Magic 2012. He is also very handsome. Finally, he writes this column, and likely should move on before further embarrassing himself. If you wish to learn more about him, you have only to read the archives of this column.

    Mike Turian

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Mike Turian has led four Magic sets: Future Sight, Morningtide, Conflux, and Scars of Mirrodin. We like to have an experienced developer on each Magic team who isn't the set's lead, as the combination of experience and increased distance from the product can allow that person to see things that the lead can't. From my experience leading Archenemy and Magic 2012, I know that Mike does an excellent job in this role. His perspective on Magic is quite different from other developers', and the combination of experience and idea diversity that he brings is invaluable.

Mike has since moved from Ramp;D to Organized Play, where he is putting his several years of experience playing in Magic tournaments to just as good use as he did in Ramp;D.

    Ryan Dhuse

Ryan is a software architect for Magic Online, and has worked on Magic Online in various capacities for quite a while. He is also one of the more avid drafters I know who has no lifetime Pro points, and that's what earned him his spot on this development team. The Mirrodin Besieged team was Ryan's first, and although Magic Online occupied much of his time during our development cycle, we were glad to have the guidance we got from his love of Limited play.

    Joe Huber

Joe Huber is a digital game designer. At the time he was a contractor, but he has since been hired full-time to work on digital products and new business. He was with us for a few weeks as we began. Eventually, though, his time became too crunched, and something had to give. He was removed from the Mirrodin Besieged team. His replacement was ...

    Zac Hill

I said two weeks ago that "Action" was Zac's first development team. I was wrong; I forgot this one! Zac joined this team not too long after joining Wizards, which happened just after a Top 8 performance at Pro Tour–Honolulu in 2009. Since then, Zac has grown as a developer very quickly, with his expertise especially felt in the Future Future League. I suspect it won't be too much longer before you see an announcement of a Magic set that he leads.

    About Mirrodin Besieged

Scars of Mirrodin block is an artifact block, and so, of course, Mirrodin Besieged contains plenty of artifacts. Some of them are pretty good.

As a developer, it's my job to get nervous when we print a bunch of powerful colorless cards. One of the important ways that we balance the game is color requirements. Let's travel now to a hypothetical world one month from now in which a black-based infect deck is very strong in Standard. Between Inkmoth Nexus, Phyrexian Crusader, and Phyrexian Vatmother (all from the Visual Spoiler), such a deck has plenty of new options coming in, but let's pretend that all twelve (4 copies of each of the three previously listed cards) end up being correct in that deck. Because the deck's black requirements are so heavy, it's tricky to sneak other colors into the deck. It may be possible to add blue thanks to Drowned Catacomb, Darkslick Shores, and Creeping Tar Pit, but adding white is going to be tough because the format only has Marsh Flats to offer. This keeps the deck heavily based in black so that it can cast its early-game cards that cost two black mana.

If that deck is strong, one way to attack it is to play a bunch of cards that are explicitly good against black. Mirran Crusader, for example, may be frustrating for that deck to deal with unless it splashes red for burn, which awkwardly doesn't help its main plan. One can also play cards that are strategically good against an infect deck. For example, one might decide that creatures with infect have lower power for their cost than creatures without, and therefore play a bunch of planeswalkers against the infect deck. Black doesn't have cards that are great at killing planeswalkers that fit naturally into an Infect strategy, so this is likely to work to some degree.

Imagine instead that Phyrexian Crusader and Phyrexian Vatmother are artifacts. If that were true, an infect deck containing them would have very easy mana requirements and have little trouble going to any color necessary to adjust to metagame problems. That's trouble, because then that deck, if too powerful, will sit monolithically on top of everything else with no chance for something to move it off the top of the mountain.

As you may have noticed, Mirrodin Besieged adds even more strong artifacts to Standard. Between Etched Champion, Memnite, Signal Pest, Phyrexian Revoker, Steel Overseer, Mox Opal, and Tempered Steel, there's probably some kind of artifact rush deck out there in Standard now. As it turned out, there wasn't an "artifact deck" in competitive Standard before Mirrodin Besieged. However, that doesn't mean that the world has not seen the sort of deck that Mox Opal, Memnite, and Steel Overseer can produce. At last year's World Championships, Jonathan Smithers unleashed this deck on the Extended portion of the event with impressive results for almost everyone who played it.

Jonathan Smithers's Steel Artifact

Download Arena Decklist

As more and more artifacts enter Standard from Mirrodin Besieged and "Action," I expect decks like this to start showing up in Standard more often. When they do, we want there to be answers. In "Twitstorm Part 2: Scars of Twitstorm", I talked about the need for answers of this sort, but said that we didn't want to give out the nuclear codes quite yet, as we wanted there to be some amount of time during which playing out a bunch of artifacts was safe.

That time has passed. Here are the codes.

I don't have any particularly awesome development stories about this card. We realized that we needed a mass artifact destruction effect, decided that it should go in green instead of red because it makes more sense for Phryexians to be going after Mirran artifacts than for red Mirrans to be sabotaging themselves, and typed the card into Multiverse. Erik's playtest names are known for their directness; for this card, he chose the name "Crush." Unfortunately, he chose a name so well that that name ended up on a different Mirrodin Besieged card. This caused no end of problems for us within Ramp;D during FFL meetings, when no one was certain which "Crush" anyone was talking about. It was even worse that the cards had similar purposes!

Before I go, I would like to touch on this card's rarity. Creeping Corrosion is rare because the world in which this is an uncommon is not a happy one. Conditional mass removal like Pyroclasm or Firespout can be uncommon, but we don't want Limited players living in fear of unconditional sweepers all the time. In an artifact set, Creeping Corrosion is much more like Day of Judgment than Pyroclasm or Firespout. Therefore, it needs to be a rare.

Next weekend is the Mirrodin Besieged prerelease. We're trying something new this time; as you may have read elsewhere, you'll choose "Mirran" or "Phyrexian" at the beginning of the tournament, and all your Mirrodin Besieged cards will come from the faction you choose. That has several non-obvious effects. One of them is that because more of the cards in your pool will be playable in a deck built around the faction you choose, the average deck quality in the Prerelease will be somewhat higher than you've seen at a Prerelease before. There are several other impacts, but I leave those for you to discover yourself. I think this will be an interesting experiment, and I look forward to learning about how it goes for everyone else.

    Last Week's Poll
Which of last year's draft formats was your favorite?
I don't have an opinion.95015.0%

    This Week's Poll
Which faction will you choose when, or if, you go to a Mirrodin Besieged prerelease?MirranPhyrexian

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