The Elephant and the Armodon

Posted in Latest Developments on May 31, 2002

By Randy Buehler

It’s time to wind down Token Week and I’ll start with the poll to see which is everybody’s favorite token:

What’s your favorite kind of token?
Squirrel 1382 30%
Saproling 735 16%
Wurm 515 11%
Elephant 339 7%
Other 297 6%
Zombie 288 6%
Goblin Soldier 250 5%
Bird 240 5%
Firecat 177 4%
Bear 166 4%
Beast 132 3%
Soldier 116 3%
Total 4637 100%

Squirrels it is! Apparently, all the stuff we’ve been doing with green 1/1’s has been popular because Saprolings finished second. I’ll guess we’ll stick with our policy of giving green the most token creatures, but mixing up what creature type they actually are.

I learned a lot about token creatures from working on the Odyssey development team. It was obvious once the designers figured out that they wanted to do flashback that the set would have to involve an above average number of token creatures. How else could we do flashback creatures?

I guess I really shouldn’t be calling them flashback creatures since they’re actually instants and sorceries that put creatures into play, but I trust you’ll forgive my shorthand. The naming team had to come to grips with this same distinction, by the way. Some of the playtest names sounded like creature names, but eventually they all got named after either the sounds made by the creatures they put into play (Call of the Herd, Chatter of the Squirrel, Roar of the Wurm) or the actions of those creatures (Beast Attack, Elephant Ambush). “Sneaky Elephant” was my favorite playtest name, but Elephant Ambush is much more appropriate.

(As an aside ... Odyssey also has an above average number of creatures that can be played at instant speed. Once we knew we were doing flashback creatures, it just seemed like a perfect opportunity to do instant speed creatures. Normally, we have to put an entire line of text onto the cards: “CARDNAME may be played any time you can play an instant.” But in Odyssey all we had to do was change the word “Sorcery” to “Instant” on the type line of a flashback creature.)

Anyway, when we were developing Odyssey we knew we wanted to make some good flashback creatures. We started off by thinking about what regular creatures would cost if you then got to draw another copy of the creature that cost a different (usually more expensive) amount to play. That made sense, in theory, but our playtesting showed that this model just wasn’t correct.

The problem was that all our blue decks had Repulses in them and several of our black decks had Cremates in them. (Yeah, I know, Cremate isn’t really a main deck card, but it’s not that hard to run it straight up if you’ve got enough black mana to “cycle it” early in the game and even if the black mage isn’t going out of his way to hose graveyard cards it still makes sense to ‘board some of them.)

Repulse demonstrated to us that tokens aren’t really the same things as creatures. If I play Trained Armodon and you Repulse it, I’m just going to play it again next turn. However, if you Repulse the token I got from Call of the Herd that just pretty much sucks for me. I do still get to play it again, but the price for that wasn’t always as cheap as it wound up.

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Trained Armodon was the card we kept going back to as a point of comparison. It’s never been good enough to make the cut in Standard, but Brian Schneider and I played three copies each in a mono-green beatdown deck that put us each in the Top 16 of Pro Tour L.A. 3 (the Tempest-only block constructed tournament that Dave Price won with Deadguy Red). Knowing that Trained Armodon was almost good enough, we figured we should add a mana and then add another mana for the flashbacked version. Several weeks of Repulsed Elephant tokens later the card was down to a base-price (the same as Trained Armodon), and then, finally, to . to put a 3/3 token creature into play still isn’t as good as for a Trained Armodon so we were able to drop the flashback cost as well. In the end, we wound up with mana costs that make Call of the Herd quite a good card and we also wound up with special bonus knowledge of how much better a creature is than a creature token.

Developing Beast Attack taught us some lessons too. Mostly we learned two things about blue decks: 1) they like instant speed creatures, and 2) flashback is quite good with Fact or Fiction. These were pretty obvious points that we pretty much already knew, so really what we spent our time doing was figuring out a way to print a good green card that wouldn’t just go into blue decks. You already know how this story turns out: blue decks like to have Islands in play so we put lots and lots of green mana symbols onto Beast Attack. In the end, we decided that if blue decks wanted to splash green to get creatures that had good synergy with Fact or Fiction, then we were at least going to make them tap out during their main phase.

In the end, I think we wound up in a pretty good place with Odyssey’s flashback creatures. There are good cards for all our audiences -- casual, limited, constructed, etc.

Randy may be reached at

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