Halfway Compleated

Posted in Latest Developments on April 8, 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.

Much of the effort in Mirrodin Besieged development went toward making the Mirran and Phyrexian halves of the set feel cohesive as units but distinctly different from each other. I have written in this space about one of the ways we did that, which was to have separate teams attack each half of the file. Although I led the Mirran side of that effort, we were all cognizant of what made each side distinctive, and we spent plenty of time as a larger team talking about how to make the Phyrexian cards pop in colors that weren't traditionally Phyrexian. Today, I'll talk about some Phyrexian cards from Mirrodin Besieged that show the sort of things we were thinking about at the time.

I've been on all three set development teams that Mirrodin Besieged lead developer Erik Lauer has led, and during that time I've learned a lot about what he likes in Magic. Erik enjoys Limited more when the games have the potential to go long, which is why you find cards like Horned Turtle, Siege Mastodon, and Armored Cancrix in his sets. Expensive cards like Stormtide Leviathan, Ancient Hellkite, and Praetor's Counsel don't always have time to shine, but if you get one of them early, Erik prefers that you be able to find enough defensive creatures that you can build for them. In my head, Priests of Norn is a spiritual successor to those defensive creatures.

Despite serving a fairly common role, this card is a pretty strange overall package. A 1/4 creature with vigilance isn't normally exciting, because a Runeclaw Bear can block it all day, but infect makes that much less palatable for the Runeclaw Bear in question. Infect also makes the opponent who chooses not to block this card squirm in his or her chair as the poison counters tick up. In practice, Priests of Norn serves very well as a traditional Horned Turtle, but also does enough new and strange things that it looks quite Phyrexian to me.

On a side note, I enjoy the meta-implications of a Phyrexian card with infect sneaking its way into otherwise non-infect decks, which is something this card does for me frequently. What is this doing here? Oh, don't mind it. It'll just take over everything in a month or two. In the meantime, maybe you shouldn't attack with that 3/3 guy. Everything will be just fine....

AF 3/19: "I'll save you, Ball Lightning!"
BL 3/19: no thanks, I'm good

White is quite happy to save creatures from death. So is Phyrexia, but with the Phyrexians, such rescues come with a price.

I've seen many less experienced players trip over this card. Regenerating one's own creatures is good, but I want to put -1/-1 counters on my opponent's creatures. The actual rules function of this card is crystal clear, but the actual purpose of the card is not. We don't often make cards that can be used on two axes that are so different, and that leaves behind a negative for you if you use it on your own creature, but the bizarreness of the overall package is what made it work for a white Phyrexian card for us. I'm glad that we were willing to suspend the convention for this card.

Here's a third example of a white card that is just slightly off kilter. It's completely within scope for white to punish attacking creatures, but it doesn't normally do so to multiple creatures, and it almost never does it with -1/-1 counters. This is one of the less bizarre-feeling white Phyrexian cards, but it is still well within reach for me.

White normally gets Wrath of God effects, so it took a little work to find a way to twist a card like that into a Phyrexian bent. Happily, the Phyrexian mini-team found a way. You can tell that they succeeded in their twist by how much everyone in the comments reacted that it felt borderline non-white.

EVL 3/10: New card from Phyrexian team.
Sw 3/11: This feels really black...perhaps make the creature a spirit? Or something like that?
ZH 3/11: I love this.
AF 3/19: I love it too, but I love [CENSORED] more. How can we make both? Should one be black?
TML 3/19/2010: [CENSORED] feels black to me.
KEN 3/21/2010: This is white if it makes a holy X/X Avatar token, but not Phyrexian flavor. Could be 4BB make an X/X Demon. If the token flies, could reuse Pete Venters demon token (Reiver Demon look-alike). Then I wonder why not make a guy that ETB Wrath of God like Reiver Demon?
RBM 3/23: Awesome! A wrath for my white weenie deck. Thematically fun, although agreed that a white horror is strange (unless you're talking about me on the dance floor.)
KD 3/23: This feels "white Phyrexian" to me. Black could have a card like this in any block, but the white version only makes sense here. That makes me want it to be white, but YMMV.
MR (3/25/10): I like cards like this for white Phyrexian. It's white but it's not something we'd normally do in white.
ZH 4/5: I like this card, but Elspeth/This/[CENSORED] is a whole lot of Wrath of Gods. We just need to be on the lookout for lots of similar effects.

The comment from intelligent and handsome DailyMTG editor Kelly Digges concisely expresses why we went forward with this card in white. Phyrexia is all about things that feel slightly violating and wrong. We still wanted to respect the color pie, but not so much that we couldn't do off-kilter-feeling cards like this.

As a final note, [CENSORED] is not Black Sun's Zenith. If you keep your eyes open for it, I'll bet you recognize it when it shows up.

This card's drawback used to only affect its controller. When that was true, it had a bigger body, and it cost less. Then, this exchange happened.

MR (3/25/10): Giant drawback feels less Phyrexian to me than somehow negatively affected the opponent. Could we at least make the effect affect everyone? "When CARDNAME is put into the graveyard from play, you discard two cards and all other players discard one."
EVL 3/25: Now each player discards a card.

I adore this as a Phyrexian card, but not for the same reasons as Mark. It's easy to convince myself while drafting and building that this card's death trigger is a break-even for me and my opponent, but in reality my blue decks usually prefer to play for the long game. I want to play all my lands, not have to save one to discard to this guy. But I guess this is what I get for signing a Phyrexian to my team. Thankfully, his 3/2 flying body is more than worth the occasional mutual discard.

EVL 3/10: New card from Phyrexian Team
ZH 3/11: OBEY YOUR nah just kidding.
EVL 3/15: Your life burns faster...
AF 3/19: Sick.
TML 3/19/2010: Name makes me want to go play Rock Band.
Tabak 3/23: This guy's great. Name reminds me of a song, but I can't quite place it...

Erik is a huge fan of thrash metal, so he named this card "Master of Puppets" when he put it into the file.

MR (3/25/10): I would change it to "tap or untap". Otherwise it feels like a white card.

And here we get another potentially tense card, although not to the same degree as Gore Vassal. Here, it's easy to imagine myself only tapping my opponent's creatures with it. However, the "or untap" addition adds the ability to untap something as an onboard trick to block. Doing that, of course, does not come without a cost. I think it's not an unreasonable idea that putting some Phyrexians on your team should make one a little squeamish, and I don't mind a Phyrexian card or two putting a player to some mildly unappealing choices.

Phyrexia is all about stealing stuff. Blue is all about stealing stuff. Phyrexia is also all about infect. Could this card have been any more obvious? No, but there was a problem...

ZH 12/21: SO sweet.
MJG 1/12/10: Cool.
AF 2/18: There's a sick Confiscate in SOM, and I'm sure ACT will want some. We need to watch these.
MR (3/25/10): I like this card in the war set. We do have to be careful though as Action is going to want more stealing style cards than a normal small set.

As noted here, stealing things is so Phyrexian that we had to be careful to leave room for more of it to be made. In the end, we chose to make this card anyway because of how effective an instrument it was for getting the Mirran-Phyrexian conflict across.

Consecrated Sphinx is kind of just a big flying dude. However, I also find him to be one of the most violating-feeling creatures we've made in quite a long time. "That's a nice draw step you've got there. I think I'll have it too. And I'll make it better." Drawing my card is normally one of my favorite parts of my turn, but when my opponent gets to draw two at the same time, that stops being true. Taking away innocent pleasures feels like a very Phyrexian thing to do, so this card works for me.

I've talked a bunch above about subtle ways that we showed what Phyrexia was about. It was also important to us that there were enough unsubtle things going on, and there isn't much less subtle than taking famous cards from Mirrodin block and writing infect on them.

Although there's not a lot to say about these actual cards, we put a lot of thought into picking which cards got this treatment. There was a point in the file where we had many more direct callouts, but eventually we decided that a smaller number of high-profile cards both did a better job of getting the point across and gave us more space to work with. Inkmoth Nexus and Viridian Corrupter also helped us with a second purpose, which was to help constructed Infect decks.

That's about all for today, as only half of Mirrodin Besieged got to be Phyrexian. If that wasn't enough for you, it won't be too long before you get your fill.


Previous Poll

Which of the six sets currently in Standard is your favorite?
Zendikar 2029 25.1%
Rise of the Eldrazi 1898 23.5%
Mirrodin Besieged 1361 16.9%
Magic 2011 1110 13.7%
Scars of Mirrodin 1089 13.5%
Worldwake 588 7.3%
Total 8075 100.0%


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