M-Files: Aether Revolt, Part 2

Posted in Latest Developments on February 10, 2017

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.

It's time once again to return to the M-Files! Frequent readers of this column will know that Drake is our internal database used to track Magic cards already printed, early in design, and everything in between. One of the duties of our designers and developers is making occasional passes on the cards in Drake and leaving comments. Looking back on the file a year later provides insights on the design and development processes, as well as a few laughs. You'll find both here.

If you'd like to have a face to put with each name, click below to review our cast of commenters:

Click to reveal

BH—Ben Hayes, lead developer for Aether Revolt

MAGO—Mark Gottlieb, lead designer for Aether Revolt

DEL—Del Laugel, editor

EEF—Ethan Fleischer, designer

SPS—That's-a me!

ID—Ian Duke, developer

KEN—Ken Nagle, designer

MJG—Mark Globus, product architect

GSV—Gavin Verhey, designer

JDR—Jules Robins, designer

YS—Yoni Skolnik, developer

AM—Alli Medwin, digital editor

With that, on to the comments.

Prey Upon

BH: Changed to Prey Upon from 1G instant version to be better with revolt.

A big part of making revolt work is having sacrifice outlets or similar spells that help the commons get revolt naturally. You don't necessarily want to trade your creatures with your opponent's when you cast Prey Upon, but you can if it will make a revolt trick work well.

Scrounging Bandar

MAGO: New card.

MAGO: Can strategically make this 0/0 to get revolt rewards.

BH: Moved to being the two-drop +1/+1 counters card.

DEL: Cat Ape -> Cat Monkey to line up with decision made for Kaladesh.

Another card that can naturally make revolt work. Also, Ape to Monkey is a pretty great upgrade.

Greenbelt Rampager

AP: What a revolting design!

Mark Rosewater is usually the one who makes these jokes. I'm very sad about this, Adam.

Rishkar's Expertise

MAGO: New spell cycle

BH: Changed from Lead the Stampede and changed from 2-less to 1-less.

EEF: This cycle is DI gas.

KEN: Caw! La

BH: Was 2GG

ID: Hmm, DI gas is an accurate description for "undercosted by a mana."

BH: Was 3GG

When Zac Hill started at Wizards, he was coming almost straight from living in Malaysia, and he had picked up a piece of linguistic technology. Zac used the word "la" when ending sentences, similar to an exclamation point. When combined with his preexisting predilection toward lingo, it led to a lot of "DI gas la," which, despite him having left about four years ago, is still referenced. ("DI" is another Zac Hill original meaning, basically, "infinite.")

On the actual card, this is an interesting cycle because a big part of what makes it strong is how impactful of a card you can cast using the "free" spell bonus. Starting this off at four was interesting, but clearly wrong—green shouldn't have the strongest card drawing in Standard, which this was. Eventually, as we played it more, we moved it up to costing six.

Tezzeret's Touch

EEF: This looks really swingy in Limited.

BH: Used to return itself, now returns the enchanted artifact.

Returning itself was not weak—it ended up playing more like a bomb rare in Limited than a directional uncommon. It was just so hard to actually deal with the card. This version still leads to some strong starts but doesn't usually risk ending the game on turn three.

Dark Intimations

Pivotal Event #5

ID: Cool card, gets people buzzing. Have to be careful with the rate so as not to limit how exciting Bolas can be.

MJG: Sweet.

GSV: Love the call-forward to Bolas here.

JDR: Given that Bolas is getting multiple call-forwards and is central enough that we'd love for him to show up in Constructed, I'd like to start iterating on his card sooner than normal.

YS: This is gonna be a tough card to get right. There will likely be a Grixis control deck that will consider playing this card. But I think we want to point it so that it won't make that deck, but will make the future Grixis control deck with Bolas.

BH: Was 2UBR, "Opponent discards two cards and sacrifices two permanents."

GSV: I totally dig this and love the call-forward. I wish the second ability was more like Kozilek's Return, since after I cast Bolas I still have to recast this the next turn. But I understand that without having balanced Bolas yet, it would be hard to make it do that.

Okay. So, I can't tell you when Bolas is coming. This was intended as a call-forward to when we actually do print a Bolas (yes, we will fulfill this at some point; no Steamflogger Boss here) and to show off that Bolas was behind the actions in Kaladesh. This line of text went through a lot of changes to be cool and possibly powerful but not limit us on what we could make Bolas do. For example, an early version recast itself like Kozilek's Return. It read cool, but it would also mean that if you were to resolve a Bolas planeswalker, it would definitely be overkill. We would never want to have to make Bolas a weak card because of how strong it would be in conjunction with Dark Intimations. In the end, we went with something that is impactful but wouldn't put too hard of a restriction on what we could do with Bolas.

Ajani Unyielding

BH: Changed from 3GW +1 to look at top card and put creature/planeswalker into hand otherwise gain 3 life. -2 get an emblem that makes your creatures enter the battlefield with an additional +1/+1 counter. -6 your creatures get +4/+4 and lifelink until end of turn.

BH: Changed from top four to top three for first ability.

DEL: Changed "in a random order" to "in any order" due to how few cards are likely to be involved. (This is an übertemplating thing.)

BH: Ah, thanks Del. Sorry, I must have misunderstood our new rule.

GSV: How much Future Future League play is this seeing? This looks weaker than I would expect a six-mana gold planeswalker to be.

ID: (As a buff) I could see trying 6 starting loyalty and -3 to Swords to Plowshares. I don't think we want this to double Swords and survive, but beefier loyalty might help it on a typical midgame board.

KEN: For my Doubling Season deck(s).

DEL: Ultimate -10 -> -9

Getting six-mana planeswalkers to the right point is hard. Elspeth, Sun's Champion was the first to really see play, and that was very much on the strong-side. We expected Chandra, Flamecaller to see more play than she currently does. It's a narrow target to hit, and the goal here was to get Ajani to the point where he was a very strong midgame card-advantage engine, but not be the end-all, be-all for the late game.

Aegis Automaton

MAGO: New stats

SPS: This is an interesting design. I worry about on-board complexity at common.

MAGO: Now an artifact

JDR: I agree with Sam.

BH: Now only targets your own stuff and returns it immediately.

AP: Wondering if this is what we really want here. Whenever somebody actually plays it, their games tend to take forever.

EEF: That's a concern I hadn't considered before. I was a strong advocate for this card, as it does what the white-blue deck really wants, but if it's causing environmental problems, that's a factor to consider.

BH: Was 6W activate any time and 0/3

BH: Was 1/3

BH: Was 4W to activate

Early versions of this were not incredibly strong on a raw power level, but they were very powerful in the late game. In fact, because it was a common, it was kind of the "best thing to do" for anything that wasn't an aggressive deck, and people would frequently draft around this without getting it to start. It made games go very long, and they tended to end in the most boring ways possible. Reducing the cost from 6W to 4W but not letting it hit itself was a nice way to make it strong in revolt decks, but not so much that it ended games.

Foundry Assembler

BH: Was four mana

BH: Was six-mana 4/4

EEF: Assembly-Worker has synergy with Mishra's Factory as well, though I suspect that this card isn't strong enough to break into Legacy.

BH: Changed from Construct to Assembly-Worker to work with Self-Assembler from Kaladesh.

The Assembly-Worker text was something I suggested in a meeting, and I am glad it stuck. It was a nice way to tie together Kaladesh and Aether Revolt with a cool build-around. In hindsight, I kind of wish we had put Self-Assembler in AER as well, but the whole package works well enough here.

Irontread Crusher

BH: Changed from a two-mana 3/3 crew 1 that tapped tokens. We wanted a straightforward Vehicle with crew 3 to play well in red-white, which both have cheap 3-power creatures.

Red-white in Aether Revolt Limited is a Vehicle deck, and part of making that work was finding out ways to make red-white better at crewing Vehicles. This card ended up with crew 3 because those two colors together had the most cheap 3-power creatures. That way, this card would secretly be best in that color pair.

Universal Solvent

EEF: I really hope this name sticks. Err, stays, that is.

Because solvents dissolve things . . . yeah, you get it.

Consulate Turret

BH: Changed from the laser turret that built up counters, because it's very creatively difficult to have a charge counter card in energy world.

BH: I want to design a cool energy artifact here.

This was a neat design, but one of the things that you sacrifice with energy is having neat one-of designs. This one used to tap to add charge counters, then tap to remove them all to do that much damage to your opponent. An early version of the set had proliferate, which worked with that, but caused too much confusion with both energy and charge counters running around.

Consulate Dreadnought

BH: Updated to new crew rules. Crew 5 -> 6 and 10/10 -> 12/12.

YS: I'm keeping an eye on this card. I would believe it's far too strong in the Draft deck that can use it optimally. Strong in a way that's not fun.

BH: Was too good with auto-crew cards we want to make. Was one-mana 12/12 crew 7.

BH: Changed from crew 5 because it was too strong with the drawback two-mana 5/5 in Eldritch Moon.

BH: Was rare

BH: 7/11 and no hexproof

BH: Used to not have hexproof

This started off as the Phyrexian Dreadnought slot in the set: a humongous but hard to use one-mana creature. Part of making that cool, though, is making it actually hard to use. We also liked the auto-crew stuff, and one had to go. In the end, we decided to make this weaker and taking away hexproof to ensure it wasn't miserable to play against on turn three with Siege Modification.

Crackdown Construct

BH: Was the pseudo-Squadron Hawk white artifact creature. Now intended as a combo with Wandering Fumarole for three months.

AM: Wandering Toll Collector found his toll, too.

ID: I'm still not a fan of engineering these two-card combos. I hope FFL is doing its diligence making sure this isn't a problem with anything else and thinking about what it precludes going forward.

BH: No longer has menace.

KEN: Shuko? Seeker of Skybreak? Wandering Fumarole? Um, two Fatestitchers?

ID: @KEN I believe this was intended to go infinite fairly easily.

As Ian points out, this is supposed to be an easy way to go infinite, to allow for cool inventor-like things.

Hope of Ghirapur

EEF: This card is baffling to me. It's like a guided missile, but it's a legendary creature? It's a 1/1 flier, and I can use it as a crappy version of Silence? What is this card's purpose and audience?

DEL: Story point for reference: Finally, the inventors devise the "swoop thopter," a specially-made, ultra-fast flying artifact that carries the "æther disruptor," an innovative disruption device meant to deactivate Tezzeret's Planar Bridge. If they can get the Heart of Kiran close enough to the Spire, they can send the swoop thopter through the shell of Consulate defenses and thwart Tezzeret's device.

EEF: I don't mean to harp, but seriously: why is this a legendary creature? It doesn't even have a name.

ID: Swoop! There it is.

Moving the name to Hope of Ghirapur went a long way toward selling it as a legend, but I admit I missed Ian's joke on the names.

Metallic Mimic

EEF: These kinds of cards have lasting casual appeal.

ID: Hope you're enjoying this because, boy, that dual land you traded me is great.

KEN: How often does this name "Ouphe" (for Kitchen Finks)?

When working on Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, we had initially split the dual lands three-two before seeing what happened with Oath of the Gatewatch and deciding that was not a great way to generate churn in the metagame. It was late enough, though, that we needed to swap some mostly-finished cards. In this case, AER got Metallic Mimic and Walking Ballista. We joked for a while that Ian, the lead developer of KLD, got a real steal on that trade—but I think as we've seen both the Mimic and Ballista in action, Ben got a pretty nice deal in the end.

That's it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the M-Files for Aether Revolt. Next week, I'll be back answering your questions about Aether Revolt and Magic in general.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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