M-Files: Amonkhet, Part 1

Posted in Latest Developments on May 5, 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 (formerly called "Multiverse") is our internal database, used to track Magic cards already printed, early in design, and everything in between. One of the duties of being a designer or developer 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

 DGH—Dave Humpherys, Amonkhet co-lead developer

 EEF—Ethan Fleischer, Amonkhet co-lead designer

 MJJ—Mons Johnson, Duel Masters designer and Magic playtester

 ID—Ian Duke, developer

 BH—Ben Hayes, developer

 TABAK—Matt Tabak, editor and former rules manager

 KEN—Ken Nagle, designer

 ELI—Eli Shiffrin, rules manager

 AP—Adam Prosak, developer

 TJA—Tim Aten, former editor and seven-day Jeopardy! Champion

 GSV—Gavin Verhey, designer

And with that, on to the comments:

Binding Mummy

DGH: Don't like that the explicit common Zombie reward creatures are both at three mana. Moving this down.

MJJ: Does this want to be "you may" (and lose "opponent controls") so that it works with Supply Caravan?

DGH: Sure, I'll make that change.

ID: Why "one or more" instead of one tap for each?

DGH: Didn't think I wanted create three Zombies to be Falters with this.

BH: The synergy between the clean version and create three Zombies doesn't seem like a bad thing to me.

DGH: Changed to cleaner more powerful

DGH: 2/1 -> 2/2

TABAK: Now can also tap artifacts.

So, you will notice quite a late change on this—in fact, it is after Kaladesh came out. After we had done our mostly-final testing on Amonkhet, we made the decision to move to changing rotations, and we got to see just how powerful Kaladesh was shaping up to be in Standard. As a result, we made some late changes in Amonkhet to both have the set safely interact with Battle for Zendikar being in the format for six more months and to give some possible answers for artifacts in Kaladesh. One of the results of these changes was that Binding Mummy picked up the ability to tap artifacts to deal with things like Heart of Kiran, which the Zombie deck was already having a very hard time dealing with. This wasn't intended as some kind of silver bullet to really change the format, but added a small piece of power that might have some small impact in the future—assuming white-black Zombie decks showed up in Standard at some point.

Cartouche of Solidarity

TABAK: "Solidarity! Um . . . you go first."

Cartouche of Solidarity is a reward for someone who shows their ability to act with solidarity, not that everyone works with them!

Regal Caracal

DGH: DESIGN FAVORITE. "Cats were sacred in ancient Egypt. Casual players love to make Cat tribal decks. It's a design goal to find places to print lords for underserved tribes. We need a Cat lord of some kind in this set. The specific design is flexible."

MJJ: Too close to Angel of Invention?

EEF: It's kinda weird that the card grants lifelink, but the tokens themselves have lifelink.

GSV: Agreed with EEF. I would expect the tokens to not have the same keyword this grants.

DGH: Agreed it is weird. But I don't have a better solution to having a neat tribal. I like that the Cat tokens independently have lifelink.

Weird doesn't always mean wrong. In this case, while it is strange because some of the Cats in Amonkhet do have lifelink, the purpose of this card is to work within the larger structure of Magic, and there granting lifelink is really helpful. Being that I haven't heard too many complaints from the player base for this being weird, I think Dave made the right choice in keeping it.

Gideon's Intervention

DGH: Pivotal Event 5: The Sign of End Times

KEN: Bubble power!

DGH: A bit sad I can't get non-embalm tokens

ID: This has looked quite strong in FFL. I would want to make sure it's not going in aggressive white decks. I suggest preventing only to you and planeswalkers you control.

ELI: That might conflict with the story on a story spotlight card. Would another change, like going to 3W or 1WW, work to solve the problem?

DGH: 2W to 1WW

DGH: Added "untapped" to the permanents so it isn't protecting your attackers and protecting as well against sweepers.

DGH: Suggestion to delete flash and add can't be targeted by that name either

TABAK: Lost flash, but now prevents targeting by the named card per DGH request.

DGH: Should cost 2WW

TABAK: Your wish is my command.

TABAK: Now stops casting of spells with the chosen name. Last two abilities changed order.

While this started off as a flavorful story spotlight card, we found other uses for it over time. It initially prevented you from being targeted by the named card (and eventually stopped the card from being cast) to give decks an answer to Emrakul, the Promised End. While that purpose has moved on, as has the ability for it to stop the Copy Cat combo, it still will allow for people to have a good sideboard for any effects they have a hard time dealing with.

Ancient Crab

DGH: Are there Crabs here? Oath of the Gatewatch reprint

TABAK: There are now.

That may seem like a funny question, but this actually does come up a lot. Because we visit so many worlds, we need ways to tell them apart. One easy way is by altering the menagerie of the worlds, and changing what creatures actually show up. For example, Amonkhet has Jackals instead of Goblins, and Kaladesh used Gremlins instead. While it may seem crazy that a world doesn't have Crabs, the creative team might not have a cool solution for what Crabs look like there, or they might have something else they want to show off. Luckily, Crabs worked out here. Good job, Mr. Crab!

Aven Initiate

BH: This card reads stronger than Phantom Monster to me.

MJJ: Agreed.

DGH: Most of the easy knobs weaken this a lot. Magma Spray, other exile, bounce keep this somewhat in check. Can go to seven mana to embalm if this is perceived as a problem. It isn't getting top slot in Top 15s.

DGH: Embalm from six to seven mana

Phantom Monster is the line where we say "This card is stronger than we'd want a creature at common." Aven Initiate, as a flat out Snapping Drake, is a bit weak, but once you put embalm on it, it gets much stronger. The question is just how strong. Our thought was that six mana was stronger than we really wanted it to be, and moving it to seven kept it in the right spot for Limited power level.

Hieroglyphic Illumination

EEF: I like this. The problem with four-mana draw two is that you can't use it to dig for a land. This neatly solves that problem.

Sure enough! This was a very simple and elegant design.

Cryptic Serpent

AP: Very likely that this is way too strong for Eternal formats.

DGH: What are the most exciting numbers here for Limited that don't mess up Eternal? Fine if it does something in Eternal.

MJJ: Going to 5UU mitigates the danger (and the excitement).

ID: UU helps a ton here, and I don't think anything else still does the trick for Limited.

DGH: Changing to 5UU

I think it is good when we make the occasional card like Gurmag Angler that can show up in Legacy or Vintage, but we need to be careful that we don't go too far in making the most efficient threats in those formats. I'm personally not sure this was a huge risk, but it felt like the wrong one to take. We ended up with a card that still has some possibilities, but isn't a one-mana 6/5.

Vizier of Many Faces

DGH: Need to figure out if this actually works, since it did well in rare poll.

One of the things we do in our process of making sets is to show a number of people in the pit and around the building all of the rares and mythic rares in the set and getting their opinions. Vizier did very well, but it didn't exactly fit on a card or possibly even work well within the rules for how we were implementing embalm at that point. It was a card that ended up directing some of the decisions for the mechanic because we did want to keep it.

Curator of Mysteries

EEF: I'm having trouble imagining a scenario where I want to cycle this, especially if I have a bunch of other cards with cycling.

DGH: I like cycling here on the card, largely so it helps you "discover" the most relevant way to discard in this set to make the rare more appealing. Also, because sometimes you will cycle it in Constructed.

KEN: RATE, do you like it?!

ID: The cycling is very relevant in Constructed. I agree you don't cycle this often in Limited. :)

This is definitely a card (much like Cast Out) that you should likely not cycle in Limited, but cycling it has real uses in Constructed. We wanted some number of those in the set to make for more interesting Constructed matches, even if it looked weird for Limited players.

Drake Haven

DGH: Decreased cost to use per feedback from last playtest.

AP: Is this supposed to be a Constructed shot? If so, then this is very far away.

DGH: Cut mana off activation. Moved to rare.

EEF: This was a very cool build-around in Limited.

DGH: To be Constructed shot; it would have been crazy at uncommon for Limited.

TABAK: 2U to 1U, per Erik.

TABAK: And back to 2U. 1U is an unnecessary risk.

Is Drake Haven strong enough to make Constructed decks? The jury is still out, but let me tell you about the two-mana version . . .

As Foretold

DGH: Changing to only let you cast one spell per turn.

MJJ: Should it say "once" for clarity?

BH: Awesome!

ID: The Day's Undoing of the set. Could be anywhere from terrible to broken, so let's make sure we test! :)

DGH: Similar to Brain in a Jar, but . . . blue.

AP: I'll cast Ancestral Vision if I'm feeling nice, but I'll probably just cast Restore Balance. Also, I would prefer if this worked at a specific point (I recommend upkeep) in each turn, as opposed to at any time.

In case you were wondering, we did realize that this would work with Ancestral Vision, but decided that wasn't a deal-breaker. Ultimately, those zero-mana Time Spiral cards are going to continue to exist in Modern, and it is hard for us to dodge them on everything.


ID: As president of the Mind Rot fan club, I love this reprint.

BH: You're the president? Debatable.

MJJ: Are you guys going to have a debate!? It would probably be more entertaining than the current political debates . . .

We have a lot of Mind Rot fans around here. Personally, I am voting for Ian on this one.

Trial of Ambition

DGH: Moving down to two mana for fringe Constructed?

TABAK: "Target player" to "target opponent" at DGH's request. Thanks, Emrakul.

At the time we were working on Amonkhet, we didn't yet know Emrakul, the Promised End was going to be banned, so a number of cards were given "safe" wording that wouldn't let you totally get blown out by her.

Nest of Scarabs

DGH: Top-down Pit of Scarabs. Trying to consolidate some things to make space for a new card.

DGH: Need to keep an eye on this versus Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons.

DGH: Does scaling on this break? If so, is this the right cost, or does it just need to always give one Insect at a lower cost?

DGH: Trying the new wording to gauge reaction, it appears on four cards.

TJA: Seems like this will be confusing with creatures that enter with -1/-1 counters on them, some effects that put -1/-1 counters on opposing creatures, etc. I guess we'll see.

EEF: We don't necessarily have to template those creatures the same as the ones that enter with +1/+1 counters. They could get the counters as an enters-the-battlefield trigger.

KEN: Kind of like Flourishing Defenses, which is loop-tastic.

DGH: 3B -> 2B

KEN: Met a player whose favorite deck is Quillspike-Devoted Druid, so this kind of shenanigans has fans.

It's really nice if a set has enough cards that interact with the mechanics that make you feel like you are "doing" it, and Nest of Scarabs is one of those cards in Amonkhet. If you are using it offensively, or even with the creatures that enter with -1/-1 counters, you can get a ton of value out of Nest of Scarabs.

Shadow of the Grave

EEF: DESIGN FAVORITE. "This is a very intriguing design that is aimed at Johnny. I think that people will find interesting things to do with it, but it looks like the kind of weirdo card that sometimes gets cut from sets. Try to protect it, please."

ELI: This doesn't work with cycling. Do you want to add "or that you discarded this turn to cast spells and activate abilities"?

DGH: Don't want to add that clause, but I do want this to work with cycling, so trying the version that also helps versus discard although that wasn't the intent. Wondering if I should preemptively move this to 1B to cast?

DGH: Moving to 1B

DGH: Some issues with madness now. TABAK mentions possible solutions in 400.7 space. Help?

TJA: What breaks if we add a "put into your graveyard from exile" clause? It will look a little out of place in the context of the set, but it's functional.

DGH: Gotta do what we gotta do :(

TJA: Taking wonky words back off under the assumption that we'll tweak the rules. Will revisit if necessary.

While we ended up not making this work with madness, the card is doing its intended goal of creating some opportunities for Johnny to do cool things. Although there are limited things in Standard outside of Noose Constrictor, there is a lot in the wider context of Magic to really "break" this card. For example, you can get a ton of mana with Skirge Familiar, then get all the cards back to use them or get even more mana. You can get back cards you discarded to Wheel of Fortune, etc.

That's it for this week. Next week, I'll be back for Part 2 of the Amonkhet M-Files, looking at red, green, gold, and colorless cards.

Until next time,
Sam (@samstod)

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