The M Files: Battle for Zendikar, Part 2

Posted in Latest Developments on October 2, 2015

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.

Last week, we covered colorless, white, blue, and black cards on the M Files, and we are back this week with the rest of the colors, as well as artifacts, gold cards, and land, on the latest edition of the M Files.

But first, a refresher on our list of characters:

EVL: Erik Lauer, the set's lead developer

MR: Mark Rosewater, the set's lead designer

SPS: That's a-me! Senior Magic developer

MJJ: Mons Johnson, Duel Masters developer and Magic playtester

BrH: Bryan Hawley, Magic developer

KEN: Ken Nagle, Magic designer

YS: Yoni Skolnik, Magic developer

DE: Dan Emmons, former Magic designer

TML: Tom Lapille, former Magic developer

DEL: Del Laugel, Magic editor

TJA: Tim Aten, Magic editor

AF: Aaron Forsythe, the big boss man

AP: Adam Prosak, Magic developer

ID: Ian Duke, Magic developer

DH: David Humpherys, development manager

JL: Jackie Lee, Magic designer

SM: Shawn Main, Magic designer

MaGo: Mark Gottlieb, Magic designer

KD: Kelly Digges, Magic creative designer

And with that, we are off to the file:

Reckless Cohort

TML 9/16/14: These numbers are for real.

KEN 9/25/14: We aren't in morph world anymore, Toto.

EVL 10/1: 2/3 -> 2/2.

EVL 10/30: Now it doesn't need to attack if he has a buddy.

This card started off as a 1R 2/3 that attacked each turn if able. While this may not seem like much, it was much stronger than we gave you at two-drop in Khans world. But Zendikar isn’t Tarkir, and we no longer need to hold back on two-drops to balance out morph.

Vestige of Emrakul

EVL 5/30: Trying a new design that works in both UR and BR. Trying to be a little quirky.

EVL 11/3: Added trample.

EVL 11/9: 3R 2/4 trample haste -> 2RR 3/4.

EVL 11/13: added trample.

EVL 11/21: 2RR -> 3R.

A challenge for getting Eldrazi to work in Limited was to create creatures that felt very strange and out of place, but at the same time we didn’t want all of the Eldrazi to have really odd text boxes. A 3/4 with trample is just not a stat we would do in most sets, especially as a common, but that strangeness was good at standing out and giving the Eldrazi some character.

Zada, Hedron Grinder

EVL 9/11: New, from Ben's team.

TML 9/16/14: Is this just to be a cool one-off? I don't really get how this fits into an Ally deck.

KEN 10/8/14: Crimson Wisps, your time has come!

TJA 1/8/15: Slightly tweaked wording to match Precursor Golem's.

Unlike the first Zendikar, we knew we wanted Allies that didn’t actually line up exactly in an Ally deck. We also wanted independently cool designs for creatures that were Allies that would give people the option of building a deck with Allies if they wanted to, but could play the creature in any deck.

Rolling Thunder

EVL 7/22: We are keeping the dragon, and need a new powerful red uncommon. Rolling Thunder seems pretty powerful.

TML 9/16/14: Yup!

SPS 10/28: Will this be the time that Rolling Thunder actually makes it through development? Only time will tell.

This is not the first time that Rolling Thunder has been in a development set. It comes in and out now and then, but hasn’t stuck until now. The fact is that it is not quite as strong as people remember—part of what made it so powerful in Tempest block was that every creature had 1 toughness. Now that we've given you a lot of very powerful mid to high drops, and don’t charge you quite so much for toughness, the card is much more fair.

Seek the Wilds

DE 5/12/14: New card.

ID 10/16: I really enjoy this card.

EVL 11/10: Experimenting with self mill.

EVL 11/25: No longer self mill.

EVL 12/11: Back to self mill, but only four cards.

TJA 2/4: Cards go to bottom of library rather than graveyard.

TJA 2/5: Now that cards go on bottom rather than in graveyard, "look" rather than "reveal."

One thing we work hard on throughout Standard is making sure we have the right amount of self mill for the inevitable graveyard strategies that many sets have, without overloading it. Origins had Gather the Pack, which put the cards in the graveyard to support some Limited themes, and Battle for Zendikar didn’t have any graveyard themes. We decided to put the cards on the bottom here, so that we would leave ourselves open to make the right cards in any future sets that needed to use the graveyard for Limited without overloading Standard.

Beastcaller Savant

EVL 7/14: New design.

SPS 8/19: This feels too good at casting cards like Knuckleblade to me.

EVL 8/25: Now a 1G 2/2.

EVL 8/27: Now a 2/1 haste.

EVL 9/12: 2/1 -> 1/2.

KEN 11/10/14: Fun alongside Harabaz Druid.

EVL 11/11: 1/2 -> 1/1.

This started off as a green 1/1 that could tap for any mana, but only for creatures—but we found that it was not a great place to be in a post-wedge world, where being able to cast your wedge cards each turn easily, and always on curve, felt like more than we wanted our new decks to have to fight through. Instead, we ended up with a card that can go in those decks, but is also in a good spot to work with tribal decks like Allies and Elves.

Plated Crusher

EVL 8/28: New, for landfall ramp.

EVL 9/5: Less subtle card for the ramp deck.

EVL 11/13: 7/6 -> 6/6.

EVL 11/21: 6/6 -> 7/6.

A real challenge for green, as a color, in Zendikar is making sure that the green fatties have a place—since the colorless Eldrazi will often outpace them. Plated Crusher is an example of the kind of green fatty we needed to make to keep green’s part of the color pie relevant in Limited.

Tajuru Warcaller

TML 9/16/14: An appealing puzzle to read.

ID 9/25/14: I find attacking for 30 considerably less puzzling than TML does.

No comments needed.

Sylvan Scrying

MR 4/15/14: Reprint.

That is the extent of the Multiverse records on this card. When you are right, you are right. There aren’t a lot of cards that go through development totally unchanged, but we knew that the players loved Sylvan Scrying, and it felt like a good reprint here, especially being able to tie the card into Nissa.

Sire of Stagnation

DOH 10/27/14: Is this effect fun or blue?

KEN 11/3/2014: I've only cast this once and Veen scooped. Doesn't seem fun.

EVL 12/3: New ability.

EVL 12/10: 7 mana, and bigger.

TJA 2/16: New ability and stats. Was 5UB, 7/8, your opps can't play lands.

Part of the idea of the Eldrazi is that they are griefy types of characters who are doing evil things. An early version of this made your opponents unable to play lands, to fight landfall. This was highly contentious because of just how frustrating it was to cheat it out, or even just ramp it out. We tried the cost at 6 and ended up moving it to 7 for that reason, and then we ended up with a card that nobody was really happy with. We moved it from "you can’t ever play lands" to a very harsh punishment for playing lands, so that people weren’t totally locked out if you managed to get this out early, but you also felt like ramping or cheating this out was worth it if they did play another land and kill it.

Bring to Light

EVL 7/10: New.

SPS 8/26: This is a very strange blue/green card.

MJJ 8/28: If strange=powerful, then I agree. :)

EVL 8/28: Sorcery.

KD 9/29/14: Is this intended to cast without paying the mana cost?

Originally, this could hit any spell, and it didn’t feel green/blue. It was moved to creature, instant, or sorcery to better feel like it was correct in the color pie. To Kelly’s point, it was a little sad that there was no reasonable way for this to search out another converge card in your library and use that, but we either couldn’t find a reasonable way to make that work within the rules, or thought it would be a safe ability to change to without a lot of testing.

Drana’s Emissary

MR 10/23/14: There really isn't anything white about this card.

SPS 10/28: It's in the casting cost.

If Aaron Forsythe has taught me anything, it’s that it’s important to leave the occasional troll comment in Multiverse. Also, after this it moved from just gaining 2 life to draining.

Hedron Archive

EVL 6/6: New.

KD 6/16: The middle child arrives! I hope this is reasonable to print.

KEN 9/5/14: Been wanting to see this in a set or a Commander product ever since Dreamstone Hedron.

Now that we have Mind Stone, Hedron Archive, and Dreamstone Hedron, we need either an artifact that costs 8, taps for 4, and has 8, T, sacrifice: draw 4; or 0, taps for 0, and sacrifices for nothing. I have an idea of which is more likely.

Canopy Vista

EVL 9/5: Now a GW dual.

EVL 9/23: New design.

EVL 9/30: New design.

KEN 10/8/14: I plan to draw Razorverge Thicket and this card in the right order every time.

EVL 11/5: New idea: tapped unless two basics.

These lands went through a lot of variations. They had counters for a while and were mini–Gemstone Mines that didn’t die (but had fewer counters), they were lands that ETB untapped if you had one or fewer other lands, but had basic land types (that was very strong), and some versions were slow lands. We knew that we needed to have the right cards to be able to get the last six months of Khans to work, without having things be too crazy in Modern or even older formats. Being able to search them up was a great bonus, since we have fetch lands in Standard, but we also needed not too much of the power of the cards to be in that interaction. I think we ended up in a good spot, and I hope that they accomplish the goals of being great lands in Standard, having some applications in older formats, but not being a strict upgrade to any other land.

Blighted Woodland

ID 8/26: FFL thinks we should go to 3G, T on this.

EVL 9/9: 3G -> 4G, but untapped.

EVL 10/4: Let's try 3G but tapped again.

The original version of this was 2G, T, but we quickly found that to be wholly unreasonable, as it gave the ramp decks just too much consistency and speed. So 3G was the spot where it became an interesting choice about how many you would run in an Eldrazi ramp deck, between this and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods.

That’s it for this week. Join me next week when I return with more stories of Magic development.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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