The M Files: Dragons of Tarkir, Part 1

Posted in Latest Developments on March 20, 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.

It's time once again to return to the M Files! Frequent readers of this column will know that 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 Multiverse and leaving comments. Looking back on the file a year later provides insights to the design and development processes, and a few laughs. You'll find both here.

But first, our cast of characters.

AF: Aaron Forsythe—senior director of Magic R&D

AP: Adam Prosak—Magic developer

BrH: Bryan Hawley—Magic developer

DE: Dan Emmons—former Magic designer and member of the Dragons of Tarkir design team

DEL: Del Laugel—Magic editor manager

DH: David Humpherys—Magic development manager, lead developer of Fate Reforged, and co-lead of Dragons of Tarkir

EVL: Erik Lauer—head developer and lead developer of Khans of Tarkir

GSV: Gavin Verhey—Magic designer

ID: Ian Duke—Magic developer

KD: Kelly Digges—Magic creative designer

Ken: Ken Nagle—designer, lead designer of Fate Reforged, and lover of fatties.

MAGO: Mark Gottlieb—design manager and lead designer of Dragons of Tarkir

MJG: Mark Globus—principle designer for Magic

MJJ: Mons Johnson—Duel Masters developer and Magic playtester

SPS: Sam Stoddard—that's a-me!

TJA: Tim Aten—Magic editor and Dragons of Tarkir development member

TML: Tom LaPille—former developer and co-lead of Dragons of Tarkir

And with that, on to the file:


Scion of Ugin

Mago: 9/6: Only common Dragon in the set. Colorless so any deck can play it. Expect relation to Ugin to creatively justify colorless Dragon on this world. (On other worlds, it'd be an artifact creature.)

Mago 10/3: The stones currently make a 4/4 colorless Spirit Dragon token. If that remains true, maybe this should cost 7 and also make a 4/4?

KEN 10/14/2013: Could it be like Dragon Engine, cheap but with colorless firebreathing?

TML 10/14/2013: That's the next spot to try, but for now I want to try this. Was 6 mana 3/4.

TML 1/13/2014: I think we want all the dragons to be minimum size 4/4 if that's possible. I am happy with where this is.

TML 4/10/2014: Going to keep this.

EVL 4/18: I still wonder if this shouldn't be uncommon and cost 6. Having a high as-fan of weak dragons doesn't appeal to me.

SPS 4/23: I think I'd prefer that. Or at least some non-trinkety text added at uncommon.

DH 4/29: Moved to uncommon. 6 mana.

This is a great card to start on, as it encompasses a lot of the big questions for design and development surrounding the set. The goal for Dragons of Tarkir was for it to be THE Dragon set, but at the same time it is following a set with the highest as-fan of Dragons that we've ever done. At one point, discussions were up to more than one Dragon per pack.

This led to larger discussions about what it meant to be a Dragon, and a desire to make sure that the Dragons in the set were actually good. We didn't want to have a six-mana 4/4 flier at common, which meant we needed it to be seven mana. But, that just isn't a strong enough card to feel like a Dragon. In the end, we moved the card to uncommon to be strong enough to see Limited play, especially when combined with the Dragon-matters cards in the set.


Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

Mago 8/27: New card

CROSSOVER—Anafenza character?

TML 9/20/2013: Interesting card.

MR 10/01/13: I also like this card.

TML 11/5/2013: Creative says she is dead and now a spirit!

EVL 11/15: Nice!

TML 3/7/2014: I was thinking this would be an interesting Constructed card at some numbers. We'll try to find the fun ones.

Del 3/27: Note that all the white bolster cards have bolster 1.

ID 3/27: I think this makes Limited less fun at these numbers, so hopefully it works out for Constructed.

TML 4/10/2014: Totally changing card to other design. Was 1W: Bolster 1. Going to use that on the uncommon.

DH 7/16: Added "nontoken"

MJJ 7/18: now a nonbo with "Herald of Anafenza" :(

Part of making the time-travel storyline work was having time-travel tropes—in this case, we wanted the five khans in Khans of Tarkir to make appearances in some form in Dragons of Tarkir. Anafenza is one of the khans with the roughest deals in the new timeline.

As a note, we added "nontoken" because many of our strongest decks in the FFL were token-based strategies, and we thought it would be much more interesting to give people a strong card that they could run in nontoken aggressive decks.

Champion of Arashin

TML 10/14/2013: For white creature count. Also, for Humpherys.

TML 11/8/2013: New guy. Was 3/1 Vigilance.

SPS 4/23: Two 3/1 common warriors? Weird for white.

DH 4/30: Moving up to 4 mana to avoid stat issues. 3/2

SPS 5/12: These numbers are much more appealing to me.

Part of getting bolster to work meant having lower-toughness creatures than usual in white, but as Dave Humpherys took over the set and started to make changes, a few things overlapped a bit too much. Moving the Champion from a 2W 3/1 to a 3W 3/2 gave us a creature that was powerful to bolster on.

Dragon Hunter

TML 1/23/2014: New card.

SPS 2/20: This guy reads so strange to me. I wish it couldn't be blocked by Dragons, or something.

DE 3/6/14: This "Dragonfighter" will not be doing much fighting of Dragons.

AF 4/14: Could he block Dragons as though he had reach :P

TML 4/22/2014: Asking…

"Protection from Dragons" is a fun line of text, but it isn't much better than "can't be blocked by Dragons." Giving the Dragon Hunter reach let the text matter and play an actual role in gameplay.

Glaring Aegis

DH 5/8: 1W -> W. Take that Holy Armor.

KEN 5/12/2014: Holy Strength!

DH 5/13: Err, yeah, that too.

KD 5/15: This is bizarre.

TML 6/16/2014: I kind of wish I could play this more often.

ID 6/30: Can't stop the creep.

It's been a LONG time since Holy Strength was anything close to a good Magic card. The Glaring Aegis might be power creep, but in a way that we have more than a little power to give.


AP 3/13/14: It seems as though there are too many actual blanks.

DH 5/12: Added cantrip and a mana. Two less life in hopes of not complete blank.

TML 5/12/2014: Would prefer instant here. It would be cool if I could sit on this and the five-mana Neck Snap.

DH 5/13: Sure instant. Instant life gain is generally more fun.

TJA 5/13: Dosan's Newest Chant. :B

Limited requires having cards of all power levels, including some pretty bad cards. But we want these cards to be playable some amount of the time, not just sit in sideboards 100% of the time. Resupply was given a bit of a buff so that it could go from something people would basically never run into something that could at least play a role in some situations.

Secure the Wastes

MJG 4/17/14: While I appreciate the cleanliness of the card, since we have done Martial Coup and Rise of the Hobgoblins, I would expect something clever here to give it some flavor. As an example, "Those creatures gain first strike until end of turn."

SPS 4/23: I agree with that.

DH 4/30: Let's try it.

DH 6/5: Cutting a mana off. Losing first strike. May revert. Need more possible Constructed cards.

The original card was XWW to make X tokens, which was fine for Limited, but really not good enough for Constructed. We wanted to give this card a chance, so we added giving the tokens first strike, but still found it underwhelming. Moving to XW made a cleaner card, and one that I think has a much higher chance of doing something.

Sunscorch Regent

TML 3/7/2014: Taurean Mauler and Forgotten Ancient are popular things. Do we not get to do it? I felt like we got to put this line of text on a Multiplayer-focused card every once in a while.

EEF 3/19/14: I think it's fine on a rare. I'm excited to play flying, lifegain Taurean Mauler in multiplayer.

KEN 6/19/2014: What happens when I'm in the Dragon's spotlight? My turn to sing a tune?

DH 7/8: Too many 6 mana Dragons, want to try this at 5. Cut a mana and a power. Hoping this doesn't need to go all the way to 3/3. 3/4 felt a bit stronger than I'd like.

One concern with having one of your set's key selling points be lots of Dragons is that there aren't a ton of combinations of casting costs and power/toughness. We moved Sunscorch Regent to a slightly smaller version to make it stand out from the other Dragons in the set.


Ancient Carp

TML 1/23/2014: Now the vanilla.

TML 1/23/2014: Alright, I guess now Armored Cancrix?

SPS 2/20: Correctly derpy.

ID 3/27: More derp than I prefer.

TML 4/10/2014: Blue needs toughness. I plan on keeping this.

As far as I'm concerned, every set needs a little derp.


TML 2/6/2014: Wanted a two-mana instant that helped Prowess. Think this is an interesting space.

TML 2/9/2014: Let's see how low we can go! Was 1U instant Sleight of Hand.

EVL 2/20: Was a bit wak, trying something more like impulse.

SPS 2/20: Assume Erik meant weak, but I like this comment.

TML 2/28/2014: That card is wack, yo!

TJA 4/9: There's currently a three-card Impulse for 1U in Origins.

SPS 4/23: Not anymore!

AP 3/13/14: I'm really excited to play this. I really enjoy non-busted card filtering spells.

We've tried Impulse before in Standard FFL, and while the card isn't busted, it tended to be a little stronger than we wanted. With Anticipate, I think we've found a version we would be happy with reprinting on a more regular basis, if that effect is needed.

Elusive Spellfist

TJA 4/30: Does this version of fake prowess feel too close to real prowess?

DH 4/30: It would without the can't be blocked.

Rebound was chosen for Dragons of Tarkir because of the interaction with prowess, but the interaction was strong enough that we wanted a few pseudo-prowess cards in Dragons that would keep the rebound synergy rolling. We also wanted them to be different enough that it didn't feel like we were making new prowess cards without using the actual keyword.

Icefall Regent

TML 3/3/2014: Doing a Dungeon Geists instead of a guy who casts frost breath.

ID 3/21: Cool Constructed card I think.

TJA 4/9: "Cool" he says.

Getting Dragons to be Constructed playable is hard. We've done it before—with things like Stormbreath Dragon, Eternal Dragon, and Thundermaw Hellkite, but getting the sheer number in Dragons of Tarkir to move the needle in Constructed meant taking a lot of shots, of varied abilities and sizes.


TML 7/15/2013: My favorite card!

It wouldn't be a Tom LaPille set without Negate.

Reduce in Stature

TML 4/22/2014: Was Claustrophobia. Curious if this is workable for a common.

DH 5/1: I'm happier with teaching people this now that we have "base" wording, I think.

DH 5/6: Arghh. Can't do Aura with -N attack in Formidable world. Reverting.

DH 7/18: 3U->2U

Playtesting often brings up corner cases that we wouldn't expect while designing the cards. This started off being -5/0, but in a draft someone asked the question, "Does this count against my formidable?" A quick trip by Matt Tabak's desk revealed that it did. While that effect wasn't too strong, it was certainly not intuitive. Moving to power setting solved those issues.

Shorecrasher Elemental

[Playtest name was Megamorphling]

TML 3/6/2015: New hilarious thing. Hoping for Constructed.

DE 3/7/14: Are we making this card just for the name?

TML 3/11/2014: I made the name after the FFL guys suggested the card, not before. :)

TML 4/11/2014: Bigger.

TJA 4/14: Is it possible people will be disappointed with how this compares to AEtherling? Is this Constructed playable as is?

TML 4/14/2014: What numbers do you want it to be at? It can move around.

AP 4/17/14: I'm more interested if this could stay in play while protecting itself. I don't want to lose the counter if I protect it. Hexproof instead of return to hand?

DH 4/21: Bouncing seems tolerable in that you might not have put the counter on it and might the next time. Being able to replay an unknown morph is a plus. That said, Adam's concern is real.

DH 4/29: 3UU 3/3 -> 1UU 2/2 per FFL request.

Del 4/29: Name definitely needs to be shorter than Megamorphling. Or it needs to lose an ability.

DH 5/5: Up to 4/4. 6 mana to play.

ID 5/29: Pearl Lake Ancient already bounces to protect itself and is at a similar mana cost. Could it gain hexproof ueot and turn face down or something?

TJA 5/2: Del has noted that it might be possible to combine the +1/-1 and -1/+1 into one ability to save space.

DH 6/5: Now UUU 3/3 instead of 4UU 4/4. Flickers, loses unblockable. For devotion deck.

ID 6/5: Hoping it can remain an Elemental :)

TJA 6/9: Combined the two P/T changing abilities. It's likely that's how the finished card would have to look in order to fit.

KEN 6/9/2014: I hope there's hidden info face down in Constructed from our efforts with Morph/Manifest/Megamorph. Good for coverage. This and the Vengevine seem like public info face down. Prefer more like the FRF 2U shuffle guy that hides more info.

BrH 7/22: I've liked this card a lot. Feels like an appropriate reward for monocolor.

While working on making cards for the set, Megamorphling came up as a funny card name, and ended up getting a slot in the file. It started as something larger and closer to Ætherling, but we realized that that wasn't a card that could probably see play in the metagame. Moving it to UUU gave us the opportunity to give Mono-Blue Devotion something that it might be able to cast, and that would give Master of Waves another shot at the big times. Will it work? I don't know, but I am interested to find out.

Silumgar's Scorn

EVL 5/12: I wonder if a Cancel/Rewind is a good spot?

TML 5/12/2014: That sounds interesting, especially if we want to put more of the Dragon reward on the actual Dragons.

TJA 6/16: Ken Nagle had made a comment that this is way swingier than the other reveal-a-Dragon cards.

DH 6/18: Open to leak for 2 on the base card if needed but rather not go there.

ID 7/2/14: I don't think it needs to leak for 2. I've found this to be strong enough already. Our blue decks are hungry for things to do on turn two and often a Force Spike is enough.

We could've made Silumgar's Scorn stronger, doing a leak for 2. But that may have been strong enough by itself, without the need to reveal a Dragon, and that wouldn't have gotten the result we were looking for: a card that rewarded people who wanted to build Dragon-based control decks.

Taigam's Strike

KEN 10/14/2013: Rawr. I hope we make some saboteur morphs for this to combo with.

GSV 4/15/2015: There's a chance either this or Shu Yun from FRF needs to change.

TML 4/16/2014: New numbers.

ID 4/17: Might still be miserable in Limited at these numbers.

TML 4/22/2014: FFL needs this to be worse still. 3U?

TML 5/12/2014: Still a beating at these numbers

This card started out as Distortion Strike. While it might read as exciting to have access to that card and Shu Yun, it would get pretty old pretty quickly. Looking at the WU Heroic deck in action in current Standard, that deck definitely didn't need this kind of upgrade. Part of developing sets well means knowing which things read like they would be fun, and which ones would be fun in practice.



TIMETROPE-Recalls Despise from Khans of Tarkir. Instead of Zurgo facing off against Sarkhan, this scene shows the DRAGONLORD KOLAGHAN screaming at a cowed-looking ZURGO BELLSTRIKER.

We wanted to make sure to get as many time-travel tropes as we could into Tarkir block, and the overlap of Duress and Despise pulled off the changed future really well.

Shambling Goblin

TML 11/18/2013: New Festering Newt-like card to sac to exploit dudes. I feel like an extra death trigger in black would be welcome.

TML 2/11/2014: Meant for UB clan decks.

KD 3/28: Note that this isn't a direct reprint. Festering Goblin hit your own guys.


Getting exploit to work meant finding cards that you wanted to sacrifice.

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

TIMETROPE: "This is a portrait of SIDISI the Naga, who in this timeline is not the khan of the Sultai clan but has become an undead sorcerer in the service of the Dragonlord."

TML 12/19/2013: Rare poll casual winner!

ID 4/24: Might be fun to try as a tiny bit stronger. 5/5 or 4/6 maybe?

DH 5/1: Trying 4/6

Our second former khan of today's M Files, Sidisi has also fared quite a bit worse under the Dragons' rule, now a Zombie herself. The design of having an exploit creature that could also be a Diabolic Tutor was one that polled very well with both competitive and casual players alike.

Virulent Plague


MJG 6/6/14: Sounds like Mark would like you to test this at 1B. :)

Mark Gottlieb may love tokens, but the FFL does occasionally like having cards that can pop up when one deck strategy is too strong. Our testing showed that tokens were one of the strongest decks in Standard, so we wanted a card people could sideboard if that deck was the best thing to do in Standard.

Wandering Tombshell

TIMETROPE—Callback to Meandering Towershell from KTK

TML 2/9/2014: I found a new vanilla to make! Also, toughness.

Alas, poor Meandering Towershell!

That's all the time I have for this week. Next week, I'll be back with red, green, gold, artifacts, and lands.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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