The M Files: Dragons of Tarkir, Part 2

Posted in Latest Developments on March 27, 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.

Welcome back to the M Files! When last we left off, we had gone through white, blue, and black cards. 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! (developer)

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

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


Draconic Roar

TML 4/17/2014: Trying reveal a dragon => upgrade.

MJG 4/18/14: Love this card.

DH 5/23: Adding control a dragon to condition so you don't have to sit on them in hand.

ID 6/11: Could be 1R deal 3 to a creature, upgrade to 3 to its controller if we feel this is too similar to our other burn spells (UR09, UR12, etc)

SPS 6/16: I preferred this one the most as a cost reduction

DH 6/17: Changing to the 3 and 3 variant to separate the uncommons cards better as suggested above by ID.

BrH 7/22: This card is cool.

The "Dragons matters" cards started off as all being cost reductions, but we found that they were too frustrating if you didn't have a Dragon. The version that had upgrades were easier to balance, as it was easier to find places where you wouldn't be too unhappy to cast your spell, but we could keep the Dragons deck being all about whether you start with a Dragon in your opening hand or not.

Dragon Tempest

DH 6/5: Second power changes. First power triggers for layers reasons? All your dragons become Scourge of Valkas.

DH 6/16: We okay with this and MR01, lots of Dragons entering at once?

SPS 6/16: I am! RAAAAAWR.

This started off as a card that forced your opponents' non-fliers to enter tapped, and gave all of your fliers haste. It wasn't very good, but the name "Dragon World" sold it to people. Over time, we tweaked it to be more exciting. I suspect that Dragon Tempest/Descent of the Dragons isn't going to be breaking Standard anytime soon, but if it does, it'll probably be pretty cool.

Kolaghan Aspirant

TJA 6/16: 1R 2/1 trample bothers me for some reason; I strongly disliked the THS card. Could it have a first strike attack trigger, or deal 1 damage to target creature blocking it when it becomes blocked, or something else?

DH 7/9: Sure I'll buy "Whenever Somberwald Vigilante" text here. Red can still use the help. Guess she throws one of the axes. More words. Decided against Ashmouth Hound block functionality.

DH 7/11: Cutting Dash off this. Word Count.

DB 8/7/2014: Without dash, I feel this is more Warrior than Berserker. Berserker -> Warrior.

Two-drops are hard in red. The problem is that a 1R 2/1 isn't very strong, but red doesn't get a 1R 2/2…at least yet. While the discussion about whether or not red should be able to do that is ongoing within R&D, we still have to make aggressive red creatures at common. We decided on this text to get the card to a point we were happy with for Limited.

Kolaghan Forerunners

TML 3/12/2014: Adding Dash.

GSV 4/10/2014: Is this red now? Thought we had decided on white. I would buy it if it was "When CARDNAME attacks, it gets +1/+0 for each attacking creature you control" so it only works on offense. Also, it feels weird for the color with dash, though I get the point is that he makes you want to hard-cast your dash guys.

DH 4/21: I buy this as red in that it is getting +n/0 not +n/+n but not sure exactly where that discussion ended up.

It's a subtle distinction, but I agree with Dave here that a */* is white, and the */3 is red.

Twin Bolt

TML 3/12: Now actual Fire. Was Grill.

KD 5/19: The art shows an archer, so we could call this "Fire!"

This has come up in discussions before—if we print half of a split card, can we give it the same name? While my understanding is that nothing in the rules inherently prohibits it, we've avoided it due to all of the confusion that it would bring. Kelly's suggestion does make me laugh, though.

Zurgo Bellstriker

TIMETROPE: CROSSOVER—This is ZURGO, who in the old timeline was the khan of the Mardu clan. Under the dragonlord Kolaghan, his stature is greatly reduced, both politically and literally.

MJG 4/18/14: I'd love to see some trinket text here, especially for a legend with backstory.

KD 4/29: I think his relative simplicity here actually contributes to his story. His alternate-timeline contrast is that he went from being the khan of the Mardu in the original timeline to just some guy in the new Tarkir.

DH 5/2: Gains throwback red orc text.

TJA 5/5: Love it.

TML 5/12/2014: I mildly prefer vanilla, but this is adorable.

DH 7/23: Zurgo 2R -> 1R to dash.

Zurgo's stats came from a 5 p.m. meeting trying to figure out how to create a Zurgo that fit up with the creative of Dragons of Tarkir. At some point, I suggested that he should be an R 2/2, full stop. In the alternative timeline, Zurgo is just some dude. Tough, but nothing special.

We ended up adding dash to Zurgo to make him fit better into the Kolaghan tribe, and then had to add some downside text for color pie and to balance the card for Standard.


Colossodon Yearling

TIMETROPE: This is a large beast that resembles a prehistoric giant armadillo. It is an adolescent version of the "Colossodon" creature in Khans of Tarkir

TML 2/9/2014: New goofball for toughness people.

TML 3/7/2014: Toughness-matters is moving out of common, but I think I still want this guy.

GSV 4/10/2014: I enjoy the simple callback here.

I'll admit, It took me a LONG time to realize that Colossodon Yearling was the reverse of Alpine Grizzly.

Salt Road Quartermasters

[Was Weapons Traders]

GSV 4/10/2014: I find it flavorfully weird with the concept that when I hand out all of the counters this is a 0/0 and dies. I would have expected a 1/1 base with two counters, or a 0/1 base.

DH 6/9: Changing to reflect above comment.

SPS 6/16: I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a Saber today.

It made sense that Spikes in Tempest were able to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. People, in general, aren't willing to go that far. As a result, we tend to keep them from being able to give away their last counter.

Scaleguard Sentinels

TIMETROPE: This illustration is intended to recall that shown in the card Kin-Tree Warden in KTK. The dragonlord replaces the sacred tree.

SPS 6/16: This is one guy who is doing better in the alternate timeline.

There had to be someone, right?


Dragonlord Atarka

TIMETROPE: Dragon leader

DH 4/30: Was deemed to be treading too much on Sarkhan. New power again. Up in curve and bigger with etb Anger the Gods.

Mago 5/22: Feels wholly red. What's the green part?

ID 5/30: FRF Atarka is also CMC 7. Is there a version of this at 6 mana that we can do? 5/5?

KEN 5/30/2014: 6/6 -> 8/8.

TJA 6/2: Is there a way to justify Jetting Glasskite's ability as RG? That's kind of what I'd want here.

SPS 6/16: I want this to be just a little stronger. I like Tim's idea, but it may be too close to the red dragon.

DH 7/24: Tweaking this to split damage. Not sure on N amount of damage. Hrmm forgot about Bogardan Hellkite, this likely isn't right design.

DH 7/25: Added and/or PWs. Does that help?

MJJ 7/25: kinda awkward when this is the only creature…

DH 7/25: 'other', assuming that parses

DH 7/30: Actually I guess this needs to be opponent controls, you don't control.

DB 8/7/2014: Dragon -> Elder Dragon.

Getting the Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir Dragons to be different from each other took some work.

Dragonlord Ojutai

TIMETROPE: Dragon leader

TML 12/19/2013: I will probably just do frost armor again. Barf.

TML 1/10/2013: Hoping that hexproof unless tapped is acceptable.

TML 4/16/2014: 4/6 => 4/5.

DH 6/5: 4/5 -> 5/4. FFL.

DH 7/29: Now just a 3 card Impulse.

TJA 7/30: Bizarrely similar to Lone Revenant.

DB 8/7/2014: Dragon -> Elder Dragon.

Hexproof is something that, while we aren't getting rid of it, we are much more careful about which creatures we put it on. Trying out abilities like "hexproof when untapped" is a way of getting toward the things that we want hexproof to do, while not having the Invisible Stalker problem.

Dragonlord Silumgar

DH 6/18: Cut text about it dying if this dies. Now big Sower of Temptation that needs to Exploit. Down to six mana.

DH 6/18: cut exploit part, added PW control. made smaller.

TJA 7/15: Like Atarka, this has the same cost as the FRF version.

BrH 7/17: Should this be non-Dragon creature? Seems flavorful that he's stealing another dragon's peasants, and it's weird in the mirror if I steal your Silumgar and then bin it to the legend rule.

DB 8/7/2014: Dragon -> Elder Dragon.

We tried to get the Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir Dragons to avoid having the same converted mana cost. Still, there are only so many variations that are possible, so some overlapped. I think the individual versions are different enough that people won't mistake them for each other.

Ojutai's Command

TML 9/24/2013: How important is it that the rare spell cycle be gold? I think we have a lot more room for good designs at monocolored.

Mago 10/1: These used to be monocolored and no one gave them much thought. I think it's pretty important to have the splashy rare spell cycle be gold here.

TML 11/5/2013: These will become gold commands.

TML 11/5/2013: New.

Tabak 12/3: Switched the order of the middle two abilities so you also exile the creature card you countered. Confirm this is okay, TML?

TML 12/4/2013: Sure!

TML 1/24/2014: New targeting-free wording.

TJA 2/25: "Counter each creature spell" reads bizarre to me, especially considering how unlikely it is for there to be multiple creatures spells on the stack. Sure, this whole spell fizzles if its one target is illegal, but what's the likelihood of the creature spell becoming an illegal target due to something that isn't a counterspell that could just counter this instead?

ID 2/26: I like that this can counter Storm Crow effectively.

One of the things we didn't like about the original Command cycle was that some of the modes targeted and some didn't. That means that when using Cryptic Command to tap the opponent's board and bounce a permanent, if the permanent left play, the tapping didn't work. It was unintuitive to new players, so we wanted to make sure that didn't happen. We ended up moving away from that a bit by the end, but we did try to make these Commands way harder to fizzle than the ones the first time.

Sarkhan Unbroken

TML 4/28/2014: +2 is now Fling. We should look for something more solidly Jund.

DH 5/1: DB is investigating possibility of Temur colors.

DH 5/2: Creative has signed off on RUG. Send me designs.

DH 5/2: Messing around with powers. No idea if numbers are correct.

SPS 6/16: I've been very happy with these numbers.

Sarkhan Unbroken started off as Jund, but that led to one big problem—he was nigh uncastable in Standard, let alone Limited. We got to calling him the best Planeswalker nobody would play. Eventually, we went to creative with our concerns, and they allowed us to change the colors to something more castable.


You may remember my comment from the Khans of Tarkir M Files

Lens of Clarity

ID 3/27/14: Future Tom has disappointed past Tom.

Well, I left off the comment that was right before that one:

TML 11/19/2013: I can't wait for the reaction to the big reveal that this is in DTK too. :)

Well, that didn't actually work out—and instead of having Lens of Clarity twice, we ended up with:

Keeper of the Lens

ID 2/26: It would be fun to do a time travel crossover with this being a different spin on the original. I think it will make players unhappy to see the same bad card again.

TML 3/12/2014: Made it a two mana 1/3 instead of a total blank.

DH 4/21: This is stronger than I'd want it to be. Would prefer 3 mana 1/4 or any number of other options.

DH 4/29: Trying this change.

DH 4/30: Actually we have a new 3 mana-common let's try a Sanctuary Cat.

That's it for this edition of the M Files. I'll be back with more of these in a few weeks by giving you a better idea of what happened during Modern Masters 2015 Edition development.

But next week, I'll talk about some of the differences between the FFL and the real world, and what it's like to have a card that was a major player in our own internal testing never turn up in the real world.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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