The M-Files: Eldritch Moon, Part 1

Posted in Latest Developments on July 22, 2016

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 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

SPS—Sam Stoddard, that's-a-me! Also EMN lead developer

KEN—Ken Nagle, EMN design lead

KD—Kelly Digges, story

JL—Jackie Lee, designer

TJA—Tim Aten, editor

BrH—Bryan Hawley, developer

JDR—Jules Robins, designer

YS—Yoni Skolnik, developer

MDT—Melissa DeTora, development intern

AM—Alli Medwin, digital editor

MJG—Mark Globus, product architect

EVL—Erik Lauer, head developer

SM—Shawn Main, designer

AP—Adam Prosak, developer

ID—Ian Duke, developer

DH—David Humpherys, development manager

Mago—Mark Gottlieb, design manager

With that out of the way, let's get to the cards:

Sigardian Priest

SPS: Now just Unruly Mob
SPS: New card. Dave stole my last one.
KD: Can we make this a functional reprint? Avacyn is dead.
KD: Sam says okay.
SPS: Now a functional reprint. Can modify text a bit.

While we didn't end up changing the text at all from Avacynian Priest, I was pretty amused that the reprint changed names to reflect the story change.


Ironclad Slayer

JL: White doesn't mill, and this plays like blue "research." How about getting bigger if there's an Aura or Equipment in your graveyard? Eliminates sequencing and mitigates the downside of Auras.
SPS: Now just returns an Aura/Equipment. Still investigating possible other texts.
TJA: Since it no longer needs to be able to return a card you milled, I added "target."
SPS: Returns target Aura or Equipment.
SPS: Now common.
JDR: This might want a "may" in the trigger so you don't have to take away your delirium bonuses.
BrH: This card feels out of place to me. White can't self-mill, Equipment doesn't die a lot, and white Auras typically stick around.
TJA: "May" to match SOI Stoic Builder, which I believe was optional because of delirium.

This is an example where color pie comes up—Ironclad Slayer used to mill you then return an Equipment or Aura, to make it a bit stronger, both because of delirium and because you were more likely to return a strong one. There is a limited amount of color-pie breaking that we get to do in sets, and white already had more than its fill, so this changed to something more normal.


Choking Restraints

KEN: New card.
SPS: Down to common.
SPS: Reversed modes.
SPS: Making the delirium relevant.
SP: New attempt at making delirium relevant.
TJA: Snap judgment is that this is a cooler direction.
BrH: Am I allowed to want this to be bad so I don't have to look at the art when we print the set?
SPS: Now four, and adds abilities.
TJA: Templated based on Oppressive Rays, a functional change with stuff like Firebreathing. Will revisit if necessary.
KEN: Should this be some kind of Aura that's more likely to end up in a graveyard for delirium? Like "When enchanted creature attacks or blocks, destroy it at end of combat"?
JL: Taxing a single creature is relatively unprecedented in white. Ghostly Prisons are "fair" because they're universal rules. The only cards that have done this since The Dark are Cowed by Wisdom and Whipgrass Entangler (Pacifisms keying off set themes), and then Oppressive Rays (JOU), which I also don't love. Maybe "Can't block, Delirium—can't attack" would play okay in white delirium aggro.
SPS: New text.
YS: I was expecting the card to still be "can't attack or block unless they pay N". As it stands, this has the risk of confusing new players. Why would I want to exile a useless creature? If I wanted to maintain the power level, I would put the card at 1W / 2WW, and four to attack or block.
BrH: I think I'm fine with it. You can get another card type for delirium, turn off static/activated abilities, etc. Agree that it's basically trinket text, but it makes Pacifism at three a little more palatable.
MDT: I like the change. It might be confusing for new players, but it's a cool moment once they realize that it helps with delirium.

White removal is hard, since we don't have a ton of different knobs. We tried a number of variants of "can't attack unless you pay mana" or "can't block unless you pay mana" and eventually ran with the text that lets you sacrifice the enchantment to exile the creature. It's a little trinket-y, but white was having problems with delirium, and this went a long way to make it work.


Long Road Home

TJA: It's probably not too weird a discrepancy that this targets anything and the blue common only targets your stuff, but something to be aware of.
TJA: How odd is it to mix immediate flicker and end-of-turn flicker?
JDR: Definitely. We only want one or the other in the block, because otherwise people are constantly blown out by expecting their cards to work the same way.
SPS: Original Innistrad did both, so I am not too off-put.

I preferred this card as a non-arcane version of Otherworldly Journey, and therefore was able to put up with the fact that the blink cards in the set were not consistent.


Peace of Mind

KEN: White needs a way to achieve delirium.
KEN: I've enjoyed this in playtests.
BrH: I don't think this card is accomplishing anything for anyone.
AM: Well, it's giving me some peace of mind.
Mago: Clever reprint for a graveyard set.
BrH: All right, Peace of Mind. You win this one.

Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, etc.


Give No Ground

SPS: New card.
TJA: Why "you control"? And dare I ask why +2/+8? Two Palace Guards?
SPS: No longer you control.
Bryan: +8 seems a little excessive.
SPS: Perhaps. We could end up with smaller numbers.
MJG: Looks fun to me as-is!
EVL: Funny card.
SPS: +2/+6. That felt excessive.
BrH: He finally comes around!

This was less an issue of fine balance and more that this card was excessive for the sake of being excessive. Not that +2/+6 is a lot less excessive, but it's something.


Faith Unbroken

AM: This card is so much of a gamble that it's almost red.
EVL: It looks more like a beating than a gamble to me!

Sigh.


Thalia's Lancers

SPS: New card.
SM: Cool idea, but this looks like it would be more at home at uncommon. Would be happier if Thalia curved into this or if legends turned on its abilities rather than reduced its cost.
SPS: Now any permanent.
SPS: No longer cost reducing, now searches.
MDT: This is sweet, but expensive. It would be cool if this could curve into Thalia, Heretic Cathar.
JL: Agree. Would prefer a smaller body to not overshadow the legend. 2/2 first strike?
SPS: Don't want a cheap tutor in this slot.
DH: I like cards referencing legends, dislike tutors, what am I supposed to think here?
BrH: I like this version a lot more than the previous one.

The first version of this card would cost two mana less if you controlled a legendary creature, instead of tutoring for one. It was kind of powerful, but inconsistent, and it required Thalia to cost two mana to really make sense. When she moved to three, we changed the card.


Bruna, the Fading Light

KEN: New white-blue Angel card that can merge B.F.M.–style with the red-white Angel card.
KEN: Mythic rare -> rare.
KEN: Used to Oblivion Ring things, now gains X life for noncreatures.
KEN: Used to gain prowess life, but trying something more constructed. Now a big Man-O'-War.
KEN: "Another"
KEN: 4/5 -> 4/4.
KEN: Rare -> mythic rare.
KEN: 4WW flash and bounce a permanent -> 2WW activated hexproof and +0/+1 until end of turn.
SPS: Added mana for playtest sanity.
TJA: Removed "combines with Gisela" for rare poll consistency.
SPS: New version.
AP: This is almost assuredly too strong to test. Our five-mana reanimation cards don't usually come with a 4/3 flier attached!
KEN: This loops with itself similar to Sharuum, except this draws the game if your only option is another Bruna.
SM: I like the rescue text. Could also be "if you cast from hand" to avoid "not named Bruna."
SPS: Now only from hand to stop looping.
MJG: Would it make sense to change it to a cast trigger to tie to the Eldrazi? Or does that make it too close to actual Eldrazi?
SPS: That feels close, but that may be a good connection to draw.
SPS: Now a cast trigger.
KEN: Previous Bruna got back Auras, could the list include target Aura card? Target enchantment card? This feels closer to Angel of Glory's Rise.
TJA: Why is this a cast trigger, though? Should it just be "enters the battlefield" and "you may"?
KEN: I'm okay with a cast trigger, since it's an Eldrazi on the backside. It stops combo kills that Sharuum and Angel of Glory's Rise can generate. After playing with the mockups, I think this and the back should lose vigilance so Timmies can tap to attack with their B.F.M.s. At the Pro Tour, players just pointed at their Mantis Riders to deal 3 combat damage a turn.
TJA: Now "may."


Gisela, the Broken Blade

EN: New red-white Angel card that can merge B.F.M.–style with the white-blue Angel card.
KEN: Mythic rare -> rare.
KEN: Can't do residual effects on transform card. Used to get +X/+0 for casting a CMC creature, now burns things.
KEN: Trying ETB triggers on these Angels so they feel better when they disappear and transform.
KEN: 4/3 -> 3/3 and attack trigger deals its power to something.
KEN: Rare -> mythic rare.
KEN: Now can combine with a graveyard Bruna.
KEN: Now has a R activated haste and +1/+0. 3WW -> 1WW!
SPS: Added mana for playtest sanity.
SPS: New version from mini-team.
AP: Baneslayer Angel is four mana these days? This seems on the border of too strong to test.
YS: Right now you can curve Gisela / Avacyn / Linvala / Bruna. I guess that's cool?
BrH: I think that's cooler than having them clumped at the same cost.
BrH: I feel like we've been drifting away from clean, obviously appealing mythic rares, and I liked that pre-tweak Gisela was one.
TJA: Though to be fair (as I mentioned), good luck making a card that flips over into half of another card "clean."
ID: What does Gisela have to do with prowess?
SPS: No longer lifelink, instead prevents damage.
SPS: Tweak.
SPS: Now 4/4 flying and firststrike, and 1W gains lifelink
TJA: Trying one word in place of "transformed and joined (under your control)." We'll see how that goes.
SPS: Now base lifelink again. Down to 4/3

I included so much of the text here to give you an idea of just how much work went into each of those cards as we tried to get them to the point where they could work in Constructed.


Fogwalker

SPS: 1/3 locks a creature down, but doesn't tap it.
YS: Have you considered that many players will misread this? A lot of players misread the BFZ land that does this. Is this too good tapping and freezing? I don't think that's an A card...Do you think that would be too oppressive to aggro?
YS: I'll repeat that I prefer tap-n-freeze to freeze, and that now that the card has skulk, it would be a B at tap-n-freeze 1/1.
Mago: For what it's worth, I misread this. It would help if the ability said "target tapped creature an opponent controls" (even though the extra word isn't strictly necessary).
JDR: I'll add another voice to the chorus.

In the end, I really wanted a more "tough" blue creature, but this card is an experiment. I am curious to see if people are able to parse this text, and if the card is satisfying, or if we should avoid this line of text as much as possible and stick with only using "tap and freeze."


Unsubstantiate

ID: Unlike Remand, this works against uncounterable spells. Are we okay with that?
SPS: I am, but will raise the question.
SPS: Future Future League team was okay.

It's always good to remind people when a card functions in a way they might not be thinking about.


Mausoleum Wanderer

SPS: New text from mini-team.
AP: This is pretty neat.
TJA: Weird to have this and another Spirit-themed rare that gets +1/+1 whenever another creature enters the battlefield under your control.
MJG: The interaction between the two abilities isn't very satisfying—I don't see it really ever coming up.
TJA: That the second ability scales feels kind of weird to me.
BrH: Should this be any noncreature now that the Mercurial Geists isn't doing that? Spirits could still use some love.

There was some uncertainty with the card, but I think with all the cards that create Spirit tokens plus the flash Spirits, the +1/+1 until end of turn along with the Force Spike text will come up enough to make it interesting.


Coax from the Blind Eternities

TJA: New text. Now wishes for Eldrazi.
SPS: Don't we all?

I'm so sorry.


Wretched Gryff

SPS: Ninjutsu
SPS: Now a Vendilion Clique.
SPS: Common, draws a card, probably wrong.
SPS: Now "true" Eldrazi
MJG: Huh? Is this blue?
SPS: Counts as a blue card for card count purposes. Frame will not be.
SPS: Now a cast trigger
Bryan: I've liked the way this card plays in Limited a lot. There are some cool choices between hatching or waiting to cast later on.

All of the emerge cards started as ninjutsu-style cards and evolved into being the chestbursters we have come to love.


Certain Death

SPS: Juicing a bit.
SPS: Down to 2 life.
KEN: "Lurking Horror" kept making think this was a creature in my hand in Sealed playtests.
SPS: Now 2BB.
SPS: Now drains with delirium.
TJA: Wow, was that necessary?
SPS: Looking to ding this a little bit.
SPS: Removed delirium. Making more simple, and moving to five mana.
SPS: Up to six mana for pointing.

So, this card is slightly stronger than Sip of Hemlock, but is otherwise not a very strong card. We could've made it stronger, but ended up putting it where it is to balance out Limited.


Graf Rats

SPS: New two-cost Snap
SPS: Now three cost, and a 2/1 Ravenous Rats.
SPS: Now down to 1/1 and Ravenous Rats.
MJG: Can this card be more common?
SPS: In theory—yes. But probably not good to do that. In our experiences, it happens enough in Draft to be satisfying. Very rare in Sealed.
SPS: Now has menace.
TJA: I wonder whether this would be a better base case "introduction" to the snap-togethers if its only rules text was the transform condition. Could this be a 2/2 with no non-transform abilities?
SPS: Removed skulk
SPS: Removed activation.
SPS: Back to skulking.
TJA: Disapprove. As for something actually relevant: trying one word in place of "transformed and joined (under your control)." We'll see how that goes.
SPS: Loses the keyword again.

Part of making the meld pair work at common was to make sure that one half was mediocre enough that it would get passed around the table to the person who wanted to do "the thing."


Midnight Scavengers

TJA: Untargeted?
SPS: Target and now three or less.
SPS: Now a 4/3 that returns a two or less.
SPS: Down to 3/3.
SPS: Now gets a creature of converted mana cost 3 or less.

The other part was making it so this card could get the Graf Rats back and was strong enough that people could take it early on speculation, or at least be happy playing it by itself, so they wouldn't be out a pick if they took it speculatively.


Prying Questions

DH: FFL meeting suggests 2B opponent discards a card to top and loses 3 life.
TJA: Now Chimney Imp plus Lava Spike.
SPS: You are not going to be a great salesperson.

Come on, Tim!


Graf Harvest

SPS: Added new text to help out.
AP: I recommend removing text! In this case, the word "tapped."
SPS: Done.
SPS: Moving down to 2B to try and get it into the Zombie deck.
FFL Team: Recommend moving back to 3B to activate.
SPS: Back to 3B.

Oh, the text box shuffle can be fun sometimes.


Murder

SPS: May want to be Murder.
SPS: Now just Murder.
MDT: Murder is also currently in Kaladesh.
KEN: Murder is a Multiverse-wide problem.

That's just true.


Cryptbreaker

SPS: New attempt at a Zombie Standard card.
SPS: New abilities from the FFL team.
GSV: Sweet card, but would prefer if there was a life payment or something in the second ability to help it feel more black.
SPS: Lose 1 life for color pie.
BrH: Welcome to black, wherein you get whatever you want if it costs you life.

It's kind of flippant, but it's true—black can do about anything in the color pie if it pays life, in the same way red used to be able to do anything if it was random. Still, sometimes we need cards like this to exist, so the life payment is a pretty small price to pay for a shot at making Zombies good in Standard.


Dark Salvation

Pivotal Event #4: Liliana to the Rescue
SPS: New version to make a card that fits the story moment.
DH: Does this need an "X can't be 0"?
SPS: Needs something. Considering that or maybe something in a similar vein.
DH: FFL meeting change to single target.
Bryan: Seems slightly underwhelming on initial playtesting, but the Zombie deck in general felt like it's in a good spot.
TJA: Going with "target player" to prevent fizzling for now. Will look into alternatives, but I imagine this will stick.

As a spell that hit all of your opponent's creatures, it was more flavorful—but oh dear lord, more powerful, too. I'm much happier with how this version turned out—very strong as a flexible card in a Zombie deck for Standard, but still good enough to stand alone for Limited.

That's it for this week. Join me next week when I am back with red, green, multicolor, and colorless.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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