The M Files: Journey into Nyx, Part 2

Posted in Latest Developments on May 30, 2014

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.

Well, after a few weeks of being distracted by previews, it's time to once again go back and look at the Multiverse file for Journey into Nyx, and see just what we were thinking when we were making the set.

As usual, let's start off with the cast of characters

AFAaron Forsythe
Magic Senior Director
BH—Ben Hayes
DE—Dan Emmons
Magic Designer
DHDave Humphreys
Journey into Nyx's Lead Developer and Development Manager
EEFEthan Fleischer
Journey into Nyx's Lead Designer
EVLErik Lauer
Head Developer
IDIan Duke
Magic Developer
KDKelly Digges
former Magic editor, now Magic creative and in charge of Uncharted Realms
KenKen Nagle
Magic Designer, lover of fatties
MaGoMark Gottlieb
Design Manager
MaxMax McCall
Former Magic Digital Developer
MJG—Mark Globus,
Magic Senior Producer
SPSSam Stoddard
That's a-me
TJTom Jenkot
senior visual designer at Wizards of the Coast and a member of Journey into Nyx development team
TMLTom LaPille
Magic Developer

And now onto the set:

Sigiled Skink

TML 2/26/2013: Funny.
Max 3/18: I am amused at the idea of the giant consulting a crystal ball while charging into battle.
DH 3/18: Moved down to 3 drop. Probably something else charging into battle now, Max. 3/3-> 3/1
ID 5/13: My UR decks have been flooded with 3-drops and this usually doesn't make the cut. Can it be 1R 2/1?
DH 5/13: 2R 3/1 -> 1R 2/1.
TML 5/24/2013: That change helped me too. Like this.

One of the things that happens during developments through many, many playtests, is that we find what is working for our Limited decks and what isn't. In the case of Sigiled Skink, we found the blue-red deck was having issues with where the creatures in the deck fell on the curve, and Dave moved Skink to help out.

Pensive Minotaur

TML 3/28/2013: I would way rather hang out with Pensive Minotaur than Riot Devils.
DH 4/3: A strictly worse than the BNG common. Sad face. Guess this happens (and has happened in the block already).
TML 4/5/2013: What we have learned here is that creatures that think too much are bad.

One of the hard parts about doing three-set blocks is that you do just end up with a lot of overlap, especially on something like Minotaurs, which are required to be of a specific size. We try to do at least one (if not more) vanilla of each color in each set, and that naturally means that somewhere there will be some strictly betters running around. Rather than try and avoid it at all costs, we do what we can do keep them from being offensive (like Glory Seeker and Knight of Cliffhaven being in the same set), but otherwise understand that we will do them from time to time.

Prophetic Flamespeaker

ID 1/8/13: Dual-wielding Elkin Bottles
DH 1/30: Neat usage of this mechanic here.
KEN 2/18/2013: I guess he doesn't kill you TOO fast to sneak some swigs from his Elkin Bottles. In Limited I imbued and he always hit very hard.
DH 2/21: 4R 2/4 -> 2RR 1/4
DH 4/5: Tempting to give this 5 toughness if art permits?
EVL 4/10: 2RR 1/4 -> 1RR 1/3. Red was short a bomb.
EVL 4/19: trample, and mythic rare.
SPS 4/23/13: Want.
ID 4/29: This has been feeling good at these numbers.
TML 5/1/2013: This card is sweet.
SPS 5/6/13: Agree. I enjoy playing with this card a lot.

When looking for new things for red to do (other than just burning faces), we talked with design and decided that red could have a version of card draw—it just needed to be a "use it or lose it" kind of thing. Luckily, the far-far Magic past was way ahead of us and provided us the basic template in Elkin Bottle. We first used this ability on Chandra, Pyromaster, but as we have put it on more and more things, we have found those to be pretty fun. Expect to see this in more sets in the future.

Bearer of the Heavens

EEF 11/2/12: New card.
EEF 11/13/12: 5RR -> 3RR. Added "or dies."
MaGo 11/21: I both love and hate this card.
EEF 11/28/12: I have about the same reaction. Maybe it should tap all lands and destroy all other creatures?
TML 12/4/2012: Good with Springleaf Drum!
KEN 1/4/2012: Flavor-justified griefing! Try more Timmy? Bigger cost/size/mythic rare for a Obliterate/Decree of Annihilation/Worldfire effect? Also, no Defender pls. ;)
EEF 1/4/13: Seems like more fun. Added two to cost, power and toughness. Now destroys all permanents instead of just lands.
DH 1/30: Amusing that gods survive the world collapsing. Also, Atlas meet Boros charm.
EEF 1/31/13: Does this want to make players sacrifice?
DH 3/4: Was "Defender; Whenever CARDNAME becomes tapped or dies, destroy all permanents." Tried to make a little simpler and appealing, well, other than the delayed trigger, and less of a combo with the tap part.
TML 3/4/2013: The delayed trigger tells a hilarious story. He must be very tall.
DH 3/13: Tweaked name for rare poll, was Atlas.
DH 3/22: Made bigger. Need to discuss if they have to laundry list and not hit enchantments.
DH 3/25: Checked with Maro and destroying the world is fine at a high cost like this.
TML 3/28/2013: Some men just want etc.
ID 3/28: The colossus in THS is also an 8 mana 10/10.
DH 3/29: Think I'm okay with the similarity, open to suggestions for other #s though.
DH 3/29: Could become a monstrous slot but this card is growing on me as-is.
SPS 6/18/13: is this card really fun?
DH 7/19: 6RR -> 7R. Cutting some CC out of rare.
DH 7/19: It's a fun card to think about, imo. I imagine it will seldom do its thing.

Development doesn't just focus on getting the tournament cards right—we also want to make sure that the casual cards are doing the right thing, and that the cards that are try to tell a story get the opportunity to do so. Whenever possible, we try to preserve these kinds of stories, especially when dealing with a block so full of tropes. Some, like Achilles, we ended up killing because the trope wasn't fun (A small creature that is invincible except for a very narrow range of things! What could be more fun?), but even when a card like this may not be the most enjoyable for everyone, the effort needed to get it to do its thing means that we can let the people who would enjoy it do get the opportunity.

Golden Hind


MaGo 11/21: Functional reprint of Leaf Gilder
SPS 5/3/13: Such elk.

One thing I have noticed over the last few years is the Elk proliferation going on in creative. I haven't yet figured out who exactly is the Elk fan, but I am glad he or she exists.

Kruphix's Insight

EEF 11/8/12: New card. From Linear Design strike force. DH 2/21: 1G 4 four cards -> 2G 5 cards
TML 3/28/2013: More graveyard-dumping! Yay!
EVL 4/10: Trying 7 cards to see if we can make the deck work.
DH 5/6: Seems very scary at 7 cards. Moving to 6. Could alternatively go to 3G. Seems like a way better divination in the enchantment deck.
DH 7/1: Is this supposed to "Reveal the top six cards of your library. Put up to 3 enchantment cards ..." ? It requires a specific deck but in that deck it is 2G draw 3.5 nonland cards.
DH 7/8: Played this a bunch. Think we're safer with the cap. Changing to reflect that.

This kind of card fits into the range of things that are cool if they are of the right power level, but that we try to be careful on, because they are not cool if they are too strong. We already had a lot of cards in the block that did similar effects, and we wanted this to support them, but if we were wrong about just how strong enchantments are, we didn't want a three-mana Tidings. As it is, you are pretty hard pressed to run into the three-card limit, but I am glad it is there.

Athreos, God of Passage

DH 3/14: New design from FFL meeting today.
DH 3/20: Guessing this will need to be "at the beginning of each end step, if you gained life this turn, you may return" so it doesn't go nuts? Thoughts?
TML 3/28/2013: Probably that is better?
DH 3/29: Changing to end of turn trigger.
EVL 4/19: New rules text for constructed.
SPS 4/23/13: Seems somewhat risky.
ID 4/30: Could return the creature at eot or have a mana req too.
DH 5/24: Should you maybe pay life equal to its toughness or something? Or 3 life?
DH 5/24: New design. Was "Whenever a creature you own dies, you may pay 2 life. If you do, return that card to your hand." It was breaking with Shadowborn Demon.
DH 5/30: 4/5 -> 5/4 since this is now poised for aggro deck, and want to separate from GB gods stats I just moved.
TJ 5/31: This ability holds two effects beautifully in one sentence.
EVL 6/11: 2 life (FFL).
DH 6/25: Changed "control" to "own" so people can't pay to get back creatures you've stolen, etc. Added target to opponent based on feedback from external playtesting.
DH 7/23: 2 life -> 3 life. FFL let me know if we need to revert.

Athreos went through a lot of changes. As a nod to the ferryman Charon, we first pictured him being able to be bribed by life to keep your creature alive, but the play pattern on that was not only not fun, but potentially dangerous. We didn't want creatures with powerful enters-the-battlefield or dies triggers to dominate in decks with Athreos and have your opponent have no say in the matter. We could've made that card, but it would've had to cost more mana, and what we wanted was something on the lower range of casting costs. By moving the life payment to your opponent so he or she could opt-out, we ended up with a card that requires a little more work to make work, but should be more fun on both sides of the table.

Keranos, God of Storms

EEF 11/19/12: New card.
ID 1/3/13: Flavor-wise, I like the variable effect but don't like it tied to a coin flip. Something like revealing the top card of a library would feel more like prophecy and less like pure randomness.
SPS 1/31: I enjoy this card.
EEF 2/4/13: Coin flip -> reveal top card. Now you can manipulate the results with scry.
EEF 2/5/13: 5/4 -> 7/6.
TML 2/26/2013: Neat!
ID 3/11/13: I like the text on this one.
DH 3/25: Rare poll winner.
ID 4/8/13: Having to target the bolt before you reveal would be confusing for most players. You can kill illusions with it, or the opponent can fizzle the draw effect by removing the target.
DH 4/9: Not ideal, but seems okay on a mythic rare, unless you have a suggested change?
DH 4/9: 7/6 -> 6/5
EVL 4/11: Abilities swapped (bolt on spell).
ID 4/30: This has been fun at these numbers. Playing 1-2 in control decks, esp in block.

Keranos, God of Storms went through a lot of changes during development because of his peculiar trigger. We liked what it was doing, but between what we want it to do, and how the actual rules work, we had some problems. Being able to fizzle the trigger was problematic, and having to name something each turn before you knew what would happen was also pretty frustrating. While the current version isn't perfect, I believe we are happier with its rules peculiarities than the other versions.

Iroas, God of Victory

EEF 12/8/11: Moved from Friends and adjusted to meet current God design criteria.
DH 3/13: New design from meeting. Some slight rules issues with attacking and indestructible and it not wanting to trigger so your creatures can still be Divine Verdicted. Not sure we want this saving your own creatures from wrath effects on your turn. Could say during your turn, but that's even nuttier with wraths.
KD 3/22: Could prevent all damage (or combat damage) that would be dealt to attacking creatures you control. That seems to do what you want without interacting with wraths.
DH 3/25: Noted. Indestructible seems a lot cooler, and we have a lot of prevent damage in the set already. That may be a good change though.
DH 4/9: Changed to damage prevention (well, can't be dealt damage since that sounds cooler, and seems to be what we do with protection). Solves Reckoner issues and awkward template, I hope.
KD 9/18: Third ability changed after the slideshow to dodge Nylea.

I kept the first comment in to provide some insight into just how long the process can take from start to end when creating sets. Iroas went through a lot of variations, and he was one of the hardest Gods to develop because of how strong Boros Reckoner was in the real world when we were creating the card. We were concerned about that interaction, and ended up making Iroas a bit of a nonbo with the Reckoner, so giving it lifelink wouldn't possibly result in an infinite-life loop. The "must be blocked by two creatures" is another ability we are putting more and more into red, and was added after our internal slideshow (where we show the final versions of the cards to all of R&D) after people felt like Iroas felt too much like Nylea.

Ajani, Mentor of Heroes

EEF 11/19/12: New card.
EEF 12/13/12: I don't want to spend a lot of time on Ajani. Development will just change everything anyway, and we have bigger fish to fry.
AF 2/25: In this set, being enchantment-focused puts you on the side of the Gods. Why is Ajani on that team?
ID 3/7/13: It's definitely a struggle that Ajani's Planeswalker identity involves enchantments, but he's on the side of the mortals. Maybe Ajani likes Auras but not enchantments in general.
DH 3/15: Redesign the + ability. Maybe more. Is it supposed to be big lifegain? Trying that now instead of "Reveal the top three cards of your library. You may put a permanent card from among them into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order."
DH 3/15: Is this white enough? Any simple way to make it more so. Do folks like this?
ID 3/14: Just plain lifegain feels really underwhelming on a Planeswalker, especially at 5 mana. Original Ajani got away with it because Planeswalkers were new. I don't think it would excite players today. FWIW I didn't dislike the first ability. "Creature or Aura card" works better for me than permanent, though. Can adjust the numbers to compensate.
SPS 5/6/13: Not very happy with him currently. He just reads super value-y, and not fun.
DH 5/7: Reduced the ultimate by 1. Let me know if that isn't cool. Hoping the straight ramp plan doesn't cause him to martyr himself, but that he can get some buddies.
ID 5/7: Have generally enjoyed this so far, looking forward to playing at 3 starting loyalty
DH 5/20: Tweaked numbers again, Probably putting in a new redesign unless people like this.
DH 6/7: New from mini team and team meeting. Was "+2: You gain 3 life.
-1: Put three +1/+1 counters on target creature.
-9: Search your library for a creature card and a Planeswalker card, put them onto the battlefield, then shuffle your library. 4 Loyalty" Does this fit?
KD 8/5: First ability now says "you control" for FFL.

Design creates the Planeswalkers, but most of their real work comes in development. Planeswalkers have a ton of knobs and are very hard to get right, so Ethan was being reasonable when he wanted to spend most of his time on other designs. Development spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get Ajani to feel right, considering how tied together the gods and enchantments are, so he didn't feel like his role was on the gods' side of the conflict.

The last change was to put the counters only on your creatures, because we were worried about the Superfriends deck with both him and Elspeth packing a one-two Plague Wind Punch. Watching the Pro Tour, I saw more than a few games that would've ended differently if Ajani and Elspeth could've teamed up to try and kill a Courser of Kruphix and Fleecemane Lion.

Mana Confluence

DH 3/28: A "fixed" city of Brass to improve Block Constructed mana as requested by EVL. Was a cute Besieged City.
ID 3/28: I know we were concerned that the scry lands already point to 3 color decks instead of 2 color decks. I think a strong 5-color land even further exaggerates this.
DH 3/28: Guessing we'll have a lot of flexibility on this with the concept. FFL can figure out hopefully. Think we've wanted to avoid more 5c fixing, maybe by the third set it's okay for 6 months?
SPS 5/6/13: Super happy with what this is doing for block. Multicolor decks get another few months of goodness. I think it's worth it.
ID 5/7/13: It's strange that the 2 color decks need this more than the 3 color decks that can play 12 scry lands.
DH 8/16: Question for the general population: Is this supposed to be "Pay 1 life, T: ..." instead?
KD 8/20: Per Dave and Erik: Now pay life rather than deal damage, to match the land cycles we are most likely to reprint.
ID 8/29/13: Glad we settled on pay life.

We've spent a lot of time talking about how Mana Confluence was put in the set to help out the mana for block, but here is the Multiverse record relating to that.

That's it for this week. The M Files will return soon (but not next week) with a look into Conspiracy.

Until next time,
Sam (@samstod)

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