The M-Files: Kaladesh, Part 2

Posted in Latest Developments on October 21, 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

ID—Ian Duke, development co-lead for Kaladesh

EVL—Erik Lauer, development co-lead for Kaladesh

MR—Mark Rosewater, design co-lead for Kaladesh

SM—Shawn Main, design co-lead for Kaladesh

SPS—Sam Stoddard, developer. That's-a me!

DH—Dave Humpherys, developer

TABAK—Matt Tabak, editor

MJJ—Mons Johnson, designer for Duel Masters

AP—Adam Prosak, developer

JS—James Sooy, UX designer

AF—Aaron Forsythe, The Big Boss Man (senior director)

YS—Yoni Skolnik, developer

GSV—Gavin Verhey, designer

MDT—Melissa DeTora, playtester

KEN—Ken Nagle, editor

DEL—Del Laugel, editor

TJA—Tim Aten, editor (former)

JDR—Jules Robins, designer

MAGO—Mark Gottlieb, design manager

EEF—Ethan Fleisher, designer

SVE—Scott Van Essen, designer

ELI—Eli Shiffrin, rules manager

When we last left off, we had gotten through all of the monocolor cards in Kaladesh, but there are plenty of multicolor ("gold") cards, artifacts, and lands to look at.

Unlicensed Disintegration

ID: New text. Terminate variant.
DEL: Another card with un-keyworded affinity for artifacts.
MAGO: Saw this card in a draft. I found it disconcerting that it has secret affinity for artifacts, like we're trying to pull a fast one on players. Our policies and philosophy on this don't make sense to me—using the keyword that is exactly defined as this ability (plus reminder text) would make the card (or the set) too complex or busy, but using the ability itself would not?
JDR: Keyword question aside, affinity that can only reduce the cost by two just feels sad. Everything we've printed reduces by at least four except the two cards that turn into free instants.
GSV: I could see, "CARDNAME costs 2 less to cast if you control an artifact."
ID: Was 2BR Terminate with affinity, now 1BR Murder plus damage equal to number of artifacts.
ID: Now deals fixed damage with one artifact instead of scaling. Starting at 3 damage, might have to come down to 2.

The design file of Kaladesh included affinity for artifacts for quite a while, and because of that we ended up with quite a few faux-affinity cards by the time the set was in development. While this card started off that way, we ended up cutting back on the faux-affinity as we moved further along with the set. We found it much more satisfying to have more differing rewards, rather than a lot of affinity.


Veteran Motorist

ID: Added enters-the-battlefield scry 2. A little weird, but necessary to get it to similar power level to the others.
DH: This is pretty weird, but I guess it helps you find your Vehicles or drivers. Doesn't seem correct though given the blue-black uncommon also scrys.
ID: 2/2 -> 3/1

The scry 2 was added, as Dave mentioned, to help you actually get to your Vehicles. Especially in Limited, we wanted the red-white deck to be a Vehicle/Pilot deck, but without some amount of card filtering it was very difficult to get that to work. Veteran Motorist, once it scryed, was able to get to the Vehicles that actually let the cool part of this card work.


Depala, Pilot Exemplar

ID: Now a Dwarf lord in addition to boosting Vehicles.
SM: Cool card, though I'm sad this doesn't have a crew ability anymore. Maybe: "Other Dwarves you control get +1/+1 and have 'Whenever this creature crews a Vehicle, that Vehicle gets +1/+1 until end of turn.'"
ID: Okay, let's try that.
KEN: I can crew my 3/3 crew 1 Vehicle three times with three Dwarves then attack with a 6/6, right?
MJJ: Rather complicated; is this better than just "Dwarves and Vehicles you control get +1/+1"?
ID: That's what it was, Mons, but design preferred this way.
DH: Too much going on here, especially in raising rules questions on top of what else is here. Agree with Mons's note or something like it.
ID: Okay, back to the simpler version.

Depala went through a lot of fidgeting to arrive at the place she ended up. It was important that we get her to a point where she was satisfying for people who wanted to play with Dwarves, while at the same time work for Vehicles. Considering we have some red-white Vehicle decks in Standard that play a number of Dwarves, I think this managed to hit the mark even better than we expected.


Bastion Mastodon

ID: Simplifying this cycle. They were trying to do too much as both energy cards and color-directional artifacts. After talking to Mark, we decided to make these color-directional and make a few other energy cards separately.
ID: 4/4 -> 4/5
TJA: Wow, this wasn't strong enough at 4/4?
ID: Five-cost 4/5 -> six-cost 5/6
ID: Back to five-cost 4/5

The set, early on, was doing a lot. Part of that is just how the design team works—they try to fit as much stuff into the set as possible, assuming not all of it will stick. In the end, with this cycle, overlapping colored artifacts and energy was cute, but too much. We made them simpler to ensure they worked for Limited without being brain-melty.


Workshop Assistant

AF: Why does this need to be exiled?
ID: Okay, no exile.
TJA: People will either appreciate or not notice the parallel to Dutiful Attendant.
EEF: I do not enjoy infinite Gravediggers blocking my biggest creature every turn.
ID: I personally feel the same way, but I'm willing to let people assemble a two-card combo drudge skeleton.

We generally try pretty hard to not have looping Gravediggers, but Ian points out (I think correctly) that a 1/2 card doing this is very different than something that can meaningfully get into combat turn after turn. If you are looping two of these, you probably aren't doing anything very powerful.


Torch Gauntlet

SM: Now just one energy.
SVE: I remember all the reasons we changed this, but I think having the mana equip cost muddles the message, and if we're going to do an energy equip cost, I'd rather commit to it. With our new energy economy, can we try two energy again? Or could we have it auto-equip when it enters?
ID: Trying without enters-the-battlefield energy at EVL's suggestion.
ID: Three to cast -> one to cast
ID: Removed energy alternative equip cost and adjusted numbers.

Another "casualty" if you could call it that of trying to simplify the set and uncross all the streams. It was cool to have an Equipment that dealt with energy, but we found we really didn't need that many more energy rewards than what we had, and the set as a whole would be more fun and accessible if this was just a regular Equipment.


Iron League Steed

AF: Reads like a common.
ID: U -> C
DH: A strong common though. Better than we'd normally give most/all colors for 3C.

This ended up moving back to uncommon for largely the reason given. We can make a 3R 3/3 haste creature in red, but not really the other colors—and this is stronger than that. Part of making an artifact set works means respecting the color pie as much as possible, especially at common. While this still has stats that are much more generous than we would give a blue creature, the fact that we kept it off of common at least helps to preserve the color pie for Limited.


Ballista Charger

DH: Would love to find other ways to make these playable than repeatable effects that work without anybody to board them. ETB effects are the best example I've seen so far.
ID: Trying crew with power. Also moved activated ping to attack trigger.
ID: 6/5 -> 6/4, but trigger can hit players
ID: Crew 2 -> crew 3
ID: 6/4 -> 6/6

Vehicles were really, really hard to get right. They have a ton of knobs, and the difference between where the designers would play them and where the developers would play them was great. Most of the spots we started in with Vehicles just ended up being much weaker than was really needed. Or maybe we were being too down on the type, and we will find out more as we monitor how they did in the real world. Maybe we were too generous—certainly we were on some. If we ever revisit them, we will want to have a better barometer for how to create them.


Multiform Wonder

ID: Removed deathtouch and trample
DEL: Was 4/4, enters the battlefield with four energy.
AP: Future Future League suggests 3/3 and enters the battlefield with 4 energy.
ID: 3/3 -> 4/4, but waterbreathes by 1 instead of 2.
DEL: Enters with three energy again. Menace -> flying.
DEL: Back to ETB four energy (was briefly three).
DEL: Adjustments to all the abilities. Was ETB four energy; flying, first strike, vigilance, or haste; +1/-1 or -1/+1.
DEL: Rarity swap. New list of abilities; was flying, lifelink, or haste.
DH: FFL team suggests: menace, lifelink, vigilance instead of current suite.

Another pretty hard card. Although the final version is probably too weak for Standard, we went through many versions where this was one of the strongest cards in the set. The combination of flying, power pumping, and lifelink lead to some huge swings for the midrange energy decks, and a lot of frustration from aggro decks that quickly saw 10-point life swings.


Bomat Courier

ID: New card from hole filling.
DH: I can't look at the exiled cards, right?
JDR: I'm not sure what the current wording does, but having talked to Scott, the design intent is that you can't look at them.
DEL: Correct. Question also came up during a playtest. Tacking on some reminder text. Don't know if it will stick.
ID: Dies trigger becomes an activation for R.
SPS: Still would be interested in this as a one-mana 1/1.
AF: A lot less appealing as a one-mana 1/1 than a two-mana 2/1. Is it still good?
DEL: 2/1 for two -> 1/1 for one

This is a cool card, and I am pretty happy with where it ended up. I really enjoyed giving red artifact decks a powerful one-mana 1/1, which was what they were lacking on their curve. It also makes the card compete with a number of things in the red-white artifact decks, meaning it is generally better in black-red or mono-red artifact decks—a good spot to be in for this card, in my opinion.


Electrostatic Pummeler

GSV: Would this be more fun at two energy on both sides? Easier to activate, bigger dreams to live.
ID: I think this is already scary enough!
ID: Two -> three to cast. Could be an over-correction. Let me know if we should pull back some (could be a 2/2, for example).
DEL: 1/1 -> 2/2
DEL: 2/2 -> 1/1

This is a great example of a card that is pretty fun when it is the right power level, but was not very fun when we pushed it any harder. We had many versions of this that required either a little less energy or started off a bit bigger, but it made the dream of getting this huge creature a little too easy. We went back to 1/1 at three mana to make it a fun dream, but not something your deck can kind of do incidentally. You really need to be going for it.


Scrapheap Scrounger

ID: 2 -> 3 to bring back.
ID: 3 -> 1B to activate, and removes creatures instead of artifacts.
SPS: I've loved this change.

One of my favorite inputs to the set was pushing for more color activation on Constructed artifacts. Before, when this was three mana and exile two artifacts, it went into a lot more decks, but didn't come back as much. Moving it to black mana all of a sudden gave it more identity, and let it be a powerful option in decks like Black-Green Delirium that don't have much of an actual artifact theme.


Fleetwheel Cruiser

ID: Trying crew with power. Was one creature.
DH: FFL change from vigilance to trample.
ID: Three -> four mana, but auto-crews for one turn.

Another card that went through a lot of changes to get it correct. Whenever we make a new card type, we end up pushing it a bit harder than when we know exactly how strong the cards will be. On the whole, it's better to err on the cards being slightly too strong (especially if this is the card type's one time to shine) rather than to miss low and have nobody like the cards at all.


Smuggler's Copter

ID: Trying crew with power. Was one creature.
ID: No longer loots on ETB.
ID: Attack loot -> combat damage draw
DGH: FFL Meeting—3/4, loot when attacks or blocks
DEL: FFL changes are in. Was 3/2 with saboteur "draw a card."
AP: FFL team recommends 3/3 and vigilance.

Okay. The elephant in the room. Of note, we obviously ended up cutting vigilance (and thank goodness!) pretty late in the process. As I've said, it takes a long time to get new card types right, and it's easy to focus on the long time when the cards were not very strong versus how they ended up. We struggled for a while to get Vehicles into Constructed decks, and part of that was moving to a power-based model rather than tapping a number of creatures. We had to really power them up a lot from where they were when the design team handed them off. People were skeptical that we could get Vehicles to a point where they were strong enough in Constructed and also fun—and on that path, we sort of over did it with the Copter. We pulled back quite a bit from its high point, but the card that we suspected was the strongest Constructed Vehicle ended up even stronger than we'd pegged it. That being said, we knew it was strong, so we were not taken by surprise by its strength, and we definitely developed around it when making future sets.


Panharmonicon

EVL: I love all the Johnny artifacts.
AF: Love this.
DEL: Now with functional words. Functional change for clarity; no longer stacks.
ID: Three -> four mana

Johnny artifacts were something we were trying hard for, as both this and the next card will show off. Four mana felt like a cost that was probably not a standard card, but when we pushed it for three mana, we found that the card was more powerful than it was fun. With the current numbers, it might show up or it might not—but hopefully it will be fun if it does.


Aetherflux Reservoir

MJG: This card made me smile! Fun!
AF: We discussed possible big-dream text in the meeting.
ID: Added some placeholder big-dream text.
GSV: The new text made me smile.
YS: Test of Endurance power creep! Sounds fun to me. Makes me want more alternate win-con cards like this.
SM: This is an adorable addition. However, the number is actually too low for Commander; could it be 60?
ID: Three -> four cost
ELI: That creature knows exactly what it did to deserve this.
TABAK: What's your life total? Doesn't matter. That creature needs to die.

Another fun one for similar reasons. Just make sure not to misclick, unless you are hitting a Jackal Pup.


Skysovereign, Consul Flagship

DH: Greatly prefer ETB solution like this to add more than the "tap and use every turn" function for a Vehicle.
JDR: Strongly agree.
AF: Flying Inferno Titan. Why not.
ID: Trying crew with power. Was two creatures.
ID: Crew 3 -> crew 4
TABAK: I like how the guns fire one time while unattended.
DH: FFL meeting—crew 3. "Deal 3 to target creature or planeswalker" instead.
Del: FFL changes are in. Was crew 4, "creature or player."

Yeah, when this was able to hit players, it tended to end games a lot more quickly than was reasonable. Now it is a nice top end, but at least it takes more than two attacks to kill most people.


Aether Hub

HANDOFF NOTES: Wanted an energy land to represent the Consulate HQ.
AF: Just making energy seems cool enough.
ID: Now just makes energy, doesn't animate.
ID: Now a Tendo Ice Bridge variant. Was "3, T: Get an energy."
AF: Tendo Ice Bridge was a terrible rare. This is almost as terrible!
MDT: This is great in Constructed energy decks! But I agree it's an awful rare.
ID: Okay, uncommon.

Much like some of the powerful uncommons I mentioned last week, there has been a desire to make some more cards like this into uncommons rather than rares. I can't say that any multi-land will end up being there, but Tendo Ice Bridge just isn't a rare by our current standards. Standard is much more accessible when simple cards like this that can go into a lot of decks—but are also weak in Limited—are uncommons rather than rares.


Concealed Courtyard

SM: Placeholder fast lands

This was the only comment only any of these lands, which is actually kind of nice. We knew early on that these would go in here, and there was never much of a question on whether or not they would be in here—other than some questions for a while about splitting them between Aether Revolt and Kaladesh. In the end, we decided that all five in one set was just better, and had a balancing effect on the metagame rather than warping it around the dual lands.


Thanks for reading this trip down memory lane. But, we're not done yet; next week I'll be talking about Future Future League decks that we developed during the Kaladesh FFL period.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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