The M Files: Magic Origins, Part 1

Posted in Latest Developments on July 24, 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.

 SM: Shawn Main, Magic Origins lead designer

 SPS: That's a me! Magic Origins's lead developer

 MJG: Mark Globus, game design architect

 AF: Aaron Forsythe, the big boss man

 EEF: Ethan Fleisher, designer

 DE: Dan Emmons, former designer

 AP: Adam Prosak, developer

 TJA: Tim Aten, editor

 BrH: Bryan Hawley, developer

 KEN: Ken Nagle, designer

 DOH: Dan Helland, design coordinator

 ID: Ian Duke, developer

 DH: David Humpherys, development manager

 MJJ: Mons Johnson, duel masters development manager

 GSV: Gavin Verhey, Reconstructed columnist and designer

 Tabak: Matt Tabak Rules manager and Magic Origins lead editor

 DEL: Del Laugel, lead editor and manager

 TML: Tom LaPille, former developer

 GT: Gerry Thompson, former development intern

 NMD: Nick Davidson, principal designer, digital R&D

 MARO: Mark Rosewater, head designer and the set's advisor

 EVL: Erik Lauer, head developer

 MaGo: Mark Gottlieb, design manager


Topan Freeblade

SM 11/4/13: Back in, now has native vigilance

SPS 1/1 Now a W 1/1.

SPS 1/9 Back to 2 mana. Trying the first striker as the 1 drop.

SPS 2/12: now first strike.

SPS 2/27: now 2/2

SPS 3/12: New size. Was 2W 2/1 First Strike

SPS 3/25: trying as vanilla 2/2 veteran 1.

MJG 5/13/14: Is promote supposed to be tracked via +1/+1 counters or an invisible veteran marker? In the past, we've tracked these things with the counters and accepted the slight rules change in favor of the simplicity.

AF 7/16: Not a huge fan of the word "discipline." It conveys "similar routine" to me, which is not what powering up is. What were the other options?

SPS 8/21: Now has vigilance

Getting renowned right, especially on the commons, was hard. We tried a lot of numbers to get in the space of "it matters, but it isn't too snowball," and I think we hit about the right spot.

Stalwart Aven

SM 10/20/13: 2W 1/1 vet 2 -> 2/1 vet 1

SM 10/29/13: White didn't have enough ways to attack—moving this down to common.

SM 11/4/13: 2W 2/1 -> 3W 2/2

SPS 11/7: Love this change.

SPS 12/16: Trying as a 2W 1/2.

SPS 1/3: Back to 3W 2/2

SPS 1/15: Back to 1W 1/1.

SPS 3/12: new size. Was 1W 1/1

Another example of a lot of iteration. The 1W 1/1 was about the right power level, but it was frustrating with just how much better it was on the play than the draw. Moving it to 2W 1/3 felt like the right spot, where it can play defense as well.

Kytheon, Hero of Akros

Mago 4/7: If the transformation of these creatures is now immediate (rather than delayed), why not just flip them over?

"At end of combat, if you attacked with CARDNAME and at least two other creatures this combat, transform CARDNAME and put N loyalty counters on him."

It's shorter. Control-change effects would persist. (There are surely other ramifications . . . )

This came up as a question early, about how to execute on these. Mago was initially in favor of the transform text, but I preferred the exile text because it answered a lot of questions like "what happens if it transforms in response to a bolt? What about a Hero's Downfall?" and the like.

Vryn Wingmare

SPS 6/25: New text to separate it from Monastery Mentor decks, and hopefully generate different white weenie decks.

TJA 6/27: Better or worse than Glowrider? Why?

Monastery Mentor was much stronger in our FFL than in the real world. The original version of this was a little too similar, so I went with the Thalia text to create a card that would be good against those decks.

Hixus, Prison Warden

SPS 3/11: New design.

SPS 3/31: Now a No Mercy

SPS 4/1: 3/4. Back with flash.

AF 7/18: Fun card.

BrH 7/25: Citizen, you are under arrest.

BrH 7/31: <3 this card.

Designing top-down prison wardens is fun.

Tragic Arrogance

BrH 7/31: The "symmetry" of this card amuses me.

EEF 8/21/14: Flavor text: "You should have diversified your portfolio."

Top-down important financial advice.

Swift Reckoning

MJG 5/13/14: What makes black removal and what makes white removal is feeling more blurry than usual here.

ID 6/30: Assassinates make more sense to me in white than in black.

DH 7/3: Assassins themselves make more sense in black though. :P I like Assassinate in white also. This is in similar space to destroy attacker.

AF 7/18: This has alternated between black and white for so long that I just accept it as both.

BrH 7/25: Seems pretty generous relative to the rates we've given on this in the past.

It is generous, but I think it felt right for the set. Also, I feel like this is—by nature—an effect that feels white, but gets put into black because of Royal Assassin. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But I don't think that continuously calling back to that card does much for us in the future. That being said, I think it will continue to show up in both colors.


Faerie Miscreant

SPS 7/23: Now a power-creep Flying Man.

Proof that some cards have room to be power-crept.

Clash of Wills

EEF 2/14/13: Another simple spell I'm surprised we never made before now.

ID 2/15: I really like this.

KEN 2/20/2014: Not very simple, IMO.

MR 4/02/14: My normal "I hate X spells at common" response.

It was surprising to me that we had never made this card, much in the same way Murder was the first card to just say "Destroy target creature." I think it's good to have some baseline effects in a core set, and this is one I was happy to make.

Displacement Wave

SM 12/6/13: Evacuate that allows you to "protect" your big guys.

AF 12/10: Cool card—surprised we haven't done this yet.

Another card that I was very surprised didn't exist until now. But now it does! Huzzah!

Disciple of the Ring

SPS 8/17: New text. I like the basic structure, probably need different charge counter abilities. Also, the card likely only fits if we don't reminder text Scry.

SPS 8/17: Crap! Bullets! Wouldn't have fit. Now only gets counters when you first cast it.

Tabak 8/22: Uh, yeah . . . about that not fitting thing. You're not even close. Might work with either three one-line modes or two two-line modes.

SPS 8/24: Changed the counter line so that it fits on a card.

Tabak 8/25: The first ability is still too long. The second ability is likely too long, unless this card has an unusually short name.

SPS 8/25: How about this?

SPS 9/12: Down to 5 mana, 1 to activate.

When we added bullets, we knew that some cards that would've fit before wouldn't now. But, every one we had made did, so that was theoretical. This card, though, was the one that wouldn't fit. The original version entered the battlefield with counters, but the effects were smaller. In lieu of being able to make that version, I went with one that had more of an impact, but ended up removing the cards from the graveyard.

Day's Undoing

SPS 6/16: Now a 'fixed' Timetwister from TJA. Also mythic rare.

MJJ 6/23: This + Quicken might be a thing in Modern.

SPS 6/23: I am okay with that.

DH 7/3: Felt reasonable in games I played. It is a bit scary you often draw into another one, the end turn helps with that, but not used to unrestricted Timetwister.

DH 7/9: Gavin notes this is very good with Quicken. Maybe even annoying in Modern. Not sure that warrants, "If it's your turn, end the turn." but worth thinking about.

ID 8/15: This seems risky at 3 mana, and though no one has broken it yet, I don't know how we would prove it's safe. We should talk about this one as a group.

EEF 8/15/14: Yeah, this isn't that great when you cast it fairly, and is totally busted if you can Quicken it out. Might want to go back to the drawing board on this one.

Originally, the turn would end no matter whose turn it was, making it sort of a Time Walk/Timetwister combo with Quicken. Is that one good? We talked a lot about this card in Modern, and even though I felt that some of the charm was the combo with Quicken, the full "taking your opponent's turn as well" felt like overkill. If the choice was keeping it at 2U and 'only' letting you draw seven with a Quicken, or moving to at least four mana to allow the Time Walk combo, it felt more correct to go with the former.


Fetid Imp

SPS 9/22: Per Ben Hayes-To forever be known as Typhoid Bats

Just needed this one for posterity's sake.

Touch of Moonglove

MR 8/20/14: Black tends to grant +1/+0 to its team, but +1/+1 is doable. I'd prefer this was either a sorcery with +1/+1 or instant with +1/+0 because I don't want this being used to save your whole team in combat.

SPS 8/21: Needs to change.

SPS 8/21: New text.

MJJ 10/5: Goblin Sharpshooter's favorite spell.

Black combat tricks are hard. Up until this point, the only one we were particularly happy with was Necrobite, which is a ton of words. Touch started out simpler, but Coat with Venom in Dragons of Tarkir sort of stole its thunder. We were trying Elves as green-black go-wide, so this was a team pumping spell, but moved it to the version that exists now as an attempt at an interesting and unique combat trick.

Liliana, Heretical Healer

SPS 9/18: Tweaking flip side to work on power. Token now ETBs untapped.

GSV 9/30: This trigger is super weird to me in game play. You can play another Liliana and flip her? If my opponent wraths I get a 2/2 Zombie but my Liliana stays in the graveyard despite it all being the same trigger? Bizarre.

MJJ 10/3: This could be an EOT trigger, which might remove some of the confusion (makes her weaker obviously).

SPS 10/15: Now makes one Zombie.

Liliana was, to put it delicately, difficult to develop. Notably, the goal of making her into a variant of Xathrid Necromancer that also turned into a Planeswalker. We didn't want players to sacrifice all of their creatures and still get 2/2s before she transformed, and ultimately we also wanted there be a reason to play a card like Xathrid Necromancer over her, so she doesn't leave a Zombie after a board sweeper.

Kothophed, Soul Hoarder

SM 11/1/13: One of Liliana's demons.

SPS 11/19/13: I think the right numbers are draw 3, gain 6, this lose 2 life.

AF 12/10: "Kothophed can't be sacrificed."

SPS 1/23: 4BB 5/5

SPS 2/1: Plan is to change this into a sweet Demon, and put this text on an enchantment to show off the spark cycle moment.

SPS 2/4: New design, just a sweet Demon. Old text variant now appears on an enchantment.

SPS 5/28: 6/6. Removed "Can't gain life."

The original version of Kothophed was a Demon that gave you a bonus when you cast him, but charged you for it every turn by having you discard a card at random and losing 2 life during each end step. The problem was that while that was exciting to read, the game play was usually very boring. Either you beat your opponent in the head with the creature and used the cards to do so, or your opponent had to kill it to avoid being beaten in the head. We really wanted a card to represent this contract Liliana made. Instead, we went with Kothophed himself being a cool Demon, and the contract on a different card.

Demonic Pact

SPS 2/4: New card. Stab at Liliana's spark card.

SM 2/6: This card doesn't offer the puzzle that the original Demon offered—with the Demon, I still had an attractive body to attack with. Here, I just want to immediately Naturalize. As an enchantment, would really like to try Consuming Contract from the YMTC4.

SPS 2/7: The problem with the puzzle was that it was much less interesting in play than it looked. Huge Demon generally needed to be killed by your opponent, didn't do enough to harm you. I will look at Consuming Contract.

SPS 2/11: Now Consuming Contract-text.

DH 2/19: Where's my Nevinyrral’s Disk? Looks neat if it isn't too easy to sac.

KEN 3/14/2014: Wonder if any Kor Skyfishers exists. Seems like most gating stuff in Tarkir block bounces only creatures.

AP 3/27/14: I am incredibly excited to FFL with this.

Tabak 4/29: If my opponent gains control of this, are the mode choices supposed to reset? Currently they do, but they don't have to. (Basically, do you want "donate this on turn 4" to be a strategy?)

SPS 4/29: Yes. I am fine with how that currently works.

MJG 5/14/14: Wow . . . Liliana has taken no more than 3 turns since she made the pact! Those are some amazingly long turns . . .

EVL 8/1: Cool

EEF 8/15/14: I love this card!

SPS 8/17: Would be interested in new abilities if they make the card more appealing.

SPS 9/7: Trying at 1BB

SPS 9/11: Experiment worked—it was way too strong, but it saw play! Trying at 2BB, and some reworked abilities.

Consuming Contract was a card many people in R&D loved from the third You Make the Card, but it didn't get to the end of the contest. Still, it fit very well for what we wanted: to tell as a story of Liliana's pact in Origins. Tweaking was needed to get the modes right, and the card was fun, but it was hard to tell if it was at the right power level, because people weren't trying it. I bumped the mana down a notch, and all of a sudden it was seeing a lot of play—and it was clearly just too good with Displacement Wave (among other cards) to bounce it. Once we moved it back to 2BB, the card continued to see play, so that's where it ended up.


SPS 3/4; now -4/-4. May need a rider to not be too strong. I like conditional black wraths at four, though.

ID 3/7: I like trying -4/-4. Can always default back to -3/-3 with a rider.

DOH 3/14: Whatever the case, casual is happy to have a black sweeper at 4 cmc. Next to Kothophed's 6 toughness = nice new player message too.

MJJ 7/23: Simple yet powerful, nice spot numbers-wise

As I've mentioned before, we wanted to move away from having unconditional wraths in Standard be at the four-mana spot. Languish is an example of the kind of cards we can make in the four-mana slot that aren't unconditional, but do a lot of the same things against aggressive decks. I like that this allows a deck with lots of high-toughness things to get a big advantage.

Gilt-Leaf Winnower

Tabak 11/17: It feels like the story of this card is a creature with unequal power and toughness is an eyeblight and must be killed, which is an odd position for a creature with unequal power and toughness to take.

Top-down hypocrisy.

That's it for this week. Join me next week, when we talk about red, green, gold, and artifacts!

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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