The M-Files: Oath of the Gatewatch, Part 1

Posted in Latest Developments on January 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

 EEF—Ethan Fleisher, Oath's lead designer

 ID—Ian Duke, Oath's lead developer

 DEL—Del Laugel, Oath's lead editor

 KEN—Ken Nagle, designer

 TJA—Tim Aten, editor

 BrH—Bryan Hawley, developer

 AP—Adam Prosak, developer

 YS—Yoni Skolnik, developer

 GSV—Gavin Verhey, designer

 DOH—Dan Helland, administrator

 MR—Mark Rosewater, head designer

 EVL—Erik Lauer, head developer

 DH—David Humpherys, developer

 MDT—Melissa DeTora, developer

 TABAK—Matt Tabak, editor

 MJJ—Mons Johnson, Duel Masters developer of Goblin Raiders fame

 GJ—Glenn Jones, editor

SPS—Sam Stoddard, that's-a me!

And now, off to the files:

Kor Sky Climber

EEF 6/10/2014: Putting Skyhunter Cub in here, but making it a Kor instead of a Cat.

EEF 6/13/2014: Added Ally creature type.

DH 9/3/2014: So red-white Allies are layering in Equipment. Normally skeptical of subthemes like this, but I can see this working out well.

EEF 9/25/2014: 2/2 +1/+1 -> 2/3 +1/+0.

ID 10/1/2014: +1/+0 and flying -> just flying.

AP 10/27/2014: I was uninspired by the blue Magic 2015 guy. The upgrade was small enough that I wasn't actually interested in building the deck. I feel like this wants a bigger jump in power.

BrH 12/11/2014: I liked this one a bit better than the M15 guy because being equipped adds additional value to flying, but I agree that I'd prefer a slightly larger bonus. I didn't feel adequately paid off for my Equipment unless I had a first strike/deathtouch guy, and then I was just sad.

ID 2/24/2015: 2/3 gains flying if equipped -> 3/2 w/ activated flying. Pushing Equipment matters up to uncommon.

ID 4/3/2015: 3W -> 1W to activate.

As you can see, this started off as a functional reprint of Skyhunter Cub, but we struggled to get the Equipment-matters deck to work well enough. It worked well enough in Mirrodin because of just how much Equipment the set had—numbers we would not be matching with Oath of the Gatewatch, and numbers that Battle for Zendikar didn't have. It meant that cards like this were basically amazing if you happened to get a lot of Equipment, but bad if you didn't. We tried moving it around to getting flying if you had an Equipment, but that had similar (albeit lesser) problems. The solution we ended up on was making the card more generically powerful, and making it so that it was a card you would want in an Equipment deck, but not something that rewarded you as explicitly. At the same time, we condensed some of the Equipment-matters cards to being a smaller total number, but having more of an impact.

Searing Light

EEF 8/28/2014: New card.

ID 9/7/2014: Cool upgrade card.

EEF 9/9/2014: Removed diversity mechanic. Now you just get 5 damage.

TJA 10/1/2014: There's a card in BFZ that deals 4 to an attacker or blocker for 1W.

ID 10/1/2014: Was 5 damage to an attacker or blocker. Moving to avoid BFZ.

This is a real challenge of how we develop small sets in parallel to the large set—often, what feels like the right space for a removal spell ends up being what the large set moves its removal to. It's a real challenge to constantly keep track of what the large set is doing, and making sure that your removal and tricks in the small set feel different enough.

Steppe Glider

TJA 3/24/2015: Does this need "you control"? (Heck, can't target teammates' creatures right now.)

ID 3/31/2015: Removed "you control" for team games.

ID 4/3/2015: Also has and grants vigilance.

Just another one of the small steps to give Oath of the Gatewatch some extra legs in Two-Headed Giant.

Stone Haven Outfitter

ID 10/11/2014: New design based on submission by DH.

ID 11/16/2014: WW->1W

ID 12/8/2014: I would like to make this an Equipment-matters weenie creature. FFL, let me know what you'd like it to do.

BrH 12/11/2014: It probably needs to put me up cards, unless we have a clunky but very powerful Equipment. It's possible that if we change Captain's Claws this could be "Whenever an equipped creature you control attacks, put a 1/1 into play tapped and attacking."

AP 12/15/2014: I like "Whenever an equipped creature you control dies, draw a card" on this creature.

ID 1/26/2015: New design for FFL testing. May need to say nontoken?

KEN 5/11/2015: One of those "not good with Skullclamp" creatures.

The original version of this was pretty crazy—it made token copies of any Equipment that became attached to it, and then put those on the rest of your team. Many problems start coming up like "what if I have two in play" and "what if I equip the same Equipment to this multiple times." Ultimately, that design was cute, but not what the card wanted. As often happens, Ian went to the FFL team and asked them what kind of card they would like for a white weenie Equipment deck, and they came back with some designs.

Eldrazi Displacer

ID 9/7/2014: There are no white Eldrazi in BFZ. Is it a conscious choice to add them in OGW?

ID 10/8/2014: It is! This slot is for a white Ghostfire creature. Should be a build-around.

ID 10/19/2014: New design from TJA. Still likely to change.

GSV 10/27/2014: This card looks pretty fun to build around.

DH 10/28/2014: There feels like a lot of power/toughness/damage setting. Maybe too much. Three cards so far. Unless we want that to be a big part of Eldrazi identity. Hatchling and Augmentor being the others.

ID 12/3/2014: New design from hole filling.

BrH 12/5/2014: This card's really cool.

YS 12/8/2014: Is this supposed to work with Processors?

ID 12/8/2014: Not a goal for the card, but if it's fun that's great. This is the only white Eldrazi, so I'd like it to incentivize building new casual decks.

ID 12/9/2014: Only another target creature.

DEL 2/2/2015: Puts awakened lands to sleep.

ID 2/12/2015: Sorcery speed to avoid stopping attackers and end-of-turn bug.

ID 2/17/2015: 3/3 -> 3/2

ID 3/20/2015: Tweaked ability. Was a slide, now a blink, so you can't process in between.

ID 4/15/2015: 3/2 -> 3/3

When working on a small set, often you want to do the things the large set shied away from for whatever reason. In Battle for Zendikar, there were no white Eldrazi—so we wanted to make sure there was at least one here, to show that the Eldrazi were really winning the war. The actual design of this card took a lot of time, and once we had it, a lot of tweaking was needed to get to a point where we were happy with it. Repeated blink effects can be pretty dangerous when their cost is low enough.

General Tazri

EEF 7/18/2014: New card. Commander-pointing legendary creature.

EEF 9/9/2014: Impulse an Ally onto the battlefield -> Zombify an Ally.

EEF 9/16/2014: Zombify an Ally -> 2/2 Ally token.

EEF 9/30/2014: The two abilities have poor synergy. :(.

ID 12/4/2014: Need a new ability to distance from the red-white one in BFZ.

ID 4/22/2015: Removed nonlegendary.

General Tazri was something we knew we wanted to make for Commander—a five-color legendary Ally so that people could build true Ally decks in Commander without using something like Sliver Queen as their general.

Linvala, the Preserver

EEF 9/18/2014: New card from Gavin. I'm concerned about having two white legendary mythic rares.

ID 10/28/2014: This is similar to the ORI Angel. Continuous quality improvement for a different design. Maybe a finisher for white-blue control?

ID 10/28/2014: Was "Spells your opponents cast that target you, a land you control, or a creature you control cost 3 more to cast. Creatures can't attack you unless their controller pays 3 for each creature he or she controls that's attacking you."

ID 10/28/2014: New design. Trying for a white-blue control stabilizer/finisher.

MJJ 12/1/2014: Seems to come up a bit short compared to Wingmate Roc; maybe the potential life gain is enough...

BrH 12/2/2014: I think this card is sweet.

EVL 1/7/2015: Nice.

ID 4/2/2015: 4/4, 4/4 token, 6 life -> 5/5, 3/3 token, 3 life.

ID 4/15/2015: 3 life -> 5 life

We had a general idea of where we wanted this card to fit into Constructed, but we needed to separate it from last year's Wingmate Roc. They do fit into pretty different decks, but they looked too much alike when both Linvala and the token were 4/4s. Also, it put too much of the power of the card in the token. By moving Linvala to a 5/5, she is more powerful even if you play her without your opponent having two creatures, as she is able to block things like Siege Rhino.

Ancient Crab

ID 10/1/2014: New vanilla.

ID 10/7/2014: Was Kraken Hatchling reprint, trying a slightly more generous blue vanilla than usual, since most are commons.

ID 12/12/2014: 3U 2/5 -> 2U 1/4

ID 2/18/2014: 2U 1/4 -> 1UU 1/5

Battle for Zendikar's power level of common creatures was higher than usual, with cards like Benthic Infiltrator taking what would usually be a vanilla and adding quite a bit of upside to it. The goal for vanillas is to reduce the game's complexity in Limited, which doesn't do much if they never make your deck. That meant that when Oath was looking for its vanillas, it had to tread some pretty new ground. Ancient Crab landed in the spot where the card is not overpowered by any means, but is a vanilla that offers you enough stats that you will play it.

Gift of Tusks

EEF 9/9/2014: New card.

ID 11/5/2014: U->1U

MJJ 12/1/2014: Red Lizards are apparently large.

ID 12/17/2014: To uncommon.

ID 1/14/2015: Red Lizard -> blue Frog at creative request.

ID 1/27/2015: Now a green Elephant.

ID 4/6/2015: 1U -> U

MJJ 6/25: Amusing how it is easier to turn something into an Elephant than a Frog.

As a whole card package, this is one of my favorite cards in the set. I'm always happy when we get to do something goofy like this.

Hedron Alignment

EEF 9/16/2014: New card. Ken Nagle Great Designer Search 1 card.

MR 9/29/2014: I like it.

TJA 10/3/2014: The intent here is that you win if you have one in each zone, correct?

KEN 10/6/2014: Yes, four cards, four zones. Maybe could be an artifact to be more hedrony if the concept is to "align the hedrons for great justice."

AP 10/27/2014: I believe you can win with three copies of this, if you can bounce this to your hand with the trigger on the stack. Is this a feature or a bug?

DH 10/28/2014: Cool. Not sure that this is more fun with hexproof.

TJA 10/28/2014: You could also Erase it in response. Makes the dream more plausible, but is it a flavor/intent fail?

YS 11/13/2014: I really enjoy this card, and was thinking it may be possible to add an ability so it will do something in Limited. Perhaps "1U: Target colorless creature gets -1/-0"? Relevant sideboard card?

ID 11/16/2014: Cut hexproof, added some usefulness for Limited.

ID 12/12/2014: Hexproof back by popular demand.

AP 12/15/2014: And its fans rejoice! (aka me)

GSV 12/16/2014: And me! (And my column's readers.)

YS 1/5/2015: I don't like the idea of a mythic rare that you need four of. Feels better as a rare, like Biovisionary.

GSV 1/13/2015: Agree with YS.

ID 1/20/2015: I'll look for a swap to bring this down to rare.

DOH 2/24/2015: Yeah, I love this as a rare. It feels super bad in multiple ways at mythic rare.

GSV 3/2/2015: Agreed on this moving down to rare. Is there a version of Final Say that could swap with this?

There isn't anything that says for sure whether a card is mythic rare or not—it's mostly just a feel thing, and this didn't have it. We kept it in the set, because I am sure it will have its fans, but moved it to rare.

Tar Snare

ID 1/26/2015: -3/-2 -> -2/-2

TJA 3/24/2015: Any chance this can pick up a tiny bonus?

KEN 3/30/2015: It can't be targeted by Mental Misstep or Spell Snare!

ID 4/4/2015: Back to -3/-2

I am unsure what I would do without Ken Nagle's comments on the M-Files.

Flaying Tendrils

ID 4/15/2015: New card for FFL.

DEL 5/29/2015: FFL adds "If a creature would die this turn, exile it instead."

This card did something very different originally, but as we were developing the set, we realized we wanted an Infest. As time went on, we also became very worried about the Rally the Ancestors types of decks with Zulaport Cutthroats. We wanted to have some sideboard cards that could naturally hate on them, without being super-specific. This card might not do as much if your opponent actually has a Nantuko Husk in play, but it does put a lot of pressure on the deck in other situations while also being strong against the Atarka Red-style decks.

Grasp of Darkness

DH 4/23/2015: FFL suggests Grasp of Darkness.

Another thing the FFL found was that we wanted more strong cheap removal to deal with cards like Jace. Grasp of Darkness was something that could be strong, but wouldn't go so easily into the four- and five-color decks, so hopefully it might pressure some people to play fewer colors to gain its use as a reward. Time will tell whether or not the card is strong enough for that purpose.

Bearer of Silence

ID 10/15/2014: New Constructed Ghostfire.

YS 12/3/2014: I like this card, right now it's the only card that makes me want to splash colorless in my black-red devoid aggro deck.

KEN 5/11/2015: It's not a bear. :/

Once again, thank you, Ken!

Drana's Chosen

MDT 4/10/2015: This plus another Ally is an infinite combo with Intruder Alarm in Modern. Not sure if this is something we should avoid.

ID 4/22/2015: I asked around the pit and folks didn't seem worried about this. There are already plenty of infinite combos with Intruder Alarm, and I don't think this is the easiest. Great notes, though!

While we do try not to do anything too crazy in Modern and intentionally release two-card combos, Intruder Alarm is a two-card-combo card that works with a ton of things already in the format, and it has yet to make a splash. So dodging it didn't feel very important. Also, needing a second Ally was kind of a big requirement.


MJJ 12/15/2014: Was "The next time a creature enters the battlefield under your control this turn, that creature gains haste. Draw a card."

ID 12/16/2014: Does Mons's suggestion work? "The next time one or more creatures enter...those creatures..."

ID 2/2/2015: Trying the "one or more" wording. Intent is that you only draw one card even if multiple creatures enter at once.

GJ 2/12/2015: Reading it for the first time, it's odd to me that this card is never going to be more than a cantrip, will generally be cast only in positions where it functions almost exactly as a cantrip (counterspells being the largest exception), and is not a cantrip.

ID 2/23/2015: Simplified.

This card was trying to do noble work by letting you play it, cast a creature with surge, then attack with it, but ultimately it was wasn't worth all of the extra words versus just being the simple version it is today.

Consuming Sinkhole

ID 4/14/2015: New Lava Axe variant. Was artifact/land creature destruction.

YS 4/15/2015: I worry that this card is very easy to misread. I would expect a lot of people casting this on regular creatures at the Prerelease. I guess the art helps a bit?

DEL 5/4/2015: Card tweaked for clarity, etc. Was 4R sorcery "CARDNAME deals 5 damage to target player or land creature."

Changing the damage-dealing parameters went a long way toward (hopefully) making this card make more sense.

Tears of Valakut

ID 4/23/2015: New card to kill Dragons. Creative approves match to art.

KEN 5/11/2015: :/

DEL 5/14/2015: New damage-dealing ability. Was "Target player chooses a creature with flying he or she controls. Tears of Valakut deals 7 damage to that creature."

So, sometimes developers make super-specific cards to deal with metagame problems. This was initially intended as a very specific answer to Silumgar and Ojutai, but it was just a bit too far in the realm of "developery-ness," so it was scaled back to something that looked like an actual Magic card.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers

ID 10/8/2014: 4UU -> 3UU, but now only instant/sorcery CMC 3 or less. Could also be a red card?

KEN 10/22/2014: Would like to try Snapcasters as red cards for more casual red appeal.

DH 10/28/2014: Would generally support this as red, but then it is scary given where burn has been recently in strength.

ID 11/16/2014: I want to move this down to rare.

BrH 12/2/2014: This seems like a red card per our discussions on red recursion?

KEN 12/3/2014: I like making this red, especially since this doesn't work with counters.

GSV 12/19/2014: Been having a good time with this in FFL. Feels slightly too weak to hit (could maybe use a fifth power) but it is very cool that red gets this effect.

ID 12/9/2014: Now a red card, first strike instead of flying.

ID 1/8/2015: 4/4 -> 5/4 per FFL team.

ID 2/12/2015: 5/4 -> 4/3 and loses first strike.

ID 2/17/2015: 4/3 -> 3/3

DH 3/18/2015: Reverting back to 4/3, per FFL meeting.

DEL 3/23/2015: Fun with Living End.

DH 4/9/2015: FFL recommends 4/4 menace (or 4/3 first strike again).

ID 4/17/2015: Okay, 4/3 -> 4/4 menace

Yay for making more sweet things for red to do! I am a big fan of this card, and though it took quite a bit of fiddling to get the numbers right, I think it is in a great spot.

Kozilek's Return

EEF 7/14/2014: New card.

EEF 7/15/2014: Detonate/Pyroclasm -> Recurring Pyroclasm.

GSV 9/3/2014: The Kozilek line of text is really cool. I like the idea of each titan having a "signature spell."

ID 9/7/2014: Cool!

AP 9/11/2014: Great idea, but we will want to make sure this is effective even after you cast a huge Eldrazi.

DH 10/28/2014: Similar to Languish, the ORI black -4/-4. Wish numbers weren't so similar. This looks right in a vacuum. I like the Kozilek bit.

SPS 11/2/2014: I feel like we should have a cardcrafting meeting on how red, white, and black wraths all work differently. Prefer this as Anger of the Gods numbers in a vacuum, but that may be wrong.

ID 11/16/2014: Yes, I do want to dodge our other sweepers.

DEL 9/12/2014: An ability can't trigger from a hidden zone (hand).

TABAK 10/9/2014: This could maybe be a weird activated ability. "Reveal CARDNAME from your hand: You may cast CARDNAME without paying its mana cost. Activate this ability only if you've cast a spell named OTHERCARDNAME this turn."

DEL 10/28/2014: Maybe a cast restriction on this card? "If you control a spell named OTHERCARDNAME, you may cast CARDNAME from your hand or graveyard without paying its mana cost."

DEL 10/29/2014: But that doesn't work because this is a sorcery. :(

ID 11/26/2014: Moved to 2 damage for now until mini team spends some time on this.

ID 12/4/2014: Now deals 6 on the flashback.

ID 12/8/2014: Now triggers on CMC 7 or greater for 5 damage.

The initial version of this called out the actual new Kozilek card, letting you cast it from your hand or graveyard for extra damage—which had some rules issues, and was pretty narrow. The new version is a little less flavorful, but also works with other Eldrazi.

That's it for this episode of the M-Files. I'll be back next week with green, lands, colorless, gold, and artifacts.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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