The M-Files: Oath of the Gatewatch, Part 2

Posted in Latest Developments on January 29, 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.

Welcome back to the M-Files for Oath of the Gatewatch. Last week, we covered white, blue, black, and red. This week, we're going to get through the rest of the file.

But first, a list of the 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, on to the file:

Loam Larva

ID 2/2/15: Now searches for a basic instead of self mill. Hoping it helps find Wastes.

EVL 2/19/15: A happy card. :)

GSV 3/2/15: This is doing very noble work.

ID 4/14/15: 2G 1/4 -> 1G 1/3

Getting colorless mana to work in Limited meant having a lot of support cards like this that could incidentally find Wastes.

Pulse of Murasa

ID 12/12/14: Was regrow a creature and/or land. Now only one, but gains life.

YS 12/15/14: This card is pretty appealing to me at these numbers.

EVL 1/7/15: Nice.

ID 2/20/15: Should this be "up to"?

DEL 2/27/15: If you want to increase the odds that the spell could be cast, another option would be "from a graveyard to its owner's hand."

ID 3/30/15: Going with DEL's suggestion. Also more fun in team play!

YS 4/15/15: This card is 6 life now. Does that bump it up from Yoni Skolnik Constructed to other people Constructed? I love throwing this card into any deck with fetch lands to counteract the life loss.

Yoni values incidental life gain quite highly, which also led to the nickname of a card in Battle for Zendikar, Yoni Sappling. Can you guess which one? (Okay, that wasn't so hard.)

Elemental Uprising

DH 10/3/14: I don't like that you can't really interact with the caster's creature. Too close to green shock/bolt a creature for my tastes. Would want it to become a land and to gain "T: Fight" instead if we did something like this. Maybe haste in that case, so you can't mess up summon sick.

ID 10/10/14: 1G -> G and T: Fight at DH's suggestion.

ID 11/21/14: New design. Old design had color pie concerns.

DEL 11/5/14: Might need custom reminder text. Precedents for reminder text that covers keywords in spliced text?

DEL 12/26/14: Not sure why some of these land animation effects are giving haste.

ID 1/8/15: It's to eliminate needing to track which land you played this turn, or "missclicking" the wrong one.

ID 1/12/15: Now instant, but doesn't target a specific creature to block it.

GJ 1/20/15: It's odd that this card is an instant animate land with a forced block; a temporary "flash 4/4" should ambush attackers about as frequently as it attacks, if not more. I'd need to play the set to know.

ID 2/2/15: Certainly agree, but folks weren't playing this when it worked only on either offense or defense.

GJ 2/12/15: As I've grown more familiar with BFZ and OGW, I can definitely see that being the case.

EVL 2/19/15: This reads really fun to me; a different way for green to kill creatures.

ID 2/20/15: That's the goal, plus interesting with awaken and other synergies in the set.

This card is a weird one. It started out in the space of making an Elemental token, moving to animating a land, then having it fight—which was also pretty contentious from a color pie perspective. After all, we could also print "2G instant: Put a 1/1 Hornet token with deathtouch onto the battlefield. It fights target creature." I guess that is green if you look at just the words, but the action is just Dark Banishing. Still, I agree with the attempt to create a common green removal spell that can be more than a simple fight variant, since we are quickly finding that there are only so many of those that are fun, interesting, and powerful enough.

Ruin in Their Wake

ID 12/1/14: New design for Constructed ramp decks.

BrH 12/11/14: This is currently the biggest pull into C mana for ramp decks, at which point it's not much of a stretch to play Kozilek. Seems to be working.

ID 12/11/14: Great! That's the goal.

MDT 2/17/15: Should it read "may put on the battlefield"? In case you need the C mana untapped that turn.

ID 2/17/15: Tweaked design, now searches for any basic.

EVL 2/19/15: I agree with Melissa about "you may put."

ID 2/20/15: Great suggestion, MDT, done!

The comments don't indicate this, but the card started off as "1G sorcery: Search for a Wastes and put it onto the battlefield tapped." That may have been fine in a vacuum, but the strength of the color fixing in Standard meant that you could easily use a few Wastes in your deck to cast a turn-three Siege Rhino. The intent of the card is to push people toward playing Wastes-based ramp decks, not to make Wastes an incidental inclusion, so the card was changed to what you see today. A big reward for decks that want to not play a lot of colors and play Wastes instead.

Oath of Nissa

EEF 9/29/14: New design from development. This cycle has an ETB ability and an ability that helps your planeswalkers, but doesn't graft loyalty abilities onto them.

DH 9/30/14: A little weird that you mana fix, then it tells you that you don't need to mana fix (for PWs).

ID 10/5/14: Definitely. I think one side or the other of this should change, but this is a fine placeholder until then.

ID 10/8/14: New effect.

GSV 10/22/14: This should probably also get enchantments so it can help find itself. It doesn't want to be in an Oath deck otherwise.

ID 10/25/14: I don't think green should be chaining these together. Trying "look at three keep two."

ID 12/3/14: FFL, let me know what you'd like this to do. I don't think we've hit it yet.

GJ 1/20/15: This card is flat out weird. The second ability feels like it will rarely matter.

EEF 2/6/15: I believe that the second ability is the perfect intersection of weak yet splashy.

EVL 2/19/15: Yep, the first is chock full of value, and the second brings the appeal. :)

ID 3/20/15: 2G for two cards -> G for one card.

Story time: Jace's Sanctum in Magic Origins was originally an enchantment that grafted an ability onto all of your planeswalkers and let you cast them for any color of mana. I thought it was really cool, but there were some detractors who pointed out that the set didn't actually have normal planeswalkers, so the card felt very out of place. I kept it for a while, but as Oath was getting started, it was clear that that set wanted enchantments that interacted with planeswalkers. For the good of the whole, I ended up changing Jace's Sanctum to what it is today so Oath could make a cycle based on what that card had been. While grafting on loyalty abilities ended up not being as fun or interesting as hoped, the idea of the Oaths being enchantments that somehow benefited planeswalkers did allow us to create interesting and powerful cards that could tell a story.

The near-final version of Oath of Nissa ended up being a little too close to Divination for many people's liking, as that didn't feel green enough. Moving to one card ensured that green wasn't actually going up cards and kept the color pie intact. Plus, only costing one mana made it much more likely that you would be able to take advantage of the color fixing.

World Breaker

ID 12/5/14: New design. Resilient threat for ramp decks.

ID 12/5/14: Ken points out that reach might be good here to block dragons. FFL, let me know.

YS 12/8/14: Cool card, but easy to abuse with looting effects like Monastery Siege. Might want to increase the return cost, which wouldn't make it much weaker in ramp decks.

ID 12/9/14: 1C -> 3C to return.

ID 12/16/14: Now 2C and sacrifice a land to return.

ID 12/17/14: Only exiles opponent's card now.

ID 1/8/15: FFL thinks this may be frustrating when destroying lands. Feel free to suggest tweaks.

ID 3/20/15: Added reach, removed nonbasic land restriction.

TJA 3/24/15: Does this need "an opponent controls"? (How frequently are they either not going to have lands, or have all hexproof lands? What other considerations are there?)

ID 4/4/15: Removed opponent controls.

The purpose of this card was to be resilient, not to be a new Squee, which is why the cost to return it was upped. It moved to only exiling opponents' cards when it only hit nonbasics, because you could sometimes end up being forced to get your own. Once that restriction was removed, so was the "opponent controls" restriction.

Reflector Mage

ID 4/6/15: 2/2 -> 2/3, white-blue needs help.

A big reason that the gold uncommons are in the set is to make sure that there are ways to get people to play each color pair in Limited. It's not the knob we always like to use, but a powerful tool for making sure that the color pairs are balanced is to tweak these gold uncommons late, to get them to the right spot. In this instance white-blue needed a little help, so we added a notch to this to help out.

Bone Saw

[Note: This is a Conflux reprint]

TABAK 4/15/15: BONE SAW IS appear in Standard again.

I'll admit, I had to google that reference, but was happy when I did.

Wastes #1

EEF 6/20/14: This one will have Kozilek-themed art.

DOH 6/24/14: This is cool!

EEF 9/9/14: Moving these to the land slot. Are we supposed to have ten arts? Plains wrecked by Ulamog, plains wrecked by Kozilek, island wrecked by Ulamog, etc.?

DEL 9/12: Confirm that you're expecting every booster to have a Wastes in it? What about the 80-card land pack in the fat pack?

EEF 9/16/14: Yes, every booster, assuming it works well in Limited playtesting. My assumption is that the fat pack would have basic lands from BFZ, but we can certainly discuss this.

EEF 6/13/14: New card. Yeah, we're doing it.

EEF 9/25/14: Ari expressed interest in doing an Ulamog-themed art and a Kozilek-themed art for this. Not sure if we can do some sort of printing-sheet shenanigans or if the Ulamog one just needs to be a promo or something.

The original thought was to use Wastes on the land sheet, but wiser heads prevailed and kept the full-art lands in boosters instead. This meant that there weren't quite enough Wastes in drafts for colorless mana or "Wastes matter" to work, and creative wanted to have one with each of the titans' art on it so...

Wastes #2

[Note: This slot was previously occupied by a Radiant Fountain reprint.]

GSV 10/27/14: While a cool reprint, having this and Unknown Shores at common undercuts the splashy-ness of Wastes to me. This is the first time we've made another basic land—I'd rather let that shine instead of these being better outside of Evolving Wilds. (And maybe put Wastes on the sheet twice or something to make sure we hit enough numbers of them.)

ID 11/10/14: Was Radiant Fountain reprint. Now a second Wastes.

BrH 12/9/14: Is the intent that Wastes will be twice as common as any other common in the set, or the same but with two arts? We can do either.

ID 12/16/14: Twice as common and with different art.

This solution was pretty elegant, when it gets down to it. Gavin was right about too many reprints cutting down the coolness of adding colorless mana to the set, and this let us get what I believe was the best of all worlds.

Meandering River

EEF 8/22/14: Coastal Tower reprint.

SPS 11/2/14: Probably not important now, but I don't think that renaming only a few is right.

DOH 11/18/14: These could be tri-lands that tap for two colors plus colorless.

DH 12/15/14: We still need to have the group conversation about basic land types on these.

ID 1/8/15: Adding basic land types per dev meeting.

ID 1/26/15: Removing basic land types based on further conversation.

AP 1/27/15: Great. I don't want land types or any other frills here. We need to suck it up and print lands we're okay using forever in everything while still giving us maximum future design space.

The goal of these lands is to be something simple that we can print going forward in things like the Deck Builder's Toolkit to allow for budget mana fixing. That meant they needed to both be planar-nonspecific (why Coastal Tower would work, but not Urborg Volcano) and have as few frills as possible. Development wanted basic land types for a while, but further discussion (like not wanting to constantly have dual lands with basic land types in Standard) kept us to the simple version we ended up with today.

Wandering Fumarole

TJA 3/14/15: Ceaseless Searblades, the new Splinter Twin.

ID 3/16/15: Great point, TJA.


Ruins of Oran-Rief

ID 12/1/14: New design from BH, after Oran-Rief, the Vastwood.

ID 2/17/15: Now only puts counters on one target colorless creature.

EVL 2/19/15: Nice. :)

This originally put a +1/+1 counter on each of your colorless creatures, but we found that to be too powerful with Hangarback Walker. Putting it on one was enough to establish it as a card to help out colorless aggro decks without pushing it to being an auto-four-of.

Thought-Knot Seer

GJ 3/23/15: This card looks very appealing, and I'd probably even try it in Commander at this power level.

TJA 3/24/15: The way this ended up shaking out (with the second ability not linked to the first), the first could be a cast trigger.

DEL 5/4/15: 2CC 4/3 -> 3C 4/4

Somewhat late in the process, we ended up buffing a few of the colorless-mana cards to have fewer Cs in their costs, to increase the odds that people would play them in non–dedicated C decks, and to give the mana fixing in Standard more nuance than the fetch land/battle land mana base. We needed people to be able to play them off of a few pain lands, not need to have half of their deck be C lands.

Matter Reshaper

ID 10/8/14: New design from dev team.

DH 10/27/14: Appealing.

GSV 10/27/14: Cool ability, though it feels like it is missing a little something else. I expected this to have a keyword like menace or deathtouch.

SPS 11/2/14: I don't think we'd want this to be a Constructed card. Too swingy.

ID 11/3/14: We can potentially put a CMC restriction, or put this effect on a bigger body. I think there are numbers where this could be fun.

ID 12/3/14: Tweaked design. No longer shuffles itself in and has CMC restriction.

DEL 12/9/14: Confirm that getting a land is okay?

ID 12/9/14: Confirmed.

ID 12/12/14: Now optional to put onto the battlefield.

AP 12/15/14: Love the optional change, for the X-cost creatures.

ID 4/14/15: 1CC -> 2C

Another card that lost some Cs to become more playable in non–dedicated C decks. The original version, while cool, let you get any card after a shuffle. It was incredibly frustrating as a blocker in ramp decks, where you could sometimes just get Atarka'd or Kozilek'd on turn three if you actually had to attack to win. We could have kept the card in the set, but would've had to price it out of Constructed.

Adding the CMC restriction went a long way toward making the card not only powerful and fun, but also fair.

Kozilek, the Great Distortion

EEF 7/8/14: New Kozilek design from Kenny the Nages.

KEN 7/9/14: Not sure if this is "physics" or "biology."

DH 9/3/14: This looks suitably mean for Kozilek. Could easily cost less or do more (12C is rough). Need to be careful with KTK See the Unwritten if we can't put some of the power in a cast trigger.

ID 10/8/14: Many have asked for a cast trigger. Will probably revisit this.

AP 10/27/14: Potential cast triggers: Discard entire hand, Chaos Warp some (any?) number of permanents. Pretty sure the correct final design should not be strong with See the Unwritten

GSV 10/27/14: It continually weirds me out that this doesn't have a cast trigger. I like AP's suggestion of Chaos Warping a bunch of permanents, potentially along with something else small. (A keyword?)

SPS 11/2/14: I dislike this. Doesn't feel epic enough.

YS 11/17/14: I agree that no cast trigger is weird, but this is the sort of effect that I'd actually be willing to pay eleven mana for in Constructed. Or that I'd be interested in See the Unwrittening out over an Atarka. It feels to me like it has the right chance of winning the game immediately.

ID 12/5/14: New design. Was "Whenever an opponent casts a spell from his or her hand, that player exiles it, then exiles cards from the top of his or her library until he or she exiles a nonland card with converted mana cost less than that spell's converted mana cost. That player casts that card without paying its mana cost if able, then puts all other cards exiled this way on the bottom of his or her library in a random order."

BrH 12/9/14: This card was really cool. It might be a little more generous than it needs to be, though.

DEL 12/11/14: Now with "shuffle it back in" ability. (No C reminder text.)

ID 12/11/14: Now draws up to five cards.

GSV 12/15/14: I have been enjoying casting this card in FFL so far. It is weird to me though that this has the anti-shuffle Eldrazi text and Ulamog doesn't. I understand that it needs to not be reanimatable for power reasons—could this be a variant on that which isn't exactly what we did last time to help distance the two and play up the weirdness? (Put Kozilek on the bottom of your library, put Kozilek fifth from the top of your library, shuffle all colorless cards into your library, etc.)

AP 12/15/14: Agree with Gavin about the shuffle clause. See the Unwritten is the primary cheat card (I think), so I would rather weaken the card while on the battlefield than add an anti-reanimation clause.

GSV 12/16/14: "CARDNAME can't enter the battlefield unless it was cast" feels weird enough to be Kozilek and avoids reanimation/See the Unwritten loopholes. (Though reads worse—I know some casual players read the shuffle clause as upside.)

AP 1/12/15: First two abilities are a little disconnected to me. I feel like he should have "cast trigger steal something" if he's going to be about stealing, or at least a mean-feeling cast trigger, not one just beneficial to me.

Bryan 2/10/15: Currently too strong with See the Unwritten.

ID 3/20/15: Now draws up to seven. New second ability.

DEL 5/4/15: 9CC -> 8CC

DEL 5/22/15: Added an evasion ability to overcome token decks.

DEL 5/28/15: "Kozilek can't be blocked by creatures with power 2 or less." -> Trample

DEL 5/29/15: Trample -> Menace (subject to Creative's approval)

Making Eldrazi titans can be pretty hard—they need to be super powerful and splashy, but at the same time still balanced. The ones in Rise of the Eldrazi didn't have that great of an identity, and since we were making this set about Kozilek, we needed to make sure that he felt unique and different. It took a lot of work, both to get it right and to fit it on the card, but the final version is, I think, a great capstone to the Oath of the Gatewatch set.

That's it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the trip into the M-Files. I'll be back next week talking about format-defining cards that you may not have thought of as format-defining.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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