M-Files: Original Zendikar Block

Posted in Latest Developments on November 20, 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 the Multiverse is our internal database, used to track Magic cards already printed, early in design, and everything in between. Today, we are taking a look at the original Zendikar block, and getting an idea of what people in Magic R&D were thinking when those sets were being designed and developed—with a little commentary and a few years of hindsight.

But first, our cast of characters:

MR—Mark Rosewater

KEN—Ken Nagle

TML—Tom LaPille

DEL—Del Laugel

AF—Aaron Forsythe

GM—Greg Marques

JS—Jay Schneider

SJ—Scott Johns

HS—Henry Stern

MT—Mike Turian

AJ—Alexis Janson

DB—Doug Beyer

LS—Lee Sharpe

GTH—Graeme Hopkins

SW—Steve Warner

KD—Kelly Digges

BT—Brian Tinsman

MP—Matt Place

MJG—Mark Globus

CBD—Brady Dommermuth

MJ—Mons Johnson


Day of Judgment

MR 1/14/2009: Four-mana mass creature removal in white—can we do this?

KEN 1/14/2009: Mossbridge Troll goes RAWR!

TML 1/16/2009: hehe @ MR

Such Rosewaters. This was, of course, right after the decision to remove Wrath of God and replace it with its very similar cousin, Day of Judgment (which is the same minus the regeneration clause). While we have now moved away from unconditional four-mana Wraths in Standard, we had not yet at that time.

Kazandu Blademaster

Originally, the text was:

First strike, vigilance

Whenever an Ally creature enters the battlefield under your control, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.


KEN 1/12/2009: Unfortunately you "discover" that he starts at 2/2 when someone else tells you to read it closely.

AF 1/25/2009: Hoping to address that with a clearer template. Dev keeps this guy as-is even though he is an awkward fit in the all-Ally deck.

DEL 2/5/2009: Done.

DEL 2/13/2009: Well, except that I think this particular subset of cards should start bigger and only trigger off other guys.

This is the kind of thing we still struggle with a bit in Magic R&D—the best way to write out cards to make them both exciting and clear. The first version of this was more concise, but players had to be told that the Blademaster gave itself a counter. This is certainly a case where the extra words are well worth it to make sure people know what the card does and why it is cool.

Quest for the Holy Relic

AF 12/8/2008: Now puts the Equipment into play attached to something.

KEN 12/10/2008: Interestingly, everyone wants this to do what Godo does (auto-attach).

AF 1/26/2009: Was 1W. Go quests!

JS 2/10/2009: Seems balanced but has all the issues of Equipment. If you want to push the card, change it from "cast a creature spell" to "a creature comes into play under your control" to support token generators.

DEL 2/23/2009: Now takes five counters rather than three.

Considering how much play the Quest for the Holy Relic deck saw in Mirrodin Standard even with the five counters, three would have been pretty crazy. Obviously, when this card was being worked on, nobody would've known about Argentum Armor, but what's more important is that this would have kept us from making strong Equipment like that in Mirrodin block. It was a change that made this card less exciting, done for the betterment of Magic as a whole.

Kraken Hatchling

AF 12/5/2008: Trying as a one-drop.

KEN 12/10/2008: Poor little tulip! (Conflux's Valiant Guard W 0/3)

AF 1/4/2009: Yes, now all the Valiant Guard players will have to add blue to their decks for this guy.

There is power creep, and then there is power creep.

Mindbreak Trap

TML 1/12/2009: This is going to do great work for us in so many ways.

AF 1/25/2009: This card is not "beautiful," but I believe this is the best way to execute on our goal of an Eternal-format bomb.

TML 1/29/2009: I want the Time Stop version now. I thought it got approved by the team?

AF 2/1/2009: Time has now stopped.

KEN 2/6/2009: Is this unfair at 3UUU? I don't know what constitutes Eternal-viable, but I don't want us to barely whiff.

MJG 2/9/2009: While Time Stop is cool, the 5UU isn't. I am no longer as sure that this is better than Voidslime due to 5UU.

DEL 3/4/2009: New ability and mana cost. Was "End the turn" and 5UU.

KEN 3/16/2009: After playing with this, I'm scared we are going to barely whiff on Spike because this card can't protect your threats against counters like Cancel can, even during a Force of Will-fueled counter war. There's strange gameplay if say you cast Tidings, in response I Path to Exile your Keiga, the Tide Star this counter will counter both Path like you want and counter your own Tidings, which you don't want.

DEL 3/17/2009: New ability. Was "Exile all other spells."

The goal for this card was to create something for Eternal formats that would be interesting and powerful—and the trap cost here really helped out to find something that happens in those formats, but not Standard a lot. Time Stop was probably cooler, but needing such a high mana cost for it almost makes it into a card that doesn't even have a mana cost—because you will almost never be able to cast it.

Cosi's Trickster

MR 1/14/2009: This and Archive Trap both punish an opponent for shuffling.

TML 1/29/2009: EVL rejoices!

Erik is one of many people in R&D who would have a little less shuffling in the game if he had the option. And this was before Dave Humpherys started, who is even more ardently against shuffling.

Scalding Tarn

HS 10/3/2008: New hotness

Perhaps an understatement, in hindsight.

Punishing Fire

AF 1/16/2009: Was deal damage = counters/tokens. Team didn't like it, wanted something better. Kind of a stretch for the concept.

TML 1/16/2009: I hate "if CARDNAME is in your graveyard when something kinda rare happens" triggers. They are so easy to forget, and therefore they cause sadness a lot while adding less to gameplay than they should.

Turns out, it is easier to remember this trigger when it's your Grove of the Burnwillows giving opponents life.


Tectonic Edge

KEN 5/22/2009: My plan is to recur this with Life from the Loam, eventually getting all four of these out then popping them at the same time!

Ken Nagle, griefer extraordinaire.

Amulet of Vigor

MT 2/26/2009: Now one mana.

SJ 3/23/2009: Every time I see this, I want to build fun new decks. I hope this turns out to be fair to print at this cost.

KD 3/23/2009: I worry that this is counterintuitive in multiples.

TML 3/25/2009: It could be a LEGENDARY amulet!

KEN 4/1/2009: This is a Johnny bad rare. Johnny knows how the game works and how weird cards interact better than bad Spikes do.

AJ 5/06/2009: I still hate this card with a passion. I noticed I never actually commented in MV, so I figured I should. Build around me with Spikey incremental advantage when your hoops work out seems like the worst of all worlds. The potential payoff doesn't match the effort. This might just be worse than Twiddle.

KEN 5/14/2009: This card was a star in the first rare poll—polarizing love/hate at a glance. This card is very loudly in a perfect Johnny spot.

AF 5/22/2009: I love this card. Now we can make haste guys that ETB tapped. Oh wait, that's a land in this set already.

The record of bad Johnny rares that end up being incredibly powerful in Eternal formats is pretty good. When we make rare polls, we understand that Johnny rares are often very polarizing—they do poorly in the averages, but often have a lot of votes of ten. We try to keep some of those cards around, because of how happy they make their target audience.

Quest for Ula's Temple

MT 4/16/2009: Was "Whenever a card is put into an opponent's graveyard from his or her library, you may put a quest counter on CARDNAME.

Remove ten quest counters from CARDNAME and sacrifice it: Each opponent puts the top ten cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard." New.

DB 4/17/2009: +Fish?

MT 4/20/2009: Is there a Fish in the set? I only found Jellyfish.

MT 4/22/2009: Fish is in!

MT 4/22/2009: Lots of creature types are out. Still have four. Will probably go down to three.

KEN 4/23/2009: Yay Denizen of the Deep! Though, requires saturated blue creature deck for reward of threshold one-per-turn for giant squid in hand that barely stacks. Including Merfolk made more sense because, Merfolk can get 30/60 creature slots. Can the Squid enter the battlefield with three +1/+1 counters too? Feels like Æther Vial helps Krakens more than this does.

KD 4/30/2009: This is a bizarre, narrow rare in a set that already has too many of those.

LS 4/23/2009: First ability really wants to be optional (and probably two sentences).

MT 5/20/2009: Optional.

KEN 5/19/2009: I like putting more subtypes back on this, especially Merfolk, since there's a couple new Merfolk tribal cards for the kids.

MT 5/20/2009: Made cheaper to cast! Creatures of the sea rejoice!

AF 5/22/2009: Enjoyable.

KEN 7/6/2009: I built a deck with this and Grozoth. I'm pretty sure the quest needs to be three counters for fun's sake; when I finally find it on turn five, I wish it were an Island.

We in Magic R&D love our creature-type one-upmanship.

Rise of the Eldrazi

Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre

CBD 4/29/2009: Assuming all three mythic rare titans are legendary; added legendary here.

GM 6/8/2009: Got +1/+1

GTH 6/10/2009: You can still Makeshift Mannequin these guys in response to the trigger?

MP 6/11/2009: Yes.

MP 6/11/2009: Cost down by one.

Magic forum poster 6/15/2009: "Path."

GM 6/15/2009: to address GTH—we could say "if CARDNAME would be put into graveyard, instead shuffle it and your graveyard into your library"

DEL 6/10/2009: Does "you" actually work in the last ability? That's an area of the rules that confuses me.

DEL 6/10/2009: How bad would it be to go with a state trigger?

"When CARDNAME is in a player's graveyard, that player shuffles his or her graveyard into his or her library." Eh, wordy.

MP 8/3/2009: I want this to be a triggered ability so that you can respond. It is odd to have one of these guys be milled and then before you or your opponent can react, your graveyard is shuffled in.

MP 8/3/2009: Annihilator from 3 to 4.

BT 8/4/2009: Remember to change all the annihilator reminder text too.

KEN 9/23/2009: Holy crap! The Quest for Ula's Temple can now summon its namesake, Ulamog! (Brady told me that "Ula" is short for "Ulamog.")

Funny story: There was a period where people wanted to make the Eldrazi titans have the subtype Leviathan, so they would work with Quest for Ula's Temple. Flavor win, for sure, but one that we felt uncomfortable with, since we wanted to make the Eldrazi as awesome as possible without worrying about a card in a set we could no longer change, making us have restraint. If you read the original Eldrazi titans, you can tell we had very little restraint with them.

Kozilek, Butcher of Truth

BT 1/12/2009: We want a vertical thematic cycle under each mythic rare Eldrazi to help raise awareness, like Rith's Charm, Grove, etc. did. Timedrazi's are in red.

MP 3/24/2009: Changing from "restart the turn" to "take an extra turn". They play 94% the same.

MP 4/27/2009: What do people think of this?

BT 5/18/2009: How about enters-the-battlefield draw? Kinda sad that I have to wait for it to die to get my reward. It is a mythic rare eleven-drop, after all.

GM 5/19/2009: But this way you can shuffle him in first and then maybe draw him again!

GM 6/8/2009: 8/9 to 12/12, annihilator +1

MP 6/11/2009: Cost down by one.

MP 8/3/2009: Now draws only four, but draws them when you cast instead of when dies.

MP 8/5/2009: Now cannot be countered.

MP 8/10/2009: New version of card draw.

MP 8/10/2009: Tom makes a good point about this reading like a Duel Masters card.

MJG 8/10/2009: I don't see the gain in the reveal game instead of card draw. There is already tons going on here—why does it need to be more complex?

MP 6/1/2009: Del, hoping we can leave the two triggered non-annihilator abilities in this order, so that players know they can stack them favorably.

DEL 7/13/2009: By favorably, do you mean that the player gets to choose the order? If there's one version that's strictly better, then we could try to make the card do that.

MP 8/3/2009: Changed ability, so no longer an issue.

DEL 8/18/2009: I wonder what the order of the first two abilities should be.

TML 8/31/2009: I prefer "CARDNAME can't be countered" first, but I don't know why.

DEL 9/8/2009: I like that, too. Going with that order for now.

MP 8/10/2009: Back to just draw four.

DEL 9/14/2009: No longer uncounterable.

Restarting the turn is a fascinating ability, but it's pretty confusing. If you restart the turn, how is Kozilek even in play? The card changed, the extra turn was moved to Emrakul, and drawing cards was put in here.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

MP 3/17/2009: Rosewater mentions this could be the biggest annihilator number, but doesn't need to skip any numbers. So 4 instead of 6?

MJG 3/17/2009: Restart the turn and haste feel too close to each other. I'd prefer the mythic rare Eldrazi to feel more different.

GM 3/18/2009: Agree with MP and MJG.

BT 3/20/2009: Haste was there so he could have an immediate board impact, as a fourteen-drop should. How about enters-the-battlefield annihilate?

KEN 3/24/2009: Haste is shorter. Also, this guy reads like the most idiotic reanimator target ever, Sundering Titan's granddaddy.

TML 3/24/2009: This is kind of insane. Should it be "...if you cast it from your hand..."?

MP 3/31/2009: This set should have the biggest, most expensive creature of all time, and here it is.

GM 4/13/2009: "When CARDNAME goes to your graveyard from anywhere, shuffle your graveyard into your library." Please.

KEN 4/13/2009: Why flying? Have we printed too many deathtouch ground dudes recently? Annihilator 5 should solve all breakthrough problems.

DB 4/14/2009: I believe creative requested that one be a flyer. Tons of "hovering" in the artists' Eldrazi concepts.

DEL 4/20/2009: Note that this card could still be reanimated at instant speed. Is that okay, or do you want Darksteel Colossus's replacement effect?

MP 6/1/2009: Lost haste, too dumb.

BT 6/3/2009: The most expensive creature ever, ever, ever SHOULD be dumb, right?

DB 6/4/2009: Agree. This should blow you away even after you've seen Akroma.

KEN 6/15/2009: We need to get this guy correct, Progenitus is correct. Try cast trigger Time Walk?

KEN 6/26/2009: I'm convinced we can't print this guy where he's owned by Path to Exile and Oblivion Ring, the most-played SPELLS period in the casual room. He needs something like "When you cast CARDNAME, opponents can't cast spells until it's their turn again. Take another turn after this one."

DEL 7/13/2009: Templated. Text fits, but check with me before you add anything else!

AF 7/14/2009: This must be a Duel Masters card.

MP 8/3/2009: Annihilator upped from 5 to 6.

MP 8/5/2009: Added "protection from spells of all colors."

GM 8/10/2009: The cost jump is jarring... Why do we go from thirteen to seventeen cost? Just to have the "highest cost ever"? That no longer feels worth it to me. We should either lower this guy's cost or get a few more of them up into the fourteen to fifteen cost range.

MP 8/13/2009: Cost from seventeen to fifteen.

KEN 8/27/2009: Why annihilator 6 over the more aesthetically-pleasing annihilator 5? Five is still more than other Eldrazi.

As I mentioned, the Eldrazi titans were over the top. And Emrakul is the height of that. These are the kinds of cards that the design and development team spend a ton of time on—they are meant to be awesome, but we needed to get them just right.

Eldrazi Conscription

GM 6/8/2009: Replaced with an Aura version. Yes, annihilator does stack.

MJ 6/11/2009: Amusing with Sovereigns of Lost Alara.

TML 6/29/2009: Weird nonbo with that. Heh.

If by nonbo, you mean +10/+10, trample, and annihilator 2, that is pretty accurate.


MP 4/17/2009: Was "CARDNAME enters the battlefield with a root counter. At the beginning of your upkeep put a root counter on CARDNAME. CARDNAME's power and toughness are equal to the number of root counters on it squared."

Oh, what could have been!

But seriously, there is a limit to the amount of math we want in the game, and that was too much. I have to say, the card we ended up with is pretty sweet.

Khalni Hydra

MP 6/11/2009: P/T dropped by 2 each.


KEN 6/24/2009: Could be named "Octohydron." Wordplay on octogon, hydra, and hedron.

AF 7/15/2009: He has "G-ffinity for greens."

That's it for this week. I'm off next week for Thanksgiving, but I will be back on December 4 to talk a bit about the changes in Oath of the Gatewatch that we made to improve the Oath of the Gatewatch-Oath of the Gatewatch-Battle for Zendikar Draft format.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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