M-Files, Part One

Posted in Latest Developments on September 25, 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:

EVL—Erik Lauer, the set's lead developer

MR—Mark Rosewater, the set's lead designer

SPS—That's a-me! Magic developer

MJJ—Mons Johnson, Duelmasters developer and Magic playtester

BrH—Bryan Hawley, Magic developer

KEN—Ken Nagle, Magic designer

YS—Yoni Skolnik, Magic developer

DE—Dan Emmons, former Magic designer

TML—Tom Lapille, former Magic developer

DEL—Del Laugel, Magic editor

TJA—Tim Aten, Magic editor

AF—Aaron Forsythe, the big boss man

AP—Adam Prosak, Magic developer

ID—Ian Duke, Magic developer

DH—David Humpherys, development manager

JL—Jackie Lee, Magic designer

SM—Shawn Main, Magic designer

Mago—Mark Gottlieb, Magic designer

KD—Kelly Digges, Magic creative designer  

With that out of the way, let's get to the cards:

EVL 5/27/2014: How about a mana dork?

KEN 6/16/2014: Vigilance?

DH 7/7/2014: Could alternatively have the attack trigger, your next spell costs 1 less, like the DTK red common.

SPS 8/19/2014: the cutest.

EVL 10/1/2014: Six mana 5/6 -> five mana 4/5

TJA 2/15/2015: 4/5 tap for one -> 4/4 tap for two

This card started off its life with some attempts to create some texture within the Eldrazi of the set by giving them some character. In this case, ElfDrazi was created to show that within the ranks of the Eldrazi, even their mana-Elf costs six mana. Over time, it decreased in cost and even added more mana (to help you cast the big Eldrazi), but it retained its purpose.

EVL 10/18/2014: We might need another fat common, now that the mana-Eldrazi is only a 4/5.

SPS 10/28/2014: Accurate description is accurate.

True story.

MR 5/20/2014: creature -> colored permanent.

EVL 6/10/2014: permanent.

AP 8/5/2014: I'm a big fan of this card, would like to see this stay exactly as-is.

SPS 8/19/2014: This card still weirds me out, but I may be the only one. Or maybe that's the point. Eldrazi are weird.

TJA 8/30/2014: Does this need "creature"?

EVL 9/11/2014: Additional text to tie in with Ulamog.

KEN 9/24/2014: Sweet evolution of cast triggers.

EVL 10/1/2014: Cut a mana and a cast trigger.

KEN 10/8/2014: Move over, Desert Twister!

ID 10/16/2014: I've seen this getting picked 1st-3rd lately. Perhaps it should go back to 7.

EVL 10/18/2014: Okay, back to 7. Trying instant.

SPS 10/28/2014: Much happier at 7. 6 was too close to the power level of black removal spells.

Scour from Existence highlights some of the challenges of making spells that are truly colorless. One of the most important things that Magic has is the color pie, and colorless spells have a habit of getting around the color pie because there technically isn't anything colorless can't do. The trick to keeping the color pie working—on a technical level as well as on a practical level—is making sure that the colors are significantly better than colorless at doing most things. For this card, that meant making it expensive enough that it wasn't one of the strongest removal spells at common. By doing so, we keep the weaknesses and strengths of the colors in a better place for gameplay.

EVL 9/11/2014: New, from Ian's team.

TML 9/16/2014: I enjoyed this kind of stuff in design.

KEN 9/26/2014: Nice with the Eldrazi X/X.

DH 9/30/2014: Can this only lock out opponents? I'd like to cast my leader, Ulamog.

EVL 10/22/2014: Okay, opponents.

SPS 10/28/2014: This feels like the right kind of mythic rare for BFZ. Not really comparable to the first titans, but feels board-altering.

KEN 11/5/2014: The first ability is upside, but the second one has downside?

EVL 11/5/2014: Okay, opponents.

One of the challenges of coming back to Zendikar was living up to the Eldrazi from Rise of the Eldrazi. Well, those cards were set up to be the absolute strongest possible creatures we could print, so we were just not going to get much of anywhere by straight power-creeping on the big three. Instead, we needed to find ways for them to be different and still fun. For the smaller Eldrazi, we wanted to give more opportunities for them to shine in specific situations. In this case, Void Winnower is a huge creature that locks off a substantial portion of the opponent's deck. There are still things they can do to interact with you, but their options are very limited.

EVL 9/11/2014: New Ulamog from Ian's team.

TML 9/16/2014: This is nice.

KEN 9/24/2014: I'm building a Magic Duels boss fight specifically around this card.

BrH 9/30/2014: After playing with this card, I'm finding it pretty appealing.

EVL 10/29/2014: Ben suggests exiling 20 each attack; let's try it!

BrH 10/30/2014: Om nom nom.

MJJ 10/31/2014: I like it!

EVL 11/20/2014: Exiles two permanents.

BrH 12/9/2014: Feels like an appropriate reward for ramping past Dragons.

AP 12/15/2014: I would like for this to only exile fifteen cards, so that three attacks are needed for a kill, as opposed to two.

EVL 1/7/2015: As Adam suggested, fifteen cards instead of 20.

TJA 2/16/2015: Back to 20.

The goal behind Ulamog was to create a creature that encouraged you to ramp past Dragons. It was hard for Dragonlord Atarka to get one-upped, but the goal of Ulamog was to give you something that dealt with very different kinds of threats when you cast it, and provided a different kind of reward if you cheated it into play with a card like See the Unwritten.

EVL 5/29/2014: New!

AP 8/5/2014: Awesome!

SPS 8/19/2014: I like how clean this is.

MJJ 8/21/2014: A card this clean might want to be a non-Eldrazi for future reprint consideration.

BrH 11/3/2014: Is it worth saying "X can't be zero," so people don't use this to trigger Liliana, Heretical Healer and so on?

KEN 11/10/2014: Could have "X can't be even." to be a weirder version of "X can't be 0."

YS 11/18/2014: For what it's worth, even if this couldn't trigger Liliana, there would still be Hangarback Walker to do that.

With all of the complicated Eldrazi in the set, it was nice to have one that was simple and clean.

MR 4/15/2014: New card.

MR 5/07/2014: Was Reprimand, 2W, Instant, "Exile target attacking creature." Now Righteous Blow.

EVL 8/22/2014: Now 4 damage for two mana.

EVL 10/23/2014: 4 damage -> 3 damage

EVL 11/3/2014: 3 damage -> 4 damage

Hata 11/5/2014: Life is circular.

Getting Limited right means a lot of switching numbers around. Gideon's Reproach is an example of a card that underwent a lot of tweaking when we needed to balance the white cards for Limited.

EVL 5/30/2014: The previous version was frustrating, in that it was an instant, but you couldn't use it in time to block.

EVL 7/3/2014: We moved instants to animus 2, so we moved this to animus up to 3, and adjusted the cost to 5W.

EVL 7/22/2014: White's removal suite was too strong, so the animus was upped to 6W.

TJA 1/15/2015: Reverting awaken to being a keyword. Killing modify.

TJA 2/2/2015: Awaken 6W -> 5W

Getting awaken (called "animus" at the time) right for Limited meant making sure that the common instants topped out at awaken 2, to keep them from being easy two-for-ones. We ended up moving this to sorcery so that it could have a higher awaken number, which needed some number tweaking by the end of the set's development.

DE 4/22/2014: New Card, from mini team

AF 5/2/2014: "A Gideon creature" doesn't mean what I want it to mean, which is "creatures made by Gideon."

TML 5/14/2014: "A Gideon"? Do we actually give planeswalkers-turned-creatures creature types?

TJA 6/5/2014: No, there's no such thing as a "Gideon creature."

EVL 7/3/2014: Abilities tweaked. The second ability was super flavorful, but too slow.

EVL 8/16/2014: Powered down so it could be a four-drop. Also, new ultimate.

SPS 8/19/2014: These numbers feel wrong. The emblem alone seems like it costs more than four mana. Maybe six?

BrH 8/20/2014: Agree with Sam; also the 0 seems really strong for a four-mana monocolored planeswalker.

EVL 9/26/2014: New ultimate.

BrH 11/24/2014: The modes on this card are very satisfying.

JL 11/30/2014: Instant-ultimate is fascinating.

TJA 2/4/2015: Confirming no indestructible when Gideon is animated. (Original Gideon Jura didn't become indestructible, but GTC Gideon and ORI Gideon both do.)

TJA 2/16/2015: Now indestructible when animated.

Getting Gideon right was difficult, but well worth the effort when everything was said and done. We haven't gone much into the space of planeswalkers who can ultimate as soon as they hit the battlefield, and it ended up leaving there being a few awkward parts in the gameplay—but I think you all will enjoy playing with Gideon quite a bit.

EVL 9/12/2014: New

TML 9/16/2014: Whoa.

DH 9/30/2014: This is very appealing. The X gets around crazy mirror stuff too, when these come back.

EVL 11/14/2014: XXWW to XXXW

BrH 11/24/2014: I don't think this incarnation is very close to hitting Constructed.

JL 11/30/2014: Hitting two permanents is hard, three feels impossible. So why is it "X" and not fixed? Splashability also seems odd.

EVL 1/15/2015: Trying XXWW again

Finding mythic rares that are both appealing and simple is difficult, but I think Quarantine Field does a wonderful job of hitting both of those goals.

EVL 7/3/2014: New!

SM 7/8/2014: Might be cooler if it said "Destroy all nonland creatures."

EVL 7/17/2014: Okay

Mago 7/30/2014: New animus template.

TML 9/16/2014: Hilarious line of text.

In our move to making unconditional wraths cost five mana, we wanted to open up the field so that people would have options to differentiate which of the wraths they wanted to run. The question on whether to run Planar Outburst or End Hostilities largely comes down to which of the riders on the cards you can get the most benefit out of in your deck.

EVL 7/31/2014: Target creature.

BrH 8/20/2014: I missed you, Æthersnipe!

Who doesn't love an Æthersnipe?

EVL 7/16/2014: Now a reprint.

EVL 7/25/2014: Now a more useful reprint.

TML 9/16/2014: . . . and loses flying :(

KD 9/26/2014: Creative would be fine with a functional reprint with a less mechanically problematic name.

EVL 9/30/2014: Now loses flying.

This started off as Pin to the Earth, but we decided to take the opportunity that we missed with that card and add "loses flying."


EVL 6/21/2014: New card

MJJ 8/21/2014: This looks stronger than we normally allow in instant card draw.

EVL 8/27/2014: Instant -> Sorcery

Getting Standard right means leaving open a lot of options for which spells to play. We wanted Ugin's Insight to be a strong card that you would run in some control decks at some numbers, but not be so powerful that you would not have any other options for cards to run. I think we hit a nice spot where it provides a huge bonus in control decks when they have a planeswalker in play, while at the same time leaving room for some counterplay and an opening if it's played early in the game.

DE 11/25/13/2014: New Card

KEN 5/8/2014: This is like a blue Lotus Cobra? You can get two additional mana from your Polluted Delta?

EVL 6/6/2014: Second ability buffed.

TJA 6/16/2014: Does the second ability let you look at two cards?

KEN 9/3/2014: Worried this is blue mana ramp.

EVL 9/3/2014: Permanent -> Creature

EVL 11/13/2014: Cut a mana. No longer taps creatures.

TJA 2/2/2015: Untap -> Tap or untap; 1U -> 2U

Another minor distinction in color pie, but while blue can tap or untap lands, the total package here ended up being way too much like Lotus Cobra. And when blue untapping lands ends up producing mana, it starts to break color pie.

EVL 9/30/2014: 1B Sorcery

EVL 10/2/2014: Instant

EVL 11/21/2014: Power bonus to +2, replacing ingest and cantrip.

EVL 12/6/2014: Now the bonus is a team bonus, while colorless creatures gain deathtouch. The set was too "siloed."

AP 12/15/2014: I don't think deathtouch is the appropriate bonus for a card that already increases the power of your creatures.

TJA 2/2/2015: deathtouch -> first strike

A huge risk of making a set with two sides like Battle for Zendikar is that the cards for each don't really fit in the other decks, leading to things being very siloed. You and the person drafting next to you could be sharing two colors, but if you're in different sides, you would hardly notice. It's much better to require some overlap and have cards that are functional in both but give a bonus for one side or the other, like Swarm Surge. Yes, you want to maximize your colorless creatures, but you aren't punished for including some black Vampires in your deck.

DE 3/5/2014: New Card

DE 3/10/2014: Updated version from development

AF 5/2/2014: I always knew the problem with Drana was that she cost too much.

MR 5/22/2014: Now grants haste all the time. 4/4 -> 3/3.

ID 6/4/2014: I liked the original 10-or-less-life conditional haste. Anyway, I feel this should be Constructed and should enable a Vampire deck.

TJA 6/5/2014: Should this have native haste and grant other Vampires haste?

KEN 6/18/2014: Necropolis Regent-lite.

EVL 9/8/2014: 4/3

EVL 9/11/2014: Some changed based on ideas from Kelly's team.

EVL 9/26/2014: New design, and WB.

EVL 11/14/2014: New design

EVL 11/18/2014: Power to 2, lifelink removed, slith ability added.

EVL 11/19/2014: Now mono-black.

KD 12/11/2014: Now an Ally, with Erik's blessing.

TJA 1/7/2015: No longer a Shaman. Other type line oddities persist for now for playtesting purposes.

EVL 1/15/2015: Removed first strike, pumps the whole team.

TJA 2/5/2015: 2/2 -> 2/3

TJA 2/19/2015: 2/3 -> 2/2, but gains first strike

TJA 2/25/2015: Back to 2/3, but only puts +1/+1 counters on attacking creatures you control.

Drana was a powerful card in Rise of the Eldrazi, but wasn't very fun. When revisiting her character, we wanted to make her more of a leader for the good Vampires and less of an unbeatable flying bomb by herself.

DE 4/22/2014: New Card, from mini team

AF 5/2/2014: Pretty sweet.

KD 7/17/2014: According to the new planeswalker plan, Ob should be mono-black.

EVL 7/17/2014: CQI to make a mono-black version.

ID 7/24/2014: Our original mono-black version just had "+1: Creatures your opponents control get -1/-1 until end of turn. Each opponent loses 1 life."

EVL 8/16/2014: New design. The ultimate reflects his desire to destroy Zendikar, but can black do that?

KD 8/24/2014: Not sure. But I love how closely this design adheres to his character and story.

TML 9/16/2014: This card works for me.

EVL 9/26/2014: From five mana to four, with slightly weaker numbers otherwise.

BrH 9/29/2014: Strong design. Worth noting that we now have three four-drop planeswalkers in the set.

EVL 9/30/2014: 4 starting loyalty.

EVL 10/1/2014: -7 to ultimate.

EVL 11/14/2014: Now a 3BB version

EVL 11/25/2014: 5 loyalty, and a different ultimate.

EVL 12/3/2014: Tweaked middle ability. This card needed a debuff, and the life gain felt too much like Sorin.

EVL 12/3/2014: 2BBB, but no life loss on the murder.

BrH 1/7/2015: 2BBB is really difficult for a lot of the three-color decks, and this isn't enough to make me play less than three. Is this too strong at 3BB?

EVL 1/8/2015: Ultimate to -8 and 3BB to cast.

EVL 1/15/2015: New ultimate at -6.

TJA 2/11/2015: Ultimate up to -7.

TJA 2/19/2015: Ultimate -7 -> -8; loses 1 life -> loses 2 life

The challenge with Ob Nixilis was not just getting the card to be on the right level strength-wise, but also to make sure that his character felt like him—and not like Liliana or Sorin. Once we had a version we more or less liked, it was about finding the right numbers. The other challenge with Ob was getting his loyalty to a point where he was killable when he +1'd on his first turn, but the ultimate wasn't impossible to hit when you minused him once.

DE 10/2/2013: New Card

AF 5/2/2014: Something that doesn't exile!

EVL 11/18/2014: Awaken cost from 4BB to 5BB.

MJJ 1/7/2015: "Sudden Collapse" doesn't sound like a sorcery . . .

The creative and editing teams agreed with Mons! So "Sudden Collapse" became Ruinous Path.

That's it for this week. Join me next week when I come back with more tales from the M-files.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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