The M-Files: Shadows over Innistrad, Part 1

Posted in Latest Developments on April 8, 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

DH—David Humpherys, Shadows lead developer

Mago—Mark Gottlieb, Shadows lead designer

TJA—Tim Aten, Shadows lead editor

AF—Aaron Forsythe, the big boss man

SPS—Sam Stoddard, that's-a me!

EEF—Ethan Fleisher, designer

BrH—Bryan Hawley, developer

EVL—Erik Lauer, head developer

AP—Adam Prosak, developer

YS—Yoni Skolnik, developer

DOH—Dan Helland, administrator

DB—Doug Beyer, story

MJG—Mark Globus, Product Architect

ID—Ian Duke, developer

DEL—Del Laugel, editor

KEN—Ken Nagle, designer

Devilthorn Fox

DH 1/9: New Vanilla.

SPS 6/24: Tentative flavor text: "Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!"

TJA 7/31: ^ Please don't put that in your M-Files column. :/

Don't tell me what I can't do!

Unruly Mob

DH 5/22: New to file. reprint ISD. stolen from Fears.

SPS 6/24: Too angry for just one set.

This happens from time to time. When working on Eldritch Moon, I was looking for ways to riff on the white-black token theme in Shadows, and I found that Unruly Mob worked really well with all the sacrifice in Shadows. Dave, who was also on the team, was impressed enough that he stole the card. C'est la vie.

Vessel of Ephemera

DH 1/30: Trying fonts

SPS 2/1: Love it.

DH 4/2: This an okay on the board trick?

SPS 4/10: With this cost, I think so

One of the struggles for getting delirium to work in Limited was providing you with enough cards of different types to actually get you to work on diversifying your counts. While the Fonts in Journey into Nyx were not very strong, they had enough interactions in Limited to be interesting. Here, I think we found a spot where the interactions are stronger, so I think we will be seeing them as real staples of Shadows Limited.

Cathar's Companion

DH 2/3: New design for RW deck.

TJA 4/20: This seems really swingy. When it works, it's a gigantic blowout, but most of the time, it's just an inferior CW09. The white common 3-drops feel more distinct than the 2s, but they seem relatively redundant in terms of game impact.

EEF 5/13/15: Board complexity red-flag. The pilot may have trouble remembering this trigger.

DH 5/19: Changed targeting condition to noncreature spell.

SPS 6/24: Wuf muffin!

While this card may have been a red flag for complexity (I will admit to having misunderstood the trigger on more than one occasion—you don't have to actually target it, it turns out), we do have some budget for complex cards at common if they are making the game more fun. So this stuck.

Angelic Purge

Mago 7/9: New.

DH 11/13: Guessing this slot is likely to be our top15 removal card. May be hard to get it there. Probably needs to cost less and/or be an instant. Or this could move to uncommon.

Mago 11/13: The sacrifice is important to the common. Sacrifice is how white gets cards into its graveyard. (U & B have mill, B & R have discard enablers.)

Mago 12/5: This card was the sorcery every white deck would play in Limited. Changing it to instant is why there's now an instant/sorcery imbalance in white common that I wasn't able to solve before handoff.

The strange case of "making a card weaker makes it stronger." Okay, not exactly, but being a sorcery that could put a land into your graveyard was a big deal for the white decks to get delirium. We did try it as an instant for a while, but it took a lot of the fun out of the card when you would sacrifice something in response to a kill spell. It also just felt less white.

Pious Evangel

BrH 1/13: This might be my favorite story in the set. It's a little weird that I'm spending white mana on the activation given that it's the cost to turn the creature black. Would prefer colorless mana.

DH 1/20: Sure I can change activation if that improves story.

While many of the basic stories of the double-faced cards were made in design, they still needed a lot of iteration in development. Even little changes like this—changing from white mana to colorless as a flavor nod—went a long way to getting the final stories to work.

Declaration in Stone

DH 4/7: New design. This might be too much at least in WB decks with Anguished Unmaking. We can weaken or perhaps take off the "all other creatures" part as needed but ideally stick close to this design.

EVL 4/10: I am not sure this is a proper card for mono-white.

DH 4/14: We have Rosewater buyoff on this. It can go to WW if we want it to be weaker, less-generic, etc. Rather not go to 3-mana or an enchantment due to Sorin's card in set and Blood enchantments.

DH 5/7: Trying to give you a clue for each nontoken it hits.

It's always important to get design team buyoff when making cards that look like they may violate the color pie. Maro, for instance, doesn't like Path to Exile effects where the cost isn't real. We ended up letting this go wide because we were having some issues with there being a lot of token generation. It was so strong that we went as far as to make it so that you only get Clues when your nontokens get hit, giving white a way to break through token stalls.

Speaking of which...

Always Watching

GSV 5/7: This feels like it is missing something. The previous line was weird, but a little extra juice like "Your opponent can't make you sacrifice creatures" would help this work at rare to me.

YS 6/22: That last comment of Gavin's makes me think this could be a place to casually put anti sacrifice text. "Whenever an opponent sacrifices a creature, put a 1/1 flying spirit creature token onto the battlefield."

TJA 7/17: Added "nontoken," 3W -> 1WW. Now an adorable counterpart to Intangible Virtue.

DH 7/27: A little weird in context of limited but I like this as far as constructed incentives.

Originally, this enchantment had delirium with an ETB trigger of giving your team indestructible. We ended up not liking that, but we liked a lot of the other things the card did. But, as I mentioned before, we had a lot of tokens running around in Standard, and wanted to give people a reason to play nontoken decks. We reward token decks in Standard probably a bit too much, as a whole. As a result, the nontoken clause on this was added to encourage things like a Human deck that relied on actual creature spells rather than simply flooding the board wide with massive token generation.

Seagraf Skaab

DH 4/9: This is sad now that we did 1/3 prowess in red at common.

SPS 4/10: 1/4! Precedent...

No further comment required.

But seriously, I don't expect us to match up the sizes in Battle for Zendikar again soon. It did some weird color-pie bending on devoid cards that we are very happy to pull back on.

Nagging Thoughts

DH 3/20: Changed to sorcery to help werewolves.

DH 5/28: Wordiest common in set now I believe.

Getting Werewolves to work in Limited is hard. You need a lot of ways to modulate how strong passing your turn is. One way to do that is to give the Werewolves more instants, but we also have to keep there from being too many instant cantrips.

Now, this was before Constructed playtesting, so we might have ended up changing it anyway due to Jace, but Jace never got to play with this as an instant.

Just the Wind

EEF 1/22/14: The Quest to Make Two-Mana Unsummons continues!

AF 6/15: This can't have madness U? Both blue commons having 1U costs AND madness costs feels excessive.

DH 6/22: We've been wanting to swing back some power onto blue madness. We can try here.

One of the things we think about in R&D is the shapes of cards, and how easy it is to identify cards quickly. The art goes a long way, but we don’t know how much of that is going to work at card size—so when we have two madness cards with the same mana costs and madness costs, the chances of them getting mixed up is much higher. Moving Just the Wind to U as a madness cost helped out blue madness (especially in Limited), and helped to reduce the chance of people mixing the cards up in Draft or in their hand.

Erdwal Illuminator

DH 4/30: Updated wording not to multiply. I'd want two of these in play to make one investigate go to 3 clues. Not sure what wording is correct.

DH 5/7: U 1/1 -> 1U 1/3

DH 5/28: Made new trigger due to the XUU card. This could look if you've "investigated'?

DH 5/28: Changed wording due to above card. Could say if you've investigated(?), but I slightly prefer this in case you copy a clue or etc.

DH 6/12: Changed again so it isn't a delayed trigger which seems annoying to remember. Not sure I have correct/best words.

TJA 6/12: May want to try something that says "investigate" rather than spelling out the clue entering the battlefield. Will discuss with editing team.

AF 6/15: The first time you investigate each turn, investigate again.

Erdwal Illuminator is there to mostly be a clue reward for Limited, but when it was straight-up doubling the numbers, it got to looking powerful for Constructed. That didn't last long, though, not even long enough to break out the Ghirapur Æther Grids. Adding one Clue each time did the right stuff for all the formats.

Rise from the Tides

DH 11/11: Is this a card we'd be happy doing stuff in standard? It is a strong reward for doing this that requires specific answers. Cost feels about right.

SPS 11/13: Feels a little like an uncommon to me.

EVL 11/13: It looks like a nice build around worth testing to me.

DH 11/25: Think this is worth moving to uncommon.

Mago 12/2: Moved to uncommon.

EVL 1/8: this did not feel uncommon to me.

DH 1/30: Changed this to Zombies.

The original version of this made 1/1 Spirits, which was not quite splashy enough to be rare, but more than powerful enough—since you often ended up with a very unstoppable clock. Moving it to Zombies helped on both fronts.

Welcome to the Fold

DH 1/19: Moved to control magic variant.

YS 4/29: This may be too powerful on too many levels with ORI Jace. It can shrink 5 power creatures to control them, or madness it. I wonder if the concept can support something else, like some sort of draw spell?

DH 4/30: Changed power check to toughness check to weaken it a little.

Welcome to the Fold was the best card with and against Jace. That was pretty frustrating for mirrors. A slight change went a long way, while keeping it at a very similar power level when Jace wasn't involved.

Sanitarium Skeleton

DB 3/13/2015: I thought we weren't doing regeneration anymore?

DH 3/18: We are until we get a new regeneration effect we can use in black as far as I know. We did in Blood block.

DH 5/26: Spelling out a version of regen for now.

DH 5/27: Changing to indestructible based on some discussion. More words on this card than I'd like.

DH 5/28: Cutting delirium here. Don't think it is worth the words.

AF 6/15: Someone needs to explain to me again why "we" aren't doing regeneration anymore.

DH 6/16: In short, because it encompasses more things than we'd ideally want (tap, removes from combat, remove damage, sets up a shield), not nearly as egregious as Protection but similar in that way.

DH 6/17: Adding in tap to cost per AF and some cardcrafting considerations.

DH 6/22: Changing to get a bad-Squee into the set for discard outlets. I assume this is okay at common, if not I can make rate worse?

Regeneration has been on the chopping block for a while. It's a great name for some ability—just not the one it is on now. After having several meetings about it, design said they were intending to kill the keyword, and would replace it with something. As Shadows went down the line, we didn't get a satisfying keyword replacement, but we did end up finding a good spot for this card.

Stromkirk Mentor

DH 2/2: We were still missing the vampire reward common.

TJA 4/20: I'm not thrilled about playing this even in a Vampire deck; this doesn't really make me want to prioritize Vampires any higher.

DH 4/21: Seems comparable to other common rewards unless they are all too weak or you really don't like 4/2. Curving 3/2 into this has felt worth pursuing to me.

If you look at original Innistrad, the tribal rewards at common aren't all that strong. The goal of these isn't to be Lorwyn-esque in power, but instead to be the tipping point that either gets someone to draft a tribe or rewards someone who has already decided to do so. You shouldn't be forced into it the way you often were in Lorwyn, but it should add a lot of depth to the Draft environment as a whole.

Sinister Concoction

DH 9/16: Five different costs on a common? Is that part of the appeal the "ritual" trope I assume?

Mago 9/26: Yes, that's the card's story. I need a newt, and a bat wing, and a drop of blood, and this ancient book...

MJG 10/23: Seems like the trope works fine at another rarity.

EEF 11/13/14: I like this a lot better at uncommon.

Mago 12/2: It's uncommon.

DH 1/29: Sounds like this might not work great with all of these costs and ordering costs. Any ways to keep flavor and change costs here to help out?

This was one of those cards that I really didn't like through most of design, but I am happy it is in the final file. While it is a bit silly, I think we need some number of cards like this in our sets to add texture. Things for people to really grab onto that are just fun. I'm always happy when designers fight for these kinds of cards, and when they end up making it through the whole process. As a dev lead, it can be frustrating to deal with these, since you are often trying to get things right for Limited and Constructed, and cards like this often need a very specific list of things to stay close to the trope. Hard work, but worth it.


DH 4/29: Cutting a mana because I assume I can with no regrets.

Famous last words. (Now I hope this inclusion doesn't come back to bite me!)

Mindwrack Demon

KEN 9/23/2014: Love it, but I designed it. Also, I'm happy Demons can backfire.

DH 2/20: Changed to mill 4 instead of 5.

DH 5/22: Added trample.

A pretty early delirium card design, it did a great job of selling many of the fun things the mechanic could do. As a Constructed card, it went a long way to making something that could act as both an enabler and a reward.

Behold the Beyond

BrH 1/14: Part of me wants this to cost 3BBB and be actually 3 Demonic Tutors stapled together.

EEF 1/22/14: I don't understand how this card increases fun in Magic.

DOH 3/6/15: Top down evil. It's not supposed to be fun.

Del 5/21: ^ makes me smile every time I read through the set

What else really needs to be said? If you aren't going to do top-down evil in Innistrad, where can you do it?

Well, I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. I'll be back next week with red, green, gold, and colorless cards from Shadows over Innistrad.

Until next week,

Sam (@samstod)

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