The M-Files: Shadows over Innistrad, Part 2

Posted in Latest Developments on April 15, 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, Shadow's lead editor

AF—Aaron Forsythe, the big boss man

SPS—Sam Stoddard, that's-a me!

EEFEthan Fleisher, designer

BrH—Bryan Hawley, developer

EVL—Erik Lauer, head developer

YS—Yoni Skolnik, developer

DOH—Dan Helland, administrator

DB—Doug Beyer, story

ID—Ian Duke, developer

KEN—Ken Nagle, designer

TABAK—Matt Tabak, rules manager

MJJ—Mons Johnson, Duel Masters developer

With that, it's off to the cards:

Pyre Hound

DH 2/13/2015: Permanent Prowess of sorts. For blue-red deck. Just gave it straight-up trample.

TJA 4/20/2015: Would this be too strong at four mana (with appropriate stats)? I'd kind of like to move either this or the Werewolf out of the dreaded five-mana slot.

DH 5/28/2015: I'll think about it. Not sure which four-drop to move up (the vanilla makes this hard, can't easily move it unless another card becomes the vanilla). Would this be a 3R 3/3 trample?

TJA 6/2/2015: I could see 3/2, 2/3, or even 2/2. The dream is to have it in a deck where you can easily untap and pump it twice the next turn.

DH 6/3/2015: Cut one mana and 2 power.

Getting spells-matter to be the blue-red archetype in Shadows over Innistrad meant finding new and interesting cards that would make that work. At five mana, Pyre Hound was larger and required fewer instants or sorceries to turn it into a beast. But, it also didn't make the deck much stronger. Moving it down on the curve made it less powerful in a generic deck, and more powerful in the deck it was intended for.

Fiery Temper

DH 3/4/2015: No longer a reprint.

DB 3/10/2015: Was called [Not Fiery Temper].

TJA 7/17/2015: Was 1R, madness R Shock. Turning into Fiery Temper. If it ends up staying the same, the name will change as well (unless you want people to be able to play eight, of course.)

This card started off in the file, but kept moving in and out, because we were not sure if we wanted to put a lot of madness's power here. Ultimately, the lack of Lightning Strike in the format meant that this was the exact kind of card that was needed. I would personally rather get more cards like this than the less generic burn spells like Lightning Strike, but there will surely be a mix of them in the future.

Ravenous Bloodseeker

DH 3/4/2015: Desire to try something in the Aquamoeba or Mongrel space. Trying this for now. Can we do -N/+N in red still? Would we want to here? Rather not do power/toughness switching if possible.

TABAK 6/24/2015: It's possible just to dump your whole hand to this for free. Cool?

DH 7/1/2015: Cool

The resemblance to Aquamoeba is more than coincidental. With an Arrogant Wurm–style card in the format, we knew we wanted something like this to make madness work.

Village Messenger

DH 12/11/2014: Now with haste

SPS 4/10/2015: This feels like too much of a blank. If it was doing good work in Standard, I'd understand, but it reads like a feel-bad to me.

DH 4/10/2015: Is there something small for the reverse side (or this side)?

DH 4/10/2015: Adding menace

This started off going from haste on a 1/1 to a haste 2/2, but that haste was very strange, and once it lost haste, it was still very strange. Menace made the whole package work much better.

Skin Invasion

DH 11/13/2014: I like the design. It might want to cost a little more and make a bigger creature. It is likely to not do anything, so I'd rarely play this as-is.

BrH 1/5/2015: I was reasonably happy with this card at current stats. I didn't like haste on the flip side given how rarely it comes up and how jarring it is with the base-use case of the card (force you to attack, block).

DH 2/19/2015: Changing so you can put on your own stuff. Cut haste off of reverse side.

TJA 4/29/2015: Does this need the anti-Clone delayed trigger as well?

DH 6/12/2015: Don't know. Would love to revisit rules with respect to clones and DFCs returning transformed.

This was an early card in design because it told the kind of story we wanted. But, it just wasn't strong enough. People liked the card's story, but wouldn't play it in Limited. Instead of making something new up, we iterated on the design to find something that would be playable.

Avacyn's Judgment

STORY—Pivotal Event #4, Avacyn attacks (and bests) Jace and Tamiyo

DH 1/23/2015: Changed to Arc Lightning variant since we moved deal 3 to all to Avacyn's flip. 1RR could easily be too aggressively costed.

DH 5/28/2015: Would "exile them if they die" text fit here? And/or is it worth those words?

TJA 6/2/2015: That wouldn't fit unless something else about the card changed.

MJJ 6/11/2015: I haven't seen anyone use the madness part of this card. Can this be madness XR?

ID 6/30/2015: A little weird to have two rare Blaze variants in the same set (I get that this is more often used in Arc Lightning mode).

TJA 7/17/2015: Was 1RR Arc Lightning with madness XRR. Now a Twin Bolt.

It was important that this card dodged Fiery Temper, but also that it was interesting to madness. One of the bad things about Arc Lightning was that it was less likely that you would get a much more powerful version with madness unless you had a free outlet, and it was pretty late in the game.

Falkenrath Gorger

DH 1/19/2015: Changed discard enable to madness itself. 2/2 -> 3/2

DH 4/20/2015: 2R -> 1R. 3/2 -> 2/2.

DH 5/13/2015: Moving to just R for madness. Let me know if that's too strong.

DH 5/14/2105: Can this be R 2/1, no madness, grants madness text? Too strong? Let's try it.

When working on the Vampire deck, we found that we had plenty of ways to enable madness, but were missing enough rewards—as well as just some efficiently stated Vampires. We changed the design of the Gorger to solve all of those problems.

Scourge Wolf

BrH 1/14/2015: It's disconcerting to me that the base-use case is a creature with first strike and double strike. Can double strike replace first strike?

DH 1/14/2015: Assume that's more of a rules, templating issue.

AF 6/17/2015: If this was just delirium +2/+0, would it be better?

TJA 6/29/2015: Sure would, unless there are serious red pump spell dreams.

In my mind, going from double strike to +2/+0 would have made the card much less cool. While +2/+0 is actually stronger in most cases, it doesn't leave the cool interactions with Titan's Strength and the like that I think help this be a better rare.

Goldnight Castigator

DH 9/16/2014: This looks neat. Skeptical on this as a mythic rare.

KEN 10/30/2014: Perfect target for Sauté!

EVL 11/20/2014: I think this makes sense as a mythic rare, much like Abyssal Persecutor. But maybe either this or the insanity Demon should go?

DH 3/24/2015: Changing "permanents you control" to "cardname."

SPS 4/10/2015: I've enjoyed this a lot.

DH 5/13/2015: Added haste, cut 1 power.

Another card that had to spend some time justifying its mythic rare–ness, but I believe it does so with its very unique line of text. Being a bit stronger by itself and not making it horrible for the rest of your team also helped.

Moldgraf Scavenger

DH 11/13/2014: This might want to be a 0/4.

YS 1/7/2015: Every rose has its desire to eat flesh...

YS 3/12/2015: My previous reference does not apply to the current creative treatment. What a shame...

EEF 3/17/2015: This card feels like it's in a really good place to me. 0/4 -> Southern Elephant is a significant reward without being completely back-breaking.

One of the cards that was in the design file, buffed a bit by development, then went a long way to selling delirium as a cool mechanic.

Watcher in the Web

EEF 11/13/2014: This is only eight percent as funny as Hundred-Handed One. Looks good at keeping those tokens under control, though.

DH 4/9/2015: Should this only block one additional creature? Easy to throw away a game to this with an alpha attack if you don't read it. How much do people like the joke here?

TJA 4/16/2015: I'm not married to the joke, but I enjoy the ability to block (essentially) everything...although maybe something like that should be uncommon.

AF 6/17/2015: I like it.

The joke here being that for each arm, you get to block an additional creature. Seven more blocks is cute, but the question was if that was really worth it. Turns out, there were just enough games where attacking with more than eight creatures happened that we kept it. Also, the joke is pretty worth it.

Confront the Unknown

DH 3/20/2015: Added an extra arm.

DH 4/24/2015: Cut off the arm. Scales to Clues.

Considering Watch in the Web was already doing this thing, having an extra blocker felt unneeded. Moving to the Clue version was better for Limited, and added a little more uniqueness to the environment.

Veteran Cathar

DH 3/17/2015: New design.

SPS 4/10/2015: I have really enjoyed this.

TJA 4/20/2015: This ability felt a little weak at five mana, since Humans are pretty small. Is four worth trying?

DH 4/21/2015: Sure, we can try four.

DH 6/11/2015: Down one mana. Loses trample and toughness.

YS 6/15/2015: Oh Become Immense, I miss you so.

We all do, Yoni, we all do.

Graf Mole

DH 4/2/2015: New design

DH 4/24/2015: Changed design.

DH 4/28/2015: Reverted based on the last playtest feedback. Other feedback is to do threshold of Clues for N life.

We tried this with a scaling Clue reward of "During your upkeep, gain 1 life for each Clue you control," but that both made Clues not something you wanted to use and was pretty unbeatable if you had more than two Clues on the table. The current version rewards you, but still wants you to use your Clues.

Hermit of the Natterknolls / Lone Wolf of the Natterknolls

DH 3/31/2015: New design to try to help for safety on passing your turn.

DH 3/31/2015: Same abilities, new stats compared to front.

DH 4/7/2015: Could see this being draw two for further upgrade, although not doing so in case people don't read/forget.

TJA 4/22/2015: Maybe "At the beginning of each end step, if an opponent cast two or more spells this turn, draw two cards."

AF 6/17/2015: It is weird that the same line of text is on both halves. I kept checking for some subtle difference.

DH 6/22/2015: Agree it is a bit weird. Werewolves need less change side-to-side due to Werewolf mechanic. Will think on it. Don't want back side to be worse. Guess it could draw two cards? Will try that. People need to make sure they read the card, I guess.

When working with Werewolves, we wanted to incentivize some of them to get into a play pattern where you can pass your turn and expect them to flip. Hermit is great, in that if your opponent stops you from transforming, you get a card. Originally it lost this ability on its reverse side, which was kind of a feel-bad, so we put it on both sides. But then it was confusing because they were the same. Moving to the final version was much more satisfying.

Lambholt Pacifist

DH 3/27/2015: New design EVL

DH 3/27/2015: It is possible this will say "unless you control another creature with power 4 or greater"? Intentionally able to pump it so it can attack for now.

SPS 4/10/2015: I like being able to pump it and attack.

It may not tell the story quite as well if it can attack after being pumped, but it does make the card much more fun to play with—since you can do things like cast Howlpack Resurgence or just give it an equipment.

Second Harvest

DH 2/19/2015: New from hole filling

DH 6/3/2015: Let's see if you can also copy noncreature tokens. This feels more in place given Clues and that green isn't one of the primary creature token colors.

AF 6/17/2015: I missed the Clue interaction at first. The card feels much more relevant now.

DH 6/22/2015: It previously only hit creatures, changed to all tokens recently for this (Clues) reason.

The basic card feels about right as a cool card for Commander, but that didn't really make it feel at home in the set. Moving it to copying Clues helped out a lot to justify its existence here, as opposed to in any other set.

The Gitrog Monster

KEN 8/14/2014: Got less appealing saccing lands than creatures, it tabled in drafts.

MAGO 8/26/2014: Added Exploration to it.

DH 1/19/2015: Added Deathtouch for EVL.

DH 3/11/2015: One or more lands. 6/6 -> 5/5 as some nerfs.

YS 5/7/2015: It bothers me that this and the 2G enchantment have different trigger conditions. I want to play them together. We don't want the enchantment to be exponential in multiple, so maybe that means changing The Gitrog Monster?

DH 5/27/2015: Other thoughts here about this versus the enchantment?

TJA 6/12/2015: This is kind of obnoxious in Limited. The controller has so many fiddly actions to be aware of, and the opponent can't possibly win. Any way this could get promoted to mythic rare?

DH 6/12/2015: Promoted to mythic rare.

TJA 7/17/2015: 5/5 -> 6/6

While it started off as a monster that you needed to feed creatures to, we found that was just not unique enough, and didn't really help with delirium. Plus, we had started focusing the black-green deck in Limited around milling land. This version was much more fun, once we kept you from getting locked out from lands.

Prized Amalgam

DH 5/13/2015: Also considering text of "Whenever a Zombie enters the battlefield from your graveyard, return CARDNAME from your graveyard to the battlefield tapped at the beginning of the next end step."

TJA 5/14/2015: That feels kind of narrow, and perhaps misleading (the 1B 2/2 that exiles itself from your graveyard to make a Zombie and other cards like that don't count, etc.). It does feel a little "vampiric" to care about discarding, though.

DH 5/15/2015: Trying this as above. Looks for Deathmist Raptors too.

AF 6/17/2015: Does the delayed trigger make this a headache operationally?

DH 6/17/2015: Probably, I hate delayed trigger. Would like to try first time here maybe. Putting it here for now. Wish we didn't have to start these with "whenever." Templating might not be worth it here, and my template might also not be accurate.

TJA 6/25/2015: Current text apparently doesn't work. Going back to delayed trigger for now.

DH 6/29/2015: Exploring rules where Risen Executioner would work with this. Considering this checking a graveyard, not just your graveyard, as well as anti-Deathmist Raptor.

TJA 7/2/2015: I believe the rules solution is out, so I'm adding the extra words. In the case of a creature cast from your graveyard, should this trigger on the casting or the actual entering of the battlefield? (Put in the actually entering version for now.)

Oh, the hoops you have to go through to get this card to work without going infinite with Nantuko Husk.

Wicker Witch

DH 9/16: This looks about right for low-hanging fruit for delirious.

Having artifact creatures that are middle-of-the-pack picks that die easily is one way to get delirium, and helps to make Shadows over Innistrad feel new.

Epitaph Golem

DH 12/19/2014: Want an anti-decking mechanism around for the self-mill fans that hate decking themselves. But killable to stop looping shenanigans.

DH 1/8/2015: Moving up in curve for uncommon artifact curve.

DH 5/13/2015: Enjoy this concept (and this card).

Dave Humpherys is well-known for a very controlling playstyle that can take a long time. It's not just the clock he has to worry about, though—he is known for decking himself every time we give him self-mill in a set. As a result, there is usually at least one card for Dave that will let him win without getting decked.

Magnifying Glass

DOH 3/5/2015: Love this. Mana rock plus Tome is a long overdue design. Plus the Johnny angle. So neat!

DH 3/13/2015: Added a mana for the Clue. Cut one mana from the Clue cost like all the others now.

TJA 4/20/2015: We've brought this up before, but is it weird to have "pay mana to pay mana to draw a card," or does the "installment plan" feel seamless enough?

DH 4/21/2015: Wouldn't want to do mana to get Clues all that much. But we'll need it some places. Would be open to other costs, like tap a creature, sac a creature, etc. where concepts work.

One of the most fun parts about working on top-down sets is getting to make cards like this—a good story, with a playable card. It's not a slam dunk in Constructed, but probably close enough to find itself as a one- or two-of in a control deck somewhere.

Westvale Abbey

DH 1/19/2015: Worded (I hope) more like the ORI planeswalkers. Confusing otherwise about tapped status, haste, etc.

DH 4/7/2015: Changed transformation to wording TJA suggested.

DH 5/4/2015: Strengthening last power, weakened second.

DH 5/28/2015: Changing last to "5, T" to match more normal templating, losing any sort of 666 gag.

TJA 7/13/2015: Moving untap to the back face.

TJA 8/6/2015: sac six -> sac five, per FFL.

Ormendahl, Profane Prince

STORY—This is what all those Cultists have been up to...

DH 11/11/2014: If we only do 1 DFC land, it makes sense it is generic, but I feel like we've been doing a lot of "make 1/1 tokens" on these of late. Wish this could go another direction.

MAGO 12/2/2014: Back side redesign. New story.

DH 12/4/2014: Wow, this is different and intriguing.

DH 1/19/2015: Cut one mana off the activation.

DH 1/19/2015: Simplified this face!

DB 2/5/2015: Took off legendary.

SPS 2/9/2015: I'd much rather this have haste. The cost seems more than high enough to just let me attack!

DH 3/2/2015: Maybe something a little more here, less like a token.

DH 3/4/2015: Now with haste, numbers on front and back likely to move around some.

DB 4/1/2015: Added back legendary due to concept.

TJA 7/13/2015: Moving the untap here. Hopefully the location of the untap ability doesn't feel "hidden."

In our quest to do new things with DFCs, a land was a clear top choice—but what would it do? We started off with a few different ideas, but loved the abandoned church that summoned a Demon. The original card was flavorful, but wasn't very strong. By changing the cost, and not having a huge life payment as part of it, we ended up with a card that is hopefully pretty interesting for Constructed.

That's it for this week. Next week, I'll be back to talk about the FFL and answer some frequently asked questions about it.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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