My Favorite Things About Magic 2011

Posted in Latest Developments on July 9, 2010

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

The Magic 2011 Prerelease is this coming weekend. This is going to be a very special event for me, as Magic 2011 is the first set for which I was a member of the design team, development team, and creative text team. As my handprints are all over the set, I'm quite excited to see it finally come out. Today I'll share with you a few of my favorite things about the set. My first order of business today, though, is to formally introduce the Magic 2011 development team.

Erik Lauer: Magic 2011 is the second set for which Erik has been the lead developer. It just so happens that his first set was Magic 2010, which gave him some clear ideas about what he wanted this time around. Erik recently set an impressive record for consecutive development teams—he was on every development team from Eventide until the third set in the Scars of Mirrodin block. That may have happened back in the dark ages when R&D was smaller, but it's downright amazing these days when there are so many of us.

Erik is the most logical person I've ever met, but that doesn't mean he doesn't know how to have fun and get stuff done. I had a blast working on Magic 2011 with him, and I'm proud of what we made.

Dave Guskin: Until quite recently, I would have told you that Dave Guskin is a web developer. Among other things, he was responsible for the maintenance of our Gatherer card database and for the weekly Draft Simulator. As a web developer, he still made plenty of time to help out on Magic sets, though; he's been on several product teams, and he seems equally happy to do design and development. He was part of the development team for Alara Reborn and the as-yet-unreleased Masters Edition IV, he was on the Archenemy design team, and he was part of both teams for the third set in the Scars of Mirrodin block. He is also a constant contributor to the Future Future League. The reason I can't tell you that he's a web developer anymore is that, well, he's not anymore. As of a few days ago, he's now part of R&D proper as a game designer. Congrats Dave!

Tom LaPille: That's me! Magic 2011 is the third Magic set development team I've been a part of. The previous ones were Magic 2010 and Worldwake. I've led several things now that aren't full Magic sets, though; I led Masters Edition III and Archenemy, as well as Masters Edition IV, which you'll see later this year. This all still feels somewhat like a dream for me, as three years ago when I decided to work for Wizards I had no idea that I'd be in the building in less than one year and leading sets in only another two. Writing Latest Developments also puts me in quite a rarefied club, as two of the three people to do this before me have been directors of Magic R&D and the third was the Head Developer. I hope to be as awesome as them at making Magic one day!

Ken Nagle: Although Ken is a designer, he plays as much Magic as any of the developers do; he just happens to play it in a different place. There is a group of players that play EDH in the Wizards downstairs lobby every Friday afternoon, and Ken is a fixture among them. In a previous life, he also sometimes put on his tournament player hat, and he competed in Pro Tour–Charleston before a strong finish in the Great Designer Search gave him the R&D internship that led to his current position. Among other things, he has since led the design of Archenemy, Worldwake, and the third set in the Scars of Mirrodin block, and been on the design teams for Planechase and Zendikar.

Planeswalker Cards

If I recall correctly, the ten common and uncommon in Magic 2010 that have planeswalkers' names on them were the brainchild of Doug Beyer. The whole team grabbed the idea and ran with it, though, as we thought it was really cool. The intention was that when you put a planeswalker and all of his named cards in a deck, something fairly simple but pretty cool would happen. We also decided that we wanted to put planeswalkers' names on cards that were pretty good, so that you didn't feel silly when you followed the path that we set down.

Take, for example, the Garruk suite.

Garruk's Companion is a solid little beatdown card that I expect will see play next to Leatherback Baloth in mono-green decks. With Garruk's Packleader, though, the picture starts to become clear, as Garruk will make a 3-power creature for you once each turn.

My personal favorite of the suites is the one we made for Jace.

With Jace's Ingenuity, we decided to figure out exactly where we could put an instant card drawing spell and still be happy, and we ended up somewhere pretty reasonable. I also love Jace's Erasure, as it, combined with Tome Scour, means that you can get some pretty vicious milling decks in Magic 2011 Draft. I'm a sucker for alternate win strategies in Limited, and I'm proud that we were willing to put one in the core set this time.

For the release of Magic 2011, there are a bunch of thirty-card sample decks flying around that we're giving away to promote Magic to new players. I built them, and I was amazed with how Magic 2011's planeswalker-themed cards let me build coherent decks with just thirty commons and uncommons. I'm excited to see what people do with them when they can build decks with sixty cards from all across Magic's history!


The first time Leylines appeared was Guildpact. That was long before I started working here, so I can't tell you much about how they happened. What I can tell you is: that lead designer Aaron Forsythe knows the value of cycles, and early in the design asked us to think about what some good ones might be. The Titans were Aaron's idea, but the idea for Leylines came from Erik. The conversation went something like this:

Aaron: "I think I want another cycle of spells."
Erik: "That sounds cool."
Aaron: "I think I might look for a cycle of free spells."
Erik: "Yeah, like Leylines!"
Aaron: "...oh."

Erik is, of course, correct; Leylines are spells that can be free. It wasn't what Aaron had in mind, but he was open to the idea. We tried to make some in our design meetings, and we were pleased with what we made.

All things that are designed must be developed, of course, and a big fat zero of the Leylines we made in design survived. The biggest problem we found was that many appealing and powerful effects were problematic on a Leyline, as they made the game too much about whether or not you had them in your hand before the game started or not. That's not what we think Magic should be about, and we scrapped several for that reason.

Leyline of the Void

We started honing in on the right designs when we began to understand why Leyline of the Void is the one from Guildpact that has stuck. That Leyline serves as an answer card; having it on turn one is fairly innocuous if your opponent isn't doing anything silly with the graveyard, but is quite brutal if the opposing deck was built around abusing the graveyard. In some sense, it brings graveyard decks back into the world of normal Magic. To find good new Leylines, we began to look for ways to take other strategies back down into normal Magic.

Leyline of Punishment
Leyline of Sanctity

I spent a lot of time playing red attack decks in my early serious Magic career, so I spent a lot of time losing to cards like Warmth and Circle of Protection: Red. That made it easy for me to find our red Leyline, as it's exactly the card I want against things like that. Not coincidentally, it's also a big deal against Kor Firewalker. Note that the "damage can't be prevented" line gets damage past protection from red! Our white Leyline comes from playtester Steve Warner, who was looking for a way to keep those same red decks from going after his face with all their burn. I don't remember who the blue Leyline came from, but I know that it was partially intended to be a help against blue decks with plenty of counterspells.

Leyline of Anticipation
Leyline of Vitality

The last two Leylines were a bit more of a struggle. We weren't sure whether the green design we had was doing its job, but Duelmasters designer and developer Masami Ibamoto surprised us all by using it in a few of his green decks to get his creatures' toughness and his own life total out of range of red decks' burn spells. The struggle to find a black one was the hardest; eventually Erik decided that it wasn't worth trying to reinvent the wheel, as Leyline of the Void is pretty much the perfect Leyline. The stated mission of our core sets now is to improve what needs to be improved and keep what makes Magic awesome, so we kept the one that already was making Magic more awesome.

Individual Cards

Stormtide Leviathan

Designer Greg Marques submitted this card as "Leviathan So Big It Raises the Sea Level". It's just about perfect, so we all fell in love with it almost immediately. When Aaron put it into the file and printed playtest stickers, the card's name cut off as "Leviathan so big." I had it in one of my first Magic 2011 sealed decks, and it won me a couple of games there; every time it did, I found myself saying "How big is my leviathan?", waiting a few seconds, and following it up with "SOOOOOOOOOOO BIG!", as though it were a small child I was sending an 8/8 monster at.

Mitotic Slime

I talked about Mitotic Slime last week a little bit. From what I understand, this card has been submitted by a ton of people before me. Personally, I was inspired by the several two dimensional platform video games I played that had bosses that split like this when you hit them, so undismayed by silly concerns like art budgets and multiple token records, I submitted it again. This time it somehow worked. I'm proud that my naïveté got this card through.

I submitted the card at , as that seemed right to me, but Erik made the logical leap that it was supposed to be instead so its massive token creation could be combined more easily with other colors' cards. Like, say, Bloodthrone Vampire. Or Fling. Or whatever else in Magic you find. Seriously, go nuts.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Magic 2011 Prerelease is this weekend in local game stores and convention halls across the world. Many of us here at Wizards will be attending the Seattle downtown Prerelease, although several of us are flying elsewhere. If you want to catch me, I'll be at the one in downtown Columbus, Ohio at the Franklin County Veteran's Memorial. I remember that place fondly, as it was one of my stomping grounds back when I played tournament Magic. Now that polls are back, though, I get to ask you ...

[The survey originally included in this article has been removed.]

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