Welcome to Modern Masters Week on DailyMTG. For today's article, I'm going to talk about the Limited environment, how we put it together, and what we were trying to accomplish.
Not so New World Order
One of the important things about Modern Masters 2015 Edition is that it doesn't follow very closely to New World Order, the rules we have in place to help create fun and accessible Limited environments. That doesn't mean we threw concepts like balance at common out the window, but we do allow for much more complex and powerful interactions at common, and allow for board states that require more attention to on-board tricks and stat changes.
New World Order was put in place after we saw that sets like Lorwyn and Time Spiral were just adding too much complexity to the game. Many people in R&D will tell you that Time Spiral is their favorite set of all time, which shouldn't be surprising. Many of us are the exact super-fans that the set was aimed at, the kind of people that knew who Saffi Eriksdotter was, and got that Ridged Kusite was a spellshaper that cast Guided Strike, as well as being an anagram of its name. Many of us liked the kind of complexity that Time Spiral and similar sets offered, but we understand what kind of problems it creates if that's what every set is doing.
Modern Masters 2015 Edition isn't aimed at new players, though, and is a set where we can let our proverbial (in some of our cases more than others) hair down and do things that we wouldn't in a regular Magic set. We get to have commons that are more powerful (within reason), interactions that get very complex and 'on-boardy', and even a few timing things that probably wouldn't fly if the set was one of our main booster releases.
Modern Masters 2015 Edition also gets to use a lot more mechanics than we would put into a regular set today. While it may not be much above a Time Spiral level, and it's definitely below the 'Future Sight' line, the set itself gets to do much more than we would put in a 'regular' set because all of the cards are reprints, and we expect that many of the people purchasing this product have played with these mechanics before. We don't have to worry about teaching people as many things for the first time.
I don't think that these things make Modern Masters inherently better in Limited than a New World Order set—after all, Innistrad, one of the best Limited environments of all time, managed to do it with just double-faced cards, morbid, and flashback.
Living up to Expectations
When we decided to make a second Modern Masters, we knew that we wanted to make sure that the product would live up to the very high expectations of the first Modern Masters, and that meant creating a Limited environment that took many of the things that worked from the first and improving on them—at the same time, doing it with mostly new cards. One of the great things that Modern Masters did was allowed mechanics from multiple different blocks to overlap. You got modular cards with the colored artifact cards in shards, Changelings with Rebels and Giants, and sunburst with vivid lands.
When we were looking at creating Modern Masters 2015 Edition, we looked at the two new blocks added by the two year gap—Scars of Mirrodin and Zendikar—and found what we thought would be the most fruitful mechanics from those sets to add to Modern Masters. Easily at the top of our list was proliferate.
Proliferate is a very deep mechanic. My favorite thing about proliferate is just how Johnny-ish it is. The mechanic is wide open to use in all kinds of ways. It's backwards-compatible with a huge portion of the total number of Magic cards we've ever printed and, I think most importantly, it has a lot of design space and room to make for fun interactions that didn't happen in its own Limited environment. When we talk about mechanics that we hope to bring back some day, when we find the right place for them, proliferate is high up on the list.
In a way, that made it perfect for Modern Masters 2015 Edition. Part of our goal with the set is to create a fun and unique Limited experience, and that means not just reliving the old hits that people have come to love, but creating something new from the various fun pieces of different Limited environments.
Making proliferate be more than a one-trick pony in the set meant allowing people a variety of different things to do with the mechanic that weren't available in Scars of Mirrodin. While we brought back wither and persist to allow the use of -1/-1 counters in Modern Masters 2015 Edition, we also needed to give people the ability to use in on other types of counters—most notably +1/+1 counters.
Graft was a natural choice for the primary +1/+1 counter mechanic to use in Modern Masters, not only because it allows for a number of the Johnny-ish cards, but because it let us do cool things with proliferate like double-up the counters. When using a card like Aquastrand Spider, as an example, you can generally only make the use of the creature's two counters to boost two creatures, and only one of those can realistically gain reach. Not so when proliferate gets in the mix—all of a sudden, each proliferate spell not only makes your proliferator larger, but each creature it has shared a counter with. Make them larger, spread them out.
But, it's more than just simple changing of power and toughness. Vigean Graftmage, for example, lets you do some pretty amazing things. Bloodshot Trainee is a pretty dangerous card by itself, with a little help. A Bloodshot Trainee can get a counter from the Graftmage, and a proliferate spell like Tezzeret's Gambit can not only make the Trainee large enough to start machine-gunning one creature each turn, but the Graftmage's ability can turn that into a board-destroying machine. Pow-pow pow!
Proliferate on black and Phyrexian mana cards also gave us the opportunity to take bloodthirst—which originally appeared in both Guildpact and Magic 2012—and give the mechanic a few extra tricks. While you still need to get through with a creature to get started, once a counter is on a bloodthirst creature, Grim Affliction is no longer just a combat trick for one attacker or blocker; it can suddenly increase the size of many different creatures on your team.
Pitfalls of Weirdness
Getting the right balance for the set meant trying out some weird things, and knowing that not everything would stick as we got through development. An early version of the Modern Masters 2015 Edition file went further in some regards than we ended up, having the white-blue mechanic being levelers. While this was an interesting ability to play with proliferate, it quickly brought up a really big issue—proliferate doesn't add to EACH counter, it adds to only one of the counter of the type of your choice. We generally avoided this in the Scars of Mirrodin block by only have -1/-1 counters to put on creatures, and by limiting charge counters to noncreature artifacts. It was hard, but not impossible, to have this come up in Scars of Mirrodin Limited. Considering the green-blue deck was graft, we quickly found this coming up a lot in Modern Masters 2015 Edition Limited. We play with the full text of the cards on our playtest stickers, but that doesn't mean that people either read or process the cards fully, which led to some people thinking they could actually add to both counters
Even when that was sorted, having two sets of counters on a leveler made it very hard to tell what that creature's stats were without asking your opponent about each one. In the end, we found that the combination of those factors meant that, even for Modern Masters, we were just asking too much of our players. While we want to create a Draft environment that isn't shackled by all of our New World Order interactions, we also don't expect that most people will play this format dozens of times, so having most things work basically-correctly on the first pass is something we find pretty important.
More to Discover
Proliferate creates some of the most fun interactions in Modern Masters 2015 Edition, but it doesn't contain all of them. The format is quite deep, and there are a lot of sideways things to do, and ways to explore mechanics you've probably seen before in a new light. I hope you all get the chance to play some Limited games with Modern Masters 2015 Edition: at your local store, at one of our Modern Masters Weekend Grand Prix, or on Magic Online.
Next week, I'll be back with a Mailbag week, taking development questions from all of you.
Until next time,