Ooze on First

Posted in Latest Developments on September 26, 2008

By Mike Turian

Before joining Magic Online as its digital product manager, Mike worked as a producer for Wizards's technology department, a product manager for organized play, and as an R&D lead developer. He has played Magic Online since it came out in 2002 and Magic since The Dark.


I hope you have enjoyed the past three weeks of previews. We have seen some great cards, from the ridiculously huge to beautiful angels and powerful Planeswalkers.

The Prerelease events are just one day away! I remember my first Prerelease like it was yesterday. I'll quote myself from the Prerelease page: "I can never wait to rip open my first packs of the newest set at a Prerelease. It's Opening Day for Magic! What could be more fun than that?" Even better, everyone who goes to this week's Prerelease will be getting a foil alternate-art Ajani Vengeant. Sweet.

Ajani Vengeant


Today's card is a hard-hitting Ooze that starts small but grows to epic proportions. In fact if you cast Epic Proportions onto the Ooze it would be a 12/12 trampler, but I am getting ahead of myself. I'll show you the card in a moment, but our story begins the day our little Ooze buddy was created.

The Ivory Tower and Lost Temple

Magic R&D all sits on the third floor in an office building in Washington. Each meeting room in the building were named by the people who sit closest to them. For instance, the largest meeting room near R&D is called Ivory Tower. Ivory Tower has a big split print of the artwork from Ivory Tower. Erik Lauer always tries to invite at least five people to any meeting in the Ivory Tower.

Lost Temple was named after R&D's favorite Starcraft map. Our computer lab used to be located in the Lost Temple. We would conduct "research" there by playing Starcraft, Warcraft 3, and World of Warcraft. One day Gleemax abducted our computer lab and moved it down to the second floor. All that was left behind was a giant white board, a floating statue of Watto, and a picture that had the name Lost Temple.

Maybe you know why this is the picture hanging in Lost Temple. I have no idea.

Lost Temple Picture


Ken Nagle, Mark Rosewater, and I were hanging out in the Lost Temple, staring at that art. We were the Naya team, and we were trying to figure out what would represent the white, green, and red shard.

The creative team had written up text illustrating what they felt Naya represented. Here is what Doug Beyer wrote about Naya:

Naya – rGw

As a tropical jungle-plane peopled with perfect specimens of the human, elvish, and leonin races, Naya seems like a paradise. But don't let its exuberant cultures fool you; Naya tremors with peril. Behemoths taller than buildings lumber through Naya's rainforests, crushing acres of vegetation—or civilization—casually underfoot. Yet somehow, Naya's sentient races revere these gargantuans, relegating them to the pinnacle of their religious beliefs and ascribing to them a sacred ineffability.

While Doug's write-up is now more refined than what we had at the time, the main idea was clear. Everything about Naya was big. After tossing around ideas about how to represent Naya with card mechanics, Mark offered up "big theme." In essence, Naya would want do big effects. Naya would represent spending lots of mana and playing really big creatures.

One of our very first cards was a creature that cost and was a 12/12 (maybe a 14/14, I forget but it didn't see print anyhow so...). Here was the essence of "Behemoths taller than buildings" materialized as a card. We made enough cards for an impromptu play test in Lost Temple.

There Can Be Only One

The cards we created fell into two camps; one was power matters. One of the first cards created over a year ago was the Spearbreaker Behemoth. Spearbreaker Behemoth started with a static ability that gave all your 5+ power creatures indestructible. Later it was changed to its current version when we delved deeper into the rules implications. For a short while, Spearbreaker Behemoth was in white as a 4-power creature. Mark Rosewater wouldn't stand for that, though, and the Spearbreaker Behemoth went back to green.

The other camp of cards were "mana matters" cards, like today's preview card Manaplasm. From the name alone, you can deduce that Manaplasm cares about mana. I've kept you in suspense long enough. May I present Manaplasm!


Here is the first official playtest version (i.e., one not scribbled down with a marker) of Manaplasm.


Ken Nagle designed the original Manaplasm with the idea that it was an Ooze that fed off of the mana you spent to play and activate your other Naya cards. He wanted it to curve perfectly into some of the bigger Naya spells that Shards of Alara would become known for. In addition, Ken loved the fact that the little Ooze fed off of spells and creatures.

Take note that this early version of Manaplasm, becomes an X/X, where X is the amount of mana you spent to pay a cost. So if you played a five-mana creature, Manaplasm would turn into a 5/5, but then if you paid to activate your Naya Panorama the Manaplasm would turn back to a 1/1.

While the example above is a simple one, with cards like Giant Growth, various Auras, and other power / toughness altering effects, there was a lot of concern that the rules and templating of Manaplasm might be an issue. If Manaplasm had been printed as above, cards like Helix Pinnacle would be functionally different with ": Put X tower counters on Helix Pinnacle" and ": Put a tower counter on Helix Pinnacle." For Helix Pinnacle, we went with the template for both ease of use on Magic Online and as a fun combo with Rosheen Meanderer.

In a Multiverse conversation spanning months, you can see Manaplasm's issues highlighted by Ken, Mark, and Devin.


KEN 8/28: Keeping this guy and his wonky template as a juicy 1G rare since he plays excitingly and embodies our rGw house philosophy all by himself. Team unwilling to count floating mana in mana pool Glissa Sunseeker-style, so instead he looks for when you spend mana. Kickercycling and Invokers mean we want to include 'a spell or activated ability' at least. 'Cost' is not a well-defined term in Magic, ideally 'cost' would include unmorphing Bane of the Living, Cumulative Upkeep, Squealing Devil, and Power Sink mana payments. I would define cost as 'a prerequisite that is called upon for an effect'.
MR (9/28/07): This card is very cool. I hope he doesn't die to templating.
DAL 10/7: Lots of positive feedback on this guy.
KEN 10/16: I hope this guy survives. There's huge fun in attacking with this guy with Kickercycling Might of Oaks (now known as Resounding Roar) at the ready.

The card was designed for Naya, but that's not how it was printed. From the concept:

Color: Green creature
Location: Jund jungle
Action: Show a disgusting green-and-yellow ooze creature sliming its way through the thick jungle. Focus: the ooze
Mood: the most primordial kind of creature in the most primordial land

The concept for Manaplasm placed it into Jund. While the design of the card came from Naya, Naya had since focused its mechanics on the power matters theme that became the feature of the Naya shard. While Naya still has cards that care about big mana plays, each shard was best served by picking its main theme. As Oozes are from Jund and the card's mechanics felt like an Ooze, the card best matched the Jund shard. What was Naya's loss became Jund's gain.

Cool Combos

Tower Above

Let's take some time to explore the awesome combo potential Manaplasm possesses. At the start of this article, I talked about how you could surprise your opponent with an Epic Proportions, turning the little 1/1 Ooze into a 12/12 creature with trample.

One way to maximize the potential of Manaplasm is to take advantage of mana cost tricks. For instance, Tower Above contributes the +4/+4, wither and trample along with +6/+6 for being a six-cost spell (even though you can play it for as cheap as ).

Likewise, cards like Allosaurus Rider (+7/+7) or Bounty of the Hunt (+8/+8 in total) give big boosts to Manaplasm without costing you any mana at all! If you really want to kill your opponent all in one turn, wait until a Greater Gargadon unsuspends, and you will have a 9/7 Gargadon along with a 11/11 Manaplasm to take down your opponent in one swing.

We wanted Manaplasm to be as combo-friendly as possible. The first obvious improvement to Manaplasm was to change it from "becomes an X/X" to "gets +X/+X." Becomes an X/X is harder to understand, and limits the potential growth of Manaplasm. As Aaron Forsythe comments:

AF 2/5: I wish this read better and wish it stacked (so two 3-mana spells made him +6/+6).

From Ken's comments in the previous section, you can see how he was hoping for Manaplasm to feed off of mana, but as he points out, developers and designers must work together with templating to make great Magic cards.

Here is the original Manaplasm text again:

Whenever you spend mana to pay a cost, CARDNAME becomes X/X until end of turn, where X is the amount of mana you spent.

That text worked fine for playtesting, but then the templating team saw it. Del Laugel works as Magic's senior editor, and Mark Gottlieb is Magic's rules manager.

A quick aside about rules managers: When I started working at Wizards of the Coast, Paul Barclay had just left the position of rules manager. While he was rules manager he found out that being a manager came with special privileges at Wizards. You see, normal employees aren't allowed to do certain things without a manager's approval. Also, managers can request to be granted special privileges.

One day, Paul Barclay needed one of those special privileges, so he called up the help desk. The help desk informed Paul that only a manager could grant Paul that access. To which Paul responded, "I am a manager." And it worked!

It pays to be a gamer.

Templating Manaplasm

Del 1/15: This seems like it could do some oddball things.
Del 2/25: Would go infinite with unrestricted mana filtering. I'm thinking of the old Oracle template of Sunglasses of Urza. It used to say "W: add R to your mana pool." The preferred template is a static ability, but I wonder if there's something out there that's still activated.
MLG 2/25: I think this is problematic due to certain ambiguities inherent in costs. You play Kavu Titan with kicker. You've spent mana on total cost. That includes mana cost and kicker cost. How many times does this ability trigger? ... Why not make this simpler? Can it trigger "whenever you spend mana"?
Del 2/26: Interesting. Would need some rules support for that. Spending mana means that the mana left your pool via some mechanism other than mana burn?
MLG 3/5: I don't think deleting "to pay a cost" makes this any different than what it currently says, except that the ambiguity is gone. What else besides a cost can you possibly spend mana on? If you pay {3} to satisfy Mana Leak, I think all players will get that you spent mana, but not everyone will know that that was a cost. As far as rule support goes, we already use the word "spent" on cards without having defined it in the Glossary. But maybe that's an oversight.

Hopefully that passage gave you insight into why we couldn't go with the rules text from the original scan. While their discussion is quite technical, it illustrates two things well.

Burrenton Bombardier

First, Manaplasm shows how we try to push the envelope with Magic. We are constantly looking for cool new places to go, and for ways to make cards that evoke awesome flavor.

Second, Manaplasm shows that we try and check ourselves to make sure that we haven't gone too far. When developers aren’t sure of the interactions of cards with a new card in development, you can bet the hundreds of thousands of players with far less experience and far less rules knowledge will be confused.

For example, when I was at Grand Prix–Vancouver, the very first Lorwyn / Morningtide Sealed Deck match I walked over to featured a rules misunderstanding. One player attempted to reinforce his Kithkin (with something like Burrenton Bombardier). The other player tried to counterspell the reinforce ability with a Broken Ambitions and also wanted to put a counter on his Taurean Mauler. But playing a card's reinforce ability, much like cycling, isn't a spell, so neither of those works.

The final text ("Whenever you play a spell, Manaplasm gets +X/+X until end of turn, where X is that spell's converted mana cost.") is as straightforward as we could get the card to be.

Goodnight, Ooze

The original submission of the card saw it costing and having trample. The developers talked about the proper casting cost of Manaplasm, and whether or not it should have trample. We decided that was just too cheap; we even tried Manaplasm at but concluded that it was too much. Playing Manaplasm at , it will come out and crush your opponent.

Last Week's Poll Question

Last week I asked, "What is your favorite shard?" My answer was Naya. Green, red, and white have been my favorites since I started playing Magic. Here were your answers.

What is your favorite shard?
Esper (white-blue-black) 3190 29.8%
Bant (green-white-blue) 2410 22.5%
Naya (red-green-white) 2288 21.4%
Grixis (blue-black-red) 1414 13.2%
Jund (black-red-green) 1399 13.1%
Total 10701 100.0%

Go have a great time at the Prerelease this weekend! Shards of Alara will be a blast. Let me know what you think in the forums or by email.

Don't miss your first chance to play with Shards of Alara cards at the worldwide Prereleases this weekend (September 27 and 28)! And get your first opportunity to buy Shards of Alara at worldwide Launch Parties October 3, 4, and 5!

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