The Other Eldrazi

Posted in Latest Developments on April 30, 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.

This is the end of Eldrazi Week, a whole week dedicated to the enormous monsters that give Rise of the Eldrazi its name. All week, the spotlight has been on exactly these cards, and they're so big that there hasn't been room for anything else. However, those aren't the only Eldrazi in Rise of the Eldrazi. There are also smaller creatures that create Eldrazi Spawn tokens, unsung heroes who get no glory but make it possible to play the big Eldrazi in Limited. There are cards that make your Eldrazi Spawn tokens better. There are even noncreature spells with the Eldrazi subtype. All of these deserve to be part of Eldrazi Week, but have thus far been excluded. Today is their day to shine.

One of the first lessons a new designer or developer learns is that playtest names matter. Playtest names are never final, and the earliest names rarely survive to print, but they are the only names we can use to refer to cards, so we become attached to them. If you have a card you like a lot, giving it an amusing playtest name does a lot to get other people to like it too.

On the other hand, you can also use playtest names to inadvertently confuse people. Rise of the Eldrazi lead designer Brian Tinsman gave Dread Drone the playtest name "Snid Beetle." Thanks to Sea Snidd, within Magic Ramp;D we associate the word "Snidd" with five mana 3/3 creatures, so I had the following exchange many times in early playtesting.

Me: "Snid Beetle."
Opponent: (reading Snid Beetle) "Wait a minute. This isn't a snidd!"

Snid Beetle cost five mana, so everyone assumed it was a 3/3. The moment when they discovered that it wasn't jarred them so much that they weren't able to appreciate the card for what it was. I was frustrated about this, because I liked the card a lot and wanted to protect it. Worse, it wasn't even a double-D snidd—it was only a snid! I asked Brian to change the card's name so that people's perceptions weren't tainted by that moment. He agreed, and the card became "Crocobeetle" instead. That's not a brilliant name, but it did the job better than "Snid Beetle." Of course, we don't have to do a great job naming cards, since we have fantastic creative people like Doug Beyer who come in and give us awesome names like "Dread Drone."

It was amusing to watch Emrakul's Hatcher change over time. Early in design, the designers experimented with many things that they could put on Eldrazi Spawn token makers. This card began as one of those experiments. The first version only made two tokens and had ": CARDNAME gains haste until end of turn." This made a sort of cute combination with itself, as you could choose to have a 3/3 and two tokens, or a 3/3 with haste. Within the context of the entire set, though, it felt a little off. The point of the Eldrazi Spawn tokens is to cast enormous Eldrazi and other expensive spells, not give a 3/3 creature haste.

The next adjustment was to take off the activated haste and replace it with haste all the time. However, that still felt weird, as it was a dash of very aggressive spice on a dish that was meant to help you ramp your mana to bigger things. Lead developer Matt Place took it one step further a few months later when he removed haste and granted the card a third Eldrazi Spawn token. That gave the card a clear purpose: help players cast huge stuff. It also happens to be very good at that. In the words of Ken Nagle:

KEN 6/30/2009: This guy is scary when I see it hit their board. It's like a common Cloudgoat Ranger, except it enables an Eldrazi next turn instead of jumping.

I'm don't think any of us understood how sweet this card was at the beginning of development. Its stock kept rising as we played Limited, and they were being taken higher and higher as time went on. Eventually, it spilled over into our Zendikar Block Constructed decks, and then we found ourselves playing it in Standard in decks that valued token creatures. One of the reasons Magic is so fun to play is that it's a constant process of discovery, and that is also one of the reasons it is fun to work on. This card is simple, but provided us a lot of discovery over the time we were working on Rise of the Eldrazi.

When we look at card files in Multiverse, the cards come in the traditional order: white, blue, black, red, green, multicolor, artifact, nonbasic lands, and then basic lands. Rise of the Eldrazi is the first time we've made colorless nonartifact cards, which led to Aaron Forsythe making a jarring discovery:

AF 5/21: Whoa! There are cards after the basic lands!

I have talked before about the event known in Magic Ramp;D as "The Slideshow," which is when almost everyone who works on Magic gets together in one meeting room to look at nearly-complete cards from a set that is about to leave editing. I am not sure, however, that I have talked about the things that can happen to cards during the slideshow. It's always nearly too late to make changes at that point, but sometimes we do anyway as long as we think the changes are safe.

Rapacious One was the beneficiary of one such change. At the slideshow, its card text was the same as it is now, but instead of "that many," it said "two." This offended a few people. Why, those people asked, did it make two tokens when it could deal anywhere from 1 to 5 damage? They wanted the card to either make one token or make an amount of tokens equal to the damage that was dealt. Matt promised to take that feedback into account so that the slideshow could go on, and later requested that the card change to count the amount of damage.

Broodwarden was the subject of no small amount of controversy during Rise of the Eldrazi Limited playtesting. Everyone agreed that the card was an awesome design. However, there was disagreement about what the bonus should be. One camp loved the +2/+1 bonus, as it turned Eldrazi Spawn tokens into comfortable 2/2s. The other camp thought that +2/+1 was confusing, and wanted to make the bonus +1/+1 instead because it was simpler. I never really took a side on this, as I didn't really agree with either of them; I thought +2/+1 was easier for the first one, but harder when a second one arrived. Rise of the Eldrazi lead developer Matt Place preferred keeping the first one simple rather than make sure multiples are easy to calculate, so he went with +2/+1.

Many of the people who work in Magic Ramp;D were strong tournament players in the real world before we came inside Wizards, but that does not make us immune to fun. Mark Globus is the Magic Ramp;D producer and a veteran of several Pro Tours, but all I think of when I look at Skittering Invasion is Mark's gleeful laughter every time he cast this card and did something cool with all the tokens. He and I share a love of red Eldrazi Spawn–based decks in Rise of the Eldrazi Limited, and although Skittering Invasion isn't the strongest card for those decks, it is one of the cards that leads to the best stories those decks can produce. If you ever pass Mark a Skittering Invasion early in a Rise of the Eldrazi draft, you should expect him to have taken it and to have a deck to match.

Not of This World is a goofy, narrow card. However, it serves a very specific purpose.

BT 12/3: Sucks to pay 15 and have your Eldrazi Terrored. Here's some help.
GM 12/4: love the text of this card
Q 1/22: Hooray for some free stuff in this set. :)
BT 2/4: I've heard other people gushing about this card too.
KEN 2/18/2009: This card describes how I react to coworkers hating on fatties in this database. "Nagle's Intervention".

So many things in Magic make playing expensive creatures difficult. Rise of the Eldrazi is supposed to be the chance for big creatures to shine. Not of This World is a security blanket for people who have been deterred from playing big things by removal spells. I am happy that we made it.

This card began life as "Destroy all colored permanents." However, Magic is best when there are answers to everything, and other than bounce effects, Rise of the Eldrazi was short on ways to answer totem armor Auras. Matt adjusted All Is Dust to become a sacrifice effect so that there would be a way to take out many totem armored creatures all at once. Matt likes answers so much, though, that wasn't good enough for him—he made Tajuru Preserver too, so that there would be an answer to All Is Dust!

I hope you've enjoyed having the spotlight on the less-heralded Eldrazi in Rise of the Eldrazi. The massive Eldrazi creatures are the reason the set exists, but the set would never have worked without the smaller Eldrazi creatures and the other cards that support them. If any of us could understand the otherworldly screeching noises that the larger Eldrazi emit while they greedily devour entire worlds, I'm sure we'd discover that they agreed.

Last Week's Poll

Which of the following Rise of the Eldrazi mechanical themes is your favorite?
Level Up344134.4%
Colorless Eldrazi187118.7%
Totem Armor149715.0%
Eldrazi Spawn tokens133813.4%

As a few of you pointed out, I forgot the defender theme. Oops. I'll try not to do that next time.

This Week's Poll

What do you think of Rise of the Eldrazi Draft?It's awesome!It's good.It's okay.It's bad.It's terrible!I haven't played Rise of the Eldrazi Draft.

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