Six Cards, Six Stories

Posted in Latest Developments on January 9, 2015

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.

Today on Latest Developments, I don't have a preview card. Another way to look at it is that the whole set is a preview card! You can check out the Card Image Gallery here.

Instead, I wanted to tell you some of the stories behind a few cards in Fate Reforged, and how or why they impacted the development of the set.

Mardu Woe-Reaper

This guy looks like kind of an oddball. He has a lot going on. There is a reason for that. The version handed over to development wasn't actually a Mardu card, it was an Abzan card, and it looked like this:

[mv text]

Bone Purifier

1W

First strike

When CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, you may exile up to two target cards from that player's graveyard. You gain 1 life for each card exiled this way.

2/1

It told the story of how the Abzan fought against clans like the Sultai, but it really wasn't the kind of card we were looking for in Standard. In our own FFL testing, Sultai was one of our strongest decks, and we knew we wanted to have some options for cards that could fit either in a sideboard or in the main deck to fight against the Reanimator deck that was looking to be one of the strongest in Theros Block Constructed. Block Constructed is one of our barometers for Standard.

We did, though, want to make sure the card was hating on the Reanimator aspect, and not just making delve unplayable. At the same point, we were also working on getting the White-Black Warrior Tribal deck to have some legs in Constructed, and the two goals were combined together to come up with a card that could fill both roles.

Frost Walker

Temur in Khans of Tarkir has the issue that it isn't very blue. I mean, the color appears, but I believe it is the color that is most at odds with the rest of the cards in the clan. One thing we wanted to do in Fate Reforged was put in some blue creatures that could feel more like Temur, and even enable a ferocious deck. The baseline problem is that blue just doesn't get a lot of large creatures, especially the cheap ones that Temur needs.

The solution was to go with making the creature an Illusion. One of the less-frequently used portions of blue's color pie, Illusions create creatures that can be very powerful, but don't play too heavily into blue's strength of "getting ahead and staying ahead with counterspells," since no amount of Stubborn Denials will save a Frost Walker from a Murderous Cut.

The resulting card was something we immediately identified as a possible Vintage card, but probably not too much of a risk in Standard. It will almost surely see some play, maybe even as a sideboard card against decks that have a hard time interacting with it.

Write into Being

At the beginning, the manifest mechanic didn't allow players to turn the creatures face-up. The idea was that we would charge you basically nothing over a 2/2 for giving you a manifested creature, but there was no way of taking advantage of that, unless your creature had morph. The idea was that it made an even larger guessing game for your opponent, since the times that you actually had a morph there, it was a bigger deal. As a part of that, many more of the original manifest cards were trickier about how they manifested a card—from your hand, tutor for one, from a graveyard, and the like.

Development was very nervous about choosing where you could manifest cards. We knew about the mechanic for long enough that (following design's request) we printed almost no "blink" effects in Theros block. We weren't sure if the cards would be too powerful with what design was dreaming up for morph in Tarkir block, but we didn't want to have to nix a lot of interesting and fun mechanics because we wanted Cloudshift for a random Limited trick. For instance, if we made 1G sorcery—"Manifest a creature from your hand," we would have also created 1GW "put a Griselbrand from your hand onto the battlefield" in Modern. That really wasn't okay.

In the end, David Humpherys was very big on the idea that making manifest too random would mean that the mechanic would just never work. Even if you did hit a creature, it had to have morph, and then you needed it to survive an entire attack where your opponent interacted with it in a way that was favorable to you. Instead, he pitched the idea that you could turn any creature face up for its mana cost. This made the manifest cards more interesting in Limited, but even more dangerous if you could just take the card from wherever and then turn it face-up. As a result, most of the manifest abilities that gave you a lot of choices went away, but Write into Being stayed. It was a fun card, and we reckoned that there wasn't much danger in the card since it wasn't priced for Constructed, and by the time you were casting this into Cloudshift without a way to force a creature on top, you probably deserved to get a pretty big bonus.

Wild Slash

Before I tell you about Wild Slash, let me first tell you about Bill Stark. A Midwestern Magic player and former coverage writer, former R&D intern, and current producer, Bill loves Turbo-Fog. Loves it. If we ever create a Limited environment with two separate fogs in it, you can bet your bottom dollar that he is going to first-pick one of them in an effort to wheel the other. It's just his thing. But that's not only a Limited thing. When he was an intern in R&D, Bill liked to make Standard Turbo-Fog decks. While he may not be in R&D anymore, his legacy lives on. Gavin will, from time to time, take up the mantle and test the waters for Bill.

The thing about Turbo-Fog is that it's pretty interesting if it exists at a point in the metagame where if you brought it to a tournament and people weren't prepared, you could mop up the whole event. The other thing about it is that we don't want this to happen often. Standard just isn't fun if creature decks aren't playable because of how strong the strategy of "draw a lot of cards, wrath, and cast fogs" is. One of our goals is to make sure that there's an answer for decks like these. Not necessarily one that easily destroys them, but something that is at least sideboard playable that lets the aggressive decks have some game.

During Fate Reforged testing, Gavin Verhey put together a Turbo-Fog deck that was doing pretty well. The issue was we didn't actually have a card in the format that was particularly good for an aggressive deck to beat Turbo-Fog. Skullcrack, the most recent card to hold this role, had rotated out a few months earlier. As a result, we changed the Ferocious ability on Wild Slash to stop Fog from preventing damage and also toned down one of the fogs in the format.

Outpost Siege

Design's image for the set was that it was the crossroads of fate. The design team wanted to make a set that was all about traveling back in time to when an important decision needed to be made. And with that, design wanted to provide people with cards that gave the players the choices to decide Tarkir's fate. The Sieges (they were known at the time as Pledges) were enchantments that let players decide, in a very real way, which side of the war they were on. When the file was handed over to development, this was the Red Pledge:

[mv text]

Red Pledge

2R

As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, choose Mardu or Kolaghan.

Mardu: Whenever a creature you control dies, it deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

Kolaghan: Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control, it deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

The original version of the card was flavorful, but not very good. The cool thing was that each half worked with the corresponding keywords in their sets, with Mardu rewarding you for having your creatures die in combat, and Kolaghan rewarding you for dashing your creatures out. But all the flavor in the world won't help if we need to cost the card higher than would make it powerful, because of how not-fun it is to follow it up with token makers.

We did what we often do in these situations and had the development team take a break for a few days. The various members broke up into mini-teams with people who were not actually on the set to brainstorm new abilities for the cards. The Pledges team ended up coming up with text very similar to the current one, which felt somewhat less like a flavor hit, but the exact kind of card we were looking for in Constructed.

Grim Contest

The more Limited environments we make, the more important it is for us that we find different things that our color pairs can do naturally, and more fun and interesting cards for them. In Fate Reforged, like Khans of Tarkir, we wanted the black-green two-color deck to focus on "toughness matters" as the key mechanic. That meant finding new ways for you to interact with your opponent based on your creature's toughness. In Khans, we created a very large token based on toughness, but we needed something different.

One thing that worked well for creatures with high toughness was fighting, since they were very likely to actually survive the end of the spell. The obvious problem is that many of the toughest creatures that we had—the Rotting Mastodons of the world—didn't actually have much power to take down big creatures. All the fight cards in the world weren't going to help the deck actually succeed if it needed to pick off random 2/2s but couldn't stop a Dragon. We experimented with some other gold cards, but lead developer Dave Humpherys eventually came upon a card he called Sumo Fight that let two creatures duke it out to find out not who was the most powerful, but the most tough.

Of course, the immediate nickname for this card was Butt Fight, and it quickly gained a lot of love from the development team. Beyond just being adorable, it also did something we are always looking to do—create situations where you are going to dramatically adjust your draft strategy, or the contents of your deck, to pull off powerful synergies.


That's it for this week. Join me next week when we delve even further into Fate Reforged with some Multiverse entries.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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