Spare Changelings

Posted in Latest Developments on November 30, 2007

By Devin Low

hanksgiving replaced my article during last Friday's Changeling Week with plates of delicious turkey. And the week before that I swapped writing Latest Developments with writing the Feature Article on Elves vs. Goblins instead. But I couldn't let all those little Brushwagg Hippo Dreadnoughts wriggle away without attention just because Thanksgiving fell on Changeling Week. So today I'm going to take you through the ways we developed the twenty Mercenary Hellion Wraiths handed off from the Lorwyn design team into the nineteen Graveborn Kraken Assassins we published. The changes we made fall into four main categories: basic changeling creatures, changeling spells, champion changelings, and the changeling rares.

Friends with Benefits

This token image is every creature type.When Lorwyn was handed off to development, it had just five nonrare changeling creatures, instead of the ten you see today. In the final weeks before the handoff, the designers had given the five-card cycle one more thing to share besides having all creature types. "How would a race of Shapeshifters fight?" the designers asked. Their answer was "by altering their bodies during combat." So their five changeling creatures could all change their power / toughness in some fashion. They found that each color could do this in a different way. White can pump mana into extra toughness, while red pumps mana into extra power. Black has its pumping Shades. Blue creatures can swap their P/T. And green has an occasional once-per-turn pumping "Rootwalla" creature.

As we started to play early Lorwyn in Sealed Deck and Draft, we found that the changelings were doing a lot of important things for gameplay. For me, here are the biggest benefits:

1) Changelings fill out your race's numbers. If you want more Elves or Giants to maximize your Immaculate Magistrate or Sunrise Sovereign, changelings help you get there, especially in Limited. How can a Sealed Deck have forty-two creatures, but have seven creatures in each of eight tribes? Changelings are the answer.

2) Changelings let tribal effects from different tribes intersect. Sacrificing an attacking creature with Tar Pitcher to shock something, then drawing a card off of the sacrifice from Kithkin Mourncaller is a cool interaction. But Tar Pitcher only sacrifices Goblins, and the Mourncaller only draws off of attacking Kithkin or Elves. So that cool interaction could never actually happen... except changelings mean that it can. Magic is built on cool interactions between cards, and the Changelings open up nearly all the tribal effects in the set to interact with all the others.

3) Changelings create bizarre, unexpected interactions, and those are fun. Say you're playing Black-Green Elves against Blue-Black Faeries in a draft, and you have Elvish Handservant as a cheap Elf to increase the number of Elves you will have on the board. The last thing you'd normally expect to do in a black-green vs. blue-black matchup is trigger the Handservant's ability by having a bunch of Giants come into play on both sides. But thanks to changelings, that's exactly what happens. The quirkiness makes people smile.

4) Changelings interact well with "Destroy target non-Elf" and "protection from Goblins." Many a player has aimed Eyeblight's Ending or Faerie Trickery at a changeling, only to have their plans foiled by the multitude of subtypes. Even as Changelings are exceptionally strong against those cards, they are exceptionally weak against Warren-Scourge Elf and the hilarious Tivadar of Thorn. Changelings being a presence in the set helps make clauses like "Protection from Goblins" relevant to games where no one is playing any black or red or actual goblins at all. And the fact that those race-matters clauses can now be relevant in any color matchup helps allow us to add those race-matters clauses onto cards, confident that it won't be wasted text.

5) Changelings give tribes mana costs and sizes they couldn't otherwise have. The very word "Giant" demands that the whole tribe be HUGE, in size and thus in cost. Giants have to be at least 3/3, which usually means costing at least three mana or having giant-sized chunks of flesh falling off. It's hard to play a deck that doesn't play anything earlier than three mana. Changelings give you an opportunity to play Giant creatures that cost just one or two, as well as fill in size / cost curve gaps for some other tribes.

The more we played with changelings, the more things we found they were doing for us. And the more we could build into the set to make the changelings do for us. To get extremely scientific for a moment, the relationship between the time we spent playing Lorwyn and the value we saw in changelings went a little something like this:

A Changeling Cast of Characters

We also found that most of value of changelings came when they were changeling creatures, not just instants or sorceries with changeling. Sure, the instants and sorceries benefitted from some of the changeling interactions, but not nearly as many as creatures did. So the Lorwyn development team moved from just five nonrare changeling creatures to ten: a cycle of five each at common and at uncommon.

Furthermore, we found that the changeling ability created so many interesting interactions that the creatures didn't need mana-activated power / toughness pumping to make them interesting—they were already very interesting even as vanilla creatures with no other abilities. Some of design's common changelings were complicated in play, like the blue changeling that swapped its own power / toughness, so we moved the most complicated changeling creatures up to uncommon and added some simpler vanilla or single-keyword changeling creatures at common. Many of the changelings in the final set still have P/T changing as evidence of their history. Here's how the "Peanut" design team's changeling nonrare creatures changed into the ones you know.

White Changeling
Creature - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
1W: CARDNAME gets +0/+2 until end of turn.

Once we decided we didn't need P/T pumping on every changeling creature, this one became a simple flyer that's easier to process on the board. For flavor reasons, it usually doesn't make sense to have Merfolk or Giants with flying, so a white changeling flyer here also gives Merfolk and Giant decks a way to interact in the air.

Blue Changeling
Creature - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
U: Switch CARDNAME's power and toughness until end of turn.

This complicated guy moved up to uncommon. Ironically, into his common slot went an even more complicated guy. There was a Merfolk in the design file with Imagecrafter's ability. Who better to change someone's creature types than the master of creature type adaptation, the changelings? So we moved that ability into the changeling slot. Amoeboid Changeling pushes the upper limit for how complicated on the board a common is allowed to be. In the end, we asked ourselves if Imagecrafter being at common in Onslaught was a positive or negative force overall. After debate, the development team decided that Imagecrafter at common created a lot of fun moments in Onslaught, and we wanted to go down the same path.

Black Changeling
Creature - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
B: CARDNAME gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

This fellow went to uncommon for the slightly simpler Skeletonoid Changeling. The ability "1B: Regenerate" is so closely aligned to Skeletons in Magic, and "B: +1/+1" is so closely aligned to Shades, that it's almost weird to have them in a world like Lorwyn that has no undead at all. Fortunately, these two black creatures give us a Skeleton and a Shade to put them on after all. As it turned out, the flavor of the regeneration abilities on Black Poplar Shaman and Mad Auntie ended up being fine as well.

Red Changeling
Creature - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
R: CARDNAME gets +2/-2 until end of turn.

This guy reminded me so much of Urza's Saga oddball Dromosaur that I was really hoping his changeling ability granted him the subtype "Dromosaur." Sadly, Dromosaur was a Lizard. The Fire-Belly Changeling that this card became has two benefits over the Red Changeling design. First: Fire-Belly Changeling is a two-mana Giant, which helps the curve of Giant decks and is awesome with Blind-Spot Giant. Second: once upon a time the "Elemental mana-activated abilities matter" family of interactions between Soulbright Flamekin, Flamekin Brawler, and Ceaseless Searblades had a lot more emphasis as an Elemental theme than it does today. Fire-Belly Changeling provided extra mana-activated abilities in Flamekin decks, and could activate twice without dying, unlike the original "Red Changeling."

Changeling Puffer
Creature - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
2G: CARDNAME gets +2/+2 until end of turn. Play this ability only once per turn.

Nothing says simple like 1G 2/2. Woodland Changeling is also a nice cheap Treefolk for Treefolk decks with otherwise huge mana costs.

Changing Spelling

The design handoff had 11 changeling noncreature spells. To make room to increase the number of changeling creatures, developers chopped this down to 6 changeling instants. To match the way that all the changeling creatures in the design handoff changed their power/toughness, the designers had bound all the changeling spells together by having all of them change power and toughness. Again, it is remarkable how many different spells in Magic you can mimic that change P/T in some way. Still, by the eleventh changeling spell, the P/T changing started to feel a bit forced.

The designers had a couple of changeling spells that either granted all creature types or took all creature types away. That looked to the developers like a great mechanical flavor way to link all the changeling spells together, even more than the P/T changing. What does changeling tribal magic do? It changes your creature types. We focused on maintaining that link as we pared the design's changeling spells down. We kept the best six changeling spells, and they were all solid designs that didn't need fundamental changing, just number changes, so all the changeling spells change P/T in the published set.

Another fun thing that the changeling instants do is suddenly change which tribal effects are active in the middle of combat or in response to spells. You can attack with a sole Kithkin Greatheart into a Lys Alana Huntmaster, then play Shields of Velis Vel after blockers are declared and slay the Elf. Or when your Dread is targeted by Eyeblight's Ending, you can play Wings of Velis Vel to fizzle the kill spell. These things happening at instant speed is so important that we didn't keep any changeling sorceries.

Changeling Shield
Instant - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has every creature type, even when it isn't in play.)
Untap all creatures you control. Those creatures get +0/+2 until end of turn.

Reactive spells play best at low costs, so we brought this down to as cheap as possible. It's cool that a lot of the value here comes from suddenly gaining a lot of creature types. It does plenty without the untapping, and commons should not have extraneous additional abilities, so we cut the untap part.

Changeling Diminish
Instant - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
Target creature becomes 1/1 and loses all creature types until end of turn.

AF 7/21: New changeling card.
MT 7/21: I like this new feel.
DAL 7/23: Me too.

Who can resist the changeling token in his little hat! British folklore of changelings has a lot of emphasis on the idea that changelings replace your baby with one of their own changeling babies, so we tweaked this humble card to fit that myth a little better. The change also adds another answer to the many rare bombs in the set. The change also moved this from a "lose all types" spell into a "gain all types" spell.

Changeling Confuse
Instant - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
Each creature target player controls gets -3/-0 until end of turn.

We added "lose all types" and reduced the number. We moved it to uncommon because this is the kind of weird surprise that is cooler if it doesn't happen as often. The fact that it's uncommon and very situational means that no one ever suspects it.

Changeling Inflation
Instant - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
Target creature becomes 4/4 and gains flying until end of turn.

We added "and gains all creature types" here. We also moved it to common because it simulates a Giant Growth. Having multiple common Giant Growths makes combat more fun by making it more unpredictable and adding more drama to blocking a 2/2 with a 3/3.

Changeling Suffocate
Instant - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
Target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn.

"Black Shock" had a lot of fans, but we liked Tarfire even more, and two tribal instants that killed a 2-toughness creature for 1 mana is too much for the same set. We also added "lose all creature types," which comes up sometimes when various Imperious Perfects would have kept a creature alive through the +3/-3, but erasing the creature types removes the lord's protection and ensures grisly death. At 1B +3/-3, this was earmarked to bring the tribal changeling interactions from Limited into Constructed.

Changeling Plague
Sorcery — Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
All creatures get -3/-3 until end of turn.

After going through literally four or five redesigns for Massacre variants, this eventually became Final Revels. As we reduced the number of changeling spells, this was one of the spells that lost changeling. Board-sweeping effects are powerful enough without being fetched by eight different Harbingers.

Changeling Howls
Instant - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
Two target creatures each get +X/+0 until end of turn.

This card was doing something beyond Fists of the Anvil in that it targeted two creatures, it was a changeling spell, and it would now add all creature types to its targets. That was plenty of new content for a common, and it certainly didn't need to be an X-spell too. We talked about whether targeting two things was also unnecessary, but people liked the way it could change your Elf count by plus two at instant speed instead of just plus one, so the dual targeting stayed.

Changeling Ray
Instant - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
Untap target creature you don't control and gain control of it until end of turn. That creature gets +2/-2 and gains haste until end of turn.

This was the biggest offender in terms of the P/T changing feeling forced on a changeling spell. To me the +2/-2 seems tacked on. The patient did not survive the operation.

Changeling Roar
Instant - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
Target creature gets +4/+4 and gains trample until end of turn.

With Fistful of Force and Briarhorn both at common at the time (yup, that Briarhorn), we didn't need a third Giant Growth in green common.

Changeling Riot
Sorcery - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
X target creatures each get +2/+2 until end of turn.

With Garruk Wildspeaker casting Overrun in the set, we didn't need a second one.

Changeling Scimitar
Artifact - Equipment
Equipped creature gets +1/+1 and gains changeling.
Equip 1
If CARDNAME is revealed from treasure, put it into play equipping the exploring creature.

For weeks, every artifact in the set had some interaction with "exploring" and "treasure." I'm dead serious.

Runed Stalactite doesn't have changeling itself. We talked about whether it should, but decided it would be too annoying to have a cheap, hard-to-kill artifact constantly turning on all the Threshold 1 "racetrips" (Surge of Thoughtweft, Peppersmoke, etc.) without even having any creatures in play.

Universal Champions

One of the things playtesters were really enjoying about Lorwyn's champion mechanic was combining it with "come into play" creatures. At first we only had "champion a [specific tribe]" cards, but people wanted to combine the mechanic with comes-into-play creatures from other sets that weren't in any Lorwyn tribe. Making "champion a creature" cards opened up the mechanic to being combined with anything, not just Lorwyn's tribes. It allowed players to combine champion with comes-into-play and leaves-play triggers like Keldon Marauders, Aven Riftwatchers, Firemaw Kavus, and Deadwood Treefolk. It let them reset Calciderm, and on and on.

All the other "champion a [specific tribe]" cards always championed their own race. So what creature type should champion every race? The tribe that is every race! Changelings it was. Three uncommon "champion a creature" changelings rounded out the five uncommons we wanted.

The Kings of Town

Saintly Changeling
Creature - Changling
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
W: CARDNAME gets +1/+0 or +0/+1 until end of turn.
1WW: Until end of turn, the power and toughness of all creatures in play becomes the power and toughness of CARDNAME.

Mark Rosewater weaves a fine tale of Mirror Entity in his preview for the card. Suffice it to say that the one we published is more powerful than the original design you see here.

Changeling Doppelganger
Creature - Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card has every creature type, even when it isn't in play.)
1UU: Target Shapeshifter becomes a copy of target creature until the beginning of your next turn.

A great design. We changed this only by powering it up, making it cost half as much.

Dark Changeling
Creature - Changeling
Changeling (This card has all creature types, even when it isn't in play.)
As long as a creature card with flying is in any graveyard, CARDNAME has flying. The same is true for deathtouch, doublestrike, first strike, haste, landwalk, lifelink, reach, trample, untargetable, vigilance and protection from any color or creature type.

The designers originally neglected to type in a power/toughness here, leading to this Sottosanti/Forsythe riff:

ps 7/25: needs a p/t.
AF 7/26: Trying him at 18/18.
ps 7/28: how'd it go?
AF 7/31: Too good. Now a 3/3.

DAL [right now]: And now a 4B 4/4. So we powered up the third changeling rare as well.

The designers gave us a cycle of five rare changeling creatures, but that didn't leave much room for changeling rares in Morningtide, so we sluiced the red and green changeling rares over to Morningtide. They will return.

And that's how "Peanut's" initial twenty Dryad Druids became Lorwyn's final nineteen Lizard Wizards.

Last Week's Poll

Which are your favorite splashy rare spell cycles? Choose two
The Wishes from Judgment 4755 20.1%
The Commands from Lorwyn 4310 18.2%
The Pacts from Future Sight 3235 13.7%
The Decrees from Scourge 2931 12.4%
The Beacons from Fifth Dawn 2456 10.4%
The Pulses from Darksteel 1500 6.3%
The epic spells from Saviors of Kamigawa 1470 6.2%
The Shoals from Betrayers of Kamigawa 1366 5.8%
The Winds from Prophecy 1156 4.9%
Some other splashy cycle of rare instants and/or sorceries 509 2.1%
Total 23688 100.0%

At the end of Aaron's article on the Lorwyn Commands, people chose two (get it?), and the poll ran for two weeks, so there are tons of responses here. The Wishes do something so unique in Magic, and they are so powerful in every Constructed format, that it comes as no surprise that they are the big winner. I'm happy to see the Lorwyn Commands so close behind the Wishes, nipping at their heels. Looking at this list of cycles, this is some serious magical power. Tons of these spells just obliterate people—Decree of Annihilation even literally.

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