Time Traveling

Posted in Latest Developments on January 7, 2011

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.

Next Monday is the release date for Masters Edition IV, a Magic Online-only set built only from pre-Mirage cards and cards from Portal and Starter sets. Primarily, Masters Edition IV cards come from Limited Edition Beta, Arabian Nights, and Antiquities. The set is a trip back in time, made entirely of cards built before modern development, but condensed into a set that is meant for drafting and meets modern standards of Limited play.

Masters Edition IV is the second Masters Edition set development I have led. My experience with Masters Edition III gave me a big leg up on developing this set, as I had an idea of what pitfalls I would need to fill in, jump over, or run around. However, I also had a leg up from my fantastic development team, which I'm going to tell you about right now.

    Zac Hill

Zac is a recent addition to the Magic development team. Due to our long pipelines, you haven't seen a ton of his direct work yet other than Duel Decks: Elspeth vs. Tezzeret. However, he contributes a ton to Future Future League playtesting, and "Action"—his first development team—isn't too far away. Of course, you may also know of him from his prolific Magic writing or from his Top 8 finish at the most recent Pro Tour–Honolulu, which happened just before he joined Wizards.

    Alexis Janson

Alexis burst onto the Magic scene by winning the first Great Designer Search, which earned her a contract position in Magic Ramp;D. She parlayed that into a Magic Online coding position, and the team she leads now is responsible for much of Magic Online's back-end functionality, including card coding. She has also served on several design and development teams. I was excited to work with her on this project for several reasons; she has an encyclopedic knowledge of old Magic cards, she has a perspective that is both unique and intelligent, and she was the one who I would have to convince that we should actually try to code bizarre old cards like Word of Command!

    Erik Lauer

Erik was the lead designer of Masters Edition IV. This is not Erik's usual gig, of course—he's a developer just like I am, and an experienced one at that. He recently ended an amazing run of having been on every main set development team from Eventide to Mirrodin Besieged. Despite this, he was the one who built the plan for Masters Editions II, III, and IV, and served as lead designer for all three. I love working with Erik He was also kind enough to write us this week's feature article about his design of all three.

Judging by the forums from Erik's article this week, some of you may be scratching your head at something I said in that last paragraph. Masters Edition IV needed a lead designer? All the cards were already made! What gives?

I'm going to borrow a metaphor from Magic Ramp;D director Aaron Forsythe. Two different buildings built with the same steel and glass can produce totally different experiences. A luxury office building is serious, sober, productive, and busy. A luxury apartment building is inviting, homey, friendly, and warm. These feelings are not due to the materials; they are the architect's vision coming to life. Although the materials are the same, the building is different.

The same is true for the Masters Edition sets. Pre-Mirage cards are the only materials we had to work with, but that doesn't mean that the set was ready to be built without work. Someone had to walk in, look at the materials, and decide what kind of building could be made with them. That person was Erik. In the case of Masters Edition III, Erik envisioned a Limited format in which mana-intensive legendary creatures from Legends and creatures with horsemanship from Portal Three Kingdoms were the best routes to victory, and gave me his best guess at a card file that delivered on this idea. As the lead developer, it was my job to make sure that the file did what he wanted it to do. I leave it to you, the players, to decide whether I delivered on that. However, when Luis Scott-Vargas excitedly talks on a YouTube draft video about how Riven Turnbull is one of the best cards in his deck, I feel confident that Erik gave me a cool idea, and that I made sure that idea came through in the cards.

Now, let's talk about Masters IV. We had three main goals, and I'll go through them one at a time.

    It Feels Like a Trip Back in Time

The bulk of the cards in Masters Edition IV come from the three first Magic sets to ever be released, and many of the same cards that dominated kitchen tables in Magic's earliest days are the cards that will dominate Masters Edition IV draft tables. You'll be hoping to open cards like Force of Nature, Shivan Dragon, and Mahamoti Djinn, and when you play them, you'll be hoping that they don't fall to a Terror or a Swords to Plowshares. The uncommon creatures you'll hope to see in your packs are Sengir Vampires, Air Elementals, and Juggernauts. Perhaps if you're fortunate, you'll have Counterspell—not a counterspell, theCounterspell-to stop your opponent's key card.

Each Masters Edition set reaches back in time, and Masters Edition IV reaches back the farthest. If you were around for the very beginning of Magic, you'll probably enjoy the flood of memories coming back. If you weren't, here's your chance to catch up.

    It's Fun to Draft

Although the overall experience of the set is nostalgic, there are aspects of Magic's history that aren't so exciting to revisit. One of those aspects is early Limited play, which was really quite bad. Mirage was the first set developed with Limited in mind, and Masters sets are built out of cards made before that. This is our opportunity to apply modern development technology to those cards, and apply it we did.

Modern Magic sets have themes, and this one is no different. Although Limited Edition Beta and Arabian Nights were not mechanically themed, Antiquities was decidedly an artifact set, and Masters Edition IV is as well. You won't be scrambling to get enough artifacts for metalcraft in your deck, as we didn't have mechanics like that back then. However, you can expect to be attacking and blocking with Obsianus Golem, Primal Clay, and Clockwork Avian, and your Divine Offerings, Crumbles, and Artifact Blasts will do good work for you.

If you really want to maximize Masters Edition IV's artifact theme, though, I suggest you turn your eye to the basic land slot. Unlike every other Magic set in recent memory, you won't find a basic land there. You'll find an Urza land.

These lands inspired players to build decks full of high-mana cards when Antiquities released, and similar decks were powerful while Eighth Edition and Ninth Edition were legal in Standard. You now have the chance to build those decks in Draft. I don't expect more than one or two drafters at a table to put together a dedicated Urza land deck, but if you happen to be in one of those seats, you may find yourself casting Obsianus Golems on turn three or pumping Dragon Engine's stats to 7/3.

Also, just like modern sets, Masters Edition IV has as much of the detail tuning that we put into modern sets as the card pool allows. I don't want to spoil everything here, because exploration of a brave new world is part of the fun of a new Magic set, but I'll give an example. Several powerful creatures in the set have the ability to regenerate, including Clay Statue, Sedge Troll, and Living Wall. There are also less powerful regenerators, like Drowned and Diabolic Machine. We wouldn't do that, of course, without including ways to deal with regenerators. Lim-Dûl's Cohort does a decent amount of work in this area, but my favorite bit of texture in the set is Gravebind.

Gravebind is a common in Masters Edition IV. It would be quite a bad card in most Limited environments. I guarantee you that it is not bad in this set. How good is it? Well, I'm really not sure, but I know I was usually happy to play my first one in any black deck, and I enjoyed ambushing Clay Statues when my opponent thought it was safe to attack into my creatures. Of course, Gravebind is by no means the only place that our modern development technology helped us make Masters Edition IV better, and I invite you to look for other oft-ignored cards like it that can give you a leg up on the competition while you're drafting.

    It Gets Old Cards onto Magic Online

Masters Edition IV contains a ton of powerful and quirky cards that have never been seen on Magic Online before. Many of these are powerful, and help complete the online Legacy or Classic card pool. Things like Maze of Ith, Sinkhole, Library of Alexandria, Mishra's Workshop, Fastbond, and several other restricted cards fall into this category. We want the Magic Online card pool to line up with paper as much as it can over time, and these cards are important to the Constructed formats lining up. However, that's not the only reason to bring cards back. There are plenty of cards in pre-Mirage sets that aren't important to Constructed formats, but were casual hits, or do something that no other Magic card does. For example, Leeches is the only card in Magic that removes poison counters, and In The Eye of Chaos has an effect that no other card matches. Those cards need to get online too, and that's what we did.

Another thing that Masters Edition IV got to do that I'm happy about is to get old-school art on Magic Online. It would be strange to omit cards like Atog, Armageddon, or Counterspell from a set based on Magic's earliest cards, but rather than see this as a problem, I saw it as an opportunity to release those cards using their original art. In the real world, I loved playing with AntiquitiesAtogs and Japanese black-bordered Fourth EditionCounterspells, and people more ambitious than me went out of their way to get things like PortalArmageddons and Arabian NightsCities of Brass. Masters Edition IV gives Magic Online players the chance to play with old-school versions of those cards, some of which are in black borders for the first time.

As a bonus, I'll address some frequently asked questions.

Why are there 105 rares?

As stated before, one of the goals of the Masters Edition sets is to get tons of old cards onto Magic Online. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of pre-Mirage cards that work as commons with modern development technology, so lots of the goofy cards we wanted to get online had to exist at higher rarities. With Sinkhole, Mishra's Workshop, Maze of Ith, ten restricted cards, and all ten dual lands all in the set, we felt that there was enough room to fit plenty of cards we wanted in.

Why were some cards previewed as mythic rare?

In the design file, all ten of the cards that are restricted in Vintage were mythic rares. This gave us ten mythic rares and ninety-five rares. I thought this was a good idea that would let the restricted cards be exciting to open even though you only needed one of them, but very late in the process someone realized that a much lower percentage of packs would contain a mythic rare than in paper sets. There was enough concern about messaging this that the restricted cards were demoted, and there are now 105 rares.

Why are all ten dual lands in the set?

We want Legacy to be accessible in the long term for Magic Online players. Part of making that possible is keeping the cards that make Legacy mana bases work available over time. We included the dual lands again in this set with this goal in mind.

Why aren't the Power Nine in the set?

This wasn't my call, so I'm not going to answer. Instead, I'll pass you to Worth Wollpert, who had this to say on the Magic Online forums.

The last post I will make on the subject until its not ...

Just because the p9 do not appear in MED4 does not mean they are never coming to MTGO.

They aren't in MED4 because I want to be *very* careful about how they're deployed, especially as a resource that means so much to so many people, and bottom line was I didn't think MED4 was the right venue.

Many folks internally are for and many are against. Ultimately, it's my call. There are a lot of discussions happening all the time.

I just wanted it to be clear that we haven't come to a decision we're comfortable sharing right now, but just because that's the case, don't take silence or omission in MED4 to mean anything more than it does.

Masters Edition IV releases on January 10. If you've got a computer and you're feeling adventurous, come back in time with us and explore what Magic was like in the very beginning. Release events start on January 12. I hope to see you in one!

    Previous Poll
Which Magic 2011 Titan is your favorite?
Grave Titan315037.2%
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Inferno Titan90310.7%
Frost Titan87110.3%

    This Week's Poll
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