The Titania Dilemma

Posted in Latest Developments on September 27, 2002

By Randy Buehler

Priest of Titania

It all started with Priest of Titania. Well, as Mark explained in his article this week, it actually all started with the Mimics (now known as the Mistform creatures), but once Mike & Mike (designers Elliott and Donais) decided to head down the tribal path, the first card they put into the set was Priest of Titania. They didn’t stop with the Priest, though. Instead they created a whole cycle of creatures that used the same basic mechanic – and they gave them remarkably clever playtest names like “Cleric of Titania” and “Goblin of Titania.” The Titania creatures gave us all our first taste of what it would feel like to play in an environment where creature race mattered and soon we had Titania spells and tribal lands and everything else you’ll be playing with at the prerelease tomorrow.

But it all started with Priest of Titania. And, in a bizarrely ironic twist, Priest of Titania is one tribal card you won’t be playing with tomorrow at the prerelease. Repeating it seemed like a great idea in theory, and on paper, but then we started playtesting Constructed and you don’t have to get your face smashed by a turn-3 Silvos too many times before you realize Priest of Titania is actually really, really good. Too good to reprint, we concluded. If you think about it, it was playable in Constructed tournaments back in the day, during the broken Urza’s block, and there wasn’t any special emphasis on Elves. There weren’t any fatties as good as Silvos to bust out on turn 3 either.

"That's how big? 8/5? Uh... okay then."

So we decided that turn-3 Silvos should only come up in Extended, and at kitchen tables, and that we needed a new green “Titania creature.” It was surprisingly hard to do. We thought about ": Target creature gets +1/+1 for each Elf in play until end of turn," but that was way too good to do for . All the other Titania creatures were 1C and none had mana in their activation cost and, if at all possible, we wanted to keep the cycle symmetrical. (“1C” is R&D code for a cycle of cards that each cost two mana, one of which is colorless and the other is colored – you know, , , – if you’re mathematically inclined, you can think of “C” as a variable that ranges over all the colored mana symbols.)

So +1/+1 was too good and it needed to be a green effect that involved some sort of number that could get bigger depending on how many Elves were in play. For a while we had in damage to fliers, but that was awfully close to what Goblin of Titania (now known as Sparksmith) was doing. Well maybe the Goblin could just damage ground creatures and the Elf could just damage fliers, we reasoned. But the goblin was so good that we still needed it to damage the player too, a la Fireslinger, and then, since we’re big believers in aesthetics and symmetries within our cycles, it seemed like the Elf should also damage you. Of course, that was really lame and no one was happy with either card.

In fact, I’ve been looking back at the notes in our database on this card and the note I put in last December 6th pretty much summed up our thoughts at the time. Here’s all the notes from that record, just for fun:

titania cycle
constructed repeat
RB 11/9: Priest of Titania was too good, changing to different card.
RB 12/6: The world is a much better place if something thinks of a better design for this spot.
RB 12/16: latest try: life gaining (was damage to fliers)
RB 1/26: life gaining seems to be working

I don’t remember who thought of life gaining, and to be honest I’m surprised we didn’t think of it sooner – it’s clean, it’s simple, it’s not too good, and it doesn’t suck either. All in all, gaining life equal to the number of Elves did indeed solve everything and the world became a better place when Wellwisher was born.

Meanwhile, Priest of Titania was still lurking around in the back of our minds and one of the last cards we added to the set was our attempt to capture the flavor and coolness of Priest of Titania, but without printing a card that is too good:

Elvish Guidance

Enchant Land
Whenever enchanted land is tapped for mana, its controller adds to his or her mana pool for each Elf in play.

It comes down a turn slower than the Priest and it doesn’t contribute any mana without some help, but put this into an Elf deck and you can still play some awfully fat creatures, awfully quickly. I guess some of you will be playing with Priest of Titania tomorrow…. Have fun!

Here are the results from last week’s poll:

How do you feel about games involving combo decks?
I hate them 697 6.9%
I don’t like them much 929 9.3%
They’re kind of fun sometimes 3476 34.6%
I like them 2369 23.6%
I love them 2567 25.6%
Total 10038 100.0%

I have this bizarre image in my head right now of a combo card with a microphone in its hand doing its best Sally Field impersonation, gushing, “You like me, you really like me!” Then again, half of you probably weren’t even born when that speech happened so I probably shouldn’t admit to thinking these thoughts.

A couple of you emailed in to explain that combo decks were cool so long as you didn’t have to play against them all the time. I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more. I think it would be unhealthy if all the best decks were combo decks, but I also think Magic is better off with some combo decks than with none. (When I talk about the horrors of the “broken Urza's block” and “Combo Winter,” what I’m really complaining about is that fact that (assuming you wanted to win) your only option was to play combo decks.)

This week’s poll:

One of the important things we did during both the design and development of Onslaught was to focus our tribal energies on as few races as possible. Since tribal cards could usually only reference one race and since creatures could only have 1-2 races, there just wasn’t enough room in the set to support a lot of different creature types. There are a number of cards that let you choose a race and there are cards that let you manipulate what race creatures are, but when it comes down to it, there are really only 8 races that “matter” in Onslaught.

Randy may be reached at

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