Too Good... Make It Better

Posted in Latest Developments on September 19, 2003

By Randy Buehler

How the Scythe was reforged

In honor of tomorrow’s prerelease, where you’ll start collecting your own stories of playing with Mirrodin cards, I would like to offer up one of my favorite moments from my own experiences playing with and developing Mirrodin cards.

We always make a lot of changes to the cards during the development of any set. Sometimes we make things better or more interesting or cooler, and sometimes we make things worse. The most common reason for us to lower the power level of a card (aka “make it worse” or “nerf it”) is because someone built a deck where the card looks too good. My favorite Mirrodin story, however, is a case where Rules Manager Paul Barclay built a deck that “broke” a Mirrodin card, and we responded by making the card better.

Here’s the card in question:

Originally, this card only gave the equipped creature +2/+1. However, that was before Paul put this into a deck with Triskelion, an awesome Mirrodin repeat:

The two cards combined for an instant win! First you put the Scythe onto the Trike, then you shoot your opponent once, and then you have the Triskelion shoot itself twice. That will make it a 3/2 creature that has taken two points of damage, so it will die. But since it was killed by a creature wielding the Scythe, it comes back and the Scythe gets attached to it for free. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Contrary to what some people believe, R&D is not dead set against combo decks. As you’ll see when you start playing with Mirrodin, there are a lot of open-ended cards and engine cards and any number of ways to combine them and do ridiculously powerful things. However, R&D does have a rule of thumb that we follow for combo decks: it should take at least 3 separate cards to win the game. So we are against 2-card insta-win combos, and Trike plus Scythe was exactly that.

When Paul found this combo we were kind of disappointed. We thought the Scythe was cool and we really liked the idea of reprinting Triskelion. Since Triskelion was a repeat, we couldn’t change the wording on it, so we had to look at the Scythe for ways of breaking up the combo. (Technically, we could have changed Trike to not damage players and then also change the name to something else, but then we’d lose all the nostalgia that comes with “Triskelion.”) Anyway, when looking at the Scythe we really liked it’s flavor and we wanted the keep all of its abilities. We actually considered breaking our two-card-combo rules since these two cards were both relatively expensive and thus this combo would be hard to pull off early, but Paul’s deck was depressingly good so we knew something had to change.

That’s where inspiration stepped in: If the Scythe gave the creature an extra point of toughness then the Trike would have to use up all three of its counters just to commit suicide! There wouldn’t be any counters left over to deal damage to anything else! At first this fix felt like cheating, but the more we thought about it the better the idea sounded. If we ever printed a 4-counter version of Triskelion, then the combo would come back again, but there just aren’t any other creatures like Triskelion right now. Lo and behold, the way to make the Scythe worse was to make it better.

Note that there are still a billion ways to pull off a Triskelion/Scythe of the Wretched combo, but all of them require some additional card(s) to make the engine work. It is left as an exercise to the reader to figure out if any of those combos are good or not…


I can only remember one other time when we made a card worse by making it better and that was Draco.

The initial version of this Planeshift card cost 18 mana (with the same cost reduction mechanic as the final version). We were worried, however, that the number 18 was awfully close to the number 20. We sometimes do cards that reference the converted mana cost of other cards and then do something with that number (like Rush of Knowledge from Scourge or Pyromancy from Urza's Legacy). There weren’t any really easy ways around at that time to take advantage of a card with 18 printed in the upper right-hand corner, but we didn’t want Draco to introduce a design constraint to the game that would prevent us from doing any such cards in the future. So we started thinking about whether Draco really needed to cost 18. At 16 mana it could be played for just 6 if you had out the full domain of basic lands, and that seemed pretty good, but getting out the full domain wasn’t incredibly easy. In the end we decided that Draco would be too powerful in a weird way if it cost 18 and we really had to lower the mana cost in order to make the card worse.

I think the best way to use Draco’s mana cost as an advantage back during the Invasion block was with Artifact Mutation. Since then, of course, we’ve printed a number of cards that combo with Draco in much more powerful ways. Erratic Explosion is probably the best and that combo is so good that many people play Draco-Explosion decks in Extended. Brainstorm and Scroll Rack help set up the combo and then the rest of the deck just needs to deal four damage (or wait for the opponent to tap painlands and play Vampiric Tutors). Even with Draco at 16 that deck is good enough that it has won money at the Pro Tour, so I’m definitely glad we made the change that we did.

Good luck finding your own cool Mirrodin combos and have fun at the prerelease!


Last Week’s Poll:

Will you be Playing Team Sealed at the Prerelease?
Yes 3302 27.7%
Maybe -- up to friends 2949 24.7%
Not going 2035 17.1%
Probably 1860 15.6%
No -- I'm playing individually 1775 14.9%
Total 11921 100.0%
Randy may be reached at

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