Unlikely Flavorful Inspiration

Posted in Latest Developments on March 22, 2002

First things first, last week I asked you guys whether or not you thought we should have printed Fact of Fiction. Several of you wrote in to say that one interesting way to make it a little bit worse, but still good, would be to make it a sorcery (and possibly lower the cost). I think that’s actually a really good idea. The synergy between countermagic and instant-speed card drawing is quite high and if blue mages were forced to tap out in their main phase when they want to draw extra cards, then blue decks might not be as easy to play or as annoying to play against. This is precisely the logic we used when we decided to make Concentrate a sorcery and don’t be surprised if you see more sorcery-speed card drawing in the future.

I deliberately left off “yes, but ...” from the choices, though, because it’s too easy and what I really wanted to do was grade my own decision to push Fact or Fiction. It’s too late to go back and change it, obviously, but it’s not too late to try to learn a lesson I can apply in the future. Anyway, here are the results of the poll:

Should Fact or Fiction have been printed?
Yes 4976 77%
No 1474 23%

So there you have it -- regarding balance, you seem to think the cool interactions created by Fact or Fiction are worth it, even though the power level is on the high side.

On to flavor text!

The development team for any given Magic set always sends a representative to the naming and flavor text team for that set. The dev rep is supposed to make sure everyone on the creative teams knows what the cards do (there’s usually a bunch of changes every week during development) and the dev rep is supposed to make sure the names and flavor text make sense with the rules text on the card. In addition, of course, the dev rep gets to have aesthetic opinions about what’s cool and what’s not.

I’ve played that role on two sets: Planeshift and Odyssey. I think the most interesting thing that happened on either team was when the flavor text process actually inspired a card.

Rei Nakazawa had read an early draft of the book for Odyssey. While reading through it, he pulled out a bunch of quotes from the main characters that he thought might make for good flavor text. As we started finding places to put them on cards, one character leapt out at me as having a pretty cool voice: Braids.

Zombies don’t kill, they recruit.
Anyone can snap her fingers and yank a soul. I prefer to kill creatively.
It offers you what you want, not what you need.
Home is where you can find a decent graveyard and strangers can disappear without awkward questions.

I thought it was kind of cool that we had this fairly smart, very unashamed, smart-ass dementia summoner. She understood how the world worked and what her role in it was and, oh, by the way, she was pretty much insane, but not too crazy not to reel off a good one-liner.

Not exactly deep commentary, I know, but like I said, the dev rep is entitled to an opinion and that was mine.

I didn’t really know much about Braids before that. She was not one of the legends that the story folks had asked us to include in the set and those are usually the only characters I ever need to know about. However, as flavor text selection continued, her voice kept showing up more and more -- she seemed to be claiming a major role.

That’s about the time that the final art came in for Diabolic Tutor. The art description asked for a dementia summoner having a devious idea, but Eric Peterson's piece just didn’t look like it belonged on a tutor. It looked like art that would represent the character shown in the art, not a spell.

We looked briefly over the set and there was no obvious card to swap this art onto, but then it occurred to me that this could be what Braids looks like. Crazy female dementia summoner type, check. Meanwhile, I knew we had a card that had been floating around various sets (it was actually originally designed by Mike Elliott for Tempest) called Entropy Imp.

[Entropy Imp]
Creature - Imp
At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player sacrifices a permanent.

This seemed like a pretty reasonable ability for a crazy dementia summoner, so I suggested that we take the Diabolic Tutor art, put it on this card, change it to a legend, and call it Braids. Thus the card you all know as Braids, Cabal Minion was born. (We later decided that black should not have the ability to sacrifice its own enchantments so we changed it to “sacrifice an artifact, creature, or land.”)

This is the only example I know of where flavor text actually inspired a card design. We're pretty happy with the way the card turned out -- good flavor, interesting mechanic, and a nice power level. Even when it comes to something as simple as flavor text, we're constantly looking for ways to improve the game.

Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.

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