Days of Future Future: Journey and M15

Posted in ARCHIVES - ARTICLES on August 1, 2014

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Welcome again to the Days of Future Future, where I share some of the decks we created in our Future Future League and give you some insights into what we were thinking when trying to balance Standard.

As usual, I want to add this disclaimer that many of the cards in the decks you will see are different from the final version that saw print—in some cases, the versions in our decks were more powerful, in some cases, they were less powerful.

Chord of Calling | Art by Karl Kopinski

These decks represent months of fine tuning for sets, where cards are constantly in flux and may not look what you are used to when seeing competitive decklists. It doesn't always mean that the decks weren't good; often it just means that our metagame was different or the cards inside them functioned differently. Our goal is to test everything to try and catch things we might not eyeball as being too strong, since those are often the cards we end up most regretting in the future.

With that, let's get started.

The original version of Dictate of Heliod was just as a double Crusade instead of a double Glorious Anthem, but at four mana.

White Weenie by Sam Stoddard

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Instant (3)
3 Brave the Elements
Artifact (2)
2 Spear of Heliod
Land (24)
24 Plains
Other (8)
4 Oromai Shieldmate 4 Heliod's Dictate [at 2WW]
61 Cards

This is a pretty quick and dirty decklist, generated in an attempt to see just how busted the card was. The answer was, unsurprisingly, very. It turns out you don't need to force people to play a lot of white creatures in the same way that Master of Waves forces people to play with a lot of Judge's Familiars and Cloudfin Raptors.

Generally, when testing out cards, we try to figure out what kind of decks we would expect to see them in, in the real world. In the real world, at the time Journey into Nyx was in development, there were a lot of Burning-Tree Emissary decks, and so we spent a lot of time playing with that card, seeing just how far we could push the boundary on our aggro decks.

Red-Green Flamespeaker by David Humpherys

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In this version, Dave was trying out a mythic rare from his set, Prophetic Flamespeaker, and seeing how it would play in a deck full of bloodrush creatures and ways to push the Flamespeaker through. While Flamespeaker has not (yet) done much in the real world, I can guarantee you that a Ghor-Clan Rampager on an attacking Flamespeaker does do quite a bit of damage.

At other times, we have to take a quick trip into Magical Christmas Land to test a card, and see how strong it is when your entire deck is based around it.

Bant Time Walker by Ben Hayes

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The earliest version of Sage of Hours was a lot stronger than the final version, and decks like this quickly led to what was basically an infinite number of turns being taken. Or, at least enough that the opponent was dead. We weakened the card a bit to make sure that actually taking that many turns would at least be a worthy challenge.

Planeswalkers are some of the hardest cards to get right, so we spend a lot of time tweaking their numbers and trying out new abilities before we find the ones that end up getting printed on their cards.

Bant Superfriends by Ben Hayes

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At the time we made this deck, Ajani was able to hit creatures on either side of the table. We decided that the ability to alley-oop with Elspeth into a one-sided Wrath was a little more frustrating than we liked, so we changed him to only hitting your side of the board.

We also look at real-world results and try to make inferences on how decks might play out with all of the new sets added to those decks.

Jund Ramp by Sam Stoddard

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At the time of building this, the Jund decks were doing pretty well in real-life Standard, so I built a deck to see how they would translate into our FFL. The final version looks somewhat similar to the Jund Monsters list in current Standard, but was a bit less polished.

We also take the time to look at some of the more fringy decks, in this case a white-blue Trading Post deck that was similar to a deck Andrew Cuneo had been playing in (then) current Standard. The question for us was whether or not that deck still worked, and what (if anything) we could learn from it.

White-Blue Trading Post by Ben Hayes

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Gavin Verhey, well-known ReConstructed columnist, is a big fan of taking pretty fringy combo decks that he gets in his column and trying them out with new cards. In this case, we realized there was an infinite combo with Archangel of Thune, Horizon Chimera, and Fathom Mage. Since we were putting a powerful tutor into the format (Chord of Calling), we wanted to see what that would do to the deck.

Horizon Chimera Combo by Gavin Verhey

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Our testing showed that the deck was more powerful with Chord than without, but nothing to worry about.

It was around this time that Adam Prosak joined the development team. Getting a new developer is always exciting, because we get to get some fresh eyes on the format and get an idea of what kinds of things we might have missed. One of the first decks Adam came up with was a RW burn deck.

Burn, Baby, Burn by Adam Prosak

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This deck is similar to the deck that won GP Moscow. It didn't lead to any changes for the cards in the deck itself, but it did help us tune our other decks better and realize what those decks needed to succeed.

Magic 2015 brought back Slivers, and our hope was that we could do what Magic 2014 wasn't able to do—and that is make them into a competitive deck, at least at the FNM level.

Slivers! by Ben Hayes

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What we found with the deck was that it was generally pretty competitive. The biggest change to come out of the deck was making sure that Sliver Hive tapped for colorless and not just mana for Slivers, since we found that the deck needed something like Domri or other removal to be competitive. The deck has many weaknesses, but I hope it is something that can make an appearance before Khans of Tarkir comes out.

One of the best data points we can take is to look at the Pro Tour and see what (if anything) we missed, and react to those cards. One of the lists that looked like something we should be wary of was the Mono-Green Devotion deck. We had those lists, but we were not playing Voyaging Satyr. We knew that Courser of Kruphix was still coming up and wanted to make sure the outside-designer card Genesis Hydra wasn't going to make the deck do anything too crazy.

RG Nykthos Ramp by Sam Stoddard

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The goal of the deck is simple—generate a ton of mana, then Genesis Hydra for either a Garruk to draw even more cards, Xenagos to have a giant attacker, or Nylea to make it lethal.

Sometimes, we change cards very late in the process. For example, Necromancer's Stockpile was a card that was in the file but really wasn't doing anything. We already had art for the card, and went about trying to design something more fun for the space.

Zombies by Mons Johnson

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Mons's deck is attempting to test the card with scavenge cards to get card advantage as well as just enough regular Zombies to hit a critical mass.

That's it for this peek into just a few of the decks we were playing during the Journey into Nyx and M15 FFL. Join me next week for Predator Week, where I will discuss decks the predator and prey relationship in the metagame.

Until next time,
Sam (@samstod)