Developing Convoking

Posted in Latest Developments on July 25, 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.

Many players noted before Theros came out that convoke was a mechanic that would've fit perfectly in the theme of mortals believing in gods, and they are right—but we knew then that we were saving convoke for Magic 2015. Choosing returning mechanics for core sets is difficult, as we want something people will remember fondly, but also something that has room for improvement. In convoke's case, it was a mechanic that first appeared in Ravnica: City of Guilds (a very popular set), but because it was only in Selesnya, there was a lot of room for new cards in new colors. We knew the mechanic was fun (which is important for any reprint mechanic) and we knew there was plenty of room for new cards (which is also important).

Today, in Latest Developments, I wanted to talk about some of the specific convoke cards in Magic 2015, and give you an idea of how they came to be.

Reprinting Convoke

When looking for convoke cards for Magic 2015, we knew we wanted a few reprints to remind people both what they liked about convoke the first time and that they were genuinely good cards. For the players who originally played with Ravnica, the hope is that the cards will be a fond memory, and make them excited to play with the mechanic again.

Siege Wurm is one of the most iconic convoke cards because of how huge of a role it played in Ravnica Limited. Siege Wurm shows off, at a low rarity, how powerful convoke can be. It's easy for people to evaluate that a seven-mana 5/5 with trample is very weak, while a six-mana 5/5 is only mediocre. A five-mana 5/5 trampler, though, is suddenly a very powerful common. At four mana? Look out.

Because Siege Wurm is such a simple card, it works well as a benchmark for understanding the mechanic. The mechanic is much harder to evaluate on many other cards—by just how much mana players are saving, or to give players the opportunity to really take advantage of token making (like Raise the Alarm). Siege Wurm is one of the best tools we have for simply showing why convoke is awesome.

Many players noted the lack of Chord of Calling in Modern Masters and were confused by it. Well, it's because we knew convoke would be coming back in M15 and wanted to save the card for Standard. Chord is the kind of card that I believe leads to fun decks with a toolbox feel without the overwhelming power that a card like Birthing Pod brings to the format. Chord of Calling is powerful, but it has enough weaknesses and limitations that it's very hard for it to be the "only" thing worth doing in a format. It's easier to set the Chord of Calling deck back with a wrath, and it's not a repeatable effect, so it is less about pure value.

I am very excited to see how Chord of Calling plays in Standard. Because there are simply a lot fewer creatures to convoke out (as well as fewer two-card combos), it will probably be weaker than it is currently in Modern, but it should still provide the base of a deck full of one-of creatures that you can "tutor up" for an advantage. Reclamation Sage, for example, is a great sideboard card, but Chord lets you run one main-deck and pull it out of your deck when it will provide its greatest benefit.

Limited needs removal spells, and white gets several different varieties—most notably the Pacifism and the Divine Verdict effects. Putting convoke on a removal spell is interesting for Limited and helps make sure the mechanic is relevant. As luck would have it, the team for the original Ravnica came to a similar conclusion and created Devouring Light. It was an easy inclusion for us to put into the set and take the opportunity to give the art a revamp.

The card began in the set as a common, but it quickly proved itself to be too frustrating. Part of the fun of uncommons is that they don't show up enough in a draft that you have to play around them at all times, which in turn increases the chance they will actually act at full power. At common, players knew at all times they had to play around it, which made combat a risky decision. It meant the combat tricks in the set were not worth playing against white and generally made things less fun. As an uncommon, the card made Limited more fun, not less.

One of the other things that Limited needs is combat tricks, and Gather Courage was one of the best from the original Ravnica. It's a good benchmark because it is clearly worse than Giant Growth on base rate but also is easy enough to make it "free" that players can understand why it is so strong. This is another card we found was much more fun in Limited at uncommon than common because players aren't playing around it all the time. It made it all the more effective when it actually came up.

Designing New Cards

Once we had an idea of what reprints to use, the goal was to figure out what were some new card designs that would make the most out of convoke—as well as how to put it into all five colors.

Seraph of the Masses is first because it was a card that made perfect sense with convoke. It's a costly flier, but one that rewards you for doing what is the strongest thing to do in a convoke deck—playing lots of creatures. When looking to make new cards with a returning mechanic, we try to find something for them to do that is natural.

Seraph of the Masses also works great for Limited in creating a real build-around card for the green-white token decks, where you can put any of the creatures that can't afford to attack anymore into one large creature. Also, because (unlike Siege Wurm) it doesn't have a base power and toughness, it will likely float to someone who has the capability within his or her deck to take advantage of it. A red-green deck can easily ramp into Siege Wurm, but a white-blue deck will generally not find that Seraph of the Masses is as good of a deal.

Stain the Mind actually began as a slightly different card—a convoke Mind Shatter (minus the random part). The problem with the card was that the cost kept creeping up, from to , and it was looking like it would need to be in order to become a card we were happy to print in Standard. Turns out that making your opponent discard his or her hand on turn four in an aggro deck is a pretty frustrating effect. would've solved that problem at the cost of making the card unplayable, so we decided to go back to the drawing board and figure out what else this card could do, and we ended up with Memoricide.

This is an effect we like to have in Standard most of the time. It's a nice way to build in safeguards to prevent one deck (or, specifically, one very powerful card) from dominating the format. Slaughter Games was a great way of making sure that even if Sphinx's Revelation was the most powerful card in the format, the decks that relied too heavily on it could be heavily punished.

Figuring out what blue would do with convoke was difficult. Blue is traditionally not a creature color, so it didn't make sense for a blue convoke creature. A counterspell was possible, but we tend to not like "free" counterspells—meaning that the cost we would need to put it at would make it pretty unappealing.

The route we went was to play with the idea that blue likes artifacts, and make a card similar to Grand Architect. The blue-red archetype in M15 is "artifacts matter" and that only made this card make more sense.

Red was a little easier to figure out than blue (after all, it has more creatures than blue, and is more aggressive to boot), but we still needed to find the right numbers for the cards. Giving +1/+0 and first strike was the easiest one. Stoke the Flames started off as a Shock, but that quickly proved too powerful. Looking at how strong the red aggressive decks are in current Standard might give you an idea of why. Being able to play a non-haste creature and immediately use it as a combat trick was a bit too much. Even at a sorcery, it was just too good.

The best open amount of damage was 4. It was a number that was missing from red's burn spells in Standard and one that left it vulnerable to creatures like Courser of Kruphix and Brimaz, King of Oreskos.

Next week, I will be back with some of the Future Future League decks for both our Journey into Nyx–era decks and our Magic 2015–era decks.

Until next week,
Sam (@samstod)

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