The M Files: Khans of Tarkir, Part 2

Posted in Latest Developments on September 26, 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.

We're back for another episode of The M Files—this time finishing up Khans of Tarkir with Green, Gold, and Colorless.

But first, as always, our cast of characters:

EVL: Erik Lauer—head developer and lead developer of Khans of Tarkir

MR: Mark Rosewater—head designer and lead designer of Khans of Tarkir

AF: Aaron Forsythe—senior director for Magic

BH: Ben Hayes—developer

DE: Dan Emmons—former Magic designer

DH: Dave Humphreys—development manager

EEF: Ethan Fleischer—Magic designer

Max: Max McCall—former Magic digital developer

ID: Ian Duke—Magic developer

Ken: Ken Nagle—Magic designer, lover of fatties

SPS: Sam Stoddard—Magic developer; also, that's a-me!

TML: Tom LaPille—Magic Online digital designer

SM: Shawn Main—Magic designer

DB: Doug Beyer—Magic senior creative designer

TABAK: Matt Tabak—he is the Rules

Del: Del Laugel—editing manager

SW: Steve Warner—former Duel Masters/Kaijudo and Magic playtester

MJ: Mons Johnson—Duel Masters/Kaijudo developer and Magic playtester

GSV: Gavin Verhey—Magic experience designer

DOH: Dan Helland—design coordinator

And back to the file:

Feed the Clan

EVL 7/3: Power up!
EVL 7/17: 1G → G
EVL 7/19: I replaced a super wordy common with a simpler one.
KEN 8/26/2013: Gotta be prettier numbers out there. Gain 6 or 10?
TML 9/11/2013: I like 7 and 13. Prime numbers are my favorite!
Tabak 9/15: I like 7 and 14. Football numbers are my favorite!

Gooooal! Oh wait, that's another thing.

Heir of the Wilds

DB 7/18/2013: Now that Power Up is 4-power-matters, I think we had talked about this guy being 1G 2/2, becoming 4/4?
EVL 7/24: Thanks Doug :)
TML 10/16/2013: Added vigilance!
EVL 11/13: Now an attack trigger.
SPS 12/11/13: I found this worked well with cards like Mogis's Warhound.
EVL 12/16: Adds trample too.
Del 2/17: +deathtouch. Ferocious ability no longer gives trample.
Del 3/20: +2/+2 → +1/+1

We wanted an early-game Constructed reward that could work with ferocious, and came up with this basic idea. But the actual stats and abilities of the cards changed quite a bit during development, including a point where ferocious cared about 5 power instead of 4. Near the end, we added deathtouch because we found that a green weenie that was meant to attack was too often being blanked by Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid before you had ferocious, but was still being blocked by Polukranos if you did. Deathtouch helped but also meant that becoming a 4/4 was more generous than it needed.

Highland Game

EVL 6/19: Bigger Tarpan!
EVL 7/3: Back to 1G 2/2.
EVL 9/5: Down to 2/1. Gain life more often!
TML 10/14/2013: Delicious!

Highland Game is literally game. Literally.

Meandering Towershell

[Note: Playtest name was Turtle McDurdle]

EVL 8/6: New card by Ken Nagle.
DH 8/14: Sorry hexproof turtle, no Auras for you. Also, this will take a long time to kill someone.
TML 8/22/2013: I really wish this weren't just three power.
GSV 08/03/13: Agreed with Tom. Also, seeing Turtles in green is a bit jarring to me. (I guess we did green ones a long time ago, and the last turtle was in WWK, but this still messed with my expectations.)
TML 9/11/2013: I would be sad to make a card whose point was literally to be a bad green rare. This text box is super adorable and I'd rather cost it at least sort of normally.
DOH 9/19/13: Eyeballing that this card has potential to create drama if it were scarier. I'd trade hexproof (no drama from hexproof, just despair) for scary stats.
KEN 9/19/2013: I'm inclined this needs 1 power so it's a 40-turn clock.
Tabak 9/25: This card is so adorable. I can hear its voice in my head.
EVL 10/27: Removed hexproof, but added a power.

Lead Developer Erik Lauer loved the idea of a turtle that was basically invincible, but so slow that it took two whole turns to attack. Kind of the opposite of Rocket-Powered Turbo Slug. As a result, he made this card, which confused quite a few people. While it may not have ended up as the strongest card in the set, I think it is one of the more charming.

Abzan Ascendancy

EVL 7/12: Trying Empires as cool enchantments.
DB 9/12/2013: This might be my favorite of the empires. It's the one I'd want to build around even outside of a hunker strategy.
EVL 10/23: Now creates a token
EVL 10/25: Now just one +1/+1 counter.
EVL 12/16: Creates a token without the "+1/+1 counter" requirement.

The original versions of the Ascendancies were much more flavorful, but incredibly complex, enchantments that worked somewhat like Planeswalkers. You could attack them to try and take counters off them, and battle for control of each of the five "empires" in Tarkir. Erik Lauer decided that (1) with all the other complexity going on in the set, these cards didn't add enough, but (2) there just hadn't been many wedge-colored enchantments, so we moved the cards into the "independently cool and powerful space."

Bear's Companion

EVL 9/5: Now Uncommon.
Tabak 9/15: Yay monocolored token!

The time-honored tradition of Broodmate Dragons and Armada Wurms everywhere.

Death Frenzy

EVL 6/19: BG Toughness deck
DH 7/3: Neat complement to Miming Slime.
EVL 6/19: Toughness matters.
SPS 7/6: I am somewhat worried about this card being too strong in Constructed.
EVL 7/24: added a mana
TML 8/22/2013: I would not mind if this only gained 1 life per creature and cost four again.
ID 8/23/13: I like TML's numbers
EVL 8/28: Trying Tom's numbers.
TML 10/18/2013: Up a mana.

One of the goals of making sweepers like this is to be able to beat the weenie decks. But when it was gaining 2 life per creature, it was totally locking out the game on turn four if you were crazy enough to play three 2-toughness or smaller creatures. In the end, we put it in a place where I would be surprised if it saw play in Constructed, but it accomplishes the goals needed for Limited.


SM 11/14/12: New card.
ID 2/5/13: Cool card.
AF 6/3: Beware of fizzling.
SM 6/5: "Then do nothing to six target permanents."
TML 6/26/2013: This sounds wrong.
KEN 7/24/2013: I've played with/against this since early design, I like it and how it encourages the caster to have a single large guy.
DE 7/25/13: Upset about fizzling, but the concept in how this card is supposed to work is amazing.
DH 8/14: If we are unhappy with this, is there something like 'Destroy each creature that doesn't have the greatest toughness on the battlefield.' that we'd want?
MJ 8/14: could also be: Wrath, then return a creature that died this turn (at 4GWB, perhaps). Clearly more of a control card, however.
SW 8/15: Not a fan of this wording, the effect is destroy all creatures other than target creature. Indestructible doesn't matter since if your opponent can deal with it, they will to prevent the wrath. I do like Mons's version.
DH 8/15: Mons's version is also appealing to me. Think I'd want it to return a creature 'you control' or 'you own' that died this turn.
EVL 8/15: added a mana.
DB 8/15/2013: Indestructible works much better with the "endurance" feel of the clan, rather than necromancy. FWIW.
Max 8/22: Could be 'Choose a creature you control. Destroy all other creatures.' unless we're married to indestructible.
TML 8/22/2013: I kind of prefer Max's wording.
Del 8/23: Agree, but note that "you control" wouldn't need to be there.
EVL 8/23: OK
Tabak 9/15: I think "you control" might want to come back. As written, if you have no creatures, you have to spare one of your opponent's creatures. EVL 10/25: Instead of "you control", I went with "up to one".

One of the quirks of the Magic rules is that things fizzle when all of their targets are removed, even if the target isn't the main point of the spell. It makes putting the word "target" on a Wrath of God–style card problematic. The solution here, which we worked out over time, was to let the player choose up to one creature as the card resolves, as opposed to targeting before the card resolves. It let us keep the intended functionality without worrying that people would never use the "save a creature" mode, as it risked the Wrath not happening at all.

Highspire Mantis

EVL 8/9: 3/2 → 3/3
Max 10/25: Doesn't this cost 2GU?

You knew that you could make a red-white card out of a mono-black card, but did you know that you could make a red-white card out of a green-blue card?

In all seriousness, this felt weird to a few developers. But it makes sense, as we have moved to granting red more and more trample at lower rarities to give it better evasion options.

Jeskai Ascendancy

EVL 7/12: Trying Empires as cool enchantments.
EVL 9/4: Added 2 mana, and always 1 card per turn.
EVL 10/14: Changed to casting creature spells, and costs 4 mana.
TML 11/11/2013: Now loots instead of draws, and is fake kung fu instead of creature cast.
DH 11/19: Is this the only way in set to gain kung fu? Hope people get that it stacks.
TML 11/19/2013: We cut a mana in FFL.
Del 3/5: New first ability. Was "Creatures you control have prowess."

The ability on this card was changed from "Creatures you control have prowess." because of how horrible that trigger condition actually is. It works face to face (if you don't want to be too technical) but is a nightmare on Magic Online (where you get an individual trigger per creature). So, instead, we bundled them all together to make pseudo-prowess that has most of the same functionality but saves on time and clicks.

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant

EVL 7/18: New design, hoping for Constructed.
EEF 7/23/13: Neat!
KEN 7/24/2013: Seems like a popular dredgy commander.
MJ 8/14: seems quite strong, probably too much so.
SPS 8/14: Was expecting 2/2. 3/5!!!
EVL 8/14: 3/5 → 3/3.
EVL 8/28: Only one zombie per activation. Also 3/4 instead of 3/3.
TJA 10/23: "From anywhere"?
EVL 9/17: 3/4 → 3/3.
EVL 10/3: Triggers from anywhere instead of just library.
TML 11/11/2013: Now back to the old way, and 3/4.
EVL 11/13: back to 3/3

The leader of the Sultai clan was one of those cards that was pretty hard to eyeball and required some testing. I think she ended up as one of the stronger khans but does a thing we like, in that she requires a lot of work as a build-around. We ended up letting players only get one Zombie per self-mill so the decks that played her were less incentivized to be 100% creatures and could use other Sultai dredge cards like Murderous Cut or Dig Through Time.

Siege Rhino

EVL 6/29: FFL needs anti-discard due to Liliana. Is this the place?
EVL 7/17: Tom suggests giving this ETB drain.
EVL 8/8: back to anti-discard
DH 8/14: This card isn't messing around. Seems generous given that Centaur Healer saw play, but we can see how challenging the wedge mana is.
MJ 8/14: agreed.
EVL 8/21: 3/4 → 3/3
EVL 9/3: back to 3/4 to fight control.
EVL 9/4: Now 1GWB 3/5.
EVL 9/17: now a 4/3 that drains for 3.
Team 10/8/2013: To 4/4 from 4/3.
EVL 10/25: Now just drains for 2.
TML 11/11/2013: Lost a mana and a power and a toughness.
TML 11/18/2013: Gained a toughness!
Del 11/19: Black uncommon in the set says each opponent loses 2 life and you gain life equal to the life lost this way. Confirm that they should be different?
SM 11/21: I would strongly prefer us to use this template on both those cards.
EVL 2/5: Can't be countered instead of anti-discard. Also 4/5 instead of 3/4, and o1oWoBoG instead of WBG.
Del 2/27: Trample replaces can't be countered.

There was a point during the early development of Khans of Tarkir that Liliana of the Veil was in the FFL from Magic 2015. She was a pretty crazy-powerful card and led to us putting "anti-Liliana text" on a few cards in Khans, including this one. Ultimately, we felt the upsides of reprinting Liliana didn't line up with the downsides of knowing ahead of time how many cards we would need to print to keep her in check in Standard. That kind of thing is often worth it for a mechanic, but rarely ever for a single card.

As the Rhino evolved, we kept looking for a place where it would feel different than Polukranos, but still be able to compete with the Hydra, if not head-to-head. When we moved Anafenza down to three mana, we moved the Rhino up and gave it the trample ability to go over the top of the token decks we were seeing a lot of in our FFL. Sometimes you have a hammer, and it's important to figure out which nail you want to go after.

Trap Essence

EVL 11/21: Now gets a variable number of counters.
EVL 1/18: Back to two counters.

This card was changed due to how frustrating it was, especially in Limited. The card wasn't incredibly strong, but the variance between times that it did very little and the times it countered a Siege Rhino on turn three and ended the game was higher than we like. Moving it to a set number of counters means that playing around it doesn't mean not playing your cool cards.

Villainous Wealth

SM 6/6: Was reanimating a permanent of each type. Dev suggested bribery a permanent. Design didn't like and now genesis wave/epic experiment your opponent.
SM 7/23/13: Exciting.
EEF 7/23/13: This looks like fun. I like playing other peoples' decks.
GSV 9/8/13: This is awesome. Can't wait to cast this card.
TML 9/11/2013: Now nonland for clarity. Also sure didn't expect this was Constructed.
DB 9/12/2013: Reads very fun.
DH 11/19: Still one of the most appealing cards in the set for me. Even if it isn't that strong.
SM 11/21: Agree. This looks like the most fun.

Of all the cards in the set, it's possible that Villainous Wealth had the highest delta between people believing it was too strong and people believing it was unplayable. Where did we end up? Not sure. We never broke the card, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this in a ramp deck, at least in the sideboard, doing some pretty crazy things.

Lens of Clarity

ID 3/27/14: Future Tom has disappointed past Tom.

Not much context for this comment. Yet.

Ugin's Nexus

EVL 7/10: New card from Shawn Main
EEF 7/23/13: Wonderful! We should print this card.
KEN 7/24/2013: I like the exile clause, nice to have on Time Walks.
DE 7/25/13: I guess this card depends on the 'time in a bottle' top down design, but it doesn't really do anything for me. Like some time flavored card.
SPS 8/14/13: Hmm...the legend rule actually makes this card better. Weird.
EVL 8/14: Good point. No longer legendary.
DB 8/15/2013: Ouch. Was going to make this a story point. But I can see why legendary is problematic.
TML 8/22/2013: I think that still works for me?
ID 8/28/13: Legendary might actually be a good thing on this. If it turns out to be abusable, it's likely by saving them up or cloning them.
EVL 9/5: Tricky text, does it work?
SPS 10/24/13: This reads really wonky to me :/
TML 11/19/2013: I love it. :)
KEN 2/3/2014: I suppose if we're going to print an extra turn card for every Commander deck, make it also hose extra turns. ;)

Ugin's Nexus was a hard card to get right. We liked the idea of "time in a bottle" that you could crack and get a Time Walk. And it wanted to be legendary—but that meant that cracking it became trivial—just play a second copy. The concern wasn't one of power level (assuming it exiled), but more of wanting the appropriate amount of difficulty to come out of trying to actually use a Johnny card. The final text is a bit wonky, but it succeeds in the play pattern that we were hoping for: playing a second one prevents you from taking the extra turn granted by the first one.

That's it for this week. Join me next week as I discuss commons and how we make them.

Until next time,
Sam (@samstod)

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