The Magic Is Back

Posted in NEWS on June 29, 2009

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

It's been a while since you've been home. This was not unexpected, of course. You're a planeswalker who is constantly hungry for more power and knowledge, and one does not discover new spells and sources of mana by sitting around. However, you've recently seen a lot of chaos even for planeswalker standards. You watched a plane flip polarity in front of your very eyes, then soon after you observed the chaos when five different planes collapsed onto one another. You aren't sure how many planeswalkers have seen even one planar event of that magnitude, let alone two back-to-back. However, all that change got a little tiring, and you've chosen to come home to relax for a while before going on your next adventure.

You came home to get a break from worlds in flux. No plane is safe from change, however, and things are not exactly as you remember them. The townspeople chatter about mysterious nighttime disappearances and refuse to leave their homes after dark. The newly chosen captain of the watch invites you to join a band of men and women trying to uncover the source of these disappearances, but you decline.

After some investigation, you discover that the humans aren't the only race mobilizing for conflict. The new goblin leader is carving out more and more territory for his tribe, the elves have organized under a wrinkled old elder who guards a mana source of enormous power, and the merfolk have adapted to life on land so that they can chase their enemies out of the water. Even the world itself seems to be nervous about the coming conflict. Intense windstorms that spring from nothing decimate flocks of birds and drakes alike, and the lightning storms are more potent than you've seen them since you were a child. This is your home plane, but it is not what you remember.

Welcome to Magic 2010.

Magic 2010 is the first core set since Alpha to contain new cards. This let us make exactly the cards that we felt should represent the baseline of Magic without being constrained by the past. In some ways, Magic 2010 is a creative reboot. We want Magic cards to feel like resonant and recognizable fantasy. To accomplish this, we chose cards with resonant concepts and made new cards to represent ideas we liked that had not yet been made into cards. In other ways, Magic 2010 is a design and development reboot. We included cards that had mechanics that we loved and had good concepts. Where we found cards that had effects that we felt represented Magic in the way we wanted but had poor fantasy concepts, we changed the concepts and made a new version. We also made some cards that we have wanted to make before but did not have room for in previous sets.

Those of you who have been with us for along time are likely used to core sets having no new cards, and you will still notice many familiar faces. In fact, half the cards in the set are reprints. Some of these cards are great concepts that have clean mechanics that we love. For example, Clone perfectly expresses the concept of the shapeshifter, and it also has clean mechanics to match. It was in Tenth Edition, and we're keeping it for Magic 2010 because it does exactly what a Clone should do.


The heroic knight is another classic idea in fantasy. There's something appealing about the idea of a lone hero going off to fight evil. Of course, sometimes there's a corresponding champion of evil running around, and when that hero meets him there is going to be a fight. Neither first strike nor very strong cheap creatures are things that we often give black these days. However, for a card as resonant as Black Knight, we were willing to make an exception even though it hasn't seen print in many years.

Black Knight

Other old cards made it because they are executions of mechanics that Magic designers and developers love that also happen have good enough flavor. For example, we know that many players love gaining life and love creatures. This overlap makes Soul Warden a card we love to print. It was in Tenth Edition, and it's coming back again for Magic 2010.

Soul Warden

A card we love for similar reasons is Lightning Bolt. The card is powerful and appealing, and it also has a spot-on resonant concept. We know that Lightning Bolt is stronger than any burn spell we've printed in a while, and we're okay with that. Just like Black Knight, we've chosen to make a bit of an exception for a fun card with a great name and concept.

Lightning Bolt

Other times, the evocative card that we wanted to print simply didn't exist. Under our previous model, we had to struggle to fit simple and evocative cards we wanted for core sets into expansion sets whose creative worlds did not support them. For example, it would make little sense to put a small humanoid vampire into the Shards of Alara block. The only vampires there are gigantic and scary flying creatures, so it just didn't make sense to do this from a creative standpoint.

Another difficulty came from the smaller set size that we introduced with Shards of Alara. Before, we would sometimes plant a card in a set that we wanted to have for a later core set. One example of this kind of plant is Negate in Morningtide. However, we now have fewer cards in each set, and we must still support the mechanical themes of each set to the same degree. This meant we had very little room for core set plants even where they did make sense.

The solution to both problems was to throw away the requirement that core set cards be reprints. The new cards in Magic 2010 are just as flavorful, resonant, and accessible as the reprints we have chosen. In many cases, we haven't been able to make them before because the creative or mechanical themes in previous sets do not support them. With this obstacle out of the way, we were simply free to make the cards we wanted all along.

One great example of this is vampires, a classical fantasy trope that has a rich history in literature and film. Magic had vampires before, but they were all huge and almost all flew. That's very different from the they-walk-among-you-and-you-don't-know-it kind of horror that marks much of the modern vampire trope. That kind of vampire doesn't swoop above you in spectacular fashion; they just drag you into a back alley and you are never heard from again. That kind of vampire just didn't exist in Magic before, and we hadn't made a set where humanoid vampires were part of the creative.

Magic 2010 gave us the freedom to make the vampires we wanted to make. Here is one of them.

Child of Night

This isn't the only vampire that Magic 2010 has to offer. Also, we aren't just bringing vampires to Magic; we're bringing Magic to vampires. Many of Magic's humanoid races have had lords going all the way back to Alpha, and the vampires in Magic 2010 also come with their own lord. Here he is.

Vampire Nocturnus

Times will be dark indeed for your opponent when the top card of your deck is black. Of course, no fantasy story full of frightening monsters like vampires is complete without a protagonist who bravely fights against the darkness. Therefore, we made just such a hero to fight them.

Undead Slayer

Other cards in Magic 2010 are top-down designs that are unconnected to any kind of larger story but are clean cards that express an understandable concept. For example, what would an ooze dangerous enough to destroy anything it touches look like when translated into a Magic card? Well, it probably looks a lot like this:

Acidic Slime

Child of Night, Vampire Nocturnus, Undead Slayer, and Acidic Slime are all great top-down cards that would be out of place in most Magic blocks. However, they still make great Magic cards. We're excited that we now have a place to put them.

Of course, not every new card was built with a top-down concept in mind. We need certain things for Magic to work well, and we found cleaner executions of many of these staple effects in Magic 2010. For example, we know that some new Magic players scorn the Tenth Edition painlands. One must be a sophisticated Magic player before it is obvious that risking damage in order to cast one's spells more consistently is a good idea. A new player who is in contact with experienced players learns that the painlands are strong when those experienced players try to trade for their Shivan Reef and Caves of Koilos, but the power just isn't obvious. We don't mind printing cards whose power and value are not immediately apparent, but we don't think dual lands should be in this category. We want to encourage players to have functional multicolored mana bases. Making some of the best tools to accomplish this unappealing to play with goes directly against that goal.

For Magic 2010, we wanted powerful new dual lands that experienced players and new players alike could love. Here's what we came up with.

Glacial Fortress
Drowned Catacomb

It is true that these lands do not come into play untapped on the first turn. That doesn't mean that they aren't powerful. I have played these lands in many decks that had sufficient basic lands that the lands rarely came into play tapped. You can get around the drawback almost entirely by having all of your one-drops come from one color. I also find Glacial Fortress and friends to be more pleasant to play with than painlands. I played a bunch of painlands while I was gunslinging at Grand Prix–Seattle/Tacoma, and I found it very fidgety to adjust my life total every time I wanted to cast a spell after not having to do that for a while in Constructed playtesting. We expect that new players may not understand why their experienced friends desire these lands so much, but they will understand why the lands are worth playing.

Dual lands are not the only cards that received upgrades due to design and development concerns. Earlier in this article I mentioned that many of Magic's races have had lords since the game began. Goblin King, Elvish Champion, and Lord of Atlantis are all famously loved cards. They give awesome direction for deck building and lead resonant humanoid races that many players love. However, there are two big problems with them. The first is that they give bonuses to every member of their tribe. It is fun to give bonuses to one's own Eves; it is not so fun to give the same bonuses to the opponent's. The other problem is that the extra landwalk riders are a little bland to our modern sensibilities. It makes sense that an Elvish Champion would know his way around a forest, but Goblin King and Lord of Atlantis doing the same trick is a little repetitive now that we know that we can make cards like Merrow Rejeerey, Lord of the Undead, and Imperious Perfect.

We decided to make new tribal lords for Magic 2010. They all pump only your own creatures, and they all do extra things on top of the tribal power and toughness bonus. My preview card today is the new goblin lord. Meet Goblin Chieftain.

Goblin Chieftain

Exciting, no? Keep in mind that Siege-Gang Commander is also sticking around from Tenth Edition to make sure that this guy is never without friends. Lightning Bolt will also be a constant companion of both of these cards for the next fifteen months. Of course, we didn't just make a saucy goblin lord; there's a whole cycle. At the end of Magic 2010 development, Ken Nagle remarked that he didn't know if a more appealing elf lord could be made. You will meet that card soon as well.

Siege-Gang Commander

Your first opportunity to get Magic 2010 cards will be the Magic 2010 Prerelease weekend. Prereleases will be held at local stores all around the world on July 11 and 12. I'm a little biased because I was on the development team, but I think Magic 2010 is the best core set Limited environment we've made yet. The ability to make new cards let us sculpt the flavor of the set, but it also let us tune the Sealed Deck and Draft environments much more precisely than we could with Tenth Edition. I'm proud of the work that we did to make Magic 2010 Limited awesome, and I'm sure that anyone who goes to the Prerelease will have a great time.

Today is only the first day of two weeks of Magic 2010 previews. Stay tuned to and the ever-growing Magic 2010 Visual Spoiler to see what Magic's next core set has in store for you, and we'll see you in two weeks for the Prerelease.