Back to the Future Sight, Part 2

Posted in Making Magic on August 10, 2020

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Last week, I began examining all the futureshifted cards from Future Sight to talk about how they came about and predict their chances of seeing a "preprint" in the future. There was a lot of cards, so I have some more to talk about.

If you need a reminder of how I'm grading the cards, click below.

Click here to see grading

For each card, I'm going to grade its chances of ever being reprinted, in a premier set or a supplemental set with new cards as a significant element of the product, using one of four grades: Likely, Unlikely, Very Unlikely, or Already Reprinted. Here's what each means:

Likely – This is a card that I can see us reprinting in the right environment. It's a reprint card I have actual hope of us maybe one day reprinting, although that day might not be soon.

Unlikely – This is a card that I don't see us reprinting, but possibly under the right circumstances.

Very Unlikely – This is a card I am skeptical will ever get reprinted.

Already Reprinted – I'm assuming you understand this one.

I'll start off with where I ended last week.

Ghostfire

This card has yet to be reprinted, but it's probably had more influence on Magic than any other futureshifted card. Let's start with the mechanics. I designed this card because I believed there would come a day where we would make spells that costed colored mana but were colorless. As many of the things I was predicting mechanically, I didn't know where or how we would use it, I just recognized it was a tool we'd probably need one day. I also liked it as a futureshifted card, as it captured the quality of being something you'd never seen but did so very simply. The set had so much complexity that I was always looking for ways to capture our goals on simple cards whenever possible. This was just a normal direct-damage spell in every way but one.

Obviously, years later, I would find a use for this mechanic in Battle for Zendikar. I needed to find a way to make the Eldrazi feel different in a way that was applicable to any kind of spell at any rarity while being simple. The "Ghostfire effect," as we called it at the time, was the perfect fit. It would later become a keyword mechanic named devoid. (In vision design, we didn't name it, we just wrote it out like Ghostfire did.) Devoid had some issues, as players didn't like a mechanic that felt like it did nothing. With 20/20 hindsight, I would have made devoid a supertype rather than a mechanic.

The more interesting part of this story, though, is the creative side of things. The rationale for it being colorless was that the magic was invisible. Yes, it cost red mana to cast, but the spell itself had no observable quality to it. To help convey this flavor, the following flavor text was written: Only those gifted with the eye of Ugin, the spirit dragon, can see his fiery breath. The writer of the flavor text (whom I'd credit if I could remember them) just made up everything beyond "it's invisible." Ugin, the spirit dragon, wasn't a character that we'd made yet. The flavor text writer was just creating a cool possible future piece of creative.

That flavor text so spoke to the Creative team (as well as the players) that they ended up making Ugin and wove him into the story. If you've enjoyed any of Ugin's story—all of it started with this little piece of flavor text.

I'm always on the lookout for a chance to put a futureshifted card in the set, so Battle for Zendikar seemed like a perfect opportunity to reprint Ghostfire. We were on Zendikar. Ugin has a long history with the plane. Devoid (the "Ghostfire effect") was a mechanic in the block. If ever there was a time for Ghostfire, this was it. There was just one small problem. I'd used devoid to define the Eldrazi. Only the Eldrazi had devoid. Ghostfire was clearly not flavored as being Eldrazi. Was there any way to tweak the card concept to make it work? There wasn't. What if it was a spell being used by Chandra somehow channeling the Eldrazi? That didn't make any sense. I tried idea after idea trying to rationalize a way this card could fit in the set, but nothing I could come up with made creative sense. Sadly, we weren't able to use it, but please know I really, really tried.

I do think there's a good chance we could find a place to reprint this card someday.

Reprint Chances: Likely

Goldmeadow Lookout

This card was part of a cycle.

  • Llanowar Mentor
  • 130341
  • Goldmeadow Lookout
  • Skirk Ridge Exhumer
  • Cloudseeder

You'll notice that the other four cards in the cycle weren't futureshifted. Here's how that happened. We came up with a cool idea of making a cycle of Spellshapers that all discarded a card to make a creature token; but not just any creature token, a creature token that was a copy of an existing Magic card. We then decided it would be cool if one of the cards of the cycle was a futureshifted card that made a creature token of a card that didn't yet exist but would. After looking at all our choices for cool cards to make tokens of, we decided white had the fewest good choices and made a future card for it to create. Goldmeadow Harrier would appear in the very next set, Lorwyn. Goldmeadow ended up being one of the Kithkin clans. Obviously, we knew this when we made the card, as the Spellshaper was a Kithkin and we hadn't made Kithkin in a long time when Future Sight came out. This was one of the few future reprints that we planned at the time we made Future Sight.

Both Goldmeadow Lookout and Goldmeadow Harrier are now tied to Lorwyn, as Goldmeadow is a Kithkin clan from there. A reprint of this card would require it being set on Lorwyn and having Spellshapers.

Reprint Chances: Unlikely

Grave Scrabbler

This card came about because we were mashing two previously existing things together—the madness mechanic along with the card Gravedigger. It also introduced the idea of effects that only happen if a card is played with madness. Madness, along with cards that generated additional effects if the madness cost was paid, showed up in Shadows over Innistrad. It was even set on Innistrad, so Grave Scrabbler being a Zombie fit right in. The card did go in the file, but unfortunately, it ended up being too good for Standard and had to be removed from the set. It's best chance of being reprinted as part a collection of new cards would be in a supplemental set not aimed at Standard.

Reprint Chances: Unlikely

Grinning Ignus

Grinning Ignus was us messing with returning creatures to its owner's hand as a cost. This just hasn't proven to be something we've wanted to do. I don't think the card is problematic, though. Maybe one day if the right set comes along.

Reprint Chances: Unlikely

Henchfiend of Ukor

Michael Elliott first suggested echo during Tempest design. I think it might have been part of his homemade set, Astral Ways. We ended up pushing it back to Urza's Saga. Time Spiral block brought echo back, this time allowing the echo cost to be different than the mana cost. Henchfiend of Ukor was us experimenting with off-color echo costs. I'm not very optimistic of echo's return, which makes the Henchfiend of Ukor's chances of seeing a reprint in a new set low.

Reprint Chances: Very Unlikely

Imperial Mask

Imperial Mask was us hinting at making future cards that take multiplayer into account. While multiplayer has, interestingly, become quite popular, the best-known multiplayer format, Commander, doesn't involve the concept of teammates. All that said, we have toyed with putting Imperial Mask in a set on more than one occasion. I have hopes that one day it finds a home.

Reprint Chances: Unlikely

Imperiosaur and Muraganda Petroglyphs

As much as the Design team was trying to hint at future mechanics, the Creative team was trying to hint at future worlds. One of the worlds that's forever been on the short list of possibilities is a prehistoric world. At the time, we hadn't done a world where Dinosaurs played a large role, and a prehistoric world felt like the best fit, so the creative world didn't just make a prehistoric world, they named it—Muraganda. The Creative team then tied two cards we made that played into simpler aspects of the game (using mana from basic lands and rewarding vanilla creatures) to Muraganda.

Muraganda is a frequent request for a world to visit. There's just one problem. Neither of these two mechanics is very fruitful and not the kind of thing you'd build a world around. So, we're kind of hesitant to visit Muraganda because we don't think we can meet expectations while building an interesting world mechanically. I hope one day to solve this problem, but I have no hope of it being soon. That causes a real problem for Muraganda Petroglyphs, as it's hard to put it on any world other than Muraganda. I think Imperiosaur has a better chance of a reprint, as we've started putting Dinosaurs on more worlds (the players really like them) and its mechanic can be a one-of in a set. For example, I believe they considered Imperiosaur for Ixalan.

Reprint Chances: Likely (Imperiosaur) and Unlikely (Muraganda Petroglyphs)

Logic Knot, Death Rattle, and Tombstalker

Of all the new mechanics we created in Future Sight, the one I had the most hope for was delve. (A hint was that it's the mechanic with the most cards that's not in a cycle—three.) I kept looking at a place to put it. I tried it in Innistrad, but it created too much tension with flashback and other mechanics that cared about the graveyard. We ultimately found a home for it in Khans of Tarkir as the mechanic of the Sultai clan. I was determined to reprint one of the three Future Sight cards with delve in one of the two sets with the mechanic.

How about Logic Knot? The play designers were worried about it, so that was a no. How about Death Rattle? It had a non-green rider on it, which was weird in a set where color was more focused on the wedges than "colors matter." That left Tombstalker. That felt good. It wasn't too strong like Logic Knot, and it didn't have any weird mechanical quirks like Death Rattle. The problem came from the Creative team. Tarkir didn't have any Demons. Later, the Creative team changed its mind and decided to add Demons to Tarkir, but no one remembered Tombstalker, so the card never got made.

The problem the three cards all have is delve ended up being a bit overpowered as a mechanic, so just the mechanic coming back is a longshot, making these three reprints an even bigger longshot. Normally, I'd say that maybe this could be printed in a set focused in a format other than Standard, but delve has proven to be problematic in most larger formats.

Reprint Chances: Very Unlikely

Lucent Liminid

I knew I wanted to eventually use enchantment creatures in a design. I just didn't know where, so the creative treatment on this card was just a random guess. That world ended up being Theros. We talked about including Lucent Liminid, but the block had a rule that all enchantment creatures had to also feel like an enchantment, and a French vanilla enchantment creature didn't live up to that restriction. In Theros Beyond Death, we relaxed those restrictions significantly, but Lucent Liminid still didn't end up making the cut. It was, however, in the vision design file handed off to Set Design. We tried.

I do believe we will use enchantment creatures on worlds other than Theros, so Lucent Liminid will get other chances to get reprinted.

Reprint Chances: Likely

Lumithread Field, Whetwheel, Whip-Spine Drake, and Zoetic Cavern

Morph was a byproduct of the Rules team trying to solve the rules for the cards Camouflage and Illusionary Mask from Alpha. We ended up using it in Onslaught block, and it quickly became a fan favorite. Morph came back in Time Spiral block. We ended up making four futureshifted cards with morph. The first was Whip-Spine Drake, which used an off-color morph cost (similar to what we did with Henchfiend of Ukor and echo).

The other three cards were part of a futureshifted vertical cycle. Morph had only ever been used on creatures, so we made three cards that had morph on the other three permanent types (planeswalker cards wouldn't become a thing until the next set, Lorwyn). The common was a land with morph (Zoetic Cavern), the uncommon was an enchantment with morph (Luminthread Field), and the rare was an artifact with morph (Whetwheel).

I think off-color morph is more likely to see print than non-creature morph, as non-creature morph has a lot of play and rules issues to be worked through.

Reprint Chances: Likely (Whip-Spine Drake) and Unlikely (Lumithread Field, Whetwheel, and Zoetic Cavern)

Sliver Cycle

  • 130644
  • 126187
  • Lymph Sliver
  • 126162
  • Mesmeric Sliver

Slivers were another creation from Mike Elliott's Astral Ways set. They first showed up in Tempest and then returned in Legions and again in Time Spiral. In Future Sight, we decided to make a futureshifted cycle of them with each one granting all slivers an ability never before seen. The chance of seeing any one of these return is low as it requires that we do the mechanic and make a set with Slivers. The more interesting question is what chances do we have to see of each of the five mechanics?

Absorb – This mechanic was inspired by a mechanic we'd made for the Star Wars Trading Card Game called Armor I think. It ended up being a little more powerful than we'd expected and slowed games down, so I'm not too optimistic of its return.

Type cycling Scourge had introduced basic land cycling, where you could cycle your cards and instead of getting a random card, you searched your library for a specific basic land. Type cycling was the same thing, except you got a specific creature type. It shows up not just on Homing Sliver, but also on another futureshifted card, Vedalken Æthermage. R&D has kind of soured on tutoring mechanics, so I think the future of this mechanics is also kind of dim.

Fateseal – Fateseal is basically scrying another player. It's straightforward, and since Future Sight, scry has even become evergreen. The problem is that it's just not fun. It feels really bad to have your opponent scry your library. So, this is another mechanic I'm not too optimistic about.

Frenzy – This mechanic was made as a mechanic to encourage blocking. Don't block me, I get bigger. I've tried to put frenzy in numerous sets, but Play Design is not a fan. I've been told the play pattern is not that fun. I will say of all the mechanics on the Slivers this (or maybe poisonous) has the best chance of seeing the light of day, but that's a low bar.

Poisonous – This was me planting a flag in the ground that poison was going to return one day. I basically just keyworded how poison had always been used in the past. We even started Scars of Mirrodin design with poisonous as our Phyrexian mechanic, but playtests showed that players tended to die to the damage before the poison. It also wasn't very interactive in creature combat. Our solution was infect. Infect had its own issues, and I do think poison will return one day, so maybe poisonous will get another chance.

Reprint Chances: Very Unlikely (Lymph Sliver, Mesmeric Sliver, Homing Sliver, Frenzy Sliver, and Virulent Sliver), Unlikely (absorb, type cycling, and fateseal), and Likely (frenzy and poisonous).

Mistmeadow Skulk

This card introduced protection from particular converted mana costs. It would get reprinted less than a year later in Shadowmoor. As with all the "preprints" in the following year, we planned it ahead of time. We would go on to do protection from converted mana costs on a handful of other cards (Haktos the Unscarred and Lavabrink Venturer).

Reprint Chances: Already Reprinted

Nacatl War-Pride

This card was experimenting with making token copies of itself when attacking. I believe it was trying to be a different take on Overrun, another green uncommon. While the idea is novel, this card ended up being significantly overpowered for Limited and ruined a lot of Limited games. While I don't think we'd use this exact mechanic, it does open up some interesting design space I could see us tapping into one day.

Reprint Chances: Very Unlikely

Narcomoeba

This card was designed during the same session that I designed Bridge from Below. I was looking for a trigger we hadn't done before and came across "when milled." This card is a great example of a card we were able to find a home for. Narcomoeba saw tournament play but mostly because of other cards in the environment. While doing the set design for Guilds of Ravnica, set lead designer Erik Lauer figured out that Narcomoeba fit the set but wouldn't be a problem for Standard because the things it needed to interact with to be degenerate weren't in Standard.

Reprint Chances: Already Reprinted

Dual Land Cycle

  • 130574
  • 130595
  • 136045
  • 130581
  • 126210

This is the cycle of dual lands that I talked about two weeks ago where each dual land in the cycle is from a different potential future dual land cycle. Let's talk about each of the lands.

Nimbus Maze – This dual land has some memory issues to it. We're extra careful about memory issues on lands, as the opponent (at least, in tournament play) needs to track them to make sure you're getting the mana correctly. I do think there's some chance we make this dual land cycle someday.

River of Tears – As a card in a vacuum, I'm proud of this design. The way it works with these two particular colors and how and when you need the mana lines up so neatly. But as a dual land cycle, this card is a nightmare of memory issues. I'm highly skeptical this dual land cycle is going to see a reprint.

Graven Cairns – This dual land cycle showed up in Shadowmoor a whole year after Future Sight was planned out while Future Sight was still in design to ensure that every set had a futureshifted card in it.

Grove of the Burnwillows – This is another dual land cycle I think we can make. It was designed as a mirror of the pain lands from Ice Age.

Horizon Canopy – Interestingly, this dual land cycle was also inspired by the Ice Age pain lands which were a little on the weak side. (It took us many years to understand the right power level of dual lands.) These have an extra ability that lets you trade in the land when you no longer need it. I also have faith we'll see this dual land cycle someday.

Reprint Chances: Already Reprinted (Graven Cairns), Likely (Nimbus Maze, Grove of the Burnwillows, and Horizon Canopy), and Very Unlikely (River of Tears)

Nix

One of the ways you can tell the futureshifted designs were hard to do is that we included a few spells like Nix. I'm not quite sure what exactly this hinted at about the future. Had this just been a non-futureshifted card in the set, I don't think anyone would have noticed. I believe this is the kind of futureshifted card that will get reprinted one day when the right set comes along. Its only real problem is that it's narrow, but in the right world, it might not be.

Reprint Chances: Likely

The Foreseeable Future

I've run out of time yet again. I hope my stories have been enjoyable. I find the futureshifted sheet such a fun moment in Magic history. As always, I want to hear what you think about today's column and any of the cards I've talked about. You can write to me through my email or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me next time for my annual State of Design address before we return for more Future Sight designs.

Until then, may you dream of an exciting future.

 
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