Welcome to Izzet Week. This is the third of our guild theme weeks for Return to Ravnica block. (Selesnya Week was a month back and Azorius Week was two weeks ago.) This is the second time we've done guild theme weeks. The first was back during the original Ravnica block. For those theme weeks, I talked about the color philosophy of all the guild color pairs. (You can see all my guild columns here.) This time, I'm examining each color pair from the eyes of design. What does it take to design blue and red together specifically, as well as to design for the Izzet guild?
For each of these articles, I am answering the same four questions and then talking in depth about each of the two guild mechanics, the one from the original Ravnica block and the new one in the Return to Ravnica block. As this is the third in the series, hopefully you've gotten the gist.
- What's the Easiest Thing About This Color Pairing?
When you list the colors with the most creatures, from highest to lowest, it goes like this:
It just so happens (not remotely coincidentally), if you flip this list on its head, you get the colors with the most instants and sorceries. What this means is that blue and red are the two "spell colors" in the game.
When we look to combine blue and red, there's a lot of pull toward spells. Both Izzet mechanics, which I'll talk about in a moment, are based around instants and sorceries. In addition, the Izzet guild has a number of cards with what I'll call "instants and sorceries matter." These are all cards that reward you for playing a lot of instants and sorceries.
- What's the Hardest Thing About This Color Pairing?
Of all the ten color pairings, blue and red have the least amount of mechanical overlap—especially at common. As an example, let's look at evergreen creature keywords in two or more colors:
First Strike/Double Strike (Red-White)
Every two-color combination has something (and yes, white-blue and blue-black both only overlap at flying—that's its own problem) with the sole exception of blue-red. This is especially a pain when designing hybrid cards where the only design space is overlap.
Also, while the two colors both make use of spells, how they use those spells tend to be very different. Blue is the slowest color, red is the fastest. Blue is the most reactive while red is the most proactive. The essence of what makes them enemies pulls them in very different directions.
- What's the Mechanical Heart of This Color Pair?
Blue-red always comes back to spells because there just isn't that much connecting the two colors mechanically. Both like casting spells for their own reason, so the best way to tie them together is to find a way to connect their spellcasting. There are several ways to do this.
First, you can do something to their spells. This is what both Izzet guild keywords did: Create a new ability that allows you to improve your spells and then give it to blue and red.
Second, you can trigger off of instants and sorceries being played. This encourages a deck full of them, and as blue and red will have the most, this color combination will have the easiest time building this deck.
Third, you can care about any type of spell getting played, as instants and sorceries tend to have more cheaper spells that can be used beyond the first few turns. This, for example, is why the storm mechanic tended to gravitate toward blue and red.
Fourth, you can make permanents that get boosts when instants and sorceries are played. Izzet tends to like creatures with this ability, as it plays into the experimenter flavor of the guild.
Fifth, you can interact with instants and sorceries. For instance, blue is able to bring instants back from the graveyard while red can get sorceries. This came about, by the way, because there are times we want cycles where each color brings back a different card type. Black, naturally, gets back creatures every set, with spells like Raise Dead and Gravedigger. White is able to get back enchantments. Green can get back anything with Regrowth-like spells, so it waited until everyone else chose. Blue wants instants to get back counterspells. So that leaves red with either sorceries or land. As king of land destruction, getting back land feels weird, so red gets sorceries. Thus, green gets land.
Note that this is more limited than a lot of the other color combinations and tends to lead to more combinatory effects (which is fine, flavorwise, as the Izzet have a strong Johnny feel).
- What's the Focus of This Color Pair?
Philosophically, when you combine the intellect of blue with the passion of red you get creativity. I like to refer to the Izzet as passionate thinkers. As such, the sensibility they have is one of experimentation. As a designer (and acknowledged Johnny), I tend to gravitate toward this Rube Goldberg feel. Blue-red wants to do things where things interact with other things and the end result is something bigger than the sum of its parts.
Blue-red, more so than most color pairs, tends to build its decks around interactions happening. It's very common, for a Constructed Izzet deck, to start with a single card capable of grandiose potential and then build around it. I feel, of the ten guilds, the Izzet is the most Johnny (with Simic and Golgari coming in second and third).
You'll note that the Limited game has less of that creative feel and the reason is that it's a lot harder to get a Johnny sensibility when you have so much less control over what cards you get. (Obviously, Draft moves closer to Constructed than Sealed.) As such, Limited play leans more on the mechanical connection—the spells—than the focus.
Some mechanics have glorious origin stories and some do not. Replicate falls into the latter category. The Guildpact design team (Mike Elliott as lead, with Aaron Forsythe, Devin Low, and Brian Schneider) realized that blue and red overlapped the strongest on instants and sorceries and looked for mechanics that worked specifically on them.
The original version of replicate was called polycast, and it allowed you to recast the spell as many times as you wanted when it was first cast. In this version, there was no separate cost associated with replicate, as it kept reusing the mana cost. This version was changed in development to have a cost associated with replicate. Why was the cost added if it matched the mana cost every time? Because we felt there was a decent chance of bringing the mechanic back, and that allowed us the flexibility to make replicate cards where the replicate cost was different from the mana cost.
As a quick aside, players have asked which of the ten original Ravnica block mechanics do I expect to see return. Here are my thoughts:
Forecast (Azorius): Unlikely, for "repetition of play" issues.
Haunt (Orzhov): Unlikely, for confusion and likeability issues.
Transmute (Dimir): Unlikely, as we're cutting back on tutors.
Replicate (Izzet): Likely to return.
Hellbent (Rakdos): Unlikely, as it wasn't that well received and has limited design space.
Dredge (Golgari): Unlikely, for power reasons.
Bloodthirst (Gruul): Already brought back in Magic 2012.
Radiance (Boros): Unlikely, as it wasn't that well received and has limited design space.
Convoke (Selesnya): Likely to return.
Graft (Simic): It would need to find an environment where it made sense, but it has a chance of returning.
That means that only bloodthirst, convoke and replicate have a good chance of coming back, with graft being the one other mechanic that isn't "unlikely."
The design of replicate was similar to overload in that it was all about finding small effects that would have value if they could be made into magnified versions. Most of the replicate cards are just running through the basic spell abilities of blue and red. As we wanted the mana cost and replicate costs to match, there was a little juggling, but mostly it was handled by development.
The one other big issue was whether or not the spell was going to be one big spell or a bunch of little ones. The year before, the Champions of Kamigawa block had the splice mechanic, which combined effects into one large spell. Because Ramp;D was okay with making the mechanic better against permission, the "bunch of little spells" option was chosen.
There's not too much else to say about replicate.
Ken wrote a feature article about the creation of this mechanic. If you're interested in another take on it, you can read that here.
This mechanic goes all the way back to the very first Great Designer Search. The first design challenge was called "Gimme Five," and in it I made the contestants design three five-card cycles—one at common, one at uncommon, and one at rare. For each rarity, I randomly assigned them a card type. What follows are the cards Ken Nagle submitted for his common cycle of sorceries:
Common Cycle—Sorcery: Dispersion
Dispersive Silence (Common) W Sorcery: Destroy target enchantment. Dispersion 4W (When you play this card, if you also paid the dispersion cost, target all enchantments.)
Dispersive Mold (Common) G Sorcery: Destroy target artifact. Dispersion 4G (When you play this card, if you also paid the dispersion cost, target all artifacts.)
Dispersive Blast (Common) R Sorcery: Dispersive Blast deals 2 damage to target creature or player. Dispersion 4R (When you play this card, if you also paid the dispersion cost, target all creatures and players.)
Dispersive Path (Common) U Sorcery: Target creature is unblockable this turn. Dispersion 5U (When you play this card, if you also paid the dispersion cost, target all creatures.)
Dispersive Revival (Common) B Sorcery: Return target creature card in your graveyard to your hand. Dispersion 6B (When you play this card, if you also paid the dispersion cost, target all creature cards in your graveyard.)
The Dispersion (alternatives—Radiate, Splay) mechanic allows single targeted spells to change from aimed missiles to cluster bombs. Since sorceries make poor combat tricks, I dispersed Limited staples. I went simple. Simpler. Then...simplest. The flashy fanciness is left for higher rarities (Giant Growth, Unsummon, and ... of course ... Stone Rain).
Aaron: Kenneth's cards are good enough to survive this round, in my opinion, but he'll need to step it up if he wants to win. His commons bury effects that aren't common in reminder text—innocuous-looking cards are actually Tranquility (ok, sometimes common), Shatterstorm (uncommon at best), Falter (common), Steam Blast (uncommon), and some kind of one-sided Empty the Catacombs (rare).
Devin: Last week: "Kenneth's had a couple of good hits that I enjoyed, and the whole thing did not have a lot of flaws. But it did not have a lot of awesomely inspiring newness either. He played it pretty safe, and a lot of the cards said to me "We really could make this card....But which players are looking for this or will be excited to get it?"" This week, the commons are a good idea, but some effects are not well chosen Common Steam Blast, Raise Dead all are excessive.
Gleemax: Common—Good keyword, so-so execution.
Mark: Kenneth, I felt this was a good week for you. Your initial submission put you in the middle of the pack and the first design challenge has advanced your standing.
Your common cycle used the dispersion mechanic. It's a good mechanic that I could see us using. It has the nice flexibility in that it can be burned early cheaply for a small effect or create a larger effect later for a larger cost. The reason we do many mechanics like this is they help make limited play smoother (see question #18 on the Great Designer Search Multiple Choice Test).
My biggest issue with the mechanic was that you chose the wrong effects. I believe this mechanic can be used at common, but both effects have to be acceptable for common. In addition, I think you want most of the dispersion costs, especially at common, to be colorless mana because it lessens color screw. Finally, you want to have some dispersion costs that are a little cheaper. An example of what I would want to see is something like this:
Target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn. Dispersion 2
Ken claims that the dispersion mechanic was inspired by the Torment card Radiate.
The judges all basically said the same thing—the dispersion mechanic was interesting but it required some nuance in what effects you used. As I said in my review, the mechanic could work at common "but both effects have to be acceptable at common".
Flash forward to the first design meeting of Return to Ravnica. Ken suggested dispersion as the Izzet mechanic. My response: "I remember that." Everyone liked the mechanic and it stayed the Izzet mechanic for the remainder of design and development.
The challenge with the mechanic kind of stemmed back to Ken's initial design. It's neat in concept but tricky in execution. One, both effects have to work in the rarity of the card. Two, there's a big swing between targeting one thing and targeting all things. Three, you have to make sure the cards don't become too hard to process. This happens when it's unclear whether or not you even want to use overload because things are happening to you and your opponent.
Let's walk through how we solved each problem.
- #1—The Rarity Issue
The easiest way to solve this was to make sure the overloaded version was something we would do in the rarity the card was in. At common, this means the targeting-all option had to also be a common effect. We simply had to see what target-all effects existed at common to get a list of possible effects. At higher rarities, as long as the larger effect fit the rarity we were good. It was okay if the single effect was from a lower rarity.
- #2—The Swing Issue
This ended up being more of a development issue than a design one. The key for design was making sure we were making effects where both sides would want to be played at different times.
- #3—The Processing Issue
We solved this problem by deciding that we didn't want overload to ever be downside (well, at least not most of the time). To help solve this, we figured out who you wanted to affect—you or your opponent—and then put that into the targeting. For example, let's look at Mizzium Mortars.
The card says "target creature you don't control," so when you used overload it just hit your opponent's creatures. If the effect was something positive you wanted on your own creatures we said "target creature you control."
Overload didn't have a lot of turmoil in either design or development and was printed pretty much as design intended. Matt Tabak okayed the fun rules text that Ken wanted (replacing all instances of "target" with "each"). And that is how overload finally made it to print eight years later.
- Izzet Over?
That's all I have to say about Izzet. I'm curious as always to hear what you have to say on my favorite guild. Feel free to email me, write in the thread or contact me on social media (Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+).
Join me next week for the second part of my parenting column.
Until then, may you embrace your inner mad scientist.
Drive to Work #7 – Alliances
On this week's podcast, I look back to the very first set I worked on, Alliances. (I was on the development team.) A lot of interesting things happened, so you might want to give it a listen.
- Episode 7: Alliances (14.0 MB)
- Episode 6: Gold Cards (16.9 MB)
- Episode 5: Ravnica (12.9 MB)
- Episode 4: Invasion (14.2 MB)
- Episode 3: Planeswalkers (15.0 MB)
- Episode 2: Zendikar (15.3 MB)
- Episode 1: Tempest (13.8 MB)
- But Wait There's More … Yet Again!
Continuing on my quest to get some of you hired, here's the job description for this week:
Senior Graphic Designer
Here's what they're looking for:
High school diploma or equivalent required. Certified training or degree in appropriate field desired. 5+ years experience in graphic design. Expert in required design software. Thorough understanding of print process. Able to execute rough and final designs utilizing the designer's creative tools photography, illustration, type, color, texture, and dimensions. Expert skills in using Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign (CS4 Suite) in the Macintosh environment. Experience with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint desired. Excellent communication and presentation skills. Proficient organization, prioritization and time management skills. Adept in developing creative materials appropriate to the target customer, customer patterns, usage patterns, popular and economic trends. Expert in file building techniques, including the creation of white under printers and spot plates. Knowledge of advertising, promotional techniques, merchandising, point-of-sale, and exhibit strategies useful. Working knowledge of text and trade publishing a plus. Thorough understanding of print production including PDF file generation, direct to plate, color separation and four-color printing techniques required. Can act as subject matter expert for graphic designers and associate graphic designers. Must be able to balance aesthetic and production considerations. Knowledgeable in electronic file management and proper archiving practices across large networks. Monitors and reports on emerging trends and technologies in design and production. Knowledge of Wizards brands, products and promotional strategies required.
If this sounds at all up your alley, check out the full job listing here.