Dominaria United States of Design, Part 2

Posted in Making Magic on September 5, 2022

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 started telling card-by-card design stories from Dominaria United. Today (and next week), I'm going to tell more.

Braids, Arisen Nightmare

Braids, Arisen NightmareShowcase Braids, Arisen NightmareShowcase textured-foil Braids, Arisen Nightmare

Braids first showed up in Odyssey as a dementia caster working for the Cabal.

Her card was very popular and continues to see play in formats where it's legal. She would get an alternate-reality card in Planar Chaos depicting her as if she hadn't joined the Cabal.

Braids returns in Dominaria United, but much changed. Here's her first version:

Braids, Dimension Dweller (version #1)
2BB
Legendary Creature — Human Nightmare
3/3
At the beginning of each player's turn, that player sacrifices a nonland permanent or discards a card. If the sacrificed or discarded card is historic, that player loses 2 life and CARDNAME's controller gains 2 life.

The first version of Braids stayed close to her original card. As I said above, the card sees a lot of play, so we designed her new card to have a similar feel. This version allowed discard in addition to sacrifice and tied into historic, a mechanic that Vision Design was planning to have return.

Braids, Dimension Dweller (version #2)
3BB
Legendary Creature — Human Nightmare
3/3
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, look at each opponent's hand. You may exile a creature card from each opponent's hand for as long as you control CARDNAME. Create tokens that are copies of each card exiled this way except they're also Nightmares and have "If you don't control a creature named CARDNAME, sacrifice this creature."

The next versions started going down a different path. This one played up the idea of her being a dementia summoner. She could "steal" creatures from the opponent's hand, turning them into Nightmares. Because this is a powerful effect, the design required Braids be in play so that the opponent could answer the threat.

Braids, Dimension Dweller (version #3)
2BB
Legendary Creature — Human Nightmare
2/2
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice an artifact, creature, or planeswalker. Then create a number of Powerstone tokens equal to its converted mana cost. (They're artifacts with "T: Add C. You can't spend this mana to cast spells.")
XB, T, Exile CARDNAME: You mill X cards, then return up to one artifact, one creature, and one planeswalker from your graveyard each with converted mana cost X or less from your graveyard to the battlefield.

The third version went in yet a different direction. It allowed you to turn your resources into Powerstone tokens and gave you a second ability to use those Powerstone tokens to get certain permanents from your graveyard to the battlefield. I think this was just a different take on what dementia summoning could mean. I should note that this was the point in the file where we tried to make Powerstone tokens a bigger part of the set as a "throw forward" to The Brothers' War. Powerstone tokens went through a lot of changes (which I'll go over in my The Brothers' War preview). This design used an earlier incarnation of them.

Braids, Dimension Dweller (version #4)
2BB
Legendary Creature — Human Nightmare
2/2
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice an artifact, creature, or planeswalker. Create a number of Powerstone tokens equal to its mana value. (They're artifacts with "T: Add C. You can't spend this mana to cast spells.")
Grandeur – XB, Discard another card named CARDNAME: Return up to one artifact card with mana value X or less from your graveyard to the battlefield, then do the same for creature and planeswalker.

The next version added grandeur, the keyword ability from Future Sight where you can discard additional copies of a legendary creature to generate an effect. I don't like how grandeur was used on this card because it required additional copies to do the core thing the card wanted to do.

Braids, Dimension Dweller (version #5)
2BB
Legendary Creature — Human Nightmare
2/2
T, Sacrifice another creature: Return target creature card with mana value equal to 1 plus the sacrificed creature's mana value from your graveyard to the battlefield. That creature is a Nightmare in addition to its other creature types. Activate this ability as a sorcery.

The fifth version was a tweak on a mechanic first seen on a card named Hell's Caretaker, a card from Legends, that allows you to sacrifice creatures to return creatures from the graveyard to the battlefield. Unlike Hell's Caretaker, this design tied together the size of the sacrificed creature and the one you return. It added the Nightmare creature type for flavor but didn't provide an easy way to track it.

Braids, Dimension Dweller (version #6)
2BB
Legendary Creature — Human Nightmare
2/2
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice an artifact or creature, then choose one:
• Return target artifact or creature card or with mana value equal to 1 plus the sacrificed permanent's mana value from your graveyard to the battlefield.
• Create two powerstones. (They are artifacts with "{oT}: Add {oC}. You can't spend this mana to cast spells.")

The next iteration combined elements of previous versions, now as a modal "enters the battlefield" (ETB) effect. I do like that the sacrifice cost was baked into the base effect. This version also expanded what you can sacrifice (now an artifact or creature) harkening back to earlier versions.

Sacrifice Everything (version #7)
3BBB
Sorcery
Sacrifice all permanents you control. Reveal that many cards from the top of your library. Put all land cards revealed this way onto the battlefield. Cast any number of spells revealed this way. Put the rest into your graveyard.

The Set Design team then tried something a little more radical. What if we represented Braids not as a legendary creature but as a spell signifying all the damage she's doing? I think this design was more red than black, as massive transformation of permanents is something we do as a red thing (and red needs its rare wacky effects).

Braids, Dementia-Bound (version #8)
1B
Legendary Creature — Nightmare Wizard
2/1
At the beginning of your upkeep, reveal the top card of your library, then sacrifice a permanent. If you revealed a land card and sacrificed a land, put that card onto the battlefield. If you revealed a nonland card and sacrificed a permanent with equal or greater mana value, you may cast that card without paying its mana cost. If you didn't put a card onto the battlefield or cast a spell this way, draw a card.

The Set Design team came to its senses and said, "Wait, players will really want another Braids card," so they reverted it back to a creature. This card, like the last, played a bit more in red space than black. Transformation is more red than black, but red usually has less control over it than this card. The team then decided they wanted to push back into more Braids mechanical territory and moved to the current design where you can sacrifice permanents to try and persuade the opponent to also do the same. Braids also went up in mana value and size.

Here's the art description given to the artist for this card:

Setting: Dominaria
Color: Creature associated with black mana
Location: Cabal temple inspired by imagery from attached reference and pgs.132–133
Action: Show us Braids (p375), the new leader of the Cabal. She was once human, but now has a body made entirely of DARK, SWIRLING NIGHTMARE ENERGY that peels from her body into hands and screaming faces, and she glows from inside like an incense burner. Here, she has just been summoned by her evil minions. She leans back, MADLY CACKLING while surrounded by the corpses of her followers whose heads have exploded during the ritual, streaming smoke from their necks (no blood please). Followers should have costume inspired by pg.139.
Focus: Braids
Mood: Demented evil

Haughty Djinn

Haughty DjinnExtended-art Haughty Djinn

This next card has a fun story because it went through so many changes.

History Book (version #1)
1U
Artifact
2, T: Draw a card, then discard a card.
2, T, Tap two untapped historic permanents you control: Draw a card.

Haughty Djinn, a rare creature, started in the file as an uncommon artifact. Basically, it let you loot (draw and discard) or draw cards provided you had enough historic cards. As with Braids, this was early in the set's life, during vision design, when historic was in the set.

Seek Out Answers (version #2)
3UU
Instant
Embellish – If you control a permanent that's a color this spell isn't, draw four cards instead.

The next incarnation of this card changed from an artifact to an instant. It also changed from using the historic mechanic to using the embellish mechanic. This was something we tried in vision design but never got passed along for set design (unlike historic). Embellish is an ability word that rewards you for playing another color (technically represented by having a permanent of that second color). The card remained a card-drawing card, although drawing more cards at once as it was a one-shot spell.

Seek Out Answers (version #3)
3UU
Sorcery
Draw three cards. Sift 3 (3, Exile this card from your hand or graveyard: Scry 2. If it was exiled from your hand, draw a card.)

Third incarnation, third card type, third mechanic referenced. The card stayed a card-drawing spell but is now a sorcery. It made use of sift, a cycling tweak that lets you also have some utility out of the graveyard. Sift was Vision Design's attempt at a smoothing mechanic.

Tatyova's Wisdom (version #4)
2U
Sorcery
Kicker {oG} (You may pay an additional {oG} as you cast this spell.)
Draw two cards. If CARDNAME was kicked, you may play an additional land this turn.

The card stayed a sorcery, but we were able to try out a fourth mechanic in this slot—kicker. I believe this version is from early set design. Erik Lauer and company were testing out when and how to use off-color kicker. This design feels a little more common than uncommon. (Yes, the card was still in an uncommon slot at this point.)

Sleep (version #5)
2UU
Sorcery
Tap all creatures target player controls. Those creatures don't untap during that player's next untap step.

Next, the design team tried putting a reprint in this slot. Sleep is a top-down design first seen in Magic 2010 that's been reprinted in a bunch of core sets.

Forty Winks (version #6)
U
Sorcery
Kicker {o2oU} (You may pay an additional {o2oU} as you cast this spell.)
Creatures target opponent controls don't untap during that player's next untap step. If CARDNAME was kicked, tap up to three target creatures.

This version was still a lockdown sorcery but turned it into a monocolor card with kicker. It made use of kicker in a fun way where it took two components normally in an effect and broke one out so that you could cast the spell for less if you only wanted the one effect.

Faerie Flock (version #7)
3U
Sorcery
Create a 1/1 blue Faerie creature token with flying for each instant and sorcery card in your graveyard.

The seventh version went in a whole new direction. It made Faerie creature tokens, but as a reward for playing a lot of instants and sorceries. This is the first nod of the creature moving toward being a creature spell. In design, by the way, we list cards that make creature tokens as creatures for purposes of creature percentages.

Faerie Flock (version #8)
2UU
Sorcery
Kicker {oW} (You may pay an additional {oW} as you cast this spell.)
Create a 1/1 blue Faerie creature token with flying for each instant and sorcery card in your graveyard. If this spell was kicked, create a 2/2 white Knight creature token with vigilance for each instant and sorcery card in your graveyard instead.

This next incarnation added a white kicker that made a second creature token. My best guess is that this was playing into themes of the white-blue draft archetype at the time.

Drake of New Argive (version #9)
1UU
Creature — Drake
*/4
Kicker {o3oW} (You may pay an additional {o3oW} as you cast this spell.)
Flying
CARDNAME's power is equal to the number of instant and sorcery cards in your graveyard.
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, If this spell was kicked, create a 2/2 white Knight creature token with vigilance for each instant and sorcery card in your graveyard instead.

The card finally became a creature. It wasn't too different from the last version, except you had a creature with variable power rather than a variable number of creature tokens (for the main part of the spell). Again, you'll see the creative of the spell kept changing as no one quite knew what it wanted to be yet. I assume it changed from a Faerie to a Drake as a */4 isn't very Faerie-like.

Drake of New Argive (version #10)
3UU
Creature — Drake
*/4
Kicker {oR} (You may pay an additional {oR} as you cast this spell.)
Flying
CARDNAME's power is equal to the number of instant and sorcery cards in your graveyard.
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, If it was kicked, discard any number of cards, then draw that many cards.

We've tried kicking in green and white. Why not red? I assume this was done because rummaging has a nice synergy with caring about instants and sorceries in the graveyard, and it's a theme that shows up in the blue-red archetype.

Drake of New Argive (version #11)
2UU
Creature — Drake
*/4
Flying
CARDNAME's power is equal to the number of instant and sorcery cards in your graveyard.

The card was simplified to just be the base version and have no kicker.

Drake of New Argive (version #12)
2UU
Creature — Drake
*/4
Flying
CARDNAME's power is equal to the number of instant and sorcery cards in your graveyard.
Instant and sorcery spells you cast cost {o1} less to cast.

The Set Design team decided to make the card better by adding a second ability. They really were enjoying how this played, so they decided to move it up to rare and knock a mana off its cost. I assume it changing from a Drake to a Djinn was tied to the move to rare as Djinns are a little splashier than Drakes.

Here's the art description for the card:

Setting: Dominaria
Color: Creature associated with blue mana
Location: Outside a Tolarian tower, like the ones on 104–108
Action: An imperious DJINN floats above a Tolarian tower, looking at us with arrogance. Suggest scholarly Tolarian-style robes in his design, like the ones on 113—except parts of them might be made of smoke or mist or magic.
Focus: The djinn
Mood: An all-knowing creature (that knows it)
Notes: See 257 for Djinn references

Jaya, Fiery Negotiator

Jaya, Fiery NegotiatorBorderless Jaya, Fiery Negotiator

Next up, it's time to talk about the design of Jaya. Jaya Ballard first showed up as a character referenced in flavor text in Ice Age. Her last name is a city in greater Seattle (flavor text characters don't always get as much time spent on their name as characters with cards, especially back in the day). She had a certain style and wit to her quotes and quickly became a fan-favorite character even though she didn't have a card. Jaya would eventually get a legendary creature card (Jaya Ballard, Task Mage) in Time Spiral. She would then get her first planeswalker card in Dominaria (Jaya Ballard) and a second one in War of the Spark (Jaya, Venerated Firemage).

She plays an important role in the Dominaria United story, so it was clear she needed a new card.

Jaya Diplomatic Envoy (version #1)
3RR
Legendary Planeswalker — Jaya
Loyalty – 4
+1: CARDNAME deals 2 damage to any target. Embellish – If you control a permanent that's a color this isn't, she deals 3 damage instead.
-2: Bottle 2 cards. Add RR.
-8: For each color among permanents you control and cards in your graveyard, CARDNAME deals 3 damage to any target.

The first version of Jaya played in traditional red Jaya space. She dealt direct damage. She could impulse draw. She dealt some more direct damage. The one different thing about this design is that it played up the theme of wanting to play her in a deck with other colors. Her +1 used the embellish mechanic, which I talked about above, and her ultimate increased in power the more colors you had.

Jaya Diplomatic Envoy (version #2)
3RR
Legendary Planeswalker — Jaya
Loyalty – 4
+1: CARDNAME deals 2 damage to any target.
-3: Exile the top two cards of your library. You may play them from exile this turn. Add R for each color among creatures you control and cards in your graveyard.
-8: For each color among creatures you control and cards in your graveyard, CARDNAME deals 3 damage to any target.

The next version pulled back a little on caring about extra colors and instead cared about creatures you control in play and in the graveyard.

Jaya Diplomatic Envoy (version #3)
3R
Legendary Planeswalker — Jaya
Loyalty – 5
You may look at the top card of your library any time. You may play lands and cast spells from the top of your library. You can't play lands or cast spells from your hand.
+1: Draw a card, then discard a card at random.
0: Add R.
-3: Put the top card of your library into your graveyard. CARDNAME deals damage equal to its converted mana cost to target creature or planeswalker.

This next version happened in set design. How do I know that? Because Jaya went from having three abilities to having four abilities. You see, when you assign the art, you must know whether it's a three-ability planeswalker or a four-ability planeswalker, because the art ask is a little different between the two. The default is three abilities, but for reasons I'll let you read the story for, we wanted to go big with this version of Jaya, so we decided to make her a four-loyalty planeswalker. My guess is Jaya was in the first art wave because we knew she played a role in the story and the art director asked the set lead, most likely Erik at the time, if they wanted a three- or four-ability Jaya, and Erik chose a four-ability version. Note that by "ability," I mean the number of rules text boxes. One or more of the abilities could be a static or triggered ability.

This version went in a very different direction. Her static ability allowed her to mess with the top of the library, and then each of her loyalty abilities played into the static ability. Her +1 ability let you draw the card on top, although with some risk as the discard is random (something we don't do a lot of anymore). Her 0 ability helped you get mana to play spells off the top. The -3 ability found a clever way to have a direct-damage effect tie into the top of library.

Jaya Diplomatic Envoy (version #4)
2RR
Legendary Planeswalker — Jaya
Loyalty – 4
Whenever a creature you control attacks, it deals 1 damage to any target.
+1: Create a 1/1 red Monk creature token.
-1: Exile the top card of your library. You may cast that card. If you don't, CARDNAME deals 2 damage to any target.
-6: You get an emblem with "You may cast spells with mana value less than or equal to the number of creatures you attacked with this turn without paying their mana costs."

The next iteration went in a completely new direction. This version was more combat focused. Its static ability rewarded you for attacking. Her +1 ability made tokens that can later attack. Her -6 ability created an emblem that rewarded you for attacking. As a firemage, Jaya always has some kind of direct-damage effect. I like how the -1 let you choose whether you wanted the card or the damage.

Jaya Diplomatic Envoy (version #5)
2RR
Legendary Planeswalker — Jaya
Loyalty – 4
+1: Create a 1/1 red Monk creature token with prowess.
-1: Exile the top card of your library. You may play that card. If you don't, CARDNAME deals 2 damage to target player or planeswalker.
-2: Until end of turn, each creature you control gains "When this creature attacks, it deals 1 damage to any target."
-6: You get an emblem with "You may cast spells with mana value less than or equal to the number of creatures you attacked with this turn without paying their mana costs."

This next version turned the static ability into a loyalty ability, one you had to opt into at a cost. The final version tweaked a lot of the abilities. The +1 was the only one to stay the same. The -1 ability let you impulse choose from two cards rather than one. The -2 ability put the damage on a single creature rather than spreading it out amongst all your creatures and restricted it to hitting a creature. The ultimate changed completely. As a fan of copying, a big thumbs up from me.

Here's Jaya's art description:

***VERTICAL PLANESWALKER ASPECT RATIO***
Setting: Dominaria
Color: Legendary creature associated with red mana
Location: In a Keldon camp. Brown tents in the background.
Action: Show JAYA BALLARD, legendary pyromancer and Planeswalker, smirking confidently. Her staff might be glowing with faint traces of her wispy orange fire magic. Behind her, there are a few burly, tough-looking Keldon warriors. Maybe her outfit has accents of fur now, since she's been spending time in the frozen north.
Focus: Jaya
Mood: Wry, knowing, confident. Notes: See 168–173 for Keldon references. See 361 for Jaya reference.
ALSO PLEASE NOTE: All Planeswalkers going forward will be commissioned to fit both standard and borderless frames. Please make sure the art fits both templates, making sure all relevant details are optimized within the central frame of the standard template.

"Storytime's Over"

That's all the time I have for today. I hope you enjoyed the stories. As always, I'd love to hear any feedback on today's column, any of the cards I talked about, or on Dominaria United in general. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me later this week on Friday when I finish up my Dominaria United card-by-card design stories.

Until then, may you make up your own stories as you play the set.

 
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