In this podcast, I talk about the history and design of all the Scarecrows in Magic.
Posted in Making Magic on August 18, 2022
Welcome to the first week of Dominaria United previews. I'll begin telling the story of the set's design, introduce the Vision Design team, and show off three cool preview cards. There's a lot to say, so let's get to it.
Before I begin telling the design story, let me introduce you to the Dominaria United (DMU) Vision Design team. I'll be introducing you to the Set Design team next week. As always, I'm having the lead of the Vision Design team, in this case Ethan Fleischer, introduce his team and himself.
Dominaria goes way back to the beginning of Magic. The idea of the Multiverse was there at the game's beginning. Originally, it had a name. It was called Dominia. The center of Dominia was a plane called Dominaria. Having the Multiverse and the central plane being so close in name confused people, so we ended up dropping Dominia as the name and just called it "the Multiverse" instead. (And this was before multiverses were the hot thing in pop culture.) Looking back, I'm surprised we didn't call the Multiverse Dominia and get a new name for the central plane, but all of this was before my time at Wizards.
Anyway, Alpha didn't do a lot to define where it took place, but the general thought was that it was all (or at least mostly) Dominaria. There wasn't really any story, but there were several proper names (places like Llanowar and Benalia and people like Urza and Mishra) that gave the set a feeling of specificity even if it wasn't explained.
The first expansion, Arabian Nights, went somewhere else (although it wasn't named as Rabiah within the set), but the second expansion, Antiquities, returned to Dominaria. Antiquities, for the first time, had a story and started using some of the proper names. Urza wasn't just a guy who liked eyewear but the protagonist in a giant epic story (The Brothers' War, coming soon).
Legends, the next set, wasn't located on a single plane, but the following set, The Dark, was. Again, we returned to being solely on Dominaria. Even though the Multiverse existed, Magic stuck around on Dominaria for many years. Fallen Empires and Ice Age were on Dominaria. Homelands was the first set since Arabian Nights to be on another plane (Ulgrotha), but the following set, Alliances, returned us to Dominaria. The whole next "Magic year" (Mirage, Visions, and Weatherlight) were all on Dominaria.
We now get to the point where Michael Ryan and I convinced the company that we should be telling an epic story, the Weatherlight Saga. Part of that, we argued, should include going to other planes, so we pitched a three-year arc where the first two years were on other planes and the third year, the resolution to the story, was back on Dominaria (although in the future, but that version of the story never came to pass).
Tempest block (Tempest, Stronghold, and Exodus) was on the plane Rath. Then Michael and I were removed from the story, and the story team returned (mostly) to Dominaria for the next year's block (Urza's Saga, Urza's Legacy, and Urza's Destiny). The following block did hit the second plane Michael and I had pitched (although changed in numerous ways), but only stayed there for one set (Mercadian Masques). Nemesis returned to Rath and Prophecy came back to Dominaria.
The following block (Invasion, Planeshift, and Apocalypse) not only returned to Dominaria but had Rath overlayed on Dominaria, meaning the only plane we'd spent multiple sets on outside of Dominaria was now part of Dominaria.
The next two blocks (Odyssey, Torment, and Judgment, then Onslaught, Legions, and Scourge) stayed on Dominaria, though it went to a whole new continent, Otaria. It wasn't until the following block (Mirrodin, Darksteel, and Fifth Dawn) that we really started embracing the idea that Magic is a multiverse and that we could be introducing a lot of new planes. Magic would return to Dominaria for the Time Spiral block (Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and Future Sight) and then not return for twelve years.
When we designed original Dominaria, we had a challenge on our hands, because Magic had really changed how we treated planes, and Dominaria was a lot of different worlds all on the same plane. The goal of the design was to give it an identity more concrete than "a hodgepodge of lots of things." In the end, we ended up focusing on the history of the plane, on the fact that both within the game and within the cosmology a lot had happen on Dominaria, and all that history had shaped the plane. As we liked to say, "It's a plane whose present is shaped by its past." Dominaria went on to be a much beloved set, and we said that we were going to want to revisit it at some point.
"Some point" became four years later as we realized that the larger story we wanted to tell really needed a chapter (or rather two chapters) to take place on Dominaria. This meant Ethan and his Vision Design team needed to figure out what the return would look like. The first thing we did was look back at Dominaria to see what we'd done. The overview of the plane had three components:
High fantasy – Original Magic, including Dominaria, had focused a lot on traditional high fantasy. As Magic had traveled the Multiverse, exploring different kinds of worlds, we'd drifted away from high fantasy to explore a lot of other genres, and mixed genres, of fantasy, so we wanted the return to Dominaria to be a return to the high-fantasy trappings that the game had started with
Rich history – A lot took place on Dominaria, not just in its history, but within the history of the game. No plane had been the home to more sets, so we wanted to make sure that Dominaria was making reference to its deep past.
Vibrant renewal – The last we'd seen Dominaria was Time Spiral block, and it was basically post-apocalyptic. The feedback we got from the players was that it was a bit of a downer to see this plane they loved so badly damaged, so we decided in our long absence that the plane had rebounded and we were going to embrace Dominaria being a place of hope rather than despair. Yeah, it had been through a lot, but it always survived and bloomed.
We knew from the start that we wanted to embrace all three of these aspects, as it was the core of what made Dominaria Dominaria. We began by looking back at what Dominaria had done mechanically.
Sagas – Dominaria was the set that introduced Sagas. We wanted to play up the role of history through stories, and Saga was a new type of enchantment we created to represent that. Since its introduction, Sagas have gone on to become popular and deciduous, so it seemed like a sure thing to have them return.
We were interested, though, in seeing if we could add a little twist to them. We tried several different things, but the most interesting idea was "read ahead" Sagas. The idea behind them was that you didn't have to start with chapter one. Like any story, you could read ahead and start the story further along. This meant you wouldn't get all the effects, but it did allow you to get a later effect sooner. These Sagas were specifically designed to maximize you wanting to do this (although, even normal Sagas tend to grow in power of effect over time). In vision design, we didn't know if we wanted all the Sagas to do this or a single cycle, but Set Design found enough designs that all the Sagas in Dominaria United are read-ahead Sagas.
This brings us to our first preview card. Besides being read ahead, all the Sagas in this set tell a story about something important to the history of Dominaria. The plane had so much story that we had plenty left over from the last batch of Sagas to tell ten more stories. For example, let's hear the story of The World Spell.
Legendary creatures – Another major theme of Dominaria was playing up all the famous characters from the plane. More so than any other plane, Dominaria is full of characters the audience knows from past sets. Some were the characters as you knew them. Others were ancestors or people carrying on a certain title or mission. The theme was such a big part of the set, every Dominaria booster came with a legendary creature.
Well, if something works, why break it, so Dominaria United continues both the legendary creature theme and the one-legend-per-booster distribution. That brings us to our second preview card showing off a new version of a character from Dominaria's past, Braids.
Legendary matters – A connected theme from having a high number of legendary creatures was also having cards that mechanically care about them. Dominaria had this as a smaller theme, and Dominaria United brings it back.
Multicolor – Part of capturing the legendary creature theme was allowing ourselves to create legendary creatures that were multiple colors to increase their use in Commander. This theme was popular in Dominaria, and we considered it an extension of the legendary creature theme, so it too returns in Dominaria United.
Throwbacks – Part of capturing the rich history of the plane is making creative callbacks, but it's equally important to make mechanical callbacks. Characters are part of the game's history, but this is equally true of its cards. Dominaria made a lot of mechanical references to old cards from Dominarian sets. Dominaria United continues this theme. It also brings us to our third and final preview card.
Historic – One of the biggest challenges of Dominaria was capturing the history theme. We accomplished this by using what we call batching, where we make a new term that encapsulates several items. Historic took three components, legendary permanents (and spells) that convey characters from the past, artifacts that can represent objects of the past, and Sagas that are stories of the past, and combined them into a single thing that cards could reference.
The original plan for Dominaria United was to bring historic back. The following set The Brothers' War was going to have an artifact theme (like the set that introduced the story, Antiquities), so the thought was that we'd be setting ourselves up for some synergy between the sets. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too much synergy and the worry was that locking in historic cards in Dominaria United would cause set design and play design issues when we were making The Brothers' War, so historic was removed in set design.
Kicker – This mechanic was the opposite of historic. Vision Design felt we were bringing back enough things from original Dominaria and wanted to make space for something new, so we purposefully left kicker out of the vision design. When historic got removed, they put kicker in to retain enough mechanical connection to Dominaria. More on kicker's inclusion next week.
Legendary spells – Of all the mechanics in Dominaria, legendary spells were the worst received. They were spells you could only cast if you controlled a legendary creature. The set was already bringing several things back from Dominaria, and we didn't feel legendary spells were needed, so we left them out. We did spend some time talking about whether there was a new way to do them, but in the end decided we'd rather focus our energies elsewhere.
This brings us to the end of today's column. As always, I'm eager for any feedback on today's column or any of the elements of Dominaria United I talked about today. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).
Join me next week when I continue the design story picking up with the set design of Dominaria United.
Until then, may you be able to go home again.
In this podcast, I talk about the history and design of all the Scarecrows in Magic.
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