A Double Take, Part 1

Posted in Making Magic on June 20, 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.

Before the release of Double Masters 2022, I thought it would be fun to look back at how some of the cards were made. This set has cards from all over Magic's history, so over the next two weeks, I'll be looking back at a lot of old designs.

Bitterblossom

Bitterblossom2X2 Bitterblossom

First, I want to talk about Bitterblossom, originally designed in Morningtide. It was part of the Lorwyn mini-block, which was focused on creature types as its major theme. One of the supported creature types was Faeries, which in Lorwyn, were blue and black. They all needed to fly, which limited us to white, blue, and black, and since they were supposed to be kind of mean and nasty, the villains of the story, blue and black felt like the right color combination. Faeries were the most Spike-oriented creature type, so we were more tournament-conscious about them than any other creature type. Faeries did go on to see a lot of play in Standard and other competitive formats. This slot was designated for a Faerie card.

Ritual of Massacre (version #1)
4BB
Sorcery
Each creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn. Until end of turn, draw a card for each creature put into a graveyard from play.

The first stab at the card was a powerful kill card. It killed small things and gave you some card advantage. It was an odd fit for Faeries, though, as Faeries tend to be on the smaller side, so the design team decided it needed a whole new design.

Grasp of the Faerie Queen (version #2)
XBB
Sorcery
Put X 1/1 black Faerie Rogues with flying into play.

The next attempt had the potential to make the player a lot of Faerie tokens. My best guess was this made too many Faeries too fast and just won the game if the opponent didn't have an immediate answer to a swarm of small fliers.

Violet Tendencies (version #3)
1B
Tribal Enchantment — Faerie
B: Put a 1/1 black Faerie Rogue creature token with flying into play and return CARDNAME to its owner's hand. Play this ability as a sorcery.
Sacrifice three Faeries: Destroy target creature.

The next version tried to combine aspects of both versions of the card. What if the card that made Faerie tokens also gave you a way to kill creatures. To slow down the Faerie production, the card only created one Faerie at a time and basically cost 1BB to make each additional Faerie. Make enough faeries, and you could use them to destroy the opponent's creatures. I'm not sure why there was no mana gate (i.e., cost) on the second activation. Nowadays, we'd have added that. Anyway, the team playtested this card a lot, and it was just a very unfun card. Many designers championed its destruction.

Here's where I come into the story. In Apocalypse, I'd designed a card called Phyrexian Arena, which was an enchantment that let a black mage draw a card each turn. Because black card draw comes at a cost, you lose 1 life each turn when you draw the card.

I'd really liked the design, and it had seen a lot of play, so I suggested we make a Phyrexian Arena for Faeries. It was simple and felt like a good addition for the Faerie deck, so I managed to get enough designers on board to get it into the set. It played well, so it stayed. As time would show, it ended up being a strong card. Before I move onto the next card, here's the art description for the card. The art descriptions back then were often a bit shorter.

Art Description
Color: Black spell
Action: Show a sea of purple and blue flowers that have mostly engulfed some trees in a marsh at early sunset. From the climbing masses of flowers have risen several (at least three) black-aligned faerie assassins looking casual, cool, and deadly.

Venser, Shaper Savant

Venser, Shaper Savant2X2 Venser, Shaper Savant

Time Spiral block was about an event called The Mending, which was designed to revamp how planeswalkers worked, taking them from godlike powers to something a bit more relatable. Venser was one of our newer characters, who at the start of the story wasn't a planeswalker, that we planned to turn into one of our revamped planeswalkers. In fact, in Future Sight, we were originally planning to introduce planeswalkers as a card type (in a futureshifted frame), and Venser was one of the first three ever planned planeswalker cards (the other two colors being blue and black). Here's the earliest Venser we have in the file:

Venser (version #1)
5U
Planeswalker
Loyalty <8>
1. Target player draws 2 cards. -2 Loyalty
2. Target player gains control of target artifact or creature with converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of cards in your hand. -2 Loyalty

Here's how planeswalkers worked at the time. Venser would enter with eight loyalty. Turn one, he would let target player, usually you, draw two cards and would lose two loyalty. Turn two, he would let target player, again usually you, gain control of an artifact or creature whose mana value was equal to or less than the number of cards in your hand and he'd lose two loyalty. Turn three, he'd let target player draw two more cards and he'd lose two more loyalty. Turn four, he'd steal another artifact or creature and he'd lose two more loyalty. That would be his last two loyalty, and the card would go away. Now the opponent could attack him, causing him to lose loyalty and accelerate his exit from the game. Since loyalty was part of the effect and not a cost, he could do an effect with only one loyalty.

R&D wasn't happy with how this incarnation was playing. It was a little too robotic (the planeswalkers didn't have any sense of agency) and didn't give the player any means to gain loyalty. We would decide to pull the planeswalkers from the set, giving ourselves more time to work on them (with just a subtle nod to the new card type on Tarmogoyf's reminder text). Part of this early planeswalker design would later be used to make Sagas. (Being prescriptive made a lot more sense for a story than a person.) Even though planeswalker Venser wasn't in the set, Venser played a big role in the story, so we still wanted him to have a card. Here's our first attempt at a legendary creature version:

Venser (version #2)
1UU
Legendary Creature — Human Wizard
2/2
Flash
1UU: Return Venser to its owners hand. You may play this ability while Venser is in play, in your graveyard, on the stack or removed from the game.

I'm not sure what inspired this version. The return from the battlefield and the stack are both blue effects (the latter being odd but basically stopping counterspells). We don't do a lot of returning from exile, but returning yourself I guess could be blue. Returning yourself from your graveyard is black and green (and red on Phoenixes) but not blue. I think the biggest issue with this version is that it didn't capture Venser's magic, which was teleportation. The next version tried to hit that flavor stronger:

Venser, Master Teleporter (version #3)
4UU
Legendary Creature — Human Wizard
2/2
Flash
When Venser, Master Teleporter comes into play, target creature's owner shuffles it into his or her library.
U: Venser is unblockable this turn.
2U: Return Venser to its owner's hand.
0: Venser's owner shuffles it into his or her library.

This design was all about capturing the flavor of teleportation in Magic effects. Venser could teleport himself past blockers—unblockability. Venser could teleport things away—shuffle into library and bounce. Venser could teleport himself away to save himself—self-shuffling. In retrospect, shuffling into library is not in blue's pie as it's too close to removal for blue. Self-shuffling is probably okay. If we did this version today, it would probably put the creature on top of its owner's library or maybe a few cards down.

In the end, the card kept the flash and moved the bounce effect to the "enters the battlefield" ability. I think the "bounce a spell" portion had been used on a different card, and we realized we could fold it into the bounce ETB effect to make the card more novel. Venser would finally get a planeswalker card in Scars of Mirrodin, and you can see traces of that card's design in the above version.

Gifts Ungiven

Gifts Ungiven2X2 Gifts Ungiven

Gifts Ungiven first appeared in Champions of Kamigawa, but the origin of this card's design goes all the way back to Tempest. I had a cool idea for a spell that let you tutor (i.e., get a card from your library) three different spells, and your opponent got to choose which one you got to put into your hand. The rest went to your graveyard. The card was printed as Intuition.

So, we were playtesting Constructed decks with Tempest (back in the day, I did a lot of development in addition to design), and I was playing against one of the other designers, I believe it was Mike Elliott, and he casts Intuition. He then goes into his deck and gets three copies of the same card. Here's our conversation:

Me: Mike, you can't get three copies of the same card.
Mike: No, I can. It doesn't say I can't.
Me: I mean that's not what the card's supposed to do. The intent is that it's three different cards.
Mike: That's not what the card says.
Me: Yes, I understand it's written incorrectly. I, the designer of the card, am explaining the design intent, which is what we should be playtesting.
Mike: I think it's better as is.
Me: Why are we bothering to make the opponent choose one if they're all the same?
Mike: That's the cool part. You can make it so they can't pick.
Me: If I wanted the card to get three copies of the same card and put one in your hand and two in the graveyard, that's what I would have had the card do. The whole point of having the opponent choose is to create this fun moment where they have to figure out what you're up to. It's a cool Spike moment.
Mike: Nah, I like it as is.

I took the issue to the development team, and the majority decided to keep it as is. The card was seeing a lot of play in the Future Future League, and so the decision was not to change it. I obviously wasn't happy about that decision. So, flash forward a couple years, and I was designing cards for Champions of Kamigawa. Here's the card I turned in:

Fixed [autocard]Intuition
1UU
Sorcery
Search your library for three cards with different names and reveal them to all players. Target opponent chooses one of the revealed cards. Put the chosen card into your hand and the rest into your graveyard. Shuffle your library afterwards.

I'm not sure why I changed it from 2U to 1UU. I assume I was worried about the power level (although not my area of strength). The card goes in the file and the development team changed it from getting three cards and the opponent chooses one to getting four and the opponent chooses two to distance it from Intuition. So finally, years later, I get my card the way I designed it. Here's the art description for the original card:

Art Description
Color: Blue
Location: Inside the moonfolk cloud palace
Action: In a fancy chamber, the female moonfolk prophet Uyo, in a beautiful kimono, kneels behind a short table covered with a silk cloth. On the table sit four different netsuke (small figurines), different colors and shapes—they can be almost anything. Uyo looks placidly at the viewer, awaiting a choice.
Notes: LINK to 80913. A Google image search for "netsuke" will point you in the right direction.

Here's the art description for the art used in Double Masters 2022, originally from Signature Spellbook: Jace:

Art Description
*PLANESWALKER *JACE
Setting: NOT SETTING SPECIFIC
Color: Blue spell
Location: Unimportant/abstract
Action: This is a weird DOUBLE IMAGE of the Planeswalker JACE BELEREN. The two images of Jace are both equally "real," but they partially overlap. They should be separate enough that we get two full images of Jace's face and outstretched hand. In both images, Jace's hood is up, his face only partly visible, but we can see that he's smirking a bit. Both Jaces reach a hand toward us, offering something. They're offering different objects—say, a scroll and a gem—and that's the only difference between the two images.
Focus: The double Jaces and their gifts
Mood: Confused? Good.

Mulldrifter

Mulldrifter2X2 Mulldrifter

The evoke mechanic has an interesting story, one tied to Mulldrifter as it was the very first card I made with the mechanic. Watching its design shift over time does a good job of explaining evoke's evolution. The mechanic first came about because I was trying to solve the following puzzle: we were designing Lorwyn as a creature-focused set focused on creature types. The set wanted to have a spell mechanic. Was there a way to make a creature-focused spell mechanic? After some thought, I came up with a cool idea, what I called manifest.

Inspiring Essence (version #1)
1UU
Tribal Sorcery — Elemental
2/2
Draw two cards. Manifest 3 (You may pay 3 as this spell resolves. If you do, put it into play as a creature.)
-------------------------------- Flying

The idea was a simple one. What if you had instants and sorceries that you could "kick" (pay extra mana for) to turn them into creatures? Lorwyn was already making use of the tribal card type, so that would let us designate the spell as a certain creature type. The plan was that the manifest cost could change from creature to creature, which would allow us to vary how big the body and the abilities of the creature were. As with anything requiring a new frame, the file just listed what we needed, assuming we'd figure out the frame later. As you can see, my very first stab was a 2/2 flying blue creature that drew you two cards. The cost wasn't the same (1UU/4UU versus 2U/4U), but it was close.

The reason I started it as a spell was that I envisioned this mechanic as the coolest if you could turn a spell into a creature. That seemed more evocative and splashier. Well, it turns out that the game really doesn't like having instants and sorceries on the battlefield. The rules do everything they can to keep that from happening, and I believe if you somehow do it anyway, the game immediately gets rid of it, putting it into the graveyard. That meant we couldn't do manifest as envisioned. That led to our next attempt:

Inspiring Essence (version 2)
4UU
Creature — Elemental
2/2
Flying
When CARDNAME comes into play, draw two cards.
Discount 3 (You may play this creature for o3 less. If you do, sacrifice it when it comes into play.)

If we wanted the card to sometimes be a creature, it turned out to be easiest if it was always a creature. To mimic the spell portion of the card, we could make the effect an "enters the battlefield" effect (at the time, a "comes into play" effect) on the creature and then have the creature be sacrificed if you didn't pay the additional mana.

The first stab at this new version was called discount, and it gave the creature a spell reduction, but one that came at the cost of sacrificing the creature. As you can see, this change just mirrored the previous version, so it was still 1UU for just the "spell" and 4UU for the "spell" and the "creature."

Notion Glider (version 3)
5U
Creature — Elemental
2/2
Flying
When CARDNAME comes into play, draw two cards.
Expedite 2U (You may play this creature for o2oU. If you do, sacrifice it when it comes into play.)

We then realized it was easier to simply show the alternate cost rather than have the player do the math. Discount thus became expedite and eventually evoke. The development team played around with both the mana cost and the evoke cost, but the card was always a 2/2 flyer that drew you two cards throughout its existence.

I would share the art description with you, but it sadly wasn't in our database.

Double Play

That's all the time I have for today. I hope you enjoyed hearing the stories of how some of Double Masters 2022 cards came to originally be. As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback, whether it's on the article, any of the cards I talked about, or on Double Masters 2022 itself. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me next week for more stories.

Until then, may the new set double your fun.

 
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