Enter… The Matrix

Posted in Making Magic on January 5, 2004

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.

We’re back! magicthegathering.com is out of reruns and back with original programming. And to start the new year off right, welcome to the first week of Darksteel previews! We’ll be bringing you the latest on the upcoming set right up until the Darksteel prerelease on January 24.

Having read thousands of reader’s letters, I feel I’m starting to get a sense of what my readers think when I’m writing. Let me see if I can tap into the larger “Making Magic” readership’s psyche: Stop talking. Show us the preview card. We want to see the preview card. Odds are we haven’t even read what you’ve written thus far as we are busy searching for the preview card. Preeeview card! Preeeeeview card!

As a man that’s prided myself on giving the people what they want, let’s get right to the preview card.

If you want you can go back and look again. It’s okay.

You back? Good. Now let me answer some of the questions I know many of you have. Let’s start with the biggest question:

Indestructible? What does that mean?

Well, for starters, indestuctable isn’t a keyword. It’s just plain old English. Let’s take a look at my handy American Heritage Dictionary: “impossible to destroy”. The Myr Matrix is impossible to destroy. What does that mean you’re still asking? Can you Shatter it? Sure, but it won’t destroy it. See, it’s impossible to destroy. How about a non-targeted effect like Shatterstorm? Could that do it? Could that destroy the Myr Matrix? No. Why? It can’t be destroyed. By anything. Anything that would destroy it, can’t. Why? It’s indestructible. You know, like Superman.

Now be careful. There are many ways in Magic to deal with permanents other than destruction. You can remove it from the game. You can bounce it. You can steal it. You can counter it. Being indestructible only stops destruction effects. All of the above are not destruction effects. In addition, sacrifice is not a destruction effect. If your Atog chooses to eat the Myr Matrix, bye bye. But indestructible creatures cannot die from taking lethal damage, even in combat. Why? It’s a destruction effect (by the game as opposed to a spell or ability). But reducing an indestructible creature’s toughness to 0 will kill it as that isn’t a destruction effect. I’m sure Paul Barclay will be along later this week to straighten out the hairy side of indestructible. All you really need to know for now is indestructible means “it can’t be destroyed by anything that would normally destroy it.” Cool, huh?

Does that means we can expect indestructible creatures?


How about indestructible enchantments?

Sorry. Indestructible is limited to artifacts. Which means that yes the above creature or creatures will be artifact creatures.

So indestructible instants are right out?

I’m afraid so.

Is that a Myr lord?

That my friends is no myr lord. I’m sorry. My urge to pun led me astray. Yes, that’s a myr lord. The myr were just too much fun not to give them their own lord. And I’m very proud of the card’s flavor. The lord of the myr is the machine that creates them. An indestructible machine, no less. So, if you ever wanted a reason to fill up a deck with lots and lots of myr (and face it, who hasn’t?), here you go.

Gee Mark, might there be an interesting story behind the creation of indestructible artifacts (yes, all indestructible items in Darksteel are artifacts) and Myr Matrix?

Why yes, my faithful reader, there is.

But before you fill us in on that could you please fill us in on who the Darksteel design team was?

Since you’re so curious, I guess I could take a quick moment to introduce the Darksteel team.

Bill Rose – Bill Rose is the Vice President of R&D. Until earlier this month, he was also Lead Magic Designer. (The title was recently passed on to me – see this article by Randy for more details.) Bill has been with R&D since late 1995 (several weeks before I began – Bill always likes to rub that fact in). He was the lead designer of Mirage, Visions, Portal, Portal: Second Age, Invasion, and Torment (as well as a member of numerous design teams). And he was the lead designer of Darksteel. A paragraph cannot do justice Bill’s contributions to Magic. He has had his hand in every set since Alliances. Bill’s greatest strength as a designer is the ability to take the ideas of all the team members and blend it into a cohesive whole.

Tyler Bielman – This was Tyler’s second design team, the first being Mirrodin. By day, Tyler is in charge of R&D’s new business. But by, well, other part of the day, he’s been trying his hand on design. Isochron Scepter? Mr. Bielman’s handiwork. Broodstar? Mr. Bielman. Artifact lands? Okay, those were mine, but you get the idea. After getting his designer feet wet in Mirrodin, Tyler decided to get them even wetter in Darksteel. I think you’ll find that he’s kept up the quality of his work.

Brian Schneider – One of my favorite parts about working in design is pulling in other members of R&D and letting them flex their designing skills. Brian is another of our efficient “plucked off the pro tour” developers. But I saw within Brian a spark, so I asked Bill if Brian could be on the Darksteel team. Bill thought it was a good idea, so we tried him out. And he worked out wonderfully. So much so, that he’s recently been added to another design team.

Mark Rosewater – You don’t think I was going to let someone design a set in the Mirrodin block and not get involved? In fact, I have the privilege of being the sole R&D member to be on the design of all three Mirrodin block expansions (I was the lead designer for Fifth Dawn – but those previews are a few months away). How’d I work out? If only I had some ongoing weekly avenue to explain in detail my experiences on the Darksteel design team. Oh well.

Now that you explained who the team was, could you tell us the story of how indestructible came to be?

You guys ask very involved questions. I like that. So how did indestructible come to be? To answer this question I have to go back to a time before I worked at Wizards back to when I was just another Magic player. Back then, I just designed cards for fun. And one of my favorite activities was to create cards that hosed some strategy that currently didn’t have any hoser. This is, for example, when I originally came up with Scragnoth. I figured everyone should have a weakness, why not counterspells? And thus, Scragnoth was born (although he wouldn’t see print until years later when I got employed at Wizards and wiggled my way into a position leading the design of Tempest).

Having spent the last eight years being payed to think about Magic non-stop (a good gig), I managed to finally wrap my brain around why hosing the unhosed was so important. You see, one of Magic’s greatest strengths is its flexibility. Cards as individual units don’t really mean anything until they’re put into context with all the other cards. Any card could be good or bad if the proper or improper environment surrounded it. This is important for a number of reasons.

First, it allows exploration. Not just in what cards exist but in how each card interacts with all the other cards in the environment. Second, it keeps the game fresh. A card that was powerful many years ago could be reprinted yet be at a lower power level (an example of this is Terror in Mirrodin) or vice versa (Shatter in Mirrodin). Third, it keeps the game in balance. As long as every deck has a weakness, the game naturally creates a rock-paper-scissors environment. This way, if the metagame shifts towards rock, the savy players can come packing paper.

So what does this have to do with indestructible? I’m getting there. So, cut to a little over a year ago at a coffee house not too far from Wizards’ corporate office. Quite often meetings get rescheduled to one of the many local coffee houses. The meeting in question was between Bill Rose and myself.

We were meeting to talk about Mirrodin. When the following conversation occurred:

Bill: I think the set’s still missing something. We need another mechanic.
Me: Do you have anything in mind?
Bill: Yeah, something to go on artifacts. We need some cool new ability that just artifacts have. I mean, this is the artifact set.
Me: I have an idea.
Bill: Yes?
Me: What’s the most annoying thing about artifacts?
Bill: I don’t know.
Me: The most annoying thing is that they can be blown up. You rip open your booster pack and get a really cool artifact. You stick in your deck. You draw it. Finally you get enough mana to play it. And… it gets Shattered.
Bill: I assume you have a way to prevent this.
Me: Yes Scragnoth. For destruction effects.
Bill: In non-crazy Mark talk?
Me: You know how Scragnoth thumbs its nose at spells that counter spells?
Bill: Yeah.
Me: This does the same but for destruction effects. Think about it. Indestructible artifacts.
Bill: Indestructible?
Me: You know how some cards destroy artifacts? Yeah, well these cards don’t care. You Shatter them? They laugh. Naturalize? They giggle. Obliterate? The say “thank you sir, may I have another”.
Bill: Can’t be destroyed? I like it. Let’s do it.

And so indestructible was born. Of course, some of my more astute readers may realize that indestructible wasn’t in Mirrodin. Well, it turns out that development was a bit intimidated by cards that couldn’t be destroyed so they asked for more time to work on it. In its place, we ended up using imprint. But by the time Darksteel rolled around, we were ready for indestructible.

Development spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what indestructible meant but in the end circle back to the original definition – “cannot be destroyed”.

How exactly did Myr Matrix come to be?

When we first started designing Mirrodin, I knew I wanted to have a couple of artifact races. One, because we were trying to hit upon all the cool things that artifacts did. And two, we had just finished Onslaught block and I thought it would be neat to have a few new races to play around with. As we started designing creatures, the design team realized that we wanted a small and a large artifact race. Using old creature races, we ended up with gnomes for the small race and golems for the larger one.

I knew that I wanted a lord for these two races, so I created one for each. My first attempt was:

Gnome Lord

Artifact Creature - Gnome
, Sacrifice an artifact: Put a 1/1 artifact gnome token into play.
Sacrifice two gnomes: Return target artifact card in your graveyard to your hand.

But I knew something was missing. An artifact lord needed to be different from a normal lord. But how? Well, what if the artifact lord wasn’t a creature. What if it was just a machine that made myr? Meanwhile, Bill and I had just had our indestructible discussion, so I came up with the following card: (note that during this time design was trying out different reminder text templates)

Indestructible Gnome Machine

Indestructible (Whenever this card would be put into the graveyard from play, instead return it to play.)
, : Put an indestructible artifact 1/1 gnome token into play.

So, we played with it and learned something very important. Certain indestructible cards are very annoying. The gnome machine was just unstoppable. It kept making more gnomes and you just couldn’t get rid of them. This card taught us something very important about indestructible artifacts. We had to be very careful about what kinds of cards we granted indestructibility. Indestructible cards had to be cards you wanted to keep around, but they couldn’t be too aggressive. Players could be frustrated by the indestructible cards but had to have time to work around them.

This led to the next version of the card:

[Gnome Maker]

Indestructible (If this card would be put into the graveyard from play, instead leave this card in play. This ability does not work if this card is sacrificed.)
All gnomes get +1/+1.
, : Put an artifact 1/1 gnome creature token into play.

I liked the idea of the machine being indestructible but decided that the tokens themselves needed to be vulnerable. But to play up the lord quality, I added a +1/+1 to all myr. This also made the card essentially creating 2/2 token creatures. As you can see from the preview card, the development team strengthened the card, both by lowing the activation from 6 to 5 and by making it a poly activated effect.

Also, the creative team decided that they could do better than gnomes. And I think they really succeeded with the myr.

And that is how the Myr Matrix came to be.

Is that all for this column?

Sadly, yes, it’s time for me to come to an end. I hope you enjoyed your first peek at Darksteel. Come back tomorrow (and all week) for more preview cards. I think you’re all going to like Darksteel quite a bit.

Join me next week when I talk about how an old artifact creature type (and not gnomes or golems) inspired a keyword mechanic in Darksteel.

Until then, may myr mayhem multiply madly.

Mark may be reached at makingmagic@wizards.com.

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