#833: Worldwake with Ken Nagle
I sit down with Magic designer Ken Nagel to talk about the design of Worldwake.
Posted in Making Magic on May 17, 2021
Editor's note: This article is best viewed on a desktop or laptop computer.
If you're unfamiliar with vision design handoff documents, the first one I posted was for the release of Throne of Eldraine (Part 1 and Part 2). I write these documents to help explain our vision portion of the design to the Set Design team when it's time to hand it off to them. Throne of Eldraine's articles went over quite well, so I also posted them for Ikoria, Zendikar Rising, and Strixhaven (Part 1 and Part 2). Last fall, I decided it might be fun to show readers some handoff documents from the past and did an article for original Zendikar. Since that went over well, too, I'm digging into the past again today.
Modern Horizon 2 previews start next week, so I thought it would be fun to go back and look at one of the sets that inspired it. I've chosen Future Sight because that's the set from Time Spiral block for which I led the design (and, thus, have the document).
A few caveats before we begin:
Let's begin this document by facing the biggest question head on. This set is supposed to be the future. Yet the cards exist now. How can the set be about the future when every set introduces new things to the players that they've never seen before? The answer is context. We are not trying to show the actual future as much as we are trying to create something that feels like the future.
The trick to doing this is to play into the core concept of this block: nostalgia. "Pop's" glimpse into the future is a look into an extrapolated future. That is, "Pop's" future is defined by how it advances the past. When a science-fiction film wants to show the future, they like to pepper in futurized versions of known brands, for example. This gives the audience a sense of familiarity, making them feel more anchored in the futuristic setting.
They used this technique in Demolition Man, which portrayed a certain well-known restaurant chain as the only survivor of "The Franchise Wars." We see the logo on the restaurant sign, and though it's future-styled, we recognize it, and we're there. They could have just made up a fictitious brand for the film, but they knew it would resonate more if the name was a known quantity (and, yes, I'm sure they got paid for it, too, but I believe their reasons for doing this went beyond product endorsement).
"Pop" is defined by how it takes known quantities and twists them. This is done in several different ways. I'll start with the timeshifted ones (note that a few of these appear in a lesser form in non-timeshifted cards):
Evolutions – These are cards that take an existing mechanic and evolve it. The severity of the evolutions can go from simple (scry 3) to complex (an enchantment with morph). Most of the evolutions show up in the timeshifted cards, but a few of the simpler ones can be found on the non-timeshifted side (scry being the obvious example).
Keyword Extensions – This is an offshoot of evolutions. Keyword extensions are new keywords that twist an existing keyword. An example from Magic's past would be land cycling, as it's a riff on cycling. The keyword has a new name, but a root of the old mechanic is included to hint to the players that there is some similarity (and help them more easily understand how the new mechanic works). Examples in "Pop" include deathstorm and activation convoke.
New Keywords – The "Pop" team chose to exclude new keywords from the non-timeshifted cards. We did this to allow us to use all our "new keyword points" toward new keywords on the timeshifted cards.
We also made a conscious choice to help promote the sense that the timeshifted cards are from all over the future to limit ourselves to no more than two uses of any new keyword. The majority of the new keywords actually appear once. The new keywords were selected as they were interesting keywords that fell into the realm of obvious things we might do. Truly innovative keywords that broke into virgin territory that we felt could later be used as an important marketing hook were not included. Later I will walk through the cards and keywords that we intended for use in the future.
Finally, note that not every card we keyworded with a new keyword necessarily needs a keyword. As you'll see below, some new keywords specifically serve a purpose, but for most of the keywords, the development should decide whether it needs to be a keyword.
Future Hints (Specific and Vague) – Some of the timeshifted cards were included to hint at areas we plan to take the game. A good example of this would be Scaredy Linx that keywords Spirit Link. I'll explain these below. This category falls into two parts. Cards where we knew specifically where we're hinting from (I'll call these specific), and cards that are doing something we know we want to do but aren't tied to specific future sets (I'll call these vague). I will outline both below as well.
Red Herrings – There is no way for us to hint at the future without also including some stuff that we specifically plan never to do. A bunch of the timeshifted cards toy with areas that I know we will never revisit. I'll also include these below. Note that the player reaction to these cards may very well change our minds.
Things from the Future – There a few cards that reinforce the idea that things are coming from the future. The older Jhoira card is a good example of this. These cards are not actually meant to be real future cards as much as something to play up the theme.
Miscellaneous – The last category is the catch-all for cards that feel right but don't quite fit any of the above categories.
And now we turn our attention to the types of cards used on the non-timeshifted cards:
Mix-and-Match – While the timeshifted side makes use of showing where cards can evolve to, the non-timeshifted side makes use of combining known quantities together in ways the game never has before. The poster child for this is mix-and-match. These cards combine two keyword mechanics, always choosing two that have never been combined before (the majority of which come from two different blocks). To prevent keyword overload, the mix-and-match cards (as well as all the evolutions) are limited to keywords that are legal in Standard the day before "Pop" releases. The only exception is that "Pop" adds two old keywords, cycling and scry.
While the "weird and wacky" future cards will define the timeshifted cards, I believe that mix-and-match cards will define the non-timeshifted cards. I believe that mix-and-match delivers on an unspoken desire of players to see different parts of the game interact and allows us to hit design space that we literally can do nowhere else. 25 cards might seem on the high side, but I believe that the cards have enough diversity, will create enough good will, and will define the set to a high enough level that we want to keep them at a significant number. The mix-and-match cards have two cycles that I'll talk about below.
Future Dictates the Present – Another theme that plays into the future are cards that telegraph what they are going to do at some future known time, which forces players to react before said events happen. Both suspend and vanishing played up this theme in Time Spiral and Planar Chaos. "Pop" tries a few new tricks. We have suspend cards that keep going off every third turn. We have a cycle of common creatures that do nasty things if the opponent cannot deal with them in time. We have vanishing creatures with leaves-play effects. We have enchantments with delayed effects. I'll talk about a number of these in the cycles below.
Peer into the Future – The set has several cards (the largest amount having scry) that allow you to gain knowledge of what cards are coming. A few cards place cards on top or near the top of the library.
Extensions of Time Spiral and/or Planar Chaos Mechanics – "Pop" expands upon many of the themes introduced in the first two sets. We have more of the following mechanics: suspend, vanishing, all the old keyword mechanics, split second, and flash.
Deal with the Consequences Later – There are a handful of cards (including a cycle of rare cards) that allow you to get something immediately but not worry about the cost until later. You know, in the future.
As you can see, "Pop" creates the sense of the future by hitting upon a lot of different things that will read as the future to players.
Next, let's walk through the cycles in the set. Note that a lot of them are soft cycles that shouldn't be very obvious to the players. All the cycles (with a few exceptions) are among the non-timeshifted cards:
Mix-and-Match with Cycling – Each color has a mix-and-match involving cycling:
Mix-and-Match Miscellaneous – The second common cycle uses keywords that were not used in the first cycle (although, there are some duplicates among them because there is a shortage of creature abilities to choose from):
Seers – These are all 2C creatures with an optional but large sacrifice effect at the beginning of each upkeep. The idea is that the opponent has a turn to stop them. The cards are designed such that the effect of some you might occasionally be tempted not to use right away.
Scry – There are a cycle of scry cards with different scry numbers (never 2) that have some other effect that interacts nicely with the scry effect.
Spellshapers – This cycle of spellshapers finishes off the Time Spiral block common cycles. These spellshapers make token creatures that are copies of famous creatures from Magic's past. Note that the creature types line up with the creature types being used in "Peanut." Also, the white spellshaper, which is the only timeshifted card of the cycle, is making a Kithkin that comes out in "Peanut."
Mix-and-Match with Buyback – Each color has a mix-and-match involving buyback:
Mix-and-Match Miscellaneous – The second uncommon cycle consists of a collection of other mix-and-matches:
Vanishing – There is a cycle of cards with vanishing, many of which have a leaves-play effect if the card leaves because the last time a counter was removed. Note that black and green's vanishing cards overlap with mix-and-match (one card covers both cycles in those colors).
Pulsing Suspend – This is a cycle of suspend cards that all re-suspend whenever they go off. All currently have a cost of 4CC and a suspend cost of 2C. All are suspend 3.
Future Lands – This is a cycle of lands that each produce a color of mana and have a keyword. These cards were designed to match concepting art that Jeremy felt needed to be in the set (showing Dominaria recovering).
Mix-and-Match Miscellaneous – This cycle just has cool mix-and-match cards that seemed big enough or confusing enough to want to be rare:
Maguses – This is a cycle to finish off the Time Spiral block cycles. Each magus is a famous enchantment put onto a creature.
Credit Spells – This cycle includes all cards that cost 0 but force you to pay for them next turn (or else you lose the game). The design team talked about making the "pay next turn" optional but liked the fact that the spells forced you to plan your future to use them. Also, we liked a simple "lose the game" negative, as it played up the "you need to pay this" rather than "you need to work around this."
Morph Vertical Cycle – There is a common morph card that's an enchantment, an uncommon that's a land, and a rare that's an artifact.
Finally, let's walk through the timeshifted cards for an overview of what each one is doing and see what future it is hinting at:
cW11 Trained Pit Bull – Future Hint (Vague); I'm sure we'll reprint the vanilla card; not sure if we'll ever do the layout (the card has no text box; full art).
cW12 Full-Plate Paladin – New Keyword, Future Hint (Vague); I'm sure we'll do the armor mechanic. When we do, we'll use this clean version. I'm not sure exactly when we'll use it, but I predict in the next five blocks.
cW13 Mystic Quarry – Future Hint (Specific); this card is from the "Live," "Long," and "Prosper" block centered around land mechanics; we need to talk about this card, as decisions about it need to reflect a world with a bunch of them.
cW14 Living Castle – Evolution, Future Hint (Vague); I have no immediate plans to do noncreature morph, but it's definitely something we'll explore when we do morph again.
cW15 Hands Off – Red Herring; this is the card of a card that is humorous to do in isolation but would be annoying if too many cards had this many abilities.
uW11 Underhillbilly – Miscellaneous; this card is finishing off the spellshaper cycle. The creature token this card is making is from "Peanut" (check with Aaron to make sure you link the two up). The other four spellshapers are all non-timeshifted and make creatures from the past. Note that all the creatures are supported creature types in "Peanut."
uW12 Rebel Pikeman – Evolution, Possibly Keyword Extension, Future Hint (Vague); we'll probably make this guy someday. Not in the near future, though.
uW13 Astral Elemental – Evolution, New Keyword, Red Herring; while armor will be supported, I don't think we have plans to do enchantment creatures anytime soon.
uW14 Manhandle – Red Herring; I don't think we're planning to do activation convoke, but if it doesn't prove too wordy and the public likes it
uW15 Death Defiler – Evolution, Miscellaneous; this card exists to continue the Rebel theme in "Pop"; white is number two in reanimation (although a distant number two).
rW11 Meddling Monster – Evolution, Future Hint (Vague); we could easily do this guy in the future if players like him.
rW12 Standing Alone – Future Hint (Vague); we wanted to put this card in Eighth but couldn't. Now we can put it anywhere we like. Also, I like the idea that in the future, we'll rename and re-concept popular Un- cards that can work in black-border Magic.
rW13 Gravetalk Sliver – Evolution, Miscellaneous; this card is here to fill out and twist the block's Sliver theme.
cU11 Mystic Summoner – Evolution, Future Hint (Vague); we'll definitely do ____ cycling in the future.
cU12 Herald of the Future – Miscellaneous; this card is gray as to whether it even belongs as a timeshifted card; here to help block time counter theme.
cU13 Mill Man – Miscellaneous; included as a scry (and milling) helper. Might do the mill half one day.
cU14 Hidden Information – New Mechanic, Future Hint (Specific); this is a mechanic we are planning to include in "Peanut" block.
cU15 Exchange Flight – Red Herring; this mechanic probably won't work as a fleshed-out mechanic. If it somehow worked out rules-wise, and people liked it, obviously we'd revisit it.
cU16 Belittle – Future Hint (Vague); "Peanut" is playing around with revealing as a cost, but this card is probably the kind of card we'd see when we revisit the mechanic.
uU11 Bad Mojo – Evolution, Red Herring; I don't see a future for evil scry.
uU12 Speedy Looter – Future Hint (Vague); we're planning to start using haste on white and blue utility creatures.
uU13 Twiddlywinker – Evolution; this is a tweak on the scry mechanic, which gets reintroduced in the set.
uU14 Imaginarion – Future Hint (Vague); this is the goofy one that we'll reprint one day (unless it proves horribly broken).
uU15 Butterfly – Future Hint (Vague); one day we'll bring back morph during a multicolor year.
rU11 Gimp Flipper – Evolution, Red Herring; I don't plan on revisiting flip cards again.
rU12 Veiled Clone – Future Hint (Vague); if the rules don't kill this card, I assume we'll see it again.
rU13 Jhoira, Wizened Matriarch – Things from the Future; just here to contrast with her non-bonus present-day card.
cB11 Cockroaches Unending – New Keyword, Future Hint (Vague); endless is a keyword we might use one day, nothing planned in the immediate future.
cB12 Mean Imp – Evolution, Future Hint (Vague); this card is playing around with non-mana echo costs; we will definitely explore this when we do echo next.
cB13 Scaredy Linx – New Keyword (kind of), Future Hint (Specific); if we keyword Spirit Link here, we need to follow up with it in "Peanut"; essentially, we'd be making the switch here, but it would only be on one card, whereas in "Peanut," it would be on multiple cards.
cB14 Sluggish Zombie – New Keyword, Future Hint (Vague); this keyword might prove valuable for development (as it allows a mechanic that is good against noncreature decks and worse against creature decks).
cB15 Dark Surrender – New Keyword, Future Hint (Specific); I'm saving this mechanic for a gothic horror world that's planned five or six years out.
uB11 Flesh Eater – New Mechanic, Keyword Extension, Red Herring; I don't think this mechanic would work out in large numbers.
uB12 Forgetful Necromancer – Miscellaneous, Future Hint (Vague); we'll bring this guy back in an environment that we feel needs him (or more likely the set after).
uB13 Poisoned Fangs – New Keyword, Future Hint (Specific); poison will be coming back in "Lights," "Camera," and "Action" (my codenames for the sets after "Live," "Long," and "Prosper") where we return to Phyrexia. Venom is a keyword we plan on using.
uB14 Wound Infection – Red Herring; we do not plan to have enchantments tap as we need to keep a separation between enchantments and artifacts.
uB15 Dauthi Rogue – Future Hint (Vague); both pieces will see play in the future, but I don't know when or if they'll line up in the same block.
rB11 Dredge Sliver – Miscellaneous; this card was just us extending the Sliver theme. If dredge and Slivers ever return at the same time, maybe we'd reprint this.
rB12 Tomb Stalker – New Mechanic, Future Hint (Specific); this mechanic is from the gothic horror block.
rB13 Mind Churn – Keyword Extension, Future Hint (Vague); I have no immediate plans for this mechanic, but if the players like it, I see no reason it can't come back (okay, other than power issues).
rB14 Rotting Carcass – Future Hint (Vague); the game seems to be moving toward more triggers that happen as things change zones.
cR11 Sneaky Goblin – Evolution, Future Hint (Vague); as we like cycling, I know we'll go down paths like this in the future.
cR12 Wide Receiver Kavu – New Keyword, Future Hint (Vague); I'm not sure when, but frenzy will be used in a future set, probably in the next five years.
CR13 Spear Tosser – Future Hint (Specific); we're going to be playing around with creatures that affect things sharing a creature type in "Peanut" block, most likely starting in "Butter."
cR14 Viashino Seether – Red Herring; I don't plan to make use of negative power in the future.
cR15 Land Trap – Future Hint (Vague); this card is barely timeshifted material and can easily come back.
cR16 Hurry Up – Evolution, Future Hint (Vague); we'll be exploring this vein of design space when next we bring back flashback.
uR11 Replay Goblin – New Keyword, Red Herring; the design space for this mechanic is much tighter than it might appear.
uR12 Arrogant War Trainer – Future Hint (Specific); "Peanut" will be playing around with "classes matter," but we must decide if we're willing to create a new class for flavor purposes.
uR13 Goblin Swarm – Evolution, Future Hint (Vague); I know echo will come back, and non-mana echo costs will be something we explore.
uR14 Timebreather – Miscellaneous; this card is here to play up the time counter theme of the block.
uR15 Triplestrike – New keyword, Keyword Extension, Future Hint (Vague); if last strike works out, I guarantee triple strike will return.
rR11 Brainstorm Elemental – Evolution, Future Hint (Vague); more exploration of non-mana echo costs.
rR12 Goblin Splorg – Cards from the Future, Future Hint (Vague); we will one day make "Splorgs."
rR13 Traveler from Beyond – Red Herring; I do not want to make the "removed from game zone" a revolving door.
rR14 Gimme, Gimme – Red Herring; this is a card touching on stuff we're probably not going to bother with again.
cG11 Card-Loving Thallid – Miscellaneous; this is here to expand upon the block's Thallid theme.
cG12 Spellwild Dog – Future Hint (Vague); this card (and cards like it) are fair game for any upcoming set.
cG13 Creature Loving Thallid – Miscellaneous; this is here to expand upon the block's Thallid theme.
cG14 Runeweb Spider – New Keyword (kind of), Future Hint (Specific); like Spirit Link, choosing to keyword "can block fliers" means we need to probably change it in "Peanut."
cG15 Elf-walla – Future Hint (Specific); "Peanut" is playing around with revealing as a cost.
cG16 Whittling Bloom – New Keyword, Red Herring; this keyword is not exciting on all that many cards.
uG11 Poison Sliver – New Keyword, Future Hint (Vague); poison is coming back in "Lights," "Camera," and "Action," so I doubt it will also have Slivers.
uG12 Brother Nature – Future Hint (Vague); if this card works out, it could come back whenever.
uG13 Breath of Air – Future Hint (Specific); "Jelly" is playing around with using mana symbols as a costing mechanism.
uG14 Have Enough Land? – Evolution, Future Hint (Vague); this card can come back when we next explore cycling.
uG15 Elf Biologist – Future Hint (Vague); this card can come back in an environment that can make use of it.
rG11 Thallid Sliver – Miscellaneous; this is here to cross the block's Sliver and Thallid themes.
rG12 Boss Scragnoth – Future Hint (Vague); it's more likely that pieces of this card come back than this card in its entirety.
rG13 Lint Elemental – Future Hint (Vague); this card can easily come back if people like it.
rG14 Type Lhurgoyf – Future Hint (Vague); we will probably explore the design space of caring about card types in the future.
rG15 Love of Vanilla – Red Herring; probably an area we don't want to delve too much into.
rZ11 Puma Warrior – Future Hint (Specific); "Sandwich" will be exploring advanced hybrid costs.
RX01 Venser – New Card Type, Future Hint (Specific); it looks as if "Rock" is going to introduce planeswalkers.
uA11 Luna Ring – Miscellaneous; this card is more to play into "Pop's" themes than anything else.
uA12 Thunderdome – New Subtype, Future Hint (Specific); "Live," "Long," and "Prosper" as the land block will probably want to explore Equipment for land.
rA11 Morphin' Miller – Evolution, Future Hint (Vague); when morph returns next, we'll probably explore noncreature morph.
rA12 Akroma's Monument – Cards from the Future; this card is the third piece of our Akroma cycle that runs through the block.
rA13 Amulet of Chaos – Future Hint (Vague); during a future artifact block (and note that "Lights," "Camera," and "Action" are in one such block), we'll explore alternate-color mana costs.
And that in a mere eight pages is the "Pop" design philosophy in a nutshell. Let me know if you have any more specific questions.
I hope you enjoyed looking back at Future Sight. As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback on any of the things 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 as Modern Horizons 2 previews begin (with preview cards that I'm very excited to share with you).
Until then, may you have fun going back to the Future.
I sit down with Magic designer Ken Nagel to talk about the design of Worldwake.
This podcast is part one of a three-part series where I discuss the design of every card in Unglued.