Last week, I started telling card-by-card design stories of Oath of the Gatewatch. As I only got to K, this week I continue.
"Okay, we're ready to make the legendary Eldrazi titan for Oath of the Gatewatch. Tell me about Kozilek."
"Okay. He distorts reality."
"What does that mean?"
"When he's around, physics doesn't work like it normally works."
"And what does that mean?"
"Weird stuff happens."
"So we're supposed to design a card where weird stuff happens?"
"No. We don't want a quirky Johnny card. We want a big, powerful, exciting, legendary mythic rare creature."
"That stays true to his identity as a warper of reality?"
The very first thing we knew about Oath of the Gatewatch was that Kozilek shows up. Everyone assumed he had left Zendikar, but instead, he was under Zendikar. When the Gatewatch made their trap for Ulamog, it got Kozilek's attention. A final push from Ob Nixilis got him into the battle. This meant we started design knowing that we had to define the influence of Kozilek and make a Kozilek card.
We started with the first part, figuring out what mechanical identity the feel of Kozilek had. This, of course, led to us caring about colorless mana. So the first thing we knew about Kozilek was that his mana cost had to specifically include colorless mana (as opposed to generic mana like most cards). We also knew Kozilek needed a triggered effect when you cast him, as that was something all three legendary Eldrazi titans had done in Rise of the Eldrazi (and we already did it on the second Ulamog).
The original Kozilek's effect when you cast him was card drawing, so we decided to stick close to that. The new version filled up your hand to seven, which would encourage you to try to empty your hand of cards. For an activated ability, we played around with two concepts. One, we wanted you to be able to use the cards you hopefully just drew. Two, we wanted Kozilek to be destructive but in a different way than Ulamog. Ulamog destroyed permanents, so we liked the idea of Kozilek going after spells. This had some of the "warping reality" flavor we liked.
Finally, we put menace on Kozilek, making him a little harder to block and capturing the flavor of how intimidating he was.
Nissa has been a bit of a challenge for us, as her power set in the story doesn't always match up cleanly with mechanics. When we first met her in Zendikar, she had an Elf theme, but as we decided we wanted her to play a bigger role in the story, we've since shifted her to be more tied mechanically to lands, as that has much more design space.
Her first ability is us representing her growing plants. As a nature mage, Nissa has the ability to speed along any type of vegetation. We've messed around with a bunch of different mechanics to represent this, but the Plant token is a nice execution—and allows her some defense as a planeswalker.
Her second ability pushes further away from land and on to creatures. Traditionally, this has been more of Garruk's area, but since he is currently off in black-green, we've given Nissa a little bit of that ability. It still has a flavor of growth that we like with Nissa.
Her last ability is the quirkiest. It ties to lands, yet uses an ability that we normally tie to creatures in green: card drawing. I'll admit I'm a bit skeptical tying card drawing to land, as green will always have land on the battlefield, making it a poor choice for creating limitations. This ultimate is us exploring new potential space for green, one that I'll admit to being apprehensive about.
Design-wise, I like how well the first two abilities play together. If the third ability had a little more tie-in (like, say, counting the number of Plants or even just the number of creatures), I would be a little happier.
One day in Cardcrafting (a weekly meeting the design and development teams have to talk about more hardcore design and development issues), we began talking about fighting, the keyword action. Who was supposed to be the best at fighting? Green, everyone said. Then why did we give one-sided fighting to red (defined as a card where one creature damages another but that second creature doesn't fight back)? One-sided fight is just better than fight, and red, with all its direct damage, doesn't really need one-sided fight. So we're trying something new. We've moved one-sided fight to green. It still requires a creature to use (green's big restriction when it comes to removal), but allows green to deal with creatures, often without losing its own creature. I'm not quite sure where we're going to end up with this as the dust settles, but I'm curious to hear people's thoughts.
As I explained last week, the Oaths were put into the set to help demonstrate the team coming together and to make it clear who exactly is joining the Gatewatch. (Note that there's no Oath of Kiora.) The idea behind the design is simple. It's an enchantment with an enters-the-battlefield (ETB) effect. It then has a static ability that has something to do with planeswalkers, thus encouraging you to build your own team of planeswalkers.
We knew we wanted Chandra's ETB effect to be direct damage, and 1R for 3 damage felt just right. We messed around with a bunch of static abilities, but in the end decided to stick with Chandra doing damage. This ability does extra damage to players as you cast planeswalkers.
With all the Oaths, most of the ETB effects were created in design, but the static abilities were all changed in development. Originally, they each granted an extra loyalty counter to all planeswalkers you controlled, but that ended up being a bit too narrow.
Oath of Gideon's ETB effect creates creature tokens. For 2W you get two 1/1 Kor Ally creature tokens. Gideon's ETB ability is a little weaker than Chandra's, but that is because his static ability is stronger. In general, getting an extra loyalty is more valuable than dealing damage to the opponent.
The earliest version of Jace was basically Divination (2U to draw two cards), but that ended up being a little too strong, so it got changed into a Probe (drawing three cards and discarding two). While Jace's static ability is better with more planeswalkers, you only need one to be able get some use out of it. I do like that each static ability explains why having this Planeswalker around would help the group.
Nissa's ETB effect started as a Rampant Growth (getting a basic land out of your deck and putting it onto the battlefield tapped), but that both was a bit too good and required shuffling. The current version lets you branch out a little more in what you're searching for (lessening your chance of "whiffing"). Her static ability is the only one of the four Oaths that makes it easier to get planeswalkers onto the battlefield.
This card points out an interesting aspect of constantly changing worlds and environments. In a vacuum, this is a white card. A four-mana sorcery that exiles a creature? Sounds pretty white. But one of the neat things about Magic is that we keep shifting our worlds and our focus, meaning that we allow ourselves the ability to occasionally move where things fall.
For example, on Zendikar we wanted to play up the alienness of the Eldrazi, so we started playing around with the exile zone, letting the Eldrazi eat an opponent's exiled cards. This meant that we needed to have more effects that exiled. To make this happen, we relaxed a little on who got to exile. Normally, white does it most, but on Zendikar we let all colors have access to it when they were connected to the Eldrazi. Black can normally kill creatures, so here we let it exile creatures.
This willingness on our part to allow subtle shifting allows us to give different worlds unique flavors, but it also allows us to make cards that we haven't made before. We have to be careful, as we don't want to break the color pie, but careful bleeds can do important work.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a sucker for traditions. I love that Magic keeps shifting as we make new sets, but I also enjoy that there are certain design staples that we continue to use again and again. One of those is the red uncommon build-around enchantment. You do something, whatever the set cares about, and this enchantment deals 2 damage. Sometimes it's to a creature or player. Sometimes just a player. Sometimes just a creature. Sometimes there's a cost to be paid. Other times it's free.
Why is it always an enchantment? Why is it always 2 damage? It's not always, but this framework has just proven to be so effective again and again. I occasionally get comments on social media that this framework is boring—that we should try new things. And we do, but you don't throw out a classic, especially when it works so well.
Pyromancer's Assault is a great example of why we should keep making cards like this. It was designed to be played with surge, a mechanic that encourages playing multiple spells per turn, but it works just as well in an aggressive deck with lots of cheap creatures and spells or a deck made to save up for key turns where you play more spells.
The original plans when we decided to do devoid was to figure out some way to get the card Ghostfire into the block. Ghostfire was both the inspiration for devoid and a Future Sight card, so its inclusion in this block was attractive for the design team. The problem was that all the devoid cards were tied to the Eldrazi, and nothing about Ghostfire fit any of the definitions about what made a spell devoid.
We ended up pushing Ghostfire back to Oath of the Gatewatch because we knew Chandra was going to show up, and we thought maybe we could have her casting Ghostfire. (She had used this colorless magic before.) In the end, the card stood out like a sore thumb (you can't have every card of a certain subset be the same thing except one), and it was turned into a devoid spell. Interestingly, when the change was made, we added an exile rider (if the creature was killed by the spell, exile it) to help make it feel more Eldrazi-like, but the rider got pulled off during a pass where development was trying to simplify the file, making the card once again have no direct mechanical tie to the Eldrazi other than the colorlessness.
The original version of this card in design put the basic land onto the battlefield if it was a Wastes. The card was less wordy and looked more elegant, but it had a problem that we discovered as soon as we playtested it. Land fetching does two things—it ups your mana count and it helps you splash other colors. You only wanted to use this card if you could get the better effect, but that required you to always get a Wastes, which meant that you never got to splash for colors. This lack of flexibility made the card much weaker and thus not usually good enough to play. Development made the switch to reward having a Wastes rather than getting a Wastes for the upgrade.
I'm sure this card will raise a few eyebrows, as I often talk about how card drawing is supposed to be a weakness of white. To understand why this is a weakness, let me explain how it plays into white's philosophy. White is the color of rules and structure. White wants everything labeled and in its place. As such, white's weakness is flexibility. It is so used to its rules that it has problems adapting on the fly. The way we show this in the cards is that white has a lot of answers, but those answers are spread through a lot of different cards. White's answers tend to be limited, or can be undone.
What this means is that if white understands a problem and can prepare for it, it is very effective. White has more answers than other colors, but if White is caught off guard, it has a problem because it can get caught with the wrong answers in its hand. The reason we keep most card drawing out of white is that card drawing could let white undo its weakness by always having an answer it needs, by ensuring it has a fistful of cards.
Stone Haven Outfitter allows some card drawing but requires a very specific deck to make work, so it makes sure white won't have all the answers it needs, because the deck in question has so many constraints.
One of the things R&D likes to do is have running jokes that show up in card names. One of them is that whenever we make a card that boosts up animated lands we call it a Landlord. The tradition goes all the way back to Kamahl, Fist of Krosa from Onslaught, who originally turned lands into creatures and then boosted all creatures.
When we made the "colorless matters" theme in Battle for Zendikar, we decided to focus it into two archetypes: black-red and blue-black. The former was more aggressive and focused on wanting colorless permanents on the battlefield, while the latter was slower, more controlling, and focused on casting colorless spells. Thought Harvester adds a milling component to a colorless deck that fit nicely with the more controlling blue-black "colorless matters" archetype.
This is a clever little design, in that it works in a vacuum but is also synergistic with a theme of the set. It's a 1/4 flyer that gains you 1 life whenever it is tapped. You can accomplish this by attacking with it, which is enabled by the fact that it has flying. But it's also an Ally, meaning you can tap it to pay for the cost of cards with cohort. It's important to make sure you can design your synergistic cards to also stand alone when possible, meaning they can be played in decks by players not using that one particular strategy.
Oath of the Gatewatch had a lot going on in it, so Ethan and the design team were looking for ways to extend some of the themes of Battle for Zendikar without necessarily using all the keywords. Wall of Resurgence is a good example of a card that builds off of the awaken mechanic without actually using the awaken mechanic.
Interestingly, the card that probably raised the most eyebrows in Oath of the Gatewatch comes last in this two-part series. We've talked about a sixth basic land for years and years. The first place it came up was in Invasion block, when we were trying to find a way to allow domain spells (spells which counted the number of basic lands you had on the battlefield) to go to six. The first version of this land was dubbed "Barry's Land," because the domain mechanic was dubbed Barry's mechanic, because it was taken from Spectral Chaos, a set designed for Magic by a man named Barry Reich (an early playtester for Magic). That set was never finished—but elements of it were included in Invasion design. (For the full story of Barry's mechanic, you can read this article.)
I wrote about Barry's mechanic back in the day, and as the public never likes hearing about how we can't do something, it was a topic that would pop up from time to time. So when Ethan Fleischer, Oath of the Gatewatch's lead designer, decided to pursue the idea of colorless mana as a cost, I knew we were going to be broaching Barry's Land yet again. The big difference this time was that the impetus for the "sixth basic land" wasn't about messing with domain, but about allowing cards that interact with basic lands to be able to also interact with this card. It was this shift in focus that allowed us to actually make the card.
Wastes is not Barry's Land. It does not make your domain go to six. Oath of the Gatewatch doesn't have domain, so it doesn't matter internally to the set. Everything you're going to want to do in Oath of the Gatewatch/Battle for Zendikar Limited, you'll be able to do with Wastes. I even think that all the interactions you're going to want in Standard work. That said, I know that the big question this card will raise is "Why isn't this Barry's Land?"
The simple answer is that while Wastes is a basic land, it doesn't have a basic land type. (That's what domain cares about.) Why doesn't it? The best answer is we didn't want to do what we would have to do to the rules and the game to make a sixth basic land type. For instance, we didn't want to list in the rules that the game has six basic land types for the rest of time, when in a few years the sixth type would almost never matter. Magic has enough complexity without having to explain rules you then have to immediately explain are misleading. Often in Magic we have to choose what is best for the game in the long run against what might be cool in the short run. And that is why I believe we are never going to see Barry's Land.
And scene. That's all I have for card-by-card stories from Oath of the Gatewatch. If you have any comments on the article or the set, please write to me through my email or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).
Join me next week when I talk about a million words of Magic.
Until then, may your colorless mana and/or Allies be plentiful.
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"Drive to Work #297—Creature Types"
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- Episode 297 Creature Types (18.1 MB)
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