The Here and Vow, Part 1

Posted in Making Magic on November 15, 2021

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.

For every set, I like to look at several cards and talk about their design stories. This and next week, I'll be doing that for Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

By Invitation Only

This card didn't go through a lot of changes, but the few it did were interesting.

Creeping Death (version 1)
3WW
Sorcery
Multikicker 1W: (You may pay an additional 1W any number of times as you cast this spell.) For each time CARDNAME was kicked, target creature is indestructible until end of turn. Destroy all creatures.

Yes, this card started as a spell with multikicker. Erik Lauer, who led the set design for the first couple months before handing it off to Adam Prosak, put multikicker in the set as a way to use your extra mana. Adam would later remove multikicker, as it felt a bit weird on Innistrad, and replace it with cleave. The initial version of the design was pretty cute. You could save as many creatures as you had mana to save and then destroy the rest.

Creeping Death (version 2)
3BB
Sorcery
Multikicker 1B (You may pay an additional 1B any number of times as you cast this spell.) X target creatures gain indestructible until end of turn, where X is the number of times this spell was kicked. Destroy all creatures.

This was then changed to a black spell because it ended up not feeling balanced enough (in the sense that white's effect tends to treat all creatures the same) for a white mass-creature-kill spell.

Sacrifices Must Be Made (version 3)
3WW
Sorcery
Choose a number. Each player sacrifices that many creatures.

When multikicker left Innistrad: Crimson Vow, the set design team put the mass-creature-kill card back in white. This design was a clever way to feel like you're treating everyone the same while really benefiting yourself, you know, like a white kill spell should feel. The only change made between this and the final version was the choosing of a number between 0 and 13. The Set Design team was looking to get more thirteens in the set, and this did it in a way that let the card mostly function the same.

To answer two quick questions about this card: One, when it says "between 0 and 13," it means you can choose any number from 0 all the way to 13, so yes, both 0 and 13 are allowed. Two, while white doesn't normally do forced sacrifice, the template for this card was so much cleaner with it that we allowed the bend in white.

Chandra, Dressed to Kill

One of the challenges of trying to design a Chandra planeswalker card is using the abilities related to Chandra (each planeswalker has a power suite, and we try to choose effects that match it) while steering clear of all the previous versions, sixteen at the time of Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

Chandra, Flame in the Dark (version 1)
2RR
Legendary Planeswalker — Chandra
Loyalty – 4
+1: Discard up to two cards, then draw that many cards.
-2: CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature. If that creature would die this turn, exile it instead.
-7: Add thirteen {R}. Exile the top thirteen cards of your library. You may play them this turn.

This first version takes an ability we tend to do on minus abilities on Chandra, discarding and drawing, and makes it her plus-loyalty ability. Her minus ability is another staple for Chandra, direct damage, this time using what R&D calls the "disintegrate ability" (first seen in Alpha on the card Disintegrate) to keep things she kills from coming back or being used as a resource in the graveyard. That's especially useful in an Innistrad set. Her ultimate is a super-impulsive draw that also gives you mana to cast the spells.

Chandra, Flame in the Dark (version 2)
2RR
Legendary Planeswalker — Chandra
Loyalty – 4
+1: Add {oR}. Exile the top card of your library. You may play that card this turn.
−2: CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature. If that creature would die this turn, exile it instead.
−8: Add thirteen {oR}. Exile the top thirteen cards of your library. You may play those cards this turn.

For the next version, they tried tweaking the plus-loyalty ability, turning it into a miniature version of the ultimate.

Chandra, Dressed for the Occasion (version 3)
1RR
Legendary Planeswalker — Chandra
Loyalty – 3
+1: Add {oR}. Deal 1 damage to target player or planeswalker.
+1: Exile the top card of your library. If it's red, you may cast it this turn.
-7: You get an emblem with "Whenever you cast a red card, deal damage to target player or planeswalker equal to its cost," then reveal the top five cards of your library. You may cast red spells revealed this way this turn.

On the next pass, the Set Design team did a bunch of work on the card. First, they got rid of the small minus ability. Then they took the two pieces of the original plus ability and spread them between two new plus abilities.

The first plus ability kept the mana-producing ability and added some direct damage, as the card lost it when the small minus ability went away (and what's a pyromancer without some direct damage?).

The second plus ability took the impulsive draw and added a red restriction to help narrow where the card would be played in Constructed formats. The ultimate got tweaked to make it feel a little more like Chandra and tie it to the second ability. The finished version stayed close to this incarnation with just the tweak that the emblem from the ultimate could hit any target rather than just a player or planeswalker. Most likely a tweak made by Play Design.

Demonic Bargain

When I went back to see what changes were made to this card, I was surprised to learn that the first incarnation of it was identical to the printed version, but there were a bunch of interesting designs in the slot before the Set Design team settled on Demonic Bargain, so I thought we'd take a look.

Inspired by Death (version 1)
BB
Enchantment
Flash
Multikicker: Pay 2 life When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, exile the top card of your library for each time CARDNAME was kicked. At the beginning of your upkeep, exile the top card of your library. During your turn, you may play one card exiled by CARDNAME as though it were in your hand. At the beginning of your end step, if you did not play a card exiled by CARDNAME this turn, you lose the game.

This card slot started as a "deal with the Devil" enchantment (i.e., something where you get an immediate bonus, but it comes with a threat of something very bad happening) with multikicker. This card has a bit of a Necropotence vibe as it lets you spend life to draw extra cards but with a serious drawback.

Revive the Ancients (version 2)
1B
Enchantment
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with a [NAME] counter on it. During your end step, you may return target creature with converted mana cost equal to the number of [NAME] counters on it from your graveyard to the battlefield. If you do, put a [NAME] counter on CARDNAME.

The card then changed when multikicker left the set. The new card is still an enchantment, but this one is a build-around reanimation card. Assuming you can properly chain up in mana value, this card offers the dream of reanimating a creature every turn.

Form of the Vampire (version 3)
3BBB
Enchantment
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, create a number of blood tokens equal to your life total. Whenever a creature you don't control dies, create a blood token. If you would lose life, sacrifice that many blood tokens. If you can't, you lose the game instead.

Next, the Set Design team tried make a Form of the ________ card.

The first Form of the ________ was Form of the Dragon in Scourge. The spell represented you, the player, turning into a Dragon. It was so popular, we then parodied it in Unhinged with Form of the Squirrel and later revisited it in Rivals of Ixalan with Form of the Dinosaur. Innistrad: Crimson Vow was the Vampire set, so why not try to make a Form of the Vampire. The first stab essentially turned your life total into your Blood total. Kill creatures and you can get more Blood, but get damaged and you lose Blood.

Form of the Vampire (version 4)
2BBB
Enchantment
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice a Blood token. If you can't, you lose the game. At the beginning of your end step, CARDNAME deals 3 damage to any target and you gain 3 life.

After playtesting, they decided to try a new version. This version more closely mimics the original Form of the Dragon where you "feed" on a target for 3 life. This version kept the Blood connection by requiring you to have Blood tokens to survive. Unlike the first version, this card didn't allow you any way within the scope of this card to create Blood, so it required playing it in a deck with other cards that could create Blood tokens.

Form of the Vampire (version 5)
1BBB
Enchantment
At the beginning of your end step, you may sacrifice a blood. If you do, put a +1/+1 counter on each Vampire you control and draw a card. If you don't, transform CARDNAME.

More playtesting led to another change. This version is more about Vampire tribal. It allowed you to use Blood to strengthen your Vampires. I could not find what the backside of this card was. I assume it was a downside, as the card seems to want you to keep feeding on Blood. In the end, the Set Design team wasn't happy with any of their Form of the Vampire designs and ended up replacing it with Demonic Bargain.

Edgar, Charmed Groom // Edgar Markov's Coffin

Edgar, Charmed Groom
Edgar Markov's Coffin

Next, we get to the groom of the set, Edgar Markov, Sorin's grandfather and the first Vampire of Innistrad.

His last incarnation was white-black-red, but Innistrad: Crimson Vow only has two-color gold cards, so it was decided to make him white-black because Olivia, his bride, was going to be black-red. (The set would have another legendary Vampire that was red-white: Odric, the Blood-Cursed.)

Edgar Markov (version 1)
3WB
Legendary Creature — Vampire
4/4
Other creatures you control get +2/+2 and have lifelink. When CARDNAME dies, return it to the battlefield transformed.
[Markov's Coffin]
///
Markov's Coffin
Legendary Artifact
Tap three creatures you control: Put a [Reanimated] counter on CARDNAME Remove 3 [Reanimated] counters from CARDNAME, transform CARDNAME.
[Edgar Markov]

The design started with a basic concept that lasted all the way to print. Edgar is a double-faced card with a legendary creature on the front that somehow helps your creatures, and then when he dies, he turns face over and becomes his coffin, which gives you some way to get Edgar back.

The earliest version was a little more expensive, boosted all your creatures, and granted them a keyword, lifelink. In this first version, the back had no utility other than to get Edgar back. The resource this required was tapping creatures, pushing this card toward a go-wide strategy, most likely with tokens.

Edgar Markov, the Vampire (version 2)
1WB
Legendary Creature — Vampire
3/3
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or attacks, target creature you control gains lifelink and deathtouch until end of turn. When CARDNAME dies, return it to the battlefield transformed.
[Markov's Coffin]
///
Markov's Coffin
Legendary Artifact
Tap three untapped creatures you control: Put an awakening counter on CARDNAME Remove three awakening counters from CARDNAME: Transform CARDNAME.
[Edgar Markov, the Vampire]

The second version got cheaper, a little smaller, and stopped boosting your creatures, instead granting one of two abilities. This version also required Edgar to get into combat, which I assume was to increase the number of times that he died and you needed to use the other side. The back stayed the same but gave the counters a different name.

Edgar Markov, the Groom (version 3)
2WB
4/4
Other creatures you control get +1/+0. If they're Vampires, they get +2/+0 instead. Whenever Edgar Markov dies, return it to the battlefield transformed under its owner's control.
[Markov's Coffin]
///
Markov's Coffin
Legendary Artifact
Tap two untapped creatures you control: Put an awakening counter on CARDNAME WB. Remove all awakening counters from CARDNAME: Transform CARDNAME. Activate only if CARDNAME has two or more awakening counters on it.
[Edgar Markov, Groom]

The next version really wanted to be a card that helped Vampires. After all, Edgar is kind of king of the vampires, and his last card played into Vampire tribal, so we felt that we should deliver on what the players would expect from an Edgar card. The card still helped all your creatures, it just helped Vampires more. The backside changed from tapping three creatures to tapping two creatures to make counters and added an activation cost to transform it back.

Edgar Markov, the Groom (version 4)
2WB
4/4
Other creatures you control get +0/+1. Other Vampires you control get +1/+0. When Edgar Markov dies, return it to the battlefield transformed under its owner's control.
[Edgar's Coffin]
///
Edgar's Coffin
Legendary Artifact
At the beginning of your upkeep, create a 1/1 black and white Vampire creature token with lifelink. Then you may sacrifice three Vampires you control. If you do, transform CARDNAME.
[Edgar Markov, Groom]

+2/+0 for the Vampires ended up being a bit too much, so the base ability moved from +1/+0 to +0/+1. The Set Design team then decided they wanted the back of the card to have some utility rather than just being a way to get Edgar back, so they had it make 1/1 Vampire tokens with lifelink. The transformation cost required the sacrificing of three Vampires. This matched the "it takes three turns to get Edgar back" from the previous version.

The final version wasn't too far from this last version but changed in two key ways. First, the front stopped boosting all your creatures and just simplified to boosting your Vampires +1/+1. Second, the back no longer required sacrificing Vampires and instead got a counter—what ended up being a bloodline counter—each turn when you created a token. This made the back feel like more of an upside.

Grolnok, the Omnivore

So, Innistrad: Crimson Vow had a legendary Frog. How exactly did that happen? Let's find out.

Jubi (version 1)
2GU
Legendary Creature — Human Wizard
2/4
T: Add GU.
Whenever you cast a noncreature spell, you draw two cards. You can't cast noncreature spells unless you kick them.

From the very beginning, this slot was for a green-blue legendary creature. The earliest incarnation was tied to the multikicker theme. It was a build-around rare that encouraged you to play as many multikicker (and kicker in larger formats) spells as you could.

Thousand Year Frog (version 2)
2GU
Legendary Creature — Frog
3/3
Flash
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may return target card from your graveyard to your hand.

As soon as the set got handed over to Adam, he made two bold decisions. One, he got rid of multikicker spells; and two, he decided this slot was going to be a legendary Frog. The earliest Frog version had flash (as the ability is in both colors) and the ability to regrow a card as an "enters the battlefield" ability. This version was a bit plain and was something that could just be done in mono-green, so the Set Design team took another stab at it:

Croaker of the Lagoon (version 3)
2GU
Legendary Creature — Frog
3/3
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, mill that many cards. Whenever a permanent card is put into your graveyard from your library, exile it. You may play cards exiled by CARDNAME.

This time, the team tried making a card that would work as a fun build-around commander. They gave it a way to get cards out of your library such that it would let you later cast them. The printed version mostly followed this latest incarnation, but with two major changes.

One, it changed the milling trigger from a saboteur trigger (based on doing combat damage) to an attacking trigger and then referenced Frogs specifically so this card could be used for Frog tribal. Because Grolnok was a Frog, the ability still worked if it was the only Frog in your deck.

Two, it used counter technology to specify what cards had been milled by Grolnok, introducing the first croak counters to the game.

Halana and Alena, Partners

Halana and Alena first showed up in flavor text on cards in the original Innistrad block. Due to how our timetables work with flavor text, the designs were finished before the characters had been created for flavor text purposes, so they didn't show up as cards in the set. We later made the two characters individually as creature cards with partner in Commander Legends.

As we were back on Innistrad, we thought it would be cool to give them their first joint card.

Hal & Alena (version 1)
2RG
Legendary Creature — Human
3/4
Whenever another creature enters the battlefield under your control, add C equal to its power. This ability triggers once each turn.
X, T: CARDNAME deals X damage to target creature or planeswalker.

The earliest version produced mana and dealt damage to creatures and planeswalkers. The mana ability ended up being a bit too much and didn't feel right for characters that were known for their fighting prowess. Their repeatable direct damage was also deemed a bit too much.

Hal & Alena, Kessig Scouts (version 2)
3RG
Legendary Creature — Human Scout
2/2
Reach
At the beginning of combat on your turn, put X +1/+1 counters on target creature you control, where X is CARDNAME's power. That creature gains haste until end of turn.

The next version gave them reach and a means to permanently pump creatures. The original idea was that they could pump themselves, but playtesting showed that's all you ever did with the card, so Set Design changed it to pumping other creatures. The card was then made one cheaper, given first strike, and got an extra toughness to help make it better in combat to match the flavor of the characters.

"There Will Be Blood"

That's all the time I have for today to talk about Innistrad: Crimson Vow cards. As always, I'm eager for any feedback you have on today's article, any of the cards I talked about, or on the set Innistrad: Crimson Vow in general. 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 share more card-by-card design stories from Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

Until then, may you have a plus-one for all your Magic games.

 
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