The Here and Vow, Part 2

Posted in Making Magic on November 22, 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.

Last week, I started sharing some card-by-card design stories of cards from Innistrad: Crimson Vow. I had too many to fit in one article, so today, you get some more.

Kaya, Geist Hunter

Innistrad is known for its four main monster types: Spirits, Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies. Magic has a Werewolf planeswalker and a Vampire planeswalker, so clearly, they both had to show up. (Arlinn is in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, and Sorin is in Innistrad: Crimson Vow, more on his design below). While we don't have a Zombie planeswalker, we do have one closely associated with Zombies, our necromancer with a spark, Liliana. She's off hiding out on Strixhaven, and she'd been in both previous Innistrad visits, so we gave her a pass.

But what about Spirits? As with Zombies, while we don't have a planeswalker that's a Spirit, we do have one associated with them: Kaya, our ghost assassin (that is, she kills ghosts, not that she is one). It seemed only appropriate therefore to have her visit Innistrad for the first time. Interestingly though, when we first started working on the set, she wasn't in it. This planeswalker slot was originally filled by a different character:

Davriel, Arcane Robber (version 1)
2BB
Legendary Planeswalker — Davriel
Loyalty – 4
Whenever a player discards a spell, you may cast that spell and spend mana as though it were any color to cast that spell.
+2: Each player discards a card.
-3: Create a 3/3 black Demon creature token with flying and "CARDNAME can't attack unless defending player has no cards in hand."

Yes, the original plans for this set had Davriel Cane, a planeswalker introduced in the Brandon Sanderson story "Children of the Nameless," as one of the three planeswalker cards.

Davriel first appeared in the game on an uncommon planeswalker card in War of the Spark. He lives on Innistrad, in Kessig, so he felt like a good inclusion in an Innistrad set. Like we had in War of the Spark, Davriel's card was built around discard. We gave Davriel a static ability that rewarded making the opponent discard and allowed you to cast your opponent's cards. His plus ability was a discard to tie into the static ability, and his minus ability allowed you to make 3/3 flying Demons. The Demons came with an attacking limitation so they could tie into the discard theme of the rest of the card.

Davriel, Arcane Robber (version 2)
2BB
Legendary Planeswalker — Davriel
Loyalty – 4
Whenever a player discards a nonland card, you may cast it from its owner's graveyard and spend mana as though it were mana of any color to cast that spell.
+1: Each player discards a card.
-2: You may sacrifice a creature. When you do, destroy target creature.

The next version cleaned up the static ability, explaining where the discarded cards go. The discard ability was reduced from +2 to +1 to better balance with the minus ability. The minus ability shifted from creating a win condition, to giving Davriel better answers for creature threats. While it helps the card have the ability to protect itself better, I do feel this new minus ability was less engrained into the larger design.

Kaya, Ghost Hunter (version 3)
2BB
Legendary Planeswalker — Kaya
Loyalty – 5
+1: Exile up to two target cards from a graveyard. If at least one creature card is exiled this way, create a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying. Otherwise, you gain 2 life.
−3: Choose creature or enchantment. Target player exiles a permanent they control of that type.
−8: Target opponent's life total becomes the number of cards in that player's graveyard.

It was at this point that the Creative team members realized that they wanted Kaya involved in the story. Since Davriel wasn't part of the story (he was more here because he was a denizen of Innistrad), he was swapped out to make room for Kaya. Because the slot was mono-black and Sorin was, at the time, a white-black planeswalker card, Kaya started as a mono-black design. Her plus ability gave her a way to create Spirits using the graveyard as a resource, a recurring theme in Innistrad sets. It also gave her a way to gain life when needed.

The first minus ability reflected her assassin flavor. Innistrad was tying Spirits and enchantments together thematically, so that got reflected in this version. She exiles them as a way to express that they can't return. At the time of this set's design, we'd begun playing around with letting black have some enchantment removal, so this was in-pie for mono-black. Kaya's ultimate was trying to tie into the graveyard theme of the other two abilities. Using the plus ability, she could empty out an opponent's graveyard over time, setting herself up for a win with the ultimate. She started at a loyalty of 5, so the ultimate would take at least four turns.

Kaya, Ghost Hunter (version 4)
2WB
Legendary Planeswalker — Kaya
Loyalty – 3
+1: Put a +1/+1 counter on a creature token you control. Creatures you control gain deathtouch until end of turn.
-2: Until end of turn, if an effect would create one or more tokens under your control, it creates twice that many of those tokens instead.
-6: Exile all cards in target player's graveyard. Create a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying for each card exiled in this way.

This card went through two big changes. First, it was decided that it made more sense for Kaya to be white-black and for Sorin to be mono-black. Sorin had been mono-black three time before, whereas the closest Kaya came was being a white-black hybrid planeswalker.

Second, the Set Design team decided to make this card more battlefield-centric than graveyard-centric. The plus ability became something that could improve your creatures. The minus was made to help you generate more creatures from other cards. And the ultimate became a way to create a huge army to help you win. The final version was pretty close to this last one with a few small tweaks. The card went from 2WB to 1WB, and the final ability changed from "target player's graveyard" to all graveyards.

Olivia, Crimson Bride

Last week, I talked about designing the groom of our wedding. Today, I'm going to talk about creating the bride, Olivia. First up, this was Olivia's third appearance as a legendary creature.

Both the previous incarnations were black-red, so we decided to keep her to those colors. (We had three legendary Vampires, one of each two-color combination of the Vampire colors.) Here's the first version:

Olivia Voldaren, Bride (version 1)
3BR
Legendary Creature — Vampire
3/3
Flying
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, return target creature card from a graveyard to the battlefield under your control until CARDNAME leaves the battlefield. If that creature is a Vampire, it gains haste.

The two previous incarnations of Olivia were 3/3 fliers, so we started there. We ended up with a simple "enters the battlefield" effect (to capture a story point of her awakening Edgar) that reanimated a creature, granting it a bonus if they were a Vampire, as Olivia is clearly a leader of the Vampires. The effect was also given a duration—the reanimated creature only stuck around as long as Olivia did. As a play design measure, this meant that your opponent(s) didn't have to deal with the creature from the graveyard, just Olivia. As you can see, the first attempt was in spitting distance of the final card.

Olivia Voldaren, Bride (version 2)
3BR
Legendary Creature — Vampire
3/3
Flying, haste
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield with a torpor counter on it. If it's a Vampire, it gains indestructible until end of turn. If it's not a Vampire, it gains lifelink until end of turn. When CARDNAME leaves the battlefield, exile all creatures with torpor counters on them.

In the next version, Olivia gains haste, marks the reanimated creature with a torpor counter as a memory aid, and grants a different ability depending on whether the creature was a Vampire. At this point, I think Set Design didn't think this card had enough oomph for one of the faces of the set, so they changed the reanimation from an "enters the battlefield" effect to an attacking trigger. This way, Olivia could raise many creatures from the dead. The counter was also removed, and in its place, text splicing was added to give your opponent the out they needed to get rid of all the reanimated creatures. Rather than reference Olivia directly, it refers to a "legendary Vampire" to encourage you to play with others in your deck, although Olivia obviously works by herself. Finally, her cost was raised from 3BR to 4BR, and she gained a toughness. I think the finished version ended up in a good spot.

Runo Stromkirk // Krothuss, Lord of the Deep

Runo Stromkirk
Krothuss, Lord of the Deep

While all the other Vampires are white, black, or red in Innistrad: Crimson Vow, one Vampire dips his toe into blue. I thought I'd look into how we designed Runo Stromkirk. Here's the first card in this slot:

Zombies at the Dartboard (version 1)
3U
Enchantment
At the begging of your upkeep, you mill three cards. When one or more creature cards is put into your graveyard from your library, sacrifice CARDNAME and return one of those creature cards to the battlefield under your control.

For starters, it wasn't Runo Stromkirk. It was neither legendary nor creature. It wasn't even a multicolor card. Yes, this slot started as a blue enchantment. My best guess is this was a goofy card made during vision design.

Thane (version 2)
1UB
Legendary Creature — Zombie Wizard
3/3
Whenever CARDNAME deals damage, mill that many cards. When one or more creature cards is put into your graveyard from your library, you may sacrifice CARDNAME. If you do, return one of those creature cards to the battlefield under your control.

This slot officially becomes what it will be printed as, a blue-black legendary creature. It's still not Runo Stromkirk, but it is mechanically Zombies at the Dartboard stapled onto a creature. The one difference is the trigger is now damage (although interestingly not combat damage—probably an oversight) and the reanimation clause is now voluntary.

Thane, by the way, is not a name but a position, someone granted land who's not quite a noble. I assume it was supposed to be Thane [name], and they just forgot to put the name.

Ludevic of Ulm (version 3)
2UB
Legendary Creature — Zombie Wizard
4/4
4, Exile an instant or sorcery card from your graveyard: Return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. It becomes a Zombie in addition to its other types and gains "Whenever this creature deals combat damage to an opponent, you may copy the exiled card and cast the copy without paying its mana cost."

The next iteration of this card is Ludevic, one of the scientists who loves making Skaabs. The basic flavor is that he's combining two cards in your graveyard, a creature and an instant/sorcery, essentially connecting them into a single Zombie creature. The Zombie gets the body of the creature, and the spell becomes a saboteur ability (i.e., it happens when the creature deals combat damage). I think this is a cool design. Unfortunately, shortly after this card is made, the Set Design team learned that Innistrad: Midnight Hunt was going to have a Ludevic card, so because there wasn't any substantial change to the character necessitating a different kind of card, this card had to be changed to a different character.

Runo Stromkirk (version 4)
2UB
Legendary Creature — Zombie Warlock
2/3
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME enters the battlefield or attacks, draw a card, then discard a card. At the beginning of your end step, you may exile four cards from your graveyard with different card types. If you do, untap CARDNAME and transform it. [The Lord of Storms and Seas]
///
The Lord of Storms and Seas (version 1 of the back face)
Legendary Creature — Elder Kraken
6/6
Flying
You may cast spells from your graveyard as long as you spend 6 or more mana to cast that spell. [Runo Stromkirk]

The card becomes both Runo Stromkirk and a transforming double-faced card (TDFC). I'm not sure why the card is listed as a Zombie Warlock, as Runo is a Vampire Cleric. That would get corrected for the print version. This version loots each turn (draws and discards) and has a mini-delirium trigger, caring about having different card types in your graveyard to transform the card. The original back face is a Kraken, but an Elder Kraken rather than a Kraken Horror. It lets you cast spells from your graveyard, but at a huge additional cost.

The Lord of Storms and Seas (version 2 of the back face)
Legendary Creature — Elder Kraken
6/6
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME attacks an opponent, you may put a Kraken, Leviathan, Octopus, or Serpent creature card from your hand onto the battlefield tapped and attacking that opponent. [Runo Stromkirk]

There was a second version of the back before the final version. This version starts tapping into Kraken, Leviathan, Octopus, and Serpent tribal. The final version of the back shrinks a little in size, from a 6/6 to a 3/5, and changes its ability to copying attackers. It still references Kraken, Leviathan, Octopus, and Serpent, but only to provide an upgrade, not to restrict the effect to only those creature types. I assume playtesting showed that was too narrow.

The front, Runo Stromkirk, goes through substantial changes, basically becoming a new card. He goes from a 2UB 2/3 to 1UB 1/4 and completely changes how he transforms. He also gains an "enters the battlefield" effect that lets him get a creature card from your graveyard on top of your library. Besides getting back a valuable creature, it also helps you set up the necessary condition to transform him.

Sorin the Mirthless

We're on Innistrad, and Sorin's grandfather, Edgar Markov, is getting married, so there really wasn't any chance Sorin wasn't showing up. I believe he was the very first planeswalker in the set. Here's the evolution he went through:

Sorin Markov (version 1)
WB
Legendary Planeswalker — Sorin
Loyalty – 3
Whenever you sacrifice a blood, CARDNAME gains 1 loyalty.
+1: CARDNAME deals 2 damage to any target. Create a blood token.
0: Create a 2/2 black Vampire creature token with flying and lifelink.

The first version of Sorin tried two things: one, making him only cost two mana; and two, tying him to Blood tokens. The latter was done with a static ability. He then had just two loyalty abilities, neither an ultimate. The plus ability helped him gain Blood and do some damage to the opponent. The zero ability created Vampires, which both protected him and could be a win condition. Also, note that the earliest incarnation of Sorin was white-black. As I explained above, Sorin and Kaya would later change colors with one another.

Sorin, Traitor of the Bloodline (version 2)
2WB
Legendary Planeswalker — Sorin
Loyalty – 3
Whenever you gain life, create a blood token.
+1: Each player creates a 2/2 black Vampire creature token with flying and lifelink.
-2: CARDNAME deals 2 damage to any target, and you gain 2 life.
-X: Draw X cards. You lose X life.

The first version ended up being a little lackluster as a planeswalker card. It mostly went into Blood decks making Vampire tokens every turn. The next version swapped the static ability. Rather than Blood getting a resource (loyalty), now a resource (life) got you Blood. The Vampire-making ability shifted to a plus ability but gave everyone a Vampire instead of just you. The minus ability became a drain for 2. Draining creatures and/or players is a common occurrence on Sorin cards as it does a good job of conveying he's a Vampire. Note, the lifelink on the Vampire token and the minus ability play into the static life gain trigger. The ultimate then gives you a way to use that life to draw cards.

Sorin, Traitor of the Bloodline (version 3)
2WB
Legendary Planeswalker — Sorin
Loyalty – 4
+1: Reveal the top card of your library and put that card into your hand. You lose life equal to its converted mana cost.
-2: Create a 2/2 flying Vampire creature token with lifelink.
-7: CARDNAME deals 13 damage to any target. You gain 13 life.

The third incarnation gets close to the final version. Instead of the ultimate drawing you cards for life, the ability is now done by the plus ability. It's an effect probably most associated with the card Dark Confidant (Bob Maher's prize for winning the 2004 Magic Invitational). The Vampire token-making ability moved from the plus to the small minus ability. Making Vampires for everyone just didn't feel right. The drain is then moved to the ultimate and made 13 because, well, it's Innistrad.

The final version has a few tweaks. The biggest change is that the card went from being white-black to being mono-black. All the effects could be done in black, and this allowed Kaya to become white-black. The plus ability went from being mandatory to being voluntary. You now get to look at the card and decide whether you want to draw it. Finally, the Vampire tokens went from being 2/2 to 2/3.

Toxrill, the Corrosive

Toxrill is my personal favorite card in the set, so I thought it would be fun to explore how this legendary Slug Horror came to be. As you will see, it went through a bunch of changes. First up:

Heartless Demon (version 1)
2BBB
Creature — Demon
6/6
Flying
Creature spells you cast cost 2 less to cast.
Other creatures you control get -1/-1.

Yes, Toxrill started as a Demon and not legendary. As is often the case with Demons, there's a benefit, but it comes at a cost. You get a 6/6 flying Demon for 2BBB, and it makes all your creature spells two mana cheaper. That sounds great. All it costs is the health of all your creatures.

Abyssal Demon (version 2)
3BB
Creature — Demon
3/5
Flying
At the beginning of each player's upkeep, they sacrifice a creature or planeswalker. If they do, they draw a card.

That Demon wasn't as much fun as it seemed, so Set Design tried a new Demon design. This new version applies it's "deal with the devil" to all players. It lets them draw a card every turn at the cost of a creature or planeswalker. Okay, it's not exactly a voluntary thing. The new design still had flying but shrank a little in mana cost and stats. 2BBB 6/6 becomes a 3BB 3/5.

Molluska, The Slimeridden (version 3)
2BB
Legendary Creature — Slug Horror
4/3
At the beginning of your end step, you may put a [slug] counter on target creature.
Creatures get -1/-1 for each [slug] counter on them.
Whenever a creature with a [slug] counter dies, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

The Set Design team finally comes to their senses and realizes Magic has enough Demons. What it really needs is a legendary Slug Horror. This is the first version to use counters, and the counters do shrink creatures by -1/-1, although the effect only puts its counter on one creature at a time. Creatures dying to the counters make Molluska (its design name) bigger.

Molluska, The Slimeridden (version 4)
4BB
Legendary Creature — Slug Horror
5/5
At the beginning of your end step, put a mucus counter on each creature you don't control.
Creatures get -1/-1 for each mucus counter on them.
Whenever a creature with a mucus counter on it dies, create a 1/1 black Slug creature token.

The next version is close to the printed version. The counters go from slug counters to mucus counters and are put on all creature you don't control. I believe Set Design just felt the one counter wasn't substantial enough, especially for a mythic rare. The death reward for your opponent's creatures dying goes from making Molluska bigger to making 1/1 black Slug creature tokens. The creature also goes from a 2BB 4/3 to a 5BB 5/5.

The final version makes a few tweaks. One, to make Toxrill more impressive, it goes from a 5/5 to a 7/7. This makes it go up to 5BB. Two, the counter gets its final name, slime counters. And three, a new ability is added to the card, an ability which allows you to turn Slug tokens into cards. Blue is put with black on the activation to add blue to the color identity of the creature for Commander. The card, color pie-wise, doesn't need the blue.

Time for the Reception

That's all the time I have for today. I hope you enjoyed my card-by-card design stories. As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback on this article, any of the cards I talked about, or on Innistrad: Crimson Vow 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 the first sneak peek at Unfinity, the next Un- set.

Until then, may you enjoy the festivities of Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

 
#887: Crimson Vow with Chris Mooney
#887: Crimson Vow with Chris Mooney

I sit down with Designer Chris Mooney, and we talk about the design of Innistrad: Crimson Vow, especially some of the top-down card designs for Vampires and weddings.


 
#888: Crimson Vow Design
#888: Crimson Vow Design

I walk through the larger design story of Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

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