Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Vision Design Handoff, Part 1

Posted in Making Magic on February 7, 2022

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.

When Vision Design hands off a set to Set Design, we create a document we call the vision design handoff document. In it, the lead vision designer explains their team's vision for the set and walks the Set Design team through all the thought that went into making the vision, including showing off the many mechanics the Vision Design team has created. I started showing these vision design handoff documents in my column, and they've been very popular. Here are the ones I've previously published:

As I just walked you through Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty's vision design over the last two weeks (Part 1 and Part 2), I thought it would be fun to look at the set's vision design handoff document. The document's big enough that I need to break it into two parts. As with all my vision design handoff articles, this is the official document as it was turned in, offset with boxed commentary.

"Hockey" Vision Design Handoff

Vision Design Team

  • Mark Rosewater (lead)
  • Ari Nieh (strong second)
  • Daniel Holt
  • Dave Humpherys
  • David McDarby
  • Emily Teng
  • Ethan Fleischer
  • Mark Gottlieb

Exploratory Design Team

  • Mark Rosewater (lead)
  • Ari Nieh
  • Chris Mooney
  • Ethan Fleischer
  • Grace McClintock

Worldbuilding Team

  • Emily Teng (creative lead)
  • Zack Stella (art director)
  • Annie Sardelis
  • Daniel Holt
  • Doug Beyer
  • Jehan Choo
  • Jenna Helland
  • Katie Allison
  • Meris Mullaley
  • Rebecca On

For many years, we've talked about doing another Japanese-inspired set. There were two options:

  1. We could revisit Kamigawa, the Japanese-inspired world we released back in 2004 built around Japanese mythology, or
  2. We could build a brand-new Japanese-inspired world inspired by Japanese pop culture tropes with a more modern take.

I should point out that once I was convinced that the set we were making wanted to be Kamigawa, there was still a lot of various stakeholders to convince, and I couldn't have done it without the help of numerous people also rallying for Kamigawa (Jess Lanzillo and Aaron Forsythe among many others).

The former would be nostalgic and tap into a feel of more ancient Japan. The latter would be more pop culturally resonant and tap into a feel of more modern Japan. After much deliberating, we chose to do . . . both.

It turns out that while exploring a conflict engine for the world, we stumbled upon an interesting recurring conflict seen throughout Japanese pop culture—tradition versus modernity. That is, the conflict of caring about the world through the lens of the past versus seeing the world through the lens of the future. Do you hold onto the traditions of how things have always been, or do lean toward the promise of new possibilities? Yes, it turns out the conflict engine most natural to the world pits our two world concepts against one another.

In addition, when we started exploring this conflict, we found an elegant way to map it mechanically. The tradition side cares about enchantments as they reflect the inherent ancient magic of the world that has existed on the plane for a millennium. The modernity side cares about artifacts, because it represents technology and the latest innovations. Artifacts and enchantments have an interesting dynamic in that they feel like opposites yet function alike mechanically, allowing us to pit them against one another flavorfully while still making a lot of mechanical synergies where you'd want to play them together. While we've done individual artifact-centric and enchantment-centric planes, we've never done one where they coexisted, giving Kamigawa a distinct mechanical identity.

Working with the Creative team (and the color pie), we assigned a color to each side of the main conflict with a supporting color and one color positioned in the middle.

Tradition                                                                                                                  Modernity

 

Green ---------------- White --------------- Black --------------- Red ---------------- Blue

The end colors will focus on their side but have a little bit of the opposite side (somewhere around an 80/20 split). The support colors will lean toward their side but not as strongly (somewhere around a 65/35 split), and the central color will be 50/50. The idea is that you can play any combination of colors and lean toward either side, but certain colors will more likely push you in one direction. Green-white and blue-red decks, for example, will most often be of their respective sides, while white-black and black-red will more often be evenly balanced. (More on this below.)

Let's look at both sides of this conflict.

Tradition

This side is the side that taps into the Kamigawa block. In story time, 1,500 years have passed since we were last on the plane (even in the story timeline from when it was released, the Kamigawa block took place in the past), so most references to the Kamigawa block are referencing the old part of the world. This section of the world gets to play up the plane as players remember it from Champions of Kamigawa block. We get to revisit familiar races, memorable locations, ancient objects, and characters or ancestors of characters whom players remember.

As far as mechanics go, we're suggesting we bring back one mechanic from the Kamigawa block (channel, which I'll talk about more below) in the main set and one in a Commander deck (ninjutsu, which would go into a Ninja deck). Other than that, the nostalgic mechanical aspects of the set will be conveyed more through the design of single cards and cycles that will harken back to memorable cards and/or cycles from the Kamigawa block. The mechanics from the original block aren't where we want to put our focus in this set, choosing instead to lean into the more popular flavor aspects.

This part of the set will have an enchantments theme, including enchantment creatures. It will also include Saga creatures. Here's how they work. The Sagas in this set are all stories about characters from the past (mostly from or referencing the Kamigawa block) that transform into an enchantment creature of that character as an effect of their last chapter.

Here are some examples:

Isamaru Defends Eiganjo
2W
Enchantment — Saga
(As this Saga enters and after your draw step, add a lore counter, Sacrifice after III.)
I-II: Create a 1/1 white Soldier creature token.
III: This permanently becomes a Dog enchantment creature.
//
Creature — Hound
2/2
Whenever this creature attacks, other creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn.

Boseiju Rises Above
4G
Enchantment — Saga
(As this Saga enters and after your draw step, add a lore counter, Sacrifice after III.)
I-II: Target creature you control gets +2/+2 until end of turn.
III: This permanently becomes a Spirit enchantment creature.
Creature — Spirit
5/5

Note that when the Sagas become creatures, they remain enchantments, becoming enchantment creatures, but stop being Sagas, meaning they lose the lore counters.

The intent is that these are single-sided cards with a tweaked Saga frame communicating the creature aspect of the card, but the Set Design team is free to look into double-faced card executions. The Vision Design team avoided this path due to the high volume of DFCs in sets leading up to this ("Diving" through "Clubs" all use some form of double-faced cards and [REDACTED]), but we acknowledge it's an exciting execution possibility in a vacuum.

Modernity

This is the side that taps into the more modern Japanese pop culture tropes. This side cares about artifacts and will include colored and colorless artifact creatures. This section is going to be the one that pushes into a lot of the resonance that the Kamigawa block did not due to its focus on older elements based on Japanese mythology.

Artifact creatures will represent creatures that have upgraded themselves with some form of magical technology. The Equipment will be higher technology (for Magic at least—think Kaladesh) tools and/or lean into pop culture tropes, weapons, and upgrades. The Vehicles will be mechs.

Analytical Droid
2U
Artifact Creature — Construct
1/4
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME becomes tapped, Scry 1.

Extraordinary Large Sword
2B
Artifact — Equipment
Equipped creature gets +4/+0
Equip 1

Giant Mecha
7
Artifact — Vehicle
8/8
Crew 1

Assembly Squadron
2
Artifact — Vehicle
3/4
Crew 2
3: Create Liontron, a legendary 15/15 Construct artifact creature token with vigilance, flying, lifelink, haste, and trample. Exile five artifact creatures you control until that token leaves the battlefield.

The mechanic unique to this side will be install. Install is a mechanic that goes onto artifact creatures and allows them to turn into Equipment. There is a single cost to equip and unequip. Whenever the creature is equipped, it's an Equipment, and whenever it is unequipped (including when it falls off because the equipped creature dies), it's just an artifact creature and not an Equipment. It always stays an artifact. Here are some examples:

Spy Drone
2U
Artifact Creature — Equipment
2/2
Whenever CARDNAME or an equipped creature deals combat damage to a player, draw a card.
Instill 5 (5: Attach this card to target creature you control or unattach it. Install only as a sorcery. This card enters the battlefield unattached and stays on the battlefield if the creature it equips leaves the battlefield. While attached, this card is not a creature.)

Lifeforce Drone
1B
Artifact Creature — Equipment
2/1
Lifelink
Equipped creature has lifelink.
Instill 5 (5: Attach this card to target creature you control or unattach it. Install only as a sorcery. This card enters the battlefield unattached and stays on the battlefield if the creature it equips leaves the battlefield. While attached, this card is not a creature.)

Like Saga creatures, install doesn't need to be of a high as-fan because each card is pretty impactful.

Overarching Mechanics and Themes

Each side has a mechanic dedicated to its side, but the set also has two named mechanics and one unnamed mechanic, as well as some mechanical themes, that stretch across both sides. These three mechanics are intended to be the glue that encourages players to mix and match artifacts and enchantments.

The first named mechanic is enhanced. Enhanced refers to any creature that is equipped, enchanted, or has counters on it. (The set currently only uses +1/+1 counters.) Enhanced can be used numerous ways. It can be on a creature, which gets an upgrade if it's enhanced:

Skywire Infiltrator
1B
Creature — Human Ninja
1/1
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, if it's enhanced, defending player loses 1 life. (A creature is enhanced if it's equipped, enchanted, or has a counter on it.)

It can be used on a creature that's upgraded if you control an enhanced creature:

Inspired Pupil
2G
Creature — Human Monk
3/2
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter if you control an enhanced creature. (A creature is enhanced if it's equipped, enchanted, or has a counter on it.)

It can be used on a spell that's upgraded if you control an enhanced creature:

Augmented Blast
2R
Sorcery
CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature. If you control an enhanced creature, CARDNAME also deals 3 damage to each opponent. (A creature is enhanced if it's equipped, enchanted, or has a counter on it.)

Of all the named mechanics, this is the one that can be put on instants and sorceries. Enhanced helps encourage players to play Equipment, Auras, and permanents/spells that make use of +1/+1 counters.


That's all the time we have for today. As always, I'm eager for any feedback—on this document, on my commentary, or on Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty 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 part two of the vision design handoff document.

Until then, may you enjoy exploring how what once was can become what will be.

 
#903: NEO Early Design
#903: NEO Early Design

32:33

I tell the story of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty's exploratory design and vision design.


 
#904: NEO with Dave Humpherys
#904: NEO with Dave Humpherys

31:00

I sit down with Designer Dave Humpherys to discuss the set design of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.

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