Odds and Ends: Kaladesh, Part 1

Posted in Making Magic on October 10, 2016

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.

Every set, I do a series called "Odds & Ends" where I answer all of your questions about the latest set. Well, it's Kaladesh's turn.

Here's the tweet I posted:

I always try to answer as many questions as I can, but here's why I might not have answered your question:

  • I have an allotted word count, which means that there are only so many questions I can get to. I should note that on my blog I tend to give shorter answers, but as this is my column, I lean toward giving longer answers with more detail.
  • Someone else might have asked the same question. I will usually answer the first person who asks.
  • Some questions I either don't know the answer to or don't feel qualified enough in the area to properly answer them.
  • Some topics I'm not allowed to answer for all sorts of reasons, including spoilers for future sets.

Let's get to the questions.

There are a bunch of different synergies. Battle for Zendikar block had a "colorless matters" theme, which works well with artifacts (okay, other than the Gearhulks). Support plays nicely with the "+1/+1 matters" theme in Kaladesh. To support the artifact theme, Kaladesh has a few colorless mana producers, which could help the colorless mana theme of Oath of the Gatewatch. Shadows over Innistrad had clue tokens which plays nicely with the "artifact matters" theme in Kaladesh. There's some synergy with delirium because Kaladesh introduces a lot more artifact creatures. Emerge has some synergy with fabricate because you can make tokens and then sacrifice the body, which has a higher converted mana cost, to emerge. And that's just talking mechanics. There are also plenty of synergistic card interactions.

Not really. There are a number of reasons why:

  1. Kaladesh is a world of technology as art. Each device, each gadget, each technological creation is carefully hand-crafted. Contraptions imply a much more chaotic and ramshackle approach to technology—disconnected things welded together. I think of Rube Goldberg devices as contraptions. The card that started this all, Steamflogger Boss, clearly pushes toward contraptions being in this more chaotic direction. We wanted a clean, crisp, elegant world of invention for Kaladesh, which is just a different feel than a world that would have contraptions.
  2. Contraptions would have roughly taken the same space as energy (meaning we wouldn't have put both in the same set) and energy was a slam dunk fit for Kaladesh. The flavor of aether as a resource, which defines much of the cosmology of the world (which first showed up in the stories for Magic Origins—Chandra's family were aether smugglers), really called for a mechanical payoff. The fact that I had the perfect fit in energy and had been looking for over a decade for the right home for it, meant energy got the slot instead of contraptions.
  3. My plan, when I finally do contraptions, is to reprint Steamflogger Boss. I mean, how could he not be there? Kaladesh doesn't have goblins.
  4. From the work I've done so far in trying to figure out contraptions, my best guess is that to truly capture the flavor (and actually match all the rules set out for the mechanic by Steamflogger Boss), it's most likely going to be a complex mechanic. Kaladesh already had Vehicles which are pretty complex, so I don't think I could have done contraptions and Vehicles in the same set. Vehicles are a perfect fit for the set and world that likewise I've been trying to find a home for. Not doing Vehicles would have been the wrong call.

Contraption will one day get its time in the sun (I've vowed to crack it before I retire—which I don't plan on doing any time soon), but Kaladesh wasn't that day.

This is a tricky question because the energy mechanic was not created for Kaladesh. As I explained in my preview article it appeared first in the original Mirrodin design, and then was tried a second time in Shards of Alara design. The very first energy card ever was most likely an artifact that had some number of uses, probably something like a three-use Rod of Ruin ("T: Deal 1 damage to target creature or player"). Remember the card that indirectly inspired the mechanic was Serrated Arrows from Homelands, so the earliest energy exploration was on artifacts.

But let me now answer the question you actually asked. What was the first energy card we made specifically for Kaladesh? We played with energy in the very beginning of exploratory design (which happens before normal design). My best guess is that we just took a lot of staple Magic effects and made energy versions of them. Usually in design, when we're testing out a new mechanic, we just use basic Magic effects because we have a good baseline for them, and it allows us to better evaluate the new aspect of the designs—the thing we're testing.

The first thing I remember designing in design—meaning making actual cards to put in the file—was the earliest version of the Thriving cycle. I believe the creatures entered the battlefield and gave you two energy counters. And then, each turn when they attacked, you could spend one energy to give them +1/+1 until end of turn. At some point, we tried also granting an in-color creature keyword, but I don't remember if those keywords were in the very first design.

Every weekday on all my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Instagram) I post a comic called "Tales from the Pit." As one of the most popular sub-elements of the comic, I have a "sit-com" called "Sparks" where all the Planeswalkers (that exist as Funco figures) live together. Bolas is the landlord and Tezzeret is the cranky next door neighbor. So, it hasn't hit television yet, but it does exist

All the parts of a Magic card are overseen by either design and development, or the creative team. Creature types are the one thing that overlaps the two groups. The way it works is that the creative team has call over the creature types, unless there's a mechanical need for a creature to be a certain type. So let's take a look at Servos and see what the issues are.

Creatively, the Servos are a brand new creature being introduced in Kaladesh. The Thopters (at least the Kaladeshian version) were introduced in Magic Origins. We had the fabricate mechanic that needed to make a 1/1 artifact creature token (the 1/1 flying Thopter proved to be too good a choice for Fabricate and couldn't be properly balanced) and we wanted something that matched the aesthetic of the Thopters. The creative team created a visual design for them as well as a name.

But wait, Servos are constructed. Why not call them Constructs? First off, Construct is what we call a fallback creature type. Others include Beast and Horror. They are wide, sweeping categories that we use if there's just no better choice. It's a fallback. We have a rule that every creature (yes, there's one exception) must have a creature type. The fallback creature types make sure that's true. Technically, most artifact creatures are Constructs. It's not particularly descriptive.

Using the word Servos allows us to use it on every card that makes them. This is more flavorful and helps get the terminology out to the players. As Servos are defined as 1/1 artifact creature tokens (whereas Constructs have a wider range of stats), it helps more concretely convey what you're getting. It also increases the chance of players referring to the counters as the more flavorful name, Servo. Even if we named them through names and flavor text, the rules text calling them Constructs would lead many to refer to them as Constructs in play.

Let's get to the mechanical argument. Does the set tribally care about Servos? Yes, it does. Would there be an advantage to labeling Servos Constructs? It would make the Servo tribal cards more backward compatible as no Servos (save Changelings—yeah, yeah) exist prior to Kaladesh. It does create a developmental issue, though. Kaladesh has Constructs. If we call the Servos Constructs, we have to cost the tribal cards, taking into account that others creatures are aided. It would though make more artifact creatures matter for the tribal cards.

So there are pros and cons for each choice. When this happens we weigh them against each other. Calling them Servos is almost strictly better from a creative standpoint, makes it easier for players to track what they're getting and avoids some developmental costing issues. Calling them Constructs gets us some more backward compatibility and stretches the inner set tribal theme. We weighed it all and decided that Servos was the right call.

Here's how it worked. The design was twelve months long. We divide all designs into three parts. The first six months is vision. The second three months is integration. The last three months is refinement. (For detail on all these stages, you can read the article I wrote about it here.) Both Shawn and I were on the design team for the full six months, but I took the reins for the first half, during the vision phase, and Shawn took the reins for the second half, during the integration and refinement phases. He and I would meet one-on-one once a week to walk through what was happening. This allowed us to talk through things so that both of us were on board with how we were proceeding before we had the full design team meetings.

Every set has "build around me" cards. I can explain the process, but be aware that this is true of any set and not Kaladesh specifically. The trick to making a "build around me" card is eightfold:

  1. Make sure that the thing you care about exists at a high enough volume in the set (if its intended for Limited) or within the environment of whatever formats you're thinking about (for Constructed).
  2. Design your card such that the reward for having whatever it is the card requires gives you some route to victory. The card itself doesn't have to be able to win the game, but it should give you access to something that allows you to win if it's not winning the game itself.
  3. There are two types of build-arounds, what I will call "excitement" build-arounds and "tactical" build-arounds. Excitement build-arounds are cards that push game play in a direction the game normally doesn't go. By building your deck correctly, you are able to create an experience unique to this deck. Tactical build-arounds are about acquiring a known quantity that is a proven way to win games. Tactical build-arounds are usually pushed so that they are viable in Limited and/or Constructed. It's important to understand which type of build-around you are designing.
  4. If the build-around is intended for Limited, you want it to be uncommon. If the build-around is intended for Constructed (and is not viable in Limited), it should be rare or mythic rare. This means you have to take into account the limitations of the rarity you are designing to.
  5. Build-arounds have to have enough sense of potential that players can get excited by them, but not so much that the deck feels obvious without any decision making. It's a delicate balance, but something you will get the feel of as you design them.
  6. If the build-around has to be on the battlefield before anything can happen, make sure it's not too expensive to cast. If it can come down after everything is all set up, it can be more expensive.
  7. The best build-arounds are open ended. That is, they allow something cool to happen, but it's up to the player to figure out what, exactly, that cool thing is. Panharmonicon is a great example of a build-around in Kaladesh. It doubles "enters the battlefield" effects, which there are many of in Kaladesh, but it leaves it to the player to figure out how abusing that can lead to a fun deck. The limitation (ETB effects) allows the player to narrow some, but there's enough of it that there are many choices.
  8. Playtest, playtest, playtest. It's not enough for the card to seem interesting. You need to build around it and actually see if it's fun.

One of the goals of Kaladesh was to provide a stark contrast to the blocks that came before it. Magic had visited some dark worlds, and it was time to visit something brighter—both in visuals and in tone. Part of that optimism was creating a world with less internal conflict (note: not none, just less).

Meanwhile, Kaladesh was the first set to have exploratory worldbuilding. Design had started exploratory design with Khans of Tarkir, and it became clear that creative also needed to start earlier so we could figure out basic elements of the world and set before design began. One of the things I asked from exploratory worldbuilding was to give an identity to each of the colors on Kaladesh. The exploratory worldbuilding team did this by assigning a word which represented that color's driving motivation on Kaladesh. Here's what they came up with. Each color does the following (in the order of the cycle of creation):

Green: Inspire—On Kaladesh, nature is the inspiration for technology. They use the natural elements of the world as a model for how to create harmonious technology.

Blue: Innovate—Blue is the color that comes up with all the grandiose ideas of what can be created.

White: Build—White was the color responsible for building the technology. This is why Dwarves ended up in white, because they are master builders.

Red: Liberate—Red helps release the aether from the technology back into the air, returning it to the natural cycle. The Gremlins play a big part of this role in the ecosystem.

Black: Reclaim—Black is the by-product of the system. The Aetherborn, for example, are elementals literally made out of what is left of the aether after it is liberated.

I liked that the creative team took a positive approach in how the colors approached technology, so I made sure to mirror that in the set's design. It was important to make Kaladesh feel different from other artifact themed blocks, so I appreciated this difference.

My favorite card I didn't design in the set is Metallurgic Summonings.

I love weird and wacky designs, and Metallurgic Summonings is the kind of card that gets my inner Johnny pumped to build a deck. I wish I knew who designed this card, but I have no idea. I do know that it's very similar to a silver-border card I had made years ago. (I keep designing Un-cards so if I ever get the green light, I'm ready to go.) I'm always happy to see things that I think can't be done in black border, get done in black border.

We only have so much space for tribal in a block, especially ones that aren't using tribal as a major theme. That means we have to pick and choose how to use our limited tribal resources. Gremlins (while concentrated in red) don't really have any mechanical identity, so we didn't feel connecting them tribally would pay off as well as some other tribes. Also, the fact that Gremlins have no backward compatibility (well, almost none) made it less attractive than others.

Very much so. We knew we were doing another artifact themed block, and one of our big goals in both design and creative was to make Kaladesh feel very distinct. The optimistic, technology-focused feel was not just to separate it from Innistrad, but also to distance it from Mirrodin. Likewise, we spent a lot of time on the design, making sure that it played very differently. We avoided mechanics like metalcraft (and yes, Inventor's Fair is essentially metalcraft, but just on one card) specifically to avoid making the game play feel too similar.

As Magic gets older and we start visiting new worlds that have some mechanical connection to previously visited worlds, there is pressure to consciously steer the new world into different space. It's one of the reasons I was enamored with the "feel like an inventor" theme. It's just so different from how we handled either Mirrodin block or Scars of Mirrodin block.

So Many Questions…

That's all I was able to answer for today. You guys gave me so many good questions to answer. As always, I'm eager for any feedback on any of the answers in this column. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Instagram).

Join me next week, when I answer more of your questions all about Kaladesh.

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"Drive to Work #373—Perspective"

This podcast stemmed from a discussion I had online. I talk about the issue of how perspective colors expectations.

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