Odds & Ends: Aether Revolt, Part 1

Posted in Making Magic on February 6, 2017

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 each set, I do a column called "Odds & Ends" where I answer questions from all of you about the latest set. Aether Revolt came out not so long ago, which means it's time to start answering some questions.

Here's the tweet I put out:

As always, I try to answer as many questions as I can, but here's why I might not answer 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.

With that out of the way, let's get to the questions.

I think the biggest impact on the Aether Revolt card set was the creation of the monocolor legendary cycle of creatures along with the companion cycle of Expertises. The creative team had created a number of native Kaladeshi characters, and we wanted to get as many of them onto cards as we could. I think the other influence was that we were trying to match up the feel of the story with the feel of the gameplay. For Aether Revolt, that meant creating a greater sense of unease.

In Kaladesh, we built the design to capture the feel of constructive invention. It was an Inventors' Fair. The inventors were showing off what they could do. In Aether Revolt, we instead highlighted the feel of destructive invention. Many of the inventors are revolting against the Consulate. They're now using their inventions to create change. That meant we had both more cards with destructive effects as well as having more sacrifice and bounce (returning things to your hand) effects. The result of this mechanical leaning was what pushed us in devign (the step in R&D between design and development) to create the revolt mechanic.

A "Bolas planeswalker spell" is referring only to a planeswalker with the Bolas subtype. So far, one exists, Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker from Conflux. Nicol Bolas, the legendary creature from Legends, wouldn't count as it isn't a planeswalker (it predates him getting his spark).

It was clear when we designed Vehicles that they had a lot of potential. They're flavorful, and many worlds have great opportunities to make more, plus the audience has told us it's an area you wanted to see us explore. The big question though was how would all of you respond to Vehicles once we made them? Did you like how we chose to execute them? Were they flavorful? Did you understand how to use them? Was this something you all would like to see return sooner rather than later?

Just in case the answer to the last question was yes, we did some work to map out possible designs and then saved some simpler stuff for us to be able to do if we bring them back. Vehicles are a bit more flexible than most mechanics, and if it turns out to be something you all want to return, design and development are up for the challenge. The big question (and I'd love to hear from all of you in my email or on social media) is do you want Vehicles to come back?

No, it's always been R&D's belief that the Magic metagame should be in constant flux with different strategies ebbing and flowing. Combo should be something that we push at times, and the artifact block all about invention seemed like one of those times. Aether Revolt feels more combo-centric as it was building on top of what Kaladesh had already done.

I showed Ben Hayes, the creator of the revolt mechanic as well as the lead developer of Aether Revolt, this question. He said while the revolt mechanic did take into account things like Clues and Eldrazi Scion, it wasn't directly inspired by Shadows over Innistrad or delirium. I think if any mechanic was the spiritual precursor to revolt, it was morbid from original Innistrad block.

Development fiddled a lot with this cycle, but the core concept of casting something cheaper for free came from design. The two biggest things development did were, one: alter a lot of the effects. Kari Zev's Expertise, for example, went through four different versions. And two: the development team along with the creative team chose to connect the cycle to the monocolor legendary cycle of creatures, something that didn't exist in design.

When we design a set, one of the things we have to figure out is what story the cards are telling. For Aether Revolt, we decided that we were taking the rebels' point of view. This wasn't going to be a set about two sides fighting—we do that often—but rather showing the contrast of the inventors between the two sets. As I said above, Kaladesh showed them proudly demonstrating what they had made while Aether Revolt showed them using those same skills more practically to stop what they felt was a great injustice. This was keeping in line with our "feel like an inventor" mantra.

Basically, whether we give a mechanical identity to a faction has a lot to do with how much focus we want to put on that faction. This block was more about invention, so we wanted the players to take that side. We wanted the Consulate to be a force you see, and we worked hard to make sure they show up on cards, but we didn't weave a mechanical identity for them because that wasn't the focus. We only have so much space, and if we try to always capture everything, we run out of space to properly execute the things we do want to focus on.

The reason we chose "end of combat" rather than "end of turn" was because we wanted revolt to be "active" on your second main phase. Part of making revolt work in the environment is providing a larger than average number of enablers.

The two biggest influences were artifacts and the theme of feeling like an inventor. We also knew that energy and Vehicles were going to return. The biggest influential theme not found in Kaladesh was the rebellion theme.

I know development was aware of the interaction with fetch lands, but that was just one of several different reasons we went with a more opened condition for revolt. The biggest one though, I believe, was its interaction with all the different elements within the block. We knew it would be synergistic with everything else going on in Kaladesh and Aether Revolt.

Ben said he added Shock to the set for a number of reasons. One, burn had room in Standard for some good spells that hit players. Two, thematically it made great sense in a set with a revolt theme. Three, Shock is an iconic card that Ben has always loved.

The original plan was to bring all three Kaladesh mechanics to Aether Revolt and just add one new one. We like for all sets to bring at least one new mechanic to the table. When we realized that we didn't have enough design space to reuse fabricate, we ended up replacing it with a second new mechanic. In retrospect, could we have not carried over fabricate yet only added one new mechanic? Yes, I think we could have. As I've talked about in many columns, we're definitely trying to reevaluate how many mechanics are necessary to make a set work.

To the best of my knowledge, no, it was never considered.

If white believes a system is just, it will work within the system to affect change. But if white believes that a system is fundamentally flawed (it's broken, morally bankrupt, etc.), white will try and change the system to one in which it does believe. The difference between a white Rogue and other Rogues is that a white Rogue is acting for the greater good rather than their own personal agenda.

We tried. Fabricate was in early Aether Revolt design. The problem was that there's a limited combination of mana costs and power/toughness that work, and we used most of them up in Kaladesh.

The same reason that in almost 24 years of Magic we haven't seen much stealing of mana, and why we've dialed land destruction way back. Destroying/stealing resources doesn't lead to particularly fun games. If something using energy is causing you problems, we'd rather you deal with that permanent rather than taking away the energy.

Not to my knowledge. The more likely factor is that all of them are humanoid because of the setting of the world, and that leads to lower mana costs, power, and toughness.

Our first goal is to make fun and compelling gameplay. Something fitting flavorfully is not a good enough reason to contradict that first rule.

We learned many years ago that tribal themes (aka caring about a particular creature type) are popular with players. As such, we try and make sure we have a little bit of tribal in every block and that the occasional block has more of a tribal focus. Our choice of tribal usually centers on what the set is doing. For example, in Kaladesh block, because of the focus on artifacts, we chose to have a little Artificer tribal.

The Aetherborn lord came about because we'd decided to make a new tribe for black as none of our normal tribes were a good fit. Usually when we make a new race in enough volume, we often will add a lord or some other tribal focused card to allow players who want to build around the tribe to do so. We knew we were onto something cool with Aetherborn, so making a lord was a pretty obvious choice. Midnight Entourage plays into the flavor of Aetherborn living short lives, and thus it rewards you for having Aetherborn die.

Oh, Rebels. Probably the number one question I've gotten about Aether Revolt is "Where are the rebels?" Let me walk you through why they aren't here. First off, when building a mechanical theme on creatures, we sometimes use a class creature type to tie them together. The problem we've stumbled into is the game is old enough that we've generated a lot of different classes. So much so that we can't always support them all for flavor reasons.

For example, the creatures in Aether Revolt mostly all have a race. Also, the people revolting are the inventors, so we really want to have the Artificer creature type. (Remember, as I said above, the block has a light Artificer tribal component.) Adding in Rebel on every card starts to get a bit cumbersome. Also, the same types of characters show up in both sets but aren't technically rebels until the revolt in Aether Revolt. Are we supposed to make the same basic cards but have them not be Rebels in Kaladesh and have them be Rebels in Aether Revolt?

We did consider it, but it ended up being clunky and there wasn't any mechanical support to justify it. Does that mean we'll never see Rebels again? Not necessarily. There might come a set where we need a means to define something mechanically and Rebel is the best choice to use, but I don't expect us to use it again until there's a place where it serves a function beyond just being yet another creature type we can add.

For those unaware, I've talked before about how we design a card early in the design of a new world where we end up making a card that couldn't exist in another set and helps give definition to what we're doing. Normally, that's a tool I use when I'm first making a world, which means it happens almost exclusively in the first large set of a block. The closest thing I can think of for Aether Revolt (more being a card that claims space we couldn't do elsewhere than defining the world) is Caught in the Brights.

Fortifications were never considered for two reasons. One, it's not a great flavor fit. And two, the set was crowded with things we wanted to do with artifacts, and Fortifications didn't play in the "feel like an inventor" space we were exploring.

I guess the bigger question is "How do we figure out how much design space any mechanic has." The answer is twofold. First, just start designing cards with the mechanic. As you make a bunch of them, you will start to get a sense what the "pinch points" are (aka what things does the mechanic need that create limitations). Second, if you've been doing this as long as I have, you build up a bit of an intuitive sense for new mechanics. Basically, experience allows you to shorthand things and get a quicker sense about where potential pinch points lie.

Not the Ends of the Odds

We've run out of time for today but have definitely not run out of questions. As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback on any of today's answers, especially the few where I specifically ask questions. Please email me or respond to me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram) so I can hear what you think.

Join me next week as I answer more of your questions.

Until then, may you have fun playing Aether Revolt to generate ever more questions.


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