Odds & Ends: Aether Revolt, Part 2

Posted in Making Magic on February 13, 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.

When each Standard-legal set comes out, I do a series called "Odds & Ends" where I answer questions about it from all of you. I got enough questions on Aether Revolt that I decided to make this a two-parter. (You can read Part 1 here.) With that out of the way, let's get to the questions.

The "free spells" from Urza's Saga block were spells where you got to untap lands equal to the converted mana cost of the spell when you played it. The idea was the spell was free provided you had the mana to pay for it.

Interestingly, the most broken part about the "free spells" wasn't the fact that the spells were ultimately free, but rather that they allowed the caster to go up in mana. For instance, Urza's Saga had a land called Tolarian Academy that had the ability to tap for a large amount of mana, and untapping just that one land would often enable all sorts of degenerate things to happen. That's not to say the Expertise spells don't come with some developmental risk, but the fact that the size of the "free" spell is limited and it doesn't help the caster go up in mana makes them far less problematic than the Urza's Saga "free spells."

The Masterpieces are chosen by R&D and are based upon how much use the cards see in various formats. It doesn't make much sense to make splashy versions of cards if we don't expect anyone to put them into actual decks. Ornithopter gets played in a lot of different decks in a lot of different formats. A free creature is often a pretty handy thing to have, mostly in combo decks, but there are other uses. What I'm saying is we made an Ornithopter Invention because our research said it would be a card that players would want, and based on the data we've seen so far, it is.

One of the trickiest things when creating a set is figuring out how much hate (aka cards that destroy or significantly hurt in some way a particular subset of cards) to make for the new elements in the set. Make too much, and the new elements don't get a chance to shine. Make too little, and there isn't an answer if they get out of hand. Kaladesh, while it has an artifact theme, doesn't push as heavily to play as many artifacts as possible as artifact blocks like Mirrodin and Scars of Mirrodin did. As such, development decided to rely more on pinpoint removal (using a spell to destroy just one thing) rather than mass removal. As for Vehicles, a spell that destroys creatures already does a good job of slowing down Vehicle decks because you need creatures to crew the Vehicles, so we didn't feel a Vehicle mass removal card was necessary.

Absolutely. Energy is one of those mechanics that has an endless supply of design space. Resources are pretty open-ended, and there are just a lot of different things you can do with it. We created lots and lots of cool energy designs that didn't end up making it through, some because they weren't the best fit for the final mix of cards, some because they overlapped with something else we did, some because we hadn't quite figured out the best execution, and some because we want to save some space for when energy returns one day. As I'm optimistic of its eventual return, I kind of want to keep secret the cool things we tried that didn't end up seeing print.

This is more of a creative question than a design one. Here's what I do know: One, the Aetherborn have been very popular. They've had about as good a reception for a new race as any I can remember probably save Slivers. Two, aether is a core element of the multiverse and exists, I believe, on every plane. That said, Kaladesh is rather unique in the volume of its aether, and the conditions that made the Aetherborn on Kaladesh are not something easily duplicated. I believe their popularity will make the creative team more receptive to finding another world where they make sense, although I can't promise they'll find one.

I asked Ben Hayes, the lead developer of Aether Revolt and the creator of revolt. He said, "We realized it would have an impact on those formats, but most of how it interacts with Eternal formats was a product of making it interact with all the things we wanted in Standard."

In general, when we design cards, we do two things. One, we make sure there are synergies built in that interact with things we know the cards will come into contact with, the biggest being Limited and Standard. We use playtesting to fine-tune this first group. Two, we make things open-ended enough that we know there will be discoveries with cards from Magic's past even if we don't necessarily playtest those interactions. Were we aware that revolt interacted with things like fetch lands? Yes, we were.

The official pronunciation is "EE-ther" with a long E. And by official, I don't mean Wizards; I mean the dictionary. The word "Aether" has existed in Magic since almost the beginning (Aether Storm in Homelands), but we don't declare official pronunciation for all the words in set names. We do define pronunciations for proper names and set names so that translations sound similarly. As "Aether" finally made it to a set name, that meant we had to come out and say how we said it. As there was a clear dictionary pronunciation, that is what we went with.

As long time listeners of my podcast know, I've called it "AY-ther" with a long A for years and years. It wasn't until the preparations for last year's PAX where we were introducing Kaladesh (and Aether Revolt's name) that I was informed that it was supposed to be using a long E. I constantly was messing it up during our various rehearsals but did manage to finally get it right for the actual presentation.

Your question is a little skewed. Master Tinkerer is not a Thopter lord but rather a Thopter and Servo lord. In fact, as it makes Servos, it's more a Servo and Thopter lord, with the emphasis on Servos. To understand why it's in white, let's look at some data. First, here's all the cards that make Servo tokens in the Kaladesh block broken down by color: (Note that if a card appears in multicolor, I count each color as half.)

  • White: 9.5
  • Blue: 1
  • Black: 7.5
  • Red: 1
  • Green: 6
  • Artifact: 5 (one of which, Cogworker's Puzzleknot, requires white mana to optimize)

Next, let's count all the Thopter-makers in Kaladesh block by color: (Blue and red have two multicolor cards, so they each end up counting together as one per color.)

  • White: 1
  • Blue: 3
  • Black: 0
  • Red: 2
  • Green: 0
  • Artifact: 2 (3 counting Kaladesh Inventions)

As you can see, there are a lot more Servo-makers than Thopter-makers (30 versus 9), and white makes more of both than any other color.

For those who enjoy a behind-the-scenes peek, Master Tinkerer started out as just a Servo lord, and we later added Thopters to the first ability to give it a little more flexibility as the flavor made a lot of sense.

One of the challenges of making a Magic set is juggling a huge number of balls to make a lot of different players happy. We're aware that Commander players like having legendary creatures connected to each major theme of a set, and we do try to make them (for example, there were numerous legendary creatures designed that used energy), but sometimes in the act of putting a set together, your focus gets pulled away and a few balls get dropped. So, sorry it didn't happen with energy in Kaladesh, but it is something on our radar that we're trying to put more focus on.

That is where we would like the default to be, knowing that sets will shift a bit in the act of making them.

One of the issues that got raised as we were working with revolt was making sure it felt distinct enough from morbid (the "death matters" mechanic from Innistrad block). So yes, making the change so that it cared about a slightly different trigger was important. Also, note that morbid cares about any creature dying while revolt only cares about permanents you control leaving the battlefield (creature versus permanent, and controlled by anyone versus controlled by you).

For those who might be unaware, Propaganda is a card originally printed in Tempest that's shown up in a number of Commander sets.

The reason we never considered it for Aether Revolt is because the mechanic of taxing attackers is no longer a blue thing. Many years ago, we moved most of taxing into white, including the Propaganda ability. Ghostly Prison, originally in Champions of Kamigawa, is the white version of Propaganda, and the one we'd use if we wanted that effect in a new set.

If we know that we have a mechanic that we're going to use in both the large and small set, we design for the mechanic as widely as possible in the large set, making use of whatever versions we can come up with. Then as we start to get a better sense of the design space, we usually cordon off space for the small set. With Vehicles, we found that the mechanic had a lot of what we call "vanilla space": there were enough knobs and numbers to play around with that we could make a lot of simple Vehicles. In design, we found a lot of quirky things that we could do on one Vehicle, and we saved some of those (using energy, making use of counters, being crewed by planeswalkers) for Aether Revolt.

There was a lot of cool stuff and only so much room. If you like the Cat Monkeys, let your appreciation be known, because players liking something greatly increases its chance of return.

This is the kind of question I'd love to get feedback on from all of you. Right now it's something we do on rare occasion, but if we got enough positive feedback, I could see it being something we do with a little more regularity, especially with our current focus on story. Personally, I'm a fan of foreshadowing mechanically on cards, but I know there are those who dislike it.

Fabricate's limited design space and it's making of Servos is going to hinder its chances of returning in a Standard-legal set, but I've seen mechanics I've been far more skeptical of come back.

Monkey became a new Subtype with the release of Kaladesh. Once it was added, we went back and changed a few creatures that were clearly Monkeys from Ape to Monkey. (Before Monkey was added, all Monkeys were Ape in their creature type. Yes, scientifically, it's inaccurate.)

"Artificer" and "Advisor" wouldn't both fit on the type line, so we had to choose only one. The decision to go with Advisor was based on flavor, as that better matches the role he plays in the story. But in retrospect, as Artificer is the mechanically relevant creature type in the block, we might have made a mistake.

A number of reasons:

  1. We wanted Kari and Ragavan to interact together to match the story. Having Kari mechanically make the Ragavan token ensures that happens.
  2. Sets have a limited number of slots for legendary creatures. Aether Revolt only had five legendary creature slots, in a monocolored cycle no less, so making a slot for Ragavan would have meant we had to cut someone else as well as make him a different color than Kari.
  3. Ragavan being a token let us make a full-art version of him.

So Many Questions, So Little Time

Sadly, we've run out of time for today, so I must call this two-parter to an end. As always, I am eager to hear any feedback either on my responses to today's questions or if you have new questions you'd like to ask me. Remember I answer questions every day on my blog. Please email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Instagram) with your feedback.

Join me next week for my annual Nuts & Bolts column with tips on how all of you can make your own Magic sets.

Until then, may you know the joy of attacking with a Monkey.


 
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