Odds & Ends: Eldritch Moon, Part 3

Posted in Making Magic on August 8, 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.

I've spent the last two weeks answering all of your questions about Eldritch Moon. I'm not done yet—one more to go.

The answer is a technical one, but it's important. Card sets are built on a different timeline than the short stories written for the website. The overall plot is created at the same time as the cards are made, but a lot of the details, including minor characters, don't get created until the stories are actually written. Hal and Alena did not exist as characters when the set was being made. Kimberly Kreines created them when she wrote her story "Under the Silver Moon."

So why aren't they cards? Because when they were created by Kimberly, the card set had long since been finalized. A similar thing happened in original Innistrad with Geralf and Gisa. They were created during flavor text writing, but that too happened after cards were locked down—they had art and rules text. As with Geralf and Gisa, Hal and Alena have been well received by the audience, and we will look for future opportunities to find them a card or cards.

Diversity is very important to us, and we are constantly trying to find ways to weave it into the story. I want to stress that their absence is the result of timelines and not any lack of desire for us to have them as cards.

No, this was a special exception. It's not an ability I expect us to do often at low rarities.

The number of cards in a rarity is a byproduct of printing choices that, while important for us, are pretty boring details for all of you. I think the biggest reason we have fourteen mythic rares instead of thirteen was that we felt both Brisela (well, half of her) and Ulrich, both double-faced cards, were deserving of mythic rare status.

Starting with Magic Origins, we began a new chapter in our storytelling. Part of that was having stories be more continuous. What did the story of Theros have to do with the story of Khans of Tarkir? Very little. In this new model, we're trying to make our blocks have more connectivity. Part of that is having a continuous cast of characters (it's why we formed the Gatewatch), but another part is having threads from one block pick up in another. With time, you will see something appear in one block and then pop up again a few blocks later.

But as we were just starting this new type of story, we wanted to communicate very loudly that this connectivity exists. That's why we chose to do the Eldrazi back to back. We want players to understand that the ramifications in one block will affect future blocks. Because this is a change from how things have been in the past, we needed to start by being very blunt. It won't always be this blunt or this fast, but we wanted to change up how players thought about the story.

Did it lessen the mystery some? Sure, but the larger goals were more important.

We wanted the Eldrazi Horror tokens to have a personality, something square stats wouldn't have done. 1/1, 2/2, and 3/3 tokens are so commonplace that it's hard to make them feel unique. We knew we wanted them to be bigger than 1/1 because we liked the idea of a progression of Eldrazi tokens (0/1 to 1/1 to 3/2) over time. I think 3/2 was chosen to make them feel substantial without being too hard to deal with.

I caused a bit of a stir online when I claimed that Emrakul being on Innistrad predated us choosing to return to Zendikar. Huh? How could that be? Let me walk you through the timeline. Adam Lee, a former member of the creative team now working on Dungeons & Dragons, first made his pitch for a return to Innistrad at an R&D offsite. His whole pitch was for our second time in Innistrad to play up more cosmic horror than Gothic horror, as we had used up most of our trope space on the first visit. The source of the madness and mutation (because cosmic horror is all about people going mad and mutating) would be Emrakul. In that pitch, there was nothing about Nahiri or Sorin or most of the story that came to be. It was predominantly cosmic horror caused by Emrakul.

Fast forward a year or two. We're trying to figure out what worlds we want to go to, and it comes up that we could go back to Zendikar. I believe we had just returned to Ravnica and it had gone very well, so we were looking at other worlds to return to. Because original Zendikar had been two years earlier than original Innistrad, it made sense to go back there first. We put the return to Innistrad later in the schedule, but I don't remember exactly when. It wasn't right after Zendikar at first. Then, for some reasons I can't get into, we had to swap some blocks around and Innistrad ended up immediately after Zendikar.

When I started Battle for Zendikar design, we hadn't yet made the decision to make the shift over to the two-block model, nor the decision to revamp how we were telling the story. Magic Origins was still a core set dedicated to villains. My first take on how to do a three-set block for a return to Zendikar was to let each Eldrazi be the focus of a set. This was before any of the story had been worked out for Battle for Zendikar. (Note that our process has since changed significantly, and now we're figuring out story beats way earlier to allow us to influence what worlds we're going to.)

I knew that Emrakul was going to end up in Innistrad, but I assumed it would happen after the events of Battle for Zendikar. Once again, none of the details for how that was going to happen had been worked out yet. Early in design, everything changed. We moved to a two-block model, we changed how we were doing the story, we shifted our processes to start involving story way earlier. Things radically changed (for the better).

And that is how Emrakul ended up on Innistrad before we knew we were returning to Zendikar.

Now we get to the real change happening on Innistrad. My theory is that Emrakul hates hats. In fact, maybe Nahiri also hates hats and lured Emrakul to Innistrad knowing their shared hatred for hats. Maybe a sign of madness is a rejection of hats. Maybe hats don't fit so well when you have tentacles growing out of your head. Maybe the hats mutated to become part of the person. I don't know the definitive answer yet, but I agree it's the true mystery of Shadows over Innistrad block.

The Eldrazi threat is over. Well, for now. There are going to be plenty of threats in upcoming sets, but they're going to be threats other than the Eldrazi. We have a lot of interesting villains coming up in the next few years—some you know and some you don't. I'm excited to see your reactions as you learn who they all are.

It was for a purely mechanical reason. If Gisela had stayed red-white and Bruna stayed white-blue, that would have meant that if you wanted to play a Brisela deck, you would have had to play a three-color deck (blue-red-white). We already weren't doing a lot of meld cards in the set. We wanted to make sure as many decks as possible could play them. That meant limiting them to a single color. For the Angels, the choice was easy—white, both the color they have in common and the main color of Angels.

When I created skulk, I very much did so as a shot to try and find an evergreen mechanic to overlap blue and black. We've been trying to find evasion mechanics that have more interactivity to them, avoiding things that tend to be just on or off depending on what deck you're playing. ("I'm playing green, so I guess I can't stop that creature.")

Our new philosophy for finding evergreen mechanics is that we don't make them. We make set mechanics that we think will serve the set they're in, and then if a mechanic shows itself to have evergreen possibilities, we make the decision after having worked with it and seeing what kind of designs it can support. Prowess is probably the best poster child for this new philosophy.

So, what happened with skulk? It ended up having a few issues that affected our desire to make it evergreen. First, as we designed with it, we came to realize that it had a much smaller area of design space than we first thought. Second, as we played with it, we realized that it was more complex to track than we originally expected. For these two reasons, we've chosen to not make it evergreen.

So why didn't Tabak or I list it returning? We just forgot. It's the most minor mechanic in the block and it simply fell under our radar.

No, the default is five. The very fact that I use the word "default" means sometimes it won't be five, but that when the dust settles, it will most likely be five again. Will you see other blocks with more than five? Most likely, but that doesn't mean you should expect it most of the time.

The block does have a number of reprints, so I'm guessing by "meaningful" you mean powerful. Here's the issue with powerful reprints in Standard-legal sets: they warp the environment. And if you're talking about reprints from original Innistrad, those were the cards that warped Standard last time we were on Innistrad. Part of going back is wanting to revisit old themes without it being identical to the last time you visited.

Development did experiment with bringing back powerful reprints like Thoughtseize and Mutavault and, in each case, we were unhappy with the results. Also, development only gets so much power to allocate to a set, so bringing back old cards means the newer cards, as a whole, are less powerful—which usually makes the set feel worse.

Liliana isn't one to openly share her motives, so we'll have to wait and see why she chose to join. Obviously, her connection to Jace plays some role. All I can say at this point is that the story team has worked really hard to make a cool and compelling story, and that Liliana wasn't chosen to be on the team without very good reasons.

It's both, actually. Red's land destruction theme has always been a problem, because Magic isn't particularly fun if your opponent destroys all your land. As such, we've pulled way back on the power level of land destruction spells. The "tapping lands that don't untap for a turn" mechanic came up as a way to possibly do land destruction lite. It would allow red to temporarily mess with lands without any long-term downside. This is truly an experiment, in that we're not convinced we want this to be a red thing moving forward, but we wanted to try it and gauge the player reaction. Please let me know what you all think about it. Is this something you'd like to see us continue to do in red?

A world based on the genre of horror is a single-beat world. If we get too narrow, we don't have worlds with enough depth for us to keep revisiting. Just remember that on any visit we have to zoom in on some subsection of our theme. The first visit is one subsection, not everything that world has to offer.

There's a limited amount of space in a set and players want new things, so we only have so much bandwidth for bringing things back. We decided to return one mechanic, and of all the choices, it seemed clear that one was more iconic to Innistrad than any other: transform. We did talk about the three you mention. The mechanic that came the closest of the three to returning was flashback.

Ulrich was originally in Shadows over Innistrad, but we realized that we had both him and Arlinn Kord. There wasn't space for two mythic rare red-green double-faced Werewolves, so it meant one of them had to go. No matter which one we chose, neither fit into the pattern of the mutation theme of the Eldritch Moon double-faced cards, so it was clear we were going to have to either make an exception or not have a legendary Werewolf (the planeswalker had to exist for color balance reasons). I knew having a legendary Werewolf was a big deal for a lot of players, so we opted to have one double-faced exception. As it was at mythic rare, it wasn't something players opening Eldritch Moon packs would see often.

...And Done

That was a lot of great questions. Thank you to everyone who took the time to write in. As always, I would love to hear your feedback on this column or Eldritch Moon through either my email or any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week as I do a preview for Conspiracy: Take the Crown.


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