#871: Midnight Hunt with Ian Duke
I sit down with Designer Ian Duke to talk about the design of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt.
Posted in Making Magic on September 27, 2021
Every set, I do a mailbag column or two and answer some of the questions about the expansion that you all have. Today and next week, I'll be answering questions about Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. Here's the tweet I posted:
As always, I'll try to answer as many questions as I can, but here's why I might not answer your question:
That said, let's get to the questions:
For those who haven't read the design article about daybound/nightbound, the earliest incarnation (dubbed "day/night") was first tried in the early design of original Innistrad (of which Richard Garfield was a team member). I had asked the design team to brainstorm how to make Werewolves as flavorful as possible. Tom LaPille suggested using double-faced cards, something that Duel Masters (a trading card game we make for Japan) had used. I suggested day/night, which brings a game piece onto the battlefield that tracks when it's day and when it's night. In my initial version, there was a track on both sides that you advanced along whenever a spell was cast by any player. Every three spells would toggle day/night to the other side.
We liked day/night. It was a lot of fun, and it was flavorful. We just liked double-faced cards more, and the mindset at the time was that we were only choosing one thing. Obviously, with twenty-twenty hindsight, the correct choice was making use of elements of both, but that wasn't something we even considered at the time. It was hard enough convincing the rest of R&D that double-faced cards were a thing we were supposed to be doing. Trying to convince them at the same time that having outside game components was also okay would have probably been too big of a challenge.
And all that presupposes that we would have been able to understand the proper balance ten years ago between the two components we'd never used before. Part of iterative design (in the context of Magic as an ongoing game) is that you build upon your successes, sometimes reevaluating things you dismissed in the past. Daybound/nightbound is a new tool that allows us to create dual states that we can toggle between (and yes, I can think of numerous other ways to use it). So, we first thought of day/night years ago, but it took ten years for us to better understand it and find a home for it.
Q: Is WotC thinking about errata'ing the previous Werewolves that have the cast no spells/cast two spells transform conditions to have daybound and nightbound? I'm very for it if that makes it on the table. (And thank you for Primal Adversary!)
It had always been my plan to make sure the old and new Werewolves lined up. For example, one of the earlier incarnations of daybound/nightbound literally spelled out that all Human Werewolves transformed when it became night and all Werewolves transformed when it became day. As we designed other cards using daybound/nightbound, it changed from referring to Werewolves to referencing daybound/nightbound permanents instead, as there were a lot of cool non-Werewolf designs. My next plan was to errata all the old Werewolves to have daybound/nightbound. I had numerous talks with the rules manager at the time (Eli Shiffrin; Jess Dunks is the current rules manager), and we were talking about what we needed to do to make that happen. I should stress that during vision design, the daybound and nightbound triggers exactly matched the old Werewolf triggers.
Then during set design, as they were playing with daybound/nightbound, they realized they had the opportunity to fine-tune some things about how Werewolves transformed. For example, the old trigger only cared that nobody casts spells on a turn, so if you took the turn off from casting spells, your opponent could cast an instant at the end of the turn, which would prevent your Werewolves from transforming. It was kind of annoying and more of an unintended consequence of how we templated the trigger at the time, so set design fixed it. Also, daybound/nightbound creatures entering on their nightbound side if it was night proved to be a cool play upgrade, so that stayed as well.
When I came back during set design, repeating my desire to errata the old Werewolves, I got a lot of resistance. Daybound/nightbound had mechanically drifted enough since vision design that using errata became a pretty significant change, and R&D has a standing rule about functional errata (i.e., cards should work the way the words on them say they do) that my suggestion to add daybound/nightbound to the old Werewolves was shot down. It was something we very much thought and talked about, but it's not the direction we chose to take.
Let's start by looking at Werewolf creature numbers from past Innistrad sets:
Innistrad – 12 Werewolves (4 common, 4 uncommon, and 4 rare) out of 264 cards (4.5%)
Dark Ascension – 7 Werewolves (2 common, 2 uncommon, 2 rare, and 1 mythic rare) out of 158 cards (4.4%)
Avacyn Restored – 0 Werewolves (the set didn't have transforming double-faced cards, or TDFCs) out of 244 cards (0%)
Shadows over Innistrad – 12 Werewolves (4 common, 6 uncommon, and 2 rare) out of 297 cards (4%)
Eldritch Moon – 8 Werewolves (2 commons, 5 uncommons, and 1 mythic rare; note that all but one are not normal Werewolves) out of 205 cards (4%)
Now, let's look at Innistrad: Midnight Hunt:
Innistrad: Midnight Hunt – 19 Werewolves (5 common, 8 uncommon, and 6 rares) out of 277 (6.9%)
If you look at the previous record holder, original Innistrad, it has a 58% increase in the number of Werewolf cards and a 65% increase is the percentage of Werewolves in the set.
But why can't there be even more Werewolves? A couple reasons:
Given all these constraints, we fit in as many as we could.
There is. Arlinn. Red-green only has one mythic rare slot, and it seemed like the Werewolf-focused Innistrad set had to have the Werewolf planeswalker from the plane, so Arlinn got the slot.
There were a few issues with it in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. One, Innistrad sets focus their multicolor cards on primarily two-color cards, as it plays into how the mechanical themes are distributed, so there really wasn't room for it in the main set. Two, of both two-color Commander decks, neither has red in it. And three, it's not really a Commander theme that has the necessary cards to make it work yet.
There are only six black Werewolves in existence, and three of them don't work mechanically with the larger Werewolf theme. That said, we keep making cards, and there are plenty of avenues to make a black-red-green legendary Werewolf in the future if we make more cards that support it.
Q: It is an awesome set, but only one legendary Werewolf. I mean, there are mythic Dragons and Vampires in the set but not a mythic Werewolf. Tovolar is very good, but can we expect more commander options for Werewolves in Innistrad: Crimson Vow since so many Vampires made their appearance here?
Werewolves are a tricky theme to build a Commander deck around, as the deck is so uniformly focused mechanically. A lot of design time went into making Tovolar the best Werewolf commander, but we just couldn't find a second design that didn't just feel like something you'd skip over to play Tovolar. We did have a black-red-green legendary creature in the file for a short time that liked double-faced cards, but it didn't pan out on several vectors (us not having three-color cards in the set and it not playing that great being the two big ones).
Q: The Adversary cycle seems to disagree with "rarity is about complexity, not power." Tainted Adversary for example is a 2/3 for 1B with two upsides. Has something changed, or could we expect a 2/3 vanilla for 1B at common?
Rarity is about many more things than just complexity. Each rarity, for instance, serves different purposes, and we must make sure that we're making cards within each rarity that fulfills those purposes. One of the biggest divides between rarities is what formats it focuses on. Common and uncommon are more about limited formats while rare and mythic rare are more about Constructed formats. Each has a different average power level, so cards must be adjusted accordingly. 1B for 2/3 isn't an issue in Standard or Modern or Commander but would be problematic in Booster Draft or Sealed. So no, common can't get a 1B vanilla 2/3.
Originally, it wasn't two sets in a row. When Innistrad: Midnight Hunt was in vision design, Innistrad: Crimson Vow wasn't yet a thing. The set following it was going to be Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, in the same time slot it releases now. But then we decided we want to rejigger the premier release schedule and ended up adding a set in November. Looking over all our options for that set, we chose to do a second Innistrad set. We hadn't done a second set in a while, and Innistrad is a popular plane, so it made sense to dedicate that slot to what became Innistrad: Crimson Vow. I'll get into more detail when I tell the design story of Innistrad: Crimson Vow.
It's reduced I guess, but just by one card. Original Innistrad had four cards that mechanically referenced "thirteen" or "13" (Army of the Damned, Blasphemous Act, Into the Maw of Hell, and Ludevic's Abomination), and Innistrad: Midnight Hunt has three (Jerren, Corrupted Bishop, Olivia's Midnight Ambush, and Triskaidekaphile).
The tradition, interestingly, started as a joke. Into the Maw of Hell was originally pitched doing 10 damage, and I suggested changing it to 13 to make it feel a little more unique and felt 13 added some creepiness to it to make it feel like a better fit for Innistrad. The team liked it, so we started looking for other places to use 13. Then after, whenever anyone made an Innistrad set, it just became a thing to do when we found a spot for it. Thirteen is a big number though, so there usually isn't a lot of ways to reference it, meaning it usually only shows up on a handful of cards.
It was pointed out to me that before Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, there were exactly thirteen cards referencing thirteen in Innistrad sets.
When we started working on vision design for Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, we went back and looked at the five past expansions that had been set on Innistrad and made a list of every mechanic we thought could return. We knew transform and TDFCs would be coming back, as they make up the core mechanical identity of the world. We were also eager to bring back flashback. (That was the reason it got pulled from Strixhaven.) The new daybound/nightbound mechanic we were interested in was obviously an extension of the werewolf "mechanic." Finally, we decided to add in just a tiny bit of investigate and Clues because they had been so popular and thought they were easy to use in small numbers. Vision design only had two. Set design kept it in, and even added a few, but never made it a larger component of the set, as that would require removing other aspects of the design.
So, no, it was never a bigger theme at any time during design.
Usually, the thing that surprises and delights me the most is when we find a game component that makes you rethink things that you thought you'd already wrapped your mind around. Decayed creature tokens were the mechanic in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt that most did that for me. It really took the idea of a creature token and twisted it.
In some ways, it has full value of a creature token. It's as good for sacrifice fodder as any other creature, in some ways better because it has limited utility versus most creatures.
In other ways, it's only worth a fraction of a normal creature token. Creature tokens are good for chump blocking, for example, but that isn't even an option for decayed creatures.
And then, in some ways, it's weirdly better. For instance, let's say your opponent has a 2/2. If you attack with a normal 2/2 creature token, your opponent has the option to trade with it. With a decayed creature token, the creature's going to die, so blocking is only to prevent damage, so there's less incentive to do it, but that results in decayed creatures being blocked less.
Decayed creature tokens just take traditional combat strategy and turn it on its ear. How do you optimize using your decayed creature? How does the opponent optimize working against it? It's not an easy answer and that is surprising and delighting.
Neither. Decayed came about because we were trying to solve a problem. We wanted attacking Zombie hordes to be a thing, but we found a lot of the ways we'd done it in past sets lead to more of a control strategy than a build-up and attack strategy. Make a lot of Zombie creature tokens and then use them to gum up the board.
Sometimes, the win condition would be building up lots of Zombies to attack with in a great big horde, but it wasn't happening as often as we wanted, so we explored the idea of what we could do to make attacking Zombie hordes more of a thing. Zombie creature tokens seemed to be the key, as they offered a way to build up the resource of Zombies.
First, we tried not letting them block, as that seemed to be the behavior that was encouraging the current play pattern. Playtesting showed that they were still a little too strong to produce them at the volume we wanted, so we played around with the idea of making them more like one-shot creatures than continuous sources of damage. If I could only hit you with the Zombie once, how would that change my play pattern? We added that restriction and really liked how the Zombie deck was playing.
Both things stated above (making zombie tokens cheaper and top-down flavor) did matter, and both played a role in us making the decisions we did, but neither was the impetus for the mechanic.
The crux of the decision was that we had two Innistrad sets to make and wanted to make sure both sets have legendary creatures the audience would be excited to see. That meant some of them had to be saved for Innistrad: Crimson Vow.
How did we decide which legendary creatures went into which set? First, we looked at the story. If a character played a larger role in one part of the story (the two Innistrad sets have a connected story, each playing up a different event), we tended to save them for the set where that part of the story occurs. Second, we looked at what we might want to do mechanically with that character and which set would be a better fit. Third, we have a good sense of what characters players are most excited by and try to divvy them up evenly so both sets have their fair share.
So, where are Odric, Thalia, and Geralf? In Innistrad: Crimson Vow.
That's all the time I have today to answer questions. As always, I'm eager to hear all your feedback on my answers, on the cards I talked about, or just on the set in general. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).
Join me next week when I answer more mail.
Until then, may you take in the Harvest Festival.
I sit down with Designer Ian Duke to talk about the design of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt.
In this podcast, I look back at the history of Zombies and share some card-by-card design stories of some of the earliest Zombies.