Odds & Ends – Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty

Posted in Making Magic on February 28, 2022

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 like to do a mailbag column for each expansion to answer some of your questions about the set. Today, I'll be answering many of your questions about Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.

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:

  • I have an allotted word count, which means that there are only so many questions I can get to.
  • 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 answer properly.
  • Some topics I'm not allowed to answer for all sorts of reasons, including previews for future sets.

That said, let's get to the questions:

Q: Why doesn't the modified mechanic include mutated creatures?

Normally, when we batch together some number of effects, we tend to stop at three, because we want to make the batch easier to process and remember. The two things we prioritize are 1.) those things being in the set that use the keyword and 2.) that they represent the largest pool of cards to reference.

Magic, being a modular trading card game, likes mechanics that can interact with lots of other cards. Equipment, Auras, and cards with counters are all categories much larger than mutate, all are very backwards compatible, and all three are in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.

But wouldn't the mechanic be better if it included mutate? The problem is, where do we stop? Magic is almost thirty years old and has made a lot of mechanics, many of which can be flavored as being "modified." We could include mutate, but also threshold, amplify, exalted, haunt, emerge, transform, soulbond, hellbent, and augment. And that's just off the top of my head. If every new mechanic tried to include every old mechanic that possibly could apply, we couldn't fit the reminder text on the card (and it starts getting a lot more complicated).

Here's a little exercise for you to try at home. Can you come up with a word that includes Equipment, Auras, and counters but doesn't feel like it includes any of the mechanics above? Those three things are already a bit different from one another, so any word broad enough to capture them can be interpreted as capturing other things as well. We just have to choose what makes the best sense mechanically and draw the line there.

Q: Was it intentional for the Shrine creatures to have no creature type?

Go-Shintai of Shared Purpose

Before I answer this question, let me clarify something that has been causing some confusion. Shrine is an enchantment subtype. For rules purposes, subtypes can only belong to one card type (with the one exception that instants and sorceries can share them), meaning that Shrine isn't and can't be a creature type. This is similar to how Food is an artifact subtype even when it appears on artifact creatures. That means that all the Shrines in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty have no creature type.

So, was it intentional? No, here's what happened. They had to be legendary, both because it matches every Shrine that came before and it's necessary for play design balance. It had to be an enchantment, because as I said above, Shrine is an enchantment subtype. It needed to be a creature because that was the new tweak for the Shrines in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. It had to be a Shrine because a.) it's a Shrine and b.) it wouldn't mechanically work otherwise. And those words took up all the space on the type line. It has no creature type, not because we didn't want it to have one but because it couldn't. It didn't fit.

Is that a problem? Rules-wise? No. Nameless Race has no creature type. Facedown creatures with morph have no creature type. There are various other ways to create a creature with no creature type or remove a creature type from a creature. The game doesn't require creatures to have a creature type. As a general rule, we like every creature having a creature type, both for flavor and to open up tribal possibilities, but it's more of a like than a need. Not having one was quirky, but it didn't cause any gameplay issues.

Why didn't we add reminder text that said, "This creature doesn't have a creature type"? Two reasons. One, it would have taken up more room in the text box, and we would've had to lose the flavor text. Two, it mattering is a corner case, one that doesn't come up with Limited in this set or very often in Constructed formats. Yes, it not being a creature type matters for changelings and cards that let you "choose a creature type," but in the big picture, sometimes we just assume that the people who need to know can learn the rule about it. We're constantly balancing a card's need for extra text versus its use case (i.e., is it worth adding the extra words?), and in this case, we decided it wasn't necessary. It was clearly a judgment call.

Q: Why do the new Myojin use indestructible counters rather than divinity counters like the original cycle?

As Magic evolves, we continually upgrade our design technology. Our rule for returns, with a few rare exceptions, is to use the modern execution of a mechanic (i.e., do it how we'd do now rather than how we did it then). If the Myojins had been designed for the first time today, we would have used indestructible counters rather than a divinity counter that we had to then define on the card. It saves rules text, makes the mechanic easier to understand, and consolidates rules (important in a game with so many rules). Matching old design technology solely for nostalgia purposes most often leads to worse design.

Q: In your GDC talk, you mentioned about adding haste to suspended creatures due to the fact that people wanted to attack after waiting for several turns. Do you consider that when designing flip Sagas?

The earliest version of Saga creatures did, in fact, change directly into creatures, meaning they were able to attack the same turn (not technically haste, but similar to if the creature face had haste). Remember, Vision Design handed off the Saga creatures as single-faced cards, and Set Design changed them into double-faced cards. Dave and the Set Design team changed them to "exile and return" to specifically give the opponent a turn to deal with them.

Q: Why was there a kappa alive two thousand years after the shell of the last kappa was preserved?

I'll give you the in-world and behind-the-scenes answers.

In world: 1,200 years ago, there was a general belief that the kappas had died. It turns out they hadn't. The same thing has happened in our world many times. All of the following creatures have been declared extinct only to later show up still alive: Arakan Forest Turtle, Chacoon Peccary, Coelcanth, Cuban Solenodon, Goblin Shark, Gracilidris, Kashmir Musk Deer, Majorcan Midwife Toad, Monito del Monte, Monoplacophoran Mollusks, Mountain Pygmy Possum, New Guinea Big-Eared Bat, Laotian Rock Rat, Naked-Backed Fruit Bats, New Guinea Singing Dog, Night Parrot, Nocturnal Gracilidris Ant, Palehouse Earthworm, Pygmy Tarsier, Stubfoot Toad, Tahake Birds, Terror Skink, and Tree Lobster.

Behind the scenes: When Brady Dommermuth and his Creative team originally designed Kamigawa, there were a number of Japanese mythological creatures they chose not to include. I think kappas were close to the cut, so they created one card making a nod to them. As a way to explain why there weren't any other kappas, they said it was the shell of the last one. When we returned, we decided we wanted to make a Turtle Ninja and decided, "Eh, they (the people in the world who thought they were extinct) were wrong."

My biggest takeaway from this answer is that I learned Goblin Sharks are a thing. Hmm . . .

Q: Does the hype and initial positive player response open the door to other high-Rabiah-scale worlds being revisited?

Quick explanation of the question: I have a scale that I use on my blog, which I once wrote a two-part article about (Part 1 and Part 2), that grades the likeliness of us returning to certain worlds in a new premier set. Kamigawa has always been graded high on the Rabiah Scale (meaning its chances of returning were low), so the question is referring to that.

Do other high-scoring worlds have a chance of being revisited? Yes and no. The big takeaway from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty isn't "things that once failed are a good source for future design." We should, and I believe will, only make sets if we think we have the core of an idea that will be embraced and enjoyed by the totality of our audience. That said, if we come up with a cool way to revisit something that failed in the past, the potential success of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty (I should stress all signs are looking good, but this isn't a known thing yet) might make such a pitch easier than it would have been prior to the set's release.

Q: A hint on your teaser list was "a popular legendary creature from Champions of Kamigawa block returns in a new form." The people want to know, does this reference the Kiki-Jiki Saga? Thank you, Mr. Rosewater, I'm a big fan.

I was, in fact, referring to Kiki-Jiki, my favorite design from Champions of Kamigawa.

Q: Why no Arcane? I was hoping to see the return of the Arcane mechanic. Especially with the cyber feel of this set, being able to "Hack" your spells on the fly seems like a flavor win.

We did explore whether to use Arcane in the set. The one rule we had was that we'd only do it if it mechanically mattered in the set. Arcane would bring a lot of attention to itself, so we only wanted to include it if there was a satisfying payoff. It turns out that when you focus a set on not one but two card types, it becomes very hard to make a mechanic that cares about a third card type. I do get how with a different mechanical take on cyberpunk Kamigawa we could have made Arcane work, but it didn't work with the mechanical take we did do.

Q: Pending the success of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, would WotC consider revisiting other planes in a futuristic flavor?

With a few exceptions, like The Brothers' War's dip into the past later this year, we tend to keep Magic centered in the present. The ability to do an updated Kamigawa came about because the first visit had been set so far in the past (in world). There's not really another opportunity like that, as our visits have mostly been during modern day. Would we ever do an expansion set in the future? We haven't yet, but I never say never. I believe that would be the only way to do what you're asking.

Q: How much influence did the constant questions on your blog about returning to Kamigawa have on getting the okay from the higher-ups to give it a shot?

I'm not sure how much my bosses read my blog. It's somewhere between "a little" and "some," but there's no way they keep up with it. I answer a lot of questions. There aren't that many players that read it all.

My blog's biggest impact on this set was that it convinced me to want to return to Kamigawa, and I approached the design with the intent of trying to figure out how to make it happen. That said, the audience's desires aren't restricted to my blog, so the idea that there was an enfranchised audience that wanted to return was generally known and, I'm sure, helped tip the scales in making it Kamigawa.

Q: Hey, Mark! It feels like current sets have both more mechanics and more average words per card than in previous years. Is this the case? If so, can you speak about the decisions behind these trends? Not saying that such changes are bad. And as ever, thanks for all that you do!

We've been making a conscious effort to ratchet it up a little from where we were, say, a few years ago. Commander and Magic: The Gathering Arena ramping up as the ways through which people get introduced to the game convinced us that we could raise our average complexity by a little.

Q: Is there a reason there wasn't any minor Spirit tribal theme in the set? It feels natural given that we had Spirits in the last set.

There were two reasons:

  1. Spirits just play a much smaller role than they did in the original Champions of Kamigawa block (for example Champions of Kamigawa block had 70 Spirits while Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty has 24).
  2. There were a lot of themes and only so much space. Not everything could fit.

Q: I missed something more tribal among the Kamigawa races: we didn't have anything that specifically helps Snakes, Foxes, Rats, or Moonfolk. However, Ninjas and Samurai gained several supports. The why of it? Aren't the other Kamigawa tribes very relevant?

To repeat a theme from my last answer, there was only so much space, so we chose to focus our tribal rewards on the two creature types that we felt the audience would be most excited about, Ninjas and Samurai. Most the other creature types, save Moonfolk, could be done in other sets, but there's just not a lot of places to do Ninja and Samurai tribal cards.

Q: Creature type batching (Warriors and Samurai; Ninjas and Rogues) is seeing a lot of use this set. Is this a tool that will be more commonplace moving forward or was it a special use here to give more support to Samurai and Ninjas?

It's something I plan to do more of. It's a valuable tool to help broaden the reach of tribal cards, and it can lead to new decks. The key is finding the right creature types to connect. That choice can vary world to world.

Q: Love the Vehicles theme in the set! How did the team decide on focusing it in UW over UR given the latter's artifact affinity?

The story behind this is a good example of what often happens when you build draft archetypes into a set. You start with the ones that are more unique to the set you're building. Some archetypes are always going to end up being the defaults we normally use, but you want to let the novelty of your set shine through, so you start with what's new and build around that. For Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, we were very focused on modernity versus tradition. To do this, we assigned a range of colors from one extreme of the conflict to the other.

Blue and red ended up being the two colors leaning toward modernity, so we wanted the blue-red archetype to be as symbolic of that end of the conflict as possible. We ended up focusing the reconfigure mechanic, the mechanic of that side, in those two colors, and thus made the blue-red archetype about reconfigure. We knew we wanted a Vehicle archetype, but as blue-red was taken, we decided to give it to a different color combination with blue. White, being the number one creature color (in volume), paired best with blue to be the Vehicle archetype, so that's how it ended up in white-blue rather than blue-red.

Q: "Return to Kamigawa" couldn't be two sets like Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and Innistrad: Crimson Vow?

Just asking to do one world set on Kamigawa was a big ask, so I wasn't about to push it. :)

In general, we've chosen to save our two-world visits to planes that have a proven track record with the player base.

Q: Can you tell us a little about how you, Ari Nieh, and the design team as a whole managed to make Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty such a good set for white? Sincerely, it's surprising to see so many good white cards in a set.

One of R&D's goals from two years ago was "improve white," so the Council of Colors, spearheaded by Ari as the then white representative, spent a lot of time and energy figuring out where we could push certain things.

The two biggest pushes were how to allow white to draw cards in multiplayer play while still feeling white and keeping white fifth in card drawing (just not as far away from the other colors as it had been) and how to allow white to help ramp up its mana in a way that felt white.

Once we figured out how we wanted to do this, we communicated the information to the other designers and let them start making cards. The cards were then run back through the Council of Colors so we could comment on them to make sure they were following our philosophical guidelines. There are more new white goodies to come as this process has been ongoing.

Q: Was this the first set you considered doing an artifacts-versus-enchantments theme?

Believe it or not, it is. We just didn't have the design technology we needed to be able to pull it off before. It was only by doing a number of artifact and enchantment sets that we created the various tools we needed (things like enchantment creatures or Sagas) to be able to execute it correctly.

Q: Is there a reason that the Samurai ability and harmony didn't get ability words?

Vocabulary is a double-edged sword. It helps give people a way to label and talk about something, but it also makes a set feel denser and can be intimidating to a lot of players, so we try to strike a balance. If a mechanic is in small enough number and doesn't need a keyword to work, we often leave it unlabeled.

Q: With Kamigawa being yet another set that heavily utilizes DFCs, when will we get another set that doesn't focus so much on them?

While we have had a lengthy run of premier sets with double-faced cards (DFCs), it's not a change of policy nor an indication of the volume we plan to use, on average, moving forward. They're a useful design tool that we will use on occasion when there's a purpose for them, but not every set is going to have them, and even sets that do have them won't necessarily have them in larger volume (think Kaldheim). The next set, Streets of New Capenna, will not have DFCs.

"No More Questions, Please"

That's all the time I have for today. As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback on this article, any answers I gave, or on Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty itself. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me next week, for this year's "Nuts & Bolts" column.

Until then, may you go play Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty and create new questions.

 
#909: Council of Colors with Chris Mooney
#909: Council of Colors with Chris Mooney

I sit down with designer Chris Mooney to talk about how the Council of Colors works, and he and I talk a bit about white, as he's the white representative on the council.


 
#910: The Big Picture
#910: The Big Picture

This is a podcast version of my article where I talk about the challenges of designing Magic when it's a different game to different players.

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