Original Zendikar Design Handoff Document, Part 2

Posted in Making Magic on October 19, 2020

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.

Last week, I started sharing the handoff document from Zendikar design. I only got halfway through, so this week is the second half.

Mana Component

After playing with the land mechanics, we came to the realization that we wanted more ways to spend the extra mana you ended up with.

At the same time, we were looking for an old mechanic to bring back. (Recent design philosophy has us believing that we need to be better at reusing existing mechanics—as such, we are aiming at one returning mechanic per block.) Kicker became the obvious choice.

Once we decided to add kicker, we knew we needed to have a new twist. Multikicker was the design team's solution. The idea we liked was that it played nicely into our mana theme because it allowed you to use as much mana as you had. Also, it seemed like an obvious extension. The design team does feel very strongly that the keyword be worded as a kicker extension (meaning "kicker" needs to be in the name) and not an unrelated mechanic.

Here's how the two abilities played out in each rarity:

Common (20, 10 Kicker, 10 Multikicker)

Cycle of kicker creatures with "comes into play" effects – These creatures have a comes-into-play ability only if you pay the kicker. Currently the kicker and effects are small, but that was more a result of them fitting slots open late in design. I agree with Henry that these should change to have larger kicker costs (and larger bodies) to differentiate them better from the multikicker creatures.

Cycle of cantrip kickers – This is a cycle of instants (note that these could be sorcery effects, but we happened to choose five instants) that each allow you to draw a card if you pay the kicker cost. These kicker costs are lined up on purpose to fulfill NWO (in short, we're trying, especially at common, to have alike things work more similarly to each other). Henry and I have talked about these changing to raise the kicker cost. My suggestion is to make the effects efficient at one mana with a three-cost kicker to get the cantrip.

Cycle of multikicker creatures – These creatures each have a multikicker of 2 to get an additional +1/+1 counter. The duplication of kicker costs is NWO compliant.

 

Cycle of multikicker spells – These are all instants and sorceries that are able to expand their effect by paying for extra kicker costs. Note that for multikicker, we want the effect or creature to get bigger, not to get an extra effect. This brings up another important issue, the need to separate kicker from multikicker. We tried hard to have kicker do things that multikicker could not. Also note that this cycle requires you to talk with Gottlieb. The multikicker creatures will be easy to template, but the spells might cause some problems.

Uncommon (6)

Alternate-cost kicker creatures – This is a group, but not a cycle, of creatures that the caster can make bigger by paying a non-mana kicker cost, in each case playing into that color's land interaction theme. These cards are Veteran Hang Glider, Sneaky Swimmer, and Earth Monster.

Miscellaneous kicker creatures – Uncommon has a few other random kicker creatures. Note that there are currently no multikicker cards at uncommon. We had a cycle of creatures that had larger swings for higher multikicker costs, but it got pushed off to "Long" to free up some space at uncommon.

Rare/Mythic Rare (4)

 

Miscellaneous multikicker creatures/spells – There are various creatures with large multikicker effects. There are no kicker cards currently at rare.

 

From the feedback we've gotten throughout the design playtests, no single item in the set has gotten the positive feedback of multikicker, the multikicker creatures in particular. If we want to differentiate kicker from multikicker more (and I can see reasons to do so), I recommend trying to adapt what kicker is doing.

Flavor Component

Once we established the idea of High Adventure World, we set out to create some mechanics that reflected the world and gave the set the feel we wanted. Here's what we came up with:

Traps

To convey the sense that the world is deadly, we came up with the idea of Traps. The intent, by the way, is also to make their subtype "Trap." Traps went through numerous design versions, but the versions we ended up with are flash global enchantments with tap abilities.

Let me address several issues. First, why enchantments. The design team felt it was important for Traps to be flavorful. To do this, they must feel like a thing. Instants, while able to surprise, don't convey the sense of a Trap. In addition, making it a permanent allows us the ability to create flavorful cards that interact with it, including cards that can destroy them. The reason for enchantments over artifacts is that the previous year had a strong artifact subtheme, and "Lights" (2009's large set) has an artifact theme. As such, we don't want too much focus on artifacts. Maps are currently artifacts, and the team didn't want the two most flavor-driven mechanics both to be artifacts. Finally, having the Traps be enchantments allows access to in-color abilities, which allows for much more flavorful Traps. If the development team feels that Traps need to shift over to artifacts (and I'm beginning to feel like it's the right choice), we ask for them to think of shifting maps (possibly with a name change—something like quests) to enchantments.

Here are the qualities of Traps that we feel are important to maintain:

Traps should "go off," that is, something the opponent does should set it off.

Traps need to punish the opponent, ideally connected to the action he or she did to set the Trap off. We tried having Traps that create positive effects for you and they felt weird.

Traps should be able to have an element of surprise. A great deal of the fun of Traps is catching your opponent, which requires you knowing about it and them not.

The opponent should have the ability to play around a Trap. If your opponent "reads" you, they should be able to react in a way that will keep the Trap from going off. This means Traps should not trigger off something the opponent has to do. For example, triggering off the opponent playing a land wouldn't work.

Currently, the mix in the set is as follows:

Common (0)

 

Uncommon (10)

There are two cycles of Traps at uncommon. One cycle triggers off your opponent's creatures, dealing 4 combat damage to you.

Rare (5)

Rare has a loose cycle of Traps. These were designed to be narrower and thus more for Constructed build-arounds and sideboards.

Maps

The flavor of maps is that they are impetuses to adventure. They give you a reward and tell you what you need to find to achieve it. The maps, as is, are more designed to give a sense of how maps will work than be exact implementations. Development needs to work with Creative once they know what the key places are going to be. This needs to be done early so that things like creature types can be hammered out. Maps are currently artifacts, intended to be called a specific "Map" in the card title, but if Traps swap to artifacts, we recommend moving maps, with a new name (maybe quests), to enchantments.

Here are the qualities that we feel are important to maintain:

  • There are multiple things you have to acquire.
  • The map refers to lands and/or things that feel like places.
  • There is a significant payoff (aka a good treasure) to encourage players to want to use the map.
  • The things you need have some relevance to the reward you get.

Currently, the mix in the set is as follows:

Common (3)

Common has three simple maps made such that anyone could make use of them.

Uncommon (5)

This is a cycle. Each one looks for three things, the appropriate basic land and two other things (currently, one on each is a creature type).

Rare (3)

These are narrow maps meant to be built around.

Teamwork ("Chaps")

The last flavor-based mechanic was created because we felt the set needed a creature-based mechanic, one simple enough to be a common linear mechanic. Teamwork was the mechanic created to fill this need. Whenever a creature with teamwork comes into play, it puts a +1/+1 counter on every other creature you control with teamwork.

Here's the breakdown:

Common (5)

All the commons are currently vanilla creatures with teamwork (okay, that technically makes them French vanilla). Originally, they were like the current uncommons, but to try and further simplify common, we took off the extra ability. For the record, they played well but had too much text.

Uncommons (5)

This cycle contains creatures that gain a keyword when one other creature with teamwork is in play. The old uncommons that got two keyword abilities when two other teamwork creatures were in play have been moved off to "Long."

Rare (0)

There are currently no creatures with teamwork at rare. This isn't on purpose. If there is a good rare design, there's no reason it couldn't exist. There is a white enchantment that grants all your creatures teamwork.

Finally, the design team acknowledges that there are a lot of +1/+1 counters in the set. Both multikicker and teamwork make major use of them. As a result of this, design pulled a number of cards using +1/+1 counters from the set to keep them focused on the two areas that needed them. The high use of counters also means the set can handle a few cards that interact with +1/+1 counters. There are a few such cards in rare right now.

And the Rest

Rare/Mythic Rare Miscellaneous

Here are a few other cycles and cards sitting in the set:

 

Kickass creatures – This is a rare cycle of French vanilla rare creatures. Each one has only one or two keywords. Be aware that Magic 2010 might steal (or has stolen) a few of these.

 

Legendary adventurers – Creative provided us with a list of five legendary adventurers. They are the heroes trying to get the goodies from the world. They are in rare and mythic rare.

 

Legendary monsters – Creative provided us with a list of five legendary monsters. They are there to stop any adventurers trying to steal the land's goodies. They are in rare and mythic rare.

 

Planeswalkers – There are three planeswalkers in this set: a female elf, a male goblin, and a male human in green, red, and white, respectively.

New World Order

There are a number of things at common put in to match NWO:

Vanilla creatures – Every color but blue (who has the least amount of creatures) has a vanilla creature. This is part of our attempt to pull down complexity at common.

French vanilla creatures – There was an effort to put more French vanilla creatures into common.

Virtual (French) vanilla creatures – One of the big shifts with NWO is the idea of virtual creatures. A virtual creature is one that exist as a vanilla creature after the first turn. Virtual French Vanilla creatures are ones who are French vanilla creatures after the turn they come into play. "Comes into play" creatures, kicker creatures, and multikicker creatures all fall into this category. This terminology is important because a big part of NWO has been finding ways to shift complexity away from the board. Virtual creatures allow the complexity to happen when the card is played and then settle into a simple board. It is my belief that NWO is going to push us to use more virtual creatures at common.

In Summary

We hope this overview has given you a better sense of all the inner workings of "Live" design.

This was one of the best design teams I have had the pleasure of working on, and I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish. Feel free to inquire with any further questions.

—Mark Rosewater

End Document

And that is how I handed over original Zendikar. I hope you had fun reading it. Would you like to see other handoff documents from the past? If you would (or wouldn't), let me know through an email, or you can contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok). You can also give me feedback on this and last week's column or on any topic about Magic that you're interested bending my ear about.

Join me next week for the start of Commander Legends previews.

Until then, may you find your own Zendikar.

 
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