Stories from Dominaria, Part 2

Posted in Making Magic on April 23, 2018

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 began sharing card-by-card design stories from Dominaria. As "Part 2" in the title indicates, I'm not done yet.

Homarid Explorer

We often get entertaining things in the mail from players. We've been sent pizzas with messages written in pepperoni. We've gotten toy Dinosaurs with the message "Hint, Hint." We've received donuts—they didn't say anything, but they were delicious. Homarid Explorer though owes its existence to a jigsaw puzzle. One day, Kelly Digges, Allison Luhrs, Mel Li, and Shawn Main all got a mysterious envelope in the mail. Each had pieces to a quarter of a jigsaw puzzle. Once they figured out that other people had gotten other pieces, they put it together. It showed four different pieces of art of Homarids and said "Empires Fall But Tides Shall Rise." The puzzle was the creation of Magic player and Homarid aficionado Andrew Weisel.

Flash forward to Dominaria design. We were making a list of what we had to include in the set. Here's my memory of how it went:

Me: Okay, list things we have to include.

Ethan: A Homarid.

Me: Is that a "have to include"?

Ethan: We got a jigsaw puzzle.

Me: Okay, in it goes.

Now, I'm not going to say the jigsaw puzzle is completely responsible for Dominaria having a Homarid, but I will say thus far request puzzles do currently have a 100% success rate.

Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain

In Time Spiral design, I made a card that granted any nonland card suspend 4. (Rather than cast this card from your hand, you may pay (cost) and exile it with four time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When the last is removed, cast it without paying its mana cost. It has haste.)

I thought it was pretty cool. Months later, we were given a list of legendary creature cards to design for. The first thing that always happens when we get legendary creatures is we check the file to see if we have a card already in it that could be a good fit for any of the characters. Jhoira was blue-red, the suspend card was blue-red, so I turned it into Jhoira. Here's the problem: Jhoira's a tinkerer. Why was she suspending things? That shouldn't have happened. Somehow it didn't get caught and we printed a Jhoira that while a fine card on its own, was not really Jhoira. I've always felt guilty about that.

Years later, Commander became a thing and players were eager for legendary creature that captured certain deck archetypes. One that we somehow never hit was a blue-red creature that cared about artifacts. One of the reasons we hadn't made one was because the one time we had the perfect fit, I messed it up. Then came Kaladesh, the set seemingly perfect to finally produce the legendary blue-red artifact-matters creature. Magic Origins even teased Kaladesh in blue and red. The stars were lining up for this problem to finally get fixed. And then we needed a planeswalker to be the face of the set. That ended up being Saheeli and, while she's an awesome character, it ate up our blue-red slot and prevented us from delivering on the legendary blue-red artifact-matters creature.

Which brings us to Dominaria. While the story was still being worked on, I knew one thing, Jhoira was going to play a major part. That meant we had our chance to finally—finally—make a legendary blue-red artifact-matters creature. We weren't going to mess it up this time. Once we made the historic mechanic, it became clear that Jhoira was going to want to make use of it. And we had a card already in the file for a blue-red creature that let you draw a card whenever you cast a historic spell. (This was back when historic was an ability word only triggering off of historic spells getting cast—see my article from last week for more detail.)

At first, I was taken aback because the mistake we had made last time was taking an existing design, but the more the Vision Design team thought about it, the more we knew it was a perfect design for the character and for Commander. Historic would go through some changes, but Jhoira held strong and didn't change (perhaps save a number tweak or two). Finally, my inbox can move on to a new request.

Josu Vess, Lich Knight

Dominaria is Liliana's home plane. It's also where her fourth and final Demon lives. You think that would be enough for her to deal with, but no. There's one other major loose end on Dominaria for Liliana, something that ties into her origin story (literally the story we told during Magic Origins). For those who haven't read the story, Liliana had a brother named Josu who was very sick. Liliana, who was a healer at the time, was trying to find something to save him. The threat of losing her brother, whom she loved dearly, forced her to experiment with some dark magic. Instead of saving him though, it turned him into a Zombie. It was this traumatic event that caused Liliana to spark (and be transported to Innistrad—but that's a whole different story).

If we were going to have Liliana return to her home plane, it seemed a shame not to pick up that loose end. The big question was what should Josu do? We knew that he had become a Lich Knight, so the question was how best to mechanically match that? After experimenting with many different versions, we ended up with one where he made a lot of Zombies. We felt the parallel between Josu and his sister both making Zombies was thematically meaty. Earlier versions had the Zombie-making as an activated ability, but eventually it was decided to take advantage of having kicker in the set. For four mana you get a 4/5, and then for ten mana, you get an additional eight 2/2 Zombies. That's 20 power (and 21 toughness) with one card. Now you can feel like Liliana and be reluctant to see Josu Vess, Lich Knight show up.

Karn, Scion of Urza

[Note: Although I refer to Karn using masculine pronouns, as has become the convention for the character, the character is actually non-gendered.]

Michael Ryan and I created Karn because we wanted to have an artifact creature on the crew of the Weatherlight. We eventually decided we wanted to connect him to the Legacy Weapon and Gerard's destiny. (The whole influence of Urza would come later.) Because we wanted the characters to tie closely to archetypes, we chose to make Karn "the gentle giant" and gave him a backstory that made him a pacifist.

Karn's first appearance was going to be on the card Steel Golem from Weatherlight (it was originally called "Silver Golem"), but through a mix-up we didn't explain that to the artist and the image we got back didn't fit with the "gentle giant" feel we were going for. We changed the name to Steel Golem to make it clear it wasn't Karn.

Karn first appeared on a card as a Vanguard card.

He ended up with the animating artifact power because we had designed the cards before we knew who they were going to represent, so once we decided to go with the Weatherlight crew, we tried to see if we could match up characters with the pre-existing designs. Karn was tied to the Legacy, a collection of artifacts, so we decided having an artifact-relevant power would be okay. A year or so later, in Urza's Saga, we made Karn as a legendary creature.

Because players had grown fond of his Vanguard card, we gave the legendary version the same power except activated for a single artifact rather than a global effect that affected all your (noncreature) artifacts. The big challenge we had with his design was that we wanted him both to be large to represent his size but also be a pacifist, as that was an important point about him from the story. The solution was to make him a 4/4 but turn into a 0/8 in combat.

Karn played roles in various stories (including creating the plane of Mirrodin) and became a Planeswalker. Karn was involved in the Scars of Mirrodin block story and the story team was faced with a decision of whether Karn fell to the Phyrexians and became a legendary creature called Father of the Machines or broke free of their hold and became a Planeswalker. They asked us which we thought the players would like more. We said a Planeswalker, so in New Phyrexia, we finally made this card:

It was our first colorless planeswalker, so we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make something cool and flavorful, but not something every deck would just play. We also decided not to make Karn an artifact planeswalker, figuring that having planeswalkers that are other card types was just asking for trouble. We decided planeswalkerness supersedes other qualities.

I believe we created the ultimate (the -14 ability) first and then designed the first two abilities to interact with it. The card was costed at seven because we wanted it powerful, but not something that happened too early in the game. We liked that it was the one and only way in Standard and Modern to remove poison counters.

Which brings us to Dominaria. We knew that Karn was going to play a big role in the story, so it was clear we were going to have to make another planeswalker card. Our goals for this card's design were twofold: one, capture the flavor of Karn within the context of this story and two, make a colorless planeswalker that was a bit cheaper to play. Seven-mana Karn exists and is played in Modern. We wanted to design something a little different.

The first decision made was not to give him a traditional ultimate (aka the final ability that usually has a big loyalty cost and generates a large effect that helps you win the game). Instead, we wanted to give him an ability that can become strong over time, but only if you work toward it. We ended up going back to Karn's roots and making the final ability tie to Karn's connection with artifacts. The ability works in a vacuum because each new artifact token makes the others bigger, but we knew that by building an artifact deck, you could make the ability even better. This also was important because we like when cheaper cards with generic-mana costs have focused needs so they don't just show up in every deck.

We also wanted to play up Karn's tie to knowledge. Like the set, the story has a strong connection to history. Karn's first two abilities allow him to access that "knowledge" by drawing cards, with the plus ability helping on quantity of cards and the minus ability helping on quality.

As Karn's co-creator, I'm exciting to see him back and for you all to play with him.

Knight of Grace and Knight of Malice

This mirrored pair is a nod to a famous mirrored pair of creatures from Limited Edition (Alpha)White Knight and Black Knight.

We knew we wanted to make a reference to them, but we had a few problems. One, protection was no longer evergreen. And two, creatures had gotten a lot better since Alpha.

To solve the first problem, we tried something we'd been talking about in R&D for a while. Was there a way to use the hexproof mechanic to mirror an aspect of protection? Protection has four abilities (can't be targeted, damage reduced to zero, can't be blocked, and can't be enchanted/equipped) of which the targeting was the most powerful. What if hexproof only applied to one color?

We talked about different ways to word it. We ended up going with "hexproof from black" because it mirrored "protection from black" and we thought it would be the easiest version to figure out. We also like that it made a nod toward protection. Are we planning to continue with "hexproof from [color]" or even from other attributes? We're not sure. We made these two cards as an experiment to test the waters.

We then made the creatures 2/2 Human Knights with first strike and protection from the opposite color for WW and BB respectively. They were just too weak, so Set Design changed them to 1W and 1B. Still too weak. Set design tried a number of different things, but ended up with a power boost if any player has a permanent of the opposite color.

One final note, unlike White Knight and Black Knight which never got a chance to fight in combat (they couldn't block one another because of the protection), Knight of Grace and Knight of Malice can actually meet on the field of battle.

Knight of New Benalia

For a long time, we had a rule that no white common creature could have a power higher than 2. White was the color of small creatures, so the idea was that we would best communicate that by having just smaller creatures at common. This went on for many years. Then during Future Sight, I was trying to design a cycle of futureshifted common full-art creatures (aka creatures with no rules text.) My goal was to find a vanilla power/toughness combination we had never done before, since these were supposed to be from a possible future. We had talked for years about maybe allowing a 3/1 vanilla at common. The belief was white could do it for 1W. Where better to try it out than a futureshifted card? If things didn't work out, it would just be a card from a potential future we never visited. And thus, Blade of the Sixth Pride was born. We made it a Cat Rebel because we liked teasing that maybe Rebels would return.

It turned out once the floodgates were open, a 3/1 for 1W was fair game. Mirrodin Besieged made one at uncommon and gave it battle cry (Whenever this creature attacks, each other attacking creature gets +1/+0 until end of turn) with Accorder Paladin. Gatecrash then was emboldened to make a 3/1 for 1W with an ability at common on Daring Skyjek, this time with battalion (Whenever Daring Skyjek and at least two other creatures attack, Daring Skyjek gains flying until end of turn) rather than battle cry.

Born of the Gods then made a rare 3/1 for 1W called Spirit of the Labyrinth that also was an enchantment creature and had a static ability (Each player can't draw more than one card each turn). Journey into Nyx decided to make another vanilla version at common, but changed it from a Cat Rebel to a Cat Warrior and renamed it Oreskos Swiftclaw. Fate Reforged made an uncommon with a triggered ability (Whenever Wandering Champion deals combat damage to a player, if you control a blue or red permanent, you may discard a card. If you do, draw a card). Dragons of Tarkir went back to the vanilla common version, but this time rather than a Cat Warrior, it became a Human Warrior called Dromoka Warrior.

Battle for Zendikar was going to do yet another different common vanilla (Kor Castigator) when it added a tiny rider (can't be blocked by Eldrazi Scions) to help with Limited. Shadows over Innistrad did make another common vanilla version, but changed it yet again, this time to a Fox named Devilthorn Fox. Aether Revolt followed with two 3/1s for 1W, one at common and one at rare. The common was similar to Kor Castigator in that it had a restriction to blocking it (can't be blocked by artifact creatures) to help Limited. The rare, Aethergeode Miner, played into the energy theme of the set. (It got two energy when it attacked and could spend two energy to flicker itself—that is exile itself and return it to the battlefield).

Amonkhet brought a rare 3/1 for 1W in Glory-Bound Initiate. You could exert it (an exerted creature won't untap during your next untap step) to get +1/+3 until end of turn. Hour of Devastation had a common 3/1 (Oketra's Avenger) also with exert, but instead of a boost it prevented all damage to itself. Ixalan then made a 3/1 common vanilla and changed it yet again to a Dinosaur called Raptor Companion. The Raptor was then repeated in Rivals of Ixalan.

Which brings us to Dominaria. Knight of New Benalia is the sixth vanilla version, this time a Human Knight. You might think this is the record for the vanilla combination with the most different named versions, but that honor goes to 1G 2/2, which currently has seven versions. All this, by the way, without yet a Soldier—which says to me 1W 3/1 is going to pass 1G 2/2 one of these days.

Lingering Phantom

This was another of the cards I designed when trying to make resonant historic cards. To spread out my designs, I challenged myself to find resonant space in each color. For black, I focused on a trope that fascinated me as a writer—an ancient evil that comes back to life as people learn about it. I loved the idea that sometimes knowledge/history is dangerous. The original version of this card returned directly to the battlefield, but it ended up being a bit too strong. By having it return to hand, we could make the creature significantly larger (which matched the flavor we were trying to capture).

Two Down, One to Go

We've run out of time for today. I hope you've enjoyed hearing all these stories about Dominaria. As always, I'm eager to hear any feedback, either on today's article or on Dominaria itself. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week as I get to the third and final installment of card-by-card design stories of Dominaria.

Until then, may you have your own fun digging into Dominaria's history.

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