Stories from Dominaria, Part 3

Posted in Making Magic on April 30, 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.

For the last two weeks, I've been telling you card-by-card design stories from Dominaria. I had so many to tell, I ended up using three columns to tell them all. This is the third and final column.

Llanowar Elves

One of the goals of Dominaria from the very beginning was to have more high-profile reprints than normal. Our one restriction was they had to come from a set that originated on Dominaria. It was decided early that we'd like to try and bring back a one-drop mana-producing creature (something R&D has been shying away from for Standard). We didn't know whether this slot was going to be Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves. Each had a different impact on the Standard environment, so both were playtested. In the end, I believe Llanowar Elves was thought to be more iconic and more Dominarian.


Mox Amber

One of the things we wrote down on the whiteboard at our first vision design meeting was "a Mox." Dominaria is very much tied to early Magic, and early Magic is best known for a number of overpowered cards, among them the Moxen (Mox Pearl, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Mox Ruby, and Mox Emerald). If we were returning to Dominaria, one of the most exciting things we could do would be to make a new Mox.

We've made a number of Moxen over the years, and they are defined by certain shared traits:

  • It must be an artifact – Moxen are basically jewels, so they're artifacts.
  • It must produce a colored mana – With the exception of one silver-bordered Mox (which was also a Lotus), all Moxen tap for a single colored mana. Some tell you what color is produced and some let you choose, but they all consistently produce one colored mana.
  • It must cost 0 – Once again, with the exception of the same silver-bordered Mox, every Mox we've ever made has cost nothing to cast.

These three things are all you need. The problem is that these three things tend to be very powerful together. Our Moxen (the black-bordered ones) have all seen tournament play. During Kaladesh, we tried to make a Mox that fit the world, but we couldn't create something we thought we'd be happy printing that the audience would like. Dave Humpherys didn't let that sway him during Dominaria set design, and he and the Set Design team set out to make a new Mox.

The trick they ended up using was tying it to the legendary theme of the set. As it required having at least one colored legendary creature or planeswalker on the battlefield, it didn't offer as powerful of an early advantage as other Moxen. How will this Mox fare? Only time will tell.


Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar

When Michael Ryan and I were writing the Weatherlight Saga, we knew that we needed a reason for Gerrard to leave the Weatherlight, so we could start the story with them coming to get him back (to rescue the abducted Sisay). We decided that it needed to be something serious and came up with the idea that Gerrard lost a close friend. At the time, Mirri was already Gerrard's best friend. This led us to the idea that maybe the two of them came aboard with a third person. We had bemoaned that the crew had no Elves, so I suggested the character be an Elf from Llanowar. This ended up becoming Rofellos.

This all meant that we wanted to give Gerrard, Mirri, and Rofellos a backstory that connected them. How did they meet? At the same time, we were trying to solve a different problem. We knew that Gerrard needed to be knocked off the Weatherlight in his fight against Greven il-Vec when they first appeared in Rath. How was it the fall didn't kill Gerrard? Interestingly, we found a solution that solved both these problems. What if Gerrard met Mirri and Rofellos because he was studying magic? All that remained was to come up with a teacher.

That's when I proposed the wild idea of having their magical teacher be a Maro. The original Maro (in Mirage) had been named after me, so as a little personal touch in the story, I liked adding a Maro. Being an elemental force of nature made it tricky to give him a role, but a spiritual guide/teacher was a perfect fit. And thus, Multani, Maro-Sorcerer was born.

When we returned to Dominaria, we were trying to figure out what characters were still alive from the game's past for us to weave into the story. Hundreds of years might be an issue for most mortals, but Maros have a much longer lifespan. This meant Multani was available. The story team came up with a good way to use him. All that was left was for us to design him a card.

The idea I was focused on was that Multani was a nature elemental that formed himself out of different pieces of nature each time he took form. ("No two see the same Maro.") I liked the idea that he could recreate himself out of any Forest. The earliest version allowed you to sacrifice two Forests to return Mutani from the graveyard to the battlefield. To match the flavor, we made a nod to another legendary Maro, Molimo. Like Molimo, we gave Multani power and toughness equal to the number of lands you had on the battlefield. Then, because we were making you sacrifice Forests, we had it count all the lands you controlled on the battlefield and in your graveyard.

We talked about giving him hexproof, as the original Multani had shroud, but decided that was a little mean on a creature that could get so large. Instead we gave him trample. In set design, they changed "return to battlefield" to "return to hand." To offset it, they changed the requirement from Forests to any land and from sacrifice to returning them to your hand. They also added reach. And that is how Multani made it back to cardboard.


The Mirari Conjecture

When I first started in R&D at Wizards I was fascinated by the card Jester's Cap. Ice Age had just come out that summer, and the popularity of the card led me to create a theory. I believed that every large set needed to have a "marquee card." I defined it as such:

  • It had to be playable in any deck – This mostly meant it had to be an artifact. Colorless nonartifacts were many years from being a thing.
  • It had to be rare – At the time, rare was the rarest a card got. Mythic rare was also many years from being a thing.
  • It had to do something never before done in Magic – Being that Magic was only a few years old at the time, this was much easier to do back then than it is now.

The first marquee card I designed was Grinning Totem, which I put in Mirage. It let you cast a card out of your opponent's deck, something we had never done before. The marquee card for Tempest was supposed to be Helm of Possession. The rules manager at the time made me change it late in the process, so it didn't end up the card I had meant for the slot. You all probably know the original Helm of Possession better as Mindslaver. The rules managers changed and I was able to get it printed in Mirrodin. My marquee card for Odyssey was Mirari. It was an artifact that let you copy every instant and sorcery you cast. The original version cost seven and didn't require you to pay anything to copy the spells, but playtesting showed that was broken, so we added the cost to copy.

I had stressed that I thought the Mirari was going to be a popular card, so when the story was written, the story team made it a major element. It would later go on to play a role in other stories as well. The Mirari Conjecture is making reference to the impact the Mirari had on Dominaria.

This was another Saga built backward. The final chapter wanted to copy spells to replicate the ability of the card Mirari. The first two chapters ended up getting instant and sorcery spells out of your graveyard to set you up for an exciting final turn.


Oath of Teferi

Teferi is joining the Gatewatch, which means it's time for another Oath. All the Oaths have a set structure we needed to match on this card. They are all legendary enchantments that have an enters-the-battlefield effect and then a static ability that affects planeswalkers.

On most Oaths, the enters-the-battlefield effect is strong enough that the card is worth playing even if the static ability isn't used. With Teferi's, we designed it in reverse. Teferi has a powerful static ability, but his enters-the-battlefield effect (flickering another permanent you control) isn't worth the cost of the spell. This means that you'll only play Oath of Teferi in a deck with enough planeswalkers that you can make use of the ability.


Primordial Wurm

This design is another in-joke. One of the things that was very common in the early days was a cycle that players would go through with Craw Wurm, a 6/4 vanilla creature for 4GG. It was by far the largest creature at common (and back in the day, sizes at common were overall smaller), so when players would see it for the first time, they'd get all excited because it was so much bigger than everything else, and they'd build a green deck with it. Then over time, they'd slowly come to realize that it just wasn't as good as they initially thought.

As we were returning to Dominaria, we thought it would be fun to make a statement about how far creatures have come since the early days of Magic. To do that, we decided to make a 4GG Wurm and see how big we could make it. After much conversation, we ended up at 7/6.


Sage of Lat-Nam

Dominaria has a lot of high-profile reprints. I like to think of this one as a low-profile one. Sage of Lat-Nam first appeared in Antiquities and has been reprinted only once, in Eighth Edition. The card holds a warm place in my heart for three reasons. One, I love Antiquities. When I first came to Wizards, it was my favorite expansion, and it's had all sorts of influences on me as a Magic designer. Two, I made a lot of artifact-based decks back in the day, and most of them had blue in them. As such, I played a lot with Sage of Lat-Nam. Three, Sage of Lat-Nam was a running joke in R&D for many years. When Henry Stern came in second at the 1995 US Nationals, there wasn't any money to be won in the tournament. Instead, he was given Magic cards as his prize, and even then, he wasn't given that many. One of the things they did give him was a Sage of Lat-Nam signed by artist Pete Venters.

One of the best things about Henry Stern is when he gets upset about something, he vents in the most entertaining way possible, and he used to talk about the prizes for coming in second at US Nationals and would always go off on the "signed Sage of Lat-Nam." So much so that it became a running joke in R&D. You see, at the time Pete Venters worked at Wizards, so we got him to sign a whole bunch of them, and then whenever someone did a good job at something, we'd give them a signed Sage of Lat-Nam. So, the card has warm memories for me as both a player and an R&D member.


Slimefoot, the Stowaway

The idea of a Saproling theme didn't happen in vision design (unlike the Wizard theme, which did). It came about in set design when the team realized they were lacking a good black-green theme for Draft. The set at the time had a few Saprolings, but just as a little flavoring to evoke the feeling of Dominaria. Once the Set Design team decided to add it, they included a bunch more cards that made Saprolings and then a few cards like Slimefoot that cared about them.

Slimefoot was designed as an uncommon Draft build-around. We liked that it could both produce Saprolings and care about them. The effect creating the Saprolings was green, so the static ability that cared about them wanted to be black. A death trigger felt black, so all that was needed was a black effect. As this was the build-around card, Set Design wanted to make sure that this had a win condition built into it. This led them to make the effect a drain so it would allow the Saproling player to build up enough Saproling tokens and then use a sacrifice outlet to defeat the opponent.

At some point, the story team realized that this card would make a fun member of the Weatherlight crew, and Slimefoot, the Stowaway was born.


Weatherlight

At the PAX Prime convention in the summer of 2016, I got up on stage and introduced Vehicles for the very first time. I glanced at my Twitter after my presentation was done and one of the very first posts was "I hope this means we one day get a Weatherlight Vehicle." Going into Dominaria design, it was never a question of if we were going to make a Weatherlight Vehicle, just how.

The Weatherlight obviously could always fly and was decently big. The real question was, what could it do? The whole Vision Design team felt strongly that it needed to have some connection to legendary things. The Weatherlight's mission for many years had been to track down the Legacy, the items that Urza had made as pieces of a weapon that could stop the Phyrexians.

The initial version that led to the printed version allowed you to tutor for a legendary card whenever you dealt combat damage to the opponent. The problem with this version was it encouraged you to only play one powerful legendary card that you would always get, so it was repetitive and not particularly fun. The card was then changed so you just tutored from the top five cards of your library. This increased the variance and encouraged you to play a lot of legendary cards.

Once I invented the batching version of historic, I asked Dave Humpherys if the Weatherlight could change to getting historic cards. This allowed you to do what the card already did but added artifacts and Sagas to the mix, things that it felt the Weatherlight should care about. From there, other than a little number fiddling, it never changed.


Yargle, Glutton of Urborg

During one Champions of Kamigawa development meeting (although not on the set's design team, I was on its development team), we were talking about making all the rare creatures in the set legendary, and even some of its uncommons. I don't remember who, but someone said it was impossible to design a legendary vanilla creature. I said it wasn't and designed Isamaru, Hound of Konda on the spot to prove them wrong. Dominaria was another set with a legendary theme, so the question of a legendary vanilla creature came up again. The solution this time was to come up with a unique power/toughness combination that not only had never before been done as a vanilla creature but had never before been done in Magic. They ended up with a 9/3. It got put in black because that felt like the right place for it (color pie–wise, it could also have been in red). I believe the Frog Spirit flavoring came later.


Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp

Dominaria, the plane, means many things to many players. It was our goal when making Dominaria, the set, to hit a number of them. One category we wanted to cover was resonant top-down fantasy tropes. When Richard Garfield first made Limited Edition (Alpha), he created a lot of cards hitting fantasy tropes, so a lot of players associate that feel with Dominaria. Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp, was created in vision design as a means to capture the flavor of a Djinn and their lamp. It was given the stats and mana cost of Mahamoti Djinn, the first Djinn in Magic (from Alpha), and then given an alternate cost that required tapping a lamp—I mean artifact. The finished package was so cute, it made it all the way to print.

Three Down, None to Go

Whew! After three short weeks, I've told all my Dominaria stories (well, many of my Dominaria stories). As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback on today's column and Dominaria the set. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week when I talk all about the evolution of Sagas from creation to print.

Until then, may you have as much fun playing Dominaria as we had making it.


 
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