Strixhaven Vision Design Handoff Document, Part 1

Posted in Making Magic on April 19, 2021

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 each set, when vision design is complete, we create what we call a vision design handoff document to give to the Set Design team to explain the overall vision of the set and walk through what themes and mechanics we created during vision design. In the past, I've shown off the vision design handoff document for Throne of Eldraine, Part 1 and Part 2, Ikoria, Zendikar Rising, and original Zendikar, Part 1 and Part 2. Today, I'm going to show you the handoff document from Strixhaven.

Before I start, I should give my normal intro for vision design handoff documents. Everything you see below is the text of the actual document I handed off a year and a half ago. Any comments I've made will be in boxes to the right of the vision design text. The text outside of the boxes is the actual document. Things always change during set design, so I will explain how things in the document turned into the things that ended up in the set. I hope you enjoy this peek behind the curtain.

Fencing Vision Design
Handoff Document

Vision Design team

  • Mark Rosewater (lead)
  • Doug Beyer
  • George Fan
  • Ari Nieh
  • Yoni Skolnik
  • Andrew Veen

 

Here are the four main parameters for "Fencing." These four parameters define the set:

  • It's a top-down wizard school.

We're trying to find more worlds with genre-rich trope clusters. While a magic school has plenty of its own tropes, it also lets us tap into school tropes, which are universal and plentiful (especially in pop culture). A lot of the resonance of this set is going to come from hitting as many of these school and/or magic school tropes as we can on cards.

  • It's an enemy color gold set.

While we do enemy color gold cards from time to time, the last expansion to have it specifically as a theme was Apocalypse—eighteen years ago! (The last set to even have enemy colors as its main theme was Eventide—eleven years ago.) "Fencing" should make sure to have several desired enemy color cycles (a few are listed later in this document) and legendary creatures (as it's something Commander players ask for all the time).

  • It's a two-color faction set.

One of the biggest experiments of "Fencing" is trying to demonstrate that we can have two-color factions sets that have their own identity apart from Ravnica. As such, one of the main objectives of "Fencing" was to create five unique factions, called schools, that were flavorful and thematic yet still let the colors be true to themselves. The factions having new identities is a feature, not a bug of the design. Also, the fact that the factions are built around their internal conflict rather than their area of overlap is a unique distinction of the schools.

  • It has a strong instant and sorcery theme.

While we've used instants and sorceries as a small subtheme in the past, "Fencing" is making it a major theme of the set, thematically playing into the wizarding school motif. This focus has had a huge impact on what mechanics we've chosen and how we've executed certain elements of the set. Also, as the following set is returning to Innistrad, having a greater focus on spells will make a good contrast to "Golf," which will be more focused on creatures.

The Schools

We began the vision design by defining the five factions. Each school was chosen a subject matter of study (including a number of classes within that study), a few student archetypes, a token type, and a style of gameplay. All the names are placeholders.

[Shadix]

Colors: White-black

Field of Study: Rhetoric (persuasive speech and writing)

Classes: Literature, Writing, Speech, Psychology, Ethics, Foreign Languages, Communications, Marketing/Advertising, Journalism

Style of Magic: Spoken word and runic

Philosophical Conflict: Are we to inspire the world of what it could be (white) or inform the world of what it really is (black)?

Student Archetype: ROTC, "mean girls," jocks, privileged kids, overachievers

Token Type: 2/1 flier (Gargoyle)

Style of Gameplay: Aggro

Shadix is the school of words. It teaches various classes that center on the use of words (literature, writing, public speaking, foreign languages, communications, etc.). It teaches spoken and runic magic. Spoken word is the fastest form of spellcasting and thus is the magic of ritualized combat. Because of this, Shadix is the school that teaches magical fighting. All the schools teach you how to use magic to do different things, but Shadix teaches you how to fight with it. As such, it's the school with the magic that's cheapest and easiest to cast in a pinch. This leads Shadix to having a very aggressive magical style, using its spells to try and beat the opponent as quickly as possible.

[Mithren]

Colors: Blue-red

Field of Study: Art

Classes: Painting, Drawing, Music, Dance, Theater, Fashion Design, Sculpture, Interior Design

Style of Magic: Gestures and the arts

Philosophical Conflict: Is art supposed to make people think (blue) or feel (red)?

Student Archetype: Visionaries, intellectuals, creative types

Token Type: 3/3 (Elemental)

Style of Gameplay: Big spells

Mithren is the school of art. It teaches various classes that center on expression (painting, music, dance, theater, etc.). It teaches gesture and artistic magic. Because it's the school most about putting on a show, Mithren teaches large, showy magic. This leads Mithren to focus on building up to larger, splashier spells. (Because Izzet is focused on spells, we took extra effort to make Mithren play in a different space, wanting to cast one larger spell rather than a lot of little ones.)

[Ravona]

Colors: Black-green

Field of Study: Life Sciences

Classes: Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy, Geology, Medicine, Agriculture, Botany, Food Science, Genetics, Zoology

Style of Magic: Component and biologic

Philosophical Conflict: Is life defined by what creates it (green) or the forces that shape and kill it (black)?

Student Archetype: Goth kids, cool troublemakers, bad influences

Token Type: 1/1 with "gain 1 life" death trigger (Grub)

Style of Gameplay: Midrange

Ravona is the school of life. It teaches all the life sciences (biology, chemistry, medicine, agriculture, etc.). It teaches component and organic magic (where you mix natural components together to create spells). Organic magic is very focused on the cycle of life, making use of both life and death as resources. (To keep Ravona separate from Golgari, we are specifically focusing on life as a resource rather than the graveyard.)

[Primald]

Colors: Red-white

Field of Study: History

Classes: History, Law, Political Science, Philosophy, Finance, Education, Business, Theology, Sociology, Archeology

Style of Magic: Summoning and spirits

Philosophical Conflict: Are civilizations inherently led by chaos (red) or structure (white)?

Student Archetype: Bookish nerds, history hipsters

Token Type: 2/2 (Spirit)

Style of Gameplay: Control

Primald is the school of history. It teaches all the classes centered on society (history, law, political science, philosophy, theology, etc.). It teaches summoning magic, which calls on ancient spirits to perform its spells. Of all the schools, Primald is the most focused on the past and thus looks to graveyard for many of its resources.

[Zymmot]

Colors: Green-blue

Field of Study: Math

Classes: Math, Physics, Engineering, Accounting, Economics, Astronomy, Aviation, Programming (probably spell creation in a fantasy setting)

Style of Magic: Formulaic and geometric (the drawing of shapes, for example)

Philosophical Conflict: Is math a natural system that we've discovered (green) or a product created by us (blue)?

Student Archetype: Weirdos, outsiders, obsessed with numbers

Token Type: 1/1 (Fractal)—often cast in multiples

Style of Gameplay: Go wide

Zymmot is the school of math. It teaches all the classes focused on the hard sciences, the ones that are more based in numbers (math, physics, engineering, economics, etc.). It teaches formula- and geometry-based magic. This is magic that makes use of natural systems, which it often controls using shapes as a means of expression. Geometric magic is mostly based on growth and takes advantage of replication to produce larger systems.

Set Mechanics

To separate the set from Ravnica, instead of assigning a keyword to each faction, the set has mechanics that stretch across all five factions but are used differently by each school. The set's mechanics are:

  • Spellcraft (Whenever you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell . . .)

Reckless Tremormancer
2R
Creature — Human Shaman
2/2
Spellcraft – Whenever you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell, CARDNAME deals 1 damage to each creature.

Spellcraft is an ability word that goes on permanents and triggers whenever an instant or sorcery is cast or copied. Here's how each school is using it.

[Shadix] – Spellcraft effects in this school are about small incremental creature boosts and go onto aggressively designed creatures. Instants and sorceries help you keep up your aggressive threats. This school likes when you cast a lot of cheap instants and sorceries on the same turn.

[Mithren] – Spellcraft effects in this school don't stack, so instead of encouraging lots of small instants and sorceries on a single turn, it rewards being more consistent across turns. It also has some effects that reward you for casting larger spells.

[Ravona] – Spellcraft effects in this school often gain you life (to play into the school's "life matters" theme) and allow you to permanently grow your permanents or resources.

[Primald] – Spellcraft effects in this school tend to be more defensive and controlling. At higher rarities, they also play into the school's connection with the graveyard, at times returning things in the graveyard to the player's hand.

[Zymmot] – Spellcraft effects in this school tend to support the school's theme of building up creatures and going wide. It also will have effects that are often stronger the more creatures you have.

Stay Tuned for Part 2

We've hit our word count for today. Next week, you'll see the second half of the vision design document where we talk about other elements of the vision design, including several mechanics that didn't make it into the final set. As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback on this document, on this column, or on Strixhaven 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 for part two.

Until then, I hope you enjoy this peek behind the curtain.

 
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