Strixhaven Vision Design Handoff Document, Part 2

Posted in Making Magic on April 26, 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.

Last week, I started showing you the vision design handoff document for Strixhaven: School of Mages, but there was too much for one article, so today is the second and final part. As a reminder, all the text below is the actual text from the original document. All my notes about it are in boxes to the right.


  • Flashback (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Embellish
UR
Sorcery
When you cast your next instant or sorcery this turn, copy that spell. You may choose new targets for the copy.
Flashback 2UR (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Flashback is a returning mechanic. It plays into the sets instant and sorcery theme, allowing players to maximize the number of instants and sorceries cast per game. The monocolor flashback spells try to branch between the two schools that would use them while the multicolor spells are more focused on communicating what the guild is up to. The faster guilds ([Shadix] and [Ravona]) are more likely to have cheaper spells to allow them to recast them quicker.

  • Conjure [creature type] – [cost] (If you cast this spell for [cost], when it enters the battlefield create an [appropriately sized, colored, and creature-typed] creature token.)

Spirit Backup
W
Instant
Target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.
Conjure Spirit – 2W (If you cast this spell for 2W, also create a 2/2 red and white Spirit creature token.)

Conjure is an ability that goes onto instants and sorceries. It allows you to spend extra mana to create a creature token (and, in a few cases, multiple creature tokens) of the appropriate type. This mechanic is in the set to help players cast more instants and sorceries while giving them access to creatures later in the game. These cards could be de-keyworded, but then there would only be one option where the spells automatically come with a creature token. Note that the tokens line up with the five token types of the schools.

  • Familiar – [Effect] . . . if you control a creature token.

Black Buddy
2B
Creature — Human Wizard
2/2
Menace
Familiar – CARDNAME enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter if you control a creature token.

Familiar is an ability word for cards that get a bonus effect if you control a creature token. The mechanic doesn't care about what creature token you have, only that you have one. As it's an ability word, it's possible to drop it from the cards if you'd like less vocabulary in the set.

  • Multifaced cards (MFCs)

The multifaced cards in "Fencing" are all themed to represent the schools and the inherent conflict they're built on. There are fifteen MFC cards in the set, making three cycles:

Dean of Death
2B
Legendary Creature — Human Advisor
2/3
At the beginning of your end step, if any opponent lost life this turn, target creature an opponent controls gets -2/-2 until end of turn.
//
Dean of Birth
2G
Legendary Creature — Human Advisor
3/2
At the beginning of your end step, if you gained life this turn, create a 1/1 black and green Grub creature token with "When this dies, gain 1 life."

The Deans (mythic rare) – Each school is run by a pair of deans who each represent one side of the school's conflict. These cards are legendary creatures on each side, each mechanically representing one side of the enemy color conflict. We believe this cycle will be exciting for the Commander crowd (and possibly tournament Constructed).

Reasoned Argument
6U
Enchantment
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, gain control of up to two target creatures for as long as CARDNAME remains on the battlefield.

//

Wild Emotion
4R
Sorcery
Untap up to two target creatures and gain control of them until end of turn. They gain haste until end of turn.

Permanents/spells (rare) – This cycle includes a permanent on one side of one color and an instant or sorcery on the other side of the second color. The cards play up the conflict within the school and are designed to work in the same deck.

Archeological Site
Land
T: Add C.
4R, Sacrifice CARDNAME, T: CARDNAME deals X damage to target creature or planeswalker, where X is the number of cards you own in exile.
//
Historian's Library
Land
T: Add C.
4W, Exile three cards from your graveyard, T: Create a 2/2 white and red Spirit creature token.

Lands (rare) – This cycle consists of double-sided lands that tap for colorless mana. One side has a colored activation with a tap ability that can be repeated each turn. The other side has a colored activation with a sacrifice cost, allowing a bigger effect that you do once. The two sides are made to be synergistic with one another.

  • Scrolls (A scroll is an artifact token. It can be sacrificed to cast a named instant or sorcery.)

Wild Scrivener
3GU
Creature — Human Druid
1/1
Flash
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield. Exile target instant or sorcery spell. Create a scroll token of the exiled spell.
T: Add one mana of any color.

Scrolls are artifact tokens that hold an instant or sorcery spell within them (much like the flavor of a scroll). You can sacrifice the artifact to cast the spell for its mana cost. The spell is then treated as if you had actually cast it, doing things like triggering spellcraft and allowing it to be copied or countered. Uncommon has a cycle of creatures that come with a scroll that is prefilled with an existing spell (all of which are fairly famous Magic spells). Rare has a two-color cycle and an artifact that allow you to create scrolls in various ways. The intent of scrolls is that it's something splashy and new at a low as-fan and at higher rarities.

Other Components (Themes and Cycles)

  • Dorms

Art Dorm
Land — Dorm
CARDNAME enters the battlefield tapped.
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another land named CARDNAME, gain 2 life.
T: Add U or R.

The Dorms are a cycle of common lands that are "Fencing's" equivalent of the Gates (common two-color mana fixing). They are subtype Dorm and reward you for playing numerous of the same Dorm.

  • Colorless magic

Basic Geomancy
3
Sorcery
Search your library for a basic land card, put it onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library.

Common has a number of colorless instants and sorceries (currently five) that represent freshman courses at the college. (Students join a school at the start of their sophomore year.) We did these as a tool to help players fill out their decks with instants and sorceries. These five cards fill the void usually filled in sets by common artifacts.

  • Prospectuses

History Prospectus
3
T: Add R or W.
1RW, Sacrifice CARDNAME, T: Create a 2/2 red and white Spirit creature token.

The Prospectuses are a cycle of common artifacts that serve as this set's "mana rocks" that tap for one of two colors and can then be sacrificed for a cost involving both colors to make that school's creature token. We also envision this cycle being a place to creatively show off the school's symbol (we assume the set will have watermarks for the schools) and/or pennant.

  • Buddy Creatures

Red Buddy
4R
Creature — Human Wizard
4/4
Trample
Familiar – CARDNAME enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter if you control a creature token.

This is a common cycle of monocolor creatures that each have familiar and enter with a +1/+1 counter if you have a creature token.

  • Double Spells

Double Boost
1G
Instant
Familiar – When you cast this spell, copy it if you control a token creature. You may choose a new target for the copy.
Target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.

This is a cycle of monocolor common instants and sorceries with familiar that all copy themselves if you control a creature token. These are designed as both spellcraft and token enablers.

  • Prodigies

Rhetoric Prodigy
2WB
Creature — Human Wizard
3/3
Spellcraft – Whenever you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell, target creature gets +1/+0 and menace until end of turn.

This is a cycle of uncommon enemy color creatures with spellcraft. They're designed to play into each school's play pattern and serve as one of the cards that helps communicate the school's Draft strategy. They are flavored as top students from the schools. It's possible that this cycle's supposed to be legendary.

  • Commands

Mathematical Command
GGUU
Sorcery
Choose two —
Create a 3/3 green Elephant creature token.
Create a token that's a copy of a creature you control.
Exile target creature. That creature's controller creates a 3/3 green Elephant creature token.
Draw a card for each creature you control.

The Commands are a cycle of rare enemy sorceries that give you four modes and let you choose two. We've done monocolor Commands and ally color Commands, but never enemy color ones. These are obviously tied into the schools.

  • Hybrid rare creatures

Hybrid Biologist
(b/g)(b/g)(b/g)(b/g)
Creature — Human Shaman
Deathtouch
Whenever you sacrifice another permanent, draw a card.

This is a rare cycle of enemy color hybrid creatures tied to the schools. They exist as a tool for the Play Design team to adjust devotion in Standard. They are designed as splashy school-themed creatures that can mechanically work in either color.

  • Legendary Dragons

Rw, the Reckony
4RW
Legendary Creature — Dragon
5/5
Flying
Whenever damage is dealt to a creature you control, CARDNAME deals that much damage to any target.

Magic has had monocolor, ally color, wedge color, and arc color legendary Dragons, but never enemy color. We knew these were so important that we worked them into the story—the five schools were each founded by a different dragon. These are currently a cycle at rare but should possibly be at mythic rare. These are designed to be both splashy and solid tournament shots.

  • Top-down designs

Student Protest
1U
Instant
Choose one —
Counter target spell unless its controller pays X, where X is the number of creatures you control.
Look at the top X cards of your library where X is the number of creatures you control. Put one of them into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.

There are many designs, especially at higher rarities, that are top-down designs capturing school (and sometimes specifically magic school) tropes. The Vision Design team and Creative team have created lists of tropes for the Set Design team to work with. It's a very rich, resonant, and deep cluster of tropes.

Extra Content

What follows are two items that were pulled from the design.

  • Study

Guardian Ancestor
1W
Creature — Spirit
2/2
2: Study. Activate this ability only when you could cast a sorcery.
(A) Spirits you control have vigilance.
(B) T: Another target creature you control gains protection from the color of your choice until end of turn.

Study is a mechanic where you can spend a resource (tapping at common, mana at uncommon) to add an ability to the card. Each card with study has two options of abilities to add. The second time you activate it, you can add the ability you didn't choose the first time. The card would most likely have a frame that would serve as a play aid to make it clear which abilities you have. This mechanic got removed, as there was too much board complexity and study, while thematic, was less connected to the overall framework of the set.

  • Implements

B/G Implement
2
Artifact
Activate abilities of CARDNAME only when you could cast a sorcery.
2B, T: Target creature gains lifelink until end of turn.
2G, T: Put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.
4BG, T: Do both.

Implements were a cycle of uncommon artifacts that had two different tap abilities (one in each color of the school) and a third ability which was the combination of the two abilities. They were designed as artifacts useable in three schools but maximized in one. They were removed from the set to lessen board complexity.

In Conclusion

Those are all the main elements of "Fencing." I believe the set will be a big hit if it hits the four parameters listed at the beginning of this document. The focal point of the four parameters is the identity of the five schools. If each one has a clear-cut identity (which the Vision Design team and Creative team worked hard to establish) that's tied to what the school represents as a school, including highlighting the conflict of the colors while wrapping itself in all the available school tropes and playing up the spell theme, I believe we have a recipe for success.

The Set Design team has some wiggle room in the play execution (red-white might work better as a mid-range, graveyard-focused deck rather than a slow, controlling one, for example). The key is making any changes stay true to the school identities. I'm very excited to see what you are all able to build with the tools we've provided. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Thanks,

Mark Rosewater


And that is the design handoff document for Strixhaven. These have proven very popular, so I plan to keep publishing them. 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 as I answer all your questions about Strixhaven.

Until then, I hope you learned something about Strixhaven design that you didn't know.

 
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