Throne of Eldraine Vision Design Handoff, Part 1

Posted in Making Magic on November 11, 2019

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.

As part of the normal process of leading a Vision Design team, you have to create a vision design handoff document for the Set Design team you're handing off the design to. The point of the document is to crystallize the vision of the set and explain where the set is mechanically to allow a smooth transition to the new team. A lot of changes happen between vision design and the set being released, so I thought it would be an interesting and informative look into the process as a whole and the design of Throne of Eldraine in particular (referred to by its code name, "Archery," throughout this document).

Here's how this is going to work: I will show you the actual document and will be jumping in from time to time to explain what's going on or give larger context. There is one paragraph in this document I can't show you and will have to black out, but I will explain why I have to black it out when I do so. Also, this document is over 7,000 words long (not counting all my words talking about it), so I'm going to break it up into two different articles. As the document itself has two parts, that seemed like the best natural breaking point. That said, let's dive right in.

Archery Vision Design Handoff Document

Vision Design team:

  • Mark Rosewater (lead)
  • Peter Lee
  • Ethan Fleischer
  • Mark Gottlieb
  • Pete Ingram
  • Dan Burdick
  • Andrew Brown
  • Sam Stoddard
  • Mickey Cushing

Creative Liaisons:

  • Kelly Digges
  • Cynthia Sheppard

Archery is the beginning of a brand-new arc, taking a breather from the Gatewatch to visit a brand-new Plane and watch the start of a new Planeswalker story. It was built as a spiritual successor to Innistrad using top-down genre tropes as a foundation. Let me begin with the vision statement:

Archery is about letting the player tell their own story through gameplay.

To best explain what I mean by this, I am going to use a metaphor. Imagine you purchased a LEGO set called "Superhero Movies of 2017." Inside the box were a number of bags. One bag was LEGO Wonder Woman. Another was LEGO Spider-Man. A third was LEGO Guardians of the Galaxy. Now you could put together Wonder Woman and the Amazon Warriors. You could assemble World War I soldiers and Captain Steve Rogers. You could recreate the whole Wonder Woman movie. Or you could put together Spider-Man and Iron Man and the Vulture. Or you could build all of the Guardians of the Galaxy, complete with their spaceship. Each build could be contained within the movie it comes from.

But there's a completely different way to play. You can put Wonder Woman's head on Gamora's body and give her web shooters. You could give Rocket Iron Man's armor and the Vulture's wings. You could mix and match to your heart's content.

That is what Archery is doing. It's playing around with archetypal pieces from Camelot and fairy tales. You can cast a Sleep Spell on the Beautiful Princess to await True Love's Kiss to wake her up. Or you can give a Poison Apple to the Fairy Godmother armed with Excalibur. The Vision team has been referring to the latter as the Mad Lib effect, letting players mix and match things that don't normally go together. We feel that both recreating the original story or playing Mad Libs will be satisfying game experiences.

The set breaks into two parts, the Camelot-inspired portion and the fairy-tale portion. I'm going to walk through how each is executed.

CAMELOT

Archery is an introduction to the Plane of [name to come], the home of Planeswalkers Rowan and Will, and it is setting up the stability that the story begins with. We come to a relatively happy world. There are conflicts, but nothing that the infrastructure that has been built up over centuries can't handle. The stability of the world is communicated through what we are calling the Camelot portion of the set, where we tie into Arthurian mythology. It's the part that represents the structure of society and government on the Plane.

The Camelot portion has the issue that we're doing something we do often enough—royalty and Knights in a medieval society—that it has a higher barrier to feel new. (Obviously, we're going to lean a lot on the creative to help with this.) Mechanically, we've chosen to give this a very structured identity. It has the loudest mechanical theme. It has the majority of the keywords. It has almost all the cycles. Its ethos is tied into the color wheel the strongest. The set is crafted to give the Camelot portion a strong structural weight to balance with the fairy-tale portion, which is going to pull focus, being the more novel part of the design.

Here are all the things we are doing to give the Camelot portion its identity:

The Courts

The civilized world is broken up into five courts. As this is a Magic set, and the courts fill the role of providing the ethos for the world, each court is associated with one of the colors of Magic. Each court has its own structure and its own virtue that guides how it behaves.

The White Court

The white court values the virtue of loyalty. They are all about helping out one another for the greater good. From a mechanical standpoint, we play up effects that allow one creature to help another or things that help out the group as a whole.

The Blue Court

The blue court values the virtue of knowledge. They are the ones trying to improve the world through discovery. From a mechanical standpoint, we play up effects that interact with cards through things like drawing, looting, and scrying.

The Black Court

The black court values the virtue of persistence. They are the ones who are most steadfast in achieving their goals, taking the steps that are necessary to ensure the stability of the courts. From a mechanical standpoint, we play up black's ability to return from the graveyard, both to hand and to the battlefield.

The Red Court

The red court values the virtue of courage. They are the ones who believe the key to victory is never being afraid to take the offensive. From a mechanical standpoint, we play up red's aggressive nature in combat, giving them extra incentives to attack.

The Green Court

The green court values the virtue of strength. They are the ones who believe that the key to winning the important fights is to outpower the opponents. From a mechanical standpoint, we play up both green's size and its ability to make creatures bigger, both temporarily and permanently.

Obviously, each of the virtues plays into mechanical space the color already focuses on, but we've notched it up a little to highlight it in the set. There are a number of cycles that play up the virtues of the courts:

Knight Cycle (Common)

Knight of Loyalty
2W
Creature — Human Knight
2/2
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, Knights you control get +1/+1 until end of turn.

Common has cycles of Knights all labeled "Knight of [Virtue]." They are all 2M 2/2 creatures with an enters-the-battlefield effect that plays into the mechanical theme of its virtue.

Oath Cycle (Common)

Oath of Persistence
1B
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant black creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1.
When enchanted creature dies, return that card to the battlefield under its owner's control.

Common has an Aura cycle all labeled "Oath of [Virtue]." Each is an enchant creature that can only enchant that color (and thus is pushed a bit power-wise) and has an ability that plays into the mechanical theme of its virtue.

Quest Cycles (Uncommon and Rare)

Seek Lost Knowledge
U
Enchantment – Quest
Hexproof
(Mark each task as you achieve it. When the Quest is completed, sacrifice it for your reward.)

• You control a Knight or Wizard
• You draw two cards in one turn
• You control an artifact
Reward – Draw 3 cards

This mechanic will be explained more below. The uncommon cycle is designed for Limited play and the rare cycle is a Constructed build-around, all thematically tied to the courts. The flavor of the quests is that of Knights of that particular court being sent on an important mission. The rares could be tied to fairy-tale stories as well as Camelot.

Banner Cycle (Uncommon)

This uncommon artifact cycle shows off the banner for each court. They are artifacts that provide mana of the appropriate color and also have a triggered effect whenever you play a spell of the appropriate color. The effects are trying to play into the mechanical space of the court, but with a little more latitude as we don't want every court-themed cycle to have the same effects.

Bear Standard
3
Artifact
Whenever you cast a green spell, target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.

Court Castle Cycle (Uncommon)

Red Court Castle
Land
T: Add C
1,T: Add RR

This uncommon land cycle shows off the courts in art and helps players play heavier color concentrations.

Leader Cycle (Rare)

Glorious Queen
RB06
BBB
Creature – Elf Noble
3/3
Lifelink
Whenever you cast a black spell, target opponent loses 1 life and you gain 1 life.

This cycle was designed around the leaders of each court. The cycle is all creatures that have a triggered effect when you play the appropriate color. They are similar to the banners but with slightly larger effects as the cycle is rare. This cycle could be tied to the courts through a means other than the leaders (maybe champions of the court), as those are probably going to be individually designed for flavor.

Legendary Artifact Cycle (Rare)

Round Table
3W (or 5)
Legendary Artifact
Knights you control get +1/+1.
T: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool. Spend this mana only to cast Knight spells or to activate Knight abilities.

Each court has a special magical artifact that plays a big part in how the court functions in the story. These artifacts are all colored appropriately and have big splashy effects.

Monocolor Play

Each court has its own philosophy which it aggressively pushes. We reflect this in the set through a monocolor theme, that is cards that encourage you to play all or mostly one color. This is something we want to push for Limited with some players playing just one color and others playing a two-color deck that prioritizes one color over the other.

Note from the editor: No really, we removed this text. You can't see it yet. It isn't ready for you. You'll find out what's coming soon enough, but now is not the time. There will be a point at which, at some future date, you learn about the thing—this magical thing—being so unfairly hidden from you. And O, how wondrous will that day be. But it is not this day.

There are a number of tools built into the set to help with this monocolor theme:

Choice Costs

This is a tool bigger than just monocolor play, but has the biggest impact on this theme, so I'm going to talk about it here. Choice costs are mana costs where there are two mana costs in the upper right-hand corner. The current plan is that one cost is the primary cost and the second cost, now in parenthesis, is an alternate cost. The primary cost is used when determining converted mana cost. The plan is to put the cost with the heaviest concentration of color as the primary cost to help out devotion down the road.

Choice costs come into three categories: (I also list a fourth category we experimented with and abandoned.)

Category #1: Cheaper costs through color concentration – 1WW (or 4W)

This category rewards playing more of a single color by making spells cheaper to cast. This plays in the space we formerly used in two-brids, but this system both requires no math and allows us to change the correlation between colored and colorless mana on a cost-by-cost basis (two-brid requires a 2:1 ratio).

Category #2: Extra effects through color concentration – 1WW (or 2W)

This category rewards playing more of a single color by adding an additional rider to the spell. Currently in the file, each instance of this type of spell is labeled with the ability word "focus." The riders tend to do one of two things: make the effect larger or add a second effect that is synergistic with the first. The flavor we are going for is paying more color makes the spell feel "stronger."

Category #3: Artifacts that can be cast cheaper with color – 1WW (or 6)

This category is all artifact cards, both creatures and noncreatures, that lean toward a particular color. Using that color to cast them makes them cheaper. Note that regardless of the cost spent, the artifact is colored. This will matter with some of the other monocolor themes. Many of the colored artifacts are used flavorfully to hit some of the fairy-tale tropes (see more below).

Category #4: Multicolor cards that can be cast with different color mana – 1WW (or 2U) – ABANDONED

We experimented with this category because the monocolor theme likes having cards that can go into two different monocolor decks. To avoid being hybrid cards, the first attempt at this category had cards where the card had a cheaper cost in one of the two colors. When this proved unsatisfying, we tried cards where the converted mana cost was the same, but one cost had more concentration of colored mana. In the end, we just changed these into hybrid spells.

Color Restrictions

This category helps out monocolor by having effects that either only work on a certain color or work better when targeting a certain color. The team experimented with a bunch of different cards in this space. The only thing still in the file is the Oath cycle that only enchants creatures of the appropriate color.

Color Triggers

This category is filled with permanents that trigger whenever a spell of a particular color is cast. Both the uncommon banner cycle and rare leader cycle (see above) fall into this category.

Knight Flavor

In a game centered on combat, an important part of capturing the Camelot feel is the Knights. We are capturing this in several ways:

Knight Tribal

All five colors will have Knights, each flavored to match their court. The Knight tribal cards are being focused into just two colors, white and black. This means you'll have many options when building a Knight tribal deck, but you'll have to use either white or black as one of the colors. The tribal effects have a Knight flavoring, so they tend to focus on rewards for summoning Knights or buffing your Knights in ways that will help them in combat.

Combat Mechanic

The attribute most associated with Knights is being a good fighter, so we felt it was important to have a combat mechanic in the set which shows up mostly, if not exclusively, on Knights. We've tried a bunch of mechanics:

Chivalry N (Whenever this creature blocks or becomes blocked, it gets +1/+1 until end of turn.)

This was a renamed bushido. It ended up being too weak on offense and too strong on defense.

Renown N (When this creature deals combat damage to a player, if it isn't renowned, put N +1/+1 counters on it and it becomes renowned.)

This mechanic didn't make the Knights any better in combat and thus didn't do a great job of selling the "trained fighters" aspect. It did play up the "going on a quest" feel, but we're hitting that on another mechanic (see Quests below).

Valiance (Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, put a +1/+1 counter on it.)

This is the "Slith mechanic." The flavor wasn't bad, but it's snowball-y.

Cooperation (Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, put a +1/+1 counter on another target creature.)

This variant on the "Slith mechanic" did a much better job of capturing how the Knights work together and was less snowball-y.

Joust N (When this creature is blocked, it gets +0/+N until end of turn. If not blocked, it gets +N/+0 instead.)

This mechanic was a tweak on frenzy, adding a related effect if blocked to help with gameplay. The mechanic played well, but proved to be too hard to grok.

Discipline N (Whenever this card becomes blocked, put N +1/+1 counters on this card.)

This final combat mechanic is a tweak on bushido. It only works on attack, but has a permanent reward. This mechanic both played well in playtesting and adds to the growth/+1/+1 counter theme in the set.

The Vision Design team is recommending discipline, but more importantly, it's important for the Knights to have a named creature combat keyword even if Set Design chooses a different option.

Quests

Attack the Castle
W
Enchantment – Quest
Hexproof
(Mark each task as you achieve it. When the Quest is completed, sacrifice it for your reward.)
• You control a Knight or Soldier
• You control an aura or equipment
• You attack with at least three creatures
Reward – Put two +1/+1 counters on each creature you control.

Besides fighting, another notable thing about Knights is that they go on quests. We've captured this with a new mechanic. Quest cards are enchantments that require three tasks to perform. The actions can be performed in any order. Once all three tasks have been performed, the Quest can be sacrificed for a larger effect. Whether it's automatically sacrificed or the controller can sacrifice it when they want to is a switch that can be toggled by Set Design. They all have hexproof to keep the opponent from destroying it moments before you complete the Quest.

We feel this mechanic can be the splashy mechanic of the set. The frame will require some work, especially something to help players mark which tasks they've completed. It's possible that the Quests are something other than enchantments (although, Vision Design recommends enchantments), maybe even a new card type. If that happens, they can lose hexproof.

The uncommon cycle is tied directly to the Knights and the courts. (Currently, the first task is having a Knight or other color-specific creature type.) The rare cycle can also be tied to the Knights or possibly to different fairy-tale stories.

Build-Up Theme

Another theme that runs through the whole set but leans toward the Camelot side is a build-up theme using positive Auras, Equipment, and +1/+1 counters. We can see Knights as they strengthen themselves with magic, weapons, and training. This theme is centered in white and green.

Camelot Tropes

The final thing we did for the Camelot part of the set is hit a bunch of tropes:

CW01 Loyal Squire – Every Knight has a faithful squire.

CW03 Animated Suit of Armor – A common trope seen in pop culture.

CW06 Castle Rampart – The courts are protected by their castle.

CW07 Knight of Loyalty – White's part of the cycle of Knights of Virtue.

CW08 Queen's Knight – Playing up the Knights' connection to the royalty. Also a subtle nod to the Guinevere and Lancelot story.

CW09 Knight with Lance – The lance is a classic Knight weapon.

CW10 Oath of Loyalty – White's part of the Oath of Virtue cycle. Playing into Knights making oaths to royalty.

CW16 Strategic Strike – Capturing the Knights as strategic fighters.

UW02 Honor-Bound Knight – Hitting the trope of Knights being honor-bound to duty.

UW03 Court Wizard – The court always has a wizard or two to perform necessary magic.

UW06 Chamberlain – The person who manages the castle.

UW09 Attack the Castle – Lots of castle-attacking in Camelot.

UW13 Shining Armor – The attire of a noble Knight.

RW02 Pure Knight – One of the tropes is a knight of the highest moral standing.

RW03 Challenging Knight – This Knight lives to challenge others to prove their worth.

RW04 Just Queen – A queen of high moral standard.

RW04 Queen Guinevere – The wife of the white leader who runs the white court in his absence, modeled after Queen Guinevere.

RW06 Form the Round Table – The Round Table was the collection of knights that Arthur put together.

RW09 Knightly Honor – Hitting the importance of honor among Knights.

RW10 Round Table – The actual table the Knights of the Round Table sat around.

RW11 Palace Dungeon – Every castle has a place to keep the prisoners.

CU02 Wise Wizard – Another nod to the court wizards.

CU05 Knight of Knowledge - Blue's part of the cycle of Knights of Virtue.

CU06 Banishing Knight – Playing into the Knight's quest to rid the kingdom of the unwanted.

CU13 Oath of Knowledge - Blue's part of the Oath of Virtue cycle. Playing into Knights making oaths to royalty.

UU08 Seek Lost Knowledge – Merlin was always searching after lost information.

UU11 Mystical Lance – Playing up magical Knight Equipment.

UU12 Cap of Knowledge – Merlin was known for wearing a wizard's cap.

RU06 Wise King – Playing into the trope of the king who carefully weighs every decision.

CB02 Omen Witch – Hitting the trope of dark magic users using the black arts to see into the future.

CB05 Knight of Persistence - Black's part of the cycle of Knights of Virtue.

CB06 Blacker Knight – Playing into the trope of the black Knight that ventured out to do evil deeds.

CB08 Assassin's Assistant – Assassins were a dark part of the court.

CB09 Returned Knight – Hitting the trope of the Zombie Knight brought back from the dead to serve a dark lord.

CB10 Dark Crystal Ball – An object that lets wizards and witches peer into the future.

CB11 Oath of Persistence - Black's part of the Oath of Virtue cycle. Playing into Knights making oaths to royalty.

UB03 Deathless Knight – Some Knights have over-the-top claims about their prowess.

UB10 Undying Knight – A Knight that is impossible to kill.

UB13 The Dolorous Stroke – A wound that won't heal. The Fisher King had it.

RB02 Pretender to the Throne – Deceit at the highest levels.

RB04 Backstabbing Assassin – Another nod at assassins that deal in high-level kills.

RB05 Glorious Queen – A nod toward the concept of an evil queen.

RB06 Witches' Cauldron – Main tool of witches.

RB08 Draught of Morgan – A dark potion created by Morgan le Fey.

CR03 Eager to Prove Knight – Playing into trope of a Knight who will do anything to prove himself.

CR06 Knight of Courage - Red's part of the cycle of Knights of Virtue.

CR10 Oath of Courage - Red's part of the Oath of Virtue cycle. Playing into Knights making oaths to royalty.

CR12 Power of Courage – Playing up the knight's willingness to face danger.

CR13 Magical Floating Dagger – Another magical weapon.

CR14 Tempt with Power – Hitting trope of Knights being tested by temptation.

CR15 Charge! – Knights charging into battle.

CR17 Boiling Oil – A common weapon to protect a castle.

UR02 Annoying Jester – The jester is another staple of the court.

UR05 Knighted Dragonslayer – Playing into the trope of a Knight who slays dragons.

UR07 Brave Knight – The trope of a Knight without fear.

UR09 Win the Tournament – Knights compete in tournaments to show their prowess.

UR12 Mystical Scroll – Another tool of Merlin.

RR05 Kidnapping Dragon – The trope of a Dragon that kidnaps royalty (usually princesses).

RR08 Sword in the Stone – Arthur became king because he pulled the sword out of the stone.

RR09 Magic Wand – Another iconic tool of wizards.

RR10 Everlasting Tournament – The Red court has an ongoing tournament that never ends.

CG05 Palace Knight – A Knight that guards the palace.

CG07 Knight of Strength - Green's part of the cycle of Knights of Virtue.

CG16 Joust – Jousting was a popular means for Knights to fight in public.

CG16 Oath of Strength - Green's part of the Oath of Virtue cycle. Playing into Knights making oaths to royalty.

UG05 Strong Knight – A knight of unbelievable strength.

UG06 Tourney Challenger – Someone, usually in disguise, who enters a tournament only to win it to everyone's surprise, often seen in Robin Hood stories.

UG07 Questing Beast – Referring to a quest that involves killing a fearsome beast.

UG11 Wake the Sleeping Giant – A quest to interact with a giant.

UG13 Rally the Troops – Playing up that Knights often come together to fight.

RG04 Strong Queen – A queen capable of winning her own fights.

RG09 Stonehenge – A classic ancient English monument, it has magical properties in this story.

RZ04 Lady of the Lake – The creature that created Excalibur and put the sword in the stone.

RZ05 Robin Hood – Meant to be a card that captures the Robin Hood archetype of an outcast that robs the rich to give to the poor.

MZ01 Merlin Mentor – Nod to Merlin.

CA05 Barrel of Swords – A weapons collection in a castle.

UA04 Hound Standard – Crest of the white court.

UA05 Owl Standard - Crest of the blue court.

UA06 Snake Standard - Crest of the black court.

UA07 Lion Standard - Crest of the red court.

UA08 Bear Standard - Crest of the green court.

RA01 Haunted Plate Mail – Haunted armor that moves by itself.

MA01 Excalibur – Arthur's magical sword.

UL01 White Court Castle – Shows off what the white court looks like.

UL02 Blue Court Castle – Shows off what the blue court looks like.

UL03 Black Court Castle – Shows off what the black court looks like.

UL04 Red Court Castle – Shows off what the red court looks like.

UL05 Green Court Castle – Shows off what the green court looks like.

RL01 Knight's Quarters – Where the Knights live.


Whew! As I explained above, there was too much to fit into one column, so I'll be back next week with the fairy-tale portion of the document. As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback about today's column. Did you like seeing this document and is it something you'd like me to do more of in the future? You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram).

Join me next week for part 2.

Until then, may you find a use for work you did years ago.

 
#687: Throne of Eldraine Cards, Part 2
#687: Throne of Eldraine Cards, Part 2

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This is part two of a four-part series on card-by-card design stories from Throne of Eldraine.


 
#688: Subtypes
#688: Subtypes

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In this podcast, I talk about all the noncreature subtypes in Magic.

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