Twenty Things You Might Not Have Known About Tempest

Posted in Making Magic on April 27, 2015

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.

It's Tempest Remastered Week! Which means we're going to be talking all about Tempest this week. As Tempest was my very first design lead and a set quite near and dear to my heart, I thought I'd share a whole bunch of little factoids you may or may not know. For more of me talking about Tempest, you can read "In a Teapot"—my article from the first Tempest theme week—and "Before the Storm," the article I wrote for The Duelist about the design when the set first came out back in 1997. Some of today's factoids can be found in those two articles, but I promise to expand on them here.


Factoid #1: Tempest Started on a Ski Chairlift Ride

My father Gene lives in Tahoe City, California. Back in the early days, R&D used to fly to my dad's house and go on skiing trips (and occasionally even work on Magic sets—the initial design for Invasion, for instance, was done at my dad's house). We'd ski by day and play Magic, and other games, by night. My dad is a longtime game player and I had gotten him into Magic, so he really enjoyed our visits. I remember one trip, pretty much everyone working on Magic was all on one plane heading to my dad's and we realized if the plane went down Magic would be in big trouble.

Qal Sisma Behemoth | Art by Evan Shipard

For those that have never gone skiing, before you can ski down the hill, you have to first get up it. The most common way to do this is ride what it known as a ski lift. It's a chair suspended from a moving cable and usually holds two people. One day, Richard Garfield and I were the two riding together. It was a longer chair lift, meaning we had thirty-some minutes to talk. Richard revealed to me that he missed working on Magic (the last set he had done at that time was Arabian Nights, which had been many years before) and that he had some ideas for new cards and mechanics. I told him that I was very eager to lead the design for a set. I had been hired as a developer and not a designer, and I wanted to prove that I was capable of designing. Richard said that if I lead a set, he would gladly be on it. (With the exception of Judgment, I have had the pleasure of leading every Magic design team Richard has been on since Arabian Nights.)

The Head Designer at the time was a man named Joel Mick, and I knew that there were plans for us to do our first internal design team. You see, up to that point all of the designs for Magic sets had been freelanced and came from outside of R&D (although some of those freelancers would later work for R&D). I really wanted to lead that design but I knew I needed something a little more than "I want to do it." So when Richard said he'd be on my design team, I knew I had my in. I went to Joel and said that if he let me lead the design, Richard said he'd be on my design team. Bingo! I had my big break.


Factoid #2: Tempest's Initial Design Was Done In Portland at the Home of Richard's Parents

Apparently, back in the day, there was a lot of visiting parents' houses. With Richard on my team, I added two other members: Mike Elliott and Charlie Catino. Mike was a fellow developer that wanted to prove he was really a designer, and I knew he had a lot of ideas for cards and sets. Charlie was one of the original playtesters and was good friends with Richard. I really wanted us to get away for a week and do the initial design. Richard offered his parents' house which was just a few hours drive away. Richard's parents are very nice and made excellent hosts.


Factoid #3: For the Initial Week of Design, The Design Team Did Not Shave

I'm not sure who first proposed it but the idea came out that, in a show of camaraderie, we would not shave until we finished with the initial design. Every morning when we started we would compare beards to see how everyone's beard was doing. Charlie, it turns out, has a mutant beard that must grow continuously because it took him like two days to have a full beard. By the end of the week, all four of us had somewhat respectable beards. The moment I walked in the front door and was met by my then-girlfriend—now wife—Lora, she said, "That thing is coming off right now."


Factoid #4: Many Components of Tempest Came From a Set Mike Had Designed Previously

Mike Elliott had met Joel Mick at a game convention (somewhere in the southwest—Phoenix, I think). The two talked about Magic and Mike mentioned that he had designed his own expansion called Astral Ways. Rules were a little looser back in the day, so Joel was able to look at Mike's set. He liked what he saw, and that meeting led to Mike getting hired by R&D.

When I put Mike on the Tempest design team, he told me he had a Magic expansion and that there were elements we might want to use. The two big ones that did make it into the set were Slivers and the shadow mechanic, interestingly called "Slivers" and "shadow" respectively. A third mechanic would get put into the set but later removed. That mechanic would end up making it into a different Magic set. More on that in a bit.


Factoid #5: Shadow Went Through a Few Names

In Astral Ways, Mike had an ability called shadow which was a tweak on flying. Creatures with shadow could only block and only be blocked by other creatures with shadow. The ability was stuck into white, blue, and black. The name "shadow" felt odd to us on white cards so we changed the name to "astral." That name didn't work out, though, because at the same time there was a Magic-themed video game by a company named Microprose (it was the thing to first introduce the plane Shandalar) and it had some cards which were unique to the digital game (things that could only work on a digital card, such as generating random effects) and that subset of cards were called the "Astral Set".

We then changed the name to "etheric". The word means "of the upper regions of space". Editing vetoed the name because it was only an adjective and as we grant creature abilities, it sounds better in rules text if the word is also a noun. Etheric was also a more obscure word and wouldn't help convey the flavor. For a while we were very stuck. The design team wanted to go back to "shadow" but there was much resistance. Weatherlight, the set right before Tempest, had a card called Shadow Rider and it didn't have the shadow ability, so there were concerns that the name would be confusing. We tried a whole bunch of words but none of them sounded good. We ended up going back to "shadow" because it was the best that we had.


Factoid #6: Tempest Was Going To Have a Major Poison Theme

If you've spent any time reading my writing, you know I'm a huge fan of poison. It should come as no surprise that I used my very first design lead as an opportunity to try to make poison a big theme. Remember that at this point, poison hadn't left the game yet. The last poison card had been in Visions which was just two sets back, so the idea of having poison be a theme of the set wasn't actually that controversial.

When the file was turned over, I believe there were over 60 cards that referenced poison. As development continued, that number kept dropping until there was just one poison card left. R&D then decided that they wanted to remove poison from the game entirely (I obviously was in the minority) and that card was removed as well. I would then try to put a poison theme in Unglued 2, the Unglued sequel that never made it to print (you can learn more about it here and here). Poison would briefly show up in Future Sight and then finally return to the game in a big way in the Scars of Mirrodin block.


Factoid #7: The Original Codename for Tempest Hinted at the Poison Theme

Early on, Mike Elliott came up with a codename for the set, Bogavhati. Bhogavati (Mike spelled it incorrectly and it was never fixed) is a land in Hindu Mythology which was home to nagas and poisoned snakes. It was a poison set named after a land of poisoned snakes. (Codenames are now picked to not have any reference to what the set is about.) The card set makes a reference to the codename on the card Vhati il-Dal. He is the second in command of the Predator, which fires upon the Weatherlight hoping to kill both Gerrard and his captain, Greven il-Vec. Greven returns to the Predator and deals with Vhati through a little story on the three cards below.


Factoid #8: The "il" and "en" In Names Means Something

Greven il-Vec. Vhati il-Dal. The Oracle en-Vec. Rath has three tribes, the Kor, the Vec and the Dal. Your name signifies two things, what tribe you belong to and whether or not you are in or out of favor with them. "en" means you are in favor and "il" means you are out of favor. Note how the bad guys are all out of favor, meaning they have been kicked out of their respective tribes. For those editing fans out there, according to the Tempest style guide "il" and "en" are supposed to be italicized. Also, the mythology of the land said there would be a person who would come and unite all the tribes, a person referred to as the Korvecdal (aka the names of all three tribes put together). The Oracle en-Vec believed Gerrard was the Korvecdal.


Factoid #9: The Kor of Tempest Are From Zendikar

Rath is an artificial plane. As such, it is populated by creatures that were brought there from other planes. Some creatures made it intact. Others got caught midway between their home planes and Rath. Those creatures caught in-between are the shadow creatures and that is why they cannot interact with normal creatures. We knew that the Kor, Vec and Dal were all from other worlds. When we were creating the world of Zendikar, someone on the creative team came up with a cool idea. What if the Kor were from Zendikar? The idea was talked about and everyone liked it so the Kor officially got a home plane.


Factoid #10: How Slivers Work (Storywise)

Much like the tribes, the Slivers are not native to Rath. They were brought there by Volrath, who was fascinated with them. Why? Because they, like Volrath, are shapeshifters. The Metallic Sliver was a construct made by Volrath to spy on the Slivers and that is why it is the only Sliver in Tempest block to only receive and not give any ability.

The most interesting thing about the Slivers is that they have the ability, when in close proximity, to share information. The Winged Sliver, for instance, has learned how to shapeshift wings. When he is near other slivers they now share that information and are able to shapeshift wings and thus fly. But if the Winged Sliver moves far enough away, they no longer share the information and now cannot do it anymore. This physical distance is not that far. In the story, the Weatherlight crew uses this knowledge to stop a Sliver attack when they travel through the Furnace of Rath as they try to sneak into Volrath's Stronghold.

It is currently unknown which plane is the Sliver's homeworld.


Factoid #11: Rath Was Named After The Card Title "Death Pits of Rath"

In design, we made an enchantment which killed any creature that was damaged. I named it Death Pits of Rath because it sounded like a cool name. I would later rename it Furnace of Rath with the same naming convention. When Mike Ryan and I were doing the Tempest story, we both said how we liked the card names and decided to just name the plane Rath. Two seconds after that happened, I said, "I have to make a card called “Apes of Rath.” And I did.


Factoid #12: Both Keyword Mechanics from Urza's Saga Were Originally In Tempest

The one other mechanic to be put into Tempest design from Mike Elliott's Astral Ways set was a mechanic called planeshift. You all probably know it better by the name "echo." Echo was a mechanic where you divided up the mana (split in half) over two turns. Richard Garfield created a mechanic he called sliding, later to be called "cycling," which allowed you to spend mana to trade cards in-hand for new cards.

When development got their hands on the overstuffed design, they pulled out a whole bunch of mechanics including echo and cycling. Mike Elliott liked both mechanics and put them in the large set the following year that he lead the design for.


Factoid #13: Two Cards Designed for Tempest Came Out Before Tempest

After the cards that triggered when drawn were removed, we spent a bunch of time trying to capture cards that had a similar feel. We ended up playing around with cards that had an "enters the battlefield" effect. (We had not yet seen Visions designs when we were doing this, so we didn't realize that they had gone down the same path). Bill Rose liked one of these creatures so much, Gravedigger, that he put it into the intro Portal product.

I made Gemstone Mine with the design name Three-Shot City of Brass. The idea was that instead of taking pain for getting any color, you just got to use it a limited number of times. Weatherlight lost a land in development and badly needed a replacement. One of the rules is that earlier sets can steal stuff from later sets, so Weatherlight took and printed Gemstone Mine.


Factoid #14: Searing Touch Used To Be Called Poke

Silly design names are an age-old tradition. Searing Touch was a red buyback spell that dealt 1 point of damage to a creature or player. Its design name was Poke and everyone had a lot of fun going "I Poke you." This was years before Facebook was even invented. Just saying.


Factoid #15: All Buyback Spells Originally Cost 2

We figured out early that if you wanted to turn a card into a cantrip, it costed two additional generic mana. So when we first costed buyback, we thought about it and said, "Well this gets you an extra card and we've figured out an extra card costs 2, so obviously buyback costs should be 2."

We played with this for a while and figured out that it was horribly broken. Yes, cantrips cost 2, but you get a random card, one that has forty-or-so percent chance of being a land. With buyback, the card isn't random. When you use Searing Touch, for example, and buy it back, the card you get is Searing Touch.

We kept adding mana to the cost of buyback spells, and kept getting shocked when it wasn't enough. At one point Whispers of the Muse had a buyback cost of 6 but, near the end, we brought it back down to 5.


Factoid #16: There Was an Alternate to the Licids That Was Close to Bestow

Mike Elliott and I each designed a cycle of cards that were sometimes creatures and sometimes creature enchantments. Mike's version were the Licids. Mine worked like this:

Flight Suit

2U

Enchant Creature

When you cast CARDNAME, you may sacrifice it to put a 2/2 blue NAME creature token into play.

Enchanted creature gets +2/+2 and has flying.

My cycle had the cards being either creatures or creature enchantments but you chose when you cast them and then they stayed as that option for the rest of the time they were on the battlefield. I realized Mike's cycle was the more complex option, so I chose to try them first to get a handle on how they worked. The Licids ending up never leaving the set.


Factoid #17: Jinxed Idol Was Originally Part of a Block Cycle

The original plan for the Jinxed trilogy was that they would all do negative things to the controller and you could sacrifice a creature to give it to an opponent. The three were designed such that if you gave all three to a player at the same time, they would kill that opponent. The items had been built into the story. Unfortunately, between Stronghold and Exodus, I got kicked off doing the story…and the Jinxed component got dropped, so the third Jinxed card was removed from Exodus.


Factoid #18: Volrath's Helm Was Supposed to Be Mindslaver

I wanted a super-splashy artifact for Tempest and I came up with one. Volrath had a helm which could let him take control of other people's minds. What if you could take control of your opponent? While I loved it, other members of R&D were skeptical. There also was a problem where you could take control of the opponent and then just have them mana-burn themselves to death. I fought hard to keep the card but, in the end, lost the fight. The art was already in so we just changed it so it gained control of a creature instead. Years later, when I was making Mirrodin, I remembered the card and tried to make it again, that time being more successful.


Factoid #19: Two of the Very First Cards I Ever Designed Ended Up in Tempest

I designed Scragnoth because I was sick of playing against control decks, and felt they needed to have a card they had trouble with. My solution seemed very straightforward, it just couldn't be countered. Duplicity was me messing around with my Johnny sensibility trying to make a card where you got a second hand. I put a whole bunch of my early designs into Tempest but these were the two that stuck. Scragnoth went on to be a card played in tournaments, while Duplicity…well, they can't all be winners.


FACTOID #20: A Story Point in the Art Almost Everyone Misses

This is the card Watchdog. Now while I'm happy with its design, I want to talk about something that I've found almost everyone misses. Look closely at the art. Do you see Tahngarth sneaking by the Watchdog? You see he jumped aboard the Predator as it was leaving after its attack on the Weatherlight and is now sneaking in to rescue Karn, Sisay, and Takara. He would later get caught but in this art he's actually being effective. I find that very few people ever notice Tahngarth.

Watchdog | Art by Richard Kane Ferguson


The Calm After the Storm

I hope you leave today knowing a little bit more about Tempest than you knew coming in. As always, I am eager to hear any feedback on today's column. You can respond via my email or through any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week as we begin Modern Master 2015 previews.

Until then, may you have fun looking back at an early project of your own.


"Drive to Work #220—Innistrad Cards, Part 4"

This is part 4 of my 5-part series on the card-by-card designs of Innistrad.

"Drive to Work #221—Innistrad Cards, Part 5"

This is part 5 of my 5-part series on the card-by-card designs of Innistrad.

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