Under Besiege, Part 1

Posted in Making Magic on January 17, 2011

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.

Welcome to the first Mirrodin Besieged Preview Week. It's time to take the Mirrodin/Phyrexia conflict to the next level. That level, for those not paying attention, is war. Phyrexia has been spending years (and I mean years) slowly advancing its plans to take over Mirrodin. Well, the Mirrans were bound to figure it out eventually. The big question is: Do the Mirrans have what it takes to stop the Phyrexians? Mirrodin Besieged is the war over the future of the world. "Action", the spring 2011 set, will answer the question of who wins. (The third set will be called Mirrodin Pure if the Mirrans win, and New Phyrexia if the Phyrexians win.)

Today I'm going to start walking you through the set and explain what you'll be seeing when you crack open a Mirrodin Besieged booster pack. Also, I have a nifty preview card for you, which I'll show off when the time is right. If you don't want to know what's in the set before the Prerelease, and seriously hats off to you, I urge you to wait to read this column until after the Prerelease as there's some previewing happening today.

    Design Me Up

Before we dive into what the set is, I want to start with who designed it. I always start my previews by introducing the design team so why break with tradition now? Meet the Mirrodin Besieged design team:

Mark Gottlieb (lead). One of my jobs as the Head Designer is to find and train designers to lead sets. Usually this happens as follows. Someone says they are interested in design. We most often start them by having them fill design holes to get a general sense if they have any design chops. If they do, we eventually stick them on a design team. They work their way up on various design teams becoming one of the major contributors. Then, when I think they're ready, I find a spot for them to lead design a small set. While I summed this up in a few sentences, it takes a long time. Also, there aren't that many sets designed so finding a slot can often take time.

The reason I bring this all up is that there's a designer I've been grooming for a long time. He's been on numerous teams and has become a key player on any set he's on. That person is, of course, Mark Gottlieb. Mark has a very odd mind in that he tends to separate his design side from his development/rules manager side. I watched many times when he'd design a card in a meeting and then tell us that the Rules Manager (at the time him) was going to hate the card.

Flashback a few years. We were putting together the design teams for the Scars of Mirrodin block. I knew I was designing Scars and I wanted Ken for "Action" (for why, you'll have to wait until I talk about the "Action" design team in a few months), but we didn't have anyone for Mirrodin Besieged. (Brian Tinsman, the third fulltime designer in Ramp;D that does work on Magic, was busy designing Rise of the Eldrazi.) Aaron asked me who I'd like for the Mirrodin Besieged lead. I said I had a designer in mind, someone who I felt had earned the opportunity to lead design a set.

I'm not sure how many of you know this but one of Mark's hobbies is editing puzzles. (It used to be his job before he came to Wizards.) Mark also greatly enjoys solving puzzles as well. Leading a Magic design is much like creating a very elaborate puzzle so I knew Mark would be right at home.

It would be very easy to assume that a Rules Manager is very left brain and a designer is very right brain so that the two would not mix, but Mark has proved that is far from the case. (Matt Tabak, the current Rules Manager, interestingly, is on the design team for "Rattle", the winter 2012 set, and he too designed some cool cards.) Mark is very imaginative and approaches design from interesting vantage points. I always liked having him on my design teams and I had every faith in his ability to lead his own set. As you will see, my faith was well placed.

Gregory Marques.Greg's first time on a design team is one of the asterisks in the history books. You see not only did Greg not work for Wizards when he was on the Fifth Dawn design team (excluding the early days the only other design team member to never have worked at Wizards to be on a design team was Sean Fletcher on Shadowmoor) but he is the only design team member to ever contribute completely through email.

Flash-forward several years and Greg was working in Wizards Ramp;D interestingly completely independent of his work on Fifth Dawn. In fact, I was only asked about my opinion of Greg after the powers that be were already interested in hiring him. Greg, by the way, no longer works at Wizards as he has moved on to work for another game company.

Greg is a very imaginative game designer. The reason he caught my attention way back when (you can read about it here in the article Greg wrote about getting onto the Fifth Dawn design team) was that I loved the way his mind worked. He asked questions that few game designers would ask and it always results in a very fresh take on whatever game he is working on.

One last thing about Greg. I have a theory. It's a little out there, so stay with me. I believe Greg is a time traveler. Here is my proof. When Apple announced that the Beatles were finally coming to iTunes (I don't have time for the story but it involves Apple Records and a promise by Steve Jobs that Apple would never get into the music business), they used the following picture:

Now let's compare Greg alongside with George Harrison.

Yes, I believe Mirrodin Besieged had a time-traveling Beatle on it. I'm working on getting John Lennon for "Friends", the fall set of 2013. (I'm thinking of a new creature type for blue—meanie.) Mind you, it's just a working theory.

I had a great time working with Greg and wish him all the luck on future endeavors.

Ken Nagle. Ken was put onto the team because he was the lead designer for "Action" and I like to make sure that each designer in a block, especially small sets, is very familiar with the block. To accomplish this, we always try to put them on an earlier set. Ken was unable to be on the Scars of Mirrodin design team so Mirrodin Besieged was the only other option.

One of my recent joys has been getting a chance to judge with Ken on The Great Designer Search 2. We have two guest judges every week, but Ken and I are the regular judges. (Seriously, if you care at all about learning about Magic design, you should be reading the GDS2.) It has been a blast getting to see what Ken has to say because it allows me to see how far he's come since four years ago when he was on the other side of the fence. If I have a protégé in Ramp;D it's Ken, so it's been great to watch him grow as a designer.

The best part of having Ken on a design team is two things. One he'll design a lot of cards. Two, he will strive to make your ideas the best they can be. He's not afraid of challenging ideas or cards or mechanics and putting them through their paces. When Ken signs off you know you have something interesting.

Mark Rosewater. I'm on most expansion design teams anyway, but whenever a designer has his first lead I always make sure to be on the team to just be there as an aide. I try hard not to lead the design but to just be around giving insights so that the lead has things to think about. As the lead for Scars of Mirrodin, I also had a lot of knowledge on how everything had been set up that Mirrodin Besieged had to follow up on.

Mike Turian. Last week I talked about the importance of developers and how I liked to have one on every design team. I believe this was Mike's first design team. I'm surprised it took so long to get him on one. Mike and I have worked on numerous projects together. For example, he was the lead developer and I was the lead designer for Scars of Mirrodin. Mike is a joy to work with for numerous reasons.

One, he's just fun. Mike is very enthusiastic and upbeat. You can tell that he loves what he does and his energy is contagious. Two, he knows his stuff and it's nice having someone with a lot of experience on your team. Three, Mike is one of the best Magic players I've ever met (and I've met the vast majority of people you could claim are "one of the best in the history of the game"). It's no fluke that he's in the Hall of Fame. His insight is always interesting and valuable.

Mike has since moved from Ramp;D to Organized Play where he is doing all sorts of cool things, some of which you'll get to see soon and some you'll have to wait on. Mike used to sit in the desk across from mine and I miss seeing him every day. He was definitely one of the people that makes working in the Pit so much fun.

    War. What Is It Good For? (Not to Disagree with Edwin Starr But Apparently It Makes for Good Magic Design)

One of the things that I've been pushing for in our block designs is to make sure that every set has a clear role in the block. MirrodinBeseiged's role was very clear. Scars of Mirrodin is all about the set-up. We return to a world we've been to before, and we learn that something we didn't pay attention to last time we were here has been festering into what looks like a major problem for Mirrodin, even if the Mirrans haven't clued into the threat yet.

Mirrodin Besieged is when all hell breaks loose. The Mirrans learn about the Phyrexians as the Phyrexians begin making their final push to take over the plane of Mirrodin. It's time for war. "Action" is the outcome of this conflict as we see what happens once one side wins.

What exactly does it mean to be a set about a war? Magic sets are always about conflict. Usually someone is fighting with someone else. How could the design team make this set stand out from the general fighting that goes on? The first thing the team did was made sure there were two clear sides. If you're going to create a war, it means you have to create sides to the war. The conflict is represented by the people (and other creatures) fighting the war.

There were several ways to do this:

    1. Watermarks

Here's a little factoid. MirrodinBesieged didn't have watermarks because Scars of Mirrodin needed them. Scars had watermarks because Besieged needed them. All Scars had to do was introduce the idea that the Phyrexians were on Mirrodin. It wasn't crucial that the players knew exactly what percentage they made up. Scars merely had to convey that the threat existed. Besieged, on the other hand, needed to convey a sense of war and the key to that was getting a feel of a set divided.

Besieged had to not only show off that there were two sides but do so in a way that didn't tip the story. We knew we wanted to make the outcome a key element of the third set but that meant that either side had to be capable of winning. To do that, we wanted two equal sides. To convey two equal sides, we needed watermarks. Putting them in Scars would help us sell the message that the Phyrexians are growing in strength so it was a nice addition, but the reason we needed them stemmed from the needs of Besieged.

    2. Faction Definition

One of the nice things about the second set is that a lot of the work needed for it was already done by the first set. To convey a war, we need to convey two sides and to do that we have to make two sides that feel like opposite sides of a conflict. The key to this was to establish two very different factions, each with their own agenda. Scars did so much work laying out the groundwork that all the Besieged team had to do was follow their lead.

Since this was a war though, it was important that each side knew who they were and knew who the other side was. As you get to see the set you'll see that not only are Mirrodin and Phyrexia fighting but they are specifically fighting one another. In Ramp;D speak there are Trace Busters and Trace Buster Busters.

I promise more on this next week as I start to explain how Besieged evolved from Scars.

    3. New Mechanics

Another way to help spell out two sides was to take a part of the focus on the new set and divvy up the key elements between the two sides. We know from experience that one of the things players are most interested in when a new set is released is what the new mechanics are. To help spell out the two sides, we ended up creating two mechanics and then giving one to the Mirrans and one to the Phyrexians.

It was important though that the mechanics conveyed the sense we were trying to get of each side. Phyrexia is just continuing on the plan that it has had in progress since last we were in Mirrodin. They're slowly infecting the plane. From a Phyrexian point of view, they are a certain percentage from being done. Each new possession takes them one step closer to their goal. The end state to them is already a foregone conclusion.

The Mirrans, on the other hand, have just realized that they are under attack. They had no idea that an invasion had begun many, many years ago. The Mirrans are coming together to stop a threat bigger than their own internal squabbles. To match the two sides we felt we needed a mechanic for each that captured what they represent. Note that Scars already started creating the mechanic definition so Besieged's job was to continue along this path.

Note that for the Mirrans there is a big change. In Scars, they were unaware that their entire world was under attack. In Besiged, they are aware and taking the fight to their enemy. This meant that we wanted a Mirran mechanic that represented their desire to strike hard and fast to defeat the enemy. The Mirrans are in the greatest fight of their life and while they are a bit behind (Phyrexia's been at this a little longer), failure is not something they do.

The mechanic started with a name—warring. Even before it had a mechanic, it had a name. The mechanic had to convey that the Mirrans were in a war and were planning to win it. Mark Globus, who wasn't on the design team but whenever we have holes to fill we take ideas from anyone who has one, came up with the first version of warring:

Warring N - If all creatures you control attack, CARDNAME gets +N/+N until end of turn.

For those of you that notice this kind of thing, the first warring mechanic was negative exalted. It gave the creature a power/toughness bonus if everyone attacked.

Globus brought this mechanic to me and while I liked what the mechanic was trying to do, I felt it was missing a few things. First, I felt that warring wanted to help not a single creature but the whole "army." Second, there were many reasons in Scars that you wouldn't want to attack with every creature. Third, I like creating cross faction synergy and I felt that cards that boosted power of attackers could work well with infect.

So I took Globus's mechanic and turned it on its ear (which is funny as it's exalted turned on its ear—oddly this didn't turn it back into exalted). Instead of "other creatures attacking" boosting the creature with warring, I had the warring creature boost the other attackers. Not only did this hit all of the goals but it also freed up the player to attack just with the creatures they chose. Sure, warring might encourage them to attack with as many creatures as they could, but it didn't force them to attack with a creature that they didn't want to attack with.

For those that haven't seen it yet, here's Hero of Bladehold, a pretty saucy card with battle cry, what warring became. (Note this isn't my preview card for the day.)

For the Phyrexian side we were much more interested in showing the Phyrexians doing what they do best, slowly warping the world in their image. The mechanic for the Phyrexians came about during Scars design. My team (Mark Gottlieb, Alexis Janson, Erik Lauer, Matt Place, Mark Globus, Nate Heiss and myself) spent a lot of time coming up with different ways for Phyrexians to infect Mirrodin and it's inhabitants. One idea we really liked is that Phyrexia warped something that we felt was an iconic part of Mirrodin, its Equipment.

Living weapon was called walkabout in design. The first one was very simple:

Walkabout Sword
Artifact – Equipment
Walkabout - CARDNAME comes into play attached to a 0/0 Spirit artifact creature token.
Equipped creature gets +1/+1
Equip 2

The flavor was that the Phyrexian infected Equipment starting taking on a life of it's own. The 0/0 Spirit creature token was just the easiest way to mechanically make it work. (Yes, we explored a 1/1 creature token but it had some problems—more on this in my in depth article during Living Weapon Week.) The Spirit token changed to a Germ token for creative reasons and the creature token changed from an artifact creature to a black creature during development because it was too good with metalcraft. (Getting two artifacts with one card is pretty strong when the goal is to just get three artifacts in play.)

My preview card for today is an Equipment with living weapon called Bonehoard.

Click here to see it in all its glory.

Ach Hans, run! It's the Bonehoard!

I talked about how in Scars design I had four words I used to represent the Phyrexians. One of the words was "relentless." This mechanic came from us trying to get this feel across. Kill the Bonehoard. Fine, you can just turn another creature into it. How do you stop a Lhurgoyf that just keeps coming at you no matter how many Terrors you throw at it?

I'm not sure you do. And that felt mighty Phyrexian to us.

    "I Love It When A Plane Comes Together"

Scars block tells a story and Besieged is Act II of this story. Next week I'll talk about all we had to do to evolve the plane of Mirrodin from where it was in Act I to where it needed to be in Act II. As you will see there were a lot of bits and pieces to be managed. So join me next week when we continue the road to war and I start showing you how the Phyrexian threat keeps evolving and how the Mirrans are doing everything they can to stop it.

Until then, may all your conflicts have such clear sides.

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