Word on the Streets of New Capenna, Part 1

Posted in Making Magic on April 18, 2022

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.

The last two weeks, I told the story of Streets of New Capenna's design (Part 1 and Part 2), so today, I'm going to start telling some card-by-card design stories. In fact, in this column, I'm going to tell just one large story about five cards, the Charms, but I will tell more stories in the coming weeks.

The Family Charms

Brokers CharmObscura CharmMaestros Charm

Riveteers CharmCabaretti Charm

The Charms are an uncommon cycle of three-color modal cards that each give you the choice of one of three effects. Charms have a long history in the game. They were first created before Magic was even published as part of a set codenamed "Menagerie" (what would later be printed as Mirage and Visions) designed by a team of original playtesters (Bill Rose, Joel Mick, Charlie Catino, Don Felice, Howard Kahlenberg, and Elliot Siegel) in case Magic one day needed some expansions. You see, no one had any idea if Magic was going to succeed, but everyone was optimistic, so Richard asked various playtest team to design sets. (The other two sets were Ice Age which became, of course, Ice Age and Spectral Chaos, elements of which got rolled into Invasion, with the domain mechanic being the most famous thing from it.)

Charms first came about because the team realized that there were interesting effects that were too small to be worth one mana. Having the flexibility to choose between three of these effects made it valuable enough to be worth a card. Mirage and Visions each had a common monocolor cycle. They were popular enough, both amongst the players and R&D, that it's become something we've returned to many times. I'd even call them deciduous. (See my column from a few weeks ago for more on deciduousness.)

Charms showed up next in Planeshift as an uncommon cycle of three-color arcs (i.e., a color and its two allies). This was followed by a third cycle of monocolor Charms in Onslaught. Then a fourth cycle of monocolor Charms appeared in Planar Chaos using the alternate-reality color pie of that set. Shards of Alara would make a second set of arc Charms, also uncommon. Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash would make a ten-card uncommon cycle of two-color Charms. Khans of Tarkir would make the first cycle, uncommon, of wedge (i.e., a color and its two enemies) Charms. Which brings us to Streets of New Capenna.

We were making another three-color faction set, so it seemed only appropriate to make a third cycle of arc Charms, again at uncommon. Three-color Charms are straightforward to design. You usually just make an effect for each of the three colors. The bigger challenge in designing Charms is trying to keep the various Charm effects separate from one another. For example, if one of the Charms is doing a counterspell for its blue effect, you don't want any of the blue effects on the other Charms to be counterspells. This means you must design all five cards together. Changing one card can often have a ripple effect.

Charms are traditionally as inexpensive as they can be. For three-color Charms, that usually means they cost three mana, MNO (that's R&D-speak for one of each color). We also made them instants to increase the availability of effects. We have to keep in mind that we want the various modes to be different enough to provide a range of use cases. Another challenge, more tied to faction Charms, is that you want to make sure the effects in total create a card that's appropriate for the faction you're designing for, both in feel and in gameplay. Also, ideally, you want all the modes to get used and not just be a card that basically does one thing. All this is to say that designing Charms is a complex endeavor. That said, let's look at the design of each of the five Charms in the set. I'll go in WUBRG order based on the center color of each family.

Brokers Charm

Brokers Charm

We start with The Brokers, the white-centered family.

[The Force Charm] (version #1)
GWU
Instant
Choose one —
• Target creature gets +3/+3 and gains trample until end of turn.
• Destroy target tapped creature.
• Tap up to two target creatures you don't control. They don't untap during their controller's next untap step.

On the printed cards, and on most of the playtest versions, the modes are written in the order the colors appear in their mana cost. So, for Brokers Charm, as an example, the first effect is the green effect, the second is the white effect, and the third is the blue effect. This first design is a good example of the breadth you want in a design. The green ability is aggressive and creature focused, the white ability provides an answer for a potential problem, and the blue gives you a tool that helps with tempo and can temporarily answer threats. This particular card also lets the modes combo if you have more than one. The blue effect can lock down a creature to allow the white effect to destroy it. (Usually with three-color Charms, comboing with multiple copies is less of a concern.) Note that none of these three abilities made it onto this Charm or any of the other Charms.

[Obligatari Charm] (version #2)
GWU
Instant
Choose one —
• Put a +1/+1 counter on target creature you control. It fights up to one other target creature.
• Exile target enchantment.
• Tap up to two target creatures. They don't untap during their controller's next untap step.

Another common thing you'll see in Charm design is that they can change wildly between iterations. For instance, only the blue effect stayed the same between the first and second versions. As not to double up on effects, we allowed only one mode creature destruction (to make Charms in Constructed, usually one of the modes wants to permanently answer creatures in some way), so changing the green mode from a Giant Growth to a fight effect forced the white mode to change. Enchantment destruction is a great example of a mode that shines on a Charm. It's an answer that's often too narrow to run as its own card, but in the right moment, it can be invaluable.

As is often the case with Charm designs, you'll slowly find the modes you want as you experiment with different versions. For example, the white mode will change in the next iteration but will end up on the printed card.

[Broker Charm] (version #3)
GWU
Instant
Choose one —
• Target creature you control gets +1/+0 until end of turn. It deals damage equal to its power to target creature an opponent controls.
• Put a shield counter on target nonplaneswalker permanent.
• Target player shuffles their graveyard into their library.

The next version keeps the green mode as the creature answer but changes it from a fight to what R&D calls a bite (where the damage is only dealt in one direction). I assume the +1/+0 boost was to adjust the power level of the green effect. The design team was always on the lookout for where family mechanics might make sense on a Charm, so the white mode makes use of shield counters.

In the end, they decided that if they couldn't all use the faction mechanic, none should. The blue ability was something the environment needed, but that effect got shifted from blue to green and moved to the Riveteers Charm (and tweaked to how green would do it).

The printed version of the card uses the green mode from the third version, the white mode from the second version, and made a new effect for the blue mode. As you'll see later, the design team wasn't sure whether they wanted a card-draw effect in blue.

Another thing we have to watch out for is making sure that all five Charms are roughly equal in power. This can impact which effects are put together on cards.

Obscura Charm

Obscura Charm

Next up is the blue-centered family's Charm.

[Facilitators Charm] (version #1)
WUB
Instant
Choose one —
• Return target creature card with mana value 2 or less from your graveyard to the battlefield.
• Counter target creature spell.
• Target opponent reveals their hand. You choose a noncreature, nonland card from it. That player discards that card.

This Charm is the best example of how sometimes a Charm doesn't change all that much through its iteration. The white and blue modes, while not the exact final version, are the effects the printed card will use. Also of note is how the modes want to complement one another. The blue mode counters a creature because the black mode's discard effect hits noncreature cards.

[Mystemic Charm] (version #2)
WUB
Instant
Choose one —
• Return target permanent card with mana value 2 or less from your graveyard to the battlefield.
• Counter target creature or planeswalker spell.
• Target opponent reveals their hand. You choose a noncreature, nonland card from it. That player discards that card.

The second version demonstrates how sometimes a mode will keep the same effect but subtly tweak what it's doing. The white mode, for example, is still reanimation, but now instead of getting back just a cheap creature, it's able to get back any permanent. (This is something we've been pushing a little more in white lately.) The blue mode increases what it can counter. I assume this was a result of playtesting showing that the set needed more answers for planeswalkers.

The final version makes three tweaks on the white effect. It adds the restriction of multicolor. I assume this was done because the previous effect was too strong or maybe they wanted more multicolor synergy in the set. This change allowed them to strengthen it in a different way, so the mana value restriction goes from two to three.

Finally, they have the card now enter the battlefield tapped. I assume this was because they didn't want it messing with combat but needed the card to be an instant for other modes, and because of the whole cycle being instants. The black mode changed completely, becoming this card's creature answer. This then forced the blue mode to adapt, changing from being an answer for creatures to becoming an answer for spells (i.e., instants and sorceries).

Maestros Charm

Maestros Charm

The black-centered family's Charm went through a bunch of changes.

[Dominion Charm] (version #1)
UBR
Instant
Choose one —
• Draw two cards.
• Target opponent sacrifices a creature or planeswalker.
• Destroy target artifact.

This card does a good job of showing how interconnected the designs of Charms are. The blue mode was where card drawing started out, before going away to allow a black effect (see below), and then returning to be on the green-white-blue Charm, and the black mode was an earlier version of the black mode on the black-red-green Charm. Destroy artifact is an effect we love putting on Charms as it's another narrow answer. The way things played out in this set, it ended up not going on any Charm.

[Maestro Charm] (version #2)
UBR
Instant
Choose one —
• Look at the top four cards of your library. Put one into your hand and the rest into your graveyard.
• Target opponent sacrifices a nontoken creature or planeswalker.
• CARDNAME deals 4 damage to target creature or planeswalker.

The second version is where you can start seeing the final version begin to form. Both the blue mode and the red mode are the effect that the printed card uses, although not in their final form. I'm surprised to see the black mode, as usually we restrict each mode to only having one answer to creatures. I assume that's why it got removed.

The final version tweaked numbers (four cards to five and four damage to five) and found a new black mode. My best guess as to why they chose a drain for the black mode was that they wanted something a little less board altering but potentially impactful in the late game (where it's all about "the clock"—i.e., how many turns before someone dies).

Riveteers Charm

Riveteers Charm

The red-aligned family's Charm went through the most changes.

[Rumble Charm] (version #1)
BRG
Instant
Choose one —
• Target creature gains deathtouch and indestructible until end of turn.
• CARDNAME deals damage to target creature equal to the number of creatures you control.
• You gain 5 life.

Two of these three modes don't end up on any card. The red mode will move to the red-green-white Charm. Life gain is a popular Charm effect as it's simple, generally useful, but very conditional on when you want to use it. It just lost out to other effects. It gets used a lot on Charms because it has very short text.

Granting abilities to a creature is usually something we tend only to use on Charms when we're stretching for options, so it's odd seeing this as the first version. I guess granting indestructible meant this was as much a means to save your creature as it was to destroy an opponent's.

[Rumble Charm] (version #2)
BRG
Instant
Choose one —
• Return up to two target creature cards from your graveyard to your hand.
• CARDNAME deals damage to target creature equal to the amount of life its controller has lost this turn.
• Destroy target enchantment.

Another quirk of Charm design is that certain effects, while technically different, overlap enough in how they play that they can't coexist with other effects. Case in point: we wouldn't have done both "raise dead two creatures" (the black mode) and draw two cards.

Looking at the designs, I think drawing cards started on the blue-black-red Charm and then got removed so the design team could use this effect for the black mode. Note this is where I believe the enchantment destruction first showed up. It would later move to the green-white-blue Charm.

[Riveteers Charm] (version #3)
BRG
Instant
Choose one —
• Return up to two target creature cards from your graveyard to your hand.
• CARDNAME deals 4 damage to target creature or planeswalker.
• Shuffle up to three target cards from a single graveyard into their owner's library.

One of the things that's very tempting when you design Charms is to have different modes feel connected. For example, all three modes of this card are about moving a card from one zone to another (graveyard -> hand, battlefield -> graveyard, graveyard-> library). I'm also intrigued when a mode sticks around for multiple versions but doesn't make it to the final product. My guess here is that the team liked the black mode but needed the card draw in blue more. The red mode will eventually move to the blue-black-red Charm.

[Riveteers Charm] (version #4)
BRG
Instant
Choose one —
• All creatures get -3/-1 until end of turn.
• Exile the top two cards of your library. Until the end of your next turn, you may play those cards.
• Destroy target enchantment.

So, the cards got redone and the abilities were moved around. Now the team had to come up with new abilities for black and red. The red one would make it to the finished card where the black mode was one and done.

Interestingly, the green mode moved further away from the finished version. My assumption was another card needed the enchantment removal, so they went back to the last version and tweaked it.

Another thing that's cool to watch is seeing how the design team adapted an existing effect to fit the needs of the card. Having a black mode that forced the opponent to sacrifice a creature or planeswalker was too weak, for instance, so they changed it to "highest mana value" to make the mode better and serve as the efficient creature removal mode for the card.

[Riveteers Charm] (version #5)
BRG
Instant
Choose one —
• Target creature gets -3/-3 until end of turn.
• Exile the top three cards of your library. Until the beginning of your next end step, you may play those cards.
• Search your library for a basic land card and put it onto the battlefield tapped. Then shuffle.

Another thing that I haven't gotten into is having a mode fit on the card. Sometimes you must change a mode not because you don't like it but because it fits the text better of one you like, so you have to swap for a mode that takes up fewer lines (why I said we like life gain above). It looks like the Charms have eight lines of text for the modes. The black mode for this card seemed to be the hardest for the team. They tried four different things and ended up stealing an ability from another card.

Cabaretti Charm

Cabaretti Charm

The green-aligned family had a unique problem based on the fact that these three colors have the most mechanical overlaps.

[Ordained Charm] (version #1)
RGW
Instant
Choose one —
• Discard a card. If you do, draw two cards.
• Target creature you control deals damage equal to its power to target creature.
• Exile up to two target creatures you control, then return them to the battlefield under their owners' control.

For the first ability, the red mode is rummaging. Okay, uniquely red; green and white don't do that. The green mode is a bite. You'll remember this was tried out on the green-white-blue Charm. Both red and green can do this. The white mode is a flicker effect. That's white and blue, so unique to white on this Charm.

[Cabaretti Charm] (version #2)
RGW
Instant
Choose one —
• Creatures you control get +2/+0 until end of turn.
• Exile up to three cards from graveyards. You gain 1 life for each creature card exiled this way.
• Create two 1/1 green Citizen creature tokens.

The red mode changed to a team-buffing spell. Green and white both can do team buffs, but +N/+0 is a little more red. The green mode exiles cards in graveyards to gain life. Both green and white can do this. The white mode makes 1/1 green and white creature tokens. The creature tokens are green and white because that's what they are on other cards. This ability is a little more white than green or red, but all three can make 1/1 creature tokens.

[Cabaretti Charm] (version #3)
RGW
Instant
Choose one —
• Creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn. Untap them.
• Create two 1/1 green and white Citizen creature tokens.
• CARDNAME deals damage to target creature equal to the number of creatures you control.

Here's where things start getting weird. The red mode isn't red. Red doesn't tend to pump toughness (or at least pumps power more than toughness) nor untap creatures (well, other than before temporarily gaining control of them), although green and white can do this. The green mode is now making the tokens, because as I said above, any of the three colors can do that. The white mode deals damage based on how many creatures you have. That's an ability we moved into white recently as it's something red can do but usually isn't something red needs to do. White's the "make an army" color, so we've let white have access to this.

Now maybe these aren't in the right order. The first ability could be green or white, the second ability any color, and the last ability red or white. My best guess is that they were having issues balancing other things and were using this card as the one with the most flexibility.

[Cabaretti Charm] (version #4)
RGW
Instant
Choose one —
• Target creature gets +2/+2 and gains flying and vigilance until end of turn.
• Create a 1/1 green and white Citizen creature token and a 1/1 red Devil creature token with "When this creature dies, it deals 1 damage to any target."
• CARDNAME deals damage equal to the number of creatures you control to target creature or planeswalker.

Now I'm just getting confused. These clearly aren't in the right order. The first mode is white and neither red nor green. The second mode I guess is red, as making Devils specifically is red. The third mode is red or white. Where's the green mode? Maybe they thought of it as the first one and just said flying is okay because the card is also white?

Nonetheless, this is the card where things got mucky. Luckily, they figured it out for the printed card. The red mode was the damage based on number of creatures and planeswalkers. The green mode is a creature pump granting a green keyword. And white makes the creature tokens. It's interesting to note that this Charm is the only one where one color, white, can almost do all the modes (with granting trample being the one thing it can't do).

Street Closing

It was fun diving in deep on just one cycle. As you can see, there are several moving parts and issues to worry about, so while R&D likes adding Charms to sets, they require a lot of work. As always, I'm eager for any feedback on today's column, on the Charms, or on Streets of New Capenna itself. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok ).

Join me next week for more Streets of New Capenna card-by-card design stories. I promise to talk about cards other than Charms.

Until then, may you find these Charms as Charming as I do.

 
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