I hope you all had a fun time at the Worldwake Prerelease. The set is finally public, so it's time for my time-honored card-by-card story column, where I walk through the set and just talk about whatever design stories pop in my head. So without any further ado, let's jump into Worldwake.
You'd think that we would run out of tweaks of basic effects. Take bounce (a.k.a. return target BLAH to its owner's hand). We do multiple bounce spells every set, always with at least one at common. Sure, some of them get to use the keyword of the block, but not all of them. Multiple times a year we have to come up with a simple tweak. Basic logic seems to imply that sooner or later we're just going to run out. Yet time and again, we keep finding simple tweaks we haven't done. I'm so happy when I create a card like Æther Tradewinds. It's simple and we haven't done it yet. While I enjoy creating crazy out of the box ideas, it's often the simple but undone idea that makes the designer in me the happiest.
I knew that Zendikar was going to have a lot of lands that came into play tapped, so I wanted to make a card that undid that effect. My first pass was a one-drop creature that said, "All your permanents come into play untapped." It had two problems. First, it seemed to read like a reminder of a game rule. In the file, someone added "And all your creatures have summoning sickness" as a joke.
Second, the text had some rules-related issue. I don't remember what they are, because often when Gottlieb goes on about how some rule doesn't technically work, I think about tasks I still have to do that day. He agreed that I could have my permanents untap as a trigger when they entered the battlefield.
Worldwake lead designer Ken Nagle liked my little guy but felt that the ability should be spread to all colors, not just green. Ken's first attempt to do this was a land with this ability. It tapped for 1 and entered the battlefield (so it could untap itself), which some R&D members felt was confusing. The land version proved to be what R&D calls "bah-roken." Ken's next attempt was a one-drop artifact, and that one stuck.
Lifelink and deathtouch have no real synergy, but somehow the one word having "life" in it and the other "death" seems to keep exciting people. (I'm sure Vampire Nighthawk's power level isn't going to reverse this trend.) Hmm, if only we'd named double strike "death strike."
I was nervous when this card was first suggested, as I consider Donate a mistake design-wise. A lot of other R&D members liked this card and said that it wouldn't be a problem. I just want to go on record in case some crazy thing happens that I was nervous about printing this card.
Back on May 27, 2002, I wrote an article for Token Week entitled Tokens of My Affection. In it I laid out a bunch of rules for tokens. Here was one such rule:
We don't create cards that produce more than one type of token. If a card makes 2/2 token creatures, for instance, that is all it will ever make. The reason we do this is to avoid confusion. In Judgment design, we actually experimented with a flashback spell called Cone of Creatures that created a 1/1 squirrel, a 2/2 bear, and a 3/3 elephant. But playtesting showed players kept confusing the tokens for one another, so the card was scrapped.
Cone of Creatures was actually much older than Judgment. The card was designed after Cone of Flame (where the card gets its jokey design name), so that puts it sometime during the Tempest or Urza's Saga blocks. You'll remember my stories about Moose and Squirrel (the card that ended up as Ambassador Oak) so you can see the idea of creating cards that make multiple creatures has been a passion of mine.
Moreso than just multiple creatures, I love token creatures. There is probably no R&D member more in love with tokens than myself—so much so that token making is one of the things that has been lumped into the "a Rosewater design will always have as many of this effect as Mark can squeeze in" category. You'll notice that most blocks that I do have some strong token subtheme.
The real question, though, isn't why I designed a card like Bestial Menace, but why it's in Worldwake after I said eight years ago that it breaks a fundamental rule about token design. There are several answers.
#1 – The addition of token cards in booster packs has greatly increased the use of actual cards to mark what token creatures are. With this technology, the confusion present eight years ago has partially subsided.
#2 – We break our own rules. From time to time we do something we don't normally do because there is great joy among our players when we do the unexpected. Note that we don't break rules for no reason. We tend to break them when we feel there is value in making an exception. What's the reason for this card? Why was now the time to finally print Bestial Menace? I'll be honest that I'm unsure. It combines well with a bunch of other cards in the block. Probably the reason is that there were enough newer R&D members, who weren't around the last time it was submitted, who felt it crossed a threshold of fun and were willing to give it the thumbs-up. Yes, that does mean that one of the reasons we break our own rules is because we believe it is worth it in the fun the card has to offer.
One final note: Most of my longtime pet cards tend to get in sets other than the ones I lead. Bestial Menace was put into the file not by me but by Kelly Digges, who had created the card completely independently, unaware that I had been trying to get it into files for over seven years. (The history of Magic design is littered with parallel designs.) I saw it in the file and thought that Kelly was making another effort to get Cone of Creatures printed, not realizing that Kelly had never heard of it.
Ah, Convertible Turtle. This card had more of a pre-release life than I expected. Often in my article I will make a throwaway reference to some as-yet unreleased card because I have feedback that all of you enjoy when I do so. I did not expect the buzz this card would get. I always get worried when that happens, because it is hard for any card to live up to expectations.
Why did this card tickle me so? One reason was the name. I have learned over the years the value of a good, fun playtest name. Calcite Snapper owes its existence to its design name. It took on a life of its own in design, and when the card was killed in development, instead of being shoved off to the garbage file in Multiverse (our Magic database) it was moved to the next set.
The other reason I liked this card is that I enjoy power / toughness switching. It's one of the things I enjoy that few other R&D members do. In fact, whenever someone puts a power / toughness switching card in a set, there usually is a Multiverse comment saying, "For Rosewater."
Calcite Snapper started life as a 2U 1/4 with landfall swapping its power and toughness. The biggest knock against power / toughness switching is that it can cause confusion with other power and/or toughness–changing effects. To prevent this and power up the card a little, Mike Turian (Wordwake's lead developer) added shroud (and recosted it to 1UU). With that simple change, Convertible Turtle found its niche and went on to see print—as a Turtle no less.
I hope Calcite Snapper sees much love as we release it into the wild.
This card was in Zendikar design for most of the design. It was handed over in the Zendikar design handoff. It was killed in Zendikar development for reasons other than a dislike for the card, so the Worldwake team put it back in. I consider one of the roles of the second and third set design teams to catch good cards that fall between the cracks in earlier sets.
One of the things I keep track of is what Un- cards make it into "real" black-bordered Magic. Comet Storm is plus one by my count. Huh? Well, you might have remembered it as The Ultimate Nightmare of Wizards of the Coast® Customer Service.
Yeah, yeah, I'm sure some of the more rules-savy readers will point out that it's not identical, but it's pretty close. Close enough for me anyways.
Colorless Eldrazi spells? What are those? What's going on here?
This card exists because some in R&D are big fans of foreshadowing. Clearly, I'm one of them. I put Spike Drone in Tempest and made the Kaldra cycle in Mirrodin block (to be fair, the entire Mirrodin design team made it).
What does this card mean? I'm not saying, but I will say that the question might be answered in an upcoming set.
For a long time, this cards "enters the battlefield" ability was "put the top three cards of target player's library into his or her graveyard." I loved it. I had endless fun playing it with Hedron Crab. Unfortunately, the ability was killed in development for being too good. Development does not kill a lot of mill effects, so when they do, it's best to listen.
So when did we figure out we wanted to do a planeswalker with four abilities? The answer is about a day after we figured out that most planeswalkers would have three abilities. In fact, when we first tested the planeswalker card frame, we asked for a four-ability planeswalker frame to be created as well, as we knew it was someplace we wanted to go and we needed to make sure the card layout could handle it.
The biggest challenge actually wasn't doing it, but not doing it. Here's the design issue. We like planeswalkers. You all like planeswalkers. They are a cornerstone of our story, the key to expanding into other medium (such as video games—check out Duels of the Planeswalkers on Xbox LIVE Arcade if you somehow haven't yet) and a big part of our marketing. As I explained in my columns on their creation, Planeswalk on the Wild Side (Part I & Part II), we created the planeswalker card type because we felt that there was no way to make them as important as we wanted without integrating them into the game itself. That meant planeswalkers had to be able to enter the battlefield.
While I am extremely happy with the design for planeswalkers, there was one small design issue. The vein for planeswalker design is smaller than that for many other areas of the game. That meant that we had to be careful how quickly we sped through it. As such, I have taken a hard stand that we have to go slowly with planeswalker evolution. We have numerous ideas for cool things we can do with planeswalkers, but I have stressed that we need to slow-roll it as it would be very easy to burn out all sorts of good ideas in a short amount of time. That is why it took us three years to do something that we knew we wanted to do from the start. Other evolutions are coming but be aware that we are going to be doing them slowly. Also, while we will do four-ability planeswalkers again, please be aware that our default will always be three, and that four will be something special that we use sparingly.
When I designed Allies in Zendikar, I was aware that there were several things we could do that would shake them up a bit. One was creating an Ally with flash. The other was creating a card that could get multiple Allies onto the battlefield at the same time. Originally, these were two different cards. The design version of Join the Ranks was a 1W sorcery. I argued it was just Raise the Alarm substituting instant for sorcery (a downgrade) and Allies for soldiers (an upgrade). Playtesting by development showed that it was a bit stronger than that, so they decided to up the cost. To help offset the higher cost, they changed it into an instant.
I talked a little about the landfall instants last week, but there were a few more things to say about their design. Design has to be good at creating new mechanics, but an equal important skill is fleshing out the design space of an existing mechanic. I call this capacity "stretching"—that is, the ability to take a mechanic and figure out where it can expand. Part of block planning is to sketch out how each mechanic can be stretched and figure out where to put each piece.
When stretching, there are a number of easy tricks to expand the mechanic. This cycle came from one of these tricks. (Stretching seems like a good topic for a future column. Somebody just remind me, okay?) Often a mechanic is introduced on just one card type, creature being the most common. One way to stretch a mechanic is to ask what other card types could have it.
Landfall started as an ability on permanents. The obvious question I asked was whether we could put landfall on instants and sorceries. The obvious problem is that all Zendikar landfall abilities triggered when a land entered the battlefield under your control. There is no way to put a "when a land enters the battlefield" triggered ability on an instant or sorcery. This meant that if we used landfall, it would have to be in a different context.
While thinking about this problem, I thought back to a cycle of cards I created in Time Spiral.
This cycle of cards were all instants that got a boost if you played them during your main phase. Thinking about them, I wondered if perhaps the answer was to have spells that improved if you've had a land enter the battlefield that turn. Rather than looking forward, they looked back. Landfall was already an ability word, so tweaking it slightly wasn't a problem. (It's a lot harder to make a keyword work slightly differently.) And thus, the landfall spells were born.
This card's existence pre-dated the color-hosing Trap cycle it ended up in. I liked the idea of a Trap that redirected spells, as that seemed like a cool magic Trap. I tried a number of different Trap conditions, such as your opponent casting more than one spell, casting a spell on your turn, or targeting your spells. The trigger turned into casting blue spells when Ken synched it up with the color-hosing cycle of Traps.
Another love of mine is flickering, a.k.a. exiling something then bringing it back in the same turn. (Why do I have so many pet mechanics? Because I design a lot of Magic cards.) How can we combine the "lands matter" theme with flickering? By flickering lands, of course. And not just any flickering, but insta-flickering—that is, exiling it and returning it right away. I decided to make it an activated effect of a creature because flickering a single land once just didn't seem nearly as fun.
I often tell stories about how I had a pet card that wasn't as loved by everyone else in the pit. Ruin Ghost is that card for Worldwake. For some reason, it was not as beloved by others as it was by me. One fellow R&D member, Mark Globus, did share my love, though. The two of us fought hard to keep the card in the set, and we were triumphant. At one point the card was pushed up to rare, but we argued that it had so much play value in Limited that we got it pushed back down to uncommon.
Sometimes all you do to make a cool card, is take an old cool card and tweak it. This card owes its existence to a card from Tempest, Mana Severance.
Normally, you care about your spells, so once you have enough land, you can just get rid of the rest. Zendikar block was about land, so the opposite effect seemed interesting. The card was originally priced at 1U to match Mana Severance, but development figured out that the cheaper version caused problems.
This card was originally titled "Giant Boulder Trap." I think Ken made a mock-up of it with a photo of Indiana Jones running away from the giant boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The name changed, but the basic design never did. Ken had originally designed this for Zendikar, but I felt it made more sense as a Trap for an expansion set, as it seemed like a twist to me. This might have been the very first card Ken put into the Worldwake file.
Part of making a "When Lands Attack" theme involves making lands capable of attacking. Another part is making cards that play nicely with lands that want to attack. Terra Eternal is one such card.
Folding the Cards
That's all I got for today. I hope my little jaunt was fun and possibly educational.
Join me next week when I get all animated.
Until then may you take the time to stop and smell the cards. (Kind of inky.)