Zendikar Rising Vision Design Handoff Document

Posted in Making Magic on September 28, 2020

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.

When vision design finishes, the lead vision designer produces a handoff document meant to explain their vision and walk through what they've done for the Set Design team. These are the metaphorical blueprints that the Set Design team will use to go build the set. I showed the vision design handoff for Throne of Eldraine (Part 1 and Part 2) and Ikoria, and they went over well, so I figured you all might like to see the one for Zendikar Rising.

Before we jump in, let me just say a few things. One, I'll be making asides in the boxes on the right. Anything that isn't an aside is the actual document. Two, a lot can change during set design, so when things deviate, I'll explain why and how they changed in set design. Three, as this is an internal document, at one point I talk about how this set impacts future sets, but that isn't public knowledge yet, so I blacked it out. (Sorry.) I hope you all enjoy this truly behind-the-scenes document.

"Diving" Vision Design Handoff Document

Vision Design Team

  • Mark Rosewater (lead)
  • Andrew Veen
  • Erik Lauer
  • George Fan
  • Tom Ross

"Diving" is a return to Zendikar. Here are the parameters we chose to work under:

  1. We're revisiting "adventure world" Zendikar, reminiscent of original Zendikar and Worldwake.
  1. There will be no Eldrazi, but there will be a nod to the impact of them having been there.
  1. The set will lean into "adventure world" tropes.

The key goal for the set's vision is to try and recapture what made the audience fall in love with Zendikar before the Eldrazi escaped and shifted the focus of the plane. A big part of this is steering back into the rich top-down trope space of "adventure world."

A World of Adventure

Here are the mechanics the Vision Design team created:

Party

Kor Blademaster
1W
Creature – Kor Ally Warrior
First strike
Whenever Kor Blademaster attacks, it gets +1/+1 for each creature in your party until end of turn. (Your party consists of up to one each of Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, and Wizard.)
1/1

Loot Drop
2U
Instant
Draw a card for each creature in your party. (Your party consists of up to one each of Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, and Wizard.)

Party is a mechanic representing an adventure party gathering together. It's tribal, but rather than wanting you to have a lot of the same creature type, you're trying to get one of each of four class creature types (Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, and Wizard, specifically). Party is the mechanic that goes on Allies. Every Ally is one of the four class types, and every creature with one of the four class types is an Ally. (We're currently experimenting with the relevant class being listed last, after Ally, to be easier to locate on the card.)

For each color (other than green, which is handled differently) one of the four creature types is primary, secondary, tertiary, or absent. Currently, if the class is primary in a color, it has three commons, two uncommons, and a various number of rares of that class. If it is secondary, it has two commons, two uncommons, and various rares of that class. If it is tertiary, it has at least one common and one uncommon of that class. If it is absent, you have no cards of that class. Green isn't primary in any color but has a presence in all four classes.

Here's the breakdown:

White
Primary: Cleric
Secondary: Warrior
Tertiary: Wizard
Absent: Rogue

Blue
Primary: Wizard
Secondary: Rogue
Tertiary: Cleric
Absent: Warrior

Black
Primary: Rogue
Secondary: Cleric
Tertiary: Warrior
Absent: Wizard

Red
Primary: Warrior
Secondary: Wizard
Tertiary: Rogue
Absent: Cleric

Green
Primary: None
Secondary: None
Tertiary: All
Absent: None

Each class is thus focused in a non-green two-color pair:

Cleric (white-black)
Rogue (blue-black)
Warrior (red-white)
Wizard (blue-red)

We also worked to make each class have mechanics that feel connected to that class. In the current file, Clerics tend to do spells that positively affect you, Rogues do sneaky things that tend to hurt the opponent, often tied to dealing combat damage, Warriors do effects that help increase your ability to win combats, and Wizards tend to do spells that hurt the opponent.

More so than our individual choices, the most important thing is that if a player looks at the card in isolation, its flavor is evocative of its class. We might want to consider watermarks for the classes.

There are several different types of party cards:

 

 

 

 

 

Party Fillers
These are creature that are of one of the four party classes. In "Diving," 100% of these creatures will be Allies. These cards do not care about your party, they are just members of the party.

Party Scalers
These are creatures that are both of one of the four classes and have an effect that scales based on the number of members in your party. These effects are always either triggered (most often as an "enters the battlefield" trigger or an attack trigger) or activated. Because the effect is on a creature of the class, it will, at worst, be "set at 1."

Party-Scaling Spells
These are like the creatures but appear on spells, meaning they are "set at 0" such that they can at times be useless if you have no relevant classes on the battlefield. These start at uncommon.

Party Threshold Spells
These are spells that have a boosted effect if you have two or more party members on the battlefield. These mostly show up at uncommon.

Partycraft
These are a common cycle of instants and sorceries that are one mana cheaper for each member of your party. They all cost four and a color, allowing you to cast them for one mana with a full party.

Full-Party Members
These are creatures that have a scaling effect but create a better version of that effect if you have a full party (aka all four relevant creature types). These appear only at rare.

The party mechanic was one of the two top-scoring mechanics in our playtest of future mechanics. (The other being the multi-faced lands that I'll talk about next.)

Modal Double-Faced Cards (MDFCs)

Watery Field
Land
T: Add W
/////
Sunny Pond
Land
T: Add U

Stop Spell
1UU
Instant
Counter target spell.
/////
Lagoon
Land
CARDNAME enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add U

These cards are a cross between double-faced cards and split cards. They are cards with two different faces, each of which can be played (unlike traditional double-faced cards where you can only play one side and transform to the second side). All three non-Core Standard-legal sets of next year ("Diving," "Equestrian," and "Fencing") will have MDFCs. "Diving's" particular execution will be MDFCs that are always a land on one side.

The lands are always lands that tap for a single mana of one color but do not have the basic land type (to keep them from being strictly better than basic lands). The common and uncommon MDFC cards have lands that enter the battlefield tapped, while rare has some lands that enter tapped and some that enter untapped.

Here are the current cycles in the set:

Common

Land (ETBT)/Instant or Sorcery (These are situational spells that often don't make decks.)

Land (ETBT)/Creature (Creatures for mid- to late game.)

 

Uncommon

Land (ETBT)/Instant or Sorcery (Quirky card designs)

Land (ETBT)/Creature (Anti-color creatures with "hexproof from <color>.")

Rare

Land/Land (These are the dual lands, and there are currently all ten two-color combinations.)

Land (ETBT)/Spell (These are Constructed slots with fringe Constructed cards.)

The current plan is for the commons and uncommons to be on one double-faced sheet and rare and mythic rare to be on another. We suggest having at least one slot dedicated to MDFCs.

 

Whether all MDFCs go in that slot or just the commons and uncommons is still to be decided.

Finally, there are some rules issues still to be worked out. The cards can be cast as either side and exist on the stack and on the battlefield as the chosen side. The outstanding rules issue revolves around what the cards are in other zones.

I lean toward them functioning like split cards where they are both cards, but there are some potential rules issues with this version. Eli and I are working with the digital teams from MTGO and MTGA to figure out if the split card version is possible. The fallback is a double-faced version where there's a dominant side that is what the card is in all other zones. If we go down that path, I would lean toward the dominant side Note from the editor: No really, we removed this text. You can't see it. It isn't ready for you. You may find out soon enough, but now is not the time.

I have been working with editing and the project architect to figure out how much information exists on each side about the other side. Things currently seem to be in favor of providing the name and mana cost, and then the card type and power/toughness if it's a creature.

Landfall

Landfall is synonymous with Zendikar, so it felt appropriate to bring back. We experimented a little trying new tweaks with it but ended up keeping it as players know it. There are a few cards that create an enchantment-like effect that last until end of turn. I'm not sure if this will read to players as something new though. The thing we discussed with Erik was being able to make cards that felt to be at a power level similar to original Zendikar as opposed to Battle for Zendikar. Erik felt that without fetch lands in the environment, this should be possible.

Titan

Remnant of Force
1U
Instant
Titan 8 (You may cast this spell for its titan cost rather than its mana cost.)
Return target nonland permanent to its owner's hand. If this spell's titan cost was paid, also draw two cards.

The nature of a land-based set is that you tend to play and get more lands onto the battlefield, so we wanted a mechanic that could let you spend the extra mana. (Note that a lot of the MDFC designs also do this.) Titan gives you an alternate generic mana cost, always seven or more, that allows you to cast a "kicked" version of the spell. We liked that the mechanic made a slight, subtle nod to the Eldrazi without us having to have any on the plane. This mechanic is the least intertwined into the structure of the set and could be replaced by a different mechanic that lets you spend extra mana.

Monstrosity

Cave Lion
W
Creature – Cat
2W: Monstrosity 2
5W: Monstrosity 4
When CARDNAME becomes monstrous, you may destroy target artifact or enchantment.
2/2

Monstrosity was brought back at Erik's request as he and Jenna felt it was a flavor win for top-down "adventure world." Andrew and I spent a little time brainstorming mechanical evolutions for monstrosity. We made two cycles of cards, one with creatures that have monstrosity and one with spells that care about things being monstrous. Each card in the cycle is trying something different to give the Set Design team a sampler of things they could use.

Extra Content

To give the Set Design team some additional material to work with, we designed some bonus content that is not currently in the file but can be added if needed. Here are the things we designed:

New Traps

Aether Trap
2
Artifact – Trap
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice CARDNAME and draw a card.
Whenever an opponent casts a second spell in a turn, you may put this onto the battlefield and draw a card.
4, or U, T, Sacrifice CARDNAME: Counter target spell.

This is a new take on traps. In original Zendikar, traps were a spell subtype that allowed you to play them cheaper if certain conditions were met. The new traps are artifacts (allowing them to better capture the flavor of a trap) that can be put onto the battlefield for free when a certain condition is met (something done by the opponent) as well as letting you draw a card. The traps then have a turn to be used before they are sacrificed and draw you a card. This allows the controller of the trap to spring the trap (it has two costs, a more expensive generic version or a cheaper colored version allowing anyone to play the trap but letting it be optimized in the right color deck) on the opponent or trade it in a turn later for a card if they don't need to use it. The sacrifice also keeps the player from hard-casting it and having a seal-like artifact sitting over the board. The traps were put into extra content as Erik was not a big fan of them.

New Quests

Quest for Forbidden Power
3B
Enchantment
Whenever you complete any of the following tasks, put a quest counter on CARDNAME. If it was the first time you have completed that task, each player discards a card.
* A land enters the battlefield under your control.
* A creature dies.
* An opponent loses 5 or more life in a single turn.
Remove three quest counters from CARDNAME and sacrifice it: Until end of turn, you may play cards from your graveyard. If a card would be put into your graveyard from anywhere this turn, exile that card instead.

Quests are enchantments that ask you to do a series of tasks to receive a reward. The designs are based on the quest designs from "Archery" that got removed during set design. The new quests change a few things. First, instead of having to do each task, the new quests require you to do any combination of tasks up to three times. This means you could do each task once, one task twice and another task once, or one task three times. The quests encourage you to do all three because each time you complete a new task, you get an effect. On all the quests, the first challenge is essentially landfall, which means any quest will eventually be completed in time. The quests ended up getting put into extra content because they were a) wordy and b) most likely required new frames and the new frame space was already being used by the MDFCs.

Levelers

Leveling Rogue
1B
Creature – Human Ally Rogue
1B: Add a +1/+1 counter to CARDNAME. When CARDNAME gets three +1/+1 counters, it loses this ability and gains menace.
3/1

The levelers were a new take on the leveling creatures from Rise of the Eldrazi. The goal was to make creatures that you can spend mana on to improve but without the complexity and frame needs of the Rise of the Eldrazi levelers. These new levelers have an activated ability that puts +1/+1 counters on them. Then, when they get three +1/+1 counters, it turns the ability off and grants them a creature keyword. This cycle of uncommons got put into extra content because Erik expressed interests in pursuing monstrosity and these were filling the same mechanical space.

Monster Lands

Red Monster Land
Land
CARDNAME enters the battlefield tapped.
Whenever one or more creatures you control deal combat damage to a player, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.
As long as CARDNAME has at least five +1/+1 counters on it, it's a 0/0 Elemental creature with haste and menace.
T: Add R
3, T: Put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME

This is a cycle of rare lands. They enter the battlefield tapped and then get a +1/+1 counter when a certain condition is met. Then, when the land gets five or more +1/+1 counters, it becomes a 0/0 creature with haste (to avoid confusion about being able to attack) and a color-relevant creature keyword. These cards got put into the extra content section as they were a little too strong and fought a bit in identity with the creature and land MDFCs. We would like the Set Design team to explore novel ways to do creature lands.

In Conclusion

That's everything to convey about "Diving." The Vision Design team is very proud of what we've created and hope the Set Design team can turn it into an amazing set. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Thanks,

Mark Rosewater

And that is the Zendikar Rising vision design handoff document. I've been getting very positive feedback on these, so I plan to keep posting them in the future. If you have any thoughts on it or possible suggestions for other things you'd like to have me say about them as I annotate, please email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me next week when I answer your questions about Zendikar Rising.

Until then. May you have fun peeking behind the curtain.

 
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