This week I thought I would look at the development of the Legions Muses, but before I get into that subject, here’s a brief aside about the goings-on last weekend at Pro Tour - Venice.
My Take on Pro Tour – Venice
"I love it when a plan comes together."
--John “Hannibal” Smith
A couple of months ago, I was talking about R&D’s plans for white and I used a fairly long digression to explain what we had been hoping would happen when we rotated Armageddon out of print. We hoped that would allow players to start playing a lot more expensive spells, and our dream was that whole new deck types would emerge once players could rely on having the land they needed to implement whatever plan they had dreamt up. The problem was that we didn’t power down the blue cards when we took away what turned out to be their biggest threat (Armageddon). It’s been so easy to “just say no” that no one has been able to afford to invest 5 or 6 mana in one spell (other than maybe a blue mage with Counterspell backup).
Enter the Onslaught block.
Since Onslaught is the creature block, the blue cards really aren’t all that good. And quite frankly, it’s about time blue took its turn as the suckiest color anyway. Across ten years of Magic, there really hasn’t ever been a point where blue was even below average. Right now, blue is still holding its own in Standard on the strength of the Odyssey block (and Seventh Edition), but last weekend at Pro Tour - Venice we got a glimpse at the future and it was glorious.
Without the threat of good permission spells looming constantly over their heads, players were safe to invest gaudy amounts of mana into really powerful creatures and spells. We thought we were clearing a path for 5- and 6-mana spells when we "nerfed" blue, but in Venice things worked out even better than we could have imagined: 8-mana spells were everywhere and both Akroma and the Pit-Fighter Legends were huge threats that were essential to many different decks. Across the 'Net, lots of other authors (including our own Brian David-Marshall) have already explained what actually happened at the PT so I don’t want to spend my whole column this week on this subject. However, I thought it might be interesting to share this brief summary of my perspective and its connection to my previous articles.
You can read more about my opinions on permission spells by going back to these two articles from about a year ago (written when R&D was developing Legions, by the way): "Asking Permission" and "Counterspell Conundrum."
Several people inside R&D were skeptical about the idea of doing an all-creature set. Part of what makes Magic so special is its diversity and if everything was a creature, wouldn’t we lose that? We took this concern very seriously, but as we designed and tested the set, we came to the conclusion that things like morph triggers and cycling triggers would allow us to put plenty of spell-like effects into the set. In addition, we knew most people would mix Legions cards with at least Onslaught cards when they played both Limited and Constructed. All this led us to finally embrace what we already knew sounded really fun and different, and the all-creature set was born.
About a month into development, the team started to perceive that something was still missing. Most Magic sets have a number of “build a deck around me” cards. I’m referring to cards which do some cool, weird, new thing that has such a game-changing effect that it makes you want to construct an entire deck just to set up the situation where you can take advantage of it. Stasis is a good example or one of those cards. It’s terrible if you throw it into a random deck, but if you build a Stasis deck it can be quite good. Other examples include Ensnaring Bridge, Oath of Druids, Opposition, and Patriarch's Bidding.
Notice that none of those cards are creatures.
The primary job of a creature is usually to attack and block. Sometimes they have useful text that can help you out in other ways, but there really haven’t been many creatures that lead you to build an entire deck just to take advantage of their unique abilities. Basically, since all creatures have power and toughness, they tend not to be all that different from each other.
Well, the Legions development team knew that no set would be complete without having some cards that would tempt deckbuilders to concoct whole new strategies. The team knew Legions needed some “build a deck around me” creatures, and they came up with the idea to take the sorts of global continuous effects that we normally do on enchantments, and put them onto creatures instead.
And that’s when the Muses were added to the set.
Windborn Muse – We had already decided during our great pie-dividing conversation that taxing was an inherently white mechanic. That means, among other things, that Propaganda belonged in white (not blue), and Windborn Muse was our first opportunity to implement this decision. This Muse started out as a ground creature, but we knew that the original Propaganda led to a situation where a whole bunch of creatures would get into play without being able to attack. William Jockusch (the Legions lead developer) argued that it should fly, that way at least the Muse itself would be able to attack and the stalemate would be broken. At one point we considered having Windborn Muse be a Cleric and force opponent’s to pay X in order to attack, where X was the number of Clerics you control. It did seem a bit weird to us that four of the Muses were just creature type “Muse” while one was a “Zombie Muse,” but at the end of the day the Cleric version of Windborn Muse was just too frustrating to play against. We did end up putting a similar ability on a common in the set—Whipgrass Entangler—but it requires a mana investment to activate and still only affects one or two creatures at a time.
Dreamborn Muse – Speaking of annoying to play against… the original blue Muse was “Stasis Muse.” It was exactly Stasis – 1U with an upkeep of U – except it was a 1/1 creature instead of an enchantment. We tested that version for quite a while and it turned out to have both advantages and disadvantages when compared to its predecessor. On one hand, it was a lot easier to reset – every "unsummon" effect would allow you to untap all of your stuff and then replay your lock. On the other hand, it’s a lot easier for an opponent to kill a 1/1 creature than to destroy an enchantment. With so many decks packing at least a little but of creature removal, the Stasis Muse was on balance at a lower power-level than Stasis itself. However, the development team (among others in the department) felt that Stasis was such an annoying effect to have to play against that they just didn’t want to reprint a new version of it, even if it wasn’t quite as powerful. Here’s a comment that Mike Elliot made in the card file shortly before the Dev Team changed it to the current Dreamborn Muse ability: “Next to LD [land destruction], this is one of the most annoying effects in the game. In fact, due to the speed at which these decks win, this might even be more annoying if this shows up anywhere near casual constructed, which the old Stasis did even when it was not big on the tournament scene. The 4 or 5 tournament players who wax nostalgic over this card are not worth the hordes we will annoy printing this.”
Graveborn Muse – The black Muse started out with the text from Phyrexian Arena – every turn you paid one life and got one extra card. The team was initially pretty sure that it was too good, but they figured we should test it first before making it weaker. After some initial testing we saw how Wrath of God takes away not only all your beatdown but also your card drawing and concluded that it wasn’t too good as a 4-mana 3/3. Later, as development progressed, the team felt we needed more good tribal cards and so changed it to the current version. No one was sure whether that made the card better or worse. In fact, I’m still not sure which version is more powerful. The Zombie-version obviously makes it a lot easier to draw a lot more cards, but it’s also really easy to accidentally kill yourself with it.
Lavaborn Muse – The red Muse is the one that went through the most changes. Initially it said, “At the end of each player’s turn, destroy all untapped land he or she controls.” However, that ability doesn’t play out nearly as interestingly as it sounds because players can just tap their lands and take mana burn in order to save them. Thus it’s just a Citadel of Pain variant, which we weren’t excited by. "Manabarbs Muse" and "Power Surge" Muse were both proposed as potential replacements, but eventually the team decided to go with a variant of The Rack. The old Legends enchant world Storm World, which has a similar effect, is red, so it made sense that this ability would go on a red creature. Discard decks are often interested in cards that punish the opponent once their hand is empty and this version of The Rack comes with a reasonable body attached to it, too.
Seedborn Muse – Brian Tinsman is R&D’s equivalent of a rising star. While Legions was in development, Tinsman was designing Scourge – his rookie set as lead designer – and among the many cool cards that he had already designed was one called Lucid Dreamer. It seemed like a perfect candidate for the green Muse, so Legions stole it from Scourge. The development team experimented with a couple of other options, including a Muse with the activated ability from Call of the Wild, but in the end they went back to Tinsman’s twist on Awakening. For months now we’ve been a little nervous about this one Muse, just waiting for someone to break it in half. So far it seems interesting to build around, but not too good, which is what we were shooting for with all the Muses.
We’re pretty happy with how the Muses turned out. They nicely filled the niche we needed to fill by giving deckbuilders some cards they can really sink their teeth into. None of the effects are brand new, but just by putting these effects onto creatures instead of enchantments, we have dramatically changed the way they play.
Last Week’s Poll:
|Should we reprint Whispers of the Muse?|
I wonder sometimes if there are any old cards that you guys don’t want us to reprint. Buyback is definitely on our list of mechanics that we know we could bring back some day and when we do, I’m sure we’ll take a look at Whispers of the Muse.
Randy may be reached at email@example.com.