Designing Hour of Devastation Cards to Meet FFL Goals

Posted in Play Design on July 7, 2017

By Melissa DeTora

Melissa is a former Magic pro player and strategy writer who is now working in R&D on the Play Design team.

Welcome to another week of Play Design. Today I'm going to talk a bit about how we designed Hour of Devastation cards to meet Future Future League needs and goals. Many readers of this column (and Latest Developments before it) have heard of FFL before but may not be clear in what it means. FFL stands for "Future Future League." Years ago, the original Future League was a created as a way for R&D to test future Standard environments. The second "future" was added much later when the team decided to add more sets to the league.

The original Future League only focused on sets that were finalized, which didn't make much sense. What was the point of testing future Standard when you couldn't fix any problems? The next iteration of the league, renamed the Future Future League, tested upcoming sets that could still change. This was important because with the ability to make changes, R&D could recognize and correct any broken or oppressive interactions.

These days, the FFL is no longer a "league," but rather a dedicated time when we playtest future Standard. The Play Design team devotes many hours a week to playing FFL, building decks, and attending meetings to discuss how the format is looking and what needs to change. We build lots of decks throughout the week, and with cards changing as frequently as they do at this stage of development, we never run out of stuff to explore. We build decks either collaboratively or solo, post them in a forum, and everyone gives feedback on each other's decks. Cards change a lot during a set's lifetime, and with things changing so rapidly, it's possible that we'll miss something during our exploration, but with all eyes on everyone's decks all the time, that is much less likely.

The goal of FFL is to create a fun, balanced, and diverse Standard. We want players to have options. If a deck is becoming dominant, we want there to be a variety of strategies that players can lean toward to fight that dominant deck. We want archetypes and strategies to exist that suit every type of player.

With Hour of Devastation, we wanted the themes of the set to show up in Standard, but we also wanted ways to answer those themes so that nothing became too dominant for too long. When we're playtesting and we're finding that one strategy is too strong, we'll create cards specifically to fight that strategy. For example, we knew that Mardu Vehicles was likely to be one of the stronger decks, so we made specific answers to fight the variety of threats that Mardu Vehicles presented. We added Abrade to the set to destroy an artifact or an aggressive creature, and Hour of Revelation to wipe the board of all threats at once.

Another card that we made to meet these goals was Hour of Glory. We wanted something that could deal with the Amonkhet Gods. While we did have some ways to exile creatures, we felt that we didn't have enough and wanted to give something to black. Originally Hour of Glory put a bunch of -1/-1 counters on a creature, but we found that wasn't a satisfying way to use the -1/-1 counter mechanic. -1/-1 counters were supposed to weaken a creature, but if the creature was getting so many counters at once and just dying, it didn't feel like we were using the mechanic the way it was intended. This version of the card was also super strong with Nest of Scarabs. When we made the Hour of Devastation Gods, we realized that we wanted a card that could deal with both versions of the Gods, and -1/-1 counters didn't do that with the new Gods. We decided to make Hour of Glory an exile spell to permanently deal with a God on the battlefield as well as punish the player for having additional copies in hand.

Hour of Devastation was another card that was created for FFL balance because we wanted more mass removal for control decks. At first this card was an instant that dealt 4 damage to all creatures, but this card was much too strong with Torrential Gearhulk. We changed it to sorcery and added 1 point of damage. At that point, although the card was playing well, we were still having a hard time dealing with Gods, Selfless Spirit, and Archangel Avacyn, so the "loses indestructible" clause was added. Then we were finding that this card was hurting us for playing Grixis for Nicol Bolas. We tried the non-Bolas clause on the card and it worked both flavorfully and mechanically. From a flavor standpoint, it makes sense that Bolas doesn't hurt himself with his signature spell.

  • Nissa's Defeat
  • Chandra's Defeat
  • Gideon's Defeat
  • Liliana's Defeat
  • Jace's Defeat

Another thing we wanted to do was add a cycle of self-color hate cards to FFL. Color hate is a way to create a self-correcting mechanism in Standard and keep things balanced. If one deck becomes too dominant, that deck will devote sideboard (and sometimes main deck) slots to beating itself (the mirror) and thus will lose percentage points against other matchups. When decks are trying to get edges in the mirror, this gives the opportunity for other decks to rise. The Defeat cycle seemed like a good spot for this type of hate.

Speaking of hate, Hour of Devastation is not short of hate cards. We wanted to give players options to fight strategies that were too dominant in previous blocks. In addition to the self-color hate cycle, we also included cards to fight off Kaladesh and Shadows over Innistrad block themes like graveyards, energy and other counters, and artifacts. We even made Refuse to Cooperate as an extra tool to fight Emrakul and other high-cost cards from Battle for Zendikar, but Emrakul left the format some time after Hour of Devastation was finalized.

That's all for this week. I hope that this article gave you some insight into our thought process in how we create cards to balance Standard. Next week I'll share more Hour of Devastation stories in the M-Files. Have a great Prerelease!

Melissa DeTora

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