The M-Files: Hour of Devastation, Part 1

Posted in Play Design on July 14, 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.

It's time again to return to the M-Files! We're continuing this popular tradition from Latest Developments because it's always fun and insightful to look back at the design file a year later to see commentary on in-progress cards from the designers and developers making the set.

If you'd like to put a face with each name, click below to meet our commentators.

Click to Reveal

SM – Shawn Main, Hour of Devastation lead designer

ID – Ian Duke, developer

SPS – Sam Stoddard, developer

TABAK – Matt Tabak, editor

TJA – Tim Aten, editor (former)

EEF – Ethan Fleischer, designer

AP – Adam Prosak, developer

MDT – Melissa DeTora, playtester

AF – Aaron Forsythe, senior director of R&D

ELI – Eli Shiffrin, rules manager

JL – Jackie Lee, designer

KEN – Ken Nagle, editor

BH – Ben Hayes, developer

NKM – Nat Moes, editor

MJJ – Mons Johnson, Duel Masters designer and Magic playtester

JDR – Jules Robins, designer

EVL – Erik Lauer, head developer

BrH – Bryan Hawley, developer

Steadfast Sentinel

ID: 5WW -> 4WW to eternalize, to promote slower white decks.

SPS: I enjoy eternalize, as a whole, especially the simple way we make it matter with just keyword/stats.

Eternalize was created to represent Bolas's army of Eternals, but I really like the way it plays mechanically. It's always a 4/4, so there are fewer tracking issues than there are with embalm, and there are a lot of things you can do to play off stats. I'll have more specific examples with later cards, but this card's goal in particular was to help slow the format down. A common creature with vigilance and a high power and toughness for 4WW (while already getting you a card's worth of value) was an attempt to help with that.

Steward of Solidarity

ID: New exert abilities.

TABAK: Exerting to create a token with vigilance is poetic.

TJA: Should the Soldier have vigilance?

ID: Yeah, adding vigilance to line up with Amonkhet.

EEF: I assume that this is just one of many things that go infinite with Intruder Alarm.

Hour of Devastation had a new take on exert where instead of tying it to attack triggers, you could exert whenever you wanted to get a non-combat related effect. We knew that these new exert creatures would be strong with untap effects, and we also knew that this card would get added to the list of cards that can go infinite with Intruder Alarm.

Desert's Hold

ID: Team suggested "enters-the-battlefield gain 4 if Desert," though I worry about the feel-bad of holding it until you draw your Desert.

AP: Upkeep gain 1 life -> ETB gain 4 life at Ian's request

Eli: The six other cards with "if you control a Desert" also check the graveyard. Can this join the club?

ID: Added graveyard check.

AF: "Desert" is "Fetters" spelled backwards!

ELI: I don't want AF on my spelling bee team.

We had a lot of Desert-matters cards in the set that asked you to control a Desert for a reward. During gameplay, we noticed that players were not sacrificing or cycling Deserts because they were waiting to draw their Desert-matters card. We added the "Desert in your graveyard" clause to these cards to smooth out the gameplay, but then we had the opposite problem with Desert's Hold. Players would keep it in hand until they drew a Desert to get the life reward. When we cut 1 life from this, we got to a good balance where players were casting their cards at the right time.

Adorned Pouncer

TJA: Updated creature type to Cat.

JL: Wait, does this mean a Cat passed all the Trials?

AF: JL's comment is funny. I guess we need another story beyond the Trials about how Eternals are chosen.

ELI: There's also a Manticore and an Ammit. Bolas wanted a petting zoo of doom.

ID: Maybe this is Bolas's Mr. Bigglesworth.

MDT: This is an underwhelming rare. Feels like a first-pick uncommon to me.

ID: 4WW -> 3WW to eternalize; Future Future League didn't think this was Constructed-viable.

Adorned Pouncer was originally a Human, but when Shadows over Innistrad came out the Human tribal decks had proven to be plenty powerful. Adding a strong Human and late-game card advantage seemed like a potential risk, so we asked the creative team what other creature types would work on a small creature from this world, and they chose Cat. As we realized we had more and more fun Cat designs in the block, we put some extra effort in to make sure there were rewards for playing Cats, like Pride Sovereign and Regal Caracal. After the creature type change, it got a rate change so that it would be a stronger card for Cat or non-tribal aggro decks.


ID: New text. Hoser for infect and Standard safeguard against Kaladesh themes.

KEN: Goes in my own deck with Dark Depths?

AF: My energy-infect deck shakes its fist at you!

KEN: For my cumulative upkeep deck! Glacial Chasm!

AP: Now hits specific card types. We decided to let you play your planeswalkers.

ID: Yeah there are certainly combos with this card. The goal is for it to be less efficient at enabling new combos than existing cards, but useful as a sideboard card against existing combos.

This card was meant to be a hate card for energy, but it also enables crazy new decks in older formats. We've found plenty of combos with this card already and I'm looking forward to seeing players try it out in older formats.

Crested Sunmare

JL: I'd rather it make lifelink tokens than use blue-feeling "copy" text. Would feel more mythic if it made the token automatically during upkeep, by tapping, etc.

BH: An alternative could just be "tokens you control are indestructible."

EEF: Nonbo with Tarpan.

Crested Sunmare originally made copies of itself, but that didn't feel white. We tweaked the design to have it make vanilla tokens, but gave the Sunmare the ability to enhance them. Thus Horse tribal was born!

Strategic Planning

NKM: This was a Vintage pickup a few years ago (works with Goblin Welder). Players should be excited to see it again.

ID: Agree! Big part of why it's here.

I love this reprint at common. It has some flavor, does sweet things in Limited, and players of older formats will be happy to be able to find these easily.

Imaginary Threats

ID: New card from KK's flavor mini-team. Was a Sleep variant with cycling.

MJJ: A little awkward with creatures that have tap abilities (memory issues). Can this prevent all of target player's creatures from untapping?

ID: Great suggestion, MJJ. Let's do it.

ID: Added cycling.

MDT: This is a little awkward against vigilance creatures.

I am not a huge fan of Sleep in Limited because it ends the game quickly and out of nowhere, which can be frustrating if it happens frequently, and thus is not an effect I like for an uncommon. This card was a compromise to Sleep, as a slightly weaker version that has more interesting gameplay. It can be used to force creatures to attack so that you can swing for the win next turn, or force attackers to run into larger blockers. Since it's more narrow than Sleep, cycling was added so that the card is never dead.

Champion of Wits

SM: Handoff notes—Trying to make sure all the eternalize rares have some ability that cares about size, so the upgrade feels meaningful. People have particularly enjoyed how this one upgrades.

ID: Pretty happy with this so far.

Champion of Wits was one of the eternalize designs I mentioned that played with power and toughness. In this case you draw cards equal to its power. This allows you to do some pretty cool stuff like play with pump spells for a stronger enters-the-battlefield trigger, and of course it scales well with eternalize. It also allows for interactions like casting a Grasp of Darkness in response to the enters-the-battlefield trigger, not only killing the creature but also causing the player to draw zero cards.

Jace's Defeat

ID: Trying self-color hate at EVL's request.

TABAK: New ability from Ian. Now a better Gainsay.

MJJ: This looks very strong.

The Defeat cycle was created as a self-correcting mechanism in Standard in case some decks were stronger than we realized. Having strong, narrow cards for mirror matches allows those decks to lose percentage points against other decks, allowing those other decks to rise up. This particular design is a strictly-better Gainsay. We chose this design to be strong against cards like Disallow and Torrential Gearhulk. The "If it was Jace" clause was mostly for flavor, but there will be times where it comes into play.

Hour of Eternity

JDR: This still feels too powerful for a blue reanimation spell. Between instant speed, getting stuff out of the opponent's 'yard, and interactions with Champions, I'm not convinced that this is a weaker option than Liliana—and I'm convinced it should be.

JDR: Checked with Ethan for color pie. This is a bend, not a break, but it would be a better fit in black. (I realize eternalize is focused in white-blue.)

ID: Thank you for checking color pie, Jules. This is a specific story moment and part of a cycle, so we need it to be in blue, provided it is an acceptable bend.

ID: Trying a scalable X version since we're getting stuck finding the right rate for single target.

AP: Now only affects your own graveyard.

EVL: This reads like an XX spell.

AP: Good news, Erik. Now an XX spell!

Our biggest issue with Hour of Eternity was finding the right rate while also making this card feel blue and not black. It is essentially reanimating creatures, which is black's forte, and it was important for this card to not do a better job reanimating than something like Rise from the Grave. A few changes were made, including making it an XX spell and having it only affect your own graveyard.

Razaketh's Rite

KEN: The tutor where I always look at my top card to see if what I wanted was the topdeck to see if I wasted some mana.

ID: 4BB -> 3BB for casual/Constructed appeal.

This design was enjoyed by many due to its elegance. Diabolic Tutor costs one mana less but only does one thing. There are times where you won't have the mana or the time to cast a tutor, and Razeketh's Rite solves that issue. You can still search for your bomb late in the game, but having cycling allows you to replace it early in the game when you're looking for lands or early plays.

Bontu's Last Reckoning

ID: New card part of the exert sorcery cycle.

BrH: FFL team recommends 3 mana, no life loss.

ID: 2BB -> 1BB, but no life-loss rider.

This card is part of a cycle of rares where you get a powerful effect for a good rate with the drawback of your lands not untapping for a turn. Mechanically, this was a new take on exert, but instead of exerting your creature, this cycle forced you to exert "yourself." When I returned to Wizards and joined the Hour of Devastation development team, I was super impressed by this card. The baseline for sweepers is five mana, but less mana when there is a restriction on what they kill. This card looked like Damnation to me, and I was excited to build decks with it. The drawback is very real, but I think this card landed in a good spot.

Razaketh, the Foulblooded

KEN: Might this get banned in Commander like Griselbrand?

ID: Added trample for a little extra jazz.

BH: Love it.

ID: Added "pay 2 life" as a safeguard. If there are loopy things, it opens the door for aggressive decks to interact (before or after it gets going).

NKM: Interesting that adding the sacrifice cost makes this mostly unplayable in Vintage Oath of Druids decks.

The Hour of Devastation design team came up with sacrificing creatures to Demonic Tutor as a splashy, powerful, and flavorful thing that a cruel Demon would do. It's reminiscent of Griselbrand in trading one resource for another, as well as a mechanical callback to cards like Necropotence and Vampiric Tutor. Many in R&D were concerned about loops or one-turn kills with this card and recommended adding mana to the activation cost. The FFL team thought it was important that you could start using this right away, so we opted for a life loss instead to guard against unbounded loops and one-turn combos.

Grisly Survivor

ID: +1/+0 and deathtouch -> +2/+0

The change was made because the cycling reward on this common didn't feel very rewarding. Most of the time you were cycling a card to trade with an opposing creature. The change may seem insignificant because you can still trade with big creatures, but adding the extra power felt more satisfying for cycling many cards all at once if this guy goes unblocked.

Accursed Horde

ID: Was Zombie ETB -> opponent loses 2. Trying something more different from Amonkhet cards, and helps Zombies punch through in combat.

ID: 2B deathtouch -> 1B indestructible to attacking Zombie

KEN: I like this kind of threshold 0+ rewards. I think Ixalan could use a couple of them.

I talked about threshold 1 a few weeks ago. It's a way to get players to care about a particular them without requiring them to go all-in on that theme. Threshold N means you need N of something to get your card to work. For this card, you don't even need any other Zombies to use its activated ability, but it does get stronger the more Zombies you have.

Play Design Story of the Week

Last weekend was our R&D department barbeque, and we all gathered at a park, ate food, and played games. One of the games we played was "Great Minds." It's a two-on-two game. The first team chooses a category. The category can be literally anything. For example, you can say "food," "sport," or even "red creature with converted mana cost 1." The other team has to say a word or phrase from that category at the same exact time. The goal is to say the same word as your teammate. The most epic play of the game was when Dan Burdick and Erik Lauer were on a team, and the category was "fruit." At the same time, they both yelled "Avocado!" Many people don't regard avocados as fruits, but it's the only fruit Erik eats—and Dan knew that.

Other games we played included kickball, various board games, and climbing rope things that were probably meant for children. The entire Play Design team got in on the rope climbing.

The Play Design team bonding and team-building on ropes.
The Play Design team bonding and team-building on ropes.

That's it for this week. Next week we'll finish the M-Files with red, green, gold, and artifacts.

Melissa DeTora

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