The M-Files: Hour of Devastation, Part 2

Posted in Play Design on July 21, 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.

This week, we're diving back into Drake (our internal card database) to share more stories from the design and development of Hour of Devastation!

Our cast of commenters is the same as last week, but click below for a refresher on faces and names.

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

With that out of the way, let's look at some cards!

Khenra Scrapper

ID: 2R 2/2 exert double strike -> 1R 1/3 +2/-2. Team doesn't think double strike is appropriate on a common here.

ID: haste -> menace

AP: +2/-2 -> +2/+0. May not follow our exert rules of exerting on an empty board. I don't think +2/-2 follows that rule either.

Khenra Scrapper was meant to be our common exert creature in red, but it went through a lot of iterations before we finalized it. We wanted exert to be an interesting choice for whether or not you exerted it. The exert ability should not be so strong that you would always exert it on an empty board. For example, if there was a 1-power creature that you could exert for +2/+0, you'd always exert it on an empty board. That's 6 damage over three turns. If you don't exert, it's only 3. So, it's always correct to exert.

We wanted to avoid this, so we tried to get the stats to the point where there was an actual choice to be made. Khenra Scrapper proved to be a tough one to get right, and we tried things like haste, menace, "flowstone," (the term I use to refer to +X/-X. Also known as the Watercourser ability), and a variety of other things, but people were still not picking these in Draft. We finally settled on this design that we were happy with.

Open Fire

AF: A bitter pill with Shock in Standard. Expect a bunch of tweets/Reddit posts about this.

ID: 1R deal 2 -> 2R deal 3 to improve red in Limited. Now they can complain about Lightning Strike.

JDR: Can this get a more generic name? We regret not having access to this card in every acquisition-focused reprint product.

ID: Yes Jules, I'm following up on that. In all seriousness, the reason I'm excited for this card is to have the clean, reprintable version of "2R deal 3" that we can have in Planeswalker Decks, etc.

Yes, we know, this isn't Lightning Strike. It was never meant to be Lightning Strike. The goal for this card was to make a generic common burn spell that could be reprinted for Welcome Decks and other acquisition products. Lightning Strike is too strong a common for Limited, but a very reasonable uncommon. We are not against Lightning Strike when the metagame calls for it, but with Abrade at uncommon and Harnessed Lightning already in Standard, it wasn't right to add it to the format this time around.


ID: New card to kill Smuggler's Copter and other Kaladesh artifacts.

KEN: I see why we don't have a cycling Shatter.

AP: I would prefer if this is 1R Sorcery deal 4 damage. Future Future League has more than enough cards that deal 3 to a creature.

Abrade was the first card that Ian added to the file when the development team started over fifteen months ago. We wanted a strong anti-artifact card to combat the Kaladesh themes. We also knew that something as narrow as Shatter or Smelt was not going to be good enough. We wanted a card that players would be happy to play in their main deck, and with decks like Black-Green Constrictor also being a huge part of the metagame, Abrade was the design we were looking for. There was a point where we considered changing it to sorcery and dealing 4 damage instead of 3, but destroying an artifact at instant speed proved to be more valuable than dealing that extra point of damage.

Hazoret's Undying Fury

ID: New design from AP. Mind's Desire for two. Color pie approval from SM.

AF: Swingy!

DEL: Clarify intent? Current text makes it look like you can play a land off this, but you can't because you're in the middle of resolving this spell.

ID: Let's do casting spells instead of playing cards then. I took a stab at rules text.

KEN: Benefits greatly from "Ulamog and Kozilek don't rotate yet" changes.

ID: Rotation change: 4R -> 4RR. Overlap with big Eldrazi and Bring to Light.

TABAK: Now four cards but with a converted mana cost 5 limit.

This was one of the many cards that we had to make a late change to due to the change to the Standard rotation. At first it could "Mind's Desire" for a set number of cards, but with the Eldrazi sticking around for another three months we couldn't take that risk. After a few design tweaks we decided to limit the converted mana cost of spells it could cast. I think this card ended up in a fun spot, and I'll be talking about one of our Hazoret's Undying Fury decks in a future Play Design article.

Life Goes On

ID: Okay, new life gain spell from KK's mini team.

KEN: Is this "eat the dead" flavor? Or some kind of "we are running away from Zombies, someone tripped and got left behind so the rest of us got away cleaner" vibe?

We were interested in a life gain spell to be used as a sideboard card to keep aggressive decks in check. Feed the Clan was a commonly used sideboard card in a similar space, but that card was pretty narrow, as it wasn't strong in decks that weren't playing large creatures. Here, the "morbid" clause is a bit more flexible, and with strong red aggressive creatures such as Earthshaker Khenra and Ahn-Crop Crasher in the format, creatures will be trading frequently. The amount of life gained was chosen so that it would be punishing against red decks, but not too frustrating to the point where the red player will feel like they can't come back.

Tenacious Hunter

MDT: This is very close to CB08. Both 5 CMC and care about -1/-1 counters and gain life, and are 4/5.

ID: 4/5 and creature dies to gain 2 life -> 5/5 and gets +1/+0 and trample long as a creature has a -1/-1 counter on it. Moving away from black common.

AF: Weird card.

MJJ: Math is fun! Not.

ID: Offsite: +1/+0 and vigilance -> deathtouch and vigilance

We make a lot of changes to cards throughout a set's lifetime. Many of the changes are made to balance Limited, especially on lower-rarity cards. This is an example of a change we made because it was too close in design to another card, but the new version of this caused some weird gameplay interactions. It got a power bonus if a creature had a -1/-1 counter on it, but we didn't consider what would happen if this creature had the -1/-1 counter. Turns out that interaction caused some unnecessary math, and we ended up taking the power bonus off this in favor for an additional keyword.

Nissa's Defeat

MDT: This is the only Defeat that puts you up a card if you destroy the planeswalker. Might be correct but makes the cycle less elegant.

ID: It's true that the power level of the reward is asymmetric, but that's because this one costs three mana.

We iterated on the entire Defeat cycle a ton, and the green one was the hardest to get right. All of the abilities had to be within color pie of course, and green just isn't very good at destroying stuff. The original version of this card was a fight spell, similar to Hunt the Hunter from Theros, but the card wasn't meeting our goal because you'd only want it in decks that played large creatures. We wanted this card to be an option for any green deck, not just a creature deck. I suggested a Mwonvuli Acid-Moss/Bramblecrush hybrid, and we eventually settled on this.


KEN: "Untap them" is puzzling until you've discovered mana Elves plus Overrun.

MDT: I still think the "Untap them" is bizarre. It's only relevant with your mana creatures or if you are exerting. If this is a new player's first HOU pack I think it will confuse them, or they will think this is an instant.

ID: After much discussion, the "no untap" camp wins. Exert creatures and mana elves will be staying home from this party.

Mass creature-pumping effects like Overrun are super popular with the casual crowd, but often end Limited games too quickly and in unfun ways. Overcome is a gentler version that still has that powerful feel for casual players but is not as "I win" as Overrun in Limited. An earlier version of this card had the text "Untap all creatures you control," and many of us did not like that line. While it had some cool gameplay interactions with mana creatures and exert, it's weird to see on a sorcery when you aren't playing creatures with tap abilities or don't know what exert is.

Pride Sovereign

JL: Can this make green Cats or be white? The white tokens are weirding me out.

ID: One 2/2 -> two 1/1 lifelinks, to match Amonkhet's Cat tokens.

KEN: Green cards don't have lifelink. Did you want it to pay 1W to activate?

ID: 1G -> W to activate, based on KEN's feedback.

ELI: The only card in the set with an off-color activation cost? Man, Cats are awesome.

AF: Is this card more or less appealing if it is legendary?

One thing we typically consider when designing unique creatures with unusual creature types is whether it should be legendary for Commander appeal. Cat is a beloved creature type and has very little tribal support, and with this card being a threshold zero-plus tribal reward (meaning that the card becomes stronger the more of this tribe you have in play, but still works if you have none), it seemed like a great candidate for legendary status. However, we enjoyed how this card played in multiples and didn't want to weaken it just so it could be a commander.

Hour of Promise

KEN: This will get stuff like untapped Gaea's Cradle plus Deserted Temple, and not actual Deserts.

ID: Also KEN, part of the intent is that you can fetch unique non-Desert lands as well, though I'm hoping that deck would also play Deserts for the option of getting the Zombies.

ID: Design tweaked to be more of a Desert reward than Desert enabler.

ID: Can go to "basic lands or Deserts" if this is too much with Sanctum of Ugin. On the other hand, the overlap is only three months, so it could create some cool decks in the interim.

An earlier version of Hour of Promise required only two Deserts in play to get the Zombies, but we found that it didn't actually reward people for playing Deserts, only for having two Deserts to tutor up with it. We added a third Desert requirement to get you to play enough Deserts so that you'd also have naturally drawn one before you cast it.

Ramunap Hydra

ID: Changed Desert bonus so it doesn't scale indefinitely with the number of Deserts you control. It was asking players to play an unrealistic number of Deserts, to the detriment of their mana base.

TABAK: It's very strange that this is the one Desert bonus card that cares about battlefield and graveyard separately, letting you double up. The other nine (!!) cards do one thing and this one does another.

Ramunap Hydra originally was a */* that had power and toughness equal to the number of Deserts you control. While it sounds exciting to have a creature that scales the more lands you have in play, especially when cards like Hour of Promise exist, we found it was actually a trap to play a deck where the lands were 100% Deserts. There are four cycling Deserts and four Hashep Oasis that can cast this, but then what? You can play more utility Deserts, most of them produce colorless mana, but you will have to play some basic Forests or other green sources if you want to reliably cast this on turn four. I was happy with the change to Ramunap Hydra because the rate is still great if you're playing a reasonable number of Deserts, and you don't have to destroy your mana base to play it.

Consign // Oblivion

ID: Consign 2U -> 1U. Oblivion 1B -> 4B and Blackmail -> Mind Rot.

We wanted a card that could give control decks ways to deal with any nonland permanent, so we had this card that could bounce something to an opponent's hand and then have them discard it. The problem we were facing was that the play pattern was usually bounce a permanent on your opponent's end step, then make them discard that permanent in your main phase. It was essentially a five-mana Vindicate, which is out of color pie for blue. One of the ways blue deals with permanents is by counterspelling or bouncing, and this card was allowing blue to deal with things permanently and efficiently. The change was intended to make the card feel more blue, while still keeping the functionality of the card.

River Hoopoe

ID: Offsite—2, sac: Regrowth a card -> 3GU: Gain 2 life and draw a card

Here is an example of a card that got a late change for Limited. One of the goals for gold uncommons is to give players direction while drafting. The design we had for River Hoopoe at the time wasn't a strong Limited card and was not meeting this goal. Yoni Skolnik, one of the developers on the team, suggested this change during one of our final drafts. This change made drafting green-blue much more desirable while also creating a Constructed shot.

Hollow One and Crook of Condemnation

Hollow One

ID: Could this be rare?

TJA: I'd buy it, probably with some number adjustments.

Crook of Condemnation

ID: New design as Constructed safeguard. KK confirms it works with the old concept.

ID: Looks like it will get new art after all, but Cynthia and Kimberly are working on it.

Sometimes we do rarity swaps to meet FFL needs. In this case we knew we wanted to add an artifact that could exile all cards from an opponent's graveyard all at once, and the only slot that was available in the set was at rare. We needed to shift something up, and we felt that Hollow One could make a compelling rare with some rate adjustments.

Scavenger Grounds

KEN: This goes into most of my Commander decks.

DGH: Sorcery "speed"

AF: Feels very much like an uncommon. Not sure what to add to it, but it could use something. The Nezumi Graverobber quest was fun.

ID: EVL agrees this needs some rarer text. Working on it!

Tabak: New text in. Was: 3, T: Exile target card from a graveyard. You gain 1 life. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

We definitely needed strong graveyard hate for FFL, and Scavenger Grounds was one of our shots at that. An earlier version of it had an activated ability that exiled one target card from a graveyard, and while it was strong, it wasn't doing what we wanted it to do. Not requiring a sacrifice and gaining incremental life over the course of the game meant that this card was practically "free" to include in your deck. If you weren't playing more than two colors, the cost was low to include a colorless land that has some huge potential upside. We tried some iterations on this card including activating at sorcery speed, but that proved to be weak and not a desirable inclusion in your deck. The final change to sacrifice a Desert to exile everything was what we decided on. There is still a low cost to include a copy or two in your deck if the metagame calls for it.

Play Design Story of the Week

Pro Tour Shirts

The Play Design team consists of former Pro Tour players, and we are all very competitive in most aspects of our lives. Since we aren't playing Magic for prizes anymore, we are always looking for ways to one-up each other in other ways. Our most recent discussion involving this was "What was the first Pro Tour shirt you received?" It inspired some interesting discussion about when we started playing Magic and what generation we were a part of. It made some of us feel old (mine was Pro Tour Venice 2003), and some of us feel really old (Andrew Brown's was Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir). We were all put in our place when Mark Rosewater chimed in and told us about his first shirt from Worlds 1994.

One thing was clear from our discussion. We are all passionate about Magic, and the game shaped each of our lives in some way. We come from different backgrounds, and while we have Magic in common, our different experiences with the game help us learn from each other every day. I'm proud to work with such passionate people who want to help make Magic the best game it can be.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time,

Melissa DeTora

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