The M-Files: Ixalan Edition, Part 2

Posted in Play Design on October 20, 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! (If you missed the first half of the Ixalan review, check out last week's M-Files here.) We're continuing this popular tradition from Latest Developments because it's always fun to look back at the design file a year later to get insight and commentary on in-progress cards from the designers and developers (and now play designers) making the set.

Drake, formerly called Multiverse, is our internal database used to track Magic cards already printed, in design, and everything in between. We occasionally make passes on the cards in set design and leave comments for the set lead. The comments you see aren't the only discussions we have about the cards; they're just one of the many ways we communicate with a set lead and give our feedback.

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

Click to Reveal

SPS – Sam Stoddard, Ixalan lead developer

KEN – Ken Nagle, Ixalan lead designer

AP – Adam Prosak, development team

SOOYJ – James Sooy, Magic: The Gathering Arena designer

MJG – Mark Globus, product architect

TJA – Tim Aten, former editor

MDT – Melissa DeTora, development team

JDR – Jules Robins, designer

DEL – Del Laugel, editor

GSV – Gavin Verhey, designer

DOUG – Doug Beyer, creative lead

ABRO – Andrew Brown, development team

PI – Pete Ingram, development team

ID – Ian Duke, play designer

NKM – Nat Moes, editor

EEF – Ethan Fleischer, designer

ELI – Eli Shiffrin, rules manager

BRYAN – Bryan Hawley, play designer

YS – Yoni Skolnik, designer

Wily Goblin

ID: Wow this new design looks strong. Please test.

KEN: Lotus Petal much broken!

MJJ: Is this going back to 1R, or will it stay unplayable?

SPS: Consensus is that it's still strong at RR.

One thing that red has in its color pie is one-time bursts of mana. Some examples include Seething Song, Desperate Ritual, and Wild Cantor. These examples are one-shot effects that put you down a card. Wily Goblin was our first attempt at a mana boost that also stuck around as a creature. There were concerns that this design was not appropriate for red, because most of us felt that this mana should be at the cost of a card. Wily Goblin was a one-shot Rampant Growth that could trade with an opponent's card, and that combined with the ramp was potentially too much.

Since the Pirates in Ixalan were creating Treasure, we knew that this rule would have to be stretched in some way, and Wily Goblin and Captain Lannery Storm were our shots at one-time mana ramp on creatures that stayed on the battlefield.

Lightning Strike

YS: Future Future League wanted to play with Lightning Strike. Was 3R instant deal 4 to creature. Putting it in this slot is problematic, since it took over for a 4-damage spell, and makes this an A+ common, so it probably needs to be uncommon.

ID: We may not want this in FFL now, given how strong the red aggressive decks have seemed from Kaladesh through Hour of Devastation.

This slot had gone through many iterations, from common burn spell for Limited to Lightning Strike to many things in between. We wanted to try Lightning Strike in this environment because it had been a while since it was in Standard and red didn't have any spells that could act as both removal and face burn. After testing with Lightning Strike, we found that it was very strong in our red decks and our tribal decks were suffering when red had a ubiquitous, main-deck-able removal spell. Lightning Strike became a 4-damage spell that didn't hit players, but it was not accomplishing our goals and not seeing play over Harnessed Lightning or Abrade. After making more changes to tribal decks, we felt that Lightning Strike was a fun card at an appropriate power level, and an exciting thing to return to Standard.

Trove of Temptation

SPS: Now a weirdo enchantment.

SPS: Never mind on the enchantment thing, just cast to get some gold for next turn.

SOOYJ: Awesome. Flavor home run for this world.

SPS: Sorcery that makes three Treasure -> enchantment that makes one per turn and forces opponents' creatures to attack.

DEL: Confirm current text over "Creatures your opponents control attack each combat if able"? As written now, your planeswalkers and other players in multiplayer games are safe.

AP: I would like a different reward for sacrificing Treasure. Instant-speed Provoke has shown not to play well.

SPS: No longer sacs the Treasure, opponent must attack you with one creature.

Trove of Temptation is a card that I really enjoyed in Limited. It allowed red to play a defensive control game while also allowing you to splash powerful off-color cards. It took a lot of iterations to get this to where it is today. For starters, it was an instant that created three Treasure tokens and forced the opponent's creatures to attack. This design was problematic because if the opponent didn't plan on attacking for the turn and just played out some creatures and passed the turn, you would be forced to back them up to their combat step if you wanted to cast this. This would cause some major feel-bad moments as the opponent would feel ambushed and lose a few creatures while they were tapped out.

The next design was an enchantment that had "Sacrifice a Treasure: target creature must attack this turn" and made one Treasure per turn. This was not a satisfying way to use Treasure. We wanted players to use Treasure to ramp, cast spells, and splash colors. This card didn't allow you to do that, and one Treasure per turn was not a high enough amount for this card to be impactful. The next design was the card you see today, and we were much happier with the way this version played.

Star of Extinction

KEN: New Mark Gottlieb red durdling card.

SPS: Now a new design. Top-down meteor.

ID: Really fun. Consider 5RR and 15 damage. I like when two-card combos (Mogg Maniac–type card) leave you needing a little bit more to win.

MDT: If I am playing Mogg Maniac, I shouldn't have to work even harder to win a game!

KEN: Sooo, does a land have 20 hit points? Or more like 100 hit points since this card deals way more than 20 damage?

AP: Lands don't have hit points, Ken.

ID: This is the spell I queue up for my JRPG character and then go AFK for 10 minutes while the animation completes.

EEF: I get really nervous when we write the number 20 on cards. Putting that number in the text box is probably safer than anywhere else though.

I don't think there was a meteor on Ixalan, but this was a card that many of the designers enjoyed. It got a chuckle whenever it was opened in a draft because we don't usually see the number 20 written in a card's text box, and it's just a ridiculous card to read when you're expecting to see Pirates and Dinosaurs. We played this in our Aetherworks Marvel decks as a versatile Wrath, and in our ramp decks as a reset button. While it has a high mana cost, it's a very powerful effect that is good at what it does, as well as a flavorful top-down design.

Rowdy Crew

SPS: Now a mythic rare Pirate that does a (hopefully) more fun version of Gamble.

SPS: Now puts two counters.

Del: Review: Ask FFL about menace?

SPS: Keeping trample.

Del: Combos with the discard rewards in Amonkhet.

ID: Pretty wild card.

Red doesn't have a lot of room to expand within the color pie. Some things red can do include direct damage, destroying artifacts and lands, rummaging (discarding a card then drawing a card), and combat-altering effects such as Relentless Assault. We are always looking for ways to give red more versatility. In the past few sets, some things we have tried were reach on red creatures and tapping and freezing lands.

Pure card draw is not something that's in red's color identity. Rummaging is something that red gets, but we don't give pure card advantage to red very often. We have done card advantage in red before, but with a catch, such as on a six-mana planeswalker (Chandra, Flamecaller).

Mythic rares in red are very hard to design for this reason. Red's color pie doesn't usually lead to novel mythic rare designs, which is why you'll usually see big damage spells or cards that generate random effects. We did want a red mythic rare Pirate creature and had a hard time finding a mythic-feeling design for it. We wanted the card to gain card advantage in some way, and Goblin Lore came to mind. Goblin Lore doesn't actually provide card advantage, but it does when it is on a creature's enters-the-battlefield trigger. So we gave Rowdy Crew a card-draw ability, and despite the random discard, it actually does put you up a card, which is rare for a red card.

Shapers' Sanctuary

SPS: New design to make it mono-green. Used to make tokens, now protects your creatures.

KEN: This is forced card draw; my opponent can deck me if I control this, right?

SPS: Now a "may" so you can't get decked. I think that's the right thing to do. May be worse for digital.

DEL: "Spell" -> "spell or ability."

Shapers' Sanctuary was a shot at a sideboard card for green creature decks. With tribal being a main feature of Ixalan and our removal getting stronger, we wanted an option for counterplay against spot-removal-heavy control decks. "Ability" was added later in FFL to be stronger against cards like Earthshaker Khenra and Ahn-Crop Crasher.

Savage Stomp

SPS: Now 2G sorcery and puts a +1/+1 counter on the creature.

KEN: I played with this a lot in Amonkhet where it's a Cartouche.

SPS: Added Dinosaur tribal text.

With enrage being the major Dinosaur mechanic, we wanted strong fight spells to power it up. Originally, Savage Stomp was a three-mana Hunt the Weak, and it was doing that job nicely. However, it was playing like a sorcery version of Cartouche of Strength, and we wanted to make the card more interesting while also being a very loud Dinosaurs-matter card. We went with a cost reduction because most of the Dinosaurs were big with high mana costs, and we wanted to enable some turns where you'd cast your Dino and this spell in the same turn, while keeping the card strong in non-Dinosaur decks as well.

Deathgorge Scavenger

SPS: New card from Constructed mini team.

ID: Cool card, and nice after Amonkhet block.

BRYAN: FFL Meeting—Trigger goes from "upkeep" to "ETB or attack."

DEL: P/T bonus is until end of turn, not a counter. Also new change: 2/2 to 3/2.

The goal here was to provide an incidental hate card that wasn't strictly a sideboard card. We try to make cards like this as often as we can, as the format calls for it. For example, Abrade is a card you'll happily main-deck as a removal spell, but it hates out artifacts as well. Deathgorge Scavenger is a card you'll play in your main deck that can incidentally hate out things like Torrential Gearhulk, eternalize cards, and Search for Azcanta. The opposite of this is something like Crook of Condemnation. You wouldn't play Crook of Condemnation in your main deck. While it has a high impact against graveyard decks, it is a dead draw against decks that aren't utilizing the graveyard.

Originally, Deathgorge Scavenger got a +1/+1 counter whenever it exiled a card from a graveyard. One problem we were facing was its strong synergy with Winding Constrictor. While we were testing Ixalan in the FFL, Winding Constrictor was one of the strongest decks in the real world—stronger than we had anticipated. We didn't want to give it a card that would power it up even further. We wanted to preserve the goal of it being a main-deck-able hate card for graveyards, so we moved the trigger to ETB and attack, and it picked up the life gain text as well.

Ranging Raptors

ELI: Dino wants a power and toughness so it's not infinitely sad.

SPS: Now a 2/3.

MJG: Fun!

Enrage was a difficult mechanic to develop because of how lopsidedly it played out against the different colors.Enrage is brutal against red burn decks and decks that are attacking on the ground, but really weak against black spot removal and fliers. Having strong enrage cards at common just made the problem worse. Ground creatures wouldn't attack into them and it would create board stalls. Decks with high evasion would just ignore you and it would feel like your cards weren't doing anything. The higher variance and more powerful enrage designs were put on higher-rarity cards for this reason.

We started this card with a lower toughness, but we found that it was more fun to damage this guy yourself, ramp, and keep it around to block. We wanted to make sure it had a high enough toughness that it could survive combat and still ramp you, so we changed it to 2/3 from 2/2.

Sky Terror

SPS: Trying as RW 2/2 flying menace.

ABRO: RIP Scary Pteri.

Internally, we refer to multicolored uncommons as "signposts." These cards are intended to give players a clear direction while drafting and tell you what the color pair is trying to do. Ixalan has a signpost uncommon for each of the supported color pairs. We don't have one in black-green or white-blue, as those color pairs don't have a tribe supporting them.

Some signposts are louder than others, and Sky Terror isn't exactly loud, but it does incentivize an aggressive low-curve deck. Red-white is the aggro Dinosaur deck, and having a good evasion creature was a simple way to guide players to draft that deck. Sam named this card "Scary Pteri," which was amusing to most of us, so we were happy that the final name was somewhat close.

Conqueror's Galleon

DEL: The first ability on this card was "When Conqueror's Galleon attacks, transform it at end of turn."This text had a critical error: With the old wording, the crewed Vehicle would be a 0/0 creature after it transformed. The new wording fixes that problem. We're aware that the land will enter the battlefield untapped.

ID: Change looks fine from an FFL standpoint.

After making Vehicles in Kaladesh, we realized that they were more complex and powerful than we wanted at common. We knew that Ixalan was a world that had Vehicles, with all the Pirate and Vampire ships running around, but we wanted to make them at lower frequency and higher rarity.

Magic rules are extremely complex, and had this card kept its original wording, it would have remained a creature when it transformed but had no power or toughness. For this reason, we had to have it exile first and then return, similar to the Magic Origins double-sided planeswalkers (if they don't exile first, they will have no loyalty when they transform). This is the only double-sided card in the set that has this wording.

Vanquisher's Banner

SPS: Removed the +1/+1 part that was really over the top. This is just a colorless version of Conspiracy. For the kids.

SPS: New design. No longer a Conspiracy, now an expensive anthem that also draws you cards. For the kids, as Nagle likes to say.

KEN: Super generous to low converted mana cost tribes. To be nicer to high curve tribes, could be end step draw 1 if you cast a spell of the chosen tribe this turn?

As you can see from the comments, this card was originally a functional reprint of Conspiracy. It wasn't really exciting, especially because the tribal synergy in Ixalan is not as loud as it was in a set like Lorwyn, and we didn't have anything close in synergy level to Rebels and Mercenaries from Mercadian Masques, where Conspiracy saw its first printing. We made this a simple Anthem that drew you cards. We still made a Conspiracy in Ixalan, but we gave it a much lower mana cost. What I like about Vanquisher's Banner is that it's a tribal card for any tribe in any color, and has applications in formats outside of Standard and Limited.

Sorcerous Spyglass

SPS: Peek plus Pithing Needle.

PI: I feel like the way this card is worded, it raises the question of "Do I have to name a card in their hand?" Not sure how to fix this.

KEN: Looking will feel like a triggered ability but it isn't.

We added this to Ixalan to provide a clean answer to an activated ability of anything, from planeswalkers to Vehicles to problematic creatures. It was important that every color have access to this, so we made it an artifact. It was added to the file late in FFL and we already had art for the card, and we had to make sure the card worked with the art. Since it was a spyglass, we suggested that the card look at the opponent's hand before choosing a card. We liked the gameplay of seeing the opponent's hand before choosing. Cards like Pithing Needle and Meddling Mage are daunting for newer players, especially if they don't know card names or the format well (not everyone knows you're allowed to call a judge to help you choose the correct card name), and this card makes this type of effect much more accessible for players who are new to tournaments.

That's all for the M-Files, Ixalan Edition. Next week I'll be on a short break and Adam Prosak will be filling in for me. I hope you enjoy his turn at the helm!

Until next time,

Melissa DeTora

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