M-Files: M19 Edition – White, Blue, and Black

Posted in Play Design on July 13, 2018

By Dan Musser

A former tournament grinder from Ohio, Dan is currently part of the Play Design team within Magic R&D.

Hello and welcome to a brand-new edition of the M-Files! Core Set 2019 is here, and today, we are going to be perusing the tantalizing contents of the design file located in Drake, our top-secret internal database (a previous version was called "Multiverse"). Drake is one of the many tools we use in Magic R&D to give feedback on sets that are in the process of being created and eventually delivered to a local booster pack near you.

Lead designer Ethan Fleischer has been sharing some of his #M19CardStories on Twitter, so you'll not only see comments from different members of Magic R&D, you'll also get a few more detailed snippets taken directly from Ethan himself.

Want to know whose comments you're reading? Click below.

Cast of Commenters

DEL – Del Laugel, lead editor

EEF – Ethan Fleischer, lead vision designer, lead set designer

ALLI – Alli Medwin, digital liaison

ABRO – Andrew Brown, play designer

MDT – Melissa DeTora, play designer

SPS – Sam Stoddard, set designer

KEN – Ken Nagle, set designer

ID – Ian Duke, Play Design lead

ROSEJ – James Rose, Magic: The Gathering Arena designer

DSJ – Donald Smith, Jr., play designer

JDR – Jules Robins, designer

PI – Pete Ingram, former play designer

YS – Yoni Skolnik, designer

GJ – Glenn Jones, designer

AP – Adam Prosak, play designer

AF – Aaron Forsythe, senior director of R&D

ELI – Eli Shiffrin, rules manager

MJG – Mark Globus, director of product design

Take Vengeance

EEF: Divine Verdict reprint -> Retribution, new card, a colorshifted Assassinate/cheaper Vengeance.

DEL: Retribution is already a card name. Please find a new word.

EEF: Retribution -> Punish. Somehow my mind refused to accept that there was a card in Homelands called Retribution.

SPS: I wonder if just blowing up big creatures is better for a core set.

EEF: New design, lets you not feel silly for attacking.

Here we have a need for a relatively simple white removal spell. Divine Verdict was proposed as a possible reprint option, but Ethan found a better option. Frequently, Divine Verdict puts both its caster and the opponent in an awkward game state of holding four mana up every turn or the attacker holding back their coolest creature. With Take Vengeance, we get a clean removal spell. Yes, the creature gets some value from attacking at least once, but also, there is no weird bluffing or holding up a bunch of potentially wasted mana.

Trusty Packbeast

EEF: White was too weak. Trying a new card here.

DEL: Should decide whether new cards like this should default to optional or mandatory.

ALLI: Mandatory is certainly preferred for digital. This will have an extra click every trigger as long as the player has one or more artifacts in their graveyard. If they have only one, optional takes it away from zero-click territory.

DEL: Now mandatory.

Ahh, good 'ol Trusty P. Welcome to card design in 2018. While Magic will always be a tabletop card game, it will often be expressed digitally. As designers in this age, we generally make sure that cards function as fluidly as possible within that digital space. On simple new designs, we can often word the card in such a way that it functions as intended and requires a user to take as few actions as possible. Don't worry though, we will not be sacrificing cool designs for the sake of clicks every time.

Knight of the Tusk

EEF: Now 4WW 3/6 vigilance.

EEF: 3/6 -> 3/7 so it can block the green 6/6 trample common.

"The green 6/6 trample common," really Ethan?! Turns out that Colossal Dreadmaw is more than just an internet meme. It was apparently prevalent enough in M19 Limited tests that Knight of the Tusk here got a small toughness boost just to tussle with Dinosaurs. When you can't find any Dragons to hunt . . .


EEF: Late addition to the set.

ABRO: Hi, welcome to R&Dcaf, what would you like? "I'll take an Iso-Latte."

DSJ: I don't get the joke.

ELI: I think the joke is absolutely hilarious! But could you explain it for DSJ?

Andrew Brown coming in with the pun. One of the greatest skills of any savvy developer is being able to come up with intuitive nicknames for cards as they come down the design pipeline. This was one of the first sets that young Donald had the pleasure of working on, so he was either blind to Andrew's pun-laden humor, or simply refused to engage.

Cleansing Nova

EEF: Want a five-mana wrath with some kind of rider.

AP: Future Future League meeting -> Change to "Destroy all creatures and/or enchantments."

MDT: We have a lot of enchantment-based removal; the same deck will want this card. I can't see often wanting to remove both.

EEF: Is adding a third mode of "Destroy all artifacts" too strong? I feel like it would make the card a lot cooler.

SPS: Maybe, but it does a lot for me to help out in making the card seem sweet.

ID: Yes, but what if hitting artifacts was an option and the card was simply modal?

DEL: Choose one or both -> choose one; enchantments -> artifacts and enchantments

We have had a lot of five-mana sweeper effects in recent times. From End Hostilities, which was likely a little too weak, to Fumigate, which hits a good spot. In red, we just printed Hour of Devastation, removing indestructibility to deal with Gods in Amonkhet. Ethan was looking for something distinct for M19. What started as a sweeping removal spell for both creatures and enchantments eventually evolved into a sweet, brand-new modal wrath that would not force its caster to destroy the enchantment-based removal they might be using to deal with particular types of permanents.


EEF: Reprint from Theros.

ELI: Scry cards with strong, resonant names like "Omenspeaker" should help new players remember what scrying is. Yay!

ROSEJ: Only card with scry in the set.

ELI: One of three cards with scry in the set now.

DEL: Current scry count is two.

ABRO: We got there!

As Ethan mentioned on Twitter, the scry mechanic is not very resonant with its name unless you are highly entrenched in fantasy literature. So, when the opportunity arose to tie together these two things with a flavorful and easily understood creature who helps describe its function, the card became an obvious inclusion in the set. For even more bonus points, the set was randomly whittled down to just two cards that scry. Now that is resonant.

Departed Deckhand

EEF: New card. A little something for Pirate decks.

YS: Added from Limited changes/mini teams/hole-filling.

PI: Excited to try in Pirates!

DEL: Picked up an activated ability.

GJ: Would love to see this unblockable condition on more Spirits!

EEF: Now even more spirited than before.

As we're always willing to try new things, here we have an interesting combination of creature types featuring a whole new take on evasion. This is the definition of "top-down" design. Which is to say, a card with a function that comes straight from its creative flavor. The task here was to design a ghostly Pirate, which is exactly what was delivered.

One with the Machine

AF: None of these artifact-matters cards care what my artifacts are or what they do, just that I have them. How can we do better?

EEF: Now cares about converted mana cost.

KEN: Draco gets some love.

MDT: Is referencing CMC appropriate for a core set?

SPS: Should be fine at rare. I do wish we had a better term, though.

AP: Nah Ken, Metalwork Colossus gets some love.

Frequently, we have designed mechanics that just care about having some number of artifacts under your control. Here, fearless leader Aaron Forsythe had asked for something a little different than simply counting to some number of meaningless artifacts. Ethan has One with the Machine keying off your largest, likely most important piece in play. Enthusiasts of both Draco and Standard's Metalwork Colossus can rejoice. Additionally, Melissa brings up an excellent point. Casting costs are most important when, well, casting a spell. Asking a player to care about casting costs while something is on the battlefield should be rare.

Scholar of Stars

EEF: New card.

EEF: 3U -> 2U

EEF: ETB if you control an artifact draw a card -> ETB regrow an artifact

EEF: 2U 2/2 -> 3U 3/2.

EEF: 3/2 ETB regrow an artifact -> 2/4 can't blocked if you control an artifact.

EEF: 2/4 if artifact, unblockable -> 3/2 ETB if artifact, draw a card.

EEF: 3/2 -> 3/1.

EEF: 3/1 -> 3/2.

ROSEJ: Glad to have you back.

A true scholar knows that the journey is more important than the destination. It may seem silly that Ethan was talking to himself the whole time here, but these were likely changes that took place after Limited playtest sessions. Scholar of Stars was changing the whole time, maneuvering through Limited balance and keeping blue in line with other colors. Eventually, enough other cards had changed that the Scholar journeyed back to its original form!

Mirror Image

ROSEJ: Wish this was "2U: Copy a creature you control."

EEF: Your wish is my command.

ROSEJ: Wow, that was easy. What else should I wish for?

KEN: I wish I had a new house.

EEF: / \

EEF: | |

EEF: ---

ABRO: w.o.w.

Sometimes wishes come true.

Skeleton Archer

EEF: 2B 2/2 -> 3B 3/3

EEF: -1/-1 -> ping, more resonant as an archer

JDR: This looks to be muddying the line between black and red.

EEF: This is certainly a bend for flavor and gameplay reasons.

DEL: True. I like my archers with muscles to draw the bow.

KEN: Why not go full flavor and add reach since it's an archer? Or, should one never go full flavor?

EEF: I think you answered your own question, KEN.

ROSEJ: One could argue full flavor has already been "reached."

Nice one, James. This is another example of a top-down concept card design. Certainly, giving a creature -1/-1 is more in line with black's color pie. This is a case where we push on what the color black can do in a way that tells this card's story a little better. It makes more sense for an archer to do a small amount of damage to a creature than to literally shrink it. Hence, we went with a design that skirts the boundaries of black's normal suite of abilities.

Rise from the Grave

EEF: Reprint from Eldritch Moon.

EEF: Ben expressed a concern that the "black Zombie" text was extraneous. Personally, I like it a lot, but we should consider it carefully.

Eli: For Magic 2010's goal of maximizing resonance, it was correct. Here, for maximizing accessibility, it may not be.

MJG: I like this a lot. Resonance does a lot to create accessibility.

DEL: Agree with MJG on this card.

As a core set, one of the main goals of M19 is to welcome new players. Sure, there may not be a ton of functional merit to this particular card adding "black Zombie" to a creature, but as a concept in popular culture, it makes sense that dark powers could bring things back to life as Zombies. There is significant upside when a card can speak to people on so many different levels.

Graveyard Marshal

EEF: New card.

ABRO: Exile one creature please!

EEF: 2B: exile two -> 1B, T: exile one.

ABRO: Would like to buff this more

EEF: Knock another mana off the activation cost?

EEF: 1B, T -> 2B as per FFL meeting.

DEL: 1B -> BB, 3/1 -> 3/2.

It may seem by these comments that Andrew really likes graveyards, or maybe just marshals. But what he really did was identify a card that had a fun play pattern in the Future Future League (our internal playtesting) and iterate on it until it became a functional Standard Constructed card. Through many playtest sessions Andrew and Ethan were able to massage this into a spot that everyone was happy with.

Liliana's Contract

EEF: New card from Yoni, Sorcery win condition. It's possible this wants the 4 life to be a payment.

MDT: Amusing line of text!

YS: Is it acceptable that this is impossible in Limited?

EEF: I accept those terms.

KEN: One of those "you can both win the game and lose the game at the same time" rule 104.3f-matters cards?

ELI: Nope, if you have two cards, 2 life, and four Demons, you win the game before state-based actions kill you.

ABRO: I think I would expect to both lose and win the game at the same time, that seems like a question we don't want players asking themselves.

EEF: I worry about timing, players could hold removal and wait for you to cast this. Are the Demons supposed to be in your graveyard instead of on the battlefield? LOL.

Eli: +1 on the LOL, but wow, that's a lot stronger. Too non-interactive?

MDT: Wait. Does this want to be an enchantment with an ETB: Draw four lose 4?

EEF: That solves a lot of issues. Sorcery -> enchantment.

DEL: Did that.

Eli: Combo with Arcane Adaptation!

EEF: Arcane Adaption combo count increases by one.

EEF: Also, buff. 4BB -> 3BB.

Melissa is back to save the day! This was an awesome design by Yoni, but as a sorcery it had a few timing issues to deal with. Once it became an enchantment with separate triggers, it functioned like a charm.

Is it time to go already? Darn. Well, come back next week when we wrap up with red, green, multicolor, artifacts, and lands!

See you then,

Dan Musser

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