M-Files: Ravnica Allegiance – Monocolor

Posted in Play Design on January 25, 2019

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! This is the M-Files for Ravnica Allegiance. For those new to the column, this is where we share with you a brief look behind the curtain into the inner workings of Magic Design and Development. These comments were painstaking transcribed from our arcane scrolls of immense power onto the internet for your viewing pleasure. So please, sit back, and enjoy.

Click below to meet our wild and lovable cast of commenters this time around:

Cast of Commenters

Jules Robins JDR – Jules Robins, designer
Sam Stoddard SPS – Sam Stoddard, lead set designer
Ken Nagle KEN – Ken Nagle, set designer
Paul Cheon PC – Paul Cheon, play designer
Glenn Jones GJ – Glenn Jones, editor
Tom Ross TOMR – Tom Ross, former play designer
Kelly Diggs KD – Kelly Diggs, former lead creative text coordinator
Eli Shiffrin ELI – Eli Shiffrin, rules manager
Yoni Skolnik YS – Yoni Skolnik, designer
Andrew Brown ABRO – Andrew Brown, play designer
Melissa DeTora MDT – Melissa DeTora, play designer
Del Laugel DEL – Del Laugel, editor
Ian Duke ID – Ian Duke, play design lead
Donald Smith, Jr. DSJ – Donald Smith, Jr., play designer
Aaron Forsythe AF – Aaron Forsythe, senior director of R&D
Ethan Fleischer EEF – Ethan Fleischer, designer
Adam Prosak AP – Adam Prosak, play designer
Bryan Hawley BRH – Bryan Hawley, play design manager
Allen Wu AW – Allen Wu, former play designer
Mark Globus MJG – Mark Globus, director of product design
Alli Medwin ALLI – Alli Medwin, digital liaison
Michael Majors MMAJ – Michael Majors, play designer
Dave Humpherys DGH – Dave Humpherys, set designer


Lumbering Battlement

SPS: New card. Very weirdo.

PC: I think this card needs something else as it can just be chump-blocked for days.

GJ: Should this be able to exile itself? Making it not a Beast is a much cleaner solution to that than the rules text fixes, which get weird. However, worth noting type-changing interactions anyway.

ELI: The other two questions are what should happen if it exiles a Vehicle and a token; we can count the number of things it put into exile (but we should really use counters then for memory tracking), we can count the cards exiled, or we can count the creature cards exiled.

SPS: Not a Beast so you don't go infinite with two. Very relevant since it would let you get infinite ETBs with just one other creature.

ELI: You'd need three to go infinite; #2 simply exiles #1 and that's the end, but it's #3 that exiles #2 returning #1 to exile #3. I don't mind "non-Beast," but "other" reads a little more natural.

SPS: Updated to other

ABRO: 3/5 -> 4/5

Looks like we are starting off with a hefty one. The words that once existed on this Beast got the point across but had some unintended consequences. Usually a designer will put the words on a card to convey the design, then later, editors will step in with some suggestions on how to clean those words up so that nothing unfortunate happens. Early versions of this card were able to exile other copies of itself, causing some silly game-breaking states of infinite triggers! It was also difficult to keep track of what kinds of things were being exiled and how to count them for the bonus power and toughness. After some clutch editing, we now have a tidy Battlement.

Tithe Taker

SPS: Human okay? Need to concept.

ABRO: Chose one card to be good against control

ABRO: Pushing this card to be the anti-controlling white creature. It had flying, now has afterlife 1.

DSJ: FFL recommends 1W 1/2 afterlife 1 with "Spells your opponents cast during your turn cost 1 more to cast."

ABRO: 1/2 -> 2/1

ABRO: Human check for Modern

TOMR: Should be good in Modern Humans

KD: I've gotten the go-ahead on Human from ID and ABRO.

ID: Interested in getting ability-hosing text on here as well

DEL: Pending request to add activated abilities that aren't mana abilities to the first ability. Need to find words for that.

DEL: New ability. Templated.

Concepting! Not only do set designers have to design abilities, costs, power, toughness, types, and so on, but they also get together with our Worldbuilding team and put together cohesive art descriptions. These match the world the card will exist in so that nothing looks too out of place and each card can help tell the story (of Ravnica in this case). Noting that Modern has a strong Humans deck, we want to make sure nothing gets too oppressive or breaks in any format. Hot take: we are unlikely to stop printing Human cards anytime soon. Just saying!

Twilight Panther

SPS: Now Zarichi Tiger

SPS: Now a "go wide" kind of reward.

SPS: Back to the Tiger.

SPS: Now gain life, and a reward for casting spells.

ABRO: Functional Cathar's Companion?

SPS: Sure is!

SPS: And now not.

SPS: Changed off-color costs. Now this is a white-black card

SPS: Down to one mana

ABRO: Power creep Mardu Hateblade?

DEL: Cat -> Cat Spirit

The part of this story that is charming is that Sam always knew he wanted this to be a Cat. Is Sam more of Cat person or a dog person? You see, we capitalize creature types. Since dog is not a creature type in Magic, I am simply unable to capitalize it here. Now Hound, I can capitalize Hound . . . whoops, I seem to have gotten off track here. Yup, sorry Mardu Hateblade, hope the Humans will still need you because you've definitely been surpassed.

Benthic Biomancer

SPS: New design.

SPS: 1U to pump

ABRO: This feels odd to me. It's a bit too small ball, and I don't see this being a Constructed card.

PC: Agree with Andrew.

YS: Would this be strong as a Merfolk?

ABRO: Seems like upside if it works at a good level there. Willing to try.

AP: A lot of the things that I want to do with this card involve non-blue cards.

SPS: Now 1U 2/1

ABRO: 1U 2/1 1U adapt -> U 1/1 2U adapt and is now a Merfolk

SPS: 2U and draw -> 1U and loot.

AF: "Always loot."

It can be a very powerful tool in Standard card design to be able to look back to the previous year's strategies and see if you can fill holes with new mechanics. Ixalan's Merfolk +1/+1 counter synergies worked perfectly with the blue card we had in the file here. Yoni brilliantly suggested that this would be an excellent fish candidate, and even Adam mentioned he had been seeing good things happen when he paired this with green cards. A few tweaks on numbers, and we have a possible contender to help play a role in new (and old) tribal strategies.

Persistent Petitioners

SPS: New card from meeting. Relentless Bureaucrats. So cute.

ELI: I'm picturing art similar to Relentless Rats, only lawyers. Very similar.

BRH: This card makes me very happy.

AP: I appreciate the meme potential of this card. (This is a serious comment by the way.)

AW: If this card makes it, I hope it's with this name.

JDR: The mirror breaker is to play 900 Bureaucrats.

EEF: This is really adorable.

MJG: Sweet.

ALLI: Finally, I can make my tribal Advisor deck!

JDR: Surprised this isn't a common to enable a Limited deck, but I acknowledge that you would almost never hit the payoff text either way.

ABRO: I second JDR here

SPS: Down to common

ALLI: Advisor tribal! Somebody gave someone some great advice.

I think the comments here say everything that needs to be said. Some cards are simply charming.

Precognitive Perception

SPS: Now an addendum card.

ABRO: Dude, nice card for Constructed

AW: Like this card a lot

PC: Felt a little too strong, suggest scry 2

SPS: Okay, down to scry 2.

Bryan: This card is really nice.

ABRO: Can we go to scry 3 for symmetry?

AW: Agree the symmetry is worth the slight additional risk.

MDT: I don't think scry 2 is enough upside for casting this on my turn.

SPS: Okay, moving back to scry 3 for testing. Should start there, even if we have to weaken it later.

Designers need to make sure their cards are strong enough to see play during our testing process. Sometimes that means putting a bit more strength than you normally see on a card to make sure play designers are interested in building decks with it. Once the card sees play, we can determine if the power level of the card is appropriate or not. But we will never know if the card isn't exciting in the first place! Here, it took that little bit of extra scry juice to make sure we tested the card, and it ended up that the higher number was actually just what the card needed to make it through.

Cry of the Carnarium

SPS: Now a Flaying Tendrils.

ID: Could also pick up "Exile each creature card put into a graveyard this turn." to safeguard against sacrifice outlets.

ABRO: Picked up Ian's words

ELI: This doesn't safeguard against sac outlets any more than before. Let's discuss.

ABRO: Going with Eli's words

GJ: This card asks players to remember a fair bit about creature cards in the graveyard earlier in the turn, and to remember both a persistent toughness change and replacement effect for its remainder.

SPS: Yes. Change is for FFL reasons, so I believe it is worth the extra burden.

The FFL (Future Future League) is really another name for the Play Design environment. This is where all the testing of the future Standard format takes place. With afterlife, many different sacrifice outlets, and a good amount of graveyard recursion in the format, the Play Design team identified a need for a stronger type of exile effect on this small sweeping removal spell. While the extra text could possibly make some game states a bit harder to keep track of, we determined the environment would be more fun if this card exiled things a bit differently than previous designs.

Drill Bit

SPS: Now a Coercion into Thoughtseize.

AW: I really, really like this card. Powerful disruptive card against mid- and late-game strategies that doesn't prevent people from interacting or initiating their game plan.

BRH: Agree, this design is perfect. Discard out of aggro decks on turns three or four is the best kind of discard.

ABRO: Probably too powerful when double-spelling on turn three with an aggro deck. Most likely will go to 1B.

AW: I really like this card at converted mana cost 3/1. Thoughtseize you can't cast turn one and have to work to cast turn two is super interesting.

MDT: I think it's too strong, and hard for the opponent to come back from when casting it for B and playing another thing in the same turn.

MMAJ: A soon to be hotly debated card in Play Design.

ID: Looks too strong but not sure what knobs to turn. Lose life equal to CMC and 1B base cost?

DSJ: I feel aggro deck's best plays are 3 and 4 CMC. I don't think this and a two-drop on turn three is too strong, and on turn four onward it doesn't seem like an issue either.

Thoughtseize is a powerful, format-warping Magic card. Adding a card of that power level to a format basically impacts how you would need to build everything else. Designers here were rightly concerned that we could be playing with a card of that caliber. Kudos to Donald and Allen for sticking to their guns and doing their best to prove that this card was exciting and appropriate for our Standard environment. We played this card a ton and never changed its initial design—a very rare feat indeed for such a hotly debated card.

Pestilent Spirit

SPS: New card.

ABRO: This is tight.

AW: Awesome design, would be a good mythic rare with some Constructed support cards.

MDT: This is sweet.

AP: I would like to find some combos with this in Standard.

MMAJ: This looks really fun.

ID: 2B to be more splashable for burn spells etc. would be fun

DSJ: Loving this card! I agree that it should be more accessible at 2B.

MDT: Why does everything have menace? #BringBackBlocking

ABRO: Lost a power 3/1 -> 2/1

SPS: Back up to 3/1

AF: I'm excited.

ABRO: Taking Donald's suggestions on stats. Now a 3/2.

Granting keywords to spells is just cool. Turning all your small burn spells into awesome kill-anything spells is very pleasing. We knew that the text on this card was something that players would get excited about, but it took some testing to figure out exactly what stats it might need to have a shot making Standard Constructed decks. That's the spirit!


SPS: Cutting a mana off, because.

NKM: Now puts revealed cards on the bottom of the library in a random order.

SPS: Now twice p/t for some extra excite

DGH: Cool.

ABRO: Is precombat more fun?

AW: Cool.

BRH: Cool text, not sure who it's for.

DSJ: While random, I think this card's upside is quite large, and provided your deck has Grizzly Bears and above, the "fail case" is a 4/4, at least in Limited.

GJ: Is this supposed to last indefinitely? If so, we'll probably want weird reminder text. A functionally different possibility is it lasts until your next turn.

SPS: Until your next turn. Added.

The color red is synonymous with randomness and chaos. With Amplifire in your deck, you really can't tell what you are going to be attacking with on your next turn. And that is part of the fun of this card. Some players just want to watch the world burn . . .

Gates Ablaze

SPS: Now deals X to each, where X is number of Gates.

JDR: Weird Gate reward given that I don't always want more.

SPS: Up to 4R

AW: Sweet card.

PC: Could potentially go down to 2R to push for a Gates-matter Constructed deck.

SPS: Down to 2R for Constructed.

ID: Looks fun, fringe

More isn't always better when it comes to rewards. You'll sometimes want to hold on to some Gates so that you kill only your opponent's creatures, saving your own. Play Design identified that this could also be cool in Standard Constructed if it was at a more reasonable cost. There are Gate rewards scattered across both Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance—have you built your best Gate brew yet?


SPS: New card from hole filling.

AW: I don't think this is Constructed-viable except as a way to cast suspend cards in Modern, but it's a cool card.

ID: If XR isn't reasonable in Modern, what about instant? Seems like this has some room in Standard.

SPS: That's a pretty interesting idea. Are there any sorceries we are worried about casting as an instant?

AF: I'm excited by that.

Del: Sorcery -> instant

In Standard, Electrodominance burns something for a bunch and can change the timing at which you cast one of your spells. This works pretty intuitively for cards with, you know, a mana cost. Lovely Modern, however, contains a small set of spells with no printed mana costs! Simply casting Electrodominance for RR will allow you to cast those spells at instant speed. Is this whacky? Yes. Did we know this was possible? For sure. Can Modern handle that pressure? Most likely. Are you certain? We tested it in Modern, and it should be fun and powerful but not oppressive. Some risks are worth taking.

End-Raze Forerunners

KEN: I like this.

AW: Sweet update.

JDR: Nice!

SPS: Now instead of statically giving everything the keywords, it's an ETB with +1/+1 to get around removal.

SPS: Some thoughts of adding colored mana and moving up the bonus

ABRO: More restrictive cost and +1/+1 -> +2/+2

ABRO: 7/7 -> 6/6

SPS: 6GG -> 5GGG

KEN: Don't mind this having haste, but do mind this granting haste to team since we don't use Concordant Crossroads as a precedent.

ABRO: FFL requests 7/7

ABRO: Take off haste-granting

Del: Triggered ability no longer grants haste

Del: 6/6 -> 7/7

Ahh yes, green haste. Yes, green creatures can have haste. However, they don't really grant other creatures the ability to have haste. Ken references a crusty old Legends card that grants haste to all creatures. A card we should not be using as a basis for Magic design here in 2019. While it is likely possible to bend these rules from time to time, the more we do, the more mushy and samey our colors become. If this happens too often, everything turns brown and identity can get lost. With End-Raze Forerunners, granting its keywords to others just seemed natural and made sense. In a majority of cases, this would be granting those bonuses to creatures without summoning sickness, so the haste was superfluous anyway. This was not a place to bend the color pie, thus haste was removed from the ability.

Open the Gates

SPS: Now Lay of the Land for basics or Gates

MDT: Nice card that encourages the Five-Color Gates archetype

MMAJ: Awesome

ID: Might make the cut even in decks without Gate rewards, purely for the fixing.

ELI: Too bad we didn't name this Gatecreep.

For all you Maze's End fanatics out there. Now it's even easier to get that final Gate you need. As Ian points out, just having the ability to search for basic lands for G has been quite playable in Standard these past few years.

Gatebreaker Ram

SPS: New Gate reward. Big Baa.

AW: Like this a good deal. The rate is just right.

ID: Cute that it always lives through the red Gate sweeper

ABRO: Added some stuff to make it better in the Gate deck, vigilance and trample.

Mana fixing is great and all, but have you ever played a 4/4 trample vigilance for 2G? With a Gate in each pack, it is pretty easy to start amassing them during your draft. We wanted to make sure players had plenty of ways to utilize their extra Gates if they picked up more than enough.

Well, it's that time, folks. Join us next time for all the multicolor goodness Ravnica Allegiance has to offer.

Dan Musser

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