M-Files: Throne of Eldraine – White, Blue, Black

Posted in Play Design on October 4, 2019

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.

Hello and welcome back to the M-Files, Throne of Eldraine edition! Melissa DeTora here, ready to share some insight and commentary on in-progress cards from the Vision, Set, and Play Design teams, one year later!

Drake, formerly called Multiverse (and where the M-Files got its name), 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 the design process 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 to each name, click below to meet our commentators.

Cast of Characters

ERIK – Erik Lauer, Throne of Eldraine lead designer (second half)
MaGo – Mark Gottlieb, Throne of Eldraine lead designer (first half)
YS – Yoni Skolnik, set designer
ELI – Eli Shiffrin, rules manager
BRYAN – Bryan Hawley, Play Design manager
SPS – Sam Stoddard, former set designer
ID – Ian Duke, technical lead of Play Design
AF – Aaron Forsythe, director of R&D
TOMR – Tom Ross, former play designer
DEL – Del Laugel, principal editor
MJJ – Mons Johnson, Duel Masters lead developer
ALLI – Alli Medwin, digital liaison
GSV – Gavin Verhey, product designer
ABRO – Andrew Brown, play designer
MDT – Melissa DeTora, play designer
PC – Paul Cheon, former play designer (now esports manager)
DGH – Dave Humpherys, game design architect
NKM – Nat Moes, editor
DSJ – Donald Smith, Jr., play designer
MH – Mark Heggen, product architect
KEN – Ken Nagle, senior game designer
MT – Mike Turian, product architect
ROSEJ – James Rose, MTG Arena game designer & member of the ELD Set Design team
PTL – Peter Lee, former game designer
TABAK – Matt Tabak, Throne of Eldraine lead editor

And now, on to the cards!


Happily Ever After

MAGO: Bumped down to rare. Have fun, Johnny

BRYAN: These quests look too hard for anything but the top 1% most hardcore Johnnies.

ERIK: Adding an enters-the-battlefield bonus. Also, this is King Kenrith's return.

ABRO: 3W -> 2W

During Vision Design, we had a group of cards called Quests. Quests were enchantments that had a variety of goals for the player to complete while the quest was in play. If you met all the goals on the card, you'd get a sweet reward. Quests were very hard to develop for various reasons, but mainly because they were very hard to achieve, and the rewards weren't satisfying enough for all the work put in. We axed quests (you can read more about why here) but kept some that we liked, redesigning them to just be normal enchantments or artifacts. One of the cards that remained was Happily Ever After.

Meanwhile, the Council of Colors was in the process of figuring out something new to add to white to give it more card flow. White is the weakest color at drawing physical cards. It can gain card advantage in other ways, usually in the form of destroying many permanents at once, but the lack of raw cards in white makes it weaker in Commander than the other colors. The council tried a variety of different things (some may even see print!), but the most promising space they found was "group hug" style draw effects. We tried it on this card to give you a little boost in assembling the win condition.


The Circle of Loyalty

MT: To me, this feels like a great use of colored artifacts

BRYAN: Very cool Knight payoff.

DSJ: I think this now needs text to mitigate it being Legendary now that the new Castle Outfitter makes you want to play more copies.

ABRO: Adding leaves the battlefield to create two Knights.

ERIK: Creative prefers one Knight. Trying a cast trigger on casting legends.

Speaking of quests, The Circle of Loyalty is another card that came about as a result of the axed quest mechanic. We had a cycle of legendary quests that created a powerful legendary token that represented a mythical object from each of the five courts. As I said previously, it was hard to balance and develop these quests in a satisfying way. It was a huge feel-bad to acquire your legendary token only to have it get bounced by Brazen Borrower. We didn't like the play pattern of jumping through hoops to get something awesome, only to have it immediately become exiled from the battlefield before you even get to use it. Our solution was to have a powerful, expensive artifact, and give it a cost reduction if you build your deck around it. And that is how this cycle of legendary artifacts came to be.


Giant Killer

ERIK: Fun concept; I hope it is positioned so it is correct to cast the creature a reasonable amount of the time.

AF: I agree this is a lame creature. We're struggling with having to make cool cards worse for Limited balance.

ROSEJ: Adventure felt wrong on a 1/1—too close to a sorcery.

ABRO: Contrary to others, I love this card. Hits the perfect flavor note.

ERIK: Now an instant.

Magic is a highly complex game, and we often struggle with balancing it. As we make cool new mechanics year after year, we often fall victim to complexity creep and are always looking for ways to keep it low when we can. Adventures were pretty complex cards due to the options given. We tried to lower the complexity by making our Adventures sorcery-only and vanilla creatures while on the battlefield. The goal was to limit the number of things either player had to track and remember. However, as we playtested, we discovered that ELD Limited was missing depth, and therefore we decided to try out different takes on adventurer creatures. First, we added abilities to the creatures and found that it added a much wider variety of gameplay. Still, both the Limited format and the constructed format were lacking. When Erik Lauer took over as the Set Design lead, he decided to include a mix of instants and sorceries on adventurer creatures. This added the depth that Limited needed but, more importantly, gave Constructed the tools and answers it needed to make it more fun and give it a wide variety of play patterns.

"Jack, the Giant Killer" was one of the cards that was in the file from the start. It was a top-down Jack from the "Jack and the Beanstalk" story. Jack was a small, weak guy, so his original design was a 1/1 vanilla creature with a 2W sorcery adventure. We really liked the top-down design but wanted a more interesting card for gameplay, and after making his spell an instant and adding a tap ability, Giant Killer was born.


Charming Prince

PTL: New top-down card inspired by team; charm joke is intentional.

MDT: This is surprisingly similar to Guilds of Ravnica rare Dryad Champion. Sweet card, but players will find it odd to be downshifted in rarity. Maybe we can change some abilities around.

MAGO: The two important aspects here are: 1) It is a Charm, and 2) it can destroy an enchantment (to wake you up from Sleeping Spell, etc.). Details can change. I'm waiting to see how Dryad Champion ends up; we have time on this one.

AF: Rosewater had a compelling story for the original version. Rescue princess (Demystify), marry her (+1 counter), live happily ever after (gain life). He's working with Erik to potentially change the GRN card.

MDT: What if one mode removed creatures on quests? White is lacking ways to do that.

ABRO: Changing to leading candidate for Javier Domínguez's card.

PC: Last two abilities look cool. The first one feels a bit underwhelming.

ABRO: New set of abilities. Now not the World Champion card.

Do you like Magic puns? Well then, I'd like you to meet Charming Prince. Charming Prince is a take on charms from across Magic history. The joke is that charms do three different things, so here we have a creature that does three different things when it enters the battlefield, and therefore this creature was "charming."

The three abilities of this card changed many times throughout set design, but one thing remained that was important to the team—that the prince could free the princess from the tower. During its lifetime, it could do that in different ways, such as destroying an enchantment. As we playtested, we thought that effect was too similar to Knight of Autumn, so we decided to make it blink a creature you control instead.


All that Glitters

ROSEJ: Has been a fun "dream."

ABRO: 1W for Constructed? Would see Modern play at that rate.

MAGO: Okay, let's try that

ABRO: 1W -> W

ABRO: Always shootin starrrrrssss . . .

TABAK: And back to 1W

We love to make cards that give you new and unique decks to build. It's not often you see a card that asks you to care about both artifacts and enchantments. We tried this as a Limited theme for the white-blue color pair and really wanted to make a card that gives you a big dream to live. My favorite use of this card was as payoff in the Brawl preconstructed deck, "Faerie Schemes." To turn your tiny Faerie into a huge, threatening monster.


Fae of Wishes

PTL: New design from Maro, inspired by Judgment wishes.

ID: We haven't done a wish in a while; this could be a good set to revisit as a one-off. Will ask Play Design to weigh in on if we think they are fun in small doses.

ROSEJ: MTG Arena may want this to say "from your sideboard."

BRYAN: Challenging design to get into Constructed currently.

SPS: Is it weird that this doesn't let you get cards in exile? Or is that too strong with Adventure synergies?

TOMR: Noting that War of the Spark Karn gets outside of game and exile. Should question if it's worth aligning them.

DEL: Interacting with exile feels like a Karn-specific thing to me.

ABRO: Adding text for you to be tricky and wish again!

PC: Stats look weird given that I don't think I've ever seen a 1U 1/4 flier.

ABRO: I think these are the stats for you to have a decision whether to play the card or Adventure it.

ID: We should discuss with MTG Arena how this should work in Bo1 (since nothing else is competing for sideboard slots).

Part of Play Design's philosophy is that we want players to have agency and choices. One of the challenges with adventurer creatures is that it's a natural play pattern to cast the instant or sorcery first and the creature later in order to get the most value out of your card. We wanted to give you reasons for playing the creature and not the Adventure sometimes. This card was a challenge because it has such a unique and powerful ability, and if you are choosing to put this in your deck, it's because you want to use the sorcery side. As we played this, we noticed that this card always had the same play pattern: play the Adventure, then play the creature later. Our solution to this was to make it a strong early defensive creature and give you a way to wish for something later.


Mirrormade

ELI: I love this.

TOMR: Cool. More interesting now that Quasiduplicate doesn't copy artifacts.

AP: We haven't made this card yet? Awesome.

When I saw this card in the set file, I couldn't believe we've never made it before. We've made Copy Artifact, Copy Enchantment, and even some variations of Copy Anything, but never a card that does exactly this. While we had an artifact and enchantment theme in this set, we questioned whether Mirrormade belonged here, as many of the coolest artifacts and enchantments were legendary—which it doesn't work with—and some of the coolest things to copy, like Sagas and Gilded Lotus, were rotating. We decided that the flavor was a nice fit, and there were enough things to do with it (perhaps in the future?) that it was worth including here.


Brazen Borrower

ELI: I like this card as it is, but should probably call out the on-board combat trickiness of it when it's on an adventure.

ABRO: Trying high flying.

ABRO: We might want to go to "opponent only" on bounce.

TOMR: Seconded. I'm imagining two of these protecting each other from removal.

TABAK: Want to change last ability to "an opponent controls"? It's slightly friendlier than "you don't control."

With Blink of an Eye rotating from Standard, Play Design wanted to fill that hole sooner rather than later. We decided to try it on an adventurer creature with flash. We soon noticed the awkwardness that was having a flash creature revealed to all players and how it made people play. It was very hard to attack into because you just didn't know what your opponent was going to do. Holding sorcery-speed removal against this was a huge feel-bad and just discouraged attacks. High flying (a term that means "can only block creatures with flying") was a nice solution to this problem and encouraged you to play more aggressively, which we found to be fun.


Hypnotic Sprite

ELI: F-R-A-Z-Z-L-E

ABRO: I am not a good card namer

ABRO: ID notes this should probably counter CMC 3 or less, so you're trading down on mana for number of cards.

TABAK: Review – Does the sequence implied by the mana costs add too much tension?

ERIK: The tension is deliberate, and considered desirable.

With the Faerie creature type making a return in large numbers in Throne of Eldraine, we wanted some cards that were reminiscent of the Faerie deck from Lorwyn block. We don't have Lorwyn levels of Faerie-ness, but we were interested in adding some trickiness to our flying friends. It only seemed natural to make an adventuring Faerie that could counter spells. Like with Fae of Wishes, we wanted Hypnotic Faerie to ­have a variety of different options in how you played with it. If you wanted to be aggressive, you could play it as a turn-two flying beater. If you were playing a slower game, you could save it to counter a spell. We liked that you could adapt appropriately to whatever situation is thrown your way.


Emry, Lurker of the Loch

ABRO: Milling is a theme in Throne of Eldraine currently

AP: Somewhat sad that the activated ability is horrible with the Legendary artifacts.

ABRO: Good note, will investigate

ABRO: Words to cast the legendary artifacts now.

SPS: SaffronOlive.dec.

TABAK: Review – Legendary? Seems cool enough . . .

ERIK: Legendary for Commander.

ID: Looks risky in Eternal formats, but as I understand it's an intentional shot.

PC: This card is no joke.

One of the Play Design team's goals is to have each macro-archetype represented in Standard. Aggro, control, midrange, and combo should all be reasonable choices for players to bring to an event. Emry was a shot at a graveyard-centric combo deck revolving around artifacts. At first, the deck just didn't work, so we added a self-mill ability so that it could "fuel itself." As you can see, its strength in Modern was intentional. Have fun, combo players!


Bake into a Pie

MAGO: Changed exile to destroy to reduce incidental exiling in an Adventure set.

MT: Seems like a good spot to use non-Human (as we aren't cannibals).

MAGO: Why do you assume we're Human?

PC: Wow, this card is no joke for Limited. 2BB possibly?

ABRO: 3B -> 2BB for the A+ to be CC

PC: Curious if we'd be better off having our A+ commons splashable to still give decision points after players have settled into their first color.

Bake into a Pie was one of our top-down designs, and one of the most fun names. We liked the name so much that it made it all the way to print from Vision Design. As a common, it's going to show up a lot in Limited, and as someone who's done a lot of playtest drafts, I can confirm that it was very fun to tell my opponent that I was going to bake their creature into a pie.

One challenge with this set was the difficulty in tracking what was going on. We had a variety of tokens, caring about the graveyard, exiled creatures on adventures, and more. We had to be careful about which cards were exiling and which were not, and it was important to distinguish which creatures were on adventures and which were exiled due to other effects. For that reason, we limited the number of cards that exiled or cared about exiling.


Rankle, Master of Pranks

AP: I can't tell if this is too strong or too weak. (I like that!)

BRYAN: Sweet. Looks like a fun card to push (though obviously we might need to fiddle with modes and rate).

SPS: It's just a prank, bro!

TABAK: Note that (as written) you choose the mode as the ability goes on the stack and you can't change your mind just because things happened in response.

ID: Noting that we went from choose one to choose any number after discussion with EVL. Goal is to strengthen in Constructed and read more mythic rare.

ELI: Confirm choosing zero options is okay, and this shouldn't be "choose one or more"? No issues either way.

Rankle has lots of "knobs," which is a term Play Design uses to reference ways that we can tweak cards. Rankle had lots of ways he could change, between the mana cost, power and toughness, keywords, and any of the three abilities. The most interesting change that this card went through was when we were playtesting internally and he was coming up weak. When that happens, we'll add strength somewhere, but Rankle had so many knobs that we had a hard time figuring out which change was right. The set lead, Erik Lauer, asked us if it was appropriate for Rankle's triggered ability to change from "choose one" to "choose any number," and we really liked the idea. Rankle ended up moving from a straightforward choice card to a card with many strategic options.


Witch's Vengeance

TOMR: This should see Modern play. Curious why naming is a cost and not on resolution like Tsabo's Decree.

ELI: Players can respond intelligently; it's weird but I appreciate the confusion it's trying to avoid. Consider "When you cast this spell, choose a creature type." Referring to the choice as an additional cost is pretty odd.

PC: I wonder if we should potentially save this for the following set. We want to push Knight tribal and this card completely hoses that deck.

AP: I like sideboard cards like these more than I like color hate cards. Simple, and you know when it's good, but it's not good against everything. I would hope that the existence of cards like this allows us to push on tribal decks.

SPS: "Additional cost" means weird things if I copy this, right? What are the other weird times when this operates strangely?

ELI: The copy has the same type chosen.

TABAK: Going to the easier-to-read template.

Witch's Vengeance was a card designed by Aaron Forsythe with the goal of having more obvious sideboard choices in Standard. Its playtest name was "Hex the Village," and it was a great safeguard to have in the format for when you wanted an answer for strong tribal decks, or even monocolored decks that were creature-centric. For example, Mono-Blue Fliers is mostly Faeries and Spirits and has no tribal elements, and even if this card isn't a pure wrath against those decks, it's still a card that's likely to wipe out several creatures at once, making it worth the slot in your sideboard.


Ayara, First of Locthwain

ABRO: Loved playing with this card. Will note that Army tokens are all black.

PC: Looks very strong, but I'm excited to test this and find out.

AP: This card looks great! Is there a black creature deck to support this?

BRYAN: If there isn't, we can start changing cards until there is!

Ayara is part of a cycle of creatures that care about playing a high density of their color. As we were designing this cycle, we kept in mind the virtues of each of the five courts. White is loyalty, blue is knowledge, black is persistence, red is courage, and green is strength. If you look at this rare cycle, you can see that mechanically they are all tying in to the flavor. For Ayara, we wanted to encourage a creature deck that essentially never ran out of gas. The ability to turn your weaker creatures into cards will help you draw into your stronger, late-game cards, and the life gain helps you survive against an early onslaught. We've played plenty of games that came to an end by black's life loss alone, which made Ayara decks feel different from other creature decks.


Syr Konrad, the Grim

MAGO: New. Legendary Knights now uncommon, tie into color themes

TOMR: Feels rare

ABRO: 4/6 -> 5/4; mill you -> mill anyone.

ABRO: Wasn't especially fun in Limited as a high-toughness removal check

BRYAN: Good with Tormod's Crypt.

ELI: Note that this doesn't trigger if you wrath and other creatures die.

ABRO: If I resolve my five-drop and you activate your Crypt, you're sure ded.

TABAK: Gave this a new template to fix two problems: 1) it wouldn't trigger if a token died, and 2) it wouldn't trigger if it died at the same time as another creature.

During Throne of Eldraine set design, we had an artifact and enchantment theme in the Esper colors (white-blue-black) and Knight tribal in Mardu (red-white-black). Enter this card, which was part of an uncommon cycle of legendary Knights, but wasn't really playing a role in either of the Limited color pairs (other than having the creature type Knight). We ended up giving blue-black a stronger identity in milling the opponent and white-black a clearer direction for Knights in attrition and recursion. We changed the activated ability to mill both players, and this card became a stronger, more directional card for those color pairs. We felt that it was important for this card to work with creatures on the battlefield (including tokens), and also with the milling that the blue-black deck was doing, which is why it has this wordy template.

That's all for this week for Throne of Eldraine's M-Files! Join me next time as we tackle red, green, multicolor, artifacts, and lands!

Thanks for reading,

Melissa DeTora
@MelissaDeTora

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