Play Design Stories: Pro Tour Ixalan Edition

Posted in Play Design on November 10, 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.

Hello and welcome back to Play Design. This week I'll be talking about cards that made an impact at the Pro Tour and how we designed them. Pro Tour Ixalan was last weekend, and this Pro Tour was the first in years that took place five weeks after set release instead of the usual two. This gave players more time to test and more data to analyze from premier events. It's hard to tell what kind of impact that had on the decks we saw. Players had more time to be creative and test more brews, but some players may have not felt the need to do that exploration with the metagame already established. We saw a lot of archetypes from the last Pro Tour, and we saw some innovations from Ixalan as well. On to the cards!

Search for Azcanta

We saw Search for Azcanta show up in control decks and God-Pharaoh's Gifts decks. We aimed this card as a utility card for control decks but knew it would have applications in graveyard synergy decks as well. Search for Azcanta added more power to Torrential Gearhulk decks without being an instant itself. The original version of this card required ten cards in your graveyard to transform it, but we found that it was too difficult to transform, and games were usually decided before this card got online. We moved it to seven cards so that it could flip more reliably. We also felt that it was important for this card to not find your win conditions, but instead act as a catch-up or get-ahead card. If this found any nonland card, it would have been too flexible, and if control decks moved away from Torrential Gearhulk and more toward noncreature win conditions (like Approach of the Second Sun), that would have been a bonus.

One thing that was brought up in playtesting was the "turn three transform Search for Azcanta." We had to ask ourselves if it was okay for blue to have access to Rampant Growth. Turn one Minister of Inquiries, turn two Search allowed for a turn-three transform. We thought that was a cool dream to live, and Pascal Maynard actually had the option to do that in the Top 8 of this Pro Tour.

Pascal Maynard's White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift

Rampaging Ferocidon

Many Ramunap Red players moved toward Rampaging Ferocidon as a way to combat go-wide strategies. We actually designed this card as an answer for Felidar Guardian combo.

R&D works far in advance when designing sets, and at the time we were playtesting Ixalan, Felidar Guardian combo was a tier 1 Standard deck. We felt that the combo was too strong, but we wanted to look for other options before resorting to banning the Guardian. We did extensive testing and added hate cards to the environment (Kinjalli's Sunwing was another addition to Ixalan because of Felidar combo). We still came to the conclusion that banning Felidar Guardian was necessary for the health of Standard going forward, but Rampaging Ferocidon stuck around as a safeguard against strong life-gain or token decks.

Adanto Vanguard

Adanto Vanguard showed up in Mono-White Vampires and Green-White Aggro, both decks having respectable finishes last weekend. Adanto Vanguard was designed to be a strong aggressive two-drop that was resilient to white aggro's main weaknesses, wrath effects and spot removal. We gave it a relevant creature type to enable a Vampire tribal deck, but made it more broadly useful so you weren't forced to play tribal.

Adanto Vanguard is strictly an aggro card. It's not great on defense (why pay 4 life to block when you can just take the damage?), but is very hard to deal with on offense. One change that this went through was its static +2/+0 while attacking. Originally it was a 3/1 creature with the indestructible activated ability, but we found that this powered up Vehicle decks too much, as it was another two-mana creature that could crew Heart of Kiran. Vehicle decks at the time were the strongest decks in the real world, and we felt that it was risky to give them more tools. Making it a base 1/1 with +2/+0 on attack preserved its functionality while not excessively powering up Vehicles decks.

Here's a deck featuring Adanto Vanguard, and one of the coolest decks to come out of the Pro Tour (my opinion, of course).

Eduardo Vieira's Green-White Aggro

The Scarab God

The three Hour of Devastation Gods were a take on Gods that we hadn't yet done. R&D was concerned about Gods following the fifteen Theros Gods and five Amonkhet Gods, and wasn't sure if players would like or dislike the similarity of the Gods to each other. The Gods all had a similar design: indestructible, but could only attack or block if a certain condition was met. The Hour team looked for other ways to express immortality and decided to try "dies to hand," to make the Gods easier to interact with through combat and removal, at least temporarily. The delayed trigger of returning at end of turn was to give the opponent a window to find a more permanent answer, as returning to hand immediately proved to be frustrating and unfun.

Which God do you think is more fun? Vote in the poll below:

Vraska, Relic Seeker

When we were designing Vraska, we knew it would be difficult to make a card that felt both like Vraska and like a pirate. We went with a more generic design that could go in any midrange or control deck and didn't really have to be built around.

Originally Vraska could only destroy creatures, but it was important to us to have the ability to destroy a creature, artifact, or enchantment. Artifacts, specifically Vehicles, were seeing a lot of play in the real world, and we didn't want to make a six-mana planeswalker that couldn't interact with Heart of Kiran or Aethersphere Harvester. Additionally, many of the Ixalan double-faced cards are enchantments, so having a safeguard in case any of them were stronger than we anticipated was a plus.

We didn't want Vraska to be purely defensive, so the ability to make menace Pirates was important. You could protect yourself early with the tokens, or win with them once you established control. It was especially fun to see the Abzan Tokens decks from Pro Tour Ixalan make double Pirates with Anointed Procession in play.

The Hour of Devastation Rare Eternalize Cycle: Fun Facts

Except for the black one, all of the rare eternalize creatures, known internally as the "Champions," made an impact at the Pro Tour. Here are some fun facts about the cycle, provided to you by Hour of Devastation development lead Ian Duke!

  • Adorned Pouncer was a Human early in the file, but was changed after we saw the strength of Humans decks in the real world. Bant Humans with Collected Company was a top-tier deck and didn't need to be powered up. We chose Cat as the new creature type to enable minor Cat tribal with the two Cat "lords" in Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation. Plus, who doesn't love Cats?
  • Dreamstealer at one point was a different design that made each player discard cards equal to its power when it entered the battlefield, but it wasn't very fun. Imagine Sire of Insanity that you can cast from the graveyard!
  • R&D was surprised that Champion of Wits wasn't more exciting to players on release—we considered it one of the stronger cards in the set.
  • Earthshaker Khenra at one point stunned all creatures with power less than its own (and had different costs). This was to fight Ishkanah, Grafwidow's Spider tokens. It was too frustrating, so it was changed to one creature (but it could hit a creature with equal power).
  • Resilient Khenra was a little stronger at one point in development. R&D had decks that used this card with other pump effects like Hashep Oasis and Appeal // Authority with double strike or Electrostatic Pummeler that proved to be a little over the line in power level.

We experimented with alternative costs to eternalize for the rare cycle because we didn't want them all to end up at six or seven mana. One thing we tried was "discard a card," but that proved to be a better fit for the uncommon designs.

That's all for this week. If you enjoyed this article, please let me know on Twitter or Reddit and I will write more articles like this for future Pro Tours. Next week I'll have an Unstable preview for you, so be sure not to miss it.

Until next time,

Melissa DeTora
@MelissaDeTora

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