Premium Deck Series: Slivers

Posted in NEWS on November 9, 2009

By Ken Nagle

Ken Nagle was a finalist in the first Great Designer Search and joined Wizards of the Coast as a design intern. He has since gone on to work on twelve Magic expansions, including four of which he led, as well as leading the design of Archenemy and the first Commander decks.

Salutations and welcome to unofficial Sliver Week! Or, at least, my Premium Deck Series: Slivers article. I've been asked to share with you a behind-the-scenes account of the Magic R&D process that went into creating the Premium Deck Series: Slivers product.

A Different Approach

Usually, ideas for new products come from R&D and then work their way through all the other departments. This time was different. As the lead game designer for this product, I wasn't involved until a strange-looking white-and-clear box was dropped off on my desk with an ultimatum to "find something compelling to put inside that."

Initial stages, first rudimentary concepts from the creative team
Unprinted mock up from vendor of the creative teams final submission

The Search for Themes

After some brainstorm meetings, an all-foil 60-card deck won the right to be inside this box. As a bling-matters deck designer, it was my task to determine exactly what 60 cards were going into the deck.

Our most compelling boxed sets always exude a strong theme. However, we didn't want to repeat any of these recently used themes:

  • Elves (Elves vs. Goblins)
  • Goblins (Elves vs. Goblins)
  • Dragons (From the Vault: Dragons)
  • Angels (Divine vs. Demonic)
  • Demons (Divine vs. Demonic)
  • Beasts (Garruk vs. Liliana)
  • Elementals (Planechase: Elemental Thunder)
  • Myr (Planechase: Metallic Dreams)
  • Zombies (Planechase: Zombie Uprising)
  • Vampires (Zendikar Intro Pack)

After some asking around, I had a short list of themes to choose from, and one of the lowest-hanging fruits was indeed Slivers. While it's a great idea, the problem is that it is quite possibly the best idea. Why is that a problem? Let me explain.

If you've ever been in an entertainment business that releases content on a regular basis, you come to realize that it's best to "spread out the awesome" across multiple releases. That way your audience finds compelling content in all your products rather than being spoiled by all the good stuff at the beginning, and the really good stuff has breathing room. You've probably noticed that TV series have mastered this art with cliffhangers and payoffs. However, movie sequels are notoriously poorer than their predecessors because they never "spread out the awesome"; there's never a sequel to a movie that bombs.

So, I was a bit nervous about Slivers because it fires what I felt was our very best deck-building bullet on the initial launch of Premium Deck Series. It's an entire foil deck in a foil deck box, ready to play! Does it really need any help to fly off the shelf beyond that?

But in the end, I bit the bullet.

The Candidates

Here is a full spoiler of all the Slivers in Magic:

Name Cost Type Line P/T Most Recent Printing Rarity
Acidic Sliver BR Creature - Sliver 2/2 Stronghold Uncommon
Armor Sliver 2W Creature - Sliver 2/2 Tempest Uncommon
Barbed Sliver 2R Creature - Sliver 2/2 Tempest Uncommon
Basal Sliver 2B Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Common
Battering Sliver 5R Creature - Sliver 4/4 Planar Chaos Common
Blade Sliver 2R Creature - Sliver 2/2 Legions Uncommon
Bonesplitter Sliver 3R Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Common
Brood Sliver 4G Creature - Sliver 3/3 Legions Rare
Cautery Sliver WR Creature - Sliver 2/2 Planar Chaos Uncommon
Clot Sliver 1B Creature - Sliver 1/1 Tempest Common
Crypt Sliver 1B Creature - Sliver 1/1 Legions Common
Crystalline Sliver WU Creature - Sliver 2/2 2003 FNM Promos Special
Darkheart Sliver BU Creature - Sliver 2/2 Planar Chaos Uncommon
Dementia Sliver 3UB Creature - Sliver 3/3 Time Spiral Uncommon
Dormant Sliver 2UG Creature - Sliver 2/2 Planar Chaos Uncommon
Essence Sliver 3W Creature - Sliver 3/3 Time Spiral Timeshifted Special
Firewake Sliver 1RG Creature - Sliver 1/1 Time Spiral Uncommon
Frenetic Sliver 1UR Creature - Sliver 2/2 Planar Chaos Uncommon
Frenzy Sliver 1B Creature - Sliver 1/1 Future Sight Common
Fungus Sliver 3G Creature - Fungus Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Rare
Fury Sliver 5R Creature - Sliver 3/3 Time Spiral Uncommon
Gemhide Sliver 1G Creature - Sliver 1/1 Time Spiral Common
Ghostflame Sliver BR Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Uncommon
Harmonic Sliver 1WG Creature - Sliver 1/1 Time Spiral Uncommon
Heart Sliver 1R Creature - Sliver 1/1 Tempest Common
Hibernation Sliver UB Creature - Sliver 2/2 Stronghold Uncommon
Homing Sliver 2R Creature - Sliver 2/2 Future Sight Common
Horned Sliver 2G Creature - Sliver 2/2 Tempest Uncommon
Hunter Sliver 1R Creature - Sliver 1/1 Legions Common
Lymph Sliver 4W Creature - Sliver 3/3 Future Sight Common
Magma Sliver 3R Creature - Sliver 3/3 Legions Rare
Mesmeric Sliver 3U Creature - Sliver 2/2 Future Sight Common
Metallic Sliver 1 Artifact Creature - Sliver 1/1 Tempest Common
Might Sliver 4G Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Uncommon
Mindlash Sliver B Creature - Sliver 1/1 Time Spiral Common
Mindwhip Sliver 2B Creature - Sliver 2/2 Tempest Uncommon
Mistform Sliver 1U Creature - Illusion Sliver 1/1 Legions Common
Mnemonic Sliver 2U Creature - Sliver 2/2 Tempest Uncommon
Muscle Sliver 1G Creature - Sliver 1/1 2003 FNM Promos Special
Necrotic Sliver 1WB Creature - Sliver 2/2 Planar Chaos Uncommon
Opaline Sliver 1WU Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Uncommon
Plague Sliver 2BB Creature - Sliver 5/5 Time Spiral Rare
Plated Sliver W Creature - Sliver 1/1 Legions Common
Poultice Sliver 2W Creature - Sliver 2/2 Planar Chaos Common
Psionic Sliver 4U Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Rare
Pulmonic Sliver 3WW Creature - Sliver 3/3 Time Spiral Rare
Quick Sliver 1G Creature - Sliver 1/1 Legions Common
Quilled Sliver 1B Creature - Sliver 1/1 Time Spiral Uncommon
Reflex Sliver 3G Creature - Sliver 2/2 Planar Chaos Common
Root Sliver 3G Creature - Sliver 2/2 Legions Uncommon
Screeching Sliver U Creature - Sliver 1/1 Time Spiral Common
Sedge Sliver 2R Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Rare
Shadow Sliver 2U Creature - Sliver 1/1 Time Spiral Common
Shifting Sliver 3U Creature - Sliver 2/2 Legions Uncommon
Sidewinder Sliver W Creature - Sliver 1/1 Time Spiral Common
Sinew Sliver 1W Creature - Sliver 1/1 Planar Chaos Common
Sliver Legion WUBRG Legendary Creature - Sliver 7/7 Future Sight Rare
Sliver Overlord WUBRG Legendary Creature - Sliver Mutant 7/7 Scourge Rare
Sliver Queen WUBRG Legendary Creature - Sliver 7/7 Stronghold Rare
Spectral Sliver 2B Creature - Sliver Spirit 2/2 Legions Uncommon
Spined Sliver RG Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Timeshifted Special
Spinneret Sliver 1G Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Common
Spitting Sliver 4B Creature - Sliver 3/3 Planar Chaos Common
Synapse Sliver 4U Creature - Sliver 3/3 Legions Rare
Synchronous Sliver 4U Creature - Sliver 3/3 Planar Chaos Common
Talon Sliver 1G Creature - Sliver 1/1 Tempest Common
Telekinetic Sliver 2UU Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Uncommon
Toxin Sliver 3B Creature - Sliver 3/3 Legions Rare
Two-Headed Sliver 1R Creature - Sliver 1/1 Time Spiral Common
Vampiric Sliver 3B Creature - Sliver 3/3 Time Spiral Uncommon
Venser's Sliver 5 Artifact Creature - Sliver 3/3 Time Spiral Common
Victual Sliver WG Creature - Sliver 2/2 Stronghold Uncommon
Virulent Sliver G Creature - Sliver 1/1 Future Sight Common
Ward Sliver 4W Creature - Sliver 2/2 Legions Uncommon
Watcher Sliver 3W Creature - Sliver 2/2 Time Spiral Common
Winged Sliver 1U Creature - Sliver 1/1 Tempest Common

The Selection Process

I know that some Slivers are more beloved than others. However, I have a very large audience to serve. There are players who want four of each of their favorite Slivers sitting next to EDH players who want never-before-foiled Slivers as one-ofs. With only 60 slots to work with, I knew I couldn't please everyone.

Bombos

Magic deck building is about finding synergy so that your deck runs like a well-oiled machine. Slivers are a tribe all about synergy. However, even in a tribe as synergistic and sharing as the Sliver hive, there are times when two Slivers just don't enjoy each other's company.

First up we have Crystalline Sliver versus Opaline Sliver.

Crystalline Sliver prevents your Slivers from being targeted. Opaline Sliver's ability can only trigger when an opponent targets one of your slivers, which Crystalline Sliver flat out disables. These two also happen to be the only white-blue gold Slivers ever printed.

Next up we have Magma Sliver versus Crystalline Sliver.

Magma Sliver lets you skyrocket the power of your Slivers with its sick tap ability. However, it requires targeting your Slivers, which Crystalline Sliver prevents. Even though we definitely enjoy the power boost of Magma Sliver, we've already chosen Crystalline Sliver from above.

Next up we have Metallic Sliver versus Harmonic Sliver.

Metallic Sliver is one of the original slivers (and Mark Rosewater wishes he'd had named it Silver Sliver). It doesn't do much except be a 1/1 Sliver (using dated "This counts as a Sliver" technology), but you can cast it with any color of mana. That's pretty snazzy for a five-color deck. Harmonic Sliver is a silver bullet sliver that can single-handedly dismantle your opponent's Myr deck or Sigil of the Empty Throne deck. However, since Harmonic Sliver's effect is mandatory, sometimes you will be forced to destroy your own Metallic Sliver. In general, players absolutely despise this kind of "bad tension."

To the designer in me, Dormant Sliver seems like a cruel joke. On one hand, it enables my Slivers to draw into more Slivers but on the other hand, it grants all my Slivers defender, preventing me from attacking my opponent. There's certainly tricks to be had with Victual Sliver and whatnot, but there's always tricks with Magic cards, and on the whole I don't feel that Dormant Sliver is high on players' lists of most-loved Slivers.

Whoever designed Dormant Sliver must love Jungle Barrier way more than everyone else does.

Feel Bad

The next Slivers don't create dissynergy per se, but they certainly qualify as pairs that I wanted to avoid so players don't "feel bad" about it.

First up is Talon Sliver versus Fury Sliver

Since granting your Slivers double strike is just better than giving them first strike, Fury Sliver's bonus trumps Talon Sliver's. A deck doesn't really need both. Since Fury Sliver is actually one of the most damage-increasing slivers ever printed, it gets the nod.

Next up is Heart Sliver and Firewake Sliver.

Both of these Slivers grant haste. Firewake Sliver does some more weird stuff. While my main colors just happen to be red and green, Firewake Sliver has a targeted effect that gets hosed by my Crystalline Sliver. The straightforward Heart Sliver does what I'm looking for without the weirdness attached.

Finally, we have Winged Sliver and Pulmonic Sliver.

We have another case of the bigger Sliver totally encompassing the ability of the smaller Sliver. In this case, Winged Sliver is the cleaner and more famous of the two, so it wins out.

A Mythic in the Making

Making new products with old cards has always had it fidgety compromises, like making an old radio using new transistors or playing old sheet music compositions with modern instruments.

  • We have modern card frames.
  • We have modern rules, keywords, and templates.
  • We have a new Mythic rarity.
  • We even have modernized Creature subtypes.

For the most part, we update all aspects of old cards accordingly. While there's nostalgia in old frames/rules/templates, that nostalgia is forever locked in the old cards already in circulation. We can add zing to new cards with new frames/rules/templates during the modernization process. As a player, I appreciate that the cards in circulation offer both the old and the new.

The trickiest upgrade is the recently added Mythic rarity. While reprinted cards have moved up and down in rarity throughout Magic history, it's only been across a 3-rarity system of common/uncommon/rare. Mythic adds a fourth possible choice for a reprinted card's rarity.

If I were make a list of "the most Mythic cards in all of Magic: The Gathering history" it might look something like:

  1. Black Lotus
  2. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
  3. Progenitus
  4. Darksteel Colossus
  5. Platinum Angel

In my opinion, Black Lotus is the "most Mythic" of all Magic cards; I had heard whispers and tales of the Black Lotus years before I actually saw one with my own eyes. And indeed, as of Magic 2010 we have upgraded both Darksteel Colossus and Platinum Angel to the well-deserved Mythic rarity.

Slivers aren't without their Mythic candidates for upgrading. From the complete Sliver list above, the three candidates are:

We can safely assume these three cards would be mythic rares if such a thing existed so many years ago. The Premium Deck Series is slated to have just one, though, so which one should it be?

Short answer: Sliver Overlord. Sliver Queen is on the Reserve List, and thusly can't be reprinted as long as it's on there. Sliver Legion is a glorified Coat of Arms and much less of a deckbuilding centerpiece. Incidentally, Sliver Overlord makes for the best EDH General for a Sliver deck, though Sliver Queen works better in a non-Sliver EDH deck built around her infinite combos.


Next up is Muscle Sliver and Sinew Sliver.

Both these Slivers grant +1/+1, a "Lord" in the most traditional sense. Muscle Sliver is particularly famous—IIRC the first ever "better than Grizzly Bears" bear though it still avoids the "strictly better" comparison.

They literally do the same thing, so I chose the more famous and loved Muscle Sliver. Sinew Sliver is just a planeshifted Muscle Sliver anyway in adherence to the main theme of Planar Chaos. This decision also helps give the deck a heavier green tilt, which adds a tiny bit of consistency desperately needed in a WUBRG deck.

Next up is Clot Sliver and Crypt Sliver.

Both of these Slivers regenerate your Slivers. Clot costs 2 while Crypt costs tapping (a Sliver without Summoning Sickness). The stickler is, again, that darned Crystalline Sliver bomboing with Crypt Sliver's targeting, so in goes never-been-foiled Clot Sliver.

I Love It When a Product Comes Together

Here's what it looks like sitting on the shelf at a store near you:

And that's it—the respawning of an old race and the birth of a new product series. If you've heard of Slivers, remember playing with and against them, want to give the geometrically scaling tribe a whirl, or are looking to bling-bling out your current Sliver deck, this is the product for you. Premium Deck Series: Slivers goes on sale November 20.

The end of evolution is upon us.