Three's a Craft

Posted in Savor The Flavor on October 20, 2010

Artifice has a negative connotation in our culture. People associate the word artifice with naughty stuff like deception, cunning, and trickery. For that matter, cunning has a negative connotation. So does craft, even. If you are a crafty person, you are up to something. Creators are to be feared, for they are mysterious and smarter than us, and so let us throw rocks at their heads.

That is the attitude here. But not on Mirrodin.

    Mr. and Mrs. Smith

On Mirrodin, there's no such stigma associated with creation. On Mirrodin, artifice is the basis of respect. Every humanoid culture on the plane is fundamentally entwined with artifice, with creation, with the act of making exist what did not exist before. Whether you're an Auriok, a Vulshok, or even a goblin, you can be an Artificer. Forging things out of metal is a part of just about every religious ritual, artistic endeavor, team sport, and bank holiday under the Mirran suns.

The Blade Tribe of Vulshok humans, for example, rush headlong into combat—but they gear up in threes first. Some of these berserkers have been known to burn their hands on axes and swords that were still cooling from the forge.

The weaponsmiths among the Auriok people call themselves "edgewrights" using a borrowed leonin term. Edgewrights don't just enjoy being crafty—they feel reverence for their crafting materials. They spend long hours under the suns, scouring the Razor Fields for the perfect specimens of metallic razorgrass to forge into edged weapons. Auriok artificers are skilled fighters as well as creators; they must be deft enough to fend off the glint hawks and steel rhinos of the Fields and the Glimmervoid before they can prove their skills in the forge.

The renegade elves of the Tangle have a saying: "Vorracs are half boar, half appetite." The beasts' digestion is stimulated by the presence of certain types of organic metal, such as tanglevine and gelfruits, and the renegade Viridians gather the vorracs' favorites before every ride. Riding vorracback while feeding their hunger is a dangerous stunt; the main skill is in holding on.

The vedalken practice artifice perhaps more than any other race. They shape metal into mystical devices that allow them to study the world and enhance their intellect. Their magic is so intertwined with artifice that their identity would be destroyed without access to metal.

Each of these is an example of the flavor behind metalcraft. Metalcraft is the Mirran reliance on artifice. In their case, artifice isn't deception or trickery—it's life.

    Naming Metalcraft

Once metalcraft became a stable and important part of the design of Scars of Mirrodin, we went to work on choosing the right word. The creative team comes up with card names and flavor text, of course, but we're also ultimately responsible for naming keyword abilities, ability words, and any other flavorful words on the card. (We name counters, for example, like the eon counter on Magosi, the Waterveil and the awakening counters made by Liege of the Tangle.)

Mox Opal | Art by Volkan Baga

Today I'm going to show you my brainstorm sheet for metalcraft. It's a list of all the words and short phrases I considered for naming metalcraft.

I don't usually share this kind of internal document. That's partly because whenever we show off options that we didn't use, inevitably someone finds one (or more than one!) on the list that they liked better than the one we actually used in the set. Hey, you can't please everyone. But that's not the main reason. Mostly we keep stuff like this under wraps because they contain good potential ideas for the future. It's the same reason we don't generally show you rejected card mechanics—unused keywords, just like unused mechanics, can find a home in a set someday, especially if we don't blab them on the Internet.

But it's Metalcraft Week, and it's fun to see the process behind the scenes, and I want to show you some of the thought process behind how a keyword (or in this case, an ability word) gets named. I'm sharing the file verbatim, but I'm inserting new comments in so you can get a sense of what I was thinking as you read. Here we go.


"Presence" was the placeholder name for the ability, the word used by the designers while they playtested it. As I recall it was based on a mechanic brainstormed by Mark Globus.

Presence – CARDNAME gets [some benefit] as long as you control three or more artifacts.

(In my brainstorm sheets I start off by summarizing what the ability does.)

Established – I liked the idea that metalcraft named the state of having all your gear ready to go. You would get the bonus because you had established a board of sufficient magical complexity, or something. "Established" is boring, though.

Armored – Cooler, but looks weird next to equipment that actually are (flavored as) armor.

Enabled – Meh.

Activated – "Activated ability" is already a game term in Magic, but I liked the feel of your Chrome Steed or whatever getting "activated" by having your artifacts set up.

Energy – Maybe the permanent turns on because it draws power from the three artifacts.

Powered – Same idea.

Mirran – Metalcraft was to go on Mirran-watermarked cards exclusively, and it would have been an interesting way to get the word "Mirran" on several cards, but there are certainly Mirran creatures and spells that don't have the ability.

Mechanical – I have a string of words here that basically mean the same thing—the idea that the card is powered by, or enabled by, interconnected machinery represented by the three artifacts. There might have been an idea there if we had concepted the art carefully, but really it was a non-starter. There are too many artifacts in the block that actually are mechanical—machines, Construct creatures, and the like—for it to make sense to identify Auriok and Drakes and whatnot as "mechanical."





Metal driven

Soulsteel – Interesting. I believe I was on to something here. I wanted to go in a different direction from the mechanical feel, and get back to the magical nature of this world. It's cool sounding without being too specific about what's going on, meaning it would lend itself to a lot of card concepts. That's a good thing.

Steelsoul – Playing around with ordering the compound word differently. Shrug.

Mechanized – Hmm, back to the mechanical flavor. Give it up, Doug, it's not gonna work.

Alloy – That's a cool idea—that the creature is alloyed with metal and that's why it gets powered up with lots of artifacts around. But again, on a metal world teeming with metal-tinged creatures, the state of being partly metal is not exactly unique.

Empowered – And this isn't specific enough to artifacts. Sure, the creatures get "empowered" but that could mean a lot of things. And it kind of names the state after you achieve it, rather than the ability of being able to take advantage of it, you know? You could have an "empowered thing" that is not currently empowered. Somewhat confusing.

Steelpowered – A little more specific to the metal world. Not bad. Kind of long. It would probably be hyphenated if I used good grammar.

Metalcore – Cool sounding, although maybe too far into "metal band" territory. Makes sense on creatures, but not so much on spells like Stoic Rebuttal or Dispense Justice.

Metalwrought – I like this okay too, and maybe it actually works better on spells. "Wrought" is so irregularly spelled that it might be a bit daunting-looking on the card. Plus there are plenty of things wrought from metal that don't have this ability.

Soulforged – I see where I was going with this, kind of, but the creatures with this ability are certainly not forged out of souls.

Embellish – Trying some verbs instead of past participles now. Trying to name the action of "tuning up" your Chrome Steed to get +2/+2. "Embellish" is a weird and sort of frilly way to say this, though.

Hone – Cool! I like that this actually makes sense for metallic things. Looks weird by itself, though.

Polished – Makes sense in the abstract, but is kind of too specific. Makes sense on an artifact creature, but not on, say, an Auriok. And really weird on a spell.

Chrome – This was actually worth considering. It's a straightforward, pretty cool word, it has some positive associations of being sleek and shiny and well-made, and it has the residual glow of being connected to the powerful card Chrome Mox from the first Mirrodin block. But it's also an actual kind of metal, and one we sort of associated with blue in the style guide. Still, I like keywords that have some real-world meaning as well as some intriguing generality to them.

Sharpen – Not awful, but it really sounds like something you're supposed to do, rather than describing a state that's either on or off. Sounds like an activated ability.

Sheen – What does this card have to do with Martin and/or Charlie?

Luster – Sounds like a household cleaning agent.

Lustrous – Sounds like a shampoo commercial.

Burnished – Sounds like a furniture polish. Was I watching live TV while writing this?

Patina – Interesting. With age, your creature gets a lovely patina, and gains some abilities. Not exactly a wow factor, but interesting.

Glow – I think we would have had to show all the metalcraft creatures glowing, or something.

Forge – Again, sounds like an activated ability. However ...

Forged – ... this sounds better. Of course, there are many artifacts that are forged that don't have this ability, and it's not really true of, say, human beings.

Lacuna – An experiment with linking the ability to the lacunae, the spots where the mana suns erupted through Mirrodin's surface. This didn't really go anywhere as I couldn't imagine what that relationship might be, or how we could make sense of it over twenty-two cards.

Glistening – This word is icky. Makes me think of flan and other jiggly desserts. Ew. Texture issues. Ew.

Artifice – Okay, here we come to it. We're getting to words that point to the general skill of creating things. Feels like the right track.

Mechanism – Too roboty to go on human creatures. Maybe we'll use this word for something someday, but not for this.

Foundation – As in, you build a foundation of interconnected artifacts to allow your creature or spell to flourish. A little highfalutin.

Infrastructure – Ha. This word is dullsville, but it kinda gets at what I'm tryin to get at by this point.

Machina – When in doubt, make up a word that means what you want it to mean—but try to make sure they aren't already words. This one has some pronunciation-hesitation, though. Mah-CHAI-nah? Or Mah-SHEEN-ah?

Crafted – Like Forged, but different.

___craft – Here I'm just telling myself to consider compound words with "-craft" added to them.

Metalcraft – ... Like this. I got to metalcraft after, I think, 43 other options? It had a ring to it immediately, but I went on after it. I came back to it because it made sense, told a bit of a story, worked on both creatures and spells, didn't sound particularly color-aligned, was easy to read and pronounce, and just sounded cool. I asked around my team and the Pit, and it tested well with them. It took a long time to get here—sometimes you have to keep pounding away at something to find a good answer. And sometimes the best answer isn't your final one—it may be buried there among your already-brainstormed work.

Apparatus – Moving on ... I was still considering words for quite a while. This one's not crazy. I like the feel of your "smith" having all of his apparatuses spread out before him, like surgeon's tools. But that feel needs explanation to make sense. A fun word, but maybe too odd to stand on its own.

Tooled – Er ... no.

Implements – Still trying to name the "behold all my tools that give me this bonus" quality. Are all the words that mean this such odd words?

Paraphernalia – Apparently so. This list is funny.

Rigging – This sounds like a mountain-climbing word, or something. A Zendikar word, not a Mirrodin one.

Synthesis – If "synergy" hadn't become such a lame corporate buzzword, I might have considered this. You bring together your three artifacts, and get a synthesis bonus? It kinda works. Doesn't have the punch of metalcraft, though.

Synthesize – Too "activated ability" sounding. Although I'm intrigued by what an ability called "synthesize" might do.

Assembly – A dull word, but I see what I was going for.

-ware – Hmm, I'm not sure where I was going with this one.

Artismither – What the? Let this be a lesson to you, folks—not all compound words sound cool.

Smith – Funny how a word for something as cool as a "skilled medieval craftsperson" can sound so ordinary.

Reliquary – This suffers from the fact that Knight of the Reliquary and Reliquary Tower already beat this word to death. It'll have to take a vacation for a while, until those cards fall out of recent memory.

Relic – I guess I was considering just the word "relic" for the ability, no compound. A non-starter, considering how I'd probably need to use "relic" in card names. See? See what I did for you, Relic Putrescence?

Feretory – Fun with the thesaurus. It's just another word for reliquary—a place that contains relics. Can you imagine? "Check out this cool new set, featuring the new ability—FERETORY!"

Regalia – A kind of strange-looking word, and sort of silly-sounding in your mouth, but pretty right-on meaning-wise. It names the state of having a bunch of useful objects around you. Not bad.

Machinery – Did I not say this one already? Still don't like the mechanical-sounding angle.

Trappings – The really dreary way to say "regalia."

Attire – Okay, I am clearly on a "clothing" kick here for a while. Sometimes you have to pursue ideas even if they look dumb.

Raiment – This doesn't work for the keyword, but I like it as a word. I don't think we've ever used this word on a Magic card before. Note to self: find a cool spot for this word. Maybe too odd for a keyword, but it could definitely appear in a card name someday.

Vestment – Sounds like it means "the state of having a vest on." Heh heh.

Vesture – Fancy. Kinda sounds like a pharmaceutical brand name. That's not a compliment.

Furnished – I'm trying to say "Equipped" without saying "Equipped." Isn't really working.

Array – Sounds too much like a computer science word to me, and doesn't sound cool even to those who don't interpret it that way.

Provisions – Another Zendikar-sounding word. Plus it doesn't work well when used in game play. "I cast Silver Myr, so now I've got Provisions." Huh?

Geared – Better than "provisions." But that isn't saying much.

Gear – Not bad. It's just too Zendikar, still. And this game has Equipment, which doesn't really have anything to do with this ability, but it sounds like it should.

Primed – Another one that names the "after" state of achieving the condition, which is weird before you have the condition. And doesn't sound like it has anything to do with artifacts. Not awful, just not great.

Ensemble – Kinda cool, actually. Sounds like it's about musical instruments or an all-star cast, but at least it sounds like a bringing-together of multiple things to create a harmonious whole. It's nonspecific enough to make sense on multiple cards but conceptually sensible, which are good qualities for a keyword. There's potential there. It doesn't sound like it relates to artifacts, though, and it just didn't have the punch of metalcraft.

There you have it—the whole list of words we considered before metalcraft became metalcraft. Did we arrive at the right one? Did you think of others I didn't? You've just braved an extended delve into my brain—you may want to hose yourself off now.

    Letter of the Week

Not exactly a letter, more of an anecdote, with pics, because it did happen. I was at a game industry conference recently, and met a guy named Joey MacArthur. As it turns out, Joey has some particular ideas about whether or not he can lose and whether his opponents are able to win, and he had those ideas enshrined on his arm, along with a certain angelic being to enforce the sentiment:

See you next week!

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