Spoils of the Vault

Posted in NEWS on January 11, 2008

By Devin Low

There's a saucy preview card tucked away in this article, but I think you will enjoy it even more if you let me lead you there than if you scroll down right away. I'll have more time to give the fun-loving Morningtide development team their proper introductions when the preview weeks are over, but for now I gotta get previewing!

One of Lorwyn's big innovations over Onslaught block is adding creature types to cards that aren't even creatures, including "Tribal Instant – Goblin," "Tribal Sorcery – Merfolk," and "Tribal Enchantment – Elemental." Being 150 cards to Lorwyn's 301, Morningtide is in many ways the final third of Lorwyn, and we specifically held some things back from Lorwyn so that we could put them into Morningtide. One of those was tribal artifacts, which debut in Morningtide as seen on Tuesday's preview Obsidian Battle-Axe (available on the Morningtide Minisite preview archive page). The final frontier was putting creature types on lands. But there was a huge problem with doing that: the Lorwyn design team and Lorwyn development team had each experimented with putting creature types on lands, and both experiments had failed miserably. Perhaps you remember this tidbit from my Lorwyn preview of Gilt-Leaf Palace:

The Lorwyn designers had also toyed with the idea of having dual lands that counted as creatures of the appropriate type. For example, if a playtest card was called "Elf Town," and another card counted the number of Elves you had in play, wouldn't it be cool if it counted Elf Town too? Lorwyn Developers Matt Place and Mike Turian reacted instantly: "No," they said. "It wouldn't be cool at all. It would actually be pretty awful." Why? You probably won't be surprised to hear that as the big set of a tribal block, Lorwyn has a lot of seriously powerful "race matters" effects that deeply care how many Elves you have in play. And getting a little +1 on Elf counting here and a little +2 on Elf counting there would force us to weaken some of our best race-matters effects. We decided to leave our best race-matters effects intact at their aggressive costs, and stop the lands from counting as having creature types.

Even worse, if we made the lands count as creature types, some of the benefits we had planted in the set to benefit Elves and Elf decks would suddenly be somewhat accessible to black control decks that didn't include any Elf creatures at all. That would be super lame. As the last straw, if you're wondering what could be the harm of putting the block's relevant subtypes onto a ton of no-mana-cost lands, I've got three words for you: Mirrodin artifact lands. Let's just say we've learned our lesson from that little debacle. The Lorwyn lands have no subtypes.

The case seemed closed. But the Morningtide design team brimmed with the curiosity of Wizards and the courage of Warriors, and the team started the exploration again. Adding creature types to noncreature cards was such a huge part of the design of the block that leaving lands completely uninvolved seemed wrong from a perspective of design aesthetics. So how could they combine the two without running into the problems described above? Here's their first try:

T: Add o1 to your mana pool.
CARDNAME has all the creature types of cards in your graveyard.

But Lorwyn block already has a way to express that a card has lots of creature types: the keyword changeling. So a week later the card became:

T: Add o1 to your mana pool.
As long as you a card with Changeling is in your graveyard, CARDNAME has all creature types.

The price you pay for the possibility of getting all creature types on the land is that it only makes colorless mana. But again it had the design problem of sitting in play and turning on all your Peppersmokes and Kithkin Greathearts without your opponent having much chance at all of destroying the land or otherwise disrupting your tribal combo. After all, Demolishes are nowhere near as frequently played as Shocks and Terrors.

A couple of days later, inspiration struck, and the Morningtide designers changed the card into a land that could provide all creature types and turn on lots of your race-matters cards, but had to risk its own destruction to do so. It was the latest in a hallowed lineage of famous cards: the Manlands.

T: Add o1 to your mana pool.
2: CARDNAME becomes a 1/1 creature with all creature types until end of turn. It's still a land.

Ken Nagle, at the time a plucky intern serving on his first design team, wrote this Multiverse comment to explain the team's goals for the change:

KEN 2/23: CARDNAME is all creature types of cards in your graveyard - 2: This is a 1/1 creature with all creature types until end of turn. Intent is to allow tribal decks a stalwart yet clunky way to function against heavy board control decks that would otherwise turn off the bonuses to tribal cards like instants and sorceries.

These goals make a lot of sense. If your Merfolk get wiped out by Pyroclasm, it's awesome to be able to drop a Merrow Reejerey, then whack them with the newly 2/2 Changecave. If you have a Mad Auntie and a Mogg Fanatic out, and you're worried about Wrath of God, it feels a lot better to animate two Changecaves and smash the opponent for 8 damage then it does to attack for 4 and spend your mana to commit more Goblins to the board that might get Wrathed away. Then no matter what happens, your Changecaves will be safe from Wrath of God or Pyroclasm, and they can immediately attack again next turn. Since Pyroclasm and Wrath of God are usually so powerful against tribal decks, it was well worth giving the tribal decks another tool to fight back.

As anyone who has played Lorwyn Limited can tell you, having an extra random guy with all creature types was quite an important advantage as well. In Constructed, the fact that you could sacrifice the land to Facevaulter to power up your Facevaulter and your two Knucklebone Witches, or pump up the Mutavault with both Elvish Champion and Imperious Perfect at the same time was a big deal.

Mike Turian, a strong champion for the fast fun gameplay of aggressive creature decks everywhere, saw these goals as worth supporting. He put his might in favor of the plucky little land and led the Morningtide team to give the card huge powerups in three different number improvements, from the ability

"2: CARDNAME becomes a 1/1 creature"

to become this, the final version in Morningtide. Just click here:


Now think again about pumping it up with Mad Auntie, except that now that the land only costs 1 mana to animate, you can easily animate two of them at once. And now that it starts as a printed 2/2, Mad Auntie would make each of the Mutavaults 3/3s. And since they still have all creature types while they're awake, whichever 3/3 Goblin land your opponent blocks, Mad Auntie can just regenerate it. Not a bad 8 power regenerating army for just having one creature out.

Now if you control Imperious Perfect and Elvish Champion, each Mutavault you attack with is a 4/4 forestwalker. Now each of your Spellstutter Sprites can Spell Blast for +1 or +2. Now you can play Wren's Run Packmaster or Mistbind Clique to an empty board—just animate the Mutavault to be championed. Recent Morningtide previews Kinsbaile Borderguard, Rhys the Exiled, and Rage Forger are all thrilled to see an extra Kithkin, Elf, or Shaman on your team whenever you need one.

Rise of the Assembly-Workers

The thing is, you don't even need tribal synergies to make Mutavault pretty amazing. "Turn one: Mutavault. Turn two: Smash you for 2." Your turn-one play immediately deals 2 damage? That's as fast as Savannah Lions or Goldmeadow Stalwart. That you can play in a red deck. Or a black deck. Or a blue or green or white deck. It's uncounterable. It can slam the opponent for 2, live through Wrath of God, then immediately slam for 2 more. It's immune to Damnation. It's immune to Shriekmaw. It's immune to Profane Command. It's immune to Eyeblight's Ending. It's immune to Sower of Temptation. And in a rare feat for a Magic card, it's even immune to Thoughtseize.

Have you ever declared an attack, only to have your opponent play Cryptic Command to tap all your creatures? If you have Mutavaults, then after the Cryptic Command resolves and taps all your creatures, just animate your Mutavaults and attack with them.

A land that comes down on turn one and deals 2 damage on turn two? We literally haven't seen lands hit that hard that quickly since the beloved powerhouse Mishra's Factory was in Antiquities and 1995's Fourth Edition 13 years ago. You know, Fourth Edition, when people were allowed to cast spells named "Balance" and "Mind Twist." Mirrodin's Blinkmoth Nexus was heavily played in decks of all colors, and although it flew, it only hit for 1 damage instead of Mutavault's 2.

And speaking of Mishra's Factory and Blinkmoth Nexus, here's an adorable combo by Mark Gottlieb:

Mishra's Factory has "T: Target Assembly-Worker gets +1/+1.", so it can pump up animated Mishra's Factories.

Blinkmoth Nexus has "1, T: Target Blinkmoth gets +1/+1" so it can pump up animated Blinkmoth Nexuses.

But since an animated Mutavault has all creature types, both Mishra's Factory and Blinkmoth Nexus can pump up the Mutavault too, since Mutavault becomes literally a Blinkmoth Assembly-Worker! (Time Spiral's nostalgic three-mana 2/2 creature named "Assembly-Worker" will be thrilled to hear the news as well!)

Battle of the Modern-Day Manlands

Faerie Conclave is a tier 1 Urza's Saga block card that's currently cracking skulls as a tier 1 Standard card thanks to its reappearance in Tenth Edition. Perhaps you noticed Faerie Conclave in three of the undefeated standard decklists from last month's World Championships. Perhaps you've sprung the tribal trap where you attack with Faerie Conclave, your opponent Shocks it, and you flash out a Scion of Oona to protect your Faerie Conclave and pump it up to three damage, thanks to the Conclave's Faerie subtype. Perhaps a comparison is in order:

In this Corner: Mutavault

Mutavault comes into play untapped. This is a big one. Powerful Magic decks definitely have a limit to how many "come into play tapped" lands they can play before they start tripping over themselves. Mutavault ignores that restriction. Another way to look at this comparison is to say that Mutavault generates one free mana, a Lotus Petal, every time it comes into play compared to Faerie Conclave.

Mutavault costs 1 to activate instead of 1U. This is another huge difference. You'll often want to animate your manlands turn after turn. Costing two mana total to smash with Mutavault (1 to activate, and 1 mana lost by tapping the Mutavault to attack) means you can hit with Mutavault while casting your other spells much more often than you can afford to pay the extra three mana to activate Faerie Conclave and attack with it.

Mutavault has 2 toughness instead of Faerie Conclave's 1. As early as turn two, Mutavault tells enemy Llanowar Elves "Thou shall not pass!" The toughness becomes especially relevant once Wizened Cenn and/or Field Marshal start pumping Mutavault up to 3/3 or 4/4.

Mutavault can go in any tribe deck, not just Faeries. The applications of Mutavault to Merfolk, Kithkin, Goblins, Elementals, Elves, Faeries, Treefolk, Giants, Soldiers, Wizards, Warriors, Shamans, and Rogues are kind of mind-boggling.

Mutavault can go in any color deck, not just blue. Question: Is it best with Kinsbaile Borderguard, with Venser, with Shriekmaw, with Incinerate, or with Tarmogoyf? Answer: Yes.

In this Corner: Faerie Conclave

Mutavault doesn't make blue mana. Much like playing Scrying Sheets or Mouth of Ronom, just make sure you have plenty of color sources.

Mutavault doesn't fly. Guess you'll have to bash through.

So which card is the winner? The answer is up to you. In fact, since the manlands producing colored mana and Mutavault's coming into play untapped cover each other's backs, a deck can pretty easily run both.

The Right Role at the Right Time

So the question becomes: How were we willing to make a card this good? After all, this isn't 1995 anymore, is it?

When developers tweak cards' numbers, our goal is not to act like a costing computer and calculate the "mathematically fair cost" for every card. Instead, developers work hard on hammering out philosophies about what elements of the game we want to empower or fall back on in any given year. A big part of those philosophical discussions is Pendulum Theory: If burn spells are really really powerful in a given year of sets, we're more likely to swing the pendulum back in the other direction, and be less aggressive with burn spells in the following year. Another big part of developers' philosophies is deciding what themes to promote, which deck types to boost, and which deck types need more enemies.

Damnation and Wrath of GodIn Planar Chaos, the developers agreed to make Damnation, the most powerful board sweeper black has ever had, and still keep Wrath of God in Tenth Edition as well. This is a pretty big deal. Tribal decks are based fundamentally on the idea "Put four different Merfolk (or Goblins or Elves) on the board, and they'll work together to do something awesome." Damnation and Wrath of God are incredibly powerful against decks that try to put four creatures in play at once. So before Lorwyn design began, the tribes theoretically faced a big obstacle.

Since tribal decks were the main focus of the Lorwyn block, the developers agreed to work hard to help tribal decks overcome those inherent obstacles to be powerful, effective, and fun. We decided to focus Lorwyn / Morningtide Magic a little more on creatures fighting each other and on powerful tribes, rather than decks with tons of spells and not many creatures.

The main reason is this: For the vast majority of Magic players, what is more fun?

Scenario 1) Each player plays a lot of Ancestral Visions and Compulsive Researches and Remands and Cancels and Mystical Teachings, then one person finally establishes a Vesuvan Shapeshifter-Brine Elemental lock on turn seventeen and forces a concession.

Scenario 2) One player casts a bunch of Merfolk and a Merrow Reejerey, while the other player casts a lot of Kithkin and 2 Wizened Cenns. They attack, block, and trade creatures, until the Kithkin player finally wins with an all-out-attack on turn eight.

The intuitive answer is that Scenario 2 is way more fun, and our research into player habits supports exactly that. While a small number of strategists greatly enjoy the mental battle of Scenario 1, for the vast majority of Magic players Scenario 2 is just oceans more enjoyable. And so we're making a specific effort to move Lorwyn / Morningtide Magic away from Scenario 1 and towards Scenario 2.

We're psyched about having multiple powerful tribes that can stand up to heavy-removal board control decks and teach them a lesson. Creature decks attacking and blocking is a great opportunity for good, clean, fun Magic.

Wrath of God definitely has an important place in Magic, keeping super-rush strategies in check and giving white (and currently black) a powerful reset button that prevents the game from being strictly a race to get as many creatures in play as quickly as possible. But with Damnation and Wrath of God both popular and in heavy play coming out of Time Spiral block, we were interested in giving creature decks, and especially tribal decks, powerful weapons to fight back against those powerful board sweepers. Mutavault does a great job at accomplishing exactly this role: giving creature decks (and especially tribal decks) some excellent resilience to board sweepers like Wrath of God and Pyroclasm. Pushing Mutavault to be powerful meant pushing that philosophy, which is exactly what we wanted. That made Mutavault the right card at the right time, and made us excited about bringing it to a very high power level. And as we tested Mutavault at that power level, we also found the card to be a lot of fun. That sealed the deal.

To be fair, Mutavault is also a very powerful card to play withWrath of God, but overall it helps creature decks a lot more than it hurts them. Among other things, one of the best ways to defend against Mutavault is to throw some random 2/2 in its way. Throwing a 4/4 in its way is even better. So that makes creature decks better too.


Along with some other notable changeling creatures, Mutavault helps put all the wacky Changeling interactions that are so entertaining in Lorwyn Limited into Constructed as well. But unlike a land that said "Tribal Land – Goblin" on the typeline or had the changeling ability all the time, if you want to get a tribal effect out of Mutavault you have to risk its death by animating it into a 2/2 that can be Shocked or Nameless Inversioned. And you also have to pay a mana to animate it to get access to those subtypes. Those two factors make this Vault very different from banned artifact lands like that other Vault.

Finally, giving Mutavault all creature types means that we can power up all the tribes with just one card, including Morningtide's new class tribes (Soldier, Wizard, Warrior, Shaman, and Rogue), without having to print a different manland card for each of the 13+ tribes out there.

Last Week's Poll

During magicthegathering.com preview weeks, I check for new previews
Once a day 6488 81.0%
At least two or three times during the preview weeks 1055 13.2%
At least once during the preview weeks 332 4.1%
I usually don't read previews. 136 1.7%
Total 8011 100.0%

Looks like an avalanche of readers check every day during preview weeks, which is where I put myself as well. We're running the Morningtide previews a little differently than any set before, with an additional bonus preview card on the front page every day, and a collection of all the cards previewed so far together in one place on the Morningtide minisite. The minisite also collects all the cards previewed in real-world Magic magazines, including foreign ones, so we have a large number of Morningtide previews all in one place.