My name is Carmen Klomparens, and I'm a game designer on the Play Design team at Wizards of the Coast. I'm here today to talk about designing the upcoming Ravnica Remastered! I had the luxury of co-leading Ravnica Remastered alongside seasoned Magic designer Mark Globus, with us making for a great team to start with a simple concept and end with an actualized set. It's been under wraps for a while, but I personally couldn't be more excited about it, given that it's my first time leading a Magic product.
So, what goes into making a set like this? The biggest difference working on a remastered set as opposed to one of the normal frontline Magic products is in whether cards can be tweaked or if they can be changed entirely. Normally, if there's a problem with a design, there is something that can be changed about it—it can gain mana, lose a toughness, or maybe have a slightly different effect. Working on an all-reprint set means that rather than trying to create a bunch of new cards in the name of an experience, you must choose an experience you want to aim for and then choose the existing cards that are going to create the experience. Like building a cube, it's a matter of defining the experience you want to cultivate. Luckily, Mark had an idea:
The Guilds Are the Stars
The coolest thing about Ravnica is the guilds. It may sound obvious to spell it out like that, but Ravnica represents a lot of things to a lot of different people, and the fact that we've been there multiple times means that everybody is a little bit right. Ravnica is so resonant with players because there are several aspects with which to identify: you can be an Azorius mage or a Boros player, or even get a tattoo of your favorite guild mark. Ensuring players can connect with Ravnica while playing the set will offer the best experience and was our guiding star throughout development, and you're going to see me reference this throughout the article.
Going in, we knew that our work was cut out for us, because Ravnica Remastered was going to have all ten guilds in a single set, whereas a majority of past Ravnica sets had sectioned off the guilds into multiple releases. Dragon's Maze was the exception to this, but it had a bunch of themes using three or more colors that we were actively trying to avoid—after all, we wanted our set to be about the guilds and not just gold cards. This begged the question: what separates a green-blue deck from a Simic deck? It's all about the guild.
On Ravnica, there is a distinct message about what Simic decks do, and Globus's vision was to make sure the gameplay accented those features in each guild. For the most part, this was easy—Golgari does graveyard stuff; Boros brings an army; Izzet does the spellcasting. Some of them were a bit more nebulous, and we couldn't lean on the mechanics to carry a deck. Dimir, for example, has transmute, cipher, and surveil—two card selection mechanics and a mechanic where many of the cards are too weak to build an entire deck. This meant that, in a lot of cases, we were trying to make sure that someone's deck with Swamps and Islands felt like a Dimir deck, even if the cards didn't necessarily unite around a central named mechanic.
That thinking came in handy when we started looking for cards to include that weren't from the original nine Ravnica sets. After all, not all Ravnican cards came from those sets.
Hammering Out the Card Pool
When searching for cards that we could use to fill roles in the Limited environment or add excitement to the set, it was decided we cared more about cards looking and feeling Ravnican than about them having the named mechanics. This meant that we were okay with
One of the last things to hammer out was War of the Spark's place in all of this. It was set on Ravnica and had Ravnican themes, but so much of the set was about planeswalker cards, and with it being a major event set, we had to have a lengthy discussion about what we should include.
We ended up deciding cards that looked like they were part of a guild were obviously fine; they're Ravnicans, after all. Otherwise, we tried to avoid most of the mechanics that separated War of the Spark from Ravnica. There's no amass, zero uncommon planeswalkers, and very little proliferate.
Once the vision and card pool had been established, Mark got to work establishing a skeleton. Even before cards were pulled into the set, they were bookmarked based on what guild they were representing, and making sure there was as much guild representation as possible was a priority. The most obvious way to do that was with the guild-specific mechanics from each set. For Ravnica Remastered, we were able to fit 26 out of a possible 29 mechanics into the set! So, what was left out? Why were they left out?
Undergrowth and cipher were two mechanics that were left out for power-level reasons. The cards that we tried out in these slots didn't play out very strongly or weren't making decks, and we didn't want to let something like design aesthetics get in the way of good gameplay.
Radiance, on the other hand, was one that we ended up omitting for power-level reasons. Most players who played the cards were caught off guard that radiance cards were symmetrical! We recognized that a lot of players who draft Masters and remastered sets are frequently only drafting it a time or two, and we didn't want people to run the risk of having a big moment ruined by a card not working how they thought it would in one of the only games they'd play of the format. It's possible that
Balancing the Set
Balancing the set was easier than one of our normal sets in some ways but harder than others. I've already touched on the differences in that cards for Ravnica Remastered couldn't be changed without changing the whole card, but that ends up creating the most challenges when balancing. There are only so many blue two-drop common-level creatures among Ravnica sets after all, so we had what we had. In some ways, it's stressful because it means that things can't be improved upon past a certain degree, but it can be freeing for exactly those reasons. In many cases, it even helped us identify what we needed to design around, because some cards were going to be strong regardless of what we surrounded them with:
From the beginning, the Signet and Guildmage cycles were cards that we knew were evocative of original Ravnica and beloved by many. The biggest problem: they were much stronger than cards from that era of similar rarities. This meant that we knew we needed to balance around two-mana artifact ramp and have reasonable checks against the Guildmages at one and two mana. It was also quickly identified that entire draft pods could change a lot based on how much fixing there was available at the table. Enter the mana slot.
To make sure that there was an adequate amount of fixing for an entire table of ten guilds, we arrived at the idea of having an entire slot in every booster dedicated to mana fixing. Sometimes it might be a Guildgate, a Signet, a shock land, or even a Chromatic Lantern if you're lucky.
This change ended up having a positive impact on drafts for two reasons: People were more comfortably prioritizing cool spells over mana fixing early, because they knew there were going to be at least 24 pieces of mana fixing at every table. It also meant that players trying to build a two-and-a-half- to three-color deck didn't completely ruin the draft at tables where less mana fixing was opened. The other way to correct for the latter problem would have likely involved over-indexing on mana fixing to a degree where it would've been impossible to dodge what I refer to as the "soup problem."
It gets its name from players' tendency to label their decks "N-color soup" in several multicolor sets. The prevalence of mana fixing has led to the strongest thing to do in a Limited environment, to simply draft a bunch of mana fixing, card draw, removal, and not really have much purpose when it comes to engaging with archetypes. It ripples throughout the draft pod in strange ways because of how much fixing and removal ends up being absorbed by a single player, and the games aren't the most fun for the opponent. It was important to us that each guild felt like it had its own distinct game plan and that players get to play as a member of their guild. There were a couple of ways we combatted this.
On a micro level, one of the ways to best combat this issue was to try and make cards less grindy and more thematic when there wasn't a huge cost to pay. For example, when choosing between
Another tool in the belt was indexing a bit higher on pip-intensive uncommons. "Pips" refers to the colored mana symbols in the mana costs of cards. These are effective tools in incentivizing two-color decks because they're quite hard to splash. That's true of many of the stronger uncommons, like
On a macro level, the other way to combat slow, grindy gameplay is to simply put more power into attacking. Incentivizing players to be proactive when possible did a great job of making later playtests more about engaging with guilds as the strong thing to do as opposed to simply drafting Signets, removal, and bombs.
While working on the set, we began to struggle a bit with cards that were naturally iconic to Ravnica but didn't play particularly well. After speaking a bit with the Architecture team, we found that we could have the best of both worlds: we could silo some of these cards as exclusives to Collector Boosters while preserving the fun in Draft.
With all of that in mind, where did the guilds end up landing? There are twelve archetypes that I'd label "defined" in Ravnica Remastered, with the ten natural guilds, and one "hidden" archetype for people who want to flex a bit outside of the paradigm.
Azorius is tempo-beatdown! Play efficient creatures early and then use bounce effects and the detain mechanic to hold your opponent back.
Dimir is good ol'-fashioned blue-black control! Use removal and card draw to out-resource your opponent before finishing them off with evasive creatures. You can try and mill your opponent out, too, if you're feeling brave!
Rakdos wants to hit 'em fast and hit 'em hard! Deploy a bunch of small creatures and use all your resources to deal as much fast damage as possible. Spectacle rewards you for overextending a bit, and Hellbent rewards you overextending a lot.
Gruul is all about big creatures and attacking. Power and toughness are the name of the game, and the Gruul color pair is going to give you the most bang for your buck on that axis. Outsize your opponent's creatures and use the bloodrush mechanic to help you win combat from behind.
Selesnya is about biding its time, holding its creatures back and using them as a resource for convoke. Eventually, you can use cards like
Orzhov likes to take its sweet time, nickel-and-diming the opponent for a few points here, a few points there, until it's too late. Despite a bunch of its cards looking aggressive, the secret here is that all the Orzhov cards are going to be worth at least a couple of life—the trick is finding the ways to make some of them add up to 20!
Izzet is one of those guilds whose strength everybody knows: spell slinging! Dazzle your opponents with card draw, combat tricks, and burn until late-game fliers like
Golgari's always been about the graveyard, and that's true here as well. Dredge and scavenge provide ways to reuse resources from the graveyard, and plenty of Golgari cards are going to end up playing well by simply playing a normal game of Magic given how many creatures find their way into the graveyard.
Boros is here to assemble an army and use it. Battalion asks you to play a bunch of small creatures early so you can attack with them, and mentor ensures that even the smallest soldiers grow into the middle and late game.
Speaking of growing, Simic is going to evolve and adapt all its creatures for any situation. Naturally, they're going to start small, but using counters to grow over the course of the game is the recipe for success here.
Now, we aren't so naive as to think nobody is going to draft four- or five-color good stuff in Ravnica Remastered. It's just going to be a bit less common. When people do go down that path, we know it's going to involve a lot of Gates, and sprinkling in a few cards to help that archetype seemed fitting.
Overall, working on this set was a dream come true. To be a tad indulgent, the very first Magic novels that I ever read were the first Ravnica novels following Agrus Kos, the first preview article I distinctly remember reading was for
If you'd like to see all the cards in the set, check out the Ravnica Remastered Card Image Gallery.