The past two weeks (Part 1 and Part 2), I've been sharing card-by-card design stories about Hour of Devastation. I had a lot to tell, so that means we get one more week. That said, on with the stories.
The Locust God, The Scarab God, and The Scorpion God
Nicol Bolas is blue, black, and red. He commands three Gods that come and wreck everything in Hour of Devastation. We decided to make them each two colors, capturing the three two-color combinations with Bolas's colors: blue-black, black-red, and blue-red. In the story, Bolas took three existing Gods (the world had eight Gods when he arrived) and warped them into his own choosing (note this was before Bolas lost all his god-like powers in the Mending), which is why they're combinations of his colors. What the gods originally looked like or what colors they were before his actions is unknown.
Each of the three Gods has a specific task:
The Scorpion God – Its job is to come and kill the five other Gods.
The Scarab God – Its job is to reanimate the army of Eternal soldiers and lead them out of the necropolis and into the city.
The Locust God – Its job is to create a swarm of magical locusts that eat the Hekma, the barrier that protecting the people of Naktamun.
Blue's not really a killing color while black and red are, so black-red made a lot of sense for The Scorpion God. The Scarab God reanimates creatures, which is pretty black, and the artificial nature of the Eternals felt pretty blue, so we made it blue-black. That left The Locust God, which makes small flying, destructive creatures; it seemed a good enough fit for blue-red.
We also decided as these three Gods are a bit different in the story than the first five Gods, we wanted them to function a little differently. Instead of giving them indestructibility, we gave them all an ability that returns them to your hand shortly after they've been killed so you can play them again. We felt that had the "hard to kill" feel we like with Gods. The harder part was designing them to properly match their stated roles in the story. Next, we decided we liked the idea of the Gods each having one triggered ability and one activated ability. We felt the two should have some mechanical connection.
Let's talk about the Gods' designs one by one:
The Scorpion God – The challenge of The Scorpion God was that it had to kill indestructible Gods. How exactly do you mechanically do that? By playing into the weakness of indestructible. You see, indestructibility stops destruction effects but can't save a creature that has 0 toughness. Amonkhet block conveniently gave us the perfect tool to accomplish this: -1/-1 counters. So the activated ability could put -1/-1 counters on creatures. That meant the triggered ability had to care about -1/-1 counters in some way. As The Scorpion God's shtick is killing, we thought it would be nice to reward you for using the activated ability to kill things. It also combos well with other elements of the set that put -1/-1 counters on creatures. To keep it simple, we chose to have the reward be card drawing.
The Scarab God – We knew we wanted to tie The Scarab God to the Eternals. Luckily, we had a mechanic all about reanimating Eternals: eternalize, Hour of Devastation's riff on embalm. I believe the earlier version of this card tried to grant eternalize to creature cards in a graveyard, but it didn't quite work, so the ability was changed to mimic eternalize without technically being eternalize, with the assumption that everyone will get the obvious connection. The triggered ability was then tribally connected to Zombies, as all the "eternalized" creatures are Zombies.
The Locust God – The Locust God was the hardest of the three Gods to design. Destroying creatures and reanimating creatures are things the game does all the time. Destroying Hekmas? Not so much. In the story, The Locust God makes locusts that destroy the Hekma. Maybe we could focus on the card making locusts (okay, technically it makes Insects, but locusts are insects). We made them 1/1 flying creatures with haste to feel both blue and red. Was there another ability that felt very blue-red? Yes, looting (drawing and discarding cards), but how in the world was looting tied to the creation of locusts? What if we made the locust-creating ability the triggered ability and made the trigger tie into the looting? Once we realized that drawing a card would both allow you to make at least one locust a turn and tie into the activated ability, we knew we had our mechanics.
As an extra bonus, we liked how the three cards had synergy with one another. The Scorpion God can kill a creature with -1/-1 counters and then draw a card, which allows The Locust God to make a locust. The Locust God can draw and discard a card, which allows you to put creature cards into your graveyard that The Scarab God can "eternalize." Hopefully, you'll have as much fun causing destructions with these new Gods as Bolas does.
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
When we started this design, we knew a few things:
- We wanted this to be a four–loyalty ability planeswalker. We don't do them often, and Nicol Bolas's return felt like a good place to make use of it.
- We wanted him to be blue, black, and red. Bolas's colors haven't changed.
- We wanted him to be expensive but powerful. It might take a while to get him onto the battlefield, but if you do, we wanted him to be a dominant force. One of the themes of this set was reestablishing how powerful a foe Bolas was, so we wanted his planeswalker card to be equally intimidating.
- We wanted to capture the "disaster movie" vibe we had built the set around. Bolas is here to destroy Amonkhet, and his planeswalker card needed to feel equally destructive.
Bolas is a puppet master, and we wanted the card to capture that aspect of him. This first ability allows Bolas to both have a win condition through milling (removing every card from a player's library) and gaining control of the opponent's spells. Exiling the card made for an easier template and allowed us to have an exiling theme woven through the card.
Bolas loves to mentally mess with opponents, so a discard effect felt like a good fit. The original Nicol Bolas card in Legends also forced the opponent to discard.
Bolas's third ability allows him to deal with creatures and gives him a different win condition with damage. It being 7 damage ties into both his original Legends creature and his Conflux planeswalker. Thematically, we would have exiled the damaged creature if it died to have all four abilities connect to exiling, but it wasn't worth the additional text it would have required.
I believe this was the first ability we made for the card. In the story, Bolas shows up and destroys everything, so we wanted his ultimate to be equally destructive. When you add all the abilities together, you get the feeling that Bolas is powerful, manipulative, and destructive—exactly the feeling we were shooting for.
Razaketh, the Foulblooded
Liliana was a Planeswalker back in the day when Planeswalkers had god-like powers. Then the Mending happened and her abilities were seriously downsized. Among her new problems was that she started aging normally. As a necromancer afraid of death, she wasn't keen about aging and definitely wasn't okay with dying, so she made four pacts with four different Demons for eternal youth and power.
Her first Demon was named Kothophed. He was the one who gave her the task of tracking down the Chain Veil. Liliana would find it and then use it to kill Kothophed. Liliana's second Demon was named Griselbrand. She traveled to Innistrad, helped free him from his imprisonment in the Helvault, and then killed him.
Razaketh is Liliana's third Demon. We wanted to make sure we designed something that both felt Demon-y and was intimidating. Both of Liliana's first two Demons had flying so we decided to grant it to Razaketh as well. Black doesn't often get trample, but it's allowed on the occasional big creature. An 8/8 felt big enough to qualify.
Kothophed and Griselbrand both had an element of card drawing to play up the idea that they were very intelligent Demons. Was there a way to tweak it to make Razaketh even scarier? What if instead of drawing a card, Razaketh tutored for one? He got you exactly the card you needed. It became apparent quickly though that we needed some kind of rider on the ability.
He's a Demon, why not have the ability cost some amount of life or require a sacrifice? Or better yet, why not both? After some playtesting we ended up with a cost of 2 life and one creature per activation. Hopefully, when you get Razaketh onto the battlefield, your opponent will be intimidated.
When we shifted to the Two-Block Model, we decided it was important to have some mechanical overlap between the first and third sets in Standard. (Remember at the time, Standard was only eighteen months' worth of cards, so the first and third blocks were at opposite ends of the format.) We chose to do a graveyard theme, as both the Gothic-horror genre and Egyptian mythology have an obsession with death.
In the past, the way we tended to treat blocks was to have cards in the block that follows have answers to the previous block. The problem was that if we put graveyard hosers in Kaladesh to deal with Shadows over Innistrad, we were preemptively hurting Amonkhet. So we made the choice to pull back on graveyard hosers. Well, that decision came back to bite us.
So in Amonkhet block, we wanted to make sure we had answers for graveyard mechanics in both Limited and Constructed. Ruin Rat is an example of the former. A 1B 1/1 with deathtouch is far from amazing, but it's quite playable in Limited. By adding the rider of exiling a card from an opponent's graveyard, we could add some answers to help keep Amonkhet's graveyard component in check.
One of the things we're always on the lookout for is good reprints. Here are the requirements we consider:
- The card is mechanically a good fit for the set. First and foremost, the card has to play well in the set. It doesn't matter what else it has going for it, if it doesn't enhance the gameplay, it's a poor inclusion. Yes, Pyramids is a flavor slam dunk for Amonkhet, but the abilities of the card serve no place in the block. (Oh, and also we've promised to never reprint the card.)
- The card is flavorful. The next most important thing we look for is making sure that the card is a good creative fit. Can the name work in the environment of the set? Yes, we're allowed to change names, but most of the appeal of reprints is that they are identical to the original card.
- The card isn't something we reprint often. It's fine to be a staple card, and plenty of those get reprinted, but there's something very enjoyable about finding a card from the past that's never been reprinted before. R&D, in general, takes great joy in this.
Sandblast is a direct-damage spell that only works on creatures in combat. No. 1 is good; the card represents a creature being destroyed by the weapon of sand. No. 2 is good; the card first appeared in Fate Reforged and has never been reprinted. No. 3 is good.
Sandblast is the perfect example of some of the nuance that can go into finding the right reprints for a set.
One of the things I think most designers like is when you can find one solution that answers various problems. Solemnity is a perfect example. The previous block was Kaladesh and its major mechanic was energy. Normally, we tend to give you tools in a block to answer problems from the previous block. The problem is we have to make a card that makes sense in the block it's printed in. We can't just make a card saying "Players can't gain energy," so how do we find space that makes sense both within and without the block.
The key was realizing that energy uses counters. Amonkhet also uses counters, although a very different kind of counter. What if we made a card that just stops counters of any kind—on players and on permanents. Well, maybe not all permanents. Planeswalkers require counters to function and we weren't interested in just shutting down all planeswalkers. Okay, how about players and every permanent other than planeswalkers?
This is also the kind of card that will get used for different reasons in different formats. Having trouble with poison counters? We have an answer. Opponent proliferating? We have an answer. +1/+1 counters? We have an answer. This is one of those cards I'm very curious to see how the players use.
Solitary Camel and Wretched Camel
Let's start with a little trivia. How many Camels existed in Magic prior to Hour of Devastation?
The answer is five.
How about before Amonkhet?
How about before Kaladesh?
Only two. Yes, in the first 23 years of Magic, there were only two Camels.
The first one was this one, aptly named just Camel:
Flavor-wise, this card is a thing of beauty. What does a Camel do for you? It gets you through the Desert. (Desert was a card also in Arabian Nights that could do damage to attacking creatures.) Deserts were common and thus pretty easy to obtain (well, as easy as anything was to obtain in the early days), so it wasn't odd to go up against a deck that had a number of them.
Mechanically though, Camel is complex. First, it has banding, the very first evergreen keyword Magic ever abandoned. We removed it from the game because almost no one understood how to play it properly. Second, it refers to a land subtype that up until this block only ever existed on one card.
The second Camel was Dromad Purebred from original Ravnica.
I'm not quite sure why there was a lone Camel on Ravnica. My guess is that the artist wasn't necessarily trying to draw a Camel; they just made a creature that looked more like a Camel (well, Camel Beast) than anything else we support.
I'm happy Amonkhet and Kaladesh blocks have been able to triple our available number of Camels. Hour of Devastation adds a second and third Desert-caring Camel for your Camel/Desert deck, and it introduces our first black Camel (getting Camels now into three colors) and our first Zombie Camel. I was quite excited at the slide show when I realized we had our first Zombie Camel, so I hope others share my joy.
Amonkhet had a small monument theme in artifacts that allowed you to build up over time with brick counters as you constructed the monument. Well, now we're in Hour of Devastation and things aren't exactly about building anymore. Sunset Pyramid is the kind of subtle design I like, where it riffs off a mechanical theme in a way that follows the story. Instead of building up this monument, you tear it down, removing brick counters for value. Sure, the people of Naktamun want to build up their city, but now you're in Bolas's shoes, and it's time to start tearing it down.
Back in the day, I had a theory that every set needed to have what I called a marquee card. A marquee card was a card that could be played in any deck, so usually an artifact (but in theory could be a land) that did something splashy the game didn't do yet. That theory led me to design Grinning Totem and Mindslaver. (I made Mindslaver for Tempest, but due to rules issues couldn't print it until Mirrodin years later.) It also led me to design this card:
For those that don't know, I love copying and/or doubling things. Over the years, I've made many cards that have copied or doubled all sorts of things. The idea behind Mirari was that it was an artifact that simply copied every instant and sorcery you cast. My original version cost seven mana and didn't require any additional cost; it just copied all your instants and sorceries.
During the development of Odyssey, I was told that this was a dangerous card and that we needed to add a mana cost to the copying. The cost of the artifact was dropped down to five but it now cost three additional mana to copy any instant or sorcery. I didn't want to make something broken and the revised version still felt pretty exciting to me, so we made the change.
Flash forward to Hour of Devastation. One day I'm looking at the file and I see Swarm Intelligence. My first response was (and I think I actually said this aloud), "Hey, I already made this card!"
So, I checked with development. Was this card okay? They thought so. I said it wasn't okay back in 2001 and they said that development had come a long way since 2001. So, I hope you all enjoy Mirari 1.0.
One of the things we do in most sets is create a cycle of uncommons that help you out with whatever theme a particular two-color pair is focused on. For Amonkhet block, white-black is about mummies (aka Zombies). The tricky part is that in the story white mummies and black mummies are very different things. The white mummies are the servants inside the city that aid the people. The black mummies are vicious monsters outside the city that want to eat the people. How can we make a card that works with both colors in a way that doesn't contradict the flavor differences between them?
Unraveling Mummy does this in a clever way. It lets white Zombies help you and black Zombies hurt the opponent. It does this by having two different activations, one in white and one in black. The white activation works thematically with the white Zombies, and the black activation works with black Zombies.
I like how this card mechanically points you in the right direction while also staying true to the flavor of the world.
Hour of Dusk
And that in three short columns covers all my stories about Hour of Devastation. I hope you enjoyed them, and I am happy to hear any feedback on the columns or the cards. You can email me or talk to me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).
Join me next week when I answer your questions about Hour of Devastation.
Until then, may you know the joy of winning with a Zombie Camel.
#452: Amonkhet, Part 1
#452: Amonkhet, Part 1
I asked for feedback about my podcast, and one of the most common replies I got was that people would like me to occasionally mix in more recent design stories. So, this is part one of a two-part series on the design of Amonkhet.