Even More War Games
For the last two weeks, I've been sharing War of the Spark card-by-card design stories. Today, I'll be wrapping them up with my final batch of stories. Let's get on with the stories.
Oath of Kaya
Kaya might have started the story as a villain, but she ends it as a hero. At the end of the events of the story, she agrees to join up with the Gatewatch, so, of course, that means she gets an Oath card. The card, like all Oaths, has an enters-the-battlefield effect that holds most of the cost of the card. In Kaya's case, her Oath drains any target for 3. Then, if a planeswalker you control is ever attacked, the Oath drains the attacking opponent for 2. This ties the two abilities together thematically and helps encourage you to play with planeswalkers, something very easy to do in Limited, making this an Oath that you might main deck and not just for the "enters-the-battlefield" ability.
Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted
I believe the earliest version of this card gave -2/-2 to target creature, meaning it could destroy small or injured creatures. Set Design tweaked the card, allowing it to kill any creature but adding the drawback of letting the creature's controller draw cards. This allows you to get rid of the opponent's creatures at a cost or sacrifice your own creatures for cards. The triggered ability allows you to damage the opponent, but in a way that's tied into the loyalty ability to make the card feel more connected. If my memory serves me, this card was Ob-Nixilis pretty early in design.
When we started designing War of the Spark, I asked the following question, "Is there anything we've always wanted to make cards out of on Ravnica, but it's hard to do within the guild structure?" The answer was yes, and the first item given to me was Vehicles. There are clearly Vehicles on Ravnica, but if we tried to do them in a guild set, we'd have to cycle them, and not every guild necessarily has a Vehicle. War of the Spark let us make whatever Vehicles we wanted without worrying about balancing them between guilds.
Also, following Kaladesh block, R&D has decided to be more open in embracing colored artifacts. War of the Spark is the first set where you can see us begin to enact this. As such, all three of the Vehicles are colored.
The Parhelion II is a Boros Vehicle that had been referenced in story before. We knew it was a big flying ship, so obviously it had to have flying. It's mono-white, so we needed to stick with white abilities. We ended up choosing first strike and vigilance. Because the Parhelion II is manned by Angels, it creates two Angels whenever you attack with it. As it's such a giant ship, we made it crew 4 (this also conveniently allows one Angel to crew it).
Silent Submersible was a sneaky mono-blue submarine (made by the Dimir is my guess), so giving "curiosity" felt apropos. It's not strict curiosity, though, as it also draws you a card if you damage a planeswalker. This is one of many tweaks in our goal to add additional planeswalker relevance to the set.
Mizzium Tanks are a product of the Izzet. They have trample and a prowess-like ability that allows them to turn into a creature without being crewed. The Set Design team explored doing more Vehicles, but, in the end, these were the three that worked best, so they're the ones they made.
The story ends happily. In the past, we've done a bad job of showing that things ended on a positive note, so this time, we took a page from the movies and showed all of Ravnica celebrating to signify that the good guys won the day. The design of the card was made to be a hodgepodge of positive effects that you could choose in any combination.
As the story ends, Bolas is stripped of his Spark and jailed in his Meditation Realm (with Ugin being his jailer). We needed a card to represent this, so we chose the Oblivion Ring card from the set to do so. We made sure it could hit planeswalkers, so it fit the story beat.
Ral, Storm Conduit
As Ral plays a larger role in the final part of the story, we'd always planned on having him be rare (with either Dack or Saheeli being the uncommon hybrid blue-red planeswalker). Because of the larger number of planeswalkers, we were looking for niche spaces for each planeswalker to care about, and instants and sorceries made a lot of sense for Ral. I believe the triggered ability and the -2 loyalty ability were made together. The +2 ability came last. We wanted it to be something that helped you get instants and sorceries into your hand, and the card was leaning a little red, so we liked the scry as the positive-loyalty ability.
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
Saheeli was tricky to design as she's an artifact-themed Planeswalker in a non-artifact-themed set. We liked her -2 ability as it fit her character well, but it required two different artifacts to be on the battlefield, which is a bit tricky to accomplish in Limited with the as-fan of artifacts in War of the Spark being so low. The solution to our problem was giving her a triggered ability that creates artifact creatures. It both tied her to her home plane of Kaladesh (with the artifacts being Servos) and allowed you to use her -2 ability more often. This did require us to change Dovin away from making 1/1 Thopters, however.
Samut, Tyrant Smasher
You might not think it from first glance, but this planeswalker card might have generated more R&D discussion than any other planeswalker in the set. The card started out with just the -1 ability, at the time just granting +2/+1 (we had the power boost higher than toughness boost to make it feel a little red). Haste was added to the loyalty ability once it was decided the card would be Samut, as super speed is her thing. Set Design then decided that they wanted all the uncommon planeswalkers to have a static or triggered ability. The one that worked best with the card was granting all your creatures haste. The problem was that while red is primary in haste, green, at the time, was tertiary, and one of the things about being tertiary is you tend not to grant the ability.
Could the black-red hybrid planeswalker grant haste? That was Angrath, and haste didn't make as much sense as granting menace. The issue then came to the Council of Colors. Could we make an exception for this card? The Council said okay, but during that time, the conversation came up about just changing green from tertiary to secondary in haste. The Council of Colors talked that through and then the issue got brought up during a Cardcrafter meeting (a weekly R&D meeting where the designers talk crunchy details about the game), and it was decided to officially make the change, making Samut no longer a problem card.
Sarkhan the Masterless
Early on, we examined whether Sarkhan made sense as a hybrid planeswalker, as he's been every color but white, but it became clear that he worked best as a mono-red planeswalker in this set. I think he was moved to rare early because he wanted to be Dragon-centric (it's his thing), and that's hard to do at uncommon. His -3 loyalty ability came first—of course he makes Dragons. The triggered ability came next, as it was flavorful and tied into the -3 ability. His +1 ability was the hardest to come up with because we wanted it to be +1, but also were interested in tying it to Dragons. One of the common things we have Sarkhan do is become a Dragon. What if we did a small twist on that where he turned all your planeswalkers into Dragons? He could always use it on himself, but it allowed him to have planeswalker synergy, something we were trying to build into the set as it had a strong planeswalker theme.
Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
Kaya was the uncommon hybrid white-black planeswalker, and, as she's an assassin, we wanted her to have a killing ability. That meant we wanted to take Sorin in a different direction. As he was a rare, that meant he got a static/triggered ability, a plus-loyalty ability and a larger minus ultimate ability. I believe the ultimate got made first as both white and black can return cards from the graveyard, and having them come back as Vampires fit Sorin's vampire flavor. For his plus ability, we liked the idea of it being minor but being a +2, allowing him to build up his ultimate to get larger creatures back. After considering a bunch of different things, we settled on dealing 1 damage to a player or planeswalker. We were trying where we could to have more interaction between planeswalkers. We knew one of the white-black planeswalkers would grant lifelink as it overlaps the two colors. Sorin, with his vampire flavor, seemed a better fit than Kaya.
Players have been asking for a planeswalker clone for many years now. It didn't make sense in most sets, but War of the Spark was finally a set where it did, so we made one. The original version of this card just copied planeswalkers, but it was a bit narrow, so we expanded it out to copy creatures or planeswalkers.
Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
We really wanted Tamiyo to show up in War of the Spark, but we wanted Bolas to be the only three-color planeswalker. That meant we needed to chop Tamiyo down to two colors. She's base blue, so one of them had to be blue. White-blue was filled up because we needed both Dovin and Teferi to be in the set. That left green-blue for Tamiyo. We ended up making Kiora the uncommon hybrid planeswalker, which meant Tamiyo had to be rare. We did, by the way, think about the idea of having her be mono-blue and show up at uncommon, but we liked her being two colors.
Tamiyo's schtick is that she's a researcher who uses story magic. Since she was blue, that allowed us to have her +1 ability interact with the library and potentially draw cards. We ended up making her -3 ability get cards from the graveyard, both to interact with her +1 ability and to get some green onto the card. Her static ability came last. In the end, we made it a defensive ability that wouldn't happen often but would be helpful when it did matter. We felt it conveyed a bit of her protective nature.
Teferi, Time Raveler
Teferi is part of the Gatewatch, so we knew he was getting a rare card (with Dovin filling the uncommon white-blue hybrid planeswalker slot). Teferi's power suite is time manipulation. I believe his static ability and +1 ability were designed together. He uses time to slow down the opponent's spells while speeding up your spells. Their instants act like sorceries and your sorceries act like instants. For the -3 loyalty ultimate, the decision was to give him a negative-loyalty ability that he didn't have to build up to. You can play Teferi, and he can use the ability right away without having to sacrifice himself. The bounce plus card draw helped this card work well in a control deck, which is what white-blue tends to like to do. I should point out that this card leans more blue than white, but we liked how the whole package played and we wanted Teferi to be white-blue.
Teyo, the Shieldmage
Teyo was designed to fill an uncommon mono-white planeswalker slot. We had trouble finding a character to fill it. We wanted Ajani to be green-white; we wanted Dovin to be white-blue; Elspeth is currently trapped in the underworld on Theros; Gideon was a mythic rare as he plays a major role in the story; we wanted Huatli to be green-white; we wanted Kaya to be white-black; we wanted Nahiri to be red-white; we wanted Sorin to be white-black; Tamiyo doesn't make any sense in mono-white; we wanted Teferi to be white-blue; and Venser was dead. (Aminatou and Estrid were three-color cards with white being one of the colors, but neither made much sense to be here, and that's not even getting into the timeline of when they lived.) That meant we needed to make a brand-new character. So, we just mechanically made a mono-white uncommon planeswalker we liked.
The planeswalker made 0/3 Walls and granted you hexproof. We flavored him as a shieldmage, someone whose magic was mostly protective. White has a strong protection flavor, and we hadn't made a Planeswalker that sat squarely in the space. The character was then fleshed out with a backstory. Greg Weisman, the author of the War of the Spark novel, was looking for a POV character ("point of view"—someone who is introduced to everything, allowing the reader to also get up to speed), and he felt Teyo fit the role nicely. Greg asked if it was possible to make the character a little younger, and the Creative team agreed to make the change.
Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
Of all the Planeswalkers, the one I get the most requests to bring back is Tibalt. With a famously weak two-drop planeswalker, he's become a bit of a meme in the Magic community. Chandra was in the Gatewatch and thus wanted to be rare. Sarkhan, due to his abilities, wanted to be rare, and we didn't want more than two monocolored rare planeswalkers of any color, so that pushed Tibalt to uncommon. We did consider him for the black-red hybrid slot as the character is quite black-red, but we ended up going with Angrath there, so Tibalt stayed mono-red. He started with the -2 loyalty ability making Devils, tokens unique to Innistrad, his home plane. When Set Design added a static ability, they chose something in flavor for the character that wouldn't matter a lot but would be important when it did—preventing life gain. Hopefully, all the Tibalt fans will have fun playing him.
Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves
Not only was War of the Spark a chance to do some legendary creatures we'd never done before, it was also a chance to catch up on some old characters that already had a card. In Ravnica: City of Guilds, Tolsimir was an Elf champion of Selesnya that pumped green and white creatures and called forth his Wolf, Voja. The new Tolsimir is a little more focused. It has a Wolf build-around mechanic that allows every Wolf you play to gain you life and fight something upon entering the battlefield. It also brings along a new and improved Voja that guarantees at least one fight when you cast Tolsimir.
Ugin, the Ineffable
Ugin, like Karn, is hard to design because he's colorless, meaning any deck can play him, so you have to be careful how universal his abilities are. I believe he started with his static ability. Caring about casting colorless cards made sense for the character and helps make the card niche enough that not every deck would play it. I believe the next piece added was his -3 loyalty ability. Continuing with the theme of the static ability, we made it anti-multicolor. This was also a narrow ability that can be powerful in the right situations. It was designed so that he could use the ultimate right away when you cast him. The +1 ability was designed as a way to be useful but flavorful to Ugin. Using the top card of your library as the creature token allowed us to put in a little extra card advantage, as you get the card when the Spirit dies. That ability was a nice nod to Tarkir block and the manifest ability, which is also connected to Ugin.
Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
We knew Vivien was going to be mono-green. The other mono-green planeswalkers were Arlinn, Jiang Yanggu, and Nissa. Nissa is a former Gatewatch member, so we wanted her at rare. The uncommon green designs we had made sense for Arlinn and Yanggu, so we ended up putting Vivien at rare. That meant a static or triggered ability, a plus-loyalty ability, and a minus-loyalty ability. Vivien is a creature-centric Planeswalker, so we started with the -2 ability that let her get more creature cards. The ability was made cheap so that she could use the ability more than once (and could use it extra times with a little bit of proliferate).
I believe the static ability came next. Vivien's character has a bow capable of summoning spirit creatures from her destroyed home plane, so we liked the idea that she could cast creatures at (almost) any time. The plus ability was the last one added. One of the challenges with so many different planeswalkers was properly divvying up who got to grant what evergreen abilities. We liked her granting reach as it played into her archer flavor, but reach wasn't enough so we ended up also allowing her to grant vigilance. Ajani also granted vigilance, but the two cards felt different enough.
Vivien's bow allows her to fire special arrows that call forth spirit creatures from her destroyed home plane. We thought this object was pretty cool, so we made an artifact to represent it. It's green as it's tied to Vivien. The card allows you to use the bow to bring creatures to the battlefield. The more mana you have, the more choice of creatures you get, both because you see more cards and you have a larger amount of converted mana costs to choose from. I believe the ability didn't originally require you to discard a card, but it was producing too much card advantage in playtesting so the discard cost was added.
Vraska, Swarm's Eminence
There were only two choices for a black-green planeswalker, and as Vraska was already part of the story running the Golgari, she was the obvious choice for our black-green hybrid planeswalker slot. (Garruk was part of an upcoming story, so we ended up not having him in War of the Spark.) Vraska started with her -2 loyalty ability. Originally it just made 1/1 black Assassins with deathtouch. Set Design decided it would be cool to upgrade that ability to work as deathtouch against planeswalkers as well as part of their ongoing quest to add more planeswalker relevance to the set. I know Set Design spent some time trying to come up with a static/triggered ability for Vraska. For a while, she granted deathtouch to all your creatures, but that played poorly with the Assassins and giving all your creatures deathtouch doesn't lead to the most fun gameplay. In the end, they gave her basically the "slith" ability for creatures with deathtouch. Again, they had it also work when damaging planeswalkers to add planeswalker relevance.
Like Teyo, The Wanderer was another mono-white uncommon planeswalker slot that we didn't have a Planeswalker for. This is another card we designed mechanically and then had the Creative team design a character to match. The card started with the static ability. Set Design later added the -2 loyalty ability as they felt it was something the set needed. Those two abilities are a quirky fit, so the Creative team had fun coming up with a mysterious Planeswalker that had both abilities. I don't want to say too much about The Wanderer as her mystery (yes, it's a woman) is part of her charm.
War to End All Wars
Whew! And that, after three weeks, is all the card-by-card design stories from War of the Spark. I hope you enjoyed it. As always, I'm eager to hear any feedback you have—on today's column, on any of the cards I talked about, or on the War of the Spark set. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram).
Join me next week for a mailbag column.
Until then, may you play with a lot of planeswalkers.
#633: Morningtide, Part 3
#633: Morningtide, Part 3
This is part three of my three-part series on card-by-card design stories from Morningtide.
#634: Rabiah Scale, Part 1
#634: Rabiah Scale, Part 1
This is part one of a two-part series exploring the Rabiah Scale, a scale talking about how likely we are to visit or revisit certain planes in a Standard-legal set.
- Episode 632 Morningtide, Part 2
- Episode 631 Morningtide, Part 1
- Episode 630 Five Requests I Ignore