For today’s column I thought I’d flip through my Mirage godbook much as someone flips through a photo album. As I come across cards that spur a story, I felt I’d tell it. Some will be design stories. Some development stories. And other stories will simply show what R&D was like back in the winter of 1996.
Later this week, Bill Rose, the lead designer of Mirage, will have an article talking about the set’s design, so I’ll just do a quick summary to get you up to speed. Back when Magic first came out, Richard Garfield asked several different playtesting groups to design Magic sets. One group (consisting of Bill Rose, Joel Mick, Charlie Catino, Don Felice, Elliott Segal, and Howard Kahlenberg) designed a set called “Menagerie.” This set would later be split into the two sets, Mirage and Visions.
In the winter of 1996, the then lead designer of Magic, Joel Mick put together the Mirage development team. This decision wasn’t hard as, at the time, there were only four R&D members assigned to Magic.
And now a trip down memory lane:
The development team figured this out (it didn’t take a rocket scientist as I said “Kill it, Kill it” every time the card came up.) As such, they would go to great length to mock me while keeping it in the file. At least two or three times a week, Bill would bring up the card and say provocative things like, “Do you think we should make this better?”
As you can see, Aleatory won out in the end.
They both had regeneration, but that didn't get me far. Then I realized that they both created mana. Green had permanents like Llanowar Elves, Birds, and Wild Growth that permanently gained you mana while black had one shots like Dark Ritual that gave you small bursts at some cost. (We have since moved black's fast mana to red.) The idea was to create an enchantment that sat around like green mana fixers do, but required you to make a sacrifice like black did.
I saw the activation as sort of an odd cross between Dark Ritual and Alliances' Elvish Spirit Guide. In addition, I had always loved engines and there wasn't a good way in Magic to convert cards in hand to mana. And thus, Cadaverous Bloom was born and I began my long trend of making overpowered engines.
I actually came up with the idea for this card before I came to Wizards. Yes, I saved it up waiting for a day I could sneak it into a set. Then one day during Mirage development, a hole was created in uncommon red and I pounced.
While I still like the flavor, this card mechanically is just clunky. You know how you look back at some essay you wrote in high school and you think to yourself, "Man, this sucks."
Well that's how I feel when I see this card.
Crash of Rhinos
Unfortunately he didn't, so he lost. Let that be a lesson to all of you out there of what happens if you don't play Magic. That said, how did this card get its name?
Mirage was the first set that I served on the name and flavor text team. You see, I had just left a career as a writer ( I used to write for... well, you know) so it seemed only naturally to stick me on the team that involved words. (The rest of R&D studied math in college.)
Another member of the team was a man named Michael Ryan who was the editor for Mirage. Michael and I were, and still are, very good friends. So, when we hung out, we would often talk shop. Michael had been doing research and had checked out a number of books about Africa from the library. You see, Michael has always loved Africa (he went on a safari there last year) and was psyched to have a reason to study Africa.
Along his study, he stumbled upon a book of collective names for animals. For some reason Michael became entranced with the collective terms. So much so that he constantly suggested them as card names. This was the beginning of a trend of using collective animal names as card titles.
Michael particularly wanted to use Crash of Rhinos on the 8/4 trampling green common creature. Thus, did Magic get its second Rhino. In all fairness, I can now reveal that Michael had an ulterior motive. He loved rhinos. So much so that the artist of Ebony Rhino, Amy Weber, gave him the original art for his birthday.
After Crash of Rhinos' art was assigned, Michael called up the artist to try to buy the piece (Michael was planning on owning the original art of every rhino in Magic). This was the artist's first set illustrating Magic and he was so blown away that someone wanted his art that he simply gave it to Michael (in Michael's defense, Michael later sent him money). For years the pictures hung on Michael's wall unframed, but he eventually got married and his wife framed the pieces as a holiday present.
How did this happen? Throughout Magic's history there have always been sets that a section of the Magic playing public has chosen to hate. The first such set was Antiquities? Why? I really have no idea as it was my favorite set for a long time. My best guess is that it hit a theme a little too hard at a time where such a thing wasn't done.
Atog was a common in the set. It was then repeated in Revised at common. For a period of time, it was, in fact, the most-printed card, not counting the basic lands. There were stories of people wallpapering their rooms with Atogs. Tech was slower back then and most people hadn't realized that Atog was good. In addition, common was an odd place for him as the basic set didn’t have common artifacts. So, in short, people were sick and tired of seeing a card that they thought was unplayable all the time.
So why do I bring this up? Because when I first saw this card, it wasn't an Atog. Oh, it was a 1/2 that sacrificed something to give it +2/+2, but it didn't have the creature type Atog. So, in the very first meeting I brought up this fact. "This card is an Atog," I said, "masquerading as something else. It is our duty to bring pride back to the Atog fold."
Luckily my love for Atogs was not alone. While the world reviled the Atog, R&D liked him. So, my pleas were met with much support. So much so that we concocted a plan where we would create an Atog in every color in consecutive sets. which led to an Atog resurgence, which led to Atogatog and the other the multi-color Atogs in Odyssey (including Psychatog). All because of Foratog.
As you can see, they weren’t Dwarves. So, we changed the card to reflect the art.
I had always liked the card Word of Command. This was my attempt to capture the flavor in a way that didn't cause the rules problems of Word.
Also, this is an example of one of the many art swaps made in Mirage. The art for Grinning Totem originally appeared on Cursed Totem and vice versa. The problem was the entire flavor of Cursed Totem was that the totem did something bad and the smiley totem just didn't work. The other totem art though seemed evil, so we swapped the pieces.
Hammer of Bogardan
|WARNING: Mark is about to reference his old career. If mentions of popular eighties sitcoms offend you, turn away now. You have been warned.|
This card is the bridge between my career as a writer on Roseanne and my job as a Magic card designer. Huh? In television writing, the writing staff spends most of their time camped out in the office of the head writer. Much of this time is spent trying to improve the jokes in the current week's script. In Hollywood lingo, "you work the room punching up the beats and blows."
Television comedy writers are an odd bunch with an even odder sense of humor. And you sit in the room for long stretches, so you come up with ways to entertain yourselves. One day two of the writers, Sid and Joel, were telling the room about their visit to the zoo. Much of the discussion was about the visit to the meerkat cage.
Mark strikes a pose!
You see, for some reason, one meerkat would stand up, bringing his arms up in front him like so:
Once one meerkat did this, all of the other meerkats would copy him until the entire herd was perched as such. Then after some short period of time, they would all stop simultaneously and go about their business.
Later that day, in the middle of working on a scene, Sid rose up in his seat in the meerkat stance. Joel did the same. One by one, everyone else followed along. As soon as everyone was perched like that, we all stopped.
Well, that soon became a popular game. At any time if any person did the meerkat stance, everyone would do it. Once everyone in the room did it, we all would break from the pose and continue as if it never happened. It got fun was when new people were in the room. One of my favorite instances involves Martin Mull (an actor who was a semi-regular on the show), who was sitting in the room helping with that week's show. The meerkat stance started until everyone but Martin was in full meerkat hunch. Martin gazed around the room quite puzzled. He waited a beat and then struck the meerkat pose. After another beat, we all dropped the pose and continued the meeting. After a third beat, Martin said, "Do I want to ask?"
So what does this have to do with Magic? I'm getting there. Anyway, during my first month at Wizards, I told this story to R&D. They thought it was so entertaining that we started playing the game at Wizards. The lesson I've learned from it is if everyone else does something--no matter how silly--the last person will always do it.
The card is an inside joke referring to the meerkat game.
Lion's Eye Diamond
You see, I thought phasing could be interesting as a defensive activated ability. There was much debate on that suggestion. In the end, the team put it on the card but made the cost very expensive so we left ourselves room to improve upon it in the expansions. As an afterthought, Bill made a blue-red card that flipped a coin to sometimes phase itself out. (Frenetic Efreet). Oops.Pacifism
It proved cool enough.
Obviously is was blocking a white creature, so we changed it so it couldn’t block little creatures.
This was R&D’s favorite playtest name and led to no end of giggling.
Waiting in the Weeds
It Was Just a Mirage
Hopefully, you enjoyed my trip down memory lane. Watch this week for more tidbits about Mirage.
Join me next week when I examine popular mistakes.
Until then, may all your Magic cards hold equally interesting stories.
Mark RosewaterMark may be reached at email@example.com.