Now I Know My ABC’s
A – Angel of Despair
By the way, if you haven't seen the Magic Arcana about the Angel of Despair, I must point you towards it. Click here to see how the art changed from how it was submitted.
B – Bloodthirst
Designing keywords in the Ravnica block had an extra level of complication. Each keyword had to line up with a guild. So not only did that limit the mechanic to two colors (quick aside – some of these mechanics will come back later in Magic and when they do so they will not be limited to the colors of the guild they first represented), but it also required that the mechanic fit the philosophy and play style of the chosen guild.
The design team (Mike Elliott, Aaron Forsythe, Devin Low and Brian Schneider) realized from day one that the Gruul (Red/Green) was going to be a tribe all about attacking. Red/Green has always been an archetype that lays down creatures and turns them sideways. It quickly became apparent that the Gruul keyword wanted to involve itself with attacking. And then they hit upon the key: what if the Gruul keyword made attacking mindlessly a little less mindless. What if such a style of play was beneficial with the keyword?
This meant that the keyword either had to trigger off of creatures attacking or somehow reward the player for having had attacked. This led to the next big jump: what if there were creatures that got rewarded if the opponent had been damaged by creatures the turn the creature was played. The design team called this mechanic paincast because, well, it wanted to be cast in the presence of your opponent in pain.
Playtesting proved the mechanic encouraged exactly the type of behavior the Gruul enjoyed most, and the team knew they had their mechanic (the Red/Green one anyway). For a short time, the creative team named the ability “savage” but the card Savage Twister in the set proved to be the name's undoing. Thus, paincast became bloodthirst.
C – Continuation, or lack thereof
Guildpact marks a momentous first moment. It is the first small set to ever appear in a block that doesn't expand upon any of the keyword mechanics from the large set. Why? Because the guild model dictated that we show off only the guilds assigned to that expansion. And since all the keywords were tied to guilds, that means there's no evolution. Now, for those of you that really like watching a mechanic evolve over the block, fear not. This is not some permanent change. This is something that made sense for this block. Good design takes you where your ideas lead. Even when they do, or in this case don't do, something for the first time.
D – Djinn Illuminatus
Whenever we make a mechanic that goes on spells, there is always this pull in design to create a card that grants all instants and sorceries that spell mechanic. In Ravnica design, we had the following cards at some point during the design:
- A card that granted all creatures dredge (killed for power reasons)
- A card that granted all creatures in your hand convoke (also killed for power reasons)
- A card that granted all cards transmute (really, really, killed for power reasons)
- A card that granted radiance to any instant, sorcery or activated ability that targeted a creature (killed for rules concerns and ugly, ugly templating potential)
All four mechanics had their shot at doing this and each one fell along the way. So, of course, in Guildpact, I was obliged to make a card that granted all instants and sorcery spells replicate. For kicks, I made this one a creature. If you told me one of the five cards (of the four listed above and the Djinn) was going to make it to print, I don't think the Djinn would have been my first pick. But I'm glad it did. (Unless it breaks tournaments in half, then I'm less glad.)
What can be done with this card? To be perfectly honest, I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it (I'm design not development, remember). It's the kind of card that I knew all of you could come up with cool things to do with it. I know it surprises people whenever I explain that designers are more on the hook for creating potential than coming up with specific combos. As long as there are a lot of interesting options and the players have fun, I, as a designer, don't really care what gets done with the card. The developers, on the other hand, have to care quite a bit. I'm just excited that the card is out so I can see what all of you do with it.
E – Enhanced Spells
As I explained last week, the Guildpact design team decided to do something new with the “enhanced” spells (these are the spells that get an added bonus if a certain other color is used in playing the spell). It turns out that I kind of fibbed a little. While it is true that there is a cycle (that's three cards, one for each guild) of enhanced enchantments, there is also another cycle (one of each guild again but the other way around the color circle – between the two cycles, each color of a guild gets to be the mana cost color and the activated ability color once) of creatures similar to Ravnica. I simply forgot that there was a cycle going in each direction.
In addition, there were some voices in the threads that seem upset that we were disrupting some of the ten-card cycles by having them work differently in each set. My reply to that is simple. The elegant ten-card cycles that seemed to easily support a similar structure kept their structure. But some mechanics seemed open for a little more experimentation and those we opted to shift a little in each set. As I explained last column, we did so to keep some surprise in a block structure that creates a lot of predictable patterns.
F – Flavor Text of Niv-Mizzet
“What does it mean?” they asked.
“That's for you to figure out,” Matt replied.
This led to an interesting debate about the merits of flavor text. What exactly is the role of flavor text? Some said it was to entertain. And not being able to understand it, wasn't fun some said. Others replied that figuring it out was plenty fun. And even the act of not knowing could be fun unto itself. Others liked that the flavor text prompted action on the behalf of the reader. Few pieces of flavor text force action on the part of the reader. Like most aspects in this discussion, this was a plus to some of R&D and a minus to others.
In the end, Matt supported the decision for two reasons. One, he liked it. And two, Matt understood that any piece of flavor text that could rally such support while at the same time create such disgust was a winner. You see, part of creative is to evoke responses. While the majority of those responses should be positive, it's okay to occasionally provoke a different emotion. The worst fate for any piece of creative is to be ignored and forgotten. A piece that is beloved and behated (I'll keep using this word until the English language catches up.) clearly doesn't fall into that camp.
G – Gruul
When we were designing each guild, we wanted to make sure that the guilds matched the proper color philosophies, created consistent play patterns and, most importantly, made the players who identified with that guild happy. The Gruul Clan is our nod towards Red/Green players.
The interesting thing about the Gruul from a story standpoint is that they are the only guild that doesn't really want to be a guild. The entire idea of the guild structure is way too, well, structured. The supposed guild leader Borborygmos (a Cyclops with attitude issues) is really just the biggest guy of the biggest clan.
I was very happy with how the Gruul turned out, because I think they do exactly what a Red/Green player wants to do with his Red/Green deck. Play lots of creatures (which should get bigger and bigger as the game progresses) and attack. No heavy thinking involved. (And before I get letters, yes Red/Green is not actually a mindless archetype to play; it's just fun to play Red/Green as the “no thinking” guild.)
H – Haunt
While Bloodthirst came pretty quickly, the Orzhov mechanic (White/Bblack) did not. As Aaron explained when he previewed haunt (“Haunting Your Dreams”), the design team went through a lot of different mechanics trying to find the one that aligned properly (and for those that track this kind of thing, the ability from the day it was created was called haunt). In the end, haunt is the most complicated of the Guildpact mechanics. But then, Orzhov is the most complicated guild of the three.
For those that didn't read Aaron's column, let me give you a quick rundown of how haunt works, because it definitely can be a bit confusing. For starters, haunt really has two forms: on creatures and on spells (instants and sorceries). On creatures, it works as such. When you play the creature, it has a “comes into play” effect. When the creature with haunt goes to the graveyard, it is removed from the game. It then haunts a creature, meaning you choose a creature that will have the following ability: When that creature is put into the graveyard, the same effect that happened when the creature came into play happens again.
For spells, the haunting takes place after the spell resolves. Just as with the creature, the spell is removed from the game and then assigned (a.k.a. haunts) a creature in play. When that haunted creature is put into the graveyard, the instant or sorcery effect happens again. That's it.
Like bloodthirst, I enjoy how haunt embodies the Orzhov style of play. The Orzhov play a “bleeder” style of deck that stalls the opponent as it slowly nibbles them to death. Haunt fits perfectly into this style of play. And on a flavor front, the mechanic plays into the odd relationship the Orzhov have with their dead (hint: dying isn't a good way out of the guild).
I – Izzet
If it isn't blindingly obvious, I embody the Red/Blue philosophy. As such, I was quite eager to see what the design team was going to do with The Izzet. (And yes, The Izzet are the only guild that just gets a “The” in front of its name.) Because when intellect and passion get together, watch out. In the end, The Izzet became the mad scientists of the city world (well, the absent minded ones anyway. The Green/Blue Simic guild gets the twisted mad scientists. Dr. Emmet Brown – Red/Blue, Dr. Moreau – Green/Blue).
Leave it to The Izzet to overdo creativity and innovation. They try something different solely for the sake of it being different. Mix this with Red's penchant for chaos and all sorts of dangerous things happen. Trying to capture this feeling in play is not easy, but I believe the design team stepped up to the challenge. When you play Izzet, all sorts of crazy things can happen. And that, as an Izzet fan, is exactly what I was hoping for.
J – Johnny, Timmy and Spike
One of the things that we always kept in mind when working on the guilds was that certain guilds would attract different psychographics (that's the fancy way of saying Timmy, Johnny and Spike – click here if those words don't mean anything to you). As it turns out, I feel that Guildpact pulled off a neat trick (one to be repeated in Dissension no less) in that I feel each psychographic gets its own guild (and yes, I understand that all three guilds will have aspects that appeal to all three types).
Johnny has The Izzet - a guild as dedicated to showing off their creativity as Johnny. The Izzet are all about doing things with style, even if that style causes a few problems along the way. When things go bad for Johnny or The Izzet, they often go bad in a very big and interesting way.
Timmy has the Gruul Clans. The Gruul are all about digging down to the essence of Magic: playing creatures and attacking. The Gruul has a number of very cool beaters for the Timmies out there to salivate over.
Spike has the Orzhov Syndicate. As Zvi explained last week, the Orzhov are deceptively good. Spike good. Expect to see a few White and Black cards in tournaments after Guildpact becomes legal.
I just wanted to point this out, as it's an interesting detail that might get missed.
K – Killer Instinct
Thus began my quest to design a card inspired by Sneak Attack that isn't quite as broken. Killer Instinct isn't the first such card, nor shall it be the last. The trick I tried here is to make it harder to control what creature gets to do the sneaking. It makes for a somewhat different deck, but I think it still has a touch of that Sneak Attack feel. I'm curious to see what all of you think. (More the Johnnies and Timmies. I don't think this is going to be one of Spike's favorites, although I'd loved to be surprised.)
L – Leylines
We've been messing around with mechanics that had a use if you had them in your opening hand for years. Finally we made Serum Powder in Darksteel, inspired by a card submitted for the second You Make the Card promotion. Anyway, during Guildpact design, the team was searching for a few non-guild related mechanics and they stumbled upon the idea of spells that could start the game in play if you got them in your opening hand. As Aaron explained in his column last week, Leylines were inspired by the Vanguard cards that were being created for Magic Online. Aaron liked the concept of "a reveal" of the rules that affected this game at the game's start.
At first blush, development was worried, but R&D discovered that if the effects were picked carefully, you could create cards that didn't lock up the game in the first few turns. The key seemed to be making cards that had effects that were either defensive by nature or were more valuable later in the game. I'm quite curious to see what all of you do with the Leylines. My favorite? Leyline of the Meek. Of course, I've always been a sucker for the token creatures.
M – Mizzium Transreliquat
The idea behind this design was that having Izzet mana allowed you to convert permanently so that you didn't have to spend mana each turn. By doing so, however, you made a commitment. Other members of R&D didn't like it because they felt that it was questionable if the Izzet activation was better than the generic mana one. To which I replied that having the choice of temporary or permanent was obviously strictly better than only having the choice of temporary.
The response to this was that having the ability to permanently change and still be able to copy other artifacts was strictly better than my version. While that was true from a power level sense, I argued that the tension between having the ability to keep changing to different artifacts each turn versus changing permanently once made for a better card. Obviously I was in the minority, as my version of the card didn't end up as the final version.
I chose this card for M though because I wanted to point out the interesting issue that this card raised. Next time you find yourself playing Mizzium Transreliquat, think for a second how you would play it if my version had seen it to print. The artifact isn't quite as good and it's definitely harder to use, but I think you'll see that it has a slightly different feel.
One last thought before we move on to N. I realize that my thoughts above, at first blush (and probably second), will be unpopular. Players do not like hearing about how we “make a card worse on purpose.” But a key part of design is not making the cards do the most but rather making cards that get the most out of the player. Almost every sorcery could be an instant. Most cards could have another ability. The average creature could get +1 toughness. What makes a game fun is not the power of the cards, but the power of the experience. Working for a victory is a far greater pleasure than having one handed to you. A little something to chew on.
N – Nephilim
I love block themes. And time has shown us that most players like block themes, but not everyone does. That is why we make sure that each set has something for the players out there that are looking beyond the theme. Ravnica, for example, had the hunted cycle (Hunted Dragon, Hunted Horror, Hunted Lammasu, Hunted Phantasm and Hunted Troll). For Guildpact, we thought we'd take the opportunity to explore unexplored multicolor design space. Early in the process, it came up that while Magic has two, three and five-colored cards, no four-color cards existed.
So we set out to make four-colored creatures, which ended up having a number of interesting design constraints. For starters, how exactly do you find abilities that work in four of the five colors but not the fifth? After a little design exploration we came to the conclusion that we had to come up with new abilities that weren't really defined. Then we'd make sure the colors that felt the most similar were in the cost. As a short-hand, we started referring to each creature by the color it wasn't. “Which card should get ability X?” “How about not-blue.”
We tried numerous things with the nephilim. Early on, we tried to make each one the joining together of two guilds. We stopped when we realized that every four-color combination had four different possibilities of what two guilds came together. In addition, we decided that connecting a cycle to what we were trying to disconnect from (the guild theme) was simply poor planning.
The nephilim went through numerous versions. First there were the nephilim with multiple activated abilities (one per each guild). Then came the “fatty nephilim”. Finally, we settled on reducing them to just four mana (we felt that it was the coolest way to do them) and give them very unique abilities. The last big switch came as we playtested the cards. Because the cards cost four different colors, everyone assumed that we would be able to give you a lot for just four mana. As it turns out, we gave Ravnica so much color enabling that playing four-color creatures on turn 4 proved way easier than we anticipated. As such, development was forced to lower overall power to reflect this new information.
For a little more on the nephilim, check out Y below...
O – Orzhov
As an exercise when we started working on Ravnica, I put all the guilds up on a wall and I asked for anyone who was interested to stick up pictures that they felt represented the guild. The very first picture I stuck up was for White/Black. I felt I had a character that just personified the two-color interaction. That picture? The Godfather from a little known movie known as The Godfather. I felt that Marlon Brando's character was the embodiment of the qualities of White and Black coming together.
Here's what happened (with my normal dramatic license):
Them: Don Corleone?
Them: The Godfather?
Me: That's him.
Them: White/Black? Isn't he just Black?
Them: I don't know.
Me: Come on, the mafia is so White/Black!
Them: I don't see any White in the mafia.
Me: Follow me.
I walk to a nearby whiteboard. I write the words “ORGANIZED CRIME” on the board.
Me: (pointing to first word) Organized!
Me: (pointing to the second word) Crime!
Me: (pointing back to the first word) White!
Me: (pointing to the second word): Black!
Me: Any questions?
Them: I don't know.
Me: They are very orderly. They have lots of rules and they look out for the group. True, their group, but they are very conscious of the larger welfare of the “family”. Clearly. Clearly. Clearly… White/Black.
P – Pillory of the Sleepless
- It's simple. My favorite multicolor cards are ones that combines two abilities that blend together seamlessly and create something together greater than the sum of their parts.
- It's elegant. (And you all know how much I love elegance.) The card has a simple but potent effect.
- It's flavorful. Often when two abilities are stuck on a card, they can fight for attention. But sometimes you get two abilities that just feel like they mean to be together. This is one such card.
- It fits Orzhov like a glove. The goal of any designer is to create commons that embody the set. White/black works like a bleeder deck. It stalls you as it slowly kills you. Pillory of the Sleepless is that idea boiled down to a single card.
- It's good. When you start drafting Guildpact, take the Pillories early. They are creature removal that comes with a way to kill the opponent, or least weaken him so something else can. The card definitely pulls you towards playing white/black.
Q – Quicken
R – Replicate
If haunt was the last mechanic to be designed for Guildpact, replicate (called polycast in early Guildpact design) was the first. How do I know this? Because I was there many, many years ago when Bill Rose first suggested it. During Invasion design I believe. And to be fair, the card that probably inspired Bill's idea (Primitive Justice from Alliances) was made many years before that.
So why did the mechanic take so long to see print? What's wrong with it? Nothing. It's actually a very good mechanic. What held it up is something that holds up many good mechanics. We simply were taking our time to find the right place to put it. See, we actually have quite a number of interesting mechanics in our “holding pen” waiting for the right time to be printed. And as replicate proves, we're patient. That said, this is my favorite mechanic in Guildpact. Not because bloodthirst and haunt aren't interesting, but I'm a Red/Blue Johhny at heart. And as any R&D member who's had to listen to me argue (which is basically every day) knows, I love repetition.
S – Streetbreaker Wurm
Flash forward many years and Craw Wurm ain't what he used to be. Little by little, players have learned that six mana for a 6/4 just isn't quite good enough. Well, how about five? Yes, Guildpact brings back Craw Wurm. Except this time he's multicolored and one cheaper. And you know what? That one mana appears to actually matter. He was (in development rating) the second highest rated common in Guildpact for Limited. Streetbreaker Wurm is out to get the cred back for 6/4's everywhere. Trust me, while he may look similar, he ain't no Craw Wurm.
T – Thrulls
I like thrulls. A lot. Oddly enough, that has absolutely nothing to do with their being in the set. For that, you get to thank Brady Dommermuth. Brady is the member of the creative team that does the card concepting, and the Orzhov seemed like the kind of people that would create their own servants. The cool thing about them reappearing as part of the Orzhov guild is that we get the very first White thrull. In addition, we get a number of inexpensive thrulls to fill out White/Black's mana curve. Because after all, who doesn't like cheap thrulls?
U – Urza
Okay, I have to say this because it's been driving me crazy. Take a look at Conjurer's Ban.
Now, focus on the art.
Okay, now focus on the guy on the lower left.
Every time I see this picture and I look at that guy I keep asking myself… is that Urza? (It's not by the way.) The character is actually a member of the Izzet.
Interestingly, I believe that Urza is Red/Blue. Coincidence? (Cue: Twilight Zone music)
V – Vedalkens
I've gotten a few pieces of mail about the Vedalkens in the Ravnica block. They all ask the same question: What happened to the two extra arms? I believe the official answer (although more of my belief of the official answer than the actual official answer) is that there are different variants of the Vedalkens spread across the multiverse and the two-armed ones happen to live in Ravnica? Of course, Memnarch supposedly seeded Mirrodin by plucking creatures from across the multiverse. Perhaps the Vedalkens were brought to the metal plane with two arms and something about adapting to the plane creating the evolution of extra arms. Just idle speculation mind you, but I do so love starting crazy theories.
W – Weirds
Another question I've gotten a couple of times is: What in the world is a weird? For starters, it's a new creature type. But what is it exactly? It is a crossbreed of elementals. For example, if you took a mud elemental and mixed it with an electricity elemental, you'd get a weird. Why would anyone do this? Because The Izzet go where no one has gone before and probably never will again. They made the weirds simply because they came up with the idea and no one can talk an Izzet out of doing something once they get their mind to it.
X – XUUR
This is the mana cost of Invoke the Firemind. The original version of the spell was XUR but it proved to be too good in playtesting. So the design team changed it to X1UR, but a number of R&D members, myself included, hate putting X, a number, and a colored mana symbol together. Sure we do it from time to time, but boy does it look bad. Anyway, one day one of the design team members, Aaron Forsythe, realized that since the spell was Braingeyser crossed with Fireball (and yes I know Blaze is more accurate), shouldn't the spell be a combination of those two spells. And that is how XUUR came to be.
Y – Yore-Tiller Nephilim
Z – “The Zoo”
I've been told by some developers that the addition of Watchwolf in Ravnica and the return of Kird Ape in Ninth Edition might bring an old White/Red/Green deck called “The Zoo” out of retirement. I don't have too much more to say about it, but come on give me some slack. It's Z.
And that my friends is the ABC's of Guildpact. I hope you learned a thing or two along the way.
Join me next week when I explore the guild that got me to tape The Hulk under their name.
Until then, may you explore your own issues from A to Z.