For each expansion, I do a mailbag column where I answer questions from all of you about the latest set. Today, it's Streets of New Capenna's turn for the mailbag.
Here's the tweet I posted:
As always, I'll try to answer as many questions as I can, but here's why I might not answer your question:
- I have an allotted word count, which means that there are only so many questions I can get to.
- Someone else might have asked the same question. I will usually answer the first person who asks.
- Some questions I either don't know the answer to or don't feel qualified enough in the area to answer properly.
- Some topics I'm not allowed to answer for all sorts of reasons, including previews for future sets.
That said, let's get to the questions:
Due to incidents in the past, many of the angels got turned into statues and the rest disconnected from society for their safety. Because they've been gone for so long, the populace assumed them dead; in reality, they were not. As a result of Giada's angelic awakening at the end of the story, the angels are slowly returning to New Capenna. The card set represents the city during and after the story, so their return is reflected in the cards. I agree that this story point could have been better clarified.
One of the things I enjoy about my mailbox columns is that I can get such disparate questions. Why are there any Angels in the set? Why isn't there a five-color legendary Angel?
As far as why we didn't have a five-color legendary Angel, here are a few reasons:
- While the set had Angels, they play a smaller role, and it didn't feel like it was the right place for a five-color commander.
- We didn't have a character that made sense for that card.
- As the set is focused on three-color arcs, we wanted the exciting multicolor cards to focus on three colors. Note that the only five-color card in the set, Meeting of the Five, is focused on the three-color theme.
One of the things we've realized over the years is how important it is for each set to have some amount of resonance, touching upon things the audience already had a familiarity with. (You can check out my article, "Resonate Spinning" for more on this topic.) A big part of resonance includes trope clusters, which have a similar theme that plays into common things the players would have experienced in life or through pop culture. As such, we've learned to be a bit stingy with what tropes we use in any one set. Mystery is related to crime, but it's its own genre with its own tropes, so we were very careful with Streets of New Capenna to make use of all the tropes central to crime and leave ones leaning toward other genres for future sets with those themes.
Connive is the combination of two mechanics: +1/+1 counters and looting (drawing and discarding). White is first in +1/+1 counters but fifth in looting (white isn't good at filling up the graveyard through discard), so we purposefully didn't give monowhite a lot of connive cards—the main set has just two. On top of that, connive really isn't a mechanic about card advantage (you don't go up cards), so it doesn't lend itself well to combining with card-draw effects.
This is a common question I get. Magic needs to do thing X (often to finish off some cycle). The new set has a theme, which would allow you to flavorfully do thing X. Where's thing X? The blunt answer is, finishing the cycle is often not as high a priority for R&D as it might be for players invested in whatever the topic is.
Would we like to have a planeswalker for every three-color combination? Sure, someday. Is it a pressing issue for us? No. There are a lot of other things we prioritize more. For example, representing the characters in the story, designing the planeswalkers so that they're relevant to themes in the set, balancing planeswalker colors in Standard, and making our planeswalkers as generally useful as possible since we don't make a lot of them.
The general thought is, we'll make three-color planeswalkers when we find opportunities, and over some time, so there's no rush from our end. It's much more of an aesthetic issue than a game need.
I always enjoy giving you all an insider look at Magic design. To do this, I share a lot of vocabulary that we use in R&D to help shape how we talk about design. Top-down and bottom-up designs are good examples of terms that don't mean much outside of understanding how our processes work.
For those unaware, top-down designs start with a flavor conceit (it's a Greek mythology plane or a gothic horror plane), while bottom-up designs start with a mechanical conceit (it has two-color factions or is built around land mechanics). Technically speaking, it has to do with how you create the core structure of the set. If we do our jobs well, most of the time, you all shouldn't be able to tell which it is because we work very hard to make every set's mechanics and flavor interweave seamlessly.
Streets of New Capenna is a three-color faction set (that's mechanical) and a crime set (that's flavorful), so is it a top-down or bottom-up set? The answer is that it's a bottom-up set. The nature of how you must build a multicolor faction set requires that you have a very tight mechanical structure. For example, the set is built completely around cycles. Every three-color card, as well as every two-color card, is part of a cycle, some tighter than others (the more overlap between mana cost, card type, rules text, and power/toughness, the tighter the cycle). The flavor was a big part of determining what our mechanics and individual cards did, but it didn't impact the basic structure of how it was put together.
While the set structure was all about the mechanical needs of the set, defining the arcs was all about the flavor. For each of the five families, we had a crime subgenre to work with and that helped us figure out the feel for each faction, which led us to choosing our keywords and draft archetypes. Shards of Alara, in contrast, had started from a completely different vantage point. For each of the shards, the three-color arcs in that set, we asked ourselves what the plane would be like if a color existed with only its allies and no enemies?
Let's take one of the arcs, blue-black-red. In Streets of New Capenna, it was about the Maestros, a faction of assassins with an appreciation for fine art. In Shards of Alara, it was about Grixis, a plane focused on death and darkness dominated by demons and necromancers. Because each started from a distinctively different vantage point, it pushed its design team to explore aspects of the color combination that the other design team didn't. Yes, there are some mechanical overlaps, but the feel of the two factions is quite different from one another. This is the power of starting your design from a unique perspective. It leads you to create something you haven't designed before and helps two factions that overlap in colors feel distinct from one another.
Q: The introduction of streetlights, industry, and cars in New Capenna (plus NEO just before) have a significantly different qualia of technological advancement than Urza-era mechanics and Kaladeshian artificing. Is modernity now a pendulum in Magic?
One of my favorite parts of Magic is its ability to constantly push new boundaries and try new things. This year, we've been testing the waters to see how the audience feels about sets with a more modern component. If it's successful, and so far, it looks like it is, yes, modernity will be a tool in our toolbox that we can use when appropriate in the future. Note that core traditional fantasy will always be our default.
Magic design technology is constantly evolving, so there's been a lot of changes since Shards of Alara block. Probably the biggest change is how we design three-color sets in general. Khans of Tarkir reinvented how we make them, and Streets of New Capenna was modeled after Khans. There's also been some shift in the color pie as it's always in flux. On top of all that, there are numerous ways of approaching any color combination as I talked about above, so all in all, a lot has changed since we made Shards of Alara.
Q: What is the intended interpretation of the triomes' basic land types—how should we make sense of the idea that a boxing ring is a Swamp and a Forest and a Mountain? Or should we just not think about it too hard?
I don't think the land types are supposed to be taken quite so literally. A Swamp, for example, is more about being a source of black mana than it is of being a literal swamp. Its game terminology originally rooted in flavor that's evolved over time as the game has expanded how it represents various aspects of itself.
Q: The average amount of text on a Standard Magic card seems to be increasing yet again, with SNC providing some really wordy entries confusing even entrenched players (looking at you, Lagrella). Any thoughts/concerns about the complexity, especially on commons and uncommons?
I think our understanding of how complexity impacts players has evolved over time. Rather than focusing on the volume of words (how many individual words appear in rules text), we've chosen to care about the uniqueness of words (how many total unique words appear in rules text), especially at lower rarities.
For example, the blitz mechanic is four lines of text, including the reminder text, but once you understand the concept of what blitz means, it becomes something you can easily gloss over on all future cards that feature it. This means that while the blitz mechanic might raise the average word count on commons and uncommons in Streets of New Capenna, the total number of "absorbable words" (i.e., how many words you need to learn to understand how to play the cards) is comparable to past sets. This is a byproduct of the game being almost 30 years old as less wordy new design space has become scarcer.
With all I said in the last question being true, I will acknowledge that we've upped the average complexity a bit in the last few years. With an increase in players either playing in formats with larger card pools, which are more complex by nature, or playing online where there's more handholding concerning rules complexity, we've realized that our average players are able to handle a bit more complexity, and we've adjusted our new sets accordingly.
That's a good point. Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty was pretty low on dynasties. Innistrad: Crimson Vow had almost no vows. Innistrad: Midnight Hunt? Where were all the hunts? I think you've discovered a big failing in recent sets. :)
Here's the larger plan for getting fun commanders into Magic.
Step #1) Put them in an Un- set.
Step #2) Get them into a premier set.
Step #3) Keep doing them in premier sets.
Step #4) Make a legendary version in a premier set.
This is how Toski happened. Patience; we'll get there.
I do think counters have a lot of potential future design space. The big issue with them is making sure the board doesn't get too confusing—that players can see counters on creatures, especially in Limited, and understand what they do. Punch-out token technology can help with this. I do think there's potential for new counters being deciduous if we find their use broad enough.
Two important things to note:
One, we like to vary how particular creature types look from plane to plane. For example, these Goblin cards depict different takes on goblins:
Part of the fun of Magic moving around the Multiverse is having the opportunity to explore different visual takes on creatures. This is a feature of the game and not a bug.
Two, we didn't start with the goal of "let's make Cephalids." We made the creatures that had a visual look we liked for the plane and then decided what creature type made the best sense for them.
Not that I know of. Note that we've decided to allow the Commander cards to have more latitude to make use of old mechanics when designing cards. There are a lot of fun opportunities to revisit mechanics that didn't make enough sense as a reprint for the main set but are quite fun for individual designs.
Q: Can you put me in the mind of a designer designing cards with costs like Evelyn or Jinnie Fay? Like . . . is the "venn" the "base" color and then "ally" colors or like "base" with dash of "ally right" AND "ally left" (love the hybrid mana symbols)?
Let me walk you through how we made this hybrid cycle. I'll use Jinnie Fay as my example. Each card costs exactly three mana. The center mana is the core color from the faction. For Jinnie Fay, that was green because she's from the Cabaretti. The first and third mana symbols are hybrid mana symbols that match the center color with each of the two other colors from the faction. The colors were chosen such that when written in hybrid mana, the center color would be on the side adjacent to the green mana symbol. For Jinnie Fay, that meant the first symbol was red-green hybrid and the third one was green-white hybrid.
When designing the card, the goal was to make something that worked completely within green's section of the color pie but made a nod to the red-green overlap and green-white overlap. Green, red, and white all make tokens, but green can do so by itself. The two tokens it makes nod toward red and white. The first token has haste, an ability primary in red but secondary in green. The second token has vigilance, an ability primary in white, but secondary in green. The tokens each have a different power/toughness but are swapped from the normal color associations. Red would be more likely to make the 3/1 and white the 2/2 but are assigned to the keyword ability from the other color. This allows the card to have a feeling of red-green-white even if not all three colors are used to cast it.
Q: New Capenna seems to be based heavily on American cities like New York City and Chicago, places that are known for having incredible and diverse food. Were Food tokens ever something that were considered for the set?
As a general rule in premier sets, we tend to focus on a single artifact token to make it easier to track what's going on. Streets of New Capenna, being a three-color set, really needed Treasure as a tool to help enable the three-color play, so we chose to use that over Food.
"That's Enough Questions"
As I've hit my word count, so it's time to wrap up today's column. I want to thank everyone who took time to send in a question. As always, I'm sorry if I didn't get to answer yours. If you have any feedback on today's column, on any of my answers, or on Streets of New Capenna itself, please email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).
Join me next week for a special Tuesday column where I kick off previews for Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate.
Until then, may you continue to explore the streets of New Capenna.