Phyrexia: All Will Be One Direction, Part 2
Welcome to the second week of Phyrexia: All Will Be One (ONE) previews. Today, I'm going to introduce you to the Set Design team, walk you through the set design, and show off two preview cards. So, let's get to it. By the way, if "Part 2" didn't give it away, this is the second article in a series, so you might want to go read the first one if you haven't already.
All for ONE
Last week, I introduced the designers from the Exploratory Design and the Vision Design teams. Today, I'm going to introduce you to the Set Design team. As always, I have the lead designer of the set (in this case Adam Prosak) introduce their team. I'll first introduce Adam, and then Adam will introduce everyone else.
Click here to meet the ONE Set Design team
Adam Prosak (lead) – Adam has led the set design for Core Set 2021, Modern Horizons (the first one), and Innistrad: Crimson Vow. This is the second set where I've led the vision design and handed off to Adam doing the set design (with the other time being Innistrad: Crimson Vow). I enjoyed watching how he takes the vision of a set and brings it to life. Adam has a lot of passion and is good at figuring out the core of the vision, trimming away the unnecessary to get to the essence of what will make the set shine. I'm very happy with what he's done with ONE. (Again, this is me, Mark, writing this blurb. All the rest are written by Adam.)
Erik Lauer (lead) – Erik is one of the most accomplished Magic designers ever. The list of sets for which he's led the final design is enormous. Erik was the lead for the first few months of set design, helping the transition from the "try new things" ethos of Vision Design to the "execute on the new things" ethos of Set Design.
Oliver Tiu – Oliver was very new to the Play Design team when he joined the ONE team and instrumental in helping to ensure the early playtests were valuable. Oliver is an exceptionally strong tournament player who has shown a natural ability to design cool cards.
Reggie Valk – Reggie's greatest strength is in finding uses for underutilized cards. He is good at making sure every card has a home for someone. Reggie did great work on the early portion of set design, helping to bring the mechanics to life.
Daniel Holt – If you like the way our Magic cards look, Daniel is likely responsible. When he's not working on things such as frames and set symbols, he enjoys designing and playing Commander.
Ken Nagle – One of the original great designers (he started at Wizards after the first Great Designer Search), Ken is best known for his off-the-wall designs. The more unique the design, the more likely Ken was responsible.
Carmen Handy – Carmen really likes Phyrexia. Carmen is great at making Magic cards. A known enjoyer of competitive infect decks and curator of a proliferate-themed cube, Carmen was the perfect addition to the Set Design team. Her combination of Phyrexian knowledge, skill at designing fun Magic cards, and ability to provide game-balance insights is unmatched.
Patrick Sullivan – One of Magic's most colorful tournament commentators, Patrick brought years of experience from the gaming industry to the team.
Mark Gottlieb – When I think of Mark, I think of a puzzler extraordinaire. Mark is well known for hiding secret puzzles into his presentations, and he's always trying to find and design combinations of cards.
Michael Majors – Michael is one of the Eternal format experts within the Play Design team. One of his roles was to help guide some designs that could have implications for Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, etc. This is not to overstate his ability to craft environments. His work on the ONE Limited and Standard environments was top-notch, as it always is.
John Penick – At this time, John primarily worked on another game—Spellslingers. Many times, designers will swap between different teams and projects so that we can learn about what other teams are doing. John spent some time with the Phyrexia Set Design team and provided a unique perspective.
Annie Sardelis – Annie started at Wizards as part of our Worldbuilding team. After showing off her skills as a card designer, she's moved over to the card design team full time. Annie was the lead of the ONE Jumpstart product, so we worked together to make the main set and the Jumpstart set synergize as much as we could.
Andrew Brown – Andrew is the technical lead of the Play Design team. He joins each Set Design team to help each set make the right type of impact for Standard. I often "save" spots in the card file so that Andrew can use them to sculpt Standard.
ONE Singular Sensation
When Vision Design handed off the file to Set Design, here's what we gave them:
- Oil counters (including oiled)
- Take up arms
- Phyrexian mana (including relentless)
I'm going to walk through what happened with each of these mechanics.
As I explained last week, the Vision Design team decided to use oil counters instead of -1/-1 counters (or +1/+1 counters), which meant we weren't able to do infect. Instead, we decided to use the poisonous mechanic that had shown up on two cards in Future Sight.
The Set Design team liked how poisonous played. They mostly kept it to the three colors Vision Design had focused it in (white, black, and green) but did sprinkle it a little in blue. White tends to only grant one poison, black goes up to two poison, and green gets higher numbers (up to six, I believe). There is one change they made, but it's a little subtler: poisonous became toxic. What exactly is the difference, and why did they change it? Here are the two abilities side by side:
Poisonous 1 (Whenever a Sliver deals combat damage to a player, that player gets a poison counter.)
Toxic 1 (Players dealt combat damage by this creature also get a poison counter.)
The major change is poisonous is triggered and toxic is not. This is a big deal for digital play. For example, a while back we changed deathtouch to not be triggered. Poisonous had only appeared on two cards (both "futureshifted" hints at a possible future), so the team didn't feel obligated to keep the old template and instead used a template that matched modern standards.
The one other poison-related thing Vision Design had turned over—Mites, 1/1 white artifact creature tokens with poisonous 1 and "this creature can't block" stayed, with the only change being poisonous becoming toxic. Apart from a single black card, Mites appear on white cards. This tied into white only having toxic 1 creatures, as its poison strategy is about overwhelming the opponent with a wave of toxic creatures. Green, in contrast, is about having fewer creatures but with larger toxic numbers. Black sits in between white and green.
Corrupted is an ability word that tells you the card has a bonus if an opponent has three or more poison counters. Vision Design put this in to help poison have less of an "all or nothing" feel. When your opponent poisons you, now you're not sure exactly what they're up to. Also, it allows decks whose main goal is about getting their opponent to three poison counters to occasionally have games where they can win through poison. Vision Design suggested this being the white-black draft archetype.
When I interviewed Adam for this article, he said he thought corrupted was the key to making the set work. He liked what we had done during vision design, and Set Design didn't change much strategy-wise but rather focused on making the best execution.
Oil Counters (Including Oiled)
An important part of vision design is giving Set Design a series of tools to build the set with. Sometimes we spell out how we think the mechanic should be used, and sometimes we go broad and offer up a spectrum of possible uses. Oil counters are an example of the latter. In the handoff document (which I'll put in an upcoming article), we just offered up a lot of possible ways to use oil counters and left it up to Set Design to figure out which of those executions would serve the set most. It's important to remember that oil counters have no inherent mechanical meaning, which means there are numerous ways to use them.
Included with this list of options, we had a mechanic we called oiled:
Oiled N (CARDNAME enters with N oil counters and gets an oil counter when empty if you proliferate.)
The idea behind oiled was that we had enough cards that entered with some number of oil counters to consolidate them with a keyword. Then to lessen some tension with proliferate, we added a rider that let you get an oil counter even if the card didn't have one.
Of the various options, here's the mechanical executions Set Design decided to use with oil counters:
Use limit – These are cards that get oil counters, sometimes when they enter the battlefield, sometimes as an activated or triggered ability, that then let you spend counters for some ability or effect. This is similar to energy except they're counters that exist on the permanents rather than you, the player, and aren't interchangeable.
Set scalable effect – These are cards where the oil counters dictate how big of an effect something is. These cards usually have a means to gain counters, so the effect can grow over time.
Threshold – These are cards that gain abilities, but only if you have a certain number of oil counters.
Countdown – These are cards that start with oil counters, but then lose them, usually one a turn. When you remove the last oil counter, the card goes away.
Marker – These are cards that care about whether you have some number of cards with an oil counter. Some are threshold, some are scaling. There are a few cards that care about you using the oil counters.
The one truism about oil counters, which was set during vision design and stayed true during set design, is that more counters are better than less, so they all work with proliferate. This means, for instance, you want to countdown to destruction rather than count up. Set Design focused oil counters in blue, red, and green.
The oiled keyword went through some changes. When the file was first handed off to Set Design, Erik Lauer, who was leading it at the time, turned oiled into a version of vanished where the oil counters got removed one a turn and the creature died when you removed the last counter. Set Design removed oiled for simplicity and because they didn't plan to have too many countdown permanents with oil counters. It was decided it was okay for there to be some tension about when to remove your last oil counter from a permanent.
Take Up Arms
The set was mostly Phyrexians, but there were still a few Mirrans that have managed to keep from getting compleated. We thought it was only right that the rebels got their own mechanic. We liked the idea of them tweaking a Phyrexian mechanic. As I explained last week, we chose living weapon as it wasn't being used anywhere else in the set. We called the mechanic take up arms and it created a 2/2 red Rebel rather than a 0/0 black germ. It turns out having a token with power and toughness made the designs a lot easier and allowed us more variety.
Set Design liked take up arms and didn't really change it. They made a bunch of new individual card designs, but the core mechanic never changed. The Creative team would rename the mechanic For Mirrodin!
Phyrexian Mana (Including Relentless)
Phyrexian mana was in a weird spot. It was one of the most iconic Phyrexian mechanics, and the only one with "Phyrexian" in its name, but also the one that had caused the most play design issues. Vision Design's attempts to use Phyrexian mana came in three versions:
Phyrexian planeswalkers – The larger plan has always been for Tamiyo to get Phyrexianized in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, Ajani in Dominaria United, and five more in Phyrexia: All Will Be One. When the set was in vision design, we hadn't yet finalized how the Phyrexian planeswalkers were going to work. I'd been tasked with pitching several suggestions for how to do it. My favorite was Phyrexian loyalty were you could pay life instead of loyalty counters, but that ended up being too hard to balance, so they settled on a version with Phyrexian mana in its mana cost, which basically cost you loyalty in addition to life, and this allowed Play Design to balance them. By the time set design started, we'd settled on an execution, and they worked to make the five planeswalkers from this set following that template. The five Phyrexian planeswalkers are the only cards in the set with Phyrexian mana in their mana costs.
Activation costs – One of the biggest issues with Phyrexian mana was that it was seldom a choice. If you couldn't pay the mana, you almost always paid the 2 life. Vision Design thought activated abilities would be a better home for Phyrexian mana. It's something you'll use multiple times, and it doesn't circumvent mana costs or color pie. We used it liberally in the file we handed over to Set Design. It did stay in the set but got knocked down to just seven cards, one mythic rare cycle, and two rare cards (one white and one blue). Adam agreed that there needed to be some in the set, as it's so iconically Phyrexian, but he wanted to limit how much to keep it from causing play design issue.
Relentless – The third way Vision Design put Phyrexian mana in the set was on a mechanic we called relentless. It was a mechanic that went on instants and sorceries. It exiled the spell it was on upon resolution. Then on any turn in which you've played a land, you could cast it for its relentless cost from exile. (It would then be put into the graveyard.) All the monocolor mana in relentless costs was Phyrexian mana. Set Design was worried that there was too much going on in the set. Poison is a delicate ecosystem that requires a lot of work to balance, so relentless, and much of the Phyrexian mana in the set, was cut.
Proliferate was closely associated with the Phyrexians (premiering in Scars of Mirrodin), popular with the players, and not nearly as problematic to balance as Phyrexian mana. Vision Design's big tweak was to have the dominant counter in the set be oil counters rather than +1/+1 counters or -1/-1 counters. This would allow proliferate to shine and play differently than either Scars of Mirrodin block or War of the Spark.
Set Design kept oil counters and basically executed on proliferate how Vision Design proposed. It was put mostly in blue, black, and green, with just a tiny dollop on red. Vision Design had tried pushing it more in red, but the Council of Colors correctly noted that proliferate isn't really a red mechanic philosophically.
Here's how the ten two-color archetypes ended up:
White-blue (artifacts) – The Phyrexians have always been tied to artifacts, so it only seemed right to have one draft archetype focus on them. Blue is primary in "artifact matters" and white is secondary, so those two colors seemed like the best choices.
Blue-black (proliferate control) – Blue is one of oil counter colors. Black is one of the poison counter colors. Put the two of them together, and you have your normal manipulative blue-black deck, but now with a dose of counters and proliferate.
Black-red (oil counters and sacrifice) – Sacrifice is a common black-red archetype. The set adds in oil counters to the mix and creates a two-color combination that feels quite Phyrexian, as they see death as a valuable tool.
Red-green (midrange oil counters) – Red and green are both oil counter colors and are the two colors that care most about how many permanents you have with oil counters. This theme works well with a deck that grows in strength over time as you gain in mana and oil counters.
Green-white (toxic aggro) – Green and white are two of the three poison colors. This deck makes a horde of creatures with toxic, including the Mite creature tokens, and swarms for a poison win.
White-black (corrupted) – White and black are the two colors with the most corrupted cards, so they come together to poison your opponent just enough to make your cards even more powerful.
Blue-red (oil counters and noncreature spells) – This deck uses your noncreature spells to gain more and more oil counters, which then create effects to help you win this tempo strategy.
Black-green (poison victory) – Black and green are the two colors with the largest toxic creatures. Get them out and win in just a few hits.
Red-white (For Mirrodin! Equipment) – Red and white are the two colors with the most Rebels in it. Use the Equipment with the For Mirrodin! keyword to aggressively attack.
Green-blue (proliferate and poison) – Green has a lot of cards that poison. Blue and green are both good at proliferating. Poison your opponent and then slowly proliferate them to death. This is the most controlling of the poison decks.
Two for ONE
Before I wrap up for today, I have two preview cards to show off.
First up is Ichormoon Gauntlet.
Click here to see Ichormoon Gauntlet
Phyrexia: All Will Be One has more planeswalkers in it than any set, save War of the Spark, (five normal planeswalkers and five compleated planeswalkers), so it seemed apropos to have a card that grants extra loyalty abilities to planeswalkers, one of which is a mechanic from this set.
Next up is Tekuthal, Inquiry Dominus.
Click here to see Tekuthal, Inquiry Dominus
Tekuthal is part of the mythic rare Domini cycle that makes use of the Phyrexian mana I talked about above. It's also one of only a small handful of cards in the game's history that has the same mechanic twice.
ONE for the Road
That's all the time I have for today. I hoped you enjoyed the story of Phyrexia: All Will Be One's design. As always, I'm interested in your feedback, either on this column, the mechanics I talked about, or Phyrexia: All Will Be One as a whole. You can email me or contact me through my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).
Join me next week when I start telling card-by-card stories from the set.
Until then, may you feel compleat.