Welcome to Enchant Creature Week. Yes, this week is dedicated to the most controversial of card types. Loved by some, hated by others, the creature enchantment is many things to many people. Part of my job here in R&D is to understand why people love and hate things. So, let me start this week’s column by exploring the two sides of the coin.
Before I begin, I would like to stress that I’m talking about positive creature enchantments that you use to enhance your own creatures. Enchantments that are used on your opponent's creatures, ranging from
Why Players Love Creature Enchantments
Creature enchantments are cool. Why? Because building things is cool. You start with a boring old creature, you throw on a couple of creature enchantments and voila, you have yourself a monster. Many players enjoy doing this. More than I first thought. How do I know this? Because I’ve been to the trenches -- in this case, something called the Deck Clinic.
Let me explain. At most big events thrown or attended by Wizards, we have something called Deck Clinic. This is where an employee (such as myself) or a professional player sits at a table and looks at decks of players who stand in line. We spend somewhere between five to fifteen minutes and explain how the person could improve their deck. After doing numerous Deck Clinics, I came up with a few little maxims I would use where appropriate. One of my favorites: “Here’s a rule of thumb. You’re going to want to make sure that your deck has more creatures than creature enchantments.”
My second theory as to why creature enchantments are so beloved is that it gives the players a chance to be a creature designer. By mixing and matching creatures and creature enchantments, the player can make their own unique creation.
Why Players Hate Creature Enchantments
Okay, I guess I could elaborate a bit more on this. Creature enchantments are, strategically speaking, a bad deal. The reason? Something called card advantage. In a nutshell, card advantage says that the player with the most cards (in hand and in play) wins. When one card can be used to destroy multiple other cards, this gains the first card’s caster card advantage.
Creature enchantments by design help your opponent get card advantage. Why? Because when you put a creature enchantment on a creature, your opponent has the ability to destroy two cards with a single creature destruction spell. Creature enchantments thus are anti-card advantage.
Building a Better Creature Enchantment
Creature enchantments are flavor-wise very cool, but power-wise very poor. What’s a designer to do? One of our on-going quests here in R&D is to build a better creature enchantment (and then get the hell off the path to the doorway). How do we do this? I’m glad you asked.
The first approach is to offset the card disadvantage by making the creature enchantment not actually cost a card. The simplest way to do this is to make it a cantrip. Cantrips, for those unaware of the term, are cards that have you draw a card when you play them. The first one of these was
As an extra bonus, I plan to tell a little story each section to give you some behind the scenes stories about the creation of creature enchantments. For cantrips, I thought I’d talk about the creation of
[Mark’s Color Cloak]
Enchanted creature has “T: Target creature becomes the color of your choice until end of turn.”
Everyone liked the idea of the card but it proved to be pretty weak. The development team added a little mana and made it a cantrip. It was still bad. So they changed the activation from a tap to a single blue mana. This allowed the enchantment to be activated multiple times. All of a sudden, the card was a little too good. So the activation cost was raised to
Bigger Is Better
Another technique is to have the creature enchantment really beef up the creature. The idea behind this plan is to make the creature so big that it does lots of damage before the opponent can find his creature destruction spell. In addition, by being beefed up, it reduces the number of spells able to destroy it (as an example, direct damage gets much worse). The first enchantment in this category was
The story for this category has to do with the creation of the embraces during the development of Urza’s Saga. The embraces were known in design as the “Make Me a ______” enchantments. Each enchantment was designed to turn you into a famous creature of the past. The white enchantment was called “Make Me a Serra.” The black enchantment was “Make Me a Sengir.” The red enchantment was “Make Me a Shivan.” And the green enchantment was “Make Me a Force (of Nature).” But what about the blue one? Aha, that was a problem. There was no big blue creature that worked for this cycle. So how did we solve this problem. We put the big creature --
Kill it. I dare ya.
If It Dies
The next category tries to make up for card disadvantage by giving you an effect when the enchanted creature dies. Technically, the first card in this category was
The interesting design story in this category was the card
Deathback is the name for cards that return to your hand when they are put into the graveyard from play. This is actually just a subset of the previous category, but it made enough of a splash that I felt it deserved its own mention. The mechanic was introduced in Urza’s Saga (on cards such as
The story for this category was told recently on this site. A few weeks ago Bill Rose, the head of R&D answered an “Ask Wizards” about Rancor. You see, ever since
A: From Bill Rose, head of Research & Development:
"The short answer is: I don't know. No one will ever know.
"As I recall,
Rancororiginally was 2G, and it didn't have the 'deathback' mechanic, meaning it wouldn't return to your hand. In an effort to make some tournament-quality creature enchantments, Rancor's cost was lowered to G. Then the deathback mechanic was added. After that, the Magic developers disagree on what happened. There was a debate about Rancor's cost. The group who wanted Rancorcosted at Gargued at it would be good, but not broken. The ' G' group believes they won and Rancor was published as the development team wanted. The ' 2G' group believes they won, but that the lead developer forgot to change the file sent to typesetting.
"Given the choice between
Gand 2G, I would cost Rancorat G. But given a time machine, I would cost it at 1G."
A day after this “Ask Wizards” question was posted, I was visited by Mike Elliott, the lead designer of Urza’s Legacy and one of its developers. Mike asked if he could rebut Bill’s answer. (Mike, you see, remembered the whole thing differently.) I said sure. “Send a letter to ‘Ask Wizards’ and you can reply to it yourself.”
You have to understand that I was dead serious. So, I’m publicly calling Mike out. Hey Mike, write the letter! We’ll see what happens.
Enchantment Sacs for Effect
In a related category are cards that can be sacrificed for an effect. This way if your enchantment (or the creature it enchants) is about to be destroyed, you get another use out of the card. The first example of this mechanic was
The story for this category is how
On the other hand, a magical tattoo made a lot of sense for a creature enchantment. Plus, it seemed cool that the tattoo would disappear if the creature used the second ability. The card you originally know as
Another popular technique is to create creature enchantments that keep the enchanted creature from being targeted. The idea here is that this keeps the enchantment’s owner from being two-for-oned because the enchanted creature is now a lot harder to destroy. This technique goes way back to Legends with the cards
Unfortunately, this technique had one gaping hole. The creature enchantment was still vulnerable. This always bugged me. So during Mercadian Masques design, I made what I felt was the fixed version:
This, by the way, is one of the greatest perks of being a Magic designer. Many players get occasionally irked by the non-existence of some effect they really want because it would work perfectly in some deck. When a Magic designer gets that feeling they just make the card and put it into the next set.
The next category was a little something we tried in Tempest (on cards such as
My story for this category is about
You’re back? Did you catch it. Well, we didn’t. What happens if you choose white? The creature now has protection from white and kicks off any white enchantments on it. Including
As Flickering Ward comes into play, choose a color.
Enchanted creature has protection from the chosen color. This effect doesn't remove Flickering Ward.
Another Tempest take on the problem of creature enchantments being weak was the licids (such as
The story for this category is about the creation of the licids, then called "lice." During Tempest design, Mike Elliott and I both played around with the same idea. What if we created creature enchantments that were also creatures? Mike’s take on the licids is what they ended up being. My take was a bit simpler. My lice came into play as either a creature or a creature enchantment. For example, my blue lice was a 1/1 flier for
The team realized that we couldn’t do both versions of the lice so the team (myself, Mike, Charlie Catino and Richard Garfield) looked at both mechanics and chose one: mine. As the lead designer of the team I stepped in. I said that Mike’s version was much more complex. I felt we would learn more by starting to play Mike’s version. If they proved to complex, we could always fall back to my simpler version. The team agreed so we playtested Mike’s version. The rest of this story, of course, is a matter of history.
Look out! Here comes the 22/15 black trampling regenerating fear doesn't-tap-to-attack monstrosity!
Work It From the Flip Side
Another way to improve creature enchantments is to make non-creature enchantment cards that reward a player for playing enchantments. The first example of this was
One of the interesting things about designers is that we each have our own quirky preferences when designing cards. This category is one of my personal quirks. Over the years I have been responsible for numerous creature enchantment "helpers". This is most obvious during my design of Urza's Destiny. That set was rife with cards that helped encourage the play of creature enchantments (some obviously more than others), including
Although to be fair, the set did have a higher than average amount of anti-enchantment cards as well.
The final category is more of a catch-all. Some creature enchantments make up for card disadvantage by immediately granting you a useful effect. A good example of this type of card is Exodus's
For this category, I thought I’d talk about why we changed the name of the
What’s wrong with it? Perhaps I can best answer this with a question. What does
While working on Odyssey names, I went around the office asking people to define “hermetic.” Out of fifty plus people, none knew the definition I was looking for. Zero. As a writer, I like the occasional big word. But not on common cards and not one that less than one percent of our audience has any possibility of knowing. For that reason, we changed the name.
That’s All Folks
Well, that, in two thousand words or so, is all I have to say on the topic of creature enchantments. As normal, if I’ve managed to hit a nerve or just inspired some idea, feel free to post your thoughts on the thread to this column.
Join me next week when I’ll explore one of the sillier sides of Magic.
Until then, may your enchanted creature defeat your opponent before he draws his creature destruction spell.
Mark RosewaterMark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.