Storming the Gatecrash, Part 1
I often talk about how restrictions breed creativity. Agoraphobia is the perfect example of how this can play out in Magic design. So I had one hole with two different needs. I needed a creature control card for Limited and I needed a card to help evolve. At first blush, those two things don't seem like they have anything to with one another. The first need wants to be used on the opponent's creatures while the second wants to be used on yours. How do you ever accomplish both tasks at the same time?
The trick was to think about what each part needed and then try to find some intersection. The reason I say that restrictions breed creativity is that the human brain can get lazy. It tends to run down the same neural paths when it's trying to solve a problem. Only when you are faced with a problem you haven't solved before that your brain is challenged into finding new pathways. Restrictions force your brain to get creative.
I solved this problem by starting with the evolve half of the problem. How do you help evolve creatures? One way was to get larger creatures into play. Was there anything I could do to the evolve creatures themselves to help them evolve? I could shrink them. Ding! Ding! Ding! Shrinking is something blue normally uses as a weapon against the opponent's creatures. ("Shrink" is the R&D nickname for cards that grant -N/-0 effects. It is based off of one of the early cards to do this, a green card named Shrink in Homelands. The ability would later shift to blue.)
If I shrunk down a creature, that would make it easier to get +1/+1 counters on it. But wouldn't shrinking the creature offset the gains made by the +1/+1 counters? Not if you could unshrink your creature. This led me to the idea of an Aura that gave negative power to a creature. By adding a cost to bounce it back to your hand you would be able to do evolve tricks and, offensively, it would allow you to move around the shrink Aura if you got a larger threat. Voila, restrictions come through again.
Here's how hole-filling normally goes: The development team informs the lead designer (in this case, Mark Gottlieb) of the holes created by cards it removed during development. Gottlieb then sends out a note to the various people who have signed up to do hole filling. All of those people turn in their cards to Gottlieb on the deadline and then Gottlieb passes them along to the development team to peruse and choose a card to fill each hole.
That's how it usually works. Sometimes, though, the lead developer, in this case Dave Humpherys, comes to me with a hole and says, "You have anything for this?" Assemble the Legion is one of these cards. Dave was looking for a card that made sense as a splashy but simple Boros card that felt red and white. I liked the idea of an enchantment that just kept making a bigger and bigger army.
One of the interesting things when you look back at a set is that you find that some cards got made for reasons that are no longer true yet managed to find their way to print nonetheless. Cartel Aristocrat is a perfect example. The very first Orzhov mechanic we tried had a unified death trigger. That is, all the cards with this ability (all creatures, if I remember correctly), had an effect when it got put into the graveyard from the battlefield.
Now, there are many ways to get creatures into the graveyard, but a lot of them require getting some help from your opponent (who has to attack or block or kill your creature). The one way to ensure you can set off your own death triggers is to have sacrifice outlets (i.e., things where sacrificing one of your creatures is a cost). To help make sure this could happen, the team designed some.
I made Cartel Aristocrat because I was trying to make a card that felt flavorful on its own but worked well as a support for the Orzhov mechanic. I was happy with how the card turned out. But then, the Orzhov mechanic went away. Cartel Aristocrat was no longer needed for the reason it was created but it was still a cool card so I kept it in the file. Mark Gottlieb agreed when I handed over the file to him and so did Dave Humpherys when the file went to development. It just goes to show that while certain things might come and go in a set, often their influence can last longer than they lasted themselves.
Court Street Denizen, Sage's Row Denizen, Shadow Alley Denizen, Foundry Street Denizen, Ivy Lane Denizen
This cycle went through a number of changes. I first made this cycle because I wanted Gatecrash Limited to have some things you cared about that were different than what you cared about in Return to Ravnica Limited. Multicolor always plays nicely with "color matters" (see Shadowmoor and Eventide for a block where we went full out on that theme) so I made five cards that cared about colored spells being played.
Here's an example of how these cards originally worked:
Creature – Human Soldier
Whenever a white or red spell is played, tap target creature.
You'll notice two things. First, the cards triggered off of spells being played, not creatures entering the battlefield. Second, they cared about not one color but two, the color of the card and a color connected through one of the Gatecrash guilds. The cycle hit all five guilds, and each effect was tied into the style of the play of that guild. The tap ability, for instance, worked well with the Boros, who have an aggressive weenie rush strategy. And yes, this cycle was based on the Initiate cycle from Shadowmoor (which required you to pay to get the effect).
The idea originally was that we wanted some monocolored cards that were better in a certain guild but were still usable if played in another. Playtesting, though, showed that less-experienced players were reluctant to play a card that calls out two colors in anything but that guild's deck. Eventually, we decided it was just better to have the card care about a single color: the color of the card itself. This way, the card had value in any guild playing that color.
The shift from spells to creatures entering the battlefield happened when we decided the Orzhov mechanic was going to be extort. Because the mechanic cared about spells being played, we changed the Denizens to caring about creatures entering the battlefield. This also allowed the Denizens to trigger off the many token creatures found in the block.
All of the above happened in design. Development tweaked mana costs, sizes, and the effects, but the basic shell of the cycle stayed the same.
As a color-pie guru who has a blog where I answer questions, every time a set comes out, I always get a series of "Can Color X do this?" questions. Crypt Ghast is one such card. So, can black make mana?
The answer is yes, but in a very specific way. Here's how we divvy up mana production in the color pie.
Green is king of long-term mana fixing. It has the land searching. It has creatures that can tap every turn for mana. It has the ability to filter the deck for lands and to play extra lands from the hand. Green is very good at getting mana that sticks around.
Red is the color of temporary mana. In Alpha, black had Dark Ritual and fast mana was in its color. Many years ago, we shifted rituals to red. We do fewer rituals these days because they can be dangerous, but red is the color that gets them.
Black has a long theme of really liking black, so the one slice of the mana color pie we've given it is the ability to get extra black mana out of swamps. We're willing to support this because black has, since the beginning of the game, had more need for colored mana than any other color. Black just likes to beget more black, so we like to throw it a bone now and then.
How many of you were aware that there was a cycle of enchant lands in the Return to Ravnica block? Don't feel bad if you didn't; it's a pretty easy cycle to miss. For starters, two are common, two are uncommon, and one is rare (Security Blockade, Chronic Flooding, Underworld Connections, Racecourse Fury, and Urban Burgeoning). The cycle started because, during Return to Ravnica design, Mark Gottlieb was assigned with putting together a sub-design team to look at making top-down city-flavor cards.
Besides making a number of cards, the team stumbled upon the concept that enchant lands have good flavor in a city world because they can show off a feel of location. Because of this, the Gatecrash design team also added a loose cycle of enchant lands.
The design names give off a sense of the flavor behind their designs. The white enchant land was Street Festival. The blue one was Aerodrome (with the flavor of an airport filled with balloon-style air travel). The black one was Filth-Choked Streets. The red one was Trade Bazaar. The green one was Farmer's Market. In development, it was decided the black enchant land was very close to Contaminated Ground (from Rise of the Eldrazi) so it was just changed to be a reprint.
Black can kill things and white can kill things so a white-black kill spell should be easy, right? Not as easy as you might think. Here's the problem: The spell has to feel both white and black. Most kill spells fall pretty cleanly into either mono-white or mono-black. The trick here was making a spell that neither could do alone.
The answer was examining white kill spells and black kill spells and then find a part for each that is exclusively in that color. White has a flavor of not being the aggressor. It likes to be the "good guy" who doesn't strike first. Black has no issue with hitting first. In fact, black prefers if you have no idea it's attacking you. An unaware victim is an easy victim.
Black, meanwhile, is the color that gets the -N/-N effects. White tends to destroy or deal damage; -N/-N just isn't white's thing. So combine the two together and you get an effect that neither color can do monocolored.
I've received a lot of questions online about Frontline Medic's second ability. Why is it on the card? It doesn't seem like a clean fit with the other ability. The answer is that it's there to serve a specific purpose. You see, development has an impossible task. It has to, with a limited number of playtesters, figure out what millions of players are going to do. More often than not, it is right on the money, but in a game where we have to take risks, sometimes cards end up a little better than what development intended.
When that happens, development likes to put cards into newer sets to help answer these problem children. Frontline Medic's second ability was primarily to help with this card:
Erik Lauer knew he needed the ability so he looked around for a card he could stick it on. Sometimes, there's a perfect card that the needed text blends in with so well you can't even tell that the ability wasn't there to start with. Other times, though, there's no perfect fit. Frontline Medic got the ability because it was the card that could best handle it with a slight nod toward flavor (both abilities feel like the creature is protecting others). We decided long ago that a healthy environment is more important than aesthetics, so from time to time we end up with a card like this that does good work and is fun to play but is slightly clunkier than our normal standards.
When Return to Ravnica came out, I explained that the gates were important to the story and that the subtype would get more relevant as the block continued. In Return to Ravnica, there were only a few cards that cared about gates and most of them are what we call "Threshold 1 cards" in R&D. Threshold 1 cards are cards that only need one card of the necessary type in play to be relevant. Threshold 1 cards require a much smaller number of the concerned type of card to be used to make the card matter mechanically. (Here's Devin Low's article where he explains the whole "count me" spectrum.)
Gatecrash not only ups the number of "gates matter" cards but also shifts to a subset we call "Single-Scaling Count-Me." SSCMs have effects (or stats) that get one better for each item you have of the counted group. Gateway Shade is an excellent example. For each gate you have, you can convert it, by tapping, into a temporary +2/+2 bonus. This means you are more motivated to have a bunch of gates if you're playing this card.
Dragon's Maze will, of course, add something new to the mix.
Planeswalkers are difficult to design. Returning Planeswalkers are extra tricky. The reason is simple. The first time we do a Planeswalker, we have to give him or her an identity. The second time, we have to be consistent with his or her first incarnation (we want him or her to feel like the same character) but we still want the new version to have some mechanical novelty.
Gideon was tricky because his first incarnation had such an innovative twist. Unlike all other Planeswalkers, Gideon isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. He doesn't just sit back throwing spells. Gideon is willing to join the fight as a creature.
The big question we had when designing this Gideon (and I should note that while design took a swing at him, a lot of work was done in development) was whether or not his attack thing was a one-time thing or it was core to Gideon. In other words, did he or did he not repeat his shtick?
The newest member of our design team is a man named Dan Emmons. One of Dan's projects has been to take a look at all the Planeswalkers and start collecting information about what are supposed to be their defining qualities. This came about because we got a lot of negative feedback on Liliana's Magic 2013 version (Liliana of the Dark Realms), as it seemed inconsistent with her previous cards. Is she a necromancer? Does she care about Swamps? Or discard? What is her thing?
Dan spent a lot of time exploring the mechanical space of each Planeswalker and came to the conclusion that we need to be careful not to let the Planeswalkers bleed too much. There are a lot of Planeswalkers and not a lot of mechanics to divvy up among them.
I tell you this because this desire to help define Planeswalkers more sharply convinced us that Gideon should repeat his "I get in there and fight" feel. We changed up how big he was for variety's sake but we liked the idea that joining the fight was just the thing that gave Gideon his own mechanical space.
One of the first cards I ever designed was Scragnoth.
This was back when I was just a lowly Magic player before I even started doing freelance work for Magic. Flash forward a few years later and I was leading my first set, Tempest, so I put it in. I bring this up because, in general (and yes, I say "in general" because I purposely didn't create cards to remove poison counters in Scars of Mirrodin block), I like printing cards that answer other cards.
Scragnoth was made to say that even counterspell decks should have a card they're afraid of. Glaring Spotlight goes after another frustrating mechanic, hexproof. The keyword has proven popular in Constructed play because the ability makes it hard to kill a creature that has it.
From all appearances, Glaring Spotlight is to hexproof what Scragnoth is to counterspells. It says that a prepared player can now have an answer to this problem. Too much hexproof? Break out the spotlight.
Here's the twist. The card wasn't designed to address a metagame issue (although, yes, later on developers realized it had that potential). Rather, it was designed by Billy Moreno as a top-down card matching the name Lamppost.
A little food for thought.
A Card Day's Night
That's all the time I have for today. You notice I only got to G (and I named this column "Part 1") so that means I'll be back next week with Part 2. I hope you enjoyed my stories.
Until then, may your Magic cards create as many stories to tell.
Drive to Work #17—The Duelist
Somehow, back in the day, besides being a fulltime R&D member, I also was the editor-in-chief of a Magic-themed magazine called The Duelist. On today's podcast, I talk about my time working on the magazine.
- Episode 17 : The Duelist (9.67 MB)
- Episode 16 : Urza's Saga (11.2 MB)
- Episode 15 : Codenames (14.6 MB)
- Episode 14 : The Pro Tour (14.4 MB)
- Episode 13 : Unglued (18.9 MB)
So You Want To Work At Wizards?
The job listings in my column seem to have good synergy, as you all like to see them and we like to hire Magic players with relevant skills. So as long as both of those stay true, I'll continue posting them.
Today we're looking fora Senior Marketing Manager for Interactive and Digital Marketing. The requirements are:
- BA/BS or equivalent experience required, preferably with a concentration in Marketing or related coursework. MBA preferred.
- Minimum of 8 years of progressive experience in consumer marketing, preferably supporting a global brand.
- Significant experience marketing in the digital space including direct marketing, social media, consumer engagement, web content, digital advertising, promotions, PR, and interactive marketing.
- Experience in the video/digital game, hobby game, toy, entertainment, or related field required.
And asks for the following knowledge, skills, and abilities:
- Expertise in developing leading edge marketing campaigns in the digital space.
- Thorough understanding of digital acquisition funnels.
- Expertise in transforming a strategy and vision into actionable plans.
- Excellent leadership ability within a highly matrixed organization: ability to provide clear and concise direction/feedback to stakeholders and the ability to influence others to adopt his/her recommendations.
- Strong project management abilities; capable of prioritizing and handling multiple projects simultaneously, under tight time constraints and within budget parameters.
- Well developed, verbal, written and presentation skills.
- Proficient with Microsoft Office applications.
- Experience working with international partners a plus.
- Knowledge of the digital game industry highly desirable.
- Knowledge of and passion for Magic a huge plus.
If you think that sounds like you, see the full job listing here.