This week, I start my card-by-card design stories with Mishra, Lost to Phyrexia and the two cards that meld into it. In two weeks, I'll tell the card design story of Urza, Planeswalker. Both stories start even earlier than normal, as they go all the way back to the promo decks Ari and I made to prove that The Brothers' War should be a premier set.

Mishra, Claimed by Gix; Phyrexian Dragon Engine; and Mishra, Lost to Phyrexia

Mishra, Claimed by Gix
Mishra, Lost to Phyrexia (top)
Phyrexian Dragon Engine
Mishra, Lost to Phyrexia (bottom)

Mishra, Lost to Phyrexia

Mishra was first referenced in Alpha on the card Ankh of Mishra (and Urza was referenced on Glasses of Urza and Sunglasses of Urza). Neither Mishra nor Urza was referenced in flavor text, so who they were was just an unknown in the early days of Magic.

Antiquities, the second expansion of the game, was the first set to have any kind of story, and it hinted at an event known as the Brothers' War. For those unfamiliar with it, the story wasn't happening in the moment but rather had happened in the distant past and was being slowly discovered through various artifacts that were left over as a memory of that time—the antiquities if you will. Through the flavor text of the set, we learned that Urza and Mishra were brothers who had an epic battle over many decades. There would later be a book titled The Brother's War by Jeff Grubb that would become the established version of the story.

In the early years, Mishra would occasionally be referenced in card titles. His first "card" was a Vanguard card. These oversized Vanguard cards allowed you to play a format where your starting life total and hand size were adapted and you were granted an ability that lasted the whole game. Mishra doubled all your creature damage at the cost of starting the game with 3 less life.

Mishra wouldn't show up as a normal card until years later in Time Spiral when he finally got a legendary creature card. Urza had to wait even longer, getting his first card in Unstable, and his first Eternal-legal one in Modern Horizons (but more on Urza when we get to his meld card next week).


The idea of having a meld card for both brothers goes all the way back to those initial demo decks. I believe Aaron Forsythe was the one to pitch the idea when he and I first talked about The Brothers' War. So, let me start with the two cards and their melded back from the demo decks we made as proof of concept to get The Brothers' War made as a premier set. Because we were basing the cards on the story, we knew that Mishra's change was going to involve him being corrupted by the Phyrexians.

Let's walk through the cards. First up, Mishra:

Mishra, Young Artificer (demo deck - rare)
Legendary Creature — Human Artificer
At the beginning of your upkeep, reveal the top five cards of your library. You may put an artifact card from among them into your hand. Put the rest into your graveyard.
At the beginning of your end step, if you have a card named Phyrexian Corruption in your graveyard, you may exile it and CARDNAME and meld them into Mishra, Corrupted.

Mishra was an artificer, so we wanted to give him an ability to play that up. Also, his deck made use of the graveyard, so we wanted it to be synergistic with that theme. We ended up doing an "impulse for artifacts" that also filled up the graveyard.

Mishra was made a 4/2 to mirror Urza, who was a 2/4. We decided that we wanted Urza's and Mishra's cards to be the ones to tell you about the meld in their rules text. Because Mishra's other card was a sorcery, we had it check the graveyard for it. This allowed you to both cast it or have it milled by Mishra.

Here's the sorcery:

Phyrexian Corruption (demo deck - uncommon)
@@BB (@ = generic phyrexian mana)
Destroy target creature. If it's a non-artifact creature, its controller loses 2 life.

I guess the first thing I should explain is what the "@" is. The "@" represents generic Phyrexian mana. We wanted to have a little Phyrexian mana in the deck to show the influence of Phyrexia on Mishra, but we chose to create a new generic Phyrexian mana symbol to avoid creating the color pie issues the colored Phyrexian mana has. Because the spell represented Phyrexian corruption, we made it a kill spell, one which works best against non-artifact creatures.

It was important to us that the second card be something you'd be happy to put into your deck, and we felt a kill card passed the bar. If you got Mishra on the battlefield and Phyrexian Corruption in your graveyard, you got Mishra, Corrupted. This mix of a creature melding with a spell would be carried over into The Brothers' War exploratory design and vision design and used on a cycle of common meld creatures that would eventually be cut in set design. (I touched more on that two weeks ago and last week.)

Here's what the melded Mishra looked like:

Mishra, Corrupted
Legendary Artifact Creature — Artificer
3, T: Destroy target artifact or creature. Its controller loses 2 life and discards a card. Activate this ability only anytime you could cast a sorcery.
Whenever a permanent you control leaves the battlefield, untap CARDNAME.

The Mishra deck had a sacrifice theme, so the melded version of Mishra was designed to be synergistic with that. The Urza melded card, as you will see, took advantage of the extra text box a melded card would give you. Mishra really doesn't take advantage of that.

While this design is powerful, it lacks the splash that the demo deck version of Urza had. Nonetheless, the two melded cards did their job, exciting Aaron and the various other people who played the demo decks, so Vision Design was on the hook for making another version of each. Here's our first stab at it:

Mishra, Corrupted (version #1)
Legendary Creature — Phyrexian Artificer
Pay 2 life, sacrifice an artifact or Phyrexian: Draw a card.
At the beginning of combat on your turn, if you are at half of your starting life total or less and you both own and control CARDNAME and an artifact named OTHERNAME, then first exile them, then meld them into OTHEROTHERNAME.

The first vision design version of Mishra was heavily influenced by the promo deck we had made in that it had a sacrifice theme (and was also black-red). The idea behind it was that it would allow you to sacrifice things you didn't need in order to draw cards, so you could find the other card that would meld with it. The choice of "artifact or Phyrexian" was both to add a bit of flavor and make the card more novel. The Brothers' War was the second set in the Phyrexian story arc, so we knew it would have plenty of cards to interact with. (There are more Phyrexians to come. Don't tell anyone I told you.)

My best guess on why it required you to be at half of your life or less was to delay the meld from happening too soon and give the card a way to help advance you toward the state you wanted to be at. As a hint of what's about to happen, it didn't play that well.

Mishra, Corrupted (version #2)
Legendary Creature — Phyrexian Artificer
Pay 2 life, Sacrifice another Phyrexian or an artifact: Draw a card.
Whenever CARDNAME and a creature named Phyrexian Dragon Engine attack, if you both own and control them, exile them, then meld them into Mishra, Engine Monstrosity. It enters the battlefield tapped and attacking.

The next version didn't change the base ability but did alter how the meld happened. You no longer cared about your life total. Instead, you now had to get both creatures on the battlefield and attacking. This was done to give a little more aggression to Mishra. His card-drawing ability tended to encourage you to sit back with him and purposefully avoid sending him into combat. The printed version would lean more into the aggressive flavor, making the base ability itself have an attack trigger and changing the effect to something that helps directly end the game.

Here's the art description for the front side of Mishra (page numbers are referencing the style guide we send the artists):

Setting: The Brothers' War
Color: Black and red LEGENDARY creature
Location: On the shore of Argoth (p. 93–95) during Act III (p. 122–125 for guidance) below a RUINED STONE COLOSSUS (inspired by the silhouettes on p.9, the size of an aircraft carrier).
Intent: Mishra is one of the main characters of The Brothers' War novel, and the brother of one of Magic: The Gathering's most storied Planeswalkers. This image will show him at the height of his mortal power, prior to his death; at this moment, he is fighting his brother Urza at the climax of the novel.
Action: Show us MISHRA (p. 19c) RAISING his WEAKSTONE (p. 133b), preparing to FIRE IT at Urza, who is standing off-screen. Mishra's METAL ARM and parts of his METAL SKELETON have been exposed during this fight; maybe we see his clothing and skin smoking and smoldering, revealing the machine construction underneath.
Focus: Mishra
Mood: A climactic battle
Notes: Please mitigate gore as much as possible.

The demo decks had represented Mishra's change by the Phyrexians a bit abstractly. In the story, Mishra fuses himself to a dragon engine. If we were going to do a meld card, why not reference an actual merging that happened in the story. That meant the second card needed to be a dragon engine. Antiquities, it turns out, had a Dragon Engine in it.

Dragon Engine

That would heavily influence the first design:

Phyrexian Dragon Engine (version #1)
Artifact Creature — Phyrexian Dragon
R, Pay 2 life: CARDNAME gets +2/+0 until end of turn.

As you can see, this first design was basically just a juiced-up version of the original Dragon Engine. I don't believe that at this point it was designated as part of the meld with Mishra. I think we were just making a better Dragon Engine.

Phyrexian Dragon Engine (version #2)
Artifact Creature — Phyrexian Dragon
R, Pay 2 life: CARDNAME gets +2/+0 until end of turn. When CARDNAME dies, it deals damage equal to its power to target creature or planeswalker you don't control. (Melds with Mishra, Corrupted) [Mishra, Corrupted]

This next version moved the card up to rare and improved it in two ways. One, it gave it a damage-dealing death trigger; and two, it made it part of the meld with Mishra. Interestingly, almost none of this made it to the final version.

Phyrexian Dragon Engine (version #3)
Artifact Creature — Phyrexian Construct
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield from your graveyard, discard your hand. Then draw three cards.
Unearth {3RR} ({3RR}: Return this card from your graveyard to the battlefield. It gains haste. Exile it at the beginning of the next end step or if it would leave the battlefield. Unearth only as a sorcery.) (Melds with Mishra, Corrupted)

This third version starts getting a lot closer to the printed version. First, we gave up this desire to mechanically connect the card to the original Dragon Engine. It was never something that excited players, so we decided it was better to just make an awesome card than make a mechanical reference to a card few had nostalgic memory of.

Second, we wanted to push the card to a place that would make it more synergistic with its partner, Mishra. This involved changing the death trigger to an "enters the battlefield" trigger and shifting from a direct-damage effect to a card-drawing one (although one that required you to be aggressive with your spell casting).

The biggest change, though, was adding unearth. This allowed the card to be more aggressive, as it gave you a way to meld with Mishra even if it died. The only change for the final version was the change of 3/3 to 2/2 with double strike.

Here's the art description for Phyrexian Dragon Engine:

Setting: The Brothers' War
Color: Red-aligned colorless artifact
Location: On Argoth (p. 92–96 for reference and inspiration) during a battle in Act III (p. 106 for guidelines, p. 122–127 for examples)
Action: Show us a large DRAGON ENGINE (p. 28, 10 meters tall) KILLING an automaton (p. 8c, 8 meters tall, materials on p. 6). Maybe we see Mishra (p. 19c) riding or commanding the dragon engine. If composition allows, we may see Mishran machines (p. 20 for reference, p. 128 for weathering) fighting Argivian soldiers (p. 46–46, p. 50–51) on the ground.
Focus: The dragon engine
Mood: A clash of titans

Now we get to the backside. As I said above, the backside of the Urza meld had been much more exciting than the Mishra one, so we were eager to find a way to make Mishra just as exciting. Part of that was taking advantage of all the extra rules text space a meld card provided.

In exploratory design (which sadly wasn't in our database), we tried a version where Mishra had six different activated abilities, each with its own mana cost. It just took one playtest to realize that it was just too much to process. That would lead to the structure we ended up with, one where the card would trigger and then give you the option to choose three effects from a list of six.

Here was the first attempt:

Mishra, Engine Monstrosity (version #1)
Legendary Artifact Creature — Phyrexian Construct
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, choose three:
* CARDNAME deals 3 damage to any target.
* Discard your hand and draw that many cards.
* Each opponent discards a card.
* Each opponent sacrifices an artifact.
* Create a 2/2 black Phyrexian artifact creature token with menace.
* Return an artifact or Phyrexian creature card from your graveyard to your hand.

The key to this type of design is that you want to find as many generally useful abilities as possible in the available colors. There are only twenty or so effects to choose from, so mostly it's a matter of narrowing down what works best, both for this color combination and in conjunction with one another.

Some version of about half of these effects stuck around. Usually the design team will pick what they think will work best and then playtest it. Some effects will just not see any play. Those will get removed. Some effects will see too much play or maybe disrupt things too much. Those effects are usually tweaked, weakening them but keeping them relevant. If they are problematic enough, we can replace them.

The Set Design team will adjust the list of effects as they get more data from the playtests. The list will also be affected by the Play Design team, who will give notes about what effects are most useful in the formats they're testing.

The other important change to this version was adding the list as an "enters the battlefield" trigger as well as an attack trigger. This allowed the card's impact to be useful right away. This is especially important in making a card viable for Constructed Magic.

Here's the art description for Mishra's melded version (I especially like how the backside is a true melding of the images from the front of the card):

Setting: The Brothers' War
Color: LEGENDARY artifact creature
Location: On the beach at Argoth (p. 93–95) during Act III (p. 122–125 for guidance)
Intent: This is a MELD card, which requires two different cards to be activated before this one can be played: in this case, it requires Mishra (p. 19c) and a dragon engine (p. 28). The character depicted here will be a blend of both Mishra and the dragon engine.
Action: Show us the TOP HALF of MISHRA (p. 19c) MELDED with a DRAGON ENGINE (p. 28d) in a DYNAMIC, CRUEL, TRIUMPHANT pose. Mishra should look as if he was GRAFTED or WELDED on to the machine, maybe in place of its head or as a part of its head.
Focus: The Mishra monstrosity
Mood: The secret final boss

Mishra's Groundbreaker

I hope you enjoyed today's tale of how we designed Mishra's melded card. Not a lot of sets have a period of design before exploratory, let alone a component that makes it all the way through to print, so it was especially fun looking back.

As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback on today's column, on Mishra, or on The Brothers' War. You can email me or contact me through my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me next week when I talk about a new Jumpstart Booster by telling the story of a creature type that kind of dates back to Alpha. Then in two weeks, I'll tell the story of Urza's meld card.

Until then, may you not get corrupted by the strange forces around you.