We’ve Got The Beatdown
While thinking about the theme, I thought it might be interesting to look into a little pocket of design space that overlaps with beatdown: the one drop creature with power 2 or greater. At first blush, it doesn't seem like R&D makes all that many one drops with power 2 or greater, but when you start digging into it, it's a lot more than you might realize. As I walk you through them all, I'll share some design insights and perhaps a few stories.
This card came about because I wanted to add a 12/12 to Magic. You see, Alpha had an 8/8 in Force of Nature. Antiquities had a 9/9 in Colossus of Sardia. The Dark then got a 10/10 in Leviathan. Followed up by the 11/11 Polar Kraken in Ice Age. This seemed like a fun game that I wanted to continue playing. Bill Rose, now Vice President of R&D, was the lead designer of Mirage. He said he would add it if I could design a cool enough card. The next day I returned and said, “Is a 12/12 trampler for 1 cool enough?”
Razorgrass Screen (Fifth Dawn)
Sometime during the Mirrodin block, we realized that every color had a 2/1 for a single mana. Except artifacts. So we decided to correct that problem. I think this card's design was influenced by Watchdog from Tempest.
Savannah Lions (Alpha)
This is the granddaddy of 2+ power for one mana. Twelve years later and it's still the only vanilla rare. Okay, the only vanilla rare that wasn't designed for the starter game. I mean, the only non-legendary vanilla rare that wasn't designed for the starter game. Okay, this trivia niblet sounded better when I started. It's interesting to note that white, while having the most famous example, is second-to-last in the total number of creatures of this kind.
Isamaru, Hound of Konda (Champions of Kamigawa)
I designed this card when I was told that it was impossible to design a vanilla legend. Take that unnamed R&D member! Originally, by the way, this card was designed as an uncommon, but it was moved to rare because of its similarity to Savannah Lions. (The only rare vanilla card ever printed. In Alpha. I think.)
The Spindrift Drake is the only blue creature in this category. The card plays into a design area we've backed away from in recent years, mana upkeeps. The good thing about mana upkeeps is that they do a good job of hiding their negative. Spending each upkeep doesn't seem so bad. That is until you realize what it does to your mana evolution. Also, I want to point out the drake isn't actually flying. It's surfing.
Kjeldoran Dead (Ice Age)
This was the card that taught me the value of hiding the value of a cost. A 3/1 regenerator seems quite good because few players truly understand the cost of sacrificing a creature. (This understanding has led to a lot of cards, Phyrexian Dreadnought being the best example.)
Circling Vultures (Weatherlight)
The coolest thing about this card isn't the 3/2 flier for . What gets the Johnny in me all excited is the last line on the card. You're allowed to discard this card at instant speed whenever you feel like it. For free. (Future cards proved that the ability to discard the rest of your hand costs an additional .)
I know that technically this card doesn't fit the criteria. But it should. And originally it did. Here's the original card from early design:
During your upkeep, take 1 damage if Vengeful Zombies are in your graveyard.
The reason for the change was that we were worried about the memory issues. The change also had the nice side benefit of encouraging the player to play with other zombies. (See my old column “I CC Dead People” if you're interested in the fate of the zombies.)
If Sarcomancy was my first attempt to put zombies in tournament play, this was my follow-up. At the time, I felt that black should have efficient weenies with scary drawbacks. And why not help out the zombies while I was at it. My fondest memory of this card was a dinner I had the night of the Exodus prerelease. I was in Orlando for the JSS and we had flown in all the Pro Tour winners of that year (Randy Buehler, Matt Place, Dave Price and Jon Finkel). At dinner we talked about their opinion of the set. They all thought the set was a little weak. The only card they liked was Carnophage. Matt was intrigued by Oath of Druids. And I spent most of the night trying to convince Finkel that Forbid was good. He just thought the card disadvantage was too great. I told him that he'd be playing the card within a month. Later that summer at U.S. Nationals, Finkel told me I was right as he showed me his new deck named Forbidian.
Sleeper Agent (Urza's Saga)
What does this card have to do with Donate? They were both designed by me and were both inspired by the same deck I used to play. You know the one: where I keep giving my opponent things they don't want. On a separate note, I can't tell you how many times I've been asked about this card, “Why would I give my opponent a 3/3 that costs me 2 life a turn?”
Molting Harpy (Mercadian Masques)
It's interesting to note that this card is just Spindrift Drake but instead you have to pay 2 rather as an upkeep. Quick trivia question. How many harpies in Magic? Zero. This is a mercenary.
Carrion Rats (Torment)
The two most common cycles are the horizontal cycle (one card in each color in the same rarity) and the vertical cycle (three cards in the same color, one in each rarity). This card is interesting from a design standpoint in that it's part of two pieces of an incomplete vertical cycle. My guess is that the design team turned in a full vertical cycle and that development had to lose the rare for some external reason.
Accursed Centaur (Onslaught)
This card sucks when compared to Kjeldoran Dead. Trading regeneration for a toughness seems like a bad deal. The card's only real claim to fame is that it's the only zombie centaur in the game. (Well, the only one that's not also Mistform Ultimus.)
I used Gatherer while doing my research for this article. This card almost slipped by as it's naturally just a 1/1. If there are other 1/1 creatures for a converted mana cost of 1 or less that have the ability to increase their power that I missed, I blame Gatherer. (That said, Gatherer is awesome for doing research like this.) It's also interesting to note that red is the king of this category. I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps an unconscious love for Sligh decks.
Orcish Conscripts (Ice Age)
This card plays into an “orcs as cowards” theme that used to be rampant in red. While the flavor was funny, it didn't have the play value that made it worth the text space it created. Oh yeah, and we do a lot less orcs these days. (I don't know why.)
Cinder Wall (Weatherlight)
This card is well known by Johnnies around the world for being an awesome card in a Rolling Stones and/or Animate Wall deck. Who cares if your 3/3 for can't block as long as it can attack. This is probably also the only creature in the history of Magic pictured as burning embers.
Jackal Pup (Tempest)
In playtest, this card was called Jackal Familiar. Then the art came in. The creature looked so small and frail that we decided we needed to change the name to reflect this. Thus, the card became a pup. Magic slang lovers everywhere rejoiced. This card, by the way, continued R&D's trend of overvaluing the negative ability of a small red weenie.
Mogg Conscripts (Tempest)
My favorite thing about this card is the subtle escape of Tahngarth and Karn in the background of the picture. Odds are you missed it if you've never really looked closely at the art.
Goblin Cadets (Urza's Saga)
This card is yet another example of the designers creating a negative that proved not quite as bad as we thought. On the heels of Jackal Pup, we thought it would be fun to make a 2/1 for that wasn't quite as good as Pup. And while Cadets isn't as good as the Pup, it still shows up in Extended.
You'd think after Jackal Pup, we wouldn't make a set with two 2/1s for . Welcome to Urza's Saga. Probably the worst developed set in the history of the game. (And yes, I was on the development team.)
Scarred Puma (Invasion)
With time we got better at making sucky 2/1 creatures for .
Branded Brawlers (Prophecy)
Flailing Soldier (Mercadian Masques)
Spark Elemental (Fifth Dawn)
My favorite thing about this card is its design name: Small Lightning.
Goblin Cohort (Betrayers of Kamigawa)
This is the only repeat (with a new name) on this list. You might know it better as Mogg Conscripts. (Although no one is sneaking around the background of this card.)
My favorite story about this card takes place at the Ice Age prerelease (the very first prerelease, which was held in Toronto, Canada). At the same event was Canadian Nationals and a comic book show. No, really. One of the special guests of honor was Kato Kaelin. For those unfamiliar with the name, he's an E-list celebrity known for being the guy crashing at O.J. Simpson's house at the time of the murders. A bunch of us thought it would be funny to have Kato sign a Magic card and we spent much of the day trying to figure out what the right card was. The winner? Ghazban Ogre.
Mtenda Lion (Mirage)
For all of design and most of development, this card had its negative ability swapped with Gibbering Hyenas (Cannot block black creatures.) At the last minute, the two were swapped. I don't even remember why. You would think it was because 2/1 for was too good, but as you will see, that's not it.
When this card was put into Portal it was thought that one day, we'd repeat it in an expansion introducing it to tournament Magic. Before we could do that we realized how good the creature was in green and decided that it wasn't something we wanted. Vintage and Legacy players will have a chance to try out this card though when Portal becomes legal for those formats this fall.
Rogue Elephant (Weatherlight)
Unlike some of the creatures on this list, we knew this card was good when we made it. It's funny that it was made in green because modern color pie would put it in either red or black. (Not that either could have it as this power level.)
Pouncing Jaguar (Urza's Saga)
While red became king of the 2/1 for C, in Urza's Saga green shared the crown. Urza's Saga had two creatures to add to this group. It's interesting to note that this was one of the very first echo cards designed (during Tempest design where echo, then called flashcast, was first created by Mike Elliott).
Wild Dogs (Urza's Saga)
I'm not sure why exactly the Ghazban Ogre ability is in green. (Green does have life gain to combo with it.) Nonetheless, here is the first Ghazban Ogre tweak.
While not tournament legal, I felt I might as well make the list complete. For those unaware, this card from Unglued is a parody of Ghazban Ogre.
The Beat Is Off
I hope you enjoyed my little diversion today. I like to sometimes take a look at a subsection of cards that players might not normally look at. If you like this kind of column (or specifically don't like it), I'd like to know.
Join me next week when I don't do anything (hey, you got two columns this week) other than celebrate the USA getting another year older. I'll be back the week after with a new column. (Something on theme.)
Until then, may you get the most for your mana.