Part of our process is that when vision design ends, the lead of the Vision Design team creates a document known as the vision design handoff document where they walk through the vision design for the set, discussing larger goals, themes, mechanics, and structure. I started showing these documents years ago, and you all really liked them, so I keep showing them. Here are the ones I've previously published:
- Throne of Eldraine (Part 1 and Part 2)
- Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths
- Zendikar Rising
- Original Zendikar (Part 1 and Part 2)
- Strixhaven: School of Mages (Part 1 and Part 2)
- Future Sight
- Original Innistrad
- Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty (Part 1 and Part 2)
- Phyrexian: All Will Be One (Part 1 and Part 2)
- March of the Machine (Part 1 and Part 2)
Normally, the vision design handoff documents I show are written by me, but Chris Mooney, the lead vision designer for Wilds of Eldraine, said it was okay for me to show off theirs. As with all my vision design handoff articles, most of what I'm showing you is the actual document. My notes, giving explanation and context, are in the boxes below the text. This document was long enough that I've broken it into two parts.
"Netball" Vision Design Handoff
Exploratory and Vision Design Teams
- Chris Mooney (Lead)
- Mark Rosewater
- Erik Lauer
- Doug Beyer
- Jenna Helland (Creative Lead)
- Annie Sardelis
- Dan Musser
This was Chris Mooney's first time leading the vision design of a premier set. When possible, we like to start first-time designers with a returning plane as it has a lot of the structure already baked into it. I just want to congratulate Chris on an amazing first design lead. For a bio on each of these people, see the first preview column of the set.
"Netball" is our second visit to Eldraine. This time, we are putting a spotlight on fairy tales. "Netball" is a storybook come to life, with recognizable characters and moments leaping off the page and onto the battlefield. The set's structure and new marquee mechanic are designed to lean heavily into the charm and resonance of these classic tales, with a signature Magic creative twist.
The essence of "Netball" is mixed-up fairy tales. In a similar vein to many other modern fairy-tale adaptations (Into the Woods, Shrek, Once Upon a Time, Fables, etc.), "Netball" takes the people, places, objects, and events you recognize and combines, twists, and evolves them into something new. Each game of "Netball" aims to feel like a new story is being written at the table in front of you. "This time, the princess was a Goblin, the Knight was a Witch, and the Dragon was slain by an animated Food token."
"Netball" releases after "Marathon," which is the final climactic set of the Parallax story arc. Much like the original Throne of Eldraine, "Netball" is intended to be a light-hearted pallet cleanser after an intense finale. Eldraine is already well suited for this role, but the themes we've picked certainly lean even harder into whimsy. (I doubt we'll ever have another Magic set with this many instances of the word "princess"!)
It is possible that "Netball" will help to re-establish [CENSORED] as a major villain for the next story arc, but as of this writing, that has not been finalized.
Roles are the marquee new mechanic for "Netball." They are Aura tokens that represent various classic archetypical characters that appear in many fairy tales. Roles are all-stars in delivering on the central theme of mixed-up fairy tales. They allow you to very easily create delightful situations based almost entirely on flavor alone.
A lot of the appeal in Roles comes from their flavor, which means that they've got flexibility in terms of how they can mechanically serve gameplay in Limited and potentially Constructed. We chose our current suite of Roles based on the Limited environment's needs and common character archetypes, but there's a lot of room to change them without losing the appealing flavor. We expect that the final set will have a smaller suite of Roles and/or only use certain ones at higher rarities.
From a card-design standpoint, we were excited in how Roles opened space for fun Aura gameplay that isn't normally possible. Players like Auras, but Auras have natural downsides that make them hard to put into sets in large numbers. Roles allow us to create an environment with lots of Auras in it, many of which would be too weak to be worth a slot in the average Limited deck. This opens the potential for strategies that are usually ill-advised (like piling up a ton of Auras on one creature) or impossible (a "sacrifice enchantments" deck?).
As a designer, Roles remind me a lot of party from Zendikar Rising in terms of what the mechanic offers as a tool. Both mechanics have incredibly strong flavor that ties into the themes of their respective settings, but they also represent an entirely different mechanical direction that the set can take advantage of to differentiate it from previous installments. Leveraging Roles allows us to create something that's mechanically different from the original Throne of Eldraine while staying true to what players associate with the plane.
Here is a quick breakdown of my thoughts on the Roles that currently exist in the file.
The most prolific and delightful Role. We haven't found a mechanical definition we love yet, but I doubt this mechanic would exist without this Role specifically. People love turning stuff into the princess, and there are tons of tropes to design cards around (notably, ones we didn't use in the previous set).
This is a fun and common trope. It's one of the few Roles red can easily use, and we enjoy how the current execution is better on small creatures to promote diversity among Role usage.
A workhorse Role for green. Nobody's favorite, but it gets the job done. We're worried there might be too much trample in the set if this sticks, though I've enjoyed how trample makes this Role better on large creatures (which green has the most of).
This trope is very likely to stick, but this execution is new and untested. This used to be two Roles (Witch and Stepmother) that were combined due to similarity.
This is the only surviving negative Role. While originally skeptical, a lot of charming designs have come out of this one, so maybe it will stay. The trope is strong.
Currently, the only Role that does something weird (it goes on an artifact and turns it into a creature). I think the designs here are a little less charming and abundant than for some of the other Roles; however, it's hung on partially as an example of how flexible Roles can be and how many different kinds of designs can come out of creative application of the rules technology.
A resonant trope, useful for red, but not doing much right now. Not a lot of Knight typal going on currently, either.
You can't have fairy tales without faeries! This Role has been tricky to use since we wanted to create Roles that encourage different play patterns, but "flying" is always a really strong incentive to pile on one creature. We thought that this Role granting the Faerie creature type in a set with Faerie typal would be interesting, but we haven't seen it do much since Faerie decks would much rather just have a Faerie creature card than transform a non-Faerie into one.
Wizard and Woodsman
Both Roles were created to add additional texture to the Role suite (and fulfill common tropes). As tap abilities, they wanted to be put on different kinds of creatures from the stat-boosting or evasion-granting Roles. Additionally, they each had a different power curve, with ramp being better early and scry being better late. Right now, I think they're both doing good work and are attached to B-tier tropes, but I don't think they would be greatly missed if removed.
The core idea of Roles can be executed in different ways. Here is a summary of what we discussed:
We liked the current (Aura token) implementation of Roles for several reasons. Auras and tokens are both concepts familiar to most Magic players, so we felt like this execution was the easiest for players to grasp mechanically. We valued "low comprehension complexity" very highly since the mechanic is naturally very high in tracking complexity. The Aura-token execution also allowed us to easily key into the mechanic via other means (such as caring about enchantments, Auras, or tokens).
We discussed the idea of using counters instead of Auras. Counters have slightly less tracking complexity since they're not separate permanents on the battlefield, though we didn't feel this difference was enough to warrant the associated downsides—namely that counters are harder to interact with and that it was odder for a counter to carry lots of rules baggage not immediately obvious in its name compared to an Aura. Also, the existence of "Lacrosse" within a year ahead of us made us wary of doing a heavy counter theme.
We also discussed Roles as simply being titles that creatures can have, similar to the rules technology behind the Ring-bearer mechanic from "Anvil." This was pretty novel but nearly impossible to interact with. Plus, if we made many Roles this way, players would require reminder cards to remember what each meant, which we felt would essentially just be the Aura approach but harder to grok and less interactive.
We also discussed using a Lesson/learn type of mechanic to fetch actual Aura cards from your sideboard (or potentially your main deck). We thought this idea sounded difficult to pull off. With any of the above methods, a reminder card, token, counter, object, etc. isn't necessary if players know what's going on (especially with sufficient reminder text). The Lesson/learn approach would require players to have the matching Aura card present, which seemed unfeasible. Unlike Lesson/learn, Roles require you to get a very specific Role each time, otherwise the flavor falls apart (and flavor is the key appealing part of the mechanic). Of all these ideas, this is likely the one we spent the least time on, so it's possible we missed some potential solutions in this space.
Once we decided on the token direction, we started to explore the various execution challenges. I spoke with Rules Manager Jess Dunks and various digital representatives. This approach seemed good to all of them. Jess felt relatively good about our approach of using reminder text shorthand to skip defining the entirety of each Role on the cards that made them, and digital had no issues other than "each new 'predefined' token (like Food or Treasure) is extra work, so adding a lot to the game at once could be work intensive but not problematic from an engineering standpoint."
In terms of paper distribution, solutions were discussed with Sam Jiang, our architect. We talked about various opportunities, such as having two tokens appear in each booster to get more Role tokens out into the wild. We talked about possibly having a punch-out or tear card that could hold multiple Roles on it at once. We talked about a reminder card that had a different Role along each edge allowing players to rotate the card to indicate which Role was being assigned.
On the topic of mechanical details, early on, we discussed several different limitations on Roles based on flavor. Can a creature have multiple Roles? Can a creature have multiple copies of the same Role? Can you have multiple creatures with the same Role? Ultimately, we decided to go with the simplest route and add no additional rules or restrictions to the Roles to help players have an easier time learning the mechanic. We felt that the gameplay pattern of "pile all your Roles onto the same creature" was something that could be solved on a card level. (Plus, it offers gameplay many players find fun, so we didn't mind it existing in small amounts.)
Until Next Time …
We've run out of time for today. As always, I'm eager for feedback on the document, my comments, or on Wilds of Eldraine itself. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).
Join me next week for part two of the Wilds of Eldraine vision design handoff.
Until then, may you find the role that fits you.