Welcome to the first week of Wilds of Eldraine previews. This week, I'm going to introduce the Exploratory and Vision Design teams, walk through the set's exploratory design and vision design, and show off two cool preview cards.
In the Wilds
Before I can tell you the story of the set's early design, I need to first introduce you to the teams that made it. I'll have Lead Vision Designer Chris Mooney introduce their team.
Eldrain e Drops Keep Falling on My Head
When I was working on the original Innistrad, I became enamored with working on a top-down set based on genre tropes. After it was over, I started thinking about what other genres we could work with that felt fantasy adjacent. The most obvious one to me was fairy tales. With their need for castles, kingdoms, witches, and magical beasts, they fell squarely in fantasy territory. They also were quite well known. I used the stat that, during their life, the average American sees ten movies that are essentially the story of Cinderella. (I believe this is also true for many non-Americans, but that was the stat I was quoting.) It seemed like a slam dunk, so I was surprised that it was poorly received when first pitched.
There were worries it was "too juvenile," "too soft," or "too off brand." I stressed that the source material was a lot more mature than much of the media inspired by it. If we wanted to go darker or edgier, the source material could handle it. For years, I continued pitching a fairy tale–inspired plane, but never with much success.
Several years later, Shawn Main, probably best known for being runner-up in the second Great Designer Search, pitched a plane inspired by Camelot and Arthurian legend. This one got a lot of traction, enough so that we were considering adding it to the upcoming multi-year plan. That's when I saw my opportunity.
I went to Aaron Forsythe, my boss, and said that I didn't think Camelot had enough material to fill up an entire set. I'd done an informal poll where I made a list of many characters, objects, places, and events from Camelot to see how much general recognition they had. My list went about ten items deep before most people stopped recognizing them.
My pitch to Aaron was this: we'd supplement it with fairy tales. The Arthurian legends were, in many ways, English fairy tales. We could match them up with the ones from continental Europe (most of what people know of fairy tales come from Germany, France, and Italy). I thought it would feel cohesive and give us enough source material to work with. Aaron gave me his blessing, and finally, I had a chance to make my fairy-tale set, just mixed with Camelot.
Throne of Eldraine ended up having two main components: a structured half that represented the five courts and a more top-down half that allowed you to mix and match fairy-tale tropes. As expected, the Camelot portion of the set served as the meat and potatoes of the set but didn't provide as much excitement as the fairy-tale portion. Mostly this was because Magic has done many sets that incorporated high-fantasy kingdoms filled with knights (Alpha had White Knight and Black Knight, for example). It just wasn't novel. In contrast, other than a little in Lorwyn, we hadn't touched upon fairy-tale tropes, so they seemed much newer. I communicated this to the Marketing team, who'd go on to lean into highlighting the fairy-tale aspect of the set. The trailer, for example, featured two gingerbread creatures.
Throne of Eldraine came out and was a massive success. As predicted, the fairy-tale portion was what captured the lion's share of the attention. I had high hopes that we'd get a chance to return one day.
A few years later, we were planning out the schedule past what we called internally the Parallax Arc, what you all know as the Phyrexian Arc. We needed a plane that could give us a break from a large capstone event set. Last time we needed one, we turned to Eldraine (after War of the Spark). Maybe we could do that again. Chris was a huge fan of original Throne of Eldraine, and return sets are usually the best venue for someone to lead their first premier set design, so Chris was made the lead vision designer for the set.
Wild est Dreams
The first thing we do when designing a return is list everything from the original set to see what elements we might want to bring back. Here's a list of everything we did in Throne of Eldraine:
Adamant – This was an ability word that granted a spell or permanent either an additional ability or an enhanced effect if you spent three or more mana of the same color when casting it. The mechanic was tied to the monocolor courts. This mechanic fared the worst of the named mechanics in market testing. We were skeptical it would come back.
Adventures – Adventure cards were all creatures that had an instant or sorcery spell attached to them. If you cast the spell first, you could then cast the creature from exile. In contrast to adamant, Adventures got the best scores in market research. Also, while Throne of Eldraine only had creatures with Adventure, the mechanic allowed any permanent to have it, something Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate explored. This was the mechanic we were most confident in returning. The big question: did we want to tweak it in any way or just redo what Throne of Eldraine had done?
Artifacts and Enchantments Matter – This was a smaller theme in the set, rewarding you for controlling both an artifact and an enchantment. This theme didn't get a lot of attention and didn't feel as endemic of Eldraine as other mechanics. We thought we'd flesh out the set and see if artifacts and enchantments naturally showed up in enough volume that this was a theme we wanted to revisit.
Food Tokens – These are artifact tokens you can trade in for life. While they are thematically very tied to Eldraine, they did cause some problems in Limited and Constructed formats. Our initial thoughts were to only do Food in small amounts, not large enough to be a draft archetype, but once again, fairy tales do love involving food. This would be apparent when one of our draft archetypes revolved around Hansel and Gretel.
Knight Typal – Knights showed up in all five colors but were focused in white, black, and red. We knew the return would have some Arthurian-inspired cards, but probably not at the volume they'd been in the first set. The set would have plenty of Knights, but we didn't think we'd do much Knight typal. As you will see, we chose to lean toward fairy tales for our draft archetypes.
Non-Human Typal – We used this in Throne of Eldraine to capture most of the fairy-tale creatures. As we were planning to raise the volume of them in this set, we felt non-Human would hit too many creatures.
Top-Down Designs – Being a top-down set, there was a lot of focus on hitting known Arthurian and fairy-tale characters, objects, places, and events. These individual designs had gone over very well, so we knew we'd be doing a lot more. We understood the fairy-tale well was much deeper than the Arthurian well.
When the dust settled, we decided we'd use Adventures, Food tokens, top-down Arthurian and fairy-tale designs, and possibly have artifacts and/or enchantments matter in some way.
Here were our thoughts on what to do with each of these:
Adventures – We explored a number of tweaks but decided we didn't need to do anything too drastic. When we handed over the file, we had two things. First, we had spells where the Adventure was in another color. These cards would be usable in one color but better in two. Set Design kept some of these in the set. Our second suggestion: Adventures on enchantments. As you will see, the set started pushing toward being more about enchantments, so this seemed like a simple way to expand Adventures. (Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate had expanded to artifacts.)
Food Tokens – Vision Design proposed only having a small dose of Food creators. Set Design would add a bunch and make it part of some draft archetypes.
Top-Down Designs – We made extensive lists of what Throne of Eldraine had not done. We also decided that we'd be willing to redo things we had done if we had an interesting new design.
Artifacts and Enchantments Matter – We knew there was potential here, but we weren't quite sure what to do with it. As you will see, it would lead us down the path to two of our new mechanics.
One of the things the Vision Design team enjoyed about Throne of Eldraine was the way in which you could mix and match different fairy-tale and Arthurian elements to make up brand-new stories. Sure, Cinderella could crew the Pumpkin Carriage, but could Pinocchio? Was there any new way to play in this space? We tried a few different things, but Roles got the most traction.
The idea of a Role was that a creature could take on a specific title that would tap into a trope from fairy tales. For example, your creature could become a Princess or a Beast. Doing so meant that they gained a certain line of rules text. We explored various ways to do this. Maybe it'd be a label, a counter, or an emblem. In the end, the idea we liked best was that Roles were Aura tokens.
We make creature tokens every set and have started making a lot more artifact tokens. We've even made a few enchantment tokens, but far less frequently. Auras did a great job of capturing the feel and mechanical execution we liked. Enchantments have answers and can synergize with other cards. At the handoff, we had ten Roles: Princess, Young Hero, Beast, Wicked, Frog, Animated, Knight, Faerie, Wizard, and Woodsman.
Set Design would whittle the list from ten to six (seven if you count the Virtuous Role token from Wilds of Eldraine Commander). The names of four of the six would change. Princess became Royal, Beast became Monster, Frog became Cursed, Wizard became Sorcerer, and Young Hero and Wicked kept their names. I'll talk a little more next week about how Roles were adapted in set design. Here's the final list: Royal, Young Hero, Monster, Sorcerer, Wicked, and Cursed.
Besides adding a lot of flavor, Roles allowed us to interact with Auras and enchantments in ways we hadn't before. Normally, it's hard to do small Aura effects because they're not worth a card, but because Roles could be a by-product of other cards, it allowed us freedom to make them. This allowed us to care about enchantments in various ways, including counting and sacrificing them.
Roles would lead us to make two mechanics, one a keyword and the other an ability word. The keyword we called bargain allows you to sacrifice an artifact, enchantment, or token to boost a spell. I think the mechanic started with Auras but extended to enchantments, then added later to artifacts. Finally, tokens were added, so you could sacrifice token creatures, a feature important for the black-red Rat archetype.
The ability word is celebration. In the handoff, it was just a theme that ran through a number of cards, but Set Design would decide to give it a name. Celebration gives you a reward if two or more nonland permanents entered the battlefield this turn. Cards generating Roles allowed you to meet this requirement with a single card.
Wild at Heart
Chris pitched the last big element of the design early in vision design. What if we built our ten two-color draft archetypes around popular fairy tales? As I said above, the ability to mix and match fairy-tale elements had been a popular theme in Throne of Eldraine, so we wanted to double down on it. Building each draft archetype around a story allowed us to give the set a unique feel that played into our key theme. Note that we were using the story as a jumping-off point and were doing our twist on it rather than just straight up repeating the story.
Here are the ten we chose when we handed off the set from design, all of which made it to print:
White-Blue: The Snow Queen
This story obviously dealt with cold and ice, so blue seemed like a shoo-in. White seemed like the best color pair, as the effects white gave us worked best with the type of effects we wanted for the story.
Blue-Black: Sleeping Beauty
This story had to involve sleeping, which we've traditionally done in blue. It has a dark edge to it, so that made black feel like a good color to pair it with.
Black-Red: Pied Piper
Rats are black, and the Pied Piper controlling people with music felt blue or red. We already had a blue-black story we liked, and the archetype wanted to make a lot of Rat tokens, which felt more red than blue.
Red-Green: Little Red Riding Hood
The wolf, the huntsman, and the forest setting all felt very green. The second color wanted to be either black or red, and we liked black-green more for Hansel and Gretel.
Green-White: Beauty and the Beast
This was the color pair we had the hardest time with. It went through several changes, but we liked how green and white captured the wild and controlled elements of the story.
White-Black: Snow White
We knew we wanted our version of Snow White and the Evil Queen, so that put us squarely in white-black.
Blue-Red: The Sorcerer's Apprentice
This was another hard color pair to find the right story for. Blue-red wanted to deal with spells, so we had to find a story where magic went awry, and the Sorcerer's Apprentice was the best fit.
Black-Green: Hansel and Gretel
The hungry kids and forest setting felt green. The witch felt black. This was one of the first stories we settled on.
We knew we wanted to do Cinderella, and it got moved all over. I think we ended up in red-white because we felt we could make it work there, and no other story seemed to fit as well.
Green-Blue: Jack and the Beanstalk
This is another one we struggled with. Green made perfect sense because of the beanstalk. Stealing everything from the giant felt blue.
Interestingly, all ten stories made it all the way to print. Next week, I'll talk about what went into making each draft archetype.
Wild About You
Before I sign off for today, I want to show you my two preview cards, one of which lets me talk about a final aspect we added to the set during vision design.
My second preview card is a bookend to the card I previewed when Throne of Eldraine came out,
Well, that's all the time I have for today. I hope you enjoyed hearing about the vision design of Wilds of Eldraine. As always, I'm eager for any feedback on today's column, on any of the mechanics I talked about, or on Wilds of Eldraine as a whole. You can email me or contact me through my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).
Join me next time when I walk through Wilds of Eldraine's set design.
Until then, may you have fun mixing and matching.