Welcome to the second week of Wilds of Eldraine previews. Last week, I introduced the Vision Design team and talked about how the set was designed during exploratory design and vision design. Today, I'll tell the story of its set design, introduce the Set Design team, and show off a cool new preview card.
The Wilds Bunch
Before I can talk about Wilds of Eldraine's set design, I must first introduce you all to the team that did it. As is normal, I let the lead designer of the team, Ian Duke in this case, introduce their team. All the bios, including his own, are written by Ian.
Wilds at Heart
Our story today begins at the vision design handoff. Here's what was given to the Set Design team:
- Roles – Vision Design handed off ten Roles with the note that they weren't sure quite how many the set should have.
- Food Tokens – Vision Design's file had individual cards with Food, meaning the intent was for it to be in the set but not at a large enough scale for Draft.
- Adventures – Vision Design played around with two new concepts: cards with off-color Adventure spells, and Adventures on enchantments.
- Bargain – The bargain mechanic was in the file, but it only allowed you to sacrifice artifacts and enchantments.
- Celebration – The red-white archetype did have some cards with this mechanic, but it wasn't named.
- Sagas – Vision Design's handoff file had a cycle of ten Sagas, each with two colors and telling the story of the fairy tale associated with that color pair's draft archetype.
- Fairy-Tale Archetypes – Vision Design had chosen a fairy tale for each of the two-color pairs. How mechanically developed each archetype was varied greatly by color pair.
- Enchantment Theme – As can be seen through the mechanics, the Vision Design team was pitching the return to Eldraine have a higher enchantment theme than the original set.
Now let's go through each item and talk about how it was adapted during set design.
Roles are what we refer to as the "heart of the design." They are the core aspect that the rest of the design was built around (they enabled the enchantment theme, they played well with bargain, they played well with celebration, they reinforced the fairy-tale themes, etc.), so it was the thing Set Design had to tackle first. There were two big questions that Set Design had to answer.
Question #1: How many Roles were supposed to exist?
Vision Design had been liberal in making new Roles. If a cool design required a new Role, we just made it. Part of the vision design process includes testing out the design space, so it made sense to push boundaries when it came to number. But during set design, there were issues of memory and logistics. Ideally, we wanted there to be as few Roles as there could be while allowing for the breadth of design.
While the Set Design team was figuring this out, the graphic design team was testing out various ways to make the token. The best execution had two Roles per card, so that was a subtle nod toward having an even number, if possible. Because Roles were core to the structure of the set, we felt they should be in all five colors to ensure that each color had one or more Roles that worked mechanically in its color pie. Another issue was making sure there were Roles to work at both common and uncommon. Also, the Roles represented fairy-tale character archetypes, so there needed to be a good balance. Set Design ended up having six:
Cursed (become a 1/1) – This Role was originally called Cursed (three of the six Roles didn't have their name changed). The design stayed close to the original version except that one also made you a Frog. This Role is mostly blue, with a hint in black.
Monster (+1/+1 and trample) – This Role was originally called Beast. We just wanted it to go on bigger creatures. Granting trample seemed the easiest way to do that. I think the earliest version of it just granted power. This Role is mostly green, with a hint of red.
Royal (+1/+1 and ward 1) – This Role was originally called Princess in vision design, but we decided to make it gender neutral so that it expanded the archetypes it hit. The basic idea of this Role was that it made a creature a tiny bit stronger. Royal children usually survive in fairy-tale stories, so we liked that ward implied they were a little tougher to kill. This Role is white and green.
Sorcerer (+1/+1 and scry 1 when attacking) – This Role was called Mentor in vision design. The basic idea was that it interacted with magic in some way. Vision Design had tried various things, like making your instants and sorceries cheaper or granting the creature prowess. In the end, the Set Design team decided to give it an ability that helped you get access to your spells rather than make them easier to cast or reward you for having cast them. This Role is white and blue.
Wicked (+1/+1, each opponent loses 1 life when Role goes to graveyard) – This Role was called Wicked in vision design. It had to feel like something a bad character would do. I believe the original design put +1/+1 counters on the creature when opponents' creatures died. As I'll talk about in a moment, this was too strong. Set Design decided that the opponent losing life felt wicked enough. This Role is mostly black with a little bit of red.
Young Hero (when attacking, if toughness is 3 or less, put a +1/+1 counter on it) – This Role was called Young Hero in vision design. This is the one Role that stayed the same. This design came from trying to capture the top-down feel we were looking for: a simple creature going on an adventure and leveling up. We liked the toughness restriction as it encouraged you to put it on a 1-toughness creature. This Role is white and red.
Question #2: How much variance should the Roles have in power level?
Vision Design experimented with many different Roles, so their power levels varied quite a bit. What I mean by this is that if you had to cast the Role as a separate Aura, different Roles would have different mana costs. Set Design had to figure out whether that was the right way to develop the mechanic. Playtesting showed that because the Roles functioned as a resource for many cards in the game, they worked best if they had a uniform power level. This is why most of them provide the same power/toughness boost (+1/+1).
One of the lessons of Throne of Eldraine was that Food tended to slow the game down. They gain you life, so the more you have, the more life your opponent must work through to win. That's why Vision Design had been a bit skittish with Food tokens. Set Design realized that they were an important part of the flavor—a lot of fairy tales involve food—so their approach was to figure out how to allow the set to have more Food without it prolonging games and shutting off aggro strategies.
Their solution was two-fold. First, limit it to two colors (black and green), making it more about one draft archetype. (Black-green was Hansel and Gretel, so the Food theme fit nicely.) Then give those two colors other ways to use Food that are more powerful than the life gain. Make those other uses more aggressive in nature, and then Food becomes something that can be more offensive than defensive. Food also played nicely with bargain, which was yet another way to not gain life with them.
Both vision design innovations (having the Adventure spell being off color and being on enchantments) stayed. Set Design spent most of their time figuring out how best to position Adventures. What type of design led to the best gameplay? Because Wilds of Eldraine was very permanent focused, Set Design wanted the Adventure spells to provide more interactivity. That meant finding effects that could be cast at instant speed or sorcery effects that were more focused on caring about combat. This basically allowed players to get more spells into their decks.
The other big decision Set Design made was to make Adventures broader in function and not provide cards that made you want to play a lot of adventurer cards in the same deck. For example, there's no draft archetype that focuses on Adventures. Rather, the Set Design team made sure each draft archetype had adventurer cards it wanted to play. In general, adventurer cards were designed to be more standalone cards.
Bargain was designed in vision design to give Roles a secondary function (there just aren't a lot of cards that sacrifice enchantments). Vision Design used "artifacts and enchantments" for a few reasons. One, it matched a small artifact and enchantment theme in Throne of Eldraine. Two, it allowed Food tokens to have another use. Three, it created a wide enough net to generally be useful enough of the time.
Set Design liked what bargain was doing in the set, enough so that they kept it in all five colors. Their one change was adding tokens to the list. Creature tokens are often small and somewhat disposable, especially in the black-red archetype that makes a lot of Rat creature tokens. This also allowed the bargain mechanic to play better outside the biosphere of Wilds of Eldraine Limited. The white-black archetype was designed to be the one that makes the most use of bargain.
Vision Design created this mechanic as something to write without a keyword on several red and white creatures. The original version triggered each time a nonland entered the battlefield under your control. Set Design disliked that execution, as it required you doing small effects that can happen multiple times, making it at a lot like a scaling mechanic. They changed it to a single trigger when two things enter. This allowed them to make more of the mechanic, enough that they decided it was worth giving it an ability word. The ability remains in red and white.
As I explained last week, Throne of Eldraine had wanted to use Sagas because they work best when you're telling a story the audience already knows. Fairy tales fit that requirement to a T. Vision Design's original plan was to have two-color Sagas that told the fairy-tale stories of the ten archetypes. Set Design found that a bit repetitive, as many cards in the archetype were already doing that job. They ended up choosing to (mostly) tell stories of fairy tales that weren't one of the ten archetypes. The one exception was the blue-red one, telling our version of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Set Design just really liked how it played.
Vision Design spent a lot of time figuring out which ten fairy tales should line up with which ten two-color archetypes. Set Design felt that the Vision Design team, in conjunction with the Creative team, had done their due diligence, so none of the ten changed during set design. The fairy-tale themes required a lot of commitment to art and card concepts, so Set Design didn't want to mess with all the work that was being done to pull it off.
Let's walk through each of the ten archetypes to talk about how Set Design handled them.
White-Blue: The Snow Queen
To match the flavor of the story, the archetype revolves around tapping and locking down creatures. Set Design liked the novelty of the archetype, but it required a lot of tweaking to ensure it wasn't unfun to play against. To solve this problem, the Set Design team decided to make it a tempo deck rather than a control deck.
Blue-Black: Sleeping Beauty
This archetype revolves around Faeries. Faeries both are most famously in blue and black and tie well to the Sleeping Beauty story. The challenge for Set Design is that all Faeries flavorfully need to fly, and building a typal deck with all fliers is very tricky. Set Design's solution for this problem was two-fold. First, they made it more of a control deck rather than a go-wide deck. Winning was about attacking with one or two Faeries, not a giant swarm. Second, they limited how many cards specifically referred to Faeries. It's more that the Faeries are the best control creatures rather than the deck being about rewarding having a lot of Faeries on the battlefield at once.
Black-Red: The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Vision Design had come up with the idea of Rat tokens that couldn't block since decks that spill out a lot of small creature tokens tend to lend themselves to be more defensive and do a good job of gumming up the battlefield. The Rat creature tokens, as handed off, allowed Set Design to be more aggressive with making them, which fit into the Rat swarm feel the fairy tale wanted. To further encourage attacking, Set Design added some rewards for your creatures dying. They also added in some sacrifice effects (along with bargain) to allow you to use the Rats as a resource if attacking wasn't an option.
Red-Green: Little Red Riding Hood
This was one of the archetypes that was handed off from Vision Design without a clear mechanical theme. Set Design liked to have one archetype that's more straightforward (less based on understanding synergy) for less-experienced drafters, and Little Red Riding Hood and its forest setting worked well for caring about bigger creatures. Set Design ended up making this archetype an aggressive midrange "beatdown" deck that just keeps casting bigger and bigger creatures and attacking.
Green-White: Beauty and the Beast
Green and white are the two colors that have the most enchantment synergy, so this archetype plays into that. While all archetypes use Roles, green-white uses them the most, especially relying on the Royal and Monster Roles, capturing the flavor of Beauty and the Beast.
White-Black: Snow White
White-black is one of the more complex archetypes. It rewards you for your own stuff dying, so it encourages Roles and other Auras, Food, and sacrifice and is the color most focused on using bargain. This is the antithesis of the red-green archetype in that it mostly relies on the understanding of the synergy between your cards.
Blue-Red: Sorcerer's Apprentice
Blue-red is traditionally the "spells matter" deck, blue and red being the colors with the lowest percentage of creatures and the highest percentage of spells. This archetype is less permanent focused and relies on things like prowess to encourage a lot of spellcasting.
Black-Green: Hansel and Gretel
Black-green ended up being the archetype about Food tokens. The color pair has candy monsters in it that get to be Food or create Food when they die. The candy monsters had shown up in initial world building, and everyone fell in love with them. A lot of the set design for this archetype was figuring out how to properly encourage other ways to use your Food tokens. The deck ended up being a midrange deck.
As is normally the case, red-white is the archetype most focused on being aggro. Celebration was made specifically for this archetype, and it encourages using things like Roles and Equipment, so the Set Design team spent a lot of time making sure all the support cards were in red and white. The Adventures for this archetype tend to make Roles so that one card can generate two permanents.
Green-Blue: Jack and the Beanstalk
This was the other archetype that Vision Design handed off without a clear mechanical definition. Vision Design thought of making a control deck using Food tokens but decided that wouldn't be fun to play against. Set Design kept Food primarily black-green and decided to focus on a "mana value 5 or higher" theme. That led them to make this a ramp archetype and the archetype that cares about Adventures most. Its Adventures were small effects paired with bigger creatures.
The Enchantment Theme
The vision design for the set clearly played up enchantments as playing a larger role than normal. Set Design spent time understanding all the synergies between the various components to make sure enchantments filled various roles in various archetypes. The one thing Set Design added to the theme was the bonus sheet, called Enchanting Tales.
Bonus sheets have been popular with players, so we've been looking for sets with strong themes to include them in. Enchantments, as a theme, led to a cool bonus sheet. Set Design spent a bunch of time crafting the bonus sheet such that it would excite players with reprints they're looking for while also having cards that would play into the set's themes and add extra value to drafts, increasing variance for players who draft the set ten-plus times.
And that is the story of Wilds of Eldraine's set design. Before I go, I have a card preview to show you. My preview is a celebration of the set, showing off a rare card using the celebration ability word.
Thanks for joining me today. As always, if you have any feedback on today's column, any of the mechanics I talked about, or Wilds of Eldraine, please feel free to message me by email or through my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).
Join me next time when I show off the Wilds of Eldraine vision design handoff document.
Until then, may you find the fairy-tale archetype that speaks to you.