Scary Stories, Part 2
I've spent a lot of time talking about all the monsters inspired by the horror genre, but those are not the only creatures needed to fill a horror-fueled world. Another list we made were all the mundane (a.k.a. real) animals that show up in horror movies. Snakes, spiders, rats, bats... we tried hard to find room for each of them in the set. This card was inspired by the poisonous snakes that always seem to pop out of nowhere.
This card was made as a top-down design for a hellhound. Why does it damage you when you get into combat with it? It's on fire!
We knew when making the double-faced cards that we had to spread them across all the colors. One of the problems, though, was that white was our "good" color. It didn't have any monsters. How could we make transformational cards in white? We found a few answers, but one I was attracted to was a trope where an innocent person (usually a little girl) gets possessed by a demon. (The Exorcist is probably the most famous example of this trope.)
The way I wanted the card to work mechanically was that you could opt into turning into the monster, but once you did there was no going back. I liked the idea that the monster had some drawback that could eventually kill you to capture the flavor of the dark deal being made. I also loved the idea of starting in white and transforming to black to create the greatest contrast between the good and the evil sides of the card.
This card was originally called Broomstick in design. I was looking for Equipment, and broomstick felt like a great simple Equipment to grant flying. (I should note that I think this Equipment was so obvious that multiple designers turned it in.) At some point, I had Jenna (the design team's representative from the creative team) run our cards by Brady Dommermuth, the creative director, to see if any of our concepts wouldn't work. Normally, this happens later in the process, but as so many of our designs were top down, and thus dependent on the concept, I wanted to know what could stay and what could go.
One of the items on the chopping block was Broomstick. The Halloween witch tropes (pointy black hat, broomstick, etc.) didn't fit in the gothic horror setting the creative team was putting together. I liked the Equipment, though, so I renamed it Flying Stick as I wasn't sure quite what to call it. I figured the creative team would work out later what object could help you fly in Innistrad.
Sometimes cards end up with silly design names, and for whatever reason the name becomes endearing. Flying Stick was one of the names. I remember Graeme Hopkins joking, "Ah yes, everyone remembers the classic horror trope of the flying stick."
One of the needs of a Werewolf deck is the ability to have something to do with your mana on the turns you aren't casting spells (because you're transforming your Humans into Werewolves). One way to solve this problem is to create what I call "spouts," activations that allow you to spend your extra mana. Red and green got a few spouts in design, and then a few more were added in development. You'll notice that a bunch of the spouts sit on Wolves. This is because Wolves tend to go well in the Werewolf deck because many of the Werewolf-helping cards also help Wolves.
I've talked about how blue played around with the horror trope of the mad scientist. This double-faced card explores the trope of the scientist who experiments on himself thus becoming a monster. In specific this card is a reference to the horror movie The Fly (which in turn was inspired by Kafka's The Metamorphosis).
This card could have been in Part 1, but I forgot a common question I keep getting and I thought I'd include it in Part 2 so I can give the answer. So why does the "moon side" of Garruk have a hybrid frame? To understand our reasoning I first have to explain a little bit about gold frames. The vast majority of a gold frame is gold. There are only two ways to tell the colors of a two-color gold card. One is the mana symbols in the mana cost, and the other is the card's pin line, of which one side is one color and one side is the other.
The transition from green to black-green is a key part of the card. We're using the double-faced technology to play up that Garruk is fundamentally transformed. The problem with the gold frame is that you just couldn't tell. We suggested to creative that he turn from mono-green to mono-black, because we felt that was visually distinctive and you would get the change. Creative, though, felt strongly that while he now clearly has black influences, the green influences are still there.
For those unaware, Matt Cavotta (Magic artist extraordinaire and former site author) has returned to Wizards of the Coast, and he now oversees, among other things, card frame changes. He was the one who worked through what double-faced cards would look like. Matt suggested using the hybrid frame, because that was the one frame we had that did the best job of clearly showing off two colors in a frame. As the backside would never be cast, we decided that visually conveying the transformation was more important than representing the card as we would if it was a normal single-faced card.
And that is why
This card was a top-down design of a giant scarecrow. It got changed during concepting because there was a worry that having too many Scarecrows would make it feel like a sixth tribe, which would pull the focus from the five tribes we were trying to spotlight. I'm not sure what exactly inspired this concept (honestly, I had nothing to do with it), but I like to think of this card as a subtle reference to the Ecto 1 from the movie Ghostbusters.
This was one of the first Zombie cards I designed. I liked the idea that Zombie decks had an easier time getting creatures back from the dead. The trick, though, is making a card that had a function in a non-Zombie deck but worked better in a Zombie deck. The only thing that changed about this card in development is the cost dropped from
Last week I talked about Creepy Doll, which was a shout-out to singer Jonathan Coulton. This week I want to talk about the other shout-out in the set, this time to a man named George Fan. Among other things, George Fan is a Magic player. He's probably better known, though, as the designer of a very popular video game known as Plants vs. Zombies.
What might be lesser known is that Magic had a very big influence of the game design of Plants vs. Zombies. The game both has a mana system and a deck-building element, both inspired (to the best of my research abilities) directly by Magic.
I learned about Magic's involvement in the design of Plants vs. Zombies during Innistrad design. It then dawned on me that Plants are in green and green's two enemies, black and blue, were the two colors of Zombies in Innistrad. Once I had the idea of a Plant with protection from Zombies in my head, there was no turning back.
The creative team played along, making the card a Plant in concepting. Everything looked like it was going to work out, but then one day I checked the file to see protection from zombies replaced by reach. You see, my playtest name had been Tallnut (yeah, yeah, it should have just been Wallnut), and the development team added reach to capture the "tall" flavor. Later they decided they didn't want two abilities on the card, so they took off protection from Zombies.
I talked to Erik, who said that they were trying to keep the flavor of "Tallnut," and I said that if it didn't have protection from Zombies the whole point was lost. As is a recurring theme in this two-part article, Erik listened to what I had to say and changed the card back. (Once again, thanks Erik.)
You would think getting a shovel into Magic wouldn't be so hard. You'd be wrong. My first attempt to make a shovel happened in Zendikar. We were in adventure world, so I wanted to make equipment that adventurers might carry around. I thought a shovel might be a tool that could double as a weapon, something you'd need in a world as dangerous as Zendikar. The card got changed away from a shovel in concepting. When I asked why, I was told that there weren't shovels on Zendikar. I was like "What? We're on a world without the need to dig holes?" (I'm having a little fun here—it wasn't that shovels couldn't exist, but that they didn't reinforce the essence of the world.)
In Scars of Mirrodin, I assumed making a shovel wouldn't be too hard. The set was an artifact set with a strong emphasis on equipment after all. No, apparently, Mirrodin didn't have shovels either, because it's a metal world with no soil. That's the trouble with the Multiverse: the inability to easily make holes.
Anyway, flash forward two years and we're working on Innistrad design. Now, I knew Innistrad (the plane) had to have a lot of cemeteries, and cemeteries have to have graves. How do you make the graves? Exactly—shovels! Finally a world where shovels had to exist. Success!
Some people have asked why exiling creature cards from the graveyard gains you life. What's the flavor? In one word: necro-cannibalism. (It's really a word, I looked it up.) Gross? Well, welcome to Innistrad.
My name is Mark and I have a rare enchantment Johnny addiction. I love making wacky build-around-me enchantment rares. I'm really happy with the way this one turned out. Plus it's an Ooze card, which I also love making. By the way, this card might look goofy, but it's actually very good in Limited.
This card has a lot of people up in arms, because when I was providing the answers for the multiple-choice test for The Great Designer Search 2, I said:
Okay, so double keywords can be done at common. What keeps this card from being common? The answer is lifelink. While we do allow lifelink at common, we tend to keep the power low. Lifelink can be very swingy, so we don't print creatures with lifelink with power greater than 2 at common.
Doesn't this card contradict that statement? Yes, it does. Then wasn't common the right answer on the question? No, it wasn't, because at the time of the test we didn't create lifelink creatures with power 3 or greater at common. During Innistrad development, Erik decided to break this rule. Note that this happened after the test was published and the answers were given. I didn't ask the question and give that answer knowing we were going to change it a year later.
Is this a one-time exception, or are we going to push higher-power lifelink at common? I don't know. Development is going to use Innistrad as test to see what happens. If things work out okay, we might shift how we treat lifelink at common. As I often say, Magic design and development are an ever-changing landscape.
That said, the test was checking if you knew what we were doing, not what we might do in the future.
I like the card
I often talk about how power level is dependent on environments, and this story makes this point. While
I haven't worked on names and flavor text in many years, but once upon a time, around Mirage and Tempest blocks, I was very involved with them. Names and flavor text tends to go through different fads, and one of the one popular during that time was collective nouns for creatures as names:
Anything involving fantasy creatures we tended to make up ourselves, but all the real-world references used the actual collective terms. One of the names we wanted to use was
This card is the culmination of two design objectives. First, once it was clear that Humans were going to be a key tribe, I knew I had to get a torch and a pitchfork into the set. (An angry mob with torches and pitchforks is as tropey as it gets.) I talked in Part 1 about how
Second, I liked the idea that one of the strengths of humans was that they were better with tools than the monsters. We would accomplish this by giving extra bonus to certain Equipment if a Human was wielding it. As the Torch turned out to be a reprint and thus we couldn't change what it did, it fell to the pitchfork to be the shining piece of Equipment for Humans to wield.
Yes, silver is harmful to werewolves. No, this card doesn't reflect this. Don't worry, we'll address that trope later in the block.
Okay, so now intimidate has appeared in every color but blue. What color is it? Because the keyword changes to adapt to the color it's in, we're more willing to use it in all the colors. Right now the ability is primary in black, secondary in red, and tertiary in green, white, and blue. It shows up a bit more in Innistrad than most blocks because the word is so flavorful for a horror set.
Because blue is the enemy of red and green, the two colors of Werewolves, we liked the idea that blue was better at fighting the Werewolf deck in Limited. To help with this we put both more instants and cheaper cards, the former to help stop transformations when your opponent doesn't play a spell on his or her turn and the latter to make it easier to cast two spells in one turn to transform the Werewolves back to Humans. This card in particular was included because it was both an instant and cheap, plus it had flashback to be able to be cast it twice. I've used this card many times, for instance, to single-handedly transform Werewolves back. (Yes, casting one spell with flashback twice in the same turn is casting two spells.)
One of the reasons I asked Richard Garfield to join the Innistrad design team specifically was that I know top-down design is one of his strengths. For fun, let's see if you can guess what horror staple equipment was top-down designed by Richard and became this card.
This card was turned in as Chainsaw. This was another card to fall victim to Brady's pass on card names. Realistically, I knew that a chainsaw was never going to make it to a card. It is far too modern to fit in with the style of fantasy Magic uses. But maybe, I thought, it could be some weird steampunk swirly blade thing that at least got a sense of a chainsaw. To help this along, I changed the card's name to Bladespinner in design. That at least sounded like a Magic artifact.
The creative team was sympathetic to our cause and searched out something that would fit in the world but would at least make a nod to chainsaw. A trepanation blade is a sword with circular blades that when thrusting carves out a whole as the blades dig in. Think of a drill with blades on its tip. If Leatherface was walking around Innistrad, I think he might just use a trepanation blade.
Because I often get attached to cards while they have their playtest nickname, I am known for calling cards by their design names. (Part of this is that I can never remember the actual names.) To me, this card will always be Chainsaw, and I still make chainsaw revving noises when I attack with it.
Early in design, I tasked my design team with looking through old cards to find repeats that fit the theme. One card appeared on every single person's list:
One of the truisms I have in Magic design is this: Card designs that only make sense in this world have to take priority over cards that can work elsewhere. The truism is simply about preserving design space. This card is a perfect example.
This card is flavorful and fun in Innistrad. It's probably unprintable in every world but Innistrad. Thus, I worked real hard to make sure it stayed in this set. This doesn't mean that cards that don't hold up should stay, just that when looking for what cards to remove to find room for something else that is needed, you have to be careful not to permanently kill a good card that won't get another chance elsewhere.
And They All Lived Not So Happily Ever After
I hope you enjoyed my two weeks of stories. I had a blast designing this set and I hope you all have as much fun playing it.
Join me next week for Werewolf Week as I finally explain the design of the werewolf transformation mechanic.
Until then, may your heart skip a beat or two.