Feature

Conflux Design Feature Article

  • Boards
  • Print
Author Image

The letter G!reetings and salutations! Hopefully by now you've gotten a taste of your very own Conflux cards. You've cracked them in packs, traded them with friends, absorbed their flavor, and slung them on tables. Today I will relate to you stories about the makings of your Conflux cards from inside the hallowed halls of Magic R&D.


Confluxurationings

As a small expansion, Conflux knew its opening act was Shards of Alara. That brings to the table these mechanical themes:

  • Five shards
    • gWu "Geewoo" Bant – Exalted
    • wUb "Whub" Esper – Colored Artifacts
    • uBr "Uber" Grixis – Unearth
    • bRg "Berg" Jund – Devour
    • rGw "Ragu" Naya – "5 power matters"
  • Three-color gold cards
  • Cycling

Block design long before had already determined that Conflux's overarching game-play mechanic would be "five-color gold." Additionally, any small set design team must decide two things: how much of the previous set's themes it will carry, and by how much. For Conflux, our answer was "all but less."

The next step was a download from Creative. Mark Rosewater has mentioned this before, but allow me to reiterate the transition from Shards of Alara to Conflux:


In Shards of Alara, due to flavor, there is:

  • No fear. Fear doesn't make flavor sense in Shards of Alara.
  • Not a single instance of protection.
  • No conflict between shards. Conflict is integral to fantasy storytelling, but if you look closely at many Shards of Alara illustrations, conflict has been downplayed. We often see the caster but not the target, or vice versa.
    • The Battlemages are all ready for battle but no shown in battle.
    • Swerve shows a Grixis mage deflecting a spell to an unknown target. It could have even been his own spell.
    • Agony Warp shows Grixis magic "altering the agony" of Grixis denizens. If this card was in Eventide, you can bet there'd be little Kithkins getting pwned in the art.
  • No mechanical hosers. "CARDNAME can't be countered" loudly sticks it to countermagic. However, Naya has no idea countermagic even exists. Putting all the necessary effort into a spell just to see it fail has never happened in Naya. That's why Naya found out pretty quickly that it's a good idea to make every spell MOAR BIGGER!

As lead designer of Naya, here's a mechanical chart I composed on our internal wiki:


With Conflux, the shards can, for the first time, "see" each other. Naya is beginning to overlay Bant and Jund, for example. That's why Conflux shows Naya vs. Bant conflicts:


All those "OFF LIMITS" abilities are now fair game for Naya to wage hate-filled war on its new enemies.

When Shards Collide

The first "layer of hate" is the Outlander cycle:

Each is a CD 2/2 with protection from its shared enemy color ("CD" is R&D jargon for a cost of two colored mana in allied colors). Printed under different names in Invasion, these commons are about as beautifully designed as Magic cards can be. They are hate shock troops; they hit the battlefield early and let their hate out!

I suppose a more thematic cycle would be CDE 3/3s with double protection, but game play would suffer since double protection is brutally unfun in three-color and five-color gold world.

Step 2 of Operation Hate is a full uncommon cycle of monocolored cards that hate on their two opposing colors:


Development likes the effect these kinds of hate cards have on Magic as a whole, as Erik Lauer [has elaborated on]. It's a nice treat designers can throw to grumbly developers.

Additionally, design stuffed even more hate into the set! These hate cards are less obvious, but manifest themselves through game play. See if you can figure out who design was hating in these cards:


Now, if you've been paying attention, you might notice something slightly out of whack. "Why is Nacatl Savage a Naya creature that's clearly anti-Esper? I thought Naya is fighting Bant and Jund ...."

Yes, well, design didn't get the memo on exactly which shards were overlapping with which other shards. Not knowing that, the designer instinct is toward Magic's enemy colors like green versus blue. Design inserted Cumber Stone and Nacatl Savage to show Esper and Naya's hate-hate relationship—foreshadowing what will happen if those two shards do overlap ....

An aside: Esper is especially easy to hate on—just wreck on artifacts.

ROBOTS DIE!!
RGW
Sorcery
Destroy all artifacts. CARDNAME deals X damage to target player and you gain X life, where X is the number of artifacts destroyed this way.

Poor Esper! We had to pull back on the vindictive Esper hate.


Mana-Fixing

Part of the craziness of a five-color theme is fitting enough mana-fixing into the set. We found a few different ways to do that.

Colorless Cycling

This at minimum costs 2 Mana (at 1 Mana the mechanic becomes a strange cog for threshold or dredge). Shards of Alara does this, notably on Jungle Weaver and Viscera Dragger.

Scourge had good success with its mechanic called "Mountaincycling" on Chartooth Cougar. We tried these and discovered we wanted more versatility in a five-color world. We needed more than five common mana-fixing slots, too.

With Domain decided as our five-color mechanic, we invented a new mana-fixing keyword ability and spread it onto some common spells.

Basic Landcycling

This way is pretty sweet because we get away with putting it on a blue card even though we would never print this card in a vacuum:

Blue Wanderer's Twig
1U
Instant
Search your library for a basic land card, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.

I call these cards the "Wanderer's Twigs." We essentially needed to discreetly hide five Wanderer's Twigs in common slots. Putting a 2 Mana on these turns them into colorless instants, and players might miss that for mana-fixing purposes, they should be playing a black card even with no black mana sources in their deck. We liked 1C the best.

 

Conflux Playtest Names Minigame

Match the playtest name to the printed card name. (Mouse over the names to see the answers!)

Two-Punch Steve

Delicious Food

Little Tulip

Espermaru

Mosstodon

Surprise Watkins

The Erik Lauer Experience


I'm oversimplifying the process here, but more artifact and land mana-fixers found their way into the set mostly during development: Mana Cylix, Kaleidostone, Armillary Sphere, Rupture Spire, and Unstable Frontier.

Design initially gave each color its own mana-fixing common: the not-all-intended-to-see-print list of Helionaut, Grixis Illusionist, Vesper Ghoul, Wild Cantor, and Quirion Elves.

Of these, only two remain: Grixis Illusionist and ....


... Noble Hierarch, which, as Tom LaPille explained on Friday, began life as a 2 ManaGreen Mana 1/1 common that tapped for any color of mana.

 Mike Turian, Conflux Lead Developer  
My favorite Conflux card is Noble Hierarch. I have always loved Birds of Paradise, and I think that Noble Hierarch really hits what I love about Birds of Paradise while also standing out as a Bant creature. I remember coming in one morning and throwing out the idea that the Hierarch would only tap for Green Mana, White Mana, or Blue Mana. It was the perfect match for the card.

Five-Color Gold


The design team knew there would be White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana-costed cards in the set.


You wouldn't know it, but development was constantly trying to beat up on Fusion Elemental's power and toughness.

 Mark Globus, Conflux Designer  
One of my favorite things about Conflux design was successfully defending Fusion Elemental from development trying to make it smaller than 8/8. I was also happy to see my design for Maelstrom Archangel made it to print and is popular.

However, White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana is the apex of mana costs, the zenith of a plan to acquire the power of all colors. It's not "piecemeal" enough to sprinkle throughout the set. We knew we needed five-color cards that weren't defined by sticking White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana in their mana costs, so we went in a few different directions.

The first of these was White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana activations. These are cards that you can play early in a single color to fight for you. Later in the game when you've assembled all five colors, your creature can hulk out by drinking delicious White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana juice.


 Bill Rose, Conflux Lead Designer  

Choosing my favorite card is always difficult for me. I love all my babies—well, at least many of them. If I must choose one it's Dragonsoul Knight. Dragonsoul Knight and its brethren—Paragon of the Amesha, Fleshformer, and Worldheart Phoenix—were designed midway through the design process. I think they made the set gel. These cards have an awesome combination of flavor, playability, and late game power. I enjoy playing a three-color, five-color deck. I focus on one shard then add quasi five-color cards like Dragonsoul Knight and Domain cards. My favorite Shards / Conflux Limited deck is a Naya deck featuring Dragonsoul Knight and Paragon of the Amesha.

Meanwhile, a Mark Gottlieb cycle of C-drop CDE and White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana activation enchantments all coalesced into the numerically poetic ultimate Obelisk.


Finally, there's Domain. Mark Rosewater already wrote seventy trillion words about the origin of Domain. I was the #1 supporter of Domain, having played with it back in Invasion, as my single casual deck on my Magic Online account, and all during Conflux-capable FFL. It's budget-friendly, infinitely customizable, castable even in mono-color, scalable with the game time, and most importantly, fun. It even wins money in Extended! We brought back some oldies that were goodies (Worldly Counsel and Might of Alara, a functional reprint of Gaea's Might) ...

... and some newbies (Aven Trailblazer, Matca Rioters, Wandering Goblins, Drag Down, Voices from the Void, Spore Burst, Manaforce Mace, and Exploding Borders).


I would count Armillary Sphere, Path to Exile, Unstable Frontier, Grixis Illusionist, and basic landcycling cards as Domain enablers, too.

Wait, We Forgot About Shards of Alara!

The design team made sure to give what card slots we could to exalted, devour, and friends from Shards of Alara. We ended high on unearth on purpose because we knew we were heralding the return of ...


... NICOL BOLAS!

We knew Grixis players were starved from Shards of Alara, with the shard missing its planeswalker and unearth trailing as an unloved mechanic in some eyes. Conflux delivers Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and high octane to the unearth gas tank.

Devour evolved a bit mechanically with "threshold 1 devour" and "picky eater" bonus (which was actually my original devour design).

Naya's 5-power theme went "explosive X," a mechanic I included in the original Naya design handoff from Shards of Alara that was pushed off until Conflux.


Three-Color Gold

We hit the Shards of Alara three-color gold theme, no strings, with an uncommon cycle (Skyward Eye Prophets, Sludge Strider, Elder Mastery, Scarland Thrinax, and Knotvine Mystic) and a rare cycle (Giltspire Avenger, Magister Sphinx, Blood Tyrant, Charnelhoard Wurm, and Meglonoth).

We also explored "colored permanents matter." We did this mechanic as recently as Shadowmoor and Eventide:

Where Shadowmoor and Eventide made blue cards that like blue things, Conflux put the color-matters effect on its ally color card to lean heavier on "gold-matters" than "hybrid-matters." These are sprinkled throughout the set on creatures and instants such as Dark Temper and Parasitic Strix.

This mechanic, incidentally, allows us to create "one-drop gold creatures" like Bloodhall Ooze and Kederekt Parasite. These creatures drew inspiration from Wild Nacatl, which itself drew inspiration from Kird Ape.

We consider it bonus inter-block synergy, that, for example, Bloodhall Ooze loves being near a Rendclaw Trow or a Worm Harvest token.

We also did a few off-color activations at common, on cards such as Darklit Gargoyle, Pestilent Kathari, and Kranioceros.

Finally, there was a full-blown uncommon cycle of "CE" activations for better upside:


Guess the Conflux Card from its Art Comments Minigame

[Doug Beyer] 6/13/08: The "puppet" still needs to look organic enough to pass as a living human. Lose the conductor's baton IMO.
[C Brady Dommermuth] 6/14/08: No wand, give the telemin a *little* more cranium, otherwise good.
[Richard Whitters] 6/16/08: Agree on both counts
[Jeremy Jarvis] 7/11: COLOR FINAL
[Jenna Helland] 7/14: good. creepy/beautiful
DB 7/14/08: Nice. Her spine is wicked. This is a very Esper image.
RW 7/14/08: Good stuff!
CBD 7/15/08: Okay.
CBD 7/29/08: Okay.
RW 7/29/08: good

Click here for the answer.


CBD 6/10/08: Nice.
DB 6/10/08: Haha, good. Well done, he actually drew a fast mucus.
jh 6/11: nice
RW 6/16/08: good
JJ 7/14: COLOR FINAL
RW 7/14/08: Good
jh 7/14: good.
DB 7/14/08: Hard to see the bodies in there! That's a shame. Okay otherwise.
CBD 7/15/08: Okay.

Click here for the answer.

Guess the Conflux Card by its Lonely Templating Comments Minigame

Name was Tectonic Collapse
[Del Laugel] 1/21: "Basic landcycling" will be fun to punctuate.
Del 4/3: That is to say, not really fun at all. There's a reason why Tanglewalker says what it does. Is it worth the ickyness, esp. at common?
Del 4/8: I guess we've done legendary landwalk. Requires yet another rule to support cycling.
Del 4/22: Diabolic Tutor could have "Card cycling."
Del 7/25: MLG is okay with writing rules for this mechanic.
Del 7/31: FT fits at a reasonable size.
Del 8/13: MLG's concerns about the name have been passed along to creative.
Del 8/14: Name changed.

Click here for the answer.

Guess the Conflux Card by its R&D Comments Minigame

[MV text]
MT 12/17: Awesome. Maybe cost more and be just opponents.
BR 12/18: All players so you can discard a DoD creature.
KEN 1/2/2008: This guy, the 2/1, and the Tom are my favorite DotD guys.
MP 2/11: Feels reasonably close to the ROC DOTD discard guy. 1B to make them discard 1 more.
BR 2/25: design and development happy with this card.
AF 3/10: If the above comment is supposed to mean "protection from changes," ha. That said, this one is fine.
Del 4/3: New unearth functionality. Only 6 unearth cards in this set.
MT 4/4: 4% of the set is unearth!
DAL 4/11: Fun guy. Might certainly be constructed playable if you have stuff you want to discard.
TML 8/12: I don't think we should spend the name "Zombie Rats" here. We should use that name on a card that is promotable, not one that is isolated by a block mechanic.
KEN 5/9: Strong card. Just a couple of these guarantees putting the game into topdecks mode, and they make topdecking reactive cards worse (Condemn, Cryptic Command).
GM 7/2: Can these be zombie rats? Death Baron would like to play with them.
DB 7/8/08: Zombifying... pending Brady's okay.
Grave Baron 07/08/08: ty

Click here for the answer.


MT 3/3: Deleted the additional cost. Thinking about moving this to uncommon also.
AF 3/11: What is "the tapped creature?"
KEN 3/12: Retemplated to match similar ROCK cycle.
MT 3/18: Thinking about this as uncommon.
MT 4/7: Did well in casual poll. 9th in set.
DAL 4/11: Rare or uncommon both sound ok.
GTH 4/14: This was [practically] a common in Scourge (Rush of Know, CMC instead) one of my favorites too
Del 4/3: Evaluates the power of the creature as the spell resolves (or uses last known information). Any issues?
MT 4/22: How does the in play template fit in?
Del 4/22: Ignore previous comments. I forgot how Magic works.
KEN 4/22: Often when I cast this, I end up decking myself. Am I doing something wrong...or doing something SO VERY VERY RIGHT?!! :D
sw 7/1: I really love this card, it can backfire if they have instant removal, but still great fun. It can draw a ton of cards though.

Click here for the answer.


KEN 1/14: Costing is too generous here, easily 2R. He grows with the game in two different ways. A pseudo-WUBRG activation.
cf. Kavu Scout
AF 3/10: Pallimud's brother.
KEN 4/22: This guy hits like a freight train, Sokenzan Spellblade-ish. The multi-pump is often missed on first glance, but when they take 10 they don't forget!
MT 4/24: Now that 1R 2/1 is going, I think this guy should become a 1R, 0/2.
BR 4/28: Like at 3 toughness for domain. Domain deck needs to work for this card. Opponent should need to use something of value to trade.
AJ 5/8: Pointing out that we have multi-pump power here, and multi-pump toughness (nondomain) at CR02.

Click here for the answer.

CR02 is the card that would later become Kranioceros.

Guess the Top 5 "Nagliest" Conflux Cards

Nagle-designed. Nagle-tested. Nagle-approved.

That concludes today's peek inside Magic R&D!

  • Planeswalker Points
  • Facebook Twitter
  • Gatherer: The Magic Card Database
  • Forums: Connect with the Magic Community
  • Magic Locator