e've talked a lot about picking a side in the Mirran-Phyrexian war these past months. The Mirrodin Besieged Prerelease had you pick a side, Game Day and War Leagues give you the opportunity to do it again, and we're now at the end of a theme week about it. When I heard that all this would be happening, though, I got to feel a little smug. You see, I picked a side months before the set came out.
I'm cheating a little bit, as I wasn't picking a side for the same reason. Let's start the story at about three quarters of the way through Mirrodin Besieged development. Lead developer Erik Lauer felt at the time that the two sides of the war didn't feel like they were pulling together as units well enough. Mike Turian and I were the two other core developers on his team, so he asked us each to pick a side, then spend a week with mini-teams we chose working on the commons and uncommons from that side to make them feel like more of a cohesive whole.
I've written in passing about my struggles to make infect decks work for me in Limited despite others having success with them, which had already begun during Scars of Mirrodin development. I clearly didn't get the Phyrexians, and Mike wanted them anyway, so I got the Mirran cards.
I also chose some fine Wizards employees to help me. Let me introduce them to you.
Kelly is the editor of the website you're reading right now. However, he occasionally spends time moonlighting in R&D on product teams. He was on the Worldwake and Archenemy design teams. Most recently, he was on my Magic 2012 development team, where he contributed what became my favorite uncommon reprint in the set by far. On this team, Kelly's biggest contribution was his designer's aesthetic, which kept our attention on how clean and sensible each of the cards we made were as overall stories.
Mark is one of Magic's brand managers. Although he is a busy man, he loves Magic enough to make occasional time in his schedule for product teams, and he has tons of both ideas and energy to bring to the table. Immediately prior to this mini-team, he had been on Scars of Mirrodin development, and that meant he was probably unavailable for a while. Fortunately for me and you, he was still able to negotiate for a little time in order to help me and the Mirrans out.
Matt Tabak is both an editor and the newly crowned Magic Rules Manager, having taken over for Mark Gottlieb when Mark switched into his new role as a full-time developer. Matt can be an opinionated guy, but that's exactly what I needed for this team. We didn't have much time left, and our goal was to squeeze out the last bits of lameness left in the file. Matt was brutally efficient at finding them for us.
Throughout this article, you'll see sections of plain text. Everything in those sections was lifted directly from the Magic R&D Wiki, which is where I kept everything relating to this mini-team. It's not Multiverse, but the Multiverse trail of the work this team did was mostly lost when the file was cleaned up before the set was handed off to typesetting.
I started off the team by giving them a quick overview of what was going on in "Camera," which is what the set was known as at that point. Kelly and Mark were joining us from outside R&D, so I wanted to make sure they were on the same page as us.
* Mirrodin is a warzone.
* Phyrexians have invaded Mirrodin. If you are a native of Mirrodin, you get up every day and fight for your collective existence against the invaders.
* If it's not part of the war, it's not on camera. Or in Camera.
I'm very clever, I know. Erik also gave me three goals, which I passed along to the team as well.
* Make the Mirrodin-affiliated commons and uncommons more awesome!
* Make the Mirrodin-affiliated cards feel like a unit that works together.
* Make the Mirrodin-affiliated cards feel more like Mirrodin.
Erik's secret goal here, which I didn't pass along, was to make the Mirran and Phyrexian cards feel like two separate units that were fighting each other. He gave Mike the same set of three goals, and between the work that Mike and I did, I think Erik more than achieved his secret goal.
There were some additional constraints, of course, as it would have been too easy without them.
* We can change cards without brackets around their names in any way we want.
* Cards with brackets around their names have been concepted. Changes we make to them need to be faithful to the concept.
There was one more constraint that I didn't include in this information, but did mention in the meeting: we had a fixed number of slots in each color at each rarity. Adding a Mirran white card required removing a Phyrexian card, which would upset the balance between the two factions. If we wanted to add a completely new card, it would be at the cost of losing an existing one of the same color and rarity.
At this point, about half the set had been concepted, which means that art descriptions had been written and art was on its way toward being commissioned. Any changes to these cards that we wanted to make needed to respect the work that had already been done. The brackets, of course, are the telltale sign Creative leaves behind when it concepts a card.
I chose to spend the first meeting doing something that normally isn't productive: complaining! I figured that collecting all the things we didn't like in one pass would give us a list of things to work on and a lot of potential energy that could be unleashed in our other two meetings. Therefore, we made a list of things that annoyed us. This turned out to be a great resource for us later, and I'm glad I chose to do it this way. Some highlights from the collection of annoyances, with some playtest names you might be able to guess:
Brave Conscript is lame to Matt.
One of Dayhawk or Kemba's Army should become an equipment-matters card. Kemba's Army gets Lifelink/Vigilance if equipped?
Silver Wall- 3U 2/4 defender, presence- +2/+2 and loses defender.
Oxidda Megasaur- could become Metalcraft.
Cauterize, Conduction Bolt, Goblin Grenadier, and Slagstorm have 3's all over them.
Conduction Bolt is super lame.
Metalcraft on Goblin Grenadier is weird.
Signal Monkey could have treetop bracers text to be like a flyer.
In the second meeting, we finished collecting a few last complaints, then made a bunch of Myr-themed cards. Many of them were derivative and not very good, but the best few of them made it directly into the set. In the last meeting, I compiled a list of specific card changes to recommend, and we handed that off to Erik.
Here's everything we suggested, and what happened to the suggestions. As you'll see, we had quite a dramatic effect on the set for a week-long splinter effort.
CU03: 3U 1/4 Defender. Metalcraft- CARDNAME gets +2/+2 and can attack as long as you control three or more artifacts.
* He should be at war, and "at war" means attacking.
Previously, this card was strictly a defender, which we felt wasn't right. Our hastily chosen numbers were a little lame and didn't fit into the overall blue creature curve, so Erik made up his own numbers instead of using ours.
UG03: 4G 4/4 CARDNAME can't have counters placed on it.
* This directly fights infect.
CW01: W 1/1 Metalcraft- +2/+2.
* At 0/1, it compares awfully to Steppe Lynx, Hada Freeblade, etc. At 1/1, it is exciting! We think it is printable there....
Before us, this card was exactly the same, except 0/1. As it turned out, we needn't have worried about printability. Ardent Recruit has seen play in Standard Tempered Steel decks like the one Jacob Van Lunen wrote about this past Wednesday, as well as Magic Online Pauper Affinity decks, but not many other places. That's a fine result.
UW03: Vigilance. CARDNAME can block an additional creature for each equipment attached to it.
* Mirrodin should have equipment-matters things. Vigilance, big, and multiple blocking is awesome together!
Art depicting a bunch of leonin warriors had already been commissioned for this card, and the weapons they were described as holding made the Equipment text easy to find. This card continues the fine tradition of big dumb white uncommon creatures like Rockcaster Platoon, Ruham Djinn, and Sentry Oak.
UW02: 1WW 2/2 Flying, First Strike, Warring.
* We would like a flying warring creature.
Oh no! We missed on this one, but not entirely. Erik felt nervous about having more than one evasive creature with battle cry, whose placeholder name was "warring." We'll see which card we printed instead in a bit.
UW01: 1W 2/1 Oblivion Ring for artifacts.
* We like this guy!
Erik liked it too, but he gave it different numbers and let it hit a bonus card type.
CR09 3RR Sorcery. CARDNAME deals 4 damage to target player. Metalcraft- if you control three or more artifacts, creatures controlled by that player can't block this turn.
* More damage felt mopey, and there were too many threes on the red spells.
Before this, the card's base damage was 3 and its metalcraft damage was 6. The new version is more swingy, but also more appropriate for a faction at war. The other observation here about threes came from Slagstorm, Burn the Impure, and the next card....
UR03 3RR 3/3. When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice an artifact. If you do, <ARC LIGHTNING>.
* UR03 felt disconnected before. Now it is like throwing an artifact.
...which we improved the design of, but didn't think to change from 3s to 4s. Erik was there with the save. The previous version of this, as mentioned before, had a similar ability, but you got it for free if you had metalcraft. This felt much more connected to us.
UR02 2RR 3/1. Presence- CARDNAME has doublestrike.
* Existing card was just lame.
I don't remember what the previous card was. It was probably just lame.
Cut UA05 and UA13.
* Need space. Myr Joiner doesn't feel connected to the other myr, and Biomantic Armor makes very poor flavor sense to us.
Here's one place where we went off the rails a little bit. As it turned out, Erik liked these cards, and he was the lead developer, so they stayed.
CA13 3 Artifact CARDNAME ETB with 3 charge counters. Tap, remove a charge counter: target creature can't attack or block this turn.
* Move this to uncommon.
* Trying to match concept, but the milling felt lame and disconnected. Also wasn't anything about warring or fighting.
I think it was Kelly who made the connection between a Shriekhorn and a Thundersong Trumpeter. Erik rightly chose not to do this, though, as it's very similar to Tumble Magnet and having a simple charge-counter-related card at common was a good idea. (It was also Kelly who discovered, much later, why it can be a good thing to have a build-around common without much connection to the rest of the set, when he drafted a Shriekhorn deck shortly after the set came out.)
UA02 Add a mana and "CARDNAME can't be blocked except for creatures with flying." to Signal Monkey.
* He is very fragile and would like evasion. He also swings through trees, so there is a second-degree flavor match with Treetop Bracers.
Here's the evasive battle cry creature I mentioned earlier. Although the trees I mentioned that showed up in the art concept didn't make it into the booster pack art, they are visible in the promotional version.
NEW COMMON: Resilient Myr 2 Artifact Creature - Myr 1/1 When CARDNAME goes to the graveyard from the battlefield, put a 1/1 Myr artifact creature token onto the battlefield.
* We think this guy is adorable and myr-like.
Erik did too! But going by design's rules for faction assignment, a "death trigger" is one of the things that makes a card Phyrexian. By designing a loveable Myr with a death trigger, we inadvertantly contributed a common to the other side!
NEW UNCOMMON: Myr Overtron 3 Artifact Creature - Myr */* CARDNAME's power and toughness are equal to the number of Myr you control.
* We wanted another myr lord creature. We like this simple one.
Erik agreed that another Myr-related card would be a good idea, but he didn't want it at uncommon. He pushed back on me to find out if I could make a rare instead, and I got this gem from Mark Purvis that fit the bill perfectly.
When I started running this team, I had no idea that Erik would incorporate so much of our feedback into the set. Also, the quality of the work I got out of my team members here reminded me how great a place to work Wizards is. When even brand managers and website editors will jump in to get their hands dirty and help us make the best set we can, the final product we sell can't help but be good. Fortunately, I happen to know that this will not be the last time you hear from any of the three fine gentlemen who helped me on this project; all three of them are currently working on as-yet-unannounced products. I look forward to telling you about what they're up to now as soon as I can!
Last Week's Poll
Have you bought at least one Intro Pack from Magic 2011, Scars of Mirrodin, or Mirrodin Besieged?
This Week's Poll
What do you think of the change to drafting the most recent set first?