"It's three thousand miles to the end of this column, we got a full tank of stories, half an alphabet, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses."
o when last I left you, I was working my way through Scars of Mirrodin, card-by-card, sharing stories along the way. The article started as a one-parter, turned into a two-parter, and seems headed for a four or five-parter at bare minimum. But Mirrodin Besieged previews are a comin', and I've got plenty I want to say about that set, so today's the day to wrap up this series. This means that I don't have time to waste words, so let's get a talking.
Copper Myr, Gold Myr, Iron Myr, Leaden Myr, Silver Myr
The most interesting story about this popular returning cycle was that it wasn't in the design file handed over to development. In fact, it was never in the design file at any point. What was? In their place we had a cycle we called "Mocks." They were two-mana artifacts that each tapped for one color of mana and didn't enter the battlefield tapped. Were they too good? We never found out because development decided that they wanted the mana Myr to return.
Why? Well, for starters they killed a number of the reprints that the design team was attempting to bring back (Isochron Scepter, Bonesplitter, Terror, and Shrapnel Blast, to name a few) and were looking for a few memorable cards to reprint. Also, the Myr, much as they did the first time around, had great synergy with the set and fit easily in. Mike (Turian, Scars lead developer) told me he'd put them in and my response was, "Yeah, I thought you guys might."
Memnite was in very early in design. The two changes development made to it were:
- They moved it from common to uncommon.
- They changed it from a Myr to a Construct.
We had gone back and forth on his rarity in design, so I wasn't surprised by #1. I wasn't surprised by #2 either (development wanted to push Myr so the Myr creature type really did matter), but I'll admit as a lover of Myr I was a little sad.
When the design team made its very first list of reprints we wanted to use, Mindslaver was on it. As Mindslaver's creator, I am very proud of the card. For those that don't know it's history: I designed it as Volrath's Helm in Tempest, my very first design lead, but was forced to take it out because too many others thought it couldn't work. I attempted to put it into Unglued 2, but that product never made it to print. Finally, when I was doing Mirrodin, I dusted off the card and this time I convinced the powers that be to let it through. (Hmm, the card has an interesting path that mirrors my attempt to get "poison as a major theme" into a set.) The card, of course, went on to become a marquee card. (You can read about this story in more detail in my Mirrodin preview article A Mind Is A Wonderful Thing To Waste.)
Anyway, I was very excited about bringing it back, as to me it is one of the most iconic cards from the Mirrodin block. Others in the Pit, headed by Ken Nagle, strongly disagreed. They felt it was one of the most unfun cards of all time. There was much fighting but when the dust settled, Mindslaver managed to stay in the set (my biggest ally being Mike Turian). Interestingly, it's both one of the most loved and most hated cards in the set.
One of the themes of Mirrodin block was the fact that green enjoyed watching artifacts be destroyed (if you go deep into green's color pie philosophy, it really, really does not like artifacts—the main reason Disenchant got moved to Naturalize so many years ago). With infect and other new things I had to weave in, this theme was not as strong as it was in Mirrodin, but it's here. Green on Mirrodin still hates artifacts and profits from their destruction.
I have talked numerous times about how I asked my design team to produce a list of reprints we wanted to bring back from Mirrodin. Another list I asked of my designers was a list of things that were brand new but that players would expect from a return to Mirrodin. High on that list was "a Mox."
When designing a Mox, here's what you have to deliver:
- It's an artifact.
- It taps to add mana to your mana pool. (Every Mox thus far has provided a least one colored mana.)
- It costs 0.
That's all you have to do.
We tried many different versions but once metalcraft was added to the set (it was the last mechanic put in) it was clear that if we could make a metalcraft Mox that was the way to go. Design turned over Mox Opal, as you know it, save for the fact that it wasn't legendary (I joked when legendary got added that it should be called The Mox Opal). Playtest showed that version was too strong so the legendary limitation ended up being the cleanest way to do the card.
The only story I have about this card is that I almost pulled it in design. Why? Because it didn't really have anything to do specifically with the set. But my team all liked the card a lot, so we kept it in. Interestingly, although it has a graveyard theme and the Phyrexians historically have an affinity for the graveyard, one would have expected this card to be Phyrexian, but we only had 20% of the set that was allowed to be tagged as Phyrexian. Necrotic Ooze just didn't hit any of the criteria I had set down for what constituted getting a Phyrexian watermark so numbers forced it to the Mirrodin side. If Phyrexia had 25% percent though, I'm pretty sure the card would have a Phyrexian watermark. It does feel pretty Phyrexian.
This card was designed specifically to be played when you played blue with infect. Remember that proliferate was in higher numbers and lower rarities (much in blue) in the design handoff, so this occurrence happened a lot more than it does currently.
Originally, Perilous Myr dealt 1 damage when it was put into the graveyard from play but 3 damage if it was sacrificed. And it wasn't the only artifact creature with this rider. As I explained in parts 1 and 2, black and red had a sacrifice theme that was a little stronger in the design handoff. The biggest problem with the rider was the phrase "When CARDNAME is sacrificed" led many players to believe that they were allowed to sacrifice it whenever they wanted. The development team decided that having a death trigger was cleaner and still would be slightly better in a deck capable of sacrificing its artifacts.
Trivia question: Who designed Prototype Portal?
The answer: Everyone on the design team, independently, no less. During Fifth Dawn, I designed this card and put it into the set. It was killed because at the time we had never made artifact tokens and it was felt that we should save it for something bigger than a single card. Then during Scars of Mirrodin design, I asked for imprint designs and every single member of my team, none of whom knew of this card's earlier existence, turned in a form of it. Apparently, once you see Soul Foundry, you are compelled to design this card.
In my article on design skeletons ("Nuts & Bolts: Design Skeletons") I talked about how you create an outline for things that you need. One of the things you do while trying to cross off items on that list is to find places where two items intersect allowing you to make one card that crosses off two of the set's needs. Razor Hippogriff is one such card.
I felt it was important for each color to have its own relationship with artifacts (much as was had done in the original Mirrodin block). For white one of those things was regrowing artifacts. This is part of white's color pie and it allowed white to play nicely with all the charge counter artifacts that once empty could be sacrificed and then regrown to use again. Also, as part of my larger goal to make poison have a different feel, I decided to raise the amount of life gain. So white needed a card that regrew artifacts and wanted a card that could gain life. Chocolate meet peanut butter, peanut butter meet chocolate.
Auriok Replica, Moriok Replica, Neurok Replica, Sylvok Replica, Vulshok Replica
When we made the changes to combat in Magic 2010, I said that removing damage on the stack would allow us to push in places we previously couldn't. The Replicas are an example of this. Because you could no longer deal damage with them and get their effect, it allowed us to make cards that we previously couldn't make. In addition, I think the decision-making behind them is very interesting game play.
I had nothing to do with the naming of this card, but as the guy who named Squee's Toy, I'm both impressed and happy to see it in the set. (Pun loving behind the scenes might currently be at Magic's all-time low.)
We actually had the discussion whether this card was supposed to have "artifactwalk" or not. Apparently the answer's no, it's not a thing.
Flight Spellbomb, Horizon Spellbomb, Nihil Spellbomb, Origin Spellbomb, Panic Spellbomb
The earliest versions of Spellbombs in the set worked like this.
Flight Spellbomb v. 1.0
T, Sacrifice CARDNAME: Target creature gains flying until end of turn.
U, T, Sacrifice CARDNAME: Target creature gains flying until end of turn. Draw a card.
When development pulled the "when this card is sacrificed" rider, they were looking for some way to help reward the sacrificing of artifacts and this tweak not only reduced lots of duplicated text, but it also allowed some fun sacrifice tricks.
Sword of Body and Mind
During design, the blue ability of the sword was to Unsummon a creature. Because of that, the playtest name of this card was Sword of Bears and Bounce. And yes, those of you dying for us to finish this cycle during the block will get your wish. You'll see the next one sometime during Mirrodin Besieged previews.
White has long had a good relationship with artifacts—it can regrow them, and it tends to like Equipment—but for Scars, we were looking for some relationship with artifacts that was a little new. It was this desire that got us onto the path of white playing well with artifact creatures. This very spell was the first one made to push the set in that direction, The original version, as I recall, only cost and was uncommon.
The design handoff had both Shatter and Terror in it. I brought both back because one of the iconic design goals of Mirrodin was to create a set wherein Limited players would draft Shatter over Terror. I felt I had accomplished this task the first time around, so for nostalgia's sake I wanted to bring it back. Development wasn't as nostalgic and didn't see a place for Terror.
Throne of Geth
This is one of my favorite cards of the set. I talked above about how I love crossing themes and mixing proliferate with artifact sacrifice seemed to have such an interesting interaction with so many cards in the set. I used to draft this card first all the time in design playest because the Johnny in me loved the neat things I could do when I drafted around it. As with any true Johnny, it's always sad when others find out about your fun little card and do less fun things with it. Nonetheless, this card will always hold a warm place in my heart.
Another pet favorite. (Can you tell I like proliferate?) Stop for a second and think what Scars draft would be like if this card was a common rather than an uncommon. I don't have to imagine because that's how every design draft I ever did was like. I designed Thrummingbird specifically to go into blue common to help give blue some interesting draft archetypes. For developmental reasons, this couldn't stay at the rarity it was designed, but I'll let you know, while it lasted it was pretty fun.
Tower of Calamities
R&D seldom sets out to make incomplete cycles, but occasionally things turn into cycles that we hadn't planned. A case in point is the Towers from Mirrodin.
These cards were simply designed as four connected cards with big effects. It never occurred to us that players might associate these effects with four of the five colors. Creature pumping was green and life gain was white. Both card drawing and milling seemed blue to us, but people looking for a cycle will notice that over the years, black's done it's share of milling (usually going after cards in the library, but why quibble). Where was the red tower?
The players waited patiently for it to appear in Darksteel. When that didn't happen, they waited for it's appearance in Fifth Dawn, but that didn't happen either. It's hard for R&D to finish a cycle that we hadn't seen as a cycle. As the guy who gets the mail when people complain about something, I heard about it. So when Scars of Mirrodin rolled around, the design team decided it was time to right a wrong from Mirrodin block.
We knew it had to be a red effect, direct damage being the obvious choice. Next we had to fit into the "counting by two" theme in the cycle. Tower of Fortune draws you four cards. Tower of Champions grants +6/+6. Tower of Murmurs mills eight cards. Tower of Eons gains you 10 life. This meant the effect had to be either two or twelve. Since two is the kind of thing we do all the time, it was pretty clear that twelve was the answer. Also, the card had to cost and activate for . Once all those numbers were plugged in, the answer was obvious. The card had to deal 12 damage to creatures (also hitting players would have been too good).
This was a repeat in the very first printing of the set and stayed throughout. This card, as a little trivia note, was designed by current Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe during his very fist design team, Fifth Dawn, as part of a "cog" theme in the set.
This card came about because I wanted to have a few expendable artifacts at common. By expendable, I mean that the artifact came with a limited number of uses and that's all you got. Sure you could combine it with other things in the set, but by itself it was a limited multi-use object. I chose tapping as an effect because it was simple and it helped lessen decisions in combat, making it a good effect for a common. Did I have any idea how potent this card would be? No, I did not.
Venser, the Sojourner
One of the things I enjoy when designing a card based on a character is trying to make sure that the mechanics really reflect who that character is. For Venser, the thing the design team hooked onto was that Venser's main magic is teleportation. He is very good at teleporting other objects and his best spells use that ability. You'll notice that all three abilities are tied into this flavor of teleportation. The fact that one of my favorite abilities, flickering, just so happens to fit perfectly with teleportation: just one of the many reasons I love this card.
One of the things I like to do in design is to make sure that the key mechanics have support from all the colors but in different ways. That meant that I needed to give red a reason to be played with infect. My choice was to give red more power-boosting effects than normal, allowing it, when played with infect, to help up the damage of the infect creatures. Vulshok Heartstoker was put into the set because it helped fulfill this role so nicely while also playing just fine in a deck that couldn't care less about infect.
This card was designed by Alexis Janson, the winner of the first Great Designer Search and Scars of Mirrodin design team member. The card's playtest name was Belugatron and while the rest of the world might call this Wurmcoil Engine, it will always be Belugatron to me. Whenever anyone on the design team would play the card they would howl "Belugatron!" in a deep low voice. I have chosen to continue this tradition whenever I play the card. (You can read more about Belugatron in Alexis's article Running in Circles.)
... And Scene
Whew! Got it done. I hope you enjoyed my stroll (slow, slow stroll) through Scars of Mirrodin. I hope you enjoyed all the roses I stopped and smelled along the way. I had a blast making this set and I hope you all are having as much fun playing it.
Join me next week when I leave Scars of Mirrodin to start talking about Mirrodin Besieged. The Mirrans were going to have to find out about the Phyrexians sooner or later. Next week I'll start talking about what this little discovery means.
Until then, may you have the time to look through your baby pictures.