elcome to the first week of Born of the Gods previews. Theros was just the first set in the block and this week we're going to kick off talking about the second. I have a design team to introduce, a brand-new expansion to explain, and a preview card to show off, so let's not waste any more time and get to it.
Born and Raised
As always, I like to begin by talking about the team of people who turned the set from an idea into an actual file of cards.
Ken Nagle (lead)
I get a decent amount of email. (Even more back in the day before social media.) I've always made it a point to always read every letter and email sent to me. Around eight years or so ago, I started getting a series of letters from a player who was concerned about the state of white. He would send long letters examining what he felt was wrong with the color and giving lengthy explanations on what we could do to fix the problem.
Flash forward a few years. The first Great Designer Search has narrowed down to around one-hundred people who have twenty-four hours to send in a card design test that required them to design exactly six cards to some specifications (all five colors, all six card types at the time, etc.). When I came in that morning, there was one email waiting for me.
You see, the candidates had twenty-four hours and all but one of them took their time to make sure they had the best entry possible. One candidate, though, turned the test in at 12:01 a.m., the earliest time allowed to turn it in. That person turned out to be the guy who had been writing me all the letters about white. Yes, the person who had turned in his test as soon as possible to show he was confident enough in his work to get it done quickly was Ken Nagle.
At first, I was a little taken aback. Who was this brash designer who didn't bother to take the time given to him to do a proper job? But then I looked at the cards. One in particular caught my eye. It was pretty clever. Okay, I said to myself, I'll let him advance to the next part.
Ken then made it to the Top 16, that quickly became the Top 15 when a finalist dropped out. He made it all the way to the Top 3, where he had the chance to come and interview at Wizards. Many were taken aback by Ken in the interview but I had grown fond of him through the GDS. Even though Alexis Janson won the event, I also awarded Ken a six-month internship as well, because I saw promise.
Flash forward six years and Ken is now the second-most experienced designer working on Magic. Ken has worked on twelve Magic expansions, including four of which he led (Worldwake, New Phyrexia, Return to Ravnica, and Born of the Gods). He also led the first Commander decks and Archenemy.
Ken has gone from being the intern to being my go-to design guy. When I hand him a set, I know that he's going to knock it out of the park, and Born of the Gods was no exception. As I will talk about today, the set had some challenges, but Ken met every one with grace and a smile on his face. I have plenty more nice things to say, but Ken has been on so many design teams that you've already heard it all many times over.
Ethan won the second Great Designer Search and also earned himself a six-month design internship. Like Ken, Ethan also managed to turn that internship into a full-time job as a Magic designer. Ethan was very passionate about Greek mythology, so he seemed like a perfect fit for the Theros design team. I had a secondary goal, though. It was time to finally throw Ethan into the pool to see if he could swim.
Journey Into Nyx was going to be Ethan's first design lead for a Magic expansion. In order to properly prepare him, I put him on both the Theros and Born of the Gods design teams. Ethan had been very involved with the advanced planning team (see last week's article if you don't know what I'm talking about) and there were a number of ideas that the team had come up with that I was interested in having the Born of the Gods design team try out.
One of the interesting quirks of having Ethan on all three Theros block design teams is that whenever he came up with an idea he liked that didn't manage to stay in the file, he had two more attempts to try and get it into a set, the last one of which he'd be in charge of. This ended up meaning that Ethan started Journey Into Nyx with a whole bunch of cards.
Ethan was a great pleasure to have on the Theros block as he was so passionate about both the source material and the chance to work on a block that he had had fingers in from the start.
Billy was hired to be a developer but was equally interested in design. I explained during Theros previews that he created the bestow mechanic during advance planning, and he joined the Born of the Gods team eager to make cards. Technically, Billy was the development representative for the design team but that didn't mean he couldn't create a lot of cards, which he did.
Billy has since moved on from Wizards, but I had the honor of working with him for two years. There have not been too many R&D members who were equally adept at design and development but Billy fell into that small subset. Billy came to every meeting with ideas and never passed the opportunity to ask a question about the design.
I'm going to miss having Billy around, but you all will get to enjoy the fruit of his labors in Born of the Gods.
Ryan first got noticed as one of the original two members of the Limited Resources podcast, which focuses on Limited play—particularly drafting. The first time I met Ryan was during an interview for a completely different R&D position, which was an odd fit for his skill set. Ryan really wanted to work at Wizards on Magic so he was trying various things to get his foot in the door. Ryan didn't get that job but soon got one that better suited his skills, working on the Magic digital team, focused on Magic Online.
One of the things we try to do on most Magic design teams is have someone on it who comes with a different perspective. We often refer to this as the "fifth slot," where we get people who specifically haven't worked on a Magic design team before. I'm happy to say Ryan was a great fit and ended up contributing quite a bit to the design. So much so that we plan on using him on future design teams.
Yeah, yeah, I'm on a design team. Not a big surprise. Since I'm in these bios all the time, I thought I'd use mine to tell something about me that I've never written in my column before. (That alone is quite the challenge.) For a short period of time I used to be a contestant to test new game shows. One day, they were trying out a game show based on the Jumble newspaper puzzle. There were three puzzles, each with underlines showing how many letters were in each word, along with a humorous picture. This was the final game where the two finalists would take turns to see who could solve the three puzzles the quickest.
I went first. Now, I'm very good with word play and these puzzles used puns, a specialty of mine, so I whizzed through all three in eleven seconds. The final puzzle was "Buoy Meets Gull." My opponent was just starting her very first puzzle when the buzzer rang. She thought something had gone wrong because it was so fast. I was never invited back to help again.
The best place to start with the design of Born of the Gods is to start where Theros left off. As I explained in my Theros preview articles, the core of the design was showing the three core elements of Greek mythology: gods, heroes, and monsters. To understand how Born of the Gods approached its design, we simply need to see how it approached each of the three elements. I'll start with the gods.
Art by Eric Deschamps
When we were originally creating the gods, I knew that I wanted a pantheon. One of the key signifiers of Greek mythology wasn't just that there were gods but there were a whole bunch of them and they existed at different status levels. Yes, Zeus was the king of the gods, but Hermes, for example, was the messenger. This led me to the idea that I wanted to have both major and minor gods.
As we were merging the pantheon of the gods with the color wheel, it was clear that there wanted to be five major gods—one representing each color. After some thought, the answer for the minor gods became obvious. We could represent each two-color combination. This would give us fifteen gods, which would allow five per set and also would create a cycle of two-color legendary creatures that would line up with the guilds from the previous block.
We put the major gods in the first set and saved the minor gods for the next two. To make it simple, we decided to put the ally-colored minor gods in Born of the Gods and put the enemy-colored gods in Journey Into Nyx.
I've heard a lot of speculation on how the two-colored minor Gods are going to work. Luckily, my preview card today is one of the Gods, so I can explain a lot by just showing it to you. Meet Ephara, God of the Polis.
But the Gods are about much more than just the gods themselves. Their influence is a big part of the block design. Let's begin with the enchantment theme. As I explained during my Theros previews, we chose to make enchantments a key part of the block because we wanted to use them as a way to signify the influence of the gods.
Enchantment Creatures: I wanted to find a way to bring enchantment creatures to the game but needed to discover how to make the enchantment component make sense both in flavor and mechanics. Greek mythology gave me the flavor. The Greek gods were very connected to dreams. What if everything they created had this dream-like quality?
Art by Robbie Trevino
My caveat was that enchantment creatures had to feel mechanically like both enchantments and creatures. As we played around in the space we found that there were a number of ways to do this. Theros had the first five Gods and introduced the bestow mechanic, but that wasn't all we came up with. We had a whole block to fill, so we decided to hold back and introduce more things as the block evolved.
Born of the Gods has new Gods. It also has some new wrinkles for bestow, including the introduction of bestow creatures without square stats (that's R&D lingo for having a power that is different from the creature's toughness). The newest thing is the introduction of a new kind of enchantment creatures—one that comes with a continuous effect. If you want to think of bestow creatures as the Aura versions of enchantment creatures, you can think of these new ones as the global enchantments (enchantments that sit on the battlefield and have an ongoing effect).
A number of players wrote in to me to ask why Theros had no global enchantments. The answer was that we wanted to make use of those abilities on enchantment creatures and we felt it was better to hold them back to premiere in Born of the Gods. A key part of block planning is not just knowing what to do but what to hold back. The new enchantment creatures play differently from the bestow creatures and will add in a new layer to how you interact with enchantment creatures.
Auras: The influence of the gods on the mortals of the world were reflected through a number of Auras (other than the creatures with bestow). Born of the Gods also continues with the Aura theme but throws in a new twist. A high percentage of the non-bestow Auras in Born of the Gods grant the enchanted creature an activated ability with a tap activation. Why a tap activation? That ties into one of the two new mechanics in the set. Don't worry, I'll explain below.
As I wrote about last week, I've been quite pleased with the reception of the devotion mechanic. It's not every day we get to retry a mechanic that didn't live up to its potential the first time out. Well, I'm happy to say to the players devoted to devotion that the mechanic is back, as are a few mana-heavy cards to help you raise your devotion quickly. And yes, I'm talking about more cards than just the five ally-colored Gods.
The gods have a lot of influence to grant, so that means Born of the Gods has more heroes. Here's what Born of the Gods has to offer those plucky guys and gals.
Art by Mathias Kollros
Heroic: Heroic returns in Born of the Gods. While the set will give you some new abilities, the heroic mechanic functions very closely to how it did in Theros. This was done to help keep some consistency in Draft. We have spent a lot of time gathering data and from it we've learned that the majority of drafters like the second set to keep most of the draft archetypes intact, adding a few new strategies without taking too many away.
Scry: The scry mechanic is also back to help do all the deck smoothing the format requires. You'll get to see scry mixed and match with some new effects, but like heroic it is doing a job similar to what it did in Theros.
Inspired: Yes, the heroes have some familiar mechanics, but they also get something brand new. Inspired is a mechanic that triggers when the creature with the ability untaps. Your job is to figure out how to get it tapped. Attacking will work, but so too will some of the Auras I talked about above. The inspired mechanic represents the mortals inspired by the gods and using their dreams to tap into the god-world of Nyx. The inspired mechanic will give your heroes a new type of quest to solve and force you to think about things like attacking in a different light. The inspired mechanic will also make it much easier to get enchantment creature tokens onto the battlefield.
Last but not least, we get to the monsters. Monstrosity, it turns out, is the one mechanic from Theros not returning in Born of the Gods. In its place is a new monster mechanic called tribute. The way tribute works is that your opponent has to choose to either allow you to have an effect or have your creature get bigger; neither choice is one your opponent is going to enjoy.
Art by Richard Wright
The monsters play a similar role in Born of the Gods, serving as foils to the heroes, but we changed things up a little to give them a slightly different feel.
"It's a Myth. Myth!" "Yes?"
The final thing you'll find in Born of the Gods is something we also did in Theros. The design team of each set worked hard to make sure we included a number of Greek mythological references. If you were wondering why a certain element was left out of Theros, you perhaps might find it in Born of the Gods.
I hope you enjoyed today's jaunt through Born of the Gods. Today was the who and the what of the set. Join me next week when I get to the how and the why. As always, I would love to hear your first impression of the set through my email, the thread to this column, or in any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+).
Until then, may you the find the God that best serves your deck-building needs.
Drive to Work #86 – Theros, Part 6
The Theros Saga continues in today's first podcast with Part 6.
Drive to Work #87 – 1995
As a break from the Theros Saga, the second podcast today is another in my "20 Years in 20 Podcasts" mega-series. Today is Magic's third year, and the year I started working for Wizards, 1995.
Working for Magic R&D since October, 1995, Mark Rosewater is currently the head designer. His hobbies include spending time with his family, talking about Magic on every known medium (including a daily blog and a weekly podcast), and writing about himself in the third person.