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Modern Gods

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The letter W!elcome to God Week. This week, we're going to be talking about the legendary enchantment creatures of Theros block. Erik Lauer wrote an article where he talked about the design and the development of the Gods, but their story is a complex one, so I thought I would try to tell it through a very different kind of article.

Here's what I've done. I chose one of the Gods, Heliod, and then I went back through our database to pull out every version of the card—twenty versions in all. I'm going to start from the beginning and then walk you through each incarnation and explain what was changed and why. This will give you a chance to see a single card evolve from early design all the way until print. Enjoy!


Helo (version 1)
3WWW
Legendary Enchantment Creature – Spirit
6/6
Other creatures you control get +1/+1.
At the beginning of your precombat main phase, you may search your library for a Helo's spell card and cast it without paying its mana cost. If you did, shuffle your library.

We begin with Helo. That was Heliod's working name. I wanted to give all the gods names in design, and not just be named White God, because I was trying hard to capture the feel I wanted the set to evoke, and that meant giving as real names as possible to the cards. I feel that, for top-down designs, this is important. To help with this, I asked the creative team to come up with working names for the gods so we had something to put on cards. You'll notice that even though we designed them as gods, we originally began using the Spirit subtype (which is what we did the previous times we had gods).

The first thing to notice about the card is that from day one, the gods were enchantment creatures. I had figured that I wanted to do that before design began, so that is how we started them. Note, at this time, the gods were going to be the only enchantment creatures in the set. We had plans to introduce more enchantment creatures as the block went along, but we'd decided to start small. Bestow hadn't even been created yet, but when we did come up with it in advanced planning, it was allocated originally for Born of the Gods.

Let's walk through this first version. It had an enchantment-like global static ability—basically, a Glorious Anthem. This was important because I wanted to make sure the enchantment creatures were both enchantment and creature. The second ability, though, is where it gets interesting. The original idea was that each god was going to have spells connected to it, most likely through a supertype. For example, in early design, Helo had Helo's Bolt, which dealt 3 damage to target attacking or blocking creature.

Each god had a triggered ability at the beginning of the turn that went and retrieved one of that god's spells and then cast it for free. The basic idea was that each god had things he or she could do, and if you got a god into play, he or she got to "cast" one spell a turn.

Helo (version 2)
5WW
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
6/6
Other creatures you control get +1/+1.
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may search your library for a white enchantment card with converted mana cost less than or equal to your white devotion and cast it without paying its mana cost. If you did, shuffle your library.

After playing with the first version, we found it to be a little too parasitic. That is, it made the gods only work with the cards from this block, and we wanted the gods to have a little more of a general use. For example, we knew they were going to be legendary creatures, which meant they could serve as commanders.

Meanwhile, I was trying to play up the idea that the gods were intrinsically tied to enchantments and that the enchantments represented the gods' impact on the mortal world. The two problems had one solution: rather than search out god supertypes, have the gods be able to search out enchantments. That would reinforce the god/enchantment connection while also making them backward compatible.

Two other small changes. One, the cost was changed from 3 ManaWhite ManaWhite ManaWhite Mana to 5 ManaWhite ManaWhite Mana. Second, we decided to try making the gods have the God creature type. While I really wanted to be able to use God as the creature type, there was one other ulterior motive. "Legendary Enchantment Creature" took up a lot of space and Spirit didn't fit. Wouldn't you know, "God" just made it.

Helo (version 3)
5WW
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
6/6
Other creatures you control get +1/+1.
Devotion—At the beginning of your upkeep, search your library for a white enchantment card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of white mana symbols in the casting costs of permanents you control and cast it without paying its mana cost. Shuffle your library.

The next change came after we added devotion to the set. We were looking for a mechanic to represent the denizens' faith in their gods and using a revamped chroma (from Eventide) seemed like a good fit. We limited the search for mana costs of permanents you controlled on the battlefield and gave it a new name. As you can see, we chose "devotion." Note that in this version, devotion is used as an ability word, just as chroma was.


Helo (version 4)
5WW
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
5/9
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield you may search your library for a white Aura with converted mana cost less than or equal to your devotion to white and put it onto the battlefield.
Opponents can only cast one spell per turn and can attack with only one creature per turn.

This version had a few changes. Having the enchantment searching trigger every turn ended up being too powerful. To fix this, we did two things. First, we made the search a one-time, enter-the-battlefield trigger. Second, we limited the search to Auras. Why Auras? At this point, we had realized that we were putting a lot of focus on Auras and it felt like a safer subset to search for.

The power/toughness was changed from a 6/6 to a 5/9. I believe originally all the gods were 6/6 and this was us trying to vary them a bit to give them each a different feel. Next, devotion was changed from an ability word to a keyword. You can see we jumped right to "devotion to COLOR." Finally, we changed the global ability from Glorious Anthem to a Rule of Law/Dueling Grounds effect that only worked on the opponent. The idea was that when Heliod (I mean Helo) was around, your opponents were limited to one cast spell and attacking creature per turn.

Helo (version 5)
5WW
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
5/9
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield you may search your library for a white Aura with converted mana cost less than or equal to your devotion to white and put it onto the battlefield.
Whenever a source deals damage to you or to CARDNAME, you may have CARDNAME deal that much damage to that source's controller.

The only thing that changed with this version is the global static ability. Now, instead of restricting your opponent, it had more of an Eye for an Eye effect, which hurt your opponent for hurting you.

Helo (version 6)
5WW
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
5/9
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield you may choose a white Aura card you own from outside the game with converted mana cost less than or equal to your devotion to white and put it onto the battlefield.
Whenever a source deals damage to you or to CARDNAME, you may have CARDNAME deal that much damage to that source's controller.

Here's where we started to figure out that the gods weren't quite as sexy as we wanted. Our solution was to try a version where the Aura you got didn't have to be in your deck. Essentially, we turned the Gods into Wishes that could seek out whatever Aura you needed at the time. The plan was, of course, for tournaments to restrict the search to the sideboard.

It's at this point that the file got handed from design to development. In my write-up for the design handoff, I said that while I was happy with the set as a whole, I felt that the one area that still needed work was the Gods. I knew they were going to be a focal point for the set and I explained that we hadn't quite found the right execution yet but that I was going to continue to work to find a solution. In his final pass on the design file, Aaron had made the same note that the Gods had to be a home run and that the current versions weren't yet close.


Helo (version 7)
4WWWW
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
5/8
Celestial (You may cast this card from Nyx. If it would enter the battlefield any other way, it goes to Nyx instead. If the card would leave the battlefield, it goes to Nyx instead. Your devotion to white reduces its cost by that much W.)
As long as CARDNAME is in Nyx or on the battlefield, whenever damage is dealt to a white creature you control, you may have CARDNAME deal that much damage to that source's controller.

With the Theros file out of my hands, I was able to focus on the one area I hadn't quite cracked yet. One Tuesday afternoon, I took my design team (and by this, I mean not the design team of Theros, but the collected groups of designers that work in R&D under Mark Gottlieb and myself) and gave us the task of coming up with something out of the box. I wanted flavorful and "out there." The design handoff had been too tame. I wanted to try something really crazy.

And my team delivered. We came up with something pretty out there. Here's how these Gods worked. You cast them and they immediately went to Nyx. Nyx was a brand new zone that we created. While the God was in Nyx, he or she had a global static effect. The Eye for an Eye effect changed so now it did damage whenever your white creatures were damaged.

You could then cast the god from Nyx and put them onto the battlefield, where they would function as creatures. Notice that your devotion to the God's color made it cheaper to cast. Then, if anything happened to your God that would make it leave the battlefield, it returned to Nyx. This obviously made it very hard to completely get rid of the Gods. Mostly, you could force them back to Nyx, where they would have to be played again.

The final changes were a shift from 5 ManaWhite ManaWhite Mana to 4 ManaWhite ManaWhite ManaWhite ManaWhite Mana and a change from 5/9 to 5/6.

Heliod (version 8)
4W
Legendary Enchantment
Heliod is indestructible.
Whenever damage is dealt to a white creature you control, you may have Heliod deal that much damage to that source's controller.
Heliod is a 5/8 creature with vigilance as long as your devotion to white is 6 or more. It's still an enchantment.

From this point on, the changes to the card were being made by Erik Lauer and his development team (Doug Beyer, Zac Hill, Dave Humpherys, Tom LaPille and Shawn Main).

The first thing Erik and team did was to get rid of the Nyx zone. They liked the general sense that the God had an enchantment effect and, with work, most likely using devotion, could become a creature, but they felt making a brand-new zone to pull this off was unnecessary.

The first attempt to do this was to change the Gods to legendary enchantments that under the right conditions could turn into creatures. They were made indestructible to keep players from having to deal with the following:

"Hello, I am Heliod, lord of the gods!"

"Naturalize."

The creature's stats and global static ability stayed the same, although the team added a creature keyword to each God. Heliod (and note he is now Heliod) got vigilance. The condition to turn the Gods into creatures was having a devotion to the god's color of six.


Heliod (version 9)
4W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
5/8
Vigilance
Heliod is indestructible.
Whenever a source deals damage to a white creature you control, you may have Heliod deal that much damage to that source's controller.
As long as your devotion to white is 5 or less, Heliod isn't a creature.

It was at this point that I made mention to Erik that we hoped the Gods would be able to serve as commanders and, in general, we wanted them to have power and toughness printed on the card, as we really were interested in playing up their role as enchantment creatures. Erik happily obliged as he and his team had come to the same conclusion and made it such that lack of devotion turned them into noncreatures. It was also at this point that the devotion required to make the God a creature was lowered from six to five.

Heliod (version 10)
5W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
7/5
Vigilance
Heliod is indestructible.
Creatures can't attack block creatures you control or attack you or Planeswalkers you control unless their controller pays 2 for each such creature.
As long as your devotion to white is 5 or less, Heliod isn't a creature.

This version had the development team changing the global static ability to a Propaganda-like effect. Also, the cost went from 4 ManaWhite Mana to 5 ManaWhite Mana and from a 5/8 to a 7/5.

Heliod (version 11)
3W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
7/5
Vigilance
Heliod is indestructible.
Your opponents' permanents enter the battlefield tapped, and their creatures don't untap as normal during the uptap step. At the beginning an opponent's upkeep, he or she may pay 1 per creature to untap those creatures.
As long as your devotion to white is 5 or less, Heliod isn't a creature.

The development team then changed the effect and the cost. The effect became a Kismet-like ability while the mana cost went from 5 ManaWhite Mana down to 3 ManaWhite Mana.

Heliod (version 12)
3W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
7/5
Vigilance
Heliod is indestructible.
As long as your devotion to white is five or less, Heliod isn't a creature.
Each creature your opponents control has "At the beginning of your upkeep, tap this creature unless you pay 1."

I believe this change was addressing the problem that the rules text was getting lengthy. Instead of making everything enter the battlefield tapped, this version just taps everything unless the cost is paid. It's a little different, but it captures the same basic effect with a lot fewer words.


Heliod (version 13)
3W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
7/5
Vigilance
Heliod is indestructible.
As long as your devotion to white is five or less, Heliod isn't a creature.
At the beginning of your upkeep, put a 1/1 white Disciple enchantment creature tokens onto the battlefield.

Now the ability changes to a triggered ability that makes tokens—Disciple tokens no less. (Note that design and development will name tokens something that sounds good and the creative team will later figure out what creature type they actually are.)

Heliod (version 14)
3W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
7/5
Vigilance
Heliod is indestructible.
As long as your devotion to white is less than six, Heliod isn't a creature.
Untapped creatures you control get +0/+2.
2W: Put a 1/1 white [Disciple] enchantment creature token onto the battlefield.

In this version, development made a few changes. First, it went back from having devotion of five to devotion of six. Development changed the global static ability to a Castle-like toughness pumper. The team then tried something new, adding an activated ability. Note that the activated ability was what the triggered ability was in the previous version.

Heliod (version 15)
3W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
7/5
Heliod is indestructible.
As long as your devotion to white is less than five, Heliod isn't a creature.
Attacking creatures you control have first strike.
2W: Put a 1/1 white [Disciple] enchantment creature token onto the battlefield.

And we're back to devotion of five. I should point out here that the best way to figure out what the right number is supposed to be is to keep shifting it around during playtests to get a feel for what works best. The other change is that the global static ability now gives attacking creatures first strike. I assume this change was made to try and make the card more aggressive. The previous toughness-pumping version encouraged Heliod's controller to sit back on defense while this version encouraged being more offensive.

Heliod (version 16)
2W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
5/6
Indestructible
As long as your devotion to white is less than five, Heliod isn't a creature.
Attacking creatures you control have first strike.
3W: Put a 1/1 white [Disciple] enchantment creature token onto the battlefield.

This version is mostly development tweaking numbers. The mana cost drops from 3 ManaWhite Mana to 2 ManaWhite Mana, the stats change from 7/5 to 5/6, and the activation cost to make the tokens rises from 2 ManaWhite Mana to 3 ManaWhite Mana. The one other change is a subtle one. We made the decision to turn indestructible into a keyword starting with Magic 2014,so "Heliod is indestructible" turns into just "Indestructible."

Heliod (version 17)
3W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
5/6
Indestructible
As long as your devotion to white is less than five, Heliod isn't a creature.
Creatures you control have vigilance.
3W: Put a 1/1 white [Disciple] enchantment creature token onto the battlefield.

The development team didn't like how the first strike was playing so it changed the ability to vigilance. The "attacking creatures" clause was dropped because it doesn't interact correctly with vigilance.


Heliod (version 18)
3W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
5/6
Indestructible
As long as your devotion to white is less than five, Heliod isn't a creature.
Creatures you control have vigilance.
2WW: Put a 2/1 white Cleric enchantment creature token onto the battlefield.

This change is solely about the activated ability. First, the activation cost was changed from 3 ManaWhite Mana to 2 ManaWhite ManaWhite Mana. Then, the tokens finally get an official creature type (you can tell because it is no longer in brackets, which means "not yet decided"). They are now Clerics and remain enchantment creatures.

Aelion, God of the Sun (version 19)
3W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
5/6
Indestructible
As long as your devotion to white is less than five, CARDNAME isn't a creature.
Creatures you control have vigilance.
2WW: Put a 2/1 white Cleric enchantment creature token onto the battlefield.

Heliod gets the new name of Aelion and is now officially God of the Sun.

Heliod, God of the Sun (version 20)
3W
Legendary Enchantment Creature – God
5/6
Indestructible
As long as your devotion to white is less than five, Heliod isn't a creature. (Each W in the mana costs of permanents you control counts toward your devotion to white.)
Other creatures you control have vigilance.
2WW: Put a 2/1 white Cleric enchantment creature token onto the battlefield.

And now we get to the final version. Heliod is back to being Heliod and the card is given proper templating and reminder text.

Here is what the card looked like in print:


The Gods Must Be Crazy

I hope today's article gave you a better insight into how much cards can shift during design and development, especially when the card is as important as one of the Gods of Theros. I'm curious if you liked this format, as it is something I could do again in a future article. As always, please send me feedback through my email, the thread of this article, or through any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week when I talk about how a card can be different things to different players.

Until then, may you have some of your own Heliod stories.




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Mark Rosewater
Mark Rosewater
@maro254
Email Mark

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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.

 
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