t's Constellation Week here on DailyMTG.com, so we're going to be spending the week talking about the new ability word from Journey into Nyx. I haven't done a mailbag article in a little while, so I decided that I would dedicate this article to answering your questions about constellation.
I posted the following on my Twitter account (@maro254):
I should note, by the way, that I now use Twitter whenever I'm trying to generate mailbag content. It's the fastest way to get questions and the 140-character limit does a great job of keeping the questions concise. If you like having your questions answered here on "Making Magic," I urge you to follow me on Twitter (@maro254).
All right, let's get on to the question answering.
The mechanic came first. In fact, the mechanic came way before Journey into Nyx design. We called it enchantmentfall, as it's basically landfall for enchantments, and it was originally the Azorius mechanic in Return to Ravnica. Azorius has a lot of rule-setting cards, which are often done as enchantments, so we thought it was a good fit. The mechanic didn't play nicely with the other guild mechanics, though—an important part of any Ravnica block design—so we had to change it. When working on finding an enchantment-matters mechanic for Journey into Nyx it was the very first thing brought up. The design name for constellation, by the way, was divinity.
For starters, I should point out that constellation is technically not a keyword mechanic but an ability word. Ability words, unlike keywords, are not necessary. If you removed it from the card, the card mechanically works just fine. The ability word is a tool to group together like-minded cards so players better understand that they all work the same. It also gives them a name, to allow people to talk about the mechanic. A shared vocabulary is very important. Finally, it allows us to focus on it as a feature when we preview the new set.
There were a bunch. Here are two of my favorites:
Belief in the Gods
Divinity—When CARDNAME or any other enchantment enters the battlefield, put a NAME counter on CARDNAME.
Creatures you control get +1/+1 for each NAME counter on CARDNAME.
Weight of History
Divinity—When CARDNAME or any other enchantment enters the battlefield, creatures you control get +X/+X until end of turn where X is the number of enchantment cards in your graveyard.
Because something has to be held back. This is part of the third-set problem that I often talk about. By the time you get to the third set, the playerbase has a little fatigue for the world and you need to do something to shake up the environment. The easiest way to do this is to find something that (a) the players are eager for so they are excited when they finally get it, and (b) plays well with what has come earlier in the block without actually being there. Enchantment-matters fits this bill on both accounts. It's something we knew players really wanted, and because the set was already full of enchantments, especially enchantment creatures, we knew that it would be playable with the whole block, even though constellation only appears in the final set.
The name is somewhat limiting. On the flipside, it's not the kind of mechanic with a giant amount of depth, due to the limitations of the type of effects you can put on it. If we brought it back on a world other than Theros, we would have to talk about renaming it.
No, we didn't make any cards that cared about constellation cards triggering outside of the constellation cards themselves. I don't really feel constellation "metacards" was necessary for the design.
Cards that care about enchantments is the main reason. Constellation is a subset of that group, but Magic has many other cards in its past that care about enchantments. Also, after the artifact lands of Mirrodin block, you can say, "Once burned, twice shy."
We put a bunch of enchantments in it. No, we didn't feel we had to do much with the core set, as Theros block was providing lots and lots of enchantments, including enchantment creatures, that make enchantment-matters work differently from past incarnations.
This is more of a creative question than a design one. The mechanic is tied to the gods, which are tied to Nyx, which is tied to the stars. (You'll notice that all the creatures tied to Nyx have a starfield incorporated into them, as does the enchantment creature frame.) To the best of my knowledge, that's how we got to the name. I do like that constellation implies an interconnectivity between multiple stars.
The only real change was the decision to only put it on enchantments. Originally that wasn't the case but we found if too many cards with constellation weren't enchantments you had this weird problem where if you put a lot of constellation cards in your deck, you had no room for the enchantments. I will point out, that development prefers when we do things that way because it allows them to push the mechanic a lot more because players can't just fill up their deck with cards of the mechanic.
In design, we put the ability into all five colors but focused it a little more in white and black, as those were the colors that had the higher focus on bestow in Theros. That seems to have lessened a bit during development.
Usually, when we bring back mechanics we find ways to advance them, so yes, if we bring back constellation, we would find a new wrinkle or two—probably not too much more complex, but maybe a little.
When Mercadian Masques came out, the set had new mechanics (Rebels and Mercenaries, Spellshapers, pitch cards, etc.) but nothing that was named in any way. The response we got was people asking why we had chosen not to put any new mechanics in the set. That made us realize that many players need help in seeing what's new. Since then, we have been much more willing to use ability words to help label mechanics we wanted players to notice.
It wasn't until the set came out and some of the public starting making the comparison to Allies that we even noticed the similarities. Yes, each triggers off of itself and another of its kind entering the battlefield, but Allies are restricted to a creature, whereas constellation is looking for enchantments—only some of which are creatures—which makes the mechanics play very differently.
Constellation is an ability word. All ability words officially don't anything, ruleswise. You could remove any ability word and the card would be just fine. As I said above, the reason for the ability word is not to make the card work, but to allow ease of recognition. Also, when a lot of cards that work the same all have the same word, it helps players more quickly recognize what the card does. "Oh, it works like those other cards. Got it."
We don't use subtypes unless they are mechanically relevant. That means there has to be at least one other card that references the subtype—something that doesn't happen with constellation.
The Theros block has numerous enchantment creature tokens as well as ways to get enchantments onto the battlefield in ways other than casting them. "Enters the battlefield" allows us to make those also count.
Whenever an enchantment you control enters the battlefield, whether or not it's enchanting someone else's permanent, you will still get the constellation reward. So, yes, Pacifism will work.
One of my jobs as head designer is gauging the design space of each of our new mechanics. How much space does it have and what future does it hold? Constellation is one of those mechanics that is much shallower than it looks. It requires effects that can happen multiple times, which is pretty limiting. I'm not going to say there isn't more design space than what Journey into Nyx used, but there's not a huge amount.
Sometimes, when you create one mechanic, it begets others. Landfall was definitely one of those times. Once we realized what we could do with landfall, it made us start to examine mechanics that cared about other card types and subtypes entering the battlefield.
The Zendikar block had a different structure. The third set in the block was Rise of the Eldrazi and it was a large set with a mechanical reboot. Theros block, on the other hand, was a traditional three-set large/small/small block. Journey into Nyx did not have the luxury of a fresh start, so we had to hold something back to allow ourselves to add a twist to the environment. Holding back enchantment-matters meant that the early sets in the block could mix and match the enchantment and nonenchantment components. Then, by adding the enchantment-matters theme in the third set, all of a sudden, we would be opening up an entire new style of deck to be drafted. Without making enchantments matter earlier in the block, there was no prior impetus to collect enchantments in a single deck in Limited. So why is it different than Zendikar? Because of the block structure and how we were using the mechanic in question in that structure.
If multiple enchantments enter at the same time, you get to set the order of the triggers. So yes, it works similar to Valakut.
I believe it would be much worse if the mechanics checked how many enchantments you controlled on the battlefield because, in that scenario, your enchantments aren't sitting with the rest of your cards and can be easy to forget. Constellation and bestow both require you to focus on them as they are being cast, which makes it a little harder to forget.
It's what we tend to do as a default. One of the main goals of mechanics is to reinforce the feel the set is trying to create. When the set has factions of any kind, the momentum is to give each faction a keyword, to have the design reinforce the structure. A war is essentially a two-faction design, so yes, barring reasons not to do it, we tend to give each side in a war its own mechanic.
Constellation was a bottoms-up designed mechanic (meaning, it started from a place of mechanics rather than flavor). We knew from the start that it was going to be tied to the Gods, flavorfully, but the crux of the design was a desire to make players care more about enchantments enabling enchantment-heavy decks.
Eidolon of Blossoms. I've always been a fan of enchantresses and I knew when we chose to give Theros a strong enchantment subtheme that I wanted to make an enchantment creature enchantress (I mean that more mechanically than I mean necessarily being a creature type Enchantress). Eidolon of Blossoms was actually the second card designed in the whole set (after Extinguish All Hope) and went into the file before we even officially decided to go with constellation as the gods' mechanic. I also feel like Eidolon of Blossoms is one of the constellation cards that most enables making an all—or nearly all—enchantment deck.
Bestow did a much better job of addressing the deficiency of Auras. Constellation helps some, but the fact that it triggers on enchantments entering the battlefield means that players can still hose constellation triggers (the non-bestow ones) by removing the creature being targeted with the Aura.
Magic has made almost 15,000 unique cards in the last twenty-plus years. That means we've done a lot of things. Part of finding a new mechanic isn't necessarily finding space we've never covered (although we do try to do some of that) but finding something that works within your set and/or block and then concentrating that mechanical aspect onto a higher number of cards. The mere act of creating it in volume along with a set that synergizes with it is enough to give old ideas new meaning and play value.
The goal for a third set in a continuous block, meaning one that doesn't have a mechanical break in the third set, à la Rise of the Eldrazi or Avacyn Restored, is to withhold something that players want that will provide a large enough twist. If the players don't want that thing, then it doesn't provide the buzz you need. What all this means is that if the players aren't complaining, you've done something wrong. So yes, it was worth it. In fact, on my blog I got yelled at quite extensively for not doing enchantment-matters in Theros or Born of the Gods, and I had to defend it in such a way as to not make players realize we were going to deliver it in the third set. It's much easier to see players upset when you know you're going to be delivering what they want later in the block.
We did talk about it, but we decided that the mechanic was cleaner without it. I do believe that, if constellation ever comes back, it is something we would look at, as it allows us to access a different power band of effects.
Star-Crossed Off The List
That's all the time I have for today. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with questions. I'm always pleased by how many questions I get when I ask for people to give me material for my mailbag articles. I hope you enjoyed this deeper look at the constellation mechanic. As always, I'm eager to hear your responses to my answers. You can write me email through the link below, respond in the thread to this column, or talk to me through any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).
Join me next week as I finish up my card-by-card stories of Journey into Nyx.
Until then, may you know the joy of wishing upon a star.
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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.