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Stories of the creation of legends

Three of Kamigawa’s Champions

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The expression says it all…

The letter T!his week, for a bit of lighter fare, I'll be looking at the development of a few of the more unique legendary creatures from the Champions of Kamigawa set. Making a set full of legends presented a few unique problems, most of which revolved around perceived power level of individual cards. We didn't want to make lame-feeling legends like Chandler and Daughter of Autumn from Homelands, or Tobias Andrion and Sivitri Scarzam from Legends, but we didn't want to have to make all the legends in the set powerful just by undercosting them.

Each legend needed to have something unique and cool about him or her—something that felt important and special. For a few, like Isamaru and Kodama of the North Tree, that specialness is evident mostly in how cheap their mana costs are compared to other creatures of their size. But you can only use that trick a few times, so for most of the others we wanted to come up with interesting abilities that we could cost more or less normally, yet would still feel amazing. Here are the stories of three such cards.

Godo, Bandit Warlord

Godo is the result of two divergent threads combining, as evidenced by his two abilities. The first ability springs from trying to make the “legend” theme of the set exist at commonalities other than rare in the set, and the second results from the desire to enable Samurai decks right away.

We'll start with the second ability first. The very first iteration of Godo in the design file is actually a white card:

Anayama, Samurai Princess
3WW
Legendary Creature – Samurai
3/3
Bushido 1
After your attack step, untap all samurai you control. You get an additional attack step in which only samurai can attack.

The purpose is clear—give samurai some leaders so that a theoretical “samurai deck” would have some direction. Lead designer Brian Tinsman actually wanted to hold off on doing cards like this until Betrayers (the next expansion) because he felt you'd have enough different samurai at that point for the ability to matter, but Magic Lead Developer Randy Buehler argued that some number of “lords” were important to have right at the introduction of a new race or class.

Meanwhile, Brady Dommermuth and the rest of the creative team was fleshing out the roster of important characters in the world of Kamigawa, and they came up with a renegade bandit warlord named Godo Mifune. Godo led a bad of Ronin in the story, and Randy felt that Anayama's extra attack ability made more sense on a card representing Godo, since Godo led samurai on raids. So Anayama had an operation and became male, changed her name to “Mifune, Bandit Warlord,” switched to red, became a Barbarian, and lost bushido. But s/he did gain an interesting second ability.

When Champions was in the phase we call “devign” (halfway between design and development), Randy was concerned that it would be difficult to convey a “legend” theme throughout the set if most of the legends were rare. How many would the average player even see? One solution was to make a few legends uncommon. Another was to make sure many of the commons and uncommons refer to specific legends one way or another. These efforts are evident on cards like Hisoka's Guard, which mentions a legend in its name; Humble Budoka, which references a legend in its flavor text; and Pious Kitsune, which mentions a legend in its rules text.

Tenza, Godo's Maul (originally called “Mifune's Spiked Log”) was designed to fit into this category. It was an uncommon equipment that referred to a legend in its name, plus referred to legendary creatures in general in its rules text. If you opened a Maul in your booster pack, you'd at least get a hint that legends were a part of the set.

Now that Godo had a weapon of his very own, it made sense from a flavor standpoint that when you summoned him, he came with the Maul. So his was given the following ability: “When CARDNAME comes into play, you may search you library for a card named Mifune's Spiked Log and put it into play. If you do, shuffle your library.”

Of course, where necessary, function trumps flavor. The development team realized that Godo searching for just his Maul—while neat the first couple of times—would get old pretty fast. Combos in Magic are fun when you get to come up with them yourself, not when you're told by the cards themselves what you are supposed to do. Granted, some of the latter is fine once in a while, such as the Mirrodin block's Kaldra cycle or the aforementioned Pious Kitsune, but it is generally better for us to make the cards more open-ended. So Godo's ability was changed to let him search for any equipment (and his mana cost went up by one as well). If you want to use him to get his Maul, feel free. But if you'd like, he can get Lightning Greaves or Tatsumasa instead.

The last change to the card had to do with who could attack when his second ability triggered. At first, he only untapped samurai (not himself), and only samurai could attack in the extra phase. Then he was changed to untap himself as well, and he could join the samurai on raid #2. The problem was that ability was too long and couldn't fit on a card. The solution was to take away the limitation on which creatures could attack in the second attack phase. Since Godo only untaps himself and samurai, most likely just those creatures will benefit from his ability. But if you have a creature with vigilance, like Serra Angel, she can be an unexpected beneficiary of Godo's generosity!

Masako the Humorless

If you follow Mark Rosewater's “Making Magic” column, you've heard of Greg Marques from "Dawn of a New Day". Greg was the fourth member of the Fifth Dawn design team (with Mark, Randy, and I), which is remarkable because he is not a Wizards employee. As with most designers, Greg contributed not only to the set he was working on, but future sets as well (even though he didn't know that at the time). For instance, the Unhinged card “__________” was one of Greg's ideas.

Masako the Humorless was another. Greg submitted a card for Fifth Dawn called something like “Eyes in the Back of My Head,” which was an enchantment that let tapped creatures block. Although we didn't end up using the card there, I filed the ability away since I thought it had some splash.

As Champions development was going on, Brian Schneider put out the call for “holes,” meaning a request for people to design new cards to fill in for cards that were kicked out of the set. One of the cards he was looking for was a simple white legend, and I thought this would be a great time to dust off Greg's idea. I submitted a white 3/3 that let your tapped creatures block.

Development made the creature a three mana 2/1 (to distance it from Reveille Squad, a white 3/3 that untaps your creatures), and also came up with the master stroke: What if this creature could be played as an instant? Perfect! Now not only did she have a wacky ability, but she was a great trick as well.

There was some discussion internally about whether or not her ability was actually cool. Isn't it just like giving all your creatures vigilance? Isn't it just like untapping all your creatures? While those statements are true to a point, somehow Masako is just cooler than that. She's worded in such a way that it looks like she's breaking the rules, which is exactly what we were looking for in the legends in this set.

Myojin of Seeing Winds

Wow, were the myojin some tough nuts to crack.

Early on, creative and design decided the spirit world needed five “gods,” which would be creatures of immense power that were very hard to kill. Sound easy? It wasn't.

First, how do we show that something has god-like unkillability? The first crack was an ability called Immortality.

Immortality (0: Put CARDNAME on top of its owner's library.)

That was a little crazy, as nothing short of a counterspell could get rid of the card for good. Another attempt was tried:

Immortality (When CARDNAME is put into the graveyard from anywhere, discard a card and then put CARDNAME into your hand.)

With this version, the myojin forced itself back into your hand whenever it hit the graveyard. If it was killed or countered, you had to discard a card and get it back. Even if it was milled off your deck, you had to discard a card and get it back. The gods are not to be denied! Of course, it was unclear what happened if you had no cards to discard, and it was frustrating to have to keep getting the card back if you had no intention of playing it (if your opponent was using Nezumi Shortfang on you in the early game, for instance, you could never effectively discard the myojin).

We slowly came to the realization that we were trying to reinvent the wheel. We had just used indestructible in the previous block, and now we were trying to come up with another ability that did the same thing. What was so bad about reusing a mechanic this soon? Yes, it would throw players for a loop, but if it was the perfect fit, we shouldn't not do it just based on past precedent.

For a while in development, the five myojin all just had normal indestructibility, plus crazy abilities. Of course, when you make expensive creatures this good, they invariably start showing up in reanimator-style decks. Decks that could reliable play Zombify on a discarded myojin were proving really problematic in the FFL, so some sort of anti-reanimation clause was needed. The final solution was what ended up on the cards. Each one is indestructible if you played it from your hand, and can trade in his indestructibility to cast some massive spell. (The removal of the counter to generate a big effect was partially derived from Fallen Empires' Icatian Javelineers, of all things.) Of course, figuring out what that “massive spell effect” should be was another puzzle altogether.

If the legends in Kamigawa all needed splashy abilities, the myojin needed to be the splashiest of the splashy. Of course, when you want to make cards with abilities that insane, you run into problems. I'll run through the various abilities we tried on the blue myojin, and the problems each faced.

1) Flying; 5UUU, T: Choose a number. Draw that many cards.

Splashy, sure. But the other myojin had static abilities instead of activated ones at this point, so we changed the blue one to have a static ability as well.

2) You may play cards in your removed from game zone as if they were in your hand.

Craziness abounds! As if that wasn't enough, it was changed to include sideboard cards.

3) You may play cards from outside the game as if they were in your hand.

Once this version was in play, you could play any card from your sideboard. One big complaint with this ability was that the Wishes from Judgment went “infinite” since they went back to the removed from game zone when you cast them. Now that I think about it though, what exactly would I be wishing for? I can already play all the cards that I would wish for as though they were in my hand. Funny how we out-think ourselves sometimes. Regardless, the ability was far too powerful (remember, these could be successfully reanimated at this point).

4) Each turn, you may play a card from outside the game as if it was in your hand.

This is the toned-down version, and we were actually quite happy with it. Of course, once the divinity counters entered the discussion, we had to come up with a new twist.

5) Remove a god counter from CARDNAME: You may play a card from outside the game without paying its mana cost.

While this ability may seem cool, it actually didn't play very well. Once the myojin hit the table, the game was over, since you could effectively “wish” for the most obscene expensive card imaginable to wreck your opponent. Against some decks, Darksteel Colossus would come out. Against others, Obliterate. To quote Paul Barclay from the multiverse notes, “An indestructible 'win the game' card just isn't that interesting.”

6) Remove a divinity counter from CARDNAME: Search target opponent's library for a nonland card. You may play that card without paying its mana cost. Then that player shuffles his or her library.

Developer Worth Wollpert came up with this Grinning Totem variant. It was wacky, it was powerful, it was fun. In short, we liked it and were going to use it. In not-so-short, the rules text wouldn't fit on a card. Curses! Foiled again! With all the extra rules baggage about playing from hand and removing a counter, the myojin's abilities actually couldn't be very long. In the end we settled for:

Last Week's Poll:

What were you expecting to happen in Standard with regards to bannings?
No bannings. 5732 45.4%
Ban just Disciple or just Ravager. 3552 28.2%
Ban artifact lands. 1577 12.5%
Other. 672 5.3%
Ban multiple spells from Ravager Affinity. 601 4.8%
Ban multiple Affinity cards plus cards from other decks. 478 3.8%
Total 12612 100.0%

This Week's Poll:

 Which Player Rewards cards do you like better?  
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