Making_Magic

How Eventide's new mechanics came to be.

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The letter H!ello and welcome to Week 2 of Eventide Previews. Today I'm going to talk about how the two new mechanics in the set were designed and I'll even show off a card in the set for each (although be forewarned, one of the cards might not feel all that new). But before I do that I have to do something that my right and left brain didn't feel like doing last week—I have to introduce the Eventide design team.

Before I begin that, let me set the stage for how this team began. Originally, I wasn't going to be the lead designer for Eventide. I was leading Shadowmoor and plans were that another member of R&D was going to lead the set, which I was happy about because Shadowmoor while being a large set ended up being designed in slightly less time than is normally allotted for a big set. Plus, this was our first four-set block (or our first back-to-back two mini-blocks in a single year—however you want to look at it) and I was a little fried, so I was happy to give the reins to someone else. I was planning to be on the team (gotta keep my streak alive), but there's a lot less pressure when you're just contributing than when you're running the show.

But things happened, as they always do, and Eventide was left without a lead designer, which meant that I had to do what the Head Designer does in a situation such as this: step up and lead the set. This meant that I ended Shadowmoor design on a Friday and started Eventide design the next Monday. My design team, though, was completely different:

Alexis Janson Alexis Janson – Two years back, we ran our version of a reality show where we allowed readers to compete for the right to win a Magic design internship in R&D. We called the event The Great Designer Search (or GDS for short). If you haven't had a chance to read it, and you're interested in Magic design, I strongly urge you to read it although I should warn you it was long. Really, really long. No, longer than that. Even longer. Keep going. More. Look, the first week's entry had more words than all of the other articles that week combined. That said, I don't think there's been a single thing on magcithegathering.com that has given better insight into Magic design. Anyway, Alexis won that. Eventide was the first design team started during her internship, so of course, she was on it. Alexis didn't win by a fluke. She is a very strong designer and I knew she'd be an asset to the team. (For example, she designed one of the mechanics I'm going to talk about today.) Alexis has absorbed as much about Magic design as I have ever seen in one person (okay, other than me, but I have the advantage that I was actually doing the designs). I find her analysis to be very intriguing, and I was excited to see what she could do.

Ken Nagle Ken Nagle – Ken came in second in the GDS, and we gave him an internship as well. (Third-place finisher Graeme Hopkins also got an internship, but in the digital games department.) Wanting to give Ken a chance to show what he could do, I also put him on the team. At the end of the six months, by the way, Ken ended up getting an Associate Designer position. (Alexis meanwhile got a position in the digital games department, but she is still heavily involved in Magic design and development, serving on numerous teams.) During the GDS, I had tagged Ken as the designer that I felt had the most raw potential. The big question was: would he live up to the potential I saw? Not to blow any suspense, but the answer was yes. Ken has a very unique take on Magic design and I find it very refreshing to talk with someone who approaches things from such a different vantage point from mine. Anyway, Ken was design intern number two, so he also got a slot.

Jake Theis Jake Theis – For many years Jake was a member of the Magic brand team. Then he transitioned over to R&D and oversaw the Creative Team and the Magic Web Team (Jake has since left the company and the two teams are now overseen by Brady Dommermuth and Scott Johns, respectively). Jake had done a lot of design for new business and was interested in giving Magic design a try, so I had my fourth team member.

Let me interject to point out that so far my team, excluding myself, had no people who had ever been on a Magic design team before, which led me to my fifth and final addition to the team.

Brian Tinsman Brian Tinsman – Brian had taken a hiatus and had just returned when I asked him to join the team. Brian hadn't been on a Magic design team for almost two years (he was the lead designer of Time Spiral), but I felt strongly that the team could benefit from having someone else who had actually been on a design team before, plus Brian and I work very well together. Brian is one of the most enthusiastic designers I have ever worked with, and he is willing to throw himself into design challenges. Never afraid to take a less obvious path, Brian loves to explore new ground and often finds areas of designs I don't think I'd stumble upon in a hundred years.

I had my team. They were raw but itching to design, and I have to say they did an excellent job. The amount of creativity that poured out through Eventide's design was staggering. Everyone was so excited to be working on a Magic design team and that pure excitement carried throughout all of the design. I'm quite proud of what the team was able to accomplish.

It's a Symbol

That brings us to the two new mechanics of Eventide: chroma and retrace. I'm going to start with chroma. Any guesses as to who designed it? Alexis? No. Ken? No. Brian? No. Jake? No. Me? No. Yes, this mechanic was created before the Eventide design team existed. This mechanic was the brainchild of Aaron Forsythe. Not director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe though. Not head developer Aaron Forsythe. Not designer Aaron Forsythe. Not even R&D member Aaron Forsythe. No, chroma dates back to editor of magicthegathering.com Aaron Forsythe. He designed it on his very first design team, Fifth Dawn.

For those who might not remember, Fifth Dawn was the last set in Mirrodin block, and it had a strange twist for an artifact block: it cared about color. The sunburst mechanic, for example, rewarded you for playing the spell using as many different colors of mana as you could.

Much of the early part of Fifth Dawn design was run through email because one of the team members didn't work at Wizards, or even live in the state of Washington. (Check out this column if you don't know why; quick update, Greg now works in R&D although not directly on Magic.) One day, Aaron sends out an email with a bunch of random cards. Among them is this little gem:

Little White Butterflies
2WW
Sorcery
Reveal your hand. Then put a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying into play for each white mana symbol in the mana costs of the cards in your hand.

I really liked it so I put it into the file. As anyone who's looked at the Un-sets know, I love finding ways to make new things on the card relevant. While we've had numerous spells that have cared about converted mana cost or mana cost, we hadn't had any cards yet that cared about how many colored mana symbols you have. I was smitten. Well, as smitten as one can be with an intangible concept.

This led Aaron to create another card:

Undead Bean-Counter
1BB
Creature - Zombie
CARDNAME has power and toughness equal to the number of black mana symbols in the mana costs of all cards in your graveyard.
*/*

I liked this card as well, so much so that I realized that I might have to take Little White Butterflies out of the set. Why? Because it was good. Too good. Aaron had stumbled upon an idea that was too rich for just one or two cards. The mechanic deserved to be more fleshed out. Fifth Dawn wasn't really the place for it either because it was a set filled with artifacts. You know, cards without any colored mana symbols. So the Butterflies were let free. If they came back.... Who am I kidding? I locked the idea up in a cage deep in the recesses of my mind. One day its time would come.

I wasn't on any of the design teams for Kamigawa block so it wasn't until Ravnica that I had a chance to try and find a home for it. Ravnica was a gold block filled with lots of colored mana symbols. The problem was it was an overarching mechanic that cared about colored mana in costs. That meant it was fighting for space with hybrid. Guess who won that one?

Then came Time Spiral block. It was all about nostalgia (no good) and time (no good). The last set, Future Sight, had a glimmer of hope. In it we were previewing mechanics from the future. Chroma was one I knew we were going to do. Thus was born the very first chroma card:

I wanted to show this card because it had a huge influence on the chroma preview card I'm going to show you today. If you're curious to see the first Eventide preview card (of my column and yes, there's one more coming), click here.

This is why I got two preview cards. The other one is a brand spanking new card you've never seen.

When hybrid was drastically reduced in Ravnica, I had planned to bring back hybrid as a major focus of a block. I knew it was a mechanic capable of carrying a lot of design weight. I always knew that a hybrid block was going to need mechanics that played into the things that make hybrid unique. One of those things is that hybrid mana costs had two different mana symbols in them even if only one was ever used by a deck. In addition, hybrid by its nature forces more colored mana symbols into the block, making Shadowmoor block the perfect home for chroma. In fact, chroma was included in early Shadowmoor design. At some point in the middle of design I had to figure out what we wanted to save for Eventide, and chroma felt like it was something that could add a twist in the small set.

Shielding_Plax This meant that the very first day I sat down with the Eventide design team, chroma was already slotted for the set. This didn't mean it was definitely going to stay in but it had the luxury of needing the design team to explain why not to use it. Now remember that chroma is a weird mechanic in that it is only a method by which to determine a number. Where you choose to apply it or what you do with that number once you get it is pretty open space. This meant that while the team didn't come up with the mechanic, they had a lot of flexibility to determine what it would do.

We started with only one given: if we were going to use chroma, we were most likely going to reprint Phosphorescent Feast. This led us down the path that different colors would count mana symbols in different areas of the game. After some exploring we found three areas that made sense: in play, in hand, and in the graveyard. We decided to divvy up the zones between the five colors. We gave green the hand because of Phosphorescent Feast and because it has had a few high-profile cards that count things in the hand (mainly cards in hand—cough, Maro, cough). The second color we chose for the hand was blue because it felt the most natural to be hand focused. Black was assigned the graveyard as no other color made sense (okay, green might have but we felt locked into the hand). This left white and red to care about mana symbols in play.

With this division in mind we began playtesting the cards, and you know what happened? The white and red ones were the most fun to play. Why? Because counting mana symbols in play rewards playing cards and players like to play cards, plus it tended to generate the largest numbers. In the end, we shifted most of chroma to counting in play. I say most because a few cards that care about other zones did manage to make it all the way through.

I'm very happy with what we were able to do with chroma. These are definitely cards that you will have to play to get a sense of. For those that might not keep up with all the cards previewed on this site, you can click below to see the chroma cards that are already public knowledge. Please skip this if you don't want to see any Eventide cards. Click here.

As you can see, we're doing a lot of fun stuff with chroma. I really feel the team did an excellent job of finding the right space for the mechanic. I hope the delay since Fifth Dawn design will be worth the wait (and by wait I mean mine, not yours, as you all just found about this mechanic last week—check out the Planeswalker's Primer video on chroma if you haven't yet).

Once More With Feeling

The second new mechanic is called retrace. Going into the design, I knew I was interested in chroma, but I had no other mechanic in mind, so I decided to throw it out to the team. What I asked of them was this: design a mechanic that made some sense being in Eventide. Other than that I had no guidelines. The earliest version of retrace showed up in an email from Alexis. Entitled "Doughnut Mechanic Ideas," the email contained seven different mechanic ideas Alexis had brainstormed. One of them was the following card:

Scattering Rays
1R
Instant
Divergence - Red (All red spells you play this turn are copies of this card.)
CARDNAME deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

Fork The idea behind the earliest version was that it transformed all colored spells played after it into a copy of it. Of all the mechanics sent in, this was the one that most intrigued me. The thing I liked about it was that it allowed you to transform other cards in your deck into the cards that had it. Also, the color theme seemed to play nicely into the block's "color matters" theme. My dislikes were twofold. First, I didn't like that the later spells were forced into being copies. I wanted the choice to be optional for the player. Second, I felt the mechanic as Alexis had presented it wasn't strong enough. Trying to keep it balanced I felt she had played it a little too safe.

A quick aside before I show you what I did: I firmly believe that any art must have a vision. The lead designer for a set is the one responsible for that vision. That means when I run a team that I feel free to adapt what is given to me by my team. I liked the essence of what Alexis had turned in, but I felt free to tweak it towards what I believed was needed. This is not done with any disrespect to the individual designers, but rather as part of the collaborative efforts of any design.

That said, here's the card I put in the file:

Divergence Bolt
RR
Sorcery
Divergence (While CARDNAME is in your graveyard, you play any red card in your hand as a copy of this card.)
CARDNAME deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

I made the following changes:

  • I changed the name because I wanted it to be very clear for playtesting when a divergence (retrace's design name) spell was being played. All the retrace spells had "divergence" in their names.
  • I changed the cost from 1R to RR. Other changes strengthened the card so I felt requiring more colored mana would both help balance it.
  • I changed the spell from an instant to a sorcery. This mechanic had the ability to get complicated so I wanted to keep things as simple as possible. (Up until development, all the retrace spells were sorceries.)
  • The mechanic now worked while in your graveyard rather than the turn it was played.
  • The mechanic made the copying optional.

I felt these changes cut to the essence of what made Alexis's mechanic so cool. It allows you to change the functionality of other cards. Essentially it turned every card of the appropriate color in your deck into a split card.

The next change was one to bring down the power slightly:

Divergence Poke
R
Sorcery
Divergence (While CARDNAME is in your graveyard, you play any red card in your hand as a copy of this card.)
CARDNAME deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

The spell went from being 2 damage for two mana to 1 damage for one mana. This change came from us playing with the card. Retrace (especially on a creature kill card) was quite potent. The name change was an in-joke that goes back to Tempest. Searing Touch was originally called Poke, and we were told we'd have to change the name because it was too suggestive. As a tribute to this incident, I often name red 1 damage spells as Poke (or at least including the word Poke) in design.

The team played with retrace and all in all we were pretty happy with it. That is, until devign. (Devign is the period in between design and development where the development team starts giving feedback that the design team can address before handoff of the file.) The development team didn't like it. They felt it created too repetitive of a game state. Every card ended up being the same thing. Then one day, Erik Lauer had an interesting suggestion.

What if it allowed you to turn land into copies of the spell? This way the game would still have variety because all the actual spells would work as printed. I'll be honest that I had mixed feelings about the change. First, moving it away from colored spells made the mechanic much less connected to the rest of the set. Second, I had liked how retrace played. But part of devign is taking in the feedback of the development team, so we tried it. And it played amazingly. Thus, the card changed to:

Divergence Poke
R
Sorcery
Divergence (While CARDNAME is in your graveyard, you play any land card in your hand as a copy of this card.)
CARDNAME deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

The last big change to the mechanic didn't happen until templating. For reasons I won't go into, mostly because I don't begin to understand them (I've avoided templating for thirteen years, so no reason to stop now), it was easier to allow the spell with retrace to be played out of your graveyard by discarding a land as part of its cost than it was to turn the land into a copy of it. Which is how we ended up with this card (don't click if you're avoiding Eventide):

Pretty cool card? Yeah, but that isn't the preview card. We previewed it last week. Today's preview card isn't a simple common with retrace. No, it's my favorite retrace card with an effect that pretty much made it have to be rare. If you have the chance to draft this, do. It's lots of fun in Limited. (And Constructed too. I'm not saying it's necessarily tournament quality, because I don't bother to know stuff like that, but it might be.)

Without further ado, I present my preview card of the day. Click here.

Now that is my kind of card. I hope you all enjoy it as much I did making it.

Anyway, that's all I have to say about retrace. I believe Alexis's peanut butter crossed with Erik's chocolate has produced something quite peanut butter cup-y.

Eventide and Time to Go

I've yammered for almost 3500 words so I think it's time for me to call it a day. I hope all of you venture out to the Prerelease this weekend and have fun. I'm quite proud of Eventide, and I look forwarding to see what you all have to say about it.

Join me next week when I'll have more to say about it.

Until then, may your tokens be plentiful.

Mark Rosewater


The Eventide street release and Launch Parties kick off on July 25, but you don’t have to wait. Get your first chance to play with Eventide cards at the Prerelease on July 12 and 13!

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