There are lots and lots of stories that happen during a set's design. Some of them fit into larger stories I want to tell, but many of them don't. Today's column is a smattering of those many small stories that might not find a home in any other column. I just looked through the Player's Guide and grabbed whatever stories came to my head. Here is some of what happened during Eventide design.
This cycle (Antler Skulkin, Fang Skulkin, Hoof Skulkin, Jawbone Skulkin and Shell Skulkin) each originally had two abilities. For this card, for instance, the other ability was "2: Target creature you control becomes white." The idea was that each ability was useful unto itself and they could combo to allow you to grant persist to any creature for more mana. The card was changed in development to A) simplify it and B) cut down on the color changing, which had gotten a little too high for Development's taste.
This card started as a white-blue card with the exact same stats, but costing (w/u) rather than (w/b). It came about because I was trying to find the simplest designs possible that used -1/-1 counters. Then it hit me, what about a vanilla creature (a.k.a. a creature with no rules text) that just came into play with a -1/-1 counter. Its stats would be +1/+1 from normal such that the card is exactly what you would normally get for its cost. I knew the -1/-1 counter would be interesting because there are other cards in the set that care. With some work on your part you could remove the counter and thus get a permanently bigger creature. Bloodied Ghost was one my attempts to make this simpler -1/-1 counter card. It was my favorite one, which explains why this is the card I chose to fight over.
The problem was that no one else saw the card that way. Everyone else saw the card with just a weird, unexplained drawback. The conversation went something like this:
Them: Players aren't going to like this card. Why would you want to have a -1/-1 counter on it?
Me: But we offset it. You're getting exactly what you pay for. Three mana for a 2/2 flier is perfectly fair. You'll run that in every Limited game you get it in.
Them: The card just has downside.
Me: No, you can get rid of the -1/-1 counter and then it's bigger. That's upside.
Them: They're not going to know that when they see the card.
Me: The entire set has a giant -1/-1 counter theme. They'll get it.
Them: What if it's the first card they see?
Me: Then they'll think it's odd and look at more cards. Scornful Egotist was a 1/1 creature for eight mana. They got past it.
Them: We don't think it should be in the set.
Me: Fine, I'll put it in Eventide.
Several months later:
Them: We need to pull this card.
Me: Why? The -1/-1 counter theme is well established. The card won't confuse them anymore.
Them: We don't think anyone is gong to like it.
Me: It's a 2/2 flier for three mana. It'll be liked plenty.
Them: Then let's just make a three-mana 2/2 flier.
Me: Part of my job is to preserve design space. One of the ways to do that is to design cards that can only go into a particular set. This card can only go here. It doesn't make any sense anywhere but here. So we should do it.
Them: Just because a card can be designed doesn't mean it should be printed.
Me: It should if it's a good card.
Them: Well, we don't think it's a good card.
Me: I think it is.
Them: Well, that's one vote for it.
Me: Lead designer of the set. Head designer of Magic.
Them: Okay, a strong one vote. We'll leave it in for the playtest.
I did everything in my power to keep this card in the set. I had arguments with countless different people. Then one day we had a playtest with some Wizards employees outside of R&D. One was Magic Online programmer Lee Sharpe. After playing, Lee wrote a little write-up that he sent off to the development team and myself. In it he said he liked Bloodied Ghost.
For those who might not have memorized the seating chart of The Pit, I sit across from Devin. I read Lee's email and immediately stood up and looked at Devin. "Read Lee's email," I said.
Devin read it and smiled. "Fine," he said, "someone else likes it. We'll keep it in."
I wanted to talk about this card because it brings up an interesting aspect of design I don't talk about a lot. Sometimes a design has to change not because it isn't working but because exterior factors require a change. Cenn's Enlistment is the perfect example. This card used to make a 2/2 token, but the set didn't currently have a 2/2 white token. The set did, however, have a white 1/1 Kithkin Soldier token. The art had already been commissioned for the tokens, so making this a 2/2 would require a last-minute commission. This is something we try to keep to an absolute minimum because of the strain it puts on our system. Matt Place (the set's lead developer) came to me and asked if it was okay to make this card produce two 1/1s instead of one 2/2. It would avoid the last-minute commission issue, and the card would be relatively close to the earlier version. I really liked the 2/2 token incarnation of the spell, but the change to two 1/1s wasn't big enough to invoke the last-minute commission, so the card was changed.
My point with this card is to stress that cards can change for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it has to do with the design itself, but sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes a card has to change because of other factors that are crucial to produce a game as complex (to produce, that is) as Magic.
One of the ten-card cycles in this block was casually referred to in design and development as the "trips." This was a cycle of uncommons with exactly three hybrid mana in their mana cost. The original plan was for the cycle to be French vanilla cards. (French vanilla is an R&D term for creatures with just evergreen creature keywords.) This idea was scrapped as soon as we realized that we had to make a blue-red card. As I explained in my column about revamping the keywords (Keyword Play), blue and red do not share any of the evergreen keywords. We looked at wither and persist, but neither worked. Design and development shied away from blue wither creatures and red persist creatures (yes, a few exist, but we wanted the trips to be strong in their overlap). Then it was decided that we would use keywords where we could but would also allow simple one-line abilities.
Another thing you need to know is that each designer has one or more pet favorite mechanics. There are just certain styles of cards that tickle each designer's design bone. I, for example, love cloning things. I love doubling things. I love counters. I love card engines. But among R&D, probably the thing I get most kidded about is my love of power/toughness swapping. I don't why I find it so fun, but I do, despite the cards never being all that good. So when I realized that swapping power/toughness was something that overlapped in blue-red, I was ecstatic. "We have to do some power/toughness swapping now," I said.
I think at one point there were four in the file, but development knocked it down to two. This card was one of those two and was a perfect fit for the trip.
One of the things I like to do occasionally as a designer is to create cards whose full function isn't completely apparent when you first read them. Creakwood Liege is one such card. I loved the idea that a player would read the card and go "Eh," and then a little later would say, "Wait, they're 3/3 tokens!"
My favorite story about this card is that every member of the design team turned it in during their first submissions. In fact, I'm sure if we had opened up red-white designs to the public we would have received many, many copies of this card. Some hybrid cards are great discoveries, and some are just pretty freakin' obvious.
I designed this card to fill some hole that popped up in development. The interesting tidbit is that my first version allowed you each upkeep to search your deck for a Plains and put it into play. The problem was that it required shuffling every turn. I knew that one of the Eventide developers, Erik Lauer, hates repeated shuffling, so I tweaked it to get all the Plains upfront reducing the shuffling to a one-time event. Interestingly, I liked this version better even though I would never have gotten there if I wasn't trying to appease Erik. (I haven't said "Restrictions breed creativity" in a few weeks—so there you go.)
This card was probably Mark Gottlieb's biggest headache in templating. The card started easy enough. I wanted to have a creature that not only got boosted by having Auras played on it but could also be reanimated if you enchanted it with an Aura. This is very easy to say on a design card. You get to say junk like, "You may return CARDNAME to play from the graveyard by playing an aura on it."
I should point out that I knew early on that this card was going to be a troublemaker. You can tell because I made the card type a wombat. This both made the card extra nostalgic, because the +2/+2 bonus comes from Rabid Wombat, and buttered up Gottlieb as he is a giant wombat fan. In fact, I think the conversation about the card when I first came up with it went like this:
Me: I want to make a card that can be reanimated if an Aura is played on it.
Gottlieb: Good luck with that.
Me: It's a wombat.
Gottlieb: I'll see what I can do.
In the end, Gottlieb and the templating team bent over backwards and found a way that actually works in the rules. Unfortunately, the card wasn't printed as a wombat.
Gift of the Deity
The black ability of this Aura was originally wither, but we found that the card didn't do exactly what we wanted. It felt like Lure + deathtouch but it didn't act like it. If, for example, I put it on Odious Trow (the one-drop black-green creature—yes, that's a cycle too) and my opponent blocked with all his or her creatures, I would distribute three -1/-1 counters between up to three creatures.
Be aware that due to wither being in the block, we made a conscious effort to not use deathtouch, as the two overlap a lot in feel. But the more we played with Gift of the Deity the more we realized that the card just wanted to grant deathtouch, so we made one exception to our rule and put it in. The lesson here is to never let your rules get in the way of the right design choice.
One of the joys of hybrid design is discovering a cool place that colors overlap. This card's mechanic was one such discovery. Blue gets to manipulate tokens. Green gets to double things. Check the Venn diagram and you get this little guy. The earliest version didn't have the untap symbol (just an old fashioned T), but I was searching for things for untap and this seemed like an ability that required an extra hoop. Also, I want to point out that this card proves that there is trick or treating in the world of Shadowmoor.
When Eventide design was handed over, all of the retrace spells were sorceries. Then during development, this card was created and by its very nature wanted to be an instant. To keep this from being the only instant with retrace, Oona's Grace was changed to an instant.
One of the perks of being lead designer on a set (and Head Designer in general) is that I get to fight for individual cards that I care about. Note that I cannot fight to keep everything but I do have the ability to focus on a small handful of cards that I want in and the development team wants out. I don't always win, but I have the ability to give the cards extra time to prove themselves. (See Bloodied Ghost above.) Hatchet Bully was another card I fought hard to protect.
The thing I loved about the card was that it used -1/-1 counters as a cost. I loved the idea that I'm willing to weaken my own guys in order to gain some other advantage. Plus, I knew that cards like this have very interesting interactions with the -1/-1 counter theme. Shadowmoor had a number of these kinds of cards when it was handed over from design, including Hatchet Bully. Almost all of them got purged from Shadowmoor in development's quest to streamline the -1/-1 counter theme. So I stuck a bunch in Eventide. Then in Eventide development I watched them fall by the wayside one by one. This was the card I spoke up for, as I really enjoyed the flavor and I thought the card played well. I'm quite happy that I stuck to my guns enough to convince Matt Place to keep it in the set.
This was one of the first chroma cards we made in the set. It was called Lava Boy, and it was one of the first design team favorites. In fact, I believe this is one of the cards that convinced us that most of the chroma cards should count mana symbols in play.
I loved this card from the first time it was submitted in design (by Ken Nagle, in case you were wondering). I knew that it would be disliked by some players but would be adored by the players it was meant for. This is Life Lesson #1: Judge your ideas by the people that care about them. A card has to make happy only the people it's designed to make happy. If other players don't like it, that's okay. It's not for them.
This card is the perfect example of a card with -1/-1 counters that could be done with +1/+1 counters. In a normal set it would be a 2/2 that comes into play with two +1/+1 counters on it if you'd already played a red spell. That said, the card is cooler-looking with a 4/4 in its lower right corner than a 2/2.
Power/toughness swapper number two!
For a while in design this card dealt damage to "target creature or player". In one playtest, Bill Rose (VP of R&D) dealt 16 damage to his opponent with this card, and I changed the card in the file right after.
Up until late in development this card was a larger version of Puncture Bolt. It cost 3R and it dealt 2 damage to target creature and put two -1/-1 counters on that creature. Both cards were handed off from Shadowmoor design. The development team decided to just use Puncture Bolt so I Put Puncture Blast in Eventide. So what happened? Shadowmoor got templated. What this meant was that wither got its official text. When this happened, the templating team realized that their wording would allow wither to go on damage dealing spells as well as creatures. Once Aaron heard this, he came to Matt and said, "What direct damage spell in Eventide can gain wither?"
The answer was, of course, this card. The change came late enough though that the name was already locked in and Doug Beyer didn't feel it was worth causing major disruption to change it.
I loved the idea of removing -1/-1 counters as a cost. It feels like you're cheating, as the cost is as much a benefit as the effect. We can't make too many of these kinds of cards, but I'll make them whenever I can. P.S. Play it with Bloodied Ghost. Tee hee!
When Eventide design was handed over, there were some chroma spells that either counted all colored mana symbols or allowed you to pick what mana symbol you wanted to count. These cards caused confusion, so it was decided that chroma cards would only count their own color. This in turn caused a problem for the original version of Sanity Grinding, because it "milled" (put into graveyard from top of library) the opponent's library and then counted mana symbols on the revealed cards. Having a card that only worked if the opponent was playing blue seemed a bit narrow, so Matt came to me for a redesign. I liked the idea of counting mana symbols on cards in the library but obviously had to make it the player's library, as that was the only way to count on seeing blue mana symbols. Because the art for the card had already been commissioned (meaning the artist was busy painting it), I kept the milling effect but took it in a different direction.
This card originally had shroud, but that didn't allow its Aura (Favor of the Overbeing) to be played on it—a big no-no, as that's part of the fun of the one-drop hybrid creature. So we changed it to what R&D affectionately refers to as "troll-shroud."
Two, baby, two! This won't make any sense until you read the card below.
I've talked before about how I felt strongly that Lorwyn should have a Goat in it because of the card Goatnapper. I thought an important part of the joke was that there was one and exactly one Goat in the set. This would lead players to scratch their heads why we would make a card that can steal one card in the set before they figure out the whole "thirteen Goats with changeling" thing.
I lost that fight, but I didn't give up trying to get a Goat in Lorwyn block. All right, I lost that fight too, but I was still holding out for a Goat somewhere in the Lorwyn / Shadowmoor year. The world clearly had goats. Maybe Shadowmoor would have dark goats. Okay, I didn't get any goats into Shadowmoor, but I had one last chance. I was the lead designer for Eventide after all. So I made Springjack Shepherd and had it make Goats. I then put a note in Multiverse that said, "Please leave this goats. Please. Please. Please."
I'm not sure what happened, but I like to believe I wore down the anti-Goat contingent. It's equally likely that no one was paying attention, but I'll take my victories where I can get them. Woo hoo Goats!
This card belongs in Time Spiral. That's all I'm saying.
This card brought up a heated argument between Devin and myself. The question was whether or not white, as part of its color pie, can regenerate creatures. I feel that clearly it can. Devin, on the other hand, feels that white is the color that can regenerate anything but creatures. He finally gave in on this card, but I know the fight will resurface if we ever make a mono-white card that regenerates creatures.
This cycle (Belligerent Hatchling, Noxious Hatchling, Shrewd Hatchling, Sturdy Hatchling, and Voracious hatchling) was actually created in Shadowmoor design, but there were a few too many cycles (hard to believe, I know) and development needed to kill something. I suggested moving this cycle off to Eventide because I felt like it was an evolution of -1/-1 counters and would feel more natural in the second set.
The Eventide Has Turned
That's all the stories I have for today. Join me next week when, well... Let's just say you're going to have to see it for yourself.
Until then, may you let the little stories have their day.