alutations! Today you will learn what it's like to be thrown down into the fiery chasm known as the Morningtide
design team. Since I seldom get face time with you to share my experiences inside Magic
R&D despite my meticulous notes and photogenic memory, I have voluminous stories to tell, so let's dive right in.
If you need a primer on what's up with Morningtide and its big sister Lorwyn, there's required reading here, here, and here by Mark Rosewater, my boss and former writer for the TV sitcom "Roseanne."
The Infamous Black Hole
|As an aside, I want to everyone to know how indescribably terrible it is to be spoiled of the next 1000XX Magic cards all at once. Imagine your favorite movie series (say the Matrix Trilogy or the Star Wars Prequels), then due to your raw passion you're hired to do some tiny creative aspect of it, like build a model spaceship. To do your job right, you have to read the script, which spoils everything you were incredibly hyped to see. Your experience is wasted as there's no movie, no dialogue, no landscapes, no sound effects, no soundtrack, not even a movie theater to sit in, just words on a page. That's how I felt when I was forced to begin treating Magic cards like database entries instead of lush, illustrated game pieces that evoked endless hours of entertainment. I never appreciated the Magic Brand department more in my life than at that moment.
The very first thing you fall into once inside Magic
R&D is the "Black Hole" of Magic
expansions composing the year-long delay between the inside and outside worlds. Imagine having to swallowing the entire contents of Planar Chaos
, Future Sight
, and Lorwyn
effectively overnight. Sure, I can read a spoiler list that large, peruse it, glean it, and even study it, but there's no way I could possibly digest
it in time for my first design meeting for Morningtide
I have a large collection of 33+ decks that carry with me to Magic venues. I believe I've built and played every interesting Magic deck there is, but these are the ones that still survive in my collection, having stood the test of time. In preparation for Morningtide, I walked into my first ever Magic design meeting with these nine boxed up, sixty card, foil-enriched, shuffled-up-and-ready-to-play tribal decks:
Mono-Green Elves featuring Priest of Titania
A tap-happy Elf deck with Priest of Titania, Quirion Ranger, Wellwisher, Timberwatch Elf. Recently updated with Thousand-Year Elixir!
Mono-Green Druids featuring Seton, Krosan Protector
Lots of Druids from Odyssey block alongside Hermit Druid, Gurzigost, and Muscle Burst. You might have dueled this deck if you gunslinged with an R&D member at Worlds 2007 in New York.
Mono-Green Snakes featuring Seshiro, Sosuke, and Sachi
Kamigawa's Snake tribe alongside Fecundity and Blasting Station combos.
White-red Rebels featuring Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
The infamous Rebels supported by Æther Vial, Empyrial Plate, Lightning Helix, Orim's Thunder, and Boros Garrison.
Blue-black Cephalid Combat featuring Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor
This is a 70-card Odyssey Block-legal Cephalid deck that mills itself for a Mortal Combat win. This is another deck you might have gunslinged against at Worlds 2007.
Mono-Red Dragons featuring Kilnmouth Dragon
A Dragon deck that uses artifact mana acceleration such as Mind Stone and Thran Dynamo into Kilnmouth Dragon, Imperial Hellkite, and Urza's Rage.
Green-red Walls featuring Wall of Mulch
A hilarious Wall deck that kills with Kyren Negotiations plus Hidgetsugu's Second Rite.
Five-Color Slivers featuring Sliver Queen and Living Wish
A powerful, expensive mana base supporting a Sliver core and a wishboard of every Sliver ever printed (except changelings, they weren't printed yet :P).
Blue-Black Wizards featuring Patron Wizard
An annoying Wizard deck that locks the board with counters, bounce, and Night of Souls' Betrayal, killing with Jushi Apprentice or Circu, Dimir Lobotomist.
Blue-Black Ninjas featuring Higure, the Still Wind
Exactly what you might expect, plus some Peel from Reality tricks.
I find each of these decks irresistibly lovable. I showed them to the rest of the team and specifically cited how, despite all of them being tribal creature-based, they each had different gameplay from one another, they each had a Lord to call their very own, and most importantly, they were fun. When a card was too weak, too powerful, or simply unfun, I changed the deck until it was fun again. I believe years of doing this eventually led to my first Magic
design meeting. I had spent years and years playing for fun, deckbuilding for fun, and experiencing fun that through osmosis I had learned how to engineer that same fun in the form of designing a Magic
By the end of the meeting, both Alexis Janson and I were brought up to speed on design's proposed class breakdown for Morningtide:
Fighters (Soldiers, Warriors, and Knights)
"Thieves" (Rogues, Assassins, and Archers)
Mages (Shamans, Wizards, Clerics, and Druids)
Yes, that's a Dungeons & Dragons-esque class hierarchy broken down by Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence. And yes, the proposed class lords looked something like:
Creature – Kithkin Knight
Fighters you control get +1/+1. (Fighters include Soldiers, Warriors, and Knights.)
And no, this rank-10-on-the-Mark-Rosewater-#@%$#!^-Insanity-Scale approach to class-matters didn't last very long with the rest of Magic R&D.
From the googolplex possible permutations among the ten classes above, Creative's preferences, players' expectations, gameplay diversity, color distribution, and the 8 tribes / 281 cards blueprint Lorwyn had settled on, lead designer and number cruncher Paul Sottosanti settled on supporting Wizards, Warriors, Soldiers, Shamans, and Rogues with Morningtide's 150 card slots.
Our next assignment called for overarching themes for "What does a Wizard / Warrior / Soldier / Shaman / Rogue DO?" To me, this question was paramount—I felt it was very important for each class to do something well. That's what we in R&D call a mechanical identity.
Rogues had both huge flavor and untapped potential. My ideas for Rogues involved crippling the opponent slowly to the point that none of their cards work, stealing things to use them against the opponent, and a "Backstab" idea that eventually became my first ever mechanic.
There are only three previous Warrior-matters cards: Lovisa Coldeyes
, Boldwyr Intimidator
, and Sosuke, Son of Seshiro
. All of them point to Warriors being superb combat creatures. However, I usually think of a Warrior as a "one-person army," the good guy who is so determined and powerful that he or she single-handedly runs over all the bad guys, then utters a lame one-liner before slaying the final boss.
In a game were every other tribe scales up for having more creatures of its kind in play, both Erik Lauer and I were interested in exploring a "one-person army" theme where controlling just one Warrior was the right strategy. The challenge would be making your other Warrior cards relevant from your hand, library, or graveyard.
Shamans are a spellcasting tribe, with the largest mechanical tie being direct damage abilities in red. Any kind of utility green creature that doesn't produce mana or mess with lands is likely a Shaman, too. I wanted to try a 'big spell' theme for Shamans or some kind of flashback-like spell-reusability mechanic.
Back in Onslaught
, Soldiers were apparently the "combat trick" tribe. My brainstorms for Soldiers included an Equipment theme and a mechanic I called "soldierjutsu" that works like ninjutsu for blocking. Having experience with my own tribal Wall deck, I have first-hand appreciation for the novelty and fun of hilariously good blockers that frustrate opponents.
Wizards were the other revisited tribe from Onslaught
. Traditionally, the mechanical identity of Wizards is simply whatever the color blue does that doesn't involve smashing face with a huge flyer. I will admit that Wizards were at the bottom of my design list because, surprise
, I don't like them at all!
When all the brainstorms were presented, Rogues proved to be the team's favorite class, receiving more than its fair share of design attention.
For potential Rogue mechanics, everyone was on the same boat for the flavor of "Backstab." Jake Theis's submission templated close to the card Spellbinder on a creature:
Theis's Backstabbing Rogue
Creature – Faerie Rogue
Imprint – When CARDNAME comes into play, you may remove an instant or sorcery card with converted mana cost 1 or less in your hand from the game.
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to an opponent, you may copy the imprinted card and play it without paying its mana cost.
|Designers shouldn't worry about rules support and templates when it comes to fleshing out a new mechanic or card. Trust me, I know, you get a lot more work done if you just "pretend" it works. Just tell your playtest partner "it works like Spellbinder" and worry about the "rules," "template," and all the other things that could kill a card later.
I reduced my casual Ninja deck to 40 cards, replaced half of them with quick proxied designs, and spent the better part of a day playtesting this mechanic (and further iterations of it).
On backstab's first try, here's the stuff I liked:
- There's some some nice flavor—your Rogue stabs the opponent with an enchanted dagger.
- It's both backwards- and forwards- compatible, at least on what you "enchant your dagger with."
And the stuff I didn't like:
- It's an "A then B" puzzle to solve, with different card types no less. While I appreciate the risk vs. reward of imprinting my one Savage Beating onto my Spellbinder now for the prospect of limitless Savage Beatings later, I don't think an entire tribal deck should mechanically work that way.
- The opponent sees the whole thing coming a mile away. Not very "Rogue." My opponent should be SCARED of even my dainty little 1/1 Rogue, mortally afraid of what it might do should its dagger find flesh. It felt bad when I dropped a 1/1 Flyer that casts Ponder and my opponent said, "Whatever."
- There's an obvious 2-for-1 opportunity that I fear we will have to design around to make the mechanic appealing.
- It's a repeatable effect. While some repeatable effects are good for the game (such as attacking each turn with a creature), it shouldn't be treated lightly. "Every turn I will do this forever and ever" is not the best recipe for fun for the person on the other side of the table. Some undercosted cards like Umezawa's Jitte and Isochron Scepter are unfun in this way.
I made one iteration of the mechanic into this card:
Creature – Faerie Rogue
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to an opponent, your next Rogue spell this turn costs 2 less to play.
This is closer, but at the core it's just a mana Elf that attacks. At least this made it an "A then A" mechanic, since this creature helps power out more of itself.
To get more "sneakiness" into the mechanic, I tried backstab on spells, too. The gameplay involves first needing a Rogue to attack with, then successfully dealing combat damage to an opponent, then you need a Backstab card to use once your Rogue gets through.
I labeled my cards "RogueSting" because I wanted to be able to call out the tribe it belongs to. The "Sting" part meant "dealt combat damage to an opponent this turn."
I played this deck for another day, changing the mana costs on the cards on the fly as I saw fit while trying many additional rules for Backstab, including:
Rule #1: If I paid the Backstab cost, I also got to draw a card. I allowed only a two-mana discount here due to the card replacing itself. This gave the deck a "churn" by keeping the Rogues and Backstab cards flowing instead of emptying its hand quickly. Each turn presented a different set of options for getting a Rogue through their defenses and then wrecking them with Backstab.
Rule #2: I could only play one Backstab card per Rogue. That means the mechanic wasn't just an "on/off" switch; it rose to different plateaus—one Rogue stings for one Backstab, two Rogues sting for two Backstabs, and so on. I really enjoyed this mechanically because each turn I was on a quest to rise to the next level, with a dream of for example playing four Backstab cards in one turn. Things like that are very important in our game; they give you something to strive for other than just winning this game and make for great stories.
The combination of both additional Rules 1 and 2 played the best. I estimated that the Backstab "reward" should be one less mana plus a cantrip. So, if you're one of those non-Rosewater types like me, the algorithm for creating a Backstab card is:
- Find a card that feels like something flavorful a Rogue might do as he stabs you in the back with his dagger.
- Add one mana to the mana cost.
- Add a Backstab cost that's two less than the new mana cost.
- Add "If you paid the Backstab cost, draw a card."
Seem easy? It is! As a quick exercise, try transforming Mind Knives into a Backstab card:
Backstab Mind Knives
Tribal Sorcery – Rogue
Backstab B (You may play this for its Backstab cost if you dealt damage to a player this turn with a Rogue. You can only play one Backstab cost per Rogue.)
Target player discards a card at random. If you paid the Backstab cost, draw a card.
Congratulations! You've just made a Backstab card. As you can see, some of my original playtest cards made it to print (relatively) intact!
The Disputed Classes
Ah, now we've finally come to my pick for the most controversial design decision of Morningtide. It's highly likely when you first saw Gilt-Leaf Archdruid, you were surprised. From all our previews and marketing, nothing promoted that "obscure tribe lords" were in the set. By extension, it shouldn't come as a big secret that the minor class Lords were internally a controversial inclusion. However, this next secret should come as a surprise...
Morningtide almost abandoned its class theme altogether.
That's right, the dispute was with all the classes, including Rogues. Although the Lorwyn designers intentionally left "class matters" for Morningtide, many people in R&D believed that following Lorwyn with a "class matters" set would hit players sideways to the historically popular "race matters" interactions that Lorwyn had worked so hard to instill. We were about to kill all those awesome cards we had made!
I waited until this late in my article to reveal this secret to illustrate another point—in design, anything can change. A card can change. A cycle can change, a mechanic, a tribe... even the entire set theme can be thrown out. And there was serious talk by people in R&D much smarter than me about doing just that to Morningtide due to player expectation.
I must have brainstormed and submitted more than 300 cards for Morningtide at this point. Then I found out that all the love I had poured into making Morningtide the best set it could possibly be was going to be scrapped.
Mark Rosewater, the Craziest Man on Earth, has said this before in his column, but it never rang true until that day: you must not fall in love with your cards. It will wreck you. You lose sight of Magic's true audience, treat co-workers like obstacles instead of allies, and undermine the entire collaborative process of Magic R&D. There is a very good reason why Mark Rosewater does not call all the shots; it's the same reason why I don't call all the shots.
In the end, "class matters" won out, but with compromise. One design meeting later, Morningtide was almost completely purged of exclusively "class matters" commons (and left one plucky design intern feeling very sad). I had poured so much effort into Morningtide, and now I'd have to do it all again. Gah, I never knew just how much work designing Magic cards really is!
We filled the slots by making ample use of our "both race AND class matters" technology:
The Erik Lauer Experience
The Erik Lauer Experience is the process of shuffling your deck over and over every turn for a miniscule epsilon gain. The original culprit was Thawing Glaciers, a card that eventually thins your library of all basic lands given enough turns and shuffles. Nowadays, Sensei's Divining Top is the undisputed king of The Erik Lauer Experience. Developer Erik Lauer postulates that shuffling wastes time, the bonus is only +1% to topdecks, only one player cares, and the worst part is players feel obligated to shuffle for profit. For these reasons, Recross the Paths was reworded from shuffling into a 'faster' reveal version at Erik Lauer's request. However, in a huge twist of irony, Erik Lauer designed the flavorful Everbark Shaman, awarding Treefolk players with The Erik Lauer Experience.
We added in these four race-only-matters commons:
The only class-matters commons to survive the purge were:
That's right—Morningtide actually rewards race more than class at common. There's even the common cycle of greater elementals that have the Elemental race but no class (Shinewend, Floodchaser, Festercreep, Stingmoggie, and Fertilid) if you need further convincing.
The Even More Disputed Classes
The fate of the Archer
, and Cleric
lords were still up in the air late into Development. Many did not believe, for example, a Cleric Lord could produce enough "awesomeness" or "happiness" to justify its rare slot in a small expansion already cramped for space. The rare slot could easily be a "Soldier matters," "Kithkin matters," or "Giant matters" card instead and be virtually guaranteed higher popularity.
I argued that if an anemically supported class like Archers was to ever get a lord, it would either be in Morningtide...or never. Doesn't a tribe as flavorful as Archers deserve to have just one card in all of Magic to call its very own? We print "build around me" rares in every Magic set—let minor class lords count towards that quota while spicing up changelings in Limited at the same time.
Development agreed, and knowing this could be the only lord a minor tribe receives for years, the team aimed for Timber Protector-level splashiness and flavor. Alexis Janson's Knight lord started the cycle off with its best foot forward. Soon after, Mark Globus's Assassin lord design earned a slot. After many hole-filling passes, the Cleric Lord, Druid Lord, and finally my "piercing arrows" Archer Lord passed our rigorous protocols, and Morningtide was complete. I've learned to trust my gut more than my brain when it comes to card design, and deep down I feel we spent these five rare slots wisely.
My Morningtide Cards
These are my individual Morningitde card design stories to the best of my recollection and ferreting.
Weight of Conscience
We needed a Pacifism
variant, and my submission was top-down and "class matters" enough to make it in:
Enchantment – Aura
Enchanted creature can't attack or block.
Tap three untapped Soldiers you control: Remove enchanted creature from the game.
The enemy creature is tied down, in a gallows or a Guillotine, and when his day comes, the firing squad comes to finish the execution. (Yes, I concept all my cards and no, Brady Dommermuth hasn't returned my calls.) It's somewhat akin to Fallen Empires' Hand of Justice and his throwback Gaze of Justice in Time Spiral.
Like many designs in Morningtide, this card was broadened to remove "class-only matters" from common and tweaked into a sideways defensive Merfolk card, similar to Zephyr Net.
With reinforce, the +1/+1 counter lords, and the "Spike" Elementals that remove +1/+1 counters to cast their spells, the set mechanically wanted some kind of infinite +1/+1 counter reservoir. I submitted the following throwback to Alpha's Blessing:
Enchantment – Aura
W: Put a +1/+1 counter on enchanted creature.
One piece of the color pie I learned inside R&D is that white gets the best small creature pumps while green gets the best big creature pumps. Giving a creature +1/+1 has been called by people smarter than me "the best mechanic in Magic" (to which I disagree).
During design, we often populate the design file with many potential cards that we later cull down. When searching for potential blue commons for Morningtide, I did what I always do: search Gatherer!
I dug up this eventful Odyssey card—the first ever with three creature types on his type line, which ironically didn't matter for Odyssey, but it synched up beautifully for Onslaught's Bird, Soldier, and Wizard tribes. If we simply toggle Bird to Faerie, we end up with a perfect meat & potatoes 3-power, five-drop common blue creature with THREE relevant creature types AND a reveal ability that combos with clash and kinship. Huzzah!
After some tweaks, this was the playtest card during design:
Creature – Faerie Soldier Wizard
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, you may look at the top card of that player's library.
This card played well, it's sneaky in the "I know a secret and you don't" Faerie flavor. Eventually, a big debate erupted about multiple classes on the type line. Is the complexity increase worth the depth of gameplay? Aren't changelings already fulfilling this role? When building a Limited deck, do you sort your cards by color then race then class, then have extra piles for multi-class? By what criteria should a creature get 2 classes?
In the end, simplicity won out, and multi-class awesomeness was left for Changelings. The Faerie was changed to satisfy the Faerie tribe's flash + "comes into play" ability quota, and thus became Dewdrop Spy, Merrow Witsniper's cohort in crime.
This card began as one of my very first card designs ever, a year before The Great Designer Search
Legendary Creature – Dwarf Smith
CARDNAME gets +1/+1 for each Equipment attached to it.
1WW, Tap, Sacrifice an artifact: Search your library for an Equipment card, put it into play, attach to a Jhoggo, then shuffle your library.
I revamped him a little bit to equip to any of your Soldiers, and he was accepted as a hole submission. Over the course of development, Stonehewer Giant was lathered up with a thick layer of awesome sauce:
- Retemplated the ability to let you keep the equipment even if you can’t equip it.
- Lost one mana due to being Legendary.
- Lost legendary per Creative. Mana costs same.
- Lost the "Soldier-only" restriction due to other white rare Soldier Lord Preeminent Captain.
- Became a Warrior to better wield the Obsidian Battle-Axe alongside Brion Stoutarm.
Having lots of flavor, fun, and showcasing Morningtide's evolution of Tribal Equipment, Stonehewer Giant was in the right place at the right time!
Maralen of the Mornsong
I submitted this 30-second, top-of-my-head card design during the first development hole request for Morningtide:
Legendary Creature – Elf Avatar
Players can't draw cards.
At the beginning of each player's draw step, that player loses 3 life and searches their library for a card, puts it into their hand, then shuffles their library.
She's basically "Grim Tutor World" with some breakability thrown in, and she survived all the way to print! It's quite a feat to design a card and see it printed verbatim, and I was only one word off on Maralen—she's a Wizard, though that's not my final decision anyway.
However, Morningtide also contains my first ever verbatim card design...
This card entered the file at U for a 1/1. To help blue in Limited, Lead Developer Mike Turian changed him to a 1U 2/1 that milled two cards. Here are the relevant Multiverse comments:
[Mike Turian] 3/19: Was 1/1 for 1.
[Aaron Forsythe] 3/26: This guy feels way less cool to me now... before it felt like his "job" was to mill for 1, now he feels like a beater with some random ability tacked on.
KEN 3/27: This guy used to hit play and pwned that Shivan Dragon on top of their deck. He KILLED that dragon dead, and your opponent was never going to draw it. The most fun spot is U 1/1 mill 1, where he's ideal for deckbuilding Equilibrium /Ninjutsu /Backstab /post Clash shenanigans. Part of this guy has died. :(
[Devin Low] 4/3: I liked the U 1/1. Like him much less now.
[Merrow Witsniper]* 4/5: No one likes me anymore. *whimper* I wish I was a U 1/1 again!
[Jake Theis] 4/12: Agree with [MW]* above.
[Aaron Forsythe] 5/16: Please be a 1/1! Sage of Epityr was an endearing little man, we have a chance to capture some of that here.
[Henry Stern] 5/17: Is there a good reason not to have this guy be 1/1?
[Mike Turian] 5/21: Made 1 mana 1/1.
[Jake Theis] 5/24: Huzzah! I'm no longer quitting Magic, again.
As you can see, the little 1/1 "mill one" had quite a few followers. That is, everyone whose job didn't entail Morningtide blue Limited pointing.
This is around the time when I realized I can't win every fight in R&D. What's more, I shouldn't even pick every fight I want to pick in R&D. This is a case I chose to fight because I identified that:
- I'm 100% right.
- I know I'm 100% right.
- I have a greater than 50% chance of winning this fight.
- I'm not alone in this fight.
Banded together, the evil Lead Developer in control of the set admitted defeat!
Merrow Witsniper 1, Mike Turian 2153
If you've been paying attention, this is a shining example where more power does NOT equal more fun. Games are about fun, a series of moments woven between strategy and the unexpected, and Merrow Witsniper creates one of these moments, fist-pump and all.
While brainstorming potential Warrior cards, I came across Iwamori of the Open Fist
, who beckons an opponent to fight him. After all, you're not a Warrior unless you have an arch-nemesis to fight!
Riken of the Bloody Fist
Legendary Creature – Giant Warrior
When CARDNAME comes into play, each opponent may search his or her library for a creature card with converted mana cost 6 or more, put it into play, then shuffle his or her library.
The flavor is a Warrior is challenging only the strongest opponents to a fight (and Paul Sottosanti thought a provoke ability would also be funny / flavorful). During the Great "Class Matters Purge," the gold rare slots were culled and this card earned a mono-red slot to punish creatureless decks and incite chaos in Multiplayer Free-for-Alls.
The Final Examination
At last, the dust has settled and Morningtide is now out of our collective hands into the hands of you, the player. I'm happy to offer some deckbuilding tips that should speed you along the way to the best each class has to offer for Rogues, Warriors, Shamans, Soldiers, and Wizards.
Two Cycles For All
The best place to begin is with your chosen class's Banneret and +1/+1 counter lord. We made these two cycles powerful across the board because we knew they would motivate players to build new class decks with their Morningtide cards.
Additionally, your chosen class can make use of the "choose a creature type" cycle alongside any changeling cards you wish.
Rogues literally made out like bandits in Morningtide. They received their own cost-reducing mechanic in Prowl, notoriously the mosy dangerous mechanics we do (think Madness, Affinity, Storm). Rogues also got multiple 1-drops like Prickly Boggart, Mothdust Changeling, and Merrow Witsniper to enable their Prowl cards.
However, Rogues were completely denied Kinship and Reinforce. Also, by design Rogues don't kill particularly fast, leaving the opponent topdecking opportunities. You can shore up this weakness with cards like Stinkdrinker Bandit, Cloak and Dagger, Earwig Squad, and the ultimate tempo-stealer Notorious Throng.
What's more, the 'Prowl' gameplan is not fullproof – Prowl decks may discover an innocuous card like Release the Ants decimating to their myriad 1-toughness creatures.
Warriors charge into battle and hit HARD with the best Tribal Equipment in Obsidian Battle-Axe. Warriors overlap well with Elves, showcased by the tag-team of Imperious Perfect and Bramblewood Paragon (Morningtide continues the 'power Elf uncommon' bonus from Lorwyn). What's more, there's plenty of midrange Warrior-action left to surprise your friends with a +2/+1 hasty "I didn't know that guy is a Warrior" Brion Stoutarm, Dauntless Dourbark, or Korlash, Heir to Blackblade.
While the "one person army" theme didn't come to fruition, you can find evidence of it sprinkled across cards like Lunk Errant, Vengeful Firebrand, and the walking armory that is Stonehewer Giant.
Shamans emerged the kings of Kinship with wrecking ball abilities like Pyroclasm
, Wheel of FOURtune
, Words of Wilding
, and Mind's Desire
. With a kinship deck you'll soon discover that putting a card on top card of your deck can be better than drawing it—the clash cards, Harbingers, and Cream of the Crop
help accomplish this task.
Initially I regarded Paul Sottosanti's kinship mechanic as simply a deck saturation reward like Legions' amplify—the more cards of a particular tribe you can stuff into your deck, the better. But during deckbuilding, I discovered an interesting property of kinship—it's maximized by any mix of the two creature types. For example, a Wolf-Skull Shaman deck skeleton could look something like:
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Boreal Druid
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Wolf-Skull Shaman
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Eternal Witness
4 Chameleon Colossus
Since all your creatures are either an Elf or a Shaman, this suite of creatures effectively maximizes Wolf-Skull Shaman, making it a tribal deck "in disguise."
Besides Kinship, another route is equipping Thornbite Staff to the Shaman with the sickest tap ability you can find, and there are some doozies.
And finally, the Shaman beatdown package features the impressive Rage Forger leading the flamekin crew you were already playing, namely Flamekin Harbinger, Smokebraider, Incandescent Soulstoke and Ashling the Pilgrim (a milestone for me—Ashling is my first printed hole submission.)
I am sad that Shamans didn't get a burn spell to call their own. The most likely candidates—Shard Volley, Stomping Slabs, and Titan's Revenge—would all have been hindered by extra Shaman-related text, not helped.
Soldiers enjoy the most +1/+1 counter cards via reinforce and have an additional lord in Coldsnap, Field Marshal. However, being centered in white wove Soldiers the (un)fortunate fate (depending on your point of view) of sharing classes alongside Knights and Clerics with only small Soldier support from blue. Soldiers do overlap well with the Kithkin tribe, giving them some dual-tribe synergy options, especially since it's relatively easy to produce many 1/1 Kithkin Soldier tokens.
However, the biggest boon for the Soldiers tribe is retroactively combining them with Daru Stinger, Daru Warchief, and the legions of other Soldier creatures from the past.
Wizards, in true wizardly fashion, received the best tribal spells with both Sage's Dousing and Stream of Unconsciousness. Even the wimpiest Wizard blockers become impenetrable with a timely -4/-0 cantrip thrown in. Much like Soldiers with Kithkin, Wizards overlap heavily with the Merfolk tribe and their 1/1 blue Merfolk Wizard tokens. Alongside all its goodies from Onslaught block and a motley crew spanning all colors, sets, and even The Grand Creature Type Update, the Wizard class contains the most deckbuilding support in the game.
The Minor Classes
If you're not satisfied with just the five major races and are still looking to for more to experience from Morningtide, the offbeat minor class Lords like Gilt-Leaf Archdruid and Battletide Alchemist are for players like you.
Perhaps you're the kind of player who doesn't particularly like tribal. It would be very foolish for us to make every single card in the set not for you. In an already overcrowded set, development took an ice-pick to Morningtide and stabbed holes for random build-around-me cards. These are open-ended, non-tribal cards that require some work to reach their full potential, like Idyllic Tutor, Maralen of the Mornsong, and the omniscient Mark Gottlieb design Scapeshift.
Bonus: Rejected Morningtide card!
For a brief time, I had overzealously populated my "sandbox" part of the design file with a Lord for every creature type that never got one, including a:
Creature — Shade
B: Shade creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn.
And just to preserve some small trace of mystery about Morningtide, one of my design stories today is an utter lie. How will you know?