It’s Been A Shard Days Night

Posted on Monday, September 29th, 2008 by Vandermonde
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Posted in best of, mtg

[Editor’s note: This article is a bit long, so it was split into two parts. Unfortunately not even we can figure out the new site, so all we were able to get it to do was split it exactly in half by character count.]

Hi, it’s time for another look behind the scenes at some of the design magic that helps make Magic so magical.

Early in development, the 5 power matters theme was slightly under-performing, and Firestoker was seen as an ideal place to give it a little nudge. A lot of improvements were suggested – higher stats, making red mana, dealing more damage, and so on. Eventually though we decided on adding a second belt. We’re really happy with how the two-belt version plays.

As you might have guessed, this was a top-down design. Its creation started with the flavor theme of, “Aggravating the Chinese censors as much as humanly possible” From there its concept, art, name, and functionality were a breeze to work out.

This card actually started its life while we were working on Planar Chaos, and it went something like this:

Them: We’ve got slots for a few more plane-shifted cards
Me: I’ve got it! We could plane-shift Braidwood Cup from colorless…to white!
Them: You’re supposed to shift a card from one color to another, not from no colors to another.
Me: That’s what makes it brilliant!
Them: Ok, even so, we don’t print artifacts with colored mana in their costs.

Me: We don’t yet, but we could pre-print a planeshifted card from the future when we will!
Them: We’re not doing pre-prints in this set; that’s the next set.
Me: But what if when we did the next set, we retroactively send this set a printing of the pre-print of the planeshifted Cup.
Them: … you want us to add a card to this set when the next one comes out? There’s no way we’re doing that.

But fast forward to Shards design, and suddenly I have the upper hand:
Me: So, I can’t help but notice you have a slot open for a white artifact.
Them: Yeah, do you have an idea?
Me: Well I was just thinking, we could post-print the retroactive addition to Planar Chaos of the pre-printed planeshift of Braidwood Cup.
Them: Or we could just print it.

Me:Well sure, if you have no sense of wonder and are basically dead inside.
Also Me: Don’t worry Mark, we’ll always remember the beautiful truth about this card, no matter what they say.

Everyone in design loved the simple combination of staple effects and the fun, flavorful pun in the name. We loved it so much in fact that it quickly led to a super-cycle including Enblightenment, Twiblight’s Call, and Flightning of Fancy. Somewhere around Eightning and a Half Tails we realized we’d lost all perspective and that the set was currently over 80% red and agreed it would be best to cut everything but the original and start fresh.

Often Magic art is about more than just aesthetics; it can also convey information about the function of the card. Nowhere is that more true than the art of Sedraxis Specter. The tiny nondescript humanoid being overshadowed by his mount lets you know this is a specter. Since Poultrygeist was a 1-power, 1-color flier, the three undead chicken heads imply a 3-power, 3-color flier. The animate skeleton ribcage hints at a graveyard ability, and the whip denotes conditionally available haste. The tethers between the heads represent how even our closest relationships to those we foolishly believe we love drain our humanity and vitality. Oh and the barrels are full of stuff that makes you discard.

Originally this gained all abilities instead of just activated abilities. I thought there was some reason we didn’t generally print that sort of effect, but could not remember what it was until development had a 100-card highlander Future Future League tournament for fun. In the second round Gary played a Borrower revealing Volrath’s Shapeshifter with Yixlid Jailor on top of his graveyard. This quickly led to two changes. First, skill borrower was changed to its current wording, and second, the following addendum to the comprehensive rules about continuous ability layers was made:

418.5L Gary is a complete douche; do not under any circumstances agree to play against him.

Originally this guy was a larger vanilla creature, but we though that was a better fit for the Naya member of the cycle. Some power and toughness weren’t the only casualty of his gaining lifelink though. He also lost the bit of his flavor text explaining how he came to be a humanoid rhinoceros monk surrounded by enchanted golden frisbees. Here’s the uncut version:

H [ed: continued next week]

(Discuss this item in the forum!)