Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Set Design: Unanswered Question #6

Our next question is about Ankh-Theb, the plane with ancient Egyptian flavor. We've looked recently at the worldly side of the plane: ambition, mighty Pharoahs, etc. But it's also important that ancient Egypt was a heavily religious society, with magic and gods taking a central role in daily life. Our cards need to reflect that fact. So, dear readers, how can we represent the mystical side of Egypt?


  1. I've been wondering if the concept of "stealing" the souls of the dead that I represented by Afterlife (which I can riff on at least 4 or 5 variants) couldn't be represented by Delve?

  2. One possible angle:
    There are plenty of "theories" about ancient civilizations being visited by aliens. I think Egyptian mythos in Magic offers the perfect position for this: Planeswalkers!

    I'm not sure how to do that mechanically because you don't want to fill a set with Planeswalkers, but maybe we can make some implements of worship that are generally useful, but especially so with 'walkers (think Proliferate).

    Here are some positive interactions to think about:
    Flickering-Extra Activation
    Counter Adding-Faster Ultimate
    Prevent Damage to Permanents-Hard to Stop

    Alternatively, we could pick some shared mechanical space for these pretenders to godhood to play into and interact with that. For instance, caring about tapped creatures like Tamiyo, the Moon Sage to interact with Revere.

    1. Playing with the Aliens Visited Egypt theory could be a lot of fun. Making planeswalkers the aliens is clever and we should look into that. If that proves too difficult to convey, we can also be blunt and just introduce a race of aliens. It may be the set wants neither, but we'd be crazy not to figure that out.

    2. I think planeswalker support could be a nice bonus, but not a set theme. They just don't have the as-fan presence to make it meaningful.

    3. Agreed, I was trying to say that if we somehow made Flickering permanents, adding counters, or damage prevention play into a worship theme, then it would also work with the aliens (walkers). That couldn't be the major focus of the mechanic.

    4. Dagnab it, Jules. I love your ideas, apparently. Because planeswalkers being worshipped is awesome.

      As-fan solution: Think about how there's the Scroll of Griselbrand and Scroll of Avacyn. While Avacyn herself was at rare, the theme was still prevalent at common. If we could have hieroglyphs (in place of Avacyn's collar symbols like in Innistrad) that could allude to planeswalkers, that would be awesome.

    5. We can also tie into Nich's signature spells idea. That increases the as-fan for references to the PWers.

  3. My interest in the subject lead me to learn the following interesting trivia:

    writing and reading in hieroglyphs, in ancient Egypt, apart from being a rare skill reserved for the scribes, was also completely interchangeable with statues. Your written name for a dignitary could either be a series of ideograms or a statue of you that respected some codes (what you hold how you stand etc etc). What is even more interesting is that the difference between those "writings" and your own person is very thin, and they can capture part of who you are.

    Obviously we cannot expect players to know this, but many times flavor and information of this kind is presented through flavor text and articles on mtg daily.

    Perhaps imprint would be an interesting choice for this set, representing capturing the essence of a creature after its death and giving benefits to those remaining. It would fit the whole burial theme too: you have a pyramid or a monument? you get a better afterlife, and the player gets a bonus.

    1. Eternal Statue 3
      Artifact (rare)
      ~ ETB as a copy of any creature on the battlefield, except that it is a non-creature artifact and has "When that creature dies, ~ becomes a creature in addition to its other types."

  4. One way to represent faith/religion/etc is with supertypes like Divine or subtypes like Arcane. The first set I designed as a teen was called Mythos. It was terrible, of course, but religion was the crux of the block and it introduced a spell subtype, Ritual, which various cards cared about in different ways. I don't have the files from well over a decade ago, but the rose-colored glasses of hindsight conjure these kinds of designs, which I will give an Egyptian flavor:

    Priest of the River's Blessing 2G
    Creature—Human Cleric (cmn)
    Whenever you cast a Ritual, gain 2 life.

    Ritual of Seht W
    Instant—Ritual (cmn)
    Add W to your mana pool and draw a card.

    Heavenly Inspiration 1U
    Sorcery (cmn)
    Draw a card.
    For each Ritual you cast this turn, draw an additional card, then discard a card.

    Righteous Fire R
    Sorcery (cmn)
    ~ deals 3 damage to target creature for each Ritual you cast this turn.

    Sun God 2WW
    Creature-Avatar (rare)
    ~ has P/T equal to the number of Ritual cards in your graveyard.
    Whenever you cast a Ritual, you may return ~ from your graveyard to your hand.

    We can do much better, but it's a starting point.

    1. This is Arcane all over again. Is that really a road we want to go down?

    2. Arcane was neither weak nor unfun in Kamigawa Limited. It was a flop overall because it was so parasitic and had no legs outside of block. The same was true of Slivers the first time they were printed or Allies today. If you make more Arcane cards, they all get better.

      Does Arcane have as many fans as Slivers did before they get more support? I suspect I not nearly. And for that reason I'm not pushing Arcane/Ritual. But if you ask me whether I think supertypes and spell subtypes have a great deal more potential than we've seen, I will say hell yes, they do.

      The cards above aren't meant to prove that—they don't—only to get a conversation started.

      Even if you accept that super/sub-types have untapped potential, that doesn't make them the right solution for Ankh-Theb or for a religion theme.

    3. In summary: Yeah, agreed. Nevermind.

  5. Miracle could return.

    When I think of mysticism / religion, I think of Prayers. This is wordy, but a start.

    Cleansing Communion - 4WW
    Sorcery (R)
    Destroy all creatures.
    Pray - 2W, Exile ~ with three divinity counters on it. Whenever you are dealt combat damage, remove a divinity counter from ~. When the last is removed, exile all creatures.

    Purifying Flames - RR
    Sorcery (U)
    ~ deals 3 damage to target creature or player. If a creature would die this turn, exile it instead.
    Pray - RRR, Exile ~ with two divinity counters on it. Whenever a player gains life, remove a divinity counter from ~. When the last is removed, ~ deals 3 damage to each creature and player. If a creature would die this turn, exile it instead.

    Funeral Dirge - 2B
    Sorcery (U)
    Exile three target cards from a player's graveyard.
    Pray - 2B, Exile ~ with a divinity counter on it. Whenever a creature is put onto the battlefield from the graveyard under an opponent's control, remove a divinity counter from ~. When the last is removed, return a creature from a graveyard to the battlefield under your control.

    Knowledge Supplication - 2U
    Sorcery (U)
    Draw two cards.
    Pray - 2U, Exile this with three divinity counters on ~. Whenever an opponent would draw a card, remove a counter from ~. When the last is removed, until end of turn, if an opponent would draw a card, instead that player skips that draw and you draw a card.

    Bestial Benediction - 4GG
    Sorcery (U)
    Put two 3/3 green Elephant creature tokens onto the battlefield.
    Pray - 1G, exile ~ with a divinity counter on ~. Whenever a creature spell you cast is countered by a spell or ability an opponent controlled, remove a counter from ~. When the last is removed, put two 3/3 green Elephant creature tokens onto the battlefield

  6. Magic already has so many great ways to represent mythical being and powerful godlike powers. We could easily reincorporate Sphinx as a major tribe (ranging from mythic to uncommon) and reuse world enchantments or curses from innistrad to make plagues. How about a curse which can be cured:

    Curse of Drought 1UU (R)

    Aura - Curse

    Enchant Player

    Whenever enchanted player taps a land for mana, that lands does not untap during that players next untap step.

    Discard 3 cards: Destory ~. Any opponent can activate this ability.

    So we end up with a nasty enchantment with a get out clause. Player A envoked a god to curse player B but Player B made a sacrifice to get back said god back onside. It is interesting to note that in multiplayer games a third party could intervene on player B's behalf.

    I'm not sure this idea translates to common or even uncommon but mystical Egypt feels very top down.

  7. Replies
    1. Possibly. What kind of designs do you have in mind? (I.e., what sort of Egyptian tropes are represented by it?)

    2. I imagine convoke as the masses building pyramids, or praying for a divine intervention.

    3. Therefore things like:

      Obelisk of Thoth - 7
      Artifact - common
      When artifact of Thoth comes into play, untap all your creatures.

      Wrath of Ra - 5www
      Sorcery - rare
      Destroy all creatures other than those tapped to pay ~'s convoke cost.
      [Ra destroyed all but the believers]

      Fury of Ra - 5R
      Sorcery - rare

      ~ deals damage to target creature or player equal to 4 plus the number of creatures that tapped to pay ~'s convoke cost.
      [Ra furry was stoked by the war chants]

    4. Less historical, but arguably better gameplay:

      Wrath of Ra 3WW
      Sorcery (rare)
      Destroy all creatures.

    5. Brainstorming:
      - convoking to summon some forgotten god
      - convoking that consumes the followers that convoked (very creepy, definitely black)
      - convoking to enhance power/toughness (Revere)
      - convoking on artifacts (pyramids, etc.) - this wasn't done in Ravnica
      - spells/abilities that require an additional convoke cost (i.e. Skirsdag High Priest's ability)

  8. Not to sound to snarky, but I don't think a game called Magic: The Gathering would really have too much trouble capturing the mystical side of Egypt. I mean, you're going to be casting magical spells and creating fantastic monsters to fight for you. Presumably those monsters will include Sphinxes, Mummies, Scarabs, Golems, Djinn, and Animal-headed gods. The spells will have include curses and enchantments. There will probably also be powerful artifacts and great monuments.

    Maybe I just don't understand why this would even be a concern? It seems like more of an issue for the other two sets, where Magic isn't an already established part of the genre?

    1. Considering Ari prefaced his question by referring to the socio-religious aspects of Ancient Eqyptian culture, I believe we can be confident that he meant "spiritual" when he said "mystical".

      That is to say, the question is not quite "do you think mythical beasts deserve to be represented?" but rather "is it important that we go so far as to have mechanics about prayer, reverence, reincarnation, etc... and if so, how do we best represent these concepts?"

    2. Things that I think of as "mystical":

      When you die, your spirit flies to the afterworld. You journey through the deep places, assisted by magic, and your soul get judged. If your name is engraved somewhere, or there's a painted image of you, your soul can persist after death.

      Glittering temples house mysterious, alien deities. Those deities grant power to godlike pharaohs. Priests perform potent mystical rites that work differently from magic that we know. Glowing, floating pictograms of birds, scarabs, eyes, etc. imbue people or things with special power.

      A mystical set could reflect something about these things in the mechanics and game play.

      By the way, I don't mean it should be creepy. I really like how they handled Japanese beliefs and world view in Kamigawa. Like, how everything has a spirit. They translated that into a fantasy setting, and that setting into mechanics.

      I would love to reflect the Egyptians' world view (what the nature of people's souls are, what the afterlife world is, etc.) and translate it into a high fantasy setting. If there was a world if those beliefs were literally true, that would be fascinating.

    3. Riffing on "Priests perform potent mystical rites that work differently from magic that we know…" (This is going to be linear or, as the haters say, parasitic)

      Barta's Rite ƺҖ
      Sorcery (cmn)
      (You may cast ~ for 0, but only if there are ƺҖ glyphs among permanents you control.)
      Shuffle any number of cards you own from outside the game into your library.
      Draw a card.

      Priest of Meti 1W
      Creature-Human Cleric (cmn)

    4. Unpronounceable symbols? How well did that go for the artist formerly known as Prince?

    5. You'd name them. Just as the Guild symbols have no meaning without the Guilds, the Glyphs could be 10 tribes or civilizations.

    6. You'd choose heiroglyphs that look like obvious things. Bird, Moon, Sprout, Cat, etc.

  9. We could make a series of spells that reference Ankh-Theb's pantheon of gods. We couls make spells that are "owned" by those gods (like the signature planeswalker spells from recent Core Sets). But I prefer to flip it, so that these spells represent faithful worshipers appealing to their gods. Consider spells that get better once you have a threshold of creatures in play:

    Appeal to Anobo
    Search your library for a basic land card, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.
    Cult following — Put that land onto the battlefield instead if you control four or more creatures.

    Death-Broker's Embrace
    Target creature gets +1/+1 and has shadow until end of turn.
    Cult following — That creature gets an additional +2/+2 until end of turn if you control four or more creatures.

    The flavor of the power dynamic between the god and its subjects comes through with Cult Following. It's also appropriate at all rarities and each color, which is a plus.

    1. Do each of the gods ask for something different? Like a god of Knowledge asking you to have 3 or more Instant/Sorcery cards in your graveyard?