Tuesday, July 10, 2012

M13 Designer Diary V

Today I look at the green cards from M13 and the lessons we learned choosing/designing them. Here's part four. Here's a directory with all the card links from the final set. And here's the text spoiler Chah posted.

Green Commons

Llanowar Elves is simpler and generally better for the core set than Arbor Elves, but the combination with the ravnica shock lands, as well as two land-auras in the set made this a good time to send old Llanowar on vacation.

Everyone but the elfophiles prefers Borderland Ranger over Wood Elves or Sylvan Ranger, but the two-drop filled our curve better.

Elvish Warrior is a great vanilla card because it's challenge and reward make it feel special, despite the lack of rules text. I love that 2/3 trumps 2/2 first strikers.

Hibernating Bear was voted in from a CCDD. We like how it fills a similar role to Garruk's Companion, but with tweaks that make it play differently, all with some resonant flavor.

I had suggested Daggerback Basilisk at one point in design to represent deathtouch in green and on a simple common, but we had other priorities that trumped it at the time. Half-way through development, we shifted some things around and the card became an ideal fit again. That's just how it goes sometimes. Don't lament a loss until the set's final, because things will change.

Chah added Resourceful Druid in development as a potential alternative to Sacred Wolf. I wasn't convinced the Wolf needed replacing, but was open to trying out the new idea since it's both more answerable and more upside than hexproof. It feels pretty darn good casting Giant Growth on this guy and while no one will pump their fist when they Disfigure your Druid in response, at least they have the option.

Removing Giant Spider from the set just to end the Core Set Survivor thing seems… petty. Then again, maybe Wizards couldn't fit it without screwing up green's curve or other more important cards. Probably that. We could though, so nyah.

Howling Silverback is one of my favorite new commons. I expect to see a fair bit more of this ability in green going forward, so much so that I wouldn't be shocked if they finally keyworded it. Regardless, it's nice to have some green evasion apart from the limited Trample and the narrow Forestwalk.

We were trying to avoid large creatures with vigilance because of their tendency to lengthen games, but the 1/3 for 1G that had been here just wasn't doing enough. The format seems fast enough to handle Temple Sentinels well, and vigilance is much more satisfying reward on a 4/4.

Before the Sentinels, Avalanche Wurm was a 4G 4/4 for with mountain bond for +2/+0, which is a nice discount for Craw Wurm but pretty boring. With the change to haste, we have a big creature that can potentially kill an opponent out of nowhere without enabling Fateful Hour. Definitely more exciting and unique.

Printing a 7/5 common for seven is a pretty bold choice for a large set and I resisted the move. We wanted to enable the accelerate-into-fatties archetype like in M11 but I didn't think we needed a seven mana giant to do so (M11 didn't). That said, Ancient Tyrranax is one vanilla that makes a serious impact. That is can be a game winner by itself is compensated by just hard risky it is saving spells until you can tap seven lands and that will definitely improve archetype diversity.

Bountiful Harvest is our bad green life gain card. We tried another for a bit, but couldn't justify spending a new card slot just to make a weak card more complicated.

Fertile Ground replaced Rampant Growth / Farseek during the push to make lands matter more. A land with an aura on it is a much more tempting target for land destruction, and the combo with Arbor Elf makes that risk worthwhile. The ability to splash Kird Ape and Beat Tamer of Thune while running mono-forests isn't irrelevant either.

Garruk's Gift took Oakenform's place, granting some much needed trample to the green commons and also enabling a few sweet cross-color build-a-monsters.

Fog sure does good work.

I know at least one player that loves Titanic Growth. Reprinting it once more in M13 makes good sense, but our team was happy to get back to the classic Giant Growth.

Naturalize is one of those cards that does such important work for the set as a whole and in such a simple way that it just can't be replaced, at least not by a single card in a core set.

I think they printed Grounded just to help people understand how much Plummet doesn't suck.

I would pump my fist that my team called Prey Upon being in M13, but it really was pretty obvious. We've got real achievements to pump fists over.

Regenerate is a card. While it tends not to be worth a slot in most competitive Limited decks, it can turn a game around. More importantly, it's simple and teaches the mechanic at common.

New Green Uncommons, Rares & Mythics

Having agreed to keep the color hoser cycle from the last three core sets, we did look for some new options. Celestial Purge was Mask of Law and Grace for a while, which was clever but terrible. I was adamant that Autumn's Veil was far too crappy to print again, so we tried a combination River Boa / Mire Boa for a while. I'm told it was too good in Limited and too weak in Constructed (though I'm convinced of neither), so we kept looking. Relentless Ivy is the result and I can't say I miss the snake anymore.

If I had to choose a single favorite card in the set, it might well be Nessian Outrider. Most players react to it about the same way, "Awesome." Go Centaurs! (We briefly considered including more centaurs. Even though they are as archetypically Fantasy as Elves, tribal collection arguments won the day in favor of our more delicate sylvan friends.)

Matron Willow remained a defensive token-producing Treefolk from inception, but waffled a bit between defender, reach and +1/+0. At the end of the day, we thought green needed more reach, the willow needed more to do (and a reason to risk it in a block) and we could do justify that as long as its power was 0.

Garruk's Challenge should look familiar to you. Predatory Rampage is identical, except for the numbers. Where Rampage is more about a big semi-final strike that acts like a (massively conditional) Plague Wind, Challenge was inspired by a playtester's comment that green should have a team combat trick you're happy to play during the coarse of the game rather than just at the end (as opposed to Overrun). The result is a less swingy, but still potentially amazing combat 'trick' that you can play relatively early while still developing your board. If it looks weak, trust me, it's not. And yes, by extension, Rampage is even nastier, even if it is more awkward to cast.

Bramblecrush is another Innistrad card we predicted would be in the real M13 (though not as unanimously as Prey Upon). Acidic Slime was the other option we considered, and that's how the real set went. C'est la vie.

Major Exploration is two Explores. This is a pretty sweet card. It is to Harmonize what Cultivate is to Divination. Hmm, that analogy's not quite right. Note to self, 2G Sorcery—Draw a card, then Rampant Growth. Point is, sometimes you accelerate your land double, sometimes you draw gas and sometimes you split the difference. When is that ever bad for a green mage? My only hesitation about the card was that is seemed to promise something that would rarely happen: Accelerating twice is what the card seems to offer, but you won't usually have a second and third land in hand after casting this, even with the two extra cards. We tested it anyhow and the fact that it's good regardless easily trumps that "downside."

It's not new, but I have to mention reprinting Vinelasher Kudzu in this land-matters core set that leads up to Return to Ravnica was a pretty sweet choice by the team (and proves conclusively that we DID think of Ravnica-specific reprints for the reason that it foreshadows RtR nicely).

Wolf Dancer is a pretty sweet pro-creature card. It makes wolves rather than bears so that it will play better with Innistrad block's animals.

Mother Spider is a doozy when you need to push through the green mage's blockers. As if killing a 4/8 isn't hard enough, doing so rewards you with four more 1/2s to deal with. 16 points of reach toughness will slow down most any opponent.

Having decided not to support Centaurs as a tribe, we knew we needed a new Elf lord. Elvish Queen grants "drawshroud" (as seen on Resourceful Druid [which is intentionally not an Elf itself]) to your Elves on top of the standard +1/+1. We intentionally didn't give the Queen that ability herself because it seemed to oppressive, but in retrospect I think I would go ahead and add that since she's just a vulnerable 2/2 otherwise.

Hunting Ground Hydra could be Mythic if it were bigger and cheaper. In fact it was, but we swapped it with other Hydra because that one just felt bigger. It's probably for the best this card isn't too efficient since repeatable removal and creature growth could be a nasty combination.

Moonlight Druid is our replacement for Magus of the Moon. Not everyone was comfortable hosing nonbasic lands in the same set in which we offer exciting nonbasic lands, particularly since we wanted to support multicolor decks. The Druid does turn off nonmana abilities of nonbasic lands, but turning them into every type of basic land lets them continue to turn on bond and fix your mana brilliantly. That may seem too charitable to some players, but I know quite a few casual players who will love this card.

In the tradition of cards like Genesis Wave and Green Sun's Zenith, I present Calling the Wild. I originally designed this to be a chaotic red spell, but the creature-y flavor was enough to pull it into green where it's lived happily every after.

Gorger Hydra is the card I mentioned being promoted from rare to mythic. Maybe we should've discounted it or given it haste when we did.

Quirion Exarch is Natural Affinity on a stick (you probably recognized the art). We added the second line so that a Wrath of God will only ruin your army, rather than cause you to auto-lose the game. This had hexproof briefly, to make up for the fact that it's just a 2/2. It did not need hexproof.

And we reprinted Garruk, Primal Hunter because it would have been too soon not to.

For most of Design, we struggled to find enough reprints for each color… except for green. You can see from the list above that all but one of the non-creature commons is a reprint. We did focus our attention on the creatures, since that's what green mages spend the most time caring about, but it is nonetheless interesting that we had less trouble finding good reprints for green / more trouble innovating green (depending on how you look at it). I'm not sure why that is. The designer originally responsible for green didn't remain active throughout the entire process, but I'm not sure that's it. Maybe green just resists change by its very nature.


  1. Interesting stuff. I very much like what you came up with here. I like "hexdraw"; it's interesting that it's the Opaline Sliver vs Crystalline Sliver choice.

    Hunting Ground Hydra is still pretty awesome even at 4/4. Moonlight Druid is a fantastic tweak on Joiner Adept, playing both manafixer and nonbasic-hoser for the opponent. Very interesting card.

    1. Yeah, I'm wondering if more "lesser hexproof" cards would be a good idea, a way of making expensive creatures more "resiliant" without actually making them unanswerable.

      I'm not sure if it should work for your own spells or not: on the one hand, it makes for interesting combo potential, on the other hand, it restricts how it can be used and obscures the intent.

  2. A lot of interesting, interesting cards here, but I just want to give a major shoutout to Chah for first putting Major Exploration into the file. I can't imagine a more fun card to be put in M13.

    For awhile, the 1G common slot was actually Explore. Explore takes the shuffle out of common and has that straightforward flavor-and-execution that you want from a core set; I expect it to show up more often than Rampant Growth in the long run.