Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Set Design Pitch: Athambia Academy

HV: This set pitch is by Pasteur.  My comments are in blue.

What is the name of your set?
"Athambia Academy"

What is the core concept of your set?
Magical dueling academy: Top-down "Hogwarts" + "It's time to duel!"

Seven Commons:

Duelist's Arsenal  R
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature you control
When ~ enters the battlefield, enchanted creature deals 3 damage to target creature.
Enchanted creature gets +1/+0.

Fine.  This could be "to another target creature" so that nobody is forced to duel himself.  

Ambition's Cost  3B
Draw three cards.
You lose three life.

One for the Slytherins, I presume?  I'm fairly sure this is not a common, but aside from that it's a good choice.

Shifter Pupil   1U
Creature - Shapeshifter
U: ~ gets +1/-1 until end of turn.

I suppose this is on theme, but it could really go into almost any set.  Only the card name lets us know that this is a student.

Eager Competitor  W
Creature - Human Wizard
Whenever ~ becomes the target of a spell you control, draw a card.

I get the flavor here, but this is probably not white and certainly not common.  

Prodigal Penitent  2W
Creature - Human Cleric
T: Target creature gains lifelink until end of turn.

A reasonable design, but the flavor isn't quite clear to me.  What is this guy doing at Hogwarts?

Enthralled Kurlodon 2GG
Creature - Beast
Beastmasters who excel at lesser charms are often taken to enthralling great beasts for ease of summoning.

Sure, this is a good way to fit green fatties into a boarding school.  

Beastmaster's Whip 2
Artifact - Equipment
Equip: 1
Equipped creature gets first strike and “T: Target Beast creature gets double strike until end of turn."

Cute.  I'd rather it gave haste than double strike, particularly at common, but this is pretty good.  


I'm personally extremely excited about Hogwarts: the Gathering.  The biggest reservations expressed by the judges were whether there's enough material in a single school to build a whole set around.  After all, most sets are entire planes!  Also, much of the magic in such books is small potatoes compared to the stuff we're used to.  Your challenge is to make the scale of the Academy appropriate to a Magic set.  I'm also interested in seeing what you can do with "wizard school" tropes: learning spells, teachers, prefects, houses, and competitions.  It's not obvious that dueling is the most fruitful ground to farm here, although it may turn out fine.


  1. I see absolutely no mechanics here, and I have no idea what direction your set would be going. What drives the set? What themes do players have at their fingertips? What does this set introduce to Magic as a whole?

    We need to figure out the flavor of this a little bit better. A school has a lot of access for each color's flavor -- the colors describe human philosophy, after all -- but perhaps not a lot of setting nor conflict to it. Even Harry Potter had to leave the school at times.

    Try to make mechanics that push "competition", and that emphasize the different tropes you're going for: "school", "duelists", "ambition", etc.

    This is promising, but I just don't see any actual flesh to this bare-bone idea.

  2. I feel this is the perfect spot for level up. As you gain knowledge you gain new abilities.

    Spell Shapers would also fit the set.

    What is the new mechanic though?

    If there was ever a time to do a school based block wouldn't be in a stand alone set?

    1. A standalone certainly is the best time to explore shallow sets, yeah.

      I think Clash would be a good fit, too -- it works well with wizardly future-stuff, and it feels very... confrontational.

  3. Yeah, I had hoped that a stand-alone set would work best for this sort of thing. If "Hogwarts" is too limited, there's always "Balamb Garden"-style things. Mechanically, I had in mind a "build your own competitor" sort of feel, with a lot of two-card combos. It's true that I didn't include a new mechanic (as I was intentionally pitching a more loose iteration of the concept). We'll see how weak a decision that was in hindsight.

    If it helps, one option is to make this a plane-chasing school, taking on the most promising divine and arcane spellcasters of a given plane for extensive training to build them up for the prestigious dueling arena. Tutors get to have a literal representation for once!

    I was working from the idea that blue and white's artificers and clerics could play up both the supporting-class and academic-magic tropes, with red and white [magical] duelists taking the aggressive forefront, black having an extended "forbidden knowledge" theme, and green returning to form with a Beast and beast-training setup.

    That's just my initial pitch, though, so please share any ideas and criticisms!

  4. Hogwarts is interesting territory. I'm seeing lots of "dueling wizards" but very little schooling going on. Level Up actually seems like the right mechanic to use there - wizards increase their knowledge over time, right?

    Beastmaster's Whip is your strongest design, though it does suggest a level of tribalism I'm not sure you want to go down in this set.

    What I'd like to see in this set: show me what green looks like other than just providing the beasts for the wizards to fight with. I'd also like to see some sort of central conflict - why are these wizards fighting? - and mechanics that revolve around that conflict.

    1. Every school has gardens, animal science, etc.

      Think Hagrid.

  5. I'm more excited about the schooling than dueling. "A plane... where there is CONFLICT!" describes every set ever.

    1. Yes, but the conflict should be easy to understand! Where is it here?

    2. Could a Magic set work with schoolkids doing weird assignments and sneaking around with an invisibility cloak?

      The farthest Magic has been from conflict is Lorwyn, where Goblins snuck in your house while you slept to steal you pie, not to slit your throat. I liked the world, but I understand the flavor wasn't a hit for the audience. And anyways the nice Lorwyn creatures still killed each other in combat just the same.

    3. Ravnica: City of Guilds didn't have much of an explicit conflict.

    4. But it did have soldiers, dragons, powerful spells, not just students, teachers, homework, magic broomsticks, and pet owls.

    5. What I'm trying to say is could a kid's world make a Magic set? To people who are used to vicious creatures and epic spells, wouldn't everything look like a minor version of what happens in normal Magic sets?

    6. Right, we definitely need to kick it up a notch from kiddie world. More like a gigantic university, perhaps?

    7. Ravnica city of guilds however had a number of different guilds with very different ideologies to which the players could emotionally attach themselves to. The conflict was in the ideologies of the guilds.

    8. Definitely. Sometimes I forget how young the harry potter kids are at first - Magic would probably want young adults at the very least.

      You can have dragons and powerful spells! I agree that "Kids and Homework" is not very compelling, but thankfully there are plenty of "wizard's schools" in popular fantasy. (Unseen University, maybe?) If a trope isn't awesome, leave it out of the set.

    9. So, what are some elements from wizard school fantasy that people like? It would be good to start listing that up.

      A lot of the things I like about Harry Potter - like the personalities of Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, or Hagrid can't be directly translated.

      I like learning spells - whether it's about a player getting to "learn" a spell within a game, whatever implementation that has, or teaching a Wizard creature a spell.

      I like the houses with their characters, I like the moment when a wand chooses you. I like that there are these secret chambers and passages all through the school.

    10. Another thing that is special about Harry Potter is that it mixes the real world with a hidden magic world. We should consider the possibility of doing a set about a real world and a magic world if we want some kind of appeal to carry over from this genre of wizard schools.

      Another way is to not be so tied down to the idea of this taking place in a school. Before the pitches were made, Havelock suggested a "war between rival clans of mages" set as an example. We could flesh out those clans' philosophies, and have a "War of the Wizards" kind of set with mechanics about spellcasting. For example, equipping an instant to a Wizard creature, or Splice into Spell.

    11. You can't have Dumbledore, but you can have TheDumbledore. Any number of designs for "Mysterious Mentor" or "Cryptic Headmaster" or "Benevolent Trickster" could be done.

    12. Exactly! Anything from a Dumbledore to a Yoda to a Headmaster Cid, or Young or Old Professor Xavier, or anything in between has potential. As quirky, serious, powerful, or pretentious as you like.

  6. Based on the above comment, one idea I had would be to have lots of "build your own creature" cards.

  7. I like the idea of build your own cards, even though I am not a fan of the Hogwarts: the gathering concept because I see no strife in it and ways to really make different factions. Evokers versus transmuters? Not really that different to me.

    However your designs were great, if a bit undercosted.

  8. My initial reaction to this set was:

    I think a fair number of players will enjoy this theme, and I expect it'll be perfect for a single-set block. I don't know what mechanics will make the set play uniquely.

    Basically, I agree with Havelock that there is a lot of potential in the core idea of Pasteur's submission (note that we didn't know who submitted what while judging) and with Inanimate that we've got very little direction on the mechanical focus of the set or even the world or plot of the set apart from Hogwart's meets Magic.

    The advice I would suggest to anyone evolving this set is to establish a more concrete world and plot and then find a new and an old mechanic that feel like they were meant to be for this plane.

    You could claim that the events of Time Spiral created a pocket plane composed of an alternate reality Tolarian Academy and that the wizards living there must now use their vast arcane knowledge to prevent the plane from collapsing.

    You could choose a vast plane in which the only interesting thing happening is a conflict between two rival magic schools.

    Whatever you do, remember that you are serving two masters. On one hand, this set is made to appeal to Harry Potter fans so it needs to contain enough tropes/references to that universe to satisfy them. On the other hand, Magic doesn't use other IPs and puts its own unique spin on every concept it touches. And unlike Kamigawa which referenced general Japanese folklore or Innistrad which referenced numerous books and movies, this set is taking a specific IP that Wizards doesn't own as its source. That means it needs to be distinct enough that JK Rowling's lawyers wouldn't come knocking at their doorstep.

    In other words, don't make three legendary creatures named Parry Hotter, Hismione and Rob Weadley, but do make a few plucky heroes the players can rally around. Completely unrelated, it just occurred to me… has Jace's plane of origin been canonized yet?

    1. Speaking of Jace, maybe the Infinite Consortium has a school whose branches spreads across the multiverse. They've begun scouting out people with the spark for their own sinister purposes. (Maybe there is some weird phenomenon going on where something is causing more kids to be born with the spark than usual.)

  9. I love Harry Potter, but the most appealing things about the books - mean, unfair teachers that we can all relate to, or the excitement of sneaking around the school at night - would feel like minor-league magic compared to the epic scale of events in normal Magic sets. So it would be important to raise the scale of things - for example, a school for planeswalkers instead of wizards, or a plane for training them rather than a school building.

    One idea is:
    In his final years, Urza collected people who possess the planeswalker spark to help them awaken, so that they can fight off a future Eldrazi or Phyrexian invasion when he's gone. He constructed a mini-plane as a training grounds for these talented youths.

    This is kind of like "Planeswalkers: First Class" where it's an X-men style of school. We could have a teenage Sorin Markov, Jaya Ballard, or some other planeswalkers when they were young and haven't sparked yet. The teacher could be Teferi (after he lost his powers in Time Spiral) or Feroz, or someone else in Magic mythology.

  10. Mechanically, teaching spells to creatures could be fun - an instant "deal 1 damage to target creature or player" that you can attach to a creature to make it a pinger.

    There could be Teacher cards that teach players to cast spells better, for example a guy that makes all burn spells deal +1 damage.

    I've also wanted to see Splice into Spells done right, and this could be a good set for that.

  11. Since this is a boarding school, couldn't the students come from different planes in Magic's history? That could provide some of the necessary Magic-branding and nostalgia. Imagine a mix of students, including Kor from Zendikar, Moonfolk from Kamigawa, Vampires from Innistrad, Flamekin from Lorwyn, Nacatl from Alara, etc.

    1. That sounds awesome. Seeing kid versions of races we know.

    2. How do all these kids get to and from school? How does this school advertise its existence? The number of people who can actually travel between planes is miniscule.

    3. A school for future planeswalkers. Someone like Urza is detecting kids with the spark and trying to guide them to successfully turn on their spark.

    4. Can planeswalkers carry other people from plane to plane with them? I'd never heard of that.

    5. I don't know. Didn't Urza carry that character Xancha (whose heart was put into Karn) out of a Phyrexian-infested plane? Or was it just her heart?

      But otherwise, there could be a hidden train station platform with a magic train to carry kids from various planes to the school plane.

    6. There could always be an artifact planar portal.

      It could be a school in a spiritual realm that you can attend in your mind, kind of like the Pools of Becoming that Nicol Bolas uses to meditate.

      It could also be a planar overlay kind of thing, where there is this one patch of land that exists simultaneously in multiple planes.

    7. These ideas seem needlessly complicated and bizarre.

      I would much rather stick with the way Creative does things: each set belongs in a plane. The cards portray stuff that belongs in that plane. The only visitors to that plane are planeswalkers. Simple. Done. That's been the model for every set in the last several years, and I don't see any reason to deviate from it.

    8. I'm not as well-versed in the planeswalking rules as they stand post Time Spiral. Artificial planar portals spread across the multiverse seem like they would suffice to bring the students together. To borrow from Harry Potter, muggles don't know about the Hogwarts train, but recruited students are told how to find it.
      Explanations aside, though, it seems like there's room in the current system of hopping between closed-off planes for one nostalgic set.

    9. The idea of a Magic School set seems needlessly complicated and bizarre.

      I would much rather stick with the way Creative does things: each set has a clear conflict. The cards portray cool and awesome creatures and spells that you can call upon to fight with. Simple. Done. That's been the model for every set in the last several years, and I don't see any reason to deviate from it.

    10. Story explanations for things can be easily, easily be handled. The hardest challenge with working with another IP (like Zendikar did with D&D, or Innistrad did with horror movies) is to make it feel like that thing, but also feel like Magic. And to make that thing something you care about.

      Seeing Kor children and Zendikar Vampire children take classes together would make it both a school set and a Magic set, and it perks my interest.

      Once again, the challenge is to make it about school, but still make it feel like Magic, and make people interested in it. Explaining how they meet up in one place is not the problem.

    11. The idea of colorless horrors from beyond the blind eternities seems needlessly complicated and bizarre... until it's awesome.

      It's definitely possible to play on the these various tropes and ideas while still just portraying cool and awesoem creatures and spells that you can call upon to fight with. I don't disagree with a need for *some* conflict, and while recently Magic has been more loudly dividing sets into factions (Five shards, Eldrazi/not, Mirran/phyrexian, Guilds), that's both not the only way to present conflict and also not impossible to present in this setting if we decided we wanted to.

    12. Yes, I was just using irony to reply to Havelock's comment to show that doing a magic school set is already crazy and untraditional (but could work), so there is no reason to rule out story devices that allow students to gather in one place just because recent sets have focused on one plane.

    13. Once you've decided to base your set on something crazy and untraditional, which is better?

      (A) Find a way to make it work within the existing continuity.
      (B) Add more crazy ideas and retcon the existing continuity to shoehorn them in.

    14. That depends on what type of crazy and untraditional we're talking about.

      We seen sets do crazy things that are super exciting but make you wonder, does that really work? For example, Innistrad printed a card on both sides. Rise of Eldrazi had 8/8 Common creatures. With this kind of untraditional thing, the excitement was already there, it was just a matter of how to make it work. In this case, once you have craziness in one part of the set, it doesn't make sense to be crazy or untraditional in another part as well.

      The craziness that I'm talking about with this Academy set is that it is crazily unexciting, it would be a great risk to do such a tame theme. Everybody loves Harry Potter so they are being blind to this. When we reading Harry Potter, we see through the eyes of a 10-year old kid who lived in a normal real world like ours but was then introduced to a magical world and offered to be taught Magic. That is awesome.

      But if you start with a normal M:tG set and then play this set, everything will be downgraded in excitement. You have the tame environment of a classroom instead of a war field, lush jungle, or an adventure world. It is crazy and untraditional to try to attract Magic players that way. And a classroom won't feel like Magic.

      But we can make it work. The suggestion was to have Soratami and Kor kids studying together so that there is nostalgia appeal. More importantly, it feels like Magic. Even more importantly, it generates interest. It's interesting to see new twists to things we've seen.

      I liked this idea because it counteracts the problems of this set premise. It's not about adding more craziness on top of craziness we already have. It's about trying to solve the problems that this untraditionally tame theme of an academy set has.

      I don't think this creates a breach in the continuity at all. Any number of story devices can be invented.

      The idea might be weird, but there is no reason to crush it at this stage. All it takes is one idea to visually represent the transportation methods I talked about. Or if it isn't solved visually, it will only be as weird as Eldrazi, as Pasteur mentioned. People only need to understand that they are giant monsters of world-destroying scale. In the same way, people only need to understand that kids from these different planes are in class together, and that the school is somehow special enough to bring them together. Vorthoses won't complain because they can read the explanation somewhere. Like the explanation of how Phyrexian Oil works and why the Phyrexians could be in Mirrodin after being destroyed - they were even destroyed on another plane and they can't planeswalk. The explanation for how students are transported to the academy doesn't need to break continuity either. As I've showed, all of them are just inventions like Phyrexian Oil and don't retcon how planeswalking works.

      To sum up, the main problem is the tame-ness of this world, how it doesn't feel like Magic, and the lack of appeal (it's not about traveling from a real world to a magic world like Harry did, for Magic players it's about traveling from a mega-magic world to a weak-magic world). We shouldn't dismiss possible solutions to this problems just because of concerns about storyline details - these concerns can be easily fixed later with storyline inventions that don't retcon anything.

    15. Saying that there's a network of portals that non-planeswalkers use to planeswalk is definitely a retcon. And it's one that Wizards would never, ever do.

    16. Phyrexians can't planeswalk. They all died. Then they appear on another plane. This can be done without retconning.

      So can a school with students from multiple planes.

    17. Planar portals do exist. Phyrexians managed to invade Dominaria through some kind of planar overlay. Another thing like that can be invented.

      For example, maybe there's an artifact (maybe some amulet handed to each student) that guide people to this academy plane that only people with the spark can use. That could work if it's a school for planeswalkers.

    18. You are saying you don't want non-planeswalkers to be able to travel around freely like planeswalkers because that would make planeswalkers un-special. That just means we need a way that students can get to school without allowing any person to go everywhere.

      I've already listed many ways.
      - Students can go to school - because they are unsparked planeswalkers. Others wouldn't survive the trip.
      - Students are at school, but aren't really there. (A spiritual realm like Pools of Becoming)
      - The students can't move around freely, but the school can overlay itself on planes.
      - A planeswalker or a powerful being brought the students there.

      Story answers are infinite. The real problem is how to make the set feel like a Magic set and how to interest people, which a world with weaker magic-users and a classroom environment doesn't automatically do. An academy plane for budding planeswalkers with students from different planes is one way to solve that.

    19. Gerrard, Sisay and co weren't planeswalkers, but they travelled between planes on the Weatherlight. A planehopping version of the Hogwarts Express could be awesome. If a tiny number of particularly magically gifted children were being secretly educated not where their societies thought they were, but getting onto a planeship (rather more subtle than the Weatherlight) twice a year to go and board at the Athambia Academy, that doesn't sound like it'd need any retconning to me. There's also the Planar Portal technology: I see no reason why Phyrexia needs to be the only ones to ever invent such a thing.

      And if a quirky wizarding genius was the one to invent it, she or he could put it to use gathering magically gifted teenagers for the new academy she set up with herself as headmistress.

  12. I love the "magic academy" flavour, but I feel we still need cards that really bring out that setting. I image starting by coming up with simple cards with faux-latin names a la Harry Potter. And looking for mechanics that represent research, dueling, shape-shifting, etc.

  13. One thing I'm very excited about is having Houses like traditional boarding schools. That gives a natural way to divide into factions. We could flavor them as color combinations; possibly opposing pairs?

    1. One idea I had seeing the submission was that this could be on Ravnica, and each guild has a school educating their kids in their own way. (Azorious school would be so boring... but I would hate to go to Rakados school.)

      It's not something Wizards would be likely to do, since they would have demand to just go back to Ravnica normally. But as a virtual set maybe it could work.

    2. On the other hand, there should be artifice class, enchantment class, beast taming class, etc. and those don't line up well with Ravnica guilds, so if we want to emphasize schools by card type, it shouldn't be Ravnica.

    3. Houses are different from classes, though. Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs all take Potions together.

    4. Seeing what the different houses get out of the same classes is a great way to build faction identies. One house can have healing potions, protection wards, gentle beasts. Another house would prefer damage-dealing potions and violent beasts, etc.

  14. Here's a somewhat odd mechanic for the "underdog team" trope:

    Ragtag (This permanent/creature has no other ability unless you control only/more than/exactly N permanents/creatures with ragtag.)