Friday, April 26, 2013

Introduction to Suvnica

Hi, my name is Jay Zeffren. I was one of the top 101 in GDS2 a few years ago, although I didn't make it into the eventual top 8. (My design submission was Devara, in case you want to check it out.) I've been playing Magic since 1995 and messing around with Magic design on and off since I was in high school. My background is in writing and media, and I'm currently in my final semester of law school.

I remember the first time I saw this:

It was the fall of 2005. We had just come off of the tremendous letdown that was Kamigawa block — accentuated by the particularly awful Saviors of Kamigawa — and Ninth Edition was the biennial snooze-fest we had all expected it to be. All that after a season of Ravager Affinity meant that things were not looking so hot for Magic.

But then I saw that first preview card from a set I knew virtually nothing about, and I knew that this set was going to be special. Hybrid mana? Watermarks? New guildmages?! I always get excited for new Magic releases, but I knew that my excitement this time around was well-founded. And of course, Ravnica went on to become on of the most beloved blocks in the history of the game.

Flash forward to Simic Week 2013. Maro was in the second round of guild articles, and when talking about the conceptual overhaul the Simic underwent, he said:

"Most of the other enemy pairings find a clean way to bring the opposites together. They tend to make one color the goal and the other color the means to achieve it."

This set all sorts of wheels spinning inside my head. Maro has said time and again that the Ravnican guilds are not the only ways to express the philosophy and mechanical identity of the color pairings. What would happen if we took the means and ends of the guild and flipped them by color? What would Orzhov look like it its goals were community and its means were brutal, selfish, and morally questionable? When would we see these colors analyzed from this perspective?

We're not going to. At least not any time soon. Ravnica is an all-star setting for Magic. They're never going to do another multicolor set focused on two-color pairings that isn't Ravnica and doesn't feature the current guilds or some similar implementation of them. When we come back to Ravnica in seven years or so, Orzhov will still be a power-hungry guild that exploits religious trappings. So I've been toying around with the idea of the Planar Chaos of Ravnica. Let's take each guild and shift its means and ends into different colors. So much of Ravnica's mechanics and identity is tied up in its guilds' philosophies, and I strongly believe that there is a ton of unmined design potential if we break away from the established guilds and look at each pair with fresh eyes.

Designing Suvnica

We're not going to be redesigning Ravnica from the ground up. Most of the cards in the block would still make sense no matter how we characterize the guilds. Lightning Helix and Watchwolf; the shocklands, karoos, and signets; Warp World and Helldozer; there are hundreds of cards that made Ravnica memorable that don't need to be reimagined as part of this exercise. Furthermore, we're not going to be filling in a design skeleton or worrying about balancing a limited environment.

What we will be doing is creating cards, cycles, and mechanics for guilds that have entirely different creative identities that the ones we've been thinking about for the last eight years. These guilds will be major players on the plane of Suvnica, a world whose creative identity we'll be hammering out as we progress through the exercise.

So what do you guys think? If you have any suggestions or comments, hit me up on Twitter or leave a message down in the comments. Tomorrow I'll post the first design challenge, and the fun really starts.




  1. Reverse-nica? I've thought about this a little bit before (e.g. what if Simic were naturalist researchers like Darwin/Jane Goodal, instead of mad scientists?), that sounds interesting to develop a new cohesize structure for all 10 guilds.

  2. The "reverse Boros" is something I've long been interested in, conceptually. A faction whose goal is chaos and freedom and which uses organization and teamwork to achieve that goal. Basically, a highly organized terrorist/vigilante/guerrilla organization. Maybe they are this world's counterpart to the Gruul and (old) Dimir, acting as a check against the excesses and overreach of the other guilds. And of course, they'd be perfectly willing to make calculated "sacrifices" of the citizens they claim to be protecting.

    "Reverse Golgari" could be very similar to the elves of Lorwyn; stewards of nature and beauty (taking that role from Selesnya) but with a very cruel and ruthless edge. Basically the Orzhov, but with nature and gardening as their "front" instead of religion and banking.

    This is a really fun exercise!

  3. So here's my attempt to define the goals/means split for each guild:
    Selesnya: Goals G, Means W
    Gruul: Goals R, Means G
    Rakdos: Goals R, Means B
    Dimir: Goals B, Means U
    Azorius: Goals W, Means U
    Orzhov: Goals B, Means W
    Golgari: Goals G, Means B
    Simic: Goals U, Means G
    Izzet: Goals U, Means R
    Boros: Goals W, Means R
    ...Actually, that worked out pretty nicely on the first try. (Each list has each color twice.) So now we just need to reverse these:
    New Selesnya- Goals W, Means G. To me this evokes Zen, meditation, etc. So we probably get a guild that is less focused on token armies and more about expensive creatures and the very long game, especially with damage prevention / life gain effects.
    New Gruul- Goals G, Means R. They want natural growth and prosperity in the end, so they can't be warring clans anymore. I think they're more like travelling merchants-- less about creature aggro, more about removal, "panic", and other utility spells. Design could play up the synergy between looting and green's graveyard-matters.
    New Rakdos- Goals B, Means R. The new Rakdos are even more nasty than the old-- they're all about power and will use very violent means to get it. They work like secret police or a criminal gang. Very aggro-focused with lots of life-loss spells.
    New Dimir- Goals U, Means B. The new Dimir are less like spies and more like Izzet or Simic-- unscrupulous researchers that are obsessed with learning arcane secrets by any means necessary They're especially interested in necromancy. Card advantage/hand rather than milling/library is the focus, so this could get lots of tricky card draw effects (e.g. Sign in Blood) too.
    New Azorius- Goals U, Means W. They're the opposite of the Dimir-- very academic and knowledge-focused but within a tightly organized community. They're less about keeping their opponents under control and more about keeping their own ideas under control. A good way to represent this might be ETB creatures with flickering effects.
    New Orzhov- Goals W, Means B. The new Orzhov take over the role that the Azorius used to play-- the people who keep order and whom everyone hates-- except that the Orzhov have demonic power to back them up. Very totalitarian, with lots of sacrifice effects (including costs to make their own creatures better).
    New Golgari- Goal B, Means G. The old Golgari were merely creepy; these are actively sinister. They want to take over everything and they are using nature (e.g vines, insects, decomposition, etc.) to do it. Infect and -1/-1 counters would be a great way to represent this. Death triggers could also be a design focus.
    New Simic- Goal G, Means U. As James suggested, the new Simic don't want to create higher forms of life, they want to understand life as it is. So they breed and train animals, create gardens, and so on-- they're the agricultural guild. Design could represent this with a switch from +1/+1 counters to Auras or even lands as as a focus. Or maybe having creatures of many different types could be encouraged somehow?
    New Izzet- Goal R, Means U. No more mad scientists-- the new Izzet are thieves and tricksters. They're also the entertainment guild (somewhat taking over the role of Rakdos). Lots of small, evasive creatures, combat tricks, and P/T switching; less removal and card draw.
    New Boros- Goal R, Means W. As Alex suggested, this is a group that believes the city is decadent and works as a religiously motivated guerrilla force to attack the forces of evil. They are still the weenie color, but they are more about tokens and then using effects that boost their whole army, rather than individually efficient units-- so more like the current Selesnya.

    1. Lots of good stuff here.
      I would argue that the Simic have green goals and blue means, and that the new green-blue guild described has blue goals and green means.

    2. Nice. Jumping the gun a little bit (we'll be doing 2 a week for 5 weeks), but I like a lot of these visions.

  4. This looks like a really fun project.

    After the cards are made, I would love it if some Vorthos people got together and created a reverse storyline or flavor setting where the events and characters are all opposite, like the flavor text on some Future Sight cards.

    For example, the guild champions cooperate to bury the one ruler of Ravnica underneath a maze so that ten Guilds can split the rule Ravnica. The Dragon weaves a spell to un-discover the maze.

    1. What Chah described above, and then that's how the plane of Suvnica, or Reverse-nica was forever lost from the multiverse, which is why Magic: The Gathering will never see a set like this see print!

      Hello, Jay Zeffren! Awesome post here! I'm excited by this potential project concept. Great stuff!