You’re a Designer, Harry! #1 – Howdy, Folks

Hi, I’m Squirrel. My affinity for squirrel decks started about a decade ago.

Hi, I’m Luigi. During college, it was common to see me garbed in clothing resembling those that belong to a familiar, green-hatted Italian plumber.

Hi, I’m @bradleyrose . I most frequently tweeted and followed Magic-related “tweeps” during The Great Designer Search 2.

But, most importantly…

Hi, I’m Bradley Rose. I won’t be writing Magic strategy articles here. Neither will I be writing about any other non-sanctioned kinds of Magic like Commander or Cube. Nay, my articles will be related to Magic design.

What in Tarnation’s Goin’ On Here?!

I love game design, especially Magic: The Gathering design, and, perhaps like you, I’ve been reading Mark Rosewater’s Making Magic column for many years. In the summer of 2009, the now-defunct teamed up with Wizards of the Coast for a set of contests for the site users to partake in, and one of those contests was to “Design Your Own Card.” I ended up winning that contest, which resulted in me having a neat trophy in the form of an encased giant replica of my card, as you can see:

Fast-forward a bit over a year, and we have the Great Designer Search 2 happening. I partook with the other 1000+ applicants, and I ended up in the Top 101. That puts me somewhere around the top 10% or so of the applicants, so that’s something, right? And my single significant contribution toward the Top 8 was Devon Rule employing my “tripling” rare sorcery cycle for his challenge (He was required to use a minimum amount of public designs). And, like a few others, I continued working on my set alongside the Top 8 as part of what the community came to call “mock challenges.”

So that brings me to here.

What I’m doing with the articles I write is practicing Magic design. I’ll be building a set from the ground up and discussing the decisions I make to move the set forward, and we’ll learn about Magic design in that way. However, reading my articles is more than just watching me talk; my readers are involved, too.

Each week, the set will grow more and more towards completion with specific goals in mind for the following week. And for each of these weekly articles, you can leave your feedback as comments on the article. There might grow discussions about the design decisions for the set, which is great, and the set is impacted for the better. One mind, one set of eyes alone will most likely miss a few opportunities, a few better decisions that could have been made along the way of designing the set. That’s where you come in.

Oh, boy. This could be the first step in an epic journey (because I have no idea what experiences are to come in the future from this), so… *takes a deep breath* O.K. Let’s get started:

Alrigh’ Pardner, Draw! …The Line

First, we need an idea for a central theme for a Magic: The Gathering set. This can be from one of two aspects of Magic: flavor and gameplay. A good example for each is Scars of Mirrodin’s Mirran-Phyrexian war (flavor) and Zendikar’s “land matters” (gameplay) themes.

At this point, we’ve got a metaphorical blank piece of paper, and there’s really not much suggestion you can give with where we should go next when there’s no first line drawn to go off of. Except, we can reference all the previous metaphorical papers (Magic sets) that have come before, filled with all sorts of scribbles and lines. We can definitely see where NOT to go. We probably shouldn’t do a set about an artificial plane made out of metal, then.

But, we have to start somewhere, so I’m going to draw the first line, and we’ll all build off of it from there. Here’s the theme: “four colors matter.”

There’s an issue that comes with dedicating to the “four colors matter” theme, though. A normal four-color card needs to cost at least four mana. And it’s not just that, four-mana cards that have four colors (an even more difficult-to-cast cycle than the Woolly Thoctar cycle) would require the caster, to efficiently cast it on turn four (if it was a creature, especially), to have four different types of mana available. Without designing the set accordingly, there would be too high variance in the decks that attempt to employ the power of four-cost four-color cards. This would be a problem for Limited and Standard environments.

However, another issue is that one, two, and three-mana cost cards can never be four-color (normally). Sure, there can be cards that relate to the “four colors matter” theme without being four colors, but having NO four-color cards at the lower mana costs is definitely something to address.

And then there’s another issue with “four colors matter” that was a similar problem in Alara Reborn. The issue, as described in detail by Tom LaPille here, is that since there would be an increase in the number of multicolor cards in the set to accommodate trying to fulfill the four colors theme, the average pack’s card options to the average player would be impacted. A blue-red deck player would have less of those mono-color red and mono-color blue cards they normally get from a booster pack that would go into his or her deck when this set’s theoretical booster pack is filled with more blue-black, red-white, and whatnot cards to replace those mono-colored cards.


This is where your feedback can matter because it’s the decisions made from this point that is open for debate.

The easiest solution to this problem is to bring back hybrid (Though, I believe it’s also a pretty good solution, not just easy). Hybrid allows for adding colors at half the “mana-symbol cost.” Here’s an example of a four-color card that takes half as much colored mana symbols:

(Forgive the poor quality of the card being shown. It’s a photo of the card image on a computer screen. Don’t ask.)

So, as you can see, this is a four-color card with two less colored mana symbols. A different card could have a mana cost of two and still have four colors. Could a card with single mana have four colors? Now that’s just crazy. Unless a mechanic is involved that says, “CARDNAME is white, blue, black, and red.” Which seems to be a pretty terrible mechanic, because to make it symmetrical, there would have to be four other mechanics like it. Something like “Mechanic X: Green (This permanent is white, blue, black, and red.)” …I’m digressing.

And with hybrid, the problem I mentioned before that the Alara Reborn design team had is solved (and they used hybrid, too). But with hybrid returning to yet another Magic expansion, there should also come something new done with it.

Hybrid returned to Shadowmoor block and brought with it new things like allowing an excess of mana symbols, one example of which being the Godhead of Awe cycle. The most notable twist with hybrid, however, was the Flame Javelin cycle where it was two colorless mana OR one colored mana. And, of course, Eventide showcased enemy-color pairings to offset the Shadowmoor ally-color pairings.

In Alara Reborn, it was used as a tool (much like for our set) to solve a design issue, but it also introduced the twist of hybrid gold cards (usually a hybrid card wasn’t gold, since it could always cast with one color of mana. You can see this by looking at the card border. Compare Noggle Bandit with Sewn-Eye Drake). However, to achieve the “gold”, a third constant mana symbol was used which forces the caster of  the spell to use at least two colors of mana.

The “new thing” that this set would have would be introducing four-color hybrid (gold) cards (there doesn’t exist any, but Reaper King exists for five-color.), and thus, enabling gold cards that have a mana cost with pure hybrid mana symbols. Though, to clarify, these complex-colored hybrid cards would technically be a hybrid of different gold mana costs (there’s four different combinations available, but you gotta pick two colors), just as “original hybrid” is a hybrid of different mono-color mana costs. So, you’d call these, like with Marisi Twinclaws, hybrid gold cards.

Now that I’ve set forth my argument for using hybrid for this set for the four-color theme, there’s one more thing to figure out: The flavor of the set. What kind of a world would involve a need to go just four colors and not five? Is it like the world of Alara where the world was splintered into five shards, each missing two colors of mana? Or is it like the guild system of Ravnica? I have no propositions so far, since that’s more of the Creative part of R&D at Wizards of the Coast. It’s still very important, though, since the design builds off the flavor, and the flavor builds off the design. And if I don’t get any feedback in this department from you guys, I’ll have to make the decision on my own, so it’s going to be done anyway. You have your chance now to impact how the flavor of this Magic set is.

Ridin’ Into the Sunset

So, that’s it. I’ve introduced myself, set the stage for our set we’ll design, and proposed the first move for the set’s “four colors” theme to be hybrid. Keep in mind that there could be a nice new mechanic that any of you can come up with that tackles handling four colors just as well or even better than hybrid (or simply supports hybrid, but that’s a step ahead into the future articles). And don’t forget the flavor part, the other side of the coin of this set, still needs its first step.

I recognize that maybe I have some readers that are just newly interested in Magic: The Gathering design, and, as such, some of the terms/phrases/etc. may go over your head. If you’re confused by something I said, you can make a comment, and I’ll clarify.

Thanks for reading, everybody. Next week we talk about the first attempt at flavor and see what we’ve accepted (hybrid or something else) as the first aspect of the gameplay of the set confirmed (Also, nothing is set in stone as the design progresses. Sometimes, things need to be scrapped for the sake of the betterment of the set, no matter how cool it is).




About Bradley Rose

I'm a Timmy/Johnny Melthos red/white/blue kind of guy. And, no, that combination doesn't have anything to do with an affinity for the United States. Here's how I got into Magic: Once upon a time (let's say the year 2000), I bought my first Magic: The Gathering product in the form of a starter of ...Starter 2000. And that's when Trained Orgg's eyes and mine met for the first time. It was true love. Until I traded most of my Magic cards away for Pokemon ones. Whoops. O.K, so once upon a time (This time, 2001), I got into Magic: The Gathering with a shiny new One-Two Punch theme deck of the Odyssey set. And, surprisingly enough, I didn't trade away my ol' Trained Orgg, so in the deck it went, and we fell in love all over again. Flash-forward nearly a decade, and I've won the / Wizards of the Coast "Design Your Own Card" contest. That was neat, but then, a few months later, the Great Designer Search 2 happened. I managed to make it to the top 101 of the 1000 applicants. So, after years of reading Mark Rosewater's Making Magic column along with a rising interest in game design, I managed to prove that (while not the best) I'm more of a Magic designer than the average bear. I'll keep working on putting more ranks in my Magic design skill, and the design articles I write here will help me do just that. Hopefully, any of my readers with a serious interest in Magic design would feel inclined to pursue their interest as well, either by participating in my collaborative design articles or working on making Magic on their own. This effort toward improving my Magic design capabilities correlates somewhat with a single goal I would like to accomplish before I die: Have lunch with Mark Rosewater. Also, I still have that Trained Orgg, and we're still madly in love with each other.

Posted on April 4, 2011, in Articles and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. You were a very solid contributor on the GDS2, Bradley, and I’ll say I’m very excited to see some regular work here. Engaging the community in feedback for this set will be a lot of fun, can’t wait for next!

    • It warms my heart for you to say that! I’m glad the start of my comment stream is a friendly welcome, and from you, no less! It’s going to be fun, yes, for sure!



  2. For the flavour I may have a smidge of an idea. What if there were a world where mana is fusing together and no-one can explain why. The fusion of the mana is causing certain creatures to change and gain new abilities etc. Then throughout the set the story is finding out what is causing this mana to fuse so violently together.

    I’m new to Magic so i’m not sure if this idea has been done before nor if there has been a plane of mana-fusing. But it’s just an idea 🙂

    • You could be onto something, Stevie!

      For example, if we go with hybrid for one of our gameplay choices, consider a pure hybrid card. Let’s say Tattermunge Maniac. That card is both red AND green. Now, in the past, hybrid was just thought of as being able to be cast by one of the two card’s two colors because the two colors “get to have that” kind of card. For example, the color blue normally has weak creatures, and you would never see a creature that is like Tattermunge Maniac that costs one blue mana. Not unless it had more of a drawback. That’s because each color is good at different things. Anyway (I’m getting off-track here), what if we change the way we think about what it means to be a hybrid card to be “the creature is a victim of the mana fusing together, which is why it’s a hybrid of these two colors mashed together.”

      However, I’m concerned how the colors fusing together would explain that there would be four colors mattering (either white/blue/black/red, or blue/black/red/green, or other combinations), instead of all five? This is certainly something to think about!

      Thanks for your idea, Stevie, and welcome to Magic: The Gathering! I’m honored you stopped by here at the beginning of your lifelong Magic-al journey. =)



  3. Having all those double-hybrid cards sounds really confusing. “So, I can play Croaked Croaker in a green-black deck, a green-white deck, a white-black deck…no, wait…” And you’d have to do that for, like, every card, every time you open a pack. It’s really weird. Have you done any playtesting?

    Also, split cards.

    • troacctid,

      You raise a great point. I hadn’t thought of, at this point, the effect of “double hybrids” on a player looking through a pack. This is especially dire for drafting, when information needs to be communicated to the player relatively quickly. Having half the amount of symbol space to look at in the upper right-hand corner and not having any border indication to help the player make his or her decision is dangerous.

      However, I can assure you that every single card won’t have this kind of a mana cost. A theme, for the most part, shouldn’t completely smother every possible card in the set to be a theme. Sometimes, it can be O.K., like when Scars of Mirrodin block had watermarks on every card (except planeswalkers). This was a subtle way of showing that there were two sides at war and showing just how many of each side there were at a given point in the block (first set, second set, and third set). The creation of two different mechanics in Mirrodin Besieged for each “side” was another way of going about supporting the theme. Anyway…

      So now I wonder, just how many “double hybrids” are O.K. to show up in your pack? What if there was only a single rare cycle of them in the whole set? Then it wouldn’t be much of a problem for Limited. You’d rarely open up one, and if you did, you wouldn’t spend that much time at first, then, later, you’d memorize the whole cycle just like any other card in a set.

      However, what if there was an average of one or two in a pack? Would that be bad? That’s where your suggestion of playtesting would come in handy. However, much to my dismay, at the moment, I don’t have access to other reasonably-seasoned Magic players to test this out on and see if the “double hybrids” would mess ’em up. I also don’t have Magic cards on me (shockingly enough). My personal situation is a little messed up right now.

      Mark Rosewater, the head designer of Magic, always like to say, “If your theme isn’t at common, it isn’t your theme.” Now, when hybrid was first introduced during Ravnica block, there was only one single hybrid common card for each guild. In the Ravnica: City of Guilds set, that meant four cards. But since hybrid has become well-known among players nowadays, you get a lot more at common, as evidenced by the Shadowmoor set .

      So, if this “double hybrid” is part of the set’s theme, then we’re going to need do it at common, I believe, to consider it part of the set’s theme. However, I can have it on just five cards in the set. Out of 100 commons, that’s just five percent of commons. Using bad math, in a eight-player draft, you’d see, on average, two common “double hybrids” among all the separate packs you’d be passed.

      Of course, then, I’d need the double-hybrids on uncommon cards, so that’s five more. And then a rare cycle would make sense, too. Fifteen cards in the set. And that would increase the frequency, but perhaps not enough to stifle the drafting experience. I’ll figure this out some more on my own. Thanks for bringing it up.

      Also, split cards. You are right, indeed. I was saving that “tech” for later articles. I didn’t want to spill all my guts onto the table in one week. But, I’ve got that in mind. Thanks for the help!



  4. Hi Bradley,

    Great to see you starting up some design material! I’m looking forward to how this goes.

    Having said that, I have to admit that “four colors” is not a theme I would ever choose for a set. First, troacctid raises a valuable point about the complexity of double hybrid cards. (Indeed, note that the “hybrid gold” cards were a third set innovation, and one that lined up perfectly with the shards which people already understood!) There are several other questions that should probably be addressed for the concept to work out.

    What is the defining philosophy of a four-color shard? (And can four colors really have a coherent mechanical or flavor identity?)

    How will mana fixing work in limited?

    What will discourage players from simply building five color decks?

    Both Ravnica and Shards had to deal with these issues, and so would your set.

    • HavelockV,

      Hey, friend! About what troacctid brought up, you can read my response to his valuable point for my take on it. However, the innovation of it being used in a third set, I believe, was just a matter of right-timing. It helped the third-set twist, for sure, but just because it appeared in a third set doesn’t mean that hybrid golds couldn’t be reintroduced in a “first set” later on in Magic (as people get used to the concept). I wouldn’t be surprised to see a colorless block start off with colorless non-artifact cards, something we saw in Rise of the Eldrazi. (Though, was it an innovation? Ghostfire already existed… Hmm.)

      Anyway, the three questions you posed are ones that I’ve also thought about myself. “Hmm, so we can’t do a Bant Obelisk this time.” “Maybe we can do a mechanic that rewards exactly four colors. Might be too swingy, maybe not. And perhaps that’s an inelegant solution.” “The philosophy of a four-color with white missing might have the beliefs and actions taken of the green and blue colors that overlapped with white be nonexistent. For example, the community aspect shared with white and green would no longer be there. Perhaps the antitheses of white would be played up more (chaos/anarchy, selfishness) as well.”

      I was going to let that come as it may. Now, how should I handle that in my article series? Should I, before proposing it, tackle all these questions? Or should I seek answers to the questions as I write, and I might even need to go back to the drawing board along the way? Well, we’ll see how it goes. I think how I’m going about it now is that I am able to let it go back to the drawing board if the theme turns out to be a disaster.

      Thanks for identifying some key problems. That was very good, and I thank you for looking out for the well-being of this set and my article series!



  5. Hmm, “four-color matters” remind me of the Nephilim cycle from Guildpact…

    • Prophylaxis,

      As it does for me. Part of why Guildpact is one of my favorite sets (besides the Izzet League cards) is that it features the only cycle of four-color cards. There’s gotta be room for more four-color cards in the available design space of Magic. We just need to find all the correct parameters to make “four-color matters” work. However, there may be a contention for whether “four-color matters” can be a major theme, especially for a large set (That’s where a proof of concept needs to happen, bringing it from theory into practice to prove that four colors can be a thing.

      Anyway, this is a round-about way of saying, “Me, too.”



  6. Kelly Cartwright

    Hey man nothing too insightful but I truly am glad you are still doing something Magic related with your days as much as it may not have seemed so. Gratz on the article thing I hope this works out for you. Who knows maybe I will actually start reading these again and understand why you are the way you are!!!

    • Kelly,

      Thanks. I do hope this turns out to be an amazing experience for me. I’m already grateful I went with this endeavor based on the feedback I’ve received thus far.



  7. I think the best way to rationalize four colors matters is to focus on why the fifth color isn’t in a grouping, and explain from there. Like how the Shards of Alara exist the way they do philosophically because they have been completely cut off two other colors.

    However I do think it’s better to go the route where the five different “Nephilim” color groups (I wish there was more four color cards so we didn’t have to reference those disturbing things) consciously swear off the philosophies of one color, but embrace all aspects of every other color. For instance the WUBG group could be the epitome of a structured group, vowing off chaos and unpredictability in all its forms.

    I think the best way to do this would be to have very large scale factions so as to be able to explore the nuances of all four colors in a group: for instance going off of my example, what does it mean to be a green card that does not co-exist alongside a red card but does work with the other three colors, and likewise for those three colors. I’m leaning towards the idea of five different nations or city states that have developed independently up to a certain point, and now there’s a huge arms race or territory dispute.

    I think the best way to fully conceptualize it is to come up with a sort of general milieu that you enjoy researching or elaborating on, for instance medieval and knight hierarchy, and trying to apply five different specific factions to that sort of environment.

    So my broad thoughts for what each group is, in very broad strokes:

    UBRG (no white): A society of survival at any cost, where corruption and deception are the key tools and weapons. Morality is nonexistant, and knowledge, pleasure, welfare and everything in between comes at a price.

    GWBR (no blue): A society whose sole goal is spiritual (white and red) and physical (black and green) enlightenment. Knowledge is hatred and intolerance, with the closest equivalents being myths that encourage the pursuit of emotion.

    WURG (no black): A near utopia, without corruption or misfortune. Though there are many different goals, ideals, and castes at work, everyone is working towards collectively improving their society and system.

    GWUB (no red): Chaos and unpredictability have been eliminated from this society: everything from birth to death is either meticulously planned (green and blue) , researched (blue and white) or controlled (black and white).

    WUBR (no green): A society that has to rely on their innovative technology and ground breaking ideas to survive, because they are without the superior natural strength and blessings that green provides. Perhaps a steampunk-esque culture?

    In writing those up, I realized that you for each group, you should maybe have the two primary colors be the enemy colors of the missing fifth color. For instance GWUB’s primary colors should be white and blue because red is missing (also see from my write up how for the three aspects of that society white and blue fit in two, whereas black and green only fit in one).

    Sorry I don’t have more specific ideas, but I’d love to bounce some more back and forth between you.

    • Preston,

      Wonderful job with the creative part of the set. I believe that any concern that “four colors” would have as being viable, flavorfully, would be taken care of with this write-up.

      I also share with you the vision of why a fifth color isn’t there in that the fifth color wasn’t just missing, it was intentionally excluded. To me, I was thinking in my head, “So, if Shards of Alara had five groups who were missing colors, what if these groups weren’t missing their color but “hating on” it?” So, this world concept has my support, where there are five different groups who all mean to do away with the philosophies of a single color.

      I love the fact of examining what a monocolored card who “hates on” a color that is normally its ally (because they’re part of that faction). I’m excited for what kind of design space can be explored from that. For example, in Scars of Mirrodin, a green card in a naturally metal world is able to embrace artifacts through metalcraft (as seen on Carapace Forger) when green cards otherwise would have nothing positive to do with artifacts. Another example is a couple of cards spoiled thus far of the New Phyrexia set (as seen at some sources like MTG Salvation reveal what Phyrexian white would look like in terms of design.

      Your idea of five different types of “nations” building up to certain point where a conflict would happen (territorial, arms race, etc.) is superb because I get excited about the prospect of five different types of societies that have grown without associating with the philosophies of one of the colors. The mention of maybe there being a steampunk-esque world, on a personal level, piqued my interest, and I believe that perhaps (if this whole world concept is the right way to go) others would be big fans of that certain faction as well. The non-red faction you described also fascinated me because it led me to try to imagine a life in that type of society, where everything was already planned.

      Lastly, about factions having two primary colors (the enemies of the missing color): that makes perfect sense, and one idea off the top of my head about how to put this into gameplay terms is having cards like this: A GWUB card that, because its two main colors are WU, has this mana cost –> (g/b)WU . The green and the black are the weaker parts of the faction, thus, they are hybrid-ized where you only have to pay one or the other to get this four-color card. The white and the blue mana would have to be paid. Of course, this would only be one cycle of five cards (this feels like a Woolly Thoctar cycle), or perhaps an additional cycle at rare. Anyway, that was just one implementation. There’s also a cycle of two-color cards that can be done at common, where, flavorfully, they’re the main colors of their respective faction. A WU creature (of whatever actual mana cost) would represent the GWUB faction.

      I think your creative vision is excellent, and don’t worry about not having more specific ideas. Others may have perfect minutely-detailed ideas for the creative aspect, and if you meant in terms of gameplay, that would’ve been an extra feat to be able to deliver some gameplay mechanical implementions of the flavor you proposed. It would’ve been bananas. =)

      Now, in terms of thinking of this set from a block standpoint, it feels like Shards of Alara where the first set would introduce the different types of civilizations, the second set would show what the conflict would be like, and the third set would be the resolution. …Though, I wonder if this feels a little stale. I’m not sure how I feel about it right now. I guess we’ll see what everyone else thinks about the block plan (will this article series go beyond one set? I have no idea), but I may be getting a little ahead of myself right now.

      So, thanks again for your tremendous, valuable input!



      • Thank you for the kind words of appreciation, Brad! Magic design is such a ubiquitous sort of enjoyment that I really admire your undertaking here.

        I think you nailed it down with the idea of a cycle of (g/b)WU by using two dominant colors. That should help differentiate the different factions more fluidly by just looking at cost hopefully.

        Reading some comments further down, I do agree that it may be a little better to break up the introduction of the five civilizations a la Ravnica, with three in the first set, two in the last, and either the synthesis or final confrontation between all five in the last.

        Also, I had another idea about the layout of why the civilizations choose to ostracize a color philosophy AND are separated to begin with. Perhaps each nation is trapped/surrounded in a region by some destructive natural occurrence that embodies the missing mana, and thus their ancestors chose to shun what their natural threat represents and as their society progress this mentality developed into advancements in life trying to push pass this natural obstacle. For instance, the GWUB society could have massive walls and crevices of streaming molten lava and flaring fire geysers on the outskirts of their nation trapping them within their territory, and as they developed their society, they worked with the resolve that nothing as unpredictable as the flow and bursting of the volcano geysers should impede their way of life. And as they reach a modern age of magical advancement, they are finally able to suppress and pass through these walls of lava, only to discover the four other nations (and vice versa).

        This may be an idea overload, on top of the concept of five nations, but my main thought was that if the environment was a natural obstacle, not only does it immediately represent the colors of mana that each society chooses to shun, but can be used for the machinations of the block antagonist instead of having to just focus on a war between the five nations. But this may be stepping heavily on the toes of Alara and Zendikar block, plus like I said it may also be a conceptual overload. Just throwing ideas out there, feel free to pick and choose if at all 🙂

        And I of course totally identify with your mention of how resonant a steampunk setting/faction would be. Perhaps it’d be best to present each society in these specific but resonant sort of depictions?

        – WUBR would be steampunk as mentioned
        – GWUB could be some sort of Orwellian/Bradbury society
        – WURG could be revolving around a caste system like I mentioned so maybe something like Bant meets Azorius meets Mercadian Masques? Basically a Disney medieval kingdom where everyone is happy to play their roles haha
        – UBRG, I don’t wanna riff off two of the GDS2 finalists too much, but I think an underground/catacomb setting would be the perfect justification of a society devoid of white mana
        – GWBR, when I think of this society, I think of an artisan/hippie commune. Maybe they live in repurposed tree/cliffhouses?

        So I didn’t really simplify them all that much…but hopefully its somewhat of a jumping off point.

      • Preston,

        Breaking up the different societies into the first two sets seems to play into design’s favor when it comes to introducing new mechanics. Shards of Alara had the problem of introducing five separate worlds, each with their own “mechanic” but not having enough new mechanic “keyword slots” to go around. Usually, a large set has four slots for either newly-introduced keyword mechanics (or new symbols) or returning keyword mechanics. Also usually, one of the mechanics is something that helps smooth gameplay, at least for Limited. A popular choice is to use the “bring back a mechanic of old” slot is to fill in the quota of making gameplay smoother. Zendikar did this with bringing back kicker (more things to do with all that mana you get from a “land matters” set). Shards of Alara did this by bringing back cycling (smoothing out mana, especially with landcycling in the second and third set). Now, since Shards used up a “new mechanic” slot, there were just three mechanics to go around for the five shard-worlds. The design team solved this by having Esper simply care about artifacts and made their cards have the type “artifact” in addition to other types. That was pretty elegant. And Naya was made to care about having creatures with power 5 or greater. So, that meant the set could have a nice set of: exalted, unearth, devour, and cycling.

        How this relates to this set/block is that, by breaking up the five societies, with three in the first set and two in the second, we’re able to easily assign a distinct mechanic to each society and still have enough room for a non-society-specific mechanic. I believe having that mechanic slot will be important in aiding the “four colors matter” theme of the set. This frees up all of the five societies’ mechanics to not have to worry about making sure that their mechanic is both, at the same time, caring about “four colors matter” and distinguishing themselves from everybody else with an ability that represents them.

        I haven’t yet scoured the complete block of Ravnica to check for sure (and I would have to because I had quit for a period of time that included when Ravnica block was happening), but it seems like the mana-fixing to smooth out gameplay for playing with two colors simply came from the signets and the at-least-two cycles of land. There wasn’t a mechanic devoted to smoothing gameplay, and all of the keyword mechanics were new and associated with each guild. So, we may be able to mimic this model, but with four colors going on (seeing how Shards needed the obelisks and the two sets of lands), being able to play this set smoothly in terms of mana is something to look out for. Of course, using hybrid, casting spells would be made easier.

        I love the solution of why the four colors matter and why the societies are separate (I keep calling them societies in this post, but I figured I’d stay consistent. As somebody pointed out in a post I will respond to in a moment, we should put some focus in naming the societies a term, so players may reference that grouping of four colors just as people say “guild” for a two-color combo and “shard” for a three-color one (and “wedge” has developed for the enemy-color three-color groupings, but we’ll see what they’re called after an actual set like that comes out). What a long parenthetical statement). And I also love taking that idea a step further and relating those barriers to the plot of a central antagonist (which could be one sentient being, a group of beings, or something non-sentient). What that is, well, I think I’ll be waiting for that to develop since we still haven’t fully defined each society. Speaking of which…).

        I’m impressed with your pitches for resonant depictions of each four-color society. I’m interested in seeing what everyone else thinks about how each four-color grouping should be depicted, let alone what they think about your take on “four colors matter” creativity. We’ll all throw our hands in to help sculpt the identities of each of these societies, and I hope they’ll turn out to be richly detailed and intricate. That would be a blessing, for me at least, since I’m less-apt on the flavor side.

        Thanks once again, Preston!



  8. An interesting conundrum. How do we make four-color cards that are playable before turn 3? So, I haven’t had a chance to read through all the comments yet, but I thought of one possibility. It’s not my own idea, however. The possible spoiled cards from New Phyrexia supposedly have Phyrexian mana that is paid for in life. Alternative casting conditions for each color of mana might work. Let’s say, you have a five color card, you could pay black with 2 life, blue by discarding a card, white by tapping one of your creatures, red by shattering something, and green by giving your opponent a 1/1 plant token. It would also make for some interesting gameplay knowing your opponent can still play cards with his land tapped.
    That being said, I’m not a huge gameplay monster. At least once per game, my opponent has to say something like, “You can’t do that” and I say, “Oh, you’re right. Sorry!” I am however a creative thinker who might be more helpful with creating an environment or world in which to play. I’ll be thinking more about worlds that use four color mana until your next article.

    • Stric9,

      I’m glad you’re thinking about other ways beside hybrid to tackle the problem of having four-colored cards at three-or-less mana. I’m also aware of the “Phyrexian mana” that is present on some of the cards from New Phyrexia. I like your thinking, however, the costs varying from each color might not fly. Any alternate method to paying with mana should be uniform across all colors if it’s a new thing. Here’s why:

      Each set can only hold so many innovations. There’s only room for so many new mechanics (About four. Scars of Mirrodin had metalcraft, infect, proliferate, and imprint. Even imprint only appeared on uncommon and higher rarities and only on a few cards). If there’s alternate costs that differed among each color, they’d have to be considered as separate mechanics. And we don’t want to do that since, even if we could stuff five different, new alternate costs; there wouldn’t be room for any other new and fun gameplay mechanics.

      But, having one mechanic devoted to paying an alternate cost (like the Phyrexian “optional-pay 2 life” mana) would be O.K. Just need it to be good enough. Which seems to be pretty difficult. To be fair, I haven’t put much effort myself in trying to figure out different ways to pay a cost to subside the mana cost requirement.

      Then again, paying costs that are alternative to paying mana costs should be watched out for. It’s dangerous when you overcome mana cost requirements, and if the set isn’t developed correctly, we could have broken cards, and that would be a mess. Look at the original Mirrodin block and affinity.

      Thanks for lending your strength!



  9. So, I’m really like that idea of nations “hating” upon another colour. Furthermore, if you’re still contemplating my “mana fusing together” thing, then maybe it’s possible to have it that because these different civilisations have been integrating so closely together and using different mana sources for same things then the mana is merely fusing together just from such close co-existance. Either way I think the civilisation way is the best way (flavour-wise) to go.

    • Stevie,

      While I’m not the best in the creative department, it doesn’t seem to make much sense, flavorwise, for both the “mana fusion” concept and “civilizations” concept to be mashed together. While both concepts make sense to be able to influence the design of the set, it seems the “five four-color civilizations” concept provides the best, so far, flavor support for the design. I really want to mash as many different flavors together in an ice cream sundae, but, in reality, I can’t.

      Thanks for the suggestion, Stevie, and I’m glad you’re on board with the “civilizations” concept as well. Well, that isn’t to say that there isn’t a better idea still yet to be thought of and suggested.

      My articles update on Wednesdays (except this launch week’s article, which was two days early), so there’s still quite some time to think of alternative solutions, creatively (let alone game mechanically).



  10. One suggestion for four colored cards that are easier to cast would be to bring back the “if you paid with x color” mechanic (like Firespout). If you only use some of the colors you get one effect, but if you use more you get a better effect. Would allow less cluttered mana costs but still push players to use four colors.Have you given any thoughts as to how to introduce the citystates? Should they all be in the first set or broken up ala that guilds? I think it would be easier for players to grasp if you went the guild route, but that would not leave much room for evolution either.

  11. pureval,

    The effects that cared about whether or not you payed for a spell with a certain color sounds great. One idea is taking what Preston brought up before about a faction having more dominance in its two central colors, such as green-white-blue-black having white-blue be the more dominant part of the faction. Then we can see a nice spell that needs to be blue and/or white, but if you spent green or black on it as well, then you get additional effects.

    Of course, having a spell that says “if you paid with white” and so on for each color in the faction, that would be four separate color clauses, and that would mean the mana cost would be a bit weird. Perhaps it would be a double-hybrid, which would merit even asking whether you paid those colors.

    As for introducing the city-states broken up, that’s a neat idea that I hadn’t thought of before. Since there’s five city-states, and since the first set is usually a large set, we can have the first set feature three of them, then the second feature the rest. Then we can decide whether this block is a two-set block with no outcome, like Ravnica, or it’s a three-set block with a two-set introduction with a single set outcome.

    Woo, ideas! Thanks, pureval!



  12. Hey Bradley, nice work laying out your plan and challenges. I’m also skeptical about the merits of a four-color block, but nothing brilliant was ever achieved from a mundane venture.
    Two radical thoughts for you to consider:
    The anti- mana symbol. I’m sure someone has already thought of this somewhere, so I won’t claim it’s my own invention, but it seems highly relevant to this discussion. In short, !C is a many of any color but C and a card with !C in its mana cost is every color except that one. So you can make a 1cc spell that is white, blue, black and red by making its mana cost !G.
    The second is radical in an entirely different direction. What if your set isn’t four-colors-matter so much as it is, four colors. Like the opposite of Torment, you could make one color less common (or—as long as we’re being bold—completely absent). Perhaps, you could make black the “missing” color to make up for Torment. Now we get to explore a world where black mana is scarce and see what that means for the creatures, lands and magic of the plane.
    Just some wild thoughts to consider. Good luck with your project!

    • Nice to hear from you, Jay!

      The anti-mana symbol intrigues me. Designing cards with the anti-mana symbol in this block would most likely mean avoiding any colorless mana symbols being used on the same card. Technically, doing 1!G would mean that mono-green decks couldn’t cast this for GG. But it could be cast for G and another color. That would be weird to do, hating on GG, but not a single G; especially when green needs to be completely out of the picture for the nongreen faction.

      But, what I can see happening in terms of cycles is, if we accept that the two enemy colors of the missing color of any one given faction (black and red in the nonwhite faction, for example) are the “dominant” ones, at least a cycle of cards with something like this for a mana cost could exist: WU!R. This is similar to what I proposed to Preston before in an earlier comment here where the casting cost would be: WU(b/g). Instead, with !R, it’s basically upgrading it to: WU(w/u/b/g)

      Then again, maybe the “special-ness” of the anti-mana symbol would be diluted if it were paired with other regular colors like that. Seeing something like !W!W!W!W might be really cool. And it’d be really hard to design for. How can something be so blue, black, red, and green at the same time and not be white at all? I do think that designing the nongreen version of these kind of cards might involve using flying in some manner since green is really so bad at having flying. Can “Target creature you control gets +1/+1 and gains flying until end of turn. Exile it at end of turn.” be white, blue, black, and red? Hmm, doesn’t feel quite right. It’ll be challenging to figure out these anti-mana cards!

      Though, I wonder if anti-mana would be more fit for later in the block. The first set can get players used to four colors with double hybrids, then we can throw in the anti-mana curveball.

      And I like your thinking with the second suggestion. I know Torment was supposed to have had some design mistakes in it, and I remember (from whenever I read online something discussing Torment, which would probably have been a Rosewater article that I can’t seem to locate) that the imbalance of colors was an issue. Or, perhaps, it was the other design decisions that were made for the set that weren’t fully supporting the ramifications of a color-imbalanced set. But, I’m intrigued by what we could do with a missing color thing. Perhaps make a five set block? Too outrageous? What I don’t want to do is have colors be scarcer than others. I think it’s best to make a color missing, then balance evenly among the remaining colors the cards available to them.

      Thanks for wild thoughts!



  13. Hey Bradley, nice work laying out your plan and challenges. I’m also skeptical about the merits of a four-color block, but nothing brilliant was ever achieved from a mundane venture.
    Two radical thoughts for you to consider:
    The anti-mana symbol. I’m sure someone has already thought of this somewhere, so I won’t claim it’s my own invention, but it seems highly relevant to this discussion. In short, !C is a mana of any color _except_ C and a card with !C in its mana cost is every color except that one. So you can make a 1cc spell that is white, blue, black and red by making its mana cost !G.
    The second is radical in an entirely different direction. What if your set isn’t four-colors-matter so much as it is simply four-colors? Like the opposite of Torment, you could make one color less common (or—as long as we’re being bold—completely absent). Perhaps, you could make black the “missing” color to make up for Torment’s abundance. Now we get to explore a world where black mana is scarce and see what that means for the creatures, lands and magic of the plane.
    Just some wild thoughts to consider. Good luck with your project!

  14. Okay. First, this series is one I’ll definitely follow. I love design.
    Second, I think this could possibly relate flavorfully to the Nephilim from Ravinica. They are specifically mentioned as being from another plane in some article (can’t remember which one).
    Third, I think as other posters have said, the trick to making this work in player’s minds is to have the four colors hate on the missing color. Four colors is hard to grok, but the absence of a fifth is easy to understand.
    Fourth, a signature mechanic (or five mechanics) could be one that “hates on” a missing color. Maybe some sort of protection-like ability, or one that just goes against the mechanical or creative goals of that color.
    Fifth, I think this set needs another theme. For example in Zendikar, the mechanical theme was “lands matter.” However, they expanded on that, asking “Why do lands matter?” and got the adventure world theme. You might want to do something similar.
    Sixth, I think the idea of geographical barriers based on the missing color of mana is an excellent idea.
    Seventh, we need cool names for each of the color pairs. There are already “Shards” and “Guilds, ” so what would these be? “Nations?” “Societies?” It needs to be fantastic. The actual names (as in Grixis or Boros) would need special flavor attention, as they would be what players would use to track those groups and they would need to sound good.
    Eighth, perhaps a mechanic we could return is landwalk. Since many players would play 4-color decks, it would be useful 4/5 of the time against those decks.

    • koga305,

      First: Thanks, I’m flattered!

      Second: I tried searching for the article you’re talking about, and all I was able to muster up was some lore from Matt Cavotta and MTG Salvation saying that there’s a Cult of Yore that worship these beings that have disappeared from Ravnica for 10,000 years. They call them the “Old Gods.” They say that these guys represent Ravnica before it became the monotonous-looking and behaving city it is. So, the coming of these beasts was, to them, signaling change coming to Ravnica, and they indeed came when the guildpact broke. …So, I still wasn’t able to determine whether or not they left to another plane then came back, or if they originally were from another plane, came to Ravnica when the guildpact broke and weren’t even there 10,000 years ago or not. Somebody knows the answer… I’m afraid that by not knowing and going ahead and implementing the plan to incorporate this plane as where the nephilim came from might be at odds with what the history of the nephilim actually is.

      Third: I agree. Though, card design will have to keep in mind what a four-color card can do. A card that requires all four colors paid will be easier to design than a card that costs white or blue or black or red (anti-mana as suggested by Jay Treat in a previous comment). But, yes, flavorfully, the four factions can represent the hating of the missing color.

      Fourth: If the block plan is to introduce three factions in the first set and two in the second set, then how the mechanics are laid out across the sets can have each faction have their own mechanical identity in addition to a core mechanic that each faction can have access to that could play into the “four colors matter” theme.

      Fifth: I believe that the “lands matter” was still a theme, but I know what you’re getting at. It’s not enough that the four colors matter in terms of gameplay. So, why do four colors matter? Adventure world answered the equivalent question for Zendikar, and I believe that the next point below may answer why four colors matter.

      Sixth: The geographical barriers that you also agree with would set precedence for why four colors matter: because that’s what each faction only had access to. Exciting!

      Seventh: I agree with you completely. I’ll pose this question in my writing, and we’ll see what everyone else thinks. There’s five different faction names to figure out as well as the name of the four color faction itself that would be the equivalent of “guild” and “shard” (and the informal “wedge”). The flavor of the set would have to be mostly locked in, so we might have to let the creative side develop further before we settle on naming a four-color grouping and each of the factions. It’s not urgent, so we have time to let some really great names come up.

      Eighth: Bringing back landwalk would add at least one more card that has plainswalk! So, “near unblockability” is interesting. There’s also protection from colors. However, of course, these wouldn’t count for the main keyword mechanics being brought back since they’re evergreen. They can just be there as part of cycles. Well, to be considered.

      Ninth: Thanks a lot for your feedback!



  15. I think I have another idea. Because each ‘side’ will be missing a certain colour of mana. There could be a small amount of creatures from each ‘side’ that reacts to the colour they don’t use being cast.

    For example. Say there is a creature from a ‘side’ that doesn’t use black mana. then they could grant an effect because an opponent used black mana. ‘Whenever an opponent casts a black spell, this creature gets +1/+1’

    It would make the matches a smidge more dynamic and interesting. Just a thought at any rate.

    • Stevie,

      I’m loving how you’re consistently on board with the design team here.

      The idea of a cycle of creatures that benefit from the “missing” color being used by the opponent is what we want to see, except, perhaps not in the first (or second) set. The reason why I say that is because, flavorfully, each of the “sides” are supposed to not have encountered the missing color of mana. So, how can they benefit from others casting that color of mana? It could try to be explained in the creative side just for those special creatures, but it might be lost on the players. At the least, it would be saved for set three, whatever is going to happen in that one.

      Thanks again for the thought, Stevie!



  1. Pingback: You’re a Designer, Harry! #15 – Comment Ketchup « Red Site Wins

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