You’re a Designer, Harry! #3 – A Whole New World (Or Five)

Hello, again, designers!

When Did You Last Let Your Heart Decide?

As a refresher,  this is where we are at now:

The anti-mana concept (a mana symbol  that represents all colors of mana except one) is going to be used in this block (until it proves to be a problem in playtesting, of course). Whether it’s a first set innovation or a third-set twist is still up in the air. The five different civilizations, each isolated by a natural barrier embodying a color of mana, are going to be described in their initial concepting below. The civilizations will be split among the first two sets of the block a la Ravnica with three civilizations introduced in the first set (each having their own new mechanic) and the last two civilizations in the second set. The third set would be what happens when these separated civilizations finally meet and where the block’s antagonist would be revealed.

Now, last week I mentioned that I would be presenting the initial pass at mechanics for at least the first three civilizations along with the “four colors matters” mechanic. However, it’s important that these mechanics are playtested to see how they play, which I haven’t had much time over the past week to do. Also, since the mechanics are going to represent, flavorfully, each four-color grouping and, subsequently, their unique philosophy; it’s even more of a delicate balance between flavor and fun gameplay (as well as mechanical synergy among the other mechanics within the set/block).

Take You Wonder By Wonder

So, we’re going to take a step back and introduce the five civilizations today. The names of each civilization and the names of the four-color groupings can come with time as we design the set. The labels don’t affect the development of the set, and it may take a while to eventually settle on these six important labels. It’s like when you write a novel and don’t come up with the title right away. Anyway, here we go:

WUBR (No Green)

This civilization is removed from the benefits of nature. In fact, they are literally removed as their civilization is high up in the sky and away from the earthen soil. Their cities are in clouds and air transportation is necessary to travel among the civilization.

Their natural barrier grows out of the ground and reaches toward the sky, thick and full of venoms and thorns. Even coming simply within close distance to the lethal vegetation would spell death as odor excretions toxify the air, putting all beings smelling it into an unconscious state (and thus, collapsing into contact with the poisonous barrier). But the barrier, alas, is a beautiful sight with colors and flowers that dazzle your eyes much more than anything you would ever see in the cloud civilization. Pretty much all of the jungles and forests’ best defense mechanisms are employed here with this gargantuan plant-barrier.

Without relying upon nature means (almost) no natural resources. And, yes, this does mean unnatural food. The WUBR civilization specializes in conjuration type of magic, to create the resources they need. They efficiently have practiced certain resources with certain properties that can be used for many different types of things (for example, they don’t specialize in creating puppies since they have a more limited usefulness than something like wood or steel). Since these resources are unnatural, they’re not like the kinds found on the earth. There’s resources that are naturally sticky and can cement upon command, for example, for sticking things together. A super-glue material without the danger of super-glue-ing things you don’t want to super-glue. Things like that.

The civilization has heavily relied upon technology to advance itself. It has been able to develop methods of extracting water from the clouds and manipulating it to be able to create steam. The steam that was discovered powers its other technologies like the aircrafts that the people use to get from town-to-town among the clouds. Yes, as reader Preston suggested, this would be Magic‘s version of a steampunk-esque culture.

The WUBR civilization’s goal is to fulfill its desire to limitless exploration — but they need to get past the green-mana barrier itself. They do this through the continual study and improvement of technology and magic, scrapping what they need perpetuate itself further. Their scientific process bleeds into a “life process,” where individuals are taught, from birth, certain things to try to steer the civilization toward being able to keep bettering themselves in a better way. Because they don’t have nature itself to inspire them to create (studying how plants work, etc.), there is a heavy emphasis on creative thinking and coming up with wild ideas. They have no qualms with constant manipulation of life and death to test on the vegetative barrier, if it’s for the sake of breaking past the barrier. “Hey, Carl! Welcome back for the 432nd time! We’re going to run you through the deadly thorns again. This time, we might make a breakthrough! …Oh, nope. Didn’t work. We’ll let the company know of our report tonight.”

UBRG (No White)

This civilization is unique in that it’s not really a civilization but more of a collection of people trapped in the same area. Without the structure and rules that being aligned with white gives, it’s more of an every man for himself sort of deal. This is why this “civilization” has the least population of all the civilizations.

They say that there are four corners of the earth. With those four corners implies there’s four sides. In this case, this civilization doesn’t have a “fourth wall” it lives with — it avoids a fourth wall. This is because a gigantic wall of light shines upon the civilization from one direction. And it’s even more blinding than the sun that we know. You can’t stare at it too long, which makes facing one direction a rare thing to do among the people. The closer the individuals get to the barrier, the brighter it shines. It’s difficult to break past the barrier when you’re living your life looking the other way.

The wall of light doesn’t actually have a physical component to it. Technically, if you traveled for miles from the edge of this civilization toward the light without looking at it, you can walk right through it. But most individuals aren’t inclined to move forward past the light because of a direction the “civilization” took: underground. When you’re underground, you don’t have to worry about the blinding, unnatural light.

Over time, though, the UBRG people, from living underground, have evolved past needing to see. The darkness of underground renders vision useless. Eventually, the people will be able to go back up to the surface without being affected by the wall of light and just move on beyond it.

The UBRG work like this: There’s no sense of higher purpose to work toward. There’s nothing to decree across everyone what is right and what is wrong. There’s no laws and no structure. At the least, it’s one person against the world. At most, there are families working together out of love and gangs working together toward a common goal. There’s no trust with other parties, secrets being held tightly to the chest for fear of others using that knowledge against them. And sometimes they need to lash out at others before they do it back. Being kind doesn’t pay, after all. It actually might cost you your life.

Eventually, though, few-by-few, the WUBR people will move beyond the light barrier. This is the least dramatic breakthrough by a civilization.

BRGW (No Blue)

This civilization is stuck in on a giant sphere of land bobbing in water. The water itself is actually an enormous whirlpool, constantly whirling. The land is unstable, and what settlements and such may be on dry land one day may be under water the next. Their buildings are either proofed against the water or as minimal as possible to be able to be moved. Their way of life is to always be on foot, balancing their lives on the ball of earth. The sphere-earth is large enough to have its own gravitational pull, which means the people never simply fall off.

The whirlpool is the blue barrier of this civilization. While it constantly whirls, it also is loud. It’s not so loud while you’re atop the sphere-ball, but sometimes you’ll be near the edge of the water, which means it would even be so loud that you can’t even think. Let alone trying to study to gain knowledge under such conditions.

As such, the BRGW people act on instinct and impulse. They work together to build a community off the life-style of a sphere-earth, but they live their lives passionately. All they really want is to have the freedom to be able to not have to focus on surviving on the earth-ball and just do whatever they want to do. But, to achieve this, they have to work together. Too much of the population on one side of the land can cause the land to spin much faster than they like.

With all this spinning around the whirlpool, and the spinning of the sphere of land, eventually, randomly, they’ll escape and be washed ashore a brand new flat land of, to them, peace and freedom.

RGWU (No Black)

This civilization is the closest to a resonant fantasy theme that you can get. You have a hierarchical medieval kingdom with “everyone happy to play their roles,” using reader Preston’s words. There’s a king, a royal family, church officials, townsfolk, and etc., and everyone is O.K. with it. Scheming to break free is not on anybody’s agenda.

The natural force that traps this civilization actually lies within the king himself. The king is actually a lich that feeds on the unhappiness of others to fuel its power. It has the power to kill someone simply upon physical contact. Without any intervention by the lich-king, the kingdom would simply expand until it comes into contact with another civilization. The people happily breed more people, build more buildings, and spread outward. The lich-king can keep the growth in check by killing off the population (but it needs unhappiness to do so).

O.K., as an aside, I admit that this alignment of mana force is a bit different. I thought I’d try something a bit more experimental and different seeing as how other forces are external. It doesn’t have to be a lich-king or whatnot, but the concept that killing off people to keep a civilization from growing was exciting to me. More exciting than super-swamps or something.

The people of the civilization value community and do long-term planning as well as “living within the moment.” Whatever would be purporting their role in life is great by them. Eventually, though, death keep up with the birth rate of the civilization, and the civilization eventually expands out to others.

GWUB (No Red)

This civilization is trapped within a deep valley surrounded by mountains. Wait a minute, those aren’t mountains… those are a string of volcanoes! But, they’re not ordinary nor dormant volcanoes. From more openings than just the top, the volcanic red barrier spouts volcanic geysers at sporadic, random intervals. However, there’s more time the volcanoes spout geysers of fire than there is that they’re not spouting fire. This unpredictable and random nature makes it out of the question to traverse past, through ground and by air.

So, the civilization within, the GWUB people, do without red mana. In response to the unpredictability surrounding them, there is none within their society. Everything is planned from birth until death of each individual, group, and so forth. Everything has a purpose. There’s no such thing as “fun.”

However, just because everything is planned beforehand doesn’t mean that they know everything. But, GWUB people do know a lot. They’re constantly learning and adapting their way of life accordingly whenever something newly discovered changes what they know of the world. The biggest unknown is what lies beyond the surrounding mountains. That’s why they’re studying everything from nature to the patterns of life. Everything is structured to move forward their knowledge which, in turn, moves forward their civilization.

Eventually, they’ll figure out the pattern to the geysers of magma. It’s like pi, which has no apparent pattern, but there must be answer, and they’ll prosper because of it. And everyone has their place within their society throughout their life until their death.

A big thanks to reader Preston for being responsible for much of the initial description of these civilizations.

Don’t You Dare Close Your Eyes

I should have posted these links last week, but for further study of the philosophies of the colors, so you can make up your own mind on what a four-color civilization would be like, here’s some articles you can read by Magic Head Designer Mark Rosewater (There’s a lot!):

A Magic Carpet Ride

Now, the first set is going to feature three of these five civilizations. To make things seem balanced, the first three to be introduced would be the UBRG (no white), RGWU (no black), and GWUB (no red) civilizations, but the mechanics that we would come up with to match the flavor of these four-color groups may make it different since the game mechanics may be better off in a certain combination between the first set and the second set.

One idea that I had for the steampunk-esque WUBR civilization is the focus on flying. The other way we can do this is to focus on artifacts, but I figured with the recent Scars of Mirrodin block and Esper’s artifact-heavy execution already existing, we can veer away from artifacts. This is a civilization in the sky! Speaking of which, it might make sense to have bird people up there.

That leads me to the next step in figuring out the flavor of these worlds. We’re going to need tribes to inhabit each of these civilizations. There’s definitely no merfolk in nonblue land. Probably goblins, though. Vampires? I’d like for you to suggest some creature types to go along with each civilization as well as leave feedback on my initial world proposal.

I’m going to take it slowly again this week as I’m expecting a busy week, so I’m not going to have listed mechanics for next week, most likely. With that said, here’s what we have on our to-do list:

  • What do we call each of these civilizations? What do we call a single four-color grouping (guild for two-color and shard for three-color)?
  • How can we further improve the flavor of the civilizations that we have so far?
  • What keyword mechanics would fit with the flavors of these civilizations? Playtesting is recommended. As such, this will take time and effort.
  • Same as above, except with the core “four colors matter” mechanic.
  • Where should anti-mana first appear in this block? First set, second set, or third set?

Thanks again for reading, card crafters!



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 20, 2011, in Articles, You're a Designer Harry!. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Your section titles are making me laugh.

    • I’m so glad you said something! I was beginning to think it was all going over people’s heads, or worse, annoying them! Thanks a lot, strict9. You made every section that ever was, and will be, worth it.



  2. On a more creative note, I certainly appreciate how the ideas for the civilizations have progressed. Considering that we’re calling them civilizations, perhaps a word that is related to civilizations in some sense would be appropriate like “echelons,” “castes,” “realms,” or “tiers.” I’ll try some out while I type. Saying them out loud should help too.And maybe we’ll want to name the set itself “Civilizations.”
    The thought of an airbound tier that defines itself through invention and steam power is strong already. I’m not sure what you were alluding to when talking about “superglue” and whether you thought it would be a mechanic or a singular card. I personally think you could easily create a “steam engine” mechanic. Just make sure it’s not mimicking metalcraft. The photophobic, subterranean (mechanic name?) tier is also an excitedly unique idea. It certainly deserves some attention. I also think that the landlocked (mechanic name?) islandfolk and and orderbound (mechanic name?) volcanic tier can work well.
    The fantasy tier that lacks black I think is perfect but may need an exceptional degree of focus. I agree, superswamps is kind of “bleh,” but how to impose limits on the tier in a creative way. Maybe this is the element in the story that leads into the next block. What if the lich-king’s presence was not made known until much further along. Instead, there are rumors and frightened whispers of that which should never be spoken of. Maybe, the lich-king feeds on black mana. He does this by taking advantage of “sin.” When someone in the perfect society “sins” (ie, uses black mana), whatever that means, they are removed from society for the greater good (covertly or overtly). This can happen to anyone, man, woman, beast, plant, and even child. Perhaps it is progression from “elite” (mechanic name?) to “sinner” that causes the tiers to eventually sway out of balance when the discovery of a lich-king causes the elite to ultimately discover the truth. But what does this mean? Do they embrace black mana? Do they hate it even more? Is this when anti-mana (“countermana” maybe?) manifests itself? Perhaps only one or two tiers develop countermana initially. Then as the civilizations unravel and begin to interact, countermana begins to truly manifest. How do they become aware of the remaining tiers? What happens when all the civilizations are finally coming to grips with the presence that limits their tier?
    These are just some ideas. Take from them what you will and mold it into the beast you want. Thanks.

    • Stric9,

      Sure, we can call them “tiers” for now, but I believe a stronger name is out there. “Realms” feels like they’d be too separated and not within the same world, and “echelons/castes” feels too much like the different tiers were part of a planned structure. This may be true in the eyes of the antagonist, but to the players, too, at least from the first set or two, it seems random and mysterious. There shouldn’t be an organized feeling to the names. I’m trying to focus on a name that evokes the fact that it’s four colors against one. It reminded me of how — this may be controversial to mention — the K.K.K. are tied together by their hate for a certain group or groups, which led to my thinking of “clans.” I went to to see synonyms for that word as well as “association,” “affiliation,” and “alliance.” …But, I notice that the words of “shard”, “guild”, and “wedge” are all one syllable, which makes talking about them easier. We should probably aim for two syllables at most, then. For now, I’ll use the word “tier.”

      I definitely would like to include “steam” as a resource, seeing as how that’s the basis of the whole steampunk genre. Using steam in some way may be at odds of having a “flying matters” theme, though. Well, whatever is best. Steam may be used in conjunction with flying, or it may not. I can see steam being used to “power” individuals and artifacts to get them to fly.

      Another reason for focusing on “flying matters” is that every single other color has no problem with flying. This is evident in the archetypal creatures for each color having flying except green: White – Angel, Blue – Sphinx, Black – Demon, Red – Dragon, Green – ??? (This is a topic I’d like to handle outside of the context of designing this set, as well). Having green missing be the color that hates flying is seemingly perfect for a time to execute a “flying matters” mechanic. The problem, though, is that the flavor that we’re deciding upon of steampunk, if we’re going to go with it, wants to call for incorporating steam. What we could do is downplay the fact that it’s steampunk and just focus on making it the flavor of being a “city in the clouds.” …This makes me sad, though. …But, some ideas need to wait for later. Like a whole steampunk set! These are just things to think about for now.

      I like the idea of using “sin” as something that interacts with the barrier because of how white (one of the prominent colors of this tier) goes about things (there are clear lines between right and wrong). Another idea I had was feeding on the power of individuals that venture too far away from the kingdom. They get weaker the longer and/or further they travel outside a certain area of the kingdom. The barrier would be very black and steal the lifeforce of the individuals that venture away from the kingdom and get stronger with each amount of lifeforce stolen. This would lead to an organized plan of transferring a large amount of lifeforce into individuals deemed to be the ones who venture outside the range of the kingdom to see how far they could go and such. And everyone’s cool with this plan because everyone’s happy to play their part, as per the colors of this tier.

      I am not yet sure what happens when all the tiers meet, but it’s something always on the back of my mind. We need to know how the set will eventually develop. …Sometime, we’ll know.

      Thanks for the input, as always!



  3. Allrighty. Lemme see here. Thoughts only semi-organized. Ingest at your own risk.
    No White Tier. Oh, and I like the idea of tiers as the names. A good test name, and we’ll see how it sounds. It could be the real name. Anyway. So, these guys could be more of an antagonist based on the description. But I have one question: once they are blind, how would they have any trouble with the light barrier? Perhaps there’s some sort of danger that you can only bypass by being able to see? Also, maybe something “underground” as a mechanic.
    Creature types: Human. Elemental. Rat. Construct. Demon.
    No Blue Tier. I like the idea of “whirlpool land”. How much space is there on the sphere?
    Creature types: Human. Scout. Snake. Goblin.
    No Black Tier. Interesting problem we have here. Superswamps sound lame, I agree. And I like the idea of a traditional middle-ages kingdom. But having the “barrier” be a person? That’s kind of weird.
    Creature types: Human. Knight. Wizard. Ogre.
    No Red Tier. These guys are cool. Hemmed in by volcanoes and lava geysers. And as Stric9 said, “orderbound.” Should be fun to describe them.
    Creature types: Vedalken. Human. Wizard. Druid.
    No Green Tier. Okay, I LOVE the idea of “flying-matters.” We may need to tone down the technology, or do it a different way than “artifact matters,” because this should NOT be Esper.
    Creature types: Human. Dragon. Bird. Thopter. Imp.
    Oh, and we also need to establish how these guys are connected. In Alara, they were basically just putting the jigsaw back together. Here, we need to decide what happens when they breach the barriers. Do they lead straight on into another tier? Is there some sort of “void” between them?

    • koga305,

      I’ve also decided to, for now, adopt “tier” as a name to use during the time of our designing of the set. I don’t think it cuts the mustard for the final product, but, until then, it’s nice (one syllable!).

      The “No White Tier” actually is supposed to be able to get past the barrier with relative ease once they’re blind. This faction (Wait a minute. I automatically wanted to say “faction” instead of “tier” to describe this four-color grouping. Looks like I’ll switch to this word from now on) escapes their barrier by means of evolution whereas other factions would do so in a different manner.

      “No Blue Tier”: Good question. How large is the plane? *shrugs*

      “No Black Tier”: Yeah, I admit, this one’s a toughie, and the barrier being a person is kinda weird. Perhaps if the person was a facilitator of the larger barrier?

      “No Red Tier”: Woo.

      “No Green Tier”: Hooray, another vote for “flying matters.”

      As for what happens when all the factions meet up? I’m not sure, yet. Another tier? That sounds interesting. What do they hate on? Colorless? Every color? A new color? A certain card type? Important stuff to think about and, thus, settle one it, later!

      Thanks for your feedback, koga305!



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