You’re a Designer, Harry! #7 – Fixing and Fixing

Welcome to another installment of You’re a Designer, Harry! Last week, we reassembled the design skeleton because there were some corrections made that were relevant to the set’s design. This week… we’re once again reassembling the design skeleton! Yes, that’s right, there are yet more changes to be made as we continually discuss and learn about issues pertaining to how to go about designing a four-color set. We’ll also talk about the implications of mana-fixing for a “four colors matters” set. But before we go any further…


In Mark Rosewater’s latest Making Magic, he revealed how R&D wrote Phyrexian mana. Here’s the snippet from his column:

For those who are curious how R&D wrote Phyrexian mana in our design files, we used an exclamation point before the color. For example, Dismember‘s mana cost would be 1!B!B.

You know what this means, right? That’s right, we’re going to have to change how we write anti-mana. We previously used the exclamation mark (which was a brilliant suggestion from reader Jay Treat since it means “not” in computer programming, at least. So, “not white” or “not blue”. He may or may not have gotten the idea to use that mark from someone else, though). I propose that the change be made to:


As in -W-W …which would mean two nonwhite anti-mana. The ‘-‘ symbol can still intuitively denote that there’s a “minus green” or “minus black” going on here. What suggestions do you guys have? Anyway, let’s move on.

Restoring Balance to the Force …Again

NOTE: I’ll be using the term “faction” again in my writing in this article to reference the four-color groupings that are the basis of this set.

As usual, here’s the link to the set’s design skeleton, which is constantly changed (if you’re viewing this in a short amount of time since this article was first posted, then you’ll notice I only corrected the commons). This means that if you’re viewing the following spreadsheet a month from now, it’s going to be different than from what it is today. The benefit is that you know that you’re always up-to-date with the design skeleton.

Four-Color Set Design Skeleton

The first issue we’ll discuss are the two-color hybrid and two-color gold cards. We’ll look at the commons first, not only because that’s the only part of the design skeleton we covered last time, but because commons are the meat of the set while everything else is just mashed potatoes (uncommon), gravy (rare), and a nice frosty beverage (mythic rare). The problem is in the quantities of each of the possible color-combinations chosen – for the commons at least.

The colors in this set are differently-balanced from most other sets because it, being the first set of the block, contains three – not five – factions (while the second has the remaining two). There are more blue and green cards because all three of these three factions (nonwhite, nonblack, and nonred) have blue and green in their specific four colors. The certain kinds of two-color cards needed to keep in mind this different color balance. There’s ten different kinds of two-color combinations to have varying quantities of to keep the colors in balance. Last time, we used a certain combination to attain our unique color balance. Here’s what it looked like:

  • 2 Green-White
  • 2 White-Blue
  • 2 Blue-Black
  • 1 Black-Red
  • 2 Red-Green
  • 1 White-Black
  • 2 Blue-Red
  • 2 Black-Green
  • 1 Red-White
  • 3 Green-Blue

This is color-balanced, but it’s not balanced in terms of the two central colors of each faction. Black-red has one less card than green-white and white-blue! Yes, the nonwhite faction has access to blue-black and red-green cards to compensate, but emphasis on those central colors is one of the important parts of making sure this four color set sticks to being all about four colors (and not stepping into five-color land). To reinforce this, we want a strong presence from the dominant colors of each faction. So, enter the new distribution of colors:

  • 2 Green-White
  • 2 White-Blue
  • 2 Blue-Black
  • 2 Black-Red
  • 2 Red-Green
  • 1 White-Black
  • 1 Blue-Red
  • 1 Black-Green
  • 1 Red-White
  • 4 Green-Blue

This is the same color balance, yet, there’s a balance of the dominant colors across the three factions. Yes, there are four green-blue cards, but every faction can include green-blue cards in their decks. They’re highly draftable!

Now, let’s talk about the dangers of including mana-fixing cards in a set where four colors is supposed to matter. Not five colors. Four.

Man, a Fixer!

When it comes to multicolor sets, including mana-fixing cards in the set is a must. Ravnica block had the signet cycle and two cycles of land. Shards of Alara saw the use of the obelisk cycle as well as its own two cycles of land.

We’ll follow suit, but we have to be careful because our set is different from these other two sets, and I’m not just talking about the four-color theme. Actually, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. The thing with Magic: The Gathering is that building a two-color deck is fairly easy to do. Mana fixers make it easier to build the next step up from the average amount of colors of the set they mana fixers are in. Normally, this number is two, so when you have mana fixers in a two-color set, it’s easier to build three-color decks. This isn’t a biggie. You can just say you’re building an Izzet-Boros deck (white-blue-red).

So, going four colors in a two-color set is harder to do; let alone trying for five colors. In Shards of Alara block, going four colors became easier when the “norm” was three colors. Again, no problem. Five colors is still hard to do (though, Conflux helped with that as a cool second-set theme (domain).

That leads to a four-color set with mana-fixers in it. This makes five color (or even six colors, if Magic had such existing colors) decks easier to do. However, that’s not what we want. Five colors is already a thing. It’s domain. So, consistent five-color decks would make the set feel more like a domain set than a four-color set. Which means we need to design mana-fixing but in a way that restricts players from at least easily crossing over into five colors.

An easy way of doing this is to put a colored mana cost on a cycle of artifacts that produce mana, for each of their respective factions, of the remaining two colors. And then there’s lands (I plan for a common and a rare cycle of them, by the way).

Oh, boy. What a toughie. And that’s where you guys can come in. Design a cycle (you can just show one card for one faction since the card would be duplicated for each of the other two factions) of artifacts or lands that encourage four colors yet discourage going with five colors.

Here’s a few to get you started:

Jules Robins (of Quiet Speculation) gave this design as an example:

BR Mana Rock 2
~ enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add B or R to your mana pool. Activate this ability only if you control one or more black or red permanents.

And Chah (of Goblin Artisans) threw in a couple, too:

CARDNAME enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add U, W, B, or G to your mana pool.
You can’t pay R as a cost.

CARDNAME enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add U or W to your mana pool.
T: Add B or G to your mana pool. Activate this only if you have a UW in your mana pool.

Thank you for bringing this up in the feedback of my previous two articles.

Outta This World

That’s it for this week, but I’ll leave you guys with this little golden nugget for the creative part of this set. The following text is quoted from Mark Rosewater’s “Mana with All the Fixin’s” from March 23, 2009 (It’s also a good read for designing mana-fixing cards, incidentally!):

The next step up is to lands that can produce any color mana. (Yes, I understand I’ve skipped right past quad lands but until we go to the home plane of the Nephilim I think you’re out of luck; you heard me, I don’t think the Nephilim were from Ravnica—discuss)




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 May 21, 2011, in Articles, You're a Designer Harry!. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Quad-Land
    T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
    3, T: Add WUBR to your mana pool.

    Racist City of Brass (WUBR)
    Whenever there is G mana in your mana pool, sacrifice ~.
    T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
    Pay 1 life, T: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

    Quartz Mine
    ~ ETB with a white mana counter, a blue mana counter, a black mana counter and a red mana counter on it.
    Remove a mana counter from ~, T: Add one mana to your mana pool of the same color as the removed counter.
    (This would have art that provides four distinctly colored areas to place counters).

    WUBR Land
    W, T: Add WB.
    U, T: Add UR.
    B, T: Add BU.
    R, T: Add RW.

    -G, T: Add -G-G to your mana pool.

    All that said, are you sure how much fixing you need? Remember hybrid is even easier than normal mana and anti-mana is even easier than hybrid, so if it shows up enough in your set, you may not need more fixing than any other set. If you’re planning to mix it with cards that cost four different colors of mana though, that’s another story. I’m actually thinking CD mana producers (like the Rav karoos but without the card advantage) would be about right; they did enable the original Nephilim after all.

    I imagine that if anti-mana were printed, the symbol would more likely be a four-way hybrid symbol than a no-smoking version of the color you can’t use. Conveying the concept of “not” is surprisingly difficult to do without language.

    • Jay, you’ve certainly got some interesting designs here. My thoughts on each:

      If we’re planning to have a lot of CDEF costs I’d like to have these, but they make for awkward moments casting spells that cost less than 4 (a much larger group than the 1 cost spells that Boros Garrison and friends left out). They also would make 5-color enabling easy.

      Racist City of Brass:
      The designs that specifically tell you they’re hating out a color seem unclean to me. That said, from a functionality perspective this seems great. It pushes you strongly towards 4 colors and not towards 5.

      Quartz Mine:
      Obviously this would be unprintable because of memory issues without your art idea, but with it I think this might work. Of course, it still has the potential to enable 5 color, but less so than the Quad-Lands because you might use the off color counter for ‘colorless’ mana or a hybrid cost.

      WUBR Land:
      I like the basis of this design, but I think it would be better emphasizing the main colors of the faction, for instance:
      WUBR Land v.2
      U/B, T: Add UB to your mana pool.
      U, T: Add UW to your mana pool.
      B, T: Add BR to your mana pool.

      I like the idea, but doubt losing “T: Add 1 to your mana pool” is enough of a drawback to justify this in face of the Shadowmoor filters. We could always add an etbt, and I like the idea.

      On the question as to whether we need a lot of fixing in the first place, I think we should decide (at least preliminarily) whether we want to focus on ‘true’ multicolor cards or hybrids. As has often been noted, it’s too much to process if a set has a lot of both.

      As to how to represent -C, I don’t think four colors of hybrid will fit readibly into a mana symbol, and would instead suggest we have photo negatives. i.e. all the symbols are white, White’s is on a black background, Blue’s on orange, Black is on white, Red is cyan, and Green’s purple.

      Finally, the two color fixing idea could work with CDEF costs, but we’d need more than Ravnica. In Ravnica you could prioritize the fixing if you were the 1 person with a Nephilim, whereas in this format everyone could have one. That said, this is probably the best route because other executions enable five color too easily. For instance, if I were playing the -R faction and picked the proposed WUBR Land v.2 for fixing (it still makes one of my splashes and my second main from one of my mains), it makes casting a WUBRG spell plausible provided that I draw another black source. We can make four color fixers restrictive enough to prevent this, but is it worthwhile over two color fixing?

  2. I’m impressed with your observations here, Jules, all valid points. I like your WUBR v2 quite a bit. Reminds me of the old homelands tri-lands except good.

    The one thing I disagree on is also the least important to the exercise: the visual representation of anti-mana. They may need to print the symbols larger than normal to make the four-way hybrid readable (and I know that carries a host of issues with it), but it’s going to be crazy counter-intuitive for people to grok anti-white on a black bg, etc. Maybe the symbol is extra wide so instead of ( W ) or (W/U) it’s (W/U/B/R) or something to fit the four colors horizontally.

    The big limitation we can use to keep people from going five-colors—your musing reminds me—is basic land. A deck can fit any number of lands that produce multiple colors, but a deck can only reasonably support so much basic land. If all (or most) of our (non-green) mana-fixing just lets you search for basic land, you will have to think long and hard before pitching your third plains for your first swamp.

    Anywhere but an Island
    1, T: Search your library for a basic non-Island card and put it OTB (untapped).

    Autopanorama -G
    When ~ ETB, sacrifice it. If you do, search your library for a Plains, Island, Swamp or Mountain card and put it OTB tapped.

    Leafless River
    ~ ETB tapped.
    T: Add U.
    Swampcycling 1, plainscycling 1, mountaincycling 1

    Nimbus Cineplex
    T: Add 1.
    T: Add W, U, B or R to your mana pool. Play this ability only if you control a Swamp and an Island.

    Beyond this Mountain Lies a Swamp
    ~ ETB tapped.
    T: Add R.
    R, Sacrifice ~, T: Search your library for a Swamp card, put it OTB and shuffle.

    • The idea to emphasize basics is brilliant! Assuming we leave players struggling (even a little bit) to find their four colors, they won’t want to rely on these for a fifth color splash for the reasons you noted. My only concern with this area would be having too many shuffling ‘loading screens’, but I think your Nimbus Cineplex design handles that nicely. Out if these designs I like Autopanorama and Leafless River the best. Autopanorama because it gets rid of the annoying lag for gameplay that Terramorphic Expanse causes because it’s optimal to wait until the end step to use it, and Leafless River does a good job of cutting out a bit of the shuffling without changing the idea. My one gripe about the River would be that while I think it’s cool to give all four of the colors the same tempo hit (etbt as opposed to pay 1), I think it will emphasize the faction more to have the second main color be cheaper to get. That said, I’m not really sure that’s worth the memory issues as to which cycling ability you can use when, so maybe it’s best as is.

      One other thought on lands that will only make one color for the whole game: you’re idea for Quartz Mine got me thinking about using the art, and I wonder if we could dodge over-shuffling with this idea. Have a land that makes you choose one of it’s four colors as it enters the battlefield (marked using the art) and then only produce that color. For example:
      One of WUBR
      ~ enters the battlefield tapped.
      When ~ enters the battlefield choose white, blue, black, or red.
      T: Add one mana of the chosen color to your mana pool.

      On the anti-mana topic, I agree that the inverted color would be confusing, but I hadn’t thought of a reasonable alternative. Now that you’ve suggested a horizontally longer symbol, I’m on board. I’m constantly amazed by your outside-the-box thinking! These might look odd, and aren’t ideal, but they’re a hell of a lot better than players not knowing what their cards do. So until/unless we can come up with a perfect solution, I’m in full support.

      • Bradley Rose

        Jay and Jules,

        I also have to say that the emphasis on basic lands is amazing. Jay is right in that there’s only so much room for basic lands in a deck. And then the mana-fixing can harness the fact that going five types of basic lands is quite a difficult feat. With dominant central colors, an example draft deck could have a variation of this basic land count: 4 Islands, 5 Swamps, 5 Mountains, 4 Forests + a couple mana-fixers, if needed.

        Jay, you have a point in that because this set has hybrids and anti-mana cards; it’d be easier to achieve four colors. Thus we might not need so much mana-fixing. So, let’s take a look at the other other multicolor sets and see how many cycles they had and judge from there: Ravnica has two cycles at common, an artifact and a land one (It also had a rare cycle of lands, but that doesn’t really affect Limited, which is what I’m being concerned with in this paragraph). Shards of Alara also had artifact and land common cycles in addition to an uncommon cycle of lands. That’s three cycles. This set, being four colors, if it went with being completely gold, might have needed four cycles (Yowza! Really?). But, because it has hybrid, we could scale the number back. I can see that this set would either have two or three cycles of mana-fixing. I’m leaning toward three, the same model as Shards of Alara. Especially since a faction cycle is just three cards.

        Now, for the matter of whether we should stick with hybrid or gold for the sake of complication. We can’t go with pure gold-style because there isn’t so much flexibility, and we would need to lose access to anti-mana. I believe hybrid would be the way to go, and the more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to do away with gold completely because of how much you can do with hybrid. You can go H and HH just fine. As for HHH, this can be done like this, for a nonwhite card: (b/r)(b/r)(g/u) This would be less confusing than doing HH four-color, which I explored in the beginning of this series [(w/b)(g/u), for example, might lead a player to mistakenly believe they can spend white and black or green and blue on it. But, doing the two central colors twice and the adjacent colors once makes it easier to grok]. And HHHH can be done like this, again for a nonwhite card: (b/r)(b/r)(g/u)(g/u).

        How exciting!

        Going back to relying upon basic lands as a solution to mana-fixing: The non-faction-specific four-color mechanic could even care about basic lands. Here are some ideas:

        * For each non-Plains basic land type you control, EFFECT
        * As long as four non-Plains basic land types are among lands you control, EFFECT
        * CARDNAME loses all abilities except this one as long as you control a Plains. Otherwise, CARDNAME gets +1/+1 for each basic land type among lands you control. (Not sure on the whether we need to note that it loses all abilities except that one for rules ramifications or if it can cleanly state that it loses all abilities)
        * CARDNAME gets +1/+1 for each non-Plains basic land type among lands you control. CARDNAME loses all abilities as long as you control a Plains.
        * CARDNAME gets +1/+1 and has flying as long as there are exactly four non-Plains basic land types among lands you control. (Note the “exactly” used in this ability)

        If one of these mechanics are used, an ability word can be used to precede it, but it can also denote which land type is being ousted. Like this:

        * Shun: Plains — CARDNAME gets +1/+1 and has flying as long as there are exactly four non-Plains basic land types among lands you control.
        * Shun: Mountain — CARDNAME gets +1/+1 for each non-Mountain basic land type among lands you control. CARDNAME loses all abilities as long as you control a Mountain.
        * Embrace: Non-Plains — For each non-Plains basic land type among lands you control, EFFECT

        (I know, “shun” and “embrace” don’t really quite do it for ability words, but pretend we’ll come up with a better word there.)

        But, perhaps this is the wrong way to go since it might be better to leverage the color benefits of hybrid and anti-mana. And it might look better for the four colors theme (“What is this, a four basic land types theme? Mini-domain? Weird. Why not go all the way?”). So, we would just do colors, then. But, then it gets tricky to count colors because of people perhaps wanting to splash a fifth color for removal, and sorceries/instants are nonpermanent cards. A way around it would be:

        * Ability-Word-Here: Nonwhite — For each nonwhite color among permanents you control and cards in your graveyard, EFFECT.
        * Ability-Word-Here: Black — As long as four nonblack colors are among permanents you control and cards in your graveyard, EFFECT.
        * Ability-Word-Here: Blue — T: Target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn. Activate this ability only if (exactly) four nonblue colors are among permanents you control and cards in your graveyard.
        * Ability-Word-Here: Nonred — CARDNAME gets +1/+1 as long as red is not a color among permanents you control and cards in your graveyard.

        Depending on what the mechanic would be like, it would make anti-mana cards only completely beneficial if you’re committing to its colors (if there’s enough cards in the set with the four colors mechanic or if the mechanic is strong [but not too swingy, of course] for players to be concerned). Or, perhaps this weird execution, for keywording possibilities:

        * Charge: Nonwhite (CARDNAME is charged as long as four nonwhite colors are among permanents you control and cards in your graveyard)
        CARDNAME gets +1/+1 while charged. (or CARDNAME gets +1/+1 as long as it’s charged)

        Moving on… I don’t have anything to add on mana-fixer designs at the moment, but as for the anti-mana depiction, I thought that perhaps it could be done with two shades of gray. A light one for the background (the gray that’s like colorless to perhaps imply that it’s almost colorless) and a dark one for the symbol illustration (though, that may be a concern for black. Perhaps it can be light gray for its illustration just like how it’s white for its regular mana symbol). And then for the matter for communicating “not”: It wouldn’t matter whether the player knows what that symbol means at first because the text box, like for Phyrexian mana, would say:

        Creature – Dude Guy
        (!W can be paid with blue, black, red, or green mana.)
        (!W can be paid with nonwhite colored mana.)

        If that reminder text is O.K. to use, then we can still pursue mana symbols that are normal-sized. Not that I’m knocking the possibility of the extra-wide mana symbol that Jay proposed. That’s one way we can do it. Just saying that the reminder text may keep the doors open for normal-sized non-completely-understandable-on-first-encounter. It’s not like you can tell that Phyrexian mana can be paid for with 2 life, but once you read that line, then you learn what that style of symbol means.



        P.S. I really like the “no” symbol use in addition to a gray-and-dark-gray representation of the color of mana being ousted. I’m wondering whether there’s a culture that Magic is concerned strongly about that would not accept the “no” symbol for what it represents. For starters, here’s the Wikipedia article on the “no” symbol:

  3. I’ve really been learning a lot reading these articles. I haven’t been contributing because all of this is new and I’m not sure what I can necessarily bring to the table. You guys are amazing coming up with names and mechanics. This is a side of the game I have never even thought of until I started reading this series. I’m greatly enjoying the premise and will certainly contribute where I feel I can.

    • Glad to hear you’re enjoying the new perspective, but I wouldn’t limit yourself in presenting your ideas. There’s nothing to lose; at worst, your ideas don’t get used, but being new to the game gives you a fresh perspective that may allow you to see possibilities the rest of us would ignore. So please, contribute!

    • Bradley Rose


      What Jules said! I hope when I referenced Jules being from Quiet Speculation and Jay being from Goblin Artisans that it didn’t discourage you from contributing (This was something in the back of my mind that I was fearing).

      So, yes, please do not hesitate, as, after all, part of the purpose of You’re a Designer, Harry! is to learn about Magic design.



  1. Pingback: You’re a Designer, Harry! #8 – Go for the Gold (or Hybrid) « Red Site Wins

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