Designer Fun – M12 Design Review: Red

I’ve got a small surprise for you this time. I’ve changed the order I’m going through the cards. I’ve put them in the same order they’re designed in – the order they appear in a design file. That order is: from lowest to highest rarity, creatures first within each rarity, and then in CMC order within that. I think this will shed a little more light on how the color holds together as a whole. The downside might be that all the cool stuff is at the end. Try not to skip ahead too much, okay?


Common Creatures

[card]Goblin Arsonist[/card] I designed this card as a response to the combat damage change, to replace [card]Mogg Fanatic[/card]. I wanted to ease the pain by giving players a similar result to what they had before. Without the activation, it suddenly becomes an issue that you can’t always get the one damage out of the Arsonist whenever you want to. I think it creates a fun little puzzle to solve, but it’s my baby so I’m a little biased.

In response to that, Aaron designed [card]Ember Hauler[/card]. He put forth the idea that perhaps with the change we should go further in the opposite direction – that we could now make cards that would be busted under the old rules. There was some worry that [card]Ember Hauler[/card] would remind players about what they’d lost because they would think “wow how awesome would this have been under the old rules” and get mad. Aaron seemed to be right, as I have the impression EH is an interesting, well-liked card, and by the time M11 rolled around everyone had pretty much forgotten the old ways. The more efficient sacrifice damage makes for a better gameplay choice (should I trade this guy or am I close enough that shocking my opponent is better).

[card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card] This card exists to enable Bloodthirst. It is also a 1/1 for C that you don’t feel awful about drawing on turn 10. Red, or any color, doesn’t usually get two common C 1/1s in the same set, but the need to enable Bloodthirst abilities on 2-drops forces an exception here.

[card]Goblin Piker[/card] Sometimes you want to embarrass your opponent to death, and for those times design gives you Goblin Piker. I know I’m embarrassed whenever I die to this guy, or have to spend a real card getting rid of him.

[card]Goblin Tunneler[/card] Dwarves have more or less been phased out of Magic, so when the decision was made to remake old cards with new names, we got a Goblin version of [card]Dwarven Warriors[/card]. This design allows a little bit of damage through each turn, helping Red keep pressure on even after the opponent plays some bigger creatures. The obvious advantages of using it on [card]Fiery Hellhound[/card], and pump in general give players a small moment of discovery to be proud of. For some it will be their first combo, for others a funny limited or low-end constructed strategy, and just sometimes it wins you a game you wouldn’t have won otherwise.

What if this card read “Until end of turn, target creature is unblockable as long as its power is 2 or less.”? It seems a lot more fair, right? But it’s also a lot less interesting. You could try varying the number as well, 1 or less might be fine on a C 1/1, 3 or less might also work, but 4 or less would be powerful and end games rapidly. I could Imagine a 3 or 4 mana 1/3 that made a creature with higher power unblockable, but that would have to be rare, and probably not Red. Testing would show you that, for a common, 2 feels like the right number.

[card]Wall of Torches[/card] Red Walls are sort of oxymoron cards. A high-power, low-toughness wall isn’t very effective against a horde of small creatures, but Red tends to have plenty of little guys it can trade for other little guys. Cards like this stop big creatures from attacking the Red player, who might otherwise have to multi-block them. Also works well with Fling in the same set (by which I mean “looks tempting” not “is actually good with – design mostly wants to you thing about cards and try them out, some of them will be top-tier in constructed, and making it harder to tell is better for R&D. Also better for you, if you think about it.)

[card]Blood Ogre[/card] First strike makes you more interested in working for the +1/+1 counter, but among the common creatures only 6 have 3 toughness (38 have 1 or 2). Of those 6, Two fly, one is an 0/3 wall, and another is a red creature which is more often a 5/5 than a 3/3. (There are 4 uncommons, one of which regenerates anyway, another of which makes a 3/3 flier when it dies, and yet another is [card]Arbalest Elite[/card] – which can shoot [card]Blood Ogre[/card] to death anyway.) I would have tried to make the difference between this having 3 power vs having 2 power much more relevant in the limited format than it is. A good design intent, but someone missed the numbers on this card, slightly embarrassingly.

[card]Fiery Hellhound[/card] This card maximizes the interesting game moments around the Firebreathing ability. It’s a smallish ground creature, but it can kill you in a hurry. It can trade with bigger guys too, but only if you leave mana up. You’ve surely realized it already, but some abilities are much better (power and interest wise) on small creatures than they are on bigger creatures, and Firebreathing is one of them.

[card]Manic Vandal[/card] Red so rarely gets solid 2-for-1s. In part, that is due to the mentality of Red, which I like to express roughly as “GrrraaAARRGHhh!” I also think it’s in part that fact that designers just don’t design enough of them. Red doesn’t have many abilities to use, and damage is used so much already (on instants and sorceries) that a set will feel overloaded with direct damage if you put three Flame-Tongue Kavu guys into it.

Goblin Fact-Checker
Creature -Goblin
When ~ ETB, draw a card and discard a card.

How’s that for personal agenda design! I’ve put looting into red and made a 2-for-1. Well, a 1.5-for-1, at least. Yeah yeah, [card]Merfolk Traders[/card] / [card]Vodalian Merchant[/card], I changed the numbers! That makes it new, right? Haha.

[card]Gorehorn Minotaurs[/card] Speaking of things Red doesn’t get much of – big common dudes. Usually one 4/4 if you’re lucky (see next card), or a 4/3. This card is exciting because it can be a four-mana 5/5. Bloodthirst is a mechanic that very much depends on the P/T and casting cost of the creatures you put it on. Compare that to a mechanic like Scrye, Dredge, or Haunt, where the body they’re on may be relevant, but is not critical to the way the mechanic itself is perceived by players.

[card]Bonebreaker Giant[/card] I’m always sad when the 4R 4/4 isn’t [card]Fomori Nomad[/card], but only because that card had full-art. Why don’t the vanillas have full-art? Is flavor text that important? I believe it’s because the overall format of a Magic card is important to maintain, but it’s hard for me as a player to agree with that. The brand or creative teams make those decisions, so I didn’t really have to worry about it as a designer.

Common Spells

[card]Firebreathing[/card] In almost every set, every color gets a common Aura. Red’s often pump power in one way or another. [card]Firebreathing[/card] is different from static +X/+X or +X/+0, and using it can give the set some variety if there are other, static-numbers auras.

[card]Shock[/card] Red gets two to four direct damage spells at common in every set (except Legions, I guess – there will always be an exception). The decision to replace [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] with Shock is not so much set design as it is multi-year environment variation. Having common 2-damage vs 3-damage removal does affect limited, but [card]Incinerate[/card] is here, so that’s a moot point in this particular course. No, it’s about having Bolt in standard for a few years, then not, for a few years.

[card]Fling[/card] [card]Fling[/card] provides variety to the direct damage suite of Red, which is important because there will be several of them. It also expresses the “sacrifice the future for gains in the present” mentality that is one component of the Red philosophy. Players in general really enjoy this card, because of the surprise it springs on the opponent. I’m not sure if it’s more fun to cast a big creature, or to [card]Fling[/card] that big creature at my opponent’s face. Probably the latter, because it frequently coincides with winning the game.

[card]Goblin War Paint[/card] This card enables some very aggressive starts, and is particularly interesting with cards like [card]Tortured Soul[/card]. As a designer, you know that many of the commons won’t excite the veteran players, but if you make sure there are draft archtypes that can use that card, you increase they chance they will be of interest to the veteran some of the time.

[card]Incinerate[/card] Direct damage can have additional effects, and “can’t regenerate” provides a solution to some otherwise big problems for Red.

[card]Act of Treason[/card] I love the way this effect plays in games, especially when you think your opponent might have it. It adds tension to the otherwise straightforward decisions of whether you should play a big guy, or attack with everything. You carefully do the math to see if it would be a fatal mistake or just a painful one.

[card]Slaughter Cry[/card] Red doesn’t need a ton of combat tricks, as direct damage helps it clear a path already, but you’ve got to have some variety. Pumping power can always be used to kill an opponent, and combined with first strike it is particularly good for Red – allowing a small guy not just trade with a fatty, but outright defeat it. Note that the card in this slot doesn’t have to be powerful enough that top players will be using it a lot, just enough that it helps Red in a way that could make a player feel smart when casting it.

[card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card] When we made this card we told ourselves “when Chandra casts [card]Char[/card], YOU take the 2 damage.” Ahh, good times. One of Red’s few 1.5-for-1 cards. I saw how interesting and powerful it felt to kill a creature and also damage the opponent with other recent cards like [card]Lash Out[/card] and [card]Searing Blaze[/card], and having such a card in core sets feels good.

[card]Lava Axe[/card] By the time you get to the fourth direct damage spell at common, you don’t want them all to be hitting both creatures and players. There’s no hard rule about it, but I wouldn’t give red four efficient removal spells at common in most sets. Yes, Rise has 5 (if you count [card]Wrap in Flames[/card]), but most other recent big sets have 3 plus one wacky or harder to use spell. It’s easier to diversify them in themed expansions as you can rely on a set mechanic or a design focused on the story of that plane to bring variety to the group.

Uncommon Creatures

[card]Crimson Mage[/card] The Red member of this cycle grants haste, and that’s a fine thing for it to do. You could get away with first strike, but as I mentioned for [card]Alabaster Mage[/card], it would likely be too disruptive for limited. I can claim that’s not design’s problem, but for those of you who are making your own cards and sets for fun, you probably have to play the developer role too. It may be useful for you to separate those out by putting on the design hat, and letting yourself run free for a while, then come back later and review all your work with the developer hat on, and make the hard development decisions.

[card]Stormblood Berserker[/card] This card is the reward for playing 1-mana creatures and getting damage in on turn 2. Like Black’s bat, it also can self-enable if your opponent only has 1 creature on your third turn, so you could attack with your first one and play a second with Bloodthirst active.

[card]Goblin Bangchuckers[/card] This design is demonstrating the flavor and mechanics of goblins. Sometimes they do things that don’t really help themselves. Okay, most of the time. Randomness after the player makes a choice is usually a lot less interesting than randomness before you make a choice. (Better to shuffle your deck and choose what to cast out of your hand than to order your deck but have to shuffle your hand each turn to find out what you’re allowed to cast, right?*) Cards like this do lead to exciting moments, when both players are totally focused on the flip of the coin. Magic is much worse when a lot of cards do this, but better if the occasional card does it. The fact that it kills itself is somewhat depressing, but it makes toughness-increasing enchantments more interesting to you. Overall I don’t like the exact numbers here. It’s not attractive enough to risk it (even if it is good enough to play sometimes, it doesn’t look like it, so you’ll never find out), and if you put red’s common +2/+2 aura on it, you might as well be attacking with it instead of activating the ability.

*Orb of Chaos
At the beginning of each player’s first main phase each turn they search their library for 7 cards with different names and exile them. Then they play one of the cards exiled this way at random without paying its mana cost and put the rest on the bottom of their library in any order.

[card]Volcanic Dragon[/card] When I first saw the set spoilers I was wondering why this Dragon was so weak. Then I realized it wasn’t a rare. It’s nice that Red gets the 4th worst uncommon flier, after Black, White, and Blue. Green only gets a spider that can kill any of them and also block almost all of them without dying itself. Sarcasm aside, it bothers me a lot how bad Red’s Dragons have been in constructed – but that is a topic for another day.

Uncommon Spells

[card]Circle of Flame[/card] This card is taking [card]Pyroclasm[/card]’s spot, which will be an interesting decision as far as standard is concerned. On its own, I believe this is a White card (as it shares significant design space with [card]Lightmine Field[/card]). While I would be open to the argument that the effect is both White and Red, as of yet I have not heard it told convincingly.

[card]Combust[/card] One of the three more-played hate cards, this card was more or less designed to handle [card]Serra Angel[/card] and [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]. “Can’t be countered” feels like fun text to throw on all your favorite cards, but when you do so, you’re probably doing it wrong. You must be careful and selective about locking out the ability of another color to interact with your cards. Magic is best when it has very high interaction. Removal itself is interaction, so the negatives of it being uncounterable are greatly mitigated, and it can appear at uncommon.

[card]Fireball[/card] I’m sure you’ve heard that X-spells are trouble for new players. It surprised me how much trouble, but you have to realize that it’s not just this one card that’s so complex. New players are dealing with all of Magic’s regular rules, and they are very convoluted to begin with. The extra layer can be too much for anyone on the first day.

Scaling damage can be a win condition, and it can be removal for almost anything. Mult-target damage can be a wrath effect, and is usually at least a 2-for-1. Combined… well, they’re really not much more than that combined, except in multiplayer settings where you need a multi-win condition.

Three of the five colors have “better than most rares” uncommons, while the other two certainly do not. It’s troublesome that Red’s is so easily splashed. Limited games can feel unfair when your opponent has 3 powerful rares, but it’s a lot worse when they have 2 powerful rares plus two [card]Mind Control[/card]s and a [card]Fireball[/card].

[card]Goblin Grenade[/card] From a development perspective, it’s interesting to compare this and [card]Artillerize[/card]. In exchange for the restriction to one creature type (instead of any creature or artifact) and Sorcery speed, we get a 3-mana cost reduction. Some designers don’t really take development into consideration when creating cards, but others (like me) can’t help it.

I was going to say something about player reaction to the two cards, as [card]Artillerize[/card] has a 2.8 rating and [card]Goblin Grenade[/card] has a 4.6, but then I noticed that [card]Goblin Grenade[/card] hasn’t been printed since Fallen Empires. Really!? It has to be a good design if I remember it so well despite it being absent for so long.

[card]Tectonic Rift[/card] Red generally gets a Panic variant. There are a lot of ways to do it, from [card]Panic Spellbomb[/card] to [card]Grotag Thrasher[/card], to this. I rather like this design, as it puts a four-mana land destruction spell into a more interesting space, paving the way for a very aggressive deck plan.

Rare Creatures

[card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] Core set design has to find exciting reprints, and this is a real winner. There’s been plenty of buzz around it, and it’s already being tried in decklists all over the place. Ideally, it will be correct in some decklists, but from design’s standpoint the card doesn’t need to be integral to a tier 1 deck to be a success. If people are talking about it, trying to use it in decks, and actually playing with it, the card was a good choice to reprint.

Mechanically, this card provides a powerful ability (2 damage a turn for R) with a limitation (exile 2 cards from your graveyard) that both reigns it in some, but also encourages one style of deck or play over another. It’s not a build around me, but it does influence the kinds of decks that get built.

[card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] A Red [card]Bloodghast[/card] would, of course, trigger on damage being dealt to the opponent, right? I like what this design does for advanced players – it gives them a reason to play differently than they might otherwise. With one of these in your graveyard you are much more likely to send a bolt at the opponent’s face during your first main phase than you are to hold it until their end step. Usually that’s “wrong,” but not if you want to recast and attack with the Pheonix this turn. Did design think all of that through when making this card? Probably not, they probably just said “let’s make a small flier that comes back from the dead – a resonant Phoenix.” There is more than one way to arrive at a good design.

[card]Goblin Chieftain[/card] [card]Goblin King[/card] had the problem that he was granting a largely irrelevant ability to his minions. For M10, R&D wanted to create lords that would have constructed potential. You might think that side by side the two lords could make each other look bad, but when you want to give all your guys +1/+1, why would you turn away either of them?

[card]Flameblast Dragon[/card] The core sets have, I believe, been lacking a Dragon cool enough to really get players excited about it. Shivan just wasn’t cutting it anymore, especially after the introduction of [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]. Flameblast is very cool, and should fill that role nicely, despite being a reprint.

You can than Nate Heiss for this card. The ability is so satisfying to play, you get to attack with a big creature and slam all your lands sideways for a fireball at the same time. The only drawback to this is that it kills your opponent too fast. Can you imagine if “firebreathing” had started out like this? Now that’s an Aura I’d first pick!

Rare Spells

[card]Reverberate[/card] This card really pushes the boundary on the restricted list. The only real difference between it and [card]Fork[/card] is that [card]Fork[/card] remains Red. Copying is a cool mechanic seen on many cards, though those cards (like [card]Twincast[/card]) are usually Blue. Why is [card]Reverberate[/card] Red? (Why do Red and Blue seem to share so many mechanics considering they are enemies?) I think that Red can dump raw power into a spell when it wants to, and doubling that spell is one way to do that. I could just as easily imagine a card concept that doubled all the numbers on the next spell you cast, but I can’t imagine the wording for it.

[card]Manabarbs[/card] I find this card paradoxical. Killing players for playing their spells, and punishing big cards usually makes for a bad game experience, but the majority of the [card]Manabarbs[/card] experiences I’ve had have been very interesting and fun. It might turn away new players, but the symmetrical nature of the effect also reduces the chance that one new player uses it against another. For veterans, evaluating if you really, really, need to cast your next spell is interesting, as is seeing if you can carefully corner your opponent with [card]Manabarbs[/card].

[card]Warstorm Surge[/card] Something R&D has been doing in the past few years is trying to reduce the downside mechanics and cards they make. [card]Pandemonium[/card] has been a long-time favorite of many players, but sometimes you get worse than you give after you cast it. This “all-upside” version ensures that won’t be a problem, and therefore will certainly see a lot of play (outside of the pro tour, I mean).

[card]Scrambleverse[/card] Shuffle up and deal out all the stuff! A certain number of designs should fall into the “funny when played” category, and this is a good example of that. How can you not laugh when this happens? The creative team is pretty serious, so it’s lucky that design can sneak comedy into the game sometimes.

Mythic Rare

[card]Chandra, the Firebrand[/card] On the one hand, this feels like Chandra, because the first ability and ultimate are very similar to the first Chandra’s. On the other hand… it’s not very creative, is it? Plus, it takes 3 turns of +1 to get to her ultimate, while [card]Chandra Nalaar[/card] takes 2 turns – you get there on the same turn overall, yet you lose out on a lot of damage (6 instead of 10, and only 6 targets instead of everything the opponent has). The Firebrand’s ultimate is only more desirable in multiplayer games, where a more surgical and political strike is valuable. The middle ability is cool, and different from the other Chandras, so that’s something, at least.

Both Chandra and Jace are rehashes of their first versions, and while Chandra has at least one totally new ability, I think the new Jace design does a better job of presenting a different-looking card that plays very differently. I find Koth is a better looking card design, to me, though I reserve the right to change my mind after I’ve played a lot more with this Chandra.

[card]Inferno Titan[/card] It was very interesting to watch the rise and fall of each Titan through their first year of play. When I left R&D, I believed their power order was Black > White > Blue > Red (the green one did something different at the time – more on that in the next installment). I haven’t counted, but I feel like Inferno has been played second most (after Primeval). To call them a success in terms of meeting design goals is a bit of an understatement. Only perhaps half of the cards intended for constructed play see significant constructed play. That’s not really a knock against R&D, but more of a reality of the way Magic is played. You have to aim a dozen cards at constructed to be sure five of them will stick. The cycle of Titans hit well above average.

[card]Furyborn Hellkite[/card] You get 3 Mythic slots, one is Inferno Titan, another is Chandra, so what can you do with the third? Mythic sorceries and instants don’t poll very well, so a creature is preferred. You don’t want all the Mythics to be constructed powerhouses, and you already have a Titan and a Planeswalker. So basically, a big dumb dragon is the most likely answer, and that’s exactly what we’ve got here. It can be really huge, and that’s cool, but it still reads a bit too plain for my taste, as a mythic dragon.

Most Interesting New Design: [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card]

I’ll include the Artifacts with Green in the final installment of the M12 design reviews. Look for it soon!


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