Yes, today we’re making lands! Lands are fun. The design space on those is quite different from creatures. You need to make a repeatable effect that’s most of the time easy to activate, and is both interesting and not over powered. So far, I find designing instant and sorceries to be the hardest, especially common and uncommon ones. One of the greatest challenges no matter which card type is to make something that is balanced and doesn’t look like anything but is well designed and will play nicely with other cards in the format. Ask Zach Hill about it, he was the lead designer on Dragon Maze, but also M13, one of the most popular core edition in limited, and the idea of core sets is to be more or less simple and classic.
It seems I lied last week saying I would make non-legendary cards this week, because these lands are unique landmarks of Skies of Arcadia, and they have powerful effects. They will be legendary. Let’s get to it; today we are getting three cards! I’m going to drop them all here in their original design and discuss them all together, for a change.
My first remark is that creating lands is terrible online! My favorite websites either don’t have a correct background for lands, or don’t have the correct icons for making mana, or show passive abilities bellow active ones… Annoying. Anyways! Maramba is our first land and it’s fairly straight forward. The design of it if simple and the development will be the most important part. If you have ever followed one of Mark Rosewater’s many media outlets (podcasts, blogs, etc.), you might know the difference. Basically development is in charge of balancing the designs. This is pretty technical and definitely harder than design, as far as I’m concerned, the science to back up the creativity. To put it much simpler than it actually is, making sure all numbers on the cards are right. Developers will check cards mana cost, power/toughness, damage non-creature cards can make, life or card advantage they can create, among other things.
I feel like Maramba could be ok, as it is a good land (makes two mana) but pretty much forces you entirely into mono-red. Still, we can’t have it be a free double land for red decks, as it was in its first version; that’s still too good. Let’s try and make it come into play tapped. Mono-red doesn’t strike me as the color that will want to ramp the most, pure red decks being aggro ones with lots of cheap creatures most of the time. One shouldn’t be able to make a red deck heavier solely relying on Maramba, because what you want is constant blazing fast plays from the first turn onwards. Yet, it is still possibly broken as is, because it reads “comes into play tapped and makes two mana” in a red deck.
Crescent Isle was a powerful design. I definitely didn’t have a perfect idea of how powerful it is to make a land that regenerates creatures. Still, I did know I just couldn’t give it away for free, so I made the land less effective for mana, and make it regenerate only legendary creatures, the flavor being that Crescent Isle is shelter for our heroes. The card made me think of Eiganjo Castle, which saw modern play with John Finkel (in the 2012 player championship) but there is actually 3 lands able to regenerate creatures. Two are kinda cute, as they regenerate elephants, or insects and rodents. But the last one is very powerful and similar to my design, and it is Yavimaya Hollow. I’m going to try and not let myself be too influenced by it though, otherwise I’d just end up copying it. My conclusion was that limiting the land to making colorless mana and regenerating legends wasn’t enough yet, so I added the mana cost. It turns out to be slightly less powerful than the hollow, but still very potent.
Dark rift’s ability is a very cool idea. It’s also very prone to be very broken. You have a mana accelerator, which can be very strong in black, which has access to some pretty twisted things for high mana costs. On the other hand, being able to hide creatures away and have them come back, triggering enter the battlefield abilities, could lead to crazy combos as well. So we need to make sure the cost of those abilities makes them a commodity players can’t easily abuse: put a creature away to get a mana boost, and be able to retrieve it later on by paying back. To ensure this and keep it simple, I’ll just bump up the price. It should be expected that borrowing from dark magic sources will cost you in the end! To be honest, I’m not quite sure how crazy it would be if you could exile a creature and return it for twice two manas in two turns, but it would be what we call an outlet (a reliable way of doing it over and over) and that’s powerful. I could have as well bumped the price to return the creature from 2 to 3 instead of 4, but somehow I was happy with the “it’s going to cost you twice as much” thing. Always think twice when you borrow from black! Lastly, the land needed a colorless ability, as black would be too powerful, and you don’t want the land to be useless when not doing creature shenanigans, either.
I’m mostly happy with the land designs. The mechanics are fun and effective, and the power balances weren’t the most complicated to make happen either. I swear next time I’m going to keep off the legendary permanents though, so look forward some great unimpressive stuff! 😉