Welcome to another edition of the CK-Files! Today we’re going to go behind the scenes of Lumeria: The Great Divide! As part of our daily duties as designers, we keep a detailed log of our design work. At the end of each day, before we hang up our hard hats and punch out, we all take some time to write out our thoughts on the day’s design decisions.
Our elaborate commentary system is called T.H.E. K.I.N.G.D.O.M. (Tracking Hundreds of Essential Komments Including Notes on Game Design & Overall Mechanics), and it’s the beating heart of our design team.
Each comment is prefixed with the initials of one of the members of the design team. The team was hand-picked by the Lumeria: The Infinite City team to design Lumeria: The Great Divide.
Let’s meet the team:
AK – Adam Klesh: designer, man with the plan.
CVM – Chris VanMeter: designer, scourge of the SCG Tour.
JMT – Justin (REDACTED) Treadway: idea guy, dog owner.
Throughout design, we lived together, laughed together, loved together, and generally tried to undermine all the choices that the rest of the team was making.
AK – I want mill to be good, but is this too good?
CVM – Is mill ever actually good?
JMT – Mill is either OP or unplayable.
AK – How much better is mill 8 than mill 4?
CVM – Twice as better, I ran the numbers!
Who wants to be a mill-ionaire? Well, it turns out, a lot of people do. But making it happen is complicated. Mill isn’t traditionally viable in Limited…except when it is. And that was my problem initially when Adam pitched milling for Blue’s slice of the set. Whenever mill is too good, it feels not very fun and not very beatable. (What’s up, Jace, Memory Adept?) Dialing in mill was a big focus in the early months of design.
CVM – Hexproof from mono-colored?
AK – Intention was to have an expensive finisher that’s hard to deal with.
JMT – Protection from the set seems….fun?
AK – Ended up being TOO hard to deal with.
CVM – It’s also a problem that anyone can take it because it’s colorless.
JMT – Is this fun?
AK – Cut.
It turns out, it was NOT fun. Even at seven mana, a card that has protection from the theme of your set just isn’t fun to play with.
AK – Doorkeeper is sweet! It’s a wall. It mills. Milling Wall!
CVM – What other “payoffs” for the walls were in Blue? None!
AK – Axebane Guardian is cool, but it’s green and pushes multi-color.
CVM – Vent Sentinel is also cool, but still not Blue.
JMT – This seems like a lot of hoops for no real payoff in Blue, let’s try something other than walls.
Originally, Adam wanted blue to have a secondary theme of “walls matter” instead of “flyers matter,” but we ran into some problems. Doorkeeper WAS cool for milling, but to make it work, you needed cool stuff from other colors, and that wasn’t really what we wanted to push. Also, a big problem for me was that you were playing a TON of defenders just so you could….mill? Too many hoops!
CVM – I want a red common that prevents blocking.
AK – Eldraine has Blow Your House Down, and that looks perfect.
CVM – Wait. Doorkeeper. Blue has a lot of walls.
JMT – Triple Vindicate at common seems a little too good.
While we were already looking to move away from “walls matter,” we still had a lot of walls in the set, and at the time, this hosed Blue hard! It took Blue so much work to set up a wall defense, and then one card could wipe their entire board. We ended up cutting walls, but also decided on choosing a card that prevented one block over three.
CVM – This plus Veteran Swordsmith give us multiple ways to pump our tribe!
AK – Cats are awesome! We also have Regal Caracal that we can use.
CVM – Sadly, it starts to dry up after that.
JMT – This is starting to feel too fragmented.
CVM – MEOW MIX Battle Deck coming soon!
When we first started on LTGD, Adam had an interesting idea. What if White was Tribal tribal? He wanted to use changelings from Modern Horizons and all the token-makers and lords we had available to us. It sounds cool in theory, but it started to feel disorganized. We had tribe-specific lords, lords that just pumped power or toughness, and lords that just pumped White creatures. Eventually, White got pared down to soldiers or knights, and when Eldraine was spoiled, we decided to shy away from knights so our set didn’t feel too similar.
AK – Ayara is perfect! She costs triple black, sacs stuff, draws cards, and interacts with zombies!
JMT – Black does want a lot of swamps.
CVM – She doesn’t seem too powerful in Standard.
CVM – Oh no. Cats and ovens and Ayara!
AK – It’s great in Standard
CVM – ….and we don’t have enough.
Building a “Masters” set in real time has some problems. Ayara had just come out and solved a big hole in our set. We worked her into the set and tested her just in time for her to break out in Standard and decimate our back stock. I wish we could have her in the set, but the people have spoken, and EVERYONE wants to play her!
CVM – I want a Mizzium Mortars-style card in the set.
AK – Can we just use Mortars?
CVM – We don’t currently have any Overload cards in the set, and having just one seems weird.
AK – We’ve tried Meteor Blast in other products and it’s been sweet.
CVM – It seems too good at uncommon, no?
AK – Tested it. YEH. Waaaaaay too good for uncommon.
JMT – Was it a meatier blast than you expected?
CVM – Ugh. Moved to rare.
I am helpful.
This card is a great example of two things we were trying to do. We were trying not to go full Time Spiral and just throw in every mechanic. For the most part, that held true. There were some slips when no other options were available, but for the most part, we don’t have a ton of stray mechanics.
The other thing that we could control was rarity shifts. We moved cards up and down as we got more info from testing. Meteor Blast is just too good at uncommon. Anyone remember Darksteel limited with Fireball? It was kind of like that, especially in a set where RRR is not a drawback.
THE SPECIAL CYCLE – AKA “MEGA COMMON”
AK – Special slots are cool!
CVM – Multiple people in the first test loved them…except for the Green one.
JMT – Yeah, I thought people would hate the pattern matching, but they loved it.
CVM – Feedback was that Growth Cycle was much weaker than the other cycles.
AK – Let’s try Timberpack Wolf.
CVM – Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
This was another cool twist that Adam came up with. Most Magic boosters have a special slot, usually for basic lands. We assumed that basic lands in a set like this would be too boring and a waste of a slot. So, to further drive home going mono-colored, Adam suggested using cards that reference themselves and that grow in power when you play multiple copies.
This ended up being very powerful and very fun for our testers, with the exception of Growth Cycle. People tried to make it work, but it never really had a good showing. Once we swapped in Timberpack, Green got a nice power boost, and it really gave Green a little extra reach.
All my talk of pattern matching is also the reason Pattern Matcher was added to the set. With players being so laser focused, you often had multiple copies of the same card, and Pattern Matcher helps you find them!
AK – I’d like to add some cards that “tease” players to splash.
CVM – Covering all ten color pairs seems like too much.
AK – What about five?
JMT – Is this too cute? I thought we didn’t want gold cards or splashing.
AK – I want players to pause and make decisions while drafting. This allows a little overlap.
CVM – They need to be good, but not too good.
AK – UC would give them decent frequency but not show up too often.
Ah yes, the five gold cards! In recent years, WotC has been very good about giving Limited players powerful build-around uncommons that show the overlap between two colors. This has made Limited much better, but should something like that exist in a mono-color set? I didn’t think so at first, but Chris and Adam convinced me that it was a good idea. Dialing in the right overlap and power level took some time, but we got five sweet cards in the set, and nothing was ruined. So, welcome to the set Blightning, Tomebound Lich, Rhythm of the Wild, Good-Fortune Unicorn, and Empyrean Eagle!
AK – All ten of the UC Hybrid walkers are now a cycle!
CVM – Thanks, War of The Spark!
CVM – Uh-oh, Ashiok is very good against these Field of the Dead decks!
CVM – Uh-oh, Saheeli is very good in these Modern Urza decks!
CVM – Uh-oh, Saheeli is VERY powerful in Limited mill decks!
JMT – Let’s all have fun with powerful cards!!!
Oh boy, this was a last-minute blow. Remember Field of the Dead? It was the best card that wasn’t Oko, and for a while, Ashiok was being used to fight it. Saheeli is another card that really spiked about a week before we started pulling cards for the set, which was also a problem!
We managed to find inventory on these cards, but this was yet another lessen on why you don’t lock cards into a set months before you pull them. When we began testing, neither of these cards were seeing play, but flash forward a few months and they were in such short supply that we almost had to cut them.
AK – Would like to have a common or uncommon artifact that somehow cares about colors.
CVM – We already have Diamond Knight downshifted to common.
JMT – Have you seen Throne spoilers? The adamant robots look cool.
CVM – Whoa, adamant is cool!
AK – Yeah, but we don’t want to be Eldraine 2!
Clockwork Servant and Henge Walker were 100% exactly what we wanted. But the catch was, if we used them, we figured we couldn’t use any more Adamant cards. We wanted to use this mechanic without making Lumeria feel like a watered-down version of Eldraine, so this seemed like a good compromise.
JMT – This card is NOT fun.
AK – I like it!
CVM – A fixed Sprout Swarm is still a Sprout Swarm…
AK – It really helps White with soldiers.
JMT – But it’s not fun to play against, and why is a White card the best card for Red’s “Spells Matter” theme?
AK – I dunno, I think it’s fun.
CVM – Dishonorable discharge, we’re cutting this!
Oh, Recruit the Worthy. This is one that we debated quite a bit. If you’ve ever had the “joy” of playing against Sprout Swarm in Time Spiral block, or against Capsize in Pauper, you know how annoying repetitive game states can be…especially when the card in question is a common.
The other problem was that Red has a “spells matter” theme, and the only spell with buyback was Recruit. Every Red deck wanted this card to trigger its payoffs every turn (sometimes multiple times a turn), and that felt wrong in a mono-color set.
We wanted there to be a little bit of color bleed and crossover, but nothing about the way this was working felt correct.
THE GREATEST DIVIDE IS FRIENDSHIP
I hope that you all enjoy Lumeria: The Great Divide as much as we enjoyed making it! I want to give a shout-out to Adam Klesh for coming up with a really great idea and giving us an incredibly fun project to work on. I also want to thank CVM for all his help running test groups, testing out every iteration, and helping with last-minute swaps. Let’s also not forget our hard-working Overstock team for putting all our ideas together into physical packs, stamping, stickering, and generally making things happen.
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