(Metagame Archive) Unexpected Developments: When Developers Design

By Dave Humpherys

Whenever a new set comes out, new cards for the teams we’ve done in the past are discussed a great length by our fans. After all, the player base is already very familiar with these teams. The players know why their Darkseid’s Elite deck has failed in the past. They know which favorite character they’d still like to see. They know what character costs and effects they’d like to see represented. And they probably hope we will give their favorite team a character matching the power levels of Bastion, Garth ◊ Tempest, or Alfred Pennyworth. So while the legacy cards may only comprise about fifteen percent of the set, they often dominate discussions on the fan forums when a set first comes out.

The developers often take a more interactive role in the final form of the legacy cards than they do for the other cards in the set. After all, the developers can relate to the same team strengths and weakness the players observe. We can bug the designers from the outset of a set to give us characters at certain drops and cards with very specific effects. While everyone here does a little bit of design and development, the Green Lantern Corps was the first set where those of us deemed developers actually designed many of the legacy cards.

DC Origins Teams

By the time we worked on Green Lantern, it was becoming clear how the DC Origins teams were shaping up in the metagame. Titans had come out as a powerful and well-rounded deck from day one. They really had the complete package, and with the Man of Steel set, we felt we gave them a versatile finisher in Donna Troy, Child of Myth . . . if, that is, they weren’t already too busy playing Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal and friends on those turns. The makeup of this team’s characters fell into the hands of Danny Mandel. As with most teams that we feel are very competitive, the design of these cards looked to branch the team out in other directions and tried to really nail the flavor of the characters. I can still hear Danny giggling now about how Garth, Atlantean Ambassador is a perfect “lil” fit for Garth, Atlantean Sorcerer.

On the other hand, both Gotham Knights and League of Assassins were a little tricky, because we knew there would be starters to help these teams, as well. (Stay tuned next week for some previews of the cards in those starters). The cards in the starters were designed under certain constraints, and so we wanted to make sure we took care of key cards within the Green Lantern Corps set itself. If there was one drop on one team for which the world was clamoring the loudest, it was a 7-drop Gotham Knights character. We also wanted that character to allow you to play Superman, Big Blue Boy Scout. Fortunately, Azrael, Knightfall fit that role nicely, as it was appropriate to give him the text, “You are considered to control Batman.” He picked up the double-stun theme of Batman, Caped Crusader. And just like that, Gotham Knights players had a 7-drop that is more versatile than Batman, The Dark Knight and more daunting than his previous incarnation, Azrael, Jean Paul Valley, who often had to assume the 7-drop role. The direction of the other Gotham Knights cards fell largely into the hands of the designers. For example, I’m told that Blood in the Dark is a very appropriate card thematically for the GK team to have.

And now we finally reach the cards designed by the developers. While I told Danny there had to be a 7-drop Batman with decent stats, he took care of the rest of the details. We knew the remaining DC Origins teams needed a little more help. It wasn’t exactly clear where League of Assassins ranked in the entire scope of things. Early in development, we’d seen a glimpse of them in action at $10K Gen Con So Cal, where they made quite a showing in the DC Modern Age portion of the event. We had already tried to give the League lots of help in Man of Steel, but what else might they need?

As with many of the DC Origins teams, the League was lacking a reasonable 7-drop. Dr. Ebenezer Darrk was a fairly straightforward card that looked at two of the League’s prominent themes, stunned characters and locations. Sensei, I’d hoped, would help feed into decks using high threshold plot twists. In addition, I’d hoped that it might mix well with characters that benefit from having more resources in play. I haven’t seen anyone mention her, but maybe we’ll see more of a certain under-utilized 5-drop character on the team. I’d suggested the text, “During the combat phase you are considered to control one additional resource.” Danny made a solid improvement on this idea by changing Sensei to fix up your resource row and provide you with more options. Both of these new drops alleviated some problems with names and uniqueness that were present at the top of the League’s curve.

Danny was always a big fan of making the anti-team affiliation tactics, like Tower of Babel and Ra’s al Ghul, The Demon’s Head, a featured theme in the League, so it wasn’t hard to sell him on a card that would help out against team-stamped effects while you were on the attack. I’d initially written the card as, “Play (cardname) only if you control a League of Assassins character. Whenever an opponent targets a defender he or she controls with a plot twist or location this turn, that character loses all affiliations.” Danny reworked that card into Shadows of the Past.

When it came to Arkham Inmates, we knew that there was still a lot of work to do. We were back in the business of making a bigger 7-drop. I wanted to design one or more cards that would help their draws by using the mulligan, building upon the single card theme established by The Joker, Joker’s Wild. I’d initially come up with, “When you declare a mulligan, you may reveal (cardname) from your hand. If you do, put (cardname) on the top of your deck.” I’d suggested that power for a 4-drop, but it wouldn’t be as useful on a 7-drop. Danny put this text on the 7-drop but changed it so that you could put any card on top of your deck, and ultimately we saw no reason that you couldn’t choose any number of cards to put on top. I should probably double-check the accuracy of this history, as it seems like Danny is making an abnormally large number of correct decisions. Maybe he received good advice. The remainder of Two-Face switched a lot; I’d suggested something fitting in with the The Joker, Emperor Joker plans, but the initial file ended up with an effect that deterred plot twists. Finally, it was Patrick Sullivan who suggested and swayed R&D into the scary second power on Two-Face, Split Personality.

The reminder of the card text on the 4-drop I’d suggested was, “When (cardname) attacks a character, an opponent chooses one: exhaust that character or that character cannot ready this turn.” I’m again happy with the upgrades made to that text, as well as with the templating changes made to deal with some confusing timing issues that would have arisen by multiple attack triggers, that took form on Hush. Bat’s Belfry began as a card that could exhaust a character or deny payment powers on an exhausted character. Several weeks later, I came up with an idea to make the cost of the card work well with Prison Break (or at least I’ll try to take credit). By removing cards in your hand from your hand, you can gain some other benefits, including one I hadn’t initially considered—the interaction with The Joker, Laughing Lunatic.

Man of Steel Teams

We didn’t have much data to draw upon from the outside world when it came to the needs of the teams in Man of Steel. The first complete file of the set I have is dated November 18, 2004. At least in my mind, I suspected that Team Superman was the strongest team, followed by Revenge Squad with their ongoing plot twist build. New Gods seemed to have a lot of potential, especially as a team-up partner. Darkseid’s Elite seemed a little lacking on both the aggressive and defensive builds of its decks. That was my mindset going into the legacy cards.

I chose to work specifically on the Darkseid’s Elite and New Gods cards. My initial suggestions for Dr. Bedlam, Virman Vundabar, and Apokoliptian Hospitality went through the process unscathed. Darkseid Undenied is also a close variant on a location I had proposed. Parademons was added in by Danny. We felt that the Darkseid’s Elite theme of punishing face-down resources was an interesting dynamic that gave them a unique feel, so we pushed that theme as much as possible in this set. I believe that we set up many tools for a faster Darkseid’s Elite deck now, and hopefully Virman Vundabar can find a home with the more controlling cards like Glorious Godfrey and Darkseid, Uxas.

Sturmer and Soldiers of the New Genesis were cards I submitted that only went through tiny modifications. Sturmer had to have the clause “Sturmer cannot attack unless he team attacks,” because in Danny’s vision of things, that is how dogs “operate” in our game. Dogs need their master to attack! (For reference, Danny’s laptop desktop picture has a different puppy each week, so he gets a little touchy if someone challenges his authority on such matters.) I felt Sturmer would give the team a card besides Big Bear at 3-cost that would help it reach the later game and improve its chances once they got there.

I also wanted to give the New Gods a stalling 1-cost army character to fill that slot in their curve. Invulnerability is a keyword that has proven challenging to balance, but as a cosmic power on a 1-drop, I didn’t have to worry about it. I thought it would also be interesting to have a card that supports current and future cards that look at the total number of characters with cosmic, like Superman, Blue.

Children of Forever closely resembles the initial card I proposed and mimics a recovery type effect while building upon the Forever People theme. Commander was all Danny’s doing, as far as I can determine. It should prove interesting in any cosmic-based decks, because at a cost of 4, it is more likely to be on the board than other similar enablers.

As with all the cards in the set, I was involved with the development of the Revenge Squad and Team Superman cards, but Danny and Ben Rubin largely undertook the design of the cards for these teams. The ongoing plot twist theme was the theme we wanted to push in the Revenge Squad. Team Superman received cards that promoted several different areas: weenies strategies (The Kent Farm) to complement Kandor, invulnerability (Superman, Returned), cosmic (S.T.A.R. Labs, and protecting characters (House of El). I’ll give you a couple of guesses who made the art request for Kent’s Farm. It happens to be the same person that gave it the playtest name “Super-Animals” and then later “Picnic Animal Time Land.”

For the record, I also wanted to make sure that we had all general categories of team-up cards available. So when you open up Reign of Terra in your next Sealed Pack event, you can thank me! The same goes for Armies of Qward. May all the Mojo, Deathstroke the Terminator, and army fans out there have fun and/or success with these cards in Constructed!

Comments are welcome at DHumpherys@metagame.com.

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