May 01, 2015

Remastering Tempest

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Tempest is one of my favorite Limited environments of all time, but it hasn't necessarily aged well. Tempest was, in my opinion, light-years ahead of its time, being both a much better Limited environment than Mirage, which came before it, and either Saga or Masques, after it. Plus, there are plenty of arguments for it being better than Invasion. It did a lot of things right but, as a company, Wizards of the Coast has learned a lot about making sets in the past 18 years.

For today's article, I'm going to talk about just a few of the things we have learned since 1997, and what we did to give Tempest the "Remastered" update—to bring it up to the bar that we have for Limited formats today—and compare it to the original Tempest set.

Cursed Scroll | Art by D. Alexander Gregory


Common Removal

Sometimes, I get complaints about how bad the common removal today is. Well, it's a lot worse than it used to be, but I don't think that's a bad thing. Limited environments are heavily defined by what the common removal is, and when it's too strong, it can lead to some pretty big imbalances. While having this kind of removal did have the positive effect of making the bomb creatures less of a problem to play against, it did so at the cost of making well…all creatures less of a problem to play against. To the point that you cared a bit about what kind of evasion your creature had, or it's "enters the battlefield" ability, but not a ton else.

So, what do the common removal or removal-analogous cards look like in Tempest? Let's see….

White

Blue

Black

Red

Green

[????]


Some of these cards, like Enfeeblement and Pacifism, we've done pretty recently. But many of these are way over the line for what we would do for common today. Capsize, Dark Banishing, and Rolling Thunder are the largest offenders in that they are so much more powerful than almost any other cards you can find at uncommon, or even rare. While we certainly don't want people taking rares every pack, if a common is stronger than most of the rares, then games are going to end up playing out pretty similarly.

Beyond just the power level, we also have the fact that the colors aren't close to being balanced. In recent years, we've gotten much better about balancing out removal, especially since green started to get the fight keyword. While it is true that black and red tend to have the highest-quality removal at common, everyone has access to enough to interact with their opponent…and their creatures. This was a real challenge for Tempest Remastered, because while it was easy to move black and red's removal to more realistic spots in the rarity system, the best we could do for green was to give it powerful pump spells and cards like Provoke to pseudo-fight.

Putting the rest of the common removal in Tempest Remastered at a similar level to what we do now allowed us to even the colors out, and make sure that you didn't need to play black or red to have a competitive deck. We also took the opportunity to take the previous common mass-removal like Rolling Thunder and Evincar's Justice to uncommon, lowering (but not totally removing) the previous disincentive in Tempest from committing very much to the board.


Mana Requirements

In the days of Tempest, drawing too few lands wasn't the only way to loose. You often lost by just not drawing enough of your colors in a two-color deck. It might be turn nine, and you have a grip of cards costing two red mana, just waiting for the second Mountain so that you can start casting them, only to draw a Forest. Arrgh!

We haven't totally eliminated that kind of randomness from the game, but we have tried to mitigate it for Limited in the last few years by both putting a bit more mana fixing in sets (Tempest had very little, and what it had was quite bad), and by changing how we cost our commons.

A thing that modern development is very cognizant of is the number of color mana symbols on all of our cards, but on commons most of all. Look at most of our recent sets and it is very rare to see a card that people are going to be casting before turn 4 with more than one color in its mana cost, assuming it isn't gold. The reason is pretty simple—we want games to, as much as possible, not be decided by color screw, especially in two-color decks.

One of the challenges of making Tempest Remastered was that we had the card pool we had—we couldn't just go to another block and use Centaur Courser instead of Trained Armodon. So there is still a little bit of color-frustration in the set, but it is far less pronounced than in original Tempest. Luckily, we have tools such as getting cards from one of the three sets in the block, as well as shifting rarities of cards to try and get each color to have something close to what we would consider a modern-looking set of commons. This is most notable in red, which in original Tempest had fully seven commons that required double-red to cast, or had firebreathing.

I have no doubt that there will be plenty of games where color screw will choose the outcome, but I can pretty much guarantee it will be less of a deciding factor in Tempest Remastered than in original Tempest.


Common Hosers

Looking at white in Tempest, eleven of the 21 common slots are creatures. That alone is lower than in most sets now, but perhaps more surprising is that of the remaining 10 slots, a full 6 are circles of protection. Once considered to be a mainstay of white's color pie, we have come a long in the past eighteen years, and realized that playing a circle of protection or two and totally removing your opponent's way to win the game while you slowly ping away at them with an evasion creature just isn't fun.

As a whole, we have moved away from printing color hosers as a whole, let alone for Limited environments. In the early days of the game, it made sense that there were very powerful sideboard cards that could keep some of the wildly out-of-balance decks from dominating. It quickly became obvious that having sideboard games coming down to cards like Boil, Chill, or Light of Day took a lot away from the interactivity that made the game fun. It just came down to "Oh yeah, I have a silver bullet for that, and I drew it! I guess you lose." We'd much rather have people making sideboarding decisions that accentuate their deck's strategy or make it better against their opponent than just keep the opponent from doing anything.

While there are still a few cards, like Soltari Priest, that we wouldn't print for Limited today, the vast majority of the cards we chose for Tempest Remastered maximize the interactive nature of Limited games rather than locking people out.


Keeping That Tempest Feel

So, I talked a lot about all of the differences, but I also want to talk about the things we did to keep the 'Tempest' in Tempest Remastered.

While removing the Licids and their both confusing and unintuitive game play, we tried to keep many of the cards in Tempest that are simply not New World Order, like the Kors and Slivers. A set like this, which is available only on Magic Online, is very unlikely to be something that new players will be drawn to, and it gives us the opportunity to break from some of the key characteristics that make our standard set's Limited feel the way it does. Some players may like it, some may not, but it will definitely evoke many of the design and development ideals of that time period.

It was also important for us to try and meet the players' expectations for the most fun cards and mechanics that made Tempest the great set that it was. That meant making sure that both buyback and shadow had solid representation in the set, even if they are in very different numbers than in Tempest. We also used the opportunity to include the more fun and interesting cards for Tempest Limited like the Slivers and Spikes. These are the kinds of creatures that we don't make many of today, but their inclusion here helps to reinforce that our goal wasn't to trim Tempest down to a core-set version of the original set, but instead something that takes the best things from the original set, and improves the game play.

That's it for this week. Join me next week when I talk Modern Masters!

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)



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