With the release of Dragons of Tarkir right around the corner it’s time to dive deep into the design of the latest Magic expansion. We’ll be looking at the set’s design holistically while breaking down the design goals that Wizards R&D put together and then grading them based on how well they executed on those goals. Please note that this is not looking at the set’s development, meaning we’re not interested in power level or how playable cards are in constructed or limited environments.

Time Travel Design Review

Last week we looked at the design of the dragons and the color-conflicts in Dragons of Tarkir. This week we’re going to shift gears and look at the way Wizards designed the parallel timelines of Khans and Dragons of Tarkir and the time-travel hinging mechanic of Megamorph. These are some complex ideas which were core to the design of Dragons of Tarkir and the block as whole wouldn’t be a success if DTK failed to deliver on the theme of time travel. They accomplished this through several clever designs:

  • The parallel mechanics for each KTK Clan and their respective DTK Brood
  • The parallel character designs of the Khans from KTK and their counter-parts in DTK
  • The design of Morph, Manifest, and Megamorph

Designing Parallel Timelines

The mechanic design in the entire block is meant to convey the similarities and differences between the five clans in Khans of Tarkir and the five broods in Dragons of Tarkir. Where the clans were able to revere and honor the traits of the long-dead dragons, the broods are able to embrace and explore those traits as the dragons survive and thrive in the alternate timeline.


The synergy across each clan/brood mechanic combination is very clear but what’s a little more subtle is the overall shift in mechanic focus. Beginning with the Abzan/Dromoka we have Outlast, a mechanic in which one member of the clan strengthens themselves, and Bolster, a mechanic in which the weakest link in the brood is strengthened. The synergy is obvious but the Dromoka mechanic represents the draconic ideal while the Abzan mechanic is a very limited application of the same effect.


Moving on to the Jeskai/Ojutai we see a similar shift. Both mechanics, Prowess and Rebound, are concerned with non-creature spells. The more powerful effect is arguably Rebound, the draconic-timeline effect to double-cast certain spells. In the Jeskai world they benefit greatly from non-creature spells but again it is on an individual level and in very limited fashion. This shift from individual bonus to wider bonus is seen in some but not all of the clan/brood parallels. However, the shift in power is very apparent in all five parallels. The Sultai/Silumgar mechanics of Delve and Exploit show a mechanic that benefits from having cards in the graveyard and a more powerful parallel mechanic which gives you large bonuses for putting cards there in the first place. The Raid mechanic, dependent on having creatures in play to attack for the Mardu, is replaced by the Dash mechanic, which puts quicker creatures into play to attack regularly. Finally, the Ferocious mechanic of the Temur and the Formidable mechanic of Atarka paint a perfect picture of which timeline is more powerful. We also see this shift in the Morph/Megamorph design, but more on that later.


The designers also found a non-mechanical way to show parallel timelines. They took the five iconic wedge leaders from Khans of Tarkir and re-imagined their roles as servants or opponents of the new brood leaders in Dragons of Tarkir. Anafenza, the powerful leader of the Abzan clan finds herself opposed to Dromoka’s teachings and in the afterlife aids her people as a spirit. Narset, the shackled leader of the Jeskai is able to escape the bonds of being a Khan and in the parallel timeline has a fully-realized spark and has become a planeswalker. Sidisi, the naga khan of the Sultai, has gone from being a powerful leader to one of Silumgar’s most powerful zombie speakers. Surrak, the bear-punching khan of the Temur is now the dragon-punching hunt-leader for Atarka. And last, and definitely least, is Zurgo. The once mighty Mardu khan has fallen to the lowly role of ringing a bell when Kolaghan attacks.


Designing Megamorph

The design of megamorph begins in the design of the time travel theme of the block. As part of the story in which there would be two parallel timelines (Khans and Dragons of Tarkir) and a critical point in the past that changes the timeline (Fate Reforged) the designers wanted a generic mechanic to help show the difference between the two timelines. The idea would be to have a mechanic appear in Khans of Tarkir, a historic proto-version of that mechanic in Fate Reforged, and a parallel version of that mechanic in Dragons of Tarkir. We now know that those mechanics are morph, manifest, and megamorph .


Megamorph, from the creative aspects of design, is the confirmation that the Dragons timeline is the “correct” timeline. Morph is a fine mechanic to have survived the death of Ugin, but the fact that his survival (and the survival of all the dragons) leads to megamorph helps to convey that the strictly-better mechanic is in the strictly-better timeline. Ugin’s slumber prevents the magic of Manifest, a far more powerful mechanic, from surviving the centuries, but there is still a clear message of improvement over the Khans timeline.


We know that the designers tried other variations of Morph but for a variety of reasons including rules challenges and power level they settled on megamorph. Ultimately there are 31 creature cards with the new mechanic, compared to 35 morph creatures in Khans of Tarkir and 18 manifest cards in Fate Reforged. These numbers are all basically in-line with each other. The 31 megamorph creatures appear at all four rarities with 11 commons, 13 uncommons, 5 rares, and 2 mythic rares. They are not evenly spread out among colors however with white getting five, blue getting nine, black getting four, red getting five, and green getting eight.

The extra blue megamorphs are likely due to the fact that blue struggles to have access to a variety of creature keywords. Green on the other hand has a lot of creature keywords, normally, but in this set the reach ability is at a premium because of the dragon theme. Filling the void appears to be megamorph. There are also two cycles which account for ten of the megamorph cards, one at rare and one featuring dragons at uncommon. There may be a loose cycle at common with five almost-vanilla creatures, and another loose cycle at uncommon, but those are harder to pin down and likely weren’t designed to be cycles.


Megamorph, all-in-all, is a lackluster mechanic from a power-level perspective but the design helps accomplish the goal of portraying the creatures in this timeline as more powerful, overall, compared to their morph brethren. The interactions of the +1/+1 counters with dragon abilities and the rest of the block’s +1/+1 counters matter sub-theme is a nice piece of lenticular design for the mechanic as a whole and while Spikes may not be impressed, Timmies will have a lot of fun with this mechanic and Johnny should be able to concoct some interesting interactions across Tarkir and Onslaught blocks or with everyone’s favorite Johnny-Spike card: Doubling Season.


Concluding Thoughts

Time travel is not an easy concept for everyone to wrap themselves around and when you blend that with the fantasy setting of Magic, the wild world of planeswalkers, and the amazing dragons all across Tarkir, it was a steep challenge to design a block which featured time travel so prominently. However, it looks like Wizards has managed to do exactly that through the design of parallel timeline mechanics and the use of parallel timeline legendary creatures.

It will probably be a long time before we get another time-travel block, or even set, but it’s interesting to see how the design team handles these challenges. Dragons are certainly going to continue to make an appearance, but not in such force for some time as well. As such, it’s good that these sets were so well designed, because they are going to be a very rare occurrence, if ever again.

The Quick Hits

  • Damnation is going to be a judge promo with the original Kev Walker art instead of whatever terrible art they put on it in Modern Masters 2015 [Magic Arcana]
  • The fact that Treasure Cruise wasn’t banned in Pauper three months ago seems like an oversight. Like, they banned it in Modern and Legacy and were sitting around thinking they had forgotten something like when you think you forgot to close the garage when you go on vacation [Daily MTG]
  • Magic Online has apparently begun banning players for applying for compensation too often. There’s no joke here. It’s just happening [Quiet Speculation]
  • The SCG Invitational took place this past weekend as the new set released which was really exciting and Anthony Lowry explains how he prepared for this unique experience [Star City Games]
  • MJ Scott interviews Arielle of Air Bubbles Cosplay who has dressed up as both Liliana and Chandra [Gathering Magic]
  • Vincent Borchardt takes a stab at designing Modern Masters 2015 and lays out the ground rules for the new set [PureMTGO]
  • Meanwhile, Brock Steele lists ten cards he thinks are top candidates to be reprinted in Modern Masters 2015 [LegitMTG]
  • Mike Linnemann reviews the artwork in Dragons of Tarkir [Gathering Magic]
  • Natasha Lewis-Harrington dives into the psychology of being successful at Magic [Gathering Magic]
  • Sheldon Menery explains why the Commander Tuck rule was revised and honestly it’s refreshing to see the Magic community return to their change-resistant roots after being so approving of so many changes over the past year or so [Star City Games]
  • Alex Ullman is getting married and talks about maintaining his relationship while being deeply engaged with the Magic community (see what I did there?) [Gathering Magic]

Wallpaper of the Week

Grade: A+

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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