Jaya Ballard on Coldsnap Design
By Daniel Rezendes on July 26th, 2006 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
Jaya Ballard invented the Greetings, friend. Pull up a seat, grab a rack of aurochs ribs, and shut up, because I was just about to tell my story.
Dominarian Miracle diet
So, I figured, Dim-Bulb was defeated—again—and all the ice was melting, and everyone was getting along in stuff, and I had just become a planeswalker like that snob Freyalise… it seemed like a good time to spend a few years tramping around the multiverse! Ya’ know, go a few places a girl could walk around, and not need a parka? Not that I wore a parka… I mean, a task mage can keep herself warm and cozy now matter how cold it is, and keep a nice tan too.
So anyway, I get back to Terisiare, thinking that the history of the Ice Ages were all said and done and I’d be a folk hero for ages to come, when I find out that some kooky cult had added another chapter! And I missed it! OOOOH that burns me, and not in any of the ways I like! This cult came out of nowhere—well, out of the Boreal, which is close enough to nowhere, believe me—as such a threat because it had some revolutionary new magic they concocted, which forced my mates back in New Argive to think quickly to save themselves. After all, they didn’t have me to save the day with a well-timed quip and/or fireball.
First, let this humble planeswalker give you a little primer on how magic works. See, you draw your mana from some land, and cast your spells and beasties. Mountains and other scenic high places give you red mana, and that’s really all you need as it lets you blow stuff up. A fireball can solve any problem, after all, and if you disagree you just haven’t used a big enough fireball. There are technically four other colors, but nobody cares about them.
Now, as crazy as these Rimewind fellas were, I have to give them credit for creativity (even though a few wizards came very close to the idea some twelve or so years earlier). I mean, when I was a kid, snow was just this annoying cold stuff that got EVERYWHERE. And I mean, everywhere—on the mountains, the trees, even on the swamps. But this Heidar guy, he figured out how to channel magic from the snow as if it was land, and even imbue other things with this snowy power.
I know, it doesn’t sound that impressive, and next to fire magic, it really isn’t. I mean, I’ll pit my fireballs against their snowballs any day. But everywhere I’ve ever been in the multiverse, there’s only the five colors of magic, and red mana on Dominaria is the same as red mana on Mercadia is the same as red mana on Sergovia… but these guys went and changed it. The mana is just as red, but now it’s got this extra cold attribute. The intriguing thing about this is, while I’ve yet to see any spells or critters created out of this snow mana, there’s quite a few things that use it, and—here’s the revolutionary part—they don’t care what color the mana is, so long as it’s cold.
Consider this beastie, here. Cute little guy, ain’t he? But he wouldn’t fit in very well with any other red dragons I’ve seen… they tend to breath fire, and lots of it.
The color pie was onlyThis fellow uses snow mana, which can be of any color, to put its prey into a deep freeze…which is very much not the sort of thing a red creature should do! Each color has its own strengths and, other than red, weaknesses (red’s “weaknesses” I prefer to call “creative challenges”) but this snow magic ignores them.
half-baked when this was made
Now, take a look at this spooky dead guy here who most certainly didn’t wander out into a blizzard because no amount of ale would convince me to date him (though I certainly didn’t… that is, wouldn’t blame him, as getting the cold shoulder from a pyromancer is about the worst insult a guy could get). He’s a shade, which is a standard race of necromantic creatures that can draw from the power of death and decay inherent in swamps to become very large, very quickly. Except, this one is different: he can still grow to immense size as any other shade can, but he draws on the power of SNOW. Why is this significant, you may ask? If you do, you obviously aren’t paying attention. Remember, I said it doesn’t matter what color snow mana is, so long as it’s cold? Every other shade I’ve ever seen needs a lot of black mana to be of much use, which means the poor fool controlling it has cheated himself out of using red magic. But this shade uses snow mana for that effect, meaning you could use him with only the tiny amount of black needed to bring
The first splashable shade... him onto your side, and all the rest can be red. Or other colors, technically, but no need to get distracted.
doens't sound exciting, but that
is something fairly unprecedented
The spell that really got my attention, though, was this avalanche-thingy that just got stronger the more snow was around. It couldn’t hurt other planeswalkers, but any minions they sent into its path could be devastated with the sort of efficiency that puts even fire to shame. I’ve seen a few wizards since use the spell, and it looks like great fun. Just, sitting comfy on a mountaintop, with a bunch of snow-covered friends and toys, and then yelling “SKRED!” whenever an enemy got nearby, setting off avalanches. A little more elaborate than “magma to the face,” but hey, a girl can’t argue with results.
Anyway, I doubt you’ll be visiting any other planes quite this cold for some time, but I don’t imagine Heidar’s creativity is unique. There have to be other innovators out there who managed to draw power out of something to add some finesse to the five regular colors. What, I dunno. Maybe squirrels or ouphes or something.
The Human Condition
With all that tricky new snow stuff going on, my buddies back in New Argive—a country I created virtually singlehandedly, thank you very much—were in big trouble. Particularly since, for the most part, the magic they had available when I left was somewhat… primitive. I mean, some of the most interesting spells I encountered back then were cast by gorillas! The human race on Terisiare had endured the Brothers’ War, then a dark age, then an Ice Age, and it was all the fault of humanity. Well, really, it was all Urza’s fault—I met him once, he’s a right prick—but however you slice it, nobody back in the day used to admit they were human. They’d say they were knights, or soldiers, or barbarians…
Finally, the human tribe appearsone guy I knew even demanded everyone call him a hero all the time, and you can believe he didn’t get many dates. But something about the Thaw brought human pride back into the world. I mean, even this poor diseased bastard on the left is proud to call himself human. It makes me the warm fuzzies, which is nice after all that snow.
on Terisiare, in print! Still not sure
why this guy wasn't allowed
to have an abilty, though.
What? Oh, right, the big trouble the humans were in. Well, the Rimewind bunch were mostly human too, but they were smart enough not to attack everyone themselves. They convinced some rather legendary personalities to do the bulk of the fighting for them. You might not have heard much about them… actually, neither had I. But that’s how a lot of powerful people were back in my day. Large, but hard to command and usually not worth the effort, but that’s true for both sides. As great a conversationalist as King Darien is, any self-respecting planeswalker can find an easier guy to play with… but that’s been true since the days of General Jarkeld, Merieke Ri Berit,
Continuing the Ice Age block theme and the Skeleton Ship.
of legends and 3-color gold cards
with strange and/or forgettable
effects that don't warrant the
ungainly cost. This theme alone is
what made Homelands fit in.
Heidar got much better use out of this Haakon guy, who is an interesting fellow in his own right. I mean, as far as I can tell, this guy never actually WAS alive—he had to be reanimated from the get-go, which raises the kind of philosophical questions that can’t be easily solved with a fireball and are thus best ignored. This Haakon guy would have annoyed even me, as no matter how many times you blow him apart, he just kept getting right back up! And as much as I enjoy blowing up things that annoy me, blowing up the same thing over and over would be tiresome.
Now, to combat all of Heidar’s chilly minions, New Argive figured out how to harness the power of the Thaw, which seems proper and fitting, don’t you think? Although its success was fairly limited, they managed to harness the warming of Dominaria to put a ripple into some of their spells, making them surge dramatically—but unpredictably. I’m all for unpredictability, and you have to believe the Surging Flame spell is a new favorite of mine. Perhaps not the sort of spells that professional planeswalkers would use often, but their best applications are in limited engagements, anyway.
Speaking of limited engagements, there’s another few spells they came up with that remind me a lot of another favorite spell of mine, Kindle. That spell just gets better every time I cast it! None of these new spells are my particular style, but they worked particularly well in the same sorts of situations that those rippling spells did, when the combatants are using fewer resources and have to maximize what they have. And while the Thaw hadn’t exactly made Terisiare a tropical paradise yet, things got pretty bare during Heidar’s Winter.
Heck, things got so desperate, people started reusing old trash like they had back when I was around. In my day, even wizards got into the act, so long as they remembered where they put their things. That kind of spellcasting came back into fashion during Heidar’s war, but the new spells weren’t as resilient as the old ones—I guess magic has a longer shelf-life when it’s colder. These new recoverable spells were kinda nice for that reusable aspect, but you had to keep an eye on them to make sure they didn’t spoil while you weren’t looking, and you could only get them back when something died. They’re interesting spells, but tough to use… it seems like some magics are forbidden to be easily reusable.
I can’t neglect to mention the little surprises that any conflict will bring. I mean, I tend to like little surprises now and then, but a giant wurm that hops out into play when my opponent just looks like he’s searching his mind? That’s got potential to wreck some days, and worse, I don’t want to imagine what other surprises in this vein I might come across down the road. As if there weren’t enough reasons to keep a burn spell or two ready at all times. Like, perhaps, the clever lightning storm the Balduvian’s figured out, which always does a lot of damage to SOMETHING. It’s kinda hard to control, as any wizard who sees you cast it can not only bounce it around, but make it bigger in the process; but its kinda like the wurm,
This narrowly beats out Panglacialin that it just hints at some powerful ideas a mage somewhere could exploit, possibly in a more controllable way. As for now, I like the storm, which, as I said, will always cause SOMETHING to explode.
Wurm for the 'most interesting new
design space' award. We might see
the occasional 'while searching your
deck' effect, but spells that do some-
thing while being played is almost as
wide an area to explore as mana
with attributes besides color.
Slow to Change
Of course, not everything had changed from how I left it. For one, Soldev was still a pile of rubble. For another, Terisian mages had yet to quite figure out how to tweak spells that give you a new option right away, in addition to whatever you actually cast it for… just like when I left, you still have to wait for it. I may still get sentimental every time I flare someone for insulting me, but even I have to admit that there’s better options to be found. But with all that ice and snow around, even magic wanted to flow slowly.
Then, there was the style of magic a friend of mine stumbled into after the World Spell, that involved blowing your own mind to cast something without using any mana at all. I’m still in love with my Pyrokinesis, and I’m sure there were some other spells like that too. Well, someone during this Rimewind War took those a step further, to almost completely destroying one’s own mind for an even more powerful effect. I dunno if any of them are worth it, though again the blue wizards’ experiments with this type of magic have yielded the most annoying results. Uncanny how they always manage to do that.
One other good thing to see come out of Heidar’s Winter was the continued strength of the alliances formed during the Ice Age itself. The Balduvians learned it was good to have Kjeldorans to watch their back and drag them home after nights of drunken… activities. Both found common ground in alliance
Cumulative Upkeep cards in thiswith Yavimaya, which only grew stronger. Even the bad guys still showed a little cooperation.
set tend to reward you for keeping
them around, instead of simply being
a little cheaper to start... not to
mention, a lot of the costs are
a lot easier to pay.
Finally there was the familiar, if befuddling, school of magic that believed in purchasing at a discount, only to lose your parka in interest payments. I mean, I was basically a mercenary for a long time, so I didn’t much appreciate using what little resources I had just to have something to eat up my resources later… but even that type of magic found ways to become efficient, just as it was going out of style. Sure, there were a few like I was used to, but then someone had the bright idea of making the cumulative investment have PAYOFF. Supposedly, the idea started in Sarpadia, of all ridiculous places, but then, this sort of investment magic started in one of the various Rabiahs.
Trust me—being able to walk the planes only makes things more confusing. And “Wildfire” was a lot less fun a place to visit than I expected it to be.
Anyway, this old idea was further explored, so it wasn’t so much a cost to keep something, as a recurring opportunity for something neat. Those green mages figured out a nasty effect that involved waking up innocent and progressively larger animals, while someone after my own heart figured out how to make my Pyrokinesis run itself. I’ve always liked enemy armies well-done.
But these investment-spellcasters didn’t stop there!
There was some other article Oh no, they ran right past functional into the land of effects that would even make Zur scratch his funny little head. It wasn’t even an investment anymore, it was just SOMETHING that got bigger and bigger and more out of control. It’s like they knew they’d never have another chance to craft such spells, so they went all-out zany, like making the opposing wizard’s minions stronger, or even the opposing wizard himself! (I think that jester was somehow involved, as he kept leaving his stuff at my place so the debt assessors wouldn’t get it. Okay, maybe not the best choice I’ve made, but it seemed a fine idea at the time. He had a great bag of tricks, if you know what I mean.)
I was supposed to be working on...
right? Something I should be...
trying... to... remember?
Do you all see how much I missed out on?! All this sparkly new stuff, plus all the nostalgic things to remind me of the good ol’ days… It’s enough to make me want to cry. If not for, ya know, the frostbite that might cause. Not to mention that that Urza guy keeps bugging me to help him out. Considering his track record, I think it might be best to be elsewhere—but don’t worry. Jaya won’t be gone forever. Until I return, just promise to think of me whenever you see something explode, ‘kay?
By Daniel Rezendes on July 26th, 2006 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
About Daniel Rezendes
Journeyman Wordsmith and Magic player for over a decade. In recent years, I've stopped sucking at writing, which is always a plus. Would certainly not say no to a job offer from WotC's continuity department.