Magic: The Gathering’s designers do a lot of hard work that players never get to see. Many mechanics get made, but then scrapped before they are put out into the world. In a recent podcast, Magic’s Chief Designer Mark Rosewater discussed 8 MTG mechanics that were playtested but never made it into the final game.
Some of these mechanics sound fantastic and, if they find the right home, may appear in sets in the future.
Some of these mechanics turned out to be absolutely dreadful when playtested, and are never going to see the light of day.
Find out their stories here…
This mechanic was one of many scrapped mechanics from the 1997 set Tempest. Put simply, these Cards were given small effects which would activate as soon as they were drawn.
In the podcast, Rosewater gives the example of an undercosted spell that would deal two damage to a player when they drew it. The upside of the spell being undercosted, would be balanced out by the downside of the self-inflicted damage it deals.
Ultimately this mechanic was cut, as it provided players with an incentive to cheat. Since players don’t have to reveal their hands at any point, they could fail to notify their opponent when they drew the aforementioned card which deals two damage when it is drawn. This would be especially true if the two damage from the spell would be lethal.
This mechanic later served as the inspiration for the Miracle mechanic in the set Avacyn Restored. Cards with Miracle can be played for a cheaper cost on the turn they are drawn. Since this effect is exclusively beneficial, there is no reason for players to cheat and hide what they draw. Rosewater does concede, however, that even Miracle is not a perfect design and that it produces some logistical difficulties.
Start In Hand Cards
Another mechanic that was initially planned to appear in Tempest. All of these cards would be weaker than normal, but players could choose to start with them in their opening hands.
Rosewater provides the example of a 3 or 4 Mana Value Naturalize which was designed with this mechanic.
Ultimately this mechanic was cut, as it detracted from the randomness inherent to MTG and made games play out in the same way repeatedly.
Discard To Repeat
The final scrapped Tempest mechanic Rosewater discussed.
These cards provided a small effect, which could be repeated if other cards are discarded as they were cast. Rosewater provided the example of a drain two spell with this ability. He noted that this idea didn’t seem so bad in theory, but that it was absolutely horrible in practice. A player could use the drain two card, then discard a hand of six cards to deal 14 damage, and recover 14 life, in a single stroke.
Structures were a new card type designed for the first Ravnica block by Richard Garfield.
As their name implies, Structures represented buildings. Structures had toughness, but no power and provided a static ability. They could be attacked instead of a player, just like Planeswalker cards which did not exist at this stage.
Rosewater provides the example of a 3 toughness structure that gives its controller’s creatures +1/+1.
Rosewater stated that while Structures were very fun, Ravnica already had too much going on so they were cut due to their complexity. Structures were later reworked into Planeswalkers which debuted two years later in Lorwyn.
Layaway is a scrapped mechanic which borrowed elements from the defunct Wizards of the Coast Star Wars TCG.
Cards with Layaway could be placed from the hand into exile, where they would gain a counter every turn. Each counter would make the card one mana cheaper. A 7G card would cost 6G on the next turn, then 5G, continuing each turn until the Layaway card’s cost is reduced to only a single Green mana.
Foretell from Kaldheim is the “spiritual successor” to Layaway. Like the mechanic that inspired it, Foretell places a card into exile, where it can later be cast for a discounted cost. Rosewater has stated that he won’t rule out the possibility of Layaway appearing in a future set.
Forbidden is a mechanic which was considered for the 2012 set Avacyn Restored.
A player’s Forbidden cards start outside their library but get shuffled in when they play cards that add them to their deck.
Forbidden cards are significantly stronger than normal cards. Rosewater gave the example of a forbidden card that would allow players to draw three cards for only a single Blue mana, mirroring the Power Nine card Ancestral Recall.
Rosewater said that Forbidden cards were cut as they had too many logistical and play design issues.
It was difficult to balance just how powerful they should be, and there were also many games where they would be inconsequential, as they would get shuffled into the deck and then never drawn.
Rosewater says Forbidden later morphed into Lesson/Learn from Strixhaven. Learn cards similarly fetch Lessons from outside the deck. These cards are never inconsequential, as they are always brought straight into the hand, and their power level is significantly less problematic than Forbidden cards would have been.
Skirmish is a mechanic which was cut from War of the Spark.
When a Skirmish card was played, it would start a sub game alongside the normal game.
The Skirmish subgame Worked like a tug of war, playing Skirmish cards, and attacking the opponent advanced your position. Fully advancing would win the skirmish and give the player a reward.
Skirmish was cut for a variety of reasons. Rosewater worried that Skrimish delayed the main game and did not interact with it enough. From a thematic standpoint, there were also concerns that it captured the “War” part of War of the Spark, but not the Planeswalker part.
Skirmish was later repurposed into the Dungeons which appeared in Adventures In the Forgotten Realms and Battle For Baldur’s Gate.
Rosewater wrote an entire article on the Skirmish mechanic, which can be found here.
Allegiance was a mechanic that was designed for the 2018 and 2019 sets Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance.
When a card with Allegiance was played, the player casting it would have to state their allegiance, either to the Guilds or to Nicol Bolas. The ability of the card, and all other Allegiance cards they control, would then change depending on who the player was aligned with.
Rosewater provides the example of a creature that would have Deathtouch if the player is aligned with Bolas or Lifelink if the player is aligned with the Guilds. Players could change their Allegiance every time they played a new Allegiance card.
Rosewater did not state why the Allegiance mechanic was cut. It certainly seems complex, but also like it could provide a lot of fun.
Whether they were awesome or awful none of these mechanics saw print. But Magic’s designers learned valuable lessons from all of these experiments. Many of these mechanics later evolved into something new. Even those that didn’t are still valuable pieces of the game’s history.
Read more: MTG Chief Designer Reveals Most Problematic Mechanic