After months of anticipation, the spoiler season for Dominaria United is finally over. With every card spoiled and the full release of the set mostly just over a week away, players have already taken to theory crafting and deckbuilding. Despite this, Wizards of the Coast is still teasing players with new, or rather old, cards.
In an ongoing State of Design documents for Dominaria United, Magic: the Gathering’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, recounts the history of some of the set’s cards. This series showcases the design process and how select cards evolve over time by giving players a peek behind the curtain. While we can’t change the final versions of these cards we’ve been given, these card-by-card design stories are nevertheless fascinating. Some of the rejected card designs for Dominaria United are incredibly interesting.
In Dominaria United, Ertai is back after a 21-year nap. Despite being away for so long, Ertai is still undeniably Ertai, thanks to their counterspell-centric abilities. Throughout Ertai Resurrected‘s design process, this was perhaps the only constant, as everything else was up for change. Even the story of Ertai’s resurrection was significantly overhauled from Wizards’ original plans.
Originally, Ertai was meant to be part of a three-year Weatherlight Saga, pioneered by Michael Ryan and Mark Rosewater. In this saga, the Weatherlight crew, along with Gerrard, Mirri, Ertai, Crovax, and Starke, would crash, sell, and win back the Weatherlight before traveling through time. This elaborate adventure was designed to culminate on a Phyrexianized Dominaria, with Ertai using a MacGuffin to save the day. Ultimately, only snippets from this saga made it to print. However, designer Ethan Fleischer didn’t want it to go to waste.
Thanks to Ethan Fleischer, Ertai’s repeatable counterspell antics are back in Dominaria United. At first, Ertai, then known as Ertai, Resurrected Evincar featured a simple repeatable counterspell for 1UB. As a black twist to this blue ability, you would lose life equal to the cost of the countered spell’s converted mana value. Thankfully, Ertai, Resurrected Evincar had a second ability that gave the recourses for the first ability. For three mana and sacrificing a nonland permanent, you could gain four life.
Complementary abilities such as these ultimately didn’t stick around during Ertai’s design process. One thing was clear, however: Ertai was more than just a basic counterspell. This led designers to experiment with mechanics such as Kicker and even the ability to counter all noncreature spells. Wizards of the Coast even dabbled with bringing back Grandeur from Future Sight. This ability allowed players to discard future copies of Ertai to generate the same ETB effect and counter additional spells.
Ultimately, Ertai’s Dimir color identity won out, giving him the ability to counter spells, as well as destroy creatures. Somewhat remarkably, this pair of abilities hadn’t been seen before throughout Ertai, resurrected Evincar’s nine versions. Nevertheless, despite being a far cry from their first design, Ertai Resurrected should be a powerful and versatile force in Dimir decks.
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse
Similarly to Ertai, Sheoldred wasn’t meant to wait so long before being seen again. Initially, the current Phyrexian arc was meant to directly proceed War of the Spark, with Sheoldred returning to Eldraine. In what was meant to be a two-part set, Sheoldred would only appear cryptically as The Whispering Witch. While their name was disguised, the art being clearly Sheoldred was meant to “make the Vorthoses sit up and take notice.” For better or worse, these plans were scrapped. This was due to Wizards receiving feedback that “players want to take a bit of a breather from the overarching storyline.”
As a result of this feedback, it was two years since the Phyrexian arc was started back up in Kaldheim. Once it did, players were treated to a new wave of Phyrexian Praetors, each with two abilities. Across each Praetor, one of these abilities would aid you, while the other hurt your opponent. This can be seen on Sheoldred, the Apocalypse’s final variant, which deals damage and gains life off card draw.
While the exact abilities underwent changes throughout the design process, Sheoldred always featured these two pain and gain abilities. In their first version, dubbed Sheoldred, Whisperer-Listener, Sheoldred forced opponents to discard and then allowed you to play a card from each opponent’s graveyard each turn. This incredibly effective reanimator ability only persisted until the second version. Version 2 exiled a card from the top of an opponent’s library whenever they drew a card instead. Similarly to the first version, this card could then be cast, with mana being spent as though it were mana of any color.
From versions three to five, Sheoldred, Whisper-Listener would instead focus on dealing damage relative to the cost of a creature spell. The second ability, meanwhile, would change from gaining life in a similar fashion to casting a creature spell with life, back to gaining life for the cost of a spell. During this time, Sheoldred’s power, toughness, and converted mana cost would fluctuate from 5BB down to 2BB. Ultimately, Sheoldred’s final version remained similar to the previous iterations, unlike a certain resurrected Phyrexian wizard.
Ultimately, while enjoyable, looking back at the different designs for these cards won’t change the final versions we have. Nevertheless, this peek behind the curtain is full of tantalizing details. For instance, apparently, Grandeur is on the cards to be a returning mechanic?! With the Legend Rule sticking around for the foreseeable future, this could provide some utility from excess legendary creatures. However, whether Grandeur returns in the near future remains to be seen. According to Mark Rosewater, it may still be relatively high on the Storm Scale.
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