I haven't given up on that set.
There are five four-color groupings that are possible, which I tentatively referred to as "factions" during development of the aforementioned set, and the one I'm focusing on today is the nonblue faction.
This faction I had decided would care about vanilla creatures. This created a few issues.
They are as follows:
- Vanilla creatures are not referred to as "vanilla" creatures in Magic terminology
- How can a player recognize whether or not a creature is a vanilla creature?
- How do we make vanilla creatures exciting enough to care about?
- Is it correct to have this faction care about vanilla creatures?
There is no such thing as "vanilla" creatures
The Magic rules don't have a definition for a vanilla creature. So, what is a designer to do? Don't worry, the solution doesn't involve an update to the Magic comprehensive rules. We'll just refer to vanilla creatures by what they actually are - by the definition of a vanilla creature.
A vanilla creature, by definition, is a creature with no abilities. So, to have cards care about vanilla creatures, just have "creature with no abilities" within the rules text of the card that cares about vanilla creatures. That's it.
It's incorrect to say that any creature with an empty text box is a vanilla creature since some creatures have text in their text box that is all flavor text. Which ties in the next point...
How can we make vanilla creatures that are easily recognized as vanillas?
There may be doubt, sometimes, as to whether a creature is a vanilla creature. Besides the flavor text example I mentioned earlier, which might be a "gotcha" for newer players, some seasoned players might even question whether a creature that has just an enters-the-battlefield effect is vanilla. Thankfully, an elegant solution had already been introduced.
In Future Sight, there were full-art vanilla creatures. This set was full of cards that might possibly be a glimpse in Magic's future. I wouldn't know until much later that the full-art vanilla creatures in this set would end up being the solution for showing whether a creature is a vanilla creature.
If someone was looking at the theoretical four-color set that this vanilla creature faction was in, they would have no doubt that the cards that have full art are the ones that are creatures with no abilities.
Some of you may point out that vanilla creatures in the past aren't full art, so this might be confusing. I hear you, but this is all right. We have Humans as a creature type now in Magic, which clashes with the fact that many years' worth of Magic cards in the past didn't have an explicit "Human" creature type written out.
So, it's O.K. The full art will help to serve the newer players most, and if they're experiencing this set, then they're likely not also experiencing a ton of old Magic cards at the same time.
Also, this isn't a proposal for making all vanilla creatures to ever exist in the future to change to being full art. This set containing these full-art vanilla creatures would just be like a Zendikar, where lands mattered and, thus, basic lands had full art.
How can vanillas be exciting?
Luckily, the solution mentioned previously, with the full-art lands, make these vanilla cards pretty cool. I mean, take a peek at these:
Besides cool full-art creatures, the mechanic that cares about creatures with no abilities would also help to enhance the excitement of playing a deck that cares about vanillas.
Lastly, sometimes, there are mechanical themes in sets that appear that suddenly make older cards actually matter for reasons which they didn't matter before. This is one such case, as there are hundreds of vanilla creatures from Magic's history ready to become more relevant than before.
Is a vanilla creatures nonblue faction a mistake?
This is a fair question to ask, of which the answer I do not know and would be finding out through development.
It is my believe that Magic: The Gathering has room in its limited design space for an amount of cards that cares about vanilla creatures. And when there are themes in a Magic set, you need enough cards in the set to support that theme. A faction of a set that cares about vanillas seems good (better than being a major theme like the artifact card type was for Mirrodin), and what better to help increase the number of cards that care about vanillas than to utilize the maximum number of colors for a distinctive "group"?
Having a four-color faction care about vanillas means that, at common, there can be four common vanilla cards, one for each color in the faction. That, or two common vanillas per faction. That's four to eight creatures, which is enough! (This isn't counting cards that would have the mechanic that cares about vanilla creatures.)
So far, it still seems to be a solid direction.
Whew. I'm relieved! I got the solution to "How do we easily communicate vanilla creatures in this set?" out there to you folks on the internet and off my chest. =) Tune in ...sometime in the future when I decide to pick back up designing my "four colors matters" set.
For more on the vanilla faction itself, you can read more from my past writing on this topic here.