After MaRo – The 2007 State of Design Response

My Tuesday posts will be about the article that MaRo just posted the day before, calling the title: After MaRo. If you don’t usaully read him, then why are you reading my site? Today, I’ll be looking at his State of Design post he does every year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here. Read it. I’m going to go over it and none of this will make any sense if you don’t. This is a very long post, but I don’t care if you skim it. I can’t control what you decide to read and not read on my site. (MaRo art done by UGmadness.net)

I see you MaRo, sitting in that little 102×82 rectangle looking over us as we read your report. That little knowing smile grinning at us as you tell the readers how you think Magic is going while at the same time planting hints for the next block(s). A self evaluation is always a good thing, especially when it’s not required by your boss who’s handing it to you at 4:30 Friday afternoon asking it to be done by 5 (Damn you Lumberg!).

But what I’m going to do is take your topics that you covered and tell you how I think they did this Magic year. Some will be good, some will be bad which is great because everyone likes constructed criticism, especially old Roseanne script writers who is now working in one of the better jobs in the world (Come on, who doesn’t want to be both Anne Hathaway‘s and Scarlett Johannson‘s personal slave assistant?).

First off, how did we enjoy this “Nostalgia” year? From adding a set to a thrown together block ten years ago, to the possible inclusion of cards before they were printed, it has been a wild year for Magic design. I’m sure any new player is looking at the cards going, “Um, what’s going on with this game?” Once things return to “normal” newer players will take a look at what the game of Magic is (normal being the ironic word in that sentence). But now, let’s take a look at your goals that you set for yourself.

#1 – Continue with Goals from Last Year (a.k.a. from the first State of Design column)
The goals were continued from the first year of the Magic Design address and I think they should continue being goals. As Magic continues into it’s next phase (inter- and intra-block design), these goals should be kept up so you do not lose sight of what you intend to do.

Institute Block Design.
At the moment, we players have only seen this new block design in one way: take something, and show us three pieces of it throughout the year. In Ravnica block, it could be said that one giant set was created, and you cut it into three sets. People embraced the block because they knew their favorite color combinations were coming. In Time Spiral, you split up time in three ways, past present and future. Players could see what the past was like, what might have been, and where it was going. While this was great in practice, it almost was a success in reality. I personally enjoyed this block design.
– Accomplished? Yes

Design Between Blocks.
As it’s been pointed out many times, before these two blocks (Ravnica and Time Spiral), it was mostly Block A vs. Block B in standard. It was boring to play with and play against. This time, with both of these blocks out, it is much better to mix up the two and have different decks to play against. Sure, there’s always going to be block centric decks, but it was much better than in previous years. Now you’re going to have to back it up with these new blocks coming out.
Accomplished? Yes

Design and Creative Integration.
While taken us back to Fallen Empires might be a treat for some (like me) to others, it was places they never wanted to go again. But this block was different for everyone since it was all subjective. Didn’t know about Gush? Then Fathom Seer didn’t mean anything to you (see, some people might have learned something today). Sure, it rewarded us long time players, but as we’ve come to learn, you’re an old magic player if you’ve been playing for two blocks. Does this mean they shouldn’t have tried something about Nostalgia? Of course not. As Wizards learned: sometimes, not everyone wants to go back home.
Accomplished? Not really

#2 – Embrace the Tools of the Past
Oh, I get it, it was a joke! It was a block about nostalgia and we have to look to the past. Ha! Oh MaRo, you should’ve written for Roseanne…
Accomplished? Sure, why not?

#3 – Find Ways to Surprise
I think that when we visited magicthegathering.com right after New Year’s Day and saw a Black WoG, yeah,. That might have surprised everyone. When I opened my pack at Time Spiral Prerelease and pulled a Psionic Blast, that surprised me (that I would open such a good card). The Timeshifted Cards not only surprised, but divided the people on the Rumor Mill on MTGSalvation, which might have gotten a laugh inside Wizards. We were also surprised that BoP, and WoG were back, especially the birds since they were deemsed too powerful for Green. You went back on what you said could and couldn’t be in a Core Set, which really surprised us.

But, I think the biggest thing that surprised us the most was the “blatant disregard of the color pie.” After drilling in our head for years and years about how Blue isn’t supposed to get direct damage, and White was second in killing artifacts and enchantments, you gave us the finger. Sure, the visiting the past in Timeshifted Cards can be fun, and getting a Squire in a pack can be funny from time to time, but not messing with our beloved Color Pie in an environment that will stay in play for extended for years. 5 Blue cards that did damage? This wasn’t Sparta, it was madness.

And I’m glad you learned your lesson: “On the minus side, just because we can do something is not justification that we should.” Sure, you could reprint any card you want, but doesn’t mean you should bring back Dark Ritual, Counterspell, and Land Tax.
– Accomplished? Yes

Here are some other lessons that MaRo and the team learned this year:

Lesson #1 – Nostalgia as a Theme, While Potent, Is Not Universal
While I understood a good majority of the references doesn’t mean everyone did. I don’t read the novels, so some of the locations and names were a little hazy in my head, but I didn’t mind them being used. It’s like an episode of Family Guy: sure, some of the jokes people won’t get, say if you didn’t live through the 80’s or know who Benjamin Disraeli was, but it doesn’t mean the episode sucks it just meant you don’t get the full enjoyment possible (Something I learned while reading Everything Bad is Good for You when reading about TV Shows).

Yes, the Timeshifted Cards were fun, and I encourage Wizards to do them again (it’s better than a Chronicles 2 set, while this was a little like it, but not just packs of old cards) just don’t break any rules you’ve set up for yourselves over the years. While rules were meant to be broken, it doesn’t mean you should take a sledgehammer to them.

Lesson #2 – You Have To Have Something New
You focused on Planar Chaos, so will I. This is the one area that I believe you took a Richie Sexson sized swing and missed (except for last night when her actually did something). I’ll go step by step.

The second set in a block based around time was the Present. Cool. You decided it that it was going to be a “What-If” sub theme as an alternate reality. Alright, I can go with that. We’re going to do a set where we correct some cards by putting them in the right color based on the color pie. It will be an entire set of correcting our past mistakes in where cards go for their color! Plus we’ll fix fading! Well…

When MaRo told us that it was going to be a what-if scenario, I think most of us (at least myself) were thinking along the lines of “What if Phasing worked this way instead” and not “What if Ball Lightning was Green?” The only exception to that rule were some legends that appear in the set if they had taken different story paths which were along those lines.

Most, if not all, of the cards in Planar Chaos I can see as the correct colors they can belong in (save discard for Blue. The color still needs to be toned down a little), so I’m not going to argue that at all. This set seemed like it was trying to have plants for the upcoming Core Sets by putting them in the right color (ala “Tom”). I’m all for that, but that doesn’t scream “What-If” in the sci-fi realm to me, but a “Opps, we messed up the color pie; we’re starting over,” kind of thing. If you had created Timeshifted Cards that were just on the very very crust of the Color Pie (like MaRo said in his article about how he thinks we think what the Color Pie looks like), like the card to the right, I think more people would have picked up their ears and might have found more interest then a Timeshifted Dehydration.

Yes, it was new in like the fact that Legions was something new as well. Just present it in a different way to us. I agree that it must have been hard to design and implement, but it just wasn’t what us players were thinking of. I’m not saying it’s a bad set, it’s just that we have seen most of those cards before, so it didn’t completely “WOW” us.

Lesson #3 – Watch Complexity
Don’t go overboard with keywords, but don’t not use them. While most of the keywords in Future Sight were based off of “real” mechanics, most of them were pretty easy to understand for someone who is not starting out. Please use more keywords combined like Sprout Swarm. Those are very fun cards to play with.

Lesson #4 – Design Can Be Too Clever
Just like Arrested Development, sometimes it kills you to be too clever. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not something everyone likes.

Lesson #5 – There Is a Necessary Balance Between Linear and Modular
I fall into a group that doesn’t like blocks that lead decks that build themselves (I’m a Johnny/Spike). I love modular cards (A discussion of these two things will be on Thursday) and like this block for that reason, I can be rouge and no one expects what I’m playing. Yes, you need both, but please don’t make the mistake again of creating something like Splice which forced you to play multiple arcane spells. There needs to be a happy medium and maybe, just maybe, there was too much Modular. Not much though.

Lesson #6 – Learn From Your Mistakes
That’s the big lesson here. People will make mistakes (Affinity, Skullclamp, Free Spells) but as long as you know what you did wrong, that’s the important part. A big part of growing up is making mistakes, and Magic is still growing up. To me, Coldsnap was a mistake because it was unnecessary in the big overview of Magic. It was an extra set that seemed to self-important to participate with anyone (but more of that Thrusday). I’ll keep buying Magic cards, but if the set isn’t worth it, then I won’t. That’s the biggest mistake, design wise, that Magic did this past year.

Lesson #7 – Be Gentle When Messing with Sacred Cows
We don’t need to go too much more into the Color Pie (as I’ve already said enough today about it), but I think that the other sacred cow that was messed with was the cart frame. The Planar Chaos frames were amazing (if you’re going to choose to change frames again, stick with those), and the Future Sight ones, well, weren’t. If Magic players were used to seeing different types of frames where information was put in a different area, then they would have worked. I was there when you added the rarity symbols, and took off “Summon” and changed it to the 8th Edition frames and I didn’t mind any of those because it was to make the card more functional. Moving the mana cost to the left hand side where it’s hidden behind other cards when I look at them in my hand, is not functional. The frames we’re bad (in fact, I enjoy the round pictures) but they aren’t Magic. That was the major Sacred Cow you messed with this year. (I know that’s not a Magic Design issue completely, but I’m throwing that out there).

Now that this year is complete, what goals do we have in store for his next block(s)? Obviously this part is shorter since we don’t know about it.

Goal #1 – Go Back to Our Roots
This is most likely another hint about what this block is about. But the idea of an “elegant common” is something I’m curious about. “Don’t just design for the block, design for the game,” is what I might be getting from MaRo. This is because cards weren’t designed with a block in mind when the game started (first stage). There might be less keywords, but more flavorful experience

Goal #2 – Find Innovation That Doesn’t Shock
There’s that rumor that there’s a new card type in Magic introduced in this block. I’m assuming it’s going to be this.

Goal #3 – Be All-Inclusive
Be something to everyone. That’s hard. Good luck.

In all, it was a very thoughtful address he spoke. MaRo tried to be honest with himself and with us, and that’s a hard thing to do when you’re the face of Magic Design. I think that this year, in terms of Magic Design, was a very interesting year.  boundaries were stretched and lines were crossed where I doubt they’ll be crossed again.  Overall, I thought that this year was a success, though a little shaky at times.

I’m sure that other people had problems that I didn’t have, but that’s what so great about being on the internet: you can speak your mind. I know that some of you have spoken that on message boards, but anything else you want to add here?

Join me Thursday, when I do decide to talk about Linear and Modular design as we start digging into designing cards of your own.

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2 thoughts on “After MaRo – The 2007 State of Design Response”

  1. Hey,

    I just stumbled (is that a legal term while surfing the web?) across your blog and enjoyed reading it so far (just the four or five pages, it is a rather new one) – hope there is more to come.

    The reason I’m commenting is that Abe also wrote an article about MaRos Statement (to be found here) and i have to agree with him a little more than I can share MaRos POV (also – maybe – because he’s the one working inside and I’m not). And I just wanted to add the link to his “bloglike article” here…

    I’m watching your site – as I’m a frequent reader of MaRos articles; maybe the only reason to be happy on a monday morning… 🙂

    EDIT by Robby – Thanks, and I hope there will be more to come as well. Spambot thought this was spam (clearly it’s not) and I fixed the link since it made everything look wacky. I agree with Abe for the most part, Planar Chaos was a good design, it was just not the “what if” MaRo was saying. Yes, one of the only reasons to be happy on Monday morning

  2. I don’t think all the Planar Chaos playing was meant to reflect the way the colour pie is now. In fact, I’m pretty sure MaRo or AaFo explicitly stated that the Planar Chaos colour pie is not the colour pie they’ll be using going forward. So red got three cards to bounce opponents’ creatures, but that’s all the bounce red is getting for now. Likewise white countermagic, black tapping, blue discard and so on.

    I’d say Planar Chaos was really quite effective in its “alternate universe” theme: from the two cycles of legends (the dragons and the storyline legends), to the colourshifted spellshapers (Dreamscape Artist spellshapes Harrow), to the random little twists like Mire Boa (cf River Boa) and Big Game Hunter (cf Intrepid Hero).

    I agree with most of the rest of what you wrote. But I suspect Goal 2 isn’t about the new card type (now confirmed officially as planeswalkers). I think they’re hoping that *will* shock, and I think they’re right 🙂 But I think Lorwyn block is going to be simpler and more elegant than the throw-everything-together mixing-pot that Time Spiral block was – I think that’s what he’s hinting at with Goal 2.

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