After MaRo – The 2008 State of Design Response

Lady(ies?) and gentlemen, the great master MaRo talked to us yesterday about his thoughts and opinions about the past year in Magic design. He told his his highs, his lows, and what he wants to do in the next year. Most of us play the game as well as junior designing, so some of their non-design decisions have been on our minds rather then if the past block worked well together. We’ll get to that in due time while some of that will be sprinkled in as well (this is a long post, be prepared).

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(MaRo art by UGMadness.net (I don’t think I use that much bandwidth, though WordPress helps me out there)).

Lady(ies?) and gentlemen, the great master MaRo talked to us yesterday about his thoughts and opinions about the past year in Magic design.  He told his his highs, his lows, and what he wants to do in the next year.  Most of us play the game as well as junior designing, so some of their non-design decisions have been on our minds rather then if the past block worked well together.  We’ll get to that in due time while some of that will be sprinkled in as well (this is a long post, be prepared).

Highlights of 2008

The Planeswalkers. Players were really worried when there was an announcement of a new card type, especially one that could break the game in half.  Using the hybrid of a creature and an enchantment, cries were heard that they wouldn’t be different enough to see print.

Yeah, we players were wrong.

After playing with the cards for a while, they were instantly liked though sometimes a little too powerful at first (Garruk was $25 for a time).  They are different than anything else having seen printed and are fun (which is a very important test), so the success of these cards shouldn’t be a surprise.  They’ve seen play in Extended, and Legacy though might not see play in competitive Vintage (which is fine).  Plus, we’ve only been playing with 5 of them.  Imagine when we get the new ones from Alara.

A fine R/G hybrid

Hybrid Mana as a Block Theme Yes!  Ever since it was debuted a few years ago, I’ve wanted to see hybrid return.  It did, and boy did it hit.  Lots of new cards with new abilities (some that weren’t all kosher with the Color Pie) and tons of new deck ideas.  You want to play Red/White/Black?  Well, now you could easily without having any Swamps in the deck.  There have been some to push hybrid mana into Evergreen status (Printed near every set like Gold cards are), and generally I have not run into a person who has disliked hybrid.  It’s different from Invasion and from Ravinca while there is so much more room to grow as a concept.  We want to have it come back and return, just now having to wait for a full block for it (though we wouldn’t another hybrid block either.

Lessons of 2008

The Mega-Block/There is Such a Thing as Too Much Wait a minute, didn’t MaRo say the Mega-Block was a good thing?  Yes he did, and I’ll explain why he’s wrong from a player’s/fan’s point of view.

I’m a big fan of trying out new things, especially when it comes to something I enjoy.  When it was announced that this year’s block (I still call it one block) was really going to be two small blocks, I was said.  I always thought that the Coldsnap idea released as a fourth set was a bad idea because of the financial constrain.  I allocate so much money each year to buy Magic product (and now that I’m married, I have another set of eyes looking at what I buy).  A collectible card game is different than a video game because each time you buy product, you have no idea what is going to be in it (Yes, that’s the whole fun of drafting).  You spend $50 on a game and you know what you’re going to get.  $50 buying packs, you may be stuck with cards you don’t want.  But if you want to get cards that you want to use in decks, you can’t always draft them if you want to win your flight. Most people at my store don’t have the hundreds of dollars to buy several boxes of the new set (Neither do I), so adding another set frustrates them because they won’t be able to get the cards they want to build decks.  Not just Tier 1 decks, but with their favorite color combination or something that would go great in their token deck.

Money vs Wanting More Cards

Now, I’m not here to say change rarities (I have no comment about this until we try out the new rarity system for a few sets, though I think it might work out), or to constantly point out the people who can’t afford all the new cards.  I just don’t want you to think that it’s a good idea to put out four sets a year that you need to buy.  The Core Sets are great, and it does reward the people who have been playing longer.  Or the Un-sets that the casual crowd buys and it doesn’t lead to $30 cards.  I’m sure there has been backlash over the selling of the 4th non-Core/Un set in a year.  Our store had 20 boxes of Coldsnap from the beginning, and still has several left because no one buys them.  Sets can’t be released like patches to a video game because more and more money gets thrown and it’s going to be sometime when the well runs dry of money.

But if we look at it from a design standpoint, the blocks weren’t finished.  It seemed like there should be another set in the Lorwyn block and one more in the Shadowmoor block (please don’t design those and release them ala Coldsnap though).  Magic’s rule of three was broken.  You’ve compared designing blocks to writing a story, broken down in three acts (hey, I’m a writer too, I just didn’t write for Roseanne).  People need the three acts to complete a story.  Famous Trilogies: Star Wars, Godfather, Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings.  Indiana Jones doesn’t work well in four parts.  But why do I care if I don’t read the novels?  I still get a grasp of what’s going on by the cards themselves, like in the “old times.”  That, and you’ve taught me what to expect in terms of Magic design (oh, that Evil Mark Rosewater, he gets me every time).  I relish at the twists of the mechanics, how everything is going to finish up in the world design that I’ve invested a year into.

Everyone did a great job flipping everything over to have the feel of a new block, but maybe it was too good.  Creature types that weren’t there in Lorwyn suddenly popped up (besides the Zombies and the Horrors that should have).  Creature types went through (I’ve built a lovely Warrior block deck using Warriors from both blocks), but that sweet innocent world we’ve left behind looks very little like the new one we were in.  It was like a bad episode of Sliders when it should have been a darker world.

I’m not going to talk about the goals that Wizards reached because I felt they did accomplish them (though adding two new types of cards wasn’t exactly going back to the roots.  That is unless you count Mana Sources (You know we don’t! (If anyone gets that reference, please tell me, it might be too obscure and I didn’t find the appropriate way to link to it))).  MaRo knows what the next block is about so saying goals that feed right into the idea of the block serve no purpose then to give a little information of the upcoming sets.  In lew of that, I offer my suggestions for the12-18 months.

Things Wizards should consider for 2009/10

1. Bring back States/JSS
We know you’re hurting for cash, so is everyone right now.  But this is best for the long term growth of the game.  Somebody wrote a great article on bringing back the JSS on StarCityGames, only I can’t find it (someone help).  It’s the minors to the Pro Tour Majors.  If you help out kids with scholarships, you can get more kids to play (something about this year’s secret word) because they like free money.

But States is important to a larger fan-base: the people who think they can maybe get on the Pro-Tour but aren’t quite there or like to play in large tournaments.  Like me.  I’m not saying this as a selfish move, only that I meet people at States/Regionals who play in event like this only because their little town doesn’t have FNM.  They buy cards and test them out and to say that they’re 15th in the state, makes them pretty proud.  They’re the guys who keep opening booster packs trying to find that chase rare, who scour the internet until 1 am trying to find that tech that they need to beat that ubber-deck.  They’re your in-between fan base of the casuals/FNM and the hard-core almost Pro Tourers, or, well, I haven’t thought of a name of this group yet.  No one name it after themselves if they want to coin the term.

2. Fat Packs Need to Change
I dislike the way that they changed for Shadowmoor.  The additional two packs came at the loss of a box.  I like to use both of the boxes for storage; a strange concept I know.  I like the booklet that comes with the cards with the visual spoiler, and I used to like the card separators until they didn’t come in the box anymore.  But instead of asking to put them back, I want a few more additions.  1) Add token creatures.  Most of the people that buy the Fat Packs love to get the tokens in the first place.  I’m not saying adding 500 tokens, but maybe one of each type, along with the advertisements on the back.  2) Add tokens.  No, I’m not repeating myself.  This last block had lots of +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters.  Why not have something to punch out to have people put on their cards.  Put the +1/+1 on one side and the set symbol and Magic on the back.  More advertising by people seeing those counters with your logo on the back and something people would use.  In fact, put those punch-out cards in tournament decks, where they’re mostly used in sealed tournaments anyway (That, and tokens.  I’ve always wondered why you don’t have tokens in those packs that new people would buy because they have the most cards anyway).

3. Less Cards per Set
You’re already doing that and I heart you for it.  Sure, I love the fact that more cards mean more deck possibilities, but it’s too much money and I already covered that.  It’s not about knowledge about the cards/keywords, we can handle that.

4. Bring back Selecting Nth Edition
Since you’re not doing it, I am.  I understand there’s less card slots to have us “lowly” players pick slots for, but it was a great promotion that brought interest to a set.  Sure, there might be more tournament quality cards that would have to be in a selection, but it would be very nice to see what you think of our choices.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Magic is a great game, and it’s only getting better.  We know you can’t please every player with every decision you make (Please don’t bring back slivers for a long time), and it can be a tough job.  You make the product, we buy it.  You shouldn’t listen to the mob all the time since you know what’s right for the game.  But understand, sometimes the mob is right (just like, um, that one time).

Any other players have anything else they want to add?  Feel free in the comments section.

Join me later this week where I reveal the winner of Week 1 of Selecting 11th Edtion and give you more choices.  Next weeks starts our previews of my 11th edition.  As always, I would love to hear you input.

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