After MaRo – The 2009 State of Design Response

MaRo from
MaRo from

This is the 5th State of Design that MaRo released since his tenure as Head Magic Designer who is the mouthpiece of Wizards. But this is quite an important one as now, after this amount of time, he has developed a pattern. Before we look at the present (and the “future”), we must look at the past.

MaRo always has goals that he wants to do for design for the upcoming block. This is always an easy task because *shock* they have already designed and close to printing the future block that MaRo is wanting to make goals for. It’s easy to make goals for something you’ve already done. Maybe goal in the traditional sense (the act of throwing, carrying, kicking, driving, etc., a ball or puck into such an area or object), should be replaced with another definition (Synonyms: 1. target; purpose, object, objective, intent, intention. 2. finish). Um, let’s use intent. It’s their intent (goal) to do hit these marks and make them go over well.

Taking a look at the past year’s “goals” there is a pattern going on here (MaRo says humans like patterns). Let’s take a look at them for each year and see what the goals were with what they accomplished:

2005 – Ravnica: City of Guilds Block

1. Institute block design (Have colored pairs throughout the block rather than one set)

2. Design between blocks (Don’t have Ravnica beat up Champions, let them work together)

3. Design and create integration (Create more Spirits!)

2006 – Time Spiral Block

1. Continue with the past goals (Past-present-future, cards that work with multicolor, mix dredge/hellbent with flashback)

2. Embrace the tools of the past (Use old mechanics)

3. Find ways to surprise (Surprise! Psionic Blast is back! Surprise! Wrath of God is now Black! Surprise! Magic is making contraptions!)

2007 – Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Blocks

1. Go back to our roots (Creatures smash and Blue/Black get the best spells)

2. Find innovation that doesn’t shock (Besides that four sets a year thing. Two/two blocks (race-class, friendly hybrid/enemy hybrid))

3. Be all inclusive (Spikes got Faeries/Cryptic Command, Johnnys got hybrid and Timmys got the entire Lorwyn block)

You gotta diversify your bonds!
You gotta diversify your bonds!

2008 – Shards of Alara Block

1. Give things more time and space to breathe (The middle set? No new mechanics)

2. Embrace Flavor (5 shards each with their own keyword/theme)

3. Don’t be afraid to diversify (We about to go to war, invest in some nuclear bombs)

2009 – Zendikar Block

1. Explore new areas of design (No set around lands yet? Brilliant!)

2. Bring more resonance to the game (It’s a Trap!)

3. Continue to challenge expectations (Third set? Yeah, it’s big)

What does that mean? Do MaRo’s goals actually mean nothing then just big giant spoilers for the whole block? Is the cake a lie?

Here’s the thing that I don’t believe that most players don’t get: the goals MaRo takes about, they’re more like teasers. MaRo comes out before the new block and tells you what to expect. Maybe the word “goal” is what throws people off, but it’s something they try and get you, the player, ready for. Then after the year has passed, you can take a look at how well the “goals” were received. But in order to do that, you have to keep your audience informed about what you’re going to do.

Primer PosterExample: There’s a movie playing called Primer. If that’s all the info you have, would you see it? You have the basics down (it’s a movie), but know nothing else (A Magic set called Zendikar is being released). Your friend says it’s a sci-fi movie (the theme of Zendikar will be something new), but says it’s a very low budget movie about time travel that’s going to be very confusing, but worth seeing (The cards will make sense flavorfully and mechanically and also the thrid set will be a large set not a small one). How about now, interested in seeing the movie (buying the cards)?

Without giving away too much information, MaRo is basically talking about what you should expect when you see the cards printed over the next year much like when people talk about a movie. There can be spoilers (When people go back in time, you don’t know who’s who) that doesn’t give the whole picture, but the feeling of the set (movie).

Though the most interesting of these articles are what MaRo says the Wizards hit or miss (something most people in the forums or on twitter aren’t talking about). M10 was a hit, the design and execution of it was great. The Shards model was very fun and excellent, I don’t know a single person who at least didn’t like one shard. And the all gold set was good, except for people with mono-colored EDH decks.

But the misses are much more exciting to read (Schandefreude?) because I hope that Wizards doesn’t do that again. They were misses for the general public (not every card is meant for everyone), and are something to learn (you learn from your mistakes). MaRo shared the mistakes he believed in: not enough color fixing in Shards draft (something people were worried about since the very beginning), going from three colors to five colors then back to two (Which makes little sense) and trying to be too cutesy (really, that’s not going away) ((What if the subthemes of Conflux and Alara Reborn were switched? Five worlds coming together to create one world where everything is multicolor (minus hybrids) and then surviving that world with all five colors and mixed shard keywords and hybrid cards. Would that have been more on track?)). But something interesting that wasn’t talked about that I want to address as a lesson to learn that could only be learned after two years.

Linear mechanics, when pushed hard enough, will take over a metagame.

Faeries, THE defining deck over the past year and a half, has finally gotten to the point of control where other decks can handle it. It took several cards over several sets to finally bring it down to where it’s a competitive deck than a “must beat” deck. Sure, sometimes there were decks that played better when they surprised (Revelark, Swans), but most people were gunning to beat Faeries. This wasn’t the first time this has happened: Rebels, Goblins, Cycling, Affinity, all linear mechanics that were pushed and took over the metagame. This has over shadowed some of the fun cards that Shards block has and will not see play because it’s not good enough to be in a deck that defeats faeries.

Wizards, it’s fun to have linear mechanics that are fun to play (Kithkin are an example. Can be powerful, but can be played around). I get tired of not being able to build decks where I can’t compete with something that was printed last block that was put together too perfectly. Please please please understand this.

And I’m sure that you’ve heard about toning down the multicolor, alot. One request: don’t cut it off. It’s fun to have a couple of cards that are gold/hybrid in a format that aren’t rare/mythic (and don’t be afraid to put a couple of those spells in M11, new players can handle the concept of multicolor much easier than you think). It’s like how you don’t cut off artifacts after an artifact block; I believe that multicolor is a big part of the game.

Don’t be afraid just to evolve mechanics instead of bringing in new ones every set (Like the subtle When X>5 Naya spells in Conflux. Brilliant.). The last time I remember a mechanic evolving over a three set block was Morph and Cycling. Don’t be afraid to use keywords over in other sets rather then trying to shoehorn them with the new mechanics. And if you do make new mechanics later in the block, I wouldn’t mind seeing the second set’s keywords in the third set.

In all, I think Magic is doing just fine. I hope Wizards understands this: people love this game. There are people who make money from playing in the Pro Tour, to people who set up blogs talking about what they would do if they were in charge making the cards. They complain because they care. All geeks complain, it’s what we do. If we don’t, you’re doing something wrong.

One thought on “After MaRo – The 2009 State of Design Response”

  1. Magic has been getting better and better ever since Invasion, but I think Shards was actually poorly designed and the “misses” he mentioned is exactly why. It was not that fun for me overall.

    Drafting each set has been a lot of fun. I didn’t mind drafting 4th edition, but it was actually a terrible set for draft, which you can only realize now that we’ve seen much better. But Shards was worse than 4th Edition.

    I am also not convinced that M10 is as good as it should be either. Bombs in M10 are so much better than anything else that the luck factor is getting boring. This is much worse in sealed than draft.

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