Yo Dawg, I Herd You Like Magic Design…

Listen, there's only so many MTG cards dedicated to Design. Deal with it.


Editor’s Note: I want to thank everyone for their kind words for my last post. I just needed to get it out there, and I didn’t know how people would accept it. For the most part you did, and I’m glad. This time, happiness.

There’s a dirty little secret why you usually don’t see posts about Magic design on the major sites besides dailymtg.com: they don’t drive page views. Most of the traffic online that deals with Magic comes from tournament reports and when one of the pros write something (ie a tournament report or not). So while I might have used the appropriate slang for today’s title, It’s Hard Out There for an MTG Designer, I used my better judgment and decided against it.

When I started this blog years and years ago, I did it because I loved Magic design. Aside from the bickering found in forums, there really wasn’t a place online aside from MaRo’s articles that was devoted to design. Sure, there were pieces here at there, but since they don’t drive the traffic, unless you really love it, not everyone’s going to read it. The same people that would be reading them would be writing them; you’re going to get 10 page views which would signal that maybe there’s not a demand for it. Please ignore the fact that people would put up their funny cards on their Geocities page; they weren’t talking about design, just making wacky cards.

The original intent of this blog was to talk about Magic design, and while that’s slightly waned a little with more dealing with Magic culture, humor and Lotus Cobra is Evil, I still deal plenty with its intended purpose. I would like to think that at the time, I was the only blog actually focusing on Magic design on a more than limited basis. Since then (especially in the past few months) a number of other Magic design blogs have been started. Does that make me the Godfather of design blogs? No, not unless you start calling me that yourself (I don’t have that big of an ego).

What am I doing with this post? I’m here to highlight some of the blogs of other amateur Magic designers (And by amateur I mean not getting paid, not that they’re un-skilled).

Whoa, whoa whoa. Promoting other designer’s blogs? Aren’t you in competition with them?

Besides the GDS2 (where I’m only directly against one of them currently), this isn’t a competition to see who can do the best work (kinda). I really like what all of these guys have to say about design in general. Each one of us takes a look at design differently so you’re not going to be getting the same thing repeating when you read our blogs. Yes, there will be some overlap as we’re all talking about the same basic thing, but we approach it differently.

These are the four guys who blogs I recommend if you’re interested in learning more about Magic design. If I was designing a set/block besides GDS2, I’d love to have these guys on my team (Hint MaRo, maybe that’s the twist for GDS3).

In alphabetical order by last name:

Name: Jake Kessler
Blog: Designer Magic (eyeofthevortexonline.com/wordpress/designermagic)
Twitter: @JakeKessler
Sample Work:

News Team Assemble!

So the first thing to do was figure out how Assemble was going to work. I briefly considered devising some complex keyword action (like proliferate or clash) to justify “whenever a Rigger assembles a Contraption,” but quickly decided this would be both too wordy to fit on a wide variety of cards, and way too complicated to be easily grokked. Put another way, Contraptions were going to be enough of a leap for some players to make; I wanted Assemble to be as simple a concept as possible.

Remember earlier when I was talking about using Bonding as a catch-all ability word for any effect that generated land tokens? Well, I ended up doing something pretty similar for Contraptions. Basically, any effect that put one or more artifact tokens onto the battlefield would be preceded by the ability word “Assemble—”, like this:

Assemble—When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put a Contraption artifact token onto the battlefield.

In this way, “Assemble—” serves as a sort of flag for the player to catch their eye and clue them in that this is a Contraption card. It also leaves us free to explore a wide variety of token-generating mechanics, rather than nailing ourselves to one specific keyword. We are thus able to use Contraptions in a variety of ways, like our guidelines require.

Designer Magic #6: Assemble the Doomsday Machine

Name: Bradley Rose
Blog: Milling for 53 (millingfor53.blogspot.com)
Twitter: @BradleyRose
Sample Work:

Virtual Fries

For virtual vanilla creatures, you can put any of these in its text box:

  • Flash
  • Haste
  • “When CARDNAME enters the battlefield” effects
  • Effects that trigger when you cast the creature itself (e.g. “When you cast CARDNAME”, Cascade)
  • Abilities that only matter when the creature is in your hand (e.g. Cycling, Reinforce)
  • Alternate or additional costs (e.g. Suspend, text on Flamekin Bladewhirl)
  • Other abilities I missed

And for French vanillas, they just need to only have creature keywords. However, what I’m not sure about is whether a non-evergreen keyword such as infect would be able to count when determining a French vanilla creature. (I could have asked @maro254 in a tweet, but I didn’t want to bother him with something not-as-important right now during the time of choosing Great Designer Search 2 finalists.) For me, I’ve decided that, yes, a creature with just infect would count as a French vanilla. Also, ability words like landfall and chroma aren’t actually keywords, and as such, a creature such as Steppe Lynx with its landfall ability don’t count.

One more thing: Sometimes, a creature can be both a Virtual Vanilla and a French Vanilla (e.g. Raging Goblin). That’s if the creature has only keyword mechanics that follow the rules according to the above bullet point list. Flash and haste are evergreen keywords you’ll see on creatures from time to time by themselves (especially haste). Sometimes, a keyword mechanic in a set will lend itself toward potential virtual vanilla creatures such as cascade.

Neapolitan Needs Vanilla Too

Name: Neale Talbot
Blog: Writing for TopDeck Hero (topdeckhero.com/index.php/articles/gds2) and WrongWayGoBack (magic.wrongwaygoback.com)
Twitter: @WrongWayGoBack
Sample Work:

As the keywords developed, so did the flavour of the world. Two opposing forces with directly opposing aims. One seeks to build its army up to create an unstoppable force that can push through the kill through force of will and loyalty. The second seeks to dismantle its opponent through guile and beguiling, attacking an army by preventing it from following its own orders.

I thought that was pretty cool.

I had fallen into a classic design trap, the danger of cool things.

What’s the problem? There is actually no interaction between the two mechanics.

Take a look at the recent use of Infect and Proliferate. These are two mechanics that are viable and interesting on their own. Proliferate interacts with many mechanics from MtG’s history; modular, charge counters, divinity counters, level up, etc. It becomes a really powerful effect when combined with Infect, as it essentially adds ‘deal 2 damage; this can’t be prevented or recovered’ once a single poison token is achieved.

The same is true of Persist and Wither in the Lowryn/Shadowmoor block. Persist was amazingly powerful, but kept clearly in check by the presence of Wither in the set. Quite different effects, but tied to the same type of counter (-1/-1 counters). The other problem with Fealty vs. Glamour was the presence of two different, unrelated counters in the set.

I was faced with three key problems.

Mechanics on the Titanic

Name: Gavin Verhey
Blog: Design Space (designspaceblog.com)
Twitter: @GavinVerhey
Sample Work:

Being fun is important.

Now, this seems obvious. We all try on some level. However, the thing about fun is that we often try and quantify it. Years of working in writing taught me to weed out terms that weren’t descriptive enough. The eyes of my poetry and prose professors unleashed invisible yardsticks on your wrists if you so much as mentioned “the flow” of a poem. After all, flow on its own meant nothing. There was always a way to pull out exactly what you liked with an increased description. However, in game design, sometimes too much pulling apart and quantification leads to stripping fun away from whatever you are designing.

But fun? Sometimes fun is just… fun. There’s not always good reason to describe it – or even a need to.

When you design something, at the end of the day, you need to be able to stand back and ask yourself, “Is this fun? Is this actually enjoyable?” For the most part (yes, I realize there are always exceptions) only one player group will want to play something simply because it proves themselves as people who can correctly identify value – the Spikes.

Even then, as someone who is partially a spike, I will often shy away from things I don’t find fun even if I know I can win with/at them simply because games become a grind otherwise.

A great example is Scrabble. I’m pretty good with words and have a propensity to figure out which words to put where. The problem? It’s excruciating to do so! I’ll look over a board, tank for 15 minutes, analyze the situation from every possible angle, and come out with a good play – but it’s absolutely no fun for me to do so. That’s partially why I don’t play Scrabble as often anymore – it just isn’t fun despite it being something I can be good at.

Having Fun: Why Fun Matters

This is a small fraternity and in all likely hood, it’s not going to grow to be too big. Unless the demand for more work for Magic design actually drives traffic, I doubt that people will want to continue to create and maintain blogs. It’s maintaining it that’s the hard part, for you have to have a passion do continue doing it.

I know these guys do.


2 thoughts on “Yo Dawg, I Herd You Like Magic Design…”

  1. You’ve got me fist-pumping like crazy, man!

    Here’s why: One, you’ve flattered me greatly, making me blush like mad. Two, I’m possibly going to get more people paying attention to what I wrote with the plug in this post. Three, upon reading this, I’m getting the feeling that this is the beginning of something beautiful in terms of writing on Magic design.

    As Magic ages twenty years from now, there might be a StarCityGames equivalent of a Magic design site (or whatever other impressive non-WotC Magic website). And it’s gotta start somewhere. It feels like I’m in a possible moment of importance, and it’s making both my fists go up in the air.

    As for the Godfather thing, until I find somebody who has preceded your efforts on Magic design writing, I have no qualms with calling you Godfather of the League of Non-WotC Magic Designers. Or something like that.

    But, that’s kinda weird to call you that, so I won’t. You’re MTGColorPie to me, brah.



    P.S. Thanks for the mention!

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