In a World Where Words Can Get You Killed…

There's a passage I got memorized: Ezekiel 25:17.

I like to consider myself a writer. And, as a writer, I choose which words exit my fingers. Sometimes my brain thinks I’ve written the word that I thought of using there, but not all the time. I like to think of it as my fingers are stumbling to try and catch up to my thoughts. But most of the time, I believe that people tend to get the general idea of what I’m trying to say.

That leads us to the announcement from Monday: Wizards is printing Magic 2012. Shocking, I know (unless you haven’t played in a while, in which case Core Sets come out every year now). The biggest issue that people found interesting was the tagline:

Gather Your Allies

Now, if you have been paying attention to The Great Designer Search 2, you’ve noticed that all of the contestants have been forced to write loglines for their world. This is important, because it seems either the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing or it knows excatly.

Education time: There’s a difference between a logline and a tagline. A log line is (usually) a one sentence summary of what the creator is trying to portray. A tag line is a hook to get your interest. Example: Inception‘s log line (according to is:

In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a highly skilled thief is given a final chance at redemption which involves executing his toughest job to date: Inception.

Notice that “In a World” line in there. That’s a logline. On the flip side, Inception‘s tagline reads like this:

Your mind is the scene of the crime

That’s a nice hook. It adds some mystery and draws you in. What excatly is going on? An easy way of thinking of this is a logline is what you’d see on the back of a DVD, while the tag line is on the front.

Back to the GDS2. Currently, the logline portion of the contest has become a hybrid of both loglines and taglines, but still trying to describe the world that they’re creating. Each of these words that they write to convey the idea has to be chose carefully. MaRo even said so to Daniel Williams about his logline:

On the lawless frontier, death can come in a flash.

MaRo responded:

I like “lawless frontier” as that screams Western genre pretty loudly. “Death comes in a flash” seems to not say much of anything and is a little too cutesy in its Magic lingo.

Zach Hill even said so:

I really, really hope this doesn’t mean we’re in Flash World.

Oh wait.

I just read the submissions. It does.

Because Magic has a defined term for Flash (can be played as an instant) anytime it’s used, people are going to associate with it. Just like for the term “Tim” (a Pinger who can do 1 damage) and “Shadow” (an evasion mechanic). So when promotional material gets released talking about one of these Magic defined terms, people tend to think that way.

Gather Your Allies

Allies were extremely popular in Zendikar and MaRo even said that he wish they printed more. You want the quote? You can’t handle the quote:

I’m not saying that I wanted all the Zendikar keywords to show up in Rise but I do think we could have done a little more to cement, mechanically, the feeling that all three sets took place on the same world. The best example is that I wish we had used the creature type Ally in Rise. Those cards didn’t necessarily have to have the Ally text from Zendikar, just the creature type. That way we would have given Ally decks a little more to work with even if those cards only triggered the Zendikar and Worldwake Allies.

I’ll be honest that I’m not sure what the right mix is, but I feel Rise hit a little short.

Does this mean we’re getting Allies in M12? While I wouldn’t go out to speculate yes, it does seem odd about that word choice. Allies also means friends and teammates. Could M12 be a multiplayer focused Core Set? Or, allies could be the planeswalkers you summon since they’re supposed to help you out? Much like teammate would. Possible, but why chose a word where it already has a certain definition? It’s not like someone said, “Hey, let’s write whatever we want here, no one pays attention.” M11’s taglline was:

A set everyone can sink their teeth into.

Did we get Psychatog (known as “Dr. Teeth”)? No, we didn’t. We got some dragons (but that’s normal), and Titans (not really known for biting anyone), but nothing of that fact. Am I making too much of a big deal about this? I could be. This set did have cards for every type of player, and that’s what they (quite possibly) were referring to.

If, for M12, WotC had said “Prepare for the Infection” then it would be assumed that Infect is in the set. Gather implies to get as many as you can, which also fits in with the idea of Allies (the linear mechanic wants you to play more of them). If this Core Set doesn’t have Allies, I will be very surprised.

As for the GDS2, writing loglines can be very helpful. I know that some people think of it as a joke, but it’s to help exercise to work on conveying ideas. And as a designer, that’s what you need to do: share your ideas.

Because if no one knows what you’re trying to say, it does no good at all.

7 thoughts on “In a World Where Words Can Get You Killed…”

  1. I think Allies are the wrong fit for a base set. The level of complexity is rather high for a core set, and it’s unlike core sets to embrace a theme that thoroughly. It’s not like you can just reprint a few allies and call it a day; we’re talking about a huge percentage of M12 being all-reprints from a very recent block. Even if you look at the simplest incarnation of Allies, Oran-Rief Survivalist, his mere existence means that Runeclaw Bears has no chance of being printed. Their existence would take the jobs of vanilla creatures everywhere, and in a base set no less. It just seems so unlikely.

    While I think the tagline is generic for genericness’s sake (and that everyone’s reading too much into it), I would not be surprised if M12 was much more multiplayer-friendly. Wizards has been moving greatly in that direction, and they’re trying to continue the casual-friendly success that they’ve been riding with Planechase, Archenemy and now Commander. And let’s not forget who the lead developer of this set is: Tom LaPille.

    1. I’m not discussing if they should be in the Core Set, I’m just pointing something out (though I get your point). I disagree that they are too complex than a Core Set. They all have the same trigger, and it’s much easier to grok than Slivers which are in the same camp. Having ETB triggers are easier to understand than ones that are in play.
      Do I think they SHOULD be in the Core Set? Not really. But I’ll understand. Could they be? Yeah.

  2. Think about rotation though.

    M12 hits July 15th and then you could play all Zen block + M12 Allies. W00!

    “Shake” hits in October and *poof* goes all the Zen block Allies. Aww! 😦

    I doubt we’d get enough Allies in M12 itself to carry Allies as a deck idea or otherwise be a meaningful addition to other decks unless the idea of Allies as a mechanic to build on expands greatly.

    I’m happier seeing core sets focus more on “cycles” than “themes” – since a theme cam more easily build over the course of 3 sets while the core set will be gone in 15 months.

  3. Another interpretation: a new cycle of planeswalkers.

    WotC has already described planeswalker cards as “powerful allies” to summon. The partial spoiler is new art for a card that could well be Chandra 3.0. And the Lorwyn cycle of ‘walkers has been out long enough that they’re no longer special.

  4. I hope there aren’t Allies in M12. I had a decent block-legal deck last year based around them but dismantled it because it just wasn’t fun doing all the numbers and keeping track of counters.

    They do hit the classic fantasy “party of adventurers” flavor, but unless WotC keeps complexity low (no means of allowing multiple Allies to ETB simultaneously and keeping the Ally triggers at +1/+1 counters and perhaps abilities like Flying) they’ll just prove a mess for new players.

  5. There is another use of the word “ally” in Magic: Allied Colors. It is also possible that this will be the first Core Set to have multicolored cards- Allied color combinations only of course. Think about it:
    1. Multicolored is a fairly simple theme. Fits with the need for simplicity in the Core Set.
    2. Multicolored has been part of the game since Legends- maybe new players should be introduced to it early.
    3. WotC has proven time and again that they love printing allied color dual lands in the core set. The multicolored cards to go along with them makes sense.

    All of these theories are possible. Of course, we won’t know for sure until M12 is released.

    It also could be a red herring. They certainly do that on occasion…

  6. Personally, when I read the “Gather Your Allies” I immediately jumped to the idea of the “signature planeswalker spells” that popped up in M11. You know, Chandra’s Spitfire, Jace’s Ingenuity, etc. There were just two for each planeswalker in the set and everybody (players and designers) all seemed to like them. They pushed the planeswalkers’ special status more, they worked excellently with the planeswalkers themselves, and they definitely had flavor superiority over “generic elf 1203981489”. We did already see our first M12 card, Chandra’s Phoenix:

    So who knows? Perhaps a few more of these signature spells will show up in M12 in this vein of thinking.

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