If you don’t read Mark Rosewater’s Tumblr, I really suggest you do. While some of the questions that he answers are more basic level Magic questions (one of the recent ones is when were blocks first designed), there’s a ton of information in there for all levels of people. But what’s great is that he takes time out of his day and talks to normal people about something they love.
It’s very rare to see someone of his position answer questions and get in touch with his customers/fan base. He hears directly what they want and don’t want, but also give them more information about how Magic work behind the scenes.
This week I published an image based on something MaRo created. He was asked what the likely of Cascade coming back was on a scale of 1 through 10 where 10 was Storm (Storm, being a mechanic Maro doesn’t ever see coming back). He gave it a 3.
And suddenly it grew from there. People were wondering about all sorts of things on the “Storm Scale” and it shot off from there. As of the printing of this article, there have been around 70 questions about the Storm Scale in just over 2 months of its first appearance. Yes, even through how many questions that MaRo gets through, a good percentage of once that he answers are about the Storm Scale.
But what does that mean for us?
A lot, actually. It shows us what mechanics we should be shooting for when we create one.
Here’s the table for your reference (click for a larger image because WordPress decided that this one was too small):
The Storm Scale measures how popular a mechanic is, with rules issues, along with design space. Now, everything is liked by somebody; I know a few people who really want banding back in Magic. But it wasn’t that popular and it’s a rules nightmare. This means it’s higher up on the Storm Scale. Storm is incredibly broken each time it has been printed, so MaRo doesn’t want to bring it back into the fold even though it’s popular with some people (in fact, it’s sort of an oddity that it’s the only mechanic that’s on here that is because of how powerful it is; even Affinity has a reasonable shot of coming back). I don’t know how much popularity fits into ranking these on the scale since it’s all MaRo’s personal gut feelings, but that’s not the important issue about why one mechanic would be higher than other. Yes, I realize that I’m sounding like Dr. J. Evans Pritchard Ph.D..
Look at the difference between the 1-2 range (remember, on the Storm Scale, a lower number means it’s more likely to see print again) vs. the 9-10 range:
The ones in the first category generally have more design space than the second category. While there are exceptions, Proliferate is actually pretty small design space but lives on because it’s popular and it’s a open mechanic. If you were to design 100 cards of each of the mechanics there it would be much easier and a greater variety of cards with the first group.
Ever since WotC has gone back and decided that it’s good to repeat mechanics the “holy grail” ones are really opened ended and can be fully explored. Let’s look at Flashback:
So we have “Normal” Flashback, Off-color Flashback, giving something Flashback, referencing Flashback, a “Chinese Menu” Flashback, Alternate cost Flashback with three different ways, and cards that do different things if it’s Flashbacked. I’m sure this isn’t the end of what can be done with Flashback. And these are just what happens with having new twists on Flashback, but you don’t always need to have those. You know what’s really nice about this mechanic? Look at all of the variable effects you can do. Almost any effect in Magic you can create with Flashback.
Is this how to test to see if a mechanic has “design space”? Well, yes and no. When you’re first creating a mechanic, go through and create cards that do these type of effects (If it’s a spell related mechanic) and see if you can do it:
Draw a card.
Counter a spell.
Destroy target creature.
Discard a card.
Deal X damage.
Gain X life.
Destroy target artifact or enchantment.
Target creature gets +X/+X until end of turn.
Return target nonland permanent to its owner’s hand.
Make an X/X creature.
Target creature gains [Whatever] until end of turn.
Of course, the X in those can mean 1, 2, 3, or even X. Once you create those simple cards with your new mechanic, see how the mechanic feels by playing with it. Don’t go for overly-fancy mechanic that has a cute tie-in to make it work. This was Clash’s biggest problem, even though I liked the mechanic. It felt like it was trying to be Scry but you had to do another step to make it work. Suspend (even though it has some rules issues and overall understanding of the mechanic) fits in that same mold. Sure, you can create a Suspend Naturalize, but it would just feel like a bad card. I really wanted to take a look at a mechanic created by an amateur designer, and put it through this test. Maybe I’ll do that in another piece.
Proliferate doesn’t have that much design space because there’s not much you can do with it. It’s basically a cantrip effect minus the ability to add a counter every once in a while. It’s cute, but I believe that the next time it comes back around you’re going to see much of the same stuff. But that will be okay, because Exalted’s the same way. You don’t need to innovate the mechanic to need to return, but enough has to be added to make it worth it.
But being an open mechanic doesn’t mean it places low on the Storm Scale, it’s also how popular you are too. Slivers are extremely popular (except by me), but are extremely narrow in their design (they need other mechanics to make them work). They will be back, I will sigh, and many will be happy. That’s fine, they aren’t for me. If Slivers weren’t popular, I’d doubt they would be back twice after Temepst block and we wouldn’t see them again. Once you have this many cards printed in Magic’s history, going back and printing people’s favorites can be a good way to increase sales and have people recapture the joy of the game (Why do you think we, sigh, “Returned to Ranvica”). Time Spiral took that idea to the extreme but you have an outside shot of seeing a nostalgia block since MaRo puts that concept at a 5.
Then there are the mechanics that can’t come back for other reasons. Ninjutsu is popular, but it has a bad name (for non-Kamigawa worlds without Ninjas) and doesn’t have that much space for innovation. Threshold is a nice idea, but it’s another thing to keep track of on the battlefield (so to speak). The Untap symbol was a cute idea, but it didn’t work. To be fair, Magic is full of cute ideas that just don’t work like Champion or a set full of creatures (Legions).
I think that we almost have enough data points to guesstimate where mechanics might fall onto the Storm Scale. We don’t know their data gathering which is why some guesses might be way off (Cascade as a 3? Really?) but this gives us an idea of where mechanics might see a reprint somewhere in Magic’s history. Here’s where I’d put the RTR keywords:
Populate – 5
Overload – 6
Scavenge – 3
Unleash – 2
Detain – 3
Maybe after Tom LaPille’s article, Scavenge might be an 9…