Let’s Talk About Ascend

Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be

6Hey, a timely post.

First, if you came over from the Beacon of Creation Podcast where I was a guest, welcome. If you’re just hearing about this Beacon of Creation podcast, take a listen. Adam and Bradley host a podcast about Magic design and the lead up to the Great Designer Search 3 (more info when that kicks off). I’m on Episode 5, which you can find right here.

We talked a bit about some of the Rivals of Ixalan cards that had been previewed that day (we recorded on the first day of Rivals previews). There was one new mechanic in the set that we briefly touched upon that I would like to go further indepth.

Ascend (If you control ten or more permanents, you get the city’s blessing for the rest of the game.)

Ascend is a Threshhold mechanic meaning it needs a criteria to be met for it to turn on (ala, Threshhold from Odyssey block). What’s the most interesting part of this mechanic is that it can’t be turned off. Once you have Ascend, you can’t lose it, even if you have no permanents left on the board.

This was done on purpose.

To understand Ascend, we need to go back a few sets, to Conspiracy: Take the Crown. Continue reading “Let’s Talk About Ascend”

Mining Unstable for Future Design Space

We’ll fix it in the flavor text…

I have this habit of calling Unstable, Unhinged. As I wrote the title of this piece, I did just that. I always thought that Unhinged would be the last Un-set unless something drastic happened. Well, no matter how much people try, the world hasn’t ended and we received a new Un-set.

I always believed that the Un-sets were a great way for Magic to poke for at themselves and do things that couldn’t be done in “normal” Magic. Some of the favorite “non-traditional” things have come out of Un-sets: Full art lands, split cards, tokens, ability words (think “Gotcha to Landfall”), etc. And Mark Rosewater has said that besides the printing technology, one of the reasons to push Unhinged was to explore possible future space.

Well, what can we find in this new Silver-border that we might see in Black-border land a few years from now? Let’s go exploring for possibilities. Continue reading “Mining Unstable for Future Design Space”

After PAX: The Death of Magic at PAX

All that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity.
– Hamlet: Act 1, Scene 2

I’ve been to PAX West eight out of the past nine years, venturing specifically for Magic: The Gathering (the only one I’ve missed when my daughter had surgery). I feel like I have some expertise when I say this: This year was by far the worst effort put forth by Wizards of the Coast to do anything Magic related at PAX West. The only major event they produced was one panel about the worldbuilding of Ixalan for an hour. And that was it. How you found it was a blurb in the main schedule, not even a mention on DailyMTG.com.

It was embarrassing.

Let me amend that:

I was embarrassed for Wizards of the Coast.

When I’ve written these After PAX pieces, I was trying to give you a little bit of the atmosphere of Magic-related PAX. They aren’t really reviews as it’s not something that one can experience again. I tried to examine what was WotC doing to promote their latest set and their actions at the convention itself.

For years the draw was the Magic Party where they would debut cards with music, food, drinks and a bunch of people including WotC employees. Over the past few years the party was toned down but the increased presence of Magic was there. Two years ago there was a huge Eldrazi arm crushing a police car on the street. Last year, they took over a whole theater for Kaladesh and the huge street wide banner hanging on the skybridge displaying Saheeli Rai for all of the PAX attendees to see.

This year, an hour long panel with two preview cards.

And as much as it would be easy to blame WotC for this, it’s not their fault.

There’s one clear reason for this complete drop off, but I have a feeling that there were to other factors that contributed to this choice that made it a bit easier. The elephant in the room:


Continue reading “After PAX: The Death of Magic at PAX”

10 Years

Time for some self reflection.

It was 10 years ago today that mtgcolorpie.com was first started. Not much has changed in the Magic landscape since then I’m sure. In fact, this was the “mission statement” I wrote on the date:

The reason for this site is to talk about the design aspect of Magic. What is Wizards doing right, what should we be expecting from them in the future? All of those things will be covered right here. Why? Because like everyone on the internet, they think they can do as good of a job, or better, than the professionals (don’t believe me, search YouTube for stupid stunts). Am I better than the design team headed up by Mark Rosewater? We’ll see…

Yeah, shooting a little high with Mark Rosewater, right? I had to make a statement when starting my blog. Put my voice out there in the aether. Do I think he was doing a bad job? No, I just felt that there was some room for criticism about Magic design. Am I professional Magic designer? No, not yet (is there a collation?). Since that still a goal of mine? Why wouldn’t it be?

I know it hasn’t been 10 years of constant blogging. There have been some regrets of not writing as much as I should. Life, babies, job all gets in the way. I try and make time for it, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out as the number of half finished articles in my queue can attest to. As of this writing I have published 253 posts on MTGColorPie.com. That’s an average of 25 a year or once every two or so weeks. So average it out and I’m doing okayish for a single person. And maybe because this isn’t a full time job for me (I make no money from this blog) that it feels like I wish I could’ve done more. I will always try and want to do more than what I can and that’s my guilt. I’ve had some real fun with pieces going completely absurd, like the parody pieces, and some real talk, like when I talked about the loss of my grandmother.

The Magic community is a fantastic place to be. I’m proud to be a voice in it for the past 10 years. It’s allowed me to do some fun stuff: PAX, meet Dr. Richard Garfield briefly, talk with WotC employees, write for other sites like Gathering Magic and interact with all of you.

I really want to thank you readers for actually reading my words (in whatever order they end up in). When I first started this and my Twitter account, I was considering of keeping myself fully anonymous so I could say anything without fear of backlash. Then, when I found out I don’t have that much to say to be worried about, I dropped that act. Whenever I go to PAX or places and introduce myself, it’s always a surprise to meet someone who’s heard of me especially when they say they like my work. I’m not doing any of this to be famous (as the number of posts can tell you), but just to write out my thoughts. With your kind words, it’s helped me through some tough times during the past 10 years. I’ll always be thankful for you.

So, what’s next? More articles (I’ve got enough in my queue to last another 10 years), but also branching out a little bit with another medium. I’m moving at the end of August/Early September so I’ll finally have my own office once again. My cards won’t be in boxes and I’ve always wanted a whiteboard in my home office for ideas. My notebooks is full of notes that I’m ready to spring into the world. I’ve toyed with the concept of streaming a bit, either card creation or building EDH decks or, drafting? Who knows. I mean, I’ve got all of this camera and video equipment and I haven’t really done anything with it yet. It will be much easier to create when I don’t have to constantly put away things when I have my own room and my girls are a little bit older.

If you’ve ever wanted to write or create content about Magic, I would highly suggest you give it a try. Don’t worry about what other people say. Write or create what you want to consume. Soon, you’ll find your voice and your place in the community. That’s how I started 10 years ago, and you can do the same. To paraphrase the proverb:

The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The second best time is now.

As always, you can reach me by email (mtgcolorpie@gmail) or twitter (@mtgcolorpie). I’m mtgcolorpie most everywhere else as well. Again, thank you all.

After Maro – Megametamorphsis

Before we go any further, you have to read the article by Mark Rosewater about the changes happening. Major plot points:

  • The block model is going away. There won’t be any more small sets. Every set will now be a large set. Each set will now be drafted by itself. Planes/storylines will now be 1 set or possibly 2-3. It depends on the needs of the story. Mechanics from sets may drift into other sets but may not
  • Core Sets are coming back, but they won’t be full Core Sets, but something new.
  • The Gatewatch will be pulled back in its usage.
  • Masterpieces will be used less.
  • They’re trying to fix Standard by introducing a new team.

Huge huge huge news. We’ll start by working from bottom to the top.

The Play Design Team

This team is going to make sure that the past few months of Standard never happen again. This is a good thing. Nothing much else to add until we find out more.

Masterpieces Won’t Appear in Every Set

This is one of those things that I don’t think I wrote a lot about. I love the idea of the Masterpieces, and I’ve opened a few myself. They have helped keep prices low because everyone wants to open Masterpieces so they open a bunch of packs. Here’s the main problem I’ve had with them:

There’s too many.

I ranted about this on Twitter a few times, but when you have 50+ cards every two sets you’ll run out of worth while cards to make a Masterpiece pretty quickly. It’s not that they were “off theme” with Kaladesh Invocations, but Diabolic Intent and Divert seem like odd cards to print so quickly into this idea. I don’t want them to go away at all, but if we dial the number back to like 5 or 10 or so a set, then you have something awesome going. You could even go to 15 to highlight a cycle of cards released in the set like they’ve done with the Gearhulks or Gods. Hey, even making the Legendary Creatures into Masterpieces would be awesome for Commander.

The frames for the Anomkhet Invocations were a misstep, I still like the concept of the idea. I knew that there would be a time where “Duress” might be one of the Masterpieces if they continued with the current rate of churning out cards. I’m not saying Duress is a bad card, but how many people were excited to open a Counterspell? I don’t mind them getting cut completely until out of nowhere they show up again because hopefully they’ll be handled better next time around.

Less Gatewatch

Here’s something that most players will like. Over the past two years, WotC has been pushing this Gatewatch pretty hard. They think of them as their “Justice League/Avengers” analog and they’re not wrong. In order to bring storytelling across blocks there needs to be recognizable faces that we know. What WotC has done is put all of them into all of the stories all the time. Sure the first set of a block it focused on one or two, but then all of them would join in and face the bad guys together. Eldrazi, Emrakul, Tezzert, Nicol Bolas. There was just too much of them.

So WotC is pulling them back and everyone’s happy. Some would like them discontinued for good, but I think there’s an amount of good still left in the idea. By not jamming all five/six members of the Gatewatch into each set, storytelling can open up. We need more villains: Phyrexians, Eldrazi and Nicol Bolas aren’t enough. Having smaller single plane bad guys are fine, I’m all for a Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven style set. Though for the three bad guys, there needs to be more that the average non-Vorthos player can recognize. This give them an opportunity to follow through with it.

Here’s where I think WotC is swinging the pedulium in the other way too far: it’s not that we don’t want to see them ever (well, some people do), but just more spread out. Still keep them as the face of a set if you want to, just one or two at a time. With the new Planeswalker decks, we’ve only seen the Gatewatch in them, spread out the love. If we’re visiting a plane, let’s see one of those new Planeswalkers AND one that we’ve seen before. We know those Planeswalkers won’t be pushed for Standard play, but you can still have your marketing there. Just spread them around instead of just shoving them in our face.

Core Sets Return

When Magic went two full blocks a year they had to drop the Core Set. I think that M10/11/12 were most likely the best of the new Core Sets and it fell off from there, but they did finish with a bang with Magic Origins. But the way Mark Rosewater described them makes me think they’re going back to the “Yearly model” style:

The set will be roughly half new cards and half reprints, and all the cards will be Standard-legal. The new cards will push toward resonance (aka things a new player would already recognize by having a familiarity with fantasy from pop culture). The set will have some story relevance, but more in a “filling in information of the past about relevant characters” way than telling a piece of the “present-day” story.

Probably the biggest change about the new core set is a philosophy in how we think about it. In the past, we stuck the core set on equal footing with the other three major sets, but with its return we’re going to treat it differently. It has a different purpose, different priorities, and it’s going to be designed with a different approach. As such, we’re not going to treat it as if it’s just like the main three expansions.

Here’s where we get back into the M10 mode instead of the Magic Origins style of design. With Origins, it was all about the soft reboot of the story, reintroducing the story of the Gatewatch to those players who didn’t know them. With the M10 sets, it was about the renosance of the game that we all loved when it first came out. To quote Aaron Forsythe about M10:

Those three cards are great examples of resonant concepts brought to life using game terms that players new and old alike can understand: Silence prevents others from casting, the Wall of Frost freezes all those that touch it, and the [Capricious] Efreet is a powerful yet uncontrollable agent of chaos! Even somebody with zero knowledge of the game can understand that.

And this is where the M10 sets succeeded: they took common fantasy tropes and made them into Magic cards where newer players can understand them. This is where Maro said the new Core Sets are going to head towards: newer players. And that’s fine. With their new way of thinking (Core Sets can be a good entry step for newer players and that’s okay) we can get a more focused Core Set. Maro from Metamorphosis (1.0):

Who exactly is the core set for? If it’s for beginners, why do we only put it out during one point of the year? Is that the one time we expect new players to start? And why do we keep adding new cards and bringing back mechanics? The beginners don’t need any of that and it only leads to making the set more complicated.

If it’s for the experienced players, why do we keep the overall complexity so low? Why do we only use returning mechanics and only one at a time? Why do we strictly limit what the set can do? The experienced players don’t need any of that and it only leads to making the set less engaging.

I’ve devoted a bunch of time and quotes to a silly set that people sometimes buy. Why?

Let’s look at what happened with Standard recently: so many bannings. I, with my limited developer knowledge, equate this with no real answers. They couldn’t print answers because they were off flavor for the world they were creating. What answers am I talking about?


Say what?

Come on, that’s pretty silly. Why would you equate problems with these three cards?

Standard Bannings

Sure, I’m being overly simplistic and a little unfair with the Affinity bannings in 2005, but the point still remains. As long as one of these cards has been legal in Standard there have been no bannings. Of course, it’s completely silly as correlation and causation come into play here but it is eye opening. So where do Core Sets fit in with all of this?

Well, it gives WotC a chance to print an answer card in a set without worrying about if it fits within the plane. Pithing Needle was reprinted in Return to Ravnica, but I don’t see it being used in other settings (Kaladesh wanted to push its artifact themes and Amonkhet was left out because, reasons?). Oblivion Ring has been nudged out as that was the “old” templating for White’s temporary removal so Blinding Light has been the replacement. Having “Blinding Light” in some of these sets doesn’t make sense so it sat on the sidelines. Maro:

Other times, elements of the world don’t line up with the mechanical definition. Inquisition of Kozilek, for example, was black in a world where all the Eldrazi’s spells were colorless. Ghostfire, ironically, had the opposite problem of being colorless in a world where all the colorless spells were Eldrazi spells.

With the Core Set, WotC can print those answers without having to mess up the flavor of the world. It’s not like we’re looking for the broad hoser cards that used to be in Core Sets (Choke, Karma, Great Sable Stag), but just cards to keep stuff in check. Are they the best cards for beginning players? Maybe not, but it does allow them if they’re looking to make the jump to the next level to compete against those decks.

Now we finally get back to who these Core Sets are made for: beginners and people who don’t have heavy interest in the game. Going back to the first Maro quote, there’s a shift to how the Core Sets are going to be treated. There will be some reprints but there won’t be a push to make it hugely competitive. I’m sure there will be a few cards in there that will help out (Like Pithing Needle/Blinding Light), but nothing to the extent of Mutavault. There are more avenues for needed reprints in other formats than there were and they can go in there to help drum up interest for those. Make this a “casual” friendly set with easy drafting, and it’s something that players can point to to get started in the game.

Every Set is a Large Set

And now, the big one.

The basic gist is this: there will be no more blocks as small sets are going away. Every Standard legal set released is now a large set. Every set now has the possibility to be on its own plane or several sets can be on the same plane. Each large set will have their own draft (3x), and each set will have their own mechanics, but there’s the possibility of some overlap with other sets if design calls for it. Whew, got it? What does all of this mean?

Ditching the small set was something that had to be done. For years WotC had the “third set issue” where the third set of a block was stretched too far either storywise, or mechanically. So WotC decided to shrink it down to two sets hoping that could work.

Stories work in three acts (or five, fine), and the old structure worked with telling a story: “Setup”, “Rising Action” and “Climax”. When the shift was made to two sets per a block, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to get a full story told since it was now “Setup” and “Climax”. The online story has helped filling in those gaps and most stories lag somewhere in the second act too long anyway so it wasn’t that bad of a shift. Now that we have one set per a block, the “story” aspect aren’t necessarily going to be told over a period of time. Jace goes to Dominaria. That’s the whole set and story that we need to know. Sure, he can do stuff there and we have a nice little journey along the way but that’s it. Since we can include more than one set on a plane, we can then focus on a larger story: if needed. And that’s the key point.

Some movies are 90 minutes, others are three hours; it all depends on what you need to tell the story you want to tell. And this opens up the idea for more varied, explorable stories that WotC couldn’t tell because it had to be X sets. Now it can be 1, 2 or even 3 sets if they wanted to. Notice how they’re going to use less of the Gatewatch? With the change of the sets, you can now give each of the members a new place to discover and look around in without feeling like you’re wasting half a year on a plane. I guess the best idea would be to think of it as the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Give a bunch of the characters their own “solo sets” then have them join up to fight a baddie. We can see Nicol Bolas’ schemes over a few planes and sets so everyone gets together to fight him. Or have tea. Book club? I heard Nicol Bolas likes books.

Mechanically? This is huge news. Quick, what are some of the best limited environments of all time? Rise of the Eldrazi, Innistrad, some say Amonkhet. There have been very few multi-set drafts where people love them completely (Invasion and Original Ravnica Block come to mind). The trick of trying to get one set to work with the previous one to make a good draft environment is really hard and time consuming. If the process is now “Each set has its own draft environment” then you can focus on them working together better in Standard than in draft with the previous set (Along with the new Play Design Team). This frees up resources such as time, money and manhours to focus it on something more useful to the Magic: The Gathering product. And draft is important, look at MTGO and how many people draft there.

But it’s not just the limited environment, but the actual set structure as a whole. What were some of your favorite keywords in the past few years? Improvise, Emerge, Support, Cohort, and Tribute are among them, right? Each set needs to have its own identity instead of just “Large Set 2: Large Set Harder”. But too much change and it doesn’t seem like it’s part of that world. You saw the shift from Mystery Horror to Gothic Horror with Shadows Over Innistrad to Eldritch Moon. We were still on Innistrad, but did it feel like it? Also that whole Colorless Mana fiasco with Oath of the Gatewatch coming in the middle of the block and you can see where the issue lies. Each set needs to survive on its own instead of just being a gimmicky set (Alara Reborn kinda straddles the line).

Having a single focus on the set/plane allows flavor to work with the cards much easier as well as having the cards make more of an impact. We’ll still always get bad cards but I feel the sets will “Feel” more complete because we’re not waiting for the other set to make it whole.

I’m sure from a business point of view, WotC loves the all large set idea: people will have to buy more cards to complete their collection. This is a cynical view of this aspect but it’s one not to be forgotten in this. WotC is a business to make money and as long as they continue to put out quality work they will continue to get mine. There have been recent sets where I just didn’t buy a whole bunch: Shadows Over Innistrad, Eldritch Moon, and Aether Revolt. All of these pretty recently. Do I think they’re bad? No, just some of them haven’t been my style and a decrease in playing time recently have been the driving factors in buying less product. Two of those were smaller sets.

Transformation Complete

How do I feel about all of this change?

It’s certainly different. I’m excited by all the options there are going to be for design. No longer is the smaller set going to be shackled with the identity of the larger set. With Hour of Devastation, we see more more pulling away from the large set, much more than AEther Revolt did. How it will affect development and making sure that Standard is playable, well, I hope that Play Design can fix that.

Wizards wants to keep making the game healthy for the long term. Don’t think of this as Magic dying or needing to catch up. After 25 years, it’s just trying to grow into its new pants and how it fits in with the changing landscape. I’m all for this and I hope it works out for the best. I would prefer not to see an article in 18 months titled “Metamorphosis 3.0” about how we’re going back to the 3 set per a block model.