25 More Random Things About Magic

Posted in Making Magic on June 20, 2016

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Back in February of 2009, I was inspired to write a column based on a Facebook fad at the time where people wrote "25 Random Things About Me." Recently, I was looking for a podcast topic and stumbled upon the old article. As I spent my drive to work talking about these 25 random facts, I realized that it was a fun article and I should do it again, so that's what I'm doing today.

  1. Magic's original Constructed deck size was 40 cards.

If you wanted to build a Constructed deck when Limited Edition (Alpha) came out, your deck didn't have to be 60 cards. That's because when the game first started the deck construction minimum was 40 cards, with no limit as to how many copies of a card you could have. This was based around the idea that players wouldn't own all that many cards and a 40-card deck would allow them to make multiple decks with the cards they owned.

When Wizards finally put out official tournament rules, they made 60-card decks the official minimum as well as adding the four-card limit. These were both based off of informal rules that had been adopted on the West Coast. Shortly after this happened, the official rules were changed to a 60-card minimum with the four-copy limit. The 40-card limit was kept for Limited play.

  1. There were two cards accidentally left out of Alpha.

Last time, I talked about some of the famous misprints of Alpha. What I didn't talk about was how two cards were mistakenly left out of the set. Both were parts of cycles, so their absence was fairly obvious. Circle of Protection: Black was accidentally left off the common sheet, and Volcanic Island was left off the rare sheet. Their absence was simply a mistake in layout. No one noticed they were missing until it was too late to fix. Both cards were included in Beta, along with another cycle of basic lands with new art. The extra art was added so they could say the set had "over 300 cards."

  1. Birds of Paradise was the result of a piece of art that turned out differently than expected.

The Alpha illustration for Birds of Paradise, by Mark Poole, was actually commissioned for Tropical Island. The bird in the foreground drew too much focus, so Richard designed a new card for it and a different piece of art was commissioned for Tropical Island.

  1. In Limited Edition (aka Alpha and Beta), you could get a basic land as your rare card in a booster pack.

Early Magic didn't have a separate sheet for basic lands like we do today. Instead, they were mixed into the various sheets. The vast majority of the land was on the common sheet, but some showed up on the uncommon and rare sheets in order to make the math work out so all the basic lands showed up, on average, at the same rate. At rare, four of the 121 slots (early Magic used eleven-by-eleven sheets) were Islands. The art used on the rare Islands was the same as the lower rarity, so there isn't any way now to tell which Islands from Alpha and Beta were the rare ones.

  1. Richard Garfield's aunt illustrated a Magic card.

One of the most iconic illustrations in Alpha was this one for Stasis:

Stasis | Art by Fay Jones

The artist is a woman named Fay Jones. She is a classical artist and is well-known in the fine art world. How exactly did she end up illustrating a Magic card? She did it as a favor for her nephew. You see, he had just designed a brand-new game called Magic, and he asked his aunt, as a favor, if she would illustrate one of the cards. She said yes, and that is how Stasis got its art.

  1. When people used to visit Wizards HQ back in the early days, they were given a starter deck and two boosters.

I met my wife, Lora, at Wizards of the Coast. She actually started working there about six months before I did. Her first job was as a receptionist. One of the stories she likes to tell is about one of her duties, greeting visitors. Whenever anyone walked through the front door, Lora handed them a starter and two boosters of the current Magic product. (A "starter" was a random 60-card deck that came with two rares.) At the time she began, that would have been Revised Edition (which had cards such as dual lands). Lora explains that she was instructed to hand out cards to visitors regardless of why they walked into the lobby. One guy, for instance, came in to use the phone because his car broke down. He was able to call a tow truck and he got some Magic cards.

  1. All of the flavor text for Arabian Nights was done in one night.

Beverly Marshall Saling was the original head editor at Wizards. This was back when editing was its own department and wasn't part of R&D. She was finishing up her pass on Arabian Nights, the first Magic expansion. In the morning, it was being sent to the printer, so she was doing a final pass on it. It was at that moment that she realized no one had ever chosen any flavor text for the set. She had two different Arabian Nights books at her desk, which she used as the source material. She looked up all the flavor text and put it on the cards all in one night.

  1. The legendary characters from the Legends expansion were based on characters from a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

When it was clear that Magic was going to be a big hit, Peter Adkison, the then-CEO of the company (and one of the founders), searched out people to make expansion sets. One of the people he reached out to was a man named Steve Conard. Peter and Steve were old friends and had done a lot of role-playing together, especially Dungeons & Dragons.

Legends introduced the concept of legendary permanents to Magic. To fill out the long list of legendary characters, Steve used characters from the various role-playing games he and his friends played. One character that was referenced, though not as a legend, was Alchor, a wizard character that Peter played. Steve wanted to honor Alchor, so he made a card to represent his tome, the powerful book of spells that Alchor used. There was unfortunately a mix-up with the artist, and instead of drawing a tome, the artist instead drew a tomb. Steve had accidentally killed off Peter's character.

  1. Magic twice tried a new printing of the core set that never officially got released.

Revised Edition back in 1994 had a number of issues. The colors were a bit washed out. One of the cards, Serendib Efreet, had the wrong art and frame. Wizards was also getting nervous about some images on a few of the black cards. So the decision was made to run a new printing. This run was codenamed "Edgar" but is commonly referred to as "Summer Magic." It is best known for a misprint where Hurricane was put in a blue card frame. The cards came out dark, Wizards decided to scrap the run, and the boxes were destroyed. Except not all of them were. A small handful (I believe like 40 or so boxes) accidentally got released, and they've become some one of the rarest Magic collectibles.

But that wasn't the only time Wizards created a new printing that got scrapped. Back in 1995, Wizards was trying a new printer and ran a full run of Fourth Edition. It wasn't up to Wizards' standards, and it also got scrapped. Unlike Summer Magic, to the best of my knowledge, no boxes of this run accidentally made it to the public.

  1. Urza's Saga was originally going to be called Urza's Odyssey.

The name we wanted for the first set in the Urza's Saga block wasn't Urza's Saga but Urza's Odyssey. Unfortunately, when we explored if the name would clear legal hurdles, it failed, and we were forced to scramble for a replacement name. Oddly, several years later we made a set called Odyssey, and for some reason by that time the name was okay to use.

  1. A powerful spell was a recording error.

Urza's Saga block had an enchantment theme. Yes, it ended up being about Urza, a famous artificer, and for story reasons, the block was referred to as "The Artifact Cycle," but if you actually look at the cards, there's a strong enchantment theme. There were many ways we hit the theme, but one was to make some powerful creature Auras. To do this, we used a mechanic where the enchantments returned to your hand whenever they went to the graveyard. This way you didn't get two-for-oned when your enchanted creature got killed.

The theme ran through the block, appearing on multiple cycles. In Urza's Legacy, we made a green Aura that boosted a creature's power and gave it trample. We playtested with it at various costs and decided that the correct one was 1G. I don't remember who was taking notes in the meeting or who updated the file, but when we got the finished cards in the office, the green Aura in question had been put in wrong. Instead of costing 1G as we had agreed in the meeting, it cost G. It was printed, though, so we just lived with it. That card was, of course, Rancor.

  1. I came up with a mechanic in my sleep.

When I first turned in my design for Mirrodin, Bill Rose, the head designer, felt I had too many mechanics. Bill asked me to remove one of the major mechanics, what I've referred to in the past as "Mechanic E," as it took up too much space and Bill didn't think the design needed it. After I removed Mechanic E, Bill gave me a new note that he felt I still needed another mechanic, just something a little smaller. Also, Bill was hoping for a mechanic that was a little less synergistic, something that could stand on its own more, one that didn't require you dedicating a whole theme just to play it.

Bill gave me a few weeks to address his concerns. I had solved everything else he had asked of me, but I was still trying to find the last mechanic. So one night, I went to bed with my mind all aflutter. That night, I had a dream where I solved the problem. I came up with the mechanic that met every one of Bill's requirements. I was all excited until I pieced together that I was dreaming. It one of the few moments where I was lucid dreaming—I was in a dream state where I became aware I was dreaming. I woke up and desperately searched for a pen and paper because I had to write it down before I forgot it. And that is how I created the mechanic entwine.

  1. One design team met outdoors once a week.

Brian Tinsman was probably the Magic designer who most enjoyed finding solutions outside the box. That desire to bend the rules extended even to the meetings themselves. For Avacyn Restored's design team, once a week we would go to a local park and have a meeting while we walked for two hours. I'm not sure if those meetings were more productive than normal, but we did get quite a bit of exercise.

  1. We once contemplated putting bubble gum in boosters.

Unglued 2 is the Un-set that got put on permanent hiatus and never got made. (You can read more about it here and here.) I've talked before about how we experimented with having scratch-off cards in it. Another idea we explored was having it come with pieces of bubble gum. But it turns out that putting something edible in the booster packs creates a whole series of stricter rules, and it turned out to not be feasible.

  1. The name "Fat Pack" was originally suggested as a joke.

When the brand team first decided to make the Fat Pack, they had a meeting to brainstorm names. Often in brainstorm meetings, people get a bit punchy and start yelling out silly suggestions. One of the joke suggestion was "Phat Pack," making fun of teenage slang at the time, the joke being that kids would find it cool because it used "hip slang." A number of people at the meeting didn't get it was a joke and decided they liked it—just with a small spelling change.

  1. Magic artists are not always familiar with fantasy.

One of the quirks of working with freelance artists is that they don't always have a good working knowledge of fantasy. The best example of this leads to the following story. We were working with a new artist and we sent them the art description "This spell generates a lightning bolt. Show it hitting a drake." In fantasy, a drake is a smaller form of a dragon, but the artist was unfamiliar with the term, so instead he turned in artwork of a lightning bolt hitting a male duck—you know, a drake.

  1. Magic has only ever had one in-product ad for a non-Magic product.

The sixteenth card in a booster pack usually has a token or game-relevant info on the front but will often have a Magic ad on the back. The rule is that we only advertise Magic-related products on the ad cards, but one time we made an exception. The ad was for The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a Disney film starring Nicolas Cage. We had done some product placement in the movie, and as part of the deal we advertised the movie on ad cards. The thought was that the movie was about people who cast magic, so it was tangentially related to the game.

  1. The Vintage format and the core set once shared a name.

In the beginning, there were no formats. There was just one way to play. Wizards then created a new format that rotated cards out. Now known as Standard, at the time it was simply called Type 2. The non-rotating format was called Type 1. It was clear these weren't great names, so Type 2 was changed to Standard and Type 1 was changed to Classic.

Fast-forward a few years. We were putting out a new core set, Sixth Edition, and the brand team decided that they didn't like having a number associated with it. Sixth Edition, they felt, implied you had missed the last five editions. So they decided to give it a name that would allow them to call it something other than Sixth Edition. They chose the name Classic. R&D explained to them that we were already using the word Classic to be the name of the non-rotating format.

Calling Sixth Edition "Classic" would cause confusion. A "Classic deck" would be either a deck that only used cards from the most recent core set or a deck that used cards from throughout all of Magic's history. The brand team said they were aware of the issue and were comfortable with the decision. It led to confusion, and we were ultimately forced to change the name of the non-rotating format from Classic to Vintage.

  1. Coldsnap had the shortest-ever design, at six weeks.

Back in the day, Magic used to print a core set every other year. On the off years, we had the option of making a supplemental set. This, for instance, was the slot used to print both Unglued and Unhinged. R&D was asked for our recommendation of what to do the summer after the original Ravnica block. There was a lot going on, so we suggested not putting out a summer set that year. The answer we got back was "okay."

Cut to nine months later. The Powers That Be decided that they wanted a summer set after all. R&D reminded them that we had passed the window where we could fit in the allotted time we traditionally had to make a set. We were told to start immediately and do the best we can. The decision was reached to shorten the design to give development its full allotted time. Normally on a small set, we had four months of design (note that was at the time—we now have six months for small-set design). Coldsnap would only have six weeks. The design team was chosen and we did a full-time off-site (working out of the office) for a few weeks and then had regular meetings for the remainder of the time.

  1. Two sets had their initial designs done outside of Washington state.

Speaking of off-sites, two Magic designs were started by doing a full week off-site outside of Washington state. Interestingly, both were at the houses of the parent(s) of one of the designers. The initial week of Tempest's design was done at Richard Garfield's parents' house in Portland, Oregon. The entire design team opted to not shave all week to show solidarity in our quest. The initial week of Invasion's design was done at my father's home in Lake Tahoe. We spent most of the week working, but did take one day off to ski.

  1. Two high-profile events have been held at Wizards corporate headquarters.

In 1995, Wizards made the decision to host our own World Championship rather than hold it at a convention (the 1994 Magic World Championship was held at Gen Con in Milwaukee, Wisconsin). We held the 1995 Worlds at a local hotel. For 1996, we had just moved into a new, larger corporate building. The company was growing quickly, so we had purchased a bunch of extra space that we had planned to eventually expand into. Why rent a hotel when we had plenty of space at the office? So the 1996 Magic World Championship was held at our corporate headquarters.

After the 2001 Magic Invitational, I was informed that Wizards was cutting all our budget for the Invitational. I had everyone's blessing to run it as long as I could figure out a way to pay for it. Not one to give up easily, I hunted around for someone to cosponsor the event. I eventually found a perfect partner—Magic Online. They were interested in hosting a premier event online, and the Invitational was a perfect fit. Because budget was a huge issue and the event was being held online, we flew all sixteen players to Wizards and held the event in our corporate offices. Jens Thorén would win the event and be immortalized as Solemn Simulacrum.

  1. Magic is currently printed in eleven languages.

Here are the eleven languages:

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Chinese Traditional
  • Chinese Simplified
  1. Translation does some weird things to names.

In order to be able to print Magic in so many different languages, we have to have an extensive network of translators. The vast majority of time they do amazing work, but every once in a while there's a small miscommunication and we get funny results. My all-time favorite had to do with the card Yawgmoth's Agenda from Invasion.

The original name in Japanese for the card translated as "Yawgmoth's Day Planner." Luckily, someone caught it and realized that they had accidentally translated the wrong definition of "agenda."

  1. Magic's current font is called Beleren.

A number of years ago, Wizards realized it would be beneficial for Magic to have its own font for cards. We hired a professional font maker and spent many months fine-tuning the font. The font is officially called Beleren, named after popular Planeswalker Jace Beleren.

  1. There are two different Magic cards that have only ever been printed once.

There are rare Magic cards and then there are RARE Magic cards. The two rarest each have only a single copy in existence. The first is a card called 1996 World Champion. It was embedded in the trophy of the winner of the 1996 World Championship (the one held at the corporate offices I talked about above). There was, in fact, an entire sheet made of the card. We made a video of us destroying all the cards but one, which we then showed ourselves putting into the trophy.

The other card is the Shichifukujin Dragon. The card was made to commemorate the opening of the DCI Tournament Center in Japan. The card was named after the Seven Deities of Good Fortune in Japanese mythology. Both cards were designed by me and illustrated by Chris Rush.

How Random

And that is 25 more random facts. I'm curious if you enjoy this format and want to hear even more random facts. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week, when Eldritch Moon previews begin.

Until then, may you have fun discovering your own random facts about Magic.


"Drive to Work #340—Subtypes"

My previous podcast was about supertypes, so I followed it up with a talk on subtypes. There are a lot more subtypes than supertypes.

"Drive to Work #341—Urza's Saga, Part 1"

This is the first part of a four-part series on the design of Urza's Saga.

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