A Few More Words from R&D

Posted in Making Magic on November 7, 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 January of 2005, I wrote an article called "A Few Words with R&D" where I shared a bunch of R&D slang with my readers. Recently, I stumbled upon the article and realized how much has changed with R&D slang since I wrote that article eleven years ago, so I've decided to write an updated version with a whole bunch of new slang.

Before I start with the new vocabulary, I want to quickly update all the slang from the first article:

  • FFL, incrementals, Looter ability, rangestrike, repeatable, Rootwalla ability, Scepter ability, sexy, splashy, Tim ability, tweak, untargetability, vanilla creature, WUBRG

These are the vocabulary words that we still use in the exact same form today as we did back in the day of the original article.

  • Johnny, Johnny card, Spike, Spike card, Timmy, Timmy card

The psychographics have basically stayed the same lingo-wise. The only change is that I've since added equivalent female names: Tammy for Timmy and Jenny for Johnny. Spike works for both genders. For more on the psychographics read my article here.

  • "Bah-roken," clever card, discriminator card, hat trick, promotable, pseudo-repeat, sticker stock, sucker card, Wyluli ability, sleeper card

These are slang that mostly go unused nowadays. Technically if we wanted to reference these things, we could use these terms—but most of modern day R&D is probably unfamiliar with them because we use them so infrequently.

  • The candle, mad farmer, Mark's donut, Nth Edition, packing material, wombo combo, WotC time

These are terms that are no longer used by R&D.

  • Bag-End, East One, Focus One, Focus Two, The Lab, Leomund's Tiny Hut, The Library, The Mana Pool, The Old War Room, Wapner

We've moved to a new building since I wrote the last article, and as such none of these meeting rooms exist anymore. I will introduce the new R&D-relevant meeting rooms below.

  • The Bridge, Danger Room, Free Table, Grand Central Station, The Pit

Some names for places had such a strong meaning that we carried them over from the old building to the new one, so these names still exist. I'll talk about the new versions below.

  • Celerity, Serra ability, Spirit Link

These are all abilities that have since gotten official codenames: haste, vigilance, and lifelink, respectively.

  • C, D, Multiverse, Ophidian ability, WotC

These are all slang that we've changed the word for. I will explain the new slang below.

With the old slang out of the way, let's get to the new batch:

Accessible—This is a term for cards that we believe serve well for newer players. We try to make sure that each set has enough accessible cards that it can be welcoming to any player who's beginning the game with the current product. The old slang for this was "M-tenable" as in "this card could go into any M-set (slang itself for a core set, as the later core sets were referred to as Magic followed by a year)." The slang was changed for two reasons: One, the old slang sounded awkward, and two, core sets went away.

All-hands—A meeting where every employee of Wizards of the Coast attends. We have three to six all-hands each year.

Ally colors—Any of the five color pairs that sit next to each other in the color wheel: white-blue, blue-black, black-red, red-green, and green-white. (Note that these color orders are how we list the color pair as well as how the mana symbols are ordered in their mana cost.)

As-fan—This term is short for "as fanned." This refers to how often a particular subset of cards will show up in an average booster. We usually talk about as-fan with regard to the number of cards, on average, that will appear in the booster. For instance, in a multicolor set, traditional multicolor cards could have an as-fan of 2.3. What that means is a booster from that set will have, on average, 2.3 traditional multicolor cards among the fifteen cards in the booster. The math of as-fan is important because it helps us figure out how much representation the subset will have in Limited play.

Backwards compatible—This term refers to a quality of cards that allow them to work well with cards previously printed. Panharmonicon from Kaladesh is a good example of a backwards compatible card. It cares about cards with enters-the-battlefield triggers, which have appeared on hundreds of cards from previous sets. The opposite of this is a term called "parasitic."

Bear—The term for any 2/2 creature for two mana. It comes from the Limited Edition (Alpha) card Grizzly Bear. For example, "I think white needs another Bear."

The Bridge—This is the fanciest meeting room in Wizards HQ. For instance, this is where most top-level meetings are held. Both the Cardcrafting and Worldcrafting meetings are held in the Bridge. The Bridge is usually decorated with giant pictures of the current Magic world we are visiting, most often two planeswalkers from that block and a landscape spread out across three pieces of art. The name of the room comes from Star Trek. (Most of the meeting rooms at Wizards have geeky names.)

C—This is the letter we used to represent the colorless mana symbol. For example, "Sol Ring taps for CC." See "M" below for what we used to use "C" to mean.

Candlekeep—This is a meeting room near Dungeons & Dragons R&D that Magic R&D uses a lot because of its size and proximity. It is named after a towered fortress library in the Forgotten Realms (from Dungeons & Dragons).

Cardcrafting—This is a meeting held once a week where design and development dig into crunchy, technical issues. We'll talk about things like color pie and templating and rules ramifications. If somebody wants to change something about how we technically make Magic day-to-day, this is the meeting it most often gets brought up in first.

Characteristic—This is a term that refers to creatures that are representative of the smaller creatures usually found in common. It's in contrast to the larger creatures found at rare known as iconic creatures. The characteristic creatures currently, by color, are:

  • White—Humans
  • Blue—Merfolk
  • Black—Vampires and Zombies
  • Red—Goblins
  • Green—Elves

Characteristic creatures are not found in every block but are meant to exist more often than they do not.

Curiosity—This is the nickname for the creature ability where the controller gets to draw a card if that creature deals combat damage. A famous example of a creature with curiosity would be Thieving Magpie. The term comes from the card Curiosity, an Aura that grants this ability. Formerly (and in the first slang article), this ability was called the "Ophidian ability." The slang changed because Ophidian (where the first slang came from) from Weatherlight is technically different in that you have to forego the damage of the creature to draw the card.

Danger Room—The original Danger Room was Richard Garfield's office that he wasn't interested in using, so he changed it to a meeting room (off the grid so no one could schedule it) where R&D could play games. When we moved across the street, we assigned the closest meeting room the name of the Danger Room out of respect. This Danger Room is on the grid and is used as a meeting room by anyone in the company.

Daunt—This is the R&D nickname for the creature ability "Cannot be blocked by creatures with 2 or less power." Three cards in Kaladesh have this ability.


Deciduous—This is a term applied to abilities/mechanics/tools that are not evergreen (see below), but things that R&D has access to whenever they feel a set needs it. Some examples of deciduous things are hybrid mana, double-faced cards, and protection.

Dominaria—This is a giant meeting room on the first floor of Wizards HQ. It's used as a recreational space most of the time. People can have lunch here (lunch options are occasionally catered), play ping-pong or board games, or just relax. The room is occasionally used for larger meetings or all-hands. Employee Prereleases are always held in Dominaria. Dominaria also holds four meeting rooms: Ravnica, Zendikar, Tomb of Horrors and Waterdeep. The first two are obviously references to Magic planes and the last two to Dungeons & Dragons locations. Dominaria was named by asking all the members of the company to chip in suggestions.

Drake—This is the new name for the Magic database. It was formerly called "Multiverse."

Enemy colors—Any of the five color pairs that don't sit next to each other in the color wheel: white-black, blue-red, black-green, red-white, green-blue. (Note that these color orders are how we list the color pair as well as how the mana symbols are ordered in their mana cost.)

ETB—This stands for "enters the battlefield." We use it not only as shorthand when writing out cards, but also when we are talking about this type of triggered ability. For example, "Panharmicon plays well with ETB effects." This expression used to be "CIP," which stood for "comes into play." That was the terminology used before Magic 2010 introduced the term "battlefield."

ETBT—This stands for "enters the battlefield tapped." It's shorthand for text that most often appears on lands but occasionally on creatures.

Evasion—The term for any creature ability that helps break through a board stall. Flying, menace, and trample are all examples of evasion.

Evergreen—This is any mechanic or ability that's used in almost every Magic set. Examples of evergreen abilities would be first strike, deathtouch, and lifelink.

Eye of Ugin—This is a meeting room near the Magic creative team. For many years it was a quiet room called Safe Haven where people could get away if they just wanted to work in quiet. Its name got changed and it stopped being a quiet room when we realized we needed more meeting rooms.

Firebreathing—This is the nickname for the ability to spend mana (usually red mana) to temporarily pump a creature's power (usually +1/+0). The ability is named after the first card to use it: Firebreathing from Alpha.

Flicker—This is a term for the ability, found in white and blue, to exile a permanent (most often a creature) from the battlefield and then return it to the battlefield. There are two versions of this ability. One returns the creature immediately and the other returns it at end of turn. R&D will often call the one that returns immediately "instant flicker." The term comes from the card Urza's Destiny card Flicker that first had this ability. Some in R&D will also refer to this as "blinking."

Free Table—In our former office (the one across the street from where we are now), there used to be a table in the kitchen by R&D where people could leave any item they didn't want any more. The idea of the Free Table is that you can get cool things and then when you have things you don't need, you leave them on the Free Table for other people. When we moved across the street, each kitchen (there's one on each floor in the current office) was given its own Free Table.

French vanilla—A vanilla creature is a creature without any rules text. A French vanilla creature is a creature with nothing but creature keywords. A French vanilla creature can have multiple creature keywords. This terminology is important in design and development because we're always trying to be conscious of the complexity level of our sets, and vanilla and French vanilla creatures are usually less complex than most other creatures.

Grand Central Station—The production team carried on the tradition of naming their largest meeting room after the giant New York City train station. On the walls is an illustration of Grand Central Station. R&D uses this room from time to time as it's one of the biggest meeting rooms on the third floor where we work.

Gray Ogre—This is slang for a 2/2 creature that costs three mana. It is named after the Alpha creature that was a vanilla 2/2 with a converted mana cost of 3.

Grok—This is a term used a lot by the design team. It comes from the book A Stranger in a Strange Land by famous science fiction author Robert Heinlein, and it means to be able to understand the whole concept of something right away. Design uses the term when talking about whether a new idea will be something players can easily grasp.

Hard counter—This is the term for a counterspell that can counter any spell without any conditions. Both Counterspell and Cancel are examples of hard counters. There is also the term "soft counter," described below.

Hate card—This is a card designed specifically to stop another card/mechanic/strategy. Hate cards are usually made in reaction to some element of the game that has gotten out of hand. Sometimes hate cards are made as a precaution in case a certain aspect gets out of control.

Helvault—This is a meeting room near the Magic creative team. It's gone through a number of non-Magic names but finally ended up called Helvault. In it are giant pictures of Avacyn and Griselbrand, the two most famous former occupants of the Helvault (from the storyline of the original Innistrad block). I often joke about how many meetings rooms we have are named after places characters were once trapped.

High flying—This is R&D's term for a creature with flying that can only block other creatures with flying. Cloud Elemental and Welkin Tern are examples of creatures with high flying.

Hill Giant—This is slang for a 3/3 creature that cost four mana. It is named after the Alpha card Hill Giant.

H—"H" is the letter used to talk about a generic hybrid cost where the exact colors aren't known. For example, "In Ravnica block, the Guildmages each cost HH."

Iconic—This refers to creatures in each color that we use as a rare, splashy icon of each color. The iconic creatures took a long time to work out, with some colors (blue and green) spending many years trying out different creature types. The iconic creatures are:

  • White—Angels
  • Blue—Sphinxes
  • Black—Demons
  • Red—Dragons
  • Green – Hydras

Impulsive draw—This is R&D's slang for "Exile N cards and you may cast them until the end of the turn." The ability came about because we wanted to give some kind of card drawing to red. Chandra, Pyromaster and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are examples of impulsive draw.

Ivory Tower—This is one of the closest meeting rooms to R&D. It's named after a famous card from Antiquities. Ivory Tower is for some reason always very cold.

Lenticular—This is a term talking about creating designs that seem simple on the surface but have depth of play that players can discover as they get better. The term comes from a printing method that produces images showing two or more different pictures depending on how you look at the image. For more on lenticular design, read my article about it here.

Linear—This is a term talking about cards that encourage you to play specific other cards with it. Goblin Chieftain is an example of a linear card because it grants +1/+1 to Goblins, heavily encouraging you to play Goblins with it. Linear is at the opposite end of the spectrum from modular. For more on this concept, read my article about it here.

Lost Temple—This is the largest meeting room adjacent to the Pit. It's a reference to a game I believe (maybe Dungeons & Dragons), but not one I am familiar with. This is the room we use when we want to have a larger meeting.

M, N—Design uses "M" to mean a color of the appropriate type. It's most often used when talking about cycles where we need a designator to represent what mana will be used. For example, "We have a cycle of 3M 3/3 creatures in the set". This means that the white one will cost 3W, the blue one 3U, and so on. We use "N" when working with multicolor cycles where two mana symbols need to be referenced. We used to use "C" (and "D") to reference this, but ever since Oath of the Gatewatch we started differentiating between generic and colorless mana and "C" now stands for colorless mana. There's actually a split in R&D with this language. Development still uses "C," but because it comes up so much more often in design (where we're doing more structural planning and not having two different letters was causing confusion), design made the move to "M."

Mana smoothing—We like to include something in each set that allows advanced players a tool to better manipulate the land in their deck. Mana smoothing usually either helps players get a constant supply of land or gives them outlets to use mana late in the game, allowing them to put a higher percentage of lands in their deck.

Meditation Realm—This is one of the bigger meeting rooms on the fourth floor. For a long time it was called The Matrix, but it shifted to the Meditation Realm as we've been trying to have more meeting rooms named after Wizards games. There is a giant piece of art of Nicol Bolas's Meditation Realm on one of the walls.

Mel—Mel is one of the two aesthetic profiles. (Vorthos is the other.) Mel is about the player whose appreciation of the game comes from observing how the game is mechanically put together. For more on Mel, you can read my article here. Mel was originally called Melvin, but the name was changed to make it applicable to either gender.

Mill—Slang for putting cards from the top of a library into that player's graveyard. The term comes from the first card to have this effect, Millstone (from Antiquities).

Mishra's Workshop—This is one of the smaller meeting rooms in R&D, but we hold a lot of design meetings there.

Modular—This is a term talking about cards that don't encourage you to play specific other cards with them. Modular cards have a self-sufficient function that works just fine in a vacuum. Giant Growth is a good example of a modular card, in that it can go into any green deck that has creatures. Modular is at the opposite end of the spectrum from linear. For more on this concept, read my article about it here.

New World Order—This term refers to a big change in R&D where we started restricting how much complexity appeared at common. This was done to make the game simpler for newer players who purchase fewer cards while still preserving the complexity for more enfranchised players. You can read all about it here.

Parasitic—This term refers to the quality of caring about things that are unique to the set/block it appears in. Indebted Samurai from Champions of Kamigawa is a good example of a parasitic card. To play the card maximally, your deck had to have a bunch of Samurai—a creature type found only in the Kamigawa block. The opposite of this is backward compatible.

Ravenloft—This is another meeting room close to R&D. It's named after a world from Dungeons & Dragons. For some reason, the art on the wall shows a map of Puerto Rico.

Reanimation—This is the term for cards that put creature card(s) from a graveyard onto the battlefield.

Rummaging—This is slang for the red form of looting where you discard first and then draw.

Saboteur—This is slang for any creature that triggers an effect when it deals combat damage to an opponent.

Shard—This is a term for any three-color combination in which the three colors appear side by side in the color wheel. The term is named after Shards of Alara, the first Magic set to focus on these three-color combinations. The five shards are: green-white-blue (Bant), white-blue-black (Esper), blue-black-red (Grixis), black-red-green (Jund), and red-green-white (Naya). Prior to Shards of Alara, these three-color groupings were called "arcs" in R&D.

Skulking—Not to be confused with "skulk," this is slang for the creature ability where creatures are sacrificed if targeted. It is named after the first creature to have the ability, Skulking Ghost in Mirage. The ability has shifted from black to blue and is now associated with Illusions, so some in R&D have started calling it the "Illusion ability."

Soft Counter—This is a term for a counterspell that can only counter a subset of cards or only counters a spell conditionally. Negate and Mana Leak are examples of soft counters. See above for "hard counter."


Stalking—This is a term for the creature ability "Can't be blocked by more than one creature." It's named after the card Stalking Tiger from Mirage.

Storm Scale—This is a tool that started on my blog, but I have since used in my articles where I rate how likely a mechanic is to return to a Standard-legal set. You can read more about it here.

T—"T" is used in design and development to stand for the tap symbol.

Threshold 1—This is a design term talking about a card that needs one other card of a specific subset to upgrade what the card can do. Eldrazi Aggressor from Oath of the Gatewatch is an example of a Threshold 1 card.

Tuesday Magic Meeting—This is a meeting held every Tuesday afternoon where we talk about general Magic topics. The meeting is open to anyone in the company interested in Magic.

UEOT—This stands for "until end of turn." When writing out cards, we most often use this shorthand.

Virtual vanilla—This is a creature that is functionally a vanilla creature after the first turn it's in play (aka a creature without any reminder text). We also use the term virtual French vanilla with the same criteria, except that after the first turn the card is functionally a French vanilla creature (a creature with only creature keywords).

Vorthos—Vorthos is one of the two aesthetic profiles. (Mel is the other.) Vorthos describes the player whose appreciation of the game comes from observing how the game is flavorfully put together. For more on Vorthos, you can read my article here.

Wedge—This is a term for any three-color combination in which a color appears with its two enemy colors from the color wheel. The term became popular after Khans of Tarkir, the first Magic set to focus on these three-color combinations. The five wedges are: white-black-green (Abzan), blue-red-white (Jeskai), black-green-blue (Sultai), red-white-black (Mardu), and green-blue-red (Temur).

Wizards—In the early days of Magic, Wizards of the Coast used to refer to itself using the acronym WotC (pronounced "wott-zee"). We stopped using that nickname years ago and now just refer to ourselves as "Wizards" when using shorthand.

Worldcrafting—This is a meeting once a week that functions just like Cardcrafting, except it's about creative issues rather than technical design and development ones. This meeting is usually held in the Bridge.

Slang Ten (Well, Actually a Lot More Than That)

That's all the time I have for today. I didn't hit all the slang, and I was a bit more focused on the design-centric slang as that's what I come into contact every day. As always, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on today's article. You can write to me through my email or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week when I get into some fights. Until then, may you have fun with R&D slang.

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