Masterpiece Series

Posted in Making Magic on September 12, 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.

Last week I began telling you the design story of Kaladesh. Next week, I will continue that story, but I'm taking a break this week to talk about another exciting thing Kaladesh will be introducing to Magic. I'll explain what it is, walk through how and why it came about, and then show off some pretty cool cards. Hopefully, that piques your curiosity.

"Truly, a Masterpiece"

Starting with Kaladesh and for the foreseeable future, we're going to be adding a new feature called the Masterpiece Series. Each individual block will have its own name for the Series (the Masterpiece Series for Kaladesh block, for example, will be called Kaladesh Inventions), but it will be referred to overall as the Masterpiece Series. Basically, we're taking what we did with the Zendikar Expeditions and applying it to every set. Here's what this means:

  • The Masterpiece Series will exist at a rarity higher than mythic rare. For example, in Kaladesh, you will open a Kaladesh Inventions card roughly 1 out of every 144 boosters. (Technically, the Kaladesh booster pack says the ratio is 1:2,160 cards.) This is slightly more often than opening a premium mythic rare. These ratios may change for future sets.
  • The Masterpiece Series will be reprints of existing cards with one exception. There will often be cards from that set included in the Masterpiece Series (like how the Battle for Zendikar rare dual lands were included in Zendikar Expeditions), but they will typically exist in the set in a traditional frame in their normal rarity in addition to appearing in the Masterpiece Series. Kaladesh Inventions has a cycle of five mythic rare cards that appear in the Kaladesh set. There will never be cards appearing in a Masterpiece Series that can't be found outside of it. (I'm talking, of course, about the card itself and not the particular creative/frame treatment.)
  • The Masterpiece Series, both in presentation and card selection, will be tied thematically to the world appearing in the block. For instance, all of the Kaladesh Inventions will be artifact cards presented as Kaladeshi artifacts. The frame will likewise have a special treatment that ties into the theme of the block. I will be showing off some of the Kaladesh Inventions cards later in this article, so you'll get a chance to see what I'm talking about for our first Masterpiece Series. The frame treatment will be exclusive to the Masterpiece Series it appears in.
  • The number of Masterpiece Series cards may fluctuate, but roughly speaking we expect each Masterpiece Series to be around 50 cards for the whole block. Kaladesh Inventions, for example, will have 30 cards in Kaladesh and 24 cards in Aether Revolt. The large set and small set in a block will have different Masterpiece cards.
  • All Masterpiece Series cards are printed in English, but they do appear in non-English product.
  • The expansion symbol for each Masterpiece Series will be block-specific, but distinct from the sets in that block. For example, the Masterpiece Series cards in Kaladesh and Aether Revolt will share one unique expansion symbol—they won't use the Kaladesh or Aether Revolt symbols.
  • All Masterpiece cards will exist only in premium foil versions.
  • Masterpiece cards are planned for Magic Online, but will not be redeemable and are not counted as part of the set. They're going to be distributed in an exciting new way, but we're not quite ready to announce what that is. Look for that announcement later this month.
  • Masterpiece cards will not exist in Magic Duels.
  • Masterpiece cards can be played in any Limited format they're opened in and in any Constructed format in which the card is already legal.

The How and the Why

Now that I've explained what we're doing, it's time to talk about how the Masterpiece Series came about and why we've chosen to do it. The short answer is that we've faced a number of challenges as Magic has grown, and we found that many of those challenges were addressed with Zendikar Expeditions. I'm going to start my explanation by walking through some of the challenges we've faced.

Challenge #1: Keeping Standard Accessible

Standard is the most-played Constructed format. It's designed as an entry point for players who wish to play Constructed Magic. Through market research and social media, we learned that many of the players who were interested in playing Standard felt it was something beyond their reach. We had to find ways to address this.

Challenge #2: Getting Players Access to Older Cards

While Standard is much beloved, many players enjoy playing larger formats involving older cards. Players were having trouble getting access to older, often more powerful cards. (The power level of a format goes up as more cards are playable in that format, which is why older formats tend to have a higher power level.) The solution to making these older cards available was reprinting them.

However, when we experimented with putting some of these older cards in Standard, we found the more powerful ones warped Standard in a way we felt was unhealthy for the format, so we looked to other avenues to release these cards. We tried putting some in nonrandom supplemental sets like Commander and Duel Decks, but it warped how the products were selling. We were able to reprint some in Masters sets and others in supplemental booster releases like the Conspiracy sets, but we recognized there was still more demand for reprints and we needed to find additional places to release them.

Challenge #3: Providing Alternatives for Deck Building

One of the reasons we interact through social media is to get a better understanding of what issues the players care about. One that kept popping up was a desire for players to have more abilities to "bling" their decks. Magic has always had a strong self-identification element to it ("This is my deck"), and Zendikar Expeditions gave players another way to express who they are.

 

Starting Out on an Expedition

All of these challenges are nuanced and have many factors that tie into them, but we were aware they were things we needed to address. This brings us to the creation of Zendikar Expeditions. We were working on Battle for Zendikar and we realized we were missing something. Zendikar was originally defined as a world of adventures and treasures. Was there a way to weave this idea into the set? We played around with the concept of a bonus sheet (last seen in Time Spiral block, where old cards got intermixed with new ones), but something felt a little off.

As we refined the idea of "adventures and treasures," the concept began to feel a bit vague. Was there a way to create something exciting that was endemic to Zendikar? Well, it was a plane centered around a mechanical theme of lands. What if our subset of cards was just an exciting group of cool lands? Many players, for instance, were expecting us to reprint a cycle of enemy fetch lands in Battle for Zendikar (as they premiered in original Zendikar), but they were too problematic in Standard along with the allied fetch lands from Khans of Tarkir. The Zendikar Expeditions allowed us to have them appear in boosters even if the cards weren't technically part of the set. We then latched onto the idea of making them full-art lands and creating a special new card frame for them to ensure they would feel unique.

We were optimistic that players would like Zendikar Expeditions, but the response was even more positive than we anticipated. As we watched, we started realizing something.

First, social media was filled with stories and pictures of people opening Zendikar Expeditions. We loved seeing this and being able to be part of the community's excitement.

Second, we noticed that people not only enjoyed opening the Zendikar Expeditions, they enjoyed playing with them as well. It was a way to make the opponent sit up and take notice when you played a card. "Is that a Zendikar Expedition?" "Why yes, it is." We had created a new kind of "bling" that players enjoyed. Hmm, a solution to challenge #3.

Third, all of Zendikar Expeditions (with the exception of the Battle for Zendikar rare duals) were cards that players had wanted reprints of. We had already tried putting old, powerful reprints into Standard-legal sets, but the impact on Standard was problematic. Zendikar Expeditions got the reprints into booster packs of a Standard-legal set without creating this problem. It wasn't a total solution, but it was at least another step in helping alleviate it. It also allowed us to find a solution that our bread-and-butter sets could help with. Hmm, a way to address challenge #2.

Fourth, we found that Zendikar Expeditions drove more players into the Battle for Zendikar block, which resulted in greater accessibility for all the non-Expeditions cards. Zendikar Expeditions actually made it easier to play Standard. Hmm, a way to address challenge #1.

So when we stood back and analyzed what Zendikar Expeditions had done, we realized that it made Standard more accessible, it got players access to older cards, and it provided alternatives for deck building. It wasn't a total solution for every challenge, but it helped address all of them. This, of course, led us to ask, "Is this something we should be doing more often?"

We had a lot of meetings where we discussed all of the ramifications of turning Zendikar Expeditions into an ongoing promotion. We talked pros and cons and benefits and detriments and everything we could think of. In the end, we decided that it made sense, and the Masterpiece Series was born.

There were a few things we decided to do moving forward:

  • We want each piece of the Masterpiece Series to feel organic to the set it's in. Some blocks, like Kaladesh, have an obvious theme, but others have proven more challenging. It's a work in progress, but we're trying to find the right balance to stay true to the block. This means that certain cards that might fit the mechanical theme won't hit the creative one. For instance, Umezawa's Jitte is a wonderful artifact, but it existing on Kaladesh doesn't make any flavor sense so it was off the table for Kaladesh Inventions.
  • We want the Masterpiece Series to look awesome. Zendikar Expeditions took advantage of full-art lands, but that wasn't something that would work for most series. We want this new promotion to be pushing the boundaries of cool frame treatments. The art team is exploring every aspect, including premium execution, to make the Masterpiece Series something awesome to look at.
  • We want the Masterpiece Series to be opt-in. Cards that appear in a Masterpiece Series should be available elsewhere in an easier-to-acquire version. Magic sets should be just as fun as always if you ignore the Masterpiece Series. It is added value that can be ignored if desired.
  • We want the Masterpiece Series to make different groups happy. One of the big challenges is card selection. For instance, Kaladesh Inventions was all artifacts. Which ones we chose was partially based on what could conceivably exist on Kaladesh, but also on trying to find things that some subset of players would be happy with. Note that not every card is meant for every type of player. We mixed up our selection to make sure that everyone would like some of the choices, knowing that few would like them all.
  • We want the Masterpiece Series to be exciting. Many other trading card games do higher rarities than Magic, and we've always avoided those because we didn't want it to get in the way of the game. Cards should be attainable. The Masterpiece Series lets us add in a higher rarity for the fun it provides, but as the cards in it are all available elsewhere, it doesn't sacrifice the quality of Magic as a game.

So that is why we're doing the Masterpiece Series. There's just one thing left—showing you all what they're going to look like.

Here's how this is going to work. We've dubbed today Masterpiece Monday because before the day is out, you're going to see all the cards in Kaladesh Inventions that appear in Kaladesh boosters. (You'll get to see the ones in Aether Revolt at a later date.) Right now I'm going to start by showing you four of them. The rest will be posted later today. (Check back at 2 p.m. PT.)

One caveat before I show you the cards: the Masterpiece Series: Kaldesh Inventions have a cool printing process that's impossible to reflect on a computer screen, so while what I'm going to show you is going to look cool, it's going to look even cooler in person. Just remember that the copper coloring is all metallic on the actual cards.

That said, it's time to finally see some Kaladesh Inventions cards.

Click here to see them!


And that, my faithful readers, is the Masterpiece Series in general and Kaladesh Inventions in particular. I hope you all are as excited to see them as we are to make them. I always want feedback, but today even more so as I announced something pretty big. Please feel free to write me an email or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram) to let me know what you think of the Masterpiece Series and/or Kaladesh Inventions.

Join me next week for part 2 of my design story on the making of Kaladesh.


"Drive to Work #364—Urza's Legacy, Part 1"

This is the first of a two-part series on the design of Urza's Legacy.

"Drive to Work #365—Urza's Legacy, Part 2"

This is the second of a two-part series on the design of Urza's Legacy.

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