Topical Blend #1 – To Err Is Human

Posted in Making Magic on March 7, 2005

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.

A lot of people like to try and separate their work life from their private life. But as I often talk about in my column, I'm a holistic thinker. To me, everything interconnects. If you want to understand your mistakes you need to examine every part of your life. The things that lead me to make mistakes in my design are the same impulses that lead me to make mistakes in other parts of my life with, let's say, women as an example. For my column today I thought I'd take a look at some of my classic design blunders through a very different lens.

Here's how it's going to work. I'm going to start each section by relaying a story that involves my interaction with women in which I made a fundamental blunder. I will then show you the card whose design I believe I messed up on. Your job is to then figure out the one mistake I made in both circumstances. Sound easy enough? An interactive exercise where you can both learn about Magic design and laugh at my dating foibles. (Go ahead and laugh, it's okay. I've been happily married for six and a half years and I have three kids. I've reached the point where my stories are more funny than pathetic.) And sticking to my assigned topic, there will be ten cards discussed.

One last note - I touched on a similar theme once before in a column entitled “Mistakes? I've Made a Few” where I used card design errors to explain general design mistakes that get made. Today's examples are more about cards where I very specifically messed up on some technical aspect of the particular card in question. And a final note (that thing about the previous note being the last note was just a blatant lie – the last one for this column I promise), some of the card mistakes I'm going to bring up involve behind the scenes knowledge that you don't have. This means it will be impossible some of the time to properly guess the mistake, but I figure snickering at my cluelessness should make up for it.

Ready? And away we go:

Mistake #1

Let me begin my first story by revealing a shocking bit of news. I didn't date all that much in high school. And by “all that much” I mean “never”. Most people, when they hear that, assume the reason was because I didn't really try, that I was too intimidated to ask a girl out. That wasn't the problem. Fear has never kept me from making a fool of myself, so why should love be any different? My problem? Perhaps this story will illuminate.

Fear has never kept me from making a fool of myself…

Infatuation is an important rite of adolescence. You pick a girl (or guy) and you put her high on a pedestal. Then you get far away and stare. In high school, I had a mega-crush on a girl named Cathy (note that the names in this article have been changed to protect the innocent). She was attractive, of course, (infatuations are drawn to beauty like moth to a flame – man that metaphor is scarily accurate) but the thing that most drew me to her was how nice she was. She seemed to have such a good heart. It took me months to get the courage up to ask her out, but finally one day after play rehearsal (I was in theater – go figure), I asked her out. She seemed a little shocked, but she said yes. She said yes!

The date had been set up for the following Saturday afternoon and I spent every possible moment planning it. I knew it was a first date so I wanted to try and be impressive without being stalker scary. In the end, I planned a picnic. (In retrospect, perhaps a bit much, but I really liked this girl.) I was excited, but very nervous. Saturday morning I get a call. Something came up (I forget what it was but it sounded quite plausible) and Cathy had to cancel.

I was disappointed, but hey, things happen. I'd waited a while for the date. Another week wasn't going to kill me. And then the next week, wouldn't you know it, something else came up. So I scheduled a third attempt. My luck had to change soon. But no. Somehow the morning, or sometimes the night before, each date, something would come up. But I kept planning future dates because Cathy never said that she didn't want the date. And I really did. So I kept rescheduling them. And she kept canceling them. This little song and dance went on for a period of time that goes beyond embarrassing. But I kept thinking to myself that she's so nice, she wouldn't purposely keep accepting the dates if she never intended to go out on one.

The situation became more and more awkward (remember this took months to play out), until finally, the sheer bluntness of her unspoken message managed to pierce my irrational rationalization (what I like to call irrationalization – what, only Shakespeare can make up words?) and I finally confronted her and let her off the hook. And I never asked her out again. Well, except to the prom, but we'll get to that one later.

That's the “girls” part. Here's the card:

Fungus Elemental

I made the same mistake in the design of this card that I made in the situation above. What was it? Click here when you think you have the answer (or if you just want to see what it is).

The Lesson – Don't Be Blinded By The Ideal

Wood ElementalYes, he really is that bad.

Love (or lust or just being an adolescent) can easily blind you. I so badly wanted the date to happen that I ignored every sign that said otherwise. The same thing happens in design. Fungus Elemental was my attempt to redo a classic old bad card (Legend's Wood Elemental) but make it good. This is quite a draw for a designer. Somehow proving a worthless card had a worthwhile premise but a poor execution is very sexy. And man was Wood Elemental bad. For four mana you got a creature whose power and toughness was equal to the number of untapped forests you sacrificed when you played the card. To show how crazy this is, let's compare this card to the card Rogue Elephant (although be aware that Rogue Elephant is a smidgen over the curve – that's R&D talk for too good). For one green mana you get a 3/3 and have to sacrifice one forest, which doesn't even have to be tapped. To get a 3/3 with Wood Elemental you have to sacrifice three untapped forests. Plus you're paying instead of . It's bad. It might even crack the Top 10 worst creatures of all time (and that's a tough list to get on).

Anyway, I wanted to prove that I could make a better Wood Elemental. To keep it honest, I felt I needed to keep a few things the same. The cost stayed at . The ability still traded untapped forests for power and toughness enhancing. (Though Fungus Elemental used a trick we learned when we were developing Foratog where we charged green mana but didn't restrict the untapped state of the land.) And, of course, it was an elemental. So how did I make it better? By changing the base stats from 0/0 to 3/3 and by allowing each forest to put a +2/+2 counter on it (and yes, today, it would add two +1/+1 counters). Now let's compare it to Rogue Elephant. By sacrificing just one forest, which kind of has to be untapped, Fungus Elemental was a 5/5 while Rogue Elephant was only a 3/3. Which would be great – if it didn't cost three more mana!

But I refused to see it. Playtesting, notes from other R&D members, common sense. Nothing could sway me in my desire to make the “new & improved” Wood Elemental. I was blind.

The lesson here is that the mind can be blinded easily by the quest for the ideal (whether that ideal be a curvaceous co-ed or an intriguing design challenge). When you start hitting bumps in the road, don't rationalize them away. Actually look at what's going on. The truth is almost always there, if you're willing to look at it.

Mistake #2

Note that these mistakes aren't in chronological order. I'm just jumping around to different moments in my life. This second one is actually one of the more recent. Shortly after arriving at Wizards I made an important realization. I was spending every waking moment hanging around with all the R&D guys (check out “R&D R&R” to get a sense of these early days). While I enjoyed the camaraderie, I was a little lonely. The realization was that I would never find someone to date if I never spent time around any women. So, I started looking around Wizards of the Coast.

With some searching I found someone who I was interested in asking out. She didn't even work at Wizards. Her name was Claire and she was doing some freelance work for R&D. So, I gathered up the courage and asked her out. And she said yes. Don't worry, this one actually leads to a date. And quite a good one actually. It made my lifetime Top Ten First Dates list. It was comfortable, Claire and I got along wonderfully, and it was actually very fun. As I was dropping her off, I got the following conversation.

Me: Thank you, that was fun.
Claire: I had a good time too.
Me: Is there some chance we could do this again?
Claire: Look Mark, let me just get this out there. I'm just not attracted to you. I think you're a great guy and I really did have fun tonight. So much so that I would like to go out again. But not in a romantic context.
Me: Oh. Okay.
Claire: Would you like to do something next week. Maybe see a movie?
Me: Sure, that would be great. See you next week.

And so Claire and I started going out on non-dates pretty regularly. And the more time I spent with her, the more I grew to like her. She was fun, she could hold up her end in an intelligent conversation, she made me laugh. It was kind of like dating. For me, at least. To her I was becoming a good friend.

After several months of spending time with her, irrationalization started to rear its head. Sure, Claire told me point blank that she wasn't interested, but look at how much fun we had together. Look at how comfortable she was with me and how easy it was for her to share information with me. Clearly, there must be some attraction growing. I mean, I felt it on my end. So, I decided that I needed to test out my theory by kissing her one night. I deduced it was the only way to know. And so I did. I'll never forget the look on her face. I was wrong. Real wrong!

The design where I made the same mistake?

Ghost Town

Click here to see how they intersect.

The Lesson – Learn When To Quit

Unlike the last example where Cathy was also partially at fault, this screw-up rests firmly on my shoulders. Claire was kind enough and honest enough to let me in on her feelings from very early on. My problem was refusing to listen. The first date went so well that I was already imaging a relationship. And when reality came crashing down on my head I just embraced my fantasy that much tighter. The biggest problem was that I couldn't resist the allure of having something that was part of what I wanted. I loved spending time with Claire. But I wasn't looking for a friendship with Claire. I wanted a relationship. And my self-delusion hoped that having more of part of what I wanted would lead me to getting it all.

Sort of like Ghost Town. Ghost Town started out as a very elegant and cool card:

Blinking Land
T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
0: Return CARDNAME to its owner's hand.


Blinking Spirit
I was a huge fan of Ice Age's Blinking Spirit and I knew how much the majority of players hated land destruction. Why not a land variant with the blinking ability? I started playtesting the card and all sorts of cool and neat things happened. And then development got its hands on the card. As is often the case, it proved to work best in a deck that destroyed land. With one plains and just two Blinking Lands (you can tap one and then blink it and replay it), you were able to get off an Armageddon on turn four while only losing one land. To fix the problem, the development team (which I was part of) added the currently clunky fix.

If I had been thinking clearly, I should have had the card killed. But I was in love with what I thought the card could have been. So much so that I wasn't processing the latest information, that the card needed the clunky text if it was to see print. Much like I wasn't able to see that my perfect plans for a relationship with Claire had vanished in the wind. Hopes and dreams are wonderful things but they have to adapt to incoming information. And when that information tells you that you aren't getting what you want, you have to examine what you have and decide if you're comfortable with as is. (As a quick side note – sticking around hoping time will change things is a bad, bad plan.)

Mistake #3

As I explained earlier, my high school dating life was not exactly stellar. So when I got to college (at Boston University for those that care) I decided that I needed to take matters into my own hands. So the first month of my freshman year I concocted the “Bullseye Theory”. At the time I didn't have a lot of confidence in my dating skills, (By the way, the number one most important trait for successful dating by a large margin is confidence; If you don't believe, they're not going to believe) so I decided that I was going to find a way to get a date that took my inexperience into account.

This is what led to the Bullseye Theory. The Bullseye Theory held that even the worst archer could hit a bullseye if he just fired enough arrows. This meant that even I could get a date if I just asked enough women. Then and there I vowed to ask out at least one woman a week. She could be from my classes, my dorm, any extracurricular activity. It didn't matter whom, but at least one a week. And every week for my entire freshman year, I asked a girl out. How many dates did I get? None. My record was 0 for 42.

Which leads us to our card:


And the lesson? Click here.

The Lesson – You Have To Understand Why You're Doing Something

So how does a man ask forty-two women out in the course of a year and get forty-two nos? The answer: I asked the wrong women. You see, my masterful Bullsye Theory was covering up an ugly truth – I was scared to death of rejection. So by asking women that were essentially all long shots I could protect my ego. I never asked women in my life that might actually say yes. No, that was scary. I asked women who I knew going into it would almost certainly say no. (Remember, just as with Magic, if you blame luck on all your failures, you're never going to learn how to get better.)

So what does this have to do with Magnify? Designers do a similar thing when they're desperate to fill a hole in the design. They look for cards that fill the space rather than cards that fit the set. Let me explain. While filling in green commons during Urza's Destiny design I was stuck with a hole. And I was tired. (Remember that I was the design “team” for Urza's Destiny.) What I should have done was look at what green was doing in the set and find a space of common design that reinforced that theme. Instead I just looked for a green card we hadn't done. Overrun had established that green could pump up all its creatures. But in common, +3/+3 was a little too much. How about +1/+1? But then I realized that I was stepping on white's toes. White has a long history of “all your creatures get +1/+1 until end of turn”.

That's when I came up with the idea that all creatures get +1/+1. It was design space we'd never touched. And it kind of felt like a green common. Green shares its effects more than most colors. The problem was that I never took the time to step back and figure out what I wanted. I solved the immediate issue (fill the space) without addressing the larger more important issue (flesh out green commons to enhance the set). Much like I found a way to irrationalize (look, it can be a verb too) my doing something about my datelessness rather than actually finding a way to get a date.

In love or design, you have to always take time to step back and look at the big picture. When you don't, you find yourself solving mini-problems that don't actually tie into your mega-problem. Don't just fill space, fill a purpose.

Mistake #4

It's my sophomore year at college (year two of the Bullseye Plan). Thanks to a series of Advanced Placement courses in my high school (while I may not have gotten dates in high school I did manage to accomplish something) I was a year ahead in college. (Oh, I stayed for four years, but I had the pleasure of having one full year with zero requirements.) This meant that I was taking junior classes. It was in one of these classes (in BU's College of Communications – I majored in broadcast & film for those that care) that I met Kate. It turns out that Kate lived in my dorm.

It started out as innocent note sharing and before I knew it we were spending a lot of time together. We studied together. We hung out together. We had meals together. We chatted about all sorts of things. Ah, so did the Bullseye finally hit its target? Of course not. I never asked Kate out. Sure, she would invite me to study in her room and I would arrive to find her in pajamas, but I never quite made the connection that Kate was interested in me.

Perhaps I wasn't attracted? Heavens no. She was a looker. Maybe she didn't meet some standard I had set for myself of who I would date. No. She and I would have gotten along wonderfully. I mean, we did. The problem was that I was so busy searching for a date that I never bothered to look under my nose. In fact, it wasn't until many years later that the day came when I realized that Kate had been making it crystal clear that she was attracted to me. (That was not the happiest of days.) Eventually, Kate moved on assuming I wasn't interested.

And the card this relates to?

Yawgmoth's Bargain

Click here to see how these connect.

The Lesson – Don't Ignore the Obvious

As the expression goes, sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. I was so focused on finding a date that I never stopped to think that a date might find me. A relationship was something I had to make happen, not something that just happened. It's kind of mind boggling realizing how clueless you've been. I look back at my time with Kate and I honestly cannot fathom how I missed the obvious, obvious signs. The answer was that I wasn't looking. I didn't think it could happen in that context so I wasn't even open to the idea. And the truth is that you can miss just about anything if you aren't looking for it.

Yawgmoth's Bargain is a very similar story. I decided for some insane reason to make a “fixed” Necropotence. (A lot of my design failures start with me making a “fixed” card. Check out the banned list if you're curious to see a few.) Be aware that my original version of Yawgmoth's Bargain was a little different than the printed version.

Pay 2 life: Draw a card.

The name Intolerance is a film school joke. The card is most similar to the card Greed. Greed and Intolerance are two famous silent movies. (Yeah, yeah, I'm a geek – big news.) I felt I'd cracked the problem by making the player pay 2 life per card instead of 1. That little clause about not getting your cards until the end of the turn. I got rid of that. Why? I was so focused on the life per card ratio that I ignored everything else going on in Necropotence. But the Ice Age designers (Skaff Elias, Jim Lin, Dave Pettey and Chris Page) spent a great deal of time crafting Necropotence. And the until-end-of-turn waiting was a crucial part of the design. Being able to pay life and draw a card before you commit to spending more life to draw more cards is insanely powerful. Even if you're paying two life.

The point of this lesson is that in design and dating you have to take moments to step back and look at what's going on. Too often, people get so focused that they miss important things happening right in front of them. I kick myself every time I think of Kate or Yawgmoth's Bargain. Not just because they were colossal mistakes but avoiding the mistake would have been so easy if I had just taken the time to look at the obvious thing staring me in the face.

Mistake #5

After college but before Wizards, I lived in Los Angeles. Let's just call this the “Roseanne” portion of my life. I spent six years in Los Angeles breaking into “the bizz”. During that time I began dating Susan. I met Susan at a party of a mutual friend. We hit it off immediately and spent the entire night hanging out talking to one another. At the night's end, I told her I'd be interested in taking her out to which she replied, “I'd better not. I'm kind of living with someone.”

You'd think the story would end there, but it doesn't. It turns out that Susan's significant other was attending school in another state and that she was eager to end things with him (to call it an unhealthy relationship is unfair to unhealthy relationships). All she needed was a little motivation. That's the part where I come in. I was very interested in Susan and was willing to help her work through a tangle of issues. Eventually things were resolved and Susan was officially single. And so we began dating.

But things were not as smooth as I wanted. I dubbed the issue the Oat Bran Problem. Susan chose to be with me because she realized that I was good for her. Not because she was excited by me or by the relationship, but because she rationally understood that she needed a healthy relationship. At first, it was okay because I made the fatal mistake of assuming time would heal the problem. But as the months went on (and the relationship lasted over a year) I slowly came to the conclusion that things were never going to change. And so, I broke up with a woman that I really, really liked that was willing to be in a relationship with me, because I realized that in the end I was never going to get what I wanted.

And this ties into?

Consuming Ferocity

What do they they have in common?

The Lesson – Desire Isn't Enough

It's easy to leave the bad situation. It's much harder to leave the okay situation. Inertia is a mighty force. Desire is a powerful emotion. Mix them together and people do sub-optimal things for a long, long time. I really wanted to be in a loving relationship with Susan, but she had to want it as much as I did for it to work out. The moment I understood that would never happen, I had to walk out the door. While I eventually did, I wasted a year doing so.

It's much harder to leave the okay situation…

My relationship with Consuming Ferocity was quite similar. Before I got my job at Wizards, I would design cards in my spare time. Just for fun. I never thought they'd ever see the light of day. But once I got the R&D job, I dusted off my old cards. Maybe, just maybe, I could sneak one or two into a set. Consuming Ferocity was one such card (Duplicity and Scragnoth were two others that made it to print.) It started with a simple idea: Imagine a creature enchantment that made a creature stronger and stronger until he just blew up.

The basic card concept was pretty elegant. But it ran into a common problem - cards have to be expressed in rules text. You can't say “It does blah”. You have to spell it out in game terms. And sometimes this translation takes a nice, simple idea and makes it ugly. Take Consuming Ferocity. First, the card had to evolve the creature over time. This required some method of marking time. Second, it had to define when and how the creature would blow up. These two things might sound simple but they turned to be anything but in templating. So much so that it managed to both make the effect of the card confusing and to lose most of the flavor of what was going on.

But I wouldn't let go of the card. I had such vision of what the card could potentially be that I was not facing what the card had become. I kept holding out hope that the templating could be improved, that the ideal card would force its way through the ugly template. Unlike Susan, I didn't walk away from Consuming Ferocity in time and the world had to be exposed to it. This isn't to say that I'm unhappy the card got printed. (I'm sure there are some Consuming Ferocity fans out there.) I just wish I'd held back the card and tried a slightly different approach that might have better captured the flavor in a way that wasn't so clunky.

People often talk about “the one that got away”. Ironically, little talk is made of “the one that should have gotten away sooner”.

Mistake #6

During my adolescent years, my lack of confidence with women played out in many ways. The most embarrassing was what happened to my speech skills when in the presence of any girl I was attracted to. I wasn't one of those guys that couldn't talk around pretty girls. Oh no, I was the far worse kind. The one that can't shut up around pretty girls. When I'm nervous, I talk. (Of course, I also talk quite a bit when I'm not nervous.) So whenever I would meet a pretty girl I would jabber on and on about all sorts of inane topics. (For Friends fans think of Ross' “factoids about gas” flirting scene.) Only one girl ever brought me to silence. Her name was Rebecca.

Rebecca was the daughter of friends of my parents. And she was literally the most beautiful girl I had ever met. She was smart. She had a sense of humor. We had a very similar upbringing and sense of values. In short, she was my dream girl. So what crazy thing happened when I asked her out? Nothing. Because I never did. The sheer idea of it scared the living death out of me.

Here's why. Rebecca was so perfect in my eyes that I had elevated her to a place beyond just a person. She was my fantasy. Whenever something went bad in my love life (or more accurately lack-of-love life), I always had the fantasy to fall back on. But if I took the plunge and asked out Rebecca and she said no, I didn't just lose that one date, I'd lose my fantasy. And with my dating life as it was, I couldn't afford to lose the one sure thing I had.

The card that reflects this dilemma?

Dead Ringers

Here's how:

The Lesson – Think Out Your Problems Far Enough To See Where Decisions Lead

My logic with Rebecca was fundamentally flawed. Why? Because I didn't think through my logic. My fear was that I might destroy this perfect fantasy that I had. And perhaps I did risk it. But did it matter? If my experience led me to ditch Rebecca as my fantasy girl, would it matter? I mean, I was an adolescent boy. My imagination wasn't going to give up its fantasy life because one avenue got shut off. (Not to mention that being rejected doesn't guarantee the fantasy has to die.) I would have found a new fantasy girl. But by giving up I lost the chance at the only real prize – the chance to date my dream girl. I gave up everything out of fear of losing something that would definitely have been replaced. I didn't think it through.

Much like Dead Ringers. The card started out innocently enough. Invasion block had a “color matters” theme. So, I designed the following card:

Double Whammy
Destroy two target creatures that share a color with one another.

Simple enough. It was “color matters” creature destruction. But I didn't take the time to think down the path. The card was a color matters card but it worked in the wrong direction. Invasion was filled with multicolor cards. The color matters theme wanted to reward multicolor, not punish it (although yes, there are a few exceptions). Normally the point of tying a restriction to effects with multiple targets is to make the situation harder than normal to use. But in a world filled with multicolor creatures, it's usually very easy to find two that share a color.

Development understood this and decided to change the card so that the two creatures had to have the exact same colors. This would punish monocolor creatures. In addition, to stay true to black's flavor of creature destruction, the team felt that the ability needed to not work on black creatures (note that we've relaxed this restriction a bit since Apocalypse was created). In addition, the team didn't like the idea of the card killing artifact creatures. This led to a nightmare for the templating team. The reason that the template is so clunky is that properly following the criteria set by development forced the templating team to design it as such.

The train wreck that the card became could have been visible to me at the design stage if I took into account where this card was going. But by not thinking it out I ended up creating a card that was doomed to failure. And that is bad design. There is a lot of talk about how ignoring the past causes problems. Equally problematic, though, is failing to anticipate the future.

Mistake #7

In college I liked moving into the dorm at the beginning of the year as soon as possible. The key to doing this was to agree to help move in other students (especially freshmen). It was the start of my junior year (aka Bullseye Year Three). Now, I lived in a very nice dorm that was once a hotel (Myles Standish for any BU alum out there) in the center of Kenmore Square. Myles Standish was a nice dorm. And as such it was fun moving freshmen into the dorm as they were always so excited by their room. There was only one room that I feared. It was the smallest room in the building. A room so small that the bed and dresser only fit into the room in one configuration. Moving freshmen into this room was always a nightmare. The student was unhappy. The parents would lecture me about how much they were paying. Bad times.

Enter Yvonne, a bright-eyed freshman. She told me her room number and I knew I was in trouble. But when I took her up to see it, she was overjoyed. She was at college and had her own room. It wasn't tiny. It was comfy. Over the next few weeks I would see Yvonne around the dorm. We would chat. And for some reason I didn't really think of her as a potential dating option so I just acted normal. As time went on we spent more and more time together. And everything was okay until I deduced two things. One, Yvonne had all the qualities I was looking for (Attractive? Check. Smart? Check? Funny? Check. Interesting? Check. Shared interests? Check. Good conversationalist? Check.) in a girlfriend. And two, she was attracted to me. So I did what my instincts told me: I ran.

I had so built up my desire for a girlfriend that the chance of actually getting one scared me silly. I started avoiding Yvonne. I found excuses to keep us from being alone when we were together. And then late one night, I was lying in bed when there was a knock on the door. It was Yvonne. Now, I had two options. I could let her in late at night alone in my room (I had a single.) or two, I could pretend to be asleep. That's when I made my third, and most important, realization. I was an idiot! A very attractive girl wanted to spend some late night time with me and I was actually contemplating feigning sleep? What was I so afraid of? Actually getting what I wanted? And so, I opened the door. We went out for five years.

The card that matches the problem I'd had?

Cloud of Faeries


The Lesson – Avoiding What You Want Causes Problems

I chose Cloud of Faeries but I could have chosen any card with the “free” mechanic (for those unaware of what I'm talking about, the “free” mechanic was a series of spells that all untapped X basic lands where X was the converted mana cost of the spell when the spell resolved or came into play; the idea was that the spells cost a net of 0 mana provided you had enough mana to play them). The “free” mechanic is probably the most broken mechanic I have ever designed. How so? Let's take Cloud of Faeries as an example. Normally when development wants to weaken a card they add a mana to the spell. But a Cloud of Faeries that cost and untapped three lands is not only not weaker, but considerably stronger, especially in the world that had lands like Tolarian Academy. A mechanic that grows stronger as you increase its cost. That's some freaky stuff.

So how did the “free” mechanic come about? It happened because we decided to not do cantrips in the Urza's Saga block. Huh? You heard me. How exactly did this happen? Let me explain. At the time, it was thought that cantrips should act like a block mechanic in that it should only appear in certain blocks. If a block wasn't scheduled for cantrips then it just didn't get any. And Tempest block just had them so no cantrips for Urza's Saga block.

What if I had a small effect that had no mana cost but it cost a card?

This got me to thinking about what could replace cantrips. So I started examining what cantrips were. They were small effects that didn't have any card disadvantage as you always drew to replace the card. Hmm, I thought, what if I tried it the other way? What if I had a small effect that had no mana cost but it cost a card? I thought this was an interesting mirror to cantrips. The problem was that colored spells are defined by their mana cost. I couldn't have spells cost 0 and still be a color. (Yes, I know about Legends' kobolds but it was their existence that showed me the problem with 0 cost colored spells.) That's when I stumbled upon the idea of a spell that untapped the mana you used to pay for it. The idea was that the spell was free, provided you were able to play it. I designed a few cards to test out the idea. And then it hit me, why did I have to restrict this ability to small effects? Couldn't any size spell be “free”?

I like to imagine how different Urza's Saga block would have been if it had just had cantrips instead of the "free" spells. Imagine it. We only would have had to ban nine or ten cards. This lesson really advises taking a look at what you're rejecting. Quite often people shun things that will serve them well if they only took the time to examine them. I'm just happy that I figured it out before Yvonne stopped knocking.

Mistake #8

Flash forward five years. I'm living in Los Angeles trying to live my dream of being a television writer (not yet aware yet that my real dream would be designing games for a living). Yvonne and I did the long distance for a few years (those shrewd with math might have deduced the two year age difference from my junior-freshman references), but after she graduated she moved out to LA to live with me.

At first things were great. After two years of short bursts of time together, it felt great to just spend long stretches with one another. But after a year, I realized something was wrong. In Boston, we had both been where we wanted to be. Each of us had chosen the path that had led to our life at school. Now that didn't seem true. Yvonne was in LA for no other reason than to be with me. She was trying her hardest to make LA work, but she wasn't happy. For the first time in five years, our relationship was keeping her from doing what she wanted to do.

One day, Yvonne came to me and suggested that she spend the summer in Boston. She had lined up a job for the summer and thought it would be good for us to get some space. Even though Yvonne would take months to realize it, I knew that once she returned to Boston, she wasn't going to return. Saying yes to the plan was ending our relationship. Saying no, though, was much worse. I decided to pull a Seinfeld and end the run before things started to decline. To bow out gracefully. I wished Yvonne luck for her “summer” in Boston and ended my first serious relationship.

What card cozies up with that story?


Huh? Find out:

The Lesson –Harnessing the Past Can Be Dangerous

As they say, breaking up is hard to do. It's very easy to hold onto the past trying to recreate what once was. But this is a dangerous trap. People don't live in the past. They have to live in the present. Idolizing the past can prove very dangerous. Just ask anyone who ever played Urza's Legacy.

Magic designers are as sentimental as any Magic player. We have fond remembrances of old cards. The only difference is that we can occasionally bring them back. Or tweak them. Or if they were weak to start, make them better. Now this might come as a big shock from the lead designer of Mirrodin, but I love artifacts. For a long time Antiquities was my favorite set. And one of my favorite cards from Antiquities was Transmute Artifact. But it was on the Reserved List so I wasn't allowed to repeat it. But then it dawned on me that the card was a little clunky and on the weaker side. Perhaps I could spiff it up a little.

That's how Tinker came into being. In trying to harness a love of the past I created a monster of the present. As with Yawgmoth's Bargain and Necropotence, I had failed to really understand what the original designers (Skaff Elias, Jim Lin, Dave Pettey, Chris Page and Joel Mick) had done. What I thought of as clunky was actually an important balance to the card.

That said, I have many positive examples of designs using the past as inspiration. The lesson here is that I need to do so with care.

Mistake #9

So my senior year of high school is coming to an end. And I'm face to face with the scariest thing that a dating-challenged senior can face – The Prom! Now, I might not have gotten a date throughout high school, but I was going to my prom. And I was going to do it right. I should identify the one girl I most wanted to take and simply ask her. It didn't take long. I knew the answer. It was Cathy. You know, the girl of my infatuation that accepted and then cancelled date after date after date. Yeah. That's who I wanted.

Now a lesser man might have learned his lesson from the humiliation that came before. But oh no. I was optimistic, naïve, and apparently had a really bad memory. So I asked Cathy to the prom. She informed me that she wasn't planning to go to the prom and declined. She actually said “no”; it was a big step for her. If only she hadn't lied doing so. You see, what Cathy meant was that she wasn't going to go to the prom with me. My classmate Michael? He was okay to go with.

But I was not deterred. I had actually taken into account the possibility that Cathy would say no. Or possibly say yes and cancel the night before. And so I made a list. (Can you tell I like lists?) The list was of seven girls in my class that I was interested to take to the prom. Number one – scratch off. Number two was much politer when she said no. Number three had a more realistic excuse. Number four seemed kind of puzzled I asked her. Number five thought I was kidding. Number six was a little rude. And number seven? No, she rejected me too. Seven up, seven down. Not one of my high points.

So did I go to my prom? Yes, I did. I ended up asking out a friend that also couldn't find a date. There was no attraction but we were both okay going as friends. Neither one of us wanted to miss out on the prom.

And this is connected to?

Hint of Insanity

Just click.

The Lesson – Idealism Is Great, But At Some Point Realism Needs To Poke Its Head In

I'm not upset that I tried to shoot for the brass ring at my prom. Part of dating is taking the risk. But I'm also not upset I ended up going with my friend. Sometimes you get the pie-in-the-sky romance and sometimes you don't. The key is to figure out when to settle for the latter while not giving up on trying for the former.

Hint of Insanity suffers from a similar dilemma. Designers are always looking for the offbeat but simple card. Something that seems quirky but has more play that it might seem at first. Hint of Insanity was my attempt at that type of card. Here's how the logic went: I noticed that net decks had become more and more popular. This meant that more and more players of all skill levels were starting to play with a greater number of four-of's in their deck. As a designer, I've taken it upon myself to fight back against this piece of inertia and make cards that encourage the players to diversify.

And we've had some successes in that category (Lobotomy, Meddling Mage, etc.) The idea behind Hint of Insanity was that it punished players for duplicates. The problem was that I was attacking it in a way that just didn't naturally occur all that much. Even with a sixty-card deck that played twenty four land and four copies of nine cards, Hint rarely had great punch. Yeah, every once in a while you'd catch two cards, but way too often you missed entirely meaning that you spent three mana and a card to do nothing. Not the wisest of investments.

The problem was that I kept having the dream of catching the player with two copies of three different cards. I never let realism have any time to share with me. And as such I made a card that rarely sees play. Be aware that some of this is the normal part of doing business in the design world. Hint of Insanity is sad because I thought it coulda been a contender. It coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what it is, let's face it.

The key to this lesson is that daters and designers need to take the big leaps now and again, but they need to do so knowing that more dependable approaches also have their place.

Mistake #10

As I explained earlier, I found myself looking for dating prospects at work. One such girl was named Lucy. She worked the night shift at the Game Center (back then Wizards was testing its toe in retail and we had built a game center in our lobby). R&D liked the game center because it had a computer LAN (this was before R&D got our own computer lab). Most nights they would come and play some large group game for hours on end. The problem was that I've never been all that into computer games. I enjoy a good puzzle game as well as the next guy but real time strategy games aren't my cup of tea. So I spent my time talking to Lucy.

We'd chat. We'd play games. We even flirted a little. But I never asked her out for a number of stupid reasons. Finally, one day a bunch of my friends are going out to see a movie so I ask Lucy along. She says yes. Then after the movie I ask Lucy if she'd like to grab some dinner. She says yes. Sitting at the table in the restaurant I realized that we had finally crossed over into honest dating territory. We'd seen a movie together and now we were out alone at dinner. But then Lucy gave me a little speech. It included words like “not interested in dating” and “can we just be friends?” She even asked if we could each pay for our half of the meal.

I took Lucy back to my apartment, which was just a few doors down from her apartment. While we were talking I got the sense that there was some chemistry. All the signs seemed to point like she wanted me to kiss her. But then I remembered her speech and my lovely track record of misreading signs. And so… I kissed her. And you know what? She kissed back. Of course her name isn't really Lucy, it's Lora. Next October will be our seventh anniversary.

What Magic card lines up with my first kiss with my wife?

Hand to Hand

If only it was called Hand In Hand. Click here for the connection.

The Lesson – Not Every Mistake Is Actually A Mistake

I often think back to that moment where I had to decide whether or not to kiss Lora. And logically my decision makes no sense. It flew in the face of every piece of information I had. Well, except one. My gut. And every once in a while you got to let your gut do its thing. I know I'm happy I did.

So what does this have to do with Hand to Hand? You see, Hand to Hand started with a simple idea. What if there was a card that could take all the trickiness out of combat. What if I made an enchantment that just made everything nice and easy? I attack and my opponent either blocks or doesn't block. No tricky spells. No sneaky activated abilities to keep track of.

Now this sounds nice and good, but what I found was that players tend to just play around the card. If they wanted to get a little more damage in, they'd Giant Growth before the attack. If there was some Terroring to do, it happened before the attack. Everything seemed to happen before the attack. I realized it was too late to really do anything about it. It was just going to be another Bad Rare.

But then something happened. I'm reading tournament reports and I start seeing Hand to Hand show up in sideboards. But it wasn't used to stop combat stuff. It was an answer to Circle of Protection: Red. If your opponent can't activate permanents during combat under pre-Sixth Edition rules, the Circles aren't so good.

The point of this little story was that mistakes aren't always so bad. Penicillin, Post-It Notes, chocolate chip cookies. All these things were the result of an accident going right. Life and design isn't any difference.


Wow, that's not what I expected to write when I planned this little activity. That said, I had a lot of fun writing it. If you share my view (or adamantly oppose it or even fall somewhere in between) drop me a note. I hope you learned a thing or two today and maybe some of it might even carry over to your non-Magic life.

Join me next week when I teach you how to not avoid a draft.

Until then, may you make some mistakes of your own.

Mark Rosewater

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