Changing of the Guard

Posted in Building on a Budget on March 27, 2006

By Scott Johns

March 27, 2006

Dear Ask Wizards,

It seems like you've had a lot of columnists leave the site lately. What's up?

Anthony, Texas USA

We got a couple of these during our last batch of writer changes, and I guess in some readers' minds we would just always have the same writers for years on end, but as most of you know that's not how sites like this work. In fact, given how much work goes into a weekly column at I think we do a great job of retaining the writers we want to keep. We've been fortunate that many of the author changes we've made have been at our own choosing, but like many of you I'm definitely sad to see JMS move on to bigger and better things.

So, time to move forward. First, we will be keeping the Building on a Budget column. We're going to loosen up the format a bit so it's not quite so much about precons, but the focus will definitely still be on the deckbuilding process plus tips and strategies for getting the most from your cards when you don't have a closet full of rares to work with. Like JMS, the new author will be focusing on finding new and innovative decks and having a great time in whichever casual environment you find yourself. We've just finished up the audition process for Building on a Budget, and this was easily the toughest choice we've had for filling a column. Four writers made it to the final submission process, and all four articles we got were good. It was a very tough choice, but I'm confident that the guy who won out will win you over in the coming weeks with his combination of expertise and personality. He certainly won't be a new name for most of you, I expect. If all goes well I hope to have the new writer starting a week from today, so watch this spot next week for your first look at Building on a Budget's new chief.

You Asked, We Heard

Okay, I admit I'm having a little fun with you on this particular art selection.

One of the reasons that opening Ask Wizards question has been on my mind is because we do have a number of changes coming up this year. First up is Zvi's column. At this point I think it's clear that "The Play's the Thing" hasn't worked out the way we would have hoped. By its very nature, that column is extremely difficult to pull off on a weekly basis. It takes much more time to write and prepare than anything else we put up, and despite all the effort we've been putting into it, it's just too likely that mistakes (both strategic and graphical) will slip through. As the official site of the game, it's critical that we not come off as amateurish, but that's exactly what's been happening from time to time with this column. I definitely don't regret that we made the attempt however. This site has been fantastically successful in terms of growth and reader satisfaction, and one of the ways we've achieved that is by constantly looking for new angles and new areas to explore. Part of achieving that means taking chances. Sometimes those chances work out, and you get a homerun column like Matt Cavotta's Taste the Magic. Sometimes they don't work out and we go back to the drawing board to find out what else we could bring you instead.

In this case, I'm hoping the answer we have for you will bring smiles to many readers. In our last round of column switches we cut Limited Information from the line-up. Over the last year or so we've been steadily moving the site away from content that could just appear on some other site, instead focusing on those things that we can do which either other sites couldn't do at all (like the R&D columns), or which we have some advantage which lets us give you a better product than would be possible from other sites (like Mike Flores' column, where we're able to get all the deck lists from the tournament organizers). Now, there are some exceptions to this policy, when there's good reason. For example, Chris Millar's column could easily appear on a site like Star City. However, we consider that area important enough that we want to make sure Magic players are getting an awesome, top-notch column every week, something that may not as easily get featured on one of the independent sites. Casual writing pretty much by definition has to take a back seat on sites that are revenue-driven, since casual articles will pretty much always get less traffic than tournament deck strategy. (There's a reason you don't see any premium sites dedicated to casual players!) By hosting a column like House of Cards or Serious Fun, we give casual players the chance to see their topics get the same headline treatment as any of the spike columns on the site.

Which brings us to Limited Information. While it's true that there are good draft articles on other sites, they often end up being subscription-only. We don't have any problem with there being premium sites, but it puts a dent in the idea of taking Limited Information away if one of the reasons was that readers could get that info in other places. The vast majority of our readers obviously don't have premium accounts at places like Brainburst or Star City, and Limited formats are important enough that we want to make sure that content is out there and available for the masses. Additionally, we were concerned about the difficulty of hosting weekly Limited content, but it turns out that running Limited content in occasional feature articles is even more difficult, because you lose all the background preparation you can lay using previous articles in the weekly column. Again, I don't regret we tried the change, as long as we learned something in the process, and this time around we definitely did.

On top of all that is another big change. When we let Limited Information go, we didn't have anything that Wizards of the Coast could add to the column that couldn't simply be done on one of the other sites. (In fact, we were partly hoping one of the other sites would jump at that vacuum because of that.) However, with Magic Online III coming up, we have some very exciting news. Though we don't expect to have it right away, we are hopeful that by the end of the year or early '07 we'll have the ability to pull all of the draft pick data from any premier event draft on Magic Online. With access to that kind of data the sky becomes the limit when dealing with draft, allowing analysis the likes of which you've never seen in Magic's history. Imagine a world where after any high-profile Magic Online draft a columnist can automatically recreate the draft in our Draft Viewer. (If you haven't seen our new Draft Viewer, go see "Alan Comer speaks in the Draft Viewer!" for a great example of what's possible.) The ability to show and discuss that kind of data on a weekly basis would revolutionize how Limited is discussed and studied, and is obviously something we would love to be able to share with the public.

So, here's the deal. When we cut Limited Information, there was a very large call from the readers to bring it back if possible. In other scenarios we might have waited until Magic Online III could give us that data before we brought back Limited Information. However, since we know we're planning on bringing it back anyway, given how much the audience asked for the column, we're giving it back sooner rather than later. We're still working out the exact timing, but my current estimate is that we'll be dropping The Play's the Thing for Limited Information sometime in early May. Noah Weil will be piloting the column, and I think you're going to see very good things from him once he is freed up from the challenges of the feature article format and given the chance to work with a full weekly column. So for now we'll bring back the column much as it was before, but with the idea that down the road Magic Online is going to make some amazing things possible.

The downside to that is we'll be losing Zvi in the process, one of my favorite writers on the Internet. Again, I don't regret that we tried this experiment, but I'm sorry to see him go. If we get the chance to feature him again at the site I'll be happy to find a new role for him, but for now there are too many variables as we wait to find out what the future holds for him. Zvi's done an outstanding job on the site working on what was easily one of the most demanding columns ever written, and he will be greatly missed.

Moving Forward

In addition to that, we have a number of other things in the works, but you'll have to keep watching to find out on those. On the technical side, our developers are working hard on redoing much of the back end of the site in terms of how it's actually set up and put together. As that process finishes up we'll be bringing in a number of awesome features we've had in the works. As much as people have loved features like Gatherer and the Draft Viewer, that was just the beginning. We've got an entire set of new features we'll be adding to the site in the coming months and years. Just like one of the tough parts about working at R&D is having to wait for the public to see the cards you're most proud of, I can't wait for the chance to show you all the great things we've got coming. It's going to be awesome!

And so we leave things for now. We've got a lot of exciting stuff right around the corner, so make sure you keep coming to the site as you won't want to miss any of it! The mysterious You Decide! is winding down, Dissension previews begin April 10, and we've got some cool surprises even just between now and then. I'm also excited to say that I've taken over the mini-sites for expansion sets. Thanks to the extra time we have on our team from the help Ted Knutson is giving us, I've had more time to focus on extra features like the mini-sites, and I'm hoping you'll find the new features a big improvement. Dissension also marks the entrance of the Rakdos guild. Since I began playing back in the days of Arabian Nights, I've always been a huge fan of black-red, a color combination that hasn't had many chances to shine in the sun. If you're a fan like me, I think you're going to love this set as much or even more than the previous sets in Ravnica! You're going to find that the other two guilds are awesome as well, but this is my article and I'm a black-red player at heart, so it's a Rakdos art preview you're getting from me. I'll put it at the bottom of the article, enjoy!

Which brings us to the end for now. Have fun, keep reading, and if you have a sec please take a moment to drop me a line in the forums to let us know how you think we're doing. As I hope we've demonstrated many times over the years, we definitely care what you say, and we definitely make changes to both the site and even the game based on the excellent feedback we get from you. We've got major changes to at least two other columns later in the year, so your opinion definitely matters. Thanks for reading!

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