Eighth Edition and You

Posted in NEWS on June 7, 2002

Last week’s poll:

Which green “flashback creature” do you enjoy playing with the most?
Roar of the Wurm 1291 27%
Crush of Wurms 964 20%
Call of the Herd 897 19%
Grizzly Fate 566 12%
Beast Attack 443 9%
Chatter of the Squirrel 432 9%
Acorn Harvest 116 2%
Elephant Ambush 93 2%
Total: 4802 100%

To the surprise of absolutely no one, putting 6/6 creatures into play for just 4 mana is fun.

MAGIC, PART VIII

One of the projects I’ve been working on lately is putting together Eighth Edition. It’s actually a lot more complicated than you might think, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Eighth Edition serves several roles and it’s probably worth clarifying several of them. Eighth gives us a chance to reprint some cards so more players get a chance to play with them. It’s also an opportunity to mix things up in the Standard constructed environment, both by rotating some old cards out and rotating some new cards in.

We also plan to continue to make the base set a bit simpler than our expert-level sets. This last role is at least the most complained about and also probably the least well understood so I’d like to talk about it for a few paragraphs. After several failed experiments at different rules systems and/or card sets aimed specifically at beginners (aka Portal), Wizards decided the best approach is to direct beginners to a “real” Magic set where the rules still work the same way (and the cards are legal in tournaments), but we leave out some of the game’s more complicated mechanics (trample, upkeep, protection from color, etc). This may sound like a big restriction, but it actually isn’t since anything we want to reprint that doesn’t fit into the base set can still be brought back in an expert-level expansion.

Eager Cadet

The biggest constraint caused by using “Nth Edition” as both a base set and a beginner set is that we have to stick a couple of cards in just because we need them in the Starter game. For example, that’s why Seventh Edition has Eager Cadet. Yes, I know Eager Cadet is awful and I know Honor Guard is strictly better and also in the set and also common. However, something has to be the first creature that a new player ever plays and that something should be as simple as possible. We did a bunch of focus groups where we brought new players in and watched them try to learn from our comic book playguide and our CD and we realized that the first few creatures in those guided games needed to be vanilla creatures with "power = toughness". Of course, you could have handled something tougher and, of course, most people learn from another person (which is much, much easier than learning from a comic book), but there are some people who just open up the Starter box and try to figure things out. It really is in the best interests of the game to make those first few steps as easy as possible for them. Meanwhile, it would really suck if a new player showed up to Friday Night Magic only to discover that the cards they bought aren’t legal. Anyway, all this means that Eager Cadet is going to be in Eighth Edition too. (There -- you’re rewarded for surviving my rant with super-secret spoiler info. ;-))

I am going to see if there’s any way to minimize the number of slots in the set that are affected by that issue (which means I’ll rotate out everyone's favorites, Vizzerdrix and Trained Orgg, if I can find other similarly simple cards to use as the fatties in the Starter game), but I know we’ll still wind up with a few. I’m not happy to keep reprinting cards that I know most of you don’t care about, but it’s the right thing to do for the good of Magic. By the way, the only reason Volcanic Hammer wound up in 7th was for the Starter game and that turned out to be quite an interesting card to have around.

Anyway... enough context. Several months ago I was in a series of meetings with the marketing guys where we were trying to think of cool things we could do with the set. (We don’t want anybody to feel obligated to buy the base set -- we know many of you already own these cards and you already buy as many cards as you can afford and we’re fine with you ignoring Eighth Edition. On the other hand, we certainly don’t mind if you buy it and so we try to make sure you get your money’s worth if you do decide to buy.) One of the ideas suggested was to have polls on MagicTheGathering.com where we would let the audience vote on which cards we would include. I was initially pretty skeptical. After all, we spend a lot of time thinking about the environment and testing the cards internally. None of you guys know what’s coming up in the Onslaught block -- much less in Bacon, Lettuce, or Tomato -- so wouldn’t we be better off continuing to just pick the cards ourselves?

As I was actually putting together the binder* of cards, though, I kept asking myself if there were decisions that I could leave up to the public. I found a surprising number of slots in the set where it could really be either card A or card B. I personally might have an opinion about which one was cooler or which one would be better received, but from an R&D point of view I knew we could balance the power-level and the flavor of the set around either of the two cards. Some of the decisions weren’t exactly thrilling and would appeal to only the most diehard fans (for example, “Should the common black regenerator be Drudge Skeletons or Deepwood Ghoul?”) but others were pretty interesting. Even though I knew we could make all the decisions ourselves, I couldn’t think of any good reason not to get some feedback on what you guys would prefer.

I started compiling a list and I eventually showed it to both the marketing guys and to Aaron the editor. Everyone thought the public (that’d be you guys) would be really excited by the chance to influence the card set (and thus several years worth of Standard) and I had to agree with them. Aaron and I counted about a dozen card choices that were really compelling and thus a promotion was born.

Each week for the rest of the summer, we’re going to put up a couple of options and whichever card gets the most votes will show up in Eighth Edition next year. In addition, we’re going to let you vote on which version of the art to use on several different cards and we’re going to let you submit flavor text (and then vote from among the best options that have been submitted) for six cards.

Enjoy!

I’m not going to have a poll that’s specific to this column this time because I want all of you to take this opportunity to go vote on this week’s Eighth Edition card: Crimson Hellkite or Two-Headed Dragon, and the art choice of two versions of Thorn Elemental. (If you haven’t already registered to vote in our official polls, please do that -- it’s not much hassle and we really do want your feedback.)

Click HERE to go to the "Spend You Summer Selecting Eighth Edition" page and vote!

*: Normally, we in R&D work in “Multiverse.” Multiverse is a customized Filemaker Pro database that keeps track of all the information we need to make a card set, and that everyone around the company has access to. We sit around in meetings staring a printouts of card text that look a lot like spoiler lists from the ‘Net. One of the reasons Eighth Edition is fun to work on is that we get to work with real cards for a change. Since every card in the set is something we’ve already printed, we just put together a binder with copies of the old cards. The binder gets passed around, covered in Post-It notes, and we gather around the binder during design and development meetings. The set does still get put into Multiverse, but it’s easier and cooler to look at actual cards.


Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.