Ask Wizards Redux

Posted in Feature on August 2, 2010

By Staff

When we discontinued Ask Wizards as a daily feature, we mentioned that it would return from time to time. Subsequent low question volume has made that a difficult commitment to keep, but after a solicitation in Community Spotlight, we've got a nice big crop of questions and answers just in time for Feedback Week.

If you want to see more Ask Wizards, click the "Respond" link below and fire away—and check out Mark Rosewater's article today, which includes a guide to writing good questions that'll get good answers.


Who came up with the M11 character Simun the Quiet? He seems like he has an interesting story behind him.
--Alex Riggs
Edmonds, WA, USA

Sorcerer's Strongbox

A: From Jenna Helland, Magic creative writer:

Core sets don't have style-guides directing their creative text. So each card needs its own world building to create a cohesive "package" for the card. Simun the Quiet (who is featured on Sorcerer's Strongbox and Unsummon in M11) has a mini-story, rich with potential for further development:

Simun the Quiet was a brilliant wizard, but quite mad. After he was shunned from the Order of the Elements for "unnatural ideas," he sealed himself in a secret laboratory inside the wall of an ancient keep. There he perfected his "unnatural ideas" for half a century, growing more and more paranoid with every passing year.

Believing that his former brethren would discover him, steal his powerful magics, and hang him in the tower, he forged an object in which he could hide his secrets. A strongbox, he would call it. Then, he built a key. Both were ingenious devices, puzzles in themselves, flawless in design and execution. Satisfied with his creations, he hid the key somewhere no one could ever find it.

The day he heard tapping on his wall, he poured all his secrets and memories into the strongbox, shut the lid, and fastened the lock. Satisfied that he had bested his enemies—his would-be executioners!—he peered at the orb-shaped box on his table. "What a strange-looking box, he thought. Where did it come from? I wonder what's inside and how one might open it."

Have you played "Pick your own Standard", and if so, which three sets do you prefer? If not, which three would you enjoy playing?
Temple City, California

A: From Aaron Forsythe, director of Magic R&D:

I haven't really tinkered around with that format, but I think I'd choose something like Invasion block, Time Spiral block, and Magic 2011. Lorwyn block and Ravnica block, while fun, have too much mana fixing for how I like to build decks—I want some challenges and restrictions. Figuring out how to play all the cool cards I want and get the mana right is something that gets my mental juices flowing. I loved Invasion as a player and I loved Time Spiral as a designer. M11 is probably the most powerful core set available in the format, and since I led that design, I'm even more partial to it.

I love seeing old favorites from my early days of Magic coming back into Standard like Nantuko Shade, Shiv's Embrace, and Yavimaya Wurm. It is fun using them again in Limited.

Now that Core Sets have the freedom to create new cards to fill needed slots, how has this affected the process of selecting older cards for reprints?
Royal Oak, MI, USA

Nantuko Shade

A: From Tom LaPille, Magic developer:

The main effect is that it's a lot harder for a card to get reprinted. Tenth Edition is 363 cards big and entirely made out of reprints, so there's room for plenty of goofballs like Anaba Bodyguard, Bloodfire Colossus, Denizen of the Deep, and Duct Crawler. Now that we can make new cards, we have higher standards. We don't go looking for just any red common one-mana creature—now we're looking for one that has a good name and concept too. Shiv's Embrace and Yavimaya Wurm are in this category. If we don't find something like that, though, we make a new card, so the bar that cards need to clear is higher.

A smaller, but still new, effect is that sometimes we find an old card that we might not have considered reprinting before, but has a great name and mechanical match to concept, and we become charmed enough that we try to reprint it in a core set anyway. We're still working on finding places for some of those cards, but I've got several in mind that might surprise you when you see them in the not-too-distant future.

Which player profile (Timmy, Johnny, Spike, Vorthos, etc) do you think has a disproportionate amount of love or hate for them? (Who is the most misjudged?)
--Michael Shen
Temple City, CA, USA

A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic head designer:

I think each psychographic profile is somewhat misunderstood by the others because their motivations are so different. Spikes, for example, often think of Timmies as being bad players, because why else would they choose to do so many of the things they do? Timmies, on the flip side, often think of Spikes as being jerks because they seem to choose to do things that undercut the enjoyability of the game. One of the reasons the psychographic profiles exist in the first place is to help R&D better understand what each player wants out of the game so that we can deliver it. I believe if each player gets a better understanding of the profiles it will make it easier to understand why someone else will do something that he or she never would.

I've seen a growing trend in new blocks for card (particularly creatures) to become more and more powerful. Years ago -- even as late as Ninth Edition -- Serra Angel was a rare, yet now it's an uncommon, and in its place is Baneslayer Angel. Leviathans have always had massive set-backs -- Islandhome, Untapping only at some ridiculous cost, etc. -- and now we have Stormtide Leviathan, which not only gives you an 8/8 for 8cc, but has numerous other upsides to it. And don't forget the Eldrazi, Goblin Guide, Bloodbraid Elf ....

I guess my question is: do you ever think that new blocks are getting TOO powerful, or that the aggressive curve is getting out of hand?
Utah, USA

A: From Aaron Forsythe, director of Magic R&D:

Creatures have gotten noticeably better over the latter half of Magic's lifespan, that's for sure. Two things are going on: one, creatures were not given the correct power-level to adequately compete with spells for the first several years of the game's lifespan, and two, as we make thousands and thousands of cards, we need to keep people excited.

Serra Angel
Hypnotic Specter

Serra Angel (and Hypnotic Specter) began life as uncommons in Alpha and were eventually both "retired" for being too good around the time of Fifth Edition. Former Director of R&D Randy Buehler came to the company around the time of Invasion development and helped show R&D the errors of its thinking—creatures weren't good enough! Randy reinstated some of the old favorites and started pushing larger creatures like Kavu Titan and the Invasion Dragons to try and get expensive creatures into constructed.

Since then, we've pushed the power of cheap creatures as well up to where we think they belong; after all, one way to get midsized creatures to be good is to make good fast decks for them to prey upon. Ideally the game contains creatures that are just as powerful on a card-by-card basis as things like Wrath of God, Lightning Bolt, Brainstorm, and other top-tier spells. Spells shouldn't always be the best cards in the game, which they were for many years, especially when cards like Necropotence, Mind Twist, Balance, and Counterspell were being printed and the creatures weren't any good. Environments like that make creatures feel lame and weak, when they should be the centerpieces of the game.

Goblin Guide

To my second point, we want each new set we make to seem exciting, so we try hard to make the cards look amazing. Sometimes this is done by making something actually more powerful than other iterations of cards in the same space—it is hard to beat Goblin Guide as the best aggressive red one-drop. I think that's fine to do here and there—after all, we don't want it to be true that the best cards Magic will ever have all already exist. Mostly, though, we just try to make things splashy, have them do things cards haven't done before.

In other words, I think we want it to look like there's power creep when there really isn't.

How did you choose what cards to reprint in M11? Specifically do you go for the "wow" factor or do you look at what is coming down the pipes and build the set around that?
Uijeongbu, South Korea

A: From Erik Lauer, Magic developer:


Great question. We pick reprint cards in a number of ways. For instance, Voltaic Key is a bit of "what is coming down the pipes" as you surmised, but Nantuko was more of a "black needs another strong creature." Shade

I was clicking the "Random Card" option on the Gatherer, and noticed that in Tempest, Harrow and Meditate have the same templating (that is to say "Do something: Do something else"), but with the Oracle text, Harrow gains "As an additional cost", whereas you only have to skip your next turn if Meditate resolves. Why the difference?
Oxford, OH, USA


A: From Matt "I'll gladly pay you Wednesday for four cards today" Tabak, interim Magic rules manager:

Hi Phil,

Looking at costs in Magic, you'll see that they involve a resource that you currently have—be it mana in your mana pool, life that you'll be paying, or permanents you'll be tapping or sacrificing. Costs are, by definition, an action or payment. Is skipping a future turn that may or may not actually happen such a thing? Rule 117.3 indicates otherwise, saying, in part, "A player can't pay a cost unless he or she has the necessary resources to pay it fully." You may not even get another turn, which makes it hard to definitely skip your next one. Turns out, the multiverse doesn't run on credit after all.

Why does Gleemax disregard flavor text?
--Michael Shen
Temple City, CA, USA

A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic head designer:

Why does a disembodied alien brain in a jar really do anything? If I had to guess my assumption is that Gleemax doesn't really understand the nuances of flavor. The flavor text doesn't specifically do anything so Gleemax has deemed it unnecessary of its attention. As I am not currently writhing in pain, it appears as if "Ask Wizards" answers are also not worthy of his attention.

What makes a "good creature," in terms of both tournament play and casual play?
Renton, WA, USA

A: From Kenneth Nagle, Magic designer:

Hello Dana,

I hate to be the one to break this to you, but some creatures are "good" only because some other creatures are "bad."

This applies to pretty much everything. Tiger Woods is a "good" golfer precisely because everyone in the world is worse than him at golf. Leonardo DiCaprio is an A-list actor because casting him helps ensure a bankable movie.

But that's real life. In the closed mathematical system of the game of Magic, the cards are the athletes and actors. You make a choice which cards to play in your deck. When you choose to put Warpath Ghoul in your deck and leave Mindless Null out, your choice has assigned a "goodness" and "badness" value to those cards. It's our choices that keep Magic cards from being an ocean of mediocrity.

Warpath Ghoul
Mindless Null

Tournament players choose the creatures that win the most games. Period. These are the "good" creatures to them. Tournament-winning deck lists are a good resource to research which creatures those are.

Casual players often have a larger variety of criteria when choosing creatures. Winning games is usually first on the list, but it's not exclusive. Theme, artwork, and even the pithy "I own this card" are reasons for a casual player to choose one creature over another. From my experience, every card has a fan. I've met a player who said her favorite creature is Scrib Nibblers.

Scrib Nibblers

So that's what's makes a good creature: choice and criteria. I hope you now see, like the blind man did when he picked up his hammer and saw.

How important of a factor in the development of M11 was the fact that M10 and M11 would be in Standard at the same time?
--Jacob Gold
Boston, MA, USA

A: From Erik Lauer, Magic developer:


That is a huge factor! Standard is our most played format, and we did our best to make M11 add to M10 without "breaking" anything. Since they only overlap for about three months, we had a chance to double up on some themes. We intentionally gave Vampires two lords, Captivating Vampire and Vampire Nocturnus, so that you could play one on turn three and the next on turn four. We tried something similar with Howling Mine and Temple Bell.

How has Magic: The Gathering changed from its original inception? What made it popular back then, and what makes it popular now? Why was there a lull? How do you expect Magic to change in the next 15 years?
Chicago, IL, USA

A: From Aaron Forsythe, director of Magic R&D:

In the beginning, back in 1993-94, Magic's novelty—it was the first TCG—combined with its amazing game play and familiar creative elements really made it take off. Your question implies that Magic wasn't popular for some stretch of time, and while it is true that there were ups and down—some our fault, some external—we've always had a very, very large player base, online community, and organized play system. Magic's popularity curve is not like, say, The A-Team, which was hot for a few years, essentially disappeared, and then showed up again suddenly a decade or more later. Instead we've been solid all along, and have recently experienced a good bit of growth. Duels of the Planeswalkers have been a big part of our recent upswing because it presents Magic in a stress-free digestible format both to new players and to players who have left the game for one reason or another. From there, stuff like our recent set themes, off-the-shelf playable deck products, and a vibrant Standard environment have kept those Duels samplers engaged. The game play, of course, has always been great!

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