As 2009 began, I was heading up the last bit of development of the Zendikar expansion, a project I inherited when Henry Stern left the company. I thought the set had come together well, a great combination of Mark Rosewater's design vision and Brady Dommermuth's group's compelling worldbuilding, but there was still some doubt in my mind. Would players embrace a set built around one of the most mundane pieces of the game: land? Others in the building were wary. On different days I vacillated between supremely confident in the set and mildly uneasy. By the end of my work on it, I was certain that my team (the greater team, encompassing design, editing, and creative, not just the Zendikar development team proper) had done everything it could to give the set the best chance for success. All that was left to do was wait.
The ultimate fate of Zendikar was but one of a series of stressful questions that loomed large for us in 2009, as we had taken quite a few calculated risks with our product lineup for the year. I was constantly in "hold my breath to see what people think" mode. How would an all-multicolored set be received? Was the Magic 2010 rules change going to be disastrous for us? Would players accept the idea of new cards in a core set? Would people buy a video game version of Magic that didn't let you build your own decks? Are people interested in a product useful almost exclusively in multiplayer play?
For me, it was the year of the antacid tablet.
Happily, as the year played out, my doubts and fears were all allayed one by one, replaced by exuberance and gratitude. Somewhere in that mix of Conflux, Alara Reborn, Duels of the Planeswalkers, Planechase, Magic 2010, Zendikar, and the flurry of other ancillary products, we struck gold. We got new players. We brought back old players. Attendance was up everywhere. Cards were flying off shelves.
Let me lay some of the goodness on you:
- We have experienced a double-digit percentage increase worldwide in the number of players participating in sanctioned events versus a year ago. We are currently at an all-time high in active tournament players.
- The number of locations hosting Friday Night Magic has increased by nearly a third versus a year ago.
- In its first six months, Magic 2010 boosters outsold Tenth Edition boosters in the U.S. by over 70%. While that may not surprise you due to M10's large quantity of new content (which Tenth did not have), it sure surprised us!
- In its first three months, Zendikar boosters outsold Shards of Alara boosters in the U.S. by over 55%! That is a huge leap for a single year—in many areas, we had difficulty keeping up with the demand.
- In the digital world, Duels of the Planeswalkers for Xbox LIVE Arcade debuted with a bang and spent many, many weeks as the #1 downloaded game on that platform. It is currently #4 on the best-selling Arcade games list, and it has achieved "evergreen" status.
- The Magic Online player population is up almost half compared to the same time period last year, and their combined "tournament minutes"—a metric we use to measure how engaged our audience is in online organized play—is up a whopping 83% versus the same time period a year ago.
- On the web, viewership of our online event coverage for this year's World Championships was the highest we've had for any event.
- Our planeswalker-themed webcomics recently passed 1,000,000 combined page views.
That is one seriously fine year! A big thank you is in order for all you players and fans who are helping Magic succeed. Hopefully you're feeling the game's success in your area as well—your store is busier, your tournaments are rowdier, your old gaming buddies are reinvigorated. It is an amazing time to be playing Magic, which is amazing considering the game is going to be seventeen years old next year!
In retrospect, it makes perfect sense to me why this all worked out. The company had a vision and a plan, and we executed it. We have key people in every department who understand the game and its customers and will do everything in their power to make the brand better. The Xbox game opened some doors for us, and the products we made to follow it up were top-notch. Our tournament environments have been fun, if not perfectly balanced. The new rules are old hat by now and the new terminology (battlefield, exile) has been fully embraced.
So how do we follow it all up this year? With similar style and panache—and a similar plan for continued growth. We're expanding the number of platforms by which people can experience Magic, we're increasing our social media presence, we're building products and events and activities to engage players of all levels, and we're making evocative and flavorful products that play well without being ridiculously complicated.
Here's a taste of what you can expect in 2010:
- A beautiful graphic novel—Path of the Planeswalker—that collects our first seven planeswalker webcomics, plus some exclusive new content, will hit stores this week.
- For all you non-Xboxers, Duels of the Planeswalkers will be released for the PC in the Summer. But fear not, Xbox fans, as there will be several expansions for the original game as well.
- Look for Magic: The Gathering - Tactics, Sony Online's 3-D turn-based strategy take on Magic, to come out early this year. Initial reports are that it is a thing of beauty!
- We have lots of cool social media planned, including an expanded presence on Facebook.
- We'll be making a change to Intro Packs based on your feedback that will begin with Worldwake on Magic Online and the 2011 core set in paper. The intro decks will now be 60 cards rather than 41, the Intro Packs will still include a booster and a foil rare, and the MSRP of Intro Packs will go up less than a dollar, to $12.99. Enjoy!
- Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. The Coalition brings one of Magic's most famous conflicts to life this spring, and there's another classic "planeswalker vs. planeswalker" Duel Decks coming up this fall.
- We'll be rolling out some new products, such as the Deck Builder's Toolkit and a paper product based on Duels of the Planeswalkers.
- This year will feature a summer full of great multiplayer events and activities, headlined by a new format/product that rivals Planechase in sheer awesomeness.
- The popular From the Vault series continues this summer, with an additional dose of shiny available in the form of the Shards of Alara Block All-Foil Booster on shelves this Friday.
- The Legacy format will debut on Magic Online (albeit a few cards short, for the time being, of the paper format).
- And we'll be making sets, too! Worldwake, Rise of the Eldrazi, the 2011 core set, Masters Edition IV (for Magic Online), and the large fall set codenamed "Lights" will build on all that is right with Magic.
- One of the rules changes we made for Magic 2010 will be tweaked ever-so-slightly for the next core set.
- Some good blue cards will be printed!
There are a lot of announcements coming up in the next week that will give you more detail about the 2010 line-up, so keep your eyes glued to Magic Arcana. If it seems like we’re making a lot of products, that’s because we are! We’ve had great success this past year with products tailored to different player groups, and we’re expanding on that going forward. There's a lot more than that, too, some of which I'm not even allowed to be vague about (yet), but rest assured it is all awesome. I feel like Wizards of the Coast has got its groove back with regards to Magic: The Gathering, and when we're all excited and hyped about what we're doing, all of you should be, too! It's going to be a great year.
A deep bow and enthusiastic round of applause is due to my team for all they did in 2009 to ensure that 2010 will be another wonderful year for Magic: Mark Rosewater, Mark Globus, Brady Dommermuth, Del Laugel, Jeremy Jarvis, Mike Turian, Matt Place, Erik Lauer, Tom LaPille, Mark Gottlieb, Doug Beyer, Jenna Helland, Richard Whitters, Mike Mikaelian, Matt Tabak, and Zac Hill, with an additional special nod to Brian Tinsman, Kenneth Nagle, Bill McQuillan, Mons Johnson, Steve Warner, Greg Collins, Monty Ashley, Kelly Digges, former R&D members Gregory Marques and Scott Johns, and many other talented individuals outside of R&D for all their help. May you all enjoy the fruits of their labors in the coming months.
Bonus: My Ten Favorite New Cards of 2009
Disclaimer: These are cards that I enjoy as a player—someone who drafts, plays Elder Dragon Highlander, and builds decks on Magic Online from time to time. If I were listing my favorites as the Director of R&D, you'd get a very different, and probably more predictable, list.
While not particularly powerful, this card, designed by Alexis Janson, captures what a hydra should feel like better than any before it: if you cut off one head, two more will grow. Protean Hydra accomplishes my main goal for Magic 2010—evocative, resonant fantasy—as well as any card in the set does, and it helps cement Hydra as a green creature type (as opposed to red, where it was for years). I've had lots of fun with it in the Casual Room on Magic Online with Earthquake and Pyroclasm.
Another awesome flavorful design, this time by Mark Gottlieb. The dragon babies are hungry! The straightforward concept, wacky mana cost, and ridiculous multiplayer power make it a winner in my book.
Not all the new cards we made last year were 2.5"x3.5"—Planechase introduced oversized plane cards as well! The product as a whole is immense fun and quite beautiful, but I figured I'd throw a shout out to the plane I've had the most laughs on. I especially adore its chaos ability, which creates some unlikely tokens.
We knew we wanted to seed the Zendikar Vampire tribe with a few key cards in M10, and Ken Nagle delivered this ultra-flavorful little number that we like so much that we made it the Prerelease card! How awesome is it that your Vampires get better at "night time"? Watching this card's popularity soar once Zendikar was released was super-enjoyable—almost as enjoyable as attacking for the win after I cast it.
I designed this card for Conflux hoping it would play well with what was coming in Zendikar, but Mike Turian deserves the credit for making it as awesomely powerful as it is today. (My version was mono-white and could only be used if you had fewer lands than your opponent.) I really enjoy everything about this card—it has great cross-block synergy, it lets me have a "toolbox" of lands in my deck, it accelerates my mana, and it can attack as a huge monster.
Another card I designed myself. This one was made when we trying to ensure that Zendikar had some high-profile rare cards with kicker. I greatly enjoy the challenge of making blue creatures that are powerful yet fair and still feel "blue," and this guy fits the bill.
Planeswalker designs are often a team effort, and the team hit it out of the park with Sorin Markov. His abilities really nail the "vampire" flavor, and he is nearly impossible to beat once he's on the table. Seeing this guy poke his head into competitive Standard makes me really happy.
There is something amazingly beautiful about this Mark Gottlieb design. It is reminiscent of Swords to Plowshares—a staple for the first few years of the game—but is considerably more fair and interesting. I remember the intense arguing in the Pit that went into this card's creation, which makes me all the happier we did it. I look forward to exploring more of white's "resource exchanging" nature in the future.
I proclaimed it as my favorite card in Alara Reborn before the set was released, and I'm not going to let the fact that it's in the most obnoxious deck currently in Standard sway my opinion. I love instants with cascade—they can lead to the most exciting blowouts—which is why I designed and lobbied for this card to be powerful.
Another card I designed—what can I say, I'm my own target audience—but this one required input from several other people, most notably Messrs. Lauer and Gottlieb, to arrive at the final version of the ability that both fit on a card and worked within the rules. I love the flavor on this guy (the concept is deeply rooted in European folklore), the art (Kev Walker still has it), everything. It was fun to bring back an old fan favorite from Legends (the original was called Master of the Hunt, nothing wild about it) but with some teeth to it. I will admit that I was stunned to see it perform so well in high-level Constructed events, as I could never get anything to work with it in the FFL, but that only makes me like it more.
What were your favorites? Head to the boards to discuss, and here's to us making new favorite cards for you in 2010!