And Then There Were Two
When Ninth Edition came out, I wrote an article ("Outwit, Outplay, Outlast") that examined a little competition that I'd always kept my eye on—seeing what card would make it through the most consecutive base sets. My article mimicked Survivor as I examined what Alpha cards had managed to make each cut. Ninth Edition had twenty-four survivors. When Tenth Edition came out, I did a small update. Tenth Edition had sixteen survivors. With Magic 2010, I meant to do an update but never actually did one. Magic 2010 had eight survivors. Now it's time to examine Magic 2011. (Yes, I know Monty did a Magic Arcana about this but did he interview the cards? No, he did not.)
Narrator (Voice Over): Over all the core sets that have come, two hundred and eighty-three cards have gone. Which card will stand the test of time and stay in the core set the longest? As the dust settles, only two cards remain: Giant Growth and Giant Spider. The remaining six cards have been voted off.
Nightmare: Over the years I've been interviewed a lot. A flaming horse is a great visual, they'd always say. Inevitably they'd always ask the same question: what's my greatest nightmare? I'd always say, "Getting this question," just to see the look on their face. The real answer though was being kicked out of the set. Deep in my heart, I knew I never really made sense in black. Sure my name is as black as they come and my ability oozes black, but my visual? I'm a flying horse on fire. Fine, they changed my image later but I knew I was identified as the flaming horse. Now if I were some creepy looking demon then sure, I'd feel secure, but "things on fire" is not really black's thing. So, my greatest nightmare is that R&D would finally figure out what I always knew.
Rod of Ruin: Yeah I'm pissed. Who does R&D think it is, voting me off? I'm Rod of Ruin. Rod of Ruin! You don't get more iconic than me. Some giant spider, that's what they kept instead of me. I'm an artifact. I kill things. Look through fantasy—artifacts that kill things—very popular!
Howling Mine: Aaaaoooooooooooh! Aaaaaooooooooooooh!
Air Elemental: This round was a bloodbath. Seventy five percent cut. That's never happened before. Most of us thought R&D would cut to four. That seemed like the right move, but no—they were out for blood.
Giant Growth: Am I'm surprised I'm still here? No, actually I'm not. I was the last nonpermanent left. I think I positioned myself rather well. I was good enough to see occasional play but not so good that I ever seemed too good. I figured out long ago that to be a survivor, you want to hang out just on the cusp of tournament quality. You're good but only situationally.
Drudge Skeletons: I know I don't do that much. But the one thing I did do was I always came back. You could try to get rid of me, but no matter what you did, I would always pop up again. I was good at that.
Bog Wraith: Good game, R&D. Good game. Just be aware—I'll be back.
Giant Spider: Am I surprised to be in the top two? Of course I am. I'm a giant spider. When you think fantasy, I'm not exactly what comes to mind. I guess I owe a lot to Tolkein. When this whole game started, I was just along for a good time. I didn't expect to make it to Revised let alone M11. Every new core set, I was expecting it to be my last. Maybe that's what saved me—is that I never tried to be anything more than a 2/4 that blocks flyers.
Air Elemental: I know everyone says that R&D treats all the colors equally, but historically speaking, come on. It's clear that R&D just loves blue a little more. Sure, they've been talking about lowering blue's power level, but that was just for show. I mean—Jace—hello! If you take a look M11, you'll see that R&D is back to treating blue like it should. That's why I was shocked when I got voted off. What's more iconic for blue than the element of air? Fair enough, probably the element of water, but he already got booted so I was pretty sure, as the last remaining blue card, that I was safe.
Howling Mine: Aaaaooooooooooooh! Aaaaaoooooooooooh!
Drudge Skeletons: What will I do now? I don't know. I could guard an evil wizard's castle. Maybe get some work modeling for anatomy textbooks. I think I'm still in shock.
One of the interesting parts of working on Magic for fifteen years is getting the chance to recognize some patterns that occur, things you might not recognize if you didn't watch it repeat so many times. One of these patterns is what I'll call "R&D Hates Color X." For different reasons, sometimes because of actions R&D has taken, other times more due to circumstances, some segment of the audience gets mad at us because they believe we are keeping down their favorite color.
Every time it happens, I always chime in that the nature of Magic is a cyclical one and that every color will have its good days and its bad ones. One color, though, had never gone through this cycle until very recently. Yes, I'm talking about blue. Historically, blue has been the most powerful color. I always joked that as the color of trickery it kept fooling R&D whenever we tried to weaken it. Finally though, in this last year, we managed to give blue the cold shoulder. For the first time in the history of the game, blue was not top dog. Now, I'm not sure if it was ever truly bottom dog, but not being top dog was enough for blue lovers to come out of the woodwork writing articles and sending me angry letters.
Magic 2011 does many things, but one thing is for sure—it gives blue a little love. For example, here are a few cards we've already spoiled:
My preview card for today is blue. While it might not show up in tournaments in numbers like some of the cards above, it definitely shows R&D willing to give blue cards with potential.
So what exactly does one do with this card? I'm quite excited for you all to show me. For those that might not have the historical context, Mass Polymorph is a riff on Polymorph, last seen in Magic 2010 originally appearing in Mirage.
The one big change is that Mass Polymorph isn't targeted, meaning that you can't use it on your opponent's creatures. Not being on the development team, I don't know for sure why this was done. We like to give cards flexibility but when doing so starts changing the card we cut off the option.
When we design a card that appeals to Timmy, Johnny and Spike, we call it a hat trick. While Spike's opinion of this card is still out, I feel like the card does a good job of delivering to Timmy and Johnny, so I'm interested to see how this card fares once the set is out.
"Da Bane! Da Bane!"
I got a lot of responses to my comments on Baneslayer Angel last week, so I thought I'd make a quick reply this week. First, my comment from last week:
So why was R&D gunning for Lightning Bolt and Baneslayer Angel? They were the two cards that scored the best in our good book studies (a.k.a. our market research with the public). Coincidentally (and by that I mean not remotely coincidentally), these two cards are probably the most powerful cards in the set. The reason R&D wanted to remove one was that we wanted to make sure that the shining jewels of Magic 2011 weren't the same ones that made Magic 2010 shine.
On the flip side was a different problem. Magic 2010 rotates out fifteen months after its release. Any card we didn't put in Magic 2011 would rotate out of Standard with Scars of Mirrodin's release. (Getting closer. Must resist temptation to tell you all about it.) Taking out Lightning Bolt or Baneslayer Angel meant that we were cutting short the player's time to play with the card (in Standard). I am a believer that good cards have to rotate out, but after looking over all the data it felt to us that Baneslayer Angel and Lightning Bolt hadn't quite had a long enough visit yet. Put another way, we believed we'd make many more players happy than sad if they stayed in for another year.
Remember the Titans
Of all the new things in Magic 2011, probably the thing that's getting the most attention is the Titan cycle. Here's what I'm talking about if you haven't had a chance to see them yet:
The titans are all six-mana 6/6 Giants that have an effect that triggers both when they enter the battlefield and when they attack. (Yes, we occasionally make six-mana 6/6s that aren't demons.) While reading the responses to Grave Titan which was previewed in Aaron's feature article last week I flashed back to a conversation many years ago where we discussed whether Shivan Dragon was too good. Man, we've come a long way since then. Many years back R&D came to the conclusion that creatures needed to be a bigger part of the game and that we had a lot of room to push them. The titans are in some way the culmination of that push many years ago.
The titans also take advantage of a recent trend R&D's been using on rare and mythic rare cards:
R&D Member: Which would be better on this card: Thing A or Thing B?
Another R&D Member: How about Thing A and Thing B?
R&D Member: Let's do it!
Yes, once upon a time the titans just had attack triggers, but sometimes the creature would die before its effect ever got a chance to happen. How dare they?! So "enter the battlefield" triggers were added. It took a good cycle and turned it into a great one.
Planeswalking the Walk
Another interesting addition to Magic 2011 is what we call the planeswalker signature spells. Each of the five planeswalkers in the set has a common and uncommon spell that has the planeswalker's name as a possessive in the title.
Why did we make the signature cards? In case you've been living under a rock, Magic has made a conscious effort to push the planeswalkers. One of the problems we've had traditionally is that we didn't have a signature set of characters like most IPs (intellectual properties—you can take the boy out of Hollywood but you can't take Hollywood out of the boy). When we revamped the story during the Time Spiral block, we made the conscious decision to bring the planeswalkers to the forefront of the story. With Lorwyn we introduced the planeswalker card type.
The biggest problem with planeswalkers as a card type is that they, by definition, have to be infrequent. There's just not a lot of Jaces running around. How then can we get players to know the planeswalkers if the majority will never own the card? The answer rested in finding a way to bring the planeswalker down to lower rarities. The signature spells made perfect sense as the planeswalkers all fight with magic.
One of the biggest arguments was how good the signature spells are supposed to be. One camp wanted them to only go on tournament quality spells to convey the power of the planeswalkers. The other camp argued that the names needed to show up in greater number and that if we restricted ourselves to tournament cards, we'd miss the opportunity to educate players on who our main planeswalkers are.
One of the fun things about the design was that the spells were chosen in a way that was very conscious of the planeswalkers' respective abilities, the idea being that it made sense that these spells were the ones the planeswalkers used.
All the Ooze That's Fit To Print
Here's a bonus preview card for those of you that somehow don't follow me on Twitter yet. (@maro254 if you're interested.) You see, each set I'm given a card to preview on Twitter. I've chosen to make my tweeps (the people who follow me on Twitter) work for it. The last two sets I've made them play a variation on Hangman before I gave them the card. Anyway, here's the card I got to preview.
I chose this card to preview, one because I love me some oozes. Two because it's a cool, flavorful card. And three, it's not often I get to utter the words "designed by Tom LaPille". Yes, Tom's been flexing his design muscles recently, as I explained last week. This card gets my inner Johnny all excited. (Man, that never sounds the way I hope it will.) I'm very curious to see what the deck builders do with the card.
Big Girls Don't Scry
Of all the changes to Magic 2011, the one that I think is going to have the biggest impact on future core sets is the addition of scry, or more accurately, the idea of allowing old keywords into core sets. Sure we've done it before when an old keyword went evergreen, but we've never repeated a mechanic that hadn't crossed over.
As I often talk about, the shift to the mindset of mechanics as a giant toolbox for design to play with has fundamentally changed how we design sets. Most blocks now reuse at least one old mechanic. Shards of Alara had cycling. Zendikar had kicker. Scars of Mirrodin has ... something familiar. The problem we've run into is that the kind of mechanic you want to return to a block tends to be a little bigger and splashier.
But Magic is filled with plenty of good workhorse mechanics. These are mechanics that are simple and straightforward and make for good game play but don't exactly have the splash value of other mechanics. These mechanics also need a home and the core set seems like a perfect place for them. For those that like to discuss this kind of thing, let me know in the thread what simpler mechanics you'd like to see back in a future core set.
Pennies from Eleven
That's enough meandering for today's column. I hope you have a chance to make it to a Prerelease Event and see what a fun set we've cooked up for you. Magic 2010 was well received and I hope Magic 2011 proves to be a worthy follow-up.
Join me next week when I answer your questions.
Until then, may you find something in Magic 2011 that you've always been looking for.