Revenge of Ask Wizards

Posted in Feature on August 15, 2011

By Staff

As an occasional feature here at, we collect your questions about Magic, the R&D process, and life at Wizards and pose them to members of Magic R&D. Ever wanted to know how and why two artists sometimes work on the same card, if R&D considers the storm mechanic inherently broken, or whether Sphinx of Uthuun and Rune-Scarred Demon were originally part of a cycle? Then read on!

Dear Wizards of the Coast,

Why did the development team choose to exclude the scry mechanic from M12?


A: From Mark Globus, Magic R&D producer and Magic 2012 lead designer:

With the advent of Magic 2010 and the annual core set releases, we realized that it was important to give each of these core sets a more distinctive feel for limited. Erik Lauer suggested that adding scry to Magic 2011 would help it play differently from Magic 2010. The idea behind this addition was to make M11 feel distinct from M10, and it did this job admirably. Scry was not intended to be an evergreen keyword (like trample or flying), but instead just show up for one year to add flavor to the set.

With this in mind, we did the same thing in Magic 2012 and replaced scry with bloodthirst to change the environment again. While both scry and bloodthirst are quite flavorful mechanics, they encourage very different game-play styles, and thus the environment evolved. I wouldn't be surprised to see M13 do something similar next year...


Dear Wizards of the Coast,

How come after all these years, and after all these different types of legendary permanents, we still have yet to see a legendary wall (and no, in my humble opinion, Mistform Ultimus does not count)? You would think that somewhere in the vast multiverse there would be some sort of wall that deserves some reverence. Walls have been a staple of Magic: the Gathering since day one, so I think they deserve to have a legendary incarnation by now. Thank you for your time and consideration.


A: From Doug Beyer, Magic creative designer:

The Venn diagram overlap of "things that make sense being legendary" and "creatures that make sense as Walls" is pretty slim, Zak! On the one hand, in order to qualify as legendary, you have to be (in some sense) unique in the Multiverse, and to be distinguished and important in some way. And on the other hand, Walls have always had tricky flavor as creatures. They sometimes act like true creatures that move around and play an active (defensive) role in a fight, moving around (a little) and blocking things (Carnivorous Plant). Yet at other times they're sort of just passive obstacles that get in your way like buildings or artifacts, not really acting like creatures at all (Wall of Stone).


The set of things that can be both importantly unique and qualify as Walls is pretty small, but to my mind, the more creature-ish a Wall is, the better shot it might have at possibly being legendary. I could imagine a fierce wall of animated fire being written into some world's style guide, for example, or a perpetual wall made of trained insects that famously protects some nature mage's stronghold. These are walls that have a chance to distinguish themselves, to take an active role in the story and cause things to happen. Walls that just sit there rarely get names for themselves; the things the walls protect do.

There are exceptions, of course; you got your Great Wall of China and your Hadrian's Wall, both famous for their vast scale and durability. But so far, there have always been more important heroes (or villains, or artifacts, or locations) to showcase than the walls that surround them; when it comes to being prominent in Magic's tales, creatures that can attack tend to steal the spotlight from those that can't. Maybe one day, though, there'll be a perfect storm of factors that cause us to elevate some fine, upstanding Wall to legend status.

Thanks for the thought-provoking question, Zak!

Dear Wizards of the Coast,

Had Arabian Nights been released for the first time this fall, given the current state of Magic, how do you feel players would respond to the set?


A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic head designer:


I think the Model T was an amazing car when it first premiered, but to a modern eye it would seem very outdated. I feel the same way about Arabian Nights. I do believe, though, that a set with a strong resonant theme and new design explorations would do well today, so in that regard, I think Arabian Nights (by its model rather than its execution) would do well today.

Dear Wizards of the Coast,

How do 2 artist work on the same card? and why 2 instead of 1? Thanks.
--JD Chan

A: From Jeremy Jarvis, Magic art director:

It's very rarely something that I ask for; it is simply how said artists choose to work. Zoltan and Gabor have been working together since high school age. When I approached Jana to create Magic art, she asked if she could co-create with Johannes. When D. Alexander Gregory and I illustrated Teferi, it's because we had been looking for a project to work together on (and we lived across the street from each other).

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir | Art by D. Alexander Gregory and Jeremy Jarvis

Usually (but not always) one person draws the piece, and the other paints the drawing. Could be for the sake of speed, or could be to cater to each artist's strengths.

There are exceptions, say an artist has an approved drawing or sketch, and needs to "drop" the assignment due to illness, injury or unexpected personal or family issues. Often I will try to salvage the work they have done and find a second artist to take that piece to final. Not only does that salvage work that I am happy with, but it lets me pay that artist at least something for the work he or she has done, which is especially good during an unexpected hardship or illness.


Dear Wizards of the Coast,

Why is Vengeful Pharaoh's triggered ability mandatory (not a "may effect")? It seems like exactly the kind of ability that would be optional, and yet it isn't.
--Tom D.

Vengeful Pharaoh

A: From Matt Tabak, Magic rules manager:

It's true that Vengeful Pharaoh's triggered ability could have been optional. There are two key reasons why it isn't:

1) Game play. We didn't want to create scenarios where you could just never attack with your best creature just because your opponent had a Vengeful Pharaoh sitting in the graveyard. Too often, this would just bog games down, particularly in sealed deck games. Now you can send your sacrificial Goblin over to taunt the Pharaoh and buy yourself a little time, or you can just hit hard while you can.


Rune-Scarred Demon and Sphinx of Uthuun are both large rare creatures with ETB abilities that mimic older, powerful spells. Were they originally part of a cycle of five (one in each color)? If so, why wasn't the cycle printed in it's entirety?
--Thomas M.

A: From Tom LaPille, Magic 2012 lead developer:

Nope! These two cards showed up next to each other in Magic 2012 mostly by accident.

Sphinx of Uthuun
Rune-Scarred Demon

Rune-Scarred Demon was a Mark Globus design that was handed off with the design file. It was intended to be a pair with Diabolic Tutor, as Mark was trying to build several matched pairs of cards into the set. You can see other examples of that design push in the Empires artifacts and the pairing of Arachnus Spinner and Arachnus Web. Sphinx of Uthuun, on the other hand, was created late in development by Dave Humpherys when I needed a riddle for a Sphinx to ask.

No one thought of these as a potential cycle. They were just cards. Sorry to disappoint!

Dear Wizards of the Coast,

Does development consider the Storm mechanic inherently broken, or could it be fixed to return someday?


A: From Zac Hill, Magic developer:

This question brings up a point that we talk about a lot here in R&D: Just because we could bring something back, should we?

Tendrils of Agony

The storm mechanic is clearly not inherently broken in the sense that it's very easy to run a thought experiment in which no storm card is playable, let alone broken. For example:

Target creature gets +0/+1 until end of turn.

This card could hypothetically do interesting things in Limited and has a type of effect (instant toughness-pumping) we do all of the time, but it's obviously an awful card. So by one interpretation, no, the storm mechanic isn't "inherently" broken. The problem, though, is that you don't want to print Magic cards that are all bad. "Hey guys, buy our set! Look at how completely impossible it is to do anything cool whatsoever!"

With storm, almost every card you can design is either really bad or really overpowered. That's dangerous ground to tread, and it's why we don't intend to return to the mechanic in the future.

Dear Wizards of the Coast,

In the beginning there was no deck size limitation, or restriction in the number of cards in deck. Later they were added so tournaments would be balanced. But why 60 cards in a deck, and 4-of rule? Why not 50-, or 70 cards? Or 3-of or 5 of rule? Thanks!
--Paavo E.

A: From Mark Rosewater:


The original game did have a deck size limitation: 40 cards, minimum. There were no card-by-card limitations, though. The reason behind both of these decisions is that Richard Garfield didn't expect players to have all that many cards. He assumed they would purchase a much smaller amount, encouraging a a small deck size and eliminating the need for card limitations.

When the DCI first started up (in early 1994, as the Duelist Convocation), they adopted what had been the most commonly adopted self-imposed tournament rules. I think the 60-card minimum was chosen because that was how many cards came in a "starter deck." The four-of rule was chosen, I believe, because it felt like the right balance between letting you have enough copies to be able to draw it a majority of games but not so many that there wasn't any card diversity.

It's interesting that the numbers were reached at by more of a feel than a lot of careful thought. Time has proven the numbers to work well, so that speaks well of taking intuition into account in game design and development.

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