The Games We Play

Posted in NEWS on February 22, 2008

By Mike Turian

Before joining Magic Online as its digital product manager, Mike worked as a producer for Wizards's technology department, a product manager for organized play, and as an R&D lead developer. He has played Magic Online since it came out in 2002 and Magic since The Dark.

Oh hello!

I'm Mike Turian, lead developer of Morningtide. Devin Low continues his trip in Malaysia for one more week, so I have once again been called into action! Bam!

In today's article I will be talking about some of the games I have played and relating them back to Morningtide cards. My favorite articles written on this site are by Mark Rosewater. My favorite articles of his are when he tells a short story and relates it back to a Magic card.

As a game developer, I play a lot of games. I mean a lot of games. Today alone I built a Magic deck, played in a Magic draft, built a Dreamblade army, worked on a new game submission, played that game a few times, came home from work, and then played a Warcraft 3 mod called Defense of the Ancients.

NHL '93 – Blood on the Ice

NHLWhen I was in high school the Sega Genesis came out. My cousin, Nate Heiss, had owned a Nintendo for years that I loved to play. He wouldn't let go of the controller though so unless we were playing a two-player game I usually was doing more watching than playing.

This all changed when the Sega Genesis was released. Man did I want one. One game in particular looked awesome, NHL '93 from EA Sports. I wanted it so badly I drew up my first and last ever cartoon-starring characters named Gorf and Fred to sway my parents into letting me get the Sega.

When they finally relented, my friends and I would gather 'round for some great hockey. Better than the crowd meter, or the individual player ratings, was the single coolest feature I had ever seen in a video game. When you really crushed an opponent, he would fall flat on his back start wiggling his legs and have blood oozing out of his head. Sweet!

That was awesome. The following year EA removed blood from the game and from then on it rotated between no bleeding or weird looking ooze. All I know is, blood on the ice was great.

Ken Nagle showed up at Wizards with a lot of Magic cards. He had a Cephalid deck, a Dragon deck, a Druid deck, the list goes on and on. Ken convinced me to play the Dragon deck against the Druid deck. The Druid deck won. It was pretty impressive and convoluted at the same time. Ken would play Druids that got back lands, ones that discarded land, ones that fetched land, and more. Druids were clearly masters of the land.

Morningtide came in from design with a number of class lords. Some of them are printed exactly as they were created. Gilt-Leaf Archdruid, however, went through at least three different incarnations before finally being complete because it was struggling. We didn't have a well-liked design. I asked for a redesign. Those weren't loved either.

One day, Ken Nagle, Aaron Forsythe, Erik Lauer, Noah Weil, and myself are going over Morningtide looking for ways to improve it. We get to the Archdruid and I am ready to suffer. People are tossing out all sorts of suggestions when all of a sudden Aaron says, "How about if you control 8 or more Druids then you control all lands?"

I was floored. It was just like the first time I saw blood coming out of wiggly NHL '93 guy's head. I couldn't believe it. This was perfect.

Yes, it turned out that it wasn't quite perfect. We changed the Archdruid from a 3-mana 2/3 to a 5 mana 3/3. We changed his static ability of controlling all lands to a tap ability. Gilt-Leaf Archdruid has been awesome. Druids are the masters of all land.

Before I move on I'd like to give you a glimpse into the (possible, but not exactly likely) future from multiverse.

Mark Rosewater (6/28/07): Can we one day do a "tap seven untapped dwarves" card?

Jenseits Von Theben – Spinning Our Wheels

Thebes (the commonly used English name for the game) was nominated for Germany's "Spiel des Jahres" (Game of the Year) award this year. The Magic Invitational was held in Essen at Germany's largest gaming convention. I picked up a copy of the Thebes made by Queen.

The point of the game is that you are an archeologist searching for the ancient artifacts of the world. When you go on a dig you pull blindly from a bag with a few artifacts and a ton of worthless debris. The game is a nice mix of strategy and luck. It has a cool time mechanic that makes the game worth the play all on its own.

Every time I show Thebes to a new person they love everything about it, except one thing. The game includes this super cool looking "Time Wheel". Each player gets their very own wheel. You can check out a picture of the wheel by clicking here.

Looks awesome! But the fact of the matter is that the wheel isn't actually helpful. It is really just a fancy chart that is worse than an actual chart. Normally when you need to compare items on a chart you quickly scan for the best outcome. With the wheel you need to shift back and forth over and over trying to remember what the other entries were. Thebes was a great game but the wheel was a disappointment.

Without a lot of love, patience and care Stonehewer Giant would have fallen into the category of looks great, but is a disappointment. Originally, Stonehewer Giant looked something like this:

Stonehewer Soldier
Creature – Giant Soldier
1WW, T: Search your library for an Equipment or Aura card, put it into play, and attach it to a Soldier you control. Then shuffle your library.

Stonehewer Giant has a lot of small pieces that are different from his final version. I'll talk about them in the order they were changed. From beginning to end we strived for a card that both looked great and played great.

First, we removed the ability to search for auras. In exchange, we removed a mana from his activation and his casting cost. A win-win for Stonehewer. The ability to search for Auras first caused his casting cost to be higher since getting an aura or equipment was just much more ridiculous. It made little flavor sense and broke up the card's focus.

Look at this made up card for example.

Angry Large Goblin

And compare it with this one:

Stupid Large Goblin
Sacrifice CARDNAME: Stupid Large Goblin's controller takes 4 damage.

A 2R 4/4 haste creature would be an awesomely powerful Magic card. His stupid brother is technically more powerful, but it loses the focus. People would talk about how silly his sacrifice ability is, not how powerful a Magic creature he is. We felt that the Aura fetching was a distraction. It also made for a worse templated card, which is never a good thing.

The next piece that we removed was his ability to "miss". Many cards come out of design with a slightly off wording that makes for a decision. We felt that even if your target for the Equipment was removed that you should still get the Equipment. That just makes sense, and in this case the change was an easy one.

Stonehewer Giant finally became a warrior with the next change. In Morningtide white Giants were considered to be Soldiers. Devin Low built a deck to test Stonehewer Giant. It was red-white with a heavy Warrior theme. The Stonehewer Giant could fetch one of the best Morningtide equipments, Obsidian Battle-Axe. The problem was that besides his excellent fetching ability the Stonehewer Giant was an outcast in the deck.

Being a soldier meant that all of the cool warrior effects that the Giants naturally played best with weren't working. We talked with Brady and made Stonehewer Giant a warrior. The best part is that now Stonehewer Giant is an awesome combo with the Battle-Axe. Stonehewer Giant can not only fetch the Battle-Axe but if the Axe is already in play, it snaps on and then Stonehewer Giant can fetch a second equipment.

During that change we removed the "Equip a soldier" clause and replaced it with the simpler "Equip a creature". Morningtide already had a lot of tribal helpers. The Stonehewer Giant's job was to help keep equipment awesome.

Dreamblade – Fattypillars

We have an in-house Dreamblade league. I actually won the last league tournament going 4-0. I think those four wins may have been my first ever wins at Dreamblade. I didn't work on the game when we were making it so I end up playing against people who have a lot more skill than I do.

Dreamblade figures have a mana cost, a power, and two different toughness. For each point of power a figure has he can roll that many dice in combat.

My favorite figure in the game is called Forgeblind Punisher. He has 8-power! He is an uncommon so I have gotten him in a number of leagues. When he attacks... well, I'll just quote his flavor text, "His hammer is his eyes. To the punisher, everything looks flat." He really smashes.

Forgeblind PunisherWhen the serious strategic game-player kicks in I know that I am probably paying too much for his power. I see that another color pays the same amount of mana for a creature with 4 power and much more toughness and part of me wonders which is a better deal.

Another part of me wants to smash with a hammer. I am eager to listen.

Bill Rose walked into the pit one day and asked, "What's the most toughness I could get for three mana?" I responded, "I dunno, you could do at least 10."

In that moment Indomitable Ancients came to life. We decided that Indomitable Ancients looked better as a 4-mana 2/10 after a few tries with Doran, the Siege Tower.

I know a lot of people out there are gnashing their teeth right now. To them Indomitable Ancients are, as Ken Nagle said, "a rare Kami of Old Stone". To them I say, at least he was good in Limited.

The thing is there are a lot of new players playing Magic. These are players who don't understand how the timing of the Reveillark-Body Double combo works or how combat damage goes on the stack.

Before Morningtide was released we sent the rares around the company for different people to rate. During the ratings an amazing thing happened, while Indomitable Ancients got a lot of terrible ratings, it also got a lot of fantastic ratings. For every person who disliked "a rare Kami of the Old Stone" there were also the people who rated him really awesome.

Remember back when Craw Wurm was the most badass creature you had ever seen and then I hope you can appreciate what Indomitable Ancients means to people.

Pokémon – Mewtwo Mewtwo!

Last week I asked people to post in the forums any topics they wanted me to talk about. Sanagi posted the cool combo of penny tokens with Tempest Efreet and Dance of Many.

A number of posters talked about a Pokémon combo similar to the all Countryside Crusher and Mountain deck.

I played Pokémon briefly when it was brand new. I bought some of the first edition cards, learned the rules wrong, and stopped playing soon thereafter. Pokémon was a hit. Often when I describe Magic people relate it to Pokémon, and that's in large part because Pokémon was so popular with younger players, players that are now growing up and finding themselves ready to play something a game that’s a lot more fun.

At Wizards we are having a big acquisition push this year. I love Magic and since you're here I know you probably do also. In the spirit of acquisition, I was thinking about another way I could get more people to play Magic.

So here is the deal. I am about to post my work e-mail address. You can e-mail me with whatever questions you want and I will write back to every single one of you. If you loved Morningtide, let me know. I'll make a short list of topics (and don't limit yourself to just these) to get you started.

  1. Future Sight (Yes, I'm responsible for Tarmogoyf. Lead developer)
  2. What you want to see in Magic
  3. Coldsnap, Guildpact, Planar Chaos, Tenth Edition (I worked on all of these teams.)
  4. Cards you think should be banned or restricted (or unbanned/unrestricted)
  5. Current Standard

I will write back to you. The only thing I ask before you e-mail me is that before you e-mail, you teach one new person to play Magic. Share the love and let me know how your teaching experience goes. We are always looking for new ways to make Magic a better game.

So that's the deal. Teach someone to play Magic, and then send me an e-mail. It may take me a while but I will get back to you. My e-mail address is at the end of the article.

Last Week's Poll Results

1/1 Counters 4.37 Reinforce 3.63
1 662 1 1142
2 562 2 964
3 954 3 1052
4 1122 4 1086
5 1275 5 950
6 921 6 664
7 1127 7 586
Race matters 4.43 Changeling 4.82
1 555 1 469
2 525 2 449
3 878 3 740
4 1246 4 907
5 1304 5 1304
6 980 6 1044
7 1039 7 1675
Prowl 4.26 Class matters 4.55
1 819 1 551
2 693 2 569
3 887 3 780
4 963 4 1057
5 1090 5 1242
6 919 6 1146
7 1174 7 1225
Tribal cards 4.74 Kinship 3.94
1 642 1 795
2 368 2 826
3 664 3 1064
4 980 4 1277
5 1194 5 1122
6 1135 6 712
7 1580 7 716

Thanks to everyone for their feedback. An interesting thing that Monty Ashley noticed: "+1/+1 counters has an average of 4.4 and the most common vote was 5; Prowl, with a lower average (4.3) has 7 as its most common vote."

My e-mail address is I look forward to hearing from you.