Inside "You Decide!"

Posted in Feature on April 5, 2004

By Scott Johns

Behind the scenes plus the voting results

First, let's start right off by making it clear that this was indeed an April Fool's joke. The vast majority of readers clearly got this, but there's still the occasional email despairing the loss of one of their favorite cards. So, just to be absolutely clear, Mindslaver is most definitely not banned.

Now that the joke's out and the vote's completed, I'm going to give you a look behind the scenes of "You Decide!", how it was created, the decisions that went into it, and of course the voting results. Before we get started however, consider this a quick note that you should make sure to read Mark Rosewater's article today before diving any further into this one, so I don't spoil any of your fun regarding Unhinged.

It Came from Round Table

The idea for what would become "You Decide!" actually started out as several other, separate ideas. Mark Rosewater and I were just leaving the Round Table we always seem to eat at when we have lunch together. He mentioned he had an idea for a cool new quick fun feature for the site. (It's possible he didn't use four adjectives in a row when he said it, but he talks very fast when he's excited so it's possible I have no idea what he actually said and maybe that part of the conversation was actually about mackerel.)

Now, some time prior to this we had already decided that we wanted to announce Unhinged on April 1st, and then have everything else on the site be fake to really make things interesting. As we were leaving Round Table, Mark brought up a separate idea to have a daily vote some day pitting two cards against each other, running them through a single elimination bracket system until one card came out on top. I really liked the idea, and with the pending April Fool's announcement on my mind I realized this kind of vote would be perfect as a set up to that crazy day we were planning.

I spent the rest of the day fascinated by the idea and sometime during that afternoon I remembered a series of studies I was part of during psychology classes in college. In psychology studies you often have to worry about the subject knowing what you're testing for, since if they know why you're asking something you risk the answer being changed by that knowledge. That goes double when the subjects are psych students themselves, since they already know this problem going in. The result often leads to some extraordinarily elaborate ruses to keep the subjects from knowing what they're being tested for.

The thing I always loved about this situation was the puzzle itself. When you have no idea why you're answering something (or you suspect the reason you're told isn't true) you can't help but try and figure out what's really going on. Somewhere along the way through something like this it would stop being about the destination and I'd just enjoy the journey of not knowing and trying to guess.

It seemed like a natural fit, particularly given the April Fool's Day nature of the feature. I was convinced the voting brackets was a great idea, and one we'd likely bring back with new twists from time to time. By running the first one as a mystery, the readers would get to have all the fun of the voting while also trying to figure out what on earth was going on in the first place. There was a risk that some would get frustrated along the way (people tend to like to know what's going on) but after talking with the team we all agreed that the fun of the experience should outweigh the frustration.

Crazed Goblin, Akroma's Vengeance, Crucible of Worlds

Selecting the Pool

Once we knew we wanted to do it this way, the next question was what cards to include. Since it would be nine business days before any cards returned and the bracket became clear it was important to make things interesting along the way. Monty Ashley and I spent some time talking about this and decided we wanted to set up a card pool that at first would suggest some good theories for what was going on, but then would increasingly feel like it was coming off the rails as it progressed toward that all important day nine. Once the cards started repeating we figured people would guess about the brackets (and probably notice the date the thing would end…), though they still wouldn't know for sure where it was all going.

With that in mind, we started by naming off several of the more powerful and/or popular cards in Standard. Broodstar, Mindslaver, Akroma's Vengeance, Plow Under, Furnace Dragon, Tooth and Nail, Patriarch's Bidding, Darksteel Colossus, Genesis Chamber, and Cloudpost all got in on this cut. Ankh of Mishra was added so that we could include a card which used to be in Standard but isn't any more. Next we added Crucible of Worlds, since adding a card in that hadn't even been printed yet would further increase that sense of "what on earth?". Crazed Goblin came in to make sure it wasn't just "strong" cards, hopefully giving people even more ideas to consider when trying to figure things out. (Crazed Goblin is no champ when it comes to power, but it's got a lot going flavor-wise.) To finish things off we added the Fireball vs. Fireball match-up, followed by the vote with Revised Plains to hopefully complete the arc of increasingly strange cards to pick from.

"You Decide!" Goes Live

One of the real goals to all this was to give the readers something fun to play with, something they hadn't really done before. Because of that, my main concern was that people might think it's just a random daily vote that doesn't go anywhere, rather than seeing it as an evolving puzzle. I wanted it to feel like a book with chapters, not a series of unconnected short stories.

For those that have been dying to know, this was the main reason that results weren't posted each day along the way. We already knew we weren't going to explain why there was a vote, since that was where a lot of the fun would come from. My concern was that if we didn't say "why", but we then posted results each day, it would feel too much like the focus was on the results each day and less on the overall arc. By keeping things completely in the dark the readers had nothing at all to go on except the forum they were creating themselves, which was the real point.

Once the feature went live it was amazing to see all the different ideas people came up with as they tried to figure out what was actually going on and once people understood it was clearly intentional that we weren't giving any hints. Although he was just being humorous, I have to give special bonus points to Garilario, who posted the following on the very first page of the forum:

The Results

For reference, this is how the bracket actually lined up:

And, at last, we can show you the results from the individual votes. (For votes that spanned weekends I just tallied all three days together.)

Round of 16

Day 1: Broodstar vs. Mindslaver: Mindslaver wins 6852 to 3841 (winner = 64.1%)

Day 2: Akroma's Vengeance vs. Plow Under: Akroma's Vengeance wins 7162 to 2607 (73.3%)

Day 3: Furnace Dragon vs. Tooth and Nail: Tooth and Nail wins 5644 to 4069 (58.1%)

Day 4: Ankh of Mishra vs. Partriarch's Bidding: Patriarch's Bidding wins 5914 to 5007 (54.2%)

Day 5: Crucible of Worlds vs. Darksteel Colossus: Crucible of Worlds wins 5018 to 4409 (53.2%)

Day 6: Fireball vs. Fireball: Fireball wins 6502 to 3306 (66.3%)

Day 7: Crazed Goblin vs. Genesis Chamber : Genesis Chamber wins 15,610 to 2712 (82.6%)

Day 8: Cloudpost vs. Plains: Cloudpost wins 6337 to 3964 (61.5%)


Day 9: Mindslaver vs. Cloudpost: Mindslaver wins 6960 to 2083 (77%)

Day 10: Patriarch's Bidding vs. Crucible of Worlds: Crucible of Worlds wins 5571 to 4891 (53.2%)

Day 11: Tooth and Nail vs. Fireball: Tooth and Nail wins 5119 to 4106 (55.5%)

Day 12: Akroma's Vengeance vs. Cloudpost: Akroma's Vengeance wins 10,949 to 6955 (63.5%)


Day 13: Mindslaver vs. Crucible of Worlds: Mindslaver wins 4300 to 3014 (58.8%)

Day 14: Akroma's Vengeance vs. Tooth and Nail: Akroma's Vengeance wins 3583 to 3289 (52.1%)


Day 15: Mindslaver vs. Akroma's Vengeance: Mindslaver wins 4243 to 2681 (61.3%)

The Journey

One of the great things about the way "You Decide!" worked out was the incredibly diverse response in the forum that went with it. Without anything else to judge the votes on, you created a fascinating dialogue. To be honest, the title "You Decide!" applied most to the process itself, rather than just the end result. As it unfolded, each of you "decided" how to interpret the lack of any information. To put it another way, without anyone telling you what the vote had to be about, you got to decide for yourself what you wanted to vote on. Readers got to share their excitement (or frustration) in the mystery, compare theories for what was going on, root for their favorites, and even argue their case in hopes of persuading others (and, for many, a chance to curse poor innocent Mark Rosewater). In the process many new members joined the forums just to take part, and one of the more common responses could be summed up as "I hate that they haven't told me yet, I can't stand it – This is great!"

Each person will take something different away from this first edition of "You Decide!". For me, it was great to watch so many people have fun with the journey, since they didn't know the destination until much later. I'd hoped something like this would happen by setting it up this way and I think it's safe to say that many people got some extra fun from the feature as it ran its course. If there's one thing working here has already reminded me, it's the fact that there are so many different criteria by which to judge a Magic card. Whether its flavor text, art, creature type, overall flavor, or any of a laundry list of other possible things to consider, this was a great reminder to me just how many ways there are to judge and appreciate Magic cards. Though I was originally a die-hard casual player, years and years of playing the game professionally slowly focused me more and more on just the efficiency aspects of specific tournament cards. Working at Wizards these last few months has already got me back to loving the game as a whole, and the conversations you posted in this forum further reminded me of just how many cool things go into each Magic card. You probably won't ever see me casting Crazed Goblin, but I smile every time I see him and consider the flavor of what's actually going on with that little guy.

So, one last question of course. Will there be future votes like this? You bet. This was just a beginning. Other features like this will definitely be appearing on the site from time to time. I won't tell you what the hook is for the next one, but I can say that at least this time you'll know what you're voting on!

Other April Fool's Jokes

As a final note, here's the reference to all the main jokes we ran on April 1st, in case anyone is still unclear.

You Decide!
As you read earlier in this article, Mindslaver is not really banned.

Mark Rosewater's Ach! Hans, run! It's Unhinged!
Unhinged is real. The main "joke" on the April 1st edition was that everything else on the site was fake that day, but the Unhinged announcement was genuine. You can read more about this in Mark's article Unhinged or No?

Mark Gottlieb's Peeking in the Black Box
None of the three central cards in this article ever actually existed. Mind Theft, Curse of Nazir, and Teferi's Domain were all fabricated just for this article.

Alex Shvartsman's Weekend Doubleheader
Nearly everything in this article was made up. Mike Turian and Stefan Jedlicka did indeed win their respective Grand Prix events from that weekend, but you may notice something odd about Mike Turian's decklist in this article. Also, the picture of the guy with the trophy is actually Magic's first World Champion, Zak Dolan. Everything else in this article should be treated as suspect to say the least.

Card of the Day
Completely false. Moat was never a movie title as far as I know, and Star Wars and Beaches were not Magic cards that got cut from Legends.

Ask Wizards
This was completely made up for April Fool's day. Magic is not changing its name or re-releasing earlier sets.

Magic Arcana
None of the Easter Eggs shown are real, they were all faked just for this article.

- Scott Johns
Content Editor,

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