Kaladesh Mailbag

Posted in Latest Developments on December 9, 2016

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Hello and welcome to another edition of Latest Developments! This week, I opened up the gates to all of you and took your questions for a mailbag column. Let's get right into it.

The person in charge of it on the R&D side is Bryan Hawley; he's one of the developers. He takes a lot of data from the set lead—things like the power levels of cards and any collation weirdness that could occur (like DFCs replacing commons) and works to create rules for our vendors to follow (they're the ones who actually print the cards).

We don't determine the exact order; we have a guide to collation that creates different sheets that are then combined to create packs that are pretty close to being randomized. A long, long time ago, we used just one sheet per rarity, which meant that you would always see the same cards next to each other. Now we use a few so that there is some variety, but we still are aiming for packs that, at common, have at least one card of each color and that are somewhat power-balanced. We don't want all common packs to be equally powerful, but you shouldn't get one pack full of Lightning Bolt–level commons and the next full of Healing Salves and Disenchants. Having packs be balanced like that helps to make Limited much more fun than if it were completely random.

I haven't kept up much on the format, but it certainly is interesting. I'm not sure that using the introduction of the security stamp is the cleanest dividing point, but it is reasonable. One of the really great parts of Magic, and the Magic community, is not only the ability but the desire to create content. Commander is the most famous of the fan-created formats, but we've seen a lot over the years, like 5-Color, Rainbow Stairwell, French Commander, Tiny Leaders, 93/94 Magic, Overextended, and now Frontier.

I'll certainly be interested to see how people react to the format and to see if it continues to evolve and grow over the next few months or even years.

Evolving Wilds and other common shuffle effects. While these kinds of effects are important and are easy in digital games, for paper Magic, they really slow down the pace of play and are actually kind of hard for newer players. Something that it took me a long time to understand is how uncomfortable many new players are with shuffling. It is a real barrier. For the youngest of players, shuffling is actually pretty hard for them to accomplish well, as it is for players who may have physical impairments. Even if you are able to shuffle very well, there are risks of insufficient randomization, and really just the time it takes out of the game to do it. It's not ideal on a Pro Tour stage to have a ton of shuffling in games, but it's probably worse for someone's first experience to be shuffling three or four times in the first 20 minutes of learning the game.

I wouldn't want the game to have no shuffling—I think there are a lot of effects that really need a shuffle component, like tutoring—but I do think that reducing it to the bare minimum will help the entire game out quite a bit.

Unclear exactly at this point. They may end up becoming evergreen, they may end up being pseudo-evergreen but not show up everywhere, or they may never show up again. I'll say that there are some Vehicles in some upcoming design files, but it's unclear if they will stay. This is a very new card type, and it's pretty hard to balance, but we think they are pretty fun if they are in the right spot. Somewhere between Fleetwheel Cruiser and Smuggler's Copter, but closer to the Cruiser. We'll definitely be looking at Aether Revolt and to see how people react to those Vehicles to add a good data point.

Jade Statue wasn't the direct inspiration; they really came out of a top-down desire to make vehicles in Magic, something that we had tried several times but never came up with a satisfying version of before. Much like energy. Still, this felt like the right place to do them.

It came into being pretty late in the process, truth be told. Control decks were suffering a bit, and we wanted something that was good against many of the strong things in the previous block but had some weaknesses to the combo-riffic stuff we were hoping Kaladesh would bring. The idea behind it was that it was something you could start with or board in, but it wouldn't keep Panharmonicon or Aetherworks Marvel out of the format by itself. Between it and Ceremonious Rejection, there were answers to threats, but nothing was stop-everything at only two mana.

Pretty willing, but it's not something we do a lot of because those kinds of cards are hard to actually create successfully. Dredge itself has the problem that the number is often more important than the actual card effect, so making dredge 7 is probably out. Even at dredge 5, we are talking about a card that now makes it basically impossible to solve anything in an older format if we ever had to ban Golgari Grave-Troll. We could do lower numbers of dredge, but I don't know that is what people really want.

All that being said, if we come up with a supplemental set that really wants dredge, it's a good fit for the set, and we can create new cards that feel good without feeling either nerfed or adding to dredge's problem in other formats, I could see us doing it again. A lot of other mechanics are in similar spots. We can make things like storm, but we'd have to have a really good reason and cards that were worth it.

Power level is a weird thing when it comes to Modern. There are a lot of very powerful Modern cards that are just stronger than we'd want in Standard (Noble Hierarch, Tarmogoyf, Kitchen Finks, Gitaxian Probe, or Dismember), and there are cards strong in Modern because of the format—like Serum Visions, Abrupt Decay, or even banned cards like Splinter Twin—that would likely not cause any problems in the "right" Standard environment.

Overall, I would say that strong reactive cards are much more likely to see print for Standard than proactive ones. If a threat is strong enough for Modern, there is a good chance it is stronger than we'd want in Standard. We've tried cards like Thoughtseize and Mutavault, and I think both of those made Standard less fun, though I don't think there aren't cards with overlap between the two formats that would improve things. We are just going to be a lot more cautious next time.

A lot. We generally want the artifact cards to be weaker than monocolor cards, but that makes it hard to make enough artifacts that are exciting for the people who want them. When working on Draft, we want people to still play two-color decks the majority of the time—but that also means making the artifacts exist in a very narrow power band where you are only playing with ten-plus if you are doing artifact synergy stuff. They aren't all just "good stuff" things.

When looking at Standard, we tried to do most of that by making the most powerful artifacts highly directional—things like Panharmonicon or Aetherworks Marvel require a lot out of deck building. And even there, we ended up overshooting the mark on Smuggler's Copter, and it shows up in the majority of decks focused on attacking. That's not the spot we want to occupy with any threat.

Not exactly by design, more by process. If there is a card that is not quite strong enough for Standard and we are trying to power it up a little bit, it's much easier to add toughness than power. We're just more likely to be staring at a 4/4 that needs a boost and put it to 4/5 rather than 5/4 or 5/5. That extra point of toughness by itself (as a whole) is less impactful than a point of power. But if you add a lot of those up over the course of an entire format, if things are pushed a little bit too much in that way, they add up to a lot more powerful cards with more toughness than power. This is an issue we have definitely become much more aware of over the last few sets, and we're trying to be a bit more mindful of it.

Underperformers:

Overperformers:

Basically, we expected more of the white token artifact decks, and less of Aetherworks Marvel (though, that card did change during Aether Revolt testing, so it's not surprising that it didn't show up during our Kaladesh testing).

That's it for this week. I hope you enjoyed those answers. Next week, I'll be back talking about Standard and giving a late-mid format retrospective about how we view the Kaladesh Standard environment.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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