Offering a Bribe

Posted in Latest Developments on November 1, 2002

By Randy Buehler

So we've been having this debate at work about the card Bribery. You remember Bribery, right? It was a rare blue sorcery from Mercadian Masques that for let you search your opponent's deck for a creature and put it into play under your control. My memory of its power-level is that it was kind of a fringe tournament card. That is, it showed up a bit in block constructed tournaments (I remember seeing a few Blastoderms stolen at Worlds that year), but it showed up only very rarely in Standard tournament play.

Bribery

I have to admit that I was one of the Spikiest Spikes around at the time, so I don't have any experience with the card in casual play. It seems like it would be kind of fun, and I thought it was popular, but Mercadian Masques is in my own personal "black hole" of Magic sets.

[Begin digression about coming to work at Wizards]

One of the weird things about coming to work at Wizards of the Coast is that you sort of miss a couple of sets. Especially in R&D, the company is working on the cards a year ahead of time; the designers actually work as much as two years ahead. That means there will be sets that haven't come out yet that R&D has long since stopped working on. Once you've been in R&D for a while it stops seeming so weird because the sets still go by at a nice, sensible new-set-every-4-months pace. However, the transition from the real world to Wizards means you never really experience the next couple of sets that were about to come out. Sure you get to watch the real world react to them, but that's different from spending a lot of time playing with the cards yourself.

For me, pretty much the entire Masques block fell into my black hole. I attended the Mercadian Masques prerelease, but that was the only tournament I ever played in with Masques cards. When I got to Wizards in October 1999, Nemesis and Prophecy were already done and they had moved on to the development of Invasion. So I know all the cards from Invasion forward and I know all the cards from before Masques, but ... there's an odd haze clouding my recollection of the cards in between.

Mostly this is just an idle curiosity. Everyone at Wizards has one of these black holes and periodically we compare notes about what sets "never really happened" for us. Occasionally, though, it affects the work we do. For example, it never occurred to me to test Fires of Yavimaya with fading cards (like Blastoderm and Saproling Burst). I'm not saying I definitely would have thought of it had my black hole not included Nemesis -- after all, I missed Psychatog-Upheaval despite them both being in a set I was in charge of -- but maybe I would have. I actually thought the Fires decks were pretty cool and I don't think Fires of Yavimaya should have been changed, I just feel a little bad that we didn't see it coming.

[End digression]

So back to the recent argument at work about Bribery... Bribery is another card located squarely inside my personal black hole. It's even worse since the argument is all about casual play anyway, which isn't my specialty (though I like to think I'm doing a decent job of learning a lot more about it). I’ve talked to enough dealers that I know plenty of you seem to be buying it – it has maintained a healthy value on the secondary market even after Masques rotated out of Standard – but what about those of you who get your best creatures "bribed"?

In order to present the argument against Bribery, I’d like to turn things over to Michael Elliott.

Mike: "Bribery punishes you if you choose to play with expensive creatures. If we were to, for example, reprint Bribery or print a Bribery variant then casual players would have less fun playing Magic because they would feel they can't play with all the big creatures they want to play with, or even their one big creature in their small collections. Having an opponent steal your best creature out of your deck and beat you with it is such a negative experience that the mere threat of it will affect you during deck construction. This line of thought holds that players don’t mind when the game goes a while and their opponent beats them, although nobody really likes losing, but they don’t want to defeat themselves.

"Meanwhile there are already so many pressures within the game encouraging you to play with smaller, cheaper creatures that having a card like Bribery around at just 5 mana further closes the door on the upper part of the mana curve. While none of the cards this card generally steals are anywhere near constructed, it compresses down the "casual" mana curve by penalizing players that play with 6 or more cost creatures. While messing with your opponents deck and beating them with their own cards often sounds cool on the surface, you soon realize that your opponent has access to the same cards you do and that they can do the same thing to you and you will certainly take steps to avoid this embarrassment.

"In the long run, the casual environment is more diverse if these cards either do no exist or are costed higher so that they are not quite as efficient at taking creatures in the higher mana cost range. Just like hand denial cards like Hymn to Tourach and mana denial cards like Strip Mine are not that enjoyable to play against, cards like Bribery are not that fun to play against for casual players where the game is at a completely different level. A casual player might only have one Rorix Bladewing in his entire deck, and they draw it maybe once in 3 or 4 games. When they lose to their favorite creature in the deck that they no longer have the chance of drawing, it forces them more into a tournament style of play, and while a large portion of our audience enjoys the more competitive format, cards like this enforce this view on a number of players who might not necessarily want that environment."

Personally, I think some ways of losing are more fun than others. Losing to a Dragon is way more fun than losing to a Psychatog that was floated into play after an Upheaval. Or ask the people who were gunslinging against Brian Kibler at the Invitational how they felt about getting attacked for literally hundreds of damage because he went off with Mirari (and its Mirari's Wake): to a man they thanked him because they had never seen anything like that before. (In the last game he played Brian attacked for 155,000 damage ... and he would have attacked for more but it turns out that Magic Online has a limit to the number of token creatures you can have in play: 192. That many Wurms plus four copies of Coat of Arms will just have to be enough ...)

The Bribery debate, in my mind, boils down to a question of whether Bribery is one of the fun cards to lose to or one of the annoying ones. Obviously winning with it is fun, but winning in general is fun so that doesn’t help a lot. When trying to figure out whether something is good for the game, I find It’s often more useful to figure out how much fun it is to lose to it. Is getting your fatty bribed more like watching your opponent pull off their cool trick or is it just too easy/annoying/frustrating? When I imagine casual games after Bribery had resolved, I always imagine people smiling because some cool monster has just gotten into play. I think the fact that the card is still valuable speaks to its popularity amongst casual players, but then again maybe I’m wrong and this is just a case of my black hole obscuring my vision.

We in R&D spend a lot of time arguing with each other, but it’s rare than an argument comes down to such a simple statement with such vehemently opposed positions. We used to just call each other names and argue about who has better insight into what players really want. Nowadays, though, things are a lot easier because we can just ask. Nowadays when one of these arguments comes up I think to myself, “Aha! Now I know what to write this week’s column on!”

THIS WEEK'S POLL:

Compared to all the other ways you can lose when playing Magic, how do you feel when you lose to Bribery? (Or, for those of you who have never played with or against the card, how would you feel if you did)?

How do you feel about losing to Bribery?Awful – Please don’t subject me to anything like that againtSomewhat worse – I’d prefer if cards like Bribery didn’t exisNeutralSomewhat better – It’s kind of a cool card to lose toGreat – Games that involve Bribery are just plain fun, even when I’m on the wrong end.

LAST WEEK’S POLL:

Which recent set has the best green cards?
Onslaught 2543
Judgment 1665
Torment 454
Odyssey 5284
Total 9946

Looks like you guys agree with what Ben concluded in his column last week – green really did get the goods in Odyssey.

Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.

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