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Mark Rosewater's True Form
Yes, these are the people currently making Magic: The Gathering—a group of blue mages that would probably poke their own eyes out before doing something as distasteful as playing Rancor or Carnophage in constructed. And yet, even with all these people here under one roof, Counterspell was taken out of Eighth Edition. And do you know why?
Rosewater did it.
That guy is unstoppable. Everything you read about him is true by the way. He is the man behind the curtain, the guy responsible for everything you don't like about Magic.
Well, just about everything. Randy was responsible for banning all the cards in Standard.
Unless you think that was a good thing, in which case I'm responsible. I rock. Speaking of me, did you know that I'm a corporate shill? It's true. I read it on a message board somewhere. Now please go buy some booster packs. It'll be fun, really!
Control Cards Then and Now
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Over the years, R&D has realized that many control elements in Magic were overpowered compared to the creatures. I probably mentioned something in an earlier article about how Force of Nature, Mahamoti Djinn, and all the other awesome fatties from back in the day were at the mercy of Swords to Plowshares, Counterspell, and Terror and how that really sucked, but I'm not going to link to it because I don't feel like looking it up. So anyway, now we make Kodama of the North Tree and Call for Blood and it all evens out.
Here is a chart of some old, somewhat overpowered control cards and what R&D considers their modern equivalents:
As you see, we've been toning control down a bit over the years. As a result… mono-blue control is currently one of the best decks in Standard. What?! Really? How did that happen? Didn't we print Aether Vial and Boseiju? And Boil? I read somewhere that we were weakening blue!
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Back to the list. Where on that list is the most classic of control cards, Wrath of God? Wrath is a weird animal. We keep making “new” Wraths that are all about six mana (Catastrophe, Final Judgment, Solar Tide, etc.), so it's clear that we think the effect is worth more than four mana. Yet good old-fashioned four-mana Wrath keeps showing up in every Core Set. Why?
For the answer, I turn once again to the message boards. Wrath of God, I'm told, is one of only two cards in the Core Set that make it worth purchasing. No, seriously, read the boards. And we've already promised to remove the other—Birds of Paradise—next time around (mostly because we hate our players). So we keep reprinting Wrath just to make sure the company doesn't go bankrupt. Now please go buy some booster packs. It'll be fun, really!
And now for something completely different…
Development Stories: Cards with the Word “Control” in Their Titles
But some of us here did work on Urza's Destiny, the home of the “fixed” Control Magic—Treachery. Treachery is just like Control Magic except it costs zero or negative mana instead of four. Obviously we didn't quite get the idea of “fixing” cards back then.
Actually, I never heard of this card until I looked it up in Gatherer. I can't imagine why “any player may play this ability” is on it though. Things were different back in those days.
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Control of the Court: The creation of this crazy Portal Three Kingdoms card is one of my favorite R&D stories of all time and really shows off the different ways we like to solve problems around here.
If I recall correctly, it goes something like this: We took the card Goblin Lore from Portal Second Age and gave it a different name. Then we went and played air hockey.
The Next Block and the Future of Control
Rosewater made the joke in his column about how the next large set was codenamed “Control” and this is Control Week and so on and so on. Well, he wasn't too far off when he said that the set's codename confused people. On more that one occasion I was told to “design Control cards” or “build Control decks for playtesting” and I took the instructions quite literally. Other designers and developers had the same problem. The end result is that the set is, shall we say, a little slow. There are over 25 different counterspells in the first set alone, and most of the creatures are defenders or really expensive fliers. Sounds like a fun year, doesn't it? At least Randy likes it!
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Next week: The brief but illustrious history of the five-mana 2/1.
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