Of Polls and Pies

Posted in Latest Developments on April 26, 2002

By Randy Buehler

So I was talking to Aaron and Mark about my column a couple of weeks ago. All three of us are really happy with how it’s been going. The public (that’d be you, gentle reader) seems to like it, especially when I ask for opinions about subjects that we’re debating here in R&D. I started working polls into my columns because I knew part of the point of this website is to empower the players. We want you players to feel like you’re part of the game, and we want you to feel like we’re listening to your opinions and giving you some control over this wonderful game. Even better, we really are listening and we really do care what you think and what you want.

Anyway, when I was talking to Mark and Aaron they suggested that I should have a poll every single week. I’ve been happy with how they’ve worked out so far, so it seemed like a good idea. When I wrote last week’s column, it didn’t really spawn a new issue, but I did want to try out the new plan of always asking a poll question. So I just re-asked what was essentially the same question I had asked the previous week. I’m bringing this up because I don’t want you to think I’m fishing for my preferred answers or trying to get you to change your minds or anything. I was somewhat curious to see if my elaborations and clarifications changed the results any, but mostly I just wanted to ask about something. I apologize if it looked like I was up to something sketchy.

Here are the results of last week’s poll:

What’s the proper mana cost for “Counter target spell”?
3723 65%
1640 29%
330 6%
Total 5693 100%

And now for something completely different ...


We’ve been working on a fairly interesting project during our spare moments in R&D -- a project we refer to as “Pie Dividing.” The idea behind it is that if you mixed together all the mechanics in Magic (flying, discard, trample, card drawing, direct damage, etc.) and then divided them up amongst the five colors, it should work out that each color gets about the same amount of stuff. White’s piece of the pie should be about the same size as red’s or green’s. The five slices from the “mechanics pie” should also look very distinct, since part of what makes Magic work is that the colors do very different things. If we take the time to understand what each color does, and why, we’re hoping it will make us better and both designing and developing future Magic sets.

A couple things quickly became obvious to us when we started the analysis. Red and white seem to have less than their fair share of the pie. Black and blue seem to have more. So if we could take mechanics away from, say, blue and shift them into red or white, then the whole game should turn out to be a little better balanced. Of course, the game’s history and flavor are even more important than keeping things perfectly balanced, so we aren’t going to move anything that doesn’t fit naturally into its new color.

An example should help. Red is the color of fire. Red is also the color of chaos and of passion. Whereas white and blue are always in control of their emotions, the red mage is all about the heat of the moment. The “red way” is something like “burn it now, ask questions later.” It’s pretty easy to capture the idea of fire on Magic cards -- that’s direct damage. We also try to capture the idea of chaos through coin-flip cards and other sorts of random effects (that’s why so many of red’s self-imposed discards in the Odyssey block are random).

It’s not as easy to capture the idea of passion, but we still think we can do it. Basically, red doesn’t care about consequences. In the heat of the moment, red is willing to throw away future resources in order to get its way now, now, now. Balduvian Horde and Minotaur Explorer fit this mold reasonably well. When you play one of these guys, you give up a future resource (the card you lose when it comes into play) in order to get a bigger, better creature right now. Of course, since they are red the discard is chaotic, but the passionate part is that you’re living for the present. “Card advantage be damned! I want to win right now!”


Another card that (on the surface of it anyway) throws away card advantage for an immediate gain is Ray of Command. Since blue was the color of stealing stuff and since blue is also the color of trickiness, I can certainly understand why Ray of Command was originally a blue card. However, there’s way too much stuff that can be labeled “tricky” for us to put it all into blue. If you steal something permanently then fine, that’s blue. But to steal something temporarily, use it right now, and then give it back... that actually sounds very red. Well, it does if you buy into the whole argument about red being passionate and living in the heat of the moment (which I do).

Since, independent of this point, we believe that blue has too many mechanics and red could use a few more, voila: We decided to move Ray of Command into red. That’s why Temporary Insanity, in Torment, is in red and not blue -- it’s the first red Ray.

(The following paragraph was written after the rest of the article had been submitted.) My amazing editor -- Aaron Forsythe -- points out that Temporary Insanity isn't actually the first red Ray. That honor actually belongs to the obscure Legends card Disharmony. I didn't start playing Magic until Legends was already legendary, so I had no idea that card even existed. Anyway, the guys who worked on Legends appear to agree with R&D's "new" philosophy ... cool.

More results from our series of pie-dividing conversations can be seen in Judgment. I’ll talk some more about this subject and those cards as soon I manage to take off this gag.

In closing, this poll is about... polls. We like them, but we want to make sure everyone else sees them as a good thing. What do you think?

[The survey originally included in this article has been removed.]

Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.

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