Postcards from the Future Future

Posted in Latest Developments on November 13, 2009

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

August 5, 2008

I've been at Wizards for two weeks now. It's still every bit as cool as I thought it was going to be, and I'm learning more every day about what goes into making Magic.

From what I've seen, the majority of the Constructed testing we do is Standard, current with the most recent set that is in development. For example, right now Conflux (which was announced just last week) is the most recent set under active development, so we're playing with all of Tenth Edition, Lorwyn Block, Shards of Alara, and Conflux, which is what Standard will look like in the real world when Conflux releases. We call this format the Future Future League.

Because the cards we are playing with haven't been printed yet, we have to find other ways to play with them. The method most people use is to use "blanks," or Magic cards with blank white fronts, combined with the dizzying array of sharpies in the office.

I'm still learning the cards, so this is a little tricky for me. Most people are in a bit of a hurry when they build their FFL decks, and they don't use much detail when they write their cards down. For example, this is what most Lightning Bolts would look like.

This, of course, isn't so bad. We all know what a Lightning Bolt does, and some people would include even less detail than that. I suspect that Erik Lauer would merely write a "3" in red without even giving a mana cost. However, it starts to get weird when I play against more complicated cards, and unfortunately for me, not many cards are as simple as Lightning Bolt. The other day, I saw cards that looked something like this, and I had to ask what they did because I had never played against them before.

Since I'm not on any product teams yet, the majority of my time is spent on FFL. I'm averaging one new deck every day, and sometimes more than that. If at the end of a day I haven't spent a good four hours playing Future Future League, something has gone wrong.

I often dreamed of having a job that let me play Magic all day. It feels surreal to actually have it. The developers all tell me that this won't last forever, and that if I stay here for a while I'll find myself on product teams that will keep me from playtesting this much Standard. I hope that doesn't happen for a while, because I'm having a blast.

January 30, 2009

I've been at Wizards for seven months now. Just like the other developers said would happen, I've gained more responsibilities and been involved in more projects. I'm responsible for building Magic's intro packs. I'm scheduled to be on the Worldwake development team, as well as a large set design team, both of which will start soon. I write a weekly article. I guess this is what the developers meant six months ago when they told me that my time would fill up with other things.

Everyone in R&D who has been at Wizards for a while has lots of responsibilities, but that doesn't keep us from playing in the Future Future League. As a developer, I'm still responsible for getting plenty of time in, and I have been. It just hasn't been at the ridiculous pace that I was keeping up in my first weeks at Wizards. I'm glad that I'm involved in more projects now, but there are days when I miss just playing Magic all day.

Lots of people who don't have the job title "developer" help out with the Future Future League too. This is helpful for tons of reasons. Getting more eyes on sets in development is great, and developers learn a lot from hearing the perspectives of people with other skill sets. Also, those people don't have as much time to spend on it as developers do, so rather than try to test every last nook and cranny of the set, they gravitate toward things that look fun to them. This tells us a lot about what appeals to them.

We just saw an example of this from designer Ken Nagle. Ken is famous inside Wizards for being a "griefer"—someone who gets enjoyment out of his opponents' misery. Because of this, the Trap mechanic in Zendikar speaks loudly to Ken. The name "Trap" seems to offer the ability to make an opponent feel sad, by punishing them for taking some action that they didn't know would result in something bad happening to them, and that's pretty much how the mechanic works. Not only that, but the card Trapmaker's Snare gives Ken the ability to find the right Trap to punish someone on command.

There are a few cards in this deck I can't show you. Ken is the lead designer of Worldwake, and he put a few cards from his set into this deck before Worldwake was officially in the Future Future League. Other than that, though, I can show you everything. Here's the deck.

Ken's Trap Control

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The one card in this deck that Ken loves more than anyone else in the Pit is Lavaball Trap. He describes it as "grief-tastic," and is positively gleeful when he gets to "trap" it for only five mana. However, it serves a very important role in this sort of deck. Many control decks that want to play for the long game in Zendikar Standard can simply die in the late game to the lands like Emeria, the Sky Ruin or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. This deck is not so hopeless against those lands thanks to Lavaball Trap's incidental land destruction, which has allowed Ken to beat me in late games that my big monored decks would otherwise have won.

This deck was pretty rough, but that often happens on a first draft. I can see Ken's desk from mine, and he's tuning it as we speak. He was having so much fun that I'll be surprised if he doesn't end up with a polished end product and make it with real cards as soon as they're all out.

February 13, 2009

We made a new lord for the Kor today. It's a 2/2, and it gives all your other Kor +2/+2 for each Equipment attached to it. That's potentially a huge bonus, and a few people questioned us for even proposing the card. I made a quick and dirty FFL Kor deck to check if the card was reasonable to ask other people to test. My expectation was that it would be spectacular when the trick worked out, but not consistent or problematic. Here's the deck I made.

Tom's Quick and Dirty Kor Deck

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I got the results that I expected from playtesting this. Armament Master was awesome when I drew it with some Equipment, but it also died as soon as it hit the board plenty of times. It's possible we'll decide later that +2/+2 per Equipment is too sick of a bonus, but I really hope we don't. That guy was fun, and it's clear that we're safe to put him in the file and see what happens. I can't wait to put him in the Kor-themed intro pack deck and watch the carnage when he teams up with a kicked Conqueror's Pledge.

February 23, 2009

Much of our Future Future League testing is somewhat casual. We like to see every card in our sets in play, and only playing with decks honed to a devastating edge would keep us from trying cards we weren't sure what to do with yet. However, after a set has been legal to play in the Future Future League for a while, we have seen most of the cards, and the set has started to settle down into its final form. That means it's time to start tuning decks and playing with sideboards.

One tool we have that forces us to start thinking like tournament players is to have actual tournaments. We had just such a tournament today. Here's what I played.

Tom's Tournament Elves

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This deck felt pretty strong. The Birds of Paradise are a recent addition thanks to Erik, but it made all the difference both in the stability of the mana base and in the deck's speed.

Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Bloodbraid Elf

My experiences in the tournament today reinforced how strong Oran-Rief, the Vastwood is with planeswalkers that make creatures and with Bloodbraid Elf. I had some hilarious turns with that card; once I got to use an Oran-Rief to pump a Garruk-produced beast token, a Nissa's Chosen, a Bloodbraid Elf, and an Elvish Archdruid all at once. Another time, I got to use two Oran-Riefs twice each in one turn thanks to Garruk Wildspeaker to put a whopping four +1/+1 counters on a Bloodbraid Elf and its friend.

The details of the noncreature spells in my deck are a little shaky. I was unhappy with Blightning overall. It was awesome yesterday, but wasn't overly impressive today, due both to the awkward mana requirements and to the fact that it doesn't affect the board. I'm confident that one of them should have been the third Garruk, which I boarded in during every match, and I think a third Birds of Paradise would have been useful. I don't know what to do with the other two slots, but I'd like whatever goes there to be easier to cast than Blightning.

Garruk Wildspeaker
Great Sable Stag

I'm quite happy with the sideboard. The Garruk Wildspeaker should go maindeck, and the fourth Great Sable Stag should likely replace it. Pyroclasm was a little awkward because it kills so many of my own creatures, but it proved useful enough against swarm decks that I want to keep it.

In the tournament itself, I beat Mons Johnson's multicolored Noble Hierarch aggro deck in two games despite three mulligans on my end, largely thanks to his mana problems. I also beat Greg Marques's Ball Lightning deck in two unremarkable games. Games one and three against Matt Place's Open the Vaults deck were reasonable and we split them, but in Game 2 I mulliganed to five and didn't have enough cards to win before Sphinx of the Steel Wind took over. I beat Mike Turian's Kor deck by sideboarding in a bunch of removal and killing his whole team with removal spells. I nearly lost to his Emeria, the Sky Ruin sideboard plan, but a well-timed double Pyroclasm got my Oran-Rief-pumped creatures through.

I had a lot of fun today. I'll tune this deck a little more, but I think it's close enough that I should move on to another deck soon. Let's hope the Zendikar Standard environment is this much fun when the public gets its hands on it and starts building!

Last Week's Poll

Which of the following Magic products are you most excited about?   
Premium Deck Series: Slivers 753 12.7%
Deckbuilder's Toolkit 941 15.9%
Magic: The Gathering - Tactics 917 15.5%
Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. the Coalition 1491 25.2%
Alara Block Premium Foil Booster Pack 376 6.3%
None of these excite me. 1449 24.4%
Total 5927 100.0%

My answer to this poll was Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. the Coalition. Duel decks are one of the greatest things ever invented for gunslinging at Magic events. They're great for when the person who wants to play against me doesn't have a deck that matches one of mine, and because they are designed to have high replay value, I don't mind playing them again and again over the course of a day. Having a fifth duel deck to bring to events will be exciting.

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