Psychatog Redux

Posted in Latest Developments on July 12, 2002

By Randy Buehler

Was it a mistake to print Psychatog? You said:

Was it a mistake to print Psychatog?
Yes 2003 35.9%
No 3569 64.1%
Total 5572 100%

One sentiment that showed up many times in my Inbox this week basically amounted to this: not only was it not a mistake to print Psychatog, but we’re glad you don’t have that time machine because it would be a mistake to go back and balance things. There should be cards as good as Psychatog and Wild Mongrel. Matthew Guttman summarized that line of thought nicely, writing, “In short, players would rather see a card banned down the line than a pile of underpowered jank.” Jon Farmer explained, “If you stop pushing the limits a bit I shall give up Magic and play video games... broken cards are all part of the fun.”


I actually agree with the general opinion here… I’m just not sure it applies to Psychatog and Wild Mongrel and I’ll explain why.

Yes, good cards absolutely need to exist. It would be bad for the game if everything were perfectly balanced, especially if that meant that everything was at a power level that veterans of the game would call “weak.” R&D should -- and will -- continue to push the envelope and make new, exciting, powerful cards even when we’re not sure we understand how good they are. The only reason I spend so much time talking about balance is because there’s definitely a line we have to avoid crossing. The Urza’s Saga block was bad for the game because R&D made a bunch of mistakes and the game became too unbalanced. Combo Winter ensued and was followed by a whole bunch of bannings plus a loss of confidence in R&D among Magic’s core audience. The real balancing act we do in R&D is keeping the game close enough to “balanced” that Combo Winter doesn’t happen again, but at the same time making sure the game is new and powerful and innovative enough that it stays fun.

It follows from this understanding that there should be cards as powerful as Wild Mongrel and Psychatog. However, it doesn’t follow that the Mongrel and the Psychatog themselves should be as good as they are. The reason why they might be inappropriate is because they are “enablers” for our other mechanics.

If the enablers for a mechanic (any mechanic) are already at a really high power level, then we have to price all the cards that have that mechanic with the knowledge of how easy it is to throw the enablers into a deck. So all madness cards, for example, should have paid a tax since they have such great synergy with cards that were already Tier 1 constructed cards, even before Torment came out.

Basically, we now think that a better way to make a new mechanic cool and interesting is to push the cards that actually have the new mechanic. It’s more interesting if the mechanic can stand on its own legs and makes you say things like “gee, Aquamoeba isn’t very good on its own, but it has such good synergy with these madness cards that I’m already playing that I think I’ll run it.” That’s why I said I liked the way Aquamoeba worked out -- I think the enablers for a mechanic should not be independently great cards because that both causes a balance problem and also makes things “too easy” on deckbuilders.

The changes to Mongrel and ‘Tog that I proposed last week were my (imaginary) attempt to put the cards at a power-level where they would still made the cut in constructed as madness and threshold enablers, but they wouldn’t be Tier 1 if those mechanics didn’t exist.

Meanwhile, continuing the hypothetical, if I really did have that time machine and I used it to make those cards worse, I would make something else better so as to keep the overall power level of the set about the same. (I’d actually have to make several somethings better because my first act would be to add a mana to Upheaval. I agree with the many people who emailed me to comment that Upheaval is actually the most unhealthy piece of the Psychatog deck. That one probably was a “mistake,” and it wasn’t even a particularly interesting one.)

So, uh, Wild Mongrel and Psychatog are in cycles, right? And that means this article fits into Cycle Week, right? Yeah, that’s the ticket. On to the poll question quickly, before the theme week police notice anything…

Historically speaking, which color do you think has been the best in Limited play (Sealed deck, Booster Draft, etc.)?

On the other hand, which color -- on average over the course of the years -- has gotten the shaft in Limited play?

Randy may be reached at

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