The Right Mechanic

Posted in Latest Developments on August 5, 2011

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.


It's three o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon. It's a cloudy day early in the year, so it's already starting to get dark outside. We've got a Future Future League tournament in a half hour, and everyone's building sideboards. Everything smells like sharpie fumes.


My phone rings. It's Mark Globus, the Magic R&D producer, and the guy who is lead designing Magic 2012. He has another few months before handing the set off to me.

I pick it up.

"Come to my office."

"Be right there."

His office is dark. The pile of games on the shelf behind him casts an ominous shadow over his desk.

"Close the door behind you."

I do, and sit down.

"Remember how I was looking for a mechanic for our set?"

I nod.

"I think I found one. How do you feel about Bloodthirst?"


"It has good flavor, has a good name, and is pretty simple. Sounds just about perfect."


"Yeah. I think it's the right answer."


His face shifts from complete calm to mild concern. "I want to warn you, though. Bloodthirst isn't as easy to work with as you think he is. He's pretty picky about the cards you put him on, and he doesn't work very well unless the environment around him is supportive."

"I'll keep that in mind. When do I get to meet him?"

He frowns. "We're still finishing the paperwork on his contract. He'll be in the office next week, we hope."

I smile. "I understand. Thanks."

He gives me the look that says we're done talking. I stand up, leave, and close the door behind me.


I meet Bloodthirst two weeks later. To our first 9 a.m. meeting, he wears a worn red plaid flannel shirt underneath nearly-black denim overalls. His hair is a bit tangled, his eyes are bloodshot, and I'd guess that the stubble on his face is three days old. He grips a giant mug of coffee with oil-stained hands.


Not how I would have come to a first meeting, but hey.


He looks around the room, smiling despite himself. "Man, does it feel good to be back."


"I'm glad."

He yawns and makes no attempt to cover his mouth. "How long has it been? Almost five years, right?"

"Yeah. I was thinking about Guildpact earlier today, though, and I don't think we did right by you last time."

He frowns, and his eyebrows tilt inward. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. You work best in a faster environment, and Ravnica is one of the slowest Limited formats I can think of. There are also all kinds of cards that can support you, like, I dunno, a guy that taps to ping your opponent. Those cards just aren't in Guildpact. I think that set you up to fail in Limited."

His eyes go wide. "Man, you're totally right." He grabs the table, then looks furtively back and forth before staring me in the eyes. "Who is still here that worked on that set? I gotta give them a piece of my mind."

I shrug. "No one I know." I make a mental note to warn whoever's still here who worked on Guildpact not to talk about it for a while.

He lets go of the table.

"Regardless, I've got big plans for you. We had you in just green and red last time. We're going to put you in black this time, too."

He narrows his eyes and looks at me sideways. "Not white or blue?"

"Yup. Keep in mind that this is a core set. We picked you because you have a great name and we can use you to make flavorful cards that make sense as whole packages. Vampires, barbarians, and rabid animals with bloodthirst make perfect sense. There just isn't much like that in white or blue that isn't bizarre. Globus keeps talking about making a shark or a piranha in blue, but he's the only one who seems to like that idea so far."

He grins hungrily. "Got it. Vampires... What about bats? Minotaurs? Can we do a crocodile?"

"Sure. I'm not the guy who chooses exactly what the art looks like, but the better a flavor match we make before the Creative guys come in, the better a job they can do."


"Okay. What are you going to do to make me be good in Limited?"


I put my feet up on the chair next to me. "All kinds of things. Big-picture-wise, we're going to make the set fast. It's not going to be Zendikar fast, but it'll be the fastest core set we've ever made. That will make you a lot more important."

"Sounds great."

"Globus has already done a lot of the work for me, too. For example, there's a playable one-mana creature in each color."


"...So people can start using me as early as turn two. Awesome."


"We're also going to include incidental ways to deal 1 damage to your opponent, so if someone wants, they can make sure that you're working at full strength all the time."

"All right, got it. What about Constructed, though? Scab-Clan Mauler made me famous at Pro Tour Honolulu, you know."

"Well, you won't be on that many cards. We're thinking ten to fifteen right now. I plan on making one or two cards that are rolls at Constructed cards."

He leans in, arching an eyebrow. "What does that mean?"

"Let me give you an example. Ghor-Clan Savage is stronger in Ravnica Limited than Scab-Clan Mauler, but Scab-Clan Mauler is the kind of card that can show up in aggressive Constructed decks. You're a size-changing mechanic, and that's just going to be strongest in Constructed on smaller creatures."

"You're not making any gold cards, right? Can you make Scab-Clan Mauler in just one color? Isn't a two-mana 3/3 really good?"

"I'm certainly going to try. Since you were last here, we've made spells a bit less efficient and creatures a bit more efficient. We think it's more fun that way. I think there's room to grow between Scab-Clan Mauler and broken."

He grins. "Sounds better for me, so I like it."

I nod. "That's all I got for you today. Come back next Monday and we'll have you meet the rest of the team.

We stand up. He gives me a bone-crushing handshake. "I'm lookin' forward to this."


It's Monday morning. I'm on my way back from the kitchen with a double-strength green tea to get me going. Bloodthirst sees me in the hallway, turns, and makes a beeline for me.


"HEY! I got something I need to talk to you about."

He's got that almost-violent look in his eyes. I decide that it's probably better for us if no one can hear what's about to happen.

"Why don't we grab a conference room?" We're right next to Wayne Manor. He follows me inside.

As soon as the door closes, he starts talking. "You gotta explain Bloodrage Vampire and Warpath Ghoul. They're both 3-power three-mana guys. One is a 3/2 all the time, and one is either a 4/2 or a 3/1. That's real close. I can't tell how they're different. What's the deal?"


"Two things. First, in play they're pretty different depending on what deck you are. A black-red bloodthirst deck that is focused on getting damage through wants the Vampire because they're already equipped to sneak damage through, and that 1 extra power is valuable. If I'm blue-black, though, I'm a lot less likely to get you online on turn three, so I want the card that doesn't trade with 1-power guys. One of my favorite things in Limited is cards that change value based on what deck you are, and I feel like these cards are doing that."



"The second thing is a little more awkward. I want black to have a vanilla creature that's very playable. Zombie Goliath is fine in a pinch but is pretty marginal. Warpath Ghoul is a lot better. There aren't any other strong-ish vanilla reprints that fit into my set, and I don't want to spend one of my new art commissions on a vanilla when Warpath Ghoul works just fine. On some level, it's just a numbers game. If I didn't like Bloodrage Vampire so much the way it is, I'd probably change it, but I like what both cards are doing."

He levels a glare at me. "I don't like this one bit."

I glare back. "I know. If you want me to change it, I need you to come up with a different solution that still gives me a good vanilla and a cool bloodthirst creature. No one else has yet, but I'm all ears."

"Alright. Fine." He leaves the meeting room and slams the door, with me still inside.


I'm staring at Multiverse, processing comments that have built up over the past two weeks.


My phone rings. It's an external number. I pick it up.

"Hey." It's Bloodthirst. "I've been thinkin' about our mythic rare dragon. I think it shouldn't have trample."

"Why is that?"

"The point of that card is that you have a giant cool dragon. When it has trample, you just kill your opponent with it in two hits. That doesn't give you any time to feel great about how awesome your dragon is. I want you to shave a mana and cut trample."


I nod. "Reasonable."


He keeps going. "I'd be sad if I didn't have one card with trample in the set, though. I think you should put trample on the uncommon wurm. I keep seeing green players not able to get through in the late game, and that would give green a real trump creature that people could plan around having."


"That sounds great, actually."


"I thought so too. You know, conservation of trample and all."


"...Never mind. Did I do the whole 'suggest a complete change and not just yell at you' thing right this time?" He sounds very pleased with himself.

"Yup. I'm putting it in Multiverse right now."

"Kick-ass." He hangs up.


The last Limited playtest of a set is always bittersweet. By then, the set is fun, so you want to keep playing. You're done, though, so you can't. It's not the sort of thing that most people are interested in giving us sympathy about, but it is kinda rough.


I contemplate this while I dump eight hundred or so Magic 2012 playtest cards into a shredder.


My shredding gets interrupted when Bloodthirst comes over to me, looking lost. "So that's it, then?"


"Yup. That's it."

He just stands there, looking a little pathetic.

"You know, I really appreciate all the passion you put into this project."

He looks at the ground. "Thanks."

I think for a minute. I don't have any plans until later tonight. "You wanna go grab a drink after I finish this? I'll buy."

His eyes brighten up. "Sure."

We head to a nearby restaurant, and get two stools at the bar. I order a water and a hummus plate; he orders a beer.

"You know, playtesters were doing all kinds of things differently because you're around."

He puffs his chest out a little bit. "Yeah?"

"Have you ever seen anyone Incinerate a Blood Seeker on turn two?"


I shrug. "Neither had I, until yesterday. I think it was right, though. It let the guy's Griffin Sentinel sit in front of a Blood Ogre that was only a 2/2, and then kept Gorehorn Minotaurs at 3/3 instead of 5/5."

His drink finally arrives, and he takes a sip. "That's pretty crazy."


He gives me a meaningful look. "I really appreciate what you did to make me good."

"No problem."

"It's been really nice workin' with ya."

"You too."


By the way, we have Feedback Week coming on the site very soon. If there's some burning question about Magic development that you have that you want answered, use the "Respond via email" link at the bottom of this article to send them to me. Thanks!


Last Week's Poll

Which R&D member do you agree with most about Reassembling Skeleton?
Doug Beyer: The perfect top-down Skeleton. 598 60.3%
Mike Turian: Still think this guy could be busted. 241 24.3%
Ken Nagle: I didn't enjoy this card the first time. 152 15.3%
Total 991 100.0%

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