A Scary Card Frame Story

Posted in Latest Developments on January 3, 2004

I recently attended GenCon SoCal and while there I ran into (and drafted agianst) some old Pro Tour buddies of mine that hadn't played Magic in a couple of years. They seemed to like Mirrodin, but all three of them (Brian Hacker, John Yoo, and Truc Bui) had the same comment: "What's up with these card frames? I can't tell the white ones from the artifact ones!" I had to admit "Yeah, we messed up ... but we're fixing it for Fifth Dawn." This article may not have been my best writing of the year, but I really liked the sentiment. I like working for a company that listens to its customers and acknowledges its mistakes and fixes them.


(If you want more content to reread this week, then I recommend checking out my series of articles on the Vapor Ops test (it culminated here). That was a pretty fun exercise that we all went through last spring.)

It has become a running joke inside R&D that I never seem to pay any attention to the theme when it's a Theme Week on MagicTheGathering.com. I mean well, and I usually try to think about the theme, but what usually happens is that something interesting comes up during my week at work that I think you guys would be interested in hearing about.

This was one of those weeks, but I'll try my best to stay true to the theme anyway.

A little over a year ago, a gathering was held in a small, dark, spooky meeting room called the Lair of the Bookworm. A bunch of well-intentioned Wizards employees were staring at Magic cards. They were a little nervous and a little excited, because these sample cards were the first ever printed using the new card faces slated to debut in the Eighth Edition core set.

Everyone was happy with all of the new frames -- except the artifact frame. "Is it too close to white?" someone asked. "It's kind of close, but lets look at them next to each other." (No one realized it at the time, but laying the cards side by side was not the right way to do this particular experiment.) A moment of silence passed as everyone stared at the cards. And then it happened. "Look at the bottoms. They're actually really different!" "Yeah, you're right . . . players aren't going to get these cards confused."

Kind of a scary story, eh? It's even scarier for me, because I was in that meeting room and I didn't realize what a mistake we were making. Several months later when the new frames were previewed at Pro Tour-Chicago we started hearing people complain, but we really thought that once people got the actual cards into their hands, things would be fine. "These mockups don't have the exactly the same color balance that you'll see when they come off the presses." "The Web doesn't render the colors quite right . . . . Besides, look at the bottoms. They're really quite distinct."

The place we messed up was in evaluating the frames by looking at entire cards. That just isn't the way most players look at cards. Most of the time when people look at cards, they're thumbing through them quickly and only looking at the tops of the cards. It's not like you bust open a pack and pull the cards out one at a time to absorb their full impact. Instead, you slide them over each other and all you see at first are the title bars and the bits of frames that stick out around them.

Once the Eighth Edition cards came out and the chorus of complaints got louder instead of quieter, we started thinking that perhaps we had made a mistake. There weren't that many artifacts in Eighth Edition, though, and the white borders definitely make the cards look different.

Then came Mirrodin.

I have very vivid memories of the Mirrodin Employee Prerelease. I eagerly ripped open my first pack of Mirrodin and rushed through it. Before I got to the end of the booster, there was a horrible recognition creeping throughout my entire body. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach.

It was official: We had made a mistake.

I don't remember when it occurred to me that the bottom of the frames were actually irrelevant to telling the cards apart in most normal situations. Maybe it was when I was building my deck. Maybe it was when I drew my hand of cards in round one. But by the end of the Prerelease I knew we had to change things. I wish I had figured this out earlier, but it was too late for that.

That scene in the Lair of the Bookworm will remain forever in my nightmares . . . . Oh enough of this theme week business already.

Anyway, this particular Halloween story ends happily. Starting with the Fifth Dawn set next June, we are changing the artifact frames. Here's a sneak peek of the new one compared with the old:

New artifact frame
New artifact frame
Mirrodin artifact frame
Mirrodin artifact frame
Icy new
New artifact frame with border
Icy Manipulator
Mirrodin artifact frame with border
Icy new
New artifact frame with border
Skyhunter Cub
White card with border

As you can see, we took away the splash of light that used to overwhelm much of the upper right portion of the frame. We also darkened the entire frame, reduced the weight of the pinline above the title bar, and (probably most importantly) we darkened the title bar itself. The art guys tell me this is a much "cooler" silver, which contrasts nicely with the very "warm" white frame. I just know when I hold this one up next to white cards (and artifact cards) from Mirrodin, it looks very different. And that makes me happy. Uh . . . Happy Halloween!

Last Week's Poll Question

It looks like there was a bug with last week's poll, so I don't have results from that. However, I do know that actual attendance for Champs was up dramatically from last year.

Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.

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