What I Did Three Days Ago

Posted in Latest Developments on October 16, 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.

I walk into the office, taking a left to get to the stairs rather than going straight to the elevator. I've timed how long it takes me to get to the third floor using both methods, and the average times are almost exactly the same. Exercise makes me feel better, so my habit is to take the stairs.

Two staircases later, I buzz myself past the security door to get into the third floor. Then, I buzz myself through the new set of security doors that separates the elevator hallway from the work area. That hallway now feels a bit like an airlock, and I'm not used to it.

I walk from the doors to my desk. Sitting to the right of my desk is my "Lights" draft deck from yesterday, which I still haven't taken apart and put back into the playtest card pool. It was green-black, with some mana acceleration, fat, and black removal. I thought it was good, but Mike Turian and Matt Place destroyed me with little blue and white flyers. I guess I should have taken that new spider they just added to the file when I saw it late in pack 2. Oh well.

I check my email and discover that a Future Future League tournament has been scheduled for next Wednesday. I grab my white-blue deck and lay it out on the playtest table that sits in the middle of the four core developers' desks. I haven't built a sideboard for this deck yet, and I'll need one for the tournament. Time to get cracking.

I identify each of the archetypes that are popular among playtesters right now, and decide how many cards I want to board out against each of them. Then I figure out what cards I want to replace them. My first priority is to solve the control deck problem. My deck leans control, but more dedicated control decks are tough for me to deal with because I run out of steam before they do. My one copy of Jace Beleren has been really good so far against control decks, and I've had good results with Jace plans in control mirrors before. I settle on three more Jaces, and I'll use them to both draw extra cards and threaten to deck my opponent.

Now I need to solve my matchups against aggressive decks. Against all of them, my single copies of Jace Beleren and the other planeswalker I'm playing are difficult to defend. I add two more spot removal cards to my sideboard so I can cut the planeswalkers for them. I have four more cards that want to come out against aggressive decks, so I put in four copies of a sick new anti-red card and four copies of a card that is awesome against aggressive decks that aren't red.

That takes me to thirteen cards, and I get stuck there. After about ten minutes of thinking, Steve Warner interrupts my train of thought. "Anyone want to FFL?" I smile; I'd rather play more games than think about this. "Steve, I'm in." Steve walks over to me, and we start playing.

Steve is playing his Summoning Trap deck that uses that card as well as mana acceleration to cheat out some big creatures from sets you haven't seen yet. The first game goes long; we go back and forth for a long time, including trading two pairs of Baneslayer Angels. I lose when he plays a creature bigger than anything I can produce that I don't have an answer for. I guess that's what happens when I don't draw any of my fat creatures that give me card advantage.

Summoning Trap
Day of Judgment

We play another game. I counter one of his early creatures, and he plays a free Summoning Trap. That's fine; I have a Day of Judgment in my hand. Fortunately, he only gets a 1/1 creature off the Trap! Sweet. Next turn I counter another creature, and he has another Trap. Once again, he doesn't hit a creature that forces me to Day of Judgment. I counter two more of his creatures and he doesn't have a third trap, and a big ground creature takes down the game with little fanfare. I don't even have to cast the Day of Judgment to win.

Halfway through that game, developer Matt Place arrives at his desk with a bag of carrots, tortilla chips, and hummus. He offers some to Steve and me, then watches the second game. After it's done, we talk about the overall state of the FFL format for a few minutes. We all agree that if we are right, and these decks are actually some of the most powerful ones, then we would be proud of the world we have created.

I get back to my desk and discover that those games were longer than I thought they were. It's almost lunch time! I also find an email from Serious Fun author Kelly Digges asking me if I want to go out for lunch and do some plotting. We're in the same RPG campaign, and our characters have some behind-the-scenes work to do. That sounds fun, so I respond in the affirmative.

Before I go, though, I have a few emails to send. I'm scheduled to attend the Magic World Championships in Rome this November, and there are things that I need to have others take care of while I am gone. I email Erik Lauer and Matt Place with specific requests. Hopefully they will say yes!

Okay, time for lunch. Hmm ... the "Lights" draft deck is still sitting there, but I'm supposed to meet Kelly in the lobby in two minutes. I'll put it away later.

I meet Kelly in the lobby. We decide on Royal Orchid, a Thai restaurant five minutes away from the office. I order panang curry with fresh tofu, one star. It's pretty good, although in hindsight I should have ordered something with more vegetables. Our plotting also goes well; we come up with something that will be fun to do behind the scenes, and should get plenty of reactions at the table from the other players when we unleash it. Awesome.

When we get back to the office, I go back up the stairs and through the airlock. I get back to my desk, and deal with a few emails that I got during lunch. Soon, it's time for the weekly Tuesday meeting. As I stand up to leave for the meeting, I see the "Lights" draft deck is still there. It taunts me as I walk away.

Oh, this is strange. Mark Rosewater is walking away from his desk too, but not going the way I expect him to. "Mark, where are you going?"

"Downstairs the sneaky way."

I'm curious, so I follow him. It turns out there's a way to get from one of the side staircases to the Tuesday meeting room that I didn't know about before. It involves going down some twisty unmarked hallways, but I can handle that if it makes my weekly journey faster. The meeting hasn't started yet when I get there, so I retrace my steps a few times to make sure I remember the series of doors.

The Tuesday meeting is the one time each week when everyone in Magic R&D is in the same room, along with other interested parties who work on Magic. There's usually a small download of corporate information, then we talk about big-picture issues, like how a recent set's Prerelease went or what abilities should go where in the color pie. This time, we get a treat: another Magic team has come to show us an early prototype of something they're working on. We're pretty excited by what we see, but I can't tell you about it. Sorry!

Okay, that meeting is over. Time to go back upstairs and write Latest Developments! I haven't decided what to write yet, which will make this harder. The last three articles have been mechanic-driven and crunchy, so I want to do something a bit light. I muse out loud about various topics, and Mark Rosewater suggests I do something that talks about what being a developer is like. His columns about working at Wizards have always gone over well, and he thinks that they should be part of my repertoire. That sounds light and fun, so I decide to try it.

What are fun ways to peel the curtain back? I often use my employee Magic Online account to play fun decks and formats, and that's something that could turn into an article. I load up Magic Online and check my Net Decks folder to see if there's anything interesting there. I load up my Prismatic Zoo deck. Have I updated it with Magic 2010 yet and Masters Edition III? No, I haven't. I cut four Scorched Rusalkas for four Elite Vanguards. Then I start to adjust the mana base so that I can put in all of the enemy-colored dual lands, but discover that this will require some math. I decide that it's not worth doing now, save the deck, and close Magic Online.

I decide I should walk upstairs and chat with Kelly about what this article should look like. We chat for a little about Rosewater's suggestion. He notes that many authors have done columns about what they do in a typical day, and I haven't done that yet. This sounds fun to write! I could even write what I did in an actual day. Today sounds good.

I go back downstairs and start writing. I creatively title the article "What I Did Today" and start chronicling my day. Giving enough detail about the FFL games I played this morning while not talking about cards I can't talk about yet is a little bit tricky, but I'm happy with how I eventually handle it. I debate with myself about whether lunch with Kelly is worth mentioning, but a big part of why working at Wizards is awesome is the immersion in gaming culture, and I think that talking about my lunch plotting gets that across. While I write about writing my article, I realize that I'm getting dangerously meta.

I get most of the way through my article before I realize that it's five o'clock. Time for the weekly Magic developer meeting! It's a lot like the Tuesday meeting, but it's just for the core developers and our new development intern, Zac Hill. We use it to talk about developer-specific issues that don't concern other teams. First, we go around the table, giving each person a chance to talk about what they're up to and keep each everyone else up-to-date on what we're doing. I talk about some issues I have with a project that I'm leading. Zac brings up some interesting ideas. I write them down so I can think about them later.

After we go around the table, we talk about a larger development issue. We take turns providing the topic, and this week is my turn. Each of the other developers have different thoughts on the question I ask, but I notice some common threads and write them all down. We don't use all of the time allotted, so I go back to my desk and think about what was said. After a few minutes, I find an even stronger common thread that unifies most of what everyone said. Cool. That will be useful later.

I finally put my "Lights" draft deck away. While I put it away, I wonder to myself why I ever thought it was good. Heh.

I return to my desk and write the last bit of my column. Before I send it, I realize that "What I Did Today" isn't quite accurate because you'll be reading this on Friday, not Tuesday. I change the title to match, and send it off to Kelly. Time to go home!

Last Week's Poll

Ob Nixilis, the Fallen 1838 21.0%
Lotus Cobra 1346 15.4%
Sorin Markov 1295 14.8%
Iona, Shield of Emeria 693 7.9%
Chandra Ablaze 508 5.8%
Lorthos, the Tidemaker 494 5.6%
Mindbreak Trap 392 4.5%
Rampaging Baloths 369 4.2%
Eldrazi Monument 331 3.8%
Obsidian Fireheart 309 3.5%
Eternity Vessel 304 3.5%
Warren Instigator 296 3.4%
Nissa Revane 229 2.6%
Felidar Sovereign 229 2.6%
Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet 135 1.5%
Total 8768 100.0%

My choice here got no love from the public. My favorite Zendikar mythic rare is Nissa Revane. She spits out tons of creatures, just like Garruk Wildspeaker, except she never runs out of loyalty while she does it. My favorite Zendikar-era FFL deck used her and Garruk Wildspeaker with Oran-Rief, the Vastwood to make extra big creatures every turn, so I have a soft spot for her.

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