But first, I want to introduce you to the design team of Magic 2013.
Doug Beyer (lead designer)
Doug started at Wizards doing computer programming for online media. Doug was the one, for example, who made the initial Gatherer program to allow all of you to look up Magic cards. While Doug was doing that, he spent his evenings working on flavor text. This card's rather famous flavor text was written by Doug during this period:
When Matt Cavotta left his role as the creative team member in charge of names and flavor text, Doug applied to be his replacement. As my final duty as head of the creative team, I hired Doug.
Doug has since gone on to be a fabulous member of the creative team. For many years he wrote the Savor the Flavor column here on DailyMTG.com. What many of you might not know (well if you never bother to read my intros of the design teams—which means you're not reading this very paragraph), is that Doug has been on numerous design teams. He showed such progress that we decided to give him his first chance at leading a design. Aaron felt strongly that the core set would be a good first opportunity for Doug because of the higher reliance on top-down resonance.
This was a big opportunity for Doug. No creative team member has ever led a Magic design team before. Doug stepped up to the challenge, though, and hit the ball out of the park. I think you'll all be very happy once you get to see the set in its entirety.
Aaron doesn't have a lot of time to do design and development these days. As director of Magic, he has to spend most of his time making sure the rest of us have the resources we need to create Magic. Aaron likes to keep his toe in, though, so he makes sure he's on a team every once in a while. Ever since Aaron reinvigorated the core set with Magic 2010, he's felt a little possessive of the core sets, so while he didn't have time to lead Magic 2013 he was happy to be aboard the design team.
Aaron is always a joy to have on a design team. He has a good knack for what makes a card interesting and loves the chance to make resonant designs. And if the team ever needs a little muscle to get an idea through the process, having the director on your team doesn't hurt.
Not a lot of people who work at Wizards outside of R&D have the opportunity to work on a design team every year. Graeme does because he's that good. One of the finalists of the first Great Designer Search, Graeme ended up working on the digital team (not to be confused with the R&D Magic digital team). Having him in the building is too much of an attraction to pass up.
Graeme is a treat on a design team because he always turns in a lot of cards and the cards are something only Graeme would design. He both gets what a design needs and knows how to look in places that other designers don't. The tip I always give new design leads is if Graeme is willing to be on your design team, let him.
Ryan is the head designer for the other trading card game we make called Kaijudo (a slightly retweaked version of a game known as Duel Masters in Japan). Ryan basically does what I do but for his game. R&D likes to make use of our whole team while looking for resources for Magic design and development.
Ryan loves creating flavorful designs and the core set seemed a great place to play into this strength. I always love the time and attention Ryan spends on his cards. It always feels like he's taken all the time needed to perfect each and every card he does. On top of that, Ryan is funny as hell (he's a trained improv actor and DJ) and always makes the meetings extra enjoyable.
Mark is one of the brand managers of Magic. That means, day in and day out, he's working on the business side of Magic. I spend most of my columns talking about the design side, but there is just as much work making the business run. I've mentioned before that Mark got his job through an announcement about it in "Making Magic."
Having been a diehard player has proven a boon to Mark. He really has a great understanding of the needs of our customer because he was our customer. We even joke that we incurred a certain drop in Magic sales to hire him. Mark mentioned he would love to have a chance to work on the card side once in a while and that led to him being on a few development teams. Magic 2013 is Mark's first time being on a design team, but if this set is any indication I know we'll be seeing more of Mark in the future.
"Please Sir, I Want Some Core"
Now that I've introduced the design team, it's time to start talking about the design itself. What exactly were the design goals of Magic 2013? Let's walk through them.
Goal 1: Continue the Core Set Model Set by Magic 2010
Several years back, Aaron Forsythe came up with a radical idea of how to reinvent the core set. Instead of just being old, reprinted cards, the core set would start including new cards that would allow the design team to make the exact cards the set needed. It would also allow the team to meet Aaron's other goal, which was to recapture the resonance that Richard Garfield had begun the game with in Alpha.
Sublime Archangel | Art by Cynthia Sheppard
Magic 2011 added to the mix by bringing back an old mechanic and upping the quality of the core draft experience. Magic 2012 upped the game in all these areas. The first goal of Magic 2013 was simply to live up to the new model that every core set since Magic 2010 has used.
Goal 2: Incorporate Magic 2013 More With Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013
During the last two weeks, I've been talking about the important role Duels of the Planeswalkers serves in helping bring new and returning players to the game. The existence of Duels has shifted the role of the core set. For a long time, the core set was thought of as the introductory product for Magic. With the success of Duels, the core set has taken on another important role—serving as the bridge from the online experience to paper Magic.
A big part of helping this transition was to bring the core set and Duels of the Planeswalkers closer together. This meant having elements that showed up in one product also show up in another. R&D worked hard to try and get as many Magic 2013 cards into Duels 2013 as we could. In addition, the Magic 2013 design team worked to find places to bring elements of Duels into the core set.
The biggest place this can be seen is in the introduction of a cycle of five rare legendary creatures. These five legendary creatures, along with the five monocolored Planeswalkers, serve as the ten characters you fight against in Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. Each of these legendary creatures was attached creatively to a spell to help hammer home that these characters are important.
Each legendary creature acts as a miniboss complete with a spell that relates to him or her, much as we made Planeswalker-related spells in Magic 2012. The legendary creatures were made to be flavorful build-around cards that could also be used for the Magic 2013 intro packs.
Finally, the design team added
Nicol Bolas is the major antagonist for the Duels 2013 game. Bringing him to Magic 2013 highlighted his importance as Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker becomes the first (and currently only) multicolor card to ever appear in a core set.
Goal 3: Bring Back a Mechanic
Many years back, R&D tried hard to make the core sets feel similar. As the core set was the entry point, we didn't want to deviate too far from what we thought was the ideal starting place. With the reinvention of the core set, R&D discovered that what worked best for the core set wasn't keeping it the same but making some key differences from year to year to help each core set feel distinct from the last.
Knight of Infamy | Art by Peter Mohrbacher
One great way to do this was to choose an old mechanic each year to bring back for a one-year stint. Magic 2011 brought back scry from Fifth Dawn in the Mirrodin block. Magic 2012 brought back bloodthirst from Guildpact in the Ravnica block. Magic 2013 brings back exalted from Shards of Alara block.
Why exalted? The mechanic was created by Brian Tinsman for the Bant sub-design team. (Brian, Ken Nagle, and myself). Doug and his team felt like exalted did exactly what you wanted for a core returning mechanic: it dripped flavor, was easy to grasp mechanically, and played well.
Obviously, the mechanic belonged in white, as it is the epitome of creatures working together as a team to lend their strength to their champion, but Doug wanted to shake things up a bit. As exalted was Bant's mechanic, it meant that previously it had shown up in white, blue, and green. Doug felt black was an interesting choice for two reasons. One, black had never had exalted before, so it would allow Magic 2013 to explore fresh design space and, two, it played into one of the interesting aspects of the white/black dynamic.
One of the subtle themes in the game is that colors often have more in common with their enemies than their allies. White and black, for instance, are the two colors that most make use of religion. They both create hierarchal structures to reinforce a staunch belief system. True, the means and motives are opposite but the structure is similar. Because of this, Doug felt as if white and black are the two colors most likely to exalt another creature. Fine, white does it through spiritual means and black through dark devotions, but both had creatures that fit a sense of what exalted was all about. Plus, as exalted had not been printed in black before, this would shake up exalted upon its return to offer something new.
Goal 4: Shake Up the Planeswalkers a Bit
Magic 2013 returns to the original Planeswalker mix used in Magic 2010 and Magic 2011. Jace, Chandra, and Garruk are the Magic 2012 versions, but Ajani and Liliana have brand new cards.
Add to that the addition of Nicol Bolas and Magic 2013 has a nice Planeswalker presence. In addition, there were some Planeswalker support cards added at lower rarities.
Goal 5: Throw in a Bunch of New Things
Besides the big themes and the return of exalted, Doug and his team managed to fit in a few smaller things. For example, there's the ring cycle:
There's another uncommon cycle that hasn't been shown yet but adds an interesting twist for drafting. There are more lords. There's more "build around me" for Limited.
As the core set has transitioned away from a set of just reprints to a set that showcases what Magic has to offer as it helps introduce players to the paper game, the design team is able to add in new themes and tools to help the set have an impact on the different formats it will get played in.
Goal 6: Use the Core Set to Show Off the Multiverse
While the core set has always been a smorgasbord of the Multiverse, Magic 2013 has brought that element closer to the surface. Several of the high-profile cycles, for instance, make a point to specifically play up the different planes of Magic. The legendary creatures each hail from a different plane. The rings are each from a different location on the plane of Shadalar. Magic 2013 is taking this feature and turning up both the volume and the focus.
Goal 7: Bring Back a Few Exciting Reprints
One of the biggest surprises of Magic 2013 is the return of this card:
While Rancor is the highest-profile card to return, Doug and his team looked throughout Magic to bring excitement not just through new cards but also through some old ones. Not all of the cards are public yet, but I think once the set is known, you'll see some fan-favorites coming back (although none at the power level of Rancor).
Goal 8: Add a Cycle of Mythic Rare Iconics
Last, but not least, Doug and his team wanted to create something to fill in the void of the departing Titans. The idea was to make a cycle a little looser than the Titans in that they wouldn't be mechanically linked but rather just a collection of in-your-face, exciting mythic rare cards.
White got Sublime Archangel.
Blue got an enchantment we haven't shown you yet.
Black got the return of Vampire Nocturnus.
Green got Elderscale Wurm.
And red? Red got, what is in my opinion, the best of them all, and it just so happens to be my preview card for today. But before I reveal it, a little set-up.
Several months ago, I did what is called an AMA (which stands for "Ask Me Anything") on the website Reddit. In it, people asked me questions and I spent six hours answering as many as I could. One question came from a Magic player named Brian Kibler. You might know him as the Hall of Famer known for his love of playing Dragons. This was his question:
Why haven't there been any truly awesome dragons in a long time?
Here was my response:
We tend to focus our best Constructed cards on the things that highlight what the set is about. Dragons in recent sets haven't been the focus (dragons are not exactly key to horror world) so we haven't pushed them.
I am happy to tell you that there is a dragon that I've been told is very tournament worthy in the pipeline. I can't tell you for what set but suffice to say it's been made and you all will have a chance to play it soon enough.
Many readers assumed I was talking about Niv-Mizzet, a dragon who might be poking his head into an upcoming block, but that wasn't the dragon I meant. What I was talking about was today's preview card. The best way I can describe it is to simply quote what Doug said when I asked him about the design of the card: "My goal was to create a Dragon that was to Dragons what
Luckily, Doug got Zac Hill (the lead developer for Magic 2013) to buy into this vision and Thundermaw Hellkite was born. Without any further ado, let's meet
Thundermaw Hellkite | Art by Svetlin Velinov
They say in writing to get out on your high note, and nothing I'm going to say is going to top Thundermaw Hellkite. I hope you enjoyed my peek into the design of Magic 2013. I'm curious to hear all of your opinions on Magic 2013 so far.
Join me next week when I tell some stories about some cards from Magic 2013 (but not the ones you might expect).
Until then, may you have a chance to take something good and make it even better.