Greetings, Planeswalkers and other denizens of the Multiverse! It's that time of year again, wherein I regale you with all that was Magically Magnificent in the past year! Yes, thanks to all of you, Magic had another great year of growth! Many great things happened, products were released, mazes were ended, and monsters were monstrositied!
Beyond my yearly recap, I have a sneak peek at some upcoming goodies that are sure to pique your interest, so jump on in!
I'll begin with my review of 2013…
As good as our four main booster releases were last year (more on them later), the real standout product of 2013, in my mind, is Modern Masters. It was a scary set to work on, as the last product we made with the primary goal of increasing availability of older cards was Chronicles back in 1995, the poor handling of which led to sufficient consumer backlash that ended up with my predecessors here at Wizards of the Coast creating the Reserved List of cards we're forbidding ourselves from reprinting.
But we got it right this time. The Limited format was an absolute blast—many players have cited it as their favorite of all time. The print run was small—we intentionally chose the conservative side—but that ensured that the market didn't become flooded with cards that were previously difficult to obtain, and that scarcity contributed in large part to the most awesome Magic event ever held, the 4,491-player Grand Prix Las Vegas.
But the best thing to come out of the printing of Modern Masters is huge growth in the participation in the Modern format. Entries in Modern events more than tripled in 2013 compared to 2012, making it easily our #2 Constructed format behind Standard. And the best part is that nearly all of this growth came at the store level—we offered the same suite of one Pro Tour, one round of PTQs, and seven Grand Prix in the format in both 2012 and 2013, and while attendance at those events was up year-over-year, the growth there didn't approach doubling, let alone tripling. I'm not sure if it was the Modern Masters product specifically, or that its release merely cemented the idea that we were serious about promoting the format, or just that as more people gave it a try they found they liked it, but the growth was tremendous—a great sign for potential future Modern Masters–like products in the future!
Gatecrash and Dragon's Maze
The Return to Ravnica block started out with a bang in 2012, and the sequel sets kept the goodies flowing through the first half of 2013. The unique block structure—we had never released a large set in February before—played out well with the drafting crowd, as the switch to triple-Gatecrash let all ten guilds be fully realized in Limited play in a way the original Ravnica block didn't allow. New mechanics like extort, battalion, and fuse added spice to decks from the kitchen table to the Pro Tour's top tables, and exciting cards from Domri Rade to Maze's End lent themselves to new and exciting decks.
If there's a complaint to be had, it's that the two large sets played so differently from one another in draft that the correct thing to do when playing the whole block was to force a Gatecrash guild because the payoff was much greater. That's a casualty of us never working on a block quite like this before, and is something we'll be much more conscious of going forward, should we ever do it again.
Magic's latest core set was headlined by something that did not fare as well as we'd hoped—the return of the popular Sliver creature type. We revamped them in a couple of ways from how you last saw them in Time Spiral block, most notably by having their rules text affect only the Slivers on your side of the table, as well as a creative reboot that made them look more humanoid. Each change was met with some degree of suspicion and dislike from a segment of our veteran players. I will say that while the game play change is exactly in line with what we've been doing with tribal cards over the past several years—a change I believe in strongly—I wish we could have found a creative solution that would have updated them beyond the wriggly little spike-faces of yore but would have been more widely embraced as an improvement. Alas, maybe that wasn't possible.
Magic 2014 did deliver some uncontested awesomeness in the form of three new Planeswalker cards—including the most potent version of Chandra to date—a cycle of cleverly implemented color hosers headlined by Lifebane Zombie, and some surprising reprints in Mutavault and Scavenging Ooze, among other things. And it upped the lovable quotient of Magic cards significantly with flavorful groupings such as the Bogbrew Witch trio, as well as Johnny favorites like Young Pyromancer.
What can I say about Theros that you aren't experiencing every day playing Magic right now? I love this set, and it appears that all of you do as well! With a Limited environment that supports decks of all different speeds and flavors, a surprisingly format-defining mechanic in devotion, and some of the most evocative and flavorful cards ever printed, Theros has something for everyone.
The good news is that there is more of that something on the horizon. We haven't done a "traditional" large-small-small block since Scars of Mirrodin—in fact, we do them so infrequently now that they can hardly be called "traditional"—but Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx will keep the Greek-inspired goodness flowing for the next several months!
It took a while, but we finally came out with the follow-up to 2011's first set of Commander decks. Hopefully you'll agree that the new batch was worth the wait. The five decks are a blast to play, are jam-packed with exciting reprints, and feature some new takes on designs for legendary commanders that couldn't appear in any other product.
One thing that didn't go exactly as planned with these latest Commander decks is the imbalance in availability caused by the presence of a highly sought-after Legacy card—True-Name Nemesis—in one of them. While I don't regret printing cards in products like these that are powerful enough to show up in Constructed decks in Eternal formats, I don't like that the decks offer such different value propositions when there's an imbalance like there is here. We'll be doing our best to maximize equality in fixed products going forward!
With a bigger-than-ever slate of Grand Prix events, compelling live coverage of every Pro Tour and two continents of GPs, and a fresh new take on "Worlds Week," Magic's premier play was at an all-time high in 2013 for engagement and excitement. We got to watch big names like Tom Martell, Josh Utter-Leyton, Craig Wescoe, Reid Duke, Shahar Shenhar, Raphaël Lévy, Sam Black, Makihito Mihara, Paul Rietzl, Jérémy Dezani, and Owen Turtenwald etch their names in Magic's history books and inspire our deck choices over the course of the year. And 2014 promises to be even better, with an additional Pro Tour and even more event coverage!
On a slightly more local but no less impressive scale, we upped our game in 2013 with regards to "branded play" activities—those flavorful layers put onto Prereleases and other events that help immerse you in the rich stories and worlds of Magic as you play.
We began with the reprise of guild boxes with the Gatecrash Prerelease and ended with the spectacular Face the Hydra Challenge Deck at Theros Game Day. In between, we got to run a Dragon's Maze (perhaps a bit too convoluted of an activity). The Magic 2014 Prerelease lacked a branded play component, but we'll be rectifying that for core sets—and all sets—going forward.
If I have one regret with all that happened in Magic in 2013, it's that we didn't give our own 20th anniversary the level of pomp and circumstance it deserved. We ran a sweet event at Gen Con, and we all remember From the Vault: Twenty, but there was scant little else.
We have been burned in the past slapping "10th Anniversary" and "15th Anniversary" on every product we made during those years, and we believe they cost us potential customers as new players worried that they were hopelessly behind; this was at a time when we were losing customers to begin with and didn't need any additional help doing so! But now we're in the midst of a long dramatic upswing and we've gotten more savvy about how to market to different demographics. I'm sure we could have done more here and had it be net positive for both the brand and the community. Here's to looking forward to 25 and beyond.
Although as I write this in late November, 2013, it is the proverbial elephant in the room, I do think it's fair to remind people that, in general, Magic Online works and works well, allowing thousands of people to play formats of every stripe using just about every card ever printed at any time of day or night, every day of the year. We have a never-ending rapid stream of set deployments in paper that Magic Online is able to keep up with, which is a real testament to the teams that make that happen.
But there have been problems—this year, last year, every year. It's the nature of the beast, unfortunately, and trust me when I say that no one wants Magic Online to be all that it can be more than us. I am encouraged by what's happening here behind the scenes. Worth Wollpert and the Magic Online team are committed to both making improvements and keeping all of you informed of what's happening moving forward, so stay tuned.
Quite the Year…
That's most of what happened in 2013, and what a year it was. There are some things I didn't cover, like our Theros party at PAX, the Comic-Con exclusive, Magic 2014—Duels of the Planeswalkers…. Well, there is one other thing from 2013 I want to touch upon…
You Make The Card
For the first time since 2006's Vanish into Memory (that card did, indeed, vanish into memory), we asked you, the readership of DailyMTG.com, to vote on a series of options that led to the creation of a card, a black enchantment called Waste Not.
I'm happy to be able to debut the "finished product"—the actual typeset and ready-for-press version of Waste Not right here:
What's Going on with That Card Frame?
As you can see from the expansion symbol, Waste Not will be appearing in this year's core set, Magic 2015. As you can also see, a number of tweaks have been made to the card frame.
I spent most of 2013 leading the design of M15, an ambitious set that will introduce a few new things to the game, not the least of which is an update to the existing card frame. We have a lot of smart people here in the building who are constantly thinking of ways to improve Magic. Many such ideas involved tweaks to the front of cards, but since we don't want to make sweeping changes to card frames often, we let a few such ideas pile up for a while before picking an opportune time to deploy them in a big batch. M15 was that time.
There are five big changes visible above on Waste Not. Four are game-wide changes that will be implemented in M15 and every set going forward, and the last is a little something special just for this set. Let's go over them.
1) The font
Since its inception, Magic has used off-the-shelf fonts on its cards. As a brand, we feel that we'll be better served by having our own unique proprietary font—something with a little edge and character that is still very readable.
In general, we liked the heaviness and shape of the "Matrix Bold" font we'd been using previously, so there are a lot of similarities between the old font and the new, named "Beleren," which should alleviate any jarring feeling when you mix the two together in decks.
2) The holofoil stamp
You'll notice a little silver oval in the bottom center of Waste Not. That's a new unique holofoil stamp that we're applying to all rares and mythic rares going forward. This stamp makes those cards feel more special, as well as guarantees authenticity.
Commons, uncommons, and basic lands will not feature this stamp.
3) The collector info
In the lower left of the card is a series of letters and numbers that indicate the card's collector number (122/269), rarity (R), set (M15), and language (EN). The little dot between the set and the language will be a star on premium cards, so just about everything you'd ever need to know about a card's edition is in one easy-to-read place.
Making the bottom of each card black to accommodate this information was not an easy decision, and may be the most disconcerting part of this frame update, but it was done with the best of intentions. This information is machine-readable by recognition software at our production plants. It will help eliminate the rare packaging error, like cards sneaking into the wrong expansion's boosters.
4) Decreased border size
In order to fit all this cool new stuff on the cards, we've reduced the width of the black border by almost a millimeter all the way around. This reclaimed real estate allows us to have slightly bigger art and text boxes as well.
5) The designer credit
You'll notice that we gave you all credit for making this card in the place normally occupied by flavor text—"Designed by the Magic community." This is the first time we've ever given credit for a specific card design on the card itself, and it's you! You should be very proud! While every card going forward won't feature a designer credit (kinda sad, really), there are a handful of others in Magic 2015, specifically, that will. (You'll have to wait on those details! It's cool, I promise!)
Those are the main components of the card frame update. Here's another M15 card for comparison. This one isn't rare, so it has no stamp; is a creature, so it has a P/T box; and isn't black, so you can see the frame design more clearly. All in all, it is an impressive modernization of the card frame, one I'll be excited to get my hands on this summer with M15.
Are you excited yet for the coming year? I know I am, and there are still scores of untold secrets to discover about what we have in store! I have an incredibly deep and talented team working for me, and what it has come up with for next year is all kinds of amazing!
Thanks, everyone, for a great 2013, and here's to a super-fun and Magical 2014!