Join the Ranks!

Posted in Making Magic on May 28, 2014

By Tim Aten

Tim Aten is an editor in Magic R&D. His interests include hot fudge sundaes, shameless histrionics, and chump blocking at 20 life. He doesn't own a phone, and if he's wearing socks, they probably don't match.

Salutations, fellow cardboard dragon aficionados! My name is Timothy James Aten, and I work at Wizards of the Coast in glorious Renton, Washington. I started playing Magic during Fallen Empires, and I've been going strong for almost twenty years. While I've had some moderate success on the professional level—I made the Top 8 of several GPs (including a win) and had several deep runs in Pro Tours, in which I finished one win outside of the Top 8—I'm perhaps better known for my "playfully irreverent" articles and my propensity for sitting back and watching matches rather than actually casting spells myself.

I used to spend my days lounging around on a giant pile of cats as I ate ice cream and watched streams, but that existence left me somehow... unfulfilled. Thus, when an editing position opened up in Magic R&D just under a year ago, I jumped at the opportunity to apply.

Because of my experience editing for other companies within the gaming industry and my relatively extensive knowledge of Magic and its cards, I believed I might be the ideal candidate. Sure enough, after the successful completion of a few editing tests and what everyone involved would later describe as "The single worst interview I've suffered through in my entire life," I was hired. The time had finally come for me to leave idyllic Vermilion, Ohio, behind...

Crossing the I's, Dotting the T's, or Whatever

As you're probably aware, editors are the rock stars of the gaming community. We live fast, party hard, and attract attention everywhere we go. Our work is simple and straightforward, so we breeze through it, hardly giving it a passing glance before sending it along. At the end of the day, when we work on a successful product, we get most of the accolades—and if something gets screwed up, there are plenty of scapegoats to absorb the blame.

Or, you know, just the opposite of all that. Suffice it to say, it takes a particular brand of warped mind to pursue this line of work.

Despite having worked on other games, I wasn't exactly sure what I'd gotten myself into with my new job, even as I boarded my one-way flight to Seattle. I assumed most of my work would involve making sure card sets were accurate, in the form of giving everything a once-over before it headed out the door. My unique ability to spot errors would allow me to make astute observations that would save the company millions (if not billions) of dollars; observations like:

"'Thoughtsieze' isn't the correct spelling."

"Lightning Bolt deals three damage, not two damage."

"By Jove, this instant has a power and toughness!"

"The M15 Riven Turnbull in the file taps for blue. We'd better double-check Princess Lucrezia."

Then it would be off to the local train-depot-themed restaurant for a leisurely lunch before heading back to the office to engage in spirited conversations with my colleagues ("Which would you rather have as a pet: a Loathsome Catoblepas or a Ravenous Leucrocota?") and brainstorm card ideas that would impress the designers so much that they'd have no choice but to let me moonlight on one of their teams.

Of course, had I given it a little more thought, I might have realized that the workweek is forty hours long, and the aforementioned activities would account for, at most, twenty of those.

So what is it that I actually do?

Brimming with Boilerplate

Magic R&D editors synthesize a number of items before they head out to production, but naturally, the most important part of our job is editing and proofing card sets. These include not only the "traditional," Standard-legal releases like Journey into Nyx, but also special releases like Duel Decks, Conspiracy, and even Vintage Masters. At any given time, there are about half a dozen sets in the works that demand some of our attention.

Although we pore over all parts of a card, our most important task is probably templating. This process adheres to the Three Cs of Editing: Consistency, Clarity, and Grilled Cheese, the last of which I get for lunch every Thursday from the café downstairs. (Most weeks, it's all I have to look forward to. Nature's candy, it is.) But seriously, we ensure that all the cards make sense, work within the rules, and follow the proper wording as set forth by precedents in Oracle. If you've seen any Beta cards, you'll understand the importance of this process. "Target enchantment or artifact must be discarded" indeed.

When we're not editing card sets, much of the rest of our time is spent assembling files for, and later proofing, inserts, packaging, Prerelease materials, and ad cards. (Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've backproofed the legal text at the bottom of a Fat Pack sleeve.) We also have a number of duties that don't technically entail "editing." For instance, I have also verified collation spreadsheets to make sure that all cards are present and that each color will be adequately represented in booster packs.

One noteworthy aspect of Magic R&D is that there's a lot of "bleed." Members of the creative team can end up on design teams; designers can end up on development teams; and people from pretty much anywhere in the company can participate in playtests. We can submit cards for hole-filling (one process by which designers look for replacements for killed cards); attend design seminars; and, if we have time, play Future Future League games. I myself was actually part of the FFL team for "Dewey." R&D is open to anything that will ultimately result in a better experience for Magic players, so opinions are always welcome during basically every part of the process.

As something of a Limited specialist, I sometimes get enlisted for quickpointing, an activity in which developers rate cards in order to assess the color balance of a set in Limited. And yes, when I'm having a slow day or the developers need to fill a queue, I will sometimes be forced to draft. It's torturous work, but given that I'm an adult, I sometimes feel obligated to make sacrifices for the greater good. You'll note that every set must undergo an extremely vigorous testing process to ensure optimal quality. Without sufficient playtesting, Hold at Bay might have gone to print preventing 6 or 8 damage, and that would have thrown the delicate balance of Born of the Gods/Theros Limited into utter chaos. Tom LaPille can confirm this.

Adjusting to Corporate Culture

Although I have precious little basis for comparison, I'm of the opinion that Wizards of the Coast is an incredible place to work. Magic R&D is located in "The Pit," a series of cubicles with low walls that creates an open environment for sharing information; collaboration; and, of course, inane banter. As much fun as it is to work on Magic, my coworkers are actually the best part of the job—and I'm not what most would consider a "people person." Another aspect of R&D culture I appreciate is that we set our own schedules. As long as we perform our duties well and in a timely fashion, and as long as we attend the required meetings, we can apportion our time to buckling down and lollygagging as we see fit.

Also, there's no dress code. If someone, hypothetically, wished to eschew haircuts entirely and show up to work every day in a Silversun Pickups sweatshirt over a pair of footie pajamas, he or she would be permitted to do so. Such a person wouldn't likely be viewed as "upwardly mobile" or "self-respecting," but maybe those attributes weren't among the person's top priorities at this stage in his or her life. Hypothetically.

Gnarled Scarhide | Art by Greg Staples

Oh, and sometimes Worth brings donuts. Worth, if you're reading this, "hint, hint."

One big surprise about R&D was that the most boisterous presence here is not Mark Rosewater, but rather Head Developer Erik Lauer, who keeps us entertained and distracted with discussions that range from critical to absurd:

Erik Lauer: Which do you believe to be the stronger card: Heat Ray or Disintegrate?
Hapless Intern: Uhh... Disintegrate?
EL: I've found that people underestimate the hidden second mode of Disintegrate.
HI: The one where you kill your opponent?
EL: *triumphantly* Yes!

Join the Ranks!


Currently, the people on the Magic R&D editing team are Del Laugel, Matt Tabak, and me. Del is my "manager," or "supervisor," or whatever the current corporate buzzword is for someone with whom you share mutual professional respect, but who could squash you like a bug if she were so inclined. Matt Tabak is the rules manager first and foremost, but (besides editing work), he also works on Kaijudo and makes cameos in Rosewater's various viral flights of fancy.

During my relatively brief tenure here, we've actually cycled through two other editors. Kelly Digges had been in the department for years when I arrived, but he soon ditched us to go hobnob with Jeremy Jarvis and dream up kooky yarns about goblins and dwarves. (I can't say that I blame him. Jeremy Jarvis is one of the funniest people I've ever met.) Allison Medwin came on for a stint after Kelly opted out, but she got a little too big for her britches after she went undefeated in the Block Constructed R&D challenge on Magic Online a few months ago. I'm not exactly sure what she does now, but from what I understand, she's on the fast track to management.

Really, though, we don't operate at optimal efficiency with only three people. We could use an extra set of eyes on everything and, more importantly, it would be nice if I could free up some time to finish my official card nickname encyclopedia. So if you possess the desire, the expertise, and the sheer audacity to join our motley crew, I encourage you to applyto apply.

All in a Day's Work

Editing can be extremely stressful, but that's because we can't allow ourselves to settle for anything less than perfection. Our profession isn't for the faint of heart. Heck, sometimes I'll end up staring at an insert for so long that I'll forget not only a word's Magic rules meaning, but also its meaning in everyday English, and sometimes even my own address. There are excruciatingly busy weeks in which multiple projects land on my desk "on fire," but, fortunately, there are also slow weeks when I can do practice Sealeds with the Fall 2019 large expansion, chat with Sam Stoddard about Planet of the Apes, or work on the Spotted Cats of North America jigsaw puzzle across from the kitchen.

Ultimately, I'm quite pleased working here. Magic is the best game I've ever played, and I want to help make it as good as possible. I have some good friends here, and they're instrumental both in keeping the environment fun and lighthearted, and in keeping me sane. It's nice being around people with similar sensibilities and senses of humor to my own. Honestly, I can't imagine any profession I'd rather have. (Other than, like, backup backup NFL punter, or Person Who Turns Over the Letters on Wheel of Fortune. Or cookie taster. Or DI sicko grinder. Or ring-tailed lemur. Or...)

Bonus Activity Section

If you're anything like me, you love both testing your knowledge and finding fault. Let's face it: if you made it all the way through this article, there's a reasonable chance that a few brief editing quizzes sound like your idea of a good time. The first of these tests gauges editing and Magic knowledge in a pretty straightforward way, while the second is a little more tangential.

Quiz 1: Templating

What is wrong with the rules text of the following cards?

(Use of the word "CARDNAME" to mean "this card" doesn't count as an error. Let's be reasonable.)

  1. Return target creature from your graveyard to play.
  2. Inspired—Whenever CARDNAME becomes untapped, you may discard a nonland card. If you do, search your library for a card with the same converted mana cost as that card, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.
  3. Tap five untapped Elves you control: Put a green 7/7 elemental creature token with trample onto the battlefield.
  4. Look at target opponent's hand and choose a card from it. You control that player until CARDNAME finishes resolving. The player plays that card if able. While doing so, the player can activate mana abilities only if they're from lands he or she controls and only if mana they produce is spent to activate other mana abilities of lands he or she controls and/or play that card. If the chosen card is cast as a spell, you control the player while that spell is resolving.


Quiz 2: Card Names

Which of these card names have already been used?

  • Archdemon of Greed
  • Elvish Caretaker
  • Fiend of the Shadows
  • Fractured Powerstone
  • Gloombringer
  • Harmony of Nature
  • Heroic Defiance
  • Highland Giant
  • Lightning Barrage
  • Plague Fiend
  • Will of the Ancients
  • Wind Elemental

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