Know What?

Posted in Making Magic on November 16, 2015

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Five years ago, I started a mega-series I call "Question Mark Mailbags." For each one, I ask my Twitter followers for questions starting with a particular question word. I started with the word How ("Know How, Parts 1 and 2").

Next I did the word Why ("Why? Because We Like You"). Then last year I did When ("Say When"). Today marks the fourth in the series, and the word is What.

Here's the tweet I posted:

I got wonderful responses and I'm going to answer as many questions as I can, but here are a few reasons why I might not get to your question:

  • I have an allotted word count, as my article has to get translated into many languages, and I've learned it's good to be nice to your editors and translators. With so many questions, I just didn't have room to answer them all.
  • Someone else might have asked the same question. I tried as much as possible to answer the first person who asked the question.
  • The reason I am starting each of these mailbags with different words is to try and generate different styles of questions. Some people asked "what" questions that weren't really "what" questions, and I skipped them.
  • Some questions had answers that either I didn't know or were outside of my expertise, and I didn't feel qualified to properly answer them.
  • There are some topics I am not allowed to talk about, and questions around those topics were skipped.

With that out of the way, let's answer some questions!

Nothing. We strive to improve Magic each and every day we work on it.

Of ones I personally designed, Shadowmoor. Of any block, Champions of Kamigawa.

That is a great question and one I wrestle with in the little spare time I have. For those who might not know, I have vowed to solve Contraptions—based on a future-shifted card called Steamflogger Boss from Future Sight—before I retire (and no, I have no immediate plans to retire).

I'd say adding a sixth color. That idea is fraught with so many perils.

We now have two worlds a year to visit, and there are a lot of old-time players with a great fondness for Dominaria. That makes me believe that we are bound to return one day, but there are a lot of issues we have to figure out first—the biggest of which being how to take more than nine years of sets and boil down the world into a cohesive place that lines up with the general overview that all our other worlds have.

My biggest worry is the same one I've had for a long time: that the need to constantly churn to create new content will cause the complexity to spin out of control, driving away new players from wanting to learn how to play and ultimately killing the game.

Here's the best advice I can give. Wizards of the Coast has a careers page where we post all of our new jobs. Keep an eye on this page, and when something comes up that matches the skills you have, apply. My one tip is, when applying, remember to explain why we would want to hire you and not simply why you want to work at Wizards.

I am pretty confident you'll see cycling again. It's a great mechanic we've already used numerous times, and I have every confidence it will cycle back into the game. Now, I'm not a developer, but I can say with some confidence that I doubt you'll ever see Astral Slide in a Standard-legal set again, as it's too powerful—but that doesn't mean we'll never make a tweak of it.

The Two-Block Paradigm (having two blocks every year instead of one) is turning out to be a marvelous thing. My only regret is that we didn't figure it out years ago.

I can't tell you because I plan on showing you.

If I could start Magic over, I think I would structure card types, supertypes, and subtypes very differently.

I had a very poor first impression of the exalted mechanic when I was on the Bant mini-team, but it's gone on to become one of my favorite mechanics.

The creative team is constantly thinking up cool new villains for Magic. A new "big bad" is an inevitability.

Which of my children do I love the most?

My favorite is an emotional choice: Maro from Mirage. It's the card that not only gave me my nickname (as it was named after me) but also let me become part of the game that I love so much. Maro was the inspiration for the Magic Invitational prize of letting players make a card. My second favorite, still an emotional choice, is Look at Me, I'm the DCI from Unglued. It's a card that I not only designed, named, and wrote the flavor text for, but also illustrated (making me the worst Magic artist in history). My favorite card that I designed, solely from a gameplay perspective, is Doubling Season from original Ravnica.

The biggest problem is that we want all the competitors at a Pro Tour to be on equal footing, and many places in the world simply don't have access to the cards needed to play Legacy competitively.

There are two reasons, one more developmental (power level), and one more design-oriented. As I'm a designer, I'll talk about the second one. We feel gameplay is better when players have choices as opposed to options (choices defined as interactive decisions, as opposed to options, which are additive decisions—you can read more about it in my two-part column "Decisions, Decisions" Part 1 and Part 2). In the world where you can sacrifice creatures for free, there is little choice to make. You will sacrifice the creature at the moment before you will lose it, or where the sacrifice is necessary to the game. When there is mana involved, you now have to weigh using the sacrifice against other functions such as spells or different activated abilities. It also means that you will have moments of vulnerability, when your opponent can try to play around the sacrifice by waiting for you (or maybe goading you) to use your mana elsewhere. I should note that this doesn't mean we'll never have free sacrifices, but we've moved away from it being a default.

The number-one, best indicator that you're doing something right in your design is when the playtesters are laughing and having a good time.

I'll just say this: I'm right now doing preliminary work on the sets (many years from now) wherein it gets resolved.

I think we've passed the point where we can make the transition. The biggest problem is that there would be cards with wording on them that work under the new rules as written, but the cards wouldn't do what that text says. (For instance, "Return a sorcery to your hand" would mean one thing if we matched original functionality, but a different thing if it followed the text on the card.)

That's easy: split cards. During Invasion design, I showed them to Bill Rose (he was leading the set). He liked them and put them in. Richard Garfield thought they were interesting. Everyone else in the company (and I mean literally everyone else who saw and weighed in on them) didn't like them and thought we should not do them. Henry Stern, the set's lead developer, tried to kill them day one of development (I was on the team and convinced everyone to play with them before killing them). Brand tried to kill them. Organized Play tried to kill them. One of the greatest achievements Bill and I have accomplished in our 20 years at Wizards was keeping the split cards in the set all the way to print. (You can read all about it in my column "Split Decisions.")

It's something players have been asking for us to do for a long time, and we felt it was time to finally do it.

A lot of players don't understand that we have next to nothing to do with power level. We try to make cool mechanics and cards, but we don't determine what gets pushed.

The vast majority of my feedback comes from the internet, with my Tumblr being where I get the most responses. I do try to get out to events where I can to talk to players in person, and I spend a lot of time going to where you all talk to one another to see what you're saying.      

I think it cleverly solved an ongoing problem we've been having.  

The most broken mechanic I ever made was the "free" spell mechanic from Urza's Saga block followed by the dredge mechanic from original Ravnica block. Cipher from Gatecrash turned out to be a big disappointment, as did fateful hour from Dark Ascension and reinforce from Morningtide.

I think Magic would be significantly worse off, but if I had to answer the hypothetical, my guess is we'd lose green and the element of nature would be woven into the other four. It would make the game have two main conflicts—white versus black and blue versus red, which I think are the two most easily understood conflicts. Also, I think mechanically green would be the easiest color of which to pick up the mechanical slack in other colors.

I always look forward to design playtests when we're trying out a new mechanic for the first time.

It's not a question of if Dwarves will return, it's a question of when. In fact, I know for sure of at least one block in the current seven-year plan in which Dwarves play a significant role.

The chances of such a thing are actually pretty good. We recognize that there is a substantial multiplayer audience, and we do want to make sure we keep making products for them.  

For starters, I assume you mean the card type tribal and not the theme of linear mechanics caring about creature types. The former is gone forever, and the latter will continue to be part of almost all Magic blocks. So what could bring the tribal card type back? Unfortunately, I don't see anything having that power.

For those unaware what happened with tribal, let me explain. In Lorwyn block, we were doing a tribal theme and liked the idea of having noncreature cards have creature types so we could interact with them. In order to make it work, the Rules Manager at the time, Mark Gottlieb, made a new card type that allowed noncreature cards to have creature subtypes.

We quickly found we had a problem. If tribal existed, we wanted to make sure we tagged things, because we didn't want one Goblin-themed card to be a Goblin while another Goblin-themed card wasn't. This required us using it all over the place. The problem was, the vast majority of the time it didn't matter. For example, we tried using tribal cards in Innistrad, and 95% of the time it didn't matter—in a set with a strong tribal theme. That meant we were adding words to a lot of cards for very little gameplay improvement, so we decided the correct thing to do was stop using it.

I'd say Odyssey. I made something I was very proud of, only to realize after the fact that it was made for all the wrong reasons. On the plus side, it was probably the set I learned the most on as a designer. It made me understand that my role is not to entertain myself or prove that I can do something, but rather to create a product that the greatest number of people can enjoy playing.

I think it's the concept of the player psychographics (Timmy/Tammy, Johnny/Jenny, and Spike), of getting R&D to realize that there are different types of players with different psychological needs and that we need to make cards keeping that in mind. From a pure design standpoint, my favorite creations are split cards and hybrid mana. From a set standpoint, I am proudest of Innistrad and Ravnica.

After planeswalkers, the card type with the most restrictions and the least amount of design space is land.

Getting enough players to loudly communicate that it's something they are interested in purchasing. Both Unglued and Unhinged had sales issues (I believe it was due to overprinting, but there are other arguments), and the key to getting a third Un-set made is convincing the powers that be that economically there is enough of an audience for it.

Remember that exploratory design isn't about solving problems so much as it's trying to figure out what the problems for design are going to be. A big part of doing that is getting a general sense of what the block wants to be about. Finding this focus is the hardest part.

As it was both the world for the first set I designed as well as the one plane I helped create and did a lot of the world-building for, I would pick Rath. Note that Rath no longer exists, as it's been overlaid onto Dominaria.

Red is the hardest color to design for at low rarities, because it has the second most spells but far fewer types of different spells than blue. Also, a number of things red does, such as land destruction and mana rituals, we've pulled back how often we want to do them, especially at common. Blue is probably the trickiest color to design for at high rarities, because we've pulled back on a lot of the things that blue does there—stealing, clones, et cetera.

That's a tricky question to answer, as it depends what aspect you're looking at. The overprinting of Fallen Empires and Homelands each came close to sinking the game. The development of Urza's Saga block and Mirrodin block each caused huge amounts of players to leave the game. The design of Homelands and Prophecy were huge lows for Magic gameplay. I guess I'll pick Homelands, as it shows up multiple times on the list.


"What You Talkin' 'Bout, Willis?"

That's all the time I have for today. Thank you to everyone who sent in questions. I'm sorry I couldn't get to them all. As always, I'm interested to hear your feedback. You can drop me an email or talk to me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week when I write an article inspired by a podcast (I usually tend to do things the other way around).

Until then, may you always be inquisitive.


As I was off last week, you have two weeks' worth of podcasts today.

"Drive to Work #276—Primary/Secondary/Tertiary"

When talking about which colors get which evergeen creature keywords, we tend to talk about a system we call Primary/Secondary/Tertiary. I talk about it in today's podcast and explain which colors each evergreen creature keyword falls into.

"Drive to Work #277—Fate Reforged, Part 4"

This is the fourth part of a five-part series on the design of Fate Reforged.

"Drive to Work #278—Fate Reforged, Part 5"

This is the fifth and final part of a five-part series on the design of Fate Reforged.

"Drive to Work #279—Bad Cards"

This podcast is based on one of the most popular columns I ever wrote, talking about why bad cards exist.

Latest Making Magic Articles

MAKING MAGIC

December 9, 2019

Even More Maro on Maro by, Mark Rosewater

Every once in a while, I like to sit down with myself and do an interview. I started last week (which you might want to go back and read if you missed it) with a hard-hitting question, so...

Learn More

MAKING MAGIC

December 2, 2019

More Maro on Maro by, Mark Rosewater

In my role as Head Designer and product spokesperson, I do a lot of interviews. I found that I was often asked the same questions, so, fourteen years ago, I wrote a column where I decided...

Learn More

Articles

Articles

Making Magic Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All

We use cookies on this site to personalize content and ads, provide social media features and analyze web traffic. By clicking YES, you are consenting for us to set cookies. (Learn more about cookies)

No, I want to find out more