The Restock Mechanic

Posted in DAILYMTG on May 17, 2002

First let’s check in on last week’s polls:

What color should get the best weenies?
White 3806 57%
Blue 245 4%
Black 651 10%
Red 690 10%
Green 1337 20%
Total 6729 100%

Apparently, you guys pretty much agree with my claim that white should get the best weenies. The rest of this breakdown also agrees with R&D’s philosophy: green should get the second-best selection of weenies, while blue gets the worst ones and red and black are about tied for 3rd/4th.

I should probably clarify one thing I said on this subject last week. I did say to enjoy Wild Mongrel while you still can because we aren’t going to print any more green weenies that good. Several of you misread that as “we aren’t going to print any more good green weenies.” Like I said in the previous paragraph, R&D believes green should get the second best crop of small guys and that will include plenty that are good enough to play, even in cutthroat tournament decks. Similarly, when I said that blue’s fliers shouldn’t be as good as white’s, that doesn’t mean there won’t be blue fliers good enough to play in constructed -- don’t worry, there will be. They just won’t look quite as good as the ones white gets. Which brings us to...

What color should get the best fliers?
White 3178 37%
Blue 4005 47%
Black 560 7%
Red 430 5%
Green 419 5%
Total 8592 100%

This poll proved to be more controversial, with blue winning in the end. We in R&D knew that this move would feel weird and we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on how the experiment works out. One of the big problems with figuring out how to balance blue is that is has an extra heaping helping of mechanics because all of them feel blue. Card drawing, bounce, flying, permission, deck manipulation, stealing and all the rest of them fit the flavor of the color really nicely. Plus, many of blue’s mechanics are big, meaty chunks of stuff (the “permission” mechanic obviously has to count for a lot more when we weigh up each color’s piece of the pie than, say, the “land taxing” mechanic or the “lure” mechanic.)

If we don’t make a tough call at some point, then blue is going to continue to be the most powerful color in Magic. It’s clearly on top in Standard right now and I’m not sure there was any historical era when it was actually bad. Maybe we’ll realize later that having high quality fliers is more important to blue than bounce or card drawing or something and change back. Or maybe public outcry will grow and a crowd of petitioners will circle our parking lot with signs proclaiming “Down with Suntail Hawk!” and “Bring back Flying Man!” That might also lead us to change our minds... along with our address. For now, though, this is one piece of our plan for bringing blue back down to earth. Like any other decision we make, we’ll see how it goes and we’ll keep constantly evaluating the results of our work.

(For evidence of another small mechanic that has been moved out of blue and into a color where it fits better anyway, look for the Judgment cards Arcane Teachings and Jeska, Warrior Adept at this weekend’s pre-release tournaments.)

On to Graveyard Week!

Often the most innocuous looking cards are actually the result of many hours of debate inside R&D. The original file that was turned over by the Odyssey design team had a lot more going on with the graveyard than just flashback and threshold. In addition to some other even more complicated mechanics, green had a bunch of creatures with “restock.” Restock was an additional cost that meant that you had to put cards from your graveyard onto the bottom of your library. Sometimes it was a comes-into-play effect, other times it was an upkeep effect, but the idea was to create tension. You wanted to get to threshold but then again you also wanted to play with the good restock creatures, which would probably prevent you from ever getting to threshold.

The development team thought there was too much tension. We were having enough trouble making threshold matter and trying to convince people that it was worth sacrificing resources just to get cards into their graveyard. We were afraid that throwing in restock on top of everything else made the environment complicated and annoying without adding enough strategic depth to make up for these flaws.

Anyway, the Odyssey team decided not to mess around with restock. We thought that maybe later on in the block, when everyone was already used to threshold and understood how to evaluate cards that took cards out of graveyards, maybe the added tension of restock would be worth it, but in Odyssey we felt flashback alone provided enough tension In the end, two of these cards made it into Torment (Anurid Scavenger and Gurzigost) while a third -- the only common restock creature we wound up doing -- wound up in Judgment. Battlefield Scrounger may not be much to look at, but a surprising amount of time went into thinking about his activated ability.

All that talk about tension surrounding cards in graveyards influenced more Judgment cards than just the Scrounger. The five Advocates allow you to mess with your opponent’s ability to get to threshold by returning cards from his or her graveyard to his or her hand. Spurnmage Advocate, for example, will blow up an attacking creature and put your opponent two cards farther away from threshold, but to do that you have to give your opponent two extra cards in hand. Is it worth it? Well, it won’t always be clear. That tension is what makes the advocates interesting to play.

Note that there have to be cards in your opponent’s graveyard for you to target before you can play the Advocates’ abilities. In the original design for these cards (and through most of development), returning those cards was part of the cost to play the ability. That also meant that there had to be cards there before you could play the ability -- which was the functionality we wanted -- but it was really weird to have cards leave the graveyard as part of a cost. Among other things, this meant your opponent couldn’t respond by playing any instant speed flashback cards. By having the cards get returned as part of the effect, we dodged a lot of this rules weirdness and by making them targets of the ability, we got the basic functionality that we needed. (I wish I could remember which member of the templating team suggested this change, because they deserve credit for making these five cards a lot easier to play with.) It’ll be interesting to see how popular these “tension generating” cards are and how much fun you guys think they are to play with.

Changing topics again, we've just started laying the groundwork for Eighth Edition (due out next year), and we were tossing around the question of how much new art the set should contain. So, I figured, why not poll the audience?

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