There are so many cool cards coming back in Eighth Edition that I found I couldn't really limit myself to just one. Instead, this week's column will be my side of the "Making of the Set" story.
Core sets don't really have a design team the way expert-level sets do. All the cards are repeats, so no one needs to think up anything new. However, core sets do still have a sort of lead designer in the sense that someone has to take the first crack at putting the set together. For Eighth Edition, that person was me.
The process actually began late in the development of Seventh Edition. I was on the development team for that set and several times during the process we had the same basic conversation: One person would say "[Some color] really needs a card that showcases [some staple of its flavor]" and then the rest of us would eventually say "Geez, all of our options suck - this one is too good in constructed and that one uses a block-specific mechanic and that other one is just lame."
For example, black doesn't have any Demonic Tutor-like effects in Seventh Edition because there wasn't one at an appropriate power level. Demonic Tutor itself is among the power cards in Type 1 so we clearly couldn't reprint it and we felt Vampiric Tutor was also scarily good. Vampiric Tutor was in Sixth Edition and it didn't ruin anything there, but it does give combo decks really cheap and easy access to their combo pieces. On balance we felt really efficient "tutors" were unhealthy for Standard and so we didn't want to reprint Vampiric in Seventh. We almost did anyway just because we had no other options … leaving out Vampiric Tutor meant there would be no tutor at all to show off this aspect of black's flavor to new players.
Anyway, the result of this series of conversations was that we created the Eighth Edition Wish List, consisting of all the cards that the Seventh Edition team wished it had had access to. The idea was that we would print appropriate cards in expert-level sets that would fill in all these gaps and thus the Eighth Edition team wouldn't have the same problems. Shortly after my work on Seventh Edition was done, I was put in charge of the development of Odyssey and I made sure to sneak in as many cards from the Wish List as I could. Most of you have probably already figured out that Diabolic Tutor was a direct result of this effort. 2BB is a fair price for the vanilla version of that effect - it's good enough to play, but it's not so efficient that it can help combo decks set up fast kills. Concentrate, Zombify, and Demolish also came straight off the 8E Wish List and into Odyssey.
Since I had been involved in all the conversations by the 7E team about what should go into the set and what we wish could have gone into the set, that put me in a good position to put together the first draft of Eighth Edition. My next step was to go through the Mercadian Masques and Invasion blocks to look for cool cards to reprint. Since we update the core set every two years, we always move forward the window of sets that we pull from by two blocks. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule (Elvish Champion went into Seventh because we really wanted each color to have a "lord" and the Odyssey block cards from our Wish List were, of course, going into Eighth) but it is a rule of thumb that we mostly try to observe. Of course, I also thought about what cards I thought were particularly cool from before Masques block as well. What fun would it be to put together a core set without including any cards that I just thought would be cool to bring back? I can't be the only one with fond memories of Moss Monster and Royal Assassin, can I?
Around the time I was scouring old card sets for possibilities, Aaron Forsythe approached me. "You know," he said with a devilish look in his eye, "If you guys are serious about having MagicTheGathering.com empower the players, then you ought to let them pick some of the cards that are going into Eighth Edition." My first thought was "no way." Decisions about what cards would be in Standard for the next two years and what cards would teach new players about the game just seemed too important to take out of the hands of the experts inside R&D. However, I had to admit that the idea was cool. I definitely thought it had the potential to be a very popular promotion so I promised that while I was putting the set together, I would make a list of all the decisions where it wasn't super crucial which way we went. It might turn out that everything on my list was boring stuff like "Should the common black regenerator be Drudge Skeletons or Deepwood Ghoul?" but then again maybe not.
That weekend I took home a big stack of cards that I had pulled from the R&D library along with a 3-ring binder and started putting my first draft of the set together. As it turned out, there were a lot more close calls than I was expecting and some of them were things that made for quite compelling public votes. Much to everyone's delight, we did indeed get to run a Selecting Eighth Edition promotion last summer on this website. Click here to refresh your memory about the decisions you guys made that influenced the set.
Because of the Selecting Eighth Edition promotion that he was running, Aaron spent a lot of time thinking about how the set was coming together. As Mark explained on Monday, Aaron knew that we had changed the release date so that the set would come out in conjunction with Magic's 10-year anniversary (the previous couple of core sets had come out in the spring of odd numbered years). Aaron complained to Mark that the set didn't feel worthy of the occasion and Mark took that sentiment and ran with it. Soon, after a lot of hard work and creative arguing by Mark, Eighth Edition had its greatest hits theme.
By this point I had already handed the set off to the development team and that team was already thinking that maybe Magic's core set could stand to be a bit more complicated than Seventh Edition was, especially at rare. That sentiment plus the obviously great flavor of having something new from every set ever led the team to bend its normal rules a bit and include a few cards with upkeep, a token generator, a card with +1/+1 counters, and so on. The team made a bunch of other improvements to the set too.
All in all I'm pretty happy with how Eighth Edition turned out. The set underwent a lot of changes between the time I took home a bunch of cards and blank binder pages and the time you guys will get to open it up in two weeks, but I think it got better every time it got changed.
Follow up on last week's article
Last week I wrote about some decks that were lost at the U.S. Nationals/Junior Super Series show. I got a lot of really positive feedback about the article, but I did not get the one email I was hoping for. No - the kid has not contacted me to claim his lost cards. If you know someone who lost two 800-count boxes worth of decks two weekends ago in San Diego, please point them to my article from last week.