Here's a super-difficult trivia question. What two people played the very first ever game of Magic? Okay, one of them was Richard Garfield. That was the easy half of the answer. Who did he play against? The answer:
Who is this guy you ask? His name is Barry "Bit" Reich. Barry is a gamer. Barry is also a friend of Richard's. Important to this story is that Barry was friends with Richard while Richard was designing Magic. We talk a lot about the original playtesters (here's a few whose names you might recognize—Bill Rose, Charlie Catino, Skaff Elias, Joel Mick, Jim Lin). These were people who were gamers and friends (or friends of friends) of Richard's during the time Richard was creating Magic. When Richard needed a group to playtest the new game he was making, this is who Richard turned to. The day that Richard put together the very first Magic deck, Barry was lucky enough to be the person Richard wanted to try out the game on.
As a quick aside for those that want to know more about the very first Magic game ever played, Richard made a single 80-card deck with all five colors and artifacts and then split it in two for them to play. Remember, in the beginning, Magic's deck size was 40 cards, not 60. The games were played for ante, as all original Magic games were, and the two played until one of them had an unplayable deck. When Barry and I talked about this many moons ago, Barry claims that he had the honor of winning the very first game.
A few other facts about Barry. His nickname Bit came from the fact that he was both small and a computer science major (and now a computer scientist). Barry was the first one to build an all-artifact deck. He worked hard to trade for most of the Moxes in the environment (there weren't many, as Richard kept the card count low to reflect what he felt would be the real-world play experience—yes, Richard guessed wrong on that one). Richard's favorite Magic-playing memory of Barry was that Barry loved playing Sea Serpent, and whenever he got one into play he would growl and get a plastic snake out of his bag that he would throw on the table.
Once Richard realized that Magic was going to have a future, he knew that they were going to need expansions and he understood he wasn't going to be able to make them all. So Richard turned to the only other people that knew of Magic at the time (other than Peter Adkison, founder and longtime CEO of Wizards of the Coast, and a few other people at the company). The playtesters came from several different groupings, so Richard assigned each group their own expansion.
The first playtest group included Skaff Elias, Jim Lin, Dave Petty and Chris Page (known by some as the East Coast Playtesters). They were assigned a set that was codenamed "Ice Age." You might know it under its released name: Ice Age. This same design team would go on to design several other sets: Antiquities, Fallen Empires, and Alliances.
The second playtest group included Bill Rose, Joel Mick, Charlie Catino, Don Felice, Howard Kahlenberg and Elliott Segal. There were assigned a set codenamed Menagerie. You might know it by its released names: Mirage and Visions (the set was so big it got split into a large and small set). While that team as a whole never designed any other sets, both Bill and Joel went on to serve time as the Head Designer and each, along with Charlie Catino (who also came to work at Wizards), worked on the design of numerous sets (Bill, for example, was also the lead designer of Invasion, Torment, Darksteel, Shards of Alara and Conflux.)
The final set was assigned to a single designer: Barry Reich. His set was codenamed Spectral Chaos and had a theme that intrigued Barry: multicolor. Remember, at this time, multicolor spells didn't exist yet. Ice Age and Menagerie each found its way to release, but Spectral Chaos was having a harder time. Just as Richard had sought out designers for future sets, so too did Peter Adkison. One such group was a bunch of friends that Peter had roleplayed with. They ended up designing the set Legends. (For the full story by Legends lead designer Steve Conard, check out this feature article from December 24, 2002.) While very different from Spectral Chaos, Legends introduced multicolor cards. This took the wind out of the sails of Spectral Chaos, and the set was shelved. All of Barry's work, including the domain mechanic, was stuck in the closet.
The Coming Invasion
Flash forward to several years later. Bill Rose, Mike Elliott and I are working on the large set which follows the Mercadian Masques block. The game was in a bit of a slump and we wanted to create something extra-exciting that would reinvigorate the players. All three of us turned to the same idea because it was something we'd talked about for years: a multicolor-themed block. Yes, multicolor had been added to the game and appeared in small numbers in most sets, but we had never done a set, let alone an entire block, dedicated to the theme, especially not in the numbers we were thinking.
When the design team was put together, Bill remembered Spectral Chaos. While certain elements of the set had either already been done or went down a different path than we were thinking, Spectral Chaos was a multicolor set with some cool designs. Bill decided that we would look through it and incorporate any aspects we liked into Invasion's design. (For the full story of Invasion's design, check out Bill's feature from August 9, 2005—by the way, there are gems aplenty in our archive if you ever feel like checking it out.) So four of us—Bill, Mike, me, and Spectral Chaos—headed off to Tahoe for a week of designing / skiing. (Go read Bill's article or my column if you want to understand how skiing ties into Invasion's design.)
While we used numerous individual cards from Spectral Chaos, the standout was an unnamed mechanic. It boosted a card's strength based on how many different basic lands you had in play. This was perfect for what we wanted to do with Invasion. One of the block's themes was that it pushed you toward playing five colors. Barry's mechanic fit into what we wanted to do and was a clean, elegant design. As it didn't have a keyword, Bill, Mike and I just referred to it as "Barry's mechanic," which ultimately turned into "Barry cards." For all of design and development that is what we called the cards with the mechanic. Many of the playtest things were things like Barry's Bolt or Barry's Draw.
The name domain was coined by the creative team. Even though the cards didn't reference the mechanic by name (we didn't have ability word technology back then), we knew the players were going to want to refer to them by name. As "Barry's cards" seemed like a poor choice, the creative team came up with the term "domain," which we used whenever we officially talked about the mechanic. When Conflux brought it back and we knew we wanted an ability word, the former nickname—which was how most players referred to the mechanic—was the obvious choice.
Barry's Land Ho
Domain was very popular within R&D—so much so that for a while it completely dominated the FFL (Future Future League—our internal R&D playtest league that tests a year or so ahead). Having played a domain deck a bunch, I got a crazy idea into my head. Wouldn't it be cool if we could have the domain cards "go to six" rather than five? I even came up with a rather innocuous little card that could do it:
Barry's Land counts as a basic land.
T: Add one colorless mana to your mana pool.
The idea of Barry's Land was simple. It was a land that tapped for . Oh, and it was a basic land. That's it. Notice that at the time we didn't have the basic supertype yet, and thus the basic part has to be written out on the card. The way the rules worked at the time, it also meant that this card was both a basic and a nonbasic land at the same time. To the best of my limited rules understanding, this was because the basic lands were defined within the rules and the only way to make this a basic land would be to change the rules, meaning that this being a basic land wouldn't appear in the rules text. You would just have to know that we added Barry's Land as a new type of basic land. This was both unfeasible and messy. As you will see, this little hang-up proved to be a problem.
Here's what I loved about the card: I would show it to people and they would give me a look. We would then get the following dialogue:
Them: What's it do?
Me: It taps for one colorless mana. And it's a basic land.
Them: That's all?
Them: Why would anyone play this?
Me: They will. I'm pretty sure it's tournament-viable.
I would then get an even stranger look. I'd smile and move on to the next person.
As a designer, I'm a fan of hidden gems, that is, cards that don't look like anything on their surface but turn out to be very good. Barry's Land to me was the perfect example of a hidden gem. Domain decks would eat it up but before players understood that was its purpose they would just scratch their heads.
Be aware, when I first made the card I was half joking. But the more I saw the reaction it was getting, the more inspired I became to make it a reality. I showed the card to Bill. He liked it. I showed it to other R&D members. They liked it. One day, Bill said to me, "Barry's Land is in."
Just like that, Barry's Land became an Invasion card.
I've Gotta Catch a Planeshift
Once Bill put Barry's Land in the set, it entered the FFL where it saw quite a bit of play. At the time the domain deck was probably the strongest thing in Invasion. Development was nervous and saw what a boost Barry's Land was to the deck. To give development more time to understand the power of Barry's Land they asked if they could move it off to the next set, Planeshift. The Rules Team (back then there was a team that met regularly to discuss and oversee the rules; currently the Rules Manager oversees the rules with consultation with others) also wanted more time to work with it and liked having it pushed back. Design was also fine with the move, because we felt that Barry's Land was an evolution of the domain mechanic and we normally held those back until after the set that introduced it. We all agreed—Barry's Land would move to Planeshift.
The development team began realizing that the domain mechanic was overpowered and started tweaking cards to get back to the power level they wanted. Barry's Land improved the deck, but everyone liked it so they developed around it. Things with the Rules Team weren't quite as favorable. The Rules Manager at the time was a woman named Beth Moursund. For those who need a timeline, she was the Rules Manager after Tom Wylie and before Paul Barclay. (Technically, she was before Brady Dommermuth, as Brady was an interim Rules Manager for a number of months while we were looking for a new Rules Manager.)
Here, with my normal helping of dramatic license, is the conversation where Beth told me that Barry's Land couldn't be printed:
(Beth comes to my desk)
Beth: The Rules Team just met. We all agree we can't do Barry's Land.
Beth: It's complicated.
Me: Put it in non-rules-speak for me.
Beth: Okay. (slowly) It ... doesn't ... work.
Me: It's a basic land. The game has that already. When I start counting basic land, I get to count it.
Beth: But it's not just a basic land. It's also a nonbasic land.
Beth: No, not okay. Matter can't also be antimatter.
Me: If we print the card, it will cause a collapse of the time/space continuum?
Beth: I know this card's your baby, but it's an ugly baby and we can't print it.
Me: I wouldn't have gone with that metaphor.
Beth: I'm sorry we can't make the card.
Me: You're sorry we can't make the card now. Who knows what improvement in rules technology the future holds? One day we'll bring the mechanic back and maybe then, in that far-flung future, there will exist a way to print Barry's Land.
Beth: Whatever you say, Mark.
The Far-Flung Future
If this were a movie we'd do a cool fade where we fade from the old Barry's Land on a playtest sticker to a Barry's Land on a new playtest sticker. Then we pull back to seeing the card being played in Conflux design. You know, if this was a movie. (If I had the budget and the time and the access to the right equipment and editing software and the know-how to use it, I'd so turn Making Magic into a video podcast.)
When the basic supertype was added to the game, then–Rules Manager Paul Barclay (this article should be a favorite for the Rules Manager history–loving crowd) told me that we were now able to print Barry's Land. So many years later, when Bill told me he was adding it to Conflux design, I believed Barry's Land was finally going to see print. But I forgot one important thing: my arch nemesis Mark Gottlieb, current Rules Manager. (You have to now imagine me shaking my fist at the sky and screaming "Gottlieb!"—for those who don't get that joke, really you should be watching The Colbert Report—and The Daily Show too.)
Let me also explain that I was not very involved in the "Barry's Land II: Electric Boogaloo" fight. I wasn't on the Conflux design or development teams, so I was removed from the day-to-day machinations. Also, as Head Designer I keep a close eye on sets in design, but my attention stops once the set goes to development. Barry's Land was in the design handoff. The champion of this Barry's Land fight was Magic's one other fulltime designer, Great Designer Search alum Ken Nagle. Like any true Magic designer, Ken saw the beauty that was Barry's Land, and he fought hard to keep it in the set. (It's quite interesting to watch a young designer go through the same stuff you did back in the day.)
The first incarnation put into the design file by Bill was:
CARDNAME counts as a basic land type while in play.
This version upped the domain count by one but didn't have any other basic land interaction, as it was a basic land only while in play. For example, you couldn't Rampant Growth for it. The other problem it had was the whole "Is it a nonbasic land when it becomes a basic land?" issue. This card, for example, is clearly a nonbasic land card, yet in play is clearly a basic land. Does it stop becoming a nonbasic land (defined in the rules as not being a basic land) when it becomes basic? What makes that happen? Anyway, rules fuzziness aplenty, plus it didn't have some of the out-of-play basic land interaction that people wanted.
Next, Ken made this card, which he mocked up:
Cave was the cleanest simplest version of the card. It was probably what Paul Barclay had in mind when he said we could now make it. Unlike other incarnations, this one actually does work in the rules. It had a different problem, though. In order to make it work, Barry's Land had to have a new basic land subtype. It couldn't merely count as a basic land, as that wouldn't up the domain count. No, it had to have a new basic land type. While possible, creating a sixth basic land type had huge ramifications. There are a lot of rules both in the game rules and in the tournament floor rules that revolve around basic land types. If Cave were printed, for example, the following would all happen:
- Coalition Victory would require six basic land types in play for the win.
- Anytime a card listed the basic land types from then on, it would have to include Cave.
- Dream Thrush could now make a land produce colorless mana.
Essentially, we were messing around with one of the fundamentals of the game. Sure we could do it, but was it worth the cost?
Realizing that Cave wasn't going to work, Ken tried this version:
T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
If you would count the number of basic land types you control, instead count them and add one.
The idea behind Incursion Zone was that it merely increases the number by one (which incidentally allowed you to increase the number by four, as you could have four copies). This version had two distinct problems. First, I'm told this only works with domain templates that say "the number of basic land types among lands you control," not those that say, "for each basic land type among lands you control." That meant that while this card would work with the new domain cards in Conflux, it wouldn't work with many of the old ones in Invasion block.
The second problem was an aesthetic one. The reason the original card was so beloved by designers was how clean it looked. What it did was very simple and easy to understand (even if the ramifications were not instantly apparent). The new version felt super-mechanical. "Increase this measure by one" is clunky and would be hard for a lot of players to grok.
You can see from the art on the Incursion Zone playtest sticker what this card eventually became: Reliquary Tower. Once Barry's Land was nixed, development found a design that made sense with the art that was already in. (This will give you a sense how late in the process Barry's Land survived.)
And that, in 3000 or so words, is whatever happened to Barry's Land. It just wasn't in the cards. Now. We'll bring back the domain mechanic again. It's elegant and fun to play, and at some point the multicolor theme will no doubt be back again. Magic rules technology is constantly evolving. I like to believe that in the far-flung future, there will come a day when Barry's Land will finally see print. On that day, I will definitely write a column that links to this one. You'll say, "Wow, Mark looks so young and he still had hair." One day.
That's all I got for today. Join me next week when I dream the impossible meme.
Until then, may you domain for six in your dreams.