No Two See the Same Maro
My main role is as Head Designer for Magic, but I do have a secondary job. I produce a lot of content about Magic and game design. A lot of content. In fact, I currently produce a million words per year. (It still shocks me when I say that aloud.) So I thought for today's column I would walk through the many different things I do. I'll explain the history of how each started, and then talk a bit about what that aspect has to offer a Magic fan.
There were a bunch different ways to organize this, but because I wanted to tell a story of how each piece came together and many pieces build on other pieces, I've decided to go in chronological order. There will be a handy chart at the end that shows each element with the social media outlets you can find it in.
Making Magic (This Column)
My very first interaction with Wizards of the Coast was with The Duelist, a Magic-focused magazine Wizards of the Coast used to publish. I had read the first Duelist and found it lacking in enough material for a more advanced player, so I came up with the idea for a puzzle column, in the style of a bridge puzzle, where you had to meet some objective (usually winning the game) using the game state shown. That puzzle column would go on to become known as "Magic: The Puzzling" and became a popular feature of the magazine.
Interested in being more involved with Magic, I convinced the editor-in-chief, a woman named Kathryn Haines, to let me start writing articles. Each issue, I would pitch as many articles as I could come up with, and Katherine would okay some number for me to write. There were numerous Duelist issues where I produced more than 20% of all the content in the magazine.
The article writing led me to being asked to do many other writing jobs for various sections of the company, and that would eventually lead me to getting a job at Wizards. One of my responsibilities was being the liaison between R&D and The Duelist. That role would grow as I eventually replaced Kathryn as the editor-in-chief, a role I held for the majority of The Duelist's life.
So in 2001, when Bill Rose was assigned the task of putting together a new website for Magic, one that was supposed to fill the void The Duelist had left when it went away, I was the person tapped for the project. I knew I wanted some behind-the-scenes columns, and I knew the perfect choice to write the design one: me. I had continued to write sporadically after The Duelist ceased publication, but I was eager to exercise my writing chops a bit more regularly, and a weekly column sounded like a wonderful challenge.
I named the column "Making Magic," and its focus was to give a behind-the-scenes glance at all the work design does in creating Magic sets. I also, at the same time, set up a development column named "Latest Developments." While the development column has gone through six columnists (Randy Buehler, Aaron Forsythe, Devin Low, Zac Hill, Tom LaPille, and Sam Stoddard), I've managed to stick around since the website started in January of 2002.
Of all the things I'm going to talk about today, this probably needs the least amount of description. After all, you're all reading it right now. If you're new to my column, I want to point out a special column I do every hundred weeks where I grade each of my columns and talk a little about what each one's about. These special articles are a great way to catch up on what is a voluminous amount of back material (for the record, this is my 734th week writing this column).
Here are the seven columns:
- "One Hundred and Counting"
- "Two Hundred and Counting"
- "Three Hundred and Counting"
- "Four Hundred and Counting"
- "Five Hundred and Counting"
- "Six Hundred and Counting"
- "Seven Hundred and Counting"
The one thing I do want to point out is a few running series that I do on occasion:
- State of Design—Once a year, I look back at the previous year's worth of design with a critical eye to talk about what I felt we did right and wrong.
- Nuts & Bolts—I do one column a year dedicated to players who wish to make their own sets. For those not interested in that, this series is a good technical look at how we make sets.
- Topical Blend—This column/game is based on improvisation I used to do in college. I ask the audience for a Magic topic and a non-Magic topic and then combine the two. I've written five of these so far.
- Mailbag Columns—Usually multiple times a year, I go on my Twitter (more on this in a second) and ask for questions about some topic. Currently I am working my way through the five Ws and H (who, what, where, when, why, and how) with a column dedicated to questions, starting with each of the words.
If you like this column (and are new), there's two million more words of it to explore, but "Making Magic" is just the jumping-off point for today.
My background is in communications, so I've always been fascinated by different communication mediums. When I first heard about Twitter I loved the concept. You had 140 characters with which to convey your message. What could you do with that?
It took me a few years to really get the hang of Twitter. A lot of my early posts were me tapping into my background as a stand-up comedian, writing lots of pithy one-liners. Eventually, though, I started to understand how one could use Twitter to communicate with the Magic audience.
I'm on Twitter every day. Every weekday morning (usually early, as I have to get my kids off to school before the sun comes up, for some reason), I post my comic and the latest results and new votes in my voting game (I'll get to both of these below). Every Monday, I post a link to my latest Making Magic column. Every Friday, I post links to my newest podcast (also more on this below). Note that my social media accounts get my podcast links early. Normally, they are posted at the end of my column on Mondays.
On busy days, that might be all you'll see of me on Twitter. Then again, some days, you won't be able to get me to shut up. I'm very active online and I interact with people as much as I can. I will post things that are going on at work and sometimes at home. I often post pictures and on rare occasions video.
I will often get into discussions with people. Note that if you want to see all my discussion, you have to follow my posts, as my responses to other players will only show up in your feed if you also follow one of those people. Twitter is not the greatest venue for discussions, but I always give it my best.
I also like making jokes—some of which are puns, so be forewarned. There are a lot of Wizards people on Twitter, so there's a bunch of me interacting with them, mostly light banter. I will also, at times, give out very cryptic teasers, some of which will lead to Reddit posts.
I answer questions, although nowhere near as many as I do on my blog (more on that soon). The questions I'm most likely to answer here are ones that don't require much explanation, as I only get 140 characters. Because of the nature of Twitter, I do not see everything—but I do read all of my mentions. Asking me a question is in no way a guarantee you'll get an answer, though.
The other fun thing I do on Twitter is card previews. Because I have a lot of followers, I'm most often given a social media preview. Unlike others who just give away the information, I make my tweeps (what I call my followers on Twitter) solve a puzzle or play a game. You guys are smart and there's a lot of you, so it never takes particularly long for you all to get the preview.
Finally, whenever I need input for my column, including all the mailbag columns, Twitter is where I go to get the content. Twitter's 140-character limit has proven to be ideal for getting succinct questions, and the new voting software makes it easy to gather stuff like my latest "Topical Blend" topics.
In many ways, my Twitter has the highest variance of all my social media outlets. I could post a lot one day and almost nothing the next. It's very unique content though, so if you're interested in seeing a more raw side of me (my articles are carefully written and rewritten), check Twitter out.
"Tales from the Pit" (My Comic)
One of the things I figured out as I played more on Twitter was the power of pictures. People were more than willing to retweet (meaning repost something so the people following them could see it) words, but not nearly as often as they were willing to retweet pictures. Twitter, by the way, is very good at providing metrics so you can see which of the things you produce gets the most eyeballs and creates the most interaction from your audience.
I started posting more pictures on Twitter. One day, I found a new app for my phone called Halftone (and I now use Halftone 2). It allowed you to take pictures and make them look like panels in a comic book, complete with captions and word balloons. I'm a longtime comic book fan, so I started messing around with the app. I created a comic and was entertained enough by it that I posted it.
Reaction to the comic was good, so the next day I posted another one. And then the day after that, and the day after that. One of my dreams as a kid was to create a comic strip. Unfortunately, I'm horrible at art (one can look at Look at Me, I'm the DCI from Unglued for more proof), so I assumed it was a dream I could never fulfill. But with this tool I could make a comic out of a photograph. Taking pictures was something I could do.
Most of my early comics were about R&D, so I called the comic "Tales from the Pit" (a take on Tales from the Crypt, a famous horror comic). The Pit is where the majority of R&D sits.
I quickly branched out in my subject matter. Not only will I do comics about R&D, I'll hit just about any facet of Magic, from the cards to the art to the story to the fans to social media itself. My comic has been going for over four years now, and many weeks back I passed number 1,000.
The comic has lots of running jokes. Here are a few of them for those who are new to the comic:
- Another Day of R&D Productivity Lost—I use the same picture of R&D playtesting where four members of R&D argue about things that have nothing to do with Magic, usually pop culture.
- Joey, the Littlest Magic Player —Little Joey always asks his mother if he can see some television show or movie, putting the story in context of Magic terms. The punchline is always the mom saying what the TV show/movie actually is. A lot of fans like to cover up the punchline and figure it out themselves.
- Dear Liliana—Liliana acts as an advice columnist, giving her own unique perspective.
- Where Are They Now—I catch up with different characters/cards from Magic's past to see what they've been up to.
- Sleepless Night—I lie away in bed at night worrying about the newest problem facing either me or Magic.
The biggest running theme, though, came from me messing around with the Magic Funco figures. The Magic brand team had given each employee one, and I ended up with Chandra. I borrowed a Jace from another designer and started making comics with Jace and Chandra. They were very popular, so I convinced brand to let me have all the figures. With them I started a little sitcom where the characters all lived together. I dubbed the show "Sparks."
When the second batch of Funco figures came out, I got them from brand and started a storyline where Nicol Bolas became the landlord and the other figures moved in to help Jace pay the rent. The sole exception was Tezzeret, who moved in next door as the grumpy old neighbor. This "show" has become so popular that I run Sparks comics at least one week a month, and often more frequently. The latest storyline parallels the Battle for Zendikar story, but instead of them facing the Eldrazi, they are fighting very aggressive gophers in the backyard. "Sparks" is silly, as I write it as if it's a sitcom, but I work hard to make sure the characters are all true to who they are even if the situations are sitcom-y.
"Tales from the Pit" is posted every weekday except for two weeks in December when I run Best of the Year comics while I'm on vacation. I post the comic on all four of my social media outlets (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).
Blogatog (My Blog)
Shortly after I started posting my comics with some regularity, I got asked by several players if I could put them somewhere for people to see. Twitter whizzes by so fast sometimes that people were missing them. I asked what site would be the best for that, and people said Tumblr. So I started a Tumblr account, which was originally called "Tales from the Pit" because the intent was that it would just host the comic. While setting it up, I was asked, "Can people ask you questions?" I innocently thought why not and said yes. Little did I know what I was getting into.
I started answering questions, and that begot more questions (and a name change from "Tales from the Pit" to "Blogatog"). Before I knew it, the whole thing snowballed. To give you some sense of scope, since the blog started four years ago I have answered over 60,000 questions, and right now there are 275,000 unanswered questions sitting in my Tumblr mailbox. That means if people stopped asking questions today and I kept up answering at the same pace, I'd get to all the questions I have in eighteen years. Obviously, that means I don't have the ability to read all of the questions, but I answer as many as I can. Luckily, as a dad with a lot of waiting-around time, I answer quite a bit.
Anything is fair game on my blog. People ask me all sorts of things, mostly about Magic. (I have showed pictures of my toaster on my blog.) I explain why we do things we do. I handle both praise and criticism. I talk a lot about the color pie as it's an area of expertise, and people love having me take pop culture characters and identify their color. I talk a lot of game design. I field questions about many other things, many of which I steer towards other Tumblr blogs by other Wizards people.
I also have a lot of fun with the blog. I will do whole days that have a theme. On my 20th anniversary at Wizards, for example, I answered all the questions as if I was the 1995 version of me that had just started the job. I've had days where I answered as if I was an AI. I let both my evil twin and my robot answer questions from time to time. I'll play games, like where I have readers (who I call "Question Marks") submit two mechanics, and I'll say which one I think we're more likely to reprint.
My one warning is that Blogatog produces a lot of content and it will swamp your Tumblr feed. Also, because of the high volume of answers, I will often answer the same question multiple times. There's an FAQ, though, where you can see my most frequently asked questions (most of which I've stopped answering).
One popular tradition is on their birthdays I allow people to ask me for trivia about some Magic-related topic, usually a card or mechanic. I give the trivia and wish the person happy birthday. I can't get to all the birthday wishes due to volume, but I answer as many as possible. This tradition came about because people were asking me to wish them happy birthday and it was getting boring for the other Question Marks, so I added in the trivia to make it more interesting for everyone.
Blogatog has many, many running jokes. I'm a former comedy writer, so I can't help myself. It also has many clues about the future woven into it, but the volume of questions hides these clues well. People will often read old questions only to discover that I gave a big clue many months before a thing was public.
I answer questions on Blogatog daily. (I'll occasionally miss a day due to personal stuff, but it's rare.) I post my comic in the morning of each weekday, my column on Mondays, and my podcast on Fridays.
Blogatog is solely on Tumblr.
A little after I started my podcast on Tumblr, I decided to branch out and put my stuff on another social media outlet. I chose Google+. I post my comics daily, my article on Mondays, and my podcasts on Friday. I occasionally post other things there as well, but usually nothing unique to the site. I will also occasionally, but infrequently, reply to a post about something I posted.
There's nothing on Google+ that you can't find elsewhere, but some people prefer it to Twitter.
Drive to Work (My Podcast)
Every year I go to San Diego Comic-Con. One of my favorite things to do is to go and listen to Kevin Smith talk. For those unfamiliar, he is a director with a very comedic personality and a willingness to be bluntly honest. Kevin Smith is a prodigious podcaster and often talks about it at San Diego Comic-Con. One time, he went off on a tangent about how anyone can be a podcaster. He was saying that the tools to do so are in people's possession—their phone—and the ability to post online has never been easier.
I walked away from that talk pumped with the idea of doing a podcast. I enjoy aural mediums (meaning ones where you talk/listen) and like to talk. I even knew what I wanted to do with my podcast. One of my pet peeves was how long most of them are. I wanted to do one that was short enough that I could listen to it on my 30-minute drive to work.
I had one small problem, though. I had no time. I'm so busy at work that I wasn't sure I could find a half-hour block each week to record it. And then the thunderbolt struck. I wanted a podcast that lasted about the amount of time I drove to work. I wasn't doing anything while driving to work. It was a half-hour I had free. I didn't tell anyone about the idea. I just tried it one day while driving to work. It turned out well, so I recorded a few more. Once I had about eight, I went to our media person and asked if they cared if I posted it on my blog. No, they said, they wanted to make it an official Wizards podcast, and I could link to it from my blog.
From there my podcast has exploded. Drive to Work's short running time proved to be a big hit, and it's become one of the most listened-to Magic podcasts. In the beginning, I posted one a week, but I got so far ahead that I started posting two to catch up. I then realized I wasn't catching up and made two podcasts per week the standard.
"Drive to Work" is focused on Magic design, but goes all over the place, from design insights to Magic history to behind-the-scenes info on how things are done. I do have a number of different series, including:
- Expansion Run-Throughs—I take a set and start by explaining the history of how it got designed. I then pick a handful of cards and tell card-by-card stories about them. Each set takes anywhere from about three to eight podcasts. I've started batching them in blocks.
- 20 Years in 20 Podcasts—In this series, I start with 1993 and dedicate each podcast to one year and talk about what happened in Magic during that year, focusing on products and major events. I am almost caught up to the present.
- Color Philosophy—I did a podcast on each of the colors, what they represent philosophically and how that is shown through mechanics. I then did the same for each of the two-color pairs. I'm toying with doing the three-color shards and wedges.
- 10 Things Every Game Needs—I gave an introductory talk about game design to my daughter's fifth grade class. I adapted it to a column and then to a podcast. I then came back and did a full podcast on each of the ten items. If you're at all interested in game design, I heartily encourage you to give this series a listen.
- Lessons Learned—In each of these podcasts, I talk about a set I led the design for and what I learned from it. Early podcasts in this series had me covering multiple sets, but I started slowing it down and just doing one set per podcast
- Card Types—I did a podcast on each of the card types, how we design them and what role they play in the game.
Occasionally I'll carpool with someone and have a guest join me. So far my carpoolers have included Matt Cavotta, Ethan Fleischer, Melissa DeTora, and my mother and father.
My podcasts allow me to take a subject and spend a whole half-hour talking about it. I'll often take columns I've written and go into greater detail. My podcasts are rougher than my articles, but the extra time lets me talk about aspects I don't have time for in my columns. Also, I like telling stories, so the podcast affords me the means to share a lot of fun behind-the-scenes stories from Magic's long history.
I release two Drive to Work podcasts a week, all 52 weeks of the year. The links are first posted on my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+) on Friday and then show up the following Monday at the bottom of my column.
When my eldest daughter turned fifteen, my wife and I allowed her, with supervision, to start using a social media platform. She chose Instagram. As I looked into it, I realized that it was very robust but skewed younger. In an attempt to hit an audience that might not be on my other social media accounts, I started posting my comics daily on Instagram. As it's mostly a visual site, I currently don't post my links on Instagram, although I do occasionally post other pictures there.
Head-to-Head (My Voting Game)
This is my newest activity. Back when we were first starting the Magic website, I wanted to have a daily voting feature that let players choose between two options in different Magic-themed categories. Due to technological issues, I wasn't able to do it. Over the years, I kept coming back to the idea, but it was always a technical problem. Fast-forward to this year. Twitter introduced new software to allow you to easily run polls.
I had run a poll last year called the "Rosewater Rumble," where I did a Top 16 bracket of the sixteen sets that I had led or co-led. The response was very good, but the logistics of running it were time-consuming. With Twitter's new software, I realized I could easily do this every weekday.
So, here's how Head-to-Head works. Over three weeks of weekdays, I run a single-elimination best-of-sixteen competition. The topics can vary but are always Magic-related. For instance, the first Head-to-Head was creature types, the second was evergreen keywords, and the third was Magic planes. Week one has the first five round-of-sixteen matches. The second week has the last three round-of-sixteen matches and the first two quarterfinal matches. The third and final week has the last two quarterfinal matches, the two semifinal matches, and the final.
I also have a little extra fun part I do with R&D. Before each Head-to-Head starts, I hand out the bracket to all of R&D and let them predict what the outcome is going to be. I grade it with one point for each round-of-sixteen win predicted correctly, two points for each quarterfinal round, four points for each semifinal, and eight points for predicting the winner (32 points total). The R&D person who has the highest score earns bragging rights, is announced on my Twitter feed, and gets a special bragging trophy that they get to keep until someone else wins and takes it from them. I post each bracket at the beginning, so all of you can play along at home, too (although you have to score yourselves—be honest).
Disclaimer: Trophy will not brag FOR you.
Head-to-Head runs every weekday, all 52 weeks of the year, on my Twitter. In order to see the vote total, you have to vote. I hashtag it #mtghth if you want to follow along with all the comments. Right now the matches are getting between 2,000 and 2,500 votes, and the trend is going up.
A Handy-Dandy Chart
There was a lot of information in today's column, so here's the abridged version of what I said above. In the chart is each of the social media platforms I'm on and what elements you can find there. Note that my articles and podcasts are links to said articles and podcasts.
|Magic Magic||Drive To Work||Blogatog||Tales from the Pit||Head-To-Head|
There'll Always Be Two Maro (and Often More Than That)
In just under five thousand words, those are all the different things I'm up to. If you enjoy this column and would like to see some of the other stuff I do, please check out any of the above that you think you might enjoy.
That's all I have for today. As always, I'd love feedback through email or any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram). If you have any suggestions for how I can improve any of the things I listed today, please let me know. A lot of what I do now was based on suggestions from fans like you—or possibly you yourself!
Join me next week when I do a mailbag column all about Oath of the Gatewatch.
Until then, may you produce a million words about something you love.
"Drive to Work #298—Star Wars Trading Card Game"
Magic is not the only trading card game I've ever worked on. In this podcast, I talk about working with Richard Garfield to design the Star Wars Trading Card Game.
"Drive to Work #299—Choices vs. Options"
This podcast is all about the decisions game designers have to set up for the players to make. I talk about an important distinction between those choices. This podcast is based on a two-part column I wrote called "Decisions, Decisions" (Part 1 and Part 2).
- Episode 299 Choices vs. Options (19.1 MB)
- Episode 298 Star Wars Trading Card Game (17.9 MB)
- Episode 297 Creature Types (18.1 MB)
- Episode 296 Dream Job (16.1 MB)
- Episode 295 Chicken Rabbit Donkey (22.1 MB)