ne of the most common complaints I hear, especially from casual players, is that people have trouble keeping up with Magic because Wizards of the Coast produces too many cards too quickly. Of course, we are ultimately a business and it makes sense for us to print cards however quickly you guys will buy them. However, it would be a waste of our resources if we were printing so many cards that our audience never got around to trying out all the new cards from one set before the next set came out. With this in mind, we in R&D recently took a long look at the number of cards we put into each set and decided we want to mix things up a bit.
Mirage to Scourge
Magic’s basic release pattern hasn’t changed since Mirage came out way back in 1996: Every fall we come out with a 350 card set (110 rares, 110 uncommons, 110 commons, and 20 basic lands) which is designed as a “standalone” set. It can be played all by itself or you can mix it with other Magic sets if you prefer. Then in February we come out with a 143-card expansion (44 rares, 44 uncommons, and 55 commons) that builds on the most recent standalone. Finally, in June, we come out with another 143-card set, which rounds out that year’s “block.” When October rolls around again we introduce a whole new block and repeat the process.
Back when WotC was trying to figure out how many cards Mirage should have, they didn’t know nearly as much about what customers want as we know now. In fact, the reason Mirage had 110 cards at each rarity was because that was how many fit onto a press sheet (and 330 was thought to be in the right ballpark). The more we revisited the issue of how many cards should go into each set, though, the more that seemed like the wrong criterion for making the decision. To be fair, 330 cards was quite a good guess and it has served us well for many years, but upon further review we now think that’s too many cards.
Meanwhile, small sets since Visions have had 143 cards each because 44 and 55 were also convenient numbers for collation purposes. Once again, that seems like a reasonable decision to have made back in 1996 when no one was sure exactly how Magic’s future was going to work out, but we ought to be able to make a more informed decision now.
Mirrodin and beyond
Nowadays when we look at the size of small sets, the consensus here in R&D is that they are too much smaller than the big sets. Whereas it’s hard to find time to try out all the cards in the stand-alone, we’re currently giving players the same amount of time to try out well less than half as many cards when we release the other two sets.
So here’s what we’re going to do: starting with the Mirrodin block, we’re going to take 44 cards out of the stand-alone and add 22 cards to each of the two small sets. So Mirrodin will still have 110 commons, but it will have only 88 rares and 88 uncommons. (It will still have 20 basic lands and that adds up to 306 total cards.) Then Darksteel and “Tomato” will each have 55 commons, 55 uncommons, and 55 rares for a total of 165 cards. Thus, the block as a whole will wind up with exactly the same number of cards that we’re currently producing, but they will be spread out more evenly than they currently are.
This change does several nice things in addition to making it easier for everyone to collect and try out all the cards they want to play with. The biggest other thing that it does, in my mind, is give us some data that should help us figure out whether we’re printing too many cards, too few cards, or maybe we lucked into just the right amount. Depending on how this change works out, I could imagine us lowering the number of cards we produce overall, raising it, shuffling it around a bit more, or leaving it alone. Like I said, we’ve taken some reasonable guesses and comparing our sales both before and after this change will hopefully allow us to start passing judgment on those guesses.
Another nice thing this change does is it means that the February and June sets will have a bigger impact on Standard constructed. The November set will still have the biggest influx of new cards (plus the old block rotates out in conjunction with it) but those extra 22 cards each should make the other two sets more interesting and impactful than the status quo.
A third thing it does is make Limited more diverse. Currently, once the full block has been released, the rares and uncommons from the first set are quite diluted but you see the cards from the small sets over and over again, especially the uncommons. We left the commons alone because we felt they were in a good place, but I think rearranging the uncommons and rares will make Limited more interesting and less repetitive.
One final advantage of the new system is that R&D’s internal resources will be spread out more evenly. Since we have the same basic staff all year, the status quo gives us more time than we need for the small sets, but we scramble around crunched for time and energy for the big sets. Under the new system, our art team, our names and flavor text teams, and our playtesters will all be able to spend more time on each of the cards in the standalones. This should result in higher card quality and in the year we’ve been working under the new system, I think that’s exactly what we’re getting.
All in all, I’m glad we looked into this issue and I’m glad we decided to change things up a bit. It’s not all that big a change, especially since the overall block will still have the same number of cards, but I do think several things will be better under the new system. We think this will address some of the complaints we hear that we’re releasing too many cards too quickly. We also think it will increase overall card quality and it will make both Limited and Standard constructed slightly more interesting. And even if it turns out to have no real effect on anything at all, at least we’ll get some data that we can use to reanalyze this issue again in a couple of years.
THIS WEEK’S POLL:
What do you think of this change to Magic set sizes?
LAST WEEK’S POLL:
A close one!
Randy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.