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Designing For Johnny

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If you're interested in working for Wizards of the Coast, make sure you check out the end of this column.

The letter W!elcome to Johnny Week, part two of our series of player psychographic theme weeks. (The first one, Timmy Week, was back in March—you can see my column on designing for Timmy here.) If you're not familiar with our player psychographics, I suggest checking my most recent article on them (Timmy, Johnny, and Spike Revisited). Once you've caught up on all the required reading (do any other columns you read require homework?), it's time to jump into the meat of this week's column. As I did during Timmy Week, I am going to spend my column explaining how we design for the psychographic in question. This time, of course, it's Johnny's turn.

Here's Johnny

Before I can explain how we design for Johnny I want to start by making sure everyone knows who Johnny is. Johnny is one of the three player psychographics that Magic R&D uses to design and develop cards. This, of course, leads to the question what is a player psychographic? A psychographic is a psychological profile that isolates different personality traits and behaviors to help the people using the profile (in this case R&D) better understand what motivates a particular type of player to act a certain way. Learning what different players want out of Magic is important for a number of reasons. First, knowledge of which groups exist helps us understand what elements have to be included in each set. Second, knowing what players want helps us design those things into the cards.

Now that we've established what Johnny is, let me explain who he is. Here's the definition I gave in "Timmy, Johnny Spike Revisited":

So why does Johnny play Magic? Because Johnny wants to express something. To Johnny, Magic is an opportunity to show the world something about himself, be it how creative he is or how clever he is or how offbeat he is. As such, Johnny is very focused on the customizability of the game. Deck building isn't an aspect of the game to Johnny; it's the aspect.

One of the strengths of Magic is the ability for players to imbue much of themselves in their decks. When you play Monopoly you don't get emotionally attached to the board. But with Magic, your deck becomes an extension of yourself. When your deck wins, you win. When your deck gets complimented, you get complimented. It is this principle that drives Johnnies.

Here's another way to think about Johnny. Johnny is an artist. Johnny lives to create. His thrill comes from the reaction of others to his art. Now what that art is will vary from Johnny to Johnny. Some Johnnies want to show off how their deck works. Others want to show off what their deck is trying to do. Certain Johnnies want to show off their deck's theme. Other Johnnies want to show off their deck's flavor. What all Johnnies have in common, though, is that they see Magic as a form of self-expression. Through the game they can demonstrate something about themselves.

As I explained during my Timmy Week column, I believe all players have some essence of each of the psychographics. Within every player is at least a little Johnny. You figure out something that you've never seen before but that you find very cool. You're proud of your discovery and you want to show it off. That's a Johnny sensibility. That desire to show what you've done just fuels Johnnies a little more than the Timmies and Spikes.

Johnny isn't focused on experiencing anything or proving anything. Johnny's love of the game comes from his enjoyment in seeing what he can do with it. To him, Magic is a clay that he wants to shape. It's a puzzle that he wants to solve. It's an endless supply of opportunities waiting to be discovered.

Before we move on, I want to have a word with the Johnnies. You Timmies and Spikes can just jump ahead to the next section.

Johnnies, click here.

Cards for Johnny

As I did with my Timmy column, I am going to explore how we design cards for Johnny by examining how Johnny looks at cards.

The What Is More Important Than the How Much


Let me start by hitting the overlap between Johnny and Timmy. Johnny is looking for cards that inspire him. When he examines a card, his first thought is "What can I do with this?" Johnny is looking for potential. He is excited by cards that open up possibilities. Timmy, meanwhile, is searching for cards that he thinks will create enjoyable experiences. Timmy's question when first looking at a card is "Would I like to play with this?"

The overlap between these two approaches is that neither prioritizes the power level of the card. As such, the mana cost while relevant is not as forefront in Johnny and Timmy's mind as it is in Spike's. Spike evaluates card on efficiency which means that the relationship between the card's effect and its mana cost is key. But Johnny and Timmy will look past the mana cost if other needs are met.

As an example, let's say the latest set comes out with a new engine card. (An engine card is a card that allows continual conversion of one resource into another.) This engine card is unlike any other card in the game. This is a Johnny card regardless of what it costs. True, how it gets used will be influenced by its price, but regardless of what it costs, different Johnnies will be attracted to the card because of its potential.

As I explained with Timmy, Johnnies do not like cards because they are expensive. As with any player, they are happier when cards are cheaper and more accessible. The difference is that Johnnies can like a card despite it having a high mana cost because the aspect of the card that drives their interest isn't dependent upon it.

Search and Enjoy

The next important thing to understand about Johnnies is that they enjoy the thrill of the search. What is fun for Johnny is being the one to find the diamond in the rough. As such, Johnnies tend to shy away from cards that make it too easy. Here's an example from Odyssey block:


Stone-Tongue Basilisk was designed for Timmy. Meet a clearly stated condition and you get to combine two very synergistic abilities. This card isn't as well suited for Johnny because the "trick" is printed blatantly on the card. There's no discovery to be had.

The best Johnny cards are the ones that make Johnny question what can be done with the card. Here's an example, also from Odyssey:


All this card does is let you do something that on the surface seems pretty limited, but to Johnny this is wonderful mind candy. Instead of bemoaning what the card doesn't do, Johnny focuses on what it does do. Why would putting a card from your library into your graveyard be a good thing? How can you take advantage of it? For those that know anything about Magic history, the answer turned out to be "quite a lot" (so much so that the card has been banned/restricted in multiple formats).

The key here is that a card for Johnny has to give Johnny the ability to search for something. Johnny wants to connect the dots himself meaning that the role of the designer is creating unconnected dots and letting Johnny have the fun of figuring out how he wants to connect them.

The Modular Squad

Which brings us to a related point. Many years ago when Mirrodin was being released, I wrote a design article about a scale that examined how cards used synergy (Come Together). I named the two ends of the scale linear and modular. Linear cards are cards that beget the use of other cards. Modular cards, on the other hand, are cards that don't push a deck towards needing anything in particular. An example of a linear card would be Goblin King, while a typical modular card would be Naturalize. The Goblin King heavily encourages you to include Goblins, while the Naturalize does very little to defining the rest of your deck.

In my Timmy article, I explained that many Timmies are drawn to linear cards—that is they like cards that help give them definition. Johnnies, in contrast, seem to be pulled in the opposite direction, to modular cards. Johnnies like modular cards because they don't dictate a path. Johnnies want to discover their own way so they are less interested in cards that do the thing they were hoping to provide themselves. Another way to think of this is that Timmies like jigsaw puzzles while Johnnies like Legos. Timmies enjoy the act of doing what's been laid out for them (as long as it's something they inherently find fun). Johnnies, though, want to build their own thing so they want their cards to function more like interchangeable tools.

The thumbnail version of this lesson for designers is this: when creating a Johnny card, make sure it is open-ended enough that it allows maximum opportunities. If everyone is going to do the same thing with a card, it simply isn't going to excite Johnny. (Well, except for über-Johnny who lives to do things like find other uses for linear cards.)

Combo Platter

If the designers craft enough open-ended modular cards, combos should naturally evolve, but that doesn't mean designers can't push some of them along. An important part of making a set attractive to Johnny is ensuring that you overlap your themes, allowing for him to have fun mix and matching. Sometimes the designer will even go so far as to design two cards that specifically have synergy with one another and then put them in the set for the Johnnies to find. (This is by far the minority way in which combos get created, but as it does happen I felt I should point that out.)


Please understand that most combos come about because the designers work hard to create cards that expand upon their basic themes allowing multiple cards to hinge around the same criteria. For example, if the set is built around the graveyard then there are numerous ways to interact with it. For example, some cards can get things into the graveyard, some cards can use the graveyard as a resource, and some cards can only work while in the graveyard. As the designer focuses on this one aspect, he or she increases the potential for connections.

Up to the Challenge

Another popular design vein is cards that make you jump through a hoop or two. A classic example would be this card from Mirrodin:


Leveler provides a sweet reward up front—a 10/10 for 5 Mana—and then forces the players to deal with a hideous limitation: the loss of your library. This card is a Johnny card because it throws down the gauntlet. It says, "I dare you to figure out how to use me."

This kind of challenge plays right into Johnny's key motivations. It allows him to be creative as it is an open-ended problem. It grants him the ability show off his solution as the challenge of the card is available for all to see. And it gives him focus as the card outlines what needs to be done.

These challenge type of cards are very different from the utility style cards listed above. It's important to understand that designers can meet Johnny's motivations from several different vantage points.

Hidden Treasures

Which brings us to a completely different kind of Magic card—the "bad" card. Whether the card is low-powered or very narrow or clumsy in its execution, there are many cards that are shunned by the majority of players. For some Johnnies, these cards are great motivators as they are eager to show that they can do things differently. What better task than making use of things deemed worthless?

The classic example of this card comes from Saviors of Kamigawa:


One with Nothing was famous for stirring up a big segment of the audience who was offended that we printed a card that was so obviously worthless. What most of them failed to understand was that it was the majority's rejection of this card that made it so much fun for the Johnnies who used it. Anyone can win with a good card. These Johnnies enjoy winning with bad ones.

Clever Endeavor

Another area designers can explore for Johnny are cards that allow some cleverness built into the card. Remember as I explained above, if the trick is too obvious or too confined, it will turn Johnny off. But if the card is open enough to allow for cool interactions, then Johnny can be hooked. A famous example from Magic's past comes from Visions:


Quirion Ranger was an excellent Johnny card because it allowed so many fun tricks. Just as Johnny can show off a combination in his deck so too can he demonstrate a cool trick using an interesting card. The key here is that what Johnny uses to express himself can come from many different levels. It doesn't always have to be from the perspective of deck building. Given the right tools, Johnny can express himself in many ways.

This, of course, leads to a connected type of card. This is a card that has a cool but hidden trick. It can't be obvious because then it is not a challenge, yet the trick has to be built into the card such that it works. This kind of design requires a very delicate hand. Here's an example of this kind of card from Time Spiral:


The trick was this. If you needed to turn the spell into 4 damage to a creature right away, you could do the following: When the card enters the battlefield, you have the Firemaw Kavu deal 2 damage to itself. This will destroy it, causing the Firemaw to go to the graveyard and triggering its 4 damage ability.

I do want to stress before moving on that the planned combo or planned trick within a card is a tiny minority of the work done to please Johnnies. The majority of the work comes from building things into your sets that give Johnnies the most room possible to play.

Dear Johnny

The key to all these designs is that Johnny wants to express something. Give him the tools to do that and it's not so hard to make him happy. The important thing to remember though is that you can't do all the work. The best Johnny cards are those that give Johnny the ability to do lots of extra work on his own. Your goal isn't to hide an answer but to create things open-ended enough that many answers can be found.

And that's what I got on Johnny. I hope these insights proved interesting to you. Later this year we'll get around to our third and final psychographic week and I'll talk all about how to make Spike happy.

Join me next week when I'll finish what I started last week and finally answer a few questions about certain decisions made in M10.

Until then, may you learn the value of allowing others the joy of doing their own work.


What I Really Want to Do Is ...

In March of 2007, I ran a blurb at the end of my column explaining about the opening of a position on the Magic brand team.

Now let me introduce you to someone.

This is Mark Purvis. Last week, Mark was promoted to Brand Manager of Magic. Mark was a reader of "Making Magic" that clicked through to the link and applied for the job above. People always ask me how they can get a job at Wizards. The answer is to pay attention to blurbs like this.

So what is the Magic Brand Team looking for? Very simply, they want someone who understands both Magic and business. If your Venn Diagram overlaps on these two areas, then this might be a golden job opportunity. Click on this link to check out what this job entails. You can also click on this link if this job doesn't sound like a good fit for you but you want to see what other offerings Wizards currently has.

Mark took the time to apply and now he has his dream job. Could you be next?

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