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A Maze-ing Grace, Part 2

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The letter W!elcome to the second Dragon's Maze Preview Week. Last week, I talked about all the challenges that went into the design of Dragon's Maze. I left out one challenge, though, because I said it was meaty enough for an entire article. Today is that article. So sit back and I'm going to tell you a little story about the eleventh mechanic of Dragon's Maze.

What's the Problem?

As I explained last week, Dragon's Maze had a lot of expectations and little space to fit them all into. The set had to deliver more cards for all ten guilds, including using each of the ten guild keywords. The set also had to set up a draft structure where it had to be the glue which tied Return to Ravnica with Gatecrash. If that wasn't enough, there was one more thing that was expected, something not specific to just Dragon's Maze but an expectation of every Magic expansion: something new.

Art by Steve Prescott

Players always like seeing how the sets later in the block tweak and evolve the mechanics from earlier in the block. They like watching the story develop and seeing how the cards explain what is happening. But despite whatever follow-up the sets are doing, players want to see the new thing. What's the new mechanic? What does this set have to offer that none of the previous ones did?

In a normal set, this isn't a problem. The way we structure sets always leaves open space for exploring new mechanics and themes. The problem unique to this block is that Dragon's Maze has a lot more follow-up than normal. There are ten different guilds to service and each one has multiple needs, not to mention its own keyword mechanic. How exactly does one fit in something new in a crowded space like Dragon's Maze? Let me walk you through the many parameters to the problem:

#1: It cannot eat up mindspace

This is a concept I've talked about before. Mindspace represents the amount of mental energy a player has to spend. Players can handle some complexity (and remember, there are different kinds) but there is a limit they can handle. If you overwhelm a player's mindspace, traditionally he or she will lock up and have trouble doing anything. Dragon's Maze was already chewing up mindspace like nobody's business. This meant the new mechanic had to be something super intuitive. Players had to see it and just get it.

#2: It cannot be within a particular guild

Dragon's Maze can't play favorites. All the guilds had to be treated equally, which meant it was just not an option to give a mechanic to only one or a handful of guilds. This also meant the mechanic can't just show up in a few colors and not all five.

#3: It cannot be outside the guild system

I explained last time that we had 14.5 cards to show off each guild. That's not a lot of cards. Making a mechanic that falls outside of the guild system would mean the guilds would get even fewer cards. We weren't sure how to pack everything we had to in 14.5 cards; we sure weren't willing to try to do it with less.

#4: The guilds' use of the new mechanic must be balanced

The rule above says the mechanic was going to have to overlap with guild space. That meant guilds were going to use the mechanic. That meant we had to make sure all guilds used it equally as to not unbalance things. This also meant it would have to be balanced in terms of color.

#5: It has to belong on Ravnica

This is another tricky problem. Return to Ravnica (and Ravnica before it) is a block that oozes flavor. Everything fits. The new mechanic had to find space that made it naturally belong.

#6: It has to be sexy

We only have space for one new mechanic (although, as you will see, we snuck in a few new themes) so it had to shine. All eyes would be focused on it, so it had to be something that would excite the players.

#7: It has to fit

I bring this up one last time because it was the most troubling restriction of all. Not only must it do everything I just listed, but, on top of everything else, we had to cram into the set. It had to fit.

That's it. That's all we had to do.




It was early in Unglued design and I knew that I wanted to break boundaries right and left. I set up a meeting with the graphic design and production people to see where I could play with how the cards were actually printed. Dan Gelon (a Magic artist and Wizards of the Coast employee who was the graphic designer on Unglued) spoke up and said, "You can have the art from one card carry onto a second card as long as they're next to each other on the sheet."

"So," I said, "Could I, for example, make a Magic card that's two cards put together?"

"I don't see why not."

Before I left the room, I had designed B.F.M.


Everyone internally was so happy with Unglued that I was assigned to start working on Unglued 2 before the product even came out. The big question was how could I top a set that went out of its way to do everything we'd never done before?

I looked back at the market research on Unglued and the most popular card was B.F.M. What could I do that would have a similar wow factor? A three-card creature? A four-card creature? And then it hit me, what if I did the opposite. B.F.M. was one card on two cards. What if I made a mechanic where two cards were on one?

I dubbed my creation split cards and made five of them for Unglued 2. And then the set was cancelled.




I was in Tahoe at my dad's house. This was where Bill Rose, Mike Elliott, and I had gone to do the initial design for Invasion. We had all agreed it was going to be a multicolor block and we wanted to explore all the cool multicolor space we could find. I walked up to Bill and said, "I have an idea for the set. It's a little out there, but stick with me." (For the full story of how split cards made it into Invasion, read here.)


I awoke in the middle of the night. I was hard at work on Mirrodin, the original one, and was in the middle of a crisis. Bill Rose, who was the head designer at the time, felt as if the set was still missing a mechanic, and I was on the hook for coming up with one. It was filling all my waking thoughts and was starting to intrude on my dreams.

Then one night I dreamed I found the solution. I didn't just think I had one, I had actually come up with one—in the dream. It was fully fleshed out and ready to go. When I awoke, I grabbed a pen and quickly wrote it down.

And that was how entwine was designed.




Dissension, the third block in the original Ravnica block, had its own little puzzle to solve. It was the third set and it wanted something a little sexy to throw into the set to be a surprise. Due to the way the block was set up, so much was already known about Dissension. We really wanted to have something that fit but wasn't known.

Meanwhile, we were trying to solve a different problem. Was there any way to give every guild just one or two more goodies before we left Ravnica forever? (Well, that's what we thought at the time.) Was there any way to cheat with a straight face and just splash a little bit of guild goodness for all ten guilds?

The answer it turned out to be was gold split cards. Invasion had done split cards where each half were monocolored and Planar Chaos had done ones where both half were the same color (red), but we had yet to make split cards where each half was a multicolor card. It was exactly what we needed.


It turns out that the split cards solved our problems once again. Let me start by showing you the solution to our problem and then I will walk you through why it solved all the problems I listed above.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to the keyword fuse:

Click here for some give and take:

Now that you've seen our solution, let's walk through how it solved each of the problems I listed above:

#1: It cannot eat up mindspace

The idea had to be straightforward and intuitive. The reason I loved split cards from the moment I made them was because of how intuitive they are. They are a pretty odd idea the first time you see them, but everyone we tested them with (and I mean everyone) got them right when asked how they worked.

Now, fuse adds an extra layer. In fact, when we first made split cards we talked about whether or not the ability to play both sides should be baked into what split cards were and I said no because I thought it wasn't obvious. Luckily, we've done split cards a few times and we get to put the keyword and reminder text on the cards, so I believe players will easily be able to figure it out.

The best news is that this idea is pretty mindspace light in that looking at the card makes it easy to grasp and the basic concept of choice is pretty baked into the game.

#2: It cannot be within a particular guild

#3: It cannot be outside the guild system

#4: The guilds' use of the new mechanic must be balanced

The split cards are a beautiful thing because they allow us to both make ones that are completely the guild (the monocolored-half uncommons) and partially the guild (the multicolored-half rares). Also, we can do them in cycles of five and ten that allow us to perfectly balance the guild mix.

#5: It has to belong on Ravnica

The split cards were already established as being on Ravnica in the original block! In fact, when we first started putting the block together, we knew we wanted to make use of both hybrid and split cards because each of them were used in the original Ravnica block. After much debate, we decided we would use one in Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash and then we'd use the other in Dragon's Maze. The thing that ended up putting split cards in Dragon's Maze was the idea that we could use splitwine (our design name for fuse) as the required new thing.

#6: It has to be sexy

Split cards are the definition of sexy. They break rules yet work so intuitively and players are always happy to see them. In addition, the twist was something we've talked about doing forever, which means we knew the players have as well. It is an obvious place to go that we had never gone before. A perfect fit!

#7: It has to fit

Yet another awesome thing about split cards. They get to be guild cards so they don't take up any space. They naturally fit into what we were already trying to do.

The Dragon's Maze team actually came up with the idea of the splitwine cards very early (possibly even before the design team was officially formed—Alexis and I were on Return to Ravnica design together first) but we spent a lot of time trying to find another way to solve the problem. We never found one. It seems split cards with fuse were the only answer.

Take | Art by Steve Prescott

But Wait, There's More

Fuse may be the only new mechanic, but that didn't mean we weren't able to find a few new things to add to the mix:

Multicolor Matters


Dragon's Maze owes more to Dissension than just split cards. Dissension (and, later, the all-gold Alara Reborn set) both had a "multicolor matters" theme. It was a good fit there and it a good fit here because caring about multicolor is a nice way to care about all the guilds in a way that doesn't differentiate among them, as it's one of the few constants among the guilds.

Remember that the other new mechanics (even if unnamed) had to follow a lot of the restrictions up above. Multicolor matters fits into the guilds and allowed us to make monocolored cards that felt connected to the guild structure without tying itself to any one guild.

The Cluestones


I talked about this cycle last week. We needed more colored-mana fixing and artifacts seemed to have more space than lands. The sacrifice to draw a card mechanic goes way back (for example, it was a minor theme in Urza's Destiny where it was positioned, but not named, as cycling from the battlefield) and it seemed like a nice fit with dual-colored stones (R&D codename for artifacts that tap for colored mana).

Gates Matter


The importance of the Gates has been something that has been slowly ramping up during the course of the block. As Dragon's Maze centered on the race that was all about the Guildgates (and one of the major reasons we decided to bring them back in Dragon's Maze with new art) we knew we wanted them to mechanically matter the most in the third set.

We tried a bunch of different things but, in the end, we decided we liked the simplicity of needing two. As Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash only ever cared about having one, it had the feel that Gates had become more important—and mechanically it means exactly that.

Finding The Exit

I hope you enjoyed the tour through the maze. As you can see, it was a design with a lot more restrictions than normal but, as I love to say, I believe these restrictions just made us get more creative. I'm happy with how the set turned out and I'm excited to see what the Draft environment looks like once you all get your hands on the cards.

Hopefully, you'll all get a chance to make it to the Dragon's Maze Prerelease. Read here about how it's going to work and what choice you'll have when you walk through the door.

As always, I would love any feedback you have for me. Drop me an email, post in the thread, or send me a message on any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+).

Join me next week when I'll explore some of the stories of individual cards.

Until then, may you find a way to turn some ors into ands.

Drive to Work #29—Creatures

This podcast is the third in my mega-series on card types (I've already done planeswalker and artifacts). Today is all about the card type creature.

Multi






 
Mark Rosewater
Mark Rosewater
@maro254
Email Mark

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Working for Magic R&D since October, 1995, Mark Rosewater is currently the head designer. His hobbies include spending time with his family, talking about Magic on every known medium (including a daily blog and a weekly podcast), and writing about himself in the third person.

 

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