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Designing For Timmy

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The letter W!elcome to Timmy Week! And yes, this means Johnny and Spike Weeks are coming—although not consecutively. This week we'll be exploring what I feel is the most misunderstood of the three Magic psychographics. (If you're curious why Vorthos and Melvin don't get listed here, they're not psychographics—read the end of Timmy, Johnny, and Spike Revisited or all of Melvin and Vorthos for a more in depth explanation – this doesn't mean, by the way, they'll never get theme weeks just that they aren't part of our psychographic cycle of theme weeks.) As this is the design column, I thought I would use my articles during these weeks to talk about how to design for each of these three groups. Before I do that, I will spend a little time in each column explaining (or rather re-explaining – feel free to read "Timmy, Johnny, and Spike" and Timmy, Johnny, and Spike Revisited for even more on the topic) who each psychographic is.

Quick aside before we get top today's topic. We here at magicthegathering.com love giving you guys previews. Most of our preview goodness occurs during the official preview weeks, but every now and then we have fun showing you a card or two before the preview weeks even begin. Today is one such day. At the end of this aside I'll give you a link to today's Magic Arcana so you can see it for yourselves. Before I do, I just want to explain one little thing. To do that I thought I'd use my patented "Making Magic" dialogue format (complete with the normal large helpings of dramatic license):

Me: Hi Magic Brand Team.
Brand Team: Hi Mark.
Me: Do you have a second?
Brand Team: For the last time, you can't build a block around a circus theme.
Me: Not that. Although I wouldn't mind talking some more about that at another time. Today, I'm here about the web site.
Brand Team: What about it?
Me: You know how we do advanced previews, when we reveal something about the set even before the preview weeks?
Brand Team: Like we did for Shadowmoor and Eventide?
Me: Exactly. We'd like to do something for Alara Reborn. Our idea is that we'd show a card in a Magic Arcana. Something to really get the players excited.
Brand Team: Like we did for Shadowmoor and Eventide?
Me: Exactly, although we're only planning to show one card. Do we have permission to do that?
Brand Team: As long as it's just like the Shadowmoor and Eventide previews, you're good to go.
Me: Sure, that shouldn't be a problem.
Brand Team: Do you know which card you want to show?
Me: We have some good ideas. There are a lot of pretty cool cards in Alara Reborn. Any one of them will get players talking.
Brand Team: How exactly? Since they won't see the rules text, as it will be left off, how will they know how awesome the card is?
Me: Wait, what do you mean "the rules text will be left off"?
Brand Team: You asked us to okay a preview exactly like Shadowmoor and Eventide and those preview cards had no rules text.
Me: How can we excite them if we can't show rules text?
Brand Team: Not our problem. That's what you have to figure out.
Me: So we can pick any card we want?
Brand Team: As long as it doesn't have rules text it can be any card you like.
Me: Okay. Okay. We can work with that.

To see what we chose, click here. Then come back—I still have a whole article for you.

Having Fun and Taking Names

So who or what is Timmy? Timmy is one of the three player psychographics that Magic R&D uses to design and develop cards. 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. Or put another way, we can learn what the player wants out of Magic. This is important for several reasons. One, knowing what groups exist help us understand what needs each set has to have. And two, understanding these needs allows us to design cards for each group.

Now that you understand what Timmy is, let's talk about who Timmy is. Here's the definition I gave in Timmy, Johnny and Spike Revisited:

The first question I always ask of a profile is: what does this profile want when they play Magic? Timmy wants to experience something. Timmy plays Magic because he enjoys the feeling he gets when he plays. What that feeling is will vary from Timmy to Timmy, but what all Timmies have in common is that they enjoy the visceral experience of playing. As you will see, Johnny and Spike have a destination in mind when they play. Timmy is in it for the journey.

One of the great myths about Timmy is that he is young and inexperienced. I think this comes from the fact that a non-Timmy (particularly a Spike) looking at a Timmy play reads his choices as those of inexperience. Why else would he play overcosted fatties or coin flipping cards or cards that, simply put, aren't that good? Because Spike misses the point. Timmy plays with cards that make him happy; cards that create cool moments; cards that make him laugh; cards that allow him to hang with his friends; cards that cause him to have fun. Winning and losing isn't even really the point (although winning is fun – Timmy gets that). For Timmy, the entire reason to play is having a good time.


Here's another way to think about Timmy. I believe all players have some Timmy within them. This comes out in what we in R&D call a "Timmy moment." Let me explain what that term means. I think this will give non-Timmies a chance to walk in Timmy's shoes. You're playing a game of Magic when you realize that you have the opportunity to do something pretty cool. My example comes from a multiplayer game I played at the 2007 Worlds in New York City. (The whole thing is spelled out in my column Seeing the Forest for the Treefolk.) I had a Chameleon Colossus in play (the first ever, by the way, as R&D was having fun previewing cards by playing them in the event) and due to circumstances found only in multiplayer free-for-all games, I had access to a lot of mana—a lot of mana. Once I realized the opportunity before me—to make the largest creature I was probably ever going to have the honor of playing in my Magic career—any Spike or Johnny parts of my brain shut down. All I cared about in that moment was figuring out how to make the biggest creature I possibly could (and double lifelink it to allow me to gain the most life I possibly could). I was having a Timmy moment.

All players have Timmy moments. It's when the potential for something awesome comes up and it completely pulls your focus from any normal concerns. I wasn't worrying about winning the game. In fact, I almost lost the game (one would assume that 55,313 life would be enough, but one player came within a hair's breadth of milling me out), but it didn't matter. No one was ever going to take that moment away from me. A Timmy moment is when you opt to do the exciting thing over anything else, when you get caught up in the adrenalin rush of just having fun. That thrill, that moment of heart-pumping excitement—that's what drives Timmy.

Timmy isn't trying to prove anything. Timmy isn't trying to express anything. Timmy just wants to enjoy himself. He (I'm using "he" in the column, but please insert "or she" subconsciously) wants to create moments that are memorable. Timmy seeks out fun experiences. What kind of experiences he wants will vary greatly from Timmy to Timmy. One Timmy might enjoy attacking with Dragons, while another loves winning the game by flipping a hundred coins, while a third Timmy might just want to team-up with his friend to smash his other two friends in the face. The common bond is that Timmy's actions are driven by a desire to create awesome experiences.

As a final aside before I move on, let me talk to just the Timmies. You Spikes and Johnnies can just skip ahead.

Timmies, click here.

Cards for Timmy

Now that we've established who Timmy is, it's time to start talking about how we design cards for him. To do that, let me explain a few things about how Timmy looks at cards:

The What Is More Important than the How Much

Each psychographic asks a different question when they look at a card for the first time. Spike asks "Is it good enough to play?"; Johnny asks "What can I do with this?"; and Timmy asks "Would I like to play with this?" Only Spike's question really cares about the mana cost, because to Spike the relation between the cost and the effect is the thing he cares most about. Johnny and Timmy, in contrast, are after more than just efficiency. We'll talk about Johnny during Johnny Week, so let's focus on Timmy. When Timmy evaluates a card, he has to figure it if he wants to play it. If it's exciting enough, on some level, the cost doesn't matter. This isn't to say that Timmy ignores mana cost. He doesn't. Timmy respects and enjoys powerful cards. My point is that the main factor for Timmy in evaluating a card has to do with whether or not it will create an experience that he will enjoy.

From a design standpoint, what this means is that cost is a secondary feature for Timmies. If we're trying to design a good Timmy card, the most important thing about it is that it evokes something out of Timmy (or at least a subset of Timmies—I can't stress enough that each Timmy has his own criteria for experiences he is trying to create). What this means is that Timmy cards have a broader range from a mana cost perspective. The vast majority of cards that cost six or more are junk to Spike. Many of these are Timmy favorites.

I should stress that Timmies don't like cards because they're expensive. They like cards that are impressive, and many of the most impressive cards are big (in size or effect) and thus are expensive. In addition, let me point out that a card doesn't have to be expensive to appeal to Timmy. If a card has a fun effect or creates interesting gameplay, Timmy can get quite excited even for cards that cost one or two mana. My point with this section is merely that cost is less relevant to Timmy than it is to Spike.

Careful with the Downside

Spikes are more than willing to accept downside because they understand the potential for power abuse. Johnnies tend to like downsides because it presents them with a puzzle to solve. Timmies though, not so much. Timmy wants to be excited by a card. He wants to imagine why it would be fun to play not why it might be unfun. As such, Timmy cards tend to have less downsides built into them than cards created for the other psychographics.

There are two big exceptions though. The first is flavor. If the downside is woven cleanly enough into the flavor of the card, Timmy is okay because the overall feel creates the excitement he or she wants. An example, from Alpha, would be this card:


Lord of the Pit was quite popular when the game first came out. The Lord of the Pit required you to sacrifice a creature each turn, which is a significant downside, but Timmies embraced the card, I believe, because the idea of a pit demon that required constant sacrifice was cool enough to override the downside.

The second exception is cards where the downside creates fun gameplay. My example for this comes the latest core set—Magic 2010, coming out this summer. (It tickled my funny bone to have the two examples come from sets chronologically as far apart as possible.) Aaron Forsythe previewed this card two weeks ago. Here's the card:


The reason I believe some Timmies will embrace Capricious Efreet is that every time the Efreet uses it's ability it makes for a fun moment. What's going to happen? Odds are things will work out in its controller's favor, but you never know. Here the downside has an upside in that it makes the kind of moment that many Timmies enjoy.

Savor the Flavor

The two exceptions above lead us into two different points. The first is the importance of flavor to Timmy. When Timmy looks at a card he is looking at the card in its entirety, not just what it does or what it costs but what it's supposed to be. How do all the pieces fit together? This is important to Timmy because he is looking to create an experience. Good flavor helps greatly with this goal. Timmy, for instance, tends to like dragons, not simply because they are large aggressive fliers but because they're dragons. When designing cards for Timmy you have to keep this in mind.

In his article on Magic 2010, Aaron talked a bit about the importance of cards being resonant—that is, that some percentage of cards need to represent things that players already understand. They need to create more "Oh, it's that!" moments and fewer "What exactly is that supposed to be?" moments. While Aaron's point is relevant to all players, I believe it is especially relevant to Timmies. When Magic can tap into concepts that players are already invested in—like dragons—we greatly increase player's abilities to create exciting moments because much of the work has already been done for us. To use dragons one last time: dragons are cool not because of what Magic has created so much as because a flood of preexisting stories have already built up their equity.

Fun Fun Fun

The second exception is also very telling about designing for Timmy. Timmy's looking for a good time. Cards that create cool moments unto themselves already come packaged with this. As an example, let's look at a card from Tenth Edition:


Every time Warp World is played it's exciting because no one knows what exactly is going to happen. Or take this card from Tempest:


Each time you use Grindstone you don't know how big the effect will be. That uncertainty makes the moment exciting. Note that the card doesn't have to create randomness. Take this card from Shards of Alara:


This card does the same thing each time it's cast. (I say "cast" rather than "play" as I'm getting into the spirit of Magic 2010.) But that thing—getting two dragons—is fun each and every time. My point with this section is that cards that generate their own unique experiences come premade to be enjoyed by certain Timmies.

Give Them the Goods

In advertising, they've learned that certain words (referred to as "power words") have greater ability to evoke a response. Here are a few of these words: NEW, FREE, BIGGER, and MORE. These words have power in advertising, and they have power in Magic. In particular they speak to Timmy.



Players love seeing things they've never seen before. New experiences are inherently more thrilling than old ones, thus Timmy tends to flock to cards representing new concepts.




Everyone loves something for nothing. Timmy is no exception. Make a card that can be played for no cost and Timmy is intrigued (as are Spike and Johnny—but hey, they're human too).




Big things create a visceral thrill. Sure, attacking with a 3/3 can be fun, but a 13/13 is even more fun. Many Timmies are very much drawn to the excitement of the large thing. As such, designers need to play into this each set by making large things for these Timmies to lust after.




Just as some Timmies like the big thing, others like being able to have effects larger than ones they've ever had before. Even when it's overkill, it's fun to cast a spell with such a giant effect.




My point in this section is that Timmy is more attracted to splash than the other demographics. Bigger, better, newer—these cards have built-in qualities that make it easier to hit Timmy's excitement button.

Walk the Linear

Back in October of 2003, I wrote a column ("Come Together") explaining a important spectrum in design. The two ends I labeled linear and modular. Linear cards were cards that encouraged the player to include them with specific other types of cards while modular cards were ones open ended enough to be played with anything. Goblin King is a good example of a linear card while Naturalize is a good example of a modular card. Goblin King needs Goblins. Naturalize doesn't require anything more than the access to green mana.


I bring this up because Timmies tend to pull more toward the linear side, while Johnnies pull more toward the modular side. (Spikes don't really care, instead being pulled toward whatever is strongest at the moment.) Timmies are more prone to linear cards because they are seeking out the experience. Linear cards do a much better job of explaining what that experience might be. You get what kind of deck Goblin King is going to lead to. Naturalize does very little to point you in any direction.

That's Obvious

A corollary to the pull of linearity on Timmies is that Timmies are happier than other psychographics with cards that are obvious in their intent. Johnnies tend to shy away from obvious cards because they are trying to do something uniquely their own. Timmies, on the other hand, aren't focused on uniqueness but fun. Who cares if other people also have fun in the same way? So what if it's obvious what to do with a card if what that thing is sounds cool enough? The result of this is that Timmy designs tend to be the most straightforward of the three psychographics.

Wrapping Up

The common bond here is that designers have to make cards for Timmy that feed into Timmy's desires. Timmy wants an experience. That means Timmy cards have to advertise that experience. They have to be fun to play or create fun experiences or do something that feels special. A true Timmy card is one that excites its intended target the first time they look at it.

I hope today has given you a better insight into the types of decisions that go into designing for Timmy. I promise to give you insights into Johhny and Spike when we get to their respective weeks.

Join me next week when I have some fun. (Yes, even Making Magic can have Timmy moments.)

Until then, may you enjoy your own Timmy moments.

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