rom time to time I like to do mailbag columns where I dedicate the whole article to answering questions from my readers. As a way to try something a little different, I decided to make use of my Twitter account (maro254 in case you missed my Twitter column a few weeks past). So about a week before writing this column I posted the following tweet (a tweet is what a post on Twitter is called):
I need your help for an upcoming mailbag column. Instead of email, I want to use tweets. Questions should be no longer than a single tweet.
My followers took the job quite seriously sending me a load of questions. (Followers are people who ask Twitter to show them every post you make.) This means that today, I will be answering tweets. I am, however, allowing my answers to exceed 140 characters. (On Twitter, posts are limited to 140 characters.) With all my explanatory Twitter asides out of the way, let's get to the questions:
@maro254 There's a lot of forums where are people making up new mtg cards for fun/competition. Do you watch these forums for inspirations?
Unfortunately, I've been specifically instructed to not look at them. While I am very excited to see what the players have come up with (and I do believe that amateur designers can come up with some great ideas), business realities keep me from having that luxury. This means, by the way, that if you want me to read what you have to say, don't put card submissions in your email because when I see them I have to stop reading.
@maro254 How was Kamigawa not tribal? It has over 150 cards that care about creature types.
The Kamigawa block does have a strong tribal component, higher than just about any non-tribal-themed block (the tribal-themed blocks being Onslaught and Lorwyn). It's just not its central theme. That's all I think people are saying when they say it's "not tribal."
@maro254 When do you plan to release the Future-shifted cards such as Tarmogoyf? Is it one of those "perpetual eventually" situations?
The idea behind the timeshifted sheet from Future Sight is that it was exploring what cards, mechanics and/or ideas we might do. From time to time you will see a reprint from the Future Sight "timeshifted" cards. What's going to happen more often, though, is that you see us hit some area of design or flavor hinted at in one or more of the Future Sight cards. We had a good sense of where we were going (we try to have general idea of block themes many years in advance), and that set had a huge number of teases and hints. I think when Future Sight is ten years old and people look back, they'll see all the seeds planted in it. Let me end by stressing that some things in Future Sight will never see print.
@maro254 Multicolor is fun but there's been too much. Will we see a move away from it all together or will it remain as a minor element?
Zendikar does not have a multicolor theme. Lights, the large set from 2010, does not have a multicolor theme. The pendulum always swings, and yes, recently we hit multicolor pretty strongly. Now it's time for the pendulum to swing away for a while. Look forward to the possibility of playing monocolored decks. That said, this doesn't mean we won't make individual multicolored cards if they make sense in a particular environment; just that multicolor is going to be a theme we move away from for a while. (Have no fear, multicolor lovers—it will return one day.)
@maro254 will you ever make a sequel to legends (in the style of coldsnap)
I've learned to never say "never," but that's never going to happen. Okay, okay. It's highly doubtful.
@maro254 If you had to compare designing cards to another creative endeavor (writing a novel, painting, etc), which would you choose?
If I have to compare it to another creative endeavor, it would have to be writing—mostly because that's the other creative endeavor I've done. Here's the aspect that card design and writing have the most in common (to me at least): to make something truly classic, you have to spend a lot more time refining ideas than coming up with them. In writing, there's a saying that "writing is the fun part, rewriting is the work." The same goes for card design. Design spends a lot more hours tuning ideas than coming up with them.
@maro254 If you had to put direct burn (say, a functional Shock reprint) into a color that wasn't red, which would it be and why?
I'm forced to? At gunpoint? Burn makes the next most sense in black. Burn, mechanically, is about creature removal and lowering players' life totals, both things that black can do. Flavorwise, the idea of inflicting damage on others for your benefit also best fits in black's portion of the color pie philosophically.
@maro254 what was the hardest mechanic to design in a set you've worked on?
I'm not sure how to define "hardest," but the mechanic that went through the most iterations (meaning we tried the greatest number of different ways to do it) was the dredge mechanic from Ravnica. The one we ended up using—which, by the way, was fundamentally shifted in development (they added the "mill cards" part)—was probably the ninth or tenth version we tried. The only other item on a set I worked on to go through that much revision was the planeswalker card type, and I wouldn't call it a mechanic.
@maro254 What is your favorite moment in magic history?
Um, the day Wizards hired me? This is an impossible question for me to answer. Magic's been such a key part of my life for so long that I can't pick a single moment that stands above the rest, but I'm supposed to answer the question, so I'll pick two, one public and one more personal behind-the-scenes.
My public answer is the 1998 U.S. Nationals Finals match between Mike Long and Matt Linde. I've never seen a crowd more into watching a game. Everyone was rooting for Linde, but it was looking like Long was going to win. Long had to let down his guard for one moment, and if Linde didn't have the answer the championships was Long's. But Linde had the answer (which the commentator Brian Weissman had pointed out to the audience). The question was: Would he realize it, and if so, did he have the card he needed? He did, and the crowd went bonkers. It was truly the most electrified moment of Magic watching I can remember.
My behind-the-scenes answer was my pitch to Joel Mick to convince him to let me lead the design for Tempest. I knew I had it in me to be a great designer and this was my chance to prove it. But what I was pitching was kind of crazy. I had never designed anything for Magic but a few cards. I was asking them to trust me with a large set. My ace in the hole was that I got Richard (Garfield) to agree to be on the team. That was just enough to get Joel to say okay. I remember being so excited when he said yes.
@maro254 It was said that Zendikar's theme will be something new. Can you give us a hint? Pirates and dinosaurs are leading the rumors.
Here's my hint. There is a space in Magic design that we've explored on individual cards but have never explored thematically as a block theme. We started with that theme and then crafted a world that made it make sense. Once we had the world, we then made a bunch of other mechanics that made sense in that world. The design and creative did a lot of back and forth work to integrate the mechanical themes into the world. I do feel the world we've create is a resonant one, but not one with pirates or dinosaurs. Or robots. Or ninjas. Or monkeys. Let me wrap this answer up by saying that I'm quite excited with how Zendikar turned out, and once I'm allowed to freely talk about it, I anticipate I'll start getting letters to ask me to stop talking about it.
@maro254 why isn't cycling evergreen yet?
Because not everything can be evergreen. Yes, cycling is awesome and it does all sorts of great things, but the only keyword mechanics we've chosen to make evergreen are creature mechanics that are very flavorful and have enough design space to be used every set.
@maro254 what card has been rejected most times in development? (excuse my bad english)
The card that comes to mind is the card Ambassador Oak from Morningtide. The card was first submitted in Tempest design and didn't see print for over ten years, during which I put the card into every design I lead and submitted it for all the design teams I worked on. Suffice to say, the card was rejected from a double-digit number of Magic sets. The funniest part about it was that no one disliked the card. It just kept getting killed for other cards that were more relevant for the set at hand. Heartbeat of Spring (the green Mana Flare) was another card that got killed for numerous years before it finally saw print.
@maro254 I know you read every email, do you read every tweet you receive?
Yes, I do. It's actually much easier as the average word count of a tweet is lower than average word count of the email I receive. Significantly lower! As a side note, I love reading my email, but please remember that I do not have infinite time to read it. (They make me design Magic sets too.) A few paragraphs is a much more potent message than six pages.
@maro254 I really miss hurloon minotaur. Are there any plans to revive the classic iconic magic figurehead?
Honestly, no. Hurloon Minotaur, as a mascot, proved much more popular internally than it ever did externally. The reason why? I'll be blunt—the card's pretty bad from a power perspective, and that's before R&D decided that the overall power level of creatures could be juiced a little. Yes, the art's great, but iconic cards nowadays have to not just look good but be good as well.
@maro254 How can I use Magic (the TCG, actually) to impress girls? (don't mean the use of cards like "proposal" etc :-) )
Things don't impress girls. People impress girls. (Okay, I'll admit that some girls are impressed by things, but those aren't the kinds of girls you really want.) Things about you that can impress girls? Being happy, being confident, being insightful, being enjoyable, being comfortable with yourself. These things, Magic can help you with.
@maro254 what would stop you from ever making a set that completely lacks a single color?
The fact that it would be a terrible idea. Magic is many things to many players. Our job as designers is to make sure that every set has something for everyone. One of the ways we do that is to make sure that lovers of each color get something cool in each set. This would be hard to do if we left a color out.
Your question does hit a more important point though. Should we do things that players never see coming from time to time? Absolutely. One of the joys of Magic is that the game keeps evolving, and the designers get to use this opportunity to do things that are unexpected.
@maro254 Would you agree that land-less decks (ichorid, no land belcher) are kind of art (in a picasso sense)?
I can appreciate the artistry of such a thing. That said, it is the kind of thing that is more beautiful if we as designers never make it easy.
@maro254 How do you keep designing new themes without adding new types of cards and without replicating used sets? Ideas are limited i.m.o.
While Magic's design space isn't infinite, I think it's bigger than a lot of people give it credit for. Plus, we're good. We've been doing this for a long time. (Not a humble answer I know, but longtime readers should know that humility is not exactly my strong suit.)
@maro254 Why is black the only color to get discard effects? Will the ability bleed to say, red? Symmetric discard seems very red.
We like each color to have access to a few things that only they get to do. Symmetric discard, by the way, I would put into white, under the same reasoning that allows white to get all the mass destruction effects: its desire for fairness, and for everyone to be treated the same.
@maro254 Does the upcoming release of Planechase mean that World Enchantments are truly dead?
No, us killing them over ten years ago means that they are truly dead. Planechase means that we understand the underlying desire in our playerbase that wants things like world enchantments. So, if you were a fan of world enchantments, you might want to check out Planechase (coming out September 4th, 2009). I should stress that Planechase isn't exactly world enchantments mechanically but is similar—especially in flavor, in that the duel keeps getting shifted to new worlds that have an impact on the game play.
@maro254 Has there been any real consideration in Wizards for abolishing the reprint list, either partially or in full?
I've talked about this before but it's an important enough point to make again. The reserve list (the list that tells us what cards we can never reprint, for those who don't know) was created long ago by people who no longer work at Wizards. It was done to help ease concerns of our player base at the time. The majority of current R&D feels that the reprint list isn't fulfilling the function it was created for (and at times seems to actually counteract it), but, and this is the important sticking point, we've learned through market research that the majority of our audience feels it's important for Wizards of the Coast, as a company, to keep its word. So we're stuck between a rock and a hard place. We want to do what is best for the game and our players and we want to keep the confidence of our consumers. If anyone has a solution to this Gordian knot, please let me know.
@maro254 What food / beverage / recreational pharmaceutical provides the best creative juice for a game designer ?
I won't speak for anyone else, but my beverage of choice is ice water with lots and lots of ice. I guess I can't do my best work at 98.6º.
@maro254: Why can't Blue answer to Enchantments? Either counter them, or suffer through them. Blue hates Creatures more than Enchantments!
Besides countering them (which is an answer), blue can steal them, bounce them, tweak their text with cards like Sleight of Mind and Magical Hack, and counter their activation. Being that blue is only supposed to be #3 at dealing with enchantments (behind white and green), I'm not sure what the problem is.
@maro254 Will we ever see a new card type (like Planeswalkers) in the next 5 years or so to keep the game "fresh"?
While I don't doubt that someday we'll do another card type, please be aware that card types are something that R&D has to be pretty stingy with. We thought long and hard before adding planeswalkers to the game, and I doubt a new card type will be created without going through the same rigorous procedure.
@maro254 What can be done to add more depth to Red?
Part of our color pie adjusting several years back was to give more for red to do, mostly at higher rarities. As a designer though I've come to accept that the shallowness of red is part of its flavor as a color. Red is more single-minded than the other colors and it likes to do what it does. Red doesn't have so many direct damage spells because it has nothing better to do; it has them because damn, red likes blowing things up. That said, we as designers are always looking for little nuances we can add to red. I will admit that red commons are the most challenging cards to design.
@maro254 What question do you get asked the most? ;)
In all my interviews, I think the most asked question I get is "What is your favorite Magic card?" The second most asked question is probably, "So tell me, how do you make Magic cards?" If you count questions in email then the number one, by a landslide, is "How can I get a job in R&D/Wizards?"
@maro254: What's your favorite physical playtest card that you've interacted with?
This question is from Tom LaPille, Magic developer and "Latest Development" columnist. I think what Tom is trying to ask is what playtest version of a card tickled my fancy the most. You see, cards are constantly being changed and some humorous versions actually make it to playtest sticker. Some of the funniest cards are ones in early playtest when we have no idea the power level of certain new mechanics.
I remember playing with an early Searing Touch (from Tempest), called Poke in design, that only cost to buyback. The original costing assumed the mechanic was kind of like a cantrip. Our mistake was underestimating the fact that you always drew this card. One of my favorite goofy cards that actually made it to playtest was also in Tempest design. It was called Insecticide, a black sorcery that "Destroyed all insects, spiders and faeries."
@maro254 Who is your favorite developer?
Now we have a question from Mike Turian, another Magic developer. Who's my favorite developer? My answer is it's whoever is the last one to ask me who's my favorite. So Mike, until someone else asks, you're it!
@maro254 How is the new media (podcasts, Twitter, etc.) affecting Magic design?
One of the things I've always tried hard to do is keep in close contact with out players. That's why I read every email (and now every tweet) because I want to know what our players want, or don't want, in their game. New media has just created more outlets for me to gather that information. In addition, the new media allows better communication in the other direction, from us to all of you so that we can better fill you all in on what new thing is coming your way.
@maro254 What's a good thought process for creating a mechanic based upon a flavor concept?
When doing top-down design, the technique I find most helpful is to write down everything I feel the original thing represents. Then I go item-by-item on my list and think of mechanical links. Once I'm done, I then step back and look at the whole picture again with all these little mechanical ideas in my mind. Oftentimes this is enough for my holistic design muscles to kick in and start suggesting something that hits the essence of the thing. (For more on top-down design, you might want to check back next week.)
@maro254 What factors are considered by R&D to determine the number of cards with a new mechanic (like Cascade) in a given set?
The trick for figuring out how many cards a mechanic wants is twofold. First, see how many you can design. Often a mechanic is limited by how many good designs there are for it. Second, play with it. The other major limitation is how many spells with that mechanic work within any particular environment. Those two things are the key factors in figuring out the right level.
@maro254 How long, on average, does a set (large or small) take from initial concept to printing?
Design for a large set usually begins about two years before all of you get a chance to play with it. Small sets are closer to a year and a half.
@maro254 What color has indestructible, green or white? Why?
All colors are allowed to have access to indestructible (kind of like trample) but the keyword shows up most frequently in green (also like trample) with white being number two. Green gets it because it's the creature color and has the biggest, bad-assiest (I hope time credits me with that word) creatures. White gets it because it is the color that's best at protection and protection-like abilities.
@maro254 How often do you specifically design cards with Elder Dragon Highlander in mind? Give some examples if possible.
I almost never design to a particular format. I just make cards that I think are fun and play well and let the audience figure out what to do with them. The two exceptions I can think of are multiplayer and Vintage—multiplayer because it requires cards that mechanically function a little differently, and Vintage because every once in a while I come up with an idea that fits a niche that only works when you have access to every card. The only other exception I can think of is when development is trying to fix an environment, usually Standard, and they specifically ask for a card with a particular function. For example, last year the designers was asked to brainstorm on cards that were good against the Faerie deck. (Perhaps you've seen a few of them.)
@maro254 When are we going to see the next Great Designer Search? These things are fun.
While I am hopeful there will be a second Great Designer Search, I don't see it happening in the near future due to numerous factors that unfortunately I really can't talk about.
@maro254 Why can't you be head designer forever?
I'm trying. :-)
@maro254 Why was flash given to blue when power-level wise it makes more sense in green so blue has to choose between counters and threats?
Flash isn't limited to blue. According to the modern color pie, flash is allowed in white, blue and green (and even then black and red might get it if a card we really like at a higher rarity just couldn't work without it). The only reason it might seem more blue is because we made a choice to give Faeries in Lorwyn a consistent mechanical flavor with flash. That was a single-block decision and is not indicative of what color gets the most flash from a color pie perspective.
@maro254 Due to economic cutbacks, you have to lay off one of the five colors. Who gets the boot, and what do they get as severance?
White and green are the closest mechanically to each other, so it would probably be one of them. My gut is we'd boot green, as it would be easier to spread green's attributes over the other four colors than it would be white's. Also, the two strongest conflicts, flavorfully, in the game are white-black and blue-red. Note that this is a Sophie's Choice kind of question so in reality, I'd never get rid of one of the five colors. I believe they are perfectly balanced to create what is to me the heart of the game.
@maro254 What mechanic that you've designed (or helped design) are you most dissatisfied with?
I think the free mechanic from the Urza's Saga block is fundamentally broken. Affinity for artifacts caused much unhappiness. And I wish splice onto arcane had been splice onto instant or sorcery.
@maro254 How has the design process been affected by restrictions placed on it by Magic Online's existence?
Very little. In all of its existence, I can only think of one cycle that I dropped from a set because it was problematic with Magic Online. Pretty much the attitude I've been told to adopt is: do what makes Magic the best it can be and the programmers will figure out how to code it. The reason I'm not saying what the cycle did is because I'm hoping some day to actually do it (you know, when the programmers figure out how to do it for a reasonable amount of effort).
@maro254 In retrospect, are the number of words required to explain Cascade and Suspend worth the gameplay they add to Magic?
I believe cascade yes and suspend no. I'm willing to put up with some wordiness if the game play is really fun and players like it. I believe cascade crossed that threshold but suspend did not.
jsnlxndrlv @maro254 Will there ever be a planeswalker printed at common? How would it differ from its rare and mythic cousins?
No. It wouldn't be different, as it wouldn't exist. Planeswalkers are something unique and special in the Magic multiverse. As such, we are going to keep them that way in the game.
@maro254 Do you read any webcomics? What's the average landspeed of a swallow?
I skim a bunch but the three I make sure to read regularly are xkcd, Unshelved, and FreakAngels. Back when there were weekly Magic webcomics (including UG Madness, where I showed up as a regular character), I also read those. Come on, someone, step up.
@maro254 What is the most commonly-seen multiverse comment?
"I agree with ____."
@maro254 Here's a general one: What's your least favorite set that you've designed?
The set that I'd most like to do over would be Odyssey. While there are a lot of things I like about the design, I think I made one of the most classic design mistakes possible: you can't just make players do something, you have to make them do something they want to do. Odyssey's design taught me this lesson, so I'm grateful for having had it. That said, if I had it to do all over again, I think I could make a set that would be much better received by the audience.
@maro254 If you could redesign Alpha today, with the advantage of hindsight, what would be the biggest difference?
A few things:
- I would make instant a supertype.
- I would be more careful in how creature subtypes were arranged and what words were used.
- I'd shift around the color pie a little bit to make the colors more even.
I honestly wouldn't change all that much. This is with the time-travel caveat that I wouldn't change anything, as even the smallest change could fundamentally change what made Magic a hit in the first place.
@maro254 Do you anticipate new zones being added to the game any time soon?
No, I do not. The only reason I even suggest them from time to time is it's fun to watch the vein throb in Gottlieb's forehead.
@maro254 Designing a game is part imagination, and part reality; What in your everyday life inspires your game design?
I find myself inspired by anything and everything. The key to creativity, I believe, is finding ways to link things that previously have not been linked. (The longer version can be found here.) As such, I will look anywhere and everywhere for inspiration, because the next awesome mechanic might be inspired by a doughnut or a funny comment from a co-worker or a tweet.
@maro254 how many planeswalkers are there in Zendikar?
Three, one of which is a planewalker that's appeared previously.
@maro254 do you ever miss being just a player and that feeling of seeing new cards for the first time?
I do, but having a dream job and getting paid to play Magic every day more than makes up for it. I think the reason I enjoy early design playtests (playtests where the cards have never been played before) so much is that I miss what you're talking about.
Whew! I answered a few more question than I thought I was going to when I started this. I hope today has proved insightful, and as always I am eager to hear what all of you have to say, be it in the thread to this column (which I always read), my email (which I also always read) or on my Twitter feed (yep, I read that too). In short, it is my job to know what all of you want and don't want. You have the ear of Magic's Head Designer. If you want your voice heard, you merely have to use it. Write me (or tweet me) and let me know.
That's all for today. Join me next week when I examine the view from the top.
Until then, may you find 140 characters enough to express what you have to say.