elcome to Feedback Week, Part Deux. Last year I did a column where I answered questions from Twitter all starting with the word "how" ("Know How," Part 1 & Part 2). This year I have done the same thing except I have changed the starting word. All the questions this year begin with "why." (For the purists out there, my Twitter column last year wasn't actually my Feedback Week column—it was this one—but I've decided to tie this mega-cycle column to Feedback Week, which I believe is going to be a yearly thing.) Because I have to do my State of Design column next week, this year's Twitter answer column will not be a two-parter like last year's.
Why: The Last Man
So last week I asked my tweeps (what I call my "followers" on Twitter—come join us by that way, @maro254, I just hit 10,000) to ask me questions:
My tweeps stepped up and asked a lot of questions. I'm going to try and answer as many as I can, but I will only be able to get to so many. Here's why the wonderful question you asked may not be answered:
- I have space constraints. My column only gets to be so many words before the vein in my editor's head begins to bulge. There are a lot of great questions. I will not be able to get to them all.
- I am trying hard to create some differences in my feedback columns by forcing different types of questions. This is a "why" column. Many people asked questions that weren't really "why" questions, even if the sentence started with the word. If your question wasn't really a "why" question, I skipped it.
- Some of the questions were asking things that aren't really in my domain. The most common type of question I can't answer are development questions. I don't want to speak for areas outside my expertise, so I've stuck to design questions.
- Many of you asked questions about Innistrad. While I am very eager to answer all those questions, you're going to have to wait for previews (which start in just a few weeks) for me to starting filling you in on why we did many of the things we did in Innistrad.
- There are some questions I can't answer. For many of them I can't even tell you why I can't answer them. Your question could have been one of these.
With that out of the way, let's answer some questions!
Shroud and hexproof each have their own design space, so no matter which you choose you're giving up the other. The reason we didn't go with both is that it's confusing to have two mechanics that are that close but not exact. We tried to see if we could make a word that could be used to describe both kinds of spell immunity, but we couldn't. R&D ended up choosing hexproof over shroud because we have learned that players are happier with all-upside effects.
Different players are drawn to different aspects of the game. I've always loved alternate win conditions. Probably my inner Johnny enjoying finding new ways to win the game. Poison is just something that fascinated me.
The number was chosen by the design team for Legends. I assume the ten-poison loss was chosen because it's a nice solid comfortable number that had enough range to make poison interesting. Whatever the reason it was chosen, I saw no reason to change it.
If I could start the game from scratch, I wouldn't have instants in the game. Rather I would make instant a supertype. What we now know of as instants would be instant sorceries, while creatures with flash would be instant creatures. Unfortunately, that's not the way the game was set up, so it's not how we currently do it.
The reason I'm still head designer after so many years is because this is the job I want. I'm not interested in being the boss of the person who has the job I want. I love doing design. I worked long and hard to be the one in charge of the design of Magic. That's an important part of getting a dream job: knowing how to keep it.
The main reasons are two factors. First, the large set is the most important set for us as it sets up the entire year. It's very important for it to do as well as possible. Second, the best time of year for us to sell a product is late fall/early winter.
Hybrid is evergreen, in the sense that if any set needs to use it, it can. Alara Reborn, for example, realized that it needed a little bit of hybrid to make it work, so they used it.
Part of being the most visible person working on Magic means that I get the vast majority of the credit and the blame. People want to feel like the names they know are the ones directly responsible for things, so everyone just assumes I do a lot of things that I don't actually do, for good and for bad. Having done this for years, I've come to take it all with a grain of salt.
I'm not sure. I always enjoyed it. From time to time we talk about bringing it back. I think there's a good chance you haven't seen the last of "You Make the Card."
Magic is like a shark in that it can never stop moving to stay alive. Part of that means we have to keep moving around the spot where the power in the game lies. It's okay for direct damage to occasionally be at the top of its game, but at other times we have to let some other ability have its time in the sun. (Did I get enough metaphors in?)
Just like me, they long to be close to him.
Having employees win sanctioned events could create the appearance of impropriety ("Hey, didn't he know about the cards longer than everyone else?"), and it's important to us not to even create the suspicion that something fishy might be going on.
Magic has been very good to me. It provided me a job I love, it gave me a lot of money, introduced me to my wife, and is my favorite game of all time. I owe it a lot, so I've made it my goal to make sure that I take care of it as well as it's taken care of me.
Because it's the best game ever made, and I like to believe that quality can stand the test of time.
Magic at its core is about exploration and discovery. The reason we keep moving is that we want each year to have a new environment for you to explore. In addition, we need to move so that each year we can continue to weave our mechanics and creative tightly together. In practical terms, the artifact year wants to take place on a metal plane, but the horror-themed world doesn't.
The trick is that Magic isn't really one game, but many games all rolled up into one master umbrella. I don't grow tired of designing Magic because I keep getting to design a brand-new, although similar, game each year.
We hold multiple Great Developer Searches a year. We call them Pro Tours.
I often talk about the role of design in making fun game play. There's another equally important role that I don't talk about as much. Design has to not only make sets that people will enjoy when they play them, but we also have to make sets that people want to buy. There are numerous ways to do this, but a very successful one is to find elements of the game people like and withhold them for some amount of time. (Magic is luckily large enough that we do not need all aspects of the game at any one point in time.) When you bring those elements back, the players get very excited. Lands with extended art fall into this category. They are awesome and we will bring them back someday. They weren't a one-time thing. It's important, though, to have things in our arsenal that players are eager to have return.
The same reason there is so much secrecy around a popular movie or book series. A big part of what we sell is excitement, and in order to do that we have to withhold the information until close to when you can buy the product.
We're trying. My best suggestion is to make use of the Duels of the Planeswalkers game on Xbox, Playstation, and Steam for PC. Duels is probably the best tool we've ever made to help beginners learn how to play.
One of the goals of bringing back poison was that I wanted it to have some qualities different than life. In addition, I wanted to create a feeling that poison was something to truly be afraid of. Not allowing the removal of poison counters helped both these goals. Was it the right choice? I'm honestly not sure. When poison returns (which I believe it will), I plan to reexamine many decisions made this time around, including the inability to remove poison counters.
The most common reason people quit Magic is that they become disconnected from the social circle they play with (they move, others move, big life events happen, etc.). The biggest thing we've done to get them back is to create ways to play that allow them to play given their life's current setup. The biggest examples of this would be Magic Online and Duels of the Planeswalkers.
It's not singlehandedly. I have help.
There are things I would do if I could just rewrite history and make them always have been so. One of these things is that I would have made Phyrexian a creature subtype. Unfortunately, the Phyrexians have been around since almost the beginning of the game, and those cards, which clearly are Phyrexian, don't have the subtype. Errata is a bad choice because it's not always clear to the average person which cards from the past were Phyrexian.
(For those who might be confused, Kraken's Eye and the other members of its cycle are nicknamed the "lucky charms.") It's important for the game, and especially the core set, to have some cards that beginners excitedly latch onto at first (in this case due to the overevaluation of the importance of life) that they come to learn with time are not as strong as they initially believed. In addition, the core set is in constant flux, so I do believe one day you will see a core set without the "lucky charms."
Have you ever tried sneaking through the plains? It's very hard.
I am more than willing to step up to any art duties that come my way, but as of yet, the art director has not returned my phone calls. Personally, I think it stems from the fact that Jeremy is dismissive of my medium choice, crayon (and also possibly because I can't actually draw).
We did. It was called Urza's Saga block. You might be confused because the Magic brand team at the time had the wonderful idea to dub it The Artifact Cycle even though it had an enchantment theme. Urza's Saga block was over ten years ago, so it is fair to ask why we don't have another enchantment-themed block. I will tell you that it is on the short list of things design would like to do.
Dual lands are not set in stone as rare. Ravnica and Shards of Alara blocks had common dual lands. Invasion and Zendikar blocks had uncommon dual lands. Also remember that since the addition of mythic rares, the rare rarity has become less rare, making it easier to get rare dual lands. (Yeah, that last sentence may have to be read a few times.)
There are many ways to evaluate the success of a set—market research (including the godbook studies), data from Magic Online, player feedback—but the most important one for us, as a business, is sales numbers. Did we make something that all of you wanted to buy? While Time Spiral is beloved by many (and let me be clear, there's a lot about the design of Time Spiral block that I really like from a pure design aesthetic), it did poorly in the one metric Wizards has to care the most about. Further research has shown that we excited one segment of our audience at the expense of another. I feel that Scars of Mirrodin block did a better job of being nostalgic for the audience that enjoys that aspect of the game without alienating those who don't.
Urza's Saga did have a cycle of lands, but the mechanics were a little looser than you realized:
White – Serra's Sanctum
Blue – Tolarian Academy
Black – Phyrexian Tower
Red – Shivan Gorge
Green – Gaea's Cradle
I consider Champions of Kamigawa to be a block with a tribal component, just not a tribal theme. In other words, the tribes play a role, and a big one at that, in the block, but the core of the set mechanically does not revolve around them.
I would check the Champions of Kamigawa story which had a black-aligned protagonist and a white-aligned antagonist.
I attribute it to an anti-goat prejudice among R&D.
When Magic was first created, Wizards of the Coast had plans to produce an entire line of trading card games. To do this, they decided to brand the TCGs as Deckmaster games. Both Jyhad (later renamed Vampire: The Eternal Struggle) and Netrunner were branded as Deckmaster games. Wizards eventually gave up on the Deckmaster brand, but as the Magic backs have never been changed, they still carry the now-defunct Deckmaster logo.
I would love to see a general Magic Hall of Fame in which the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame is just one wing. I'm hoping some day this will actually happen.
We don't purposefully print cards that aren't fun. Every card we print we believe will be fun for some player. Remember, though, that one player's fun can be another player's nightmare. We have done a lot over the years to try to minimize the unfun cards. This is why things like countermagic and land destruction and discard (things that have historically proven unfun for the majority of the audience, mostly because they prevent people from getting to use their cards) have been more reined in.
Richard Garfield made a very robust game with an amazing amount of design depth. Plus, I (and the rest of R&D) have spent the last fifteen years learning how to best extract that design space in a way to maximize its lifespan.
R&D's job is to make Magic a game all of you want to play. In order to do this, I need to know your thoughts and feelings on what we have done and your hopes and wishes for what we could do. The only way to get this feedback is to interact with you, so I have made it a key part of my job to connect with the players. I consider reading my mail (and Twitter and forum threads and all the other social media I do) part of doing my job. As a wonderful side bonus, it's very uplifting to get direct feedback from the people you're making your product for. Getting a letter from a player who took the time to say how much Magic means to them and what enjoyment it brings them makes my day.
Drop-In at the Why
That's all the time I have for today. I hope you enjoyed reading my answers as much fun as I had writing them. Be aware if you have feedback I can always be reached through the "Respond via email" link at the bottom of this article, on Twitter (@maro254), and in this column's forum thread. I read everything sent to me (barring new designs, which I'm not allowed to look at), but I don't have the time to respond to everyone.
Join me next week for this year's State of Design column.
Until then, keep asking why.