rom time to time, I like to do mailbag columns. A few years ago, I started focusing the mailbag columns onto certain topics. The topic, both the subject matter and the type of topic it is, changes, but the setup is usually the same. I always begin by making a tweet on Twitter asking for questions. Here's what I asked for this time:
Time for another mailbag column. I'm looking for a question (single tweet) about the design of Return to Ravnica
I got a lot of cool questions, so let's get to them:
@maro254 Looking at the flavour text on Dispel, are the Simic up to something sinister come Gatecrash?
You'll have to wait and see. :) I will say Simic is my favorite guild in Gatecrash both because of mechanics and flavor.
@maro254 Was this Ravnica design, or the original, seen as an attempt to make color *pairs* as distinct (in flavor) as single colors?
Yes, very much so. My goal of the original Ravnica was to define what each pair of two colors meant.
@maro254 why does Trostani not fit a 3 in one design?(As her persona is) she fits with her guild, but not her physical traits.
We designed her before her flavor had been fleshed out and we liked the card mechanically. I agree that she could have been a neat top-down design, but sometimes we make cool mechanical designs. I think us mixing it up is one of the things that makes Magic the game it is.
@maro254 Why did the guildmages switched from being hybrid cards to golden cards?
Because our goal was to have a similar feel to Ravnica without just being Ravnica. Part of doing that was finding ways to do tweaks on popular things we did last time.
@maro254 did you try and include/exclude the original designers from the first time?
Everyone who was in Magic R&D and involved with Ravnica—Brady Dommermuth, Aaron Forsythe, Del Laugel, and myself—were all involved with Return to Ravnica.
@maro254how hard was it not reprinting Dark Confidant
Not hard. I like Bob (the card and the Hall of Famer), but Dark Confidant is a little bit too good to repeat. (Take this with a grain of salt as I'm horrible at judging power levels.)
@maro254 How much concern was given to making cards that encourage you to mix 2 of the guilds? i.e. Wild Beastmaster for Selesnya & Golgari.
It wasn't that we were trying to encourage three-color play rather than make sure it was a possible strategy. Design and development—although more development—worked hard to make sure three-color play was possible, especially in Draft.
@maro254 Did you at one point consider a Planeswalker for each guild?
No. We limit Planeswalkers to five per block (with usually five or six showing up in the core set) so we didn't have the scope to hit every guild. Also, the Planeswalkers usually are bigger than the world they visit so we tend to not tie them too closely to the mechanics of the bock.
@maro254 Was a different drawback ever considered for the guildgates?
We wanted to keep them simple, and "comes into play tapped" is about as simple as it comes. We did discuss other options but, in the end, we went with the simplest incarnation.
@maro254 Did you ever even consider NOT reprinting shock lands?
Nope. It was pretty much considered a given during all of design and development.
@maro254 it was clearly important that the shock lands made a return, but were the bounce lands ever considered too?
No, because we knew we were doing the shock lands from day one and we also knew we wanted to do something different with the other mana fixers.
@maro254 Were you careful to leave some design space unexplored for Return to Return to Ravnica?
We did. In fact, I have a very cool idea for Return to Return to Ravnica. (Okay, that might not be the actual name.)
@maro254 Giving each guild its own signature play style helps separate them, but can also lead to stale game play. How did you combat this?
One of the tricks was to give each guild multiple ways to play. Each guild has a primary and a secondary route to victory.
@maro254 Why the decision to include hybrids, and in the same amount as RAV? Isn't hybrid another animal than multicolor altogether?
Hybrid was the highest-testing thing in the original Ravnica block. It premiered there and was very popular, so we felt it would be wrong not to bring it back. We kept it at the same level as Ravnica for the same reason it was at that level the first time. Hybrid can get confusing with multicolor if there's too much of it. A little bit goes a long way.
@maro254 Were you afraid that unleash wouldn't be popular?
I knew that unleash was going to be unpopular when it was first revealed because it's the kind of mechanic that doesn't read well. I also knew that once players got their hands on the cards and played with them, they would realize how cool a mechanic it actually is. I'm happy to say I've heard from many players and my hunch was correct.
@maro254 What lessons did you learn from the last Ravnica that you applied to RtR?
I think the biggest lesson wasn't what we did wrong but rather what we did right. The most important decision I made when doing Ravnica was the choice to let the guilds lead the design and do everything to maximize allowing each guild to have its own distinctive mechanical look and feel.
A lot of the success of Return to Ravnica was getting Ken Nagle (the set's lead designer) and the rest of the design team to embrace that same ideal.
@maro254 What guild was the hardest to redesign?
In Return to Ravnica, the hardest guild was Azorius. Not only was its guild mechanic the hardest but getting the right feel that felt white-blue without making unfun, sloggy game states was a challenge.
@maro254 How much did the 5/5/10 guild split for Limited affect the design and development of Return to Ravnica?
The biggest impact was that design tried hard to make sure that Return to Ravnica had cards in it that would matter to Gatecrash and vice versa. We want each set to draft well alone but then have interesting interaction when they're drafted together with Sinker in the spring.
@maro254 Why did you make new cards for Niv-Mizzet and Rakdos? That, in a way, breaks legendary rule, doesn't it?
Nope. Magic is full of characters who have multiple legendary creature cards: Kamahl, Mirri, Crovax, Ertai, Balthor, Mikaeus—just to name a few off the top of my head.
@maro254 Why does Wizards short supply almost every time now?
We don't. In fact, we sent out more boosters for Return to Ravnica's Prerelease than any other Prerelease in the history of the game (by a decent margin, by the way). We even sent out extra guild boxes to lessen the chances of players not getting the guild they wanted. The problem wasn't that we didn't provide a lot of product. The problem was that the demand was incredibly high—higher than we anticipated (and, as I said, we were very optimistic).
@maro254 Did the thought occur to retain previous keywords or mechanics from the original set? Which new mechanic is your favorite?
Populate is my favorite mechanic in Return to Ravnica. My favorite overall guild mechanic is in Gatecrash. Clues to what guild it belongs to above.
@maro254 why no guild champions this time?
Have some patience.
@maro254 why were there no Ravnica: City of Guilds reprints?
Well, if you wanted to make the shock lands cry, mission accomplished.
@maro254 what input did R&D have for deciding on the Prerelease format?
A lot. We were the ones who recognized that the sealed deck building was difficult and we came to Brand with the idea of a guild booster. In the last few years, the idea of experience design—creating things that happen at the events or shape how the events are played—has fallen mostly onto R&D's lap.
@maro254 How come a Johnny guild like Izzet got such a Timmy mechanic in overload?
Izzet is part Johnny and part Timmy. There are many cards in the guild designed for Johnny but you are correct that overload leans more toward Timmy (and a little bit for Spike).
@maro254 Which guild mechanic came the easiest? Like, someone says "How 'bout populate?" and it stuck?
Izzet got overload first. I believe Ken knew he wanted it before design started and he suggested it at the very first meeting. I suggested populate soon thereafter. I pitched it as a token proliferate because proliferate had done so well in Scars of Mirrodin block. Playtesting showed that the proliferate version was both too strong and made decks that would play it too similar to one another. We tried a tweak and that stayed for the rest of the design.
Scavenge took a while to find the right combination but Golgari's mechanic never moved away from the basic concept of creatures reusing their dead to get stronger. Rakdos switched from the paincast mechanic (it's now seen unnamed on Rakdos) to unleash during early devign (the period between design and development where design still has control of the file but development makes comments to make sure the file is ready for development). Azorius was the last to get its mechanic. Detain was designed during a design sub-team focused on finding an Azorius mechanic.
@maro254 how many different mechanics did you try for each guild before deciding on the final ones?
A rough guess:
Selesnya—2 (one was a tweak of the other)
Golgari—4 (all variants on the same thing)
@ maro254 Was replacing all the guilds with new ones considered?
No, never. What would be the point? Ravnica's identity was built from the ground up around the guilds. Why would we change the very thing that defines the world? For example, we could go back to Mirrodin and find all the artifacts are gone but that would violate the essence of what Mirrodin was.
@maro254 why no Birds of Paradise? Multicolor block seems like a great home for them.
There's a draw to find old popular things and bring them back. Birds of Paradise was, after all, in the first Ravnica block. The reason we didn't is mostly because we've already had a Ravnica block with Birds of Paradise. Part of what we want in Magic is to always keep things fresh. Instead of doing what we did last time, we like to try something different. Yes, Birds would have fit well, but we wanted to explore a world where something else filled that void so that this trip to Ravnica would have its own feel.
thomaskuster @maro254 What was the biggest hurdle in finding a new keyword for each Guild that was different from the last yet keeping them flavorful?
The problem was finding a different but also elegant way to approach the guild. Simple mechanics are hard but having to find one that perfectly fits the flavor adds an extra layer of difficulty. Luckily, design (and development) is always up for a challenge.
astormbrewing @maro254 how did you use (or didn't use) the original Ravnica block as a foundation/starting point for RTR?
Ravnica block did a great job in defining all the guilds. We obviously used that work as the jumping-off point for Return to Ravnica. We also looked at what elements were popular in the first block (guildmages, shock lands, guild leaders, hybrid cards, etc.) and made sure to do a decent number of them.
In addition, we looked to figure out what Ravnica could have done but didn't (such as two-color charms) so we could carve out some new design space.
BRG9000 @maro254 Is there a design reason for the monocolor minor themes (# of enchantments, casting multicolor spells, etc.), or just filling holes?
In order to make a multicolor set work in Draft (i.e., ensure the drafters have a number of options), you have to have a decent amount of monocolored cards. The monocolored cards have to do something so some of them get to have mini-themes.
RiderPathos @ maro254 Did you intend for the new guild mechanics to work to with the old ones from the start or was it decided later in the process?
People keep mishearing (or misreading) what I said. We worked hard for the Ravnica block version of the guild and the Return to Ravnica block version to have synergy with one another—not necessarily the mechanics but the cards themselves. In other words, if you take all the cards that have a particular guild keyword and shuffle them together, the deck should play together.
This goal was something we had right from the outset of design.
Tolaria_DWest @maro254 How do you balance cohesion in a set that contains five (or ten) very different identities?
There are two things you have to do. First, make sure each faction has a strong identity of its own. If you don't, everything will mush together into a flavorless soup. Then once you let each faction have its own definition, find things that can be used to tie them together.
The strong identity will help give each faction flavor and mechanical understructure. The threads that run through the guilds will allow you to mix and match cards between them to create a rich drafting environment and allow the possibility of combining guilds together.
CTRussell528 @maro254 hat was that hardest part of making sure this wasn't just "Ravnica 1.5"? To give it its own flavor?
The hardest part was trying to recapture the flavor of all of the guilds but do so in a way that fit the flavor without just redoing what we did seven years ago. Last week, for example, I talked about Selesnya and how we tried to get the guild mechanic to play up a different aspect of the guild. Convoke helped you use your collective of creatures while populate helps you build one.
TheEhren @maro254 why did you guys stray away from allied/enemy sets?
Ravnica isn't about allied or enemy relationships. That whole dynamic has no role on this plane. Ravnica's divisions are based solely on the ten guilds.
Also, Invasion and Apocalypse, as well as Shadowmoor and Eventide, already did the allied/enemy split. I like to keep Magic design moving into new areas and trying things we haven't already done.
Jethro_Harrup @maro254 What's your greatest regret about RtR design?
As a die-hard Izzet fan, I wish we had been able to better capture the wild creativity of Izzet. It's definitely there on a whole bunch of spells, but the guild mechanic doesn't really do the best job of hitting my favorite aspect of Izzet.
supermayu80 @maro254 was it harder to design a set that takes place on a plane you had already visited?
Easier in some ways and harder in others. Easier in that the target you're aiming for is well established. The best designs have the clearest targets. Harder in that we wanted to recapture something so popular yet not just repeat ourselves.
rjcarello @maro254 If you could have re-used an existing mechanic for one of RtR's guilds, which would it be?
I've been asked this quite a bit. Here's what I would have done if all the mechanics had to be returning ones rather than original. (I cheated a bit as two of them are Future Sight future-shifted mechanics and two others are variants that we've never done.)
Izzet—splice onto instant
Selesnya—affinity for creatures
Grant_champion @maro254 Do you feel constrained in terms of design at all from the original set and guild philosophy?
Quite the opposite, actually. I talk often about how restrictions breed creativity. I like having a well-defined space to design to. Having previously done things that helped outline, but also gave you some things to try to avoid, made this easier to design than most sets. Note that it was still hard; just not as hard.
ThaGatherin @maro254 Are some RTR cards support for GTC mechanics that we won't see "play together" until the full block is drafted as a whole?
Both Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash were designed so that, when they finally get drafted together come Sinker's release, the two sets would have synergies. So yes, that means there are elements of Return to Ravnica's design that will not be maximized until it is mixed with Gatecrash.
RobersKirkman @maro254 Was it at all tempting to reuse any of the mechanics from the first Ravnica block?
It wasn't that tempting. We were very eager to find new ways to represent each guild rather than simply do what we had done last time.
lejmatthews @maro254 Was there anything in Return to Ravnica you'd planned for the original Ravnica block, had to leave out, and wanted to include now?
Not really. Most of the things we wanted in the original Ravnica block got used in the original Ravnica block. The only big design thing that I feel got left behind was Richard's design for structures—something he had designed to represent buildings in the city. Structures were a new card type with a toughness that had enchantment-like effects. You destroyed them by attacking them with creatures. I took the concept of structures (well, the "attack with creatures to destroy them" part) and rolled it into Planeswalkers when we were first designing them.
HPfortheTD @maro254 Why weren't Gates mentioned on more cards? Once I saw their premise I thought they would appear more often.
The Gates play an important role storywise, but more so later in the block. They weren't supposed to pull focus early, so we just had enough of them to keep players from asking why the Gate subtype even existed. Have patience.
All's Mail That Ends Mail
That's all the time I have for today. Thanks to everyone who took the time to send me a question, regardless of whether or not I got a chance to answer it. If you enjoy reading me answering questions, I want to mention that I do this almost every day on my blog on Tumblr. If you've never check out Blogatog (the name of my Tumblr blog) I kindly ask that you give it a look.
Join me next week when I explore a different facet of Ravnica.
Until then, may lots of people ask you interesting questions.
I have one last cool announcement before I call it a day.
I've wanted to do a podcast for a while now but I was never able to figure out how to make the time. One weekend a number of weeks ago, the answer came to me. I've always believed that a perfect podcast time was about half an hour. It turns out that I have exactly half an hour of available time every day.
I'm proud to announce the start of my very own podcast called Drive to Work, where I use my morning drive time to record a podcast. The podcast will be weekly—new episodes will usually get posted near the end of the week, but I'll link to them at the end of every column—and I will talk about different designs that I've worked on, from sets to mechanics to just about anything I think you'll find interesting. The first podcast is about the design of Tempest, my very first design. The second podcast is about Zendikar, one of my recent designs.
As last week was the premiere of Drive to Work I put out two episodes. From now on, they will be one per week.
The podcasts are eventually going to be up on iTunes and get an RSS feed. They'll be free and you can subscribe to them.
I'm very eager to get feedback on what you all think of it. I've never done anything like this before, so I'm hoping to improve things as I go along based on your input. Feel free to email me or contact me on any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+) with feedback.
Check it out.