ast week, I started another one of my "Rosewater Files" articles where I intertwine stories from my personal life with those from my professional one. This time, I am intertwining my discovery of mechanics in sets I have led with the story of how I ended up with my wife Lora. As always, if you haven't read Part 1, I recommend that you do, as this article assumes you have.
If you have ever read my article on the foibles of my dating life you know that I've always been a bit clueless when it came to women. Lora and I had spent six months chatting every day and it took my dad's friend Don telling me that Lora was interested for me to get a clue that possibly, maybe, Lora was attracted to me.
Lora's night shift started in the afternoon, so I would often swing by the lobby later in the day to say hi. We'd always talk a little. Now armed with the information from Don, I started to see if I could notice what Don was talking about. Was Lora interested? I would analyze every little action. She touched my arm. That could mean she's interested. She refused to share what happened last night. Maybe she's not interested. I basically tortured myself for a month trying to read the signs. All I learned was I sucked at reading signs.
By the way, whenever I share stories about my dating life, I have this urge to jump into a time machine, find my younger self and smack him upside the head. Looking back, I feel like Lora was climbing on a desk every day and screaming into a megaphone, "I'm very interested in you!" and I was sitting there going, "What does that mean?"
Anyway, after a month, I decided that I thought there was a good chance she was interested. It was time for me to make a move that would force her hand to let me know whether or not this might be going somewhere. I checked out the movies. There was a film opening up called The Spitfire Grill. It seemed like the perfect date movie. Okay, okay, I was going to ask her out to a movie.
What could be more definitive than asking her out on a date? I wasn't going to call it a date. It was just a movie, but it was very date-implied. It had date overtones. If she was interested in me, this would be a chance for her to more publicly hint at her intentions. Okay, okay, I was going to do this.
I swung by right after she got to work on Friday. She wasn't working on Saturday so I knew she'd be available for the movie. We chatted a little like always and I... chickened out. While I am very confident in most things in my life, dating had always been my Achilles' heel. I hadn't dated in high school (oh, I tried, go read the dating article) and I dated one girl in college (again, I had tried dating a lot of girls, seriously go read the dating article if you haven't). Asking out a girl I was interested in was very daunting.
A quick aside. I talked above about how I found out Lora was interested in me. I haven't talked about how I figured out I was interested in Lora. You see, when Don told me that news, I hadn't yet realized that I was attracted to Lora. Looking back at my dating history, I believe that the way I coped with being scared was to never try with the relationships where I had a real chance. I always tried the long shots because my psyche could better handle it if I failed. Of course, they said no. They were long shots.
Realizing that Lora might like me forced me to examine whether or not I liked her. If this were a movie, I would have had a musical montage with different scenes of Lora and me interacting. We're talking, we're laughing, we're playing games together. I had the sudden realization: "Oh my god—I like her!"
A few hours later, I swung back by her desk. I often would swing by multiple times during the day so this didn't seem out of the ordinary. I had yelled at myself ever since I had chickened out and I was prepared to finally do this. Here's how it played out:
Me: So, um, there's a movie opening tonight called The Spitfire Grill.
Lora: Yeah, I read something about it.
Me: I was thinking maybe tomorrow night, that I'd go and see it.
Lora: Let me know if it's any good.
Me: I was thinking that maybe you'd like to come with me tomorrow.
Lora: To see the movie?
Me: Yes, to see the movie. Interested?
There are a lot of problems doing a third set. For starters, you are continuing something that's been going on for almost eight months. You have to stay true to what the block is about but you have to have enough newness to overcome block fatigue. Also, before the days of block design, the earlier sets would often use up ideas as they got them, so by the time you got to the third set, there wasn't always a lot left in the hopper. The design space was often pretty mined.
Fifth Dawn, though, had some extra problems. Mirrodin and Darksteel kind of broke things. By the time the third set of the Mirrodin block rolled around, there were a whole bunch of things off limits. We could have affinity for artifact cards but they couldn't be any good. We could have Equipment but it too wasn't supposed to be too good. (Even with these restrictions, Cranial Plating somehow squeezed through.) Entwine spells were okay but we had used up most of the obvious design space. R&D didn't even want us to have imprint spells, but I convinced everyone that we needed to have at least one. On top of that, we were told not to encourage decks that only played artifacts. It was the "artifacts matter" block and one of our notes was "don't make artifacts matter too much."
Early design for Fifth Dawn wasn't even done in a meeting, but in an email, because one of our designers wasn't a Wizards employee (although he would later become one), nor even lived in Seattle. In the first email, I wrote that we had to find a way to stay true to the metal world of Mirrodin and the artifact block's nature but without doing what Mirrodin and Darksteel did.
I remember the day Aaron Forsythe (who at the time ran the website) walked down to the Pit with an idea. "What if," he suggested, "Fifth Dawn cared about color?" After years of working on Magic design, I've learned the proper response when someone tells me something that on the surface seems kind of crazy: "Tell me more."
The key to solving big problems is to take big swings with big ideas. Not everything works, but it's the act of trying something wild that often leads to new fruitful areas of design. Aaron's pitch was simple. What if we made artifacts that cared about what colored mana was used to cast them? The more, the better. Mirrodin's problem had been that it allowed everyone to be very narrow because all the good artifacts could fit into the same deck. Instead of going narrow, Aaron wanted to go wide. Instead of encouraging zero colors, we would encourage five.
This idea, obviously, was sunburst and became the backbone of the design. Interestingly, we would have probably never gotten there if we hadn't been forced into a corner by the mistakes of Mirrodin and Darksteel.
I took the rejection pretty hard. After all this time, I had finally figured out I was interested in someone who I really thought might be interested in me and it seemed I was wrong. I've gotten a lot of rejections in my life from women, but this one was harder than most of them because this time it wasn't a long shot. I had tried with someone who seemed very realistically like a good candidate and I had failed.
Some people will move on when rejected, but I really did enjoy Lora's company, and not only did we hang out at work but she and I were both on various company sports teams—softball and volleyball. As the weeks went by, I noticed something. Nothing had changed. I felt like I had done something that had fundamentally altered our dynamic and it was as if Lora didn't notice.
I had asked her out. Well, kind of. It was maybe not directly stated but it was... okay, I was being an idiot. Maybe she had no idea that I had sort of, kind of asked her out. I needed to do a little investigation. One day, I brought up the film. Lora had asked how it was. I explained that it was okay but nothing great. That's what she had expected. She wasn't really in to chick-flicky movies.
Screech. (That's the sound of a record coming to a sudden stop. For some of my readers, it's the thing before the thing before digital recording.) She had turned down the movie. She didn't want to see the movie. She rejected the movie!
Her birthday came up shortly thereafter. She's very into pigs, so I bought her a stuffed animal pig. I was trying hard to find the right gift that wasn't too presumptuous but a little personal. She loved it. Okay, I was getting the vibe that maybe I still had a chance. A week later, I explained to her that a bunch of R&D was going to see a movie—a comedy this time. Might she want to join us?
"Yes," she said, "That sounds great."
It took a while for me to figure out the mechanical heart of the design of Ravnica, but eventually with the help of then-Creative Director Brady Dommermuth, I chose to center everything on the guilds. This meant, among other things, that each guild needed a mechanic. Aaron had pitched transmute for Dimir and it seemed like a perfect fit for the guild focused on the library. Richard Garfield pitched convoke for the Boros but I convinced him it was a better fit for Selesnya. Mike Elliott then came up with radiance for Boros. All that was left was Golgari (black and green, for those who might not know their guild colors).
We knew that the overlap between black and green was the graveyard, so the team started trying out graveyard mechanics. One after another, we would try it and reject it. Five down, then ten, then twenty, then forty. I was starting to get worried. We had explored every obvious idea. What else could we do with the graveyard?
Things were going so badly that I even toyed with looking outside of the graveyard. Was there another overlap that made sense for black-green? The problem is that the graveyard overlap was so perfect, philosophically, and it was an area untouched by any of the other nine guilds. Okay, I said to myself, I'm just going to have to dig deeper.
The way the brain works is that we have a set of neural pathways. If given the same stimuli, the brain tends to use the same pathway. That's why, if you're trying to solve a problem, you keep coming up with the same set of answers. The trick is to think of the problem in a way that is different enough that the brain is forced to use a different neural pathway. Ask your question in a new light, making your brain think it's a different question. Or add a new parameter that forces you to have to consider different criteria. Do something that forces your brain to have to work differently.
Instead of asking what mechanics can work in the graveyard, I asked the following question: "If I could make the graveyard do anything, what would I make it do?" Instead of thinking of the graveyard as passive, I decided to think of it as active. Well, it could attack. It could block. It could be considered part of the battlefield. It could be considered part of your hand. Wait, what was that last one?
What if, I asked, your graveyard was part of your hand? Casting cards from the graveyard had already been done, and done very popularly, with flashback. Okay, what if instead of the graveyard being in your hand, you could choose to draw from it? I thought about permanents that granted the ability to draw cards from the graveyard. That seemed broken.
What if, instead of putting the ability on an external force, I put it on the cards I wanted to let you draw? I was now thinking in areas I hadn't before. Cards that let you draw them out of your graveyard. That seemed interesting. A little bit of playtesting and iteration got us to the dredge mechanic. Note that the version I originally made merely allowed you to draw it out of the graveyard instead of another draw. The additional milling cost would later be added by development (and, interestingly, probably ended up making the mechanic stronger).
Whenever I get stuck on a mechanic, I always think back to dredge, which went on to be one of the most popular mechanics in the block (okay, power level had a lot to do with it). I like to borrow a concept from Michelangelo. He believed that the sculpture existed within the marble and it was his job to carve away the parts that didn't belong. When we are trying to find some design space, I like to assume it's there and I have to remove the components that don't work.
I believe eight of us went and saw the movie. Lora sat next to me in the theater and we had a good time. After the movie, I asked Lora if she wanted to eat. The others weren't hungry, so Lora and I went out to eat by ourselves. The night hadn't exactly started out as a date but it was drifting toward one.
Then, in the middle of dinner, Lora said she wanted to talk with me about something. It was becoming clear to her that I was interested in dating. She said that she liked me as a friend but that she didn't feel she was ready to date right now. In fact, it would make her more comfortable if we could each pay for our own meal.
Now, it just so happens that Lora and I lived in the same apartment complex. In fact, she lived just a few doors down from me, so after dinner, I drove us both home. Lora suggested that she come over to my place so the next thing I knew we were both inside my apartment. She and I are standing talking when I get this overwhelming sense that I'm supposed to kiss her.
For context, let me fill you in on something else that happened six months earlier. Last week, I explained that when Lora and I had first started becoming friends I was trying to date a freelance writer who worked with R&D. The first date had gone well, at least I had thought it had, but she told me she wasn't interested in me romantically. She did enjoy spending time with me and wanted to hang out, just platonically. I was very interested in her so I decided that perhaps with time, she'd change her mind.
Then, one night about two months later, we were alone in my apartment. We had started hanging out a lot and I got this feeling that I should kiss her. She had clearly stated that she wasn't interested in me, but I just felt like I was supposed to kiss her. So I did. And it went horribly, horribly wrong. She realized that I still had feelings for her and that I hadn't listened to what she said. It was basically the end of our friendship.
So here I am standing alone with a girl in my apartment. The girl in question has clearly told me she was not interested in dating. But I had this sense that I was supposed to kiss her. Here's the little conversation that went on in my head:
Intellect: Prior events have clearly demonstrated that this is a bad idea.
Emotion: You know in your heart that this feels right.
Intellect: That's what you felt last time. It ended badly.
Emotion: She likes you. She really likes you.
Intellect: She's your friend. Don't mess this up.
Emotion: Listen to her body language.
Intellect: No, listen to her words.
Emotion: I know Intellect makes a lot more sense. I get that, but sometimes it's about following your heart. Yeah, there's potential for bad things to happen but there's also potential for awesome things as well. Do it.
Well, Emotion won, much to Intellect's dismay, and I kissed her.
She kissed me back.
Future Sight was a set about the future. A portion of the cards, known as futureshifted cards, were cards with new abilities never seen before that were cards that came from potential futures of Magic. The rest of the cards were also in a set about the future, but they didn't come from the future. They weren't going to have new abilities that you've never seen before. How exactly could I make those cards feel futuristic without the benefit of doing unforeseen things?
There ended up being a bunch of different solutions. This story is about one of those solutions and it starts many years before Future Sight began design. Interestingly, it begins in Rio de Janeiro, a location that's going to be important later in the story with my wife.
I was in Rio because it was the second-ever Duelist Invitational (later to be renamed the Magic Invitational). Every Invitational was a fifteen-round round-robin tournament with sixteen players. Every year (save the first, in Hong Kong), there were five different formats, each played for three rounds.
One of the formats that I played at every non-digital Invitational was something called Duplicate Sealed. Here's how it works: Every player gets a sealed deck pool. The key is that all the players get the exact same sealed deck pool. This means that building your deck is not just about finding the best deck but the best deck in a format where everyone has the same deck pools. In Hong Kong, all my cards in Duplicate Sealed were real Magic cards.
For Rio, I decided to shake things up. In addition to real Magic cards, I wanted to include some brand-new cards that I had made for the event. In order to do this, though, I had to get permission from the then head designer, a man named Joel Mick. Joel said I could make cards just as long as I didn't make cards that we could use in a normal Magic expansion.
I thought over this puzzle for a while and finally cracked it. All the cards would have not one, but two mechanics on them, each one from a different block. I called them "mix & match" cards. This would allow me to make new cards but combined in a way that I didn't believe we could ever make. At the time, we brought back few mechanics, let alone two in the same block. Joel liked my idea and I made the cards for the event.
Flash forward to Future Sight. I realized that the challenge before me was a similar one to what Joel had given me. How could I make something new only using old tools? The answer was mix & match. Yes, we had seen all these mechanics before, but in the future there would be the potential that they could be combined. I solved my problem by looking back at old problems I had solved in the past and found a solution that also worked for my problem in the present.
Lora and I started dating that night. It turns out Lora very much shared the feelings I had but she was afraid. She had been burned badly in her last relationship and was a bit shy to get back into the dating scene. She was happy that I was able to read something from her that she had been too afraid to admit.
Because we had spent so much time getting to know one another, the relationship advanced very quickly, as we had essentially already worked our way through the early stages. This all happened in November (of 1996). My friends were getting married a few days after Christmas, so I had plans to fly down to Los Angeles shortly before the holiday to see old friends. I realized that Lora wasn't going to be able to afford to fly home and thus was going to spend Christmas in Seattle, so I changed my plans to spend Christmas with her.
Because I had the bigger apartment we had set up the Christmas tree in my apartment for Christmas, but I was leaving shortly after for my friend's wedding, so Lora and I decided we should move the tree to her apartment so she could enjoy it for the rest of the holidays. Her apartment was so close that we decided to just move it with the ornaments attached. What followed was a comedy of errors. In my memory, we broke every single ornament on the tree, and there were many. When we finally got to Lora's apartment, we were laughing hysterically, as we had completely destroyed everything on the tree. It was at that moment that I first remembered thinking that I had a future with Lora.
Flash forward five months. My friend Michael and I had come to Wizards on the weekend to do some work on the story for the Weatherlight Saga. Michael suggested we take a break so we headed back to the employee lounge. I opened the doors and—SURPRISE! Lora had arranged a surprise party for me. And not just a small affair, but something very nice, with a live DJ and all my friends.
You have to understand that at the time, Lora had very little money. I would later learn that in order to afford the party, she had regularly given up meals over the course of months to acquire what she needed to throw it. That's when I first realized how invested she was in the relationship. It also reaffirmed something I already knew: Lora was someone very special.
When we started Lorwyn design, the design team wanted to convey a world that was a little less threatening than the normal Magic plane. Yes, there were skirmishes (this was still a magical combat game) but it was more likely a place you got a few bruises than one where you died when you got into a fight. I suggested that we make use of -1/-1 counters. Instead of killing things, I suggested, you bruise them up.
Playtesting quickly showed us that it didn't quite play out the way I had thought. Normally in Magic,creatures heal at end of turn, but with -1/-1 counters they didn't. Instead of feeling less violent, it actually felt more violent. "Well," I said, "I guess we'll save -1/-1 counters for Shadowmoor."
When Shadowmoor design rolled around, I knew we were going to use -1/-1 counters. As that is something we don't do very often (we have a rule that blocks can use either +1/+1 counters or -1/-1 counters but not both), I was eager to find some mechanics that used -1/-1 counters. Persist had been designed by Nate Heiss on the Lorwyn design team during the short period of time we were using -1/-1 counters. It was a good mechanic, so when we moved the -1/-1 counters, we also moved persist.
I still wanted one more -1/-1 mechanic. This quest was solved by asking the following question: What do I want -1/-1 counters to convey in this world? The answer was that Shadowmoor was supposed to be the dark reflection of Lorwyn. If everything in Lorwyn was less dangerous than normal, I wanted everything in Shadowmoor to be more dangerous. That meant I wanted an ability to put on creatures.
The earliest concept of wither was meanness. Creatures with this ability fought dirty, and if you got into a fight with one, you were going to leave hurt for good. Our first attempt had a number, and if that creature was blocked, instead of damage the blocking creature got that many -1/-1 counters. It was eventually Mark Gottlieb who suggested the idea that the damage of a creature with wither was dealt in the form of -1/-1 counters.
I always found it funny that the defining mechanics of Shadowmoor were discovered by looking for the exact opposite in Lorwyn.
Things continued to go well. So well that I invited Lora to accompany me to Rio de Janeiro for the second Duelist Invitational. After some soul searching (you can read about it in Part 2 of my "Life Lessons" article), I decided that I was going to ask Lora to marry me while we were vacationing in Rio. We had set it up so that we stayed a week after the event ended so we could sightsee. Richard Garfield and family, as well as Skaff Elias, had also stayed for the extra week.
I had arrived a number of days before Lora, as I had work to do setting up the event. One night, I went to a local street market where I found a plastic ring. You see, my father had proposed to my mother using a plastic ring and I decided to follow the tradition. This would allow Lora to later have input into the real ring. With the ring in my pocket, all I had to do was wait until the right moment to ask her. Different moments kept popping up, but because we were with a group of others, I never found enough time alone with Lora.
Then one day, Lora, Richard, Skaff, and I went to the beach. Skaff had forgotten his bathing suit so he and Richard went off to try and buy one. This left Lora and me alone. We went out into the water of the ocean and as I looked around I realized that I wasn't going to find a more majestic background to ask. I walked up to Lora and got down on one knee in the water.
"Are you happy?" I asked Lora.
"Very," she answered back.
I pulled the plastic ring out of my swim suit. "Will you marry me?"
When recapping the story, I like to say that Lora answered quickly enough that I had time to change the question.
Zendikar started as the "lands matter" block so I let my team know from Day One that the first thing we were going to do was find an awesome land mechanic. We spent two months doing nothing but trying out various land mechanics. We looked at mechanics that went on lands. We looked at mechanics that cared about lands. We looked at mechanics that used the land drop as a resource. We looked at lands that doubled as spells. We looked at lands that were creatures or could become creatures. We explored every facet we could think of.
One of the mechanics we considered very seriously was a mechanic where you could activate it by using your land drop for the turn. What that meant was if you used this ability, you no longer would be able to play a land, and if you had already played a land, you could not use the ability. The card Rock Jockey from Scourge essentially has this ability.
Playtesting showed that it caused people to mana screw themselves. Instead of playing much-needed land, they would often opt to use the ability. The interesting thing was when we made the mechanic our assumption had been that players would play land when they could and make use of this ability when they couldn't play land. That's why you playtest though because sometimes mechanics and cards just don't get used the way you think they will.
As the team discussed the mechanic, it became apparent that we had the exact opposite of what we needed. Rather than reward not playing land, what if we just rewarded playing land? This way, players would do what the card was telling themand have land to play things. And that is how landfall came to be, by finding a mechanic that failed and turning it on its head.
Lora and I just celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. (You can read all about our wedding, here and here.) We have three children (Rachel, Adam, and Sarah) and live in our dream home in the suburbs, so I'll dub that "happily ever after."
As I look back at my courtship of Lora and all my various designs, I realize that it takes a lot of work to find the things that matter. In each case, though, it was an issue of understanding what I was looking for and the willingness to stick with the search, no matter where it might lead. I had to be willing to take chances and occasionally have a leap of faith. But by doing all that, I found that the rewards were plentiful.
Thanks for joining me for these last two weeks. While I always love feedback, I particularly enjoy them on my more personal columns. You can write to me through my email link, respond in the thread, or even talk to me through any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+).
Join me next week when I show a little devotion.
Until then, may your search end as successfully as mine.
"Drive to Work #72 – Odyssey, Part 4"
This is the fourth and final installment of my look at the design of Odyssey.
"Drive to Work #73 – Duelist/MagicInvitational, Part 1"
This is the first in a new series looking at the Duelist/Magic Invitationals. In the first podcast, I talk about the Invitationals in Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro.
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.