elcome to Magic 2010 Previews, Week 1. This week we're going to start showing off many of the cool new (and returning) features of the latest core set. But as you will see, this time we've taken the core set in a whole new direction. What are we doing, and what inspired us to do it? Before today's column is done, you'll know. Plus, you'll get a nifty preview card. All yours for the low, low price of "read the rest of my column."
Before I get started, I thought I'd make a quick aside about an issue that's gotten me a bunch of mail: the name change. Where did Magic 2010 come from? In our quest to make the game more approachable for beginners (more on this quest here), we decided to take a look at what we were calling our introductory product. Eleventh Edition doesn't sound like the first thing you're supposed to purchase. In fact, we found that the name tended to suggest that this wasn't the introductory product. Instead of referencing which core set it was, we decided instead to reference what year it was. Why 2010 when we're in the middle of 2009? Because the set sells during both 2009 and 2010. If we label it 2009, we would have a huge problem selling it in 2010. People respond very negatively to new things that sound as if they are old things. The car companies figured this out long ago, and we are following in their well-paved path. That is how the name for Magic 2010 came about.
Also, before I jump in to the thick of things, let me quickly introduce Magic 2010's design team:
Aaron Forsythe (lead) – Being the director of Magic R&D, Aaron doesn't have the time he once did to work on sets. As such, he is very careful in choosing what he works on. Aaron signed up to lead Magic 2010 because he knew that the core set was in the need of a major overhaul and he felt he was the one to lead the charge (and change). Because this was so important, Aaron put together what can only be called a high-octane design team.
Brady Dommermuth – He began with the man who oversees the creative team. Aaron knew Magic 2010 was going to have new cards (more on this below), many of which were going to be top-down (more on this below as well). This meant the involvement of the creative team was going to be essential. Therefore, why not go right to the top? (You're going to see a lot of this theme for this design team.) I've had the pleasure of working with Brady for a long time (Brady has worked on Magic longer than everyone in R&D but Bill Rose and myself) and as such has had a huge impact on the game. Brady has a unique insight into Magic, having worked with it for so long from a very different vantage point than most of R&D. As such, I was quite excited to have him on the team.
Mark Rosewater – Which brings us to me. Aaron knew going in that the set was going to have new cards, so he wanted design heavily involved. Who better then than the head designer? I hadn't worked on a base set design team since Fifth Edition, so I gladly accepted when Aaron offered me a spot.
Devin Low – If you're going to have the head designer it seems only fair to have the head developer. Devin was also one of our top designers so having him on the team served multiple functions. I talk of Devin in past tense because since the time when we did Magic 2010 design, Devin has left Wizards and is currently happily designing and developing at another game company. I miss Devin and hope that Magic 2010 and this fall's large expansion, Zendikar (the last two sets Devin worked on, the former for design and the latter for development) serve as a good farewell to one of Magic's truly awesome developer/designers.
Brian Tinsman – By day, Brian is the Head Designer for R&D's New Business group meaning that he pretty much oversees the design of everything that isn't Magic or Dungeon & Dragons. By night, Brain is one of Magic's best designers having led the design for sets such as Scourge, Time Spiral, and next year's "awesome but you haven't seen it yet" set codenamed "Prosper." Aaron wanted some design weight so adding Brian to the team was a no-brainer.
Bill Rose – A few months back, I talked about the small list of people who have led the design of both a large Magic set and a small one. I said only four people from the list still worked at Wizards. All four were on Magic 2010's design team. Original playtester, prolific designer, former head designer & developer, vice president of R&D—there are plenty of labels I could put on Bill. What it all boils down to is that Bill is one of the people who has put more hours on Magic than just about any other human being on the planet, so when you want to put together a team to do something significant, Bill should always be on your short list. Luckily for us, Bill was eager to join the team.
There you have it: the director of Magic R&D, the creative director for Magic, the head designer of Magic, the head developer of Magic, one of Magic's most prolific designers, and the vice president of R&D—that was the design team for Magic 2010. As you can see, we weren't kidding around.
Let's Start at the Very Beginning
On my tour of Wizards (80,000 Words), I showed off a little something that hung on R&D's walls:
An uncut Beta sheet. It turns out that there are not one but three sheets:
A common sheet, an uncommon sheet, and a rare sheet, all from Beta. Besides just being awesome, the Beta sheets were hung by R&D for one other important reason: to inspire us. It is not odd to see a number of R&D people hanging around the three sheets, nicknamed "the bible," trying to see what lessons they can pick up that are applicable to the set they are currently working on.
One day, I saw Aaron staring at the sheets. He was in the early stages of thinking about Magic 2010. He turned to me and said, "There are so many things that have evolved since the days of Alpha. In many ways, we've improved our technology tenfold, but when I look at these cards, I think we've drifted in one important way. These original cards are all about something. Richard wasn't trying to make cards that fit together to create some theme—he was making cards that stood on their own. Each card represented something, and the mechanics supported that. It made inconsistencies, but the cards really resonated. We're just not doing that enough anymore. That's what the core set has to be, something that grabs you because the cards are what you expect them to be.
"You know why the core sets don't do that any more? Because cards aren't made for the core set—they're made for other sets and then shoehorned in. If we want to have simple, resonant cards that speak to the player, we have to make them specifically for this purpose. We need to stop compiling a core set and just make one. We keep saying how important the core set is. Why don't we just bite the bullet and design the set we want? Whatever we need, we can make. We need to free up the core set so that it can be what it wants to be. What do you think of that?"
"It sounds pretty radical," I said, "but, at the same time, it sounds pretty awesome. Let's do it!"
"The bible" had reminded us that Magic cards have to be resonant, especially the ones that people first encounter when they begin playing. To understand why this is so crucial, I thought I'd dedicate the rest of today's column to talking about the importance of being resonant.
Resonate Men Out
One day in my screenwriting class, my professor had us watch Terms of Endearment. For those unfamiliar with the movie, all you have to know is that it was a well-acted film, and a character you like dies in the end. The film is very sad. As the lights came back on and all of the students are wiping their eyes, the professtor asks, "Why is this movie sad?"
"Because someone died," one of us anwered.
"I can name twenty films where some one dies and not a tear was shed. Why did you cry at this death?"
"It was a tragic death."
"Save a few old people who die peacefully in their sleep, all deaths are tragic. What made this one worth crying about?"
"She left behind so many people that loved her."
"It's not that she died. It's that she left behind people who cared about her who kept on living. You weren't crying for her. You were crying for them. Why?"
"Because we could imagine that happening to us?"
"Exactly. What's sad isn't really the death of a character you met two hours ago. What's sad is the idea of losing a loved one. What happened to them could happen to you, and the idea of that is very sad. You weren't really crying for them. You were crying for yourselves. What makes something truly sad is that you get your audience to understand how hard it would be for them if the same thing happened."
The point my professor stressed was that people will connect emotionally to things that have relevance to them.
From here I will now jump to Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist who studied story. The premise of much of his work was that people are attracted to certain stories because they ring true to the human condition.
Campbell spent a great deal of time outlining these stories, explaining what pieces were the most common among stories of that nature. The story Campbell has become the most associated with is known as the Myth of the Epic Hero. A boy living a mundane life comes to learn that he is in fact a very important person who will play a pivotal role in stopping a great evil. This story should sound very familiar. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter—this classic tale has been told over and over. In fact, it's even been told in the dressing of Magic. You would know it as the Weatherlight Saga.
Writers keep retelling the same stories because they resonate. The Myth of the Epic Hero resonates because everyone can connect with the idea of wishing their life was something more. Who wouldn't want to wake up one day to learn that their life had great importance?
Resonate Is Enough
The resonance in stories doesn't stop with the plot. It digs down deep into every aspect of the story including character. The fancy word for this is archetypes, the idea being that there are certain types of characters that people relate to. To help make your story more universal, writers will tap into these archetypes. Using the Weatherlight Saga again as an example, Michael and I filled the crew with archetypes. Tahngarth is the proud, angry young warrior who allows his emotions to get the best of him. Karn is the gentle giant who refuses to use his powerful frame to fight. Squee is the simple-minded helper that keeps getting himself into trouble yet is always good for a laugh. You've seen these characters a hundred times over. Archetypes are used because they are able to convey something to the audience instantaneously, as the audience approaches the story already knowing them.
Richard Garfield understood this when he designed Alpha. It's not a mistake that Magic's first set hit as many fantasy tropes as possible. If you want the players to have a sense of fantasy, then deliver the things that they already associate with the genre. Richard was able to put people in the middle of a fantasy world because he peppered it with many of the things that define fantasy. This was the lesson we learned from the Beta sheets.
How did this affect Magic 2010 design? It caused us to completely change our vantage point. Instead of thinking what cards we could put in, we thought about what archetypes were needed. We focused on what tropes had to be hit. To do this properly, we sometimes had to make new cards that were designed specifically to match the flavor we needed.
Let me give an example. One of the creatures we knew we wanted was a djinn, a.k.a. a genie. We wanted to hit as many fantasy archetypes as we could from all different types of fantasy and one of the classics seemed to be the genie in the lamp—you know, a genie that grants you wishes. With that card concept in hand, we started crafting a design. As I talked about several weeks back (A View from the Top) top-down design is very much a different animal from normal design. The goal of top-down design is to find a mechanical design that matches the essence of the card's flavor. So what did we come up with for the djinn? I'm glad you asked, because that is today's preview card.
Click on the lamp to see Djinn of Wishes:
Hopefully, this card will give you a sense of the kind of designs the team strived to achieve. How exactly did we structure the set to allow us to do these kinds of designs? Excellent question—one I'll answer next week. Today's column is about the why. Join me next week when I'll start digging into the how.
Until then, may you find yourself in the world around you.