Q: When a new Magic set is released, there is almost always a new mechanic to go with it. Recently, however, you seem to be adding more and more new things, extra mechanics, to the new sets. In the Ravnica block, for example, there is a mechanic for each guild! And in the new Coldsnap set, there is Ripple, Recover, new 'Snow mana' and the double-pitch cards. Was there a decision made for more things to be included in each set, or did it just occur naturally?
Abercarn, Wales, UK
A: From Mike Turian, Magic R&D:
Keywords are nice because they give people a way to discuss the newest mechanics in Magic. It is much easier to say, “What do you think of Gating?” than “What do you think of the cards that when they come into play return a creature of the same color to their owner’s hand?” This is part of the reason we use “ability” words.
When you look back at some of the older sets you see a smaller number of keywords. Tempest, for instance, had Shadow and Buyback for the entire set. Another set, Mercadian Masques, actually didn’t have any keywords at all! Of course it did have Rebels, Mercenaries, Pitch Spells, Spellshapers and Mongers. Yet players responded with “The set has nothing new!”
As far as why Ravnica had 10 mechanics while older sets had fewer, that would be more a matter of making the guild model work. The designers of Ravnica wanted something to make each guild feel like a unique entity. The designers created and used a number of mechanics that are great for a small number of cards but not expandable enough to fill an entire block.
A great example for this would be Transmute. Creating an entire block around the tutoring of Transmute would make for a miserable play experience. We created at least one Transmute card for each casting cost from one to six and Grozoth at nine. This both gave Dimir their flavor and let us explore Transmute.
The design for Coldsnap included Snow lands and Cumulative Upkeep as a nod to Ice Age. Recover was added because we felt the set could support another mechanic on a small level. Once it was decided that we wanted to make sure that Coldsnap could be drafted as a stand-alone we added Ripple to take advantage of the small format.