Ask Wizards - November, 2005

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Do you have a question about Magic: The Gathering or Wizards of the Coast? Send it, along with your name and location, to us via this email form. We'll post a new question and answer each day.

 November 30, 2005  

Q: "When it comes to rules mechanics and card design, what exactly are the differences between Equipment and creature Auras? Are there some general mechanics that tend to go on one type over the other type? Or are the decisions mostly flavor based?"
--Ellis
Troy, Ohio, USA

A: From Nate Heiss, Magic R&D:

"Equipment and Auras are different in many ways, and we choose what's right for each accordingly. The biggest difference is probably on the creative side of things. Equipment is physical, such as a sword, shield, or fuzzy hat. An Aura can be a glow, a demeanor, or an inherited skill. Mechanically speaking, Auras can also do nasty things to your opponent's creatures more directly, since they can be attached to them (such as Faith's Fetters), whereas equipment has to do it indirectly (like Umezawa's Jitte). Also, Equipment has the ability to be transferred from creature to creature, has persistent abilities, and overcomes the inherent card disadvantage that Auras have (like when you enchant your creature with Firebreathing and it gets a Terror cast on it). So, as you can see, both Equipment and Auras have specific needs, and we address them accordingly when we make one or the other. Also, Equipment are shiny."


 November 29, 2005  

Q: "Why do so many pro players I see on your event coverage constantly shuffle the cards in their hand? Is it simply to make sure they're not giving away key plays?"
--Pete
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

A: From Zvi Mowshowitz, Magic R&D:

"The strategic reason to constantly shuffle your hand is indeed to avoid giving away information. You don't want your opponent to know when you drew the card you're about to play and you don't want him to know what cards are in your hand. When players sort their hands they're often giving away a ton of information about their hands. The more you shuffle the more you protect yourself. The other real reason is that it gives you something to do while the other player is thinking if you don't have anything to think about, or even if you do have something to think about while you're shuffling. It becomes a nervous habit after a while, but as nervous habits go it is a good one to have. Another minor reason is that it causes you to look at your hand from different directions and occasionally see things you might not have seen otherwise. Note that this habit isn't unique to Magic players: Players of many other card games also do the same thing."


 November 28, 2005  

Q: "Do any of the members of R&D have a favorite Magic flavor text of all time?"
-- Luke
England

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic Creative Director:

"'Favorite' is a tricky word, Luke. When you ask someone what their favorite piece of flavor text is, you're usually asking them what their favorite is among the pieces they remember. And the pieces people tend to remember are the shortest, punchiest ones that have ever appeared in Magic - the 'sound bites.' The poetic pieces, the cool little world details, the longer, lyrical pieces . . . all destined to be enjoyed (hopefully), then forgotten.

"So then. The cards whose flavor text got mentioned over and over again by our R&D staff, most of whom are hopelessly old school, were Lhurgoyf, Reparations, and Uthden Troll. Why such ancient cards? Well keep in mind that R&D never really sees contemporary flavor text. We playtest the cards before they have flavor text, and by the time they get their flavor text, we're playing with cards from a different set. We don't have much of an opportunity to even see flavor text, let alone grow to love it. Other cards that were mentioned: Gorilla Titan, Sift, Dwarven Miner, Karakas, Lord of Atlantis, Lost Soul, Savage Twister, Fodder Cannon, Orgg, Mogg Fanatic, the Tempest Counterspell, and Laughing Hyena. As for me, I prefer flavor text like that on Squandered Resources and Spellbook."


 November 25, 2005  

Q: "I have noticed creatures in the Odyssey block with a triple color mana cost and activation abilities requiring tapping an untapped creature type such as Master Apothecary; Patron Wizard; Seton, Krosan Protector; and Zombie Trailblazer. Is there a particular reason that Zombie Trailblazer was stretched from Odyssey to Torment, and is there a red card like these that was stretched to Judgment?"
-- Jesse Mora, Gallup, NM

A: From Mark Rosewater, R&D senior designer:
"You got us. Master Apothecary; Patron Wizard; Seton, Krosan Protector; Zombie Trailblazer, and Dwarven Bloodboiler (in Judgment) were designed as a cycle. Well, sorta. Here's how it happened. During Odyssey design I created the card Patron Wizard (then called Wizard King). I liked the card so much I decided that I'd make an entire cycle of them. But rather than put them all in one set, I liked the idea of spreading them over the block. Incidentally, we also did this with the alternative win enchantments (Battle of Wits, Chance Encounter, Mortal Combat, and two more from Judgment).

"Why spread them out? Because we knew it would create expectation. And expectation would create excitement. What would the new red lord be? What will the new win conditions be for white and green? By asking these questions, you grow curious as to what the next set holds. In short, stretching out the cycles gave all of you something to guess about."

[This Ask Wizards was originally posted May 16, 2002.]


 November 24, 2005  

Q: "Ok you've got creature types of Elf, Dwarf, Dragon, etc. but no Human. Why are the more 'human' cards called Soldiers or Nomads instead of Human to follow suit with the other race types?"
-- Shane Irons, Wobegon, WI

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic creative director:
"Thanks for asking. For years, Magic's creature types had no rhyme or reason. If a strange creature such as Lhurgoyf came along, what creature type was it assigned? Lhurgoyf. This randomness led to famous flubs such as Goblin Rock Sled (type: Rock-Sled) and Skyshroud Troll (type: Giant). Then along came An-Zerrin Ruins and, um, ruined everything. But it opened up lots of new possibilities, too.

"An-Zerrin Ruins is an obscure rare card from the Homelands expansion. It's also the first time card designers made a card that keyed off creatures' types. The floodgates had been cracked. Later, when we printed more powerful creature-type cards such as Extinction and Engineered Plague, we began to realize how haphazard our creature types were. We made a few attempts here and there to fix things up, but by then we already had several years of cards under our belts. And once we print a card, we don't like to change its creature type (in the Oracle reference or in a reprinting), because the mixture of old and new versions can confuse players (Longbow Archer, anyone?).

"Lately we've been thinking about creature types a lot. We're trying to figure out how to get them to make more sense without disrupting the patterns among creature types on cards we've already printed -- and that's no easy task. For example, everyone has an idea about what kinds of abilities go with Elf, Rat, Angel, Atog, Dragon, Cleric, Specter, Griffin, Shade . . . the list goes on and on.

"That said, I think you'll see the results of our creature-type discussions soon. Very soon. Very, very soon. And if I get to try some things with creature types, that will be only the beginning. As for 'Human,' only time will tell -- about a year's time, to be more specific. It's been a hotly debated topic; many people think 'Human' is the default race for humanoid and that it shouldn't have its own creature type. But you're right that the current model is inconsistent. Some of our creature types are races (Elf, Goblin) whereas others are jobs (Soldier, Wizard). Stay tuned. Change is afoot in this area."

[This Ask Wizards was originally posted September 19, 2002.]


 November 23, 2005  

Q: "If Erosion were ever remade, it definitely wouldn't be in blue. But what color would it be? Ways to destroy land are primarily red. Taxing effects are now white. Things that cause life loss are usually black. Yet this card has aspects of all of those."
--Josh
Stuart, FL

A: From Nate Heiss, Magic R&D:

"You are absolutely right Josh - Erosion does something of three colors that are not blue! Prehistoric color wheels sure were crazy! Realistically, we would not reprint Erosion as is. It would be a fine candidate for a red/white gold card without the life payment clause, or a black/red card with the life clause and without the mana tax. Or, if we were really tricky, we might be able to do the whole card as a triple color gold card at a White ManaBlack ManaRed Mana mana cost! Or not. I mean, it's just Erosion after all…"

 November 22, 2005  

Q: "How did you arrive at the unusual combination of power and toughness (9/14) for Autochthon Wurm? Was it originally conceived as a 14/14 to replace Krosan Cloudscraper as largest creature? If so, was the power reduced below 10 to make it a 'fair' animate target (i.e. can't kill the opponent in just 2 hits) so that it wouldn't be necessary to add anti-animate text (e.g. mana upkeep or a shuffle-into-library mechanic like Darksteel Colossus)?"
--Sol Malka
Atlanta, GA

A: From Michael Turian, Magic R&D:

"Hey Sol,

"Not that I had much to do with the power/toughness combination but it just so happens that my birthday is on 9/14, also known as September 14th. If you decide that you just have to send me presents, an Autochthon Wurm would be a helpful reminder as to which day is the day. When Randy Buehler's daughter was born on September 16th, Randy made a small case for having the Wurm become a 9/16 but that would be ridiculous!

"Getting to the real reasons behind Autochthon Wurm's creative power/toughness, it was created one day in an early development meeting for Ravnica: City of Guilds. The development team was looking for a 'Timmy' creature to be the pinnacle achievement of a Convoke deck. As you correctly speculated, 9-power was chosen such that the Wurm wouldn't be a super lethal reanimation target. The 14-toughness was chosen to make it the new toughest creature in Magic."


 
 November 21, 2005  

Q: "Flavour-wise, a player's hand usually represents their mind. Card-draw represents gaining new knowledge (e.g. Accumulated Knowledge), and discard represents having knowledge forcibly taken from you (e.g. Mind Rot) or forgetting knowledge (e.g. Thirst for Knowledge). But what does the player's library represent? This question has become particularly important for us Vorthoses now that an entire guild is based around attacking the library."
--James
Ontario, Canada

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic Creative Director:

"Tough question, James. Basically your hand represents the thoughts at the forefront of your mind (the ones you have 'at the ready'), whereas your library represents all the spells in your mind. For purposes of cards, though, there's really no substantial difference between 'foremost in your mind' and 'somewhere in your mind,' so we act as though the two things are the same. The only distinction you're likely to see on cards is that spells that affect cards in hand tend to be represented by quick mind attacks, whereas spells that affect cards in libraries represent more significant mental intrusions."


 November 18, 2005  

Q: "I know you probably can't comment on specifics like contents, but can you confirm how many theme decks there will be for Ravnica's small sets, since they only feature three guilds each?"
-- Scott
Los Angeles, CA

A: From Brandon Bozzi, R&D Creative Coordinator:

"Thanks for the question Scott. Dissension and Guildpact will have three theme decks each - one for each guild. As you know, there are four guilds in the first set, three in the second, and three in the third. We decided that there should be a theme deck for each guild. So, both the guilds and the theme decks got four-three-three distribution. Sure, we could have stuck a non-guild theme deck in the small sets but we were afraid it would feel left out."


 November 17, 2005  

Q: "I've been reading all the articles about how cards in Ninth Edition were chosen for simplicity to help beginners, and I think Wizards did a great job with it. But with that in mind, why would a card as complicated as Clone be in the set?"
--Brandon
Montgomery, AL

A: From Devin Low, Magic R&D:

"Hey Montgomery Al, thanks for the question. You're absolutely right that Ninth Edition is carefully crafted to help beginners learn, and we definitely appreciate the compliment. But we want to take beginners beyond just attacking and blocking. I think it's important to show them that Magic offers far more beauty and complexity than the simple joy of sending Elvish Warrior over for 2. For example, Seventh Edition intentionally included zero token creatures, copy effects or upkeep effects, to keep it simple. But for Eighth and Ninth Edition, we decided we could put these complex effects into the core set at rare, with cards like Rukh Egg, Clone, and Force of Nature. At rare, complex cards don't get in the way of the learning curve too often, and cards like Battle of Wits, Zur's Weirding, and Greater Good provide tantalizing hints of how much deeper Magic can get. Loosening up these complexity guidelines also gives us an excuse to put awesome (but complex) cards like Verdant Force into core set packs."


 November 16, 2005  

Q: "In a recent article, Mark Rosewater pointed out that blocks would now be designed to play better with the blocks next to them in the standard format. What has R&D done in Ravnica to encourage more integration with the Kamigawa block?"
--Alex
Melbourne, Australia

A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic Head Designer:

"Alex,

"As I mentioned when I first talked about block integration ('State of Design 2005') I stated that the current standard would be more difficult as the integration wasn't built in on the front end (aka Kamigawa Block). That said, we did take a number of steps to try and create synergy. For example, we were very active to have spirits and legends show up in higher than average numbers. In addition, as we were crafting the deck styles for each guild, we were very conscious of what cards existed from the Kamigawa block. For example, we knew that Kamigawa block had some mechanics (i.e. spiritcraft) and high profile cards (i.e. Gifts Ungiven) that cared about the graveyard. We knew this would play nicely with the graveyard theme of the Golgari, especially with the dredge mechanic. I can say that I think Ravnica block and Snap block (that's the codename for next year's block) have more inter-block synergy than I have seen in quite some time."


 November 15, 2005  

Q: "What is the flavor difference between a warrior and a soldier? Thanks!"
--Brian
Princeton, NJ

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic Creative Director:

"It’s just a flavor difference, Brian. White and blue are fans of order and structure, so Soldier fits. Red and green, however, prefer chaos and freedom, so Warrior suits them better. Black sits on the fence; black can have Soldiers or Warriors, depending on what the black cards in a particular block are like.

"See the Ask Wizards entry from December 2, 2004 for more on this."


 November 14, 2005  

Q: "Why is 'plainswalk' the least printed landwalk? Is there something that different about it from the other landwalks?"
--Avi
Chicago, Illinois, USA

A: From Matt Place, Magic R&D:

"Hello Avi,

"Plainswalking is hard. The other four land walks are fairly easy. How does a dryad or bog wraith avoid being seen when moving through a forest or swamp? They just hide behind a tree. The same is true for a goblin, if he is going to be spotted he just jumps behind a mountain. Islandwalk just means you are good at holding your breath. But how do you plainswalk? There is nowhere to hide! The Righteous Avengers clearly figured it out, but they don't give away their secret in the art. They all appear to be running out in the open and yelling loudly. Other creatures would do well to pay more attention to the Righteous Avengers - if they did we might see more plainswalkers in Magic."


 November 11, 2005  

Q: "So if Ravnica is one big city with no agrarian land, what do all those millions of people eat?"
--Luchau
Aarhus, Denmark

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic Creative Director:

"In a world where magic is commonplace, some simply conjure their food. There are also vast indoor farms in the undercity, as well as smaller, private ones in greenhouses and the like. For those too poor to provide for themselves, however, the Golgari are more than happy to provide a bland, lumpy gruel of unknown origin."


 November 10, 2005  

Q: "Dear Wizards,

"In Duelist #8, published just after Homelands hit shelves, it says:

"'The next expansion for Magic: The Gathering is well underway. The final names of the cards are being chosen, replacing the series of whimsical 'monkey names' left over from the designer's initial card list (Any bets on what 'Great Grape Ape Strength' will turn out to be called? Or 'Monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey -- hey stop that!'?) Created by the designers of Ice Age, this expansion is specifically designed to complement that set but is, of course, fully compatible with other card sets. At press time, no official release date for the expansion had been set.'

"But in his Coldsnap announcement, Randy Buehler claimed, 'Homelands was forced upon R&D to be included in the block. This forced R&D to shelve the third set of the block as there wasn't going to be room for it before Mirage was released.' That doesn't make sense, does it? I mean, if Alliances wasn't even finished before Homelands came out, how could there have been a whole third set that got shelved?

"Plus, if Ice Age and Alliances were designed by the same people, didn't Skaff Elias say that the team was Dave Pettey, Jim Lin, and himself? Why would it even have been in Richard Garfield's office in the first place? And surely it wouldn't be codenamed 'Rock & Roll' -- not just because that name implies a three-set mentality that didn't exist at the time (and, based on the timing of Alliances, just wouldn't work anyway), but because Mark Rosewater told us that 'Sex/Drugs/Rock&Roll' couldn't be used as a block's codename because of the 'HR Test'. For that matter, Mark told us that the code name for Alliances was 'Quack'. 'Sex, Quack, and Rock & Roll' doesn't even make sense!

"In fact, Randy says that 'According to the legend, the design was filed away never to be seen again. And rumor had it, it was the best set of the block.' But I've never heard this so-called 'legend', and I know all the stories: I know about Summer Magic and the Blue Hurricane. I know about the 1996 World Champion and Splendid Genesis. I even know the truth about Throat Wolf. But I've never heard any hint that there was some 'legendary Lost Third Set'.

"So here's my question: This Coldsnap thing isn't really 'from the vaults' at all, is it? Isn't this just because R&D wanted to make cards for an interesting Magic world from the past, and thought it would be more fun to justify the use of things like snow-covered lands by telling us a cute, imaginary tale?"

-- Fabian Rockwell
San Diego, CA

A: From Randy Buehler, Director of Magic R&D:

"Dear Fabian,

"You make some very interesting points in your letter. Let me put it this way: would you prefer it if this were 'just another cardset'? Or do you think you'd like to see more stuff 'from the vaults of R&D', like mismatched Richard Garfield socks or Alpha playtest cards or something? Because if 'the vaults' don't exist, we can't very well come up with cool stuff from them, can we?

"Thanks for writing!"


 November 9, 2005  

Q: "I was flipping through the Ninth Edition spoiler on Gatherer, and I came across Temporal Adept's flavor text. After about 20 minutes of critical thinking, all I had was a headache. Is that question actually solvable? Thanks!"
--Rick
Richmond, VA, USA

A: From Devin Low, Magic R&D:

"If yesterday was two days ago tomorrow, will the day after tomorrow be today or yesterday?"
-Temporal Manipulation 101 final exam, Tolarian Academy

"Thanks for the question Rick. There is an answer to this exam question. You're almost there. Let's look at the first phrase first: 'If yesterday was two days ago tomorrow.' For the purposes of argument, assume it's Wednesday today. Then the phrase says: 'If yesterday (TUESDAY) was two days ago tomorrow (THURSDAY)…' When it's Thursday, Tuesday was indeed two days ago. In fact, for any 'tomorrow', two days before that will clearly be 'yesterday.' So the first part of the question is just always true. It's like it said 'If bananas are yellow, will the day after tomorrow be today or yesterday?' That's the same as just asking, 'Will the day after tomorrow be today or yesterday?'

So now consider the second part of the question: 'Will the day after tomorrow be today or yesterday?' Again, assume it's Wednesday today. Then the question says 'Will the day after tomorrow (FRIDAY) be today (WEDNESDAY) or yesterday (TUESDAY)?' Clearly, Friday is neither Wednesday nor Tuesday. Likewise, 'the day after tomorrow' is never 'today' or 'yesterday.' So the correct answer to the question is 'Neither.' Best of luck on the rest of the exam.


 November 8, 2005  

Q: "I was flipping through the Ninth Edition spoiler on Gatherer, and I came across Temporal Adept's flavor text. After about 20 minutes of critical thinking, all I had was a headache. Is that question actually solvable? Thanks!"
--Rick
Richmond, VA, USA

A: From Devin Low, Magic R&D:

"If yesterday was two days ago tomorrow, will the day after tomorrow be today or yesterday?"
-Temporal Manipulation 101 final exam, Tolarian Academy

"Thanks for the question Rick. There is an answer to this exam question. You're almost there. Clearly, if yesterday was two days ago tomorrow, then the inverse of yesterday was two days from now yesterday, leading to yesterdays both two days before and two days after the day before the day after tomorrow's yesterday. Therefore, the day after that day's tomorrow must be a yesterday, or else it could not be the day before the two days before the aforementioned day after tomorrow. Yet the day after that day must be a tomorrow as well, since the day before that has been a yesterday only so far as it is the day after the two days before that day. Thus we determine that the day in question is in fact yesterday and tomorrow, but contrapositively, clearly not today. Best of luck on the rest of the exam."


   

Q: "What changed R&D's opinion about including trample in the Core Set?"
--Paul
Melbourne, Australia

A: From Aaron Forsythe, Magic R&D:

"Three things combined to get trample back in the Core Set with Ninth Edition. One, newer players were running into trample in expert-level sets and not knowing how it worked. Most keywords without reminder text in black-bordered sets--flying, swampwalk, first strike, etc.--are clearly explained in the Core Set. But trample (and protection) were not, meaning the first time players saw it, they were clueless. Two, our replacement for trample (the Thorn Elemental ability) was not particularly easy to understand either. Three, our rules people came up with good reminder text for the mechanic, allowing it to exist happily in the Core Set.

"We're not trying to dumb the game down. In fact, we want the Core Set to be a teaching tool, which means we want it to cover as much ground as realistically possible, which is why we worked so hard for a way to get trample (and protection and equipment) into Ninth Edition."


 November 4, 2005  

Q: "Why does it feel like R&D is SERIOUSLY pushing aggro in the last few blocks? As a combo player, I feel like we're getting left behind."
--Chris
Winnipeg, MB, Canada

A: From Mike Turian, R&D Associate Developer:

A: Mike Turian, R&D Associate Developer

"Hi Chris,

"In R&D we don't try and seriously push one style to the exclusion of others. Sure, we make cards like Watchwolf, Hand of Honor and Char for the aggressive players. But, if you prefer playing control, then we have Sensei's Divining Top, Gifts Ungiven and Wrath of God for you. For combo fans, cards like Heartbeat of Spring, Enduring Ideal, Greater Good, Doubling Season and Eye of the Storm all fit the bill as fun and powerful cards to build around. (One of the newest mechanics in Ravnica: City of Guilds, Transmute allows you to fetch up specific combo pieces of the same casting cost as the Transmuted card. One of the things we knew while making Transmute was how much it would help combo decks.)

"The point is, at the end of the day we want Magic to live in a healthy and balanced world. We always try and make sure that each deck type gets a fair shake, and that pendulum can and will swing in different directions from time to time. So, while there are several good aggro cards lately, we feel that you'll find many good cards for other deck types as well.


 November 3, 2005  

Q: "Aren't you worried about the presence of so many good green mana accelerators in Standard right now? Currently there's Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, and Elves of Deep Shadow. I thought I read that there's only supposed to be one green creature at a time that costs one and taps for mana. What's up?"
--Samuel
Woodinville, Washington, USA

A: From Henry Stern, Magic R&D:

"Believe it or not, we actually don't have a specific rule about the number of mana accelerators 'allowed' in a format. Like all other aspects of Magic, the quality of mana acceleration is something that will ebb and flow with time. When we were putting Eighth Edition, we decided that we did not want to always have both Birds and Elves in the BASE set. The reason for this was it made it hard for us to add any one-mana accelerators in the Expert sets without the mana acceleration level being too high all the time. Right now, with Birds (and those oddball dark elves) temporarily back in Ravnica, we may be in one of the higher levels of creature based mana acceleration, but don't expect us to stay at this level of mana acceleration forever."


 November 2, 2005  

Q: "What was the reasoning behind deciding to have Equipment normally only attach at sorcery speed?"
--Darren
Brampton, Ontario, Canada

A: From Devin Low, Magic R&D:

"Hello to you, Darren of Brampton. The Mirrodin design team originally designed equipments to attach at instant speed. In early playtests however, our developers found that instant-speed attaching was so powerful a combat trick that it dominated everything else that was going on. The whole play experience was attaching equipments left and right during combat, and the guy or girl without equipment in play could never ever make good attacks or blocks. That wasn't fun. =/ So we developed it! =) Attaching at sorcery speed also meant we could keep Mirrodin equip costs pretty low.

"With most equipment equipping at Sorcery speed, Darksteel and Fifth Dawn experimented with some instant-equipping tricks. Leonin Shikari + Lightning Greaves + Creatures continues to be a favorite combo of mine. Fifth Dawn twisted further with a cycle of instant-equipments like Healer's Headdress and the fearsome Cranial Plating."


 November 1, 2005  

Q: Has Wizards of the Coast R&D ever considered adding legends to the core set?
--James
Mesquite, Texas

A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic Head Designer:

"James,

"We get asked questions all the time about 'have we considered' X, Y or Z. The answer the vast, vast majority of the time is 'yes, we've considered it.' Why? Because we consider a large number of things, only a tiny percentage of which we actually follow through on. Part of the job of design and development is to consider things that we haven't tried before. After all, Magic is all about exploring new twists and turns to keep the players on their toes. So have we considered adding legends to the core set? Multiple times. Will we ever? Well, that's the one question I don't normally answer, but I guess I could just this once. Will we? Maybe. :)"


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