ello. "Evil" Mark here. Yes, I’m back. It appears that the powers that be (a.k.a. Scott Johns and Kelly Digges) thought it would be just the most wonderful idea to reflect the duality of the Lorwyn
blocks by having an Evil Twin Week. Idiots! You don’t invite evil twins in. Much like vampires, it never ends well. We’re evil. It’s in our name. Why don’t people get this?
Anyway, next week is Evil Twin Week. Why am I here now? For starters, evil twins don’t exactly follow rules. Also, Monday of next week is Memorial Day (an "American holiday" as Mark always patronizingly calls it every time he mentions it) so there’s no new Making Magic column. They just repeat this week’s. Not only are evil twins evil, we’re also smart. You try and cut us out, and we find a way in regardless.
So now that I’m here, what am I going to talk about? It dawned on me that last time I "guest authored" (by the way, I estimate that Mark has about seventy-two hours of air left, so I suggest any interested parties start looking), I didn’t optimize my ability to do evil with the column. For some inane reason, Mark has a lot of readers. Now I could give all of you an “evil” fish or I could teach you how to fish evilly (it involves putting a slow-acting poison on the hook). I‘m choosing the latter. Mark drones on and on about good design. Well, today it’s evil design’s turn.
Before this article is done, I’m going to teach you four ways to really annoy any players stupid enough to use the cards you’ve designed. Honestly, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, you know after you raised the temperature to boiling and electrified it. But first I have to teach you one important lesson.
All right, here’s the lesson. You’re all gullible idiots. Just kidding. Let’s try again.
No really, you’re gullible idiots. Here’s how gullible. I’m going to do this yet a third time and you’re still going to click on it.
Evil Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
Time to jump into the meat of today’s article. I guess the best way to start is here.
Ah, yes human psychology. You can always count on it to make people act like idiots. Why do you keep clicking? Because humans have to know the unknown. This leads us to today’s topic. Mark likes to talk about how designers have to take into account human psychology when creating cards. He likes to drone on about structure and aesthetics and all that junk. "When design fights human nature," he says, "human nature will always win."
I’m about to say something I almost never do: Mark’s right. I mean about this one isolated thing. He’s right that human nature is a potent force, but it's one just as easily used for evil. In today’s column I’m going to walk you through four different human psychological foibles that you can totally abuse to annoy players.
Psychological Foible #1 – Players Assume Things Work
There are a lot of unspoken rules in society. One of them is that things are supposed to work. If you buy a product, the expectation is that it will work. If you purchase food, the expectation is that it's edible. If you get a Magic card, the expectation is that it can do what it says it can do. Humans are disgustingly trusting. Here's how you get to abuse that trust.
First, you can design a card that simply doesn't work. The rules just don't allow it. The player will assume it works because they always assume it works and play it. At some point they'll run into a person with enough rules knowledge that they'll be informed it doesn't work, but they won't believe this person because it's written on the card so, of course, it has to work. The rules lawyer will start explaining the rules and the owner of the card will just keep pointing to the card. This cycle will go on for quite a while. Hours of entertainment. But this is the blunt use of this tool. I don't want you thinking that evil never uses any nuance.
Next, you can design a card where part of it works but the other part doesn't. This is similar to the first type of card but the fact that it works part of the time will only confound the confusion about the part that doesn't work. Still, this is not too subtle.
Here's where we get to the good stuff. Design a card with two parts that each work independently. Make the two parts imply that they work together but actually not. For example, imagine that Future Sight had the following card:
Let's move on. We have much more evil to do.
Psychological Foible #2 – Players Need Every Piece of Text to Mean Something
Now that we're limiting ourselves to cards that actually work, the next area ripe for abuse is the text. Here's how human nature works. If there's text on the card, it must mean something. All text has meaning. Why would the designers put text on the card that doesn't have value?
Now there are a number of ways to take advantage of this. First is to include meaningless text. I don't mean text that doesn't work; that was the last section. I mean text that works but will just never ever be meaningful. For example, protection from Dwarves in a set with no Dwarves. You should have seen the angry letters Mark got when people first saw Goatnapper before they figured out that all of the Shapeshifters in the set had changeling and thus were Goats. Players will search and search for the answer, getting angrier and angrier. Once they figure out that there isn't an answer, they'll gripe about the text every time they use the card. Oh yeah, make sure to make the rest of the card good enough that they feel compelled to use it.
Next is to include text that seems relevant but never really is. Imagine this card...
Now we get to the subtler execution: create a card with two aspects that basically overlap in function. Take this card, for example:
The final and sneakiest way to take advantage of this foible is to create two abilities that do have a connection to each other but cannot be played at the same time. For example:
Which brings us to the next foible.
Psychological Foible #3 – Players Assume Similar Things Work the Same
Humans are fundamentally lazy. They want to think as little as possible. As such, society has been set up to lessen thinking whenever it can. One of the ways it does this is standardization. Similar things are designed to work similarly. No matter what phone you buy, it plugs into the same outlet in the wall. All devices that need batteries use the same small pool of batteries. All stoplights use the same three colors.
Magic is no different. When players learn that a particular kind of card works a certain way, they just assume that similar ones will have the same functionality. So much so that players will stop reading the newer cards once they get hints that it looks the same. Whenever people stop paying attention to the details, that's when evil can strike. Just ask the devil. It's his shtick.
Here's how we take advantage of this. Make a number of cards that all work the same, then change one or more of them to work slightly differently. The "slight" part is important. It has to stay in the ballpark of the other cards. "Close but different" can cause all kinds of headaches.
Here's an example I was able to sneak into actual Magic. (Yes, I too have an inflated ego; the biggest difference is that mine is much eviler and a little smaller. I mean, nobody has an ego as big as Mark—too bad Guinness doesn't track stuff like that.) It's known as the divvy mechanic in Invasion. You all probably know it as the mechanic on Fact or Fiction. You know, divide the cards into two piles and someone picks. Here's the genius of what I did. There's no constant as to who divides the piles and who chooses. It's different on each of the six cards. But Fact or Fiction is such a well known card that everyone just assumes that all the cards work like it, so they're played wrong constantly.
You can get even subtler. Try these two cards.
Can you spot the difference? Yes, the 2/2 cares about "combat damage," while the 1/1 only cares about "damage." Once a player learns one of them, there's no way they're going to even check on any other version. Of course, they work the same. And when it turns out they don't, they'll be pissed—both because it's confusing and because it flies in the face of what they assume must be true.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. This trick can be used so many times. It's like a death of a thousand tiny paper cuts. Each one in isolation seems innocuous, but in number they completely undermine a player's confidence in the game.
Psychological Foible #4 – Players Need Patterns to Be Complete
Humans are structure junkies. It's just the way our brains are wired. We crave our patterns. Things have to work in a certain way. One of those things is called pattern completion. When people see things start to fit together, they are compelled to keep looking until they find them all. We can take advantage of that.
The simplest way to do this is make incomplete cycles. Not one or two cards—those might not be seen as a pattern. I'm talking about making four out of five. Make a cycle with four colors. You don't even have to put them in the same rarity or even name them alike. If they're close enough mechanically, the players will find them.
One of my favorite stories is how the Mirage design team (Bill Rose, Charlie Catino, Don Felice, Howard Kahlenberg and Joel Mick) did this by accident. So the team likes the idea of making tutors that put cards on top of the library. They think about what kinds of things players would want to search for: artifacts, creatures, enchantments, instants, and sorceries. They combined a couple of them to make the following three cards.
There were only three, so they didn't feel compelled to finish out the cycle. Then in Visions (note that it was the same design team), the team independently made this card:
White, blue and green in the first set. Black in the second set. It was pretty clear what was showing up in Weatherlight. Except it didn't, because the designers didn't see the pattern they'd created. Oh, but the players did, and they complained about it. They were pretty vocal too. So much so that not one but two different cards were made to fill the "red tutor" void. Can you name them?
The point is that players want to complete the pattern. If you set it up and almost complete it, you can cause such sweet agony. Note that the pattern doesn't have to be a five-card cycle. Make the North, East, and South of something. Make creatures comprised of Water, Earth, and Fire. Find any pattern that suits your fancy and just leave one out. It'll gnaw on the players. The best part is that they'll expect it's coming and then get frustrated with each set as the final piece doesn't show up. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
I feel like I've spread enough evil for one day. That's the thing about evil. You really have to pace yourself. It feels good at first, but it catches up with you.
Anyway, take my teachings and go forth, my minions! Cause pain and suffering. Annoy others. Don't return library books. Participate in flame wars. Quote Pauly Shore. (Wait, I already said to cause pain and suffering.) Just do evil.
I'm not sure when I'll be back. I have my own author page now, so I'll probably have to write something else eventually. I hope you were properly annoyed. If not, I'll work on it next time.
Remember to come back next week and read this same column again.
Until then, may you choke on a chicken bone, have the Heimlich Maneuver incorrectly performed on you, break a few ribs, and then sue the person who tried to save your life for everything they have.
"Evil" Mark Rosewater