About two and a half years ago I first stepped foot into the "Library," a large book and game storeroom that Wizards converted into the secluded enclave of the Magic Creative team. I was led to my cubicle, given my wand and cone hat, and left to begin my work as Magic creative writer. That, my friends, was a very exciting time.
Exciting times tend to stick in the mind, and I have a lot of memories of zany goings-on in the Library and in the "Pit" (where the rest of R&D lurks) across the hall. But there is one memory from the Library days that would stick with me through the next year and a half, to the day when I was asked to join the Future Sight Design team, and all the way through 'til now.
Just on the other side of my cubicle...(Hmmm...That was my second mention of the word "cubicle." I apologize if I have dashed any images in your head of the Wizards offices being a fascinating place where Beebles hang out in the copy room and Mark Rosewater rides flying-carpet-style on a giant Invoke the Firemind card. Nay, we work in standard gray office cubicles. Of course, they are made of Darksteel.) Anyway, just on the other side of my Darksteel partition was the door to another little room, a room where small meetings were held and where playtesting took place. My most vivid memory of this room is not what it looked like from the inside, but what I heard bellowing forth from the closed door at least three times a week.
Laughter. Gut-busting hooting and table-pounding belly-laughter.
During that time, I was pretty much the apprentice of long-time Wizard Brandon Bozzi. He showed me all the ropes, from where to find the paper clips to how use Namebase (the name and flavor text writing software) to where the good Thai restaurants are. At least three times a week, back there in the beginning, I was left to fend for myself while Brandon went off to meetings to design and playtest Dissension cards. At that time I had no crazy expectations of having such hilarious fun on a Magic design team—hopes, dreams maybe, but no expectations. I was just like you, a greenhorn whose ultimate nerd-dream was to design cards in his favorite game. Every time Brandon skipped past me and into that little room, 10+ years of dreams and notions about the awesomeness of designing Magic cards would be validated by their laughter. "It is as awesome as I always imagined," I thought to myself. It made me want to get in on the fun more than ever.
About a year later, Mark Rosewater asked me to join the Future Sight Design team. (!) At that point we were in a new office, but I immediately thought of that little room in the Library. I pictured myself in there—strangely, I pictured it from the outside of the room, like I was dreaming. I imagined the laughing, the tight pain in my sides and the achy, stretched feeling in my tear-streaked cheeks. I considered myself blessed to have gone from playing Magic, to making Magic art, to working on Magic names and flavor text, to the Holy Grail—designing Magic cards. Let the non-stop hilarity begin!
...Fast forward a few months and hop over my new cubicle wall (Now made of pure Mizzium) into one of many new small meeting rooms. Is there laughing and table-pounding? Nope. Do my cheeks ache? Nope. Actually, just the gray sponge inside my head was achy. It was in our first design meeting that I came to realize I had no idea what being on a design team was like. The first thing I noticed was; there were no pencils or paper. All we did was talk. We discussed the set's responsibility to Time Spiral and Planar Chaos. We discussed our themes and sub-themes. We laid out our goals. At the time I wondered where the hooting and guffawing went. Was it the people on the Future Sight design team? I seriously doubt it. Aaron Forsythe was on the Dissension team, as was my boy Bozzi. They're funny guys, but mostly just funny looking. The Marks (Rosewater and Gottlieb) were on both teams, so they could not be the reason. The Future Sight team was definitely not a bunch of duds. Zvi Mowshowitz is an eccentric and quirky dude, and Devin Low slings Magical goodness at an insane pace. Ryan Miller is an improv comedian for goodness sake! It was definitely not the people. (Oh no! Was it me?)...
With hindsight I have come to realize that it was the set itself that created an environment that was not a laugh parade. Dissension, in comparison, was a parade complete with Cytoplast floats and perverted Rakdos cultists wearing only hats. As the third set in a very structured block, Dissension started out on day one like a giant Magic cards Mad Libs game. Fill in the blanks: Guildmage, Guild Leader, Guild Liutenant, 2 Guild lands, 1 Dual land, Guild artifact, off-color activated ability dude in each color, etc., etc., etc. I am not saying that it was easy to fill in those blanks, just that it's a lot easier to be funny with a set-up man.
Future Sight, on the other hand, was wiiiiiiiiiide open. There was no set-up man. Add to that a fundamental goal that was, in itself, a bit paradoxical. It went something like this: Half of the cards will be cards from the present (post-apocalyptic, present-day Dominaria). Though these cards are from the present, they must somehow hint at, indicate, lean toward, deal with, and/or otherwise look to the future. The other half, the "timeshifted cards," will be (begin echoing voice) "FROM THE FUTUUUUUUURRRRRRE." Wait, it's not that simple. The timshifted cards will be "FROM MANY, MANY MULTIPLE FUTUUUUUURRRRES." Oh yeah, and we need to also further the nostalgia and temporal chaos themes of the block.
Let me say that just comprehending our goals—without nary a thought of a Magic card—was enough to fill our first three or four meetings with heated discussion, confusion, and smoke from the ears of the team. Nostalgia for the past, but in the future? Cards...from the future? Cards from now, but...something-or-other about the future? Aaaaahhhhhhh! I just read Mark Rosewater's article The Future Is Now, Part I, and it made me feel good that at least I was not the only one who thought we had a rough job. I came in knowing nothing, so it's expected that I would be overwhelmed. But Mark had been designing cards since forever, and he said it was one of the most challenging sets he'd ever worked on.
I realize that I may be shattering your ideas of what it is like to be on a Magic design team. I'll be honest, my preconceptions about it were way off, especially after witnessing the whole Dissension thing. The one thing that was most different is how the biggest job of the design team is, interestingly, not designing cards. It's creating the design goals and themes for the set. While our card designs may or may not make it through Development, the direction Design sets carries all the way through.
Whenever I found myself pining about how I thought it was supposed to be, I'd have to pinch myself. Even though it was not a guffaw-a-thon, it was designing Magic cards, and that is awesome. The good news for all you aspiring card designers is that, once all the goals and themes are set, you actually get to design cards! Another piece of good news is that, in my opinion, the Future Sight experience, and the whole Time Spiral block for that matter, was an anomaly. It took A LOT of extra sweat to create. The stress level in R&D during all three Time Spiral sets was through the roof. I think there are two reasons why:
1. Magic's audience (you) is very smart and has grown to have really high expectations. Wizards does its darnedest to meet those expectations with every Magic set. Ravnica was a freakin' powerhouse and raised those expectations considerably.
2. Time Spiral's nostalgia theme raised the bar even more. We were not just dealing with a new set of Magic cards that had to stack up against recent sets, it also had to stack up against and celebrate ALL OF MAGIC'S HISTORY.
2a. Speaking specifically about Future Sight, another dollop of pressure was added with the responsibility of portraying, in one small set, a wide range of the coolness of Magic's future. Paying homage to the past was a big responsibility, and so is representing bits of where we're headed.
Bust out the Maalox and call your wife, you won't be home for dinner!
Finally, after hours and hours of discussion, and even more hours of thought from each team member (especially Rosewater,) we came to understand our goals, themes, and sub-themes. We also managed to identify some ways to achieve those goals while staying on-theme. Here's how we decided to achieve the brain-sizzling goal of making a set that is both nostalgic and forward-looking with cards from many possible Magic futures. (Given that, I think the temporal chaos theme will take care of itself.)
The Only Rule Is that There Are No Rules
This should have been on a sign over our meeting room door. It's not something that is directly related to particular cards, but is a mindset we tried to get into while designing and testing Future Sight cards. It's something we decided on pretty early and continued to refer to (to Gottlieb's dismay) throughout the design process. In order to really get "out there" and see how far we could push the envelope, we had to throw off all restraints. I often think of no-limits creativity as being like rod and reel fishing. You cast the line as far as you can (because that's the fun part) and you slowly reel in until you get a bite. Sure, our resident rules manager had to order us to reel it in quite often, but he was as excited about exploring new ideas as the rest of us. If he wasn't you would have never seen creatures with -1 power or 0 toughness, or a card with enchant instant card in graveyard. Of course, you won't see the "Tap a card in your graveyard:" card, or the "In your next game against this opponent you start with 30 life" card. Reel 'em in, boys!
Never Been Done Before
How better to say "future" than to roll out things that have never been done in the past? Sounds pretty simple, right? Simple enough to spark hours of contentious debate on the team. While this ended up being a huge overall theme for the set, we did wrestle with the problem that, once we do "Never Been Done Before," it has already been done. Also, every Magic set does things that have never been done before. That being the case, what were we doing that was different? The answer is, we went Spinal Tap with it. We turned up the volume to 11. Future Sight would have more "Never Been Done Before" elements than any other set. (Well, any set other than Alpha, of course.)
Some of the N.B.D.B. elements are rather hard to catch. Blade of the Sixth Pride is the first vanilla 3/1 ever. Surprised? We were. Other N.B.D.B. cards are painfully obvious. Sarcomite Myr is the first colored artifact ever, and Lucent Liminid is the first Enchantment Creature ever. These, and many others, are simple and snappy solutions to the "cards from the future" conundrum. It was important that we come up with N.B.D.B cards that were jarring from first sight. We wanted to make sure that a person gripping his first pack of Future Sight cards would be instantly struck with multiple "Whoa!" moments. You'll find this N.B.D.B. elements on just about every timeshifted card in the set. Some of my favorites are: Cryptic Annelid and its scry 1, scry 2, scry 3 ability (a wonderfully typical Gottlieb creation), Dryad Arbor (a creature land with no casting cost), and Second Wind's tapsy-turvy trickery.
The whole idea of Never Been Done Before would seep and spill into just about every facet of Future Sight design. It was our go-to guy. It was also a big part of what sent smoke streaming from our ears. We were always hunting for that next great idea. "Quick, invent the next Rubik's Cube!" Not easy at all. One of the most enjoyable facets of creativity is riffing, or jamming. That is when someone has an idea, then you add to it, or tweak it, then twist it, then set it on fire, then look at it through x-ray specs. It's when the drummer lays down the beat and the bass player gets in the groove and you jump in on top with some blistering licks on the axe. Jamming is awesome, joining in and reaching out from the groove. This is what card designers normally get to do with a set's major mechanics. N.B.D.B. required the Future Sight team to wow the crowd with solos. Each Never Been Done Before idea had to be isolated. In order to give the feel of many multiple futures, they had to stand apart from the rest. It was difficult, and the process was not a jam session, but it was pretty awesome to have a blank canvas, an endless blue sky, a no-limits environment in which to let the brain fly.
I have not mentioned this before, but that is the very reason why this strange and very green design team was brought together by Rosewater. Ryan, Zvi, and I had never designed cards before. If Mark Rosewater is anything, he is willing to take a risk (except when ordering food.) He knew that it was more valuable to bring together divergent thinkers than it was to tap experienced designers. As I said before, Ryan is an improve comedian, and they have to be smart, stay sharp, and think on their toes. Zvi is an eccentric Magic brainiac. Gottlieb is a madman. Devin is a whirlwind. I am a tomato. Mark put together the perfect team. If we were to be making cards that do things that have never been done before, why not use designers who had never designed before? Ingeniously insane! It should also be mentioned that Gottlieb was picked because he is also the rules manager. If the envelope was to be pushed, (and oh boy it was!), having the rules manager on hand was invaluable.
Mix and Match
"Mix and match" is the use of multiple keywords from different blocks on one card. For example, Kavu Primarch combines convoke and kicker—mechanics from Ravnica and Invasion. NOT considered mix and match are the sorts of keywords that get mixed onto cards all the time; trample, haste, fear, vigilance, etc. Using those in combination would be no news at all.
We bickered a lot about whether or not mix and match really said anything about "The Future." Rosewater championed this technique—stating all along that it, alone, would not scream "future," but that it would combine with the rest of Design and Creative to make a whole that felt futury. If you really think about it—I mean really think—combining major keywords suggests that, some time way in the future, these keywords are recycled in the same block (the same way cycling, from Urza's Saga, was re-... um... cycled in Onslaught.) Looking back, mix and match would have made more sense on timeshifted cards, cards designed to be "from the future." As they are right now, they miss on the "future" thing, but they take big bites out of some other Time Spiral block and Future Sight design goals—temporal chaos, never been done before, and of course, nostalgia. Why feel warm and fuzzy about just one Magic era when you can feel warm and fuzzy about two?
In the end, I think Rosewater was justified in fighting for keyword combo. It yielded some pretty nifty cards. It's a good thing he championed it so strongly, because it could have disappeared entirely. Initially, there were two or three times more mix and match cards than there are right now. I must admit, I was one of the people campaigning against them. I was concerned about a whole different issue that we struggled with: "word creep." Word creep is not a dirty man in a trench coat holding a Scrabble board—it's the slow increase of words and decrease of font size in the text box of Magic cards. With so many verbose keyword mechanics coming back and two über-wordy keywords from Time Spiral block, Future Sight started to burst at the seams. (Secretly, I was not just worried about Magic getting too complex and word-heavy to be fun. I was also worried about preserving room on cards for tasty, tasty flavor text. During Design and Development meetings, I tried to keep my focus on the tasks at hand, but sometimes I just had to speak up in the name of Vorthos.) So, mix and match makes a relatively small showing in the set. The good news is that the cards that made it through are really cool. Some of them are little self-contained combos: cycling and madness, madness and hellbent, buyback and storm! Very cool.
These are pretty self explanatory. Keyword extrapolation is taking a known keyword mechanic and tweaking it a bit. This was as close as the design team got to jamming. We looked back at all our favorite keywords from the old days and pushed them just a bit this way or that. This is not a new concept. Off the top of my head I can think of two examples of keyword extrapolation; landcycling (Twisted Abomination), an extrapolation of cycling, and double strike (Ridgetop Raptor), an extrapolation of first strike. (We almost ended up printing a card with last strike, which would have opened up the inevitable triple strike. I am glad we ended up nipping that whole cornball scheme in the bud.)
Since keyword extrapolation was not a new concept, we tried to apply it in as many different ways as we could. If keyword extrapolations were not N.B.D.B., then the way that we extrapolate could be. Whip-Spine Drake, for example, is a subtle extrapolation of morph. It's the first morph card with an off-color morph cost. The earth does not shake, yet the drake can claim N.B.D.B. status nonetheless.
Shah of Naar Isle is the first card to have an echo cost of 0 (And the first, if I am remembering correctly, to have an echo cost rider: "When Shah of Naar Isle's echo cost is paid, each opponent may draw up to three cards.").
There are a bunch of echo cards with shiny new nonmana echo costs. Deepcavern Imp makes you pay in cards, and Skizzik Surger makes you pay in lands. We explored the idea of alternate costs with cycling as well. Street Wraith makes you pay life to ride the bike, while Edge of Autumn lets you spin it by sacrificing land. Like Whip-Spine Drake, these are not earthshakers. Still, in combination with all the other Never Been Done Befores, these contribute well to the overall feeling of "Wow, this is crazy new stuff!"
Slivercycling and Wizardcycling are clear homages to the Scourge landcycling cards, so I won't get into details—but they are the first creaturecycling cards ever.
Some of our keyword extrapolations ended up going on to become their own new keywords. Extrapolations on transmute, scry, and storm went from extrapolation to nomination. This was perfectly fine with us, since keyword cornucopia was on our Future Sight design agenda.
The thought was, if we load up the imeshifted cards with as many new one-off keywords as the set could handle, we would create a feeling of many disparate futures coming together in the now. More than other card mechanics, keyword mechanics seem to throw up a flag, the flag of the set in which they appear. "I am Lord Bloodthirst of Guildpact." "I am Sunburst-boy, from planet Fifth Dawn." For the most part, new keyword abilities stay in the block in which they originate, and their numbers are few. Most sets sport only about two to four new keywords. They do this so they can really explore what those new keyword abilities can do. They also do this to help define and sell the set. Future Sight takes a different tack, not exploring the keywords' possibilities and not using them to help define the set. On the contrary, the smattering of many different keywords is meant to give the feel of many different sets—sets from Magic's future.
One interesting thing we had to keep in mind while designing new keyword abilities was that they needed to be cool enough to make a good card, and believable enough to suggest a future in which more good cards could exist, but not be too cool. What we did not want to do was squander the unveiling of truly kick-ass keywords that could really support a whole a set in the future. Future Sight is awesome because it's a stew with lots of tasty ingredients. There is no need to throw the whole filet mignon into the stew. One interesting note: we did end up coming up with one idea that was so dandy that it was pulled from Future Sight and saved for the red carpet treatment later on down the road. It's a doozy.
Another part of keyword cornucopia was to take hold of the future and finally keyword some of the staple abilities that have been wanting keywords for a long time. There was always a plan to keyword the Spirit Link ability, but no real urgency to do it at any particular time... until now. Future Sight was the perfect place to end the procrastination. If Spirit Link was going to be keyworded at some point "in the future," why not put it in Future Sight? So we did. Mistmeadow Skulk and Daybreak Coronet each don the snazzy new lifelink keyword. The same goes for these three old standbys: "Spider ability," which is a non-flying creature's ability to block flyers. It is now called reach, and its rules are a lot cleaner. "Basilisk," the ability to destroy a creature when you deal damage to it, is now called deathtouch. "Untargetability" is now officially shroud.
The following are the new keywords that came out of thin air:
Poisonous X — Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, that player gets X poison counters. A player with ten or more poison counters loses the game.
OK, it didn't come out of thin air. This concept has been around since the old days. But it has not existed in this flexible form. There are strong supporters of poison at Wizards, and I would not be surprised at all if this little bit of Future Sight ends up being a true vision of things to come.
Fortify X — X: Attach to target land you control. Fortify only as a sorcery. This card comes into play unattached and stays in play if the land leaves play.
Um...OK, also not out of thin air. Fortify is basically equip for lands.
Delve — You may remove any number of cards in your graveyard from the game as you play this spell. It costs 1 less to play for each card removed this way.
Delve started out as an insane convoke-the-dead card that reduced cost by tapping creatures in the graveyard. As it turned out, that was way too broken and, as our resident rules manager pointed out, impossible. If I remember correctly, cards not in the game have no state—so you can't tap a card that is technically not in play.
Frenzy X —Whenever this creature attacks and isn't blocked, it gets +X/+0 until end of turn.
Grandeur — Discard another card with the same name as this card: (Some awesome ability.)
We wanted to come up with an ability that made playing multiple copies of legends more fun. Sitting there with two Mirri cards in hand while you've already got one on the board sucks. This ability was designed to be specific to legendary cards, but there's no reason why it could not work on regular cards.
The keyword extrapolations that became new keywords are:
Fateseal X — Look at the top two cards of an opponent's library, then put any number of them on the bottom of that player's library and the rest on top in any order.
This is an extrapolation of scry. It used to be called "evil scry."
Transfigure [cost] — [cost], Sacrifice this creature: Search your library for a creature card with the same converted mana cost as this creature and put that card into play. Then shuffle your library. Play only as a sorcery.
This is a "living" version of transmute, swapping out creatures in play rather than cards in hand.
Gravestorm — When you play this spell, copy it for each permanent put into a graveyard this turn. You may choose new targets for the copies.
Gravestorm, obviously, is a derivation of storm, replacing spells played with permanents put into graveyards.
Orim and Cho-Manno Sitting in a Tree
Okay, we never actually said those words, but we did plan on using "legendary offspring" to represent the future of some of Magic's favorite legends. Design had to work hand-in-hand with Creative on these cards, since the design team cannot just arbitrarily choose to make legendary characters into mommies and daddies. Once the legendary Mamas and Papas were chosen, the design team set about creating their distant and not-so distant progeny. Our goal was to make cards that were reminiscent of, but not rip-offs of, the original legends. Grandeur ended up being a great way to cite the abilities of the old cards as well as make some really splashy abilities on the new ones. Oriss, Samite Guardian is a chip off both blocks. She grabs her "Prevent all damage..." ability from Dad, and her power, toughness, and casting cost from Mom. Her grandeur ability is also a maternal gift, coming straight from Orim's Chant—with kicker!
I think this cycle is a great example of Future Sight hitting on all cylinders, and also a great example of Design and Creative working well together.
The Actual Future
One simple way to give the set a future feel was to design cards that affected the actual future. From the start we knew that scry was going to be a part of the set. Its whole gig is to directly affect the future. We also knew that we'd play around with suspend. In my mind, suspend fits better into Future Sight than into Time Spiral or Planar Chaos. I'm paying now for a bang in the near future. We could not, however, just roll out suspend the same old way. To switch it up a bit, we created the cycle of recurring suspend sorceries that actually play more like enchantments. Chronomantic Escape, Reality Strobe, Festering March, Arc Blade, and Cyclical Evolution all re-suspend themselves after resolving, to create an environment in which we always have to keep our minds three turns in the future.
The recurring suspend cards do set us up to worry about the near future, but nothing gets us more worried about what comes next than the Pacts. This cycle of five rares says, "You better care about what comes next, 'cause if you don't, you lose the game." If that doesn't get you to start building an ark, then nothing will. We really wanted this cycle to make an impact. As it turns out, they each have two things that really grab players' attention. One: They're non-artifacts with a casting cost of 0. Two: They say, "you lose the game." But we did not just want attention-grabbers—we wanted them to be good. Pact of Negation can save your butt when all seems lost. Slaughter Pact can tip the scales of a battle when your opponent thinks he has the edge. Intervention Pact can tip the scales and save your butt all at once. Even more than just making you, the player of these cards, think about the future, these cards make everybody think twice about a possible near future in which the opponent just...might...have...a "Pact" in hand.
Coke Can of the Future
In Rosewater's column The Future Is Now Part I, he gave you the same exact pitch he gave the Design team on how to make sense of the oil and water concepts of nostalgia and the future.
For the future, imagine a Coke can of the future. It has enough elements that you recognize it as a Coke can, yet certain things about it are unfamiliar.
I think there are a bunch of examples of this in Future Sight. In a way, the legendary offspring fit the bill, as do some of the keyword extrapolations. They're all things we're familiar with, but with a brand new twist. My favorite examples of the Coke cans of the future are the Future Sight spellshapers. We're all familiar with spellshapers, old pals from Masques Block. We got warm and fuzzy with them in Time Spiral block by bringing them back and having them "shape" spells from Magic's past. For example, Urborg Syphon-Mage shapes the spell Syphon Soul. Future Sight pushes the envelope of nostalgia and innovation even more. The cycle of spellshapers in Future Sight actually shape exact replicas of creature cards.
|Skirk Ridge Exhumer||Festering Goblin|
|Llanowar Mentor||Llanowar Elves|
|Goldmeadow Lookout||Goldmeadow Harrier|
Sparkspitter makes an actual Spark Elemental token. Ah, yes. That's Coca-Cola red if I ever saw it. But wait, those cans are shaped a bit differently. Is that a built-in straw I see? That's pretty cool. But wait, that can has a G5-27 attachment on it! What's a G5-27 attachment? I have no idea, but we'll all know...IN THE FUTURE! Just look at Goldmeadow Lookout, he fits into the cycle perfectly, except his token is not a preexisting card. Goldmeadow Harrier is a G5-27, from the future!
Future Sight, the Dragon
That's a lot to think about—and it's not even close to all of it. Future Sight has so many novel ideas snuck into the set as one-offs I'd have to cite almost every card to talk about it all. You can't really sum up Future Sight; it is too complex, too diverse. It's a set of such power that if you were to see it whole and complete in a single glance, it would burn you to cinders. Your best bet is to appreciate the cards one at a time. When you do, you'll discover little bits of design inspiration on almost every card. It's just that sort of thing, the little quirk on this card, the tiny twist on that one, that made Future Sight challenging and fun to work on—fun, but not a chuckle-fest. Oh, if only the time of its creation was spangled with more laughter. But that's just me being selfish. What really matters is that our hard work makes you laugh more while you're playing. Something tells me it will. Cowards can't block Warriors... If a Rigger you control would assemble a Contraption... let the non-stop hilarity begin!