Monday, August 22, 2011

Announcing a New Project: M13

GDS2 and the CCDD have taught me a lot. A lot. But the most important lesson I've taken away from them is humility. While confidence is necessary to fully pursue a dream, and if you're going to dream at all you might as well dream big, it remains that there is no warp-pipe to mastering a skill and there can be no true success without serious skill.

I forget when exactly it occurred to me (because I had to bury the idea for a while so that I could focus on polishing up board games for GenCon), but the next step in a budding Magic designer's curriculum after designing thousands of cards is not designing an expert-level expansion, much less a block. That's like a blacksmith's apprentice going directly from making nails to swords.

Is such an apprentice more qualified to attempt to forge a sword than folks who haven't practiced the art at all? I suppose, but a dull, brittle, unwieldy sword isn't much of a step up from not-quite-even-a-sword. Is it a fair test of your students' talent to see which of them can come closest to crafting a decent sword before you've shown them how to do it? It certainly demonstrates their intuition. Regardless, there are things the apprentice must learn and master before he or she can become a swordsmith.

A budding designer can't hope to design a good expert-level expansion until he has first designed a good core set. A core set is the perfect place to develop the fundamental skills necessary to create a fun game, the same skills that will act as foundations to build upon through more intricate and complex expansions later on. The fact that we now have three years of post-modern core set design to analyze and model our own off of is perfect, giving us a really well-defined set of requirements and a jumping off point.

So that's the project. We're going to design a core set. ('Grats to Alex Spalding who guessed it first / most precisely.) The next core set. Making our target Magic 2013 specifically, rather than some unknown future set does a few things for us. One, it gives us real, immutable parameters to build from. It has to feel like the core set that replace M12. It has to feel like the core set that follows Innistrad. If we had any clue what the next block would be, it would have to feel like the core set that precedes that. Two, it gives us a hard deadline. We have to finish before Wizards releases the real M13. Deadlines are good because they spur activity that might otherwise be put off and they test our dedication and endurance. Finally, by designing to (nearly) the same specifications that Wizards is, we can compare our version and theirs, allowing us relevant and objective evaluation of our effort.

You may have noticed I used the word 'we' a lot. It's not the 'royal we.' The second biggest lesson I've learned this year is that solo-design is vastly inferior to team-design, particularly in Magic. I'm looking for your help on this project. Ideally, there would be two tiers of participation: team members and community feedback. I would love to have five or so designers on the m13 design team collaborating as much like they do in R&D as possible. I know a lot of folks have busy schedules or don't want to commit to such a long-term project, and that's absolutely fine. You can read what the team posts and give us your feedback. Team or no, I will be posting design holes on occasion for the community to fill.

If you're interested in being a member of the official design team, let me know in the comments below along with a short blurb about something you'd like to see new/different in a future core set. I'm also curious to know what your impression is of the project.

Another alternative is that instead of working together on one set, those so inclined could use the same base parameters and data to create their own set in parallel and then we could compare the final products. Personally, I'd much prefer see the greatest product we can craft as a whole but I know some folks prefer to work alone.

As for timing, I will allow the timeline and needs of the project to dictate how often updates are posted. I definitely won't be posting CCDDs on days that I post about this.

Finally, would people be interested in trying to develop the set after the "design hand-off?" This blog isn't really about development, but as amateur designers we tend to wear both hats anyhow, and it's certainly a similar skillset. We need to know early though, because it cuts the design timeline nearly in half if we do.

Stay tuned for the next post, which will address the goals for the product itself (as opposed to the goals for the project, which are basically just learning and developing set design skills).


  1. Hey. I would actually be interested in helping design the set, seeing as I kinda do it in my free time. Try to contact me back at


  2. I would absolutely love to be a member of this design team. It seems like just the sort of kick in the pants I need to keep me out of my unfortunate habits with my amateur designs to meander from setting to setting, idea to idea, and not sticking to any one thing long enough to get something *done*. And you're absolutely correct that it makes far more sense to begin with a Core Set as the first stepping stone towards greater and more elaborate things. There are a lot of great design minds who regularly contribute and/or comment on this blog and I'd be honored to work with all of you.

    What would I like to see in a future core set? Hmm. One thing leaps to my mind right away, and that's Legendary Creatures. It was done in 10th Edition, and so isn't technically a new idea for a core set, but the major, major difference is that our core set can have new cards in it. And that means we can have a core set with never-before-seen legendary characters, drawn from resonant fantasy archetypes, or to give a second chance to story characters from Magic's past who weren't lucky enough to see cardboard, or from settings we'd likely never spend a whole block visiting. And of course, you can never have enough outlets for new Commander options, right?

    In short, I believe that the focus on bold, resonant flavor found in a modern Core Set is a perfect match for legendary creatures. They would help serve as an additional hook to draw in someone new to the game, and bring the best of planeswalkers (splash, flavor, and a character to identify with) and normal creatures (greater accessibility and less complicated rules). I hope we do see a theme like this take shape in a future core set, and I'd love to be able to take a crack at the idea myself with all of you fine people.

  3. I would very much like to be a part of this project. I am a senior at RPI studying Game Design as well as Psychology. I have recently started a blog about cubing and I would love to get practice doing card design before I am eligible for the next Great Designer Search. If you want to sample my writing and comments on cards, you can check out my blog before signing me up on your design team.

  4. I'm a Melvin who would like to contribute to the wordings/solving rules problems. I actually enjoy pointing out the small details that make the card do something it is not supposed to do, or fixing the apparently minor wording problems that make the cards unprofessional. I already held such position on three custom set projects. Hit me at jwasteland [a_t] gmail [d_o_t] com.

  5. I don't think I could commit to being on the design team, but I love the top-down design of core sets and I would love to do some "hole-filling" in that regard.

  6. Like Rowan, I don't have the time/dedication to commit to being on a design team, but I'm always happy to offer feedback and I'd love to help out w/ hole-filling.

  7. Sounds like a fun project. I could commit to being on the design team if I knew a little more about the timeline, etc.

    I assume you'll be posting more details about this stuff in a future post so I'll wait for more updates.

    Sounds like a fun project!


  8. I would totally love to be a member of this design team.

  9. I would also like to contribute to this project. I am starting school very soon, but as long as the work is being divided between several people I think I can manage. My email is benjammn311{a_t}gmail{d_ot}com.

    To answer the question, I think a core set could use just a smigen more love for the nonpermanents. I understand (and totally agree) with the direction of the game to be based around creatures, but most of the (mythic) rare instants/sorceries from the past core sets have been pretty lame. The lower rarities have been great, from Lightning Bolt to Cultivate to Mana Leak, but there have only been two Mythic sorceries, they were both blue and only one saw any serious play. One idea to help this is to reprint and create new Commands, like they did with Leylines. Profane would need to be different, and making new red and white ones wouldn't be bad either since red is kinda weak and white would be too similar to Day. Additionally, reprinting Primal and Cryptic Command (in a format without ridiculous fixing) would be exciting for older players. I don't think it would hurt to bump up the mythic sorcery count either. Two should suffice, as they must be as splashy as Time Warp and Reversal are, and definitely sorceries for power reasons.

  10. I'd like to help.

    I think the biggest challenges are:
    - How to make Limited play differently from previous Core sets.
    - How to include cards that generate excitement and influence constructed.

    I definitely recommend playing and drafting with the set to balance it. It would be a better learning experience since we can get feedback on how the cards we designed actually play.

  11. I'm interested. This is just my innitial impressions of what could be done:

    Core sets rarely have stories attached to them. After all, there's not a lot you can convey with with the preset name of the product, and that's really where a products identity begins. Except with M13. "Unlucky 13" carries more thematic weight then most of the typical set names anyway. It doesn't hurt that the set is coming after a year of "the horror block" anyway. So, can we brand this set the "Do you feel lucky?" set? I think it would work. Two mechanics spring to mind here:
    Advantages: Adds interesting hidden information to the game, really conveys the Dirty Harry idea of taking a gamble when dealing with a morph, creates a unique limited experience. For those that didn't play Onslaught limited, having limitless access to morphs changes the tempo and feel of limited. Certainly plays well with the feel of tribes for Innistrad: Werewolves, Vampires and Zombies are all "transforming" creatures in one way or another.

    Disadvantages: Morph can be a challenging mechanic for new players. Remembering what cards do when they are face down is hard for experienced players, let alone newbs.

    Possible Reprints: Exalted Angel, Grinning Demon, Vesuvian Shapeshifter, Hystrodon


    Advantages: Also has that "pull the trigger, find out what happens" effect. Can be used on both creatures and spells. Gives access to deck manipulation for both players. Could be good in an interesting limited format: a ROE-like enviroment that encourages players to play slightly higher curves to maximize their Clash or some sort of enviroment that encourages players to play fewer than average lands.

    Disadvantage: From Maro "Clash: From Lorwyn. Somehow we made a mechanic for Timmy that Timmy didn't like but Spike did. Even Spike didn't care about the random part of this mechanic, which was the point of it. I consider it a noble but failed attempt."

    Possible Reprints: Lash Out, Broken Ambitions,
    Fistful of Force, Redeem the Lost, Revive the Fallen (There was only one rare with Clash, fun times, and very few creatures had the ability do more than "Add a +1/+1 counter")

  12. While it'd be interesting to simultaneously design it as a preemptive strike on future core sets and retroactive compatibility, the current mold of core set design seems intended to hint at the subsequent block.

    Also, Jay, assuming you're not going to develop some proprietary interface for your team to use, I definitely recommend using Multiverse, which I linked in a couple articles.

  13. I second the observation that most of the cross-block synergy seems to have been weighted towards the upcoming block rather than the preceding one. There's a lot more artifact love in M11 than in M12, for example, and the graveyard themes in M12 are a bit more easily recognizable.

    Since we don't actually know what sorts of mechanical themes will be appearing in the Fall 2012 set, I say we collectively decide on some subtheme to tie our core set to, regardless of what that block actually ends up being about.

  14. This sounds like a great project. I recently worked on a project with mechanics similar to Lorywn/Shadowmoor blocks. If interested:

    aarian (dot) johnson (at) gmail (dot) com

  15. @metaghost: While that concern certainly is true as there have always been plants of the fall block, there are grumblings that we are returning to Ravnica after Innistrad. Considering how far back we knew about Scars, I wouldn't be surprised if these rumors turned out true.
    What I'm trying to say is that if we really need to design some plant cards for the fall block to get the feeling of the core set right, the assumption that the block is Ravnica 2.0 might at least be a good place to start.

  16. Being set on Ravnica doesn't necessarily tell us what to expect in terms of mechanics. The most we could probably infer from the setting alone is some multicolor stuff, probably, but nothing definite. In the core set, not actual multicolor (this time, at least) but things like the Weaver cycle that got reprinted in 10th Edition, that nudge towards playing combinations of colors together (though not necessarily all ten pairs, that'd be a bit much).

  17. This would be a lot of fun and I'd love to be a part of a project like this. Even if I don't get into the Official Design Team, I will still be happy to submit hole fillers.

    One thing I would like to see in the Core set is an attempt to display the depth and bredth of flavor the game can encompass. Since Core isn't directed by a central storyline or setting I'd like to see it touch upon settings and mechanics from several planes. I'm not saying that non-evergreen keywords be used, (like bushido or Ninjutsu) but certainly a Kamigawa Samurai could find it's way in the set. And I would use flavor text that mentions the places these cards are from in a purposeful way. Note, that this doesn't mean reprints, though it does open the door for exciting reprints without a heavy commitment to the flavor they bring with them.

    I like a project like this. I hope it takes off and I hope development happens to. Whatever happens, I will be sure to follow it's progress.

  18. If the following set is a return to Ravnica, multicolored or hybrid cards could be logical returns. Both are simple, popular, and could lead into Ravnica well. We might not know what new ravnica will look like, but Ravnica without multicolored would be like mirroden without artifacts.

  19. I don't think using gold/hybrid cards in the core set leading into a gold-heavy block would be a good idea. You're repeating the same mechanic in two consecutive releases that aren't in the same block. I'd love to see a core set include gold cards someday, but not as a lead-in to a multicolor block.

  20. Generally we would want to stay away from gold/hybrid cards in a core set; remember that the core set releases are the introductory level of Magic. It's intended to be the "first stop" for new players to Magic. To an extent, we might want to stay away from morph creatures; remembering what the creature does once flipped became a problem for experience players. How will the new players handle it?

    We definitely need to stick to one mechanic: one that we think will help to influence the next block but WON'T be a part of that block. M11 had scry into Scars of Mirrodin (a small look into the future in order to win a battle); M12 has bloodthirst into Innistrad (fitting for a horror theme). If we're confident we're returning to Ravnica (pretty soon, though), clash seems to fit in my opinion.

  21. I would love to join, if I may. I would like to see a core set that has linear cards that give new players directions when deck building, and is set that is compelling for older players and does not make them feel like their decks are being built for them. I am on multiverse.

  22. Since I'm on Multiverse all the time, I'm sure I'll be commenting plenty on there. I don't think I have the time to work both on this and the community set currently being built there.
    I think a great thing to have in a core set would be some more focus on ally/enemy color pairs. I agree that there shouldn't be gold or hybrid, but I think enough players, particularly new players, aren't aware that certain colors get along and certain other colors don't. The current core dual lands help, as do the color-hosers, but there could be more.

  23. I'd like to give it a go. What kind of timeline can we expect?