Monday, March 18, 2013

This Land is Your Land

I can imagine lots of possible goals for You Make the Card. Some people want to design the next tournament staple. Others want a new toy for their Commander of choice, or a tool for their favorite color, or an enabler or hoser for a particular strategy. But what matters most to me is that we create a card that appeals to as many players as possible. And that's why I'm on Team Land.

First of all, lands are colorless, which is a huge bonus. Crucible of Worlds would have been a perfectly good design as a 2G enchantment, but it wouldn't go in anywhere near the variety of decks that it does today. 

Enchantments, however, are only playable in certain colors. That's one strike. For casual or new players who own a handful of decks, a colored card immediately eliminates them from the potential audience.

Although enchantments can do just about anything, it is rare indeed for one to have a broad effect that makes it playable in lots of different decks. In competitive Magic, they show up mostly in limited decks and constructed sideboards. In casual games, they're commonly used as build-around-me deck cores. But they are almost never cards that you can jam into any deck. Particularly not the most interesting ones; Faith's Fetters is fine for any white deck, but surely we have higher ambitions.

It is also rare for an Enchantment to appeal to multiple player types. Timmy likes auras. Spike likes hosers. Johnny likes... well, Johnny cards. But can you name a "hat trick" enchantment that everyone loves? Rancor is the closest I can think of, and it was undercosted because of a printing error!

I've seen several anti-land arguments that I disagree with. Here are a few:

"Lands have limited design space. You're only going to get dual lands, Wastelands, and Mutavaults." Poppycock. Land may be the most constrained card type, but R&D has been churning out interesting utility lands for years. Even if you just look at current standard, we've got Cathedral of War, Cavern of Souls, Haunted Fengraf, Reliquary Tower, Rogue's Passage, Seraph Sanctuary, and Thespian's Stage. And those are just the ones that require zero color commitment!

"Designing lands is too hard." Yes, there are major restrictions on what sort of effects you can put on a land. Yes, the submissions for lands will probably include a high proportion of unprintable stuff. But that doesn't matter in the slightest. We're only going to vote on the top ten, which means all the boring and/or broken junk will get weeded out. And if you followed the second Great Designer Search, you already know that the mothership audience is more than capable of stepping up to the challenge.

"Designing lands is boring, since we won't get to pick color or casting cost." This would be a legitimate argument if the goal was to have a protracted design process. And for some people, perhaps it is. But that's not my goal. All I care about is the card we get at the end. 

"Powerful utility lands aren't fun to play against. Look at Inkmoth Nexus, Kessig Wolf Run, and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle." Redirect your ire! The guilty party was that format-warping monstrosity Primeval Titan. Now that he's gone, are the Wolf Runs really cramping your style?

Vote land, loyal readers!


  1. The issue with lands isn't that they're difficult to design. It's that they're difficult to develop. The vast majority of players underestimate their power, so when R&D tones down whatever ludicrously overpowered land we end up voting for, everyone feels like they got sucker punched.

    We have a much better idea of how to balance effects that have the opportunity cost of being included in a deck and cost a card, so when people vote for an enchantment they'll likely get what they expect. That's a much better outcome in my mind.

    1. I don't think that's how YMtC works. Development doesn't make changes to the card after it's voted for.

    2. Whoops, I was wrong- they did bump up the mana cost on Forgotten Ancient. Still, players got to vote for the changes, which were minor; I wouldn't call it a sucker punch.

      The main point is, R&D won't accept ideas that are ludicrously overpowered.

    3. I'm also sure that R&D will push to make sure that this card is A LOT more playable than Vanish into Memory or Forgotten Ancient. Having both of those cards be miserable flops competitively really put a damper on YMTCs. They won't have a another fringe playable if they can help it.

      That said, either one will be a fun design challenge. I really wish those arguing for one type or the other would avoid the negative campaigning. We're going to come out of the first round with half the audience immediately unsatisfied with the outcome. And at the end of the day, it's not like this is a referendum on which card type to keep in Magic. There will be more lands and more enchantments going forward, and your pet ability that you'd like to submit can probably be tweaked to fit the other type.

      I mean, it's like: Got an awesome idea for a manland? Make it into an animating Enchantment! Got a great alternate win condition? Add the ability to tap for colorless and throw that thing on a land! These designs are going to be necessarily bottom up to begin with, so the flavor can be really be tailored to match the card type.

      Cool things about Enchantments:

      Cool things about Lands:

      Does anyone honestly believe there's a wrong choice?

    4. Of course not. I just believe there's a choice that will lead to the card going in more decks.

    5. You're right about the impact of negative campaigning, I hadn't really considered that. I certainly don't think there's a wrong choice, we're all just trying to figure out what will satisfy more people and the problem is that none of us has any real data. There ARE people that will be affected in the ways each of us predicts, but without knowing how many fall into each camp there's no clear superior option.

    6. I'm not convinced ubiquity is really the goal. Fun is really the golden standard here, and there are plenty of fun enchantments out there. I mean, dual lands go into a lot of decks, but I think people will be disappointed if all we wind up with another cycle of dual lands at the end of this. Sure, they're useful, but they aren't Fun.

    7. I'm not sure data is necessarily the only factor. After all, Vanish into Memory won multiple votes to become the fun but flawed card it is. At the end of the day, there's a reason card design isn't usually done by consensus. There is no superior options, there are just cards that ideally mesh well into the larger game.

      That's why I find the attitudes so confusing around this: do people really not think its possible to design a good land/enchantment? There are plenty of examples of fun cards in either type. One type isn't better than the other, or more worthy of a card. And I'm sure whatever we don't go with this time is a shoe in next time around.

    8. Oh, I agree that fun is the end goal. That's why I listed all those nifty utility lands; that's the kind of card I want. (I don't think anyone with an ounce of sense is pulling for a dual land.) But you can't have fun with a card that doesn't fit into your deck.

    9. Here's another way to think about it: if Vanish into Memory had seen print as a one-use artifact, would it have gotten more play? I certainly think so.

  2. If you haven't already, tweet the link to this to MaRo. He's looking for articles discussing YMtC apparently.