Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Goals for M13

Magic 2010 set the highest goal we've seen for a core set—or any set—for a long time: Redefining the core set not just as an introductory product for new players or as a way to support the Standard environment by including helpful answers or utility but also as a product that experienced players can really get excited about—both to play limited and affect constructed. I don't mind speaking for all of us Magic addicts when I say that they did an amazing job and we're thankful for the effort. Mercifully, we don't have to aim that high.

Magic 2011 had to show that 2010's precedent was repeatable and Magic 2012 showed that The New Way wouldn't get old too fast. We're in the same boat as the latter, with the non-trivial task of continuing to do right what the last three years did while still pushing forward and avoiding stagnation.

2010 had to support Zendikar, 2011 Scars of Mirrodin and 2012 Innistrad. The real 2013 will support whatever block comes next year. We don't know what that will be, but there's speculation that it could be a Return to Ravnica. It doesn't really matter how likely that is, we need something to go off of, and frankly, we could do a lot worse than Ravnica. Now, we won't be designing Ravnica #2, so we'll just make some basic assumptions and leave it at that. Ravnica will be multicolored and/or hybrid. It will either focus on the ten guilds or the thing that has mysteriously or violently replaced them. It will also probably address the all-city plane theme more directly. Not sure we can leverage any of that other than supporting gold, but we'll see.

Major goals shared by all of the core sets, including ours are:
Resonance Every card should feel right. Top-down design is at a premium.
Accessibility The set must be simple enough for new players to pick it up.
Play Value It must be fun: relevant to constructed and interesting to draft.
Innovation There must be new cards and a mechanic or twist new to core sets.
Nostalgia There must be old cards that make returning players feel at home.

More differences
One of the things that struck me when I was looking through the 2012 spoiler was how much the same it felt as 2011 and 2010. It shares a lot of cards in common with one or both of those sets. Of the reprinted cards in white, only Demystify and Auramancer were not printed in the last two years. Actually drafting and playing the set does feel very different because of the much more aggressive speed of the set, courtesy of bloodthirst and its enablers. Even so, I'm forced to wonder if 2013 could share fewer cards in common with its predecessors so that it looks as different as it (hopefully) plays.

It's entirely possible that we will discover an unstated reason for this consistency—perhaps Angel's Mercy, Pacifism and Siege Mastodon really are just so good at what they do in the core set that nothing as elegant can replace them. I intend to find out.

The Returning Mechanic
2011 brought back scry and 2012 brought back bloodthirst. I've long wanted to evergreen cycling, so I'd love to make cycling the mechanic that we bring back. This is definitely not a decision I want to make hastily or on my own, however. Other possibilities include legendary (which I agree can work in a core set, but only at higher rarities—our main mechanic can't be excluded from commons), morph (which I think is too complicated for a core set, and is also better in large numbers, like across a block), clash (I really enjoyed clash, and it could absolutely work in a core set, but apparently it wasn't popular), multicolor (this seems bold, but doable yet I'm not sure actual multicolored cards are the right lead in for a multicolored block), channel, domain, echo, evoke, exalted, forecast, kicker, madness, ninjitsu, prowl, rebound, replicate, retrace, split second, sunburst, threshold, or transmute.

Feel free to add to the list if I missed something juicy, but mostly we have to narrow it down. Let's eliminate as many possibilities as we reasonably can. Remember, the mechanic doesn't have to go into all colors.

This is highly subject to change, but it helps to at least have a starting point.
September—Complete all analysis and goals.
Early October—Choose all mechanics and themes. Complete the set skeleton.
Mid-October—Complete the first pass at the set.
Late October—Sealed Playtest.
Early Novemeber—Revise the set.
Mid-November—Sealed Playtest.
Late November—Take a break.
Early December—Revise the set.
Mid-December—Draft Playtest.
Late December—Take a break.
Early January—Final design revision
Mid-January—Development reviews the set.
Late January—Draft Playtest. As this process isn't that different from the playtest-revision process in design, the key will be getting a new team to do the playtesting and expanding the formats tested.Early February—Revise the set.
Mid-February—Standard Playtest.
Late February—Revise the set.
Early March—Standard Playtest.
Mid-March—Revise the set.
Late March—Modern Playtest?
Early April—Legacy Playtest?
Mid-April—Final revisions
Late April—Set Review
June—Compare to actual Magic 2013


  1. Seems like a good timeline to me, considering how fast some of us put up analyses on colors (I guess there is more than one person bored at work in this world :P). We might want to analyze the set with "Roll" when it comes out, but that would probably be in late April/early May.

    Another mechanic we could possibly use is delve, but many suspect that Innistrad will likely use it. Considering what I said about what I would change in a core set, I'm more inclined to have the returning mechanic a spell ability (i.e. delve, retrace) rather than a creature one (i.e. bloodthirst).

    And finally (minor nitpick time), Demystify was reprinted in ROE, so Auramancer was the only white reprint not seen in a long time.

  2. I was impressed by the speed some of the analyses went up. Bodes well for our productivity. Nice work, too.

    I know my example didn't have it at the time, but I do want each of you to add more observations to your analysis, kind of like I have since. (Benjamin already did part of this. Kudos.)

    I'm really hoping to get a mandate for each color overall, as well as an idea how subthemes have shifted, and some hard stats on how many cards are new.

  3. I totally forgot to address the ideas for core sets you all gave two posts ago. Lemme do that now.

    I did touch on Legendary Creatures. The rules behind them are really fairly straight-forward and the flavor is great. They don't work at common, so "legendary" can't be the returning mechanic per se, but it could still be a feature of the set.

    Love for nonpermanents. There are definitely some solid spells and there are definitely some clunkers. Modal spells like the Commands are a bit much for a core set, I think but I would absolutely be open to a cycle of impressive spells.

    Playing off the 13 is smart. I can't guarantee we'll use it, but it has great potential. If Shivan Meteor didn't have suspend, I'd suggest wrapping a cycle around that. Even w/o explicitly calling out the number 13, we could have a luck sub-theme. Would work with clash.

    I'm not necessarily opposed to drawing from other planes. That was done all the time in the past. It was probably a conscious decision not do that in postmodern core sets to help focus on the mage-punk/Dominaria flavor, which makes sense and gives me hesitation. We could try a Portal/core set hybrid bringing in oriental flavor and reprinting cards from Portal and Kamigawa. It would feel like an expansion, but as an introductory product instead of expert. I think there's big potential there, but maybe that's too much of a risk for our first core set? Hmmm.

  4. How about Gating (without the old IPA color restriction, probably, though the color restrict would interact with gold)? It never got the keyword treatment it deserved, it's simple and interesting, and it promotes very different kinds of environments from what we see in M12.

  5. A few flavorful luck-based ideas would be great. I know that "black cat" is an idea I've heard a few times for a card idea, and that would be a perfect fit for this sort of thing if we can come up with a flavorful design.

    Core Sets already draw on several planes for flavor. Since M10 we've had references to Dominaria, Akoum, the Immersturm, the Boros, probably some other known settings I'm forgetting about, as well as unknown stuff like Kalonia, Thune, and Vaasgoth. Mentioning someone or someplace from Kamigawa would be fine, I think, but going so far as to print an actual Ninja or Samurai is a bit too much of a stretch IMO.

  6. I remember reading an R&D article mentioning mechanics they'd like to return to, but I can't seem to find it.

    Anyways, I like cycling and agree it should be evergreen. If it is going to be evergreen, a core set is a good place to introduce that, like hexproof.

    But maybe we can do cycling and another returning mechanic, just like M12 had both hexproof and bloodthirst.

    I think it would be good to have a keyword that helps the set play differently from previous core sets.

    Also, if we are to follow the conventions of M11 and M12, it needs have a resonant, evocative flavor like Scry or Bloodthirst.

    I think Exalted, Battle Cry, Persist, Devour, and Convoke are simple and resonant, and make the set play differently.

    Out of that, Battle Cry and Devour might require some Bio-dome-ish design to make them matter. Persist needs to go on things like Zombies that fit the flavor of coming back, and prevents the set from having -1/-1 counters. But Exalted and Convoke should be just fine.

  7. Also, I would really like to loosen the flavor requirements which M11 and M12 followed, so that we can consider some spell-based mechanics like Kicker, Flashback, Replicate and Entwine. Spell-based mechanics tend to have more transparent, abstract flavor.

    The reason is because I want the keyword to go in a slower environment than Bloodthirst, to offer a change of pace. (Although the new keyword doesn't always need to determine the environment's pace like Bloodthirst did.)

    Keywords like Entwine are useful in longer games.

    I think these keywords should be allowed because spellcasting is an abstract thing anyways. Kicker is just pouring more energy into a spell, while Flashback and Replicate is casting the same spell many times, and Entwine is weaving two spells together.

    Considering how the core sets have each pushed what can be done in a core set, it should be ok as long as beginners will enjoy and understand those mechanics.

  8. KingRitz's idea of keywording gating is cool.

  9. I don't think intentionally ignoring the very specific guidelines that R&D has laid out for themselves is the best strategy for going about a design exercise of this kind.

  10. I like the idea of Entwine as the returning mechanic. if we chose Entwine, we would be doing General Mechanic - Scry (since it appeared on both permanents and spells), a Creature Mechanic - Bloodthirst, and then a Spell Mechanic.

    I think that Rebound would also be a good mechanic to bring back since it is a very well constructed mechanic and is very grokkable.

  11. Rebound is well above the complexity boundary I think. There's a reason it only appeared on two commons; even simple things like Prey's Vengeance was bumped up to uncommon.

    Things like entwine just don't pass the bar in terms of having resonant fantasy flavor. Cycling is way, way below that bar. It has zero flavor at all. The standards for returning mechanics are there for a reason, and I don't see why we should be seriously considering amending or ignoring them. The whole point of this is to hone basic design skills; we don't need to be getting so fancy and ambitious in terms of breaking boundaries yet.

  12. One thing to remember is that the tagline gimmick doesn't have to be particularly well-represented.
    M11's tagline was "A set everyone can sink their teeth into". M11 had a grand total of five Vampires (4 commons and a rare lord). The mechanic, scry, had nothing to do with vampires.
    M13's tagline could be "Are you feeling lucky?" and have a similar number of luck-based cards, which doesn't necessarily have to be connected to a mechanic (maybe a few extra coin-flip cards or a vertical cycle of reveal the top card of your library cards.)

    Also, I think drawback mechanics should be avoided at all costs in a core set. Returning players can look at Horned Kavu or Lava Zombie and understand that you get a supersized creature for the drawback. New players look at those cards and see bad drawbacks.

  13. On the contrary, Timmies look at gating creatures and see the HUGE upside and generally underestimate the purely tempo-based drawback -- after all, unlike an effect that would require a sacrifice, gating means that Timmy can just play his original card again.

    How do I know that I'm right?

    Shivan Wurm was the #2 card in Wizards' Planeshift Godbook... and Doomsday Specter was #5.

  14. If you want to do a spell mechanic for the returning mechanic why not Splice? It's fairly straightforward, flavorfully resonant with traditional fantasy - a wizard combining two or more spells - and you can have it just splice straighty onto Instants or sorceries rather than onto a subtype like Arcane.

    Buyback is another simple & easily understood mechanic that could return. Convoke is also evocative of a fantasy trope - the Ritual, where multiple people cooperate to cast a spell more powerful (cheaper) than any one of them could cast it alone.

  15. My problem with both Splice and Buyback is mainly their tendency to create repetitive game states. I do like Convoke, on the other hand.

  16. @Alex Spalding
    I don't understand what you mean by "The whole point of this is to hone basic design skills;"
    It sounds like taking a bunch of well designed, generic Angel cards and Goblin cards, slapping them together, and calling it a set.

    This is still a set design challenge. In some ways it's easier for being a core set, but in some ways its harder. I think the biggest challenges will be, "How do we excite both new and old players?" and "How do we make it different from other core sets without using tools like world flavor or new mechanics?"

    I'm not trying to be fancy by introducing spell-based mechanics, I'm just trying to answer these questions straight on.

    Every set since M10 has successively broken the boundaries of what a core set can be in order to provide the best experience for everyone as well as stay new. If we just do what M12 did, then we won't be doing what M12 did.

    If something like Entwine is too difficult for new players to understand, or isn't appealing to new players because it doesn't remind them of something they've seen in fantasy stories and games, we shouldn't do it. But "Core sets haven't done that" is not a good reason to avoid doing it.

  17. I like the idea Convoke a mechanic for the core set. I think though that Convoke has both good flavor and is simple (for this spell, use creatures like you would use lands).

  18. I'm not saying "Core Sets haven't done that." I'm saying "This doesn't follow the basic guidelines for what a returning mechanic in a Core Set should be." Lots of the suggested keywords have done the same.

    I see your point about breaking new ground in each Core Set, but the point remains that trying to be too ambitious with how we're pushing boundaries would be defeating the point of this project as I understand it. We shouldn't be going too far *outside* of the box until we've actually proven that we can do well *inside* the box. That is, take a more conservative approach initially in order to hone the basics, then applying those basic skills on the next project, and so on.

    This isn't the GDS2. We're not trying to impress anyone. We're trying to make ourselves better designers. It's practice.

  19. I guess I'm in the minority who doesn’t like convoke. Cheap spells like Gather Courage seem great with convoke and stuff like Sprout Swarm makes sense to me since eventually the spell combos with itself…but anything with a cmc greater than 5 just seems like either a win-more spell or simply just overcosted despite the discount. Like 8 mana 4/7 vigilance dudes. Or a 7 mana Overrun without trample that, you know...have to tap your attackers for to make cheaper. Obviously, these are the dregs of the convoke spells and aren’t actually that much due to convoke, but I think convoke will require a LOT of token support that seems off for a core set to have. I don’t even think that Ravnica had enough support for it, and that is saying a lot.

  20. The only issue with Convoke is that if you imagine M13 as the lead-in to New Ravnica, there's a good chance that Convoke would be one of the mechanics intended to reappear in New Ravnica. That might not be the greatest argument against it, but it's something to think about nonetheless.

    @ KingRitz - While I don't think Gating is a bad mechanic, or even one unsuited to Core Set, is it really something that should be keyworded? They've continued to use gating clauses throughout the years, most recently with Glint Hawk, but I wonder if they'd be hesitant to do so were it keyworded.

  21. I'll go ahead and propose Allies for the returning mechanic. Exceedingly simple, extremely flavorful (what doesn't say "resonant fantasy" about a band of adventurers?) and extremely popular. If there happen to be any open-ended tribal effects in the Innistrad block ("choose a creature type" effects) then they would play into it quite nicely.

  22. @Alex: I would love that...if we could print any of the Zendikar ones. Pretty much all of them have plane-specific names. :/

  23. There have been references to Akoum, etc. in core set flavor text. We could print at least one or two of the ZEN block ones, and plenty of new ones from other planes or made-up locations.

  24. For returning mechanics, I'd like to suggest:

    Bushido, Convoke, Devour, Exalted, and, Provoke.