Tuesday, September 13, 2011

M13 Bits and Pieces (1)

O what a tangled web we weave. When we first practice to design a core set. (Sorry for the poetic dissonance.) Everyone knows that a set is a complex interwoven thing and that a change in one place can ripple across the whole thing, causing other cards to change with it. We know it because Mark Rosewater tells us, or because we've designed a set before or because it's fairly obvious if you think about it. What I didn't know before this project was how much more tangled that web is when you're working as a team.

The work this team has done so far has been phenomenal and the results are far better than what any one of us could have accomplished alone. There is a downside though: When you're not the one making every single decision and designing every single card, you don't have the bigger picture, not all of it. As the lead designer, it's my job to see the bigger picture for M13 better than anyone and I can tell you that's a lot of work. There's a lot going on and not all in one place.

For that reason, there are a lot of miscellaneous questions popping up and I'd like to try to answer a few of them and give my designers a bit of feedback. In no sensical order:

Set name and logo
It has not escaped my mind that this project will eventually (with any luck at all) come to the attention of at least a few Wizards employees. I would like for their response to be "Oh cool, look at this" and not "Sigh, guess we should call Legal." We should be covered as far as the cards and the set are concerned as long as we never try to sell them. No problem there, we won't. But I suspect the fact that I've mocked up an official looking logo and we're using what is almost certainly going to be the exact same name the official product will be using is probably less than ideal.

I think we can get something extra out of the solution (changing the name and logo): We could add a subtitle. That actually seems like a reasonable thing for a core set which otherwise has nothing to differentiate itself at the product name / code level from every other core set. Our subtitle should relate to something that makes the set unique, probably terrain. Ideally, it might also cleverly hint that this is a fan-made set and not the real thing. Words and phrases like "fantasy," "new ground," and "allied territory" occur to me.

Give your thoughts or suggestions and I'll pick one and add it to our logo next time.

Despite being just five mythic rares, the choice of which planeswalkers we print makes a surprising impact on the rest of the set because of the support cards they spawn (Chandra's Phoenix, Gideon's Lawkeeper, etc). Based on the trends and logic we've seen, I think it's safe to say that the versions of Chandra, the Firebrand, Garruk, Primal Hunter and Jace, Memory Adept will return in 2013. On the other hand, Gideon Jura and Sorin Markov are seeing their second printings already, making them more eligible for replacement. So far, the designers have earmarked Elspeth Tirel as the white planeswalker since she was only printed once and is absolutely worthy of a core set encore. We won't be reprinting Innistrad's planeswalkers, so it seems pretty likely that we'll replace Sorin with a new walker. Who or what is a discussion worthy of its own article (at least).

In 2011 the Planeswalker support cards included a common and an uncommon cycle. In 2012, it was a common and a rare cycle. We could repeat either of those or we could make an uncommon and rare cycle. The inspiration for that was just dumb permutation but I actually find that scenario entirely justifiable: If 'Walkers are rare and powerful, maybe their antics shouldn't be as common as say, a Goblin Piker. This is totally up for discussion. There's even another option and that is not to keep the cycles strict within rarity. Maybe Garruk gets a common and a rare beast but Jace gets two uncommon spells, for example. Not sure I love that, but it's out there.

A Terrain by Any Other Name
We've discussed before the possibility of putting the type of terrain being used in the ability word. Let's play with that some more. Right now, my favorite option is * Adept as seen on Mastodon Calf (where * is the land type in question). Other possible words include * savvy, * adaptable, * migrant, * roaming, * rapport, resonate with *, boosted by *, etc.

We don't have to figure this out now since it's boiler plate, but it would be good to narrow it down to the two best possibilities (plus the no ability word possibility) so we can see what flies and what sinks with our playtesters.

Design Priority
It's great how seriously everyone is taking the first draft of each color's commons. It shows a genuine commitment to quality that will make us all proud when we're done. But we need to remember our priority before making a really solid list of commons (and I'm super guilty of this myself) is having any working list at all that includes terrain so that we can get out and playtest it. While a lot of this work will stand regardless of whether we continue with terrain or not and all of it is helping us to learn, we don't want to find out terrain isn't going to work after a whole month of blood, sweat and tears because that will cost us time and morale. So, I would like each color that can have a printable, playable, imperfect list ready by Saturday morning.

Don't worry if it could be better. It can. It will be. And soon. That's just not our main concern yet.

We've been using Google Docs and I think it's far and away our best option for this kind of spreadsheety, remote team work. It's not without limitations though. It was easy at first to see what designs and comments were new but as the files have expanded, it's become much harder. We've been using normal text for cards and italics for comments. I propose a new standard that will help a bit. When you create a new card, put it in bold. When you create a new comment, put it in bold italics. When the current lead for that tab reads it, he unbolds it. It's not perfect, but at least we know new thoughts will be seen by the person most in need of seeing them.

To Be Continued
I've got a lot more to share, but there's no need to overload. Tune in (tomorrow?) for part two.


  1. Considering we're getting a new version of Garruk in Innistrad, I'd be surprised to see him again in the core set. It's not impossible, but still.

  2. RE: Naming Terrain - While I already said I don't necessarily agree with the desire to do so, "adaptive" is much more suitable to the concept than "adept". These are creatures that are adapting to diverse environments for the better, not creatures that are skilled at turning trees into fighting implements.

  3. RE: Terrain- I'd vote for Boosted by * or Infuse * or whatever. That format makes it look less identical to Landwalk, which might appear on some of the cards.

  4. Adapt to Swamps


    Boosted by Mountains


    These all look... poor.

  5. I'd love to use Affinity for Plains or Islandhome but those are kinda taken.

    Swamp Adaptation isn't so bad.

    Obviously it's easy to come up with poor examples, what we need are good ones.

    And none of this removes from consideration the possibility that we'll use no ability word at all. But if we test A versus B when B looks stupid because of poor word choice, it's not a relevant test at all.

  6. I like Terrain best. Simple and pretty easy to understand and use.

  7. As another random question (sorry for the double post), I'm pretty new to this project, but would love to help fill random holes with designs for consideration. Are you accepting all contributors interested in helping to fill holes?

  8. I realize Gregory Marques suggested having the land name in the ability word, but I don't know that we do. After all, Sweep doesn't. Chroma doesn't. We could even go with something like:

    Infused by Purity
    Infused by Nature
    Infused by Rage
    Infused by Death
    Infused by Will

    That clearly identifies what type of land you need without the awkward "Forest Adaptation- As long as you control a Forest..." repetition.

    It's just flavor text, so long as it doesn't confuse players.

  9. We're not compelled to use an ability word, to add the land type to the ability word, nor to avoid using an ability word. We are compelled to explore the options and actually test them.

    I like the more poetic "Infused by Purity." It may prove too abstract or it may prove tasty.

    n10doefrk, yes, everyone is welcome to contribute in every way they can. We're not at hole-filling yet (but we definitely will get there) but we are filling up the skeletons. I recommend going through previous articles in this series to see the full plan, where we're at and how to participate.

  10. I do card critique far better than card design, so I probably won't contribute to the wiki except for the odd hole-fill, but I'm definitely still following along on this project. Looks like it's shaping up nicely.

    The point of printing the PW-named spells in the first place was to build brand recognition among players who may never be lucky/rich enough to open the corresponding Mythic. Not putting a PW-named cycle at common defeats that purpose. I am personally in favor of cycles at common and uncommon, which lets you potentially open all three PW-named cards in a single booster pack - how neat is that?

    I prefer using land types to using other words, since it parallels five-colored keywords like landwalk and protection and just feels more grokkable.

    While I don't really want to see Garruk reprinted for the umpteenth time, green is seriously lacking in planeswalker choices...both Sarkhan and Kiora being multicolored, and Nissa being the most parasitic 'walker ever. Mono-black only has Liliana and Sorin to choose from as well (both of whom it seems are getting new PW cards in ISD block). Liliana of the Veil seems a fine reprint for M13 though. Her abilities are generic, it represents her at the current point in the storyline, and her mana cost is less restrictive than Markov's which plays better with the speculated "Return to Ravnica" multicolor theme in the subsequent set.

  11. @Duncan
    Sweep and Chroma didn't need to show the landtype upfront because it always affected its own color.

    Now that Gregory Marques mentions it, showing the land would help players parse the text quickly. It lets them skip over gobs of text and they only need to read the part about the bonus.

    The names like "Infused by Rage" is flavorful, but it won't benefit first-time players because they haven't learned the color-coding of Magic yet, especially Will = Blue, which isn't obvious.

  12. Magic 2013: Artisans's Edition

    Since we don't know which Planeswalker's were going to print, (old, new, or new-new) I don't think we should suggest any support cards for them at this point. Once we decide on our five walkers we can go back and replace the best slots. Like, put in Raise the Alarm for now and later it might get swapped for Elspeth's Recruits or whatever. As far as the support cards, I would like to see two per color, but not tied down by rarity. This let's us reprint some with great ease or pick the strongest new ideas regardless of rarity.

    I like adapted more then Adept because Adept seems like a skill and I don't like dumb beasts being described as specially trained. Plains Adapted, Island Adapted, Swamp Adapted, Mountain Adapted, and Forest Adapted. Looks good to me. But then, I still like just plain old Terrain.

    My office doesn't support Google docs, so I'll be emailing the spread sheet to myself each morning and suggesting changes each night to assure I am ready by Saturday's deadline. I'll do my best to address Black suggestions and comments and I'm also going to try to finish my suggestions for Blue, Red, Green and Colorless.

  13. Saturday's deadline is just for the commons.

  14. How about Forest Turf or Forest Lair?

    "M13:GA - Find your Turf!" hehe

    By the way, I really like the changes to the Mastadon, and to the other White commons as well. They probably still need a lot of work. But I look at them and I feel intrigued as to how they'll play and I really want to draft them into decks and play with them. I tried to go for that feeling with my second pass of Blue commons. I tended to design too many cards where I feel that I can guess how they will play.

    I think M11 and M12 tried to create balance and avoid early stalls by having lots of small creatures that trade. There weren't Youthful Knights because Knights don't trade with other 2-drops. High toughness guys were allowed only around after threshold of 4-5 mana in most colors.

    It would be nice to experiment to see if another paradigm is possible, where there's lots of varied sizes, but also abundant effects for breaking stalls. The white tapper and dropoff griffin look like they're helping in that direction.

  15. Someone suggested a tribal theme for classes - I think it would be a good idea to have lords for classes at uncommon. I'm having trouble making vanillas with relevant stats. They keep taking up the same slots and make common curves have similar configurations. For example, at least one of the Blue vanillas is destined to be a high toughness blocker, so that eats up the space for defensive creatures with interesting defensive abilities.

    If there's a light tribal subtheme, Vanillas of other sizes can be made to matter.

  16. I like Turf and Lair. Lair is more Fantasy, but will feel weird on most sentient (race+class) creatures. Let's see how the permutations looks like written out:

    Plains Turf, Island Turf, Swamp Turf, Mountain Turf, Forest Turf.
    None of these feel perfect, but none feel wrong.

    Plains Lair, Island Lair, Swamp Lair, Mountain Lair, Forest Lair.
    Plains Lair feels wrong but the rest are kind of awesome.

    For the subtitle, maybe we can play off of Dungeons & Dragons. Lairs & uh... wow. Coming up blank for awesome fantasy things that start with L. Liches? Lions? Lycanthropes?

    Abort that plan. Ugh. OOOOH. We can tie this into the new black planeswalker. The Lair of Malion. Or whatever name we settle on. Too focused?

  17. Perhaps a slight issue with using "lair" is that Planeshift's tri-color lands have the subtype Lair.