Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Multiple Choice Magic Design Question of the Day 1

1) Which of the following is the least appropriate way for Design to serve these audiences?
 a) Design should make sure there are high mana costs for Timmy.
 b) Design should make sure there are bad cards for Jenny.
 c) Design should make sure there are under-costed cards for Spike.
 d) Design should make sure there are wordy cards for Mel.
 e) Design should make sure there are funny cards for Vorthos.

Click through to see the answer and my rationale.

Timmy doesn't love cards because they're expensive, they love big effects despite their proportionally large costs. Scornful Egotist would be of no interest to Tammy without morph, but costly cards with proportional effects are. That said, they do recognize a correlation between high costs and big effects that will make them pay more attention to expensive cards.

Jenny doesn't so much love bad cards, as they do the challenge of doing something impressive with cards others have dismissed. Search the City is an example. Squire not so much. (There are uber-Johnnies who appreciate absurd challenges like that posed by One with Nothing but we don't make cards like that often.) Jenny likes 'bad' cards that can be great when their conditions are met, but reaching that state is hard, slow, or unreliable, because they are up to the challenge.

Spike does play under-costed cards because they have a high value:cost ratio, a major factor in building tournament-winning decks. They also appreciate flexibility, resilience, reliability, and contextual worth (Shatterstorm is bonkers in a format with some artifact decks running around, but usually unplayable). Though efficient cards are appealing to Spike, particularly under-costed cards tend to dominate and warp the formats they're in, which reduces deck-building choices and variety of matches. There's also no particular skill to selecting the most obviously strong cards.

Some Mels feel good about themselves when they can figure out how a complex and/or wordy cards functions, but mostly Mel is excited by clever mechanisms and novel rules implications. Our inner Mel is what compels designers to push the envelope just to see if they can. Mel would be satisfied with elegantly-worded cards doing something mind-bending, but wordy cards do have a tendency to be complex enough to satisfy them too.

Vorthos loves resonant design, decadent theme, and meaningful story. They appreciate the joke behind cards like Goblin Test Pilot because that card commits to the core identity of goblins as reckless, dangerous, violent, and unfortunate (sometimes tinkerers). While Vorthos is likely to have as good a sense of humor as anyone, most aren't in it purely for the laughs. Tammy probably enjoys Apes of Rath and Gorilla Titan more than Vorthos. Mel enjoys Rules Lawyer more. Many funny cards make their joke at the expense of tonal consistency to the theme.

C is the best answer. Design doesn't determine the costs on cards, Development does. And there are better ways to please Spike.

E is the second best answer because humor is largely perpendicular to theme.

(As long as I'm making these questions, I'm going to do what I feel strongly should be done: Offer partial parts for good-but-not-best answers; that's a more precise judge of aptitude than weighing all but the single best answer equally.)

The trick I intended was identifying the strength of correlation between the proposed thing and what that audience really enjoys. The trick I stumbled into was identifying what's in Design's wheelhouse as opposed to Development's.


  1. My answer (pre-seeing Jay's answer):
    C. All the other answers are bad, but will still somewhat serve the stated psychographic. Undercosted cards are actively frustrating for Spike since they warp formats. Also, undercosting cards is not Design's job.

    1. D'oh. Costing isn't Design's job! And 'under-costed' is often used to refer to cards that are problematically cheap, rather than just notably efficient.

      For now, I'm going to say C is also a valid answer, but maybe it should be the only valid answer what with 'Design' in there.

    2. Screw it. Only 30 view at the time. I updated it. Thanks, Ipaulsen!

    3. All spikes care about cost/strength ratio, all Timmies care about big things, all Jennies care about deck-building challenges, all Mels care about decoding things, you could be completely anhedonic still be a full-blooded Vorthos.

      I changed my mind three times while reading the question. At first I read "Which is the worst design philosophy" but the question doesn't care if these would make a bad game, just how they serve specific player-types.

      Then I read "Which of these is the least important to focus on" because good cards/bad cards don't need to be purposefully designed. They happen anyway.

      Finally I read the question right, and settled on E because it felt the least central. Vorthos cares about being in on the joke, but Vorthos humor is a personality thing.

    4. This all has reminded that the best way to get useful data from a test like this is to award different points for different answers. When you score the second best answer the same as the worst answer, you're throwing away data.

      I don't love that this question ends up being a trick (because it prioritizes a detail that it doesn't profess to be about), but I'm not going to edit it any further.

      C and E are both strong answers.

    5. "the best way to get useful data from a test like this is to award different points for different answers. When you score the second best answer the same as the worst answer, you're throwing away data."

      Excellent point, especially with gradated answers like this one.

    6. Costing cards IS design's job. It's the job of Play Design and Set Design, not Vision Design, but it is still a design job.

    7. They only recently changed the name of Development to Play Design. That distinction was always fuzzy (and unique to Wizards). But it remains that the people who generate that set's primary identity and experience before passing it on for refinement are not the final arbiters of a card's cost, and more precisely, very rarely design around a card's cost (Isamaru being one counter-example).

  2. C. There are quite a few misses here, but not only does intentionally undercosting cards threaten Magic overall (see Combo Winter, Skullclamp, JTMS, Smuggler’s Copter, etc. and the damage banning does), costing isn’t even in the purview of Design, it’s Dev (who really shouldn’t be undercosting intentionally either).

    1. After reading through everyone’s thoughts, I want to clarify - C, I think, is way worse than any of the other options, for Design or Dev, and for Magic overall. Intentionally making overcosted or “bad” cards doesn’t really threaten magic, nor does intentionally making wordy or funny cards. Intentionally making broken cards has been demonstrated to cause brand damage in the past.

  3. I would still describe the audience for humorous cards as high Vorthos. Vorthos appreciates cards for their aesthetic elements, and a personal aesthetic appreciation will vary from person to person. While many Vorthos appreciate a sets theme or story (particularly those that are more vocal), the term also applied to those who appreciate a card on the merits of the art or humor without having or needing any context at all.

    1. Agreed. For example, Fblthp is very much a Vorthos thing.

    2. There's certainly a set of players who love funny cards, and that love is Vorthos in origin.

  4. Interesting. Loving these Qs.

    OK, firstly, I interpreted "least appropriate" as meaning "least fulfilling the stated goal of serving those audiences". If it's better interpreted as "which is worst for magic as a whole", then I agree with R Stetch that undercosted cards are probably the worst. I'm not sure you can clearly determine which of those was intended from "least appropriate".

    From an exam-technique question, I was pretty sure the answer would be T, J or S since understanding those is important more often than understanding V or M. But I wrote up my answers before reading Jay's without trying to second guess.

    My logic was:

    Worst: Wordy for Melvin. I don't think Melvin likes wordy at all, even though the things melvin likes can easily lead to wordy-ness. To my melvin side, the best card ever is Vindicate, because the rules line up so perfectly they don't even need to be said.

    Second worst: high mana cost. Like Melvin, Timmy tolerates expensive, not embraces expensive. But I think timmy's do like high mana cost a little bit -- there is a thrill and challenge of casting *any* ten mana spell.

    Middle: Bad cards for Johnny. This isn't Johnny's main thing, but finding good uses for bad cards is *one* thing Johnny does.

    Second: Under-costed cards for spike. This isn't a good way of designing cards for spike, and should't be over-done, but AIUI, choosing cards that make for fun competitive environments and pushing them is one of the the things R&D does do.

    Best: "Funny" is not a good thing for vorthos in general, but I think "funny" falls under "flavour", so providing humour is one thing which does help people's vorthos sides.

    I see I thought quite differently about spike. Partly I interpreted "under-costing" as being "lower than exactly the middle of the road", not "so low it was dangerous". I'm not sure if there's a standard?

    And partly I know development does most of costs, just like creative does most of the creature types, etc, but I think design looks at those things where appropriate, especially where it's a major decision, like Isamaru or watchwolf, where the important thing about the card is "this one is pushed". Or where something is supposed to be a competitive staple of a marquee mechanic.

    1. Isamaru does fail as a design without being cheap. Good point!

      (When I wrote under-costed, I was thinking "very efficient" as opposed to "so inexpensive you have to play it" but I learned quickly that was not everyone's take.)

  5. I'm very happy with how this went. I think I'm even happier than if the question had been 'perfect' from the start, because everyone including me was challenged to think very hard about the ideas proposed, and the discussion was hugely illuminating.

    While I hope the questions on the actual test are 'perfect,' exploring the grey areas and debating the answers is more useful to us as preparation. Expect more of this.

    1. Yeah, definitely. Debating ambiguities is answering questions on advanced mode -- not as fair, but GREAT for getting confident exploring difficult questions.

  6. D. Designing wordy cards is deadly to the game.