Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Scott Wilson's Essay Submission

(Wizards has alerted GDS3 Top 8 contestants that their essays would not be published on the mothership, and gave them clearance to self-publish. We reached out to all contestants and offered to host their essays.)

1) Introduce yourself and why you think you would be a good fit for Wizards R&D

My name is Scott Wilson and I would be a good fit for this internship because I have 18 years of experience with Magic, work professionally in creative fields, and work with others in creative environments.

I've played Magic since Mercadian Masques, concentrating on draft, legacy, modern, and commander. I watch and read Magic content daily on sites like ChannelFireball, StarCityGames, and MTGGoldfish, watch Magic streams on Twitch like GabySpartz and LSV, and made a Magic video series ("Brewing on a Budget") for the site DraftMagic with my wife. I've also created three custom Magic sets and drafted them with friends, and produced a video series where I played and critiqued custom Magic sets ("MTG Meow" on YouTube).

For my job I work as a writer and editor for the news entertainment website SoraNews24. Creativity is required for the job, in order to write articles about Asian news in a way that appeals to our English-speaking audience, and also in coming up with original articles. My original series "W.T.F. (Weird Top Five) Japan" has been the most popular series on the site.

I am also a creative writer, and I currently have a young adult novel under contract to be published in November 2018.

I constantly work with others in creative environments. For my job as editor I am responsible for giving critical feedback to writers and ensuring that their final product represents our brand. I ran a writing group in Boston for two years ("The Brighton Writers Workshop"), critiquing hundreds of stories, and holding workshops on how to become a better writer.

I currently run a creative writing livestream three times a week (ScottWritesStuff on Twitch) where we do writing exercises, prompts, and have freeshare. I show the process of writing stories from start to finish, implement suggestions from chat, and give feedback to anyone who shares their work.

It would be an honor for me to bring my experience with Magic, professional creativity, and experience working with others in creative environments to Wizards of the Coast.

2) What is an existing keyword mechanic that you would promote to Evergreen status?
I would choose to make the "cycling" mechanic evergreen. As I see it, there are at least three conditions in making a mechanic evergreen: (1) it's going to show up a lot, so it has to have a large design space, (2) it has to alleviate a problem, and (3) it has to be simple.

I feel that cycling best fills all three requirements.

For (1), cycling has a large design space. We've seen cycling in more sets than any other non-evergreen keyword (Urza's block, Onslaught block, Time Spiral block, Alara block, and Amonkhet block), appearing on all different card types. It can essentially be put on any card, and there are fun synergies with it such as Astral Slide or Drake Haven.

For (2), cycling helps alleviate the problem of drawing too few or too many lands. This aspect of cycling made Amonkhet block great for draft. Being able to cycle away expensive cards like Greater Sandwurm and Lay Claim helped open up slower strategies, and being able to cycle away lands like the Deserts helped alleviate flooding.

Cycling also helps alleviate having conditional cards in your hand. Removal spells like Cast Out or soft counterspells like Censor get a lot more enticing to put into your deck when you can always cycle them if you don't have any targets, rather than having them waste away in your hand, stagnating the game.

Mana screw, flood, and bad draws are part of Magic, but cycling helps minimize how bad they feel.

For (3), cycling is very simple. It has a variable cost, but the same effect every time. That makes it more complex than other evergreen mechanics like flying or deathtouch, but about on the same level as equip or scry.

As a final point in cycling's favor, it's essentially flavorless, meaning that it can show up in any set, on any plane, and not feel out of place. We may have seen it most recently in Amonkhet, but it doesn't feel like it only belongs there.

3) If you had to get rid of one evergreen keyword, which would it be and why?

I would choose to remove "defender" from evergreen status. As I see it, there are at least two reasons a keyword mechanic might be removed from evergreen status: (1) it is no longer necessary, or (2) it is inherently unfun. Defender fits both.

For (1), defender fits the requirement of being unnecessary. It's a remnant from Magic's earlier days when the "wall" creature type had "this creature can't attack" attached to it. Having a single creature type with extra rules baggage didn't make much sense, and turning "this creature can't attack" into a keyword was a good fix at the time, but it is no longer necessary.

In Magic's beginning, flavor ruled. Walls weren't able to attack because they were walls, of course they can't attack! The same flavor justification was used for regeneration, mana burn, the old legendary rule, and the recently-changed planeswalker uniqueness rule. However, removing those flavor-based rules and mechanics from the game has gotten rid of unnecessary baggage, helping lower the complexity of an always-growing game. The same goes for defender.

For (2), defender is inherently unfun. It's similar to other retired keywords such as landwalk or intimidate. If you played against an opponent with a certain color, it was unfun for them; if they didn't have that color, it was unfun for you. Defender is similar; it's an unfun drawback that prevents you from doing what creatures do: attack.

Since most creatures with defender already have zero power, ninety-nine percent of the time they're not going to attack anyway. But those one-percent times, when your opponent has no blockers, is at one life, and you have a wall in play and a pump spell in hand, not being able to attack feels bad.

Finally, defender feels unnecessary since there are cards that use the text "can't attack" without needing defender, such as Desperate Castaways in Ixalan or Deep-Sea Terror in Magic Origins. Why bother having a keyword that means "can't attack" if it's not going to be used on all cards with the text "can't attack" in the first place?

4) You are teaching a stranger to play Magic. What is your strategy for ensuring the best possible outcome?
If I was going to teach Magic to a stranger, I would make sure to concentrate on three things: (1) using the simplest cards possible, (2) making sure they're having fun, and (3) letting them make changes to their deck.

For (1), I would play games with them using decks made of only commons and perhaps a few uncommons. Something like the thirty-card sample starter decks that Wizards gives out for free, or the Rookie Decks from Card Kingdom would work well. The cards in the decks would be simple: creatures would all be either vanilla or french vanilla, and all spells would only do one thing each. I'd stick to mono-colored decks for our first few games, having one deck for each color. Having multiple copies of each card in each deck will also help them recognize cards they've used before.

For (2), them having fun would be the goal of our games. My goal isn't to win, but to play in such a way that they learn the mechanics. Perhaps I might attack even though it's bad, and show them how they can block my creature and eat it. Perhaps I might enchant my creature with an aura, knowing they have a removal spell, so they can learn the joys of two-for-one-ing someone.

For (3), after we play some games with different mono-colored decks, I'd let them make changes to the decks. They could combine colors together, and I'd show them some other easy-to-understand commons and uncommons that they could add in if they'd like. By removing cards they don't like and adding in new ones, they can get a feel for one of Magic's greatest strengths: its customizability.

Once they've played a few games with their new deck, I'd introduce them to rares, mythics, and perhaps some planeswalkers, to show them some of the even cooler cards and possibilities that await them.

5) What is Magic’s greatest strength?
Magic's greatest strength is its versatility. The game is incredibly deep, at least on three levels: (1) the lowest level, deck customization, (2) the middle level, format selection, and (3) the highest level, the meta-game.

For (1), the lowest level, deck customization, Magic is incredibly free when it comes to deck creation. Aside from the minimum deck size and the usual four-of rule, you're literally free to use whatever legal cards you want. Unlike other games, there are no unnecessary restraints. Want to make a 200-card deck of all goblins? Go for it. Want to put in one creature card from every tribe? Go for it. Want to run all five colors and zero lands? Go for it, you madman.

And then when you get tired of customizing your deck to one set of cards, you can always…

...go to (2), the middle level, format selection. Just pick a new format. Tired of standard? Play modern. Tired of modern? Play draft. Tired of draft? Play some commander. Just by changing a few simple variables like card pool or card limits, it can feel like you're playing an entirely different game.

And then when you get tired of all the formats, you can always…

...go to (3), the highest level, the meta-game. Enjoy Magic outside of the game. Collect your favorite cards just because of their art. Better yet, get them in foil. Better yet, get the Masterpiece editions. Better yet, sell them and see if you can make some money. Better yet, use that money to cosplay as your favorite Magic characters. Better yet, read about Magic finance and cosplay and strategy from the hundreds of other amazing content producers out there.

Magic is such a versatile game, as opposed to something like baseball, where if you don't like playing baseball, well, you're kind of screwed since there's only one way to play. Magic provides an endless amount of ways to enjoy the game.

6) What is Magic’s greatest weakness?

Magic's greatest weakness is its stigma as an antisocial, male-only hobby that unfortunately still persists to this day.

Magic has other weaknesses, such as its high complexity and high cost, but those weaknesses rarely keep potential players out of the game entirely, since complexity and cost can be toned down for newcomers. But unfortunately there is a giant wall of stigma preventing many potential players from ever becoming newcomers in the first place.

If you were to ask someone who knew nothing about Magic what they thought the average player looked like, they would probably say "a little kid" or "a smelly guy in his thirties who lives in his parents' basement." While that couldn't be further from the truth, it doesn't matter: reality is irrelevant, perception is everything. If someone is thinking about trying out Magic, and all they know about it are the scandals that occasionally pop up on mainstream news sites, then they're going to stay far away from it.

Magic's stigma even affects players who already do play and enjoy the game. A large percentage of Magic's casual fanbase is made up of women, but is almost non-existent on the competitive scene. This is certainly not due to their lack of skill or interest in playing at a Grand Prix, a Star City Open, or even FNM, but rather the stigma surrounding competitive Magic.

Thankfully Magic has been making great improvements in this area. Having more diverse broadcasters, writers for the Mothership, and even striving for more balance in the game's characters and artwork have helped considerably. But we still have a long way to go before Magic is seen as a fun, socially acceptable hobby in the same way that sports, artwork, or even video games are.

7) What ability had the worst first introduction when compared to its potential? (i.e. what mechanic do you think would benefit the most from a reboot?)

I believe that the splice mechanic from Kamigawa block most deserves a second chance. Splice had a terrible first introduction and its potential is huge.

Splice had the unfortunate introduction of being in Kamigawa block, a block notorious for being bogged down by a lot of creative and design decisions that, in hindsight, were poor. It had confusing Japanese lore, the flip cards were awkward, there were way too many legends, epic and sweep were strange mechanics, Saviors of Kamigawa was possibly the worst set since Prophecy, and the nightmares of Umezawa's Jitte.

And yet despite all that, people still have fond memories of splice. Especially in limited, it was a fun mechanic that rewarded patience and strategic drafting. When some of the splice cards were brought back in the original Modern Masters, blue-red splice was a great archetype, and milling people out with Dampen Thought while controlling the board with Glacial Ray was awesome.

This shows that splice's potential is huge. First off, every splice card that has been printed so far has been "splice onto Arcane." That makes the mechanic horribly parasitic, only playable with other cards from Kamigawa block. However, it could just as easily be "splice onto instant or sorcery," instantly opening up the mechanic to a whole new world of possibilities.

Of course, removing the Arcane requirement from splice would require careful playtesting and balancing. Being able to repeatedly use spells over and over again can make for miserable gameplay, as buyback has shown us in the past. But with some careful costing requirements, I think that splice at least deserves a second chance to be the cool, "mad-scientist" mechanic that it so badly wants to be.

8) Tell us what your favorite Magic set is and why, and explain its greatest weakness.

My favorite Magic expansion that I've played with is Rise of the Eldrazi. However, while I love almost every aspect of the set, there was one problem with it: annihilator.

The annihilator mechanic captured the flavor of the Eldrazi perfectly. You feel helpless against it, it destroys your resources, and there's no way you can possibly come back and win against it. Unfortunately, while those are great feelings to have for a story, they're not such great feelings to have for a game.

Rise of the Eldrazi in limited was set up to make annihilator as painless as possible. Games went longer, so players often had more extraneous lands in play to sacrifice, and there were Eldrazi Spawn tokens that could painlessly be sacrificed too. During those times, annihilator wasn't so bad, but when an Ulamog's Crusher came down on turn four on the other side of the table, if you didn't have a cheap removal spell immediately, then it was game over.

Because of this, ramp strategies were extremely strong in Rise of Eldrazi limited, taking away from the fun of drafting other archetypes (like walls, Kiln Fiend, Aura Gnarlid, level up, and more). When you drafted a great ramp strategy with Overgrown Battlements, Growth Spasms, and Kozilek's Predators, you almost felt bad casting your Artisan of Kozilek on turn five, because you knew your opponent's white/green totem armor deck was done for.

Aside from limited, annihilator also created the biggest monster Magic has ever seen: Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Emrakul is the go-to finisher in most modern and legacy decks that aim to cheat big creatures into play, because just one attack with her is almost always game over. This is unfortunate because there are so many other cool, big creatures in Magic that will never get a chance to be played in these strategies; they're all going to be worse than Big Mama Emrakul and her annihilator six.

9) Tell us what your least favorite set is and why, and explain its greatest strength.

My least favorite Magic expansion that I've played with is Battle for Zendikar. However, there was one incredible success with it: the expeditions.

Battle for Zendikar was not fun for me for many reasons. After my love of Rise of the Eldrazi, it neither delivered the Eldrazi I remembered nor the leveling-up and fighting against them that I wanted. I tuned into the Magic Mothership site every day during the preview weeks to see if there were finally going to be any cards that piqued my interest or made me excited to play, but unfortunately, it fell flat.

However, despite that, I still went to the pre-release, and I went for only one reason: the expeditions. When the masterpiece lands were revealed, I thought they were the coolest idea ever. I thought they looked beautiful. I desperately wanted to open up one myself, so badly that I was willing to go to a pre-release for a set I otherwise had zero interest in playing. I even made sure to bring along several friends, to increase the odds of one of us opening an expedition and seeing it in person.

Unfortunately I didn't open an expedition, and neither did any of my friends, but another kid at the store did open an expedition Scalding Tarn. I have never seen such excitement at a Magic shop before. Everyone crowded around him, congratulating him and wanting to take a look, myself and even the store owner included.

I don't remember what my pre-release deck was that day and I'm pretty sure I haven't touched any of my Battle for Zendikar cards since then, but I still remember that kid opening the awesome Scalding Tarn, and I will never forget it.

10) If you could change any one thing about Magic, what would it be?

If I could change one thing about Magic, I would make it so Magic could incorporate other IPs into the game. The goal of this change would be threefold: (1) transforming Magic from just a "game" into a type of "media," (2) increase Magic's audience, and (3) erase the antisocial, all-male stigma from Magic.

For (1), Magic is such a good game, but it's very limited in its scope. However, it doesn't have to be that way. Just like Nintendo has its classic brand Mario and Zelda games, but also has sports games, shooters, RPGs and more, Magic can have its classic brand fantasy, but also cater to a wider audience.

For example, there could be a commander series of four decks based on the Game of Thrones factions: Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens and White Walkers. There could be a Planechase set with planes and characters from different anime like DragonBall Z, Naruto, and Fullmetal Alchemist. There could be an Unset that uses characters from The Simpsons and South Park.

All of this would help transform Magic from just a "game" into a new type of "media," another way for people to enjoy the things they already enjoy.

For (2), branching out like this would help increase Magic's audience. The game has been around for 25 years, which is incredible, but ensuring a growing audience will help guarantee that it's around for another 25.

For (3), the widened audience and familiar IPs will help erase the stigma surrounding Magic. If people can be introduced to the game through characters they already know, then they will be more likely to give it a chance. After all, if a character they like is in the game, then it can't be that bad.

The warm reception of the recent HasCon promos Sword of Dungeons and Dragons, Nerf War, and Grimlock, Dinobot Leader shows that this idea has potential. And while most IPs wouldn't work as full sets, the success of supplemental sets and pre-made commander decks with new cards shows that there are places where they could thrive.

(Thank you Scott Wilson for sharing these with us. Scott can be found on Twitter and Twitch.)


  1. Ooh, I like Magic exploring other IPs!

    1. I'm really interested to see what comes of the transformers ccg Wizards is releasing this fall.

    2. Kingdom Hearts, but for Magic!

    3. I could see supplemental products along these lines for sure - the Orbital Bombardment April Fools joke from however many years ago also proved the concept!

    4. ( for those unfamiliar - not April Fools, but actually promo for Planar Chaos)