You’re a Designer, Harry! #1 – Howdy, Folks
Hi, I’m Squirrel. My affinity for squirrel decks started about a decade ago.
Hi, I’m Luigi. During college, it was common to see me garbed in clothing resembling those that belong to a familiar, green-hatted Italian plumber.
Hi, I’m @bradleyrose . I most frequently tweeted and followed Magic-related “tweeps” during The Great Designer Search 2.
But, most importantly…
Hi, I’m Bradley Rose. I won’t be writing Magic strategy articles here. Neither will I be writing about any other non-sanctioned kinds of Magic like Commander or Cube. Nay, my articles will be related to Magic design.
What in Tarnation’s Goin’ On Here?!
I love game design, especially Magic: The Gathering design, and, perhaps like you, I’ve been reading Mark Rosewater’s Making Magic column for many years. In the summer of 2009, the now-defunct Bragster.com teamed up with Wizards of the Coast for a set of contests for the site users to partake in, and one of those contests was to “Design Your Own Card.” I ended up winning that contest, which resulted in me having a neat trophy in the form of an encased giant replica of my card, as you can see:
Fast-forward a bit over a year, and we have the Great Designer Search 2 happening. I partook with the other 1000+ applicants, and I ended up in the Top 101. That puts me somewhere around the top 10% or so of the applicants, so that’s something, right? And my single significant contribution toward the Top 8 was Devon Rule employing my “tripling” rare sorcery cycle for his challenge (He was required to use a minimum amount of public designs). And, like a few others, I continued working on my set alongside the Top 8 as part of what the community came to call “mock challenges.”
So that brings me to here.
What I’m doing with the articles I write is practicing Magic design. I’ll be building a set from the ground up and discussing the decisions I make to move the set forward, and we’ll learn about Magic design in that way. However, reading my articles is more than just watching me talk; my readers are involved, too.
Each week, the set will grow more and more towards completion with specific goals in mind for the following week. And for each of these weekly articles, you can leave your feedback as comments on the article. There might grow discussions about the design decisions for the set, which is great, and the set is impacted for the better. One mind, one set of eyes alone will most likely miss a few opportunities, a few better decisions that could have been made along the way of designing the set. That’s where you come in.
Oh, boy. This could be the first step in an epic journey (because I have no idea what experiences are to come in the future from this), so… *takes a deep breath* O.K. Let’s get started:
Alrigh’ Pardner, Draw! …The Line
First, we need an idea for a central theme for a Magic: The Gathering set. This can be from one of two aspects of Magic: flavor and gameplay. A good example for each is Scars of Mirrodin’s Mirran-Phyrexian war (flavor) and Zendikar’s “land matters” (gameplay) themes.
At this point, we’ve got a metaphorical blank piece of paper, and there’s really not much suggestion you can give with where we should go next when there’s no first line drawn to go off of. Except, we can reference all the previous metaphorical papers (Magic sets) that have come before, filled with all sorts of scribbles and lines. We can definitely see where NOT to go. We probably shouldn’t do a set about an artificial plane made out of metal, then.
But, we have to start somewhere, so I’m going to draw the first line, and we’ll all build off of it from there. Here’s the theme: “four colors matter.”
There’s an issue that comes with dedicating to the “four colors matter” theme, though. A normal four-color card needs to cost at least four mana. And it’s not just that, four-mana cards that have four colors (an even more difficult-to-cast cycle than the Woolly Thoctar cycle) would require the caster, to efficiently cast it on turn four (if it was a creature, especially), to have four different types of mana available. Without designing the set accordingly, there would be too high variance in the decks that attempt to employ the power of four-cost four-color cards. This would be a problem for Limited and Standard environments.
However, another issue is that one, two, and three-mana cost cards can never be four-color (normally). Sure, there can be cards that relate to the “four colors matter” theme without being four colors, but having NO four-color cards at the lower mana costs is definitely something to address.
And then there’s another issue with “four colors matter” that was a similar problem in Alara Reborn. The issue, as described in detail by Tom LaPille here, is that since there would be an increase in the number of multicolor cards in the set to accommodate trying to fulfill the four colors theme, the average pack’s card options to the average player would be impacted. A blue-red deck player would have less of those mono-color red and mono-color blue cards they normally get from a booster pack that would go into his or her deck when this set’s theoretical booster pack is filled with more blue-black, red-white, and whatnot cards to replace those mono-colored cards.
This is where your feedback can matter because it’s the decisions made from this point that is open for debate.
The easiest solution to this problem is to bring back hybrid (Though, I believe it’s also a pretty good solution, not just easy). Hybrid allows for adding colors at half the “mana-symbol cost.” Here’s an example of a four-color card that takes half as much colored mana symbols:
(Forgive the poor quality of the card being shown. It’s a photo of the card image on a computer screen. Don’t ask.)
So, as you can see, this is a four-color card with two less colored mana symbols. A different card could have a mana cost of two and still have four colors. Could a card with single mana have four colors? Now that’s just crazy. Unless a mechanic is involved that says, “CARDNAME is white, blue, black, and red.” Which seems to be a pretty terrible mechanic, because to make it symmetrical, there would have to be four other mechanics like it. Something like “Mechanic X: Green (This permanent is white, blue, black, and red.)” …I’m digressing.
And with hybrid, the problem I mentioned before that the Alara Reborn design team had is solved (and they used hybrid, too). But with hybrid returning to yet another Magic expansion, there should also come something new done with it.
Hybrid returned to Shadowmoor block and brought with it new things like allowing an excess of mana symbols, one example of which being the Godhead of Awe cycle. The most notable twist with hybrid, however, was the Flame Javelin cycle where it was two colorless mana OR one colored mana. And, of course, Eventide showcased enemy-color pairings to offset the Shadowmoor ally-color pairings.
In Alara Reborn, it was used as a tool (much like for our set) to solve a design issue, but it also introduced the twist of hybrid gold cards (usually a hybrid card wasn’t gold, since it could always cast with one color of mana. You can see this by looking at the card border. Compare Noggle Bandit with Sewn-Eye Drake). However, to achieve the “gold”, a third constant mana symbol was used which forces the caster of the spell to use at least two colors of mana.
The “new thing” that this set would have would be introducing four-color hybrid (gold) cards (there doesn’t exist any, but Reaper King exists for five-color.), and thus, enabling gold cards that have a mana cost with pure hybrid mana symbols. Though, to clarify, these complex-colored hybrid cards would technically be a hybrid of different gold mana costs (there’s four different combinations available, but you gotta pick two colors), just as “original hybrid” is a hybrid of different mono-color mana costs. So, you’d call these, like with Marisi Twinclaws, hybrid gold cards.
Now that I’ve set forth my argument for using hybrid for this set for the four-color theme, there’s one more thing to figure out: The flavor of the set. What kind of a world would involve a need to go just four colors and not five? Is it like the world of Alara where the world was splintered into five shards, each missing two colors of mana? Or is it like the guild system of Ravnica? I have no propositions so far, since that’s more of the Creative part of R&D at Wizards of the Coast. It’s still very important, though, since the design builds off the flavor, and the flavor builds off the design. And if I don’t get any feedback in this department from you guys, I’ll have to make the decision on my own, so it’s going to be done anyway. You have your chance now to impact how the flavor of this Magic set is.
Ridin’ Into the Sunset
So, that’s it. I’ve introduced myself, set the stage for our set we’ll design, and proposed the first move for the set’s “four colors” theme to be hybrid. Keep in mind that there could be a nice new mechanic that any of you can come up with that tackles handling four colors just as well or even better than hybrid (or simply supports hybrid, but that’s a step ahead into the future articles). And don’t forget the flavor part, the other side of the coin of this set, still needs its first step.
I recognize that maybe I have some readers that are just newly interested in Magic: The Gathering design, and, as such, some of the terms/phrases/etc. may go over your head. If you’re confused by something I said, you can make a comment, and I’ll clarify.
Thanks for reading, everybody. Next week we talk about the first attempt at flavor and see what we’ve accepted (hybrid or something else) as the first aspect of the gameplay of the set confirmed (Also, nothing is set in stone as the design progresses. Sometimes, things need to be scrapped for the sake of the betterment of the set, no matter how cool it is).