You’re a Designer, Harry! #2 – What Can I Get You Folks?

Welcome (back), designers! For those who’ve missed the last article or need a refresher:


This “You’re a Designer, Harry!” column I’m writing (Ah, I should have picked a better name!) is related to Magic: The Gathering design. Instead of just designing a Magic set, I’ve decided to write about the process as well, which you can read about every Wednesday here on Red Site Wins. However, this is more than just following the process I go through creating the set, as my readers are involved in the design of the set as well. What I mean is that the design and creative decisions that go into defining the set are open to be affected by the readers from their feedback. You can write a comment at the end of this article about why a certain thing should be a certain way or suggest a new idea for another aspect of the set, and etc. (or you can tweet me at @bradleyrose). I’m like the lead designer of the set, and you (if you so choose to be), in addition to other participating readers, are part of my design team.

So here’s where we’re at now in designing this Magic set: The theme of the set is “four colors matters.” Taking into consideration the input I’ve received from last week, I’ve decided to bring back hybrid to support the “four colors matters” theme. This is in terms of gameplay mechanics for the set.

Might I Suggest a Bottle of…?

Jay Treat suggested a couple of radical ideas to consider regarding the “four colors matters” theme: Anti-mana and literally a four-color block.

Anti-mana, represented by !C, where C is one of the colors, like W, means all colors except that one. So, if you have the !W symbol in the mana cost, it means you could pay for it with blue, black, red, or green. To me, this looks like a “super hybrid” mana symbol, where it goes beyond two colors. This could be something for later in the block, so we’ll keep anti-mana in mind.

And a four color block would be missing a color from the whole set. And, a further suggestion from Jay would be to have black be missing to balance out the set Torment, which had an imbalanced ratio of colors, being heavy black (Judgment sought to restore balance by being heavy green-white, but I digress). I’m disinclined to go in this direction since the balance of the five colors in terms of the color pie is very important, and when it comes to removing a color (and the associated gameplay mechanics), it feels like it would have to be handled very carefully. And then we’d need to figure out what this means creatively and for how the rest of the sets in the block would turn out. Perhaps a five-set block?

Lastly, in terms of gameplay, troacctid mentioned split cards. In the past, split cards have always been sorceries or instants. And they’ve been monocolored on each side, multicolored on each side, and even had each side be the same color (this is probably not the way we want to go if we even employ split cards). Now, about the card types… if we ever did permanent types on the split cards, I imagine all hell can break loose. Even if it’s something as simple as artifacts and enchantments. Because you can animate an artifact into a creature, would that mean a double-artifact split card become two creatures on one card? How do you handle that? Does it have banding or something? The reason why this might be the case is because, as per the rules for split cards, a split card has all the characteristics of each side in every zone other than the stack. As a creature, it would have two powers and toughnesses. Yikes. Well, we don’t have to permanents, anyway. We can always innovate in terms of making one side a sorcery and the other an instant. That’s never been done before. But, if we’re not going to do permanents, then that would mean the purpose of split cards being multicolor might be for naught depending on the “four colors matter” mechanic. If the mechanic depended on the casting of four colors (it would have to be intricately designed to accommodate that), split cards aren’t even all of their colors on the stack anyway. It only takes on the characteristic of one side. Hmm.

Or How About a Bubbly of…?

As for the creative side (the flavor), reader Preston suggested basically this:

The plane is a world divided into five different civilizations, all separated by geographical barriers. Each of these geographical barriers are aligned with a color of mana that separates a single civilization from the rest. The civilizations are trapped within their barriers and each one decides that the mana associated with the barrier trapping them is something to not embrace. Thus, each of the civilizations only employ four colors of mana in their way of life. With only four colors of mana, each civilization have grown to be very different from one another. Think like the shards of Alara, except, with four colors of mana (and different flavor reasons for separation, of course).

And as each civilization grows, they aim to overcome the geographical barrier that suppresses them. Eventually, those barriers will be broken, and they’ll each discover four other civilizations. But, how did those geographical barriers come about in the first place? That’s something I’d like feedback on. Is it a naturally occurring phenomenon? Is this how the plane works? Is there a scheming antagonist behind this, like Nicol Bolas?

First, I’m going to go on an aside. For those of you who don’t know, each of the mana symbols used on cards have a corresponding letter (white: W, blue: U, black: B, red: R, green: G). This is useful to know because, at least in design, whenever a mana cost or other mana symbols used elsewhere is referenced, the letters are used to communicate those mana symbols. For example, Runeclaw Bear costs 1G. Cancel costs 1UU. And so on.

So, anyway, you can try to imagine what each of the different civilizations would be like if they grew without a color of mana. What would the WUBR civilization be like? What about the RGWU civilization? I would repeat what Preston suggested for the flavor of each of the civilizations, but, for those of you who haven’t read his comments on my article last week, I’d rather you to not be biased in whatever worlds you come up with on your own.

However, what may possibly aid you in your take of each civilization is a suggestion by Jay Zeffren via Twitter: Take each of the guild philosophies (the two color pairings) and subtract all guilds that exclude the “missing color.” For example, if a civilization is lacking green mana, then have it be the opposite of the values and ideals that are represented by the WG, UG, BG, and RG guilds. Hopefully, this will spark your creativity.

And What Name Might This Reservation Be Under?

Reader koga305 brought up a point where since this set would debut these four-color groupings, we’d need a good name for that type of grouping as well as good names for each of these groupings. For example, each of the ten dual-color pairings is called a guild. And each guild has a name, like Boros and Izzet. Each three-color (allied) trifecta is called a shard, and each shard has a name, like Bant and Jund. Informally among many Magic players, the enemy-colored three-color  groupings, such as WUR, are called wedges. So, what are we going to call a four-color grouping? And what are we going to call each of these groupings (I referred to them as civilizations when describing the flavor of the world above, but that was just for ease of explanation).

We’ll Start with an Appetizer, Followed by the Main Entree, Then… Dessert!

pureval suggested that we could divide up the civilizations across multiple sets, like the Ravnica block. I think this would be a great idea, and here’s why: The first set, being the large set, typically, would introduce three of the five civilizations. Since a large set has four keyword mechanics, we could devote three of  these mechanics to each of the civilizations, and the fourth mechanic can be used for supporting the “four colors theme” itself. The second set can introduce the remaining two civilizations and introduce two new mechanics, like a second set does. The third set could represent what happens with all of these five civilizations meeting up / other things happening with antagonists, etc.

Would You Like a Box to Go?

We’re not going to get into the nitty-gritty of card designing just yet for those of you anxious to be involved in that since we’re going to need to handle the world-building, gameplay mechanics, and overall set/block design. So, here’s what we’re going to be tackling until next week:

  • What do you think of anti-mana?
  • Should we change direction and go for a four color set? If so, how would you suggest going about it?
  • In terms of the world of civilizations being trapped within geographical barriers representing a color of mana each, what would each of these civilizations, that developed with one missing mana, be like? Think about their philosophy, their way of life.
  • What do we call each of these civilizations? And what is a four-color grouping called? Faction? Society? Nation? etc.
  • If you think we’re going to be sticking with the set the way it is now, and not go with a set missing a whole color like black, then you can go ahead and start thinking of new keyword mechanics that support “four colors matter.”
  • In conjunction with the last bullet points, fitting to each civilization, what would their identifying mechanic be?

…And Here is Your Check.

Next week, if we’re sticking with the civilizations divided world, I’ll be posting a culmination of the ideas of the world based on the feedback on this article. Also, possibly what’s antagonizing these civilizations with the geographical barriers. Then, from there, I’ll be listing my brainstormed keyword mechanics that would go with each one. This is in addition to the “four colors matter” keyword mechanic.

All right, so that’s what we have for this week. I’d love to hear your comments, questions, suggestions, critiques, and concerns; and I’m excited with where the set is taking off. Talk to you soon!




About Bradley Rose

I'm a Timmy/Johnny Melthos red/white/blue kind of guy. And, no, that combination doesn't have anything to do with an affinity for the United States. Here's how I got into Magic: Once upon a time (let's say the year 2000), I bought my first Magic: The Gathering product in the form of a starter of ...Starter 2000. And that's when Trained Orgg's eyes and mine met for the first time. It was true love. Until I traded most of my Magic cards away for Pokemon ones. Whoops. O.K, so once upon a time (This time, 2001), I got into Magic: The Gathering with a shiny new One-Two Punch theme deck of the Odyssey set. And, surprisingly enough, I didn't trade away my ol' Trained Orgg, so in the deck it went, and we fell in love all over again. Flash-forward nearly a decade, and I've won the / Wizards of the Coast "Design Your Own Card" contest. That was neat, but then, a few months later, the Great Designer Search 2 happened. I managed to make it to the top 101 of the 1000 applicants. So, after years of reading Mark Rosewater's Making Magic column along with a rising interest in game design, I managed to prove that (while not the best) I'm more of a Magic designer than the average bear. I'll keep working on putting more ranks in my Magic design skill, and the design articles I write here will help me do just that. Hopefully, any of my readers with a serious interest in Magic design would feel inclined to pursue their interest as well, either by participating in my collaborative design articles or working on making Magic on their own. This effort toward improving my Magic design capabilities correlates somewhat with a single goal I would like to accomplish before I die: Have lunch with Mark Rosewater. Also, I still have that Trained Orgg, and we're still madly in love with each other.

Posted on April 13, 2011, in Articles, You're a Designer Harry!. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. In regard to the names of the civilisations. I was thinking they could be colonies. With one word representing who they are in a nutshell. For example, the civilisation without black could be called the ‘purity colony’.

    Furthermore this would be handy for decks names. Someone could just say ‘ohh you’re playing a purity deck?’. I’ve just tried to come up with seperate names off the top of my head using prestons descriptions:

    UBRG (no white): Cunning Colony
    GWBR (no blue): Instinct Colony
    WURG (no black): Purity Colony
    GWUB (no red): Knowledge Colony
    WUBR (no green): Unnatural Colony

    Again, these were on the fly.

    Furthermore, I’m getting the feeling that the Unnatural Colony would have a fair bit of equipment in it. So they could have a bonus for being equipped (a lot like the Kor).

    The Knowledge colony rewards the curious. So they could have a benefit from the player drawing cards.

    The Purity Colony is all about being honourable and pure. So perhaps a benefit from lifegain?

    The Instinct Colony I had problems with. But I think I have an idea for them. It’s a bit loose but it might reward. The Instinct Colony rewards chaos and unpredictibility. Instant Spells can bring chaos and unpredicitibility to the game – especially during an opponents turn. So if the player uses an instant spell during an opponents turn then their creatures gain +1/+0 for the rest of the game (or until killed)

    The Cunning Colony I’m also having trouble with. But I have the name for a mechanic specifically for them. ‘Sleight of Hand’. Though I can’t think of how a mechanic could work for them.I’ll just leave it up in the air for others to suggest or something.

    Anywho, good work on the articles. I’m really loving the fact a load of people are coming up ideas 🙂

    • Stevie,

      The suggestion of the word colony for the four-color groupings is fine, however, we need to move one step beyond “Cunning Colony” and the likes for the individual names. Those initial labels you’ve used are good, though, since they can help you in your defining of gameplay mechanics and describing the types of civilizations they are.

      So far, you’re describing mechanical identities, such as the Unnatural Colony being associated with equipment (that’s pretty good since both white and red have had associations with equipment, and blue has an affinity with artifacts. And green hates artifacts. That leaves black, but so far, that’s a good suggestion). So, if we’re going to have an equipment identity in terms of gameplay with the nongreen colony, we’re going to want a new keyword mechanic that cards from this colony will have that cares about equipment, being equipped, etc. Or maybe you’ll be even bolder and go beyond a keyword mechanic and do something like make equipment creatures (I dunno, something.) An example of some “equipment matters” mechanics I can show you:

      Gadgeteer ( Whenever an Equipment with no counters on it attaches to this creature, put a charge counter on it. If you do, draw a card.)
      Armorer (Equip costs paid to attach Equipment to this creature cost {1} less.)
      Passmaster (Whenever an Equipment unattaches from this creature and equips a creature you control, untap this creature.)
      Weaponry — Whenever an Equipment enters the battlefield under your control, SOME KIND OF EFFECT THAT VARIES WITH EACH CARD JUST LIKE WITH LANDFALL.

      And so on. The number of combinations you can do with conditions and effects to make mechanics is unfathomable. You can have the Gadgeteer mechanic gain you life or destroy a creature instead (some effects are terrible design decisions, though, just like where you can go wrong in many other ways, too). And the mechanic conditions and effects would need to keep in mind the rest of the set, such as the “four colors matters” theme mechanic.

      But that’s if this grouping will even care about equipment at all. We’ll see.

      As for your suggestion with the Instinct Colony, I’m not sure if you know, but having a permanent effect (staying beyond one turn) on creatures would need to have a marking that could stay on them to show that. Memory issues would result if there’s no marking. In this case, I would suggest using a counter. If it could get a +1/+1 bonus, then we can just use +1/+1 counters. Otherwise, perhaps SomeKindOfName counters that, while on the creature, grant them “+1/+0”. Fervor counters? Angry counters? Love-dovey counters (now I’m just being silly)? You get what I mean.

      Thanks as ever for your input, Stevie!



      • I think I understand what you’re trying to say. Sorry, if I appear slightly newb-ish. I’ve only been playing magic for 1-2 month(s) so i’m not really familiar with most things.

        Anywho. I’ve been thinking of backstories and descriptions for these civilisations. I’ll use the names I came up with as pure placeholders (until something better comes along)

        I’ve been looking at words often associated with each colour. I’m thinking if I do this and gain an understanding of what makes each colour work and then note similarities between the colours from the different ‘colonies’ then creating mechanics will be easier. Furthermore, I consider myself a creative individual when coming up with background and stories. So I’m also working on that for each ‘colony’.

      • Stevie,

        Don’t worry about appearing slightly newb-ish. I believe you’re way ahead of the game for the amount of time you’ve been playing. Playing the game of Magic is still SO ripe for discovery, let alone delving into the world of Magic design.

        An important note for back stories and descriptions for the civilizations, as the people working at Magic has since discovered, is that the stories told to be translated onto the cards have to be about the environment. Each block (the year-long bunch of sets, usually coming in three sets such as Scars of Mirrodin, Mirrodin Besieged, and New Phyrexia) in modern Magic usually takes place on a plane (or an existence where the world or worlds is/are). Scars of Mirrodin block takes place on the plane of Mirrodin, and the block’s story is about the plane being compleated (infected, transformed, and taken over) by the Phyrexians and how the Mirrans fight the Phyrexians for their home of Mirrodin. This is about the whole plane, not just about a few characters. The reason why I say this is that having a story be about characters is less effective when it’s on a bunch of card pieces that players typically see in a random order.

        However, this design principle doesn’t apply to the Magic novels. The novels are actually about characters in the planes of the Magic sets. But, this isn’t a Magic novel-writing column. This is about designing Magic cards. But, I thought I’d mention that in case you’re confused why there are character-centric stories in the novels.

        About the words that describe each color: There’s some articles that would help you understand each color’s philosophy by Magic Head Designer Mark Rosewater (White, Blue, Black, Red, and Green), and there is even more reading, which I’ll provide to everyone in tomorrow’s column. In the meantime, you can read those core color philosophy articles.

        I’m sorry that I didn’t link to them in my previous article since it would have been useful to you and others perchance in coming up with the separate worlds creatively.

        Thanks, again, Stevie!



  2. To be short, I like the concept of antimana. Would spells completely exclude the use of that one particular color when casting? It would seem only appropriate. I envision “spheres of existence” that are being pummeled by a vast titanic conduit of the excluded color. This force or being or god will go to great lengths to become the master of the “sphere” that has shunned it completely. At the same time the denizens of the sphere draw on the mana of the other Forces to survive and exist. It hs become a vicious cycle that risks breaking apart should one Force grow too strong or too weak. The spheres might be completely different planets but that seems too similar to Alara. Instead, the spheres might all be vast outposts as large as continents, but outside of which no one ventures but those exiled and those insane enough to incur the wrath of a Force. What lies beyond a Sphere, no one knows.

    • Stric9,

      The concept of “spheres of existence” does indeed evoke similarities to the shards of Alara. Leaving each civilization to be in a imperfect (non-spherical) area trapped by a natural-looking barrier (which may be a sphere in at least one case) feels better and less like the five distinct worlds of Alara.

      However, the concept that each civilization drawing upon the colors of mana to survive and exist their excluded color (and grow beyond the barrier the force provides) weakens the power of the other forces trapping the other civilizations is a very interesting one and may possibly explain the weird block structure of dividing the five civilizations between the first two sets. The first set introducing three civlizations just shows that they were able to emerge beyond their trappings first. As for having unknown lands in the middle of all these continents, that could be where the third set comes in, where it shows what the heck was going on with the mana barriers (and who the block’s antagonist is).

      Thanks for feedback!



  3. “Wedges” and—to an extent—”Shards” describe the shapes that come from cutting the color “pie” in those ways, so we could call the four-color groupings “Pac-men” since that’s the shape they take. That obviously won’t work at a creative level, but is descriptive enough for design/development.

    If you do use anti-mana, I absolutely agree with your assertion that there should be no colorless mana on such cards. They’re already almost as easy to cast as artifacts anyhow.

    If you decide to split the pacmen up between sets, like they did with giulds in Ravnica, be cognizant of how that will affect draft at each step. If set 1 is !W, !U & !B and set 2 is !R & !G, will there be a lot of viable strategies when drafting set2, set1, set1? I guess I could take red and black cards from each pack. Actually, how will this even work for set 1? Do I choose a color and draft every card not of that color or do I choose three colors and draft all the cards of the two pacmen that share those colors or do I choose two colors and draft from all three pacmen or do I choose one color? Will the strategies be distinct enough for it to matter, but similar enough for cross-pacman synergy?

    If this is shaping up to be a sequel to Ravnica or the love-child of Ravnica and Shards of Alara, you’re setting the bar for yourself *really* high. Ravnica is literally the most beloved block of all time. I’m not convinced WotC can make a good enough sequel to it.

    Okay, pacman is a terrible name for these uber-shards. Thought I’d try it out and it just feels consistently wrong. *shrug*

    • Jay,

      Using Pac-Men was pretty good for “design to reference”, but then again, guilds don’t have a special kind of association with a “pie” that it’s sliced from. And “wedges” are informal, anyway, and “shards” are, as you mentioned, an “extent” in describing how they’re cut from the color pie. So, I think it might be best to ignore the pie shape for now. Though, I enjoy your testing of the term of “Pac-Man” for each civilization. I love me some Pac-Man.

      For anti-mana, I haven’t yet decided whether they should be saved for the third set as an evolution step of hybrid, or whether anti-mana is the first set innovation that hybrid needed to provide upon its return (Well, besides “double hybrid” gold cards). But, if anti-mana is included in the first set, I’m afraid that there might be too much complexity. “Whoa, new guilds, new four color mechanical theme, excessive gold and hybrid (especially the new “double hybrid”) cards, as well as “four-color” mana?! Information overload!”

      For the splitting of the civilizations betwen the first two sets, I was thinking about the implications for draft in terms of how many colors are present among the civilizations in each set. For the first set, UBRG (!W), RGWU (!B), GWUB (!R) might be how it’s laid out, which would mean, if we do a sum of all the colors present, there’s: 2W 3U 2B 2R 3G. The ratio for !U and !G is 25%, and for the rest, it’s about 16.66%. And then when you consider hybrid helping out casting, I’m thinking it might be fine. I’ll have to look at the skeleton of gold/hybrid cards and the ratios to see the presence of each color between the two sets. You bring up a crucial point, Jay.

      And, no, I didn’t want this to become a sequel to Ravnica since I haven’t read any of the novels associated with Ravnica, and I didn’t even play during that time (I quit for a time after Fifth Dawn. I regret doing so!), which might make me more “out of touch” to the “feel” of Ravnica. As for whether this is the love-child of Ravnica and Shards of Alara, I’m not sure what the criteria would be for people to consider it so. Is it the fact that it’s exploring the four-color “Pac-Men”? Then I can see why. In that case, we’d better not settle for mediocre! However, it feels like something fun and relatable to explore for the collaboration with the readers. In the end, we’ll learn from it. i hope there’s not too much disappointment with the collaborators if the set turns out to be “blah.”

      Thanks, Jay. We’ve got our work cut out for us (Well, I suppose it’s always like this since design is supposed to be a difficult task).



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: