Ask Zvi, Part II

Zvi answers more of your questions in this final installment, including “Are there killer combos in formats that are never discovered?”, “What’s the best combo in Standard that doesn’t involve a nine-mana sorcery?”, and “Will your love of combo inadvertently push the combo archetypes when you’re working for Wizards R&D?” Plus, the question that Zvi couldn’t answer!

Q: Do you believe that there are killer combos in formats that are never found – for example, do you think there could was some unknown, yet viable, combo deck in pre-rotation Extended? Or do you think that usually all the good, non-obvious combos are found by the huge Internet Magic community?

A: I think two examples show that we miss things sometimes: The Chicago where we missed Trix shows that we can miss combination decks, and TurboLand is a clear example of a deck that if it were not for me would never have been found. Satoshi Nakamura provided key elements of the deck, but I doubt he would have thought of it in the first place. It’s not the kind of thing that looks good at first glance.

Look at all the decks that only one person thought of and then eventually spread, and consider what would have happened if that player had not found the deck. It might never have been found.

Q: Is there a better and deeper theoretical toolset to analyze Magic with than the one commonly in use now (concepts of card advantage, tempo, and so forth)?

A: I think that the tools are strong, but incomplete. We will keep finding better ways to think about the game, and ten years from now we’ll probably look back at the way we were playing and laugh the same way we laugh right now at the players who played ten years ago.

Q: What’s your opinion on the high financial barrier to entering even the cheaper formats of sanctioned tournament Magic? Do you think rarity should be linked to power (as it is now), or only to oddity/unusualness? Thanks very much, and I hope you really enjoy the new job!

A: Rarity and power are not as linked as people sometimes think. For every Ravenous Baloth, there’s also a Wild Mongrel. Rarity needs to be linked to power to some extent in order to get people excited about opening packs and finding rares… but I think the game strikes a good balance between that and giving you playable cards. Again, look at the competition for an example of a less benign option.

Q: I want to start by saying thanks for all of your contributions to StarCityGames.com and for giving us this opportunity to ask you questions. With that said, I’m curious on how you would go about developing cards and mechanics. I also would like to know what advice you would give to an amateur designer.

A: My advice to an amateur designer is to make sure and ask “why?” as often as possible. When you understand why everything works the way it does, that makes it much easier to design new cards and new ideas (especially for the advanced level), and the same holds true for games other than Magic. I also think that to properly design a game at its highest level, you need to be as familiar with that level of play as you can. Also keep in mind that while you can go back and develop your cards later, I would try and always have a good idea what things are going to cost and what their role will be.

But honestly, I’m not the one to ask for advice; I am the student, not the master.

Q: Zvi, how was the Rochester Vintage tournament? What do you think of Vintage?

A: I wrote a report on Rochester, which should sum up my views on that nicely. For now I have no intention of messing with it unless it is necessary, and I think things are going well.

Q: Why isn’t White reanimation stronger than it is, and why does Black have the primary reanimation capabilities?

Flavorfully, White is the color of resurrection, revival of both, mind and spirit, while Black just brings back the bodies for reuse.

I think this should be reflected in the reanimated creatures; black doesn’t reanimate the whole creature, only the body, and controls it (mana- or life-upkeep along with weaker body seem like natural drawbacks to respect it), while white resurrects the whole fallen creature, meaning white should get the creature along with all its powers back. White also seems like it would be the color that would summon the spirits of the dead, so cards like Funeral Pyre could seem flavorful for white.

From a mechanical standpoint, I find it even more important. White lacks library manipulation and card advantage, and the graveyard is the second extremely natural card advantage machine. I think it’d be easy to give white better card advantage abilities by giving it stronger access to graveyard, more ways to keep warriors from dying, etc. while still not breaking the color pie and leaking direct card drawing abilities. I think it’d be the most natural, interesting and effective way to give white card advantage, while also making it less reliant on equipment.

I don’t see any of the disadvantages in it, but plenty of advantages. Hmm, what’s more important: mechanic or flavor?

Mechanics are far more important. You can’t throw flavor away, but if there’s a fair fight then mechanics have to win. Reanimation is a tricky issue. Perhaps it has something to do with the zeitgeist, I’m not sure – but to me, bringing things back from the dead is a lot harder for white than for black. Sure, the good guys can do it, but it needs to be pretty damn important: They claim to have done it once, and two thousand years later they’re still talking about it. Meanwhile, black brings them back for about four summer movies a year and has every right to provoke the ire of she-who-hangs-out-in-cemeteries.

White believes in the rules, and one of the big ones is that death is final. Once you’re dead, you’re dead and hopefully on your way to a better place. No exceptions. (Okay, one exception, but as I said it kind of proves the rule.)

Q: Did you read this post?

A: No.

Q: First off, thank you, Zvi, for all your insight and advice throughout the years to all players around the world. You made Magic what it is today, and for that I am profoundly grateful.

As to my questions: In terms of aggro vs. control vs. combo, how hard should R&D push each archetype in comparison to the others? This can also apply to the blue hosing debate, as blue is primarily a control color (though that may be a bit of a stretch).

Finally, what is your favorite card and why?

A: Thank you for the kind words. I don’t think the three should be pushed relative to each other; there should be a balance, although you want to make sure that beatdown is at least viable in as many formats as possible. If combo decks are out for a year or two, no big loss.

I’ve never really had a favorite card, but if I had to choose it would be something simple like Counterspell or even one of the painlands. Less is more.

Q: What is your philosophy on mechanics that create decks that build themselves? (I ask this question with an eye specifically towards Affinity.)

A: Affinity did not build itself. Consider that the best build turned out to be Vial Affinity – and if I had not pushed that card to players in the face of stiff opposition, the card would have taken far longer to catch on if it had caught on at all, which it might not have.

There are a lot of ways to build a deck. Blue/Green Madness would be an example of a deck that built itself and that we should seek to avoid, even though (again) there are a lot of choices to make. Magic finds ways to stay interesting.

A better way to word the question would be mechanics that can only be used if you build a deck around them… and there I would say that they cannot be avoided but that they are too often pushed. In moderation they are fine, but sometimes things get out of hand – for example, Affinity.

Q: A bit more of a prosaic question…

What will your role as intern at Wizards entail? I assume that it’s more than fetching coffee, but will you be in design, development, or something else?

What would be your dream job at Wizards? Should Maro be looking over his shoulder?

A: I’ll find out when I get there… but as I understand it, I’ll be doing what I do best and not bumbling through the role that people would think of when they hear the word “intern.” It’s not that I wouldn’t do that if I had to, but it’s not exactly my strong suit.

Maro doesn’t need to be looking over his shoulder; I’m not looking to take anyone’s job and if I did I wouldn’t be so silly as to be right over his shoulder. I like to think I’m a better player than that.

Q: Why are blatantly overcosted cards seemingly a necessity? Would shaving a mana off Crawling Filth really make it broken? Similarly, how necessary are cards such as Vigilance, thrown in pretty much just so new players can learn they’re bad? Are such cards really helpful to new players? And if so, would their absence make Magic harder to learn?

A: I don’t know if they would make things that much harder to learn. I think they help, but that help might be minimal.

I do think that they serve a function in Limited by forcing us to make difficult choices: If all the cards were equally good (or at least playable), things would be too easy. It’s also kind of neat when you have to struggle with the choice between not having what you want and paying way too much for it. In the right situation, sideboarding in Crawling Filth could even be the right play. As long as there aren’t too many of these cards, I don’t think they are a problem.

As for Vigilance, it’s a useful ability, but obviously an awful card… but I’ve seen players using Eternal Warrior and being happy with the results. We shouldn’t be elitist and say that simple cards that players can understand and enjoy playing with shouldn’t be printed simply because we know they are objectively bad. Vigilance is a good bad card, since it has the ability to appeal to players.

Q: Is it necessary to make bad cards? I’m not talking about skill-tester cards but about cards that are so bad that no one will play them in Draft, Sealed, or any Constructed format. I know there’s always going to be a last card in a draft pack but I don’t see a point to printing completely unplayable cards.

A: It’s not easy to print a card that bad – and the cards that are unbelievably bad tend to be good (for example, One With Nothing) because we get a good laugh out of them and a few Johnnies try and build decks with them just because they can. At the current rate that cards this bad are printed, I don’t think they are a problem at all.

Q: How did you lose all that weight and get all trim like you did? And, assuming you do not believe it is you, who do you think Magic’s sex symbol is?

A: To give you the short answer, I stopped eating so goddamn much and shut my pie hole. It’s that simple.

As for Magic’s sex symbol, my personal pick would be Rubinia Soulsinger (for those of you who would object, well, you never call) but that’s rather obscure. I’m going to go with Serra Angel. You have to love the classics, although hopefully not that way.

Q: Who are the deck designers you most admire? For which decks? Whom do you consider the best and/or most overrated deck designers? Writers?

A: Well, I’ve answered every question given to me so far… but this time, I need to be diplomatic. I don’t believe it is our place to call out people in public for being overrated. It is at least somewhat a matter of taste who is a good writer, and while I personally do not enjoy some of the writers, I know they serve a purpose. Plus, I don’t feel like getting lynched right about now.

Deck design is similar, especially because the most overrated designers tend to be those who take credit for other people’s work. You know who you are.

If I had to pick a favorite writer, I think I have to choose Flores. He goes off on tangents, he blows things out of proportion, and he keeps using the same examples…. but he offers more quality ideas and flat-out good writing than anyone. For my favorite deck designer right now, I’m going to go with Nassif because he’s constantly innovating and doing things that only make sense in retrospect.

Q: It appears that the most recent sets (Mirrodin and Kamigawa) have contained fewer limited playable cards than sets of the past. Specifically in relation to Draft and Sealed, it has been quite common to go to a limited PTQ, spend $25-$30 and receive a card pool that simply cannot win a slot. Now, I’ve heard more than one writer says “that’s why they have a lot of PTQs,” but that simply isn’t true. For any given Limited season, most players will get a maximum of three PTQs with which to try and Q. I’ve also noted that the print runs do not distribute the “power” cards well.

My questions is: Do you think Wizards is not spending enough time balancing the print runs (specifically common and uncommon) helping normalize card pools for Sealed/Limited events to allow player skill to factor into the results more frequently?

A: Having too many playable cards can actually be bad, because it makes it too easy to build or draft a good deck. At the same time, I do remember walking into Sealed events knowing that if I knew where to look I could almost always assemble a deck that had a chance. I haven’t played enough Sealed decks recently to know if that is still true, but obviously that should be a goal.

Your comment about common runs is interesting, because those runs have a bigger impact than people think. If they’re not being given careful attention, they should be. If they are, and this year’s didn’t. turn out as well as they could have, I hope we can work to improve that.

Q: How big of a consideration should a card “being confusing” be in deciding whether to print it? For example, in the current “You Make the Card” contest, I submitted this:

Give Them The FingerGive Them the Finger



Target player removes his hand from the game. Any player may play those cards as if they were in his or her hand and all colored mana requirements may be paid by either blue mana or their original color.

Ask and ye shall receive.

Note: Flavor text added and wording fixed (including keeping the option to pay the old color, because otherwise you shut players off from their own cards).

A: It’s a neat idea, but it’s completely out of flavor for blue to be able to pull things out of your hand without your exposing them – and at four mana, this is far too powerful even with the fix I put in. Cards that anyone can play are neutral, so even though they probably get first crack this is a lot like a full discard spell. That means it needs to cost at least six mana, even if it is black: I’d have to cost this as at least 3UBB, since you need blue’s ability to control spells and black’s discard and go from there.

Woo, tangent.

As for cards being confusing, it’s a cost to be paid. Like most costs, it can be paid if there is enough upside, and I don’t think this is a dealbreaker at the level of your card. The question is if you need a complex card to do what you’re looking to do. Would a simpler card work? For example, do we need the colored mana exception? It helps the card but it increases the cost. Perhaps you could try this:




Target player removes his or her hand from the game. Any player may play those cards as if they were in his or her hand.

That’s not so confusing, is it? It might even be able to cost five mana instead of six.

Q: What is the relative importance of each of the starting conditions; twenty life? Seven cards in hand? Empty Graveyard? Zero permanents (focusing on basic land in particular)? Deck Minimum? Even the four-of-a-kind limit in Constructed?

A: These numbers control what the cards can do, and by this point the cards would be unbalanced if you changed the initial conditions too much. Twenty life determines the balance of aggression against control: Less life and the advantage swings to the beatdown decks (drastically so if it’s more than a point or two), and the opposite swings it back to control and combo.

Seven cards in hand is the most flexible in theory to me at this point, and it strikes a balance between giving people what they need and making sure they don’t always have what they need. More than eight cards would make it too easy to get what you need most games, and less than seven would lead to a lot of games where one player doesn’t draw the game’s deadliest combination: Land and spells.

An empty graveyard is an odd one, because I never even thought about not starting that way: What died if the game hasn’t started yet? Obviously, there are some cards like Threshold or Flashback that would be abusive with a non-empty initial graveyard, and letting you choose what to put there would be broken, but it wouldn’t do that much to the game to start with random cards in the yard if you stuck with more recent cards.

Zero permanents is vital to the game’s balance and I think it is one of the forgotten virtues of the design: You have to earn everything. If I let you have lands in play to start the game, I devalue early drops and upset the power curve – but most importantly, I reduce the number of potential situations and reduce your need to make your deck consistent. I like cards that let you fix your mana, but I despise the idea of a free lunch.

Q: What are the hidden strengths and the limitations of the turn structure? How would you like to change it? What is your position?

A: The turn structure is one of the few solid rules in Magic. While rules are by their nature restrictive, these allow you to do almost everything you want and I think they work just fine. I see no reason to try and change it.

Q: What’s the best combo deck in Standard, that doesn’t run a nine-mana sorcery?

A: While I haven’t extensively tested current Standard my best guess is Intruder Alarm.

Q: Do you think every color should have Card Drawing, or is it just a blue thing?

A: Card drawing has to be spread around, since it is far too powerful and central to give only to blue. Blue should get the best card drawing, with other colors paying extra. For example, black should pay life that blue wouldn’t have to pay. Green should have those cards tied to creatures and lands, red should have to suffer random card loss, and white should get it from artifacts.

Sorry, white. You lose again.

Q: How would you rank the following design elements from most important to least important, and why?

  • Ability to understand the card.

  • Flavor of the card

  • Power of the card

  • Function of the card (a.k.a, keeping a card within the boundaries of its color)

  • Uniqueness/freshness of the card (a.k.a., doing something new or something old in a new way)

A: Whichever one is in trouble is the most important – the same way that the tires are the most important part of the car when they’re flat, but irrelevant when your transmission blows or you run out of gas.

All but the last of these can be a deal breaker, which is probably why I think that Uniqueness is the quality I value the most.

Q: Gamers, at their most refined level, are often incredibly efficient, knowledgeable, and focused at what they do: play their game. Much of this develops from the synergy of ambition, tenacity, idealism, and surplus time of young people. And, I’d say young people are specifically drawn to popular competitive games because the games are accessible, engaging (by design), and provide for a proving ground among peers or other rewards.

Without any real thought, many great young minds will seamlessly plug into the existing game matrix: a well-developed industry machine built up and kept alive by consumer dollars and professional game development companies. And for that period of time in which they have the freedom to be young and enjoy youth, many of these gamers pursue their game totally. But once these people have started to hit the end of their youth, and they are faced with the daunting task of facing how they are going to make it in life, they come to a crossroads.

Being who you are, I expect you have faced this crossroads and in your own way come to grips with it.

So here is my questions:

Where does the Magic Pro go when he hits these crossroads? What options does he have? What are your thoughts on each?

A: Magic Pros have the same choices as everyone else, but Wizards is doing its best to make being a professional a reasonable long-term choice. You don’t have to leave if you don’t want to, assuming you can make it at the professional level.

Magic players tend to graduate to places where their skill set comes in most useful and try to make money in other ways. Poker is the most popular next destination, and if you can make it on the Pro Tour then you can succeed as a rounder. Others turn to the financial markets or other ways to play for higher stakes than Magic can offer. A lucky few are offered steady jobs that let them continue to play Magic, and a dedicated few end up running stores or other Magic-centric businesses.

Or, of course, you could always decide to become a stand-up comic.

Q: What are the three things you want to accomplish at Wizards R&D and why?

A: That sounds like a job interview question.

The most important thing I want to accomplish at Wizards is to figure out if this is the right thing for me. Perhaps I’ll discover that I don’t enjoy it, or I don’t fit in. It could happen, and I need to make sure this is where I want to be.

The flip side of that would be number two, convincing the powers that be that I am the man for the job (assuming I am indeed that man). The way to do both of these things is to dive right in to the primary task at hand: Making Magic and any other games I work on the best games they can be every way I can. I’m not going on a mission to “rescue blue,” “restore Disenchant to white,” “stop this foil nonsense,” or any such nonsense.

Q: How do you think the game will have developed and how will it be viewed ten years from now – on the

a) Casual level

b) Intermediate level

c) Pro level

Although it has dodged the bullet many times before (“Magic is dying”) what do you think are the greatest threats to the game’s continuing success?

A: A lot can happen in ten years. I’ve got a lot of long term economic worries that are a greater threat to the game than running out of cards to print or losing the interest of players.

If everything goes right, Magic could keep right on growing and get its slots on the card channel alongside the hundred-million-dollar WSOP. I think it is more likely that Magic will remain on the level it is now, as new players come in and old ones move along. I don’t think Magic runs much risk of dying or being forced to migrate online or some other such nightmare. It would take a colossal miscalculation for that to happen.

There are three threats to Magic that I would worry about: The first potential threat is if Hasbro cut off the Pro Tour. An end or severe curtailment of the Tour could quickly cascade downwards with devastating results.

The second threat is another Mirrodin or Urza’s Saga. If it happens once too often (or isn’t handled properly), a lot of people could stop playing and cause a lot of communities to lose critical mass.

The third is the long-term erosion of single card values. I think this is Magic’s biggest long-term problem. We need to get to the core of why the contents of a booster pack tend to be worth so much less than the booster was, which to me is an economic mystery I’d like to get to the bottom of and try to reverse. It obviously makes Magic more expensive in the short-term to elevate singles prices, but it lets players recoup their costs over time and to me that makes the decision to sink money into the game far easier.

Q: Why are you drawn to TurboLand?

A: From my heart and from my hands, why don’t people understand my intentions? Is it real? It’s my creation!

To me, TurboLand is great fun because it offers you the flexibility to play a different game depending on what your opponent is doing. You can be the control deck, you can be a combo deck, and you even end up more or less being the beatdown sometimes. Not many other decks can say that, or say they’re comfortable in all three modes. TurboLand is not the hardest deck to play, but it is the deck that suffered the most from being hard to play. That kept it rogue, even as I demonstrated that it was a winner, up until New Orleans – and that has huge advantages. My opponents wouldn’t know what was going on and threw away match after match. Eugene Harvey spent the finals of New Orleans like a man waiting to be hanged, and he may be America’s best Magic player.

TurboLand allowed me to use all my skills. I needed them all: My extreme speed, my ability to change modes, play combo, play control, test spell in the right order, reading your opponent, thinking five or more turns in advance and building a deck and sideboard no one else would have thought of. My biggest regret with TurboLand is not that I played it too much, but that I didn’t have the right build to play in Houston.

Q: First off, I’d like to echo Klutz’s sentiments… good design, while not trivial, isn’t nearly as important to the long-term health of the game as the advancement of the theory of the game; and there are precious few people working on that theory (and none within Wizards proper). Too few have the background, the intelligence, and the mindset to work on Fermat’s last theorem when the money is in just applying someone else’s theory; science, math, or Magic.

Second, I’ll concede interest and ask for your opinion on something: Enchantments.

The Evolution Of Man-aQuiet Purity costs one mana, Shatter costs two, Cleanfall and Tranquility are three, while Shatterstorm at four was replaced by Granulate at the same price. Enchantments are easier to destroy, local enchantments are even more fragile, and colorless artifacts are by definition easier to use.

And yet, pound-for-pound, mana for mana.. enchantments are weaker in every way than artifacts. They’re fundamental to the flavor of the game, but rarely play worthy beyond Limited, if that.

Is this a problem? If so, is it fixable?

A: Point taken on enchantments. It is true, it is cheaper to remove an enchantment than an artifact but it is more a matter of choice.

Looking back since Mirari’s Wake was rotated out, when is the last time you faced a Tranquility or Quiet Purity? It happens, but not often. Only Naturalize and Creeping Mold are real worries for enchantments these days because enchantments have seen better days. There’s nothing to destroy.

Enchantments have color, so they have the potential to do more than artifacts for the same price. Their enemies are colors that are naturally weaker in other areas, making you pay more to get rid of them and in particular it is harder to get “insurance” removal for enchantments with cards that can go both ways and attack lands or other resources.

Enchantments are important, but I wouldn’t worry about them. The pendulum swings on all things – and if we can have Mirrodin, then a world of enchantments could be coming in a few years for all anyone knows.

Q: Do you think that R&D could not push colors, but just let their natural mechanics guide them? In other words, should they not push stuff like Eternal Witness or print stuff like Blackmail, but just print playable cards in all colors, so we could see which had strategic superiority over the other?

(Introduction cut for length and so that I don’t need to go on a rant.)

A: I cut that because I have a different rant in mind on the term Strategic Superiority. Stop using it. Seriously.

I think all you Vintage players use it so you can feel superior and pompous; it’s academic double-speak for either nothing real or nothing that you can’t say without the term. Even if it is useful, it is vastly overused. To the extent that you need it, we all have many names for it.

Now on to the real question. That’s not pushing colors, that’s pushing cards, although I have no idea what Blackmail is doing in this question. If we never print cards that are a little beyond what you expect, the game wouldn’t be interesting. Sure, we could have a constant set of five hundred bland cards and see who beats who…. but that would rapidly get boring. Those answers should change every four months, or even more often than that.

Q: I guess my basic question would be one of how you go about evaluating cards and decks. How soon can you tell that a deck will be good or bad, and what do you look for to make that determination?

A: In a potentially infinite task like this one, taking too much time is as big a danger as taking too little. The answer is you should decide as soon as you can. If you can look at a card or deck and find a reason why it is not worth your time, you’re ahead of the game (if you don’t make a mistake too often, that is).

I dismiss more than half of any given set’s cards and more than half the deck ideas I think of (or am told about) within five seconds. If I didn’t, I would never get anything done. At other times, I have to reserve judgment because I don’t have enough information.

There are only a handful of cards that can be reliably thought of as good if they have not proven their worth in matches.

Q: What’s your Brownie recipe?

Seriously, though, what helped you gain confidence in yourself at higher level tournaments? I’ve done well at my first Grand Prix and Pro Tour, but I still doubt myself a lot looking forwards to Nationals and so on. I’m wondering how you felt when you had just got on the gravy train and what it took for you to keep on it for so long.

A: The back of the brownie box works wonders; if you want to add, ahem, other “ingredients,” then you’re on your own. But as Ted proved,that’s not how to win at Magic.

Confidence works differently for each player, but to me it is not about thinking you’re going to win or that you’re the best player in the room. What you need to guard against is a lack of confidence that prevents you from playing your best game…. and for me that was never a problem. Once I sat down, I was in the moment. It was time to do everything I could to win the game, and the fact that I spent the first few big tournaments expecting to lose didn’t make any difference. When I played my first real Feature Match in my first senior Pro Tour, things couldn’t have been more dire: Darwin Kastle was playing for a potential top 8 slot, he was a famous Pro with a great resume, and he was 7-0 against my deck type. I expected to lose, but I went out there and played my game and won. I got 12th, and he left wondering who that idiot was who beat him with an Opportunist in his deck.

I will say a few things to try and boost you up: First, you’re here which means that you’re working hard to get better. Not all your opponents can say the same, and that’s a big advantage.

Second, remember Scott Johns: You suck. No, you really do. But by extension, so does the rest of the room so there’s no need to be afraid of them.

Also, remember that anyone can win any given match. This is not chess. I didn’t have confidence in myself until after I got that twelfth place, which helped a lot. If you need more help, I’d refer you to sports psychology. We have the same problems they do in this area.

Q: I was a big fan of how Kamigawa block came out with the whole “designed around flavor” thing – not so much because of the flavor itself, but rather because we ended up without much in the way of prebuilt decks, like Madness, Goblins, or Affinity. Is it better for the game to design cards with that end result, or to go with the old “here’s the deck pieces, now put them together” route? Which do you prefer?

A: I think that any prebuilt decks need to be subtle – but if you don’t know what is going to come out of a format, then you risk not liking what you see. Making sure various strategies seem to be in balance is necessary, as is making sure that new concepts have enough tools to make themselves work. When people start looking for decks, nothing should be obvious – but it would be a mistake to not make sure the tools are there to assemble the usual suspects or utilize new concepts. If that means that a deck or two looks a little prebuilt, that’s unfortunate but perhaps necessary.

Q: Here are two of your often-repeated phrases:

1) Don’t play fair (referring to your preference for Combo)

2) I hate Goblins and everyone who plays them (somewhat paraphrased)

So, my question is how do you think those philosophies will end up affecting your work at Wizards, and by extension, the cards that end up being printed?

…Well, actually, that’s executive summary of the question; now begins my long rambling take on the situation.

It seems like it could go either way. They have said they are going to start out by having you work on deck construction. By observation of their process from the outside, it often seems like one of the main effects of playtesting is that they identify what strategies they want to nerf.

So, it could well be that by having you on the staff you will be able to make the combo decks in house, resulting in them being nerfed, resulting in no combo for the rest of the world.

On the other hand, you could be the combo equivalent of Dan Paskin’s Goblin Spy, working behind the scenes to make sure that combo lives in all it’s glory.

The same situation could apply to Goblins sort of in reverse. You have said that your deck design philosophy is different from several people known for aggressive decks (Paskins, Flores, Jay whose last name I have forgotten). Does this mean that aggressive decks are not your fort̩ Рand if so, does it mean that as much as you might rail against aggressive cards from the inside that your aggro decks might not be as good as the control and combo decks you build, resulting in an impression on the inside that aggro cards need to be pushed a little harder?

Another way of phrasing all this is: “Do you think that your philosophies on good design as a player will be the same as your philosophies of good design as a creator?”

Thanks for the years of service to the community. Although I have publicly called for Wizards to hire you for exactly the job you are getting, I still will miss you as a writer on our side of the fence. For about a year the only reason to subscribe to that other site was to read your articles. I had already subscribed to Star City when you came over here, and then it was like getting two web sites in one.

A: I don’t hate Goblin players – just Goblins. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

Even then, I’ve mellowed quite a bit. The question you ask is a good one, and I think that it depends on everyone involved. Randy ended up being bad for blue when he came in because he’d keep beating everyone with blue decks and they’d keep nerfing them…. but I think we’ve become smarter than that.

The risk with combination decks is that they’ll grow too powerful, so it lets you be more aggressive if you’re confident that you know exactly what they can do. It also doesn’t mean that I can’t build good decks of all types, and my preference for how to win a tournament is different from what I would choose to do in a testing environment with constantly shifting cards.

To answer the direct question directly, yes, I think my views will be different on the inside. One thing I have always excelled at is putting myself in other people’s shoes and looking at problems from other people’s perspectives and maximizing their utility functions rather than mine. That is contrasted with my cluelessness about the basic facts, but once I know enough to shift perspectives I can do it easily. On the inside what matters is making Magic a game that will sell and retain its players, and that is not a question of what I like. It is a question of what the community likes.

Q: What is so wrong about Lightning Bolt?

A: Lightning Bolt makes a mockery of every other red burn spell, allowing you to do three damage for one mana… but what is wrong about it is what it does to the mana curves and the tempo of the game.

When you cast Lightning Bolt, you’re spending one mana to remove almost every two- or three-drop in the game and that is not fair. What is even worse is that it allows you play a one-drop without paying the price. Lightning Bolt is far less likely to sit in your hand and feel dead the way Shock can late in the game. Shock is efficient, but it can be half a card in many matchups where Bolt is a full one. It also makes outright burn strategies too dangerous. As a result, the decision was made that instant speed three damage spells need to cost more than 1R.

Volcanic Hammer is not a problem, so two-mana Bolts are possible…. but that is as good as it will get. Creatures have gotten better and spells have become more expensive, and that’s a good thing for the game if not taken too far. Bob Maher had a good point when he said “Creatures suck. All they ever do is die.” That is no longer true.

Q: On one of the earliest spoilers for Saviors, Pithing Needle was posted as an uncommon. After some discussions about this with friends, we wondered what the real point of it is as a rare. It’s very powerful – but no less powerful than say, Sensei’s Divining Top or Eternal Witness. Especially since it’s a sideboard card that is highly sought-after in almost all formats, wouldn’t it have made sense to make this card more accessible? What reasons can you think of for keeping it rare?

A: I think that going after cards by name is a rare ability, because it has the ability to piss off casual players and requires skill to use properly. It also increases complexity, and that should be reason enough. It is most certainly not about power level, but rather about this card being rather exotic. That’s why you keep it rare – but if I had thought this many decks would want it, I would have suggested bumping it down to uncommon to test the waters with the expectation that I would have been correctly shut down.