Insider Trading – Making 11th Edition (Part 1)

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Thursday, December 4th – Ben’s tackled the Reserve list, Judge Promos, and other reprint-related themes during his run on Insider Trading. What happens when our author tackles the largest reprint set of all – the Core set? Find out when Ben turns his eye to 11th Edition; what would Ben include? What would Ben leave out? And in the end, which 249 cards would Ben include in the set?

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Insider Trading. I’ve been toying with the concept of doing an article about 11th Edition for quite a while; in fact, it’s one of the articles in my crib notes for “what could I write about as part of Insider Trading?” I’ve put off writing this article for two reasons:

1) I didn’t think it could be condensed down to just one article, and be done right. The scope and breadth of issues tackled in this particular series are not just “hey, which 249 cards do I think will be reprinted in 11th Edition?, but “What is Wizards of the Coast likely to do with 11th Edition, how have we reached this point of Magic’s history (16 years in) that they will make these decisions, and how would I do things differently?”

… and…

2) This article builds on a few themes I’ve touched on with previous articles: thoughts behind the reserve list, choices for reprints (mostly dealing with Promo cards), and an understanding of the Magic market in broad, general terms.

I feel like this is the time to start this series; we’re still pretty far out from 11th Edition so as no information has really leaked about the set (not even the bi-annual “You Make The Set” vote), and we’re at a good point between the last release/format (Shards and Standard) and the next release/format (Conflux and Extended).

In Mark Rosewater‘s article “The Year of Living Changerously,” Mark spelled out that 11th Edition, barring some last-minute changes, would be 229 cards (249 if you count the 20 basic lands). This is identical to the breakdown of Shards of Alara; and if the Shards numbers hold true, we’re looking at one of two configurations for the rarity breakdown of 11th Edition.

Unchanged from Shards:
20 Basic Lands
101 Commons
60 Uncommons

The other two possibilities:
15 Mythics/53 Rares
60 Rares

Magic cards are printed on sheets that contain 121 cards. For Shards, the breakdown is as follows:
On the Common sheet, there likely one of each Common, and one of each Basic Land (101 + 20 = 121)
The Uncommon sheet likely contains two copies of each Uncommon, and a placeholder (60 + 60 = 120)
The Rare Sheet contains two copies of each rare, and one copy of each Mythic (53 + 53 + 15 = 121)

If 11th Edition has Rares but no Mythics, it would stand that there would be 53 Rares and 15 Mythics, just like a standard-sized base set. The other likely scenario would be 60 Rares, each printed twice on the Rare sheet, allowing for a similar situation to the Uncommon sheet. (Less likely solutions include there being 121 unique Rares, 10 Mythics + 50 Rares, or 5 Mythics + 58 Rares).

Let’s take a look at the distribution of rares-by-color for 10th Edition (121 Total Rares):

Black: 19
Blue: 19
Green: 19
Red: 19
White: 19
Artifact: 16
Land: 10
Total: 121

The ten lands above were the full cycle of Pain Lands from Ice Age/Apocalypse/9th Edition. In the best-case scenario of 60 Rares in a 229-card 11th Edition set, the rarity breakdown might be as follows:

Black: 9
Blue: 9
Green: 9
Red: 9
White: 9
Artifact: 5
Land: 10

If we’re looking at Mythics, the breakdown gets even narrower:

Black: 7 (2 Mythic
Blue: 7 (2 Mythic)
Green: 7 (2 Mythic)
Red: 7 (2 Mythic)
White: 7 (2 Mythic)
Artifact: 8 (5? Mythic)
Land: 10

It’s actually really difficult to get a balance of Mythics into the base set, because likely you’d have to make three of the 7-8 Rares in each color Mythic (at the expense of having Artifacts in the set), or cut out/down the cycle of Lands (to 5) to accommodate a 9th (or 10th) rare for each color. Shards of Alara sidestepped this problem by having a lot of Mythic-Rarity Gold (multi-colored) cards.

What happens to gold cards? They fall into the Magic Abyss – never to be seen again unless a once-every-ten-year freak set (Chronicles in the 90’s, Time Spiral in the 2000’s) fits in a few of these multi-colored cards. And seriously, there are a lot of really great, simple Gold cards out there that should see the light of day again! There are dozens of Gold cards that are perfect for use in the base set – cards that are simple and clean – but are barred because Wizards views multi-colored card as too confusing for the beginning player. Consider Terminate, Recoil, or Armadillo Cloak – simple, elegant, and lost for reprinting because they are Gold.

I once wrote an article about Legendary Creatures and the base set. To paraphrase myself, I said that it was bad sense to keep Legendary Creatures out of the base set, because A) It’s a mechanic that is repeated in virtually every set ever printed, and B) a lot of Legendary Creatures are iconic, and iconic creatures help sell product.

Can’t say whether or not Wizards took my advice, but 10th Edition not only featured Legendary Creatures for each color, but used one (of two for each color) as the names and centerpieces of each of the Theme Deck – and I think that worked out well for all involved.

Gold cards are one of my two no-brainer additions to the base set (I’ll talk about the other one in next week’s article, but it’s probably not what you think). Wizards might argue that Gold cards are ‘too confusing’ to the beginning player – but we’re talking about a mechanic that is the most popular mechanic that blocks are based around!

I mean, think about it for a second – Wizards rarely will use a block theme twice, but Gold cards have been the central theme of a block an astonishing three times now! These block are Invasion block, Ravnica Block, and Shards of Alara block. Depending on where you view hybrid cards on the Multi-colored spectrum, you could argue Shadowmoor/Eventide, but I’m personally not ready to go there on this argument. Let’s look at the numbers of just pure gold cards. Let’s discount the Base sets, Portal sets, and box sets. I’ll bold the sets that contained Gold cards.

Arabian Nights/Antiquities/Legends/The Dark/Fallen Empires/Homelands/Chronicles (3/7)
Ice Age/Alliances/Coldsnap (3/3)
Mirage/Visions/Weatherlight (2/3)
Tempest/Stronghold/Exodus (2/3)
Urza’s Saga/Urza’s Legacy/Urza’s Destiny (0/3)
Mercadian Masques/Nemesis/Prophecy (0/3)
Invasion/Planeshift/Apocalypse (3/3)
Odyssey/Torment/Judgment (2/3)
Onslaught/Legions/Scourge (1/3)
Champions of Kamigawa/Betrayers of Kamigawa/Saviors of Kamigawa (2/3)
Ravnica/Guildpact/Dissension (3/3)
Time Spiral/Planar Chaos/Future Sight (3/3)
Lorwyn/Morningtide/Shadowmoor/Eventide (1/4)
Shards of Alara (1/1)
Total: (26/45) – or just over 50% of all sets.

It seems to me that if Wizards is willing to use a mechanic as the central theme for a block three times (or 3 of the past 8 blocks, for recent times), and uses the mechanic in slightly over 50% of their sets, isn’t this a mechanic that is both popular and easily understood? I don’t buy the argument about the negatives of Gold cards, which are as follows:

1) New players don’t understand that they count as both colors of cards, and
2) The Gold-bordered frame is confusing, since the frames aren’t any one given color.

The base set is the bastion of reminder text, so I’d see no problem putting the text (this card is both Green and Red) on something like Jungle Troll, or any other gold card in the base set. This would clear up sticking point #1. In fact, it would likely clear up point #2 as well.

I of course don’t have access to any of Wizard’s sales figures, but all indications are that Ravnica block was the most popular block ever produced. Invasion was popular, Shards has been doing pretty well, and people have responded well to Gold cards time and time again. If Gold cards drive sales, and if Wizards keeps making Gold blocks because Gold cards drive sales, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the benefits of having Gold cards in the base set would outweigh the small amount of confusion that would arise from reminder-texted Gold cards? After all, after shunning Gold cards as reprints for nearly 15 years, Wizards would have quite a huge amount of popular favorites to pull from.

Personally, I don’t expect to see Gold cards in 11th Edition. That doesn’t mean I think that’s the right decision.

Cycling has been another very popular mechanic, and has been reused time-and-time again. Cycling was introduced in Urza’s Saga – so since then, there have been 30 total sets (15 of the sets, above, were pre-Saga) that could have had cycling cards. How many do? Let’s revisit the list!

(Sets with Cycling in Bold)
Urza’s Saga/Urza’s Legacy/Urza’s Destiny (3/3)
Mercadian Masques/Nemesis/Prophecy (0/3)
Invasion/Planeshift/Apocalypse (0/3)
Odyssey/Torment/Judgment (0/3)
Onslaught/Legions/Scourge (3/3)
Champions of Kamigawa/Betrayers of Kamigawa/Saviors of Kamigawa (0/3)
Ravnica/Guildpact/Dissension (0/3)
Time Spiral/Planar Chaos/Future Sight (1/3)
Lorwyn/Morningtide/Shadowmoor/Eventide (0/4)
Shards of Alara (1/1)
Total Sets: 8/25 (Approximately 1/3rd)

(As an aside to the aside, I’m surprised that Time Spiral and Planar Chaos had zero cycling cards!)

I count the “2, sacrifice this: draw a card” Destiny creatures, because Mark Rosewater himself has said they are on-the-board cyclers. Still, this is a pretty simple mechanic (Discard this; draw a card) that has proven popular, and should be transitioned into the base set. There are many situationally-useful cards that are more interesting as cyclers (Lull versus Fog, for instance), and there are plenty of good cycling cards that have never seen the light of reprint simply because they are cyclers, and aren’t allowed in the base set!

Cycling is another very popular mechanic, and one that is a lot more rewarding, as a player and a designer, than cantrips. Any card can become a cantrip with enough additional mana (usually 0-2, depending on the power level of the original card being cantripped), but cantrips also stifle deckbuilding innovation; it’s a no-brainer to include a card that says “Do X, draw a card” because generally you’ll include it is if the cost is right, and leave it out if the cost isn’t. Cycling cards, on the other hand, promote deckbuilding choices because now you’re never stuck with a dead card in hand; instead of Afflict, you get Sicken – and Sicken gives you choices. Early game, kill a small creature or draw a card? Late game, spend two mana so you don’t have a dead card in hand. Afflict? You’re committing to having three mana to give a creature -1/-1 and draw a card, which is much less dynamic.

So in short, cycling cards encourage deck variety and interesting deckbuilding choices, because unless the cycling cost is enormous (which defeats the purpose of cycling, unless you have an interesting variation like the Roar cycle, where cycling doubles as kicker), technically no cycling card in hand should end up being a completely dead card. Plus, the mechanic is easy to understand:

2, Discard this card: Draw a card.

Or, if you want reminder text:

2, Discard this card: Draw a card.
(You do not get the effect of this card when you discard it. This is a triggered ability)

… or somesuch – my language there is not by any means elegant, but I’m sure there’s some reminder text that could be appended to whatever cycling cards appear in a base set to spell out exactly how cycling works for new players. However, I don’t think we’ll be seeing cycling in 11th Edition, either.

Two asides and a card-count of the base set, and I haven’t even gotten to the issue of what I think we will see in 11th, or what I would put in if I were in charge of making a highly-marketable base set. There’s a lot to talk about, so join me next week when I explore the other no-brainer for base-set inclusion (that has not already been included) and I explore what rules are in place for base sets that Wizards are or aren’t willing to break. See you in 7!