I ain’t mad, I don’t wanna sound mad. I feel marvelous.
Before I start talking about anything else this week, I’d just like to throw a shout out to one particular Pro Tour Amsterdam report that I thought was pretty cool — “
Pro Tour: Disasterdam” by Cedric Phillips.
The Pro Tour-Amsterdam reports have been coming as fast and furious as a seven-beer whiz, and many of them have talked about obstacles that stand in the way of choosing a perfect seventy-five. One of the major concerns was the expected metagame. Many pros who would have felt at home running a control deck decided against it because of the difficulty of presenting the proper answers in a diverse field.
It’s not much different when you’re writing a tournament report. Faced with a field of reports from high finishers and knowing that a conventional retelling of events would be a 30-70 matchup against the Premium forum trolls, Cedric made a metagame call, went rogue, and Top 8ed the hearts and minds of his readership. It wasn’t just his choice of report, but how well he played it. The last line of the report brought us full circle back to the grind and left the reader with the heartening message that Cedric’s enthusiasm for the game hadn’t dampened, despite any misfortunes.
If you don’t have StarCityGames.com Premium, check it out as soon as the one-month waiting period is over. I
going to uncork some sort of
reference in Cedric’s honor, but I promised I wouldn’t do that in my articles anymore.*
Let’s move on.
Aspiring Composer: “Herr Mozart, it’s my ambition to write great symphonies, and I was wondering if perhaps you could give me advice on how to get started.”
Mozart: “Well, you’re yet young — perhaps you should try your hand at less ambitious pieces first and work your way towards that goal.”
Aspiring Composer: “But Herr Mozart! You yourself wrote symphonies when you were considerably younger than I!”
Mozart: “Ah. But I did so without asking advice.”
It takes Mozart to do it solo. But nobody realizes it.
The Great Designer Search is coming up soon, and its appeal to the masses is simple: everybody wants to do real songs with B.I.G. For the last couple
of years, wannabes have been stuck sampling the hook from “
Making Magic” while busting the whackest of rhymes. Let’s all take a swig of Sprite and start spittin’ like the designers we all are:
“Last name ‘Ever,’
First name ‘Worst'”
Let me ask you something. Have you ever designed a Magic: The Gathering card in your head? Yes? Okay, I think most of us have done that. Maybe you took a look at Thick-Skinned Goblin and said to yourself, “What the eff?” and figured you could do just as well. Or maybe you’re one of those guys who’s all like: “Blue got Ancestral Recall; green got Giant Growth… let’s fix this!” So in your brain, you bust out this tight 4/4 for one green mana that draws a card when it comes into play and can’t be countered. But hey, you decide it can only be played with a basic Forest, which makes it all cool.
Have you ever entered a card-design contest on a website or fired up MSPaint to mock up an image of your latest magnum opus? Ah, I see.
You want to do real songs with B.I.G., right?
I should’ve known. Have you ever actually designed an entire set, printed it out to draft with your friends, or published commentary on your own cards like, “This card is a Limited powerhouse?”
Do you take yourself and your work really seriously?
You do? Okay.
There’s a 99% chance your work really stinks.**
People who make their own cards and sets are the slash fanfic writers of Magic: The Gathering, slamming the sweaty bodies of design and development together with all the grace of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy snogging in a barn loft. In trying to pull off a virtuoso performance, they instead demonstrate the many reasons why Magic design is done in teams, by qualified people, with plenty of expert oversight.
gulf between world-class design and a text-box-stretching 3RWB sorcery offered up by some utter clown. To the untrained eye, the two can actually look similar â€” which means any Rosewater-reading troglodyte thinks he can do the job. As with anything mediocre, it all starts with unwarranted self-importance and a lack of perspective about one’s own work.
Amateur designers do it solo because they’re enamored with their own ideas and want credit for the “awesome” ones. The foul aroma of self-congratulatory schlock pervades everything they produce. Like jowly poltergeists, they float around card-creation vomitoriums, expelling half-baked rules text, trying to impress with the girth and distance of their regurgitations. Nothing of any value is produced. Card-creation forums “help Magic” in the same way that PokÃ©mon is elevated by a poorly punctuated story about Pikachu rogering Ash Ketchum.
Amateur designers have nobody to edit their work or pull them back from the brink, and the resulting cards are invariably flawed. On the occasions they run their ideas past someone, it’s probably a friend angling for an “I compliment you on your Magic set — you compliment me on my ‘Jump to Conclusions’ Mat” sort of arrangement. After all, why actually go through the trouble of being awesome, when you can just have buddies who
that you’re awesome?
Show me any given 200-card set by some rube, and I’ll show you the following:
a) 0-15 ideas that I might begrudgingly call good
And for every paragraph-long load of bull I have to read about how some card is “good in draft,” the more begrudging I get.
b) 5-6 “I’m such an iconoclast!” cards where the color pie gets violated like Ed Norton in the
American History X
c) 190 god-awful card names
Not that this matters, but it’s true nonetheless — amateur designers are no better at flavor than they are at anything else.
e) 30-40 overly complicated disasters with text boxes that look like the Code of Hammurabi
f) 180-190 cards that are incorrectly balanced
g) 100% chance of a set that plays terribly in Limited, despite orgasmic gushing to the contrary
Claims by designers about what their cards do in Limited are based on stone nothing. Even if they do gather their friends around for a draft once or twice… well… look at your average amateur set designer. What are his friends going to do for him? I’m not sure a mid-draft conversation about how the Federation could beat up the Empire because “Q would help” constitutes useful feedback.
h) 20 cards that would ruin the Constructed environment they appeared in
i) 4-5 green uncommons that destroy all permanents an opponent controls for zero or one mana and one counterspell that costs 2UUU and requires the payment of fifteen life
j) 3+ ill-conceived “cycles”
k) 120 references to “other sets in the block”
There’s no experience quite like reading along as some self-styled master runs on about how his inert turd of a set is but one fudge-wurm among many. It’s like arriving home to find that your cat has vomited on the floor. You get out the carpet stain remover, you get out your paper towels, you begin to clean it up… and your cat gives you that guilty look. It’s then that you realize that this first pile of vomit is only the tip of a vomit iceberg, one thread in a lush tapestry of vomit, if you will. Indeed, it’s just one node on a scavenger hunt of cat puke, and your expression darkens as it dawns on you that a grim journey of discovery lies ahead.
People without much talent sometimes compensate for it by being prolific.*** If you find one rancid card set stinking up an apartment like a dead body beneath the floorboards, my advice is to not check the freezer.
l) 25 cards haphazardly creature-typed because the designer was scouring DeviantArt for the card images and had to take what he could get
m) 15 chase cards at the wrong rarity
n) 185-200 boring cards that could have been made by anyone and that are notable only for some minor or irrelevant detail
This is where the designer takes One with Nothing, adds madness to it, and then audibly kisses the ends of his fingertips like da Vinci adding a final masterstroke. Repeat 184 times.
o) 2,125,459 instances of the designer patting himself on the back
p) 0 instances of the designer being critical of himself
Still want to design a set? Take it easy, Wolfgang. There are probably less than five hundred people in the world that could solo-design a card set and not have it be totally embarrassing — and all five hundred of them are either professional gamers or already in the industry. If you were to travel back in time to before the first Great Designer Search and put Ken Nagle or Alexis Jansen in a situation where they had to solo-design a set, 185 of the 200 cards would have been flawed, forgettable, or unworkable. That’s why these things are done with huge teams of people.
This doesn’t stop rubes from trying. Against my better judgment, I recently oozed over to the dreaded MTGSalvation forums to check out their card-design discussions. In much the same way that an intrepid scientist might lower himself into a rancid bog in search of a particularly loathsome specimen of insect, I waded through post after post of Joe Nobody and Naruto Nobody waxing poetic about set mechanics and the “Limited bombs” that nobody outside their immediate family would ever have a chance to draft.
I was searching for awareness and perspective and found neither.
Soon, the jungle of unwarranted self-importance grew so dense that I could push no further. There were massive threads filled with amateur designers clamoring for attention — they descended on me like complacent locusts. In one recessed corner, gestating underneath a pile of discarded XXXL T-shirts, was an entire discussion about cards that were “stolen” by Wizards of the Coast. Within it, I found a forest of indignant grumbles:
“I invented wither two years before its debut!”
“Hinder was lifted from me word for word.”
Even were that the case, it’s akin to stealing track shoes from Christopher Reeve. What were these amateur designers going to do with wither besides stick it on a white Prodigal Sorcerer and call the card “Shock Paladin?”
I just think that homemade sets are these self-contained masses of gas that really don’t do anyone any good, except maybe for the bloated authors that needed to pass them. When some dude points out to me a set he’s done, I feel like I’m about to be shown vacation slides featuring his homely daughter and thoroughly unexceptional son.
“The cards have a lot of depth in the way they interact,” he’d tell me, a proud parent unable to accept that his male heir is a lock for a job at McDonalds.
Now, hold on while I hop out the Range. Let’s take a look at a couple of cards from an actual homemade card set, and I’ll try to illustrate my points.
No matter how noble or well-meaning the intentions of the designer (and every homemade set is just a designer expressing him or herself, at its heart), you almost immediately run into cards like this:
[Name removed to protect the innocent]
Creature — Human Wizard
During other player’s turns, [Cardname] has “Tap: Tap target permanent.”
(3, discard this card: Search your library for a creature card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library.)
So, it’s a common Rishadan Dork that can also tap creatures and artifacts and further serves as an Eladamri’s Call.
This card is part of a cycle of five creaturecyclers, the other four of which have weak/non-relevant abilities. I look to the designer for some perspective on this and see an enthusiastic note on the page:
“Since these are all common cards, they also impact drafting quite a bit. Do you take them as a tutor, a solid creature, or another card hoping these will come late…?”
How about we just take the blue one first, every time? Our designer enthusiastically talks about Limited play, but all I’m thinking is, “If I have this guy on the play in Limited, my opponent is going to want to hang himself.” Turn 1 play this dude, turn 2 manascrew you. If you make it out of that alive, tap your best guy every turn. If I draw it late, find
best guy. He really doesn’t see the problem with this?
This is my point. This looks like a card, sounds like a card, and to the untrained eye, could pass for a card… but it isn’t. It’s an idea that needs a lot of work. It might turn into a card with help from four or five other people but not without a lot of changes.
Here’s a comment about another card from the same designer:
“My friend [name redacted] really enjoys cards that punish mass removal. This is mine.”
And here’s the card:
Put a 2/2 Druid creature token into play for each nontoken creature that went to the graveyard this turn.
Here, it takes me 0.5 seconds to say, “Does the text even matter? It’s an uncounterable Cunning Wish — in green.” Our hero doesn’t even mention that, though. He’s just chilling and thinking about sticking it to control decks. He’s mad they killed his kicked Phyrexian Scuta.
Again, the gulf between actual, real design and just “some dude making stuff up” is
small. It is huge. Just because all Magic cards have a casting cost, some rules text, a color, and a card type doesn’t mean they’re all brothers from the same mother. If you don’t think that’s true, it’s only because you lack the experience and knowledge to spot the differences.
What would the development notes look like for this card?
Won’t instantcycling just enable degenerate combo and control decks?
The original intent of this card will be lost when people just use it to EOT fetch Force of Will.
Great card. Whoever came up with this is a genius, handsome, and also probably hung like Milton Berle.
I respect that.
Why Druid tokens? Aren’t 2/2 green tokens supposed to be Bears?
Instantcycling doesn’t seem very green to me. I bet we get a lot of complaints about that.
Did you hear what he just said?
This card makes me feel like it’s “so time” to be the man.
The madness cost seems to reward people for playing heavy green, and the effect rewards them for playing creatures, but this card has more synergy with control and combo decks than it does with big, dumb green ones. Also, I just ate salmon stuffed with salmon, served on a bed made out of a third salmon.
This must be too good — I’m winning every game.
By introducing “End of turn, instantcycle for Gifts Ungiven/Ancestral Recall/Force of Will,” we’d be changing every format in the game. We don’t want to do that with an afterthought cycling ability on an anti-Wrath of God card.
Yeah, we need to go back to the drawing board — or cut this.
Good thing we have a team of half-a-dozen expert designers who are not personally attached to this design and can give objective feedback on it!
Yes, if we were just some guy who was totally invested personally in this idea, we probably wouldn’t bother scrutinizing it. In fact, we’d probably think we were a pretty sweet for thinking up this card!
Yes, I can imagine how that attitude would prevent us from ever improving as designers. Luckily, that’s not what’s going on here since we work at Wizards of the Coast and are just a bunch of ballers. This game should be called Magic: The Ballering.
Yes, I’m sure the designer of the above two cards had a great time making the full set and found it very fulfilling.
Despite all that, it is, like every other homebrew set, just a Magic: The Gathering slash fanfic.
The similarities between homemade cards and crappy fan fiction are eerie. Imagine that White, Blue, Green, Red, and Black are characters in a popular book series of some kind, one with a rabid following of wispy teenage moustaches. In this example, the colors are the famous heroes and villains of the series, and all other Magic sets are their canonical adventures.
You begin reading a new piece of fan fiction, and you see that your favorite characters are acting in ways that are slightly off. It’s unsettling. Something isn’t quite right. Characters form relationships that weren’t present in the canon, seemingly out of the author’s desire to see them occur. Characters have new mannerisms that aren’t what you’re used to, and as a reader, it puts you off.
You also discover that there are some new characters present. The author really seems enamored with these characters, and the story suffers for it because the new characters just aren’t that interesting — they’re plays on older characters who have appeared before. Then things start to get really weird. In the aftermath of a heated argument, Green’s calloused hand falls onto Blue’s thigh. The two colors discover they have mutual feelings for each other. Silently they retire to a hot spring to disrobe and explore the new boundaries of their relationship. The next two chapters involve a bathhouse and a green card being instantcycled at the end of turn 3 to fetch Cryptic Command.
You scroll up and look at the title.
“Primal Intentions” (mm, ws)
, a Garruk/Jace adventure.
You stop reading, alarmed and disappointed. You come to appreciate how the canonical materials got your characters just right.
Amateur designers are creative people with ideas they want to share with the world, but in order to blossom into real designers, they need structure and mentoring. They need input from professional players, developers, marketing people, and creative people. They need massive amounts of test data from Limited and Constructed play to fine-tune numbers and sculpt play environments that make sense.
The Great Designer Search will rescue these creative people from themselves. It will take “fanfic” writers and put them in an environment where it isn’t all about them, but about the “canon.” Instead of creating a product to satisfy some urge for recognition or attention, they’ll be working with a team to create something fun for the enjoyment of all others. It will never again be about them and will forever be about Magic: The Gathering.
And thank god for that. Amateur designers can’t get enough of themselves when it comes to their cards and sets, and they need a reality check. Seriously, how can a person write “I really love this design, check out the tension here, it’s great for Constructed and Limited and works with Block themes, a
hurfa durfity hurfa duuurf
!” about one of their own cards and still sleep at night? It’s just pride, pure and simple.
Okay, one last attempt to explain this.
Take a look at a card like Elixir of Immortality. What’s the difference between Elixir of Immortality and any given homemade submission? Elixir doesn’t break the game. It doesn’t introduce some revolutionary, never-before-seen idea, like Mindslaver. It doesn’t push the power envelope, like Wild Nacatl. It doesn’t signal a changing of the guard in the color pie, like Hystrodon or Ohran Viper. What makes Elixir of Immortality a world-class design, while homemade cards are irrelevant at best?
It’s the way that the Elixir is sometimes that perfect twenty-second or twenty-third card for your control deck, a card that will wheel for you. It’s the way it sometimes serves as that fourth artifact that lets you run a Phylactery Lich. It’s the way it can also serve as a sideboard card against that guy with Jace’s Erasure — or act as a piece in that same Erasure deck. It’s the way it hangs in perfect suspension with 200+ other cards. It’s the way it doesn’t fall all over itself and ruin everything like Inspector Clouseau.
The Temple Bell/Jace’s Erasure archetype and control archetypes that can use Elixir of Immortality don’t exist in Limited play by accident — the environment is engineered that way. It takes thousands of hours of testing to do that — and the input of professional players who understand what a good Limited environment is.
See why some guy’s 7/7 Dragon for 4WW simply means
in a vacuum? Make it 8/8 for all I care. Random Rube’s version of any given card isn’t just some alternative take — it’s actually a waste of space that means nothing without context. And yet, people puff out their chests and crow about their homemade cards like they just did Magic a favor by overturning their personal reservoir of creativity and showering us all.
A real Magic card, even an unremarkable one like Elixir of Immortality, isn’t shoulder-to-shoulder with Random Card X from the card-creation forums. It’s eight or nine steps ahead — steps that 99% of people can’t seem to distinguish.
Anyhow, I’ve gone on too long; let me wrap this up.
The Great Designer Search will bring purpose, structure, and a nurturing hand to folks who otherwise would have been slamming their hams in the basement, discussing ideas with other self-important blowhards. An internship and the mentoring that comes with it will naturally bring humility, which is a very, very good thing.
It’s good that the Search is here again. Because it’s not like ideas aren’t there to be harnessed. It’s just, everyone is swaggering like they’re doing real songs with B.I.G.
Really, it’s all just a bunch of made up sh-ts.
Next week: A short intro — because I’m going to need the room.
Gather around for a sad story. I played in the Online Pro Tour Qualifier last Friday, and I’d been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks. 506 people! Heck, that’s like half a Grand Prix. I felt a few familiar butterflies in my stomach when it was about to start.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much fun. For my thirty hard-borrowed tickets, I was rewarded with this stink bomb of a pool:
Wish I could get those thirty tickets back. I immediately sorted by rarity like a good front-runner should, asking, “Doctor, doctor, give me the news, I’ve got a…”
“Bad case of rare-slot poo
,” my screen replied.
The prognosis was grim — and I’m not the Gregory House sort, a guy who can figure stuff out even with little to go on. Rather, I carve at my Sealed pools like a Civil War-era sawbones with a deep-seated fear of gangrene, missing opportunities to save small, usable body parts.
I think maybe the correct build for this pool is something like:
(Lava Axe, or Doom Blade if you want to run the Summit and one Swamp)
Season with lands to taste.
That doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, but at least it gives you the chance to mise. I figured that build out about forty-five minutes after deck construction started.
What’s that? You only get twenty minutes for deck construction?
Yeah. So you can see my problem.
I won’t go over the exact details of the deck I
make — that would be too embarrassing. I’ll say that I choked on the build and reduced my already miniscule victory chances to a sure nothing. It was an awful brew that couldn’t actually win — I went a control route (Elixir, Archon, card draw, all my removal, two Palace Guards with Infantry Veteran and Elite Vanguard left in the board), but the power level of the cards was a disgrace, and I didn’t have what I needed to build the deck I wanted. I didn’t have a Cancel, for example. I had to take plays like “turn 6 Grave Titan” on the chin and just try to beat it with my best “blowout” counter punches — stuff like “Tireless Missionaries, put a counter on my Ajani’s Pridemate.” Maybe punctuated with a “Ya’ll just got served.”
Heck, I didn’t even have an Armored Cancrix or Siege Mastodon to stop the beats. I was playing two Cloud Elementals because there wasn’t much else — in a deck that was supposed to be defensive. Without good blockers, I was forced to waste Fireball on random Nether Horrors. The mana was a disgrace, too. I drew Lightning Bolt three times in four games and couldn’t cast it once.
How ill-equipped was the deck for doing what I wanted? Round 2, I played against G/W, cast Jace’s Ingenuity three times, and still lost, even after out-drawing him by twelve or thirteen cards. Those twelve to thirteen cards were all basically blanks — U/W control pinnacles like Cloud Elementals, Stormfront Pegasus, and of course, extra lands. Redirect isn’t exactly a tactical nuke against G/W, either — at least when your opponent plays Spined Wurm, Yavimaya Wurm, and then a Vengeful Archon of his own. At that point, there isn’t much else to do but topdeck a Maritime Guard and drop from the event.
Probably one of the dumbest builds of all time.
My play didn’t help my cause, either. In round 1, I played an extra land (I needed to get up to seven for Archon but a fourth Island? Didn’t need it.) and had to discard Solemn Offering to Liliana’s Specter as a result. I had Ajani’s Pridemate on the table. As soon as I discarded the Offering, my opponent did one of those pauses where I knew he was laughing at me out loud and served up Crystal Ball and Sacred Wolf. So instead of being 4/4, my Pridemate was 3/3 and traded with the Wolf. Then, instead of drawing some late game lands, he just free-Balled his way straight to his Overwhelming Stampede within two to three turns.
Does a 2/2 Druid poop in the woods?
I know this is the wrong attitude and don’t plan to repeat my mistakes, but perhaps some of you can relate to the feeling.
I think I sorta lost this one as soon as my cards showed up. You see, in my mind, I didn’t sit down to nickel-and-dime twenty damage out of Goblin Balloon Brigades and “Arc Runner, get ya” for ten rounds. I sat down to have fun, to play early Cudgel Trolls with G up, to squeeze Mind Controls until my clip was empty. When it was obvious that my card pool wasn’t going to provide much in the way of autopilot, a lot of wind went out of my sails. And let’s face it — my boat wasn’t exactly the Queen Elizabeth 2 to begin with.
It was a quick 0-2 drop in which I didn’t win a game.
My results so far:
Week 2: 1-3 drop
Week 3: 0-2 drop
1-5? I’m going to call up Phil Samms and offer him thirty million over five years. Maybe next week’s Premier Event will provide something to talk about besides how awful I am.
Next week: Another Premier Event, hopefully with some Mind Controls and Titans involved. I’m having some trouble. I think I might have to bring a much better card pool in to change my diapers… wipe the drool from my bubbling lips… to rub my heinie and tell me that it’s special and better than everybody else’s.
Flavor of the Week
I know I said I was going to talk about gender roles in flavor this week, but it’s quickly becoming apparent to me that there isn’t enough room for a full discussion in both the introductory section and the “Flavor of the Week” section. So I’ll have to write about it next week. Adding it this week would push this article into the 8,000 word range, and that would leave me spread awfully thin on lowest-common-denominator feces and sodomy humor.
Apologies for the bait and switch — I’m still getting my sea legs here.
Next week: Gender roles in flavor and the WotC policy that has saved them a lot of headaches.
I’ll see you guys in seven days or so.
FP_GLyM on MODO
* But I’ll do it in a footnote:
“I never told anybody this. About three, four years ago, I’m at the Grand Prix Toronto; it’s late, and I see Cedric Phillips walk in. And he goes, he sits round 4, round 5. And the whole place stops when Cedric Phillips walks in. Everybody puts an eye on him. After a little while, there wasn’t a side event going ’cause all the ringers are over there watching him. Some are playing with him, giving away their DCI points to this guy to say…’Oh, I played with a guy who Top 8ed GP Columbus.’ And you know what I did? I sat down—”
“Nah, you need thirty, forty Pro Points to play right in that game.”
“Well, I had one. But I had to know.”
“Played loose for two games or so, missed damage with Golgari Rotwurm mostly — and then, I made a score.”
“Glare of Subdual or Skeletal Vampire?”
“Stinkweed Imp. I had nothing. But he was at four and had Trophy Hunter, Siege Wurm, and Vedalken Entrancer, and I just decided, you know, I don’t care about the DCI points. I’m just gonna out-draw the guy. I’m just gonna out-draw the guy, this game. I attacked with Greater Forgeling.”
“You played right back at him, huh?”
“Oh yeah. And he just comes right back over the top of me, trying to bully me like I’ve got Wildsize. Blocks with everything. I hesitate for like two seconds. Assign combat damage to the Trophy Hunter and then play Stinkweed Imp, the one flier in my deck.”
“And he makes a move toward his deck, and he looks at me. And he looks at the Moldervine Cloak in my graveyard, and he looks at his life total.”
“And he scooped it. I took it down.
‘When’s the last time you were relevant?’
‘I’m sorry, Cedric — I don’t remember.'”
** I’m a thirty-year-old man who writes articles about a children’s card game. 20% of my shirts feature Darth Vader in some capacity. If creating cards is that important to you, you can pretty safely ignore me.
*** I used to write a daily column.