Turn 1 Thrills

Randy brings us the sights, the sounds, and the smells from deep in the R&D Trenches. Ever wondered what goes on in the average R&D day? Have you ever wondered just what happened during the design of Arcbound Ravager? Read on as Mr Buehler reveals all…

Hello, and welcome to my first article for StarCityGames.com!

When Pete first approached us at MagictheGathering.com, it’s fair to say we were all a little surprised. Sure, we’d all heard tales of his legendary hypnotic power, but it was quite bizarre to see it in action. His targets for, shall we say, “mental conquest and subjugation” were Mark Rosewater, Matt Cavotta, and Aaron Forsythe. He demanded they write for StarCityGames.com and, being rather simple creatures, both Mark and Matt folded like 7-3 off-suit. They agreed immediately, and some dribbling occurred.

Aaron, however, was made of stronger stuff. Of course, he’s written for StarCityGames before, and was therefore immune to Pete’s signature brand of mesmerism. He did, however, start babbling about his previous stint as a StarCityGames Featured Writer, mumbling “the whips, the chains” under his breath.

Of course, when I heard this, I leapt at the chance to replace him. Hey, it’s gotta be cheaper than my usual arrangement.

Today, I’m going to talk about a couple of things. Later, I’ll be sharing some of the problems we faced when designing everyone’s favorite artifact creature, the Arcbound Ravager. But first, I thought I’d give you suckers readers an insight into a typical day in R&D…

A Day in the Life of R&D

10:00am — The gates to the Dream Factory are opened, and the loyal R&D workers arrive piecemeal over the next half hour. Usually, a band of R&D Interns unlock the offices at 8am, and spend the following two hours scrubbing my throne with pumice and moist vine leaves. The shine is important, as it inspires my creative technique. In fact, the shine off the Interns themselves is often conducive to creation, although Mike Turian in a thong and baby oil is a sight best saved until after breakfast.

10:30am — The day begins in earnest, with a hearty round of Nerf Dart Tag. Most of the time it’s a simple internal R&D scuffle, but sometimes we pit out Nerf muscles against Marketing or Accounts. Such matches have been frowned on of late, since the unfortunate battle that ended with four cracked ribs, a punctured lung, and (for one over-eager accountant) a night in the cells and a fifty dollar fine. Personally, I’m a monster at Nerf Dart Tag. I usually concentrate my efforts on hunting Mark Rosewater, seeking revenge for the day he stabbed me in the neck with a pen. I’ll get you one day, Mark!

11:30am — Liasing with the Art Department. Here, we descend to the bowels of the building, where the Artists (or, as we like to call them, “picture monkeys”) reside in their catacombs. We usually take water and bread, as food is in scarce supply down there… it pays to keep the monkeys hungry, as it adds a vivid edginess to their work. We spend half an hour deriding their “efforts,” before returning to the light of the Surface World for a well-earned shower.

Fun Fact! Some of Magic’s most iconic images were “painted” with human blood and excrement! It’s true! The Alpha version of Circle of Protection: Red took at least a pint-and-a-half of Maddocks O-Negative.

12:00pm — Lunch. Usually roast pheasant on a bed of olives, but if our latest expansion has exceeded the projected sales figures, the chef will rustle up something special.

1:00pm — Design meeting. The collective minds of R&D get together and knock out some fantastic card ideas for future sets. This is when the Magic happens, folks!

1:10pm — Weeaboo.

2:00pm — Liasing with the Marketing Department. To be honest, this can be rather soul-destroying. For a start, there’s the journey to the Marketing Vaults. I mean, I know the guards are for protection, but those guns and tazers sure are intimidating. The marketers themselves are a difficult bunch. We parade our beautiful creations before these trolls, who pick and pore over every detail of design only to come back with spurious advice such as “make it cooler,” or “weapon should be bigger,” or simply “add breasts.” It can be quite upsetting, I can tell you.

3:00pm — We round out the working day with an hour of play in the Future Future League. For those in the dark, the Future Future League is the internal R&D playtesting league. Here, we throw together decks made up of cards in development; those nuggets of gold yet to see print. I usually win these tournaments, with Mark Rosewater coming dead last, and then tweaks and changes are implemented to each of the cards we test. Thus, if you think a card has been bludgeoned into unplayability, blame MaRo. After all, any negative changes to cards, such as unwieldy casting costs are underpowered abilities, are the result of a mauling Mark received at my hand. Chimney Imp, for example, cost one mana in development, and it was a 3/2 flyer. Sure, that sounds overcosted now, but it’s all about pushing the envelope, and thinking outside the box. Sometimes, we push the envelope into a box, and then put the box into another box! That’s how dedicated we are to improvement.

4:00 — The buzzer goes at four, and we all trundle home. Dreaming is over for the day… our chauffeurs drive us back to normality.

So, as you can see, life in R&D ain’t all cotton candy and roses. It’s work work work some days. Of course, it’s still the best job in the world, other than being James Bond. In fact, it’s better than being James Bond, because there’s much less chance of contracting a sexual disease.

Developing Arcbound Ravager

As a player, I favor Control and Combo decks. For those unfamiliar with my Playing Resume, I was behind the creation of the turn 1 combo kill of Memory Jar/Megrim. Usually, I shun aggressive decks in all their various forms. The attack step is for idiots. In fact, I’m so anti-combat, the rest of R&D call me Gandhi Buehler.

While Darksteel was in development, most of R&D communicated their fabulous ideas through the Internet Messaging system. This had many benefits. First, it allowed us immediate contact with each other, any time of the working day (other than the shiatsu massage hour between three and four each day, of course — the masseuse didn’t have wi-fi). Second, it meant I could work in tandem with the rest of the guys in R&D without having to look at them. Such a benefit cannot be undervalued, believe me.

I’ll let you into a secret: we know that Ravager was a mistake. We didn’t know at the time, of course, but hindsight is twenty-twenty. However, problems were raised in development of this aberration, and the team discussions were heated. Actually, it was fortunate they were entirely conducted via IM… I’m sure some of the more vocal elements would’ve ended up on a charge of malicious wounding if we’d dealt with this face-to-face.

Here are some of the IM conversations the team had during Darksteel development. I hope they prove… enlightening.

The players…

MW: Mark Rosewater
RB: My good self.
MC: Matt Cavotta
RG: Richard Garfield
ZM: Zvi Mowshowitz

MW: So guys, what’s up with Arcbound Ravager?
RB: Is it a creature?
MW: Yes.
RB: Yaaaaawn…
MW: It has combo elements.
RB: Really? Such as?
MW: At the moment, you sac an artifact to put a counter on it.
RB: What sort of combo is that?
MW: A bad one?
RB: Shave two off its cost, make it rare, job done!
MW: Weeaboo?

ZM: It should cost three mana less.
RB: It only costs two at the moment!
ZM: Did you not get my memo on Negative Mana Costs? We must push
tournament playability!
RB: I delete all your correspondence unread.
ZM: So you didn’t get my… special emails?
RB: If you mention that mpeg again, you’re fired.

RG: What kind of monster is it? Is it a dragon?
MW: No, Richard.
RG: Is it an angel? They’re keen!
MW: No, Richard.
RG: Is it a demon? Or a vampire! I like vampires!
MW: No, Richard. It’s an artifact creature.
RG: A what? One of those brown things?
MW: They’re silver now, Richard.
RG: Silver? When did that happen?
MW: A while back, Richard. It’s for the best.
RG: I invented this game, you know…
MW: There there… have a cookie.

RB: Matt, we need Carl to change the art.
MC: Why?
RB: I know it’s an artifact, and I know it’s a “Ravager…” but is a sex toy REALLY the image we want to run with?
MC: Hey, it grabs your attention!
RB: Even so…
MC: Marketing love it.
RB: Sold!

ZM: Guys, I think there’s a problem with Ravager.
MW: A problem?
ZM: Yeah, it’s broken beyond belief.
RB: How so?
ZM: With Affinity for artifacts, and cheap drops, and artifact lands, it explodes out on turn 3!
MW: So it’s a quick deck, yeah?
ZM: And with Cranial Plating, you can swing for infi!!
RB: That’s not an obvious card pairing, so don’t worry about it.
ZM: Then there’s Disciple of the Vault! It makes the whole thing OBSCENE!
MW: Zvi…
RB: Zvi…
MW: …
MW: …
MW: Randy, have you been hiding Zvi’s medication?

RB: So we’re all agreed? Two mana, sac artifact for a counter, modular?
MC: Yup
ZM: Yes
RG: Yeah
MW: So I said “look Roseanne, it was a long time ago. If you keep sending me lewd pictures I’m calling the police!”
RB: …
ZM: …
MC: …
MW: …
MW: Oops, sorry. Wrong window.
RB: Mark, can you forward me those pictures?

Well, that’s it from me. I’d love to stay and chat some more, but it’s almost time for Weeaboo.

Join me next week, when I’ll be discussing the time I played Counter Phoenix against a strange toothless man in Manchester, and I’ll have more insights into the goings on at Wizards of the Coast!