Change can be difficult, but it appears Magic: the Gathering fans new and old are hopping aboard the Magic 2010 bandwagon. Is it cool new creatures like Vampire Nocturnus, or unexpected reprints of classic cards like Lightning Bolt? Magic’s director of research & development, Aaron Forsythe, took some time to answer our questions about the new Magic core set and the changes to the game.
Robot Viking: Alara block seems to be very popular among both casual and tournament players. What do you think it is about these three sets that helps them really nail that sweet spot?
Aaron Forsythe: Multicolored sets in general (such as Ravnica and Invasion) are always popular. Casual players like them because gold cards tend to feel really powerful (even though they are balanced by difficult mana costs), and gold sets tend to be overall simpler to understand, as the thing about them that is most different is in their mana costs, not necessarily a bunch of complicated junk in their rules boxes like in other sets. Tournament players like the challenges of drafting blocks where mana considerations weigh heavily, as that allows for creativity as well as opportunities to do things “more correctly” than opponents. Combine that all with excellent creative work (the conclusion of the Weatherlight saga in Invasion, the guilds of Ravnica, and the five “shards” of Alara), and its easy to see why gold sets are always big hits!
RV: If Magic 2010 was a movie, how would you pitch it to me?
AF: In a world where fantasy meets reality, the power of the greatest creatures, spells, and planeswalkers in the Multiverse is yours for the taking!
Jace BELEREN Baneslayer ANGEL Lightning BOLT
RV: How different is it designing cards for M10, with its more general fantasy theme, as opposed to expansions that are tied closely to Magic’s particular universe and mythology?
AF: It is very different, and very refreshing. In expansions, designers are typically trying to make interesting and novel lines of text, or create a limited environment that challenges how you play the game. That process is often pretty far removed from “fantasy,” which is layered on later in valiant strokes by our creative team. But with M10, every card was discussed from the angle of “what is it?” as opposed to “what does it do?” That led us to make a whole lot of different choices.
RV: How long have the Magic 2010 rules changes been in development? Was the development of the Alara block affected by the knowledge that these changes were coming?
AF: They have been in development since the time Shards of Alara was in development, so, yes, they affected Alara. We went out of our way to avoid cards that would benefit from “damage on the stack” so that the change would feel more seamless. You can see it on Carrion Thrash, for instance, which might normally have an activated ability of “2, Sacrifice Carrion Thrash”.
RV: There’s obviously a wide range of opinions among fans regarding the rule changes for M10, and I’d imagine the developers weren’t unanimous in their feelings either. Was there a lot of yelling at the design meetings?
AF: There is always some amount of yelling in meetings around here, even when there isn’t that much at stake. No, we were not unanimous, although we did often reach a consensus. There are definitely people here that are change-averse; they didn’t see the upside to messing with things. I am definitely not one of those people.
RV: Rules changes aside, how is M10 going to change the game, strictly in terms of the cards themselves?
AF: There are a number of powerful cards in the set that will affect all kinds of formats, but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking. I hope that M10 is successful, and that success will lead us to trying more “resonant” card design practices in all sets, not just Core Sets.
RV: This is something that’s been bugging me for years – why haven’t we seen a Magic set based on one of the D&D campaign worlds yet? Is there any chance of this happening?
AF: It gets talked about all the time here, but a product like that wouldn’t bring new people to Wizards’ games; it would just take people that are already playing our stuff and have them spend their money differently. There just isn’t that much upside for us from a business perspective, as cool as it sounds.
RV: We’ve been having a lot of fun with a recurring feature on Robot Viking called Crash Test Magic, where I come up with an idea for a Magic card, then the readers tear it apart and patiently explain how utterly broken it is. How close is that to the actual process of designing Magic cards?
AF: Pretty close, although we generally want each others’ ideas to succeed. If there is a potential problem with a card, it will get discussed and then playtested, and from there solutions are proposed. We want the designer’s cards to see print, so we try to fix everything we can. But if something is actually broken (or just miserably unfun), we’ll replace it outright.
RV: I’d imagine you’ve been involved in the design of a few cards or cycles of cards that really stand out to you as favorites. What are some cards you’re really proud of, and what is it about a really well-designed card that makes you say, “We really hit this one out of the park”?
AF: Of recent cards, I’m fond of Elspeth, Knight Errant and the Command cycle from Lorwyn. Normally designers are fighting for their cards, defending them an explaining why players will enjoy them. But when you really nail something, you don’t have to do any explaining or campaigning. The card just shines, and the other guys in the department will talk it up for you. That’s a great feeling.
RV: If you were going to head down to Friday Night Magic this week to play some Standard, what deck would you use?
AF: I’d probably play a Reveillark deck. I like creatures that net me card advantage, and I love recursion. Reveillark is my kind of card.