8/20/2012 MM: "Piggybacking"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Making Magic, which goes live Monday morning on magicthegathering.com.
I already knew all that about PvZ, but still this was an excellent column.  There have been a lot of those, lately.

If you're on MTGO check out the Free Events via PDCMagic and Gatherling.

Other games you should try:
DC Universe Online - action-based MMO.  Free to play.  Surprisingly well-designed combat and classes.

Planetside 2 - Free to play MMO-meets-FPS and the first shooter I've liked in ages.
Simunomics - Free-to-play economy simulation game.

Here's the thing I wonder. If Time Spiral was a failure because a lot of new people "didn't get it," doesn't that also sort of suggest that Return to Ravnica could be a potential tripwire? After all, the set explicitly uses the word Return, which could imply that you're supposed to be excited about said return. Rosewater and other people have also been saying "Get excited because guilds are coming back."


But if you started playing in 2010 or 2011, isn't your natural reaction going to be something like "Ravnica? Where's Ravnica?" and "What are these guilds? I don't know anything about this and I don't know why I should care." It seems like the sales pitch for Return to Ravnica is banking on a combination of older players' nostalgia and newer players (and older players, for that matter) having a romanticized view of the original block. But nostalgia, we're told, isn't enough on its own (cf. Time Spiral) and the romanticized view of Ravnica is a dangerous thing to play with, because there's no possible way that Return to Ravnica can ever live up to it.

Witness the way that we're always being told by various fans that the original Ravnica block was the best competitive Standard environment ever, everything was viable, there were rogue decks and budget decks and on and on and on. Witness the way that omits the fact that a big part of this situation (to the extent it was true, which was a lot less than some would have you believe) was that the netdeck scene was not as developed, that there were no weekly tournaments at Star City to watch online and have their decklists posted within minutes to every forum on the internet, and that Magic players' mentality is simply different now and no longer considers a card like (for example) Watchwolf to be viable in any way, shape, form, or setting. What is actually going to happen when Return to Ravnica hits the streets and the tournaments? I don't know for certain, but I don't find it easy to be optimistic about it.
Plants don't move, it's true. Then again, nor do towers. The difference is, towers with guns mounted on them actually do shoot things.

As such, I'm not sure PvZ is a particularly great example of piggybacking. Mostly, it illustrates the important principle that if you want to extend a game's audience to the mass market you have to make it cuter. Plants are cuter than gun emplacements!

1) It Adds Strategic Depth


I should begin by stressing that lack of complexity doesn't necessarily reduce strategic depth. There are ways to create strategic depth without relying on complexity. With that caveat out of the way, complexity, when used properly, can add a lot of robustness to a game. It allows you to add in interesting corner cases and it gives you the freedom to let each part of the game take up the space it wants.



This, this, THIS. I think that you guys have lost sight of this in recent times. A perfect example of a complex but not deep card: Bonfire of the Damned. It's fairly complex on the surface. "Is it playable for its non-Miracle cost? Does the Miracle cost offset that?" Once you strip that away and get to understand the card, though, it becomes horribly shallow: "Oh hey, I drew Bonfire. Let's sweep the board." "I've got 5 mana, let's kill his Huntmaster, Wolf, and mana dork." Meanwhile, we're losing cards like Doom Blade ("Does he have a Doom Blade? If he doesn't, then I can double block his Grave Titan with my first strike Golems and kill it. But if he does, I'm going to lose my Blade Splicer and both Golems, and his four Zombies will overrun me next turn. So is he bluffing?"). The control elements that are being neutered are reducing some complexity of the game, like whether you need to play around counterspells, but it's severely reducing depth. That won't be good in the long run.
Here's the thing I wonder. If Time Spiral was a failure because a lot of new people "didn't get it," doesn't that also sort of suggest that Return to Ravnica could be a potential tripwire? After all, the set explicitly uses the word Return, which could imply that you're supposed to be excited about said return. Rosewater and other people have also been saying "Get excited because guilds are coming back."

There's a big difference between Time Spiral and RTR. Time Spiral did not merely contain nostalgia - it was based on nostalgia. Some of the cards' only purpose was to make reference to a pre-existing card, and things like simplicity of mechanics were sacrificed for the sake of nostalgia which is a main reason why new players who didn't want to learn 50 mechanics didn't like it. RTR is a block that could stand in its own right. If there was no original Ravnica, it would still be a good block because it would be the original Ravnica. Its theme is the guilds, not nostalgia.

the romanticized view of Ravnica is a dangerous thing to play with, because there's no possible way that Return to Ravnica can ever live up to it.

We won't know that until RTR actually comes out. I like to be a bit optimistic.

Witness the way that we're always being told by various fans that the original Ravnica block was the best competitive Standard environment ever, everything was viable, there were rogue decks and budget decks and on and on and on. Witness the way that omits the fact that a big part of this situation (to the extent it was true, which was a lot less than some would have you believe) was that the netdeck scene was not as developed, that there were no weekly tournaments at Star City to watch online and have their decklists posted within minutes to every forum on the internet, and that Magic players' mentality is simply different now and no longer considers a card like (for example) Watchwolf to be viable in any way, shape, form, or setting. What is actually going to happen when Return to Ravnica hits the streets and the tournaments? I don't know for certain, but I don't find it easy to be optimistic about it.

I do agree that the meta wasn't quite as diverse as we made out at the time, and that our judgments were skewed based on the sorts of decks that people brought to FNM that weren't actually that competitive. But I don't really agree about the causes of diversity or the lack thereof. The Dojo effect (netdecking) has existed since before people talked about Magic on the internet. Thinking about the Standards before Ravnica, the best deck was massively circulated (Affinity, Tooth and Nail, things with Jittes and Melokus etc) and there was no illusion of diversity. Also, it's not the players who have changed nearly as much as R&D that has changed. The smaller set size means less possibilities. And when R&D wants a card played these days they make it really obvious (Geist of Saint Traft) whereas back then they were much subtler and we sometimes missed the cards they thought would be good - most of the best cards were accidents (Tarmogoyf). Plus in terms of budget, it helped that there were no mythics back in Ravnica and that the most expensive cards were the lands, which drove down the price of other rares - budget players don't mind using a slightly worse mana base than the competitive decks, so they are more willing to be experimental, whereas these days they don't feel so happy because they can see that the other person has geist of saint traft and they have wind drake. Another thing I'm not sure if it has affected the diversity of the meta is R&D's increased hatred/caution of combo decks. Of course you don't want to risk another Academy these days with such a big player base it could have worse consequences than the real Academy did. But having no combo decks cuts out an entire archetype and gives people a lot more confidence about what they are going to face.
Players follow the metagame. If people played Watchwolf back in the day it's not because there were more uneducated newbies back then - Magic will always have its share of those people - but because it actually was able to win games in that sort of field. No card exists in a vacuum, just think about how no one is playing Searing Spear / Incinerate at the moment even though it's a fine card. Think about how most players would have ignored Blood Artist until it started placing in tournaments, so if something similar is printed in another metagame we might at first think such a card is good - but then it doesn't place again, and we'll go back to ignoring that sort of effect.


Plants don't move, it's true. Then again, nor do towers. The difference is, towers with guns mounted on them actually do shoot things.

But ever notice in many tower defence games how the enemy never tries to attack the towers? Wouldn't you expect them to get cluey after a while and start bringing in long range artillery? The attackers and defenders in a TD need to match each other.
This was a very interesting and helpful article. It's plenty applicable to amateur game design, and especially to the game I'm currently working on, which has definite potential to be confusing that I'm really trying to alleviate via flavour. Making more of an effort to piggyback on existing concepts the players have could be a very useful approach. So thanks!

Plants don't move, it's true. Then again, nor do towers. The difference is, towers with guns mounted on them actually do shoot things.

As such, I'm not sure PvZ is a particularly great example of piggybacking. Mostly, it illustrates the important principle that if you want to extend a game's audience to the mass market you have to make it cuter. Plants are cuter than gun emplacements!


Eh, methinks you're not aware of quite how diverse the Tower Defence genre is. I've played plenty of tower defence games where the "towers" are soldiers/mages, not to mention ones where they're strange blobby things or even spacecraft. If ever you wanted a "this ought to be able to move", a spacecraft is a pretty good example. So "rootedness" is a good element to communicate with your flavour.
If miracle piggybacks on anything it is casino gambling and its risks vs rewards. However, I assume you learned from hellbent that the hoop needs to be so giant, it is easy to jump through for players to like the cards-i.e. weighted in favor of the player not the house. Therefore, what you are really doing is making cards that just cheat the mana system without significant risk. Then we end up with another series of cards designed strictly from the point of view of the caster. Is it fun to crush people with undercosted top decked cards? Sure. Is it fun to lose to that? No. And how do you avoid losing to undercosted sorcieries? You have to counterspell them. You can't discard them. Land destruction isn't a thing to keep people off the low, low miracle costs to begin with. That is it. And you wonder why counterspells are such a sore spot for this game. Since it is NFL season, I will give you a 'Come on Man!'.
Mark Rosewater wrote:

mass market (aka simplified)



mass market (aka simplified)



mass market (aka simplified)




Come and see the violence inherent in the system!

I love that this article came out on the day Plants vs. Zombies 2 was announced.

www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/08/20/stil... 
I always like seeing mention of Rich Werner... He was also one of the main artists on Magi-Nation, which remains one of my all-time favorites.
astralArchivist.com - 4e D&D house rules, homebrew, and story hours - now featuring ENWorld's Zeitgeist adventure path! Will Thibault is a winged, feathered serpent rarely found anywhere except in warm, jungle-like regions or flying through the ether. Due to his intelligence and powers he is regarded with awe by the inhabitants of his homelands and is considered to be divine.
The smaller set size means less possibilities. And when R&D wants a card played these days they make it really obvious (Geist of Saint Traft) whereas back then they were much subtler and we sometimes missed the cards they thought would be good - most of the best cards were accidents (Tarmogoyf). Plus in terms of budget, it helped that there were no mythics back in Ravnica and that the most expensive cards were the lands, which drove down the price of other rares - budget players don't mind using a slightly worse mana base than the competitive decks, so they are more willing to be experimental, whereas these days they don't feel so happy because they can see that the other person has geist of saint traft and they have wind drake. Another thing I'm not sure if it has affected the diversity of the meta is R&D's increased hatred/caution of combo decks. Of course you don't want to risk another Academy these days with such a big player base it could have worse consequences than the real Academy did. But having no combo decks cuts out an entire archetype and gives people a lot more confidence about what they are going to face.

All of this, and more.

There's also their push for focusing more on Limited design, which leaves fewer cards per set Constructed playable. They've hinted (or outright stated) quite a few times that cards have been costed higher, or had their effect weakened, for the sake of Limited. They also include cards (like Bountiful Harvest) that are terrible in both formats, to make Draft less mind-blowing (instead of 14 choices, each Bountiful Harvest or similar reduces the options to consider by one).

And then there's New World Order. By taking a lot of the complexity out of Common, there are a lot fewer playable cards in Common. After all, Complexity usually means options. Why run a Common card that can do only one thing in your deck, when you can grab a Rare or Mythic Rare that fulfills a lot more roles at once? Why run Vorstclaw when you could instead run Primeval Titan or Soul of the Harvest? The only Commons that get played any more tend to be those with no analogue in higher rarities: Counterspells, Pinpoint Removal, Bounce, and the like.

Additionally, there's the advent of Planeswalkers. Or, more accurately, their push to make Planeswalkers the "face of the game", which tends to translate into them pushing the power level of their Planeswalkers to guarantee that they see play. By pushing this handful of cards to be Constructed playable, they decrease options for deckbuilders.

Finally, on a related note, is their policy regarding Mythic Rares in general. They've outright stated that they are nicer to their Mythics, that they like to give them "square stats" (which is to say power and toughness equal to converted mana cost). So, while Uncommon has to pay six for a 4/4 haste flyer, Mythic Rare is allowed to get a 5/5 haste flyer with more upside for just five mana.

All of these policies lend towards a smaller pool of Constructed playable cards, and worse, an increased gap in the power level between the playables and the non-playables. It's no wonder the metagame tends to be much less diverse these days.
IMAGE(http://images.community.wizards.com/community.wizards.com/user/blitzschnell/c6f9e416e5e0e1f0a1e5c42b0c7b3e88.jpg?v=90000)
Speaking of diversity, let's acknowledge that at this past weekend's world cup, 12 of the top 16 and 8 of the top 8 Block Constructed decks were all Jund.  That's Block, the constructed format they can most easily control.

Now yes, players have much more collective testing power and will of course find the best deck.  But it says something about the unbeatability of certain cards (and lack of answers in general)  when, knowing that your opponents are doing something, it's better to join them than try to beat it.

If you're on MTGO check out the Free Events via PDCMagic and Gatherling.

Other games you should try:
DC Universe Online - action-based MMO.  Free to play.  Surprisingly well-designed combat and classes.

Planetside 2 - Free to play MMO-meets-FPS and the first shooter I've liked in ages.
Simunomics - Free-to-play economy simulation game.

1) It Adds Strategic Depth


I should begin by stressing that lack of complexity doesn't necessarily reduce strategic depth. There are ways to create strategic depth without relying on complexity. With that caveat out of the way, complexity, when used properly, can add a lot of robustness to a game. It allows you to add in interesting corner cases and it gives you the freedom to let each part of the game take up the space it wants.



This, this, THIS. I think that you guys have lost sight of this in recent times. A perfect example of a complex but not deep card: Bonfire of the Damned. It's fairly complex on the surface. "Is it playable for its non-Miracle cost? Does the Miracle cost offset that?" Once you strip that away and get to understand the card, though, it becomes horribly shallow: "Oh hey, I drew Bonfire. Let's sweep the board." "I've got 5 mana, let's kill his Huntmaster, Wolf, and mana dork." Meanwhile, we're losing cards like Doom Blade ("Does he have a Doom Blade? If he doesn't, then I can double block his Grave Titan with my first strike Golems and kill it. But if he does, I'm going to lose my Blade Splicer and both Golems, and his four Zombies will overrun me next turn. So is he bluffing?"). The control elements that are being neutered are reducing some complexity of the game, like whether you need to play around counterspells, but it's severely reducing depth. That won't be good in the long run.



Speaking of diversity, let's acknowledge that at this past weekend's world cup, 12 of the top 16 and 8 of the top 8 Block Constructed decks were all Jund.  That's Block, the constructed format they can most easily control.

Now yes, players have much more collective testing power and will of course find the best deck.  But it says something about the unbeatability of certain cards (and lack of answers in general)  when, knowing that your opponents are doing something, it's better to join them than try to beat it.



I like it when other users say everything I was going to say.

IMAGE(http://i1.minus.com/jbcBXM4z66fMtK.jpg)

192884403 wrote:
surely one can't say complex conditional passive language is bad grammar ?
Speaking of diversity, let's acknowledge that at this past weekend's world cup, 12 of the top 16 and 8 of the top 8 Block Constructed decks were all Jund.  That's Block, the constructed format they can most easily control.

Now yes, players have much more collective testing power and will of course find the best deck.  But it says something about the unbeatability of certain cards (and lack of answers in general)  when, knowing that your opponents are doing something, it's better to join them than try to beat it.



I think that says that they're willing to sacrifice diversity in block for diversity in standard (which is pretty diverse).  SOM block was dominated by tempered steel and INN block is dominated by Jund, but together with M12/M13 they combine for one of the most diverse standards since Ravinca at least.
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