10/15/2012 MM: "Nostalgia vs. Innovation"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Making Magic, which goes live Monday morning on magicthegathering.com.
Did anyone else catch the moment near the end of Rosewater's third Drive to Work episode where he and Matt are discussing Planeswalkers cards and planning to have a Planeswalker with four abilities?  Rosewater says, "... We didn't want to make these cards too be good and then have to nerf [the Planeswalker card type] because it was too good."  Immediately after that, they both have this awkward pause when they both realize Wizards made and later banned Jace, the Mind Sculptor.  Matt tries very hard to change the topic, but you can tell the discussion has already gone horribly wrong and Mark ends the podcast abruptly a short time later.

56866188 wrote:
I knew the attempt to "make the game simpler and more [accessible] to new players" would get forgotten and it sure didn't take long. Gary Adkison

I think the section on the guildmages is full of flawed logic and missing information. I don't want seem negative on the set (because, I do like it) but I think Return to Ravnica has issues and this article, especially the process with the guildmages, clearly states why.

I realize this is an article expressively about nostalgia and how they had to walk the line between what players want (or think they want) and new ideas. The guildmages perfectly exemplify the dissonance with this process. This article mentions multiple times about market research and what players (or consumers) would be upset about if they didn't include. This is a "following" style of design and by that I mean it eschews good design for a popular demand. Identically to the way a movie sequel attempts to provide exactly what the original was popular for without taking into consideration why it made sense to begin with or if it makes sense within the context of the new film. The new guildmages, and this article explaining the process, exemplifies this discord of design. 


The original guildmages were the first of the set of cards that used hybrid mana and the article explains that hybrid mana was the most popular mechanic of Ravnica. Mark talks about how "people like hybrid so the set’s got to have hybrid... people like guildmages and the set’s got to have guildmages." (not exact quotes) “But! Let’s innovate the guildmages by making them different!” Essentially dismissing the definition of innovation.


The reason the guildmages worked well in the original Ravnica is that they really showcased the power and intricacy of the hybrid mana type. The Selesnya guildmage, for example could be played in a white deck and would have access to it’s +1/+1 ability. It could separately be played in a green deck and have access to it’s Saproling generating ability. It would only be “fully powered up” in a deck with access to green AND white. This brilliantly showcased the power of hybrid mana and how it creates a new way of thinking when deckbuilding. Also, implicitly giving power to the guildmages as working best in their respectively colored decks. I am more of a competitive player and not particularly attached (or “nostalgic”) about the old guildmages but in my opinion they are, design wise, the best of the hybrid cards printed.


With the new guildmages they “experimented” with more expensive and less expensive abilities, then making the abilities require both types of mana which would defeat the purpose of them costing hybrid to begin with. Development correctly just made them gold and reduced them to mere two color cards. This process is problematic in that it disregards the original design of the guildmages and why they may have made sense in the first place. Now, instead of being an interesting gameplay element, they are cards that require 2 colors of mana.


This process can be seen in other aspects of RTR where an element from the old set is “familiar but new” while achieving much less. Briefly, the guildgates are another example where they resemble the old set’s “bounce lands” but are designed in a safer, less interesting way which in consequence causes a very awkward comparison with the rare “shock lands”.


I wanted to explain this problematic design from my point of view with the feint hope that they are not fallen on deaf ears. I’m not a game design expert (which may seem obvious) but these problems seem very obvious to me.

I'm going to agree with Guest147323900 about the guildmages.  What made the guildmages cool was the tension/flexibility they offered.  Then when you consider that their predecessors Civic Guildmage etc. also focused on the idea of rewarding you for playing multiple colors the new Guildmages seem... off, so they're basically just gold cards with two abilities rather than what I think of as guildmages.  I think one way you could have made the guildmages to have the feel of the old guildmages but still have a new vibe would be to make them hybrid cards with one hybrid activated ability and one multicolor ability. Most of the new guildmages feel like they would work this way anyway. So the Selsnya one would look like this:

Show
Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
Creature - Dryad Shaman

: Populate
: Put a 3/3 green centaur creature token onto the battlefield.

2/2


Here are my thoughts on other 'Ravnica nostalgia things that were/weren't included (in no particular order):

Guild Artifacts (bloodletter quill etc.): Would have liked to have seen something like this in the set, they gave everyone the ability to something and let players using the guild do really cool things.

Guild Halls (Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion etc.): It would have been nice to see these, but since you guys made a similar cycle in Innistrad Block (Alchemist's Refuge and friends) they might have been redundant, so I don't mind.

'Splash Spells' (Vigor Mortis etc.): I felt like most of these didn't turn out so well the first time around, especially once they turned into creatures in Guildpact and Dissension, probably best to have cut them.

'ETB Auras' (Flight of Fancy etc.): Other than the fact they were printed in Ravnica, they don't really have any strong tie to Ravnica per se.  That being said, I think they were a good way to make auras viable and the idea should really be used more often.

The Hunted Cycle (Hunted Dragon etc.): It's been done, we can move on.  Though could we PLEASE see another Lammasu before the block is up?

Signets: The Keyrunes are a nice strong replacement, no complaints.

'Wow Uncommons': This is a completely subjective 'cycle' that I doubt was really intentional, but I always think of Watchwolf, Lightning Helix, Moroii, Putrefy, Electrolyze, Mortify, Wreck Havoc, Trygon Predator, and Wrecking Ball (yeah it's a common, and yeah, there wasn't an Azorius card). as being this weird crazy loose cycle of cards that seem overpowered but were actually pretty fair.  I honestly don't feel like there are any uncommons outside of Izzet that I feel really push the envelope.  Maybe I've just become jaded by creature power creep? Maybe I'm just not giving the uncommons in RtR enough credit? Maybe the whole thing is more or less in my head, so it doesn't really matter?

Guild Champions (Circu. Dimir Lobotomist etc.): You've pretty much said they're going to be in Sinker, so I won't say anything here.  Though I'm guessing the only reason you pushed them back is so that you can make them mythic rare... if so, ugh...

Guild Charms (Izzet Charm): They work, I like them.

Guildgates: You say the 'gate' subtype is going to be more relevant later, so I'll hold back on anything for now.

I've rambled enough for now.

tl;dr: I liked some stuff I didn't like other, but overall the set works for the most part.

Did anyone else catch the moment near the end of Rosewater's third Drive to Work episode where he and Matt are discussing Planeswalkers cards and planning to have a Planeswalker with four abilities?  Rosewater says, "... We didn't want to make these cards too be good and then have to nerf [the Planeswalker card type] because it was too good."  Immediately after that, they both have this awkward pause when they both realize Wizards made and later banned Jace, the Mind Sculptor.  Matt tries very hard to change the topic, but you can tell the discussion has already gone horribly wrong and Mark ends the podcast abruptly a short time later.



I too thought JtMS when I heard this part, but I think you're reading way too much into their reaction. For one thing, they had clearly reached WotC at the end of the podcast, and in fact stuck in the car a minute or two after it was turned off in order to complete some thoughts.

Though could we PLEASE see another Lammasu before the block is up?



Now this is something we can all get behind.

...


The reason the guildmages worked well in the original Ravnica is that they really showcased the power and intricacy of the hybrid mana type. The Selesnya guildmage, for example could be played in a white deck and would have access to it’s +1/+1 ability. It could separately be played in a green deck and have access to it’s Saproling generating ability. It would only be “fully powered up” in a deck with access to green AND white. This brilliantly showcased the power of hybrid mana and how it creates a new way of thinking when deckbuilding. Also, implicitly giving power to the guildmages as working best in their respectively colored decks. I am more of a competitive player and not particularly attached (or “nostalgic”) about the old guildmages but in my opinion they are, design wise, the best of the hybrid cards printed


....




I see your point, but having never played the orginal Ravnica, I didn't miss anything. I guess it is all perspective though.
Still missing two things I really wanted to see in Ravnica:  Simic Merfolk and Boros Dwarves.  Both races fit flawlessly into the color, flavor, and playstyle of those guilds.