10/22/2012 MM: "When Cards Go Bad Revisited"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Making Magic, which goes live Monday morning on magicthegathering.com.
obligatory When Cards Go Bad, New World Order Edition:

"When do we think a card should be bad? When we care so little about it that we decide it's more important to cut down on printing costs and print the expansion symbol in black and white."
"I do feel obligated, by the way, to stress that probably the number one way to become a better player is to own up that you are the cause of your losses and not an outside force; only when you accept the impact you are having on your games is there any hope of truly improving."

Can we have a strategy article on identifying where the play went bad?
I'ved played casually for the better part of a decade.  I've never given much thought to 'bad cards,' they just existed.  You see some of them and wonder why would they even bother with this card.  These must exist for just drafts.  But recently I played in the RTR prerelease.  It was an eye opener for me.  I  ended up playing with cards i never would have looked twice at for a constructed deck.  I was really amazed at what i came up with.  I played Izzet. I expected to play lots of burn and draw spells.  I ended up winning several games with Blistercoil and Teleportal.  I wouln't have considered Teleportal normally for a RB deck.  Creatures tend to serve as defenders and help fuel whatever instant laden craziness I can come up with. 

So 'bad cards' are really just about perspective.  I know thats rather obvious after reading the article. 
What I'd like to see him address is the strictly better cards in the same set issue.

The recent example being Fire Elemental and Thundermaw Hellkite.

If someone could point me in the direction of one of his responses to this, it would be appreciated.
Design Principle #3 is actually a reflection of the general sociological principle that a substantial majority of people think they are of above average intelligence.  In the US at least, the main contributing factor is the educational system that doesn't know the difference between opportunity and ability. Some things would probably run smoother if the reminder that exactly 1/2 of all people are dumber than average was pointed out more often.
4. Don't speak dumb, or you'll be struck dumb. Remember, the name of the game is heads I win, tails you lose.

The recent example being Fire Elemental and Thundermaw Hellkite.


Well, Fire Elemental doesn't care about Plummet. And limited formats won't see many Thundermaw Hellkites. Isn't that enough?
What I'd like to see him address is the strictly better cards in the same set issue.

The recent example being Fire Elemental and Thundermaw Hellkite.

If someone could point me in the direction of one of his responses to this, it would be appreciated.

Fire Elemental exists, and was reprinted likely for one or more of the reasons in this article, and in M13 particularly likely for other reasons as well involving Limited. Thundermaw Hellkite exists in M13 because R&D wanted a tournament-viable badass dragon, for a bunch of other reasons.

The fact that the two happen to be in the same set and happen to share a mana cost is coincidence. There doesn't have to be any deep reason for it. My guess is the deepest reason is something along the lines of "Because the work each was doing in their respective slots was enough to justify their inclusion separately. Sure, we tend to avoid obsoleting cards within the same set, but that preference's not really all that important overall, and definitely not enough to be worth the bother of redesigning cards to avoid it."

Design Principle #3 is actually a reflection of the general sociological principle that a substantial majority of people think they are of above average intelligence.  In the US at least, the main contributing factor is the educational system that doesn't know the difference between opportunity and ability. Some things would probably run smoother if the reminder that exactly 1/2 of all people are dumber than average was pointed out more often.

That's technically not true. Averages are skewed by outliers--there might in fact be enough sufficiently dumb outliers to skew the average so that more than half of all people are in fact above average. Of course, by the same token there might be enough sufficiently smart outliers to skew the average so that more than half of all people are below average, so take from that what you will.

It's definitely not just a US phenomenon. It's global.

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Because frankly, being here depresses me these days.

What I'd like to see him address is the strictly better cards in the same set issue.

The recent example being Fire Elemental and Thundermaw Hellkite.

If someone could point me in the direction of one of his responses to this, it would be appreciated.



There's definately the obvious rare / common point.  I know that with resources like StarCityGames and Blackborder, many of you don't actually buy packs to get your cards, so of course you would never play a Fire Elemental.  But some of us don't have the cash to copy and paste a decklist from a recent PTQ into the order form and click "Buy".  These players open a few packs every now and then and play what they open or can trade for.  They make do with thier two or three Fire Elementals and are super excited when they open and can replace one with a Thundermaw Hellkite.  That's one reason Rares and Mythics exist.


Design Principle #3 is actually a reflection of the general sociological principle that a substantial majority of people think they are of above average intelligence.  In the US at least, the main contributing factor is the educational system that doesn't know the difference between opportunity and ability. Some things would probably run smoother if the reminder that exactly 1/2 of all people are dumber than average was pointed out more often.



Well 1) the poll conducted by Wizards might be tilted because the people answering the poll might be indeed be of higher experience and understanding of the game. People who read magic online are far more likely to answer online polls because they are much more invested in the game than a casual player who might draft once a year with friends. Actually a person who bothers to answer the polls might be more committed to magic than most players. This isn't to say that commitment and experience always equals skill, but a person with such qualites can usually outplay a person without the same experience.

2) People who play magic are typically more "nerdy." Intellectual achievment could correlate with interest in magic, so I'd hardly say that Design Principle #3 in Maro's article is comparable to the example you provided in your post.

3) How do we measure intelligence? The market system we live in, capitalism, rewards specialization. It doesn't matter how broad our knowledge of things is so long as we have depth in a particular field. Some doctors can perform surgery but how many of them can fix their own car, market their own practice, grow their own food, file their own answer to a lawsuit, or program their own iphone? And if the doctors can't do all the things I listed, does that make them of below average intelligence? No, society doesn't expect them to know everything.

One could say that knowledge isn't intelligence, but the former is probably what many people mean when they say intelligence because knowledge is measurable. Intelligence, not so much.
Oh, and BTW, was I the only one kind of disappointed that the last piece of art wasn't from a card with 'bad' in its name? Sure, a goat makes sense with the point being made and all, and Zodiac Goat's likely among the worst of the cards out there that depict goats, but it breaks the pattern!

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Because frankly, being here depresses me these days.

The bit about having a scapegoat is very true.  I recently read through Nate Silver's The Signal and The Noise, and he talks about about the "fish" in poker - the tremendously bad players who fund everyone else- I'm 100% sure that the ability to blame the cards disguises their terribleness from them for a long, long time since they keep on blaming bad beats, bad cards, etc. but they are clearly great, if they just stick at it.  Definitely a good thing for the popularity of a game if more players can convince themselves they are good at it regardless of the truth of said proposition.
To be honest, I'm surprised so many people have a problem/issue/over-zealous-and-irrational-hatred for this particular topic. The whole issue is common sense, to be honest. He could have also compared it to how other games function as well. Let's take Monopoly, for example.

When you play Monopoly, what's one of the first things you establish with yourself? It probably goes something like, "Man, I hope I get the Green or Dark Blue properties (Green and Dark Blue properties representing "good" cards) first!" (for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, go play a game of Monopoly, for all that writhes in the 9 spheres...). And, I can honestly say, the majority of the people (other than a select few, of course) don't care about what happens on the Purple and Light Blue properties (Purple and Light Blue representing "bad" cards). It's because these different color properties have different values. And this is because if every property was the same, the whole game would be uninteresting. There wouldn't be any difference to the properities you and your opponents owned, it would just essentially be "whoever owned the most properties". The principal of having the most is still present within the game, but if it was the ONLY principal, Monopoly wouldn't be as popular as it is (or was, considering not many people play it anymore). This encourages you to get smaller properties that match colors with some of the off-hand properties another player got, so that you might trade them, barter, etc.

 This is exactly what it's like with Magic!

And this is what Mark is trying to say. But of course, some people (like Sadistic up there at the top (who, might I add, was ironically enough the first to reply (sounds like a troll))) will not understand this because they are annoying Spikes (and yes, I know it's not all Spikes, I'm very good friends with some Spikes) who don't really care about the game of Magic: The Gathering at all.
That's a poor example, because the light blue and purple monopolies are actually much better than green and dark blue.  Green is statistically the least likely color to land on, and the most expensive to develop.

I don't have a problem with bad cards.  The 7th reason is pretty bad, though.  Scapegoating isn't a way for designers to make people enjoy the game more.  People who scapegoat are people who tend to quit without trying very hard to invest in the game.  Enabling scapegoating is literally giving people excuses to quit.  You can't tell me that's good for the game, in any way: it might be more frustrating for a certain kind of person to be forced to admit that they lost because of a skill gap, but that's exactly the kind of person who is likely to quit anyway.

RTR is a good example of enabling scapegoating.  The set (for limited) has more than the usual number of pitfalls in terms of making a deck with a workable mana base, and so people screw up in deckbuilding and they get to blame it on color screw.  According to this article, that's good design.  It isn't, for two reasons.  1) Most people who don't know what's going wrong are just going to be pissed off at the streak of bad luck and quit, and 2) the people who DO know what's wrong have no real recourse other than to give up on archetypes with unsupportable mana bases, that might otherwise have been interesting, which also leads to quitting.

Designing variance to be your scapegoat is never a good idea.
I think these reasons are all somewhat far off, because Mark is cogently and accurately answering the wrong question. When people say "why are there bad cards", they aren't asking "what is the game design reason behind having bad cards", they are really asking "why am I making the economic transaction of paying money and getting bad cards".
That is the question he answered in the original article. So if it feels like he's answering the "wrong" questions, that's because he's choosing to, having already answered the "right" questions.

Level 1 Judge as of 09/26/2013

Zammm = Batman

"Ability words are flavor text for Melvins." -- Fallingman

"If I, the game designer, spoon feed you information, it doesn't mean as much. But if the player figures it out for themselves, they become invested."


Absolutely true. Which is why articles like David Humpherys' from last Friday are so confusing. This seems like precisely the kind of info it's best to leave players to discover, not to just present as an infodump.

Variance is a fine scapegoat. Most players dont actually write down how often they lose to their own deck, and even if they did, most of them wouldn't know how often to expect that to happen. People tend to go with their feelings more - optimists will remember their wins, pessimists will remember their losses (but even for them, the losses are less memorable because the games are over quickly).
Variance is a fine scapegoat. Most players dont actually write down how often they lose to their own deck, and even if they did, most of them wouldn't know how often to expect that to happen. People tend to go with their feelings more - optimists will remember their wins, pessimists will remember their losses (but even for them, the losses are less memorable because the games are over quickly).



Not the point.  The point is that when variance is your scapegoat, your scapegoat is something completely random and immutable.  There can't be anything more frustrating to lay your blame on than something that not only makes it seem impossible to avoid losing, but also makes it seem impossible to predict when and how you'll lose.  This is the source of the complaints about Magic being a "coin flip" game - people who want to quit say that, not people who are looking to find a way to enjoy the game a different way.
A note for Daily Magic staff:

Your artist credit for Badlands is wrong; it should be Rob Alexander.
I really want to see the article on why bad cards are so tremendously worse than good cards, rather than just a little worse.

3,000th post: September 5, 2010 4,000th post: March 24, 2012 Winner of the YMTC Ravnica War of the Guilds contest as guild Dimir.

Snapcaster Mage is the best card of all time. How do you deal?

Personally, I'd like to harbor and expand the small pool of those who intentionally use/own/collect bad cards, in a format where every casual deck includes no cards with a community rating above two stars, even if in proxy form, so no one has to soil their hands with ember shot
I really want to see the article on why bad cards are so tremendously worse than good cards, rather than just a little worse.


If every bad card was a Faerie Invaders, beginners would just forgive them. You have to give them Rotcrown Ghoul so that they, too, can get it.

A lot of the arguments for making cards "bad" can be equally achieved by making them narrower.  Narrow is bad for someone, but perfect for someone else.  "Bad" doesn't have a perfect home, it longs for "adequate."


This is one of those articles that makes me think their focus groups must be blindfolded monkeys.  Only a "teeny, tiny portion of the audience" understands synergy?  Sure, some synergies can be subtle.  (Like Scavenging onto an opponent's Rakdos guy so it can't block.)  But when they made a tribal set (Lorwyn) where there are plenty of obvious synergies, we were later told it was too confusing to people.  I completely understand WotC's position.  Ever since "NWO", R&D's unofficial slogan has been "don't let players know how dumb they are."  I get it.  I just don't like it.


In that infamous New World Order column, Mark said:


Scornful Egotist, from Scourge, isn't confusing in what it says. It's a 1/1 with morph for . The problem is that many players didn't understand the eight-mana cost. For those unfamiliar with Scourge, it had a "converted mana cost matters" theme. Scornful Egotist's high converted mana cost was considered a bonus for the card (you got it into play using the morph). Unfortunately, this theme didn't draw as much attention to itself as it could and the card just ended up baffling many players because they couldn't comprehend why the card was doing what it did.


Where the heck is the "so it's a bad card, players love that stuff!" bit? Which is it: do new players like seeing bad cards because they've learned that it's bad, or do they not like bad cards because it "baffles" them why R&D would print it?

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Simunomics - Free-to-play economy simulation game.

That answer seems obvious to me. Players like not liking bad cards. They love complaining about them and hating them.

Really, try hanging out in any card shop and see how many players seem proud of their derisive view of many things, of which bad cards are a small subset. 
I really want to see the article on why bad cards are so tremendously worse than good cards, rather than just a little worse.



I really want to see the article on why great cards are so tremendously better than good cards, rather than just a little better.

I am far more frustrated by the existence of a tier of cards that dominate everything than I am by a tier of cards that are bad enough that I can forget they exist.
I really want to see the article on why bad cards are so tremendously worse than good cards, rather than just a little worse.



I really want to see the article on why great cards are so tremendously better than good cards, rather than just a little better.

I am far more frustrated by the existence of a tier of cards that dominate everything than I am by a tier of cards that are bad enough that I can forget they exist.

I agree with this sentiment. There are a fair number of reasonable 5-mana creatures, why are they so badly obsoleted by Thragtusk, for instance? 
What I'd like to see him address is the strictly better cards in the same set issue.

The recent example being Fire Elemental and Thundermaw Hellkite.

If someone could point me in the direction of one of his responses to this, it would be appreciated.

There's some mention of this already in the article: there need to be cards that even new and inexperienced players can identify as 'bad'. One of the easiest ways to make a card 'obviously bad' is to include something strictly better alongside it - not only does this allow the player's skill to grow by re-evaluating the old card (players will generally see the common before they see the mythic), it causes the new card to generate a larger impact by being even better than a card the player would have judged as 'good' in isolation.

To be fair, though, this is all more 'justification' than 'reason' - the reason they print strictly better cards is normally because they're crafting a Limited environment and a Standard environment (and a casual environment, and an Extended environment, and...) at the same time, and they simply have different needs. A five-mana 5/4 at common probably has more total value where it's relevant - particularly Limited - than a mythic dragon does; because Magic is trying to be so many games at once, there are too many perspectives through which to judge a card for "strictly better" to be a universally useful construct to begin with...

In that infamous New World Order column, Mark said:


Scornful Egotist, from Scourge, isn't confusing in what it says. It's a 1/1 with morph for . The problem is that many players didn't understand the eight-mana cost. For those unfamiliar with Scourge, it had a "converted mana cost matters" theme. Scornful Egotist's high converted mana cost was considered a bonus for the card (you got it into play using the morph). Unfortunately, this theme didn't draw as much attention to itself as it could and the card just ended up baffling many players because they couldn't comprehend why the card was doing what it did.


Where the heck is the "so it's a bad card, players love that stuff!" bit? Which is it: do new players like seeing bad cards because they've learned that it's bad, or do they not like bad cards because it "baffles" them why R&D would print it?



Scornful Egotist is not merely bad.  It's extremely confusing.  It presents the player with a choice: a 2/2 for 3 mana, or a 1/1 for 7U.  Oh, and they can make the 2/2 into a 1/1 if they want to.  It gives the player options which appear to be actively counterproductive.  That's different from just being bad.

 

Goblin Artisans
a Magic: the Gathering design blog
"The reason it's important is that if you want to get your players invested, it helps if you get them to do some of the work. If I, the game designer, spoon feed you information, it doesn't mean as much."

"That's another important job of bad cards, making sure everyone, no matter how inexperienced, has something to learn. And remember, every set needs to have a card or two that even the most inexperienced player can recognize as bad."

 
Contradictions are a sure sign of illogical arguments.
And if he had contradicted himself, maybe that might be relevant. But he didn't: he said "get the player to do some of the work", not "get the player to do all of the work".

Level 1 Judge as of 09/26/2013

Zammm = Batman

"Ability words are flavor text for Melvins." -- Fallingman

And if he had contradicted himself, maybe that might be relevant. But he didn't: he said "get the player to do some of the work", not "get the player to do all of the work".



I was actually thinking about the last part of that quote where is said "If I, the game designer, spoon feed you information, it doesn't mean as much" and then went on to say that some cards have to exist to do just that. While it's not exactly a contradiction, it still seems odd to make cards just to show people how horrible they are after the statement about spoon feeding.
It frustrates me that there have been no less than three (three!) articles and an Ask Wizards on why bad cards need to, should, and shall exist, and yet there is still so much backlash and argument from the players!  Not to mention all the articles relating to combating power creep within the game, likely thousands of dollars in market research, evidence of R&D's successful design and development philosophies indicated by a constantly growing player base, etc. 

They know what they're doing.  They've been doing it for nearly 20 years. 

Occasionally something small and individual will slip by (JtMS, I'm looking at you!), but when it comes to entire design and development philosophy and procedure, WotC has a well-tuned, finely running machine cranking out an amazing and amazingly fun product. 

We need to drop this naive, entitled attitude and leave the game design philosophy to the professionals.  If you're posting on this forum, you're still playing Magic.  And why is that?  Because it's still FUN.  And we can thank WotC for that.
That survey in which 80% of the players said they were above average is interesting. I am always skeptical of survey numbers and again the context of the survey is a big deal. Here is an example of why I think 80% could have said above average and been correct. I have been a part of multiple play groups and each one has had players who did not purchase cards. Lets look at a common occurance. Husband and wife play magic at home. Survey goes out..... which one will respond to the survey (the one who is more interested and likely the one who is a better player).

Anyway I think it's pretty clear that if you were responding to a MtG survey you are likely at least average if not above average. I'm not saying that 80% of the respondants were absolutely above average "magic players" but I think it very likely if you include anyone who has at least played a game of magic and learned the basic rules that 80% number could be accurate.
Don't be too smart to have fun
I was actually thinking about the last part of that quote where is said "If I, the game designer, spoon feed you information, it doesn't mean as much" and then went on to say that some cards have to exist to do just that.

Making something digestable isn't the same thing as spoon feeding it.

That survey in which 80% of the players said they were above average is interesting. I am always skeptical of survey numbers and again the context of the survey is a big deal. Here is an example of why I think 80% could have said above average and been correct. [...]

It's a nice theory, but the more likely answer is that they're just wrong. People tend to overestimate their own abilities in lots of areas, so it's not unreasonable that the same would happen in Magic.

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Because frankly, being here depresses me these days.

I was actually thinking about the last part of that quote where is said "If I, the game designer, spoon feed you information, it doesn't mean as much" and then went on to say that some cards have to exist to do just that.

Making something digestable isn't the same thing as spoon feeding it.



It is when you have a 5/4 and a 5/5 with flying and haste that damages and taps flying creatures as it enter the battlefield in the same set.
It is when you have a 5/4 and a 5/5 with flying and haste that damages and taps flying creatures as it enter the battlefield in the same set.

No, it really isn't. You'd be surprised how oblivious some (especially newer) players are to such subtle concepts as "costs", "abilities", and "stats".

I've seen a player run Woodland Druid and Wall of Wood in the same deck as Ezuri's Archers and Wall of Vines without any idea that the former are worse than the latter.

Come join me at No Goblins Allowed


Because frankly, being here depresses me these days.

It frustrates me that there have been no less than three (three!) articles and an Ask Wizards on why bad cards need to, should, and shall exist, and yet there is still so much backlash and argument from the players!  Not to mention all the articles relating to combating power creep within the game, likely thousands of dollars in market research, evidence of R&D's successful design and development philosophies indicated by a constantly growing player base, etc. 

They know what they're doing.  They've been doing it for nearly 20 years.  

Popular is not the same as good. One is quantifiable and true indepent of the individual; the other is a value and varies from person to person. The reason people complain on this subject is because they, personally, dislike it. Not to mention the fact that the game as a whole can be good while still having parts that are annoying, insulting, depressing or even infuriating.

Finally, just because they've written a lot on the subject doesn't mean what they've written is undeniable. They can keep making the same argument again and again, but that doesn't mean we suddenly have to agree.
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The original article being referred to was one of my all-time favorite posts on this site. It talked about the very legitimate need for drafts to make sense and for limited play in general to require card-evaluation skills and creativity, but it also talked about power creep. I feel like this article and the previous follow-up both completely abandoned that line of argument, just as the development team has stretched it.

There are some old individual cards that have become INSANE because they have synergy with things that didn't used to exist, but I feel like there are mediocre, tier II decks in the last few standard formats that would have been top tier in the pre-modern days. In fact, not too long after I read the old article for the first time, I played a long overdue rematch against one of the people who taught me how to play Magic, and told him to bring his best so I could test out and improve my regionals deck (Ravnica-Time Spiral era). He brought out the world champion deck from 2000 or so, which was right about when I was first introduced to this game. I crushed it with my $60 deck based on my own tweaks to the Selesnya "Building on a Budget" article. If that's not power creep...

I posted something like this after what I thought was a decent aggro deck got roflpwned by JTMS in general, Caw-Blade (had angry flashbacks to Jitte and Fire and Ice), and Valakut, and most of the replies I got essentially said I was crazy and should have spent at least $300 for a decent standard deck anyway, which, because that's more than a legacy burn deck, of course invalidates power creep lol.
I generally think that design does a good job. No really I do.

Mark is a wily one though. He enjoys answering a version of what people ask, not what people actually ask. As far as I can tell, most players understand - without having to be told through articles like this - why some cards need to be better than others. They also understand that some cards serve a narrow purpose, which means they appear bad at first. As far as I can tell, nobody is asking "why" in that context. If they were, then Mark's article is a fine answer.

I have yet to see an answer in any of the articles on the subject as to why some cards had to be so badly nerfed, when the same could be achieved by a more moderated touch.

The article also avoids the question - why does there appear to be so much more power creep and rarity creep than previously? I know it is a separate topic but rarity and power creep exacerbate the problem of why cards seem bad.
I have yet to see an answer in any of the articles on the subject as to why some cards had to be so badly nerfed, when the same could be achieved by a more moderated touch.



As somebody else said, that's explained in #3.

Also #6.