You Make the Card Championships 2012 [Design]

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We're closing in on the end, and with it, we've finally come to the card creation part of the contest. With the community's opinion, we have gathered users with varying areas of expertise, and here are the competitors for this year:


I was going to make a fancy introduction for each of you, but we all know it would be extremely cheesy, and I don't know you all well enough anyway. Either way, now for more of me. As the last year's winner, I'm providing the criteria, and thus, I would have to make something that isn't completely terrible, as I've ruined this competition enough as it is. I wanted it to be sufficiently difficult, and while it asks you to solve a common problem, it's not often something I actively think about. I'm asking for four cards, both because four is my favorite number, and to give a broader spectrum of cards for the voting process. Finally, while my cards might sometimes hint otherwise, I'm quite passionate about functionality and user-focused design. This is the year's criteria:

Magic is a massive game, and it's showing no signs of stopping. It gets more cards in a year than most other do in their lifespan. However, as alluring as the future might be, the framework for it comes from the past. As a designer, it's important to know where the design space lies, and what's keeping the game back.

Choose Magic's four biggest mistakes, and fix them. For each, make a card related to it.

You may not go back in history and change the past, everything you do will happen in a coming expansion. Certain things are too ingrained into Magic's past to the point where they might not be possible to remove. It's up to you to decide what is acceptable to change and what isn't.

Good luck. Given the time of the year, I will provide extensions if necessary, but for now, the deadline stands at 10.1.2013.

Yxoque wrote:
This forum can't even ****ing self-destruct properly.


So we must decide what the mistakes are ourselves?
So we must decide what the mistakes are ourselves?

Edit: For what it's worth, that should probably be a relief for you.

Yxoque wrote:
This forum can't even ****ing self-destruct properly.


Maaaaaaaan. Well I guess it /should/ be hard.
Your free to choose whatever. Color pie, mechanical interactions, rules, set design structure. Hell, go for the commercial aspect if you like, but good luck with that.

Yxoque wrote:
This forum can't even ****ing self-destruct properly.


I suppose I should mention you don't have to choose the worst, but what you're doing should be with the intent of fixing parts of the game you don't think are being excecuted well enough. The criteria isn't so much about finding problems with the game, as much as it is detecting that something is a problem, and ways to go about fixing it.

Plus some card design.

Yxoque wrote:
This forum can't even ****ing self-destruct properly.


Lets hope I can find 4 things I don't like :o
You win this contest for not liking things and I'm not qualified? NOOO-OOOO!
You're evil. Criteria these days are much harder than they used to be...
Interesting criteria. Can't wait for the submissions.
I have a sig because it gives my posts better spacing.
Third times the charm. Not sure where I rank this criteria among the past.
Can we at least put it over Detektor's?

Yxoque wrote:
This forum can't even ****ing self-destruct properly.


Consequences To Every Action
Fire target Zac Hill.

"Into the cavern with you!"

I don't actually hate Zac Hill. I just noticed that a lot of other people do.

Then I just woke up, too. In my dreams I made a new rule for this contest. It was like:

Rule XXX.X: Creatures cannot enter the battlefield unless their caster has used mana to cast a spell this turn.

Presumably because my subconscious was like, Affinity and Cheerios are too strong! Making such strategies viable was a mistake! But I'm pretty sure that the rule wouldn't really destroy those strategies. Not only that - I actually think those strategies are sorta neato! So, but, and I just guess that I wanted to post it because it was the first time I dreamed about design/design theory. It isn't really a card, but it is something.

So, um, ignore this post I guess.

139359831 wrote:
That is a lovely painting of Richard Garfield. It really brings out his feminine side.
Can we have more animated pokemon sprites in signatures?

YMtC needs more of that.
A little bit of courage is the real magic.
I'd say that's a steep consequence. He doesn't seem like all that bad a guy to me. Although, I'd guess he's got that "College-wise guy" persona about him. That's just what I get from the pictures. Even so, that persona only carries on a person from the social failures of those around him or her. Of course, there are always exceptioins and there are people who continue conduct despite all attempts to come to a peaceful understanding, ain't that right? But I don't think we have enough information to come to that conclusion about Zac Hill, so I'll just leave it at that. It might be a bad idea to be so condesending in the first place, if you've failed to provide the explicit details and graphic examples it would take for the case to considered a respected one.


Here's a freebie mistake someone can use in their submission:

The color Blue. The whole thing. Just trash it, it's an obviously failed experiment. Have Green twice instead. White, Green, Black, Red, Green again. Perfect.
Gridmaster Official Denizen of YmtC || My Lair Diraden, a set by me
Can we at least put it over Detektor's?

I think that's a given.
I have a sig because it gives my posts better spacing.
Consequences To Every Action
Fire target Zac Hill.

"Into the cavern with you!"

Damn, flavor text made me audibly chuckle.


192884403 wrote:
surely one can't say complex conditional passive language is bad grammar ?
1. "Tradition" is preventing wording and rules cleanups

You know, the way "flying" was written instead of "flight" always bugged me. It certainly makes sense if you see the word all by its lonesome in Wind Drake's text box, or if you read one of the old Alpha cards that says "does not affect flying creatures." But nowadays, we call Wind Drake "a creature with flying," whatever that means grammatically. Jump reads "Target creature gains flying until end of turn." Earthquake brings the hurt on "each creature without flying." I got used to it after a while, but every so often I wondered why the hell the ability hadn't been errataed to fit with the new syntax yet.

There are many artifacts left over from Magic's history – instant being a card type rather than a supertype, for one thing, and the convoluted rules of protection and regeneration for another. They work, certainly, in the sense that they don't really impede game play. But these little nonsensical things make learning the game difficult for new players, add redundant complexity to an already complicated game, and generally bog down the game experience. As I recall, Mark Rosewater's explanation for Wizards not doing away with these oddities boils down to "We would change it, but it's too deeply ingrained in Magic's history." You know what else had the same problems? Banding.

A quality game isn't just beautiful artwork or the deep strategy, as important as they may be. It's the little things, the internal consistencies and the plain grokkability, that make a good game great. Magic has always been evolving in this respect. Mono artifacts, summon creatures, interrupts, mana sources, rampage, the old card frame, local enchantments, removal from the game – in each of these cases, R&D identified something that wasn't working out and replaced it with something new. If they were willing to go against 14 years of tradition by changing fear to intimidate, I see no reason not to do it again.

 Araba Nightwing

Creature – Human Samurai (C)

(You may cast a spell at any time, even during combat or an opponent's turn.)
Flight (This creature can't be blocked except by creatures with flight or reach.)
Blackshield (This creature can't be blocked, dealt damage, targeted or otherwise affected by anything black.)

They are the blood-red of cypress flower petals, descending upon the soon-to-be dead.

3. Powerful trump cards are warping the game

20. That's the most significant number in an average game of Magic: the Gathering: the amount of life you have, and the amount of life your opponent has to plow through in order to win. I don't know exactly what Richard Garfield and his mates were thinking when they set the number, but I'm pretty sure it was something along the lines of "Let's set a number that's low enough that the game ends in a reasonable amount of time, but high enough that you don't die in a single hit and interesting stuff gets to go on."

The biggest creatures in the game were Serra Angels, Shivan Dragons. Maybe Forces of Nature if you were lucky. From this we can deduce more or less how many turns the original design team intended a game to last: seven, eight, maybe nine. Long enough that both players get to show off their tricks and bring out their biggest guns. Why, then, am I losing games on turn five in Standard?

Is it because Geist of Saint Traft can be brought out on the second turn, is immune to traditional answers, and hits for one-third my life total in one swing? Is it because Thragtusk and Restoration Angel can bury me under a mountain of life and 3/3 Beasts before I even know what's going on? When did Magic become about trump cards and trying to go 'over the top' of your opponent, rather than, you know, nuance and strategy?

It's not that I'm against the powering up of creatures relative to spells or the current prevalence of midrange decks. There will always be powerful threats and trump cards. But the game would definitely be more enjoyable if non-mythic creatures were competitively viable, matches could be puzzles instead of one-sided curbstomps, and a Giant Growth rather than a Supreme Verdict could decide the game.


Creature – Human Wizard (U)

: You may tap or untap another target permanent.

"Not every fight can be solved with blows, and not every lock can be opened with a key."

3. Magic is too expensive

Do you know what Magic's single largest barrier to entry is? It isn't complexity – New World Order and the huge, friendly network of rules support have made that a thing of the past. It isn't age – rotating formats mean that any player can jump right in, regardless of their collection. No, where I come from, most prospective players are turned away by the cost involved.

Right now, one of the more popular Standard archetypes is Bant midrange. That deck can cost as much as two hundred US dollars. Reality check – two hundred dollars is a lot of money, especially if you're a new player who isn't sure whether his investment is going to pay off. With two hundred dollars, I can buy a mahjong board, complete with tiles. Ten chessboards, maybe twenty if I'm lucky. Hundreds of movie tickets. I'm not a mathematician, but I can bet you any of those is going to last me much longer than the average Standard rotation. We have reached an era in Magic: the Gathering where the average competitive deck is a hundred and fifty, a decent mana base alone is a hundred, and a deck that costs fifty dollars is considered 'budget.'

At this point you're probably wondering about Pauper and other casual, low-cost formats. It is precisely the existence of these formats that brought me to realize just how ridiculous the cost of playing Magic has become. Should we have to resort to inventing new rules just so we can afford to play a watered-down version of the game? At Grand Prix Singapore, I saw Filipino Magic players who played monoblack Vampires because they couldn't afford Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I've seen countless Sligh players who play the deck not because they like it, but because they don't have the means to enjoy this hobby with any other deck.

This probably isn't a problem that Magic can overcome in the near future, but I believe that Wizards should try. Magic is a great game which more players should have the opportunity to experience. If Hasbro wants to make more money, if R&D wants Magic to become a truly timeless masterpiece, the first step is to eliminate the price barrier that stands between Joe Nobody and the full experience, and let the well-crafted game mechanics speak for themselves.

Glacial Fortress
Land (C)

Glacial Fortress enters the battlefield tapped unless you control a Plains or an Island.
: Add or to your mana pool.

Only the greatest mages of old could carve their homes in the silence at the top of the world.

4. Not enough cats

You know it's true.


Legendary Creature – Cat (M)

: Cat creatures with power 1 or less gain protection from the color of your choice until end of turn.


Embrace imagination.

Lord of YMtC | Ten Rounds Contest Winner

Solphos – A fan set with a 'combo matters' theme

Fool's Gold – The second set of the Solphos block

Very difficult criteria.
Nice work. 

1. The Reprint Policy / Reserved List

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a proponent of reprinting Lotus / Moxen / Time Vault. But the commitment not to reprint any of the cards on the reserved list, while noble, was ultimately short sighted. But with an unprecedented influx of new players the time has come for a revision. So the mistake was a well intended commitment to a core customer set who are now a minority, and more importantly, only a subset of which would now continue to buy cards. New players deserve the chance, the marketing is strong, and hey, functionally equivalent cards don't impact secondary market prices anywhere near as much as actual reprints.

Organ Pilferer |
Creature - Zombie
At the beginning of each end step, put a +1/+1 counter on Organ Pilferer for each creature that died this turn.
He selects the finest plots for the heroes that join his neighbourhood, and asks only a small token in return.

(Fun fact - this card should be called Corpse Connoisseur. So much so that I nearly called this guy 'Ichor Sommelier'.)

2. Core set structure

Core sets suck. They are absolutely 100% better than they were, but it still blows to have the delivery of a shiny new world delayed so that Magic designers and developers get to play in a sandbox of past mechanic space mining. Having said that, both the timing and execution of Core sets serve important functions, both in release timing, rotation and the use of existing design space.
My fix for this is actually a pretty simple one. Drop core sets and replace them with single large set returns to the worlds whe the mechanic is from originally. In this way all the mechanical and commercial release strength that comes from a Core Set is maintained, and all the disappointing feel of transplanted mechanics in a weakly built world replaced with an actualised world that suits the bridge mechanics betweens major blocks. In this way the worldhopping feel of planeswalking is more strongly enforced. The drawback is definitely there - it's harder to mix mechanics for example, and translating mechanics into the new setting can be more difficult. But that's not a new problem, and the bleeding of exalted to a Demon from Grixis still happens on Alara! The power of nostalgia is increased! It could even be possible to preview or test run new worlds, or use brand new mechanics with very limited design space (too limited to support a block say). I chose Shadowmoor as an example.

Tortured Soul |
Creature - Spirit
When Tortured Soul enters the battlefield, each other creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.
: Sacrifice Tortured Soul.
Her deathshrieks fill even the jaded faerie with dread, but nothing like as when they start all over.

3. Mythic power plays

I've said this plenty, but mythics are not the place for Baneslayer Angels or Lotus Cobras. They are the place for Worldspine Wurms and Epic Experiments. Sure sometimes Primeval Titans will exist, and it's not to say that they can't be strong. But mythics should be for splash, not cash.

Scrapped for insufficient splash
Replica |
Artifact Creature - Construct (M)
You may have Replica enter the battlefield as a copy of a creature you own except for its name and types. When Replica enters the battlefield pay that creature’s mana cost or exile Replica.
Building it didn’t take as long as choosing the subject for the castings.

Reality Lense |
, : For each non-land permanent an opponent controls, put a token onto the battlefield that's a copy of that permanent. Then exile Reality Lense.

4. Enemy Colour Definition

OK, this might need a bit of explanation. The pie is (in my opinion) one of the greatest creations in Magic. It helps define colour and thus game structure, informing flavour and function. The colour pie's biggest enemy somehow though, is the player. Through a combination of a glut of multicolour and a related easing of the difficulty of mana fixing this part of the colour pie has lost definition, especially in terms of which colours relate to others more easily. It's touched on occasionally, but the philosophical rift between colours has become reduced to a mild disagreement. I'd love to see a set that emphasises allied colour play by providing multi-colour tools that abhors enemy colours. Get those Deathmarks and Flashfreezes in, or take a roll on the extremely powerful but very few in number enemy coloured cards. These guys should be special, yet because of some (admittedly excellent, popular blocks), the Orzhov and Boros colour combinations are strangely just as viable as those of Selesnya and Azorius. I'm not saying I want to see Tsunami or Flashfires. But you know what? Hybrid is an awesome tool to highlight allied colours uniting in prejudice against a common enemy to create a solid hate card that also opens itself up to hate. That's what I'd like to see. A bit of an old fashioned red and black picking on that wussy white. And a real difference between green and blue that doesn't involve artifacts.
This one's a bit hard to put together in one card since it really needs an environment to say what's going on. But hey, that's what the aforementioned rambling is for right?

Thought Monitor | ()()
Creature - Vedalken Advisor {U}
Whenever a red creature attacks, it loses all abilities until end of turn.
"This one shows signs of violent tendencies. Keep an eye on it."
Oh mythics, nice imi, ill steal that.
On flying, I think it's supposed to be a gerund (a type of usage of a verb as a noun) rather than a participle (usage of a verb as an adjective). Yeah, English grammar doesn't make any sense.
139359831 wrote:
Clever deduction Watson! Maybe you can explain why Supergirl is trying to kill me.
---- Autocard is your friend. Lightning Bolt = Lightning Bolt
Good luck. Given the time of the year, I will provide extensions if necessary, but for now, the deadline stands at 10.1.2013.

I just saw this. No no no no no no.

It should be a week at least, ESPECIALLY given the time of year.

Oh, wait, you use a different time notation. That's January 10th, ya? I don't know how I read January 1st.
On flying, I think it's supposed to be a gerund (a type of usage of a verb as a noun) rather than a participle (usage of a verb as an adjective). Yeah, English grammar doesn't make any sense.

please don't comment before the round closes.


why are you here when NGA exists and is just better


Sets I Made: Fleets of Ossia (complete) | Wavebreak (in progress)

October 2013? That's crazy. Ill just say I won't get this in for at least 2 more days.
Why I didn't understand what you were talking about

Please forgive the quote marks, I was just lazy and didn't want to keep looking.
Mown is silly and norwegian. They use a different, backwards calendar.
A little bit of courage is the real magic.
Mown is silly and norwegian. They use a different, backwards calendar.

Like everyone else in Europe, Australia...
Mown is silly and norwegian. They use a different, backwards calendar.

Like everyone else in Europe, Australia...

Europe isn't in Australia.


why are you here when NGA exists and is just better


Sets I Made: Fleets of Ossia (complete) | Wavebreak (in progress)

Mown is silly and norwegian. They use a different, civilized calendar.


I wish I had a criteria like this in my day, it would be so really fun.
Mown is silly and norwegian. They use a different, backwards calendar.

Like everyone else in Europe, Australia...

Europe isn't in Australia.


But Australia is in Europe.
A little bit of courage is the real magic.
It was a joke. Also screw calenders, I rarely know what day it is.
Okay, so I put some thought into this, but then I didn't write it down, so I forgot it all!

Anyway, now I'm just sittin' here typing and pondering and maybe eating a little as well. Now I'm drinking - no, just water. I might have a straw to enable simultaneous. . . Okay, I took a long break to help my sister discover the etymology of the word "Apocalypse" - which is actually more interesting than the OED would have one believe!

So, what's wrong with magic? Hmmm - Okay, here we go, that's the wrong question. What don't I like about magic? Ah, well, that's a little easier. Too many jabronis. I'm not talking about the dorks and nerds - I'm talking about the folks who are like "Well let's see if you can beat my elf deck!" In that like ridiculous voice. Ugh. Anyway, I like dorks and nerds, and I like most of the people on here, but I've really only ever met a couple magic players that I thought were legitimately cool. But I don't know how to solve that - anyway, this train of thought has chugged me into an area which I think I might be able to tackle:

1. Not enough not-dudes.

Now, not to brag, but I know a thing or two about girls, and I'm not speaking of the internet variety. The tough part of this problem is how to build this card so that it is attractive without art. Huh. Also dangerous because of possible sexism interpretation. Let me disclaim this suspicion. I merely want the game to be more accessible to those who aren't mans. At which point, I suspect it will garner even more attention from mans. But such is life.

So, that's one. Hmmm. What else could be better about Magic. Oh! This one was easy. More Beauty.

2. Not enough beauty.

I'm not talking about art. I'm not talking about poetic flavour text. I'm talking about actually beautiful cards. Cards that one can post on this forum that can be considered Art. I've seen it here. A few times. I still think that the Past Tense cards and Future Tense cards I made qualify as art. Many people didn't quite like them, because they don't function very well, but I still found them lovely. I've seen many other members of this community develop cards that were both beautiful and functional. Let me see if I can design something that does a little to assuage the war we fight against those who only care for power level.

So. Now onto three. Three three three. What does magic have too much of maybe? Just thinking out loud here. The noise is the sound of my keyboard. Well, I s'pose there are too many - oh! I got it. Too many humans, not enough mics. Exit your show like I exit the turnpike.

3. Too many humans.

Humans are such a lame race to have in fantasy. Like why even do it? Boring. Okay. So that's all I have to say about that. I guess I'll need to think of a way to fit that idea onto a card. One example of a new archetypal race - perhaps for White, since I think they have the most humans. But, essentially, one that could fit into any colour. That is the most important element. Seriously, I guess, I just want to show that it is possible to fit a race into each colour - and then each set can have a different primary race - that is, if it needs one to fit in all colours.

So, down to my last one. I'm tired of typing out every singe thought that pops into my increasingly weary mind - why do I feel the need to even type this? I just keep doing it. Enough. Enough is enough and Magic has been around a long time. Someday it needs to end. So far they haven't done a very good job wrapping up loose ends. I'm going to point the story in the direction of closure. Like Bolas is always scheming - does creative even know what he's scheming about? Eventually Magic must stop. I'm going to help it start to stop.

4. The inevitable demise of the M:TG Franchise - a jumping off point.

That's it. I'm going to do those ones I guess. I'll start sooner or later.

139359831 wrote:
That is a lovely painting of Richard Garfield. It really brings out his feminine side.
There are many many girls with a y chromosome you sexist. And don't forgot those who don't conform to the normal two genders :o
Oh. Whoops. Yeah - I want more of them too. I guess I'll edit. Poop.

139359831 wrote:
That is a lovely painting of Richard Garfield. It really brings out his feminine side.
Pablo, I was fully expecting you to come up with stuff like "Magic is too slow, why the turn based system...?" and then come up with a crazy but actually reasonable way to play Magic in real time.


192884403 wrote:
surely one can't say complex conditional passive language is bad grammar ?
I'm really sorry Fenix.. I'm trying to take this somewhat seriously - if there is one thing I like more than being really silly it is winning while being somewhat silly. Though that idea of yours sounds like a contest waiting to be run.

139359831 wrote:
That is a lovely painting of Richard Garfield. It really brings out his feminine side.
1. Mana fixing has been pushed too hard, while land destruction has been overnerfed.
If the strengths and weaknesses of the colors are the foundation of the color pie, then why is it so easy to play multicolor and negate those weaknesses? Playing more than one color should be tradeoff; mana fixing should cost some amount of tempo, life, or card advantage. Land destruction plays a part in this as well, making manabases yet another battleground to gain advantage in. They say that "people like to cast their spells." Well, some of the greatest Magic stories involve the lack of needed mana at a crucial moment, or a key land destruction spell crippling a fragile mana base. Let's bring that back.

The fix: Weaken mana fixing, and bring back 3-drop LD in a limited form, such as Fulminator Mage. Here's an example of some weak mana fixing:

Glacial Settlement
Land (U)
, : Add to your mana pool.
, : Add to your mana pool.

Okay, maybe it's not strictly mana fixing, depending on your definition. This is basically a two-color Reflecting Pool variant that works better with mana artifacts. Still, it represents the power level I think nonbasic lands should have.

2. No crossovers.
WOTC insists that it retains full control of Magic's IP by making it completely original. However, I think Magic could gather a lot of attention by opening its doors to crossovers with other IPs. People identify with certain fandoms, and if they could be pulled into Magic through these connections, they could learn to love Magic as well.

The fix: Start by doing some sweet D&D crossovers, since Wizards already owns that IP. How about Eberron? Eberron is cool, right? (Disclaimer: I hardly know anything about D&D.)

Given what I know about Eberron, the set would likely have an artifact theme, but more steampunk-ish than Mirrodin.

And hey, since it's practically inspired by D&D, let's bring back the Level Up mechanic.

Fairhaven Artificer
Creature - Human Artificer (U)
Level up
Artifact spells you cast cost less to cast.
Artifact spells you cast cost less to cast.
Artifacts you control have hexproof.

3. Unclear boundaries between formats.
Wizards constantly prints supplementary products, but they always have some non-Standard legal cards. Duels of the Planeswalkers is a great introduction to Magic, but it lumps old and new cards together. These things make it more confusing for new players to build a Standard deck to play Friday Night Magic.

The fix: This one isn't so easy. I think the first step is to put the original expansion symbols on cards reprinted in supplementary products. Perhaps they could also have the supplementary product's symbol, so there would be two symbols on one card. I would also make Duels of the Planeswalkers use normal expansion symbols, and make more of an effort to include Standard-legal cards in it.

Duels normally has to dig deep into Magic history to find simple cards that work well within the game. Instead, here's a card that could be printed in the next core set that could combine well with Return to Ravnica block in DOTP 2014.

Arcanist's Spellsword
Artifact - Equipment (R)
Equipped creature gets +2/+0.
Whenever equipped creature attacks, when you cast your next instant or sorcery spell this turn, copy that spell. You may choose new targets for the copy.

This card works well in an aggressive Izzet deck, and it's especially good on flyers or high-toughness creatures like Frostburn Weird.

4. Not embracing the card design community.
When Wizards ran the Great Designer Search, they got tons of great mechanics and ideas that they are legally allowed to use. Why not set up an official idea submission system? Every YMTCer's dream is to get their cards printed for real, and Wizards can always use more ideas. Everybody wins.

Here's a card that uses a mechanic from the Great Designer Search.

Wailing Gnarr
Creature - Beast (C)
When Wailing Gnarr enters the battlefield, search your library for up to three cards named Wailing Gnarr and put them into your hand. Then shuffle your library.
Swarm (Whenever a creature blocks this creature, it blocks all attacking creatures with Swarm. You choose the order in which the attackers are dealt damage.)

Can we have more animated pokemon sprites in signatures?

YMtC needs more of that.

Oh snap, I should change mine.
OK, finally done.  I'm somewhat ashamed that even with a generous time limit I ended up rushing the part where I make cards.  

One of MaRo's favorite metaphors is comparing Magic to a pendulum -- R&D pushes the pendulum from side to side in order to create a new, interesting, different environment with each new block.  As a corollary, the power level of different deck archetypes and strategies waxes and wanes with time: one season Combo might be particularly strong, the next it's Zoo, and so on and so forth.  However, the Pendulum of Power has ceased to swing.  On one level, various forms of aggro have been largely dominant for the past few years, while low-creature-count control and combo have suffered; on another, land destruction and counterspells have become mostly unplayable, as creatures have become more and more powerful.

My suggestion here is to let the pendulum swing both ways.  Actually push, say, control one year; don't just keep making creatures better. Consider making a playable LD card.  Or a counterspell that can be played in Standard.  As a worthy and notable side effect, this reduces the need for continued power-creep: part of the reason that power creep exists is so players can keep getting excited about new cards in the format.  If the same strategies keep getting pushed, the same sorts of cards keep getting printed, and the simplest way to keep players excited about them is to keep making them better and better.

Here is a card from a strange alternate reality in which LD-type effects are pushed slightly.

Soundless Steppe

When ~ enters the battlefield, target land becomes a copy of it.
: Add to your mana pool.

Its silence spreads like a shroud, all voices stilled at the sudden hush.


Next: the color pie has become unbalanced.  I don't think it's unreasonable to claim that the color pie is one of the strongest aspects of Magic.  It's fairly clear that it doesn't give a very well-balanced distribution of things to each color.  White and green are eerily similar in terms of mechanics (lifegain, artifact/enchantment removal, the "creature" colors, ...), and red has become distressingly pigeonholed.

So let's make a red card that expands what the color can do.  We have from Word of God that red is the color of most art and poetry, but those and the other peaceful aspects of red don't fit well into a game about violence.  This doesn't make sense to me -- see, for example, Elvish Piper or Rhox Faithmender.  

Racaen Spellsinger
Creature -- Human

: You may tap or untap target creature.

A song to soothe, and a song to stir.



Magic has a lengthy past, and tradition is a large part of its success.  Every single (non-silly) card ever printed is still has rules support and can be played in at least one competitive format; the basic structure and rules of the game is essentially the same as when the game was first introduced; mechanics and cards first made nearly twenty years ago are still being printed.  This continuity is a huge strength of the game.  However, while tradition and respect for history is important, it can go too far, and I claim that Magic is handcuffed to its history.  

The Reserved List, a promise made in 1996, is probably the most obvious example of this; it has lingered on despite the slow dissipation of the reasons for its existence and numerous calls to rescind it.  Other examples include the continued existence of Regeneration and Protection, two complicated bags of sub-abilities that persist largely through momentum; a less-obvious one is that (good) dual lands are usually printed at Rare [1].  R&D has shown a willingness to remove parts of the game that don't work very well: banding, interrupts, damage on the stack, landhome, and so on have all been culled.  This is good, and should continue; I merely propose that they be a bit braver about it.

Skygrove Guard 
Fast Creature -- Griffin

Flying, defender
: ~ is indestructible until end of turn.

An eagle's eyes and a lion's power make for a warrior not to be trifled with.  



OK.  Last one.  Cards' power levels vary excessively.  Both absurdly powerful cards and absolutely unplayable ones exist.  This is downright silly.  There is no good reason for cards to be that far out on the tails of the power-level distribution.  In my perfect world, every card is playable, at least in Limited, and no card is too far above the curve either.

I am now realizing it is hard to make a card that demonstrates this.  Oh well!  I will instead make a card that is good but not absurd for you.

Nature's Champion 
Creature -- Elemental (R)

Whenever ~ deals combat damage to a player, put that many +1/+1 counters on it.

Its every blow brings renewed hope for victory.


[sblock some disconnected ramblings]
The root cause of many of the problems with MtG is simple: Magic needs to make money.  So, Wizards needs to sell lots and lots of booster packs.  The easiest way to do this? Put powerful, desirable, and/or 'necessary' cards at rare and mythic rare -- when a deck requires four copies of a card that only shows up in 1 out of every 120 packs, then on average Wizards sells almost 500 packs for every copy of the deck being played (!).  This has a multitude of side effects: it makes playing competitively prohibitively expensive for many, promotes the (intentional) creation of overpowered cards, 

That's not to say that MtG as a profit-generating machine is purely bad -- on the contrary, that money allows Wizards to pay people to develop new sets with cool new mechanics and interesting storylines/flavor at a regular pace, keeping the game we all love going.  It's worked admirably for nearly twenty years, after all, and frankly there's not really a better way to administer it.  I merely wanted to mention it.
take 1

I don't really know what I'm going to end up identifying as problems and fixing; the following is just me rambling on about things until ideas come to mind.  I'll come back and edit it into a solid entry later.

Probably the hardest part about this criterion is that Magic is so obviously successful: twenty years after its original design, it's more popular than ever, has won dozens of awards, and is generally considered exemplary among TCGs.  Moreover, Wizards has proven surprisingly flexible when it comes to fixing apparent problems with the game -- see, for example, the removal of playing for ante and banding (with other!), and the addition of the mulligan rule to reduce the influence of luck on gameplay.  I find it difficult to believe that a game marred by serious fundamental design flaws could possibly be in such excellent shape.  Still, we gotta do what we gotta do, so let's start looking for problems.

"Magic: the Gathering" encompasses a stupendously large set of related products and ideas, ranging from the details of the interaction of continuous effects (layers!) to the "3 expansions and a core set per year" release schedule.  Let's start by breaking it down into more manageable elements, then consider those individually.  Let's go with Commercial Aspects, Mechanics/Rules, Color and Flavor, and Miscellany as a reasonable breakdown with which to get started.

Commercial Aspects: By this I mean the various aspects of Magic that primarily relate to its status as a product, including how/when sets are released, support from Wizards for more casual play formats, the cost of booster packs, competitive play, and cards in general, and so on.  MTGO gets a mention as well.

The first thing that comes to mind here is the cost of breaking into the game.  While putting together a casual or Pauper deck can be done cheaply without a huge amount of effort, for most people the cost of playing in competitive events is simply too high for what is, in the end, just a hobby.  There are a number of factors at work here: the way that better cards "rise to the top", the fact that those "better cards" are often rare or mythic, the collectible aspect of Magic, and so on.  Perhaps the most significant aspect here is the fact that 'staple' cards are all too often of high rarity -- dual lands are particularly egregious in this respect, as part of the reason the good ones are nearly always rare is because that's the way it was in the Beginning [1], but  utility mythics, titans, etc. all fit as well.  I recognize that Wizards is a company and needs to make a profit, and that putting very desirable cards at high rarities is an good way to get people to buy more booster packs, but I feel that this comes at a cost of many potentially-valuable players and much ill will.

Speaking of things people complain about, let's talk about the Reserved List.  Again, I recognize that Wizards has good reasons for keeping their promise not to reprint reserved cards -- they want the early supporters and true 'collectors' of the game to be happy, and their cards to maintain their value and specialness.  It was probably actually fairly important in the early days of Magic, when Wizards was less financially stable and might have considered resorting to reprinting particularly valuable cards to make a quick buck.  Nowadays, however, its main effect seems to be keeping a rather strange set of cards difficult to acquire for little benefit.  Preserving value and specialness?  A Beta Birds of Paradise is fifty times the price of an M12 one, sixteen reprints later; I can't find an Alpha one for sale anywhere.  It's a relic of the past and it's past time for it to go.

OK. So.  Set releases and stuff.  As I mentioned at the start, Wizards has been pretty flexible about this: in the past five years (?), we've had a pair of Large-Small two-set blocks and two Large-Small-Large blocks in addition to the usual Large-Small-Small ones.  Personally I wish we could get rid of the L-S-L structure forever, or at least not do the introduce-new-mechanics-in-the-third-set thing anymore, but that's going to be pretty hard to show with a single card.  Actually, most things I think of here probably will be.  Whatever.  Anyways, the current pattern of one core set, one block, and one piece of out-of-band casual-format support strikes a solid balance between adding lots of new cards to the mix and giving the developers too much work (and we don't want that).  Actually, core sets seem a bit awkward, now that I think about it: they're intended to introduce newer players to the game by putting reminder text on everything, using simpler card designs, and eschewing the more complex/thinky mechanics, but I've never met anyone who actually got started with core sets instead of jumping right into whatever expert-level expansion was out at the time.  Two blocks in a year would probably be excessive for R&D, but I'm not sure what else would be good to replace the core set with.  It merits consideration, at least.

MTGO: it sucks, has sucked for a long time, and will probably continue to suck for the foreseeable future.  Nevertheless, it's a fantastically successful profit-making device for Wizards.  Oh well.  I can't design a card that shows how to fix it, so I'll stop worrying about it for now.

Moving on to Mechanics and Rules!  

The big thing here is that Magic is complicated.  The PDF version of the full rulebook is 196 pages long and no one actually understands every aspect and interaction in it (except possibly zammm), turn structure is painfully complex, there are over 125 keywords (!)...  Just watch people new to the game play for a bit -- listen for someone muttering "Untap, upkeep, draw" at the start of their turn, watch a brief argument erupt about whether Mutilate can kill Avacyn, Angel of Hope, or mix up the land vs. mana distinction.  These are relatively simple things that experienced players might not consciously think about often (or ever), but even so, getting started with Magic involves mastering a steep learning curve.  Unfortunately, much of this is so intrinsic to the game's design and play that changing it will be nearly impossible, particularly given that R&D likes to take advantage of the immense flexibility all these options present.  So, let's narrow our focus somewhat, and look at specific abilities, keywords, etc. that could be simplified.

The obvious candidates here are protection and regeneration.  Protection is a bag of four sub-abilities that mostly keep the relevant game object from being affected by some class of things.  The thing is, those four abilities are mostly unconnected, and the DEBT mnemonic is the only easy way to remember what protection actually does.  In my opinion, if you require a mnemonic to remember how an ability works, it's too complicated.  Even then, it's not always easy to guess how protection interacts with other things -- is it intuitively clear that Unstable Footing lets you kill Kor Firewalker with a Volcanic Fallout?  Not to me.  

Regeneration is fairly similar in that it does a bunch of things that aren't directly connected and requires memorizing to make sure you get it right.  Sure, they're all important for the full effect of what it's going for -- replacing destruction and removing damage saves the permanent, removing it from combat means it's no longer attacking, and tapping I guess shows the 'recovery process' or something.  The point is, it's complicated, wonky, and Aaron Forsythe is on record as saying that it wouldn't get green-lighted today [2].  So why is it still around?  Well, it does open up a bit of design space and perhaps fill a niche as a green "save the creature" mechanic that's less powerful than indestructibility, but mostly it seems to be tradition.  Bah, I say.

Somehow, both of these abilities have survived the past twenty years' slow culling of mechanics that aren't worth it.  Protection has shown up on 250 cards and continues to appear in almost every set (RtR was the first set since Shards of Alara that didn't have a single Protection creature or aura); likewise, regeneration has shown up on nearly 400 cards and appears virtually every set.  They really ought to be replaced by abilities that makes more sense and are easier to remember.

What else?  Well, there's the familiar "Instants are Sorceries with Flash" dictum, fight vs. combat, etc... 



[1] Source: AMA with Aaron Forsythe
[2] Source: 05 August 2005 Latest Developments

OK the above is not really getting me anywhere, let's try something else: listing things that I or another consider to be problematic.
take 2

The Low-Hanging Fruit: (a.k.a., "I looked at Magic General thread titles")

  1. It's expensive

  2. Mana screw isn't fun

  3. Some cards are overpowered

  4. Reserved list sucks

  5. People are dicks

  6. Some cards are underpowered

  7. Everyone netdecks

  8. Thragtusk

3, 6, and 8 are basically the same, and 5 is less a problem with the game and more a problem with people; 2 and 7 are things I am really sick of reading about so I don't want to talk about them.  This leaves 1, 4, and "inconsistent power level", the last of which I'm tempted to throw out but won't just yet.

OK, now let's start actually thinking about this a little.

  1. Protection and regenerate are not just still around, but evergreen.  Ugh.

  2. Instants are (almost) equivalent to sorceries with flash; having all three of Instants, Sorceries, and Flash is redundant.

  3. Unfair distribution of the color pie -- white can do a lot, green is "big smashy creatures" + a subset of white, red gets the least.

  4. Red gets the short end of the stick most of the time -- not just less color pie, but the flavor side as well.  If red is the emotional, passionate color, why is that only ever expressed via violence?

  5. Magic needs to make a profit to exist.  Thus, dual lands and other powerful/desirable cards show up at rare more often than not.  Perhaps more of a balance could be struck between making these cards available to more people more easily, and making as much money as possible?

  6. There is a lot of apparent redundancy that can be unclear to those less familiar with the rules.  "Fight" vs. combat, "destroy" vs "sacrifice" vs "put into the graveyard as a state-based action", the instant vs sorcery thing in 2.

  7. MTGO is godawful.  Not that I can make a card that shows it being better, but I needed to mention it anyways.

  8. The rules are incredibly detailed, complicated, and nobody understands them fully (except Matt Tabak, who has the advantage of being able to change them as he sees fit).

  9. Sets need to be balanced in Limited, yet add playable cards to rejuvenate the Constructed environments.  This creates a skewed power distribution over the rarities, particularly rare and mythic rare.

  10. The "Pendulum of Power" wrt deck type/strategy is less a pendulum moving back and forth and more a thrown brick.


"Go, then. There are other worlds than these." -- Stephen King, The Gunslinger

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