4/29/2013 MM: "Third Time's the Charm"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Making Magic, which goes live Monday morning on magicthegathering.com.
Interesting article.  Some tiny nitpicks:

* Prophecy does suck (not that I was playing MTG at the time), and it's probably possible to tease out tenuous connections between any two mechanics, but I'd think that there's at least a vague connection between Rhystic spells & Rebel / Mercenary chains.  If you're casting lame normal spells, you get pwned by the Rhystic spell because you don't have mana available, but if you kept mana untapped to use your Rebel searcher with, then you can pay the Rhystic cost if you want.  Also, Mercadian Masques had the sounds-delightful Rishadan cycle of Rishadan Cutpurse and the like, which are basically extremely rude land destruction Rhystic spells, so Prophecy was following up with even more if you liked that for some reason, and Nemesis had Rising Waters for more pay-attention-to-your-lands "fun".

* It's been said to you before, but since you keep mentioning it, to beat a dead horse, I don't think "cycling from play" in Urza's Destiny is a great example of an "unmarked mechanic that nobody noticed."  Nobody noticed because those cards were fundamentally very different from Cycling.  If a modern design team had seen those cards, what are the odds they'd stick a "Playcycling" sticker on it?  That just massively stretches and confuses what Cycling means (why does Astral Slide / Fluctuator trigger on this?!), similar to naming everything variants of Kicker.  You theoretically could, but it'd be a bad idea.  Cycling (& landcycling) are "cost: discard this from hand, do something which is probably drawing a replacement."  That seems very different from an -ability on a creature-.  Didn't you say that a problem with Haunt was how it functioned quite differently between permanents and cards in hand?  Keyworded playcycling blurs the same boundaries.  (Usual disclaimer: Yavimaya Elder & friends are totally fine cards, and a nice mechanical wink & nod at cycling, but leave 'em at that, a wink & nod.)

Many players might not known what happened once the Eldrazi showed up on Zendikar



So what did happen, then? 
Many players might not known what happened once the Eldrazi showed up on Zendikar



So what did happen, then? 



They began to have a very large snack.
... That's about it.

Well, overall I found this article to be a good insight, however, I find one comment Mark made to make a lie of itself.
He said that Dragon's Maze was built off of lessons learned from previous designs, and while there are quite a lot of instances where that is true, one of the most important lessons he should have taken away from earlier blocks was FINISH THE STORY.

Using the third block to set up the actual conflict involved seems to have proven abominable. I cannot tell you how many people are bothered by having the conflict show up in the third act and have no indication of the actual resolution, which seems like it should have been so obvious from the previous two blocks. People like closure.
Avacyn was Restored. We know this because we can see this.
Phyrexia won, different verse, same as the first.

But Dragon's Maze? People feel a great deal of frustration over having no resolution, especially since we know there definitively IS one... and one we'll have to wait nearly a month for. (unlike RoE, where we implicitly understand there isn't a resolution yet.)
As someone who wasn't around during Prophecy and has only used some of the cards, allow me to defend it.

First, the Avatar cycle was absolutely loved by Timmies. I don't have any reaction one way or the other, but the existence of the Avatar cycle led to hudhed rumors in kitchen table playgroups. They are magnificent Timmy designs, with [CARD]Avatar of Woe[/CARD] being an iconic favorite.

Seconf, the Rhystic mechanic remains one of the most subtly deep Magic mechanics to this day. Its best quality is one that few mechanics share: it directly incentivizes interactive gameplay. Take a normal mechanic, like, say, metalcraft. Once you hit three artifacts, it happens, and there's nothing your opponent can do about it (okay, technically they can blow up an artifact to deactivate metalcraft, but realistically there will be nothing the opponent can do except shrug and say 'well, you got three, your stuff is better now). The rhystic spells reward the opposing player for accurately gaguing tradeoffs and adapting to the state of the game. With most mechanics, the opponent just ignores it or can't do anything about it. With the rhystic spells, the opponent will be much better off if they think and respond wisely rather than pretend they don't exist. The rhystic spells are the rare card that can create skill-testing, feel-good moments for the opposing player, and for that, they should be respected.

Okay, looking over the rest of the set, I think I've done all I can for it. The sacrifice lands theme is just awful, and it is a huge portion of the set. It seems like everything in the set wants you to pay a bunch of mana to make it good. Plus, there are just not a lot of playable cards in general.

I guess it would be a kind of cool draft environment, although it seems to lack removal and a coherent set theme. 
I'm with Barinellos on this - if anything, I'd go further and say that the problem is that there is no real story in the set at all, except in this last set where it suddenly appears.  We've been to Ravinca before, so we understand the setup and the first two sets work just fine at establishing what has happened to the Guilds since we've been away.  
But once you've done the Guilds, then what?  And Dragon's Maze is what happens.  In a sense I find it more frustrating than the disconnected third sets, because it is oozing with Ravnica flavour and yet the narrative part makes no real sense unless you know what the narrative is already.  With something like Eldrazi, New Phyrexia or Avacyn Restored there is a massive flashing neon sign telling you what the concept is, and the previous sets in the block do a good job of pointing you towards it, or at the very least hinting at it.  Whilst I am sure that Return and Gatecrash are full of hints about the Maze, I can't see them because they are overwhelmed by the excellent and more interesting Guild leaders stuff.  And then, having set up the Maze, we actually have no idea what it is really about or what the payoff might be.
(Having said that, I was impressed by the whole Maze Run idea for the prerelease, even if it was flawed in its own different way.)

And that's quite apart from the issue I have with the limited play.  Now obviously I have only had a chance to play at the prereleases, but I found the deck construction part to be immensely disappointing because the very nature of the structure means that the one thing that this block is about - the Guilds - is almost entirely lost.  Drafting or even Sealed building within Return or Gatecrash was excellent fun because you pretty much had to pick a Guild and work out how to play to its strengths.  As soon as that is diluted, you end up with a messy hybrid deck that has no real identity in a set that is all about identity - at the prerelease there was no sense of the bonding that happened naturally and surprisingly at the previous two.  To be fair, that's the main problem with the original Ravnica block as well, but I suspect that if I play limited for the rest of this block it will solely be within one of the first two sets rather than as a complete block.

So for me, Dragon's Maze is likely to go down as a failure.  I love a lot of the cards, and I am impressed by it as a technical achievement - but then I'm a game designer rather than a player at heart (for instance, the massive cheat of the split cards is clever but still a cheat.)  It fails the narrative test, it mostly fails the integration test, and whilst it clearly passes the design test, I'm not sure that the design it was forced into is enough.  It shows up the limitations of the three set block rather well and doesn't really provide any solutions.
Many players might not known what happened once the Eldrazi showed up on Zendikar


So what did happen, then? 



Add me to the list of people asking this question.  I even hunted down one of the novels hoping to get the answer, and was very disappointed to find that it ended with the release of the Eldrazi.  Now you make it sound as if the answer is out there and some players know it...where was I supposed to be looking? 
As someone who wasn't around during Prophecy and has only used some of the cards, allow me to defend it.

First, the Avatar cycle was absolutely loved by Timmies. I don't have any reaction one way or the other, but the existence of the Avatar cycle led to hudhed rumors in kitchen table playgroups. They are magnificent Timmy designs, with [CARD]Avatar of Woe[/CARD] being an iconic favorite.



Yeah the Avatars were a HUGE deal. Also the Wind cycle (Plague Wind, Vitalizing Wind etc).
In that regard, Prophecy was the very first Scourge for kitchen table casual. No set before it had such an amount of BIG cards.

And that's quite apart from the issue I have with the limited play. Now obviously I have only had a chance to play at the prereleases, but I found the deck construction part to be immensely disappointing because the very nature of the structure means that the one thing that this block is about - the Guilds - is almost entirely lost. Drafting or even Sealed building within Return or Gatecrash was excellent fun because you pretty much had to pick a Guild and work out how to play to its strengths. As soon as that is diluted, you end up with a messy hybrid deck that has no real identity in a set that is all about identity - at the prerelease there was no sense of the bonding that happened naturally and surprisingly at the previous two. To be fair, that's the main problem with the original Ravnica block as well, but I suspect that if I play limited for the rest of this block it will solely be within one of the first two sets rather than as a complete block.

So for me, Dragon's Maze is likely to go down as a failure. I love a lot of the cards, and I am impressed by it as a technical achievement - but then I'm a game designer rather than a player at heart (for instance, the massive cheat of the split cards is clever but still a cheat.) It fails the narrative test, it mostly fails the integration test, and whilst it clearly passes the design test, I'm not sure that the design it was forced into is enough. It shows up the limitations of the three set block rather well and doesn't really provide any solutions.



Magic is almost always about good gameplay first, flavor second.
So, the guilds are about identity. But mixing those is FUN. From a game design point, one of Magic's strongest assets is its modularity. If you take that away just because you want to convey some kind of flavor, you lose a lot. See how one of Lorwyn's goals was to have more inter-tribe synergy, as opposed to Onslaught's stronger single-tribe identities.
Next to that, the previous 2 sets gave us that identity you talk about already, so we had 2 limited environments for it. What's wrong with shaking that up a little?


As for me personally, with RTR and GTC limited, it's not an exaggeration when I say 9 times out of 10 I played more than 2 colors. RTR was almost always Axebane Guardian 4/5 color or sometimes Azorius/Izzet control. GTC was almost always Esper control or sometimes Verdant Haven 4/5 color.


I am going to LOVE this new limited environment =p

 Many players might not known what happened once the Eldrazi showed up on Zendikar


So what did happen, then? 



Add me to the list of people asking this question.  I even hunted down one of the novels hoping to get the answer, and was very disappointed to find that it ended with the release of the Eldrazi.  Now you make it sound as if the answer is out there and some players know it...where was I supposed to be looking? 



Don't worry there really isn't anything. Theres a short story of gideon and a fort trying to stand up to Emrakul, but thats it about really showing anything after the Eldrazi wake up. At least that I can think of off the top of my head.

Honestly "Leaving Dragon's Maze ree to do the storytelling" or whathave you is a little half baked. Each guild had 14 cards. You have 14 cards to show how each guild reacts to the maze, runs the maze, and how they win or lose. Thats a lot to do in 14 cards, and almost none of it is done for some of the guilds. Maybe they should have done more story in the first two blocks.


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I share Toby's anticipation of the new limited environment, which after GTC (which, in contrast, I found to be blandly two-color) will be a blessing.

The article was interesting, if a little self-congratulatory in places. As a drafter, I would reiterate just how good Rise of Eldrazi was, and I would say that shadowmoor/eventide deserves some credit (certainly heaps better than the linear lorwyn/morningtide). To be clear though, although some parallels were drawn between ROE and AVR, it cannot be overstated how awful AVR was to draft (the disparity between card quality and the number of cards that had a win / whiff binary status was just ugly... and don't get me started on miracles). Ironically, ROE followed Zendikar / Worldwake, in which matches were boringly similar on an epic scale (land - creature - attack - go), whereas AVR followed Innistrad / DKA, one of the most interesting and diverse (and, for that matter flavourful) drafting environments ever.

I can see that some players will hate DGM for its "draft enabling" content, but I think the limited crowd will love it.

There seesm to be quite a bit of historical revisionism going on here. Mark said of Saviours of Kamigawa's hand-size theme "none of which had anything really to do with what had come earlier in the block" - but as I recall the discussion on this very site 8 years ago, that theme was explicitly chosen because it did tie in so well with all the mechanics of the block. Splice, soulshift, ninjutsu and the Moonfolk's land-bounce theme all kept cards in your hand. Mark's pressing the "new good, old bad" lever a bit harder than is warranted here, I feel.


Mark also claims regarding Fifth Dawn's many-colour theme, "the theme was figured out too late in design to put enough support cards in the first two sets"... I thought this theme was the specific reason for Vedalken Engineer adding coloured rather than colourless mana, and Darksteel Ingot being the pioneering common mana-fixer that it was?

He said that wasn't time to put enough support in the preceding sets. Yes, those changes were an attempt to seed some support in the earlier sets, but it's definitely an example of too little, too late.

"Proc" stands for "Programmed Random OCcurance". It does not even vaguely apply to anything Magic cards do. Don't use it.

Level 1 Judge as of 09/26/2013

Zammm = Batman

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

Apocalypse was great at providing a payoff of cool, new stuff from the build-up of the previous two sets. Judgment also did the same thing. By that time, I remember a lot of people thinking 3rd sets were going to be the best sets. That didn't happen to the same level in the next few years afterward, and the expectations for 3rd sets cooled a little.

One of the things I remember most about Prophecy was that most of the high-profile rares were in precons. They tried to make Magic more affordable and it didn't go over well. The rares all ended up not being worth that much at the time, nor are they today for whatever that's worth, so it was hard to get excited about cracking packs. 

Dragon's Maze is a total flop for me. It highlights the problems of changing to the mythic system. It needs so much space, and has none to deliver the payoff. Going to 2 large sets helped make the previous sets OK, but this one needed to be twice as big to deliver on all the stuff a 3rd set for this block should deliver. Plus, this set highlights in a big way the pitfalls of having mythics and rares. Several rares just aren't quite up to expectations since they are rares intead of mythics-and those offenders would have been mythics had space allowed.
  
one of the most important lessons he should have taken away from earlier blocks was FINISH THE STORY.



+1.

I'm playing since 4th edition... reading all the flavor texts and...

I didn't know who won between the coalition & phyrexia until the return on mirrodin.
I don't know what karona did when merged, or if the silvers destroyed Otaria or not.
I don't know if Konda won the kami war or if some peace was achieved.
I didn't know the hell happened on Ravnica until we came back to it.
And what about Lorwyn ? Do they stay in a dark world or is the Aurora cyclic ?
Who build the maze ? Who won the maze ? What did they won ?

It's so frustrating. And no, I'm not interested in reading badly-written magic books, thank you.
Interesting article. It got me thinking about thirth sets and made me realise I dont really like them =/

Dissension: was okay, but as mentioned before, no more guild goodies! But a very decent set.

Future sight: a decent set, although I prefered Planar Chaos. Future Sight felt a bit boring, although Korlash was a boss! A decent set but at this time I was a bit tired of the block (might also have had to do with all the dark art on every single card)

Shadowmore: I LOVE this set. I didnt like eventide as much though. Hybrid and Wither are 2 of my favorite things in magic and Shadowmore had some very awesome cards.

Alara Reborn: If there is one set I hate, it must be this one.. I didnt really like the alara block but this set pissed me off. Like the problem with Ravnica, for some people this set didnt deliver any more goodies. If you were a mono color player, this set just gave you the finger. And even for 2 colors, there wasnt much to gain. Maybe 2 cards max or something (depends on the color offcourse). I know its a 3 color theme block, but this set FORCED that on players, and I really REALLY didnt like it. More hybrid would have solved this problem, but I dont like the general idea (even though I love multicolor cards btw)

Rise of the Eldrazi: didnt like the flavor of this one (did like Zendikar, but worldwake bored the **** out of me) and also didnt like Eldrazi. This was one of the most unfun pre-releases I have played and the set didnt have a lot of cards I wanted to play.

New Phyrexia: Cool set, interesting mechanic in Phyrexian Mana and one of the most fun cards ever printed (birthing pod).

Avacyn Restored: I loved drafting this set, but did miss the werewolves.

Dragon's Maze: I dont want to comment yet, since i havent drafted it yet, but this set seems fun and a mess at the same time. I love the split cards, and the fact that every guild gets something. I hate the champions (mayor letdowns) and miss Hybrid (as you can tell by now I love hybrid =P). I think its sad that the mechanics arent really there. Yeah yeah I know, 11 is a lot, but if you do them, let them be a bit different in interesting ways. Unleash and scavage are still kinda boring and the mechanics didnt really go to new design space, or at least not so much as I had hoped.

Conclusion: most of the time when the thirth set arives I'm getting tired of the block. With ravnica this wasnt really the case (I dont know why, it feels like an awkward short time between gatecrash and dragon's maze) but I do think the design space could have been a bit bigger, and also think you might have made Dragon's Maze a big set as well. 5 guilds for each big set and then 10 for a small set? You are just asking for problems..

Interesting article and I am curious what you guys will do with Theros

I'm playing since 4th edition... reading all the flavor texts and...

I didn't know who won between the coalition & phyrexia until the return on mirrodin.
I don't know what karona did when merged, or if the silvers destroyed Otaria or not.
I don't know if Konda won the kami war or if some peace was achieved.
I didn't know the hell happened on Ravnica until we came back to it.
And what about Lorwyn ? Do they stay in a dark world or is the Aurora cyclic ?
Who build the maze ? Who won the maze ? What did they won ?

It's so frustrating. And no, I'm not interested in reading badly-written magic books, thank you.


Ooh! I know one of these!

Konda lost, but so did O-Kagachi. Ultimately it was Michiko and the freed spirit stolen by Konda that defeated the old order and replaced it with a new one with a more fluid barrier between spirit and the material world.

Those novels were surprisingly good. A lot of the M:tG novels were trash, but I actually enjoyed the Kamigawa set.
Immature College Student (Also a Rules Advisor)
one of the most important lessons he should have taken away from earlier blocks was FINISH THE STORY.



+1.

I'm playing since 4th edition... reading all the flavor texts and...

I didn't know who won between the coalition & phyrexia until the return on mirrodin.
I don't know what karona did when merged, or if the silvers destroyed Otaria or not.
I don't know if Konda won the kami war or if some peace was achieved.
I didn't know the hell happened on Ravnica until we came back to it.
And what about Lorwyn ? Do they stay in a dark world or is the Aurora cyclic ?
Who build the maze ? Who won the maze ? What did they won ?

It's so frustrating. And no, I'm not interested in reading badly-written magic books, thank you.



Another +1.

In general, Magic is really meant to convery settings, not stories. Or rather, it's good at telling a bunch of little stories (each card) and really terrible at telling one big story.  This is why so much of the Weatherlight saga was just terrible: no way to control if or when a story element enters a player's mind. The block had been out for years before I got the official story straight (and frankly, I still have doubts). The traditional block structure is really good at conveying change -- here's a setting, this thing happens, and here's the "new normal" -- so it's surprising how rarely it embraces that in favor of "here's a setting, this happens, then more stuff happens (read the novel if you want to know how it ends)."

I really respect the the way the team put their foot down and demanded closure on Innistrad/Dark Ascension/Avacyn Restored. Unfortunately, they gave us closure on all the wrong things. It's easy to accept a world where humans and angels are perpetually struggling against the darkness of demons, devils, werewolves, and a host of undead. That's a setting. The third block actually closed the book on the setting, while leaving all the story elements -- Garruck's curse, Liliana's debt, Sorin's supposed ascension, and so on -- dangling. Not to mention the question of why Avacyn couldn't have launched this sort of campaign centuries ago. Werewolves gone (and DFCs too), tribes neglected, new creatures appearing out of thin air, mechanics dropped, a whole different feel. It's comparable to telling the story of the American revolution and jumping straight from crossing the Delaware to, "naturally, this had a huge impact on France. Let's check them out."

New Phyrexia did the story elements right. The third sets shows the Phyrexian victory as a foregone conclusion:  you definitively know the ending, but you're left with just enough Mirran toys in the box to make the place interesting. It was actually kind of strange that the outcome was supposed to be a mystery: one side has a mechanic (poison) that Mark crowed about for years as something he'd love to bring into mainstream magic, and the other had a mechanic (battle cry) that they was introduced early on with an article about how it was created at the last minute to replace another half-baked mechanic. One side had as long a history as any group in the game, the other had one block. One had a growing representation from first set to second set, even as the other group's representation fell. And so on. The whole thing was actually quite excellent at telegraphing the ending.
I'm with them Mark.

I was "aware" of Magic during that most-touted-dream "Kami-Rav" Standard, but didn't actually play.

I've spent years hearing about how awesome Ravnica was.  I've collected many of the cards and, with W/B being my favorite color combo, used them time and again.

I attended every prerelease with two of my oldest friends (something required money/time spent in excess of the event's actual cost).

I want talk about the cards, fact is there are always weird things going on with that and you can't make everyone happy.

But the story?

Don't get me wrong, the original Rav books were not great, but the general settings and the epic events that happened were sweet.

But the stoooory?

Let me set up some side by side comparison.

New Phyrexia concludes the single longest running enemy in the history of Magic and includes much beloved characters both old and new.
From Magic's first Big-Bad to the return to a Block that killed tournament attendance, this set delived with epic cards, characters and story.

Return to Ravnica concludes with an ambigous maze, no reason for it to be important and a bunch of champions that most have never heard of.
From one of Magic's most loved Blocks to some of it's darling characters (Teysa? Anyone?), this set delivers some multi-color cards...

One of these did the "Block revisit" in a better way.

As for Block to Block...

Ravnica:  Ten Guilds vying for power with multiple strong characters, city-plane spanning plots and sector-destroying battles ending with Agrus Kos smacking down an incredibly powerful vampire via some good-old fashion LAW...that is also part of the whole plan!

Return to Ravnica: The Guilds send some people you know and some people you don't to run a maze that somehow went unnoticed on one of the best established and populated planes in the multiverse...this may or may not have something to do with the Guildpact.

Yes, not all of this was communicated with just cards and I'm sure much of the block's story will appear "better" after reading the Secretist...but you sell a card game: put it on the cards.
I kind of expected the twist that the titular "dragon" was Bolas. Or something like that.

Granted, it's really, really hard to have forward story momentum in a Ravnica block considering it takes the entire span of the storyline just to introduce all the guilds. I don't know how they had any plot at all in the original block. 
Dragon's Maze for me is a real let down. I can't think of many cards I'm actively interested in playing with from the set. Fuse just seems tacked on, as did the split cards in Dissension.  I would have been fine with a set without a new mechanic as I was expecting Dragon's Maze to be more about evolving the mechanics that were first introduced in the previous two sets (no pun intended).

If you REALLY wanted to push the envelope, you could have run with the theme of guilds forming alliances to win the maze and printed three-color legends.  It would have made Commander players happy to get new generals. It also would have given cool draft-around rares in Limited (you're going to be playing at least 3 colors most of the time anyway). 
The problem with three-color cards in a two-color set is that, technically, each card represents three guilds, not two.
No where to really thank others for the DGM stuff, so I might as well post here:

Thanks for bringing back mythics to the prereleases! I stopped going during Innistrad block because I thought you guys were being (insert bad words here) by creating mythics and then not even giving the common player access to any of them. It's funny too because even with the 6 boosters I opened at the prerelease + 6 boosters I won, I still didn't get a mythic besides the promo. Glad I got at least one! It's a really big feel-bad moment when everyone else gets one (or two or three) in their pool, gets to play with them, and you just get crappy Emmara Tandris and Trait Doctoring.

I see you guys are adding to the red color pie, old-school! What am I talking about? Goblin Digging Team appeared on a sorcery named Clear a Path. I'd like to see a modern take on Battering Ram eventually, but this is very exciting to see, as defenders normally halt red the most.
If you REALLY wanted to push the envelope, you could have run with the theme of guilds forming alliances to win the maze and printed three-color legends.  It would have made Commander players happy to get new generals. It also would have given cool draft-around rares in Limited (you're going to be playing at least 3 colors most of the time anyway). 




I was hoping guilds would team up, but it would be Izzet and Orzhov and we'd finally have our 4 color legends. Unfortunately, not enough space so getting the last of the color identities into EDH seems highly unlikely to happen anytime soon.  

I'm sure we'll get them in Commander precons one of these years.
I've said it before, but since you're still claiming otherwise, Mark:

Avacyn Restored was in many ways a second attempt at the Zendikarblock large/small/large model. Here are the major changes: The third set had more mechanical carryover, although, in retrospect, even that proved still not be enough.

This is only correct on the most technical level. Yes, good for you, you chose to keep one whole keyword from the previous sets. The most modular (which means, the one that needed the least continued support), Undying. But that does not mean the set had more mechanical carry-over than Rise of the Eldrazi. Here's why:

The mechanics of RoE complement the mechanics of Zendikar block. That is to say, a land theme, which encourages playing more lands and leads to getting more lands onto the battlefield, works perfectly with the two biggest things in RoE: Level Up (very mana intensive), and the Eldrazi (very mana expensive). Even the new aura theme worked similarly to the equipment subtheme of the rest of the block. You still screwed up in not actually supporting the land themes, but at least the theme you chose worked with it, instead of against it.

But for Avacyn Restored, what was your newly chosen mechanical them? Angel and Demon tribal. This does not support the graveyard theme of the first two sets. This works against the tribal themes of the first two sets, as it pushes you to either play a different tribe, or weaken your tribal support to include support for another tribe in addition. You also had other mechanics, sure: Loner, which works even more against the tribal themes of the rest of the block. Soulbond, which is unrelated from the rest of the block. And Miracles, which not only don't fit the other sets of the block, but also infuriated several players (which, I suppose, makes them similar to DFCs at least).

You dropped the DFCs, which were the most unique part of the sets before. You dropped the tribal theme that defined the world. You dropped the graveyard theme that defined the block.

We complained that Rise of the Eldrazi didn't feel connected because you went into design thinking of it as separate. You did the exact same thing with Avacyn Restored: your goal, going into making it, was to change things up. You set out to switch the focus to a new theme, Angels vs. Demons. It's no wonder your token keyword carryover "proved still not [to] be enough": you thought of it as an extra thing to throw in, rather than conceiving the set's connection to the block as a core part of the design of the set.

Also, the story tie was a little less of a sharp turn in that the action of Avacyn Restored help resolve the major conflict of the Innistrad block.

Less of a sharp turn, maybe, but far more of a disappointment. Zendikar block set up the Eldrazi far in advance, letting us know they were coming, showing us that the world was preparing for a battle against them. Then RoE delivered that battle: Eldrazi versus the humanoids (in the form of levelers, and totem armor). You built to the climax, and then delivered.

Innistrad did imply that Avacyn was coming back, though not as clearly as Zendikar implied the Eldrazi. It built up humanity's desperation quite nicely, increasing tension, and thus anticipation for the climax. And then, you immediately remove all of that conflict with Avacyn's return. There's no epic battle between humanity and monsters. As soon as Avacyn comes back, it's a foregone conclusion that humanity has won. The werewolves were gone instantly. All the threats humanity had been facing up to that point are now non-issues. There are demons now, sure, but they're fighting angels, not humans. The conflict we'd been expecting all block never occurred.
IMAGE(http://images.community.wizards.com/community.wizards.com/user/blitzschnell/c6f9e416e5e0e1f0a1e5c42b0c7b3e88.jpg?v=90000)
I'm sure we'll get them in Commander precons one of these years.



Assuming a similar MSRP to the last precons, the mana base will be a major hurdle. I know the legends are tough to design, but to have a mana base that can play them, since its more like 5 color than the 3 colors they did before will be very hard to do. I am not sure how they do the non-green one, and that one deck could hold up the whole lot of them. I know they don't have to be high power level, but to even be on par with the old ones as to letting you play your cards enough that it is fun, way too much has to go into letting you cast your spells.   

I've built lots of commander decks, and how I make the Magic happen (get it) is the hardest and most expensive part of it. No deck needs Overwhelming Forces. If one gets it, well, that's cool. That is a splurge. There are non-reserve-list lands that certain multicolored-pairing decks need, and if they don't get them, I don't get to play the game. Modern has pushed many of them out of precon territory, and those are needs, not wants. 

Less of a sharp turn, maybe, but far more of a disappointment. Zendikar block set up the Eldrazi far in advance, letting us know they were coming, showing us that the world was preparing for a battle against them. Then RoE delivered that battle: Eldrazi versus the humanoids (in the form of levelers, and totem armor). You built to the climax, and then delivered.


I'm going to have to stringently disagree with you on that. The first two sets did virtually nothing to set up the Eldrazi as they ended up debuting, only dropping the nebulous Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Monument to hint at what we might see from them.
Even then, the world at large didn't have our meta-perspective.
Lastly, RoE did deliver a battle, but it was definitely not a climax since the set very basically lacked a resolution.
Honestly, it was almost an anti-climax, as it seemed that it built towards the Eldrazi then skipped right to the denouement of them eating everything.
Let me pile on.

Dragon's Maze tells me NOTHING about the total story. It's a first act in a three act play, quite the difference from the first Ravnica block.

Both Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash act as two sections of a nice, long, prologue, or one of those clever integrated backstory-fill-in periods that might occur in chapter two or so of a novel, after you introduce yourlead-in, a main character or decoy main. But the block as a whole doesn't tell a story. It doesn't help us with the Maze. The block can't tell that story because, for the most part, in R&D, you stopped trying.

Now, it's about "conflict"  -- *spooky ghost noises*.

It's a pisspoor way to tell stories.

The problem with the block models you've been using lately is not with the size of relative sets in the block, but in what you're trying to convey within them. You spent so much time setting up guild identity in sets one and two of RTR using sample commons and uncommons that there would be NO room on the cards for more explanatory current story. The Implicit Maze was to be featured in the third set, so you could only hint at it; card's like Rogue's Passage had to be teased down from their original intention: blatant reference. All of this to force players away from the cards as a method to tell a story, and into the additional media. You make more money that way, certainly, but it also says: Screw telling stories on the cards.

Man, this is why Time Spiral continues to be one of my favorite Blocks: It told stories on the cards, it followed the tradition of trying to describe something, even if it was moments in time, from elsewhen, and you could look from one card to another and place them in some chronological order. Back when you could do this with cards, and the cards themselves could tell you a story. That was back when you cared.

You know what kind of block I'd like? Something that shows where flavor and story matter on the cards, without sacrificing mechanical utility, without impinging on Limited play. Imagine the challenge of working within the system, Mark Rosewater. That'd be a story.
"Possibilities abound, too numerous to count." "Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth." --- P.B. Medawar (1969) "Ever since man first left his cave and met a stranger with a different language and a new way of looking at things, the human race has had a dream: to kill him, so we don't have to learn his language or his new way of looking at things." --- Zapp Brannigan (Beast With a Billion Backs)
I'm sure we'll get them in Commander precons one of these years.



Assuming a similar MSRP to the last precons, the mana base will be a major hurdle. I know the legends are tough to design, but to have a mana base that can play them, since its more like 5 color than the 3 colors they did before will be very hard to do. I am not sure how they do the non-green one, and that one deck could hold up the whole lot of them. I know they don't have to be high power level, but to even be on par with the old ones as to letting you play your cards enough that it is fun, way too much has to go into letting you cast your spells.   

I've built lots of commander decks, and how I make the Magic happen (get it) is the hardest and most expensive part of it. No deck needs Overwhelming Forces. If one gets it, well, that's cool. That is a splurge. There are non-reserve-list lands that certain multicolored-pairing decks need, and if they don't get them, I don't get to play the game. Modern has pushed many of them out of precon territory, and those are needs, not wants. 




THat's an interesting point. 
But I think there are enough common/uncommon vivid lands, signets and basic landcyclers to throw in there. Well not signets maybe as they only provide 2, but things like Prophetic Prism, Coldsteel Heart, Darksteel Ingot etc.
It seems doable but perhaps it is indeed too much of a stretch. 
Five 4-colour decks is definitely doable, even in highlander. You could have:

Nongreen deck in WUBR with lots of artifacts and cards that like artifacts (WUB): up to 6 Ravblock bouncelands (probably about 4 is the right number), tons of artifact mana fixing, basic landcyclers like Sanctum Guardian (artifact!), and so on. You could even have Etched Oracle in this deck.

The other four decks including green could be:

One using lots of basic lands, Harrow / Cultivate / Yavimaya Elder etc
One using lots of nonbasic lands (mainly uncommons like four Vivid lands, two Shards trilands, Shimmering Grotto, etc)
One WU one using lots of land-type fixing (Prismatic Omen, Dream Thrush, RealmwrightLush Growth making this the GWUR deck, etc)
One that doesn't do much to fix its mana and just has a number of easy-to-cast cards with just one coloured mana in their cost (similar to Riku of Two Reflections's deck first time round).

New Phyrexia did the story elements right. The third sets shows the Phyrexian victory as a foregone conclusion:  you definitively know the ending, but you're left with just enough Mirran toys in the box to make the place interesting. It was actually kind of strange that the outcome was supposed to be a mystery: one side has a mechanic (poison) that Mark crowed about for years as something he'd love to bring into mainstream magic, and the other had a mechanic (battle cry) that they was introduced early on with an article about how it was created at the last minute to replace another half-baked mechanic. One side had as long a history as any group in the game, the other had one block. One had a growing representation from first set to second set, even as the other group's representation fell. And so on. The whole thing was actually quite excellent at telegraphing the ending.


The other tell of the ending was that Mirrodin Besiged  actually used Mirran's symbol for the set, leaving phyrexia to be used on the last when the "winner" was to be determined.  What may have been more epic, but hard to pull off, was to actually record all the data from the phyrexia vs. mirrodan launches and pre-launches and the winner of those being the winner in the last set.  I know that'd be having two completely designed sets waiting in the wings as they figure out which gets trashed and which gets rushed,  however the level of player input would be unprecedented and talked about for ages.
The other tell of the ending was that Mirrodin Besiged  actually used Mirran's symbol for the set, leaving phyrexia to be used on the last when the "winner" was to be determined.



Mirrodin Besieged's symbol is actually Mirrodin Pure's & New Phyrexia's symbols on top of each other.
I love how MaRo's article has been the place for criticism of the creative elements and story arcs.  I'm late reading this one but wanted to throw in my comments.



I'm playing since 4th edition... reading all the flavor texts and...

I didn't know who won between the coalition & phyrexia until the return on mirrodin.
I don't know what karona did when merged, or if the silvers destroyed Otaria or not.
I don't know if Konda won the kami war or if some peace was achieved.
I didn't know the hell happened on Ravnica until we came back to it.
And what about Lorwyn ? Do they stay in a dark world or is the Aurora cyclic ?
Who build the maze ? Who won the maze ? What did they won ?

...



I agree - the main reason I got into Magic was flavor text.  I liked how you could tell a lot of what happened from reading Fallen Empires flavor text, for example.

The second Mirrodin block did a good job with this (even letting us know what happened to Karn); the other blocks that you listed above didn't do so well.  I seem to recall that Time Spiral block did OK as well, but maybe I accidentally read the novel for that third set.  (You'd think Time Spiral would've been a good opportunity for cards that came back from the future with flavor text predicting who would win - now that's a missed creative opportunity!)

But I can also see the narrative reason that documenting the outcome in the third set's cards isn't done more.  It effectively forces the drama / conflict to climax between the second and third set, in order to have the third set's cards document the aftermath.  That structure worked for New Phyrexia, but for many blocks, you can't afford to coast through the third set - you need to keep some narrative gas, so to speak.
We need more cards like War Report.