8/2/2013 LD: "Defining 'Power'"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Latest Developments, which goes live Friday morning on magicthegathering.com.

Another excellent article from Sam.  About the only disagreement I could make with any of it is that R&D doesn't seem to do some of these things (like have answers to powerful cards) quite as regularly as implied.


This:


Format-defining cards over the last year, such as Burning-Tree Emissary or Delver of Secrets, are far stronger than either Dark Banishing or Mahamoti Djinn in Constructed, but I don't think that I would take either the Emissary or Delver over a card like Centaur Courser in a Limited environment.

is exactly what I always say as a counter to all the "we have to print bad cards" garbage we've gotten from R&D (mainly MaRo).  You can print situationally good cards and have exactly the effect you want in terms of Limited and deckbuilding.

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

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

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

So, its an article about power distribution amongst the rarities... and you managed to get through the entire text without once mentioning mythics.

Did it pass you by that there is a teensy weenie grumble in the forums and player base about how the most powerful tournament worthy creatures are routinely upgraded to mythic, making them obscenely expensive? Not worthy of comment?

I hope you address it next week. 
I'm sort of annoyed by R&D's current philosophy on removal. When Return to Ravnica had awful removal I thought, "Oh, this is really interesting as a change of pace." But Sam's articles just seem to continually hammer home the idea that clunky removal is just the new normal.
This article was really good. It told me why it is I hate limited now. Limited used to be my favorite format, but the things I liked about it kept getting mentioned as mistakes for years in these sorts of articles. I haven't enjoyed the format, and now I know why. The card pool is limited to being as interesting as dark banishing and fat mottis. I didn't know that.

I will stop trying to relive the glory days of fun limited because what I thought was fun about it doesn't exist anymore. Perhaps it is the internet that killed it more that WOTC development. Now, sparksmith would be broadcast out as a first pick, with puns, before the prerelease happened instead of being a late pick for weeks on end.
@ IsgardTheTerrible

The constructed level removal right now is just about as good as it could be for each color (green even actually gets to have some), with the exception that red doesn't get anything quite at the level of Lightning Bolt. If you're talking about removal at common, and in terms of limited, I'm glad that my draftable creatures don't have to pass both the Doom Blade test AND the Lightning Bolt test.

@ Highwayman

Sam seemed to mostly be talking about uncommon and common (as in the rarities that matter in Limited), and didn't even go into what makes a rare powerful or not. As far as the Mythic Rarity goes, if you want something done about it I suggest you go buy WotC out from Hasbro. That sort of obvious money grab will continue to happen for as long as Magic is owned by a giant corporation.

Your statement that Mythic Rares dominate tournament formats is also not entirely correct.  Mythic Rares are often played in Standard, and that is pretty much it. They average the same amount of nonland maindeck as commons and uncommons (7 or 8 to a deck), and are outplayed by rares (13ish to a deck). When you take eternal formats into consideration, that number drops considerably. A lot of Modern and Legacy decks simply don't run Mythic Rares. In terms of the mythic rares they do run, it is Liliana of the Veil, Batterskull, Jace the Mind Sculptor, Ajani Vengeant, and Swords. Sometimes Huntmaster of the Fells or Sphinx's Revelation. So, out of a card pool of 300 odd cards, maybe ten of them are good enough to be played in eternal formats. Most of those specifically go into one legacy deck.

I personally don't like the idea of money grabs like Mythic Rares either, but my goodness are people ever overreacting.
My complaint is how sometimes the power level of some constructed is just so much higher than any alternative.

Look at Thragtusk or Boros Reckoner. Then look at Renegade Krasis or Rubblehulk. Must the powerlevel differences really be that big?

I would have so much more fun, if constructed wasn't 20 cards that have writen on them "play me, I am alot better than anything else for that cost".
Why can't it be 20 cards that say, "I am probably the best, but in some circumstances other cards are better!".

Example: Look at Centaur Healer vs Loxodon Smiter. They give you a hard time choosing at times.
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This:

Format-defining cards over the last year, such as Burning-Tree Emissary or Delver of Secrets, are far stronger than either Dark Banishing or Mahamoti Djinn in Constructed, but I don't think that I would take either the Emissary or Delver over a card like Centaur Courser in a Limited environment.

is exactly what I always say as a counter to all the "we have to print bad cards" garbage we've gotten from R&D (mainly MaRo).  You can print situationally good cards and have exactly the effect you want in terms of Limited and deckbuilding.

They do this sometimes, because it makes the game more interesting. They don't do this all the time, because it would make the game less interesting. As Maro has explained several times, design playtests actually occur at a flat power level so that every card is an option, so that every card actually sees play occasionally. If the game were better that way, were it actually more enjoyable, I can't imagine they would fix it in development.

Having more options doesn't make things more fun. Games are about limiting your options, and making you work with what you have.
Did it pass you by that there is a teensy weenie grumble in the forums and player base about how the most powerful tournament worthy creatures are routinely upgraded to mythic, making them obscenely expensive? Not worthy of comment?

People will grumble about anything - it takes more than that to indicate a real problem.

What makes Mythics Mythic is that they're flashy, impressive, they feel mythic - they've tried to establish this as the dividing line between Rare and Mythic. What this means is that Mythics are generally of higher power level, both so that players won't disregard them offhand and so that they actually get to play with the things that get them excited. If the Mythic rarity were filled with disappointing cards that looked exciting but played terribly, it would be a disappointment and a failure. The alternative is occasionally making Mythics which are viable for tournament Contructed, which is the path they've chosen. Neither is every Mythic playable in Standard nor is every playable card in Standard Mythic; I get the feeling your complaint has less to do with tournament playability, and more to do with the fact that Mythics are rare. Welcome to the world of TCGs.
I'm sort of annoyed by R&D's current philosophy on removal. When Return to Ravnica had awful removal I thought, "Oh, this is really interesting as a change of pace." But Sam's articles just seem to continually hammer home the idea that clunky removal is just the new normal.

Winning Limited games is done through creatures - their current stance on removal is designed to ensure that everyone gets some effective removal (which is important, since creatures are important), but that not everyone gets lots of efficient removal (which is important, since creatures are so important). Clunky removal may not look appealing, but it does its job (and does it well), and the ability to evaluate it effectively compared to other options is an important skill for Limited.
I am a casual player and don't care too much about high-level balance at all, but Stoddard's articles have been really impressing me. They are enjoyable and enlightening reads about the goals and challenges faced by developers. A lot more goes into this game than I realized, and Stoddard does a good job of explaining it. Thank you.

I also absolutely agree with the current philosophy toward removal. Magic is really boring when everyone has great removal that can blow up anything. Unless you want to drive the power of hexproof higher and higher until the game is completely non-interactive, players have to have the opportunity to play cool removable creatures that offer enough upside to win with a cool aggressive build. And I ay this as a control player, because playing control is boring if it's too easy.  
Agreeing with several posters here - Stoddard's columns have become something I truly look forward to, his insights are excellent and fresh, and he reveals a lot of good thinking within Wizards without slipping into arrogance or defensiveness.  I'm glad he's part of the game.

AA 
My complaint is how sometimes the power level of some constructed is just so much higher than any alternative.

Look at Thragtusk or Boros Reckoner. Then look at Renegade Krasis or Rubblehulk. Must the powerlevel differences really be that big?

I would have so much more fun, if constructed wasn't 20 cards that have writen on them "play me, I am alot better than anything else for that cost".
Why can't it be 20 cards that say, "I am probably the best, but in some circumstances other cards are better!".

Example: Look at Centaur Healer vs Loxodon Smiter. They give you a hard time choosing at times.
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I don't believe that to be true. Sure, there are cards that will always be worse than everything, mostly because they do an amazing job crafting Limited environments. Let's not take those into account.

Constructed has its fair share of "This is obviously Constructed playable", but it has been a lot better than in the past. Now, aside from those, there are many (and I mean, many) cards that are okay in power to be played. The key is maximizing when to use them, in what decks, with what synergies. The amount of deck diversity is really incredible.

Mutilate, Rakdos, Lord of Riots, Chandra, the Firebrand, Kalonian Hydra, Quirion Dryad, Young Wolf, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, Advent of the Wurm, Ral Zarek, Wolfir Silverheart, Blind Obedience, Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, Burning-Tree Emissary, Devil's Play and Heartless Summoning are not blindly powerful cards, but they have found a home in one or two decks. That keeps things interesting.
As far as the Mythic Rarity goes, if you want something done about it I suggest you go buy WotC out from Hasbro. That sort of obvious money grab will continue to happen for as long as Magic is owned by a giant corporation.

Like most stereotypes, your assumption is out of line.  Everyone who has ever been in a position to reveal information has indicated that Hasbro imposes very few decisions on its departments, and WotC / Magic R&D are free to make their own choices.  Hasbro put their foot down on ditching the Reserve List, because they insist on standing by the old promise not to reprint.  But that's the exact opposite of the "money grab" attitude you just assumed they have.  (Also Hasbro bought WotC in 1999 and Mythics came out in 2008, so if it's their demand they certainly weren't in a hurry.)

Mythics were a product of Aaron Forsythe's direction as the head of R&D.  I agree it's not likely to change any time soon, but lets not blame the wrong people.

Your statement that Mythic Rares dominate tournament formats is also not entirely correct.  Mythic Rares are often played in Standard, and that is pretty much it. They average the same amount of nonland maindeck as commons and uncommons (7 or 8 to a deck), and are outplayed by rares (13ish to a deck). When you take eternal formats into consideration, that number drops considerably. A lot of Modern and Legacy decks simply don't run Mythic Rares.


Are you seriously saying "There are lots of good cards that aren't Mythics, if you include sets that predate Mythics"? Seriously???

To even begin to be honest with your list, you should include Dark Confidant, Kiki-Jiki, Tarmogoyf, Vedalken Shackles, and Vendillion Clique.  Because guess what Rarity they were in Modern Masters?

Did it pass you by that there is a teensy weenie grumble in the forums and player base about how the most powerful tournament worthy creatures are routinely upgraded to mythic, making them obscenely expensive?

Taking the long view, here's what happened.  For years players complained that mana bases were too expensive.  Even if you didn't want to play one of the tier 1 decks, your rogue concoction needed to either be monocolor or run a $300 manabase.  
Cost has always been an issue throughout the game, but the cost of mana bases specifically was singled out.

What Mythics did is make land a bit cheaper (by reducing the number of Rares) but introduce a more expensive class of chase cards.  The net effect has been a move from a $300 manabase plus $200 in other cards, to a $200 manabase plus $600 in other cards.  So in a sense R&D gave players what they wanted, just took with the other hand.

And if it works, I can't really fault them.  If there are enough people who want to drop $1000+ a year on Magic, they'd be fools not to.  It's a shame for someone like me, but the money I would have spent keeping up with Standard (and playing in tournaments) I now don't.  Instead I find formats like the ones in my sig, where Mythics aren't an issue, and play those instead.  It's really all the say I get in the matter.

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

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

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

They do this sometimes, because it makes the game more interesting. They don't do this all the time, because it would make the game less interesting. As Maro has explained several times, design playtests actually occur at a flat power level so that every card is an option, so that every card actually sees play occasionally. If the game were better that way, were it actually more enjoyable, I can't imagine they would fix it in development.


Your argument hinges on MaRo understanding power level.  Pretty much all the evidence indicates that he doesn't.

And various columnists said quite explictly that they print cards that are worse than they have to be so they can sell us better versions later.  Regardless of what other factors affect power levels, they've admitted to doing that.  While I admire the honesty, I think this planned obsolescence is rather immoral.

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

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

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

To all the whiners posting about how Standard is dominated by broken Mythic rares:

U/W/R Flash just won the World Championship and Grand Prix Calgary. It is the best Standard Deck a GOOD player can bring to a tournament right now. Here is the rarity breakdown of Shahar Shenhar, the WORLD CHAMPION's deck, not counting lands.

U/W/R Flash

Common: 7
Uncommon: 15
Rare: 9
Mythic: 3

Obviously, this is not a deck filled with Mythics. Obviously you do not need to fill your deck with Mythic rares to be successful in Standard. Many of the posters here are completely disconnected from reality, and choose to live in their own little perception bubble instead.
So, refering to the very end of the article: Does anyone think avoiding power creep is possible? People complain about power creep, and it's definitely there, but at the same time people never stop whining about getting weaker cards or things that aren't as powerful as they want them to be. 
Heya everyone, here are my homebrew threads: (yes there is only one right now, but there are more to come!) And Let There Be Fish-Men: KUO-TOA

Obviously, this is not a deck filled with Mythics.

3 in the main, 3 in the board. It's not bad, you're right.  (And Reid's 2nd-place Modern deck is incredibly cheap for those who care.)

More importantly though, let me ask an abstracted hypothetical.  Consider two environments in November of a given year (meaning 4 sets in Standard):


A) Every Mythic printed from all 4 sets (50 cards) sees play in one deck or another.


B) One Mythic from each set (4 cards) sees heavy play in every deck.  The other 14 are absolute trash and literally get thrown in the garbage.


Which environment is more affordable to play in?  I think anyone seeking to understand the effect of Mythics really needs to understand that there is a right answer to this.

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

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

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

@ lotsafolks

The main point of my previous comment wasn't to debate the percentage of tournament cards that are mythic*, it was more that Sam talked about power and rarity and didn't mention mythics. Mythics are, as MaRo reminded us on Monday, a controversial topic. The absence of discussion in his article was a bit like talking about the health of the banking sector without mentioning the obscene bonuses the top bankers pay each themselves on risky outcomes. Whether or not you think banker bonuses mythic power cards are justified, given the hoo-hah about them not to discuss the issue at all just seems a bit slippery. Which is a shame, because I like Sam's writing style. However, as I also said, there is a part 2 and I will reserve judgment until then.

* although I do think that they are way too dominant, not so much on a numbers (although I suspect that if you ran the numbers you would find that for a rarity that represents 1/14th of a pack, 1/8 times, they are way overrepresented) but how they are invariably the most powerful cards in the tournament.
The argument against "power mythics" is always either "top-tier cards shouldn't ever be mythic rare" or your version, that they are "overrepresented". To the latter I say "overrepresented compared to what?" (The irrelevance of rarity is almost a defining quality of tournament Constructed); to the former I say "why?"

If you are going to have a mythic rarity and some of them are going to be top-tier, the proper way to manage them is (1) not have them be overbearingly desirable (this was the mistake made with JtMS) and (2) not put too many of them into the same set (this was the mistake made with the Titans cycle). The composition of recent sets suggests that Wizards has (mostly) figured out their proper handling.

"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

(2) not put too many of them into the same set (this was the mistake made with the Titans cycle).

Mind elaborating on this one?  I thought the Titan cycle was some of the best Mythic balance since Alara Reborn.  If you're talking about how they crowded out subsequent things like the Chancellors, that's less about Mythics and more about the fact that Magic can only support so many 6+ drops, now matter how Timmy they want it to be.

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

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

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

(2) not put too many of them into the same set (this was the mistake made with the Titans cycle).

Mind elaborating on this one?  I thought the Titan cycle was some of the best Mythic balance since Alara Reborn.  If you're talking about how they crowded out subsequent things like the Chancellors, that's less about Mythics and more about the fact that Magic can only support so many 6+ drops, now matter how Timmy they want it to be.

In reconsidering that, I'm revising it. It's less the absolute number and more how closely connected they are in player's mindspace. So the problem wasn't that there were five top-tier Titans: the problem was that they were five top-tier tightly cycled Titans. If you encourage players to mentally lump five cards together and then make each of them good enough that every deck is going to going to want at least one of them, you create an impression of oppressive sameness, even if the actual play experience created by each is very different from the others.

I think it's telling that the comment I would hear at events I was working as that Standard aged was never "Oh great, another [insert name of Titan] Titan" but was always "Oh great, another Titan".

"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