Tuesday, July 12, 2011, 8:37 AM
The following Magic 2012 cards have flavor text written by me (though often edited more than a little after I submitted them).
* Peregrine Griffin - A griffin is not just an eagle's wings and a lion's claws. It is also the fiercest of hearts. (My original submission was quite different, emphasizing that a heart that could unite its dissimilar parts was the most defining trait of the griffin, and I'm more than a little sorry that this meaning was lost in the translation to Shorter English.)
* Timely Reinforcements - The gods are not always kind, but they do have a soft spot for plucky underdogs.
* Aven Fleetwing - "It was too fast, even for our veteran archers; they might as well have been blowing it kisses." (In retrospect, I am not proud of this quote, but I guess somebody liked it.)
* Flight - "Those who claim to know the world in its entirety rarely have the requisite perspective."
--Ulamarus the Wise (Not surprising they shortened this from my rather awkward original version, but I'm also puzzled to note that they always seem to change the proper names I make up when crediting things. I was trying to go for something less generic than the typical "Abracadabrius" mage, but they don't appear to have preferred my version.)
* Merfolk Mesmerist - "Don't you think if I saw a half-woman, half fish with three glowing eyes, I'd have remembered?" --Drugo, town guard (Once again the name was changed and some do-withoutable words were cut, including more details that were intended to demonstrate that our unfortunate witness was quite specific about what he never saw.)
* Gorehorn Minotaurs - Some of the eleven minotaur clans of Mirtiin are expert crafters and learned philosophers. Others just like to hit stuff. (They seriously adjusted my choice of adjectives, but I'm too happy about being able to write an iconic piece for one of my favorite fantasy races to complain about such a detail.)
* Reverberate - For every action, there is a swifter and more violent reaction. (I think I'd have to call this my single favorite of my contributions to the set.)
* Angel's Feather - The angel represents divine perfection, even the smallest feather is imbued with beauty and benevolence. (This greatly waters down my original concept for this line, but since I was using the word "fractal" I'm not surprised they deemed it too sciencey and high-concept for Magic in general, let alone a Core Set. I'm satisfied that this version at least hints at the idea I was going for.)
The following Magic 2012 cards got their name from me:
* Pride Guardian
* Phantasmal Dragon (it's not very surprising, but it is a reference to some old cards which I've missed a great deal.)
* Sorin's Thirst
These cards owe me for BOTH halves of their creative identity, a feat I never achieved in New Phyrexia.
* Gideon's Avenger - "The good do not sit idle and wait for the evil to act. They prepare to defend. They prepare to punish." --Gideon Jura (this one was shortened quite a bit from my version but didn't lose much of anything, other than the clarification that they defend the innocent and punish the guilty - I thought that needed to be specified, myself. I also made a reference to a New Phyrexia card but it's unsurprising that got cut just due to the issue of length.)
* Scrambleverse - Sometimes a little chaos is in order. (Easily the card I'm most looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of, out of those I've written. A Timmy rare even crazier than Warp World! As a Red creature at heart I'm quite happy.)
* Hunter's Insight - "The predator knows the true way of the world. Life is conflict. Only the strong survive." --Garruk Wildspeaker (My version wasn't credited to anyone, but it's just as well they changed that, lest it be taken as "word of god" rather than just as a generic Green opinion. The change I'm less happy about is that my version did not have "only the strong survive", a phrase that I would have deemed too commonplace to be worth using here; the original version was a further elaboration on Darwinian attitudes that would have fit perfectly for Garruk. I'm not too unhappy about the change though, since the result better fits a Black-Green character's ethos; mono-green ought to cleave more closely to the "hippy spirituality" vibe, and while this quote is pretty gritty, my original was way more so. So I can live with the way this turned out.)
So, the same number of total cards got something from me in this set as in NPH, but more of them had flavor as well as a name - I definitely feel like I made a strong contribution to the Vorthosian awesomeness of M12, and I hope that the most passionate members of the community agree.
Sunday, April 24, 2011, 11:54 PM
The following New Phyrexia cards have flavor text written by myself.
* Beast Within: "Kill the weak so they can't drag the strong down to their level. This is true compassion."
* Due Respect: "A display of humility is required of those who still possess such frailties."
* Inquisitor Exarch: Argent Etchings quote (I didn't actually write this, it was in the style guide and I just gave it a home on this card)
* Mental Misstep: "Your first mistake was thinking I would let you live long enough to make a second."
* Moltensteel Dragon: An apocalypse in dragon form.
* Torpor Orb: "Certainly Phyrexia is dangerous, but you have to admire some of its innovations." --Tezzeret (I disagree with their decision to change "you" to "I" but I understand why they did it.)
* Vital Splicer: "The revelation of New Phyrexia is at hand. For every one of us that falls, ten shall rise." (For some reason they swapped the two clauses in this quote; also they credited it to Vorinclex when I'd rather had been left uncredited, suggesting the Splicer himself was saying it.)
* Veincutter Elf: "Beg me for life, and I will fill you with the glory of Phyrexian perfection."
* Vulshok Refugee: "I will carve my people's vengeance on the face of Phyrexia."
The following New Phyrexia cards had their name written by me:
* Chained Throatseeker
* Viridian Harvest
* Shrine to Loyal Legions (I submitted this as Totem to Loyalist legions; I can live with their calling the cycle Shrines, though it's annoying since the Hondens in Kamigawa have Shrine as an actual subtype, but I really wish they'd kept the "-ist" since I think the name sounds much more rhythmic with the extra syllable.)
* Spire Monitor
* Soul Conduit (Phyrexians aren't supposed to acknowledge the concept of souls; I submitted it with a pseudo-scientific sounding word for life energy that I had made up for my D&D name, and I guess they liked the "conduit" part but decided to use "soul" rather than "lifeforce" or the like.)
* Dismember (I wasn't officially credited for this one but that's okay because several that I did submit were purchased but not used, so it all works out)
Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 7:52 AM
(Spoiler warning: children who love Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny should not read this post. Also those who wish to know absolutely nothing about Action should turn away, as I will be saying the small amount that I am legally able to say on that subject - but you probably know that from the title of this blog post. So mostly I'm just telling the wee ones to go away before I crush their innocence between the rocks of reason and disillusionment.)
For some time now, I have been concealing a secret which has been fraying at the edges of my sanity. Mark Rosewater has spoken many times about how one of the hardest parts of his job is having to keep his trap shut about something that he's bursting at the seams to babble about, and I can now corroborate his statements. We geeks/nerds/hobbyists/whatever are defined by our passionate love of particular topics of interest; when some awesome idea is burning a hole in our mind, having to shield the light of our excitement from others is definitely a bummer. That is why I am immensely glad that, as of yesterday, the company has finally let the cat out of the bag.
On February 14th, 2011, Monty Ashley's Magic Arcana post openly admits for the first time that the question of who wins the war between Mirrodin and Phyrexia has already been decided. This isn't truly news, as anyone who reads Rosewater's column will note that he has made no secret of the fact that Magic sets are created well in advance of their publishing. (For a specific proof, consult the 09/27/10 column "State of Design 2010", in which he points out that he began designing Scars of Mirrodin a year earlier.) It takes time to run a set through all the stages of the creation process - weeks of design, months of development, weeks or months of creative work, followed by shipping the order off to printing companies to have the physical cards made, then packaged, and then distributed - a year sounds about right for the whole shebang, though I don't know exactly how long each segment takes. (I'm guessing on development being the longest phase, just because it seems likely that they do the most "grinding" in order to gauge things like limited balance and Standard metagame.) So in truth, it becomes inevitable that at least the initial concept push for "Action," which establishes the look of the set and thus can hardly be done based on an unawareness of the set's very nature, had to have been done before Scars of Mirrodin ever released.
Why, then, did the company decieve the public by pretending that there was some sort of uncertainty? Why encourage players to pick a side knowing that half of them would be disappointed? The answer can be compared to why parents lie to their children about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, or why religion tells stories of God and the afterlive which, if not lies, are at least not provable facts. Life sucks sometimes, and in order to keep your spirits up, it can help to be told pleasant stories, things that help you view your world in a positive light. Long after learning that Santa Claus doesn't actually bring them presents, children and the adults they grow into may smile at the knowledge of how happy they were when they did believe. There's a comfort in being able to accept notions which become obviously preposterous when analyzed with logic. So even though anyone who reads Making Magic, and therefore knows that Magic sets take somewhere around a year to make it from the first design meeting to the shelves of your FLGS, can logically realize that there's no feasible way they could have paid to produce two sets and only published one, they can still enjoy the illusion that two possible outcomes to the war exist. They get to indulge for a few months in the fantasy that they are fighting for their chosen side, enjoy the uncertainty of not knowing how the story ends, and treasure later the memories of that wide-eyed belief in the possibility that the outcome they preferred would be proven true, even if that's not actually how it happened. Much of the product that Wizards creates is surprise, excitement, suspense; they kept this secret in order to entertain their audience, and those who are disappointed by the outcome would be wise to remember that they could only be crestfallen after their excitement had been built to a peak. Treasure the joys of the experience, I say; don't focus on a negative outcome, but rather be glad of the good times you did have.
(And on a purely speculative basis, Wizards did pay to copyright/patent/trademark/whatever both of these set names, and create a logo and everything; they paid money for those privileges and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if they still plan on getting the other name used in some future set. I could imagine that if Mirrodin Pure doesn't come out in a few months, there might someday yet be a third block set on Mirrodin which could use that name, maybe some time in the past before even the rise of Memnarch, when it was still a "Pure" metal plane. Whereas if New Phyrexia is the name that doesn't take the place of Action, it could easily be reused for any other plane where Phyresis took root.)
With all of that out of the way, the announcement that I have been waiting for an unspecific length of time, which felt longer, to make. I WAS ON THE CREATIVE WRITING TEAM FOR "ACTION!" After all these years of loving the game, I finally got to help make it, and that feels amazing. Which also means I know which side wins, though I won't spoil the surprise for the rest of you; you get to spend a few more weeks wondering, savoring the joy of seeing two possible futures, not having to stamp one with the condemnational label of "false" just quite yet. Wotco does have to make its money, and generating excitement in order to fuel sales is part of how they do business - but it's also them being gamer geeks like us who enjoy getting wrapped up in a thrilling, suspenseful story.
I signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement as all contractors for Wizards must, but the possibility I'd be sued for giving away company secrets is not my only reason for honoring that NDA, or I wouldn't have signed it in the first place. If I really couldn't stand the thought of keeping a secret as I have done, I would not have subjected myself to the temptation; instead, what I have done is act in accordance with my own beliefs, my own love of the game, which includes my joy in the very uncertainty which I surrendered by peeking behind the curtain and flipping a few switches. Wizards keeps secrets in order to entertain their audience, the way a modeling agency refrains from displaying pictures of their starlets without makeup or retouching, to further the pleasant illusion that purchasers of the product are interested in. Some information is classified, while other facts are allowed to exist but attention is not drawn to them; in both cases, the intent may be partially mercenary but is also sufficiently idealistic that I, the most starry-eyed unrealist you could ever hope to run into, have no qualms going along with it. They cultivate a vagueness about their exact timetable for the same reason the supermodels don't discuss their medical histories or questionable personal habits - the beautiful facade conceals ugly bones and organs that might spoil your enjoyment of the beautiful facade, so the secret is kept in order to help you appreciate the very thing that you're here to appreciate. There is some fun to be had learning what's beneath the surface, but there are better ways of getting that fix than to dissect something that was meant to live and breathe, and Magic is just such an organism - its beauty comes from seeing it in motion, and so it must be allowed to preserve the mysteries which breathe life into it.
So, I worked on Action, writing names and flavor text. I helped to create the experience you'll get to enjoy in a few more months, and I hope I have helped to make that experience better. Even if the outcome isn't what you expected or rooted for, I hope you'll take an interest anyway, as I believe (on a purely rational and objective basis, I assure you) that the set is very cool indeed. While I can't exactly compare the experience of working on this set to anything else (and believe me, it was a weird place for me to be, knowing how the war ends without knowing how it began, and then discovering the new beginning to the familiar end while still remaining ignorant of the middle), I do believe that this particular set was just about perfect for me, and would have been regardless of whether it was Mirrodin or Phyrexia which came out on top. Both are fascinating aspects of Magic's mythology, with Mirrodin being my second-favorite plane in the game's history and Phyrexia being the magnificent archnemesis my grognard self has loved to hate since I was a teenager, and my delight in learning about the process of creating Magic's flavor was matched by my fondness for the actual environment I was working in. I had an absolute blast working on Action, and I can hardly believe I got paid to do it, which is exactly the way I've always thought a paycheck ought to make you feel.
But let's get back to the uncertainty thing. Again, I'm going to speculate; I've already exhausted my store of behind-the-scenes-but-not-in-violation-of-my-NDA commentary, so the rest of this is just me letting my imagination run wild as I've always done. When I first learned about the Phyrexian war shtick for this block, having already known the outcome but not exactly what the gimmick was that would lead up to it, my mind went to the game "Legend of the Five Rings", one of the only other TCGs whose age and longevity rivals Magic's own. Part of what has helped L5R retain a cult following in spite of its massively unwieldy gameplay is that its players are given the opportunity to become part of the legend itself - the game's owners have for some time held "Storyline Tournaments" in which the winning player's faction receives some extra goodies in the next upcoming set. L5R players have fought to determine which Clan would bring fort the new Emperor of its setting, whether Good or Evil would triumph in a particular age of the Empire, and similar exciting ideas.
So why doesn't Magic do this? My guess is that the answer is they're thinking about it. I theorize that Mirrodin Besieged was a test-market for the idea of audience participation, not just through the creation of a card or a deck, but of an entire expansion. They couldn't do it now without a substantial risk of capital - had the players hated the whole idea and refused to buy the set, losses would have been catastrophic and responsible parties would have suffered for pushing such a radical idea without proof to back it up. The marketing blitz we are seeing these days could well be an attempt to procure that proof. If the Brand department is sufficiently satisfied with the excitement Magic's players have/do/will display/ed during the Besieged season, if they are confident that the audience wants a Storyline Tournament badly enough for it to be a good investment, then we might just see something of the sort in a future product. It's the sort of thing I would absolutely love to see them do, and I have a vague suspicion that feeling is shared by many of the people who work in the Wotco offices. Perhaps it remains a pipe-dream for now; perhaps the idea will be scrapped and will never occur at all. But maybe, just maybe, you could get to decide the outcome of the next war against Phyrexia, the Eldrazi, or some other threat to the whole multiverse. That thought should excite you, even if it never proves to be true. Treasure that excitement, and hope for the best. You never know what the future might hold - which is exactly the point of keeping it secret.
Sunday, October 17, 2010, 8:57 PM
The Magic wiki is so hard to navigate that I've decided to put a link here that will make it possible for me to find my own page without a long search.
Friday, October 15, 2010, 11:54 PM
Magic's infinite combos are fun to dream up and often even more fun to pull off in a game, but building a combo deck is sort of like writing a program that makes your computer crash; the fact that you can do it proves that you have a certain degree of skill, but it isn't really the most constructive way to use that skill. Combo decks ruin the fantasy of Magic, and there only way to keep them from doing so is to arbitrarily introduce a rule preventing them from going off, such as a prohibition against repeating a game state.
I noticed that I felt this way more than two years ago, and I still do. I'm a little Johnny but a lot Vorthos, and it's rare I can satisfy the first without annoying the second. So while I don't generally invoke that rule, I'm always saddened when I see a game end in some silly combo instead of playing out in a fashion I could believe might actually happen.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 11:37 PM
Chess Magic (2 players, lots of time)
Make six decks. The "pawn" deck is Block Constructed Peasant. The "rook" deck uses the new Extended format. The "knight" deck is Standard legal." The "bishop"
deck uses the *old* Extended format, but must be Singleton. The "queen" is a Vintage deck, and the "king" is an Elder Dragon Highlander deck.
To start the game, draw eight cards from the Pawn deck, two each from the next three decks, one from the Queen deck, and put the general of the King deck into your hand. Also set up a chessboard next to the game. Your hand size is always equal to the number of your chess pieces on the board. Play the game normally, drawing a card from a deck of your choice each turn as long as at least one of your pieces corresponding to that deck remains on the board. If you are required to put a card into your library after drawing or otherwise obtaining it, it can go into any of your decks.
Each player has 32 life - half the chessboard. You mark loss of life by advancing one of your chess pieces of your choice, and the pawn in front of it, two squares straight forward; if they crosses into your opponent's half of the board this way, you must remove them, decreasing your hand size by two and costing you use of the corresponding deck if it was your last piece of that type. If all sixteen chessmen are lost this way, you're at 0 life and out of the game. Life can be regained by retreating pieces the same way; if you would go above 32 life this way, you can move the chessmen back off the board. (I planned to have a fancier system here in which the board was actually relevant, but for the moment it has failed to work out.)