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A Few More Words from R&D

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The letter A! little more than eight years ago, I wrote an article entitled "A Few Words from R&D," in which I listed a bunch of R&D lingo that I then went on to define. Well, in the last eight years, we've managed to come up with a lot more lingo, so I thought I would write a follow-up with an entire article of even more R&D vocabulary explained.

Note that I've chosen not to repeat any lingo that appeared in the first article, so I would check it out if you haven't read it yet. I will warn you that a bunch of the lingo is outdated, so here are the ones that we still use today (some more often than others): "Bah-roken," C, Clever Cards, D, The Danger Room, Discriminator card, The Free Table, FFL, Hat Trick, Incrementals, Johnny, Johnny Card, Looter ability, Multiverse, Ophidian ability, The Pit, Promotable, Rangestrike, Rootwalla ability, Sexy, Spike, Spike card, Sticker Stock, Tim ability, Timmy, Timmy card, Tweak, Vanilla creature, WUBRG, and Wyluli ability.


With that out of the way, let's get to the definitions:

A/B/C

"We need to make another A."

One of the tools development uses to determine power level in Limited is to rank cards on an A/B/C system. (A is the best while C is the worst. I'll let Latest Developments explain the details one of these days.) The result of this is that there is a lot of talk in the Pit of "A cards" and "B cards" and "C cards."

Accessible

"Make sure at least half of common is accessible."

It's important that every set have new cards specially tailored to that set. It's also important, though, that a lot of the cards are simple and general enough that even though they fit in the set they could make sense in a core set. We refer to these cards as "accessible."

R&D has a word for this because we make sure that a certain amount of cards in every set are accessible. This ensures that a set doesn't get so insular that the cards don't have a general use with other cards outside the "biodome" (see below) of the set. We want players to play the themes we're playing up in the set but we also want to make sure that players can take the cards and use them in whatever format they most enjoy.

As-Fan

"The as-fan of gold is about 1.5."

Imagine Set A had fifty common gold cards while Set B had fifty rare gold cards. Both sets have the same number of gold cards but Set A would feel like it had a lot more. Why? Because players gauge how something feels not by a card list but by booster packs. If you open Set A, you are going to get five gold cards in your booster, on average. If you open a booster of Set B, you will get just one gold card in about seven of every eight boosters. That means, on average, you would open less than one.

The reason for this has to do with the composition of booster packs. Each booster pack (on average—there can be variance) has ten commons, three uncommons, a land (usually basic), and one rare or mythic rare. Fifty commons will show up much more because ten of the fifteen slots are allocated to common while only one slot is allocated to rare (and one out of eight times it gets replaced by a mythic rare).

What all this means is that when looking through booster packs, Set A will appear to have more than five times the amount of gold cards than Set B, even though both have the exact same number in their respective sets. This look at weighted percentage of appearance is referred to as "as-fan." short for "as fanned."

As-Played

"Blue is low in as-played."

As-fan is a term to talk about how often a subset of cards appears when each booster pack is fanned out. As-played is a similar statistic but one looking at what percentage a card will show up in a Limited deck. The idea behind as-played is that not all the cards will get played in Limited (especially by more experienced players).

This statistic is reached by taking the as-fan but then removing the cards that have been graded low enough (see "A/B/C" above) that development doesn't expect to see the card played often, especially by more experienced players. The percentages are then re-run with just the remaining cards. This statistic gives development a good sense of how often certain cards will show up to help it weigh how strong each color is in Limited.

Biodome

"I just don't know if it works outside the biodome."

"Biodome" refers to how Limited sets can get very insular, where the cards create an environment that works when isolated by itself but that doesn't create a lot of cards that can be used in other formats—when you leave the biodome.

Card Crafting

"I don't think white is supposed to do that. We need to bring it up in Card Crafting."

Once a week, all the core designers and developers (see below) get together with Aaron Forsythe to talk through tactical issues dealing with Magic. This meeting tends to get very hands-on, as we discuss things like whether we want to shift an ability in the color pie or how to solve a large meta-issue either design or development is facing.

Chessy

"I don't think the creature should have three activated abilities. It makes it too chessy."

This is an R&D term that means there's no hidden information. It's named after chess, which is a game without any hidden information. Usually, the term is a complaint meaning that it's going to be unfun, because it will require the tracking of too much open information.

Core Designer

"If we're going to do hole-filling, we're going to want a core designer."

A core designer is one of the people hired full time to do Magic design. The current core designers are myself, Mark Gottlieb, Ken Nagle, Ethan Fleischer, Shawn Main, and Dan Emmons.

Core Developer

"The costing's legit. I asked one of the core developers."

A core developer is one of the people hired full time to do Magic development. The current core developers are Erik Lauer, Dave Humpherys, Tom LaPille, Billy Moreno, and Sam Stoddard. (The current development interns are Ian Duke and Ben Hayes.)

CQI

"The card just isn't exciting anyone. I'm CQIing it."

This stands for "continued quality improvement." To CQI a card is to basically say, "We think we can do better." Usually, a CQIed card stays in the file as it was with the CQI in the notes telling everyone that it's most likely changing. R&D lingo ebbs and flows and this expression is slowly working its way out of the R&D lexicon.

Creative Rep

"Did someone run that top-down idea by the creative rep?"

Short for "creative team representative." We try on most design and development teams to have a member from creative on the team. This helps make sure, as we're making granular decisions about the mechanics, that we're staying linked to the flavor of the world and the details of the story.

Danger Room, Ivory Tower, Mishra's Workshop, The Helvault, Eye of Ugin, Lost Temple, Grand Central Station, Graceland, Wayne Manor, Ravenloft, The Mana Zone

"I'm going to Graceland."

These are the meeting rooms that R&D most often uses (all of them are on the third floor). Most of the names are references to geeky things. The rooms closest to R&D, which we named, all refer to Magic. The one exception is The Danger Room (which is an X-Men reference; it's where they practice/battle). And yes, when we moved buildings we chose to keep The Danger Room alive.

Design Rep

"Kill the card and have the design rep come up with something."

Short for "core design representative." Every development team includes a core designer to make sure that there is someone on the team to help with hole filling and to keep a designer sensibility about the set.

Dev Rep

"The dev rep says it's no go. We'll have to try something else."

Short for "core development representative." Every design team includes a core developer to make sure that there is a development sensibility during design to ensure that design doesn't end up making something that cannot be developed.

Elephant-in-Boots Issue

"The new uniqueness rule is another Elephant-in-Boots issue."

This issue refers to the fact that sometimes we will make small flavor concessions for better game play. The name comes from the decision we made during Mirrodin to allow all Equipment to be equipped by any creature. In the set, we had a card called Boots of Speed (what would end up being Lightning Greaves) and we spent an hour talking about whether it made any sense that an elephant could wear the Boots of Speed. In the end, we decided that while allowing every creature to use any Equipment would occasionally make nonsensical things happen, flavorwise, like the elephant in boots, it just made the game more fun. Whenever this issue comes up, this is how we refer to it.


Experience Design

"Now that we understand the design, let's talk about the experience design."

Experience design is the work that goes into building what happens at events surrounding the event. For example, the Helvault at the Avacyn Restored Prerelease is an example of a high-profile experience design. This area is something R&D has become a lot more involved in over the last few years. The current experience lead designer is Dave Guskin.

Feel-Bad

"I don't think we should make it. It's just too feel-bad."

The term "feel-bad" means that we believe a card will generate more negative experiences among players than positive ones. Usually the term is used as a reason that we should either change a card or kill it.

Float

"But will this float to the mana-ramp player?"

When designing for Draft, one of the things R&D has to be conscious of is that each draft strategy gets cards key to the strategy to the player playing it. If all the cards in a strategy are universally strong, the cards will be taken early and it becomes hard to draft that strategy. This means that we have to make cards that will be appreciated more by certain players than others. Some number of cards need to "float," meaning that they are not picked off early in the draft. This is accomplished by making cards that are more powerful in one strategy than others.

French Vanilla Creature

"I think we need a French vanilla creature for this slot."

A vanilla creature is a creature with no rules text. A French vanilla creature is a creature that has no rules text other than creature keywords—usually one or more of the evergreen ones (deathtouch, defender, flash, flying, first strike, haste, hexproof, landwalk, lifelink, protection, reach, trample, and vigilance). And yes, a creature with two creature keywords is still referred to as French vanilla. I created the term because I realized that we were making a lot of French vanillas and I felt it was important to have terminology to talk about them.

GDS

"Everyone wants to know when we're having a third GDS."

Short for "The Great Designer Search," the reality-show-like event we use to find new designers. Four of the six current core designers come from The Great Designer Search. (Ken Nagle came in 2nd in the first GDS, Ethan Fleischer won the second GDS, Shawn Main came in 2nd in the second GDS, and Dan Emmons was involved in the community, helping out the finalists of the second GDS.)

Grok

"The design is interesting but I don't think the audience will grok it."

This word comes from the book Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. In the book, it means "to intimately and completely share the same reality or line of thinking with another physical or conceptual entity." R&D uses the word to mean "to intuitively understand." Usually, it's used in the context of whether or not players will "get" what a card does.

High Flier

"We already have a flier. Why not make this a high flier?"

This is R&D's nickname for a flying creature that can only block other fliers.

Metagame

"The card might not be played in tournaments but it will be good for the metagame."

This one's confusing because the public also uses the word "metagame." It just doesn't mean the same thing as the R&D version of the word. (Although I should point out R&D also uses the word as the public uses it.) The R&D "metagame" refers to all the elements involved in a game outside of the playing of the game. For Magic, the metagame includes deck building, trading, discussions in-person and through social media, reading stories, etc. R&D uses the term because it's important to understand that much of the "game" goes beyond the "game."

New World Order

"Why is that at common? That's not New World Order."

This was a new philosophy adopted by R&D during the Shards of Alara block. The core idea of New World Order is that we simplify common cards to make the game easier to learn, as a newer player's card collection skews much more toward common. For more on this concept, read my article on New World Order.

99ed

"I liked it but we 99ed it due to space."

This means "to remove from a card file." When a card is removed from a file, the number of the card code is usually changed to 99 to signify that it is no longer in the set.

Rare Poll

"That came in dead last in the Rare Poll."

To get a sense of how exciting the rare and mythic rares of a set are, we send a survey around the building to Magic players from other sections of the company. This gives us a good sense of how exciting the cards are in a first impression.

Red Flag

"I went through common. We have three outstanding red flags."

This is a tool that got created when we started doing New World Order (see above). Part of the process is laying down a series of rules about what shouldn't be done at common without us making a conscious decision to do so. Any card that breaks one of these rules is considered red flagged, which means it cannot stay in the file without the design or development team signing off on it. Red flags are a tool to make sure we are aware when we are breaking our own rules.

Skulking

"How about a skulking high flier?"

This is R&D's nickname for the ability "When this card becomes the target of a spell or ability, sacrifice it." It's named after the card Skulking Ghost from Mirage. The ability has since shifted from black to blue. R&D still tends to call it "skulking" although it's sometimes now called "the illusion ability," as it's used exclusively now to mechanically represent illusions. It's funny to note that the word "skulking" was not what represented that ability in Skulking Ghost's name. The mechanic was meant to top-down "ghost."

Slide Show

"Don't be late to the Tuesday Magic Meeting. The slide show's today."

Once a set is near completion (it has been laid out and edited), there is a slide show done during the Tuesday Magic Meeting where everyone gets to have a look at the mostly completed set. The slide show is usually the last time for people to question decisions that have been made. (Because this is so late in the process, very few changes are made.)

Stack Rank

"Stack rank the blue uncommon creatures."

This is a technique used by development whereby it determines the power level of a subset of cards by ranking them in order from most powerful to least.

Stalking

"We've already done trample. How about stalking?"

This is R&D's nickname for the ability "can't be blocked by more than one creature." It's named after the card Stalking Tiger from Mirage that had this ability.

Strong Second

Each design and development team has a lead designer/developer. Also, one person (almost always a core designer/developer) is tagged as the "strong second," meaning he or she is the person expected to be the backup for the lead and do a larger portion of the work than the rest of the team. The strong second position is often used as a means to teach less-experienced designers and developers.

Trinket Text

"Tell the hole-filling team, we're going to need some trinket text."

Trinket text is rules text that adds flavor to a card but usually has very little mechanical impact. A classic example of trinket text would be the "Vindictive Mob cannot be blocked by Saprolings" on Ravnica's Vindictive Mob. Trinket text can matter but seldom does. Trinket text is often used because it allows design and development to make a card more flavorful without making it any more powerful.

Tuesday Magic Meeting

Once a week, everyone in R&D who has anything to do with Magic,as well as people from other sections of the company who are interested, gather together and discuss large Magic issues. This meeting is a little less tactical than the weekly Card Crafting meetings. The slide shows take place in this meeting.

Virtual Vanilla Creature

"I'd much rather have a virtual vanilla creature here."

A virtual vanilla creature is one that, after the first turn it's on the battlefield, basically functions like a vanilla creature. Most often, virtual vanilla creatures have "enters the battlefield" effects or have flash or haste. (And yes, haste can matter in corner cases, but the vast majority of the time haste is meaningless past the first turn.) And yes, this means that there is a term "virtual French vanilla creature" for a creature that is essentially a French vanilla creature after the first turn.

War Drums

"Red needs more evasion and we already have an intimidate creature. How about war drums?"

This is R&D's nickname for the ability "can't be blocked except by two or more creatures." This card is named after the card Goblin War Drums from Fallen Empires.

Word!

That's all the words I have for you today. I hope you enjoyed the look behind the scenes of R&D's everyday lingo. As always, I'm curious to hear your feedback on what I talked about today. You can email me, respond in the thread, or send me a message through my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+).

Join me next week when I tell some tales.

Until then, may you examine the words you use every day.

Drive to Work #37—Lessons I've Learned, Part 3

This is the third part in my meta-series exploring the lessons of each set I've designed. Today, I talk about the lessons of Unhinged and the original Ravnica.

My Magic-themed comic (which I post on social media) turned two, so I dedicated a podcast to talking about what it takes to make a comic every weekday.

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Mark Rosewater
Mark Rosewater
@maro254
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Working for Magic R&D since October, 1995, Mark Rosewater is currently the head designer. His hobbies include spending time with his family, talking about Magic on every known medium (including a daily blog and a weekly podcast), and writing about himself in the third person.

 

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