Ask Wizards - August, 2006

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Do you have a question about Magic: The Gathering or Wizards of the Coast? Send it, along with your name and location, to us via this email form. We'll post a new question and answer each day.

 August 31, 2006  

Q: When you create a new "mana rock" (2cc artifact that taps for one mana - e.g. Fellwar Stone, Diamonds, Talismans, Signets, Star Compass, Coldstone Heart), what determines whether or not you add the "comes into play tapped" drawback?
--Sol M.
Atlanta, GA

A: From Henry Stern, Magic R&D:

Mostly it has to do with our vision for the block. Is the block going to be about fast acceleration? Then we might make something like Fellwar Stone. Is it going to be about slower, but perhaps more color-intensive acceleration? Then you might see cards like the signets.

Also, depending on rarity, those cards can serve very different functions. Something specialized like Fellwar Stone might make a neat uncommon, whereas in Ravnica the signets served an important function for Limited play.


 August 30, 2006  

Q: I've noticed a couple of characters with sz in their names such as Tevesh Szat and Szadek. How do you pronounce "sz"?
--Teddy
MA

A: From Doug Beyer, flavor text writer:

Although “sz” is pronounced “shh” in many Slavic languages, in Magic it’s very close to the straight-up English Z. Try pronouncing “Zah-dek” or “Zot” with a slight hiss before you start the “z” sound, with your tongue close to the back of your teeth. It’s not the “zh” sound like in “azure,” that’s too buzzy and airy—it’s more like the sound you make when you say “Minneapolis Zoo.” You’re on the right track if you can say confidently:

Kneel before Szadek!


 August 29, 2006  

Q: What led you to reprint particular Ice Age or Alliances cards in the Coldsnap theme decks? (ex: Swords to Plowshares, Dark Ritual)
--Anthony
Quitman, TX

A: From Aaron Forsythe, Magic Head Developer:

We chose cards that would evoke the feel of old-school Magic in one way or another, either because they are over the modern power curve (like your aforementioned Swords to Plowshares and Dark Ritual), had some charming weirdness that we think of when we think of old sets (Kjeldoran Home Guard, Orcish Healer, Snow Devil), or fit the deck's theme particularly well (Balduvian Dead, Aurochs).

We were conscious to put as many old favorites that we could into them, as we know some people like getting new-frame versions of old powerful cards, like Brainstorm and Gorilla Shaman. Additionally, we knew that many of these cards would be appearing in Magic Online for the first time in these decks, so we wanted to make them somewhat tempting to that crowd.

I'm sure that the essence of your question in some way has to do with the absence of Force of Will in these decks, and there are two reasons for that. One, by putting FoW in one of the decks, we would severely imbalance the value of the four decks in relation to one another. Store owners hate that, with good reason (yes, putting Umezawa's Jitte in the Rats' Nest deck was a mistake, not some plan to make the card easier to acquire). Two, when we finally do get around to printing a new version of Force of Will, we'll probably want to do so as a prize card of some sort.


 August 28, 2006  

Q: How many "real" Magic cards have been inspired by Un-cards?
--The Werefrog
Council Bluffs, IA

A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic Head Designer:

Quite a number. So much so that I've started joking that the Un-sets are really just experimental designs with substantial playtesting. The following list is every example I could think of where an Unglued card inspired a card or mechanic. It's a little early for the Unhinged-inspired cards (although Coldsnap's Panglacial Wurm was inspired by Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil). I'm not sure in all cases it was the inspiration but since the designers were aware of Unglued, I'll assume the card or mechanic was at least inspired on the subconscious level. I'm sure I'll miss a card or two and but luckily I have all of you to let me know which ones I've missed. I'll list the Unglued card and then the card or mechanic it inspired:

B.F.M. - split cards (two cards on one instead of one card on two)
Common Courtesy - the seals from Nemesis (Seal of Cleansing, Seal of Doom, Seal of Fire, Seal of Removal, and Seal of Strength)
Giant Fan - Power Conduit
Goblin Bookie - Krark's Thumb
Hungry Hungry Heifer - Chisei, Heart of Oceans
Infernal Spawn of Evil - forecast mechanic
Look at Me, I'm the DCI - Cranial Extraction
Ricochet - Grip of Chaos
Timmy, Power Gamer - Elvish Piper


 August 25, 2006  

Q: I was browsing old Card of the Day (August 2005) archives, and I read that Presence of the Master from Legends has a picture of Albert Einstein on it. You called it 'one of a few Magic cards whose illustration shows a real-world figure.'

I was just wondering, what were/are the others?

--Evan
Franklin, IN

A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic Head Designer:

Evan,

I think it's the only one done on purpose. What I was hinting at was that there are pieces that look a lot like celebrities. In fact, it's a fun game to play - kind of like Where's Waldo but for adults.


 August 24, 2006  

Q: Hi, I was wondering why Lovisa Coldeyes, the leader of all the Balduvian tribes, doesn't actually have the type "Barbarian"?

Thank you,

--Marcel
Zevenhoven, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic creative director:

It's a sad and somewhat boring story, Marcel. Once you finish putting "Legendary Creature -- Human" on Lovisa, there's generally room for only one additional creature type. In the Ice Age story, Lovisa is more or less on the same level as King Darien of Kjeldor, so we felt it was appropriate for her to have the Lord type, like he does. Also, giving her the Barbarian type would've meant junking up her text box with "other" ("Other Barbarians, Warriors, and Berserkers get . . . "), as well as calling attention to the fact that she really should have the Warrior type, too, not just one or the other. In the end, letting her symbolically rise above those she commanded seemed to be the best compromise.


 August 23, 2006  

Q: In his Magic Dossier on May 31, Jeremy Jarvis described one of the steps in the process of how he got his job:

"Round two was a 24 hour concept trial, where the "finalists" were emailed at 10am with 4 different assignments and given until 10am the next morning to crank out as much good, smart, and well executed concept art as possible for all of those assignments. One all-nighter later I got the job."

We got to see the work Matt Cavotta did to get a job with Wizards. I was wondering if anyone still had the concept work Jeremy Jarvis did to get his job at Wizards. And if so, can we please see it?

Congrats on the promotion Jeremy!

--Troy

A: From Jeremy Jarvis, Magic: The Gathering Art Director:

Hey Troy,
Thanks much for the kind words!

And sure, I’m game... here are the verbatim descriptions I received and what I came up with.

1) Show a classic fantasy WHITE soldier concept.
He is rugged, mean and has seen many battles.
He knows his life is a small price to pay to "keep the order". His weapons are polished and always ready for a kill.

2) Show a weathered BLACK soldier concept.
Now I want you to show that same soldier after his world has been destroyed by a vicious meteor strike that blocked out the sun light.

The soldier no longer has any hope for civilization since 95% of the population has been destroyed. He is now using BLACK magic. He no longer takes care of his weapons or himself. He is a skinny, hollow copy of what he once was.

[I'll be looking closely at how you contrast this assignment against #2]

3) Show a powerful RED Dragon in flight.

4) Show a powerful Blue Wizard deflecting a red magical attack.
It is difficult to show wizard battles. It is even more difficult to show one wizard deflecting a magical attack from another mage.
I need to see how you show a wizard defending himself from a magic attack/blast of energy.

Click each image for a larger version.

In A,B and C you can see different ways to spin the pre/post apocalypse soldier angle (assignments 1 & 2) complete with notes on how I was thinking they might interact with the ‘world’.

D (assignment 3) shows my brainstorms on red dragon heads, and E is me taking my favorite of those to a full dragon drawing.

F & G (assignment 4) Shows a couple takes on the blue wizard spell deflection. In retrospect, getting the ‘vibe’ of the blue wizard was probably more important to the job then what he was doing with the spell (tech-y bits... No pointy hats etc).

So there you have it!


 August 22, 2006  

Q: Two questions:

  1. If you were making threshold for the first time today, would you make it an ability word in the style of hellbent rather than a keyword?
  2. You've said that if you were making the Kamigawa block "Whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane spell" cards for the first time today, you'd give them an ability word. Would you give them "spiritcraft" or something that might be more flavorful?

--Mark
Woodbury Hts., NJ

A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic Head Designer:

Mark,

I cannot speak for the templating team that makes these decisions, but I can speak for myself (for whatever that's worth).

  1. Yes, I would.
  2. I think I would. I assume the name would have tied into the idea of Spirits and Arcane. Or perhaps I would have made a keyword that specified spirits and arcane for this set but would have allowed us to reuse it later with different triggers.

 August 21, 2006  

Q: I noticed the flavor text on the Coldsnap tap-lands and was wondering what is the proper order for them?
--Nick

A: From Doug Beyer, Coldsnap flavor text writer:

Hi Nick. I like your question a lot, not because it has a pat answer, but because it points at an interesting issue at the heart of flavor text. The Dynasty of Winter Kings quotes, written by flavor text writer Adam Lee (thanks Adam), were designed to be able to read well in any order. As Matt Cavotta and I touched on in a recent article, cards have a very difficult time conveying story chronology. Nobody can control in what order you see any two given Magic cards, so trying to represent chronological events on different cards—in the space of a couple of sentences, tops—is a recipe for confusion. Imagine seeing one card describing a character as an elderly archmage, then seeing another describing her as a young apprentice. Did she get whacked by a negative aging spell, or was one card just “supposed” to be read before the other? There’s just no room to explain. That’s why we tend to steer clear of ordered flavor text, and instead hit you with either a one-shot, self-contained idea or else related ideas that don’t need to have a strict order. (Plot fans, check out the novels! That’s the medium where chronology shines.)


 August 18, 2006  

Q: Is it just me, or is there a Zuran Orb on Zur the Enchanter's staff?
--(Anonymous)

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic creative director:

Zur_the_EnchanterI do believe there is! To be sure, though, I suggest you ask Pete Venters, the guy who illustrated Zur. You can find a thread on our boards that deals with all things Venters here. This area of the message boards is a great resource if you weren't aware of it. For a list of other artists with their own threads, just check the Art & Artist FAQ.


 August 17, 2006  

Q: The artwork on Macabre Waltz is extremely excellent, but it's also one of the most graphic and gut-roiling pictures I've ever seen on a card. What are the guidelines you guys use to determine what art is suitable for public consumption, and what is simply too macabre to waltz into public view?
--Ryan
Chico, CA

A: From Jeremy Jarvis, Magic: The Gathering Art Director:

Hey Ryan,

So the long answer to your question is basically a discussion about the illustration’s subjective elements versus its objective elements. The red flag is raised when something is represented in the art that can’t in good conscience be sold in a box presented as “PG-13”. A face being eaten. An inappropriately nude body part. A scene of realistic vivisection. Basically anything that would give an “R” rated flick its “R” rating. Now take a good look at Macabre Waltz. There is no objective element that is inappropriate. Sure, there’s blood, but not even so much as a paper cut shown on either figure. The figures are interacting, but not in any way that is violent or overtly sexual.

Given that, the gut punch with this painting is a subjective one. All of its parts come together into a sort of stylish constructicon of “the willies”. It’s all of the relatively banal elements working together that make the little men in your retinas run to the back of your neck and start planting goosebumps.

Let’s run a little Art Lab:

Click here to show a larger version of the art shown recently in Magic Arcana.

Now put your thumbs over their faces.

The piece loses a lot of its visceral punch, doesn’t it? Sure, it’s still bloody, but it’s no longer impacting. In my opinion, one could maintain that the disturbing parts of this illustration are the looks on their faces. Or, more accurately, the looks on their faces juxtaposed against the gesture of their bodies, shown in that setting and coupled with the fact that the art is painted fantastically well. It’s worth bearing in mind that we wouldn’t even be talking about this if the same image was tackled by a less accomplished painter. No one would care. Big ups to Jim Murray for having the chops to make our skin crawl.

That was the long answer. The short one is this... we show it to Brand.

:)
JJ


 August 16, 2006  

Q: I know that this may seem like a small thing since there are only three tournament legal monkeys (baboons are monkeys, too), but why are monkeys given the creature type ape? They are not any closer to being apes than humans are. You wouldn't label all of the human creatures as apes; why not give monkeys their own creature type?
--Grolen

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic creative director:

Grolen, I don't mean to be pedantic, but when I look up "ape" in the dictionary (Webster's Collegiate), the first definition given is "monkey." And when I look up "monkey," the first definition is "a nonhuman primate mammal with the exception usu. of the lemurs and tarsiers." In other words, in plain English there's no sharp distinction between monkeys and apes. I suspect that's not the case in more scientific taxonomical contexts, but as has been hinted at in Ask Wizards before, Magic can't always support the finer distinctions between two families within an order of animals, let alone making sense of different genera or species.


 August 15, 2006  

Q: What's the difference between a supertype and a subtype? Specifically, what goes into the decision to make something like 'Arcane' a subtype, whereas 'Snow' is a supertype?
--Steve
Taunton, England

A: From Devin Low, Magic R&D:

Hey Steve,

According to the dusty crannies of Magic's Comprehensive Rules, cards of different "types" (artifact, creature, enchantment, instant, land, and sorcery) cannot share the same "subtype" (Zombie, Warrior, Equipment, Shrine). The only exception is that sorceries and instants can share the same subtypes (Yup, allowing Arcane.) The short answer for why subtypes are kept separate is "To keep the rules from exploding." If all Magic card types could share all their subtypes in one big pool of subtypes, lots of the rules would break apart:

In short, a total space-time-continuum explosion! The main function of supertypes is that supertypes can go across different card types. So Coldsnap can have Snow Creatures, Snow Artifacts, Snow Lands, and Snow Enchantments. Similarly, you can have Legendary Creatures, Legendary Artifacts, Legendary Lands, and Legendary Enchantments. "Snow', "Legendary", and "Basic" are all supertypes. We talked about putting "Basic Creature - Rat" on Relentless Rats, but decided it would be too confusing, too dumb, and perhaps even "too awesome." (Thanks to Magic rules manager Mark Gottlieb for lots of help on this answer.)


 August 14, 2006  

Q: Hello! Is there a link that explains who/what Marit Lage is? I was under the impression that she was a powerful planeswalker. However, the token art makes "her" appear as a large Hypnox type of a creature? Thanks!
--Justin
Lancaster, OH

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic creative director:

The Argivian scholar Arkol thought Marit Lage was a planeswalker, but he was wrong. What's known about Marit Lage is that she is a being of immense power, able to move across the planes but not by the same means planeswalkers can. She is not native to Dominaria, and could justifiably be called a demigod. She is mentioned in passing a couple of times in The Eternal Ice, a Magic novel by Jeff Grubb. It's implied that she wreaked havoc on Dominaria at some point, and it's clear that she had a human following (see the flavor text of Brine Shaman, Curse of Marit Lage, Wrath of Marit Lage, and Dehydration). One interesting footnote about Marit Lage is that the cards that bear her name penalize black's allied colors rather than its enemy colors.


 August 11, 2006  

Q: For the last few blocks, blue has been more evil than normal. Just look, Vedelken in Mirrodin were tyrants, the moonfolk in Kamigawa were secretly trying to destroy everything, and the Izzet/Simic/Dimir were all to a certain extent evil. Why is this?
--Mike
Loves Park, IL

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic creative director:

It's true that blue-aligned characters and factions are often morally sketchy, Mike, but I wouldn't use the word "evil" in all the cases you've listed above. Here's my own theory about why it's easy to vilify blue, as well as why it's hard to make green evil: It's all about intention. If a person kills someone accidentally or in a "moment of passion," that's fundamentally different than if s/he plans to kill someone in advance. And blue is all about premeditation. Blue is calculating, analytical, and full of forethought. Blue doesn't like to do anything spontaneously or accidentally.

When a green-aligned beast kills, it's simply the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, etc. Green doesn't consider its actions; the killer was just hungry or maybe startled. But when a blue-aligned figure kills, it was almost certainly intended. Think of it in these terms: in a way, one of green's values is innocence, because its needs and drives are so basic and unconsidered. So if green is innocent, and blue is green's opposite . . . That said, I do believe there have been a few too many blue villains (or at least antagonists) over the last several years. As with everything in Magic, you can expect the color of villainy to change as time goes on.


 August 10, 2006  

Q: When a new Magic set is released, there is almost always a new mechanic to go with it. Recently, however, you seem to be adding more and more new things, extra mechanics, to the new sets. In the Ravnica block, for example, there is a mechanic for each guild! And in the new Coldsnap set, there is Ripple, Recover, new 'Snow mana' and the double-pitch cards. Was there a decision made for more things to be included in each set, or did it just occur naturally?
--Rhys
Abercarn, Wales, UK

A: From Mike Turian, Magic R&D:

Hi Rhys,

Keywords are nice because they give people a way to discuss the newest mechanics in Magic. It is much easier to say, “What do you think of Gating?” than “What do you think of the cards that when they come into play return a creature of the same color to their owner’s hand?” This is part of the reason we use “ability” words.

When you look back at some of the older sets you see a smaller number of keywords. Tempest, for instance, had Shadow and Buyback for the entire set. Another set, Mercadian Masques, actually didn’t have any keywords at all! Of course it did have Rebels, Mercenaries, Pitch Spells, Spellshapers and Mongers. Yet players responded with “The set has nothing new!”

As far as why Ravnica had 10 mechanics while older sets had fewer, that would be more a matter of making the guild model work. The designers of Ravnica wanted something to make each guild feel like a unique entity. The designers created and used a number of mechanics that are great for a small number of cards but not expandable enough to fill an entire block.

A great example for this would be Transmute. Creating an entire block around the tutoring of Transmute would make for a miserable play experience. We created at least one Transmute card for each casting cost from one to six and Grozoth at nine. This both gave Dimir their flavor and let us explore Transmute.

The design for Coldsnap included Snow lands and Cumulative Upkeep as a nod to Ice Age. Recover was added because we felt the set could support another mechanic on a small level. Once it was decided that we wanted to make sure that Coldsnap could be drafted as a stand-alone we added Ripple to take advantage of the small format.


 August 9, 2006  

Q: There have been 4 Sphinx's printed in the last year, all of them blue and one white. Adding that to Petra Sphinx there are a total of 5 in the game-- is Sphinx being promoted as the new blue iconic creature to battle white's angel's and black's demons?
--Nate
Peoria, IL

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic creative director:

Hi Nate,

We're always on a quest to find the iconic creatures that resonate most with players, and we'd like it if each color had a big, iconic, flying creature. Angels in white, Demons in black, and Dragons in red are slam-dunks, and green almost never gets a big flyer, so it doesn't really need an iconic one. But blue does, and for many years it's been a random assortment of things: Djinni, Illusions, Spirits, and the occasional Dragon. Your hunch is right. We're testing the waters with Sphinxes, and if players like them enough, we hope that they'll be blue's default flying powerhouse. But don't worry, that doesn't mean other types of big, blue flyers are being retired. There's room for more than one creature type at the top of each color's flying curve.


 August 8, 2006  

Q: Why does ripple make you reveal cards to your opponent? If you're playing cards with the same name as the card as ripple, they're revealed in the process of playing them. If you don't play it, whether it has the same name or not, it still goes to the bottom and you get to manipulate the order they go there. So why does ripple force you to reveal the cards?
--Lee
Urbana, IL

A: From Randy Buehler, Director of Magic R&D:

It’s more fun this way! We really like the way this version of ripple makes everyone scoot up to the edge of their seat and lean over to see what’s going to be revealed. Erratic Explosion had a very similar feel to it that is hard to capture, but awesome when you can pull it off. We think we pulled it off with this version of ripple.


 August 7, 2006  

Q: Was there an intentional return to Magic's older, simpler art style in Coldsnap? I've noticed that the artwork on cards like Darien, King of Kjeldor, Diamond Faerie, Garza Zol, Plague Queen, and more all have the vintage simplicity of focusing on the subject in the picture while having almost no background. Was this in tribute to the original style artwork seen more than a decade ago?
--Bubba
USA

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic creative director:

Interesting question. I actually think that people falsely perceive some old-school elements in Coldsnap because of its identity and its revisitation of old mechanics. Illustration-wise, the truth is that no effort was made to simplify compositions (beyond the normal amount, that is). For example, compare Garza Zol or Diamond Faerie to Psychotic Fury or Demon's Jester. I suspect that if you count the number of illustrations in Coldsnap that feature a single figure with almost no background, then do the same for any other small set in recent years, such as Dissension or Saviors of Kamigawa, you'll come up with roughly the same total. Perhaps the snowy setting makes backgrounds seem less prominent, though, because of the heavier use of whites and blues.


 August 4, 2006  

Q: Out of curiosity: What are Magic cards really made of? Often I am met with, "Why do you waste money on these pieces of cardboard?" or "You're buying paper!". Things just don't add up, it's not paper, it's not cardboard, what is it? I must know!
--Alex
Norwalk, CT

A: From Jane Flohrschutz, Stephanie Sharp, and Gretchen Tapp, Wizards of the Coast Production Team:

You can tell your friends that it's very special paper with an extra special filling. A Magic card is made up of three separate parts, two sheets of paper and a mysterious center layer (and we can't tell you what the center layer is made of so don't ask). The paper stock that we use is made of specific materials specially created for Wizards of the Coast products. All areas of production are controlled – how the paper is made, how it is stored and shipped, even how long the paper has to wait after it comes off the trucks before it can be printed, in order to have the paper acclimate properly. At all times the paper is under very tight quality controls from when it is made to when it is in the players' hands.


 August 3, 2006  

Q: Why is it that Friday Night Magic can only be Standard? I realize FNM is supposed to be Standard so that it is easy to get into, but why is it that people can't play Vintage FNM if they choose to?
--Richard
USA

A: From Damon Edmondson, DCI Program Manager:

Richard, the idea behind Friday Night Magic is that a player (let's call him "Billy") can go to any FNM store with a Standard deck and he'll be able to play. If Billy is traveling out of state and goes to a new store for FNM and everyone has a Vintage deck except Billy, Billy will most likely not have a good experience. Now, stores can certainly sanction a Vintage or other Constructed format on Fridays or whatever other day they want for that matter. They just can't award FNM promos to players if it's something like Vintage, because that's not the intent of the FNM program.


 August 2, 2006  

Q: I have a question about Time Spiral. Gemstone Cavern has its size listed at 301, but a normal large expansion is 306. Why is Time Spiral 301and not 306 like Ravnica?
--Matt
Cheyenne, WY

A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic Head Designer:

Dear Matt,

The answer is a simple one. Ravnica had 110 commons, 88 uncommons and 88 rares. (That adds up to 306 if you include the 20 basic lands - remember four pictures of each one). Time Spiral, on the other hand, has 121 commons, 80 uncommons, and 80 rares. (Once again, if you add in 20 lands you get 301.) Why the change? A whole number of reasons, many having to do with production issues. The biggest effect of this change for the players is that the increase in commons will help create more variety in Limited play as well as make the uncommons and rares easier to collect.


 August 1, 2006  

Q: I've noticed that in Coldsnap several very prominent characters have been made it into cards (such as Marit Lage) but there's one I noticed didn't make it in: Lim-Dul,the Necromancer! Are there some characters that you prefer to keep a mystery to the players?
--Zach
Winnipeg, Manitoba

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic creative director:

Magic's storyline has lots of important characters that exist only in flavor text, or don't exist on cards at all, such as Jodah, the archmage granted immortality by the taskmage Jaya Ballard (after she became a planeswalker), or Stonebrow, the centaur who became the commander of Kamahl's Krosan forces. What characters make it onto cards is a complex determination based on a billion things, including mechanical fit, color balance, importance, and whether or not the character even existed before we finished the card set. But in the end there's simply not room to make cards for all the characters that deserve them.


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