Cardsmithing Design Links by MrRansom

edited March 2016 in Tutorials
This "Tutorial" is inspired by @MrRansom and his marvelous design links!
Below you will find links to the original articles and below that you will find excerpts from the articles for quick referencing.

TEN PRINCIPLES OF GOOD DESIGN pt.1 2010 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/ten-principles-good-design-part-1-2010-05-03
TEN PRINCIPLES OF GOOD DESIGN pt.2 2010 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/ten-principles-good-design-part-2-2010-05-17
NUTS AND BOLTS 2015: THREE STAGES OF DESIGN by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/nuts-bolts-three-stages-design-2015-03-30
DEVELOPING COMMONS 2014 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/ld/developing-commons-2014-10-03
DEVELOPING UNCOMMONS 2014 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/latest-developments/developing-uncommons-2014-11-14
THE POWER OF LANDS 2015 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/latest-developments/power-lands-2015-10-09
AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT HOW EACH COLOR DESTROYS PERMANENTS 2014 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/acts-destruction-2014-08-11
DESIGN 101 2003 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/design-101-2003-04-21-0
DESIGN 102 2004 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/design-102-2004-07-12
DESIGN 103 2006 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/design-103-2006-11-06
DESIGN 104 2013 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/design-104-2013-08-16
THE BLEED STORY 2011 by WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/feature/bleed-story-2011-06-13
STATE OF DESIGN 2005-2015 vy WOTC
http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/state-design-2015-2015-08-24

Comments

  • The Ten Principles for Good Design, Part 1
    Link to Article
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/ten-principles-good-design-part-1-2010-05-03

    Excerpts from Mark Rosewater's Article

    I believe every Magic set needs to innovate in several ways:

    1. Every new set should do something that hasn't been done before.
    2. Every new set should bring back something from the past and present it in a new light.
    3. Every new set should give you new cards to add to your old decks.
    4. Every set should make players have to shift their thinking about the game in some way.
    5. Every set should create a moment that is uniquely its own.

    I believe that if a set can accomplish these five tasks, it is bringing innovation to the design.

    Good design makes a product useful.

    I often ask my Magic designers to explain to me why a particular card or mechanic or set will be fun for the players. If they can't explain to me what is fun about it, I tell them to "find the fun" or scrap it. Too often a designer can get lost in the intricacies of making a card work that they lose sight of why they're making the card in the first place.

    Good design is aesthetic.

    Games have to "feel right." For Magic, this means that we have to be conscious of many factors that might not seem important on the surface. This includes things like being careful how much we use a particular mechanic and where we put it in color and rarity. It also includes what abilities we put together. Designers have to be very conscious about the overall feel of a card as they add or subtract elements.

    Good design helps us to understand a product.

    The biggest way this is accomplished is by use of common cards. These cards are the backbone of the set, because they will exist in the largest volume. If the designer wants to send a message about what the set is about, that message has to live in common to ensure that it will be seen. As I often say, if your theme isn't in common, it isn't your theme.

    Good design is unobtrusive.

    The role of any individual card is to serve the needs of the set. The card's first duty is to the set, not to itself. One of the hardest things for designers to do is to pull the awesome card that isn't quite doing what it's supposed to be doing. The problem is that the card is less important than the set. If the card pulls focus, it disrupts the set. A designer's job, much like that producer, is to look at the system as a whole. Yes, it's disruptive from that card's perspective, but the design has a purpose much larger than an individual card's need.
  • edited March 2016
    The Ten Principles for Good Design, Part 2
    Link to Article
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/ten-principles-good-design-part-2-2010-05-17

    Excerpts from Mark Rosewater's Article

    Good design is honest.

    Being honest means making sure that you aren't letting your love of craft overstep your vision. Your cards shouldn't be about what you can do but what you need to do. Cards need to ring true both in a vacuum and in conjunction with one another. Things need to do what your audience expects them to do. In short, being honest as a Magic designer means taking all the steps necessary to have your cards serve the vision.

    Good design is durable.

    The mindset of your design is important because when you boil it all down, design is a mental activity. If you approach your problem merely looking for any answer, you will find the first one you stumble across then stop looking. When you raise the bar, you challenge yourself to look past the easy answers, to find the ones that allow what you are doing to transcend craft into art. As a Magic designer, I feel my best work will be able to stand up to the comparisons of those who follow in my footsteps. I feel that way because I know my work was aiming higher than filling holes in a file. When I design, I search for answers and, if need be, I'll search for questions.

    Good design is consequent to the last detail.

    People have trouble focusing on the big picture, but they are great at observing the minutiae. As such, they put a lot of emotional weight on the little things clicking. The feeling is that if the artist manages to make all the little things work that it is symptomatic that the larger pieces are thought out as well.

    Good design is concerned with the environment.

    When designing a card, the designer has to be conscious of where the card will be played. Cards don't live in a vacuum. They are part of numerous ecosystems. A designer has to think about that as they design. The reason we have a lead designer for each set is that it is crucial to have one person whose responsibility it is to look at all the cards in a set holistically. To use a metaphor (and I do love my metaphors), designing a set is much like cooking a meal. A cook isn't just making various foods, he is making a meal using those various foods. Each has to be thought of in conjunction with the rest. If you watch world-class chefs, they do a lot of sampling of their food as they are constantly trying to monitor where the food is at so that they can make adjustments if needed.

    Good design is as little design as possible.

    Be careful to not fall in love with the craft of the design. Instead of creating designs they need, designers create designs they can. They make cards solely because the cards are capable of being made, even if those designs have no role in the larger picture. Good design has to look past what is possible for what is required.
  • Nuts & Bolts: The Three Stages of Design
    Link to Article
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/nuts-bolts-three-stages-design-2015-03-30

    Excerpts from Mark Rosewater's Article

    The Vision Stage

    This first stage is about creating a vision for the set. What exactly is the set about? What are its themes? What are its mechanics? What emotional impact is the set supposed to create? What story does the set have to reinforce? This first stage is about defining what the set is up to, crafting its structure, and building its foundation.

    It Creates a Bull's-Eye
    It Spurs Ideas
    It Defines What's Important
    It Creates a Foundation
    It Saves Time
    It Creates Comfort

    The Integration Stage

    If the vision stage is about defining why, the integration stage is about defining how. The integration stage is where you start to see how things come together, both internal to the design and external to design, as you begin thinking about how the design will interact with other parts of R&D and the rest of Wizards. You leave the vision stage with many components. The integration stage is figuring out how those components are going to work together and what will need to be added or subtracted to make it work.

    It Puts Mechanics Through Their Paces
    It Builds Relationships Between Components
    It Supplements the Set
    It Sheds Unneeded Elements
    It Stress Tests the Weak Spots
    It Illuminates Problems Coming Down the Road

    The Refinement Stage

    You begin this last stage with your first draft of the full file and then are constantly reworking it for four months. Halfway through is when "design" begins, which is where development starts meeting on the set and giving in-depth feedback for design to address. This stage is about a lot of smaller incremental changes that get the set ready for the handoff to development.

    Find the Best Execution
    Fix Problems
    Fine Tune the Creative Connections
    Make Late Changes

  • edited March 2016
    Developing Commons
    Link to Article
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/ld/developing-commons-2014-10-03

    Excerpts from Sam Stoddard's Article

    Looking at recent Constructed decks, you see a lot of common cards that pop up in them. At Pro Tour Magic 2015, for example, cards like Elvish Mystic, Shock, Divination, Lightning Strike, Read the Bones, Syncopate, Last Breath, and many others saw Top 8 play. Even if these cards aren't the most complex, they make up an important part of the Magic ecosystem. They let us set simple and powerful baseline effects that are good for both Limited and Constructed, and let us focus the complexity of our game on cards that are inherently more interesting—such as the Planeswalkers, or even uncommons like charms.

    Limited Concerns

    One of the largest reasons commons look like they do today is because of Limited—commons are (obviously) the most common cards and make up the majority of the cards that see play in Limited games. One of the great things that Limited does is create a huge number of games that play out in very different ways due to the different interactions between cards. The more raw power in Limited that comes from the higher-rarity cards, the more varied the games will be, and this will hopefully keep the format interesting long enough for a new set to come out. Having rares that dramatically change the board state is also more fun than when commons do, because the rares offer a new experience that doesn't come up very often. Hardened Scales is a pretty fun card when it comes up on a rare occasion, but it would be less fun to play with and against if it came up incredibly frequently.

    Common Creatures

    When it comes to making common creatures with keywords, they tend to use some of the more simple and obvious design space for those keywords. Because commons are the first place most players will encounter a new keyword, we want them to provide a nice and simple knowledge base for people to learn from, before seeing how wild and crazy we can get on the uncommons and rares. Outlast at common, for example, is on creatures that are otherwise pretty plain. When we move up to higher rarities, you start seeing creatures that are basically outlast "Lords" that give keywords to creatures with counters, and at rare we even expand that to creatures that have other triggers based off of outlast. All of those are cool effects, but letting people get their head around the mechanic at common makes them all the more special.

    Common Removal

    Our basic rule for common removal is that nothing can be stronger than Dark Banishing. Even a card like Murder, in Magic 2013, was really straddling the line, and you probably won't see it printed again at common in the future. That doesn't mean the common creature removal isn't playable—far from it. It just means that most of the common creature removal will not deal with any threat your opponent might play. It's up to you, as the player, to decide how and when to use the removal to best deal with your opponent's threats. Using a Plummet on an Azure Drake might be the best way to get some damage in early, but it will leave you open to a Mahamoti Djinn later in the game. On the other hand, you might let that Drake live and use a different removal spell on it (like Lash of the Whip), only to find that you lose to a ground creature that your Plummet just can't deal with.

    Common Removal Patterns

    Red tends to get three or four removal spells, which tend to be very good at killing small creatures but have a hard time killing something with 5 toughness. On the other hand, black's removal tends to be split between efficient ways of killing small creatures (that can't hit players) and a few that are able to kill anything. White usually ends up with removal spells that can kill almost anything, but that have some restriction placed on them or don't stop abilities—like Pacifism or Divine Verdict. Blue occasionally gets Claustrophobia-type effects, but most of its common removal tends to be in counterspell or bounce form, and green tends to get one or two removal spells, usually one that fights and sometimes another one that can kill a creature with flying.

    While we do sometimes stray from these patterns, they make up the vast majority of what we do with common removal. It means that when you are playing a Limited game, you have a better idea of exactly what you should be playing around. That allows the higher-rarity removal spells, which play by different rules, to have a more dramatic impact on the game.

    Commons in Constructed

    When we're making sets, we do go out of our way to make sure that some of the commons will have Constructed implications, even if they are unlikely to move the bar for Constructed in the same way as a card of a higher rarity might. While you won't see any Master of Waves creating a new deck, you might see the commons providing enough support to push decks that were close into the top tiers of Constructed, or give a deck an answer for a difficult matchup.
  • Developing Uncommons
    Link to Article
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/latest-developments/developing-uncommons-2014-11-14

    Excerpts from Sam Stoddard's Article

    Of all the rarities, I generally find uncommon to be the one that has the most pressure put on it, and is the one that most often feels crunched for space. Commons tend to be a little formulaic in costs, sizes, and effects in an effort to get Limited to work. Uncommons are where most of the really cool stuff in Limited that differentiate sets from each other. They show up a lot more than rares and let us put a lot of texture in the sets. Basically, uncommons are a huge part of what makes sets feel different from each other when playing Limited.

    Finding the Right Power Level

    Looking at Limited, our average uncommon is just stronger than our average common in Limited. The goal here is to push more of players' early picks toward the higher rarity cards that come up less frequently, to allow each draft you play in to feel more different from each other. This may not seem like a huge deal, but if you draft the set ten, twenty, or even thirty times, it's easy for things to get repetitive if all of the top cards are commons. Not just because many of your decks will look very similar, but because most of the decks you play against will also be very similar.

    Of Angels and Elementals

    The first class of cards that we make at uncommon are our Serra Angels and Air Elementals—large, evasive creatures that naturally dodge quite a bit of removal in the set, but not all of it. The goal of these creatures is to be something that can push a game over the edge and win it fairly easily, but usually not if you are too far behind.

    Powerful Weenies

    On the other end of the spectrum, we tend to put our most efficient one- and two-drop simple creatures at uncommon to help aggressive decks work in Limited, but to keep them from being too numerous and powerful. A good example of this kind of card is Elite Vanguard in many core sets, or something like Tormented Hero from Theros block.

    Strong Removal

    We try to keep most of the strong removal at uncommon, so that there is just less of it in the draft. There should be enough of it that players can deal with the opposing bombs their opponents play, but not so much that quality of individual creatures isn't important—which has been the case in a few older Limited formats where the amount of removal was incredibly high.

    Punching Things Up and Through

    The next kind of card you will often see at uncommon is the stall breaker. The most classic version of this card is Overrun, but we have pretty much decided that while that effect can be uncommon, it should probably be a little weaker than Overrun itself. Another version of this type of card that has been printed a few times before is Sleep, or even just Blaze. The goal here is to provide a huge game-winning spell that is somewhat situational in the early game, but when the game actually does come down to a stall, there is a way for it to end.

    That Build-Around-Me Feeling

    Much like the example of the hyper-aggressive creatures I mentioned earlier, the gameplay of having too many of these cards at low rarity can be very frustrating, but at too high of a rarity, they just wouldn't come up enough. It's fun when someone manages to build the Spider Spawning deck once every few drafts, and you play against it at about that frequency. If you have to play against it every single draft, maybe multiple times, then all of a sudden it isn't quite so cute.

    Sideboard Strategies

    The last type of uncommon you will see in many of our sets are cards specifically made for sideboards. This can vary in obviousness from something in the Deathmark territory, to cards that are less obvious like Despise or Back to Nature. These are cards that are incredibly powerful, but in a very narrow range of situations—which makes them not ideal for commons. Looking back at the era when we put Circle of Protections at common, it was incredibly frustrating to play against the white player who happened to have enough sideboard CoPs to shut down your entire deck game after game.

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  • The Power of Lands
    Link to Article
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/latest-developments/power-lands-2015-10-09

    Excerpts from Sam Stoddard's Article

    In the beginning there were basic lands, and they were good. There were dual lands as well, and they were also good. Strong, but good. By the time Arabian Nights came along, there was some obvious design space for lands that did something other than just add colors of mana. Perhaps some could add only colorless mana, then have another small ability to make up for it. These lands would offer a trade-off where you might risk not being able to cast your spells, but you could also use the land's utility sometimes. Of course, like many things in the early days of Magic, the power level may have been slightly off the mark.

    Making Dual Lands

    The first question you might have is, "Why do we have dual lands?" A big part of their function is to manage the amount of variance that we have in our game, and increase the likelihood that people play multicolored decks. In some environments (like Khans of Tarkir), we go out of our way to let you cast three-color spells. In most, we don't—and want decks to mostly be two-color, with options for people to go into three colors if they don't mind taking a few risks.

    The absolute bottom line for dual lands at this point in Standard Magic is the Elfhame Palace cycle—lands that enter the battlefield tapped and whose "only" advantage is that they tap for two colors of mana. We want to ensure we create lands that allow players to smooth out their mana, but not so much that players feel like they can easily play five-color decks without making some very large concessions.

    Utility Lands

    Of course, dual lands are not the only lands that we print in our sets; we also have lands that don't fix mana but still provide a wide variety of upsides. The most basic version of those is usually a land that taps for colorless mana but has a high-mana, low-impact activated ability. We also provide lands that tap for one color and have an extra ability on top, but enter the battlefield tapped.

    We make these lands to help mitigate another aspect of Magic's resource system that people get frustrated with: mana flood. One of the advantages of Magic's system, which randomizes how many lands people draw over the course of the game, is that it creates interesting decisions on how to make your mana curve.
  • edited March 2016
    Acts of Destruction
    Link to Article
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/acts-destruction-2014-08-11

    Excerpts from Mark Rosewater's Article

    I am going to spend today's column looking at each color and talk about how it "destroys" things. I often talk about the color pie in general terms, but today I'll be going in depth on one particular aspect.
    Let's begin, as we most often do in design, with white. R&D's files go white, blue, black, red, green, or WUBRG (pronounced "wooberg").

    White

    Destroy or exile attacking or blocking creature
    White has a strong sense of morality, so it feels it's important to create a strict code about when it's okay to destroy another creature. As you'll see, white has come up with numerous ways to justify its actions. The first involves combat. As far as white is concerned, all's fair in love and war (well, war at least). If you attack white or block white, your creature has gotten itself involved in the fight and thus it's okay for white to destroy it.

    Direct damage to attackers and/or blockers
    This is a variation of the last category for white to deal with pesky attackers and blockers, except it uses direct damage instead of destruction. The biggest limitation here is that as the destruction is damaged based, it doesn't work as well on tougher creatures.

    Additional White Destruction
    -Destroying creatures that have damaged you and/or your creatures
    -Destroy a creature with power 4 or greater
    -Destroy tapped creature
    -Destroy a black and/or red creature
    -Redirect damage

    Blue

    Counter a permanent as its being cast
    This is one of blue's most efficient ways, long term, to remove a threatening permanent. (Note that blue can also counter nonpermanents, but that's not the topic of today's column.) I often talk about how blue is the most reactive color, and this can be seen in that one of its most potent tools can only be used reactively to the casting of the spell. The pros is that blue has the tools to deal with any type of spell. The cons is that blue has a narrow window during which it can do so.

    Return a permanent to its owner's hand
    This is another area where blue is king. Blue is able to "bounce" any permanent back to its owner's hand. This then allows blue to use counterspells to stop it, but if blue doesn't have that answer, this category tends to only delay threats rather than get rid of them. Note that bouncing tokens permanently removes them, as they evaporate when they leave play.

    Additional Blue "Destruction"
    -Return a permanent to the top of its owner's library
    -Steal a creature
    -Copy a creature
    -Force an attack
    -Enchantment that keeps the permanent from untapping

    Black

    Creature destruction
    Blue might not be good at destruction, but black definitely is, especially when we're talking about creatures. Black has multiple common creature kill spells in every set. In the past, it used to always have an exception (with "nonblack" being the most popular) but we've been allowing black to have more straight-up kill without exceptions these days.

    Granting –N/-N
    Black is so good at killing creatures, it has a number of different ways to do it. (Black is king of using death, after all.) Black can also reduce toughness, dropping it to 0 to kill the creature. This is sometimes done through spells or abilities. Other times, black uses Auras, so the bonus sticks around just in case it wasn't enough to kill the creature. Black often reduces power along with toughness.

    Additional Black Destruction
    -Destroying damaged creatures
    -Draining creatures
    -Forcing sacrifice
    -Having or granting a creature deathtouch
    -Destroy all creatures

    Red

    Deal damage to a creature and/or a Planeswalker
    If black is king of creature destruction, red is king of direct damage. In fact, of every mechanic inMagic, red has more direct damage spells per set than any other color has any other mechanic. This is somewhat misleading, though, as red's direct damage is in many ways multiple mechanics. Red's main source of damage is point-based, making its weakness creatures with high toughness.

    Deal damage to all creatures and/or all Planeswalkers
    Damage can be targeted at a single creature or it can be used to hit multiple creatures, and sometimes all the creatures (even your own). This category is where red gets its "board wipers."

    Additional Red Destruction
    -Deal damage, dividing it up
    -Destroy a creature with defender
    -Force two creatures to fight
    -Having or granting first strike or double strike
    -Damage other creature when it is damaged

    Green

    Force two creatures to fight
    One of green's weaknesses is its need to have creatures to destroy the opponent's creatures. The fight mechanic, primary in green, is a great creature answer for green provided, of course, it has the creatures to fight with.

    Destroy a flying creature
    Green normally doesn't get to destroy creatures, but it has three exceptions: flying creatures, artifact creatures, and enchantment creatures (I'll get to the second and third below). Because green is bad at flying, it has numerous tools to deal with fliers (reach being another one of its big answers).

    Additional Green Destruction
    -Have or grant deathtouch
    -Force a creature(s) to block
    -Destroy an artifact and/or enchantment
    -Destroy a land
    -Destroy a noncreature permanent

    *See the article for the full list.
  • Design 101
    Link to Article
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/design-101-2003-04-21-0

    Excerpts from Mark Rosewater's Article

    In my job I am often called upon to judge the work of rookie card designers. I’ve seen enough that I began to recognize common mistakes. So, I thought it would make an interesting column to point out many of the novice mistakes made when designing Magic cards.

    I should also note before I continue that my audience for this column is for card designers who want to design cards as we do here at Wizards of the Coast. If you want to do you own thing and do things we never would, more power to you, but this column isn’t for you.

    Mistake Number 1 - The Card Is Too Complicated

    This is far and away, hands down, the most common mistake made by novice designers. I’m going to break it down as this problem shows up in several different ways:

    The card has too many abilities - For some reason, new designers feel a great need to take all their cool ideas and put them on the same card.
    The card has too many flavor “add-ons” - This mistake is the adding of extra rules text that gives the card more flavor but complicates it as the condition seldom matters.
    The card is too hard to understand - A very common response to reading a card file from a new designer is, “Huh?”
    The card has too many memory issues - As a general rule of thumb, cards that force a player to remember something are troublesome.

    Mistake Number 2 - The Abilities on the Card Have No Synergy

    Rookie designers love loading their cards with lots of abilities. Besides being overwhelming, it also hits another major design snafu, lack of synergy.
    For example, let’s suppose I wanted to design a multi-color white and green creature. Also suppose I want to give it one white ability and one green ability. For the white ability, I choose first strike. Now, when I look to the green ability, I’m looking for something that has synergy with first strike.

    Basilisk Ability (Destroy any creature damaged by this creature) - This ability has synergy because hitting first is extra valuable when you get to destroy the creature before it can hit back.
    Block fliers - This has reasonable synergy as both abilities are combat abilities.
    Cannot be countered - The two abilities have nothing to do with one another.
    Regeneration - This ability is actually non-synergistic. The reason is that first strike is an ability which helps keep a creature alive in combat. As is regeneration. While the two have slightly different utility, they overlap enough that they aren’t particularly interesting together.

    Mistake Number 3 - The Card Ignores Basic Design Rules of Magic

    This mistake plays into the major theme of “Making Magic”: Respect the rules. Way too often when I’m looking at cards by a new designer, I see cards we simply would never make.

    The Color Wheel - This is usually the biggest culprit. Magic colors are clearly defined.
    Card Type Rules - Each card type has certain rules about how it functions.
    General Flavor - Over the years Magic has built up a distinctive flavor. Some of this flavor has worked its way into card mechanics. These choices were made consciously, so be careful next time you design a card that flies in the face of history.

    The point of this category is not that designers can’t break rules. It’s that rules shouldn’t be broken if they don’t need to be. As I’m fond of saying: Before you think outside the box, check inside the box first.

    Mistake Number 4 - The Card Doesn’t Work Within the Rules

    To be clear, I’m not talking about cards that attack virgin areas of the rules. This mistake is about cards that simply don’t work under the current existing rules. When you design a card, check with someone you know that’s good with the rules. Make sure the card works the way you think it works.

    Mistake Number 5 - The Card Is Undercosted, Overpowered or Simply “Bah-roken”

    I understand that no one likes to make a weak card, but too often when looking at design files of new designers, I see cards that aren’t in the right stratosphere of power.

    Making Your Own Magic

    I hope this little tutorial has been helpful. That said, I need to stress that for legal reasons I do not read unsolicited card submissions sent to me in either my email or snail mail. While I’m excited to hear your feedback about today’s article (and I do read everything sent to me - except, of course, unsolicited cards), please don’t send me your card files.



  • edited May 2016
    Design 102
    Link to Article
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/design-102-2004-07-12

    Excerpts from Mark Rosewater's Article

    Before I begin, I want to remind you all that this article is for people who wish to design Magic for fun like we do here at Wizards. If you want to make cards we'd never make, have fun, but this column isn't for you. Also, I want to stress that while I'm giving you tips for your own designs, I am not currently allowed to look at unsolicited (that is anything where you send in ideas unprompted by Wizards of the Coast) designs. So please, share you're ideas with other Magic players as I unfortunately cannot look at them.

    Know Magic History

    Before you start designing your own Magic cards, take some time to learn what Magic cards have already been designed. With over seven thousand cards in existence, the designers have explored numerous facets of the game. Studying the cards will teach you several valuable things:
    a) It will teach you what's been done.
    b) It will provide valuable templates.
    c) It will show you the lessons the designers have learned.


    Authors read. Directors watch films. Artists visit museums. If you want to grow in your craft, you have to start by learning the basics. When you look at a card, ask yourself the following questions:

    a) What about this card is done well?
    b) What about the card is done poorly?
    c) What other cards are like this one?
    d) What doesn't this card do that you would like it to?
    e) What is this card's history?


    They say that those who do not learn history are forced to repeat it. The same is true of Magic design. If you don't take the time to learn what has been done, you'll most likely create cards that already exist.

    Play Magic

    Another important part of being a good designer is understanding the game. How do you do this? Play. Nothing helps a designer understand the game better than shuffling up and drawing a hand of seven cards. Next time you play, think about the following things:

    a) What about this particular game is fun?
    b) What about this particular game is not fun?
    c) What is making this game tick?
    d) Is there a card that you wish existed?


    Good design is about understanding what makes the game tick. There is no better way to learn this than by jumping in head first and playing.

    Design a Lot of Cards

    If you want to improve your skills, there is simply no better method than making a lot of cards. But here's the secret. A lot of the cards you make will suck. And I don't just mean in the beginning. This will always be true. I am currently the most prolific Magic card designer in R&D. I'm the lead Magic designer. And you know what? The vast of majority of cards I create are junk. (There's a line that I know will be quoted out of context.) Understand that most of these junky cards never see the light of day.

    Design will lead to a lot of junk. But it is only by working through these cards that the true gems will be found. In addition, nothing will teach you the basics more than the repetition of design. So, you want to get better at design? Design. A lot. A lot!

    Know What You Want

    A good exercise before you start design is to write a few paragraphs about what you hope to accomplish. This might sound silly, but, trust me, it will result in a much cleaner design.

    Play with the Cards

    With experience, you will get a better sense of how cards on paper will play, but nothing takes the place of shuffling the card into a deck and playing it. I can't tell you how many times I had a card that I had to completely reevaluate after playing with it. Here are the most common lessons:

    a) The card doesn't work the way you think it does.
    b) The card's power level is much different than you expect.
    c) The card needs additional text.
    d) The card has a more elegant solution.


    Thinking is an important part of design. But thinking alone will not perfect the card. If you have not played with a designed card, you do not yet truly understand it.

    Have Other People Play With The Cards

    This one is very important. You know why? Because your cards are your babies. And it's very hard to call your own babies ugly. But other people, they have less problem pointing out ugly babies. There are things about your cards that you will never be able to clearly see. This is why good playtesters are crucial.

    Give a Set Time To Breathe

    So you've made some cards, thought about them, played with them, watched others play with them. What next? Put the cards away. The final part of the design process is what I call the “breathing” time. Creative energies force you to become very intimate with your ideas. Once you are happy with your cards, you need to get some emotional distance from them. What you will find is that this time allows you to look at your cards with a fresh eye.

    Time To Make the Donuts

    There you go. The basics of Magic card design (or any artistic venture). If you're serious about design, please take all I've said in this column to heart. Many of my comments might sound silly or blatantly obvious, but I swear that they represent the most important elements of good design.






  • edited May 2016
    Design 103
    Link to Article
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/design-103-2006-11-06

    Excerpts from Mark Rosewater's Article

    Today I’ll be talking about variations of one key mistake made by new designers. My examples will be from the most recent Great Designer Search submissions(2006).

    So what’s the biggest mistake I’m seeing in The Great Designer Search? It’s one I see often with novice designers. Here’s a tip. Just because the game is capable of doing something isn’t enough. Just because something is interesting in a distant theoretical sense isn’t enough. Just because you can imagine the situation where said card would create an interesting situation isn’t enough.

    Magic is a game. People play Magic for the reason they play any game. It’s fun. It’s entertaining to play. It makes them smile. At the core, Magic succeeds because it makes people happy. The game in conglomerate and the cards in isolation are fun. Sometimes designers get so caught up in what they’re doing that they forget this basic point. Today’s column is going to examine a number of different ways designers can keep the game from being fun.

    Mistake Number 1 – Making The Audience Do Something They Don’t Want To Do

    As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” In game design, think of the horse as the player and drinking as having fun. You, the designer, can make the player do anything you want, but you can’t make them enjoy it. A good designer makes the game fun because he lets the players essentially do what they want to do.

    This doesn’t mean you have to let them do whatever they want, but it does mean that you have to walk them down paths that they want to walk down. Sometimes you can even lead them through something they won’t like if it’s on the way to something they really will. Too many designers try to force the players to enjoy something they don’t want to.

    Mistake Number 2 – Making The Audience Do Unnecessary Work

    Imagine that you’re at work one day and your boss comes up to you and says, “You, grab a shovel.”

    He then makes you go outside and start digging a hole. As soon as that hole is a few feet deep, he moves you to a new location and has you dig a new hole. He keeps doing this until you’ve spent a couple hours digging several dozen holes. Finally, you say to him, “Boss, why am I digging these holes?”

    The boss then pulls out a small tree. He looks at all your holes and then puts it into the one nearest him. When you ask how many trees he is planting, he says “Just one.”

    “So why did I dig so many holes?” you ask.

    “To give us more options,” is his reply.

    How do you feel in that moment? Pretty angry. Why? Because he wasted your time. He really only needed one hole. He made you do a lot of work that in the end was for nothing. People pretty much don’t like that. The same holds true for game design. Sure you can make your players do whatever you tell them. But come the game’s end, the players will be able to tell when you’ve wasted their time, and trust me, they won’t be happy about it.

    Mistake Number 3 – Don’t Put Things They Care About Out of Their Control

    Game players put a lot of trust in the hands of the designer. (Much in the same way that they put trust in a director when they sit themselves down in front of a movie screen.) They assume that the designer knows what they are doing and follow the paths laid out for them. This is why players get so upset when a game isn’t fun. It’s a betrayal of trust. They put up their time and attention and the designer didn’t come through with the goods.

    My metaphor for this mistake is to imagine that your friend asked you to close your eyes. He then tells you to follow his voice. At one point he walks you into a wall. It hurts. You get angry. Why? Because you trusted your friend to look out for you. When he asked you to close your eyes, you believed there was a trust that he would take steps to make sure you wouldn’t hurt yourself. Even if he didn’t mean to walk you into a wall, it still upsets you, because intentionally or no, he just walked you into a wall! Game design is similar to this in that we constantly ask players to metaphorically close their eyes.

    Mistake Number 4 – You Force The Players Hand Too Much

    This next mistake walks a subtle line. Players like being led to a certain extent, but they don’t like being led too much. A while back I talked about one spectrum to look at cards (“Come Together”) that had to do with how much the card forced you to play with other cards. Modular cards were very open ended and could be mixed and matched with other card easily. Linear cards forced you to play with certain other cards.

    Linear cards aren’t by their nature bad (Slivers, as an example, are very popular linear cards), but they do have more inherent problems than modular cards. The biggest one is this. Players like to feel in charge of their destiny. Especially in a trading card game that has a deckbuilding component, players want to have the feeling of endless possibilities (but not too endless – one of many great challenges of card design). When linear cards get too narrow, they run this problem.

    If you are designing cards, this is an important mistake to understand. Players come because they want to play the game. Designers shouldn’t play it for them.

    Mistake Number 5 – Making Cards Match The Wrong Audience

    My last mistake for today is one of the most subtle and one of the most egregious. I often talk in my column about how designers have to understand their audience. I also talk often about how different cards are made for different audiences. Sometimes a designer intends a card for one audience but unknowingly designs it for a different one.

    The best example I can use with Magic is the coin flip card. Certain players love coin flipping. (These are basically Timmies with a few Johnnies) Others despise it. (Spikes most of all.) This means that the designers have to be very careful to make coin flipping cards that will appeal to the right player. This is why we avoid making tournament relevant coin flipping cards, because if they’re good enough, we force Spike to play them. He doesn’t like playing them. He doesn’t want his skill-testing to be trumped by factors that he has zero control over

    Fun Police

    The takeaway from today’s column is this: Don’t forget why you’re designing your cards. You’re making a game. Games are intended to be fun, and you can’t force fun. It’s easy to get so caught up in the details of your “tree” that you forget about the “forest.” Don’t. If a card doesn’t pass the litmus of fun, nothing else matters because the audience won’t play it.
  • edited August 2016
    Found some more cardsmithing design links-

    This one is a little old, but short and handy, I think: http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/land-my-land-2003-03-31

    This one is recent, focuses on Creature Lands:
    http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/level-one/creature-lands-2015-09-07

  • edited November 24
    I need to go back a re-read all this. It gave me so much inspiration back in the day.
    Also, new link ABOUT MAKING MULTICOLORED CARDS: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/good-gold-2018-09-04
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