About a month and a half ago, I E-mailed esteemed Magic persona Mark Rosewater. After a few delays on the WOTC end of the deal, here is the pancreas salesman and all around puzzling guy's response.
Orgg: Thank you, Mr. Rosewater, for the chance to interview you for
the CPA. Sic semper, let us try to get to know you as a gamer. First of
all, what type of games do you usually enjoy playing the most?
Maro: I have a collection of over 200 games at home in my den. I enjoy a variety of different kind of games. Probably my favorites (after Magic) are word games such as Boggle or Scrabble and social games such as Pictionary or Taboo. I'm also a big fan of puzzles (which Richard Garfield likes to call "anti-games") specifically cryptic crosswords. My favorite "hobby" games are Cosmic Encounter (which has greatly influenced my design) and Diplomacy. My favorite role-playing games, more from positive experiences than anything else, are Gamma World (the roleplaying game where radiation is your friend) and Champions. Finally, I want to go on record that I'm significantly in the black on Cosmic Wimpout for money.
Orgg: Now that is known, what about your Magic preferences? What's your favorite Magic color?
Maro: While I enjoy playing all five colors, deep in my heart I'm a sneaky blue player. Not the "I counter everything you do" type but rather the "I copy this and steal that" type.
Orgg: Favorite card/cards?
Maro: This is a very hard question for me. So I'll cheat and break it up into categories.
Favorite Card To Play (When Attempting to Win):
Black - Recurring Nightmare
Blue - Morphling
White - Balance
Green - Sylvan Library
Red - Hammer of Bogardan
Gold - Stormbind
Artifact - Jester's Cap/Temporal Aperture
Land - Mishra's Factory
Favorite Card To Play (When Screwing Around):
Black - Infernal Tribute
Blue - Juxtapose
White - Flicker[Orgg's note: WHY WASN'T It an INSTANT???]
Green - Recycle
Red - Gamble
Gold - Elemental Augury
Artifact - Stone Calendar/Gauntlets of Chaos
Land - Sorrow's Path (no greater joy than beating someone with the worst card ever made)
Favorite Card I Designed:
Black - Unmask
Blue - Donate
White - Ivory Mask
Green - Maro / Quirion Ranger
Red - Sneak Attack/Squee
Gold - Lobotomy
Artifact - Scroll Rack / Grindstone
Land - Gemstone Mine
Orgg: What kind of deck do you usually try to build, Weenie-beatdown, control, combo, or a variation of the three?
Maro: While I try to build all different kind of decks, I'd have to say in my heart of hearts that my favorite decks have been bleeder decks. These are decks that tie up the opponent with bothersome artifacts or enchantments and then slowly eat away at their life.
I also enjoy rogue decks with mystery win conditions. Some of my favorite games of Magic involved offbeat decks that beat my opponents in ways they have never been defeated before. An example would be my Tunnel deck that always won by casting a Tunnel.
Orgg: Do you care to share the deck you're currently playing with the most? Feel free to tell us the cards we don't yet know of.
Maro: Most my constructed decks these days are for R&D's Future Future League. The FFL is designed for R&D to test the environment as it will exist a year from now. As to why it's a Future Future League rather than just a Future League, the answer is simple. We used to have a Future League that played six months ahead. When we started playing a year ahead, we dubbed the league the Future Future League. Although the Future League has gone away, the name has stuck.
Most of my decks in the Future Future League are built around taking advantage of a new, possibly undercosted, card. In the last six months, while I've played a wide variety of decks, I've played red/green and green/white more than any other color combination. As far as new cards, I can only say that some cool stuff will soon be coming your way.
Orgg: What NON-Wizards cardgame(when released) impressed you the most? Did any non-Wotc, non-ccg game impress you?
Maro: I've always been a fan of trick taking games. My favorite recent one is a German game called Nyet. It's a trick taking game with a neat bidding dynamic that lets players slowly choose how each round is going to be played.
While I've played a number of different TCGs (we call them "trading card games" here at Wizards) recently, none of them really caught my fancy.
Orgg: We know you were the "Duelist Puzzle Guy" and editor-in-chief of The Duelist(rest her soul), as well as a member of R&D. What, if any, are your job titles now?
Maro: My major responsibility is doing Magic design. I just turned in the design for the 2001 large expansion, code-named Argon. I will be starting the small expansion that follows it, Boron, later this month. Argon had an excellent design team with Mike Donais, Henry Stern, Richard Garfield and myself. To clear up some on-line confusion, Richard was on the Argon design team not the Invasion design team.
As for my other duties, I was recently assigned to work extensively with Creative Text, the group responsible for names and flavor text. I've always felt that names and flavor text can add a lot to Magic cards and I'm looking forward to maximizing their effect.
As always, I do a certain amount of work at the Pro Tours running feature matches and producing the video on the final day. In addition, I run the Question Mark game show. I recommend catching it if you're ever at a Pro Tour.
I have my three columns ("Insider Trading" and "Magic: the Puzzling" in Topdeck and "Question Mark" on the Sideboard) and various other Magic writing.
Finally, I have been working on a new project for the Internet. I cannot give away any details yet, but it should be something to interest all Magic players.
Orgg: In general, what do you believe about the future of Magic?
Maro: I have nothing but positive thoughts about Magic's future. And I have a better view than most people of the company's long term plans. I believe Magic will be around in 50 years and will constantly improve as it ages.
Orgg: In your honest opinion, do you feel that Magic is a better or worse game than when it was first introduced? If it's better, in what ways? If worse, how do you see it improving in the future?
Maro: Richard created an amazing game back in 1993. Most people don't even realize the number of different completely original concepts the first version of the game contained. It was a trading card game. It introduced a very intriguing mechanic for resource allocation (land and casting costs). It set up a neat interconnection of conflict and themes in the color wheel. It was truly a work of genius.
That said, the game introduced in 1993 had a lot of flaws (as does any revolutionary untested new idea). Much of what Magic did had never been done before. And as the game took on a life of its own, it started doing things even Richard hadn't anticipated.
Since then, Wizards has employed hundreds of people whose job it is to find different ways to improve Magic. And Magic has gone through an amazing transformation. From rule changes to an entire organized play department to a better understanding of Magic theory, every aspect of the game has been put under a microscope and examined.
To illustrate my point, here are some things that did not exist when Magic first came out:
- - standard, Extended, Type I & other constructed formats
- - booster draft, Rochester Draft, & other limited formats
- - decks & boosters balanced for sealed play
- - stand alone cycles consisting of one large and two small sets
- - Pro Tours, Grand Prix, Qualifiers
- - Regionals, Nationals, Worlds
- - prereleases
- - magazines & web sites dedicated to the game
- - published card lists
- - symbols for rarity
- - card numbering
- - foils
- - ratings & rankings
- - introductory games
- - preconstructed decks
- - promotional cards
- - banned & restricted lists
- - "pitch" spells, flanking, buyback, echo & numerous other new mechanics
- - legends, multi-colored cards, & other new card qualities
- - Arena league
- - "play, draw", mulligan, "4 of a card" & other play rules
- - the stack, LIFO, batches, & other new tools for the rules
So, of course, it's gotten better. And with time, it will improve even more.
R&D has gotten some new blood recently (hiring Randy Buehler, Mike Donais, and Worth Wollpert) and there has been the spirit of change in the air. I think the next few years of Magic are going to be very interesting and fruitful.
Orgg: Do you believe that Magic has become more mainstream in the past few years? If so, what do you attribute the greater acceptance to?
Maro: In one word: Pokemon. While many Magic players like to deride Pokemon, I think they miss the big picture. Pokemon proved that trading card games are something big. Bigger than just the hobby gaming industry. Hundreds of thousands of kids were introduced to trading card games through Pokemon. And guess what? One day they will outgrow Pokemon but will still be entranced by the idea of a trading card game. And where will they turn but to Magic? Recent data, by the way, shows this to be the case.
As far as Magic itself getting more public acceptance, I think that will come with the growing of the Magic storyline. I've mentioned above that the next few years will bring some new transitions for Magic. The storyline will be one of these big changes.
Orgg: O.K. What do you believe the biggest group of Magic players is, the casual players, professionals, collectors or beginners/newbies?
Maro: R&D tends to think of the player base as a combination of three different groups who we've started calling Timmy, Johnny, and Spike.
Timmy is the power gamer. The Timmys of the world enjoy the adrenaline rush of playing Magic. Casting the giant spell or attacking with the humongous creature. Timmy likes to win and win big. Prophecy with the avatars, winds and big spellshapers was geared towards Timmy.
Johnny is the combo player. I'm not referring to the ugly meaning combo has picked up since the "combo winter". I'm talking about players that enjoy the neat interactions of the cards. Players who take great joy in the creativity of deck building. The Johnnys of the world enjoy winning with stlye. Urza's Destiny with cards like Donate, Opalescence, Opposition and Replenish was a very Johnny set. I, incidentally, am very much a Johnny.
Spike is the tournament player. While Timmy likes to win big, Spike just likes to win period. Spike gravitates to whatever it takes to win. Visions is a good example of a very Spike expansion.
The Timmys and Johnnys outnumber the Spikes by a large margin. But, the Spikes outspend the Timmys and Johnnys combined. So who's the bigger group? If you count by number of players, I would say Timmy followed by Johnny followed by Spike.
If you count by dollars spent, I would say: Spike, then Timmy, then Johnny.
Orgg: What group does R&D try to cater to?
Maro: R&D caters to all three. In fact, one of the criteria set out for designers and developers is that each set must have cards that makes each of the three groups happy. Which group gets the most cards varies from set to set, but every Magic expansion has cards for each group.
Orgg: Above, I asked you to attempt to divine into the future. For the next few questions, I'm only going to ask questions you know the true answers to. According to many people, the Sixth edition set was a disappointment for many reasons. For that reason, Seventh edition has been a largely debated and speculated topic for all groups of players. What is being done to make "lucky" 7th edition truly lucky? As the former "official leak" of magic via the duelist, can you sneak out a few things that seventh edition will have, such as perhaps black boarders, foils, et alus? Will it be the rumored "severed edition" that some have speculated?
Maro: We try to keep our "leaks" close to a set's release. As Seventh Edition is eight months away, there's not too much I can "leak". What I can say is that tournament level cards will both leave and enter the new set. Both inclusions and exclusions will create much discussion and have a lasting impact on Standard. Finally, while I can neither confirm nor deny anything, I will say that there is one wild rumor out right now that's absolutely true.
Orgg: Will seventh's official rulebook have an "Outdated Rules" section containing the official ways that rampage, banding, phasing, flanking, cumulative upkeep, et cetera in it to keep newer players from being scammed by "sharks" with sandbar crocodiles?
Maro: I'm not usually involved with the rulebooks. All I can say on this topic is that we will support (at obviously varying levels) any mechanic playable in a sanctionable tournament type.
Orgg: Seventh's cardpool is the main topic of discussion for most players. Some people believe cards that are outdated by other cards(such as shatter is by pillage) should be removed in favor of the better version. Others ask for "chaff" such as healing salve has become, to be removed. Still others ask, no-Beg for old staple casual cards to make a comeback such as Serra angel, Sengir Vampire, and Shivan Dragon. Still others ask for old, formerly useless cards that have gotten better due to the new rules(such as Avoid Fate) to be reprinted. What groups asked about here will get their wishes fulfilled? Any details on planned rotation is appreciated.
Maro: Let me just say that Seventh will surprise and please many players and leave it at that.
Orgg: According to Mr. Adkinson, Unglued II: unplugged was canceled due to so many sets being released last year. When will Unglued II see the light of the printing press?
Maro: I don't know when it will see the light of day, but I can say that it was very near completion when the expansion was put on hold. If players are patient, I do believe Unglued II will see light eventually. As a little taste, you might try picking up Invasion. One of the new mechanics in it was originally designated for Unglued II.
Orgg: Is it possible for us to get the sides of the debate over the release of a Chronicles II? How serious are the debates?
Maro: Chronicles II opens up a lengthy debate between Magic's role as a game and as a collectable. The pro-Chronicles people that feel cards should be reprinted solely on the value of their gameplay. As such, they would like to see many popular old cards reprinted allowing newer players access to the cards (and making the cards legal in formats like Standard and Extended).
The con-Chronicles people stress that Magic is a collectable product. Thus, they feel that reprinting many popular old cards would violate the "no reprint" policy Wizards had made concerning some older cards.
Both sides have some very valid points. I don't wish to pick a side, but I can say there is no current plans for a Chronicles II.
Orgg: In the last few sets of cards put out, the theme of player interaction has picked up a large amount. Will future sets continue this trend?
Maro: R&D admits it makes mistakes. What we try to do when these mistakes are made is learn from them. Combo Winter proved that Magic without interaction is not much fun. R&D therefore has been taking steps to increase player interaction.
This result is several key changes. First, the game is slowing down such that one player cannot win before the opponent has a chance to play. Next, R&D is being much more careful with certain mechanics: fast mana (you won't be seeing any lands producing more than one mana any time soon), card drawers, and cards which allow players to get around the converted mana cost (like Tinker or Replenish). In addition, R&D is much more conscious about combos that allow a player to win before the sixth or seventh turn. It should still be possible to win by turn five or six, but it will be done with an aggressive creature deck.
Finally, I'd like to point out that R&D is also being very conscious of creating a significant amount cards fun for multi-player play. Prophecy was a nod in this direction.
Orgg: Another question I'd like to ask is about Prophecy's limited enviroment. Both the Winds, Legendary spellshapers, and Avatars are game breakers. Would the environment be more balanced if only one of the cycles would have been represented?
Maro: Prophecy was the "big" set. To get the flavor across, we needed to have numerous big cycles. To try to limit the impact on limited, we made all three big cycles rare.
This is an ongoing problem in R&D. What do you do with cards meant for constructed that have a strong effect on limited. We don't want to be unable to print these cards since we know they'll be enjoyed by the players. So our only answer is to stick them in the rare slot minimizing their effect on limited.
Orgg: "Chaff" cards are another curiosity. Are there many cards made that are never intended for play? What is your opinion on such "filler" cards?
Maro: "Chaff" cards are hard to define since every player considers different cards to be chaff. But why do we make cards that suck? Here are the various reasons:
1) Play Balance
Part of the fun of Magic is figuring out what's good from what's bad. In order to accomplish this, R&D needs to create cards that cover a wide spectrum of power levels. As there has to be a lower level of power, that means some bad cards have to be created. R&D incidentally calls these bad cards that may tempt lesser skilled players as "discriminator cards".
2) Tempt Players
Part of the fun of creating cards is to tempt players into trying to "break" cards. Often what is perceived as chaff turns out to be a tournament viable card. As an example, Lion's Eye Diamond was widely decried when Mirage came out. It later went on to be used in Standard and Extended decks. Since not all of these cards will end up working out, some will truly end up as chaff.
3) Create Challenge
Some players take great pride in finding ways to use cards that other people have abandoned. In order for players to have this opportunity, R&D occasionally makes cards that scream "I dare you to try and win with me". Personally, I have had great time building decks that win with cards like Sorrow's Path.
4) Bad For Bad's Sake
It's important for some cards to be so bad that everyone can recognize the cards as bad. Even beginner's need to feel like they understand enough to recognize a few bad cards. Also, players seem to take great joy in banding together to state how bad a certain card is. Others will go to great lengths to include a stinker in their deck just so they can say they had a winning deck that included the card. One top Super Series player two years ago played his Prosperous Bloom deck with one Sword of the Chosen.
As you can see, bad cards exist for many reasons. Some of them even turn out not to be bad at all. So next time you see a bad card, think about what can be done with it before you completely dismiss it.
Orgg: During some of the recent expansions, cards have appeared on the "Watch list" even before their release. If the cards were debatable in their power level, why were they released in the first place?
Maro: You have to remember that we make sets a year in advance. When a card appears on the "watch list" before or shortly after a set's release, that simply means we figured out the card's power imbalance too late to stop the card from being printed but early enough to raise the issue when the card first comes out. With the Future Future League, we believe we'll catch most of these problems soon enough to correct them before the card gets printed.
Orgg: Another thing relating to the watch list is combo decks. It has been stated before when Pro's Bloom became popular that the cards were not meant to be put together intentionally. However, in the past few expansions, Urza's block specifically, combo decks are MUCH more rampant. Are there some members of R&D trying to sneak combo decks into the environment and hoping somebody "takes the bait?"
Maro: Let me start by separating two different things that often get lumped together. Combo decks fall into two categories: speed combo and slow combo. The first is played like a speed deck as it tries to win as quickly as possible. The second is usually an engine that allows a control deck to win quickly once control is gained.
The first is problematic as it doesn't allow player interactivity. Speed combo decks basically ignore the opponent hoping to win before the opponent beats them. Slow combos are nice as they allow a control deck a faster win condition. The slow combo decks have plenty of player interaction as the player is forced to put reactive cards in their deck as they cannot win without first gaining control of the board.
R&D is doing everything it can to remove the first type of combos from the game. In doing so, R&D is not trying to kill the second type as many players enjoy the card combo aspect of the game.
The speed combo environment of Urza's Saga was a mistake. R&D managed to combine a number of different factors together (lots of fast mana, good card drawers, powerful engine cards, the "free" untap mechanic, etc.) that combined to make a less than enjoyable environment. As I said above, while mistakes are not good, they do allow R&D to learn necessary lessons that can change the way we design and develop cards.
Orgg: Just around the corner in a month or so is Invasion and the "Siege block" with it. For the first question about the upcoming set, What importance does the storyline hold? Do you believe the storyline is best as an all-encompassing story a-la Mirage to the present?
Maro: The Invasion block is the conclusion of a storyline we've been telling for many years. For the fans of the storyline, there is a big dramatic ending. For the detractors, well, hey it's ending. And yes, I do see the storyline from Mirage through Apocalypse as one big ongoing story. (The storyline actually started in Antiquities.)
Orgg: Will the new block make use of some underused abilities (such as cycling-pay 2 life or fading)? Will it have the "hush-hush" whispered self-restricting cards?
Maro: As always, Invasion does have a few new mechanics. I can't say much other than this. All the new mechanics are fun to play and have at least a few tournament worthy cards. As I've said elsewhere, I believe that certain sets stand out in the history of Magic (Legends, Alliances, Tempes, etc.). Invasion, I believe, is going to be added to that list.
Orgg: What re-prints will be in the "siege block?"
Maro: Invasion will have the same percentage of reprints that Mercadian Masques had. The biggest change is that R&D has being trying to reprint cards that haven't been seen for a while or are missed in the Standard environment. With that guideline, Invasion does have some reprints that will make players happy.
Orgg: The final "prying" question is on the issue of Multicolored "Gold" cards. You yourself have stated that they will be coming back, and Peter Adkinson's "source" also said they would be coming back soon. Mr. Source, I ask you this-- WHEN will Gold Cards be reprinted? What set? I ask you THIS! HOW SOON?
Maro: Well, maybe this isn't much a surprise anymore, but Invasion will be the return of the gold cards. In fact, the Invasion cycle is going to be heavily themed to multi-color play. Gold cards are just the tip of the iceberg.
Orgg: On to the tournament scene. Combo decks are the bane of many people's fun. That's the reason several people like MM's block format. What is your opinion on Non-interactive decks like Bargain and Replenish?
Maro: As I said above, non-interactive decks (of any kind, not just combo) are not fun and R&D is working to remove them from competitive play. Note as above that combos will continue but they will be much slower combos that require a controlling aspect to play.
Orgg: The new format for the more casual players, Friday Night Magic, is a haven similar to arena for people who like to have fun. If all "different" formats were put into one ranking(possibly "other"), would FNM ever have Multiplayer tournaments? What about Mini-master, Highlander-style, theme decks only, worst deck, or other less professional formats?
Maro: A lot of discussion has been happening here about how to support alternative formats. While there is no answer reached yet, I can promise that we're aware of the problem and weekly meetings are being held to solve it.
Orgg: As you may have been able to tell from my earlier interview, I do not like Topdeck. Would it be possible for the different "sides" of the magazine to have different leadership? This may make one side more Duelist-like, improving it thirtyfold. Has this ever been discussed? What is your opinion on the magazine as it is today?
Maro: This is a tough question as I was the editor-in-chief for much of the Duelist's run. Obviously, it was run the way I would run a Magic magazine. But I should stress that Topdeck is not trying to fill the Duelist's shows. It's a magazine consciously dedicated to a lower end player.
While I do not believe Topdeck will ever fulfill the niche filled by the Duelist, I can say that there are plans to address that audience. It's too early to say anything about it yet other than it will involve the Internet and should see the light within the next six months.
Orgg: Many websites dedicated to Magic are on the internet now such as mtgnews.com, thedojo.com, casualplayers.org, starcityccg.com, yavapaiopen.com, newwavegames.com/strategy, and at least six more. What kind of effects do you believe these websites have on Magic as a game?
Maro: What makes Magic stand apart from most other games is that it has a strong community. The websites do nothing but strengthen this community and allow ideas to flow freely.
Are there downsides? Sure. I believe deck innovation is both hurt and helped by the Internet. But since the Internet is here to stay, Magic needs to find ways to embrace the new medium rather than be afraid of it.
I personally am an Internet Magic junkie. I spend an hour every morning reading all the different sites. As does much of R&D. So remember when you're posting on-line, please be aware R&D is paying attention.
Orgg: What influences do such websites have over the development of Magic sets?
Maro: The Internet is one of several sounding boards R&D uses to get a sense of public opinion. (The other major ones being market research and talking with players directly at events.) When players send a strong message, R&D definitely responds. Just remember that we work a year ahead, so response to player outcry takes a while to appear.
Orgg: Mr. Rosewater, would you allow surveys taken by the CPA to be sent to you? If so, would they have any influence on the future set releases?
Maro: Data is always good. Whether any one poll is listened to has a lot to do with how much it corresponds with other data we are getting.
Orgg: Another website related question is about the online store at wizards.com. Who do we have to ask to get it to sell boxes? why doesn't it sell boxes already?
Maro: As this is way out of my area, I can only say I don't know who to ask or why its not done.
Orgg: For quite some time as the "Puzzle Guy" you had a small story that went with your answer column. One issue it abruptly stopped. Is the completed story available on the web anywhere? Why was the story cut off in the middle?
Maro: Before I came to work at Wizards, I used to be a comedy writer (I was on the writing staff of "Roseanne" as my bio always seem to point out). I included the little soap opera to entertain myself. At one point many other members of the magazine were not fond of it. I posted on-line asking for people to write in to save it, but got very few replies. So, I chose to let it go.
Orgg: And for the final question, Mr. Rosewater, is one that I've asked all people I've interviewed so far. Do you believe that Dr. Garfield's original dream or objective is soon to come to fruition, say in the next twenty years? Or has the objective changed from a society in which gamers like chess's Kasparov are admired as much as Michel Jordan is to basketball?
Maro: This is a tough question to answer as I don't believe Richard has a single dream but multiple dreams. First is for games to claim a status equal with entertainment. Too many game players right now feel a need to hide their gaming habit as if its something less than honorable. Games have so much to offer people (creative thinking, analytical skills, socializing, etc.) that it's a shame that games don't have a better reputation.
Second, (and this is tied to the first) Richard wants to see intellectual sports get the respect given to physical sports. Jon Finkel's accomplishments are just as impressive as Tiger Woods.
Finally, I think Richard wanted to see Magic bloom into a truly classic game. This means that a hundred years from now, Magic sits in the category with other time-tested games. While this goal is a ways away, I believe we are taking steps closer each year.
Orgg: Thank you for your time, Mr. Rosewater. Keep avoiding the Beeble bombs.
Maro: You're very welcome. Interacting with the public is an important part of R&D, so I'm always happy to do interviews. As a final plug, if any of you out there want to write to me personally, you can send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I should warn you that I usually take a while to get to all my mail but I do read every post sent to me.
Wow. There you have it, folks. Ya'll will get one of Unglued II's machanic will be comin around the WOTC moutain in about a month, and the set will eventually come out. Let me be the first to say this: WOOO-HOOOOOO!!!.
And if Mr. Rosewater will allow me a plug, I'm collecting questions for my next interview on this thread(http://www.magic-singles.com/cpa/forums/showthread.php?threadid=1795) if you would like to contribute.
Sic semper, let me thank everyone that submitted questions for this and my other interview. I couldn't have done it without ya'll.