[Author's Note: Several of my voices would like to take the time out to thank you for leaving your doors unlocked. Originally appeared in the Sept. 1997 issue of the Vault e-zine]
Quard's Corner: Remembering Legends - An Interview with Steven Conard
by Vincent Navarino
Instead of doing the normal humor piece this month, I'd like to share with you an interview I did with the creator of the Legends expansion set that never ever saw print. With the way of chaotic "Standard/T2" rules, cheaters on the Pro Tours, the incredibly poor joke called 5th edition, a three year in the waiting Magic computer game that you can't use to practice for tournaments, and trash-talking PT wannabes, I'd like to take us back to the time when all these things did not interfere with the game we love; where good sportsmanship and fun ruled the day.
I would like to tell you a story about what happened one day in early 1995. I was (and still am) a rabid Magic player who was getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of substance some interview articles had that pertained to my obsession - Magic.
You know what I mean, those mini-interviews (200 words or so) with questions like "So what's your favorite book?" or "What's your favorite snack food?" or "Did the people who change your diaper have any impact on the way you turned out?" or some other meaningless bit of fluff used by some interviewers to make 100 words look like 200. After all, the person writing the article makes so much money per word, so you can imagine why they'd want to stretch their story out a tad...it could mean the difference between buying a sandwich and buying a new computer.
Anyway, when I see something I don't like, I try to do something about it. Legends was already out a year before, but it was the biggest set at the time (an unprecedented 310 cards). Since it came and went so fast, and since everyone loved it so much (including me) I wanted to dig around and find out as much SOLID DETAIL and write an article about it.
So I called up Wizards of the Coast in early 1995 (a few months before Ice Age was released). I explained that I wanted to do a story on Legends and asked if they could send me some information. The nice lady on the other end asked me if I'd like to talk to the designer of Legends, a man named Steven Conard. She could connect me right to him, since he worked there. I was floored. I told her I'd call him the next day as I wasn't expecting to be able to talk to the Legends creator and I had to prepare some questions first. I hung up, took a deep breath and got to work on writing down the questions I wanted to ask him.
The next day I called WotC again and asked for Steven Conard. I was patched through and after thanking him for his time a 2 1/2 hour phone interview ensued. Afterwards I played the tapes, wrote the article and sent him a copy for his personal approval. You see I felt that if he was kind enough to talk to me, the least I could do was not have in it anything he didn't want.
After we exchanged some e-mail, I sent the final version to Kathryn Haines of the Duelist to see if they would like to print the article in a future issue. I got a very nice reply from her telling me that the folks at the Duelist liked my interview but were swamped with too many articles planned for future issues and she was sorry that they couldn't print the article. She was very helpful and gave me all kinds of information on other gaming magazines that might be interested. I wrote back and thanked her for her help, she was really nice.
Well, I thought about it and decided for some insane reason that I had already accomplished what I wanted to even if the article never saw print. So I sat on it. Oh, I showed it to my friends and other people I met and I socked it away on my computer's hard disk collecting electronic dust and there it sat for over a year and a half, until today. It is with great pleasure I release to you the interview article I did about Legends that no one saw. I hope you like it; even though it is a tad dated. Enjoy!
Talking about Legends with Steven Conard By: Quard (aka Vincent B. Navarino )
Steven Conard, one of the co-founders of Wizards of the Coast, was born in Florida in 1964. During most of his childhood he went to private schools and it was at college that he came across Peter Adkison among others who eventually started WotC. Adkison became President of WotC and Steven along with his partner Robin Herbert, created the Legends(tm) expansion set - the largest Magic expansion to date (Editor's Note: Remember, this was two years ago. Before sets like Ice Age and Mirage)(CPA Editor's Note: That previous note was included in the submitted article, so I assume it's from Quard. Obviously, now it's more like 8-9 years ago - Spidey). Steven is now back at WotC and it was there that we caught him by phone for this interview to talk about Legends and the future of Magic: The Gathering(tm).
Quard: Where and when were you born?
Steven: I was born in Sanford, Florida 1964. I went to private schools most of my life and I went to a boarding academy at age fifteen. Someone introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons (tm) there, and I immediately started writing my own version of it. Some of the people I met there work at WotC now; we've been together that long. We went to college together and that's where I met Peter Adkison and a bunch of us who eventually started WotC.
Although I gamed a lot, I actually had a real life. There were some people that all they did was game. I actually went to college, took computer science and started selling computers. I landed a job at a software house where I actually wrote financial software. I then moved up and became a Systems Administrator of a large corporation in computers.
Peter Adkison was a software engineer for Boeing Aerospace and some of our people worked for companies like Microsoft, so we all were in the real world. A lot of times gamers get that image that they're a bunch of geeks and we're really trying to get away from that; we actually wore suits to work and now we're gamers writing games.
Q: It's really wild getting paid for something you like to do, isn't it?
S: It's amazing! I left WotC and got married and later came back. When I actually created Legends I was living in Vancouver BC, Canada. Wizards of the Coast at that time kept talking to me asking me to come back and this was going on for a while. Eventually Pete [Adkison] called me one day, offered me X amount of dollars and I said "I'm your man."
It took a lot to talk my wife into it. I mean, there's the move from Canada to the U.S. and I would be working for a game company . . . and she doesn't like games. So I bought her a house and she finally said alright (laughs).
Q: Where do you live currently?
S: In Seattle. Well, I live in a little suburb in Seattle.
Q: When Legends came out it sold out in some places in a few days. How do you feel that Legends had such a very popular start?
S: I think it was awesome - it was great! One of the things that I thought was missing from Magic and an integral part of the Legends concept was the fact that there were no heroes or epic characters. Everything in Magic assumes that there are a million of them; there's no singular creature there. That's one thing we wanted to do. I had a partner who helped me create Legends, Robin Herbert.
Q: Robin Herbert?
S: Yeah. We both sat down and did it [Legends] together. This is one thing we wanted to add was these heroes. Now the reason they weren't called heroes was because there was actually a Benalish Hero and they didn't want to change that, so we came up with the 'legend' idea. And that's something I think people really relate to; these sort of things. Knowing that people really like power I think, in general.
Q: Yes. As a magic player I can say definitely, YES!
S: So do I. I mean . . . I look at stuff and see a 1/1 creature and go okay, that's cool for my cannon fodder, but I'm in there looking for the Shivan Dragons. I think that's what's really exciting about Legends.
I really thought that Legends would do well, I really think it was done far better than we ever thought it would; of course Magic has in general.
I love science fiction and fantasy and I wrote my own sci-fi/fantasy books, although they never got published. That's where some of the ideas for the Legendary heroes, or legends came from. They were characters from my books.
Q: Are there any cards that you're most proud of from Legends?
S: I like the Elder Dragons. I really like them and I know they're really difficult to play. I've had people tell me they're nice, but that they're hard to play. The actual Legends character cards are not meant to able to be played easily. The multi-colors in the cost to summon these characters are meant to represent different facets of their personalities.
Q: Like a dark or evil side?
S: That's right because humans and people like this have different types of personalities or 'alignment'. So as I was saying, I really like the Elder Dragons and we really fought to get those in there. At one point they got cut and I was, like, I think this is a bad thing. We kept calling the people in R&D [Research and Development] saying we've got to get those dragons back in there. We finally talked them into it and I think it was a good thing because everyone loves them.
Q: Speaking of cards you like, are there any cards that you didn't like or liked the least that made it into Legends?
S: Definitely. There are lands in Legends that allow legends to band with other legends, that's all they do. Originally in the Legends concept, part of all legends innate ability was 'bands with other legends.' It was later thought that this would be way too powerful so they told us to come up with a land card which allowed you to do this. I said alright, but it should also produce mana. The idea debated back and forth and basically it was vetoed.
Q: So that's why those lands you just mentioned don't generate any mana!
S: Yeah, none at all and I was kind of bummed about that. When you develop a Magic card that relies on another card, it better be damned good. Cards like Enchant Creature cards better be good because if you have it in your hand you just can't play it, you have to rely on having a creature in play or you can't use it.
Legends are hard to play just by themselves. Now you have to have two legends in play before these banding land cards would even work for you. It's something that if I could've changed it, I would have.
Q: Do you have any favorite artists?
S: Since Legends I've become a huge fan of Richard Kane-Ferguson. I think his stuff is just dynamite! He did Sol'kanar and Dakkon Blackblade and some others from Legends. As a matter of fact I have the print of Sol'kanar in my cubicle. He was one of the characters that I created from my stories.
Q: Are there any cards that didn't make it into Legends?
S: There are a lot of cards that didn't make it. The original set when we proposed it was about four hundred and fifty cards. Three hundred and ten made it.
Q: That means there were about one hundred and forty cards that didn't make it into Legends?
Q: Did they get out into any of the other expansion sets afterwards?
S: Yes and no, actually. I haven't done any of the other expansion sets although I've seen a few cards that look suspicious (laughs). I get along with all the guys in R&D, they're just awesome! The thing about Magic is it's very easy for two people to come up with the same card concept, but yes there were a lot of cards that didn't make it into Legends.
The hardest part in developing Magic is the common cards. Just about anyone can design a rare card that just says game over, I win or what we call degenerative cards. Degenerative cards are cards that are unbalancing or totally unfair. They're something we're trying to avoid. That's why the original Time Walks, Moxes and Black Lotus-type cards are disappearing because they're degenerative. You can create a degenerative deck loaded with them and we feel that's bad.
Q: Did you have any idea that Magic itself was going to be this good?
S: We never knew it was going to be as good as it is today, but we did know it was going to be good. We got these little play test cards which were about an inch-and-a-half by an inch-and-a-half. All they had was a little rule and these tiny photo-copies with descriptions on them.
We'd play with these little cards and we found ourselves carrying them around everywhere we went; lunch, dinner . . . whatever. Everyone in the office was caught up playing this game and we were thinking all this was were little pieces of cardboard. What was interesting about it was the fact that we were all hooked on this new little game that we had done.
Q: How long did it take to design the Legends expansion set?
S: About a year and a half, although not all of that was hard core development. We were working on other stuff as well.
Q: How do you design the cards? Can you describe the process?
S: Sure. When you design a card you do the whole card - the name, the cost, the whole thing except for the art. The artwork always comes last. Then it is submitted. When that's finished or 99% done it goes to Production and Production will take that card and get the art commissioned for it. We as a developer have no input at all on the art, that's what Production does.
Nowadays we get a little more leeway on saying we prefer this person to be a dwarf, so at least make him a dwarf. For example, one of the legendary figures - Sivitri Scarzam, was supposed to be a guy and the picture came back as a female, but that's cool. I mean these were legends, or rather heroes in my own mind originally, which is not really the same thing as the characters from Legends.
When we were developing Legends, I'd played a lot of Magic at that point which was before Magic was even released.
Q: You were designing the Legends expansion even before Magic was released?
S: Yes, that's right. We were still playing with those little play test cards. While I was designing Legends I sat there and started thinking about what irritates me as a player. One thing that really bothered me was that you had these mana clumps, where you either got tons of mana or no mana. There's nothing worse than losing when you get no mana.
We came up with a house rule while we were play testing. If your opponent had more mana than you, you could go through your deck and just pull a mana. That's how the card Land Tax was developed.
The Spectral Cloak was developed because I was getting irritated with people playing red. They just sat there and nuked everything I had. To me, one of the cheap ways of playing Magic is those direct damage decks with nothing but Lightning Bolts, Fireballs, Disintegrations, etc.
Right now one of the things that really gets me is the Black Vise and Cursed Rack concept. Now that's a perfectly fine concept, but I think about what I can make that will help a guy out if he plays against someone where that's all they ever do and wants to play a card that will stop that. This is how another card might get developed; something that allows an opponent to stop such a thing from happening.
The hardest part about creating an expansion is not actually coming up with the cards. Anyone can come up with a card idea. The hard part is getting balance between the colors; that's real difficult.
When Magic first came out everybody wanted to play black; it was awesome. We kind of made a faux pas when we first developed Legends, we made white really powerful and we quickly realized we couldn't do that. We were a little naive back then and didn't understand Richard Garfield's concept about how Magic works.
Each color has its intricacies in how it works. It's really amazing the stuff that's built into it. A lot of people just don't have any idea what he [Garfield] put into Magic. For example, the Shivan Dragon is based on Shiva, the Hindu God of Destruction. There's a lot of stuff like that when you're developing an expansion that you need to follow.
We could've made white so awesome that once Legends came out everybody would be playing white, but that's not what we want to do. We want people to play whatever colors for their characteristics, not because it's more powerful than the other colors.
People always laugh that blue is the most powerful because Richard Garfield likes blue the best . . .
Q: Really? I didn't know that Richard Garfield preferred blue.
S: I don't know if you'll let that out, but this is something one of the other guys told me one day back when we were developing Legends. Seriously though, Richard likes everything - he really does.
Q: What are you working on now?
S: One of the things I'm working on now is League Play; how to set up different types of leagues and all. We're running leagues here at WotC and I'm the League Commissioner. You start by giving people a certain amount of cards and you see how decent your deck construction is by the cards you're given versus throwing in every rare and powerful card you have and slaughtering somebody. We're setting up ways of drafting the cards to the people in the leagues.
You give everybody a starter deck and boosters and you're allowed to create your deck out of this. The only limit is you must have forty cards and the rest can go in your sideboard, which you can kick in and out of your game. You go around and play people for ante. You have to play a match of three games with each opponent and you're ranked by how many cards you have.
Q: You have a better rating if you have less or more cards?
S: You have a better rating if you have more cards. It's not how many wins you have, but how many cards you have. It's really funny; in our last league we had about 60 people playing. Richard Garfield was in there and he had one of the ante stealing cards, which he played well. He's an awesome player. Not only knowing he would win the game he'd probably end up stealing an ante from you so he'd end up getting two cards a game. He was way up there, it was a blast!
Q: Can you name some of your favorite Legends cards?
S: Whoa. I'd say I like Sol'kanar, Dakkon Blackblade, the Elder Dragons and Eureka. I really like cards that are completely weird, that really just change the game you're playing like Eureka.
Q: Legends sold out quickly when it came out, I take it this was a surprise?
S: Yes! We did pre-orders of Legends and we printed a hair more than that. Between the time we took the orders and the cards were printed, the phenomena had taken off and then there weren't enough Legends to go around. Once Legends came out, people went crazy and wanted more and there wasn't any more.
Right back then we were still a relatively new company. The bill from the card vending companies for the cards were a few million dollars and would have been more if we had more Legends printed. That was why we didn't just go off and print more Legends. Although we don't have to worry about how much the bill is anymore.
Right now Carta Mundi is printing our cards 24hrs/day, 7 days a week; they do not stop printing. As a matter of fact, in Belgium they give off the entire month of July. We were getting scared that we wouldn't have our cards being printed for a month. People were already complaining that they don't have enough cards...
Q: Not having cards printed for a month would have been devastating, no?
S: Exactly. The good thing is that they actually worked three weeks and only took a week off so it wasn't bad at all. Here's something that people don't really know: in Belgium overtime is incredible. To pay people to work overtime is unbelievable. They have people there printing our cards around the clock. The demand is huge here and that's not including the foreign markets.
Magic came out in Italian and it sold out in about two days. German and French is about ready, sometime this month [Jan/Feb] they hit. We have something like twelve other languages that are in process of being done. They'll all being printed at the same place, those poor guys are just going nuts.
Q: What can you tell us about what's next for Magic?
S: Ice Age(tm). Originally Ice Age was going come out about when Legends was coming out. If we came out with it then we would have made a big mistake. At WotC, whenever we create an expansion we want all new cards. We do not want to give people the same old cards. Ice Age originally had a lot of cards that were from the original and so we decided against that and put it on the back burner because we were working on Legends and everything in there was new.
We were told before that it was alright to borrow from the original. We had the Lightning Bolt and whatever else in there. When they said no more duplicating of cards then we had to come up with different ones. We've been working on Ice Age for a while.
Legends was originally supposed to be a stand alone expansion. It was going to have land and everything; you could play it just by itself. Then it was decided that it would just be a large expansion.
Ice Age is that, it's a stand alone expansion. Eventually what will happen is it'll be just like playing Magic:The Gathering, you'll play Ice Age. There'll be sanctioned Ice Age tournaments, Ice Age expansions, everything. The rules are completely compatible, they're the same rules.
Q: Is the card backing identical to Magic: The Gathering?
Q: Can you play Ice Age with Magic?
S: Yes, absolutely. You know the people playing with Moxes and the other degenerative cards like Timewalk and all? Well they won't be playing with those in the Ice Age tournaments. Only cards from Ice Age will be allowed to be played.
Ice Age is completely awesome! These guys have gotten it down to a science. There is not a card in there that you would not play with. We're at this point with Ice Age where every card has its purpose and people want to use it, that's where we're at with Ice Age and why it's just awesome.
Q: How many cards are in Ice Age?
S: Over Three hundred.
Q: When is Ice Age going to be released?
S: Right now it's due out around the Spring of '95.
Q: Are there going to be any of the cards from Revised in Ice Age?
S: There's going to be some of the older cards there that you just have to have for game balance like Lightning Bolt, for example. White will probably have the Circles of Protection and there will be a few of the other common cards from Revised as well.
Now what's interesting is there's going to be more cards than in the other expansions because the land is being done differently. I'm not sure how to explain that, but typically in the past the land existed in the common and uncommon sheets and that's how the land comes into play. Well, all the lands are being pulled out of those sheets and they're going to be printed separately and then added in.
The distribution so far of land in Magic was completely random because it was random on the sheets. The land was right in there with the regular cards and it's not going to be that way now. The full sheets, when they're going to be printed are going to be all playable non-land cards. So it's going to be a larger expansion for that reason.
There's not going to be any degenerative cards there, like Moxes and what have you. There might be Mox-like cards in there. You know, Moxes would be fine if they had a cost.
Q: What about having the Moxes have a casting cost of one?
S: That sounds cool. It might happen someday. As far as I know it's not going to happen anytime soon, but who knows, it might.
Q: Is there anything else exciting that you guys at WotC are planning to do?
S: Yes. We're working on a tour this year; a North-American tour where Wizards of the Coast, the designers and artists are going around to different parts of the United States. We'll be going to stores, signing the art, answering questions, playing games and showing new games we're producing like the Great Dalmuti(tm). We'll be debuting that and playing Magic and Jyhad. Have you ever played Jyhad?
Q: Yes I tried it. I already have a couple of Jyhad starter decks and some boosters.
S: I like it. We're coming up with some new rules for Jyhad as well as some expansions that are going to be coming out as well. It's all going to be pretty exciting.
So basically we're going to be out and about on this tour to meet the public. We'll be bringing along our artists with us. You can get your cards signed and we're planning to go to New York and all the major areas all over the United States. It's going to be fun.
Much thanks goes to Steve Conard for the time he spent with me to make this article possible. Hope you liked it people.
Note: Are there any Magic related questions you'd like to ask me that might see print in an upcoming Quard's Corner in Vault? If so, e-mail your questions to me at email@example.com.
This article was put together for your reading pleasure by Vincent B. Navarino (aka Quard on IRC:#mtg) and his imaginary trained typing Ferret, Ferratio. Vincent considers himself quite the humorist and can regularly be spotted late at night on IRC:#mtg(EFNet) tormenting the people there with his rantings. He'd also like to write Magic humor for the Duelist and someday might start submitting his articles to them, but is too afraid of rejection right now after not having a date in over 3 years. If you'd like to talk with him please feel free to send him e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. All feedback received is welcomed.
Warning: any hate mail will be forwarded to a neighbor he doesn't like.