Archive for November, 2011

My 30-Day Design Challenge: Create an Entire Set

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Note: If you don’t care at all what I have to say, there are links at the bottom of this post to my set. You can view the whole set at once, or view it by rarity or colour.

The Challenge

As many of you know, November is National Novel Writing Month. I decided that like Memorial Day, Christmas, or any other special occasion that originally had some sort of meaning, I would twist the celebration to my own purposes. I later found out that there was an offshoot of this called National Game Design Month, but my project doesn’t actually fit well into either category so whatever. My goal was to create an entire set of 229 cards (plus 20 basic land to make it 249), and, time permitting, try to work on the rest of the block.

As it turned out, time was the bottleneck of this project. Thirty days is more than enough time to get a workable draft of a set together to send to development, which was my goal. However, I have a full time job and a part time life, so being able to dedicate the amount of time necessarily to this project proved rather difficult. Were my attention not forced to be divided by so many different things, I’m sure I could have finished this portion of the design in about ten days.

The Design Process

The design process was pretty awesome. I did a design skeleton for the set to start, which took about two hours. Much of that time was spent compulsively making sure I had the proper quantities of each rarity, colour, and card type. From there, obviously I went to designing the cards. Originally I tried to just go in order: CW01, CW02, CW03, etc. That proved to be a fairly restrictive and counterproductive idea, as my mind would either wander from being too pigeonholed, or while brainstorming ideas for one card I would think of ideas that belonged elsewhere in the set. It’s a seemingly small and fairly obvious lesson, but it’s still something I feel was important to experience.

As for designing the cards, obviously it was a ton of fun. If I didn’t think it would be, I would never have attempting something like this. Finding creative uses for my new keyword was a large part of the fun, and it resulted in a couple cycles of cards as well. Cycles are something that players seem to love and I think they’re a great design tool. Interestingly enough, I only came into the set with one cycle in mind, but I wound up with a few of them. A blue common for limited resulted in a cycle of cards that not only seem fun for limited, but helped tie the flavour of the set together. A passing thought to push the power level on a creature resulted in a cycle of legendary creatures, which in turn resulted in a cycle of artifacts I’ll mention later.

Now obvious I realize that this set isn’t being rushed to the printers after two years of development, but I still found this to be a great exercise, a ton of fun, and hopefully something the community enjoys enough to orchestrate drafts of.

What’s In a Name?

Overall, I’m happy with the design of the set. There’s some limited fodder that I’m not entirely sure about, and there are a few cards that I am fully aware are really pushing the power level (But hey, that’s development’s problem!). When all is said and done though, I am proud of the rules text of the 229 cards. I should note now that not all 229 cards are new. As with any set, I chose to reprint some cards to fill necessary roles in limited. I could have made functional reprints, but there was no compelling reason to do it. I also accidentally designed an equipment that had already existed in Darksteel but that I had long since forgotten about. To my credit, I did come up with the exact same casting cost, equip cost, and commonality on my own. So I guess that leaves the question of what am I not happy about? The answer: card names.

I did my best, I really did. Or at least, I did the best job I possibly could given I only had three nights remaining to name almost every card in the set. Some of the names I’m really happy with, some of them are a bit generic, and some are probably just terrible. I freely admit that I find card names to be the hardest part of design, and I absolutely suck at proper names. In fact, while I did finally name the plane Adican, I don’t even know what the name of the set is. I named the other two sets in the block (the next set is Inquisition!), but I can’t find the perfect word for this one.

I mentioned a cycle earlier though, and it resulted from my difficulty with names. I had the cycle of legendary creatures I mentioned, as well as a single multicolour mythic that was designed specifically for EDH. While having trouble naming a rare artifact that was designed for EDH, I decided to name it after the EDH legend. Because why not. At that point I noticed that five of my other rare artifacts actually could be named after the other legends. This was completely unintentional, but the artifacts just happened to line up with abilities most common in the five separate colours. This was, without a doubt, the best moment of naming the cards.

I’m Not Sure That’s My Job

There’s one part of the cards that is largely missing. This was because of time constraints, and I’m not even sure it’s design’s job. You’ll notice, however, that most of the cards are missing flavour text. This is a big deal to me simply because having flavour text (and some better card names) are key to bringing the flavour of the set together. I wish I had more time so I could have taken at least an attempt at this, but self-imposed deadlines exist for a reason.

“How is That Different From Fading/Vanishing?”

This is the question I was asked most when I previewed cards from my set. I bring back the keyword “affinity”, but I also have a new keyword: instability. Instability works as such:

Instability X (At the beginning of your upkeep, put an instability counter on this. Then, if there are X or more instability counters on it, sacrifice it.)

Yes, it looks like fading or vanishing except that the counters go up. Technically, it is. However, by virtue of the counters increasing instead of decreasing, it opens up a huge array of abilities and flavour. It will become more obvious what I mean when you take a look at the cards, but for the most part the more unstable something becomes the more powerful it is. It’s no longer just a countdown to death anymore! I mean, yeah it’s that too and there are some vanilla guys for whom that’s all it is, but other cards make use of these instability counters as well, and I think by simply inverting the countdown to a “count up”, it opened up a lot of design space. That, or my head is up my ass. Either way.

Oh yeah, and you’ll also note that there are no cards with instability in white. There’s not as much story to the set as there should be without the flavour text (I mean in my mind it’s all there, but you can’t see inside my head), so in short the plane of Adican is reveling in its excess and chaos, but Althalos, the Righteous wants to restore the plan to a place of law, order, and piety. And he doesn’t care what it takes to accomplish that goal.

Where’s the Damn Spoiler, Already?

You don’t wanna hear my story? Fine, fuck you. Here are some links. There’s the whole list of course, but you can also view specific rarities if you don’t want to look at what you might consider “random limited garbage”. If you so choose, you may also view the cards by colour. You racist.

I hope you enjoy looking at the set, and by all means leave me feedback here, via e-mail, or on Twitter. I would love to know what everyone thinks of all my hard work. A special thanks also goes out to Robby (@mtgcolorpie) for taking a look once I had finished and making a few notes. I didn’t agree with all of them, but it’s amazing how helpful a second pair of eyes can be. Anyway, thanks for viewing!

*Remember: This was all designed by me in a single month. That means the only development process was me theorycrafting, so I realize there might be balance issues for limited or that some of the cards with which I tried to push the power level may have gone a little too far. Not saying I don’t want criticism, just keep that in mind. Oh, and there’s no expansion symbol cause I couldn’t figure out the damned utility in MSE.

Note: These pages were generated by Magic Set Editor. If you don’t like the layout, blame them, not me!
Full Set
Multicolour, Artifacts, and Lands

Free Shit’s Good Except Babies and Diseases…and SCG Judge Rewards

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

For years I have been quoted as saying that “free shit’s good except babies and diseases.” Despite what some people may think based on my derision towards the Star City Games judge rewards program, I still believe this to be true. So why such vitriol towards the program? Well let’s look at the facts. Note that I will be looking at this strictly from the standpoint of the floor judge. Results as head judge will vary, but there’s only one of them and lots of floor judges.

These Rewards Aren’t Free

What’s this? The judge rewards aren’t free? But you’re getting something for nothing, aren’t you? You are receiving some sort of benefit that was not there before, yes. However, it’s not being handed to you; you still have to earn it. The rewards only go to judges who are working long days for them, at not until a judge has worked 15 events. That means you have to work at least eight weekends for them in order to get these rewards. That means you put in considerable time and effort to earn that $25 store credit, applicable only to the most overpriced MTG store this side of Crazy Bob’s Assrape Emporium.

“But Jeebus, it’s still free! People were doing that work before and didn’t get it, that means it’s a free bonus!” Um, no it’s not, dumbass. It’s called a raise that you earned by being a loyal employee (or in this case more of a contract worker than an employee, but regardless). When you get a raise for working hard at your job do you throw your hands up in the air and yell “Free money!” for all your friends and coworkers to hear? No, because your time and hard work aren’t free and you have earned that compensation. If you got a considerable raise it’s not unrealistic that you might take your wife, girlfriend, or, far more likely for the MTG community, your neckbeard cohorts out for dinner or drinks to celebrate your extra 20% income. It is unrealistic, however, to think that you would drop to your knees and start gobbling the cock of the CEO then posting it on the internet so the world can see your love of the company’s generosity. Unless that’s how you got the raise in the first place.

Judge Rewards Aren’t a New Idea

Rewarding judges for their hard work beyond their regular compensation is a great idea. In fact, it’s such a good idea that WotC already started doing it years ago. However, when SCG starts doing it, “Oh my God! This is the greatest idea ever! Amazing!” Ironically, of all the comments I’ve seen about how brilliant this novel idea is, only one of those comments came from an actual judge. I think this speaks to the fact that players have no fucking idea what being a judge is like if they think this a big deal, but either way it’s already old hat. Oh yeah, and Wizards does it better too: and I’ll take a foil Xiahou Dun every major Wotc event over a $25 store credit every 15 major Star City events any day. Fun fact: that foil Xiahou Dun comes packaged with 13-19 other judge foils as well.

It’s Not Free, it’s a Raise. It’s Not a Raise, it’s an Insult

So we already covered that this isn’t free because you’re working for it and have to earn it. Well, it’s not even so much a raise as it is an insult. Here are the facts about judge compensation as provided to me by level 2 DCI judge Jeph Foster* (@rhythmik) who is also a really cool guy all around and has hooked me up with judge foils on multiple occasions.
*Note: The opinions and analysis in this article are not necessarily shared by Jeph. He merely provided empirical data.

  • The average Star City Games Open event lasts 12-14 hours. We’ll split the difference and call it 13.
  • Compensation per event is $150 cash or $180 store credit.
  • Judges are offered a $20 stipend for lunch.
  • When SCG stopped giving out foil promos to judges at events, compensation was raised, but they discontinued room compensation.
  • SCG does not offer travel compensation (And didn’t back when they had room compensation either)

Math time! If we figure 13 hours for the average event, judges are making $11.54 per hour. The lunch stipend is not included in this because you can’t pocket the cash, it’s just a “free” meal. I say “free” because I’m pretty sure it’s a legal obligation based on the structure of the work day and not an act of generosity, but I don’t have time to double check. In order to earn a $25 store credit, you must do this 15 times. That’s 195 hours. Which is a raise of 12.8 cents per hour. Which is a 0.01% raise. Which is a fucking insult. Oh yeah, and it’s not even a cash raise. If you want to convert it to cash, you have to buy singles from SCG’s ridiculously overpriced inventory and then sell it. So for $25 I can get, say, an Elspeth Tirel. I can then either sell it below retail cause I’m not a store or sell it at retail on ebay and lose money to fees. Currently I could expect to actually get maybe $15-16 for that in my pocket. So now we’re look at a 0.0067% raise.

I Thought Everyone Cared About EV?

What’s the EV on being a judge at these events? If you work both events, you get $300 per weekend, for two 13 hour days. Minus travel expenses. Minus room expenses. So what does that make the EV on an event if you have to fly to it, $0 or less to work your ass off? I’d rather give a dude a hand job in an alley and get the $25 cash then have to dedicate 8 weekends to that. Good thing those expenses aren’t legally relevant too, because these are slave wages that people who travel to judge are making. “So just don’t travel, Jeebus! Quit being a bitch!” Fine, I won’t travel. I’ll just judge the events in Boston (Sure I could drive to New York easily, but that’s a lot of gas and I’d have to pay for a hotel overnight) and bust my ass for two extremely long days to make $300. I mean, there’s no EV on these events if I actually have to travel, so I’ll just earn my rewards here in the greatest city in America.

Wait, how many open weekends are in each city per year, two? I’m just eight years away from getting that Elspeth for only 140% of what it’s worth!

Thank You, Star City

Thank you for showing your judges how much you care by creating this program. Thank you for making the points retroactive and publishing the lisst so we can see that almost none of the judges have actually earned anything after a full year of opens. Thank you giving me absolutely no reason to travel around the country working for you to earn this pittance. But most importantly, thank you for showing us all that, like most “financial experts”, Jon Medina can be bought. His orgasmic response to this program which he’s clearly smart enough to know is insulting and meaningless is proof that he has sold his soul and (theoretically) good name to laud the greatness of whatever worthless tripe comes out of SCG. What happened to you, man? You used to be cool.

At this point I can only assume that Star City Games is run by an evil sorceress, and the only way to disrupt her hypnotic spell on the rest of the Magic community is to bake the hall in the candle of her brain…whatever that means.