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An Open Letter to Mark Rosewater

Updated on July 20, 2015
Mark 'MaRo' Rosewater
Mark 'MaRo' Rosewater | Source

Mark Rosewater

Mark Rosewater is the head designer for Magic: The Gathering. He is a prolific writer and designer for Magic. If you read his articles on Magic and general game design, you find that Mr. Rosewater is as good as they come. By this I mean: where he has erred, he owns it. Where he has excelled, he remains humble. He is an amazing man.

He is also, in the world of Magic: The Gathering, a powerful man.

This letter is for him. It is a few thoughts I have about Magic. These are the thoughts of someone that is a nobody in that world, so these thoughts are safely ignored. But if you are reading, Mr. Rosewater... just know that I will still support Magic regardless.

Dear Mr. Rosewater...

Please allow me to begin this missive by thanking you for taking such wonderful care of one of my favorite games. I have played and collected the game off and on since Alpha {1}. While you remain at Wizards of the Coast, playing the role in its development and evolution that you continue to play, I remain confident that Magic will remain the pivotal presence in gaming it remains {2}. I am writing to ask some questions and to offer some thoughts. As I am well aware of the issues involved with receiving unsolicited material, allow me to preface this letter with the following disclaimer:

I, K. David Ladage, present the following thoughts ‘no strings attached’. Mark Rosewater, Wizards of the Coast and/or anyone to whom those entities wish to share these thoughts, are free to use those ideas as they see fit without need to credit or compensate me in any way.

That should be sufficient to avoid future misunderstanding {3}. In each section that follows, please assume the words "in my humble opinion" appear at the end of each sentence.

Unglued Booster Pack
Unglued Booster Pack | Source

Un-III?

Will we ever see a third set for (and thus, the conclusion of) the UN-block?

The first idea/thought/concept I wish to discuss if the idea of a third set in the UN-block. This question is especially important at this time given the recent changes that are about to take place concerning the block structure. Once blocks are normally two sets, the chances (best I can tell) of ever seeing a third UN-set diminish.

I know that there are some issues with fitting an UN-set into the rotation. Given the timing of many such things in the Magic calendar, I can appreciate the issues this sort of a set might have. That does not reduce my desire to see these two sets turned into a full block of cards.

Unglued had less than 100 cards. Unhinged had 140 cards. This firmly establishes both sets as small. Thus, it stands to reason that the third set in the UN-block would be the large set. I am thinking something in the range of 300 (+/- 50) cards.

The two existing UN-sets were never designed to be a part of a cohesive block; as such, the cohesion would have to come from the large set -- melding ideas and mechanics from both existing UN-sets into a singular whole. This has the fortunate side-effect of meaning that the UN-sets would have been released in the opposing order that is relatively standard in Magic.

One thing I struggle with is the idea that an UN-draft would not have Unglued and Unhinged to draw from -- unless Wizards released a limited re-print of those cards (using modern framing and templating), or if the original cards were included in the card list for the new set, or … something. I think the cleanest solution is to do a re-print in the two quarters prior to the release of the new UN-set. But that is logistics and something I cannot address properly.

The idea of going to my friendly local game store to participate in an UN-block Sealed Deck Constructed tournament, or an UN-block Booster Draft just makes me smile. How long has it been since you potentially cast a B.F.M.? My favorite name for a large-set UN-block finisher: Undone.

Big Furry Monster
Big Furry Monster | Source

Casual Play Sets?

Would Wizards the Coast consider releasing semi-regular sets of cards entirely for casual play?

Wizards of the Coast wants to tell stories; the new two-set block structure will able them to tell more stories in a more timely fashion. It will also make Standard more dynamic. This change seriously excited me. The whole thing feels right. Congratulations!

Segue #1 -- one of my fondest memories of early Magic were the first few expansions. Arabian Nights dove into a set of stories I had always loved; Legends and Antiquities took the story-telling elements of the game to new heights. My most beloved aspect of these sets was the perfection of some of the cards.

Perfection is a strong word. Let me explain. When I watch television or movies, I often find myself saying “that is not how I would have written that”, and I do not mean this in a good way. Movies often take the tired, lazy way out. they fail to surprise me in a way where I say “that is not how I would have written that” and mean it as a compliment.

The set Arabian Nights, for example, often had me saying “that is not how I would have written that” and meaning it not only as a compliment, but as a sign of awe.Take the card Sindbad, for example. This card is simple and elegant. And captures the idea of who Sindbad is as a character in ways that, at the time this set was created, I would not have thought to do. It was, and is, perfect. This holds true for many of the cards that would have been Legendary had they been designed a bit later. Perhaps the prime example would be Shahrazad {4}. No other card in Magic has ever so perfectly captured an idea.

Serendib Djinn
Serendib Djinn | Source

Segue #2 -- sometime after Arabian Nights, and Legends, and Antiquities… I cannot recall if this was something I read (in Scrye, or Dualist, etc.), or if this was some half-remembered dream ...there was talk of the direction Magic was to take in future sets.While board games, role-playing games, and other avenues of gaming focused on such things as quasi-Arthurian Western Europe, psuedo-Japanese/Chinese hybrids, and other such things, Magic would explore those areas of fantasy not normally explored in gaming. This, as I recall, was reinforced by Arabian Nights. One such possible realm to explore that cropped up was L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful World of Oz. I can recall in the discussions with friends back in those days that the World of Oz seemed tailor made for Magic. Consider:

  • Locasta, Good Witch of the North — definitely the top legendary creature in White. She is law and order; she is the living embodiment of the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
  • Glinda, Good Witch of the South — definitely the top legendary creature in Green. She is all naturalistic order; rule of life.
  • Momba, Wicked Witch of the West — definitely the top legendary creature in Red. She is throwing fireballs; has a fear of water.
  • Gingema, Wicked Witch of the East — definitely the top legendary creature in Black. She is the more cruel and evil of the two Wicked Witches.
  • The Great and Powerful Oz's entire power structure is one gigantic illusion; a parlor trick that has taken on a life of its own. Has there been a more truly blue legendary creature than this?

All of this said, once you start to explore the idea, you cannot help but speculate as to the Magic stats for Flying Monkeys.

So I love the new block structure, I think Arabian Nights was perfect, and I have a story about my fascination with early Magic and the direction it could have taken. What does all of this mean? What is the point? The point is that Magic is a great way to tell stories.

So I ask: would it be possible to produce, on a semi-regular schedule, a set of cards designed entirely for casual play? Such cards would not be a part of the blocks used in tournaments. The idea, as I see it, is that each such set would take a story or set of stories in the public domain and transform them into a set of Magic cards in the same way Arabian Nights did. I am guessing each such set would have 150 cards (±30 cards). If cards from these sets become popular enough, version of them could certainly show up in blocks later. But they would be primarily designed for casual play and the casual player.

The idea is not to tell stories with this format, but to showcase how an existing story could have been told with this format.

'nuff said.
'nuff said. | Source

Basic and Vanilla

Could Basic Land and Vanilla Creatures be given a standard frame that maximizes art?

Back when Unglued did the very cool variation on Basic Land, it was amazing. When Time Spiral did some cool things with the card design,it was no less so. So I have to ask -- can we have a frame that eliminates the rules text box when it is not needed?

I like the idea that Basic Land no longer has the rules text. It feels cleaner; simpler. I can appreciate that a Vanilla creature may have flavor text. But I think that the idea that maximized artwork can speak more to the world and story that creature is coming from far more than a pithy quote — and you have shown that such a pithy quote can even remain in these otherwise textless cards!

Conclusions

I have more I want to write. Unfortunately, this letter is already longer than I had intended. If/when I get a response for this letter, please include a note letting me know if you want me to cease and desist. If I get such a request, or if no answer is forthcoming, I will interpret that to mean that I need to just sit back and enjoy the game and leave things in your capable hands. Otherwise, I would love to continue this discussion. Take care, sir. I look forward to the future of this hobby and this game.

Sincerely,


K. David Ladage

Footnotes

{1} — I started with Alpha; the first card on top of the first pack I ever opened was a White Knight. I collected and played through Mirage. I left the hobby for a while; I picked things back up with the Mirrodin block. I continued to collect and play for a while (through the Time Spiral block). I again left the hobby and have recently picked things back up with the Theros block (and managed to get some cards from the Return to Ravnica block).

The reasons I have left the hobby never have anything to do with the hobby or the game; it has to do with events outside Magic and my control which propel me into new phases of my life. Some are good; some terrible. But Magic is, and has always been, a favorite.

{2} — As I re-read and edit this document, it is evident that the statements in this opening paragraph could easily be construed as 'buttering you up.' Unfortunately, I am at a loss for how to express my gratitude in a way that seems meaningful without this possibility. Please understand the statements are honest and heartfelt.

{3} — I consider myself a reasonably intelligent individual. That is to say that I suffer from no delusion which causes me to believe that any idea I have has not also been thought of by others. As such, it is reasonable to assume that any idea that finds its way from this letter to something else could very easily have been thought of independently before, while, or after I thought of it.

{4} — If you would ever want to hear it, I would love to tell you the tale of a friend and a deck he called Shahrazad's Sisters.

Shahrazad... and her ninety-nine sisters.
Shahrazad... and her ninety-nine sisters. | Source

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