The Top Ten Ways Mark Rosewater Is Ruining Magic: The Gathering
So just who exactly is Mark Rosewater?
In 1993 Wizards of the Coast introduced the world to Magic: The Gathering, a collectable trading card game that has spawned numerous iterations and imitators--most famously being Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh. Indeed Richard Garfield, the game's creator, is the grandfather of an entire genre of card games that now boast 12 million players from just Magic alone. So who is Mark Rosewater and where does he enter into this whole picture? Rosewater, or MaRo has he has been nicknamed, joined the WotC team in 1995 and since 2003 has been the game's head designer. This, along with the fact that he has a very public persona and writes an article each week, has a very active blog on Tumblr, as well as a podcast that boasts thousands of listeners, also means that MaRo has the dubious position of being both the company's public face as well as their scapegoat.
Since it isn't entirely clear how much power MaRo has, or exactly what he can approve or reject, speculation surrounds him whenever there is a massive change to the game. With his very public face as well as the blurry line concerning his actual job, it is usually easier for the consumer to blame him as a representative of the company than to find the actual culprits. For instance, a current argument players have is with the new Commander card, True-Face Nemesis--a card that MaRo had absolutely no say in the creation of because it was done by a splinter group working alone. But as the face of the company, he is always at fault when something bad happens. I write this short introduction merely to show that, while I intend to write ten ways MaRo is ruining Magic, I am also poking a little fun at myself as I know very well Wizards of the Coast is not run by a single man. That being said, I did speak with him on his blog to ensure myself and my readers that he would not take offense to this article's title. So without further rambling, here's my list of the top ten ways MARK ROSEWATER IS RUINING MAGIC!!
#10 The Removal of Pauper from Magic Online
You may be asking yourself 'what is Pauper and why should I care'? Well, Pauper is (was?) a Magic: The Gathering format that used only commons to form decks. This made it attractive to beginners, people on a budget, and just people who wanted to play without all the overpowered format-warping cards that MaRo keeps churning out merely to sell boosters. It was very much a format 'for the rest of us'. The problem was of course that since the format cared only about commons and was non-rotating (ie. once you bought your deck there was very little reason to purchase more cards), it was very much eating into Wizard of the Coast's profits. Given the choice between Standard where cards become worthless in two years, or Modern where the top decks are in the hundreds of dollars, it's no wonder Pauper began to develop a huge following.
Which is why MaRo--and by MaRo I mean Worth Worllpert and Mike Turian, current heads of Magic Online--removed the format from tournaments and officially de-sanctioned it. This has the benefit of ensuring that people who were playing a format they could afford will now have to pay upwards to $15 just to draft a format they don't enjoy, to win cards they don't have any use for. This has been widely considered a bad move but it is doubtful it will be changed simply because for WotC the bottom line comes before consumer happiness. In reality the actual problem lies with the entire client and its current management and will continue to shed both money and customers until some real changes are made.
#9 The Removal of Mana Burn
Richard Garfield, whom we mentioned above is the creator of Magic, included mana burn in the original version of his game as an equalizer to ensure players weren't squandering resources and to add another layer of complexity to the game. After 16 years, MaRo removed it from the game entirely without even so much as a poll or a consideration from the actual players. And when I say MaRo, I actually mean Aaron Forsythe who was the lead designer on Magic's 2009 core set called er, Magic 2010. Yes, the set was introduced in 2009 despite the name, but we'll ignore that for now.
I will further get into the 'dumbing down' of Magic: The Gathering in a later bullet point, but this was definitely what many consider the beginning of a gradual, but intentional shift toward dumbing down Magic to compete with Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh and to hopefully capture the younger crowd. In a dubious argument for trying to streamline the rules and made it easier for newer players to grasp, they removed a piece of Magic that had been woven throughout the game since its inception. There was a pretense that it would be opening up massive design space too, which has in the last 4 years only been seen on a small handful of cards.
Overall, it was a bad idea to remove it; it caused a lot of disagreements; and only served to show that Magic was not against fundamentally changing core aspects of the game merely to appease their marketing department and appeal to a younger demographic. It was a change that the game continues to suffer from.
Storm, as MaRo himself has attested to numerous times in his blog, is the most degenerate card mechanic ever created. It's so degenerate that an entire scale was named after it--the Storm Scale--just to show how unlikely a keyword/mechanic or aspect of Magic is to return. It is named after Storm because Storm has the dubious distinction of being the one mechanic that MaRo has ensured us will never, ever return in any form whatsoever. Storm was created by Brian Tinsman, who, other than being infamous for Storm, is largely forgotten in the annals of Magic designing history.
So what's so bad about Storm? Two cards: Tendrils of Agony and Grapeshot. These two cards single-handedly so warped their respective formats and shifted the meta around them that you either played them or tried to beat them. In Pauper, Grapeshot Storm decks were so dominant that the card finally had to be banned. In Legacy, well, if you're playing against Tendrils you just pray you drew a Force of Will in your opening hand.
This is a rare, rare time when the force of evil that is MaRo is actually being a force of good as his tenure as head designer means there will be no new Storm cards--er, until he retires. Then it's just a hope that everyone else feels the way MaRo does and leaves Storm to be for the good of the game.
It was fun pretending MaRo wasn't the bad guy, wasn't it? Unfortunately, with returning to Mirrodin in Scars of Mirrodin and the advent of the lost but not forgotten Phyrexians, MaRo felt it necessary to up the ante and add a brand new win condition to a game that needed nothing of the sort. The old Mirrodin suffered from affinity and from turn 2-3 wins in the name of 'affinity for artifacts', an awful, degenerate keyword that allowed people to puke out their entire hand in two turns. So when MaRo revisted Mirrodin he wanted the same thing to happen but with even less player interaction. It was with this in mind that Infect was born.
Infect's true insular, parasitic nature however, comes from how it obsoletes many cards that had been created prior to Infect that used the 'poison' mechanic to poison your opponent. Infect, being strictly better and more cheaply costed, caused poison to go from a controlling player's win condition to a repulsing sort of hyper-aggressive win condition. Much like affinity, if your deck didn't 'go off' in the first two turns--and it usually did--you could expect to lose.
Unfortunately, Infect is very much MaRo's baby and if his blog is any indication he intends to bring back Infect as soon as he can shoehorn it into a storyline. In much the way that Dredge makes it feel like an entirely different game than Magic is being played, Infect has become the Storm of creature keywords.
#6 The Mythic Rarity
I don't play Yu-Gi-Oh but apparently according to the internet there are 27 different rarities of cards. So in that regard Magic having a mere 4--common, uncommon, rare, and mythic--would appear not too problematic. However, the new rarity introduced in 2008 was a huge change considering for the first 15 years there had never been a mythic rarity. It very much felt like the beginning of the Yu-Gi-Oh-ification of the game that we had all loved. I believe if they come out with another rarity--perhaps platinum rare--in a few years, people won't be surprised.
So what's so bad about another rarity? Increasingly, must-have cards--ie. the most sought after for tournament decks--are being printed at rare and mythic rarities. It used to be that you could expect your creature removal to be uncommon, but from the advent of mythics everything got bumped up a rarity. Now cards that used to be easy to come by are now more expensive, less common, and in even higher demand. MaRo, in an opening article concerning mythics, originally pledged that they would never be deck staples. Unfortunately, that has obviously become more and more untrue as mythics are created specifically to sell boosters--ie. Planeswalkers.
With the mythic rarity "boost", we now have Hero's Downfall which, while being a staple of black decks, is bland, is not an engine, and can easily be replaced by a simple Terror (variant). But this card, which pre-2008 would have been an uncommon has been boosted in rarity so that actual rares can be mythics and all cards are harder to obtain, thus creating higher demand for boosters.
I always write these articles assuming they'll fit into one blog post only to find that my bloviating knows no bounds. Therefore, I will be writing another article about the final top 5 ways MaRo is ruining Magic and I hope you'll read that as well. And as always, if you have any comments tell me below!