T O P
TimothyN

This was a great article that highlights a lot of the behind the scenes challenges they face.


tyn_peddler

This article seems to highlight the value of using rules of thumb in addition to deck testing. Hogaak is a giant, evasive, recursive, graveyard synergistic threat that can be cheated into play. There are tons of graveyard synergies in modern (especially during that time period). If it's not broken the day it comes out, it feels like it would be soon. Honestly the biggest lesson here is that wizards needs to be more careful with cost reduction and recursion mechanics. It seems silly to say because it seem so obvious, but given the number of problems that have crept up related to just these two issues, it seems silly to keep making these mistakes. Putting recursion on a creature that also has cost reduction seem like hitting yourself with a rake. Interestingly enough, Urza has neither cost reduction or recursion. I still expect it to be wildly broken someday, and I regularly try to figure out why it hasn't been broken so far. Edit: Note on Urza. Yeah he gives big ramps, even on the turn he's played. What I meant by saying he has no cost reduction, is that it's very difficult for him to hit the board before turn 4, meaning opponents have some time to setup against him.


Negation_

I think the biggest lesson is they need to playtest with more than 4 people. It's astounding to me that this far in they don't have a more organized playtesting team while they make money hand over fist.


Ironshield185

My stab at a guess would be that with any creative project concerning game balance, having to consider a team of anything larger is a huge effort in people management. By this article, it seems like even with 4 people, there were disagreements and sticking points and dug-in heels (which all happen when creating a game in my limited experience with designing LARPs). Opening the stage to 20+ people at the same time sounds like and easy way for there to be a number of murders at WOTC HQ. Second stab is that pulling 20+ Pro Tour level players together for an equal skill level is REALLY tough to keep under wraps, and could potentially cripple the fairness of competitive events during development time. Even Gerry said that it was a ton of work to justify getting one person--him--in on the project around Pro Tour successes. Just my two cents.


Negation_

They do it for standard though. They're also not heavy handed or fast enough with bans.


kiragami

This is the one thing that does annoy me. They changed their design principles to make big splashy things and if its too much ban it. Then they let it be a problem for over 6 months before actually doing so if they even do it at all.


m00tz

The real issue is that they only release data when bans happen…so during that 6 months that social media and Reddit are discussing how oppressive some card is, the actual data could show that not to be the case. People tend to bias towards negative experiences and gloss over the times that they beat a “broken” deck. The truly busted stuff gets handled fairly quickly compared to the history of the ban list. Ban talk happening every time something strong gets printed is just as exhausting as playing against busted cards imo.


kiragami

The ban talk is entirely because they set that expectation. They changed design to be this way intentionally. As well wizards is well known for only showing any data that agrees with what they want and actively manipulates things. They are not really a company that you can trust what they say (though not many are to be fair)


Blenderhead36

While 4 *does* strike me as small, this is something that hits diminishing returns really quickly. Having a team of 20 people do nothing but iterate on balance for 40 hours a week over 6 months will still mean that the set will have seen more play time at the end of release day than during that entire 6 month period.


Negation_

Right but they do it for Standard and Limited - at least try doing more than the bare minimum.


TimothyN

Why spend money when you really don't have to? Seriously, banning a couple of cards after a few months is not going to hurt them that badly.


Negation_

Hurts the integrity of the game, especially when egregious mistakes like hogaak run rampant for months.


ViewtifulGary89

But integrity only affects you later, why worry about that when you can maximize profits *now*?


TimothyN

That's only a thing people online like to talk about with very little real world implications.


metroidfood

I think what's being overlooked is how fast online decks can be created and tested, especially since Arena throws casuals and spikes together. A mistake can quickly take over the meta online and sour the playerbase where it wouldn't in paper, we saw how this happened with the Pauper Initiative bans.


kami_inu

I'd argue we saw it in modern with the valki cascade decks. That was resolved by a rule change, but similar overall.


Negation_

If you're not a spike, yeah.


CKF

Are you making the argument that it doesn’t matter because people aren’t losing their lives because of it or something similarly significant? This is a large hobby for tons of people. Many of those people actually play the game regularly. Having to play truly awful matchups to be able to play good ones for months on end is a huge, huge bummer. I could see it not mattering if you don’t play, though.


TimothyN

I'm saying it's not nearly as big of a deal that people on here make it out to be.


CKF

And I was asking you why you say it isn’t a big deal. You’re just repeating yourself here, and thus, I have to ask again. It doesn’t matter because no one’s dead because of it? Is that essentially your stance? Is greatly diminishing many, many people’s hobby for months meaningless? Do you play the game regularly, or because it doesn’t affect you, it doesn’t matter and people are just all whiners?


Breadandbutter00

Don't be so dramatic. It doesn't affect WotC's bottom line. If the crybabies on Reddit actually cared as much as their tantrums would suggest, they'd find a different hobby.


CKF

Sure didn’t sound like this conversation revolved around wotc’s bottom line, but thanks for avoiding every question again. I’ll go with “you don’t play this game whatsoever” with a side of “it doesn’t effect me, so why would I care.” So you just quit any activity/hobby you’ve invested years into the second you have an issue/disruption in enjoying it? Oh, silly me, there I go trying to communicate with you via questions again.


kiragami

Game integrity only matters if pro/competitive play is a large and important part of your player base. They only really need to care about commander and draft and they have learned that.


Lurker117

Bannings make players quit, and that's bad for business. I stopped playing in paper completely after bans ruined my two favorite decks. I used to buy boxes or cases every release. Now I don't buy anything.


grokthis1111

cost money they feel they don't have to use. capitalism baby.


Negation_

I mean yeah, clearly.


Lurker117

I've been saying for years they should beta test every new potential set on MTGO with a dedicated team. I'm sure there would be no shortage of volunteers from the community, and they can pick as many as they want to give access to the cards, play test, deck build, look for broken mechanics and combos, and play against each other to see if anything pops out as wildly broken. This would allow them to make adjustments before cards are printed, allowing fewer bans and errata after the fact. Also keeps your player base in a better place by keeping them off the rollercoaster of "should I or shouldn't I buy" for all the pushed stuff that comes out, fearing a ban. I think with some decent NDAs for the testers, some kind of incentive (player points, access to tournaments, etc.), they would attract some strong brewers and players to that group and get more testing done in a short period than they could ever do in-house.


VERTIKAL19

Sure, but that would also likely ensure that that stuff leaks


Lurker117

Absolutely. As I mentioned they would definitely need some airtight NDAs for the players, as well as some new security measures in the program for tracking purposes. But if they put that work in on the front end, they have an almost limitless pool of playtesters who will try and break everything they create in every eternal format before it gets printed. That's gotta be worth the price of admission.


wyqted

Urza itself is very fair. The supporting cast was broken when Urza was dominating: astrolabe, opal, Oko.


BroSocialScience

Ya urza's fine power level (have u guys seen cascade into LE?) and a cool card for an iconic character. Nothing to apologize for, just don't make dumb enablers


Key-Pack-80

i think thats the point here, that cards that seem fair in a vaccuum with moderns card pool can easily be busted. without fetch lands, is wrenn even playable?


wyqted

I would say W6 will be bad to unplayable in pioneer. The thing is that you can’t ban fetchlands from modern, but you can ban cards that are more broken than urza


VERTIKAL19

And Labe also imo was very debatable if it was actually a problem. Abundant Growth is not and these are similar cards


wyqted

Similar but being colorless and an artifact is huge


Dooey

[[demilich]] is an example of a card that has cost reduction and recursion and (so far) has proven to be fine, so it does seem possible to implement these cards safely.


surgingchaos

Demilich's cost reduction isn't much of a cost reduction when you think about it. If you play a 1 MV blue cantrip and then cast Demilich, you're still net zero in terms of the discount. The main problem is the fact that Delve is just a broken mechanic.


ary31415

Idk, as soon as you start chaining manamorphoses that lich gets really cheap


Korlus

If [[Gitaxian Probe]] were still legal, it would be a very different matter. Demilich is a card that works well with other "broken" cards, but is quite fair when played "fairly".


MTGCardFetcher

[Gitaxian Probe](https://c1.scryfall.com/file/scryfall-cards/normal/front/9/9/995486ce-58bb-4753-a812-0ca73ef1a235.jpg?1562880052) - [(G)](http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?name=Gitaxian%20Probe) [(SF)](https://scryfall.com/card/nph/35/gitaxian-probe?utm_source=mtgcardfetcher) [(txt)](https://api.scryfall.com/cards/995486ce-58bb-4753-a812-0ca73ef1a235?utm_source=mtgcardfetcher&format=text) ^^^[[cardname]] ^^^or ^^^[[cardname|SET]] ^^^to ^^^call


MTGCardFetcher

[demilich](https://c1.scryfall.com/file/scryfall-cards/normal/front/0/a/0a1351ed-b9df-4a6d-aaa1-ec6db673d265.jpg?1639436596) - [(G)](http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?name=demilich) [(SF)](https://scryfall.com/card/afr/53/demilich?utm_source=mtgcardfetcher) [(txt)](https://api.scryfall.com/cards/0a1351ed-b9df-4a6d-aaa1-ec6db673d265?utm_source=mtgcardfetcher&format=text) ^^^[[cardname]] ^^^or ^^^[[cardname|SET]] ^^^to ^^^call


TheRecovery

I don’t know if that’s the lesson I took from it. I feel like the big lesson for me is that you should hire a slightly bigger team and silo them somewhat. Only 4 players is too small and having them all work together leads to hiveminding. Get 8 players and let them be red team and blue team and only interact infrequently so that they get different results and don’t hivemind too much. This is such a lovely article. Thanks Gerry (in hindsight, red doesn’t need more and Force of Rage being bad isn’t the end of the world)


TheWagonBaron

> Honestly the biggest lesson here is that wizards needs to be more careful with cost reduction and recursion mechanics. And with free spells as we are seeing more and more. Though the fact that they haven’t learned this lesson yet is absurd. Urza isn’t broken because you can’t fudge around with it. If they didn’t have the shuffle clause on it, he’d be busted as fuck.


Blenderhead36

I remember a *lot* of content creators seeing Once Upon a Time on the day it was previewed and immediately commenting, "Well this is gonna get banned in Modern."


CapableBrief

I think recursion or cost reduction individually are fine. There are very few ways to raise the power level on cards and these two are good ways to go about it. Putting both on a card *and* giving it really pushed stats is what put Hogaak into problematic territory. I think Urza is in a sweetspot in terms of being really pushed but not broken. And honestly, even if it was broken, I think that's where you need 4-drops to be in a Modern set. Anything at that cost or above that isn't insanely powerful is softbanned and had been for years.


Blenderhead36

The other problem with Hogaak is that it's recursion and cost reduction motivate the same behavior, with Bridge from Below as the icing on the cake. If Hogaak had Convoke and lost both Delve and it's Mana restriction, things would have been different.


Blenderhead36

While Urza doesn't have cost reduction, it *does* have the potential to be Mana neutral or negative. His Mana ability means it's very possible to play him for 4 Mana and have 4 or more Food, Treasure, or other cheap artifacts lying around, so that he effectively cost 0 or less. It's not as powerful as getting a Mana discount since it doesn't make him hit the board earlier, but stuff like this is on a lot of banned lists. For example, the "free spells" of Combo Winter worked like this; they were normally Mana neutral, but if you had a Tolarian Academy, they were Mana negative.


Angelbaka

I think Urza would have been much less egregious with text cool l closer to tolarian academy, as opposed to just turning all your artefacts into mox sapphires. Other than that I think it's fine. Gaak probably should have exiled itself if it would die (still a powerful payoff/enabler, but far less obnoxious). I think the cascade spells are all fine. Red force should have been can't-be-prevented pyroclasm. Fuck tnn, and the cave-in callback would have been sweet (black force should have lost the targeting restriction, too, but whatever). W&6 is just absurd. Starting at one less is a starting point for making it more balanced; it probably needs to start at at least two less, and arguably shouldn't get the ping at all. I'd almost say the ping should be -3, starting should be 2, and he straight up shouldn't have a third ability. Mv 2 crucible by itself is fairly pushed. Alternatively, making the ping a punch (or whatever we're calling one-sided fight now) would have gone a long way towards making it feel more reasonable (probably still broken, and certainly still needs to start at 2).


Fennecfox9

IMO Urza has cost reduction. It creates an artifact which can instantly be tapped for U. If you have multiple artifacts in play you can often recoup the cost of playing him. Also the "spin" effect can be a form of cost reduction.


Dooey

This isn't really cost reduction - it doesn't by itself let you cast Urza ahead of schedule.


Fennecfox9

Do you consider Frantic Search to be a 3-mana spell?


Dooey

[[Frantic Search]] Yep! Because without a rapant gowth/llanowar elf/sol ring/etc. you can't cast it before turn 3. Would you consider [[gilded lotus]] to be a 5 mana spell?


MTGCardFetcher

[Frantic Search](https://c1.scryfall.com/file/scryfall-cards/normal/front/5/7/57ab2d8f-6804-46fb-9dec-5fd230333ffd.jpg?1650410665) - [(G)](http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?name=Frantic%20Search) [(SF)](https://scryfall.com/card/ncc/222/frantic-search?utm_source=mtgcardfetcher) [(txt)](https://api.scryfall.com/cards/57ab2d8f-6804-46fb-9dec-5fd230333ffd?utm_source=mtgcardfetcher&format=text) [gilded lotus](https://c1.scryfall.com/file/scryfall-cards/normal/front/4/9/4991e495-9b6d-4f52-aada-3187fd44b945.jpg?1663288498) - [(G)](http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?name=gilded%20lotus) [(SF)](https://scryfall.com/card/40k/239/gilded-lotus?utm_source=mtgcardfetcher) [(txt)](https://api.scryfall.com/cards/4991e495-9b6d-4f52-aada-3187fd44b945?utm_source=mtgcardfetcher&format=text) ^^^[[cardname]] ^^^or ^^^[[cardname|SET]] ^^^to ^^^call


deminotaur

Loved the article, kind of wondering what else ended up being cut from the set. An Affinity for Snow creature and a Snow Cabal Coffers sound sick


jayemmreddit

Snow-ball Coffers :)


s0le1981

Snow Bank


jayemmreddit

Target player discards two cards. Non-snow permanents that player controls gain a stun counter.


ozza512

There's nothing that's actually too surprising. It's been pretty clear for years the playtesting is sub-par. Their expectations on what they think is good vs what is actually good really shows at times how far they are from the reality. We've seen all sorts of random cards get nerfs that didn't need it, and so many cards slip the net, that they clearly weren't aware how powerful they were. It was borderline a joke at 1 point how many busted Simic cards that were all meant to be Standard legal at the same time that seemingly slipped the net. And this isn't really on the playtesters if they don't have the resources to actually do the job. I don't really think Urza is even a problem like he hints at either. It's a 4 mana sorcery speed card, they have to be absurd or they will see no play in Modern. It's funny reading the Arcum's Astrolabe stuff now. Seems they really wanted snow to be busted! I don't really have a problem with them making Astrolabe though, no-one was calling this card out as busted when it was first seen, it went under the radar how powerful it was, it seems it never occurred to them that it would be run outside of decks that care about snow.


Ironshield185

Doesn't necessarily feel like a hit piece against WOTC, but this definitely comes off as critical of the process. Gerry doesn't totally dodge the blame here, but it feels a lot like "we all made mistakes, but I made the least" kinda vibe. Anyway, great article regardless. I do really appreciate Gerry's insight; it's very rare to get this inside look to the process.


SlapHappyDude

As a contractor who works a certain amount of time you can only do so much. He explained pretty clearly W6 was finalized after he was done and they didn't have access to core19. Ultimately it's on the lead designer and their boss (who controls timelines and resources)


Negation_

It really hit home when he said he wasn't even presented with sitcher's supplier or he would have noticed it. Sucks in the competitive field we can't even get proper testing done before release. Like they hired Gerry to test things and then didn't give him the best gy enabler??


TheRecovery

Well he explains that. He was on the pro circuit and to make sure he didn’t gain obvious competitive advantages they only let him see standard legal cards that they thought would have an impact on modern. It was a calculated risk - 95% of standard cards won’t impact modern and 95% of the 5% that do, won’t break the format in half. An imperfect compromise, but better than nothing. [[Stitcher’s Supplier]] was not one of those cards they expected to impact modern, so they didn’t show it to him. And the rest is history (I still think Hogaak would have broken the format with or without supplier, but it certainly didn’t help)


MTGCardFetcher

[Stitcher’s Supplier](https://c1.scryfall.com/file/scryfall-cards/normal/front/2/b/2b737126-50b5-4678-91bf-197b64086fe4.jpg?1562301182) - [(G)](http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?name=Stitcher%27s%20Supplier) [(SF)](https://scryfall.com/card/m19/121/stitchers-supplier?utm_source=mtgcardfetcher) [(txt)](https://api.scryfall.com/cards/2b737126-50b5-4678-91bf-197b64086fe4?utm_source=mtgcardfetcher&format=text) ^^^[[cardname]] ^^^or ^^^[[cardname|SET]] ^^^to ^^^call


Negation_

I know he explained it, my gripe is with wotc who didn't think it was important enough in the first place.


Ironshield185

Well, I think that's part of the issue: they didn't know it was the best graveyard enabler at the time. Gerry says as much in the article. I'm not sure he's necessarily blaming anyone, just highlighting that no matter what, even the designers and pro players will miss something or be unintentionally blinded by previous weaker versions.


Negation_

I think anyone who looked at supplier knew it was very above rate compared to anything else. It's not a case of not understanding the card's power level & that's why they missed it, imo. But I digress.


Ironshield185

Fair enough; Gerry did say he wasn't even allowed to look at it, to preserve competity integrity. Seems like a situation without a clear solution for Gerry, honestly. Hindsight makes us all experts, so I can't blame them for not catching it early in its development, even if it's (as you say) obvious to us now.


fay-jai

Wow they play tested just with 4 people?! That’s mind boggling!


LordMajicus

Plague Engineer is funny in the same way as that guy who tells the same off color joke louder a second time because no one laughed the first time. Do better, Wizards.


Itsoppositeday91

Here I thought his biggest secret was liking frozen pizza


lizardfolk246

Give me my constructed lands matter cards! I need to make life from the loam playable in modern.


Karnstruct

Hold up. Isn’t there conversations of him shitting all over mh1 balance? Or do I have him mixed up.


Rowannn

That’s definitely not Gerry Thompsons biggest secret haha iykyk