Basically, Magic R&D held a reality-show type contest to find a fan with good design chops. The winner gets a 6 month internship at Wizards of the Coast.
Mark Rosewater explains it in greater detail here: http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/feature/110a
The first challenge was a series of 10 essay questions, 250-350 words each, and I happened to save my answers.
Here they are in all their glory! (spelling errors and all...)
1.Introduce yourself and explain why you are a good fit for this internship.
1. My name is Wil Blanks, and I am passionate about Magic. I first started playing just after Shards came out and have never looked back. Even after entering college and having much less free time and money to invest, I still keep up with the newest sets, I still read plenty of artciles, and I still have a 12 page word document of home brewed cards (not even counting the ones I don't keep). Magic has done so much more for my life than I had ever thought possible from a trading card game. The existence of the color pie has given me a much bender foundation for appreciating worldbuilding and storytelling, and a deeper understanding of philosophy and psychology. Whenever I indulge in some work of fiction, it’s no longer enough to simply see a character do something, but to understand why they did that something, what environment would shape a person to the mindset that would lead them to do that something. I eat up most any article on design and development like there was an antidote in it. The in depth discussions on design and development have built in me an obsession of sorts, and I feel I have a much greater appreciation for design in all things; books, television, video games, it has proven infinitely invaluable in some of my college game design courses. I get the feeling that I’m rambling here, but I hope my rambling has said exactly what needs to be said; I’m passionate about Magic design and I’m willing to what it takes.
2. You are instructed to move an ability from one color to another. This ability must be something used in every set (i.e. discard, direct damage, card drawing etc.). You may not choose an ability that has already been color shifted by R&D. What ability do you shift and to what color do you shift it? Explain why you would make that shift.
1. I feel a need to clarify this question somewhat. Is it asking me to permanently move an ability from one color to another, like pingers from blue to red, or for a color to now share an ability with another color, like lifelink being used by black as well as white now? Because I have two different answers for the two different questions. If the question is asking me to permanently move an ability from one color to another, I would suggest moving tutoring without restrictions from black to blue. Black has become ingrained in the minds of players as ‘the tutor color’, but from a flavor perspective it has never made sense to me, and I feel that flavor and design are inherently interwoven and that if a card doesn’t ‘feel’ right, it probably isn’t. Black thematically has access to virtually ANY ability in the game, including ones that are normally not considered very black. How does it do this? By being black. Black is willing to trade one resource for power. If paying half of their life means getting to take an extra turn that makes sense. If black has to sacrifice a bunch of permanents to draw some cards that makes sense. If black wants to find exactly that one card it wants at no expense other than a card slot, there’s nothing stopping black from doing so. In restricting the power level of oldschool black tutor spells, I feel that the fundamental ‘blackness’ of those spells has been taken away. When I look at Diabolic Tutor, in my own mind, it’s in the Planar Chaos frame, and it’s color is blue; blue being the color of ‘knowing stuff’. Blue’s the thinker, the planner, the color whose philosophy most greatly mirrors the strategy of a combo deck. Big plans and big rewards. If blue wants to pull that one specific cog out of its deck to make it’s big machine run, at present, it can’t. That is why I feel that cards that can tutor with no restriction on card type should be blue.
a. If the question is asking for an ability to be bled into a new color I would suggest flying to be bled into green. Permanently. Not just once in a blue moon to complete that legendary cycle of Japanese dragons. Green is the color of growth, the color of evolution, the color of caving someone’s face in with creatures. It makes sense for green to have a variety of creatures and abilities for those same said creatures. There are some creature abilities that inherently make more sense in some colors than others, if a person ever seriously suggested to me that blue should have lifelink I would consider entering them into a mental instition, but for the life of me, the only reason I can figure why green has no flyers at present is because it’s the anti-flying color. It had flyers in antiquity, but they just faded away and I have found no documentation explaining why. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but on another level, it doesn’t seem fair for green not to have flying. As far as I can tell, flying is the only instance of, not so much the mechanic, but the idea behind that mechanic, being completely denied in one and only one color. White has flying, blue has flying, black and red despite not being the token ‘flying’ colors usually have at least one fat monstrosity per block that flies, and green is left completely out of the loop. I feel that green would philosophically gain a much more educated hatred of all things flying if it understood flying better, and the best way to do this is to give green a flying creature more often than every 6 years.
1. I would say Zendikar. I may be biased in this as Zendikar is the first block I personally experienced from beginning to end, but I feel that Zendikar as a whole has the greatest number of immersive cards and mechanics of any block setting. So many of the cards do exactly what you would expect them too, given either their name or their mechanics, and the very few that don’t in a vacuum, make far more sense when viewed as a whole. Any of the quest cards rely on the player becoming more ‘experienced’ with each quest counter trigger until they become able to achieve the purpose of that quest. Beyond that, a number of the cards played directly into the expectations of players experienced in other mediums of high fantasy. The setting itself has many parallels to a number of other known properties, the adventure world setting and inclusion of class-based allies, more than average focus on equipment, and use of booby traps being directly indicative of Dungeons and Dragons. The eventual ‘villains’ of the set being perfect analogues to the works of H.P. Lovecraft and other similar cosmic horror fiction. The redefining of vampires as a token race rather than the once-a-block-big-scary-beater race plays into the current plague of vampire fanaticism in mainstream fantasy, and it also appeals to more classical vampire fiction given that the vampires are generally antagonistic, and I highly suspect that Sorin Markov with his Eastern European influences, personality, and use of mind control was directly inspired by Stoker’s Dracula. Regardless of whether or not a person actually enjoyed the block, I am willing to bet there are many players who would argue that anything in Zendikar didn’t make sense in its marriage of flavor and mechanics.
4. R&D has recently been looking at rules in the game that aren't pulling their weight. If you had to remove an existing rule from the game for not being worth its inclusion, what would it be?
1. Actually, given the choice, I would want to bring back an older rule that fell out of favor at some point. The rule that tapped artifacts ‘turn off’ and can’t use their abilities. I realize this ability in its original templating the ability had all sorts of problems. First of which being that artifacts with tap-based activated abilities were generally expected to ignore this rule, if only for the fact, that they weren’t fun if they didn’t. This alone was a quagmire. So eventually they got rid of the ability. Sort of... They made very noteable exceptions for certain artifacts that had seen considerable tournament level play based on their abuseability with being tapped, such as Winter Orb’s stasis effect suddenly becoming horribly one sided, or for Howling Mine to become a cheaper, painless, colorless Phyrexian Arena. But, alas, if it wasn’t a tournament level card, it was noteably absent from gaining this same functionality. That seemed like a really bad idea to me. When one group of players is given preferential treatment over another group of players, no one wins. What I would propose is a revival for the ‘tapped artifacts are turned off’ rule to be applied only to artifacts with static or triggered abilities, thus sparing the vast multitude of tapping artifacts from another rules nightmare. I am sure that there are some complications not immediately visible to someone like I, who is admittedly not a rules guru, but given the amazing level of interaction and spot-on flavor of the ability, I honesly and wholeheartedly believe that this rule is worth saving.
5. Name a card currently in Standard that, from a design standpoint, should not have been printed. What is the card and why shouldn't we have printed it?
1. I would personally go with Baneslayer Angel as a card that is a mistake. My opinions of the nature of creature creep go against those of most other Magic players as far as I can tell. Whereas most players would argue that creatures have been getting exponentially more powerful with each passing year, I would counter that they are merely reaching the power level that they should have been at from the beginning. The best example of this is to look at the decklists in most Vintage or Legacy decks; most of the creatures are from much more recent years, but the non-creature spells occur from more or less all of Magic’s 17 year history. I feel that Baneslayer Angel represents an overextension of this progression of creatures becoming more powerful. I can fully understand the purpose of creatures dwarfing other creatures for the purposes of limited play (Primieval Titan being strictly better than Yavimaya Wurm, Ajani’s Pridemate being strictly better than Silvermane Lion, etc.), but in this case I feel that Baneslayer Angel’s power level is far beyond what it’s casting cost should indicate. Generally speaking, a creature’s casting cost is generally within 1 mana of an average of it’s power and toughness, exceptions being applied for creatures with some sort of restriction such as being multicolored (Woolly Thoctar) or having a serious drawback (legendary: Isamaru, Hound of Konda, extremely fragile; Ball Lightning, life loss; Juzam Djinn, etc.) Baneslayer Angel is nearly unanimously considered to be the strongest 5 casting cost creature in the history of magic and it has no inherent drawbacks to being played whatsoever. Beyond the lack of drawbacks I’ve come to expect a certain level of color-heaviness from ‘token cards’; a card that if I were to introduce a friend who has never played magic ever before, I could show them Baneslayer Angel and they would have a good idea about what to expect from other white cards. I feel that given Baneslayer Angel’s absurd power level and inherent whiteness it should have had a much heavier color investment. I feel that when players have no problem whatsoever casting such a powerful effect even if it’s in a splashed color, that it takes away a great deal from the essence of the color pie and the challenge of deckbuilding.
Wow, this ended up being much larger than I anticipated.
To keep you all from getting burned out, I think I'm going to split this into two pieces.
See you tomorrow!