B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020

@fsecco Someone on Reddit found a fascinating article from Mark Rosewater himself, from 2015, where he discusses an earlier disastrous attempt at designing almost exactly the Companion mechanic!

Here's the relevant excerpt:

It all starts many years ago, when R&D was working on the set called Tempest. This story is about Maro and two young interns whose names are lost to time. Most people don't know this, but Maro wasn't actually hired as a designer but rather as a developer. He was eager, though, to prove that he could design, so he got Richard Garfield to agree to work with him on a new set. That was enough to allow the head designer at the time, a man named Joel Mick, to give him a shot leading a design."

"His first time designing was leading a set? That doesn't sound very plausible."

"Let me tell my story and then you can decide for yourself whether it's true or not. Anyway, there was a lot of pressure on Maro to deliver an exciting design, so he decided to push the boundaries. He made a new mechanic that allowed you to choose to start with the card in your opening hand. If you chose to do so, you had to begin with one card fewer."

"Just one card fewer? That's all? There wasn't a life loss or something?"

"The cards were weaker than normal, so you were opting to start with cards that were of a lower power level. Maro was excited by this idea. Everyone gets frustrated when they can't get the card they need. What if you had the ability to guarantee that you could have the card you wanted in your opening hand? But it was a bit of a crazy idea, so Maro knew it needed to be playtested. Luckily, Magic R&D had two young interns who were available for playtesting. He asked them to play in a room with a one-way mirror so he could secretly observe. The playtesting went on all night and Maro had had a long day, so several hours in, he fell asleep."

"What happened next?"

"Early the next morning, Maro awoke to see a message written in lipstick on the mirror, reversed so he could easily read it. It read: 'DECK VARIANCE IS THE LIFEBLOOD OF THE GAME AND UNDERCUTTING IT WITH THIS MECHANIC HAS LED TO THE MOST UNFUN PLAYTEST GAMES WE HAVE EVER PLAYED. IF THIS IS THE FUTURE OF MAGIC DESIGN, WE WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.' The interns were gone and haven't ever been seen since. Maro took the new mechanic out of the file and never talked about it again."

Apparently you can forget a lot in five years, since Companion is a more broken version (doesn't even have the -1 card drawback) of something that Maro had rejected for leading to "the most unfun playtest games ... ever played."

last edited by evouga

Disappointed in the announcement. I have to agree with Desolutionist that the game looked more interesting than it has in years with Lurrus around.

I also don't think Zirda is really all that much less broken after doing some testing. That card did get hit with the ban hammer in legacy. (The issues with Zirda seem to stem from the difficulty of executing an infinite combo on MTGO) Any additional companion printings (and exisiting ones) are still at risk for needing to be banned now under this precedent.

DECK VARIANCE IS THE LIFEBLOOD OF THE GAME

Based on this story, this is the opinion of two unnamed interns from over 20 years ago, I really hope they aren't still making major game design decisions based on a couple of people that weren't even noteworthy enough to remember their names. Both those players could've even changed their minds in the last 20+ years.

Deck variance, in general, is a large reason that I have strongly favored Dredge, and what pushes a lot of players away from the game. It feels fair/fun to me to lose to your own decision making process, and your own decisions. It feels less fair/fun to me to lose simply to the game's shuffling and mulligan mechanics. I was excited to have some more options, outside of Dredge, that could give a more consistent game experience. Alas, it looks like they are now unlikely to support such a concept in Vintage/Legacy moving forward.

@vaughnbros said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

Deck variance, in general, is a large reason that I have strongly favored Dredge, and what pushes a lot of players away from the game. It feels fair/fun to me to lose to your own decision making process, and your own decisions. It feels less fair/fun to me to lose simply to the game's shuffling and mulligan mechanics. I was excited to have some more options, outside of Dredge, that could give a more consistent game experience. Alas, it looks like they are now unlikely to support such a concept in Vintage/Legacy moving forward.

Variance has a lot of levels within its range. Too much variance and the game is unfun because you have little control over what happens, you're at the whim of fate. This is the primary complain of people who play Hearthstone, where there are cards that have randomness built into them to a sometimes silly degree. Too little variance and it turns closer and closer into chess or checkers, where the way games play out is always similar. There has always been a tension about how much variance is too much or too little, as well as how to actually get us into the proper range since card design is an imperfect science.

If you look at the moves WOTC has been making over the past few years, if not a great many years, it has been to reduce variance. They have consistently felt that variance, and very specifically opening hand variance and the variance the mana system provides, was detrimental to the game. All of the following things WOTC has done has reduced variance:

  • 2-3 sets of new Mulligan rules
  • Making Scry an evergreen mechanic
  • Revisiting cycling several times and pushing it every time. Take a look at the cycling deck in standard right now for a good example, it's literally using a number of cards it cannot ever cast just to cycle.
  • The printing of enemy color fetch lands in Zendikar
  • The general push in the utility of mana producing cards (shy of reprinting true duals, which they cannot). In addition to shocks we now have Fast lands, Check lands, etc, which are all just adding power and redundancy to decks.
  • The power creep in new cards, which has overall equated to generally lower CMCs for normally more expensive effects. Gitaxian probe vs. Peek for instance, or just Oko and 3 CMC Teferi vs every other walker ever.
  • The active planting of specific cards into sets to help steer formats where they want (Modern Horizons)
  • The constant return to Free, alternate casting cost spells and the glorious way they screw the pooch and make them too good every single time (Hogaak, Once upon a time, Force of Vigor)

The addition of companion, which was intended to have a real cost to play in its requirements, is scarcely the thing that is causing a lack of variance. Honestly most companions don't even come on line until much of the game has grinded out and none of them help you if you stumble early with bad mana or excessive mulligans, which is not so much a feature of vintage because of all the other steps WOTC has taken which I listed above.

@evouga said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

@fsecco Someone on Reddit found a fascinating article from Mark Rosewater himself, from 2015, where he discusses an earlier disastrous attempt at designing almost exactly the Companion mechanic!

Here's the relevant excerpt:

It all starts many years ago, when R&D was working on the set called Tempest. This story is about Maro and two young interns whose names are lost to time. Most people don't know this, but Maro wasn't actually hired as a designer but rather as a developer. He was eager, though, to prove that he could design, so he got Richard Garfield to agree to work with him on a new set. That was enough to allow the head designer at the time, a man named Joel Mick, to give him a shot leading a design."

"His first time designing was leading a set? That doesn't sound very plausible."

"Let me tell my story and then you can decide for yourself whether it's true or not. Anyway, there was a lot of pressure on Maro to deliver an exciting design, so he decided to push the boundaries. He made a new mechanic that allowed you to choose to start with the card in your opening hand. If you chose to do so, you had to begin with one card fewer."

"Just one card fewer? That's all? There wasn't a life loss or something?"

"The cards were weaker than normal, so you were opting to start with cards that were of a lower power level. Maro was excited by this idea. Everyone gets frustrated when they can't get the card they need. What if you had the ability to guarantee that you could have the card you wanted in your opening hand? But it was a bit of a crazy idea, so Maro knew it needed to be playtested. Luckily, Magic R&D had two young interns who were available for playtesting. He asked them to play in a room with a one-way mirror so he could secretly observe. The playtesting went on all night and Maro had had a long day, so several hours in, he fell asleep."

"What happened next?"

"Early the next morning, Maro awoke to see a message written in lipstick on the mirror, reversed so he could easily read it. It read: 'DECK VARIANCE IS THE LIFEBLOOD OF THE GAME AND UNDERCUTTING IT WITH THIS MECHANIC HAS LED TO THE MOST UNFUN PLAYTEST GAMES WE HAVE EVER PLAYED. IF THIS IS THE FUTURE OF MAGIC DESIGN, WE WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.' The interns were gone and haven't ever been seen since. Maro took the new mechanic out of the file and never talked about it again."

So these young interns who have spent their entire lives studying, applying, working part-time jobs, taking loans, and navigating the waters of internship landed a dream job that requires testing games of magic for research and development. They were so offended by a game mechanic under development that they threw away their careers just after dramatically writing a detailed message with lipstick on a two-way mirror?

Rosewater's credibility just went to zero in my book.

Uh... are you sure this is meant to be a story that actually happened? It seems pretty clear to me that it's just a fable being made to make a point.

@protoaddict

Chess is objectively a better game then checkers, but neither of them have variance. The comparison here is Poker vs Chess. I enjoy both games personally, but I feel this game is much, much closer to Poker than to Chess due to the high variance game to game.

Variance reduction is attempted by a number of rules in the game. Among them, like you mention, is creating duplicitous effects, you can see a greater effect in other formats because of this since every card can be played as a 4-of.

Magic also uses the concept of a series to reduce variance (playing best 2 of 3 to decide a match; although more variance is then added by having sideboards). If high variance was truly a desire-able trait then we would not play best 2 of 3. We would just play 1 game. This concept of a series of games is taken from what Poker, Sports, and other games have used for years. Best of 3 is basically a bare minimum in terms of creating a series. The game was better, in my opinion, when they played best of 5 and it would be even better if it was practical to play even more games. Drawing conclusions from as little as 2 games as to the better player/deck is extremely fault when each game itself has as much variability as it does in a game of Vintage Magic.

The existence of companions in a format greatly reduces variation as there is no variance as to whether or not you have access to that companion. Imagine guaranteeing a land, or guaranteeing any other non-companion card. Companions themselves are just a very small subset of cards (literally 1 card in Vintage's case for the past month prior to this).

@vaughnbros said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

Drawing conclusions from as little as 2 games as to the better player/deck is extremely fault when each game itself has as much variability as it does in a game of Vintage Magic.

I'm not sure that is actually the point of a match though. We are not trying to derive who is the better player, and "better" is a very loaded and subjective term. We are only trying to determine who won. If we wanted to know who the better player was then yes you are correct, we would play a larger series, but in a world where we can quantify who is "better" do we want to play a game where the better player always wins? Not a very compelling reason for a lower skill player to want to join the game. In this regard some variance is welcome and needed.

@vaughnbros said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

The existence of companions in a format greatly reduces variation as there is no variance as to whether or not you have access to that companion. Imagine guaranteeing a land, or guaranteeing any other non-companion card. Companions themselves are just a very small subset of cards (literally 1 card in Vintage's case for the past month prior to this).

The addition of companions has no positive bearing on how good the mana in your opening 7 will be, as you are still drawing from a deck that does not include your sideboard cards, of which you had full control over in building. Players already have agency in this regard as they can choose which mana sources and how many they would like to include.

If smoothing out the opening hand and reducing the number of non-games was WOTCs goal, as it has been for some time, then companion does nothing to affect the first as you are still drawing 7 and no companion actually touches your mana, and goes a hell of a way for the second by ensuring you have access to at least one card that is relevant at some point in the game. The interaction Lurrus has with Black lotus could be argued, but there is still variance in that you need to draw lotus.

So companion does reduce variance, but just not in the way all the other moves have done in the past. It literally adds what is in-effect a new game zone for players to interact with. The point I am trying to drive home here however is that the printing of the Zendikar fetches, the new mulligan rule, the continued printing of differently named redundant effects, all these things have had a far more prominent and relevant effect on the games variance than companion has in my estimation, and it has been moving in that direction for some time.

@evouga hahaha that's pretty cool. Although Commander is the most popular format in the game, which completely disproves that theory. Also, as someone mentioned here, a LOT of other cardgames go with the "starting Hero/Tribe/Faction" card and work. L5R is a good example (in fact, it's a perfect example since their "sensei" were introduced to the game after it was already alive, just like companions to Magic.
Of course, none of those games is as famous as Magic, so maybe they're doing it wrong. I just don't see how Companion ruins variance. It just changes it - and I can't be sure if it's for the best or worse if the game became a companion game (with companions being printed almost every set). I'd agree it's probably worse, but who knows.

last edited by fsecco

@protoaddict

Yes, hands light on mana are still mulligan worthy, but not necessarily hands heavy on mana.

last edited by vaughnbros

@maximumcdawg said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

Uh... are you sure this is meant to be a story that actually happened? It seems pretty clear to me that it's just a fable being made to make a point.

Yes. Like in many of Mark's articles, the ideas and points he's making are serious, but the window-dressing is obviously not. My guess is that he designed the mechanic in Tempest as claimed, and then decided himself (after some playtesting with colleagues) that it wasn't panning out.

@fsecco said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

@evouga hahaha that's pretty cool. Although Commander is the most popular format in the game, which completely disproves that theory. Also, as someone mentioned here, a LOT of other cardgames go with the "starting Hero/Tribe/Faction" card and work. L5R is a good example (in fact, it's a perfect example since their "sensei" were introduced to the game after it was already alive, just like companions to Magic.
Of course, none of those games is as famous as Magic, so maybe they're doing it wrong. I just don't see how Companion ruins variance. It just changes it - and I can't be sure if it's for the best or worse if the game became a companion game (with companions being printed almost every set). I'd agree it's probably worse, but who knows.

Well, these are interesting points. I don't know enough about either cEDH, or L5R, to say anything meaningful, though I think for (normal) Commander the social contract is a very significant regularizing force in preventing abuse of the most degenerate commanders and strategies. If a deck is too consistent and becomes played-out within the player group, players readily and voluntarily switch to something else.

last edited by evouga

To those comparing Companions to EDH: there's a big fat difference between the rise of EDH and this new nonsense. When EDH was invented as a community format, there were already dozens (hundreds?) of generals to choose from. It was a junk rare format, letting you pull out cards that you otherwise would not use, particularly old Legendary creatures, and put them to work.

Perhaps, if they printed 100 Companions, we could equate the two. But, they only printed ten of them and development will be slow on more. I don't think a format with so few commanders is fun to play and I bet most of you don't either. It's like if the college football teams all had to share ten mascots.

@desolutionist said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

So these young interns who have spent their entire lives studying, applying, working part-time jobs, taking loans, and navigating the waters of internship landed a dream job that requires testing games of magic for research and development. They were so offended by a game mechanic under development that they threw away their careers just after dramatically writing a detailed message with lipstick on a two-way mirror?

Rosewater's credibility just went to zero in my book.

Er, you realise this isn't a real story, right? It's just a fun way of telling us how a past version of development went?

@hrishi

So the above is how a past version of development didn't go in an alternate universe in the back of Rosewater's mind. Okay got it. Thanks for clearing that up.

@maximumcdawg said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

To those comparing Companions to EDH: there's a big fat difference between the rise of EDH and this new nonsense. When EDH was invented as a community format, there were already dozens (hundreds?) of generals to choose from. It was a junk rare format, letting you pull out cards that you otherwise would not use, particularly old Legendary creatures, and put them to work.

Perhaps, if they printed 100 Companions, we could equate the two. But, they only printed ten of them and development will be slow on more. I don't think a format with so few commanders is fun to play and I bet most of you don't either. It's like if the college football teams all had to share ten mascots.

True, but let's not pretend like there are not best decks and strategies in that format either. People do not play them as often because of the social contract, and because the balancing factor they have that we do not is that it is multiplayer and if you reveal a clear threat commander your are playing a 3v1 game. But all things considered there are a select few commanders who are considered the best and with good reason. Money on the line in a major even, you are going to be bring a well tuned deck that you think will win, end of story.

As with any mechanic, there needs to be a critical mass of these things for there to be any hope of multiples rising to the top and the format not being stagnant. Look at any given card type or mechanic in the game and how many of them see competitive play? Under 1%? People play lightning bolt for a reason and if you saw lightning bolt in a deck you wouldn't start questioning why other burn spells don't rise up to compete with it, people pick the best out of the 100s of burn options. I am certain if EDH started out as a competitive format the field would have been dominated by a handful of decks and cards.

Also, there is a threshold with them, a fine balance point between playable and unplayable where maybe there is a deck built around them but they don't push out other decks without a companion, I'm just not sure we have found it. Banning Lurrus is going to open up the meta for Zirda. I have high confidence she will get banned as well come next cycle. Once she is banned, maybe we hit the proper point, or maybe Lutri steps up to the plate, or Gyruda. I have no idea what the equilibrium point is but I'm sure it is there because the companions as they stand now range from bannable to utter trash.

0 people in this format will ever play Keruga, the Macrosage or Jegantha, the Wellspring, and if they did it would 100% not be a problem. Likewise If a creatureless deck existed and they wanted to play Kaheera, the Orphanguard I don't think the +1 card would send the format into a tailspin. That is honestly not all that unrealistic if you eliminate the companions at the top, but the existence of a creatureless deck that can cast a 3/2 vigilance for 3cmc once per game is not going to be the thing that knocks shops or dredge out of viability. That is Force of Wills job.

@protoaddict said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

... the existence of a creatureless deck that can cast a 3/2 vigilance for 3cmc once per game is not going to be the thing that knocks shops or dredge out of viability. That is Force of Wills job.

If you are implying that force of will is played to combat dredge and shops, then I think you have severly misunderstood the format.

last edited by Tittliewinks22

@smmenen said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

There is alot of nuance here, and I agree with much of it. But that underscores one of the reservations I have about this banning. It feels like the problems in the format right now aren't actually Lurrus caused or even Lurrus significant, but rather Lurrus is an ephiphenomenon, that is a symptom rather than the cause. We'll see what happens now, but if Breach and PO continue to perform at those levels, or near to it, then maybe Lurrus wasn't really a "problem" so much as those two decks were problematic.

I think this is accurate. There wasn't a "Lurrus deck" any more than there is a "Black Lotus deck" or a "Mox Emerald deck." Dying to Deathrite Shaman on Turn 6 against an optimal (and hence patient) player running Lurrus is a very different scenario from Lurrus fueling the tactics whose degeneracy predated him. He was at his worst when providing the otherwise elusive consistent bridge from opener to resolving Paradoxical Outcome or making Underworld Breach recursive.

It feels very much like the Gush v. Mentor debate. Granted, they were both dealt with in the end, but many people projected Mentor's problems onto Gush, mistakenly in the first instance.

Setting aside differences on relative fault between Gush & Monastery Mentor, yes, the comparison works as an analogy.

I appreciate the affirmation about my concerns, but on the point about Matt's tweets, I don't believe I misrepresented anything.

You're welcome. You portrayed him as inconsistent and contradictory by omitting sections where he specifically made allowances for the facts that he both reserved the right to evolve and predicted it would happen. It is water under the bridge though.

@tittliewinks22 said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

If you are implying that force of will is played to combat dredge and shops, then I think you have severly misunderstood the format.

A) Force is certainly a tool used against shops. It is one of many.

B) This throw away line is what we call in the industry, a zinger. It's highly sardonic and uses humor to underlie a greater truth. If that is all you took away from my post I recommend you reread it.

@desolutionist said in B&R Announcement - May 18, 2020:

@hrishi

So the above is how a past version of development didn't go in an alternate universe in the back of Rosewater's mind. Okay got it. Thanks for clearing that up.

I don't know if you're trying to be snarky? But I'm going to assume you're not in order to be charitable.

Citing a semi-hilarious semi-embellished story about MTG development and using that as a basis to say Rosewater's credibility went to zero in your book seems like a bit of an over-reaction, unless you're under the impression that was a real story.

last edited by Hrishi
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