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Historical Progress of Magic November 16, 2009

Posted by James in : all, random, reviews, design , trackback

We experience a lot of progress in our personal lives. We evolve from someone willing to touch fire and walk into traffic into a much more reasonable kind of person. Society also has progress when it comes to technological improvements. What about Magic? Is Magic better now than it used to be? Consider the following points:

  1. Combos: Are there fun viable combos? (Medium powered combos are best.)
  2. Linearity: Do cards tell us what deck to make?
  3. Viable variety: Is it possible to make a viable deck of your own?
  4. Innovation: Are there fun new ideas implemented?
  5. Limited: Is draft any fun?


A lot of improvement was seen from Invasion to (September 2000 to May 2008) concerning innovation, linearity, and draft. The most important improvement was the fact that draft became more and more fun. Making draft fun requires that R&D keep draft in mind when making cards. In other words the game became holistic: There had to be the right balance of removal, mana costs, color power levels, flying creatures, and so on. Ideally, every card fits into a piece of this puzzle.

I experienced the improvement of draft starting with Onslaught. Consider how each set was an improvement:

The improvements of draft are very noteworthy because it’s one of the hardest ways to improve the game. It requires that the game itself is well made and that every card is part of a greater whole. From this perspective the game peaked around Timespiral and it quickly declined with Shards of Alara.

When will it become perfect?

Will Magic ever become perfect? Probably not. It probably has never come close to perfection and there are at least couple good reasons for that. One, time and money. R&D has limited resources. Hasbro wants to pinch every penny and get the most for the least money. They want a working game for an affordable cost rather than a perfect game for a steep cost. They could give R&D teams a couple years to make each set, but that would cost too much.

Two, they hold back. As Kenneth Nagel said last week:

If you’ve ever been in an entertainment business that releases content on a regular basis, you come to realize that it’s best to “spread out the awesome” across multiple releases. That way your audience finds compelling content in all your products rather than being spoiled by all the good stuff at the beginning, and the really good stuff has breathing room.

This is very evident from Core sets. Although M10 is the best core set, it is still lacking. All the 2 casting cost 2/1 creatures are total junk. But at least they are better than all the 3 casting cost 2/2 creatures of 10th edution. But even 10th edition was a lot better than 9th edition… And 8th Edition didn’t even have proper dual lands. And consider the “innovation” found in core sets:

We can easily predict that M11 will also have some “innovation” (perhaps gold cards, and/or hybrid cards). However, it is also very likely that the average common of M11 will still have a lower power level than appropriate (just like every other core set.)

The core sets are an interesting example of “holding back” in order to appear innovative. For the most part the innovation is an illusion because very little is truly original in core sets.

Just like core sets hold back, we can freely assume that all sets hold back to some extent. There are many ways to improve mana fixing, for example, but it would be “too awesome” to give us the mana fixing now. Instead, we will probably have to wait another 10 years before seeing much of it. As far as mana fixing is concerned, Magic is years in the past.


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