Designer Fun – Dragon’s Maze Design Review

Today I have a little review of select cards and concepts of Dragon’s Maze.

Slow format, Fast Format

Dragon’s Maze Limited is slower than Return to Ravnica, but why is that?

A game designer must identify, understand, and design for the audience of the game. Magic’s audience includes many kinds of players. Some who like fast formats and some who like slow formats. Having some faster and some slower Limited formats gives different players the chance to enjoy their kind of game. I could imagine trying to keep the speed of Limited the same all the time, but variety is also very important to Magic, and speed is one of many ways for it to have that variety. Variety itself is something a lot of Magic players love, so having the transition from fast to slow is itself a design aimed at the game’s audience.

Perhaps more “how do you do your job?” for designers is this: why is RTR (and Gatecrash) the fast format, while DGR is the slower format? Could it be the other way around? I believe it’s because it is easier to slow down a format than to speed it up. What slows down a format? 1/3s and 2/4s, life gain, removal, 2-for-1s, good 6-drops at common, and powerful cards that necessitate playing more than two colors, among other things. When a lot of these factors come together, the format slows down. When they are present at all (in sufficient numbers) they slow down a format. In other words, slow-format is a dominant trait.

Specific Card Analysis

Blaze Commando

[draft]blaze commando[/draft]

This build-around-me bridges Boros into Izzet by rewarding instants and sorceries. Well, instants and sorceries that deal damage, anyway. One of the problems of a heavy-spell deck is that it lacks creatures, so providing more is a good reward to offer. However, by the time you’ve cast this 5-mana card you’ll have precious few other cards left, as you’ve very likely had to use your damage-dealing instants and sorceries just to stay alive up to this point. [card]Arcane Melee[/card] has a similar problem. Contrast these with [card]Heartless Summoning[/card], which you can clearly cast before you’re forced to use up the rest of your hand. Blaze Commando would have been more likely to deliver on its promise as a 3-mana 2/2 that only gave you one token per spell.

Trait Doctoring

[draft]trait doctoring[/draft]

What a strange card to add cipher to. What can you do with repeated color word replacement? I’m not up on my esoteric Commander color and land type manipulation deck tech, but I would guess the audience for this card is really, really tiny. As long as that tiny audience really loves the card it can make it through into a set once in a while, but you’ll note this kind of card only appears once every several years.

Advent of the Wurm

[draft]advent of the wurm[/draft]

Rosewater told a partial story about this card in an article. I’m not sure why he didn’t tell the rest of that story—perhaps because during the lead up to the new set you don’t hype cards from the old set? He told us that this card was proposed for RTR but was pushed to DGM because it wasn’t obvious enough why it existed. But he didn’t tell us the obvious conclusion of that story: [card]Armada Wurm[/card]. It still provides the 5/5 token you really want in the set for populating, while not being confusing to players who haven’t seen a populate card yet.

Catch // Release








First off: fuse. Obvious and perfect. Yes, it’s just entwine (I know, in the fine details they don’t work identically, but for a conceptual standpoint: you have two different effects on a card and you can pay more to get both), but entwine is good (I mean, it’s just kicker, but in the fine details they don’t…), and this is the perfect evolution for split cards.

The only downside to fuse is the usual [card]Kavu Titan[/card] problem. Some players won’t feel good about using just half of the cards when they can wait (until they are dead) to get both halves. You can’t solve for everything.

[card]Catch // Release[/card] is a little sad, because you can’t attack with, or use in any way, the thing you steal if you fuse it. I like the text of Release quite a bit—a fun little minigame of simplifying the board—as a symmetrical effect you can take advantage of sometimes. It’s a little worse to make a card that encourages fewer card types rather than encouraging more card types, but that’s not a big concern here.

Council of the Absolute

[draft]council of the absolute[/draft]

This card bothers be a little bit. You are super unlikely to get both halves going except in a mirror match. I like that it’s UW so that in current Standard the most commonly named card will be [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card].

Debt to the Deathless

[draft]debt to the deathless[/draft]

How are you at math? At 7 mana, it’s better than [card]Blaze[/card]—dealing 6 for 7 is okay, and you gain some life. Paying 8 drains for 8, and 9 drains for 10—a great deal. It is totally absurd in 2HG, as I demonstrated in a prerelease event by draining our opponents for 16. What’s up with that? After years of shying away from obviously multiplayer cards we’ve now been experiencing several years of very multiplayer cards. This too is a reflection of paying closer attention to the Magic audience. As they realized the casual and multiplayer audience was larger than they thought (kind of like dark matter in the universe—hard to detect directly but you can register the effects of its presence if you know what to look for) they changed their strategy to include more cards aimed at those players.

Deputy of Acquittals

[draft]deputy of acquittals[/draft] [card]Whitemane Lion[/card] is back! Just because a card exists, it doesn’t mean it’s the only allowed version of that thing. I mean, there are plenty of vanilla 2/2s right?

Gaze of Granite

[draft]gaze of granite[/draft]

A slightly more fair [card]Pernicious Deed[/card], this is a fun and interesting effect. Oh, and X-spells are another thing that can slow down a format, though you don’t really want them at common, and rares don’t have a huge effect on format speed because they are not common.

Goblin Test Pilot

[draft]goblin test pilot[/draft]

Do I need to explain this to you? Seems like I do. It is a funny card. It is not for everyone. Not all cards are for everyone. Many cards are for a small percent of players. When you are in the minority for whom a card is made, you will love it and cheer it. That means that when you are in the majority for whom the card is not, you do not get to be outraged at it. Just close your eyes and try to think about one of the other cards that only you love.

Melek, Izzet Paragon

[draft]melek, izzet paragon[/draft]

Playing with the top card of the library revealed costs the game a lot of topdeck moments. When you can see it coming for a whole turn before you can use it, the excitement of the topdeck moment is lost. For design, this means you don’t want to just reveal the top of a deck without doing something really cool with it, like be able to cast it. I can’t tell if getting a free copy was part of the original idea or if it was added to make sure Melek compared well to [card]Future Sight[/card].

When a player starts to think “what do I do with this?” there are a whole lot of Magic cards for them to think about. It’s good to limit this sort of effect to a subset of all cards in order to tighten up the build-around aspect of it and give players a starting place.

Profit // Loss








This card looks kind of embarrassing next to [card]Zealous Persecution[/card]. The trick is in having the option to do something when you only have one of the colors of mana, so it can cost a lot more.

Ral Zarek

[draft] ral zarek[/draft]

Some player love to flip coins, and nothing says “ultimate coin flippage” like five flips for extra turns. Cards like this are more controversial when one part of the audience thinks the card is for them when it really isn’t. Planeswalkers have been Constructed powerhouses in most cases, so the Spikes have come to believe they’re all for them. The ones that don’t cut it in Standard are just misses, right? But planeswalkers are the main characters in the story—they should be for everyone. As more and more are made, there should be some for every type of player, for all segments of the audience. Plus, there’s no reason a Constructed card can’t be for the more casual “wackiness” audience. [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card] brought “Angels-are-cool” players a lot closer to Constructed, so why not reach out a little to other parts of the audience?

Master of Cruelties

[draft]master of cruelties[/draft]

There are a couple of things that make this design stand out to me. First is the way it can’t complete the job by itself. When powerful effects don’t win the game alone there is more room for Magic to be played around them. The choice this card presents to the opponent really sells the flavor. You have to sacrifice something to him or take the risk of being at 1 life. It’s not a completely forced decision either—compare to [card]Phage the Untouchable[/card]: she doesn’t give you a real play decision, it’s block or die. The Master of Cruelties leaves you a real choice, albeit a cruel one.

This is only the fifth creature to have both first strike and deathtouch (and [card]Cairn Wanderer[/card] only barely counts). Looks like once every other block is about as much of that as Magic can take. I mention this as a reminder: if you make more than one card out of every two thousand with this deadly combination it will hurt your set, reduce the fun of your audience, and make you look like you don’t know what you are doing. I know, it’s such a cool combination, but it’s so very effective that you have to wield the power responsibly.

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker

[draft]mirko vosk, mind drinker[/draft]

I have never been a huge fan of milling triggers on combat damage. Maybe I’m too much of a milling purist? Perhaps it’s better for the milling enthusiast this way—they sometimes win by damage, even if they’re trying to win by milling, and have a more varied experience. Perhaps it’s best for the players who aren’t into milling yet, but who might learn to love it. They put this 2/4 flier in their deck as a french vanilla and then surprise themselves with how much fun the milling becomes. When you learn a new way to play it increases your perception of the diversity of Magic. Players finding new ways to enjoy the game helps convert them from sometimes players to lifestyle players.

Wide Audience is Wide

Few games have as wide an audience as Magic does. Most games only have to serve a single type of gamer. The challenge of keeping Timmys, Johnnys, and Spikes (and Melvins and Vorthoses and whathaveyou) all excited about every set is this whole other layer on top of just designing reasonable cards. It can be helpful to take a pass over your set with an eye toward each audience, one by one, to make sure there are the right amount of things for each of them.


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