Quote of the Day: Diversity is Important in Game Design

Game design is a tricky thing, and you can ask any developer and I’m sure they will agree. Usually when talk about game design crops up, I find it on other gaming blogs, bigger news outlets or rants on social media. Typically games are dividers, in that when something with more diversity is created, they are fans that rejoice and there is almost always some pushback. Whether it comes up in the form of the age old PVE vs PVP debate in MMOs, or how there are powerful black women taking center stage of the newest FPS, we’re never going to all agree. Finding a balance of “what already works” and what can be done to “increase diversity” can be tricky, but game developers at least, seem to be starting to “get it.” I was perusing the Magic: The Gathering page the other day and came across this article about the importance of diversity in game design, and the writer, Mark Rosewater, touched on some great points. I encourage you to read the whole article, but wanted to highlight a few passages:

The trick to getting everyone to love something is to have some breadth in what you offer. For example, I often talk about how often when designing Magic I’m thinking about all the different kinds of players there are. There are drafters and Standard players and Commander players and Modern players and Vintage players and Pauper players and a whole host of other formats. There are players who focus on two-player play and others who focus on multiplayer play. There are Timmies and Tammies, Johnnies and Jennies, and Spikes. There are the Vorthoses who live for the flavor of the game and the Mels who thrive on the mechanical artistry. There are collectors and traders. There are cosplayers. There are people who experience the game and/or express their feelings for the game through podcasts and videos and blogs and articles. And every time we make a set, we must be aware that all of those different kinds of players exist. We help each of those different types of players fall in love with something by making sure we provide things catered to them

Sounds like the exact way MMO design has turned out. I guess you could say that MTG is sort of an MMO as well, with millions of players across paper and digital platforms, but clearly this is an apples to oranges argument. Next, from the “DESIGN THE COMPONENT FOR THE AUDIENCE IT’S INTENDED FOR” segment:

This lesson talks about the dangers of designing to please too many audiences. To do your best game design, you have to understand what audience each component is aimed for and then maximize that component for that audience. Also, included in this idea is that it’s okay if a different audience doesn’t like that component. It’s not being made for them. (A quick aside that if that component is actively insulting to another group, for example, showing them in a bad light, that is a problem. You shouldn’t make one group happy by actively denigrating another group.)

The reason this lesson is key for understanding the importance of diversity is that the people who belong to the group in power probably are used to having a high percentage of representation. Lowering their representation to allow you to have an opportunity to showcase others is sometimes met with criticism because you’re lessening their representation. They’re taking the status quo as a baseline. Lowering that baseline can sometimes be seen as an attack because you’re taking something away from them.

My counter to that is that your game needs to be reflexive to the needs of everyone playing and not just the most dominant group. For example, Commander as a format didn’t exist for many years. As such, we didn’t design with it in mind, but as we started to see interest in the format, we began incorporating it into our designs (even making a product specifically for the format). By doing so, we increased awareness of Commander which, in turn, led to more people playing the format.

I’m a fan of this sentiment. Think about when the devs of Wildstar catered to that core vocal group and didn’t care about anyone else playing the game? Remind me where they are now? It goes to show that by being more diverse, you can create better worlds, better stories and overall better games. I hope this is the sort of philosophy developers adopt in the future, and we’ll see some awesome stuff as a result.

The War Report: Ninja Update

Despite all of the recent hype around here surrounding the impending release of Commander 2019, I still have projects that I’m always working on. Each new set brings with it new cards that can potentially replace older cards in my existing decks, and sometimes a set comes along with enough of boost to a pet project to snowball a deck into fruition. When Commander 2018 was being spoiled last year, I immediately knew that I wanted to build Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow. Ninjas aren’t exactly a well supported tribe though, basically only having cards from the Kamigawa block. I still brewed a deck around this commander, but it never really felt like it was where I wanted it to be. There were ninjas in it, there were ways to manipulate the top of the library to capitalize on Yuriko’s ability. There were plenty of unblockables and then enchantments like Conspiracy and Arcane Adaption to make sure everything that wasn’t a ninja would still count as a ninja. This still felt pretty half-assed. Enter Modern Horizons.

I ended up writing a post about my pickups from Modern Horizons, and the extra few ninjas that were put out in that set enabled this deck to feel more on theme. Gone from the original list:

Duskmantle Seer
Sire of Stagnation
Grave Pact
Fleshbag Maurader
Merciless Executioner
Evil Twin
Viscera Seer
Patriarch’s Bidding
Sakashima’s Student
Palace Siege
Tetsuko Umezawa

Some of the cards that were removed were due to the fact that they just weren’t on theme enough. Duskmantle Seer is a fine card, but it doesn’t really fit in with the ninja theme, I can’t use ninjitsu to throw it out from my hand, and well it’s a vampire. Ditto Sire of Stagnation, it’s an awesome card but I don’t really feel a lone Eldrazi is the way to go. I also had some light sacrifice theme stuff going on in the prior build that was no longer relevant, so I have removed Grave Pact, Fleshbag Maurader, Viscera Seer and Merciless Executioner. Copy effects sounded okay, but Sakashima’s Student is a little pricey, and I had some budget constraints to stick to if I wanted to build this deck before my Vegas trip. I dropped Evil Twin as well, opting to go for more theft effects rather than copy effects. Patriarch’s Bidding was also cut due to the budget, though I did splurge on Sensei’s Divining Top because it is basically required. I also dropped Palace Siege (was in for recursion but isn’t very efficient) and Tetsuko Umezawa (she’s great and all but I felt another ninja would be better in her stead).

New cards that were added were mostly from Modern Horizons, including:

Changeling Outcast
Mist-Syndicate Naga
Phantom Ninja
Azra Smokeshaper
Ingenious Infiltrator
Moonblade Shinobi
Fallen Shinobi
Cunning Evasion

These cards were a given, due to all but one of them being a ninja outright. The Changeling Outcast is a shapeshifter, but counts as a ninja without needing enchantment help. It’s also unblockable so that’s on-theme for ninjitsu tricks. The rest are pretty obvious inclusions, while Cunning Evasion is a double whammy in this deck. Not only is it protection for our creatures that can’t get through unblocked (allowing them to be returned to our hand if they are blocked) it also can fill our hand back up with ninjas that can then be dropped back onto the battle field if we have some creatures that get through unblocked. It’s cool stuff. Other notable new inclusions are:

Scheming Symmetry
Notion Rain
Aminatou’s Augury
Future Sight

These cards were put in while I was finding a better mana curve. The first is a new tutor from M20 that allows you to pick another player to give a tutor to while you tutor up something as well (cards go to top of library). A great political tool and way to set up for big Yuriko triggers. Notion Rain is a pretty decent common from Ravnica that gets you two cards and some selection with surveil. Aminatou’s Augury is a bomb and I don’t know why I didn’t think of using it sooner. You get to exile 8 cards, ramp by throwing a land onto the battlefield, and then potentially cast 3-4 cards for free. Future Sight is also a no brainer for top deck shenanigans.

The deck is finally done and playable, and I can’t wait for Vegas to try it out. Here’s the updated deck list.

TWR: C19 Spoilers – The Madness Deck

Spoiler season for Commander 2019 has finally finished, and as such I can go over the final decklist. The Rakdos-colored madness-themed commander deck is led by Anje, and though she seems pretty good for the mechanic I’m not overly interested in it. I was surprised that there are quite a few cards in the deck that I would like to own though, but that’s due in part to them not being madness-centric. I should also note that some of the spoilers that were missing from some of the previous decks that I covered have finally showed up, probably because they were included in more than one of the decks so I’m sure WotC didn’t want them spoiled early. First up, the alternate commanders:

Alternate Commanders:

Chainer is a character that has existed previously, but I’m not too interested in this version. The recursion is nice and giving recurred creatures haste is a boon as well, but that’s all he does and it’s not that interesting. Greven is a little better, as you can sac a creature to draw some cards and lose life, and then he gets +1/+0 for each life lost, so perhaps a good voltron commander. Having menace is some nice evasion as well, so he’s probably the better Rakdos commander here, and he enables the madness theme, but so does Chainer in this form. K’rrik is pretty awesome, but I’ve already talked about him. There isn’t another multicolor commander in this deck due to it being the only one that isn’t a wedge deck, so mono black is it. I guess there are a couple of other legendaries included that you could build as well, but they don’t seem to be on theme.

New Cards:

Of these cards, the two I like the most are the Bone Mizer and the new curse. Curses have been a thing for a while, and many people have found ways to make curse based decks, and I’m sure those are annoying to play against. The new one has already been broken with some recently released cards where you can essentially pay life to gain more life and draw out your deck. Whatever the case it’s not bad by itself. I really like the Bone Mizer though and want a copy for my zombie deck. It already relies heavily on discard and recursion effects, and having the option to discard creatures, spells or lands in order to get tokens, card draw or mana is nice. Honestly you can’t lose with that card. Some of the other new cards are pretty good too, and Aeon Engine already has Uno memes dedicated to it.

Notable Reprints:

The new art for Solemn Simulacrum is quite nice. Ob Nixilis is a great Planeswalker addition to any collection. I’ve been meaning to grab a Geth for quite some time just to have, and Magus of the Wheel is one of the better wheel-on-a-stick cards. Lastly, Geier Reach Sanitarium is a little bit of group-hug, but card draw on a land is never a bad thing. It’s great for colors that need the help in that department!

Missing Spoilers:

As I mentioned there were some spoilers missing in previous posts, and these are them. Bloodthirsty Blade is an interesting way to staple the goad keyword to a creature, and because it was in more than one deck it didn’t get revealed until the end. The same goes for Mire in Misery and Voice of Many, thought the latter was spoiled the next day after being missing the first. Mire in Misery is some new enchantment removal for black that is a color that struggles with it. However, being conditional, it’s still not very good. It’s precon good, but not EDH good, if that makes sense. The Voice of Many is fine in creature heavy green decks, Emmara being one token themed deck I can see really benefiting from it. Nothing too exciting though.

Overall I am still only interested in buying the Populate and Flashback decks. They have the most value for my buck. I might buy a few singles from this deck only because they are likely to be at their cheapest point due to this reprint, but none of them are very expensive to begin with. It’s sort of a lackluster year, but I have trouble saying it’s worse than last year. I hope come 2020 we get another awesome year like we did in 2017. We’ve been spoiled and subsequently let down.

TWR: C19 Spoilers – The Populate Deck

Wednesday was the reveal of the populate-themed Primal Genesis deck. Outside of the commander and a couple of cards that were included in all decks, we didn’t know much about this one outside of its theme. Keeping with the pattern that I’ve noticed, this was the deck they were building up to, or at least this is the deck that has appealed to me the most out of the three that have now been spoiled. Naya isn’t exactly my favorite color combination (that distinction belongs to Esper currently), but it works fine for my dinosaur tribal deck. Since the main theme of the deck is to create tokens and then populate to create more tokens, it seems my initial assessment that it would be hard to go wide was unfounded. It seems that WotC saw the same issue that I did and baked in plenty of support. Anyway, let’s get on with the reveal!

Alternate Commanders:

I really like Alta Palani, but not for the same reason that other people do. Many are building him as egg tribal, and though there is a good selection of cards from the game’s history that are eggs or egg related, I just don’t see that as being a fun idea. However, in my dinosaur deck, this is just another way besides using Gishath to cheat big creatures onto the battlefield, and for that I want this card. I’m actually into Marisi as well, but for different reasons. It’s nice to be able to stop opponents from casting spells on your turn, but it’s also nice to be able to goad them into attacking other players. I feel like this one belongs in a control deck, or perhaps a Najeela warrior deck, but I actually don’t see a home for it just yet, will still be happy to try and find one though. The final two color general is only so-so. It’s one of those weird switcharoo cards and I just don’t have the energy to try and brew around those. Your mileage may vary.

New Cards:

There are a few interesting new cards here. Some I did not share due to being in other decks and having already talked about them. Out of these I like the Commander’s Insignia — especially for low costed commanders that might be played 3-5 times in a game, that’s quite a boon. Song of the Worldsoul is a nice populate trigger, Full Flowering can be huge given the mana, and the Eulogist is a nice piece of graveyard hate along with populating at the same time. Idol of Oblivion is nice card draw if you’re always populating, but it can be sacrificed to make a 10/10, and that’s not bad! Honestly these are all pretty good, though they’re mostly good in this deck. Whatever the case I intend on picking this one up for sure!

Notable Reprints:

Only a few notables here, though there are a ton of reprints that are just fine for the deck. Feldon and Trostani are both older legendaries that fit into a ton of decks, so they are definitely ones you’ll want in you collection. I have a copy of the former already, but I don’t doubt I’ll be able to find a spot for another. This version of Garruk may not be the most powerful, but it’s a classic Planeswalker and I like it for that fact. I also don’t own a copy so bonus! Lastly, the Sakura Tribe Elder is basically an EDH staple and I have a few copies but more never hurt. As I said, out of the three decks this one has appealed to me the most and it’s highest on my list to pick up come the end of the month. I have my doubts that the Madness deck will be any better than this, but I’ll check in tomorrow to talk about those cards as well. Then we can get back to talking about other stuff, my apologies to those of you who aren’t MTG fans, but this is hype season for the game and more specifically this format and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about them.

TWR: C19 Spoilers – The Flashback Deck

On Tuesday, the next Commander 2019 deck was revealed, and this time we’re looking at Mystic Intellect – The Jeskai Flashback theme. Once again, a video was released by The Command Zone, and the deck list was released on the mothership. This time only one card seem to be missing from the list, and I think this may have something to do with exclusive reveals reserved for someone in particular. Whatever the case, I won’t be able to share Bloodthirsty Blade with you due to its non-inclusion. This deck was one that I thought I might actually want due to having brewed a few spellslinging decks in these colors recently and still needing some of the cards. I like buying the precons and playing with them a few times before breaking them down into parts. Some of the lands, artifacts and other EDH staples are great to get in chunks like this as well. Some cards won’t ever see play, but that’s the price of doing business in a CCG. Anyhow, let’s get on with the show.

Alternate Commanders:

This is the first time I can recall where the alternate commanders included in the deck aren’t all really suited for leading the precon. Clearly, Elsha of the Infinite is a damn fine card, and honestly is a card that I would use as the commander, putting Sevinne in the 99, but I also see it as being the legendary in the deck to build around. Pramikon is interesting in that it’s the first legendary wall in the game, and people are freaking out about building wall tribal with it. However it doesn’t do anything for walls unlike Arcades or even Doran, so I don’t see the point. In some weird control deck this might fit, otherwise I’m thinking it’s pretty underwhelming. Gerrard also doesn’t feel like it belongs in this deck, but I think he’ll find a spot in some Boros deck at some point. Whatever the case, there’s one alternate here that feels at home and two that feel shoehorned in.

New Cards:

There are several cards here I really like, and already see a place for in existing decks. Backdraft Hellkite would slot into Kaalia nicely as an upgrade to some other dragon and some recursion for spells. Dockside Extortionist is possibly my favorite card from this deck. I love playing mono-red Goblins with Krenko at the helm, and it’s constantly changing because new awesome Goblins keep appearing in each new set. This one is a doozy, giving you a huge amount of ramp for a turn particularly if you cast him later in the game when everyone has at least a couple of mana rocks and maybe an enchantment. I look forward to abusing this one. I’m also rather excited about Wall of Stolen Identity as well, for my Arcades wall deck. Copying a creature is something the deck couldn’t do before, and it’s also temporary removal of said creature so bonus. Otherwise these other cards are fine, just not as exciting.

Notable Reprints:

Sun Titan and Clever Impersonator are just good cards in their colors and though they have been printed a couple of times already, they always creep up in price. The original Ral Zerek was getting up there too, and is a good Planeswalker to add to the collection. That ultimate can net you crazy extra turns and that’s nothing to sneeze at! Lastly, Jace’s Sanctum is a fairly underused but awesome enchantment for spells matter decks. The mana reduction on spells is nice, being able to scry each time you cast a spell is nice too, allowing you to filter through cards that aren’t going to help your current situation, or to set up better for Elsha! It’s good in any blue deck that wants to manipulate the top of their library.

Overall this deck is getting warmer. The first deck didn’t speak to me, but I’m seeing some good stuff in this one. If this pattern continues, I’ll really like today’s deck. I’ll check in with you guys tomorrow once I know more.