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The Magic secrets we couldn’t print, straight from Head Designer Mark Rosewater

By Thorin McGee

Posted April 5, 2007  12:40 PM

As you may have seen in InQuest # 145, on sale now, Magic Head Designer Mark Rosewater opened the floodgates and told us all about Future Sight. The only problem with that is we only had four pages of magazine to convey the revelations…and as anyone who’s spoken to Mr. Rosewater will attest, four pages is about the space it take for the comedian and former sitcom writer to clear his throat. We put the most valuable gems into the magazine to be sure, but we had to leave the rest of the treasure behind. Until now.

With the marvel of modern publishing technology—i.e. the Internet—we can show you the entire horde we uncovered in our conversation with the Head Designer. All the diamonds and rubies went into the magazine, but there’s still plenty of Topaz and Opals to be found below. And you never know, a diamond in the rough can be tough to spot.
So here is everything that’s fit to print from what Mark Rosewater told us about Future Sight.

InQuest: How did the Time Spiral block come about?

Mark Rosewater: “The whole reason behind block planning is this: The old system of block design was kind of like “we had a theme for the first set, we did more of the theme in the second set, then a little bit more of the theme in the last set of the block. We’d put a little tiny twist at the end, but we weren’t really building toward anything. Part of what I wanted to change about block design [when Rosewater took over as head designer of Magic] is to make sure that each part of the block is doing something unique and distinctive, and not just more of the same. So for example, with Ravnica, I called it the “cake approach”: We had something [the guild color pairing], we chopped it in three, and then why should you care about the second or the third set? Because they’re just things you don’t have yet. Yeah, you have some black/green cards and some red/white cards, but you don’t have blue/white cards yet.

So with the Time Spiral block, I call it a ‘motif method’. The idea lets us pick some theme that we can play throughout the block, but each section puts a unique spin on it, so that when you think of the three sets each one has a different feel. Lets say I show you a timeshifted card from the block, you can tell me which of the three sets it comes from because each of the three will have a very unique and distinctive feel to it.”

IQ: Why did you make nostalgia the central theme of this block?

MR: “Nostalgia’s this interesting phenomenon where, at some point, things start wrapping in on themselves. Meaning, art starts sort of referencing itself. Magic is finally old enough that we realized there was some fun potential there, that we really could use nostalgia in a way that would be neat. And so, once we started messing around with time, I quickly stumbled upon the idea of [start sarcasm] ‘Like, how do you divide time up into three? If only there was some neat dividing line!’ [end sarcasm] Pretty quickly it became apparent that time breaks very nicely into the past present and future.

“You can use nostalgia in many different ways. I’ll use my Coke bottle example: What’s the nostalgia from the past for a Coke bottle? Well, it’s an old fashioned, 1920s Coke bottle. It makes you go, ‘Oh, remember when Coke looked like that?’ Nostalgia from the past is about showing what things were and the reminiscing of it. The idea of the present was to do alternate realities. So like, it’s a green Coke can: It looks like Coke, but now it’s green and not red. You go, ‘wow, that’s kind of weird. I recognize it because it’s a Coke can and it has the little swirl and everything. But man; green? That’s weird. Coke isn’t green, Coke is red.’ The alternate reality version is to take the known thing and twist it, and it’s interesting because you know what the old thing was. That’s where the nostalgia plays into that.”

IQ: So how does nostalgia play into the future with Future Sight?

MR: “That, my friend, is the question. We wanted to reference the future, but we also wanted to reference the future in a way that was nostalgic. Our goal wasn’t just the future. Our goal was the future in a way that shows that Magic’s past meant something for the future… If you come in knowing about Magic’s past, knowing where Magic has been, the set will have more meaning to you because that knowledge plays into what the set is doing. Doing that in the past? Easy. In the present, we did alternate reality, so to understand what it means you had to know what the things were.

“The problem of the future was the following: How do we take the future and reflect that nostalgia? Let me go back to my Coke can example: How do I do a Coke can of the future? Well, what I would do is take elements you know of the Coke can, but make something that seems like it’s different. I’ll show you something that’ll make you sort of say, ‘Oh, it’s futuristic.’ But oh, ‘It’s a Coke can!” The future Coke can might have new elements to it, but some element has to remain so that you get it. Take any movie set in the future, a real common thing they’ll do is they’ll take a known quality and show us a futuristic version of it. So, in ‘The Fifth Element,’ they had a McDonalds. Or in ‘Demolition Man’, they had Taco Bell. The idea is, when you go to the future, how do I tell you the future in stories? Well, what’s interesting about telling the future is showing the present because the present means more to people and the future means more if it’s in relation to the present.

“So we wanted to extrapolate the future from the past. There’s a little bit of the future just for the sake of the future, but we were more interested in showing the future as reflected through the past. Meaning that as I’m showing you my future, I want to show you my McDonalds, I want to show you my known, recognizable qualities that you’ll recognize; but oh, they’re different because it’s the future.


IQ: Like Virulent Sliver?

MR: “Virulent Sliver is a perfect example. There’s nothing new in the sense that there’s no piece you haven’t seen before—you’ve seen poison before, you’ve seen slivers before—but the idea is that we’ve said, ‘One day, if we’re gonna bring poison back, we’re gonna keyword it.’ We’re gonna keyword poison because, you know what, if we were doing it in the future, or even now, we would keyword poison. All the cards work the same, we’d want to unify them up, it would have a keyword. (The reason we didn’t call it poison is because poison means something, so poisonous was the element of giving poison.)

“Also, I know the following to be true: I know that Timmy loves slivers and I know that Timmy loves poison. So the idea of making all your slivers poisonous… Well, we had this argument in R&D; about how exciting will this card be, and I’m like “really, really, really exciting. It works for a certain audience, but I guarantee you that audience, who already has a sliver deck and is just waiting for me to bring poison back, is going to love Virulent Sliver.

“The other thing about that card is clearly, ‘Why would they keyword poison if they weren’t going to use poison?’” [Readers should note that shortly after Wizards changed the wording of echo, it appeared in Time Spiral.]

IQ: Speaking of Virulent Sliver, what’s the deal with the new frames? Are these coming to all of Magic? Should we panic?

MR: “This is the important thing [about the timeshifted card frames in Future Sight]. When we went to the past in Time Spiral, we wanted to show you the frames of the past. Well, there do exist frames of the past, so that was an easy decision. We went to alternate reality in Planar Chaos and we wanted to show alternate reality, so we tweaked the existing frames subtly so you got that sense that they were like the frames now but a little bit different.

“In Future Sight, we decided to go into the future, and we wanted to cement the idea of the future. So you can assure your readers that this is us trying to represent the future. This is not like next week we’re planning to do these card frames. There’s no desire to move away from where we are; we just wanted to have something that visually represented a move toward future.”

IQ: What does the symbol in the upper-left hand corner of the card mean?

MR: “The claw means it’s a creature card. A little lightning bolt means instant, enchantment is a little half-glowy thing. What we’re trying to represent is that in the future, maybe well give you more information, so that symbol will tell you what the card type is. And then you obviously have the mana cost [which runs down the left side of the card’s art box]. It’s something we had toyed with in the past, obviously. [One of the card frame designs considered when they changed the frames around Ninth Edition would have moved the mana cost to the same place.]

“We wanted to do a future that obviously felt different, and I’m interested in the public’s reaction to it because it’s different. One of the things that I’m a big proponent of is when you’re going to commit to something, commit to it and do it. So my feeling was, if you’re going to do future cards, let’s do future cards. So you’ll see this set pushes the boundaries for us for complexity. This is probably the most complex set we ever have and maybe ever will make. We really said throughout this whole block that we were going to explore some stuff. This is a more complicated block than the average block. Part of it is offset by the fact that a lot of the complication is where you need to know things that if you’ve been paying attention and playing for a while, you know them already, though.

“A lot of what we did with the set is we took the known and said, where would this go. So it’s funny because we were finished with the set before the Great Designer Search happened, but a lot of the stuff that got designed in it are similar to some stuff that shows up here because they too were trying to take the known and sort of explore where it could go that hadn’t been done yet. People are going to think that we took cards from the great designer search, but this was done before we did the Search.”

IQ: How will the timeshifted cards be distributed in Future Sight?

MR: “We wanted the timeshifted cards to sort of evolve as they went through the block, so for starters, on average you will get more timeshifted cards when you open up a Future Sight pack than when you opened up a Planar Chaos pack, but it’s not a set number. There’s no slot for the timeshifted cards. The idea we’re trying to play with is that the future’s not as exact. What’s the future going to bring? You don’t know. So there’s a higher percentage of timeshifted cards than in the other sets: In Future Sight, there’s 180-cards: 99 regular [non timeshifted cards] and 81 bonus [timeshifted cards].

“There’s no specific slot for the timeshifted cards, any of the 15 spots in a pack can be a timeshifted card or a regular one. On average, you’ll get about 50/50 in a pack, but there’re swings. You’ll get packs with less timeshifted cards, and you can get packs with more timeshifted cards. One of the things we were trying to do is shake up how the block evolved, and we liked the idea that the future was the least certain.”

IQ: What else can we expect form the timeshifted cards?

MR: “The timeshifted cards all represent the future. So what does that mean? On each card, there’s something we’ve never done before in some way. What that thing is can vary greatly, but there’s always something.

“One of the big questions people asked when I said we were doing Future Sight was, ‘Doesn’t every set show you a future you haven’t seen before? Isn’t every set brand new and you’ve never seen this thing before?’ So one of the things we did on the future timeshifted cards is there’s always some element on them that we’ve never done before, there’s something new. A lot of the future cards either have a mechanic you’ve seen that has evolved in some way, or it’s a new mechanic, or it’s a card that does something you haven’t seen before. The Future Sight timeshifted cards are, almost to the point of being a little bit disorienting… Well, there’s something about them that’s just new. It varies, some of them are wildly new, some of them are just a little bit new, but each card has something about it that you haven’t seen before; we’re doing something with it that’s just slightly different.”


IQ: Like Tombstalker?

MR: “Tombstalker is an example of a keyword we’ve never done before [delve]… There are no new keywords in the nontimeshifted part of the set. So if you’re in the normal part of the set, there’s old keyword, but there’s no new keywords. You’re not seeing anything new. But on the timeshifted cards, there are a lot of keywords.

“Normally when we do a keyword, we commit to doing it; we won’t do a keyword unless it shows up on like 10 cards. But in Future Sight there’s a lot of one-ofs and two- or three-of. You’re not going to see a lot of these keywords; they only show up a little bit because we’re giving you a sampling of the future. So the neat thing about this set is it has a lot more keywords than the average set, but they don‘t show up in great number—there’s like one or two or three at most of each—so there’s a whole bunch of keywords. Up until the existence of Future Sight, there existed 56 keywords in “Magic. I think there’s 49 keywords in Future Sight. Now a lot of them are old keywords coming back, I’ll get to that in a second, but there’s a whole bunch of new ones. Some of the new keywords are us keywording things you know but we’ve never keyworded, and some of them are like Tombstalker. That’s a brand new ability. You’ve never seen the delve ability before. You look at Tombstalker and you’re like ‘oh, what does this say? When does this come back? When will they do something like this?’ Every card will always do that to you. Every Future timeshifted is designed to make you go ‘oh, when’s that card coming? What kind of themes is this card playing with?’ And we will pay off on some of the cards. Not all of them, but we will pay off on some of them.”

IQ: How much does Future Sight represent the real future of Magic? Will we’ll see all the timeshifted cards and mechanics again in future sets?

MR: “Here’s a caveat I will give you about the future: The future’s ever changing. What we are doing is showing you glimpses of the future, and some of the things you see will come to pass, some won’t. Not every version of the future’s going to come to pass. We’ll give you different glimpses of the future, but the future’s ever changing so not everything we show you will eventually end up in the future. But some of it will.

“So [how much these represent the actual future depends on] a combination of things. One is, we just took the elements we knew we were going to do in the future and showed you how we’re going to do them [on some of the cards]. There are some exact cards where we guarantee you 100%, that card will appear in the future, we’ve done some of that. There’s some cards where we know the mechanics are gonna come in the future, so we’re just gonna give you a hint of a mechanic you’re going to see one day that we’re just giving you a taste of now.”

IQ: Will you tell us which timeshifted cards are real futures and which aren’t?

MR: [Laughing] “No. Part of the fun is, we’re showing you the future, but we’re showing you possible futures, and all we’re saying to you is, ‘Look, some of this in fact is going to come true.’ We’re not going to tell you what’s going come true. Part of the fun of the set to me is that there’s sort of a metagame to this set which is unique. You can enjoy the set unto itself, but there’s this extra layer this set does that most sets do not do this: We’re giving you a glimpse of where we’re planning on going. There are, from a creative standpoint, from a mechanical standpoint, there are a million and one things where we’re like, ‘these are places we might go.’ No we’re not going to do all of them. Some of them are sort of glimpses of the future that may never come to pass, but a lot of the stuff is stuff that we really do plan on doing, A lot of the set is us honestly giving you some idea of where we’re going. Giving you glimpses of what you can expect. I’m not saying that all of them 100% will be exactly the cards as you know them. Some [of the timeshifted cards in Future Sight] might be really where we’re just showing you the mechanic, or some cards might be, ‘here’s some element of how we’re going to change things.’ But there are a lot of different things we’re showing you. If you go 10 years into the future and look back at this set, I think you’ll go ‘Wow, they really gave you a lot of glimpses of where they thought they were going.’ And the game’s ever changing, so part of what I’m saying is: I, and the rest of the team, took guesses at where we logically think things will be.”

IQ: Will there be timeshifted legends?

MR: “There’s a cycle of legends on the timeshifted sheet: Legends from the future! I don’t want to give away the secret of what they are, but there are five legends that are all timeshifted legends from the future. This cycle has an element of nostalgia to it, so the knowledge of Magic’s past will make these mean more to you. Also, the word Akroma will show up in the title of a card. When you put the word Akroma into the Orb of Insight [on the official Magic website], you’ll get a hit.

“There are other legends too. Some of them are new and some of them are currently existing characters. There’s a character from the novel that hasn’t shown up yet that shows up.”

IQ: Was there a lot of disagreement among the design team on whereMagic “might” be going?

MR: “There were some conversations, but because the idea was these cards represent potential futures, people were okay with, ‘lets do the card where some people thought we may do this card in the future, other people didn’t.’ That was okay because we’re not promising for sure that any one thing is ever going to show up. What we’re promising is, some things are gonna show up, but we’re not telling you what. You definitely will see some of these cards again. You will see some of these mechanics again. There are other elements of the cards you will see again. Some of the creative elements you’ll see again. But we don’t map out Magic. I have some idea of where we’re going for the next couple of years, but it’s not like the next 20 years is all mapped out for us. A lot of this is us hinting to where we think things are going. We don’t know the future, but we do have some idea of places where we think we’re headed… This is the kind of set where, when you sit back from a vantage where you’re able to see where the future does go, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how open we were and how many things we actually hinted at.

“One of the nice things about this set is, we can find things and put the out there and see [how the public reacts]. There are a couple cards where I’d say, I don’t know if we’re going to do them or not. A lot of it is, ‘well, do people like them? Are they well received?” We were very experimental, especially with the Future Cards. I think there’s some thing where, we’re not sure if we’d normally so them or not, but we tried because, well, we’re trying to give this glimpse of the future, and so well we’ll try it here. And if people don’t like it here, well, maybe that’s a future that’s not going to come to pass. But if they really like it, maybe this is in the real future. So yes, we definitely are seeing this set as a means by which we can sort of experiment.

“There’s a card in the set that I hate with a blinding, searing passion. I hate this card, and I tried to kill it multiple times. But there are people who say this is their favorite card in the set. Literally, I was having this argument with somebody and I said “I hate this card, it’s my least favorite card in the entire set, lets kill it,” and his response was “It’s my favorite card in the set, we should keep it.” How often do you get a card where one person says it’s their absolute least favorite car din the set, and the other person says it’s their absolute favorite card in the set? So I said okay, I guess you have to keep it in if you get that strong a response on it, that’s a cool card.”

IQ: You’ve talked in the past about cards that you tried to get in sets for a long time before they finally made it, like Mindslaver. Did any cards make it into Future Sight that you had been trying to get into a set for a while?

MR: “I made a conscious decision to lead design this set because this set really is setting some expectations of where we’re going, and I feel like I’ve worked on this team for a long time and I have a lot of ideas, and I felt like I really could help push us in directions that I think realistically we could go. I think the timeshifted cards break into several categories in this set: Number one are things we just know that we’re doing, hands down know that we’re doing. With some of the sets that are in the near future, we were like, ‘We know for sure we’re doing this, we’re going to give you a hint of that now.’ Some stuff is things I know we want to do one day. I’m not quite sure where we’ll do them, but I know we want to do them in the future—I put those cards in.

“There’re some things in the timeshifted cards that I think we want to do. I’m not really sure, but it’s something that we’ve been playing around with and I’d love to see players’ reactions to it. It’s the kind of thing where when someone asks me, ‘do you think we’re going to do that?’ I’m not sure.

“Then there are what I’ll call the red herrings. There’s some things in Future Sight we’re pretty sure we’re not going to go. But part of getting this to work is, we wanted to really throw a bunch of crazy ideas out there, and I felt that if we only threw the crazy ideas out there that were where we’re going, we kind of tipped our hand a little bit. So, there are some red herrings. There are some cards in there that are definitely not where we’re planning to go.”

IQ: With the red herrings, how does a card that wouldn’t make a future set appear in a Magic set that’s being printed now? What if the players really like them?

MR: “I feel a lot of those cards are things which, hey, if the public responds really well to them, we’ll re-evaluate how we feel about them. But we definitely did some stuff where I felt like I had to give you lots of different things, and some of that is things we don’t think we’re going to do in the future, and this set is unique in that it does some stuff that we don’t normally do. Some of them are like, yeah it’s exciting on one card but you can’t really make a lot of cards. Some of it is like well, it’s kind of fun once you do it, it’s a novelty, but we don’t want to see it as a bigger part of the game. There’s definitely some stuff you’re gonna get here that you might never get again.

“We were not afraid to embrace the unknown. This set does that in spades. There are a few cards in here that I’ve always liked the idea of but I’ve never found a way to make it work on many cards because, hey, it was fun on one card. The reality is, the public’s not real good at telling what’s gonna be good on one card versus what’s good on many cards, so it let us sort of toy with some things that I don’t think we’re going to do, but I think it’s going to be cool, people will be excited about it…”

IQ: It sounds like this was a really fun set to design.

MR: “Oh, it was a lot of fun to design, because you couldn’t just sort of go over the known. Like, designing the timeshift cards was tough. Normally we have a whole process where we fill holes. [An example of filling a whole is when the set’s mostly designed, but they need to create a common red card for two mana that’s not a creature or direct damage to balance out the color.] Normally a whole bunch of people will fill the wholes, but as the set turned out, I did a lot of the hole filling because it was hard. Not a lot people have spent as much time as I have thinking where Magic is going to be in six years or eight years. Most people are trying to think about where it is now.

“Whenever the set is done, when we’re about to send it off to the people who are about to do all the layouts and everything, we have a meeting where we’ll run through the cards and look at the cards. And when we do that, there’s always some people who haven’t seen the cards yet because they weren’t active on the file, or they only work on Magic occasionally or something. So we had a bunch of people who’d never seen the set and we sat down and showed it to them. At the end of it I said, ‘What do you think?’ And a bunch of them were just staring into space like “whoa.” I’m excited to see people’s reaction to it because it’s out there.”

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