Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Common Design Part 1: New World Order

This week, I want to do a series on Commons. Specifically, I want to focus on the design aspects that Wizards of the Coast considers when it comes to creating Commons. To do this, I will primarily be relying on Mark Rosewater's Making Magic column, as well as his recent Drive to Work podcasts.

Today, I want to start by discussing New World Order, which is a specific design philosophy that governs what is acceptable at Common.

At its heart, New World Order is about limiting the complexity that new players are faced with. Since Commons make up the bulk of the cards that new players will interact with, if you limit the amount of complexity at Common (and shift it to higher rarities), you effectively lower the learning curve for new players without reducing the overall complexity of the game.

Rosewater identifies three kinds of complexity:
  1. Comprehension Complexity - How difficult it is to understand what a single card does.
  2. Board Complexity - How difficult it is to understand how a card or group of cards affects all of the other cards in play.
  3. Strategic Complexity - How difficult it is to identify the most advantageous line of play given a particular game state.
The goal of New World Order is to minimize the first two without adversely affecting the third.

So how is that done? Rosewater uses the term "red-flag" to identify a Common that violates the simplicity requirements of New World Order. While he did not provide a full set of parameters, here are some of the ways a Common can find itself "red-flagged."
  • Is the card too wordy or complex? A typical cut-off is whether or not the card has more than 4 lines of rules text.
  • Does the card affect other cards in play? For example, a creatures that taps to prevent one damage potentially affects every combat phase, and thus increases board complexity.
  • Does the card create a 2-for-1 on the board? In other words, does the card give a new permanent while also taking away an opponent's permanent.
  • Does the card force you to track information that normally is irrelevant? For example, having to know exactly how many cards are in your opponent's graveyard is not typically information that a player needs to know. 
Now, an important caveat. Just because a Common is "red-flagged" doesn't necessarily mean that it won't be printed. But it does mean that the card has to justify its existence in some way. Maybe it features the new mechanic for the set. Maybe it actually simplifies the choices that a player has to make. In fact, Rosewater states that in any given set, approximately 20% of the Commons violate New World Order in some way or another. But the point is that they do so intentionally in order to accomplish something that the set otherwise could not accomplish.

If you're interested in reading more about New World Order, check out Rosewater's article on it here, and his more recent podcast on the topic here. Thanks for reading.

Next time, I will discuss the role that Commons need to serve in a Magic set.

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