Thursday, June 26, 2014

Common Design Part 2: The Role of Commons in a Set

This week, I am writing a series on Commons. Specifically, I am focusing 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.

Last time, I discussed New World Order, which is a specific design philosophy that governs what is acceptable at Common. Today, I want to discuss the role of Commons in a given set.

Believe it or not, Commons have a very important role in the success of a set. In fact, Rosewater has stated that Commons are actually the hardest card type to design; so hard, in fact, that most of the cards that designers turn in at Common end up seeing print as Uncommons and Rares!

So what do Commons need to accomplish for a set to be successful?
  1. Commons need to be simple. Commons make up the bulk of a set. In order to provide space and appreciation for what the set is trying to accomplish, the Commons need to be simple. To use a metaphor, Commons are the cake, while the other rarities are the frosting.
  2. Commons need to communicate the theme. Rosewater states that, "if the theme of your set isn't in Common, it isn't your theme." Again, since Commons make up the bulk of a set, it falls to them to communicate the theme of the set. Ideally, one should be able to flip through a booster or two of a given set, and by looking at the Commons, easily identify the big idea the set is trying to communicate.
  3. Commons are where you fit in the most important aspects of the set. Whatever the most important mechanics, cycles, or card types are for a set, they need to exist at Common. Otherwise, you run the risk of not being able to fit them in as the set grows larger and larger. Whenever you are trying to fit a large number of things into a tight space, the most efficient method is to start with the largest thing. And for a Magic set, that is the Commons.
  4. Commons provide the known to highlight the unknown. In any given set, you will tend to find certain kinds of cards - pump effects, iconic creatures for a color, removal, etc. Commons provide most of this material. By doing so, they keep the focus squarely on what is new and different in the set.
As you can see, Commons actually have a major role to play. They may seem simple, but that simplicity masks a very complicated balance.

Next time, I'll conclude my look at Common design by analyzing how these design constraints impact the Standard Pauper format.

Also, I wanted to highlight a special event this weekend. There will be a Standard Pauper tournament going on at a local shop in South Carolina, and they will be providing video coverage of the event on Twitch. You can get all the details here, and can also click here to view their coverage from the last Standard Pauper tournament they held.

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