Saturday, June 20, 2015

Do Bad Cards Need to Exist?

As a proponent of Standard Pauper, one of the downsides of the format is that for any given new set, so many of the Commons simply aren't good enough to see play. Worse, a smaller subset of them aren't just unplayable, but are complete garbage. So why do these cards exist?

Interestingly enough, the same question has been asked in Hearthstone. A well known streamer by the handle of Kripparian recently posted a video discussing an idea that Blizzard should periodically go back and change unplayable cards to mix up the metagame and improve the overall health of the game. Surprisingly enough, Ben Brode, Senior Game Designer for Hearthstone, responded with a video of his own essentially debunking this idea. While I encourage you to check out this video for all the details, here are his essential points:
  • It's impossible not to have bad cards. Cards aren't judged in a vacuum, but in relation to other cards. Make one card better, and all you do is shift which cards are considered "bad."
  • Changing cards is bad for the game. Not only does it take a significant amount of time to rebalance a card for a new environment, it also penalizes older players who have to relearn how things work.
  • Different kinds of cards are good for different types of players. So-called bad cards may have marginal effects that are good in the right situation, may appeal to certain types of players, or help teach and illustrate concepts to new players.
Obviously in Magic, Wizards doesn't have the luxury of going back and changing cards once they've seen print. But otherwise, Brode's arguments are as true for Magic as they are for Hearthstone. Indeed, his comments are right in line with comments Mark Rosewater has made in the past.

Sorry, Kripparian. As it turns out, bad cards not only do need to exist, but are actually good for the game. Who knew?

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