Designer Fun – Designing Things you Hate

As a Magic card designer (or game designer in general) you will have to design things you hate. Not everyone is you, and we all have different tastes. Some of the things you hate are things other people love. Some of the things you hate are actually very good for Magic (or whatever game). You say you’re just designing for yourself, for fun? Games are meant to be played with other people, so if you are designing games, you are never just designing for yourself.

Another way to think about it, is to consider it like you are designing the bad guys. A good story needs at least one villain, right? Do you really hate that villain? Or do you love to hate that villain? Without the villain, what would your hero struggle against and overcome? I watch Survivor, and the recent villians there, like Russel Hantz, or (depending on how you feel about him) Coach, are perfect examples of characters you love to hate. Many people hate Russel, but doesn’t that hatred make the moment he loses all that much sweeter? Coach is a more interesting example, because there are more viewers who love him. His “honest and virtuous” approach to the game may be naive, but he’s not a villain in the classic sense. For some viewers he’s a hero, a kindred spirit, and they want him to win. For others (including me) he’s blind bumbler who makes me want to throw things at the producers for giving him more than a minute of air time each week. Either way, the show is more interesting to watch because Russel and Coach are on it, even if I hate one and you hate the other. We both enjoy watching our guy win and the other guy lose. There is even a word for the pleasure of watching someone else fail: schadenfreude. In recent years this word has gained acceptance as an important game design term for describing one of the ways in which players enjoy games.

Another way we can enjoy things we hate, is when they change into something we like. Continuing with my example, Coach appears in the current season of Survivor. He has learned from his failures and is playing a much more strategic game than before. He’s no longer blind and bumbling, and as a result I find him much more likable. Part of me still wants to hate him, but now I’ve got some turmoil in my feelings and that’s interesting and fun to experience.

Think of the cards you hate as the villains of your design. You need them for the heros to struggle against. You’ve got to design them, and you can enjoy it if you think of them as obstacles critical to the story that will be told as players around the world play with your cards. For me, that villain is the counterspell. I don’t like counterspells. I would rather we all get to cast our stuff and let that stuff interact. It’s more exciting to me. The feeling of slowly losing to a seemingly endless wall of countermagic is the worst. However, I also remember the times I baited out my opponent’s last counterspell, and was able to defeat the enemy. I remember the games I got my [card]Goblin Guide[/card]s on the table before [card]Mana Leak[/card] was up, and beat my opponent silly before they could take control of the game. Those become some of your favorite wins as you get both the pleasure of winning and the schadenfreude of watching your nemesis lose.

Perhaps for you, counterspells are the heroes, and [card]Goblin Guide[/card] or [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] is the bad guy.

How do you design cards you hate?

There are several good tricks for doing this effectively (and I actually find designing cards I love to be harder – but that’s a topic for another time).

1. Get someone else to do it.

R&D uses teams of 4 or more designers to make each set. You will do your best to design all types of cards, even ones you hate, but you can rest easy knowing that it’s unlikely you all hate the same stuff. Whatever your designs lack, someone else with provide. That’s kind of a cop-out though.

2. Use others as a learning tool.

This is the improved variation of the technique. Over time you can get better at designing things you hate by observing how others judge them. (They are hard for you to evaluate because of all the blinding rage you feel when you look at them.) Figure out what they like about the designs, and do more of that. You should be doing this with all types of cards, but most of that comes naturally with card types you like. For cards you hate, it helps to consciously know you are doing.

3. Leave your baggage at the door.

Set your emotions about the cards aside. Learn to accept that these cards must be a part of Magic, and try to design the best ones you can. This becomes easier to do after you play with more and more of your designs. You will eventually lose to a card you designed (it happens to me all the time), and losing to a card you love stirs up mixed emotions and creates an experience you can harness. Try to keep only the pride and happiness that your card was loved by another and made a game fun and interesting, even if you were on the losing side. This turns out to be not much different from designing a good card you hate. You can be proud of the design, and leave your anger and hatred behind.

4. Think of them as villains.

I put in a lot of effort to set this one up! Appreciate it! Haha. Crafting a villain is a very enjoyable process, and if you think of the cards you hate as villains in your story it will be easier to create them. The bigger and badder they are, the more awesome it will be when the heroes triumph. The more fancy tricks they have, the cooler they are, the better the movie is overall. Darth Vader is a villain, but he’s one of the coolest ever (“Noooooo” notwithstanding). Try to think of it as designing your own personal Darth Vader.

5. Know thy enemy.

This is actually general advice for designing cards: be familiar with what already exists. It can be extra helpful to go back and look at the old cards when designing a type of card you don’t like. Since you don’t like them, you’re probably less familiar with them. You should also study them to try and learn why others like them. Ask your friends that like the cards you don’t like why they like them. Which ones are their favorites, why, what kind of thing do they wish existed. You don’t have to learn to like them, but you have to learn what about them appeals to others. It’s also important to know why the kind of card you hate exists.

Designing cards you don’t like is one part of designing cards for other people. All sorts of people love Magic, and that means the game needs to have all sorts of cards to make them all happy (so that they will all continue to buy new packs and continue to play). If you can’t design all sorts of cards, and if you’re incapable of designing cards for other people, you won’t ever be of much use to R&D.

6. Get it out of your system.

Scream into a pillow, run around outside in circles, tear up 100 of the cards you hat e the most. Give in to your anger for a few minutes. It’s okay to have and release negative emotions, so long as you do it in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone. No need to feel you’re above this kind of technique, it really can help you.

So what kind of cards do you hate?
Burn spells?
Bad rares?
9/9 tramplers?
Uncounterable regenerators?
Reanimation spells?

Ever design one that you were proud of, despite yourself?

Wolf’s Bane
Counter target spell.
You may transform target creature.

Probably a little too parasitic on transform. Also, the name doesn’t quite feel like enough to connect the two abilities.

Desperate Dodge
Counter target spell with converted mana cost equal to or greater than your life total.

That’s pretty cool, right?

Second Guess
Counter target spell unless it was the first spell cast this turn.

This might be too much the kind of counter I like, and looks totally unpalatable to those who like counters. I was trying to make a counter that was good when your opponent was trying to outsmart you by leading with something they don’t need in the hopes that you counter it.

Time Skip
Counter target spell.
Each player may discard their hand. If they do, they draw that many cards.

This is the kind of design that can really surprise you. It’s certainly adorable in Commander, but in standard?

Counter target spell, then shuffle Reset and your graveyard into your library.

Shuffling everything in is usually a rare effect, but the card overall doesn’t feel like it can be rare.

Well I’m past my deadline and my bedtime. See you next time!


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