Wizards has to pump out a lot of cards every year. Most of the time, they get it right. This article is dedicated to the times when they got it wrong. I’m not talking about getting it wrong like with weird Johnny cards like Shape Anew or seemingly unplayable cards like One With Nothing. These are things that, for one reason or another, should never have happened.
Honorable Mention: Rehiring Rebecca Guay – This has nothing to do with R&D, which is why it’s only honorable mention. Also, I understand that Wizards commissions freelance artists and all sorts of other legal mumbo jumbo that means she was never technically fired. Even so, I will be so happy if I never see another stupid piece of Rebecca Guay artwork. Why, you ask? Because every single thing she draws is a self portrait. Even the guys. I know that every artist on the face of the planet includes some of their own traits whenever they draw a person, but this isn’t even remotely subtle. Of course, I’d find this behaviour 100% forgivable if Rebecca Guay was hot, but she’s not. Not even a little bit. I await your hate mail.
10. Substance – Unless you’ve ready my article on Sydlexia about the 10 Worst Magic Keywords of All Time, there’s a really good chance you’ve never even heard of they keyword “substance.” In Mirage, Wizards introduced “enchantstants”: enchantments that could be played at instant speed and were sacrificed at end of turn. Unfortunately, this didn’t work properly with the Classic Sixth Edition rules changes. You could play the cards during the end phase to get the effect on the following turn, and, even worse, an enchantment that pumped a creature like Armor of Thorns would go away before damage was cleared off the creatures. This was a nightmare, and creating substance was the best way they could come up with to fix it. Anytime a keyword exists that never appears on a card I think we can agree that it’s the result of an epic failure.
9. Not having artwork guidelines – Back in the day, artists received a card name, text, and flavor text and were told to draw. This worked well for the most part, but not always. You’d get cards like Whippoorwill that depicted a flying creature (Because it’s a real type of bird; what else would you draw?) but didn’t have flying. You would also get an artist like Richard Thomas that doesn’t realize that a “lemure” is not the same thing as a “lemur”, in which case you get the [card Hyalopterous Lemure]cutest mistake ever[/card]. The final problem that this created? Renegade artists who refuse to play by the rules. Waiting in the Weeds was originally supposed to make squirrel tokens, which would have been a boon for all those squirrel enthusiasts (and would have made sense as it Mirage block had [card Liege of the Hollows]another squirrel token generator[/card]. The story goes that Susan van Camp knew it was supposed to make squirrels, but deliberately opted to draw cats instead. Frankly, I’m happy with the change because cats are awesome.
8. Lich – Lich was an ambitious card. It was extremely flavorful, but any card that lets you draw en mass has the ability to be horrifically broken. They did a good job balancing this card; in fact it’s actually very underpowered. Why is it a failure then? Lich sets your life to zero, makes you sacrifice permanents for every damage you take, and lets you draw cards instead of gaining life. The problem, and it’s a big one, is that they forgot to print the words “You don’t lose the game for having 0 or less life” on the card. Naturally it was errata’ed, but even though Lich is just an enormous block of text all it really says is “You lose the game. Oops!”
7. Goblin Game – The first time I saw Goblin Game I thought it was fake. It was in someone’s trade binder, and I didn’t play during Planeshift because my Magic friends and I were all at colleges in different states. The first thing that threw me off with this card was the use of the word “objects”. It is the only card to have the word “objects” in its rules text, and I was baffled. I finally read the card a few times over and discerned what it did, which is terrible. I don’t know what The Pit is like at Wizards HQ, but apparently they think that Magic players are all as senile as Bingo players and that we all have an army of miniature troll dolls sitting on the table next to us when we play. Also, how am I supposed to keep it secret how many things I’m hiding? Unless I hide them up my ass before the start of the game, I’m pretty sure my opponent is going to see how many I hide. Needless to say I run Goblin Game in EDH, and I sit very uncomfortably until I draw it.
6. Ceasing use of anagrams – Everyone loves anagrams. Finding out that Telim’Tor is Mr. Toilet is hilarious. And Mangara being an anagram of the word anagram? Brilliant! I was heartbroken to discover that their official policy was to never do this again (Although like all rules, R&D broke this with the villainess Liliana Vess). Magic is a game; let’s have some fun with it! I want card names like [card Matopi Golem]I am pot[/card] or [card Nevinyrral’s Disk]Larry Niven’s Disk[/card] to entertain me, as well as flavour text like that on Reparations and Sneak Attack. If that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Of course, anyone who’s talked to me knows that I’m always right, ergo that can’t be wrong.
5. Cold Storage – This is a pretty intuitive card. You can put cards on Cold Storage, and, when you’re ready, take them off. “Cold storage” is a real thing that we’re all familiar with, so it’s not hard to figure out. Problem is, R&D was a little too familiar with the term. So familiar, in fact, that they forgot that being “on Cold Storage” doesn’t have any rules relevance. Lich may have been a huge mistake for killing you when you cast it, but at least it did something. Other than physically moving your cards for no actual effect, Cold Storage doesn’t do anything at all as printed. Ironically, when Tempest was released my friends and I played Cold Storage correctly without even realizing that it needed an errata, let alone knowing about the correction.
4. Archenemy – I loved this idea when it was announced. Most of our multiplayer games result in one person versus everyone, and that one person is normally me. As such, this is the sort of product that would naturally appeal to me. There are two problems, however. The first is that the schemes are broken. I flipped a turn one Perhaps You’ve Met My Cohort and dropped Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker into play. Through his ability to destroy lands, I had already removed one opponent from the game and threatened to steal their creatures or wreck their worlds. That was the only game of Archenemy we ever played. The other problem? No one wants to play unless they’re the archenemy.
3. Skullclamp – If you don’t know the R&D story of Skullclamp then you’re probably an idiot. Let me educate you: Skullclamp was originally going to give equipped creature +1/+0. Development discovered during playtesting that this card was far too powerful and couldn’t be printed. Unfortunately, they didn’t find out with enough time to design and playtest a new card before having to send the set to the printers. Designs solution? “Hey, let’s make it give +1/-1 instead. That should make it fair…right?” Wrong! Much like with heroin (which is super-concentrated opium) which was created as medicine to cure opium addiction (and it technically worked!), the cure is worse than the disease. I’m really curious what standard would have looked like if they didn’t “fix” Skullclamp, though apparently it would’ve been banned anyway.
2. Unhinged – This entire set was an unmitigated disaster, with the sole exception of Super Secret Tech. Unglued was funny and fun to play. Unhinged was neither. I can see the pitch meeting now: “I know we’ve run into a wall trying to figure out what tribe we can use to top the clams from Unglued, but here me out. My kid got in trouble for swearing in school yesterday. When I went to reprimand him, he informed me that, get this, ‘ass’ actually means ‘donkey’ so it’s not really a swear. It’s even in The Bible! Gentlemen, this thing’s gonna be bigger than curly fries!” Dedicated a huge portion of a set to ass jokes is not only unfunny, it’s really lazy. Not only did it fail on the humor front, but the “Gotcha!” mechanic was horrific. R&D must have decided that Magic players are entirely too social, and we all need to be punished for opening our mouths. When you’re designing cards explicitly for the purpose of making people laugh, trying to make them sit in silence is a bad place to start.
1. Assuming that symmetrical cards are fair – Whether you agree or disagree with my other choices, this is irrefutably the worst decision that R&D ever made. It took them years to figure it out, but putting an enormously powerful ability on a card and then assuming that it’s automatically balanced because it’s symmetrical is not only lazy and stupid, but it is responsible for some of the most unbalanced cards ever printed. As I mentioned in a previous article, a turn one consisting of “Mox, Mox, Mox, Mox, Mox, Rack, Balance, go” is not even remotely fair. Spending your first three turns emptying your hand of white weenies and then casting Armageddon is not fair. Emptying your hand of burn spells and then casting Wheel of Fortune to refill your hand of burn and another Wheel is not fair. Printing Wildfire in a set full of ridiculous artifact mana and [card Covetous Dragon]Junk Dragon[/card] that conveniently has 5 toughness is not fair. And I’m not even gonna touch Time Spiral or Windfall. While Wizards has learned their lesson and these cards are now few and far between (and normally with unwieldy casting costs), they were the most vicious plague that Magic players have had to endure. Had R&D not learned their lesson, this game surely would have died.
And there you have it, design’s ten biggest mistakes to date. God willing, there will never be a mistake like any of these again and I will never have to update this list.