Chapter 23-Lords of the Pit


Lords of the Pit  

AS SOON AS the idea for Magic had slipped Richard Garfield’s lips and lit up Peter Adkison’s brain like a shiny ball bearing blasted into the luminous depths of a shuddering pinball machine, doubt — however fleetingly — set in. Would a game so radically different, so maddeningly modular, even be possible to design? While Garfield’s own brilliance put those doubts to rest, there were legitimate question marks over how to keep the design process going, once the game had been released. Garfield, despite throwing together the game’s first expansion Arabian Nights single-handedly, was quick to acknowledge that he would be unable to design every single Magic card himself. Instead, he delegated the next expansions to different teams: his loyal friend Barry Reich would work on a set codenamed Spectral Chaos, Skaff Elias and a number of other Philadelphia playtesters would set to work on Ice Age, another group began work on a set dubbed Menagerie – and on top of that, a pair of enterprising Canadian playtesters cooked up the backbone of the set that would become Legends. It was a frantic race to produce cards for the clamouring player-base, but not a sustainable one. Once Richard Garfield left his teaching job at Walla Walla’s Whitman College to join Wizards full-time, his first major task was to set up a functioning R&D department, which could guarantee a steady supply of cards as the game’s production settled into a less frenetic rhythm.  

While initially, that meant hiring many of the game’s first playtesters to fill seats and generate ideas, Garfield could see that a division of labour would also be vital to ensure quality control. With key figures like Skaff Elias juggling several roles, working 100-hour weeks and sleeping under his desk, there was a need to provide structure in Magic card production. Otherwise, there was a risk the process would bottleneck at one over-worked individual or become sloppy and nix the game’s surging popularity. In order to do that, Garfield split R&D into two halves. On the one hand, a design team would originate new card ideas. On the other, development would check and tweak their designs to make sure they were up to scratch. The developers would be the rigorous engineers to design’s fanciful architects.  

The search for capable developers led to a new influx of faces into Magic R&D. Perhaps the most important of those recruits would be Mark Rosewater, who had been proving his worth at The Duelist magazine, where he devised fiendishly complex Magic puzzles for each issue. Rosewater’s background was as a writer (he penned scripts for the sitcom Roseanne before joining Wizards). His affinity for words and concepts, rather than numbers like the University of Pennsylvania alumni, would have a profound influence on R&D’s approach to making Magic.  

EVERY DAY AFTER rising early to pack off his kids to school, human dynamo Mark Rosewater springs into action. First, Magic’s head designer publishes his online comic strip called Tales from the Pit (the ‘pit’ being R&D’s chunk of the Wizards office), a single- frame of unadulterated geek humour. Then, steeling himself for the onslaught, he takes to Twitter (where he has almost 50,000 followers) to wade through some of the many questions he gets bombarded with. Magic’s design supremo is quick to hear from. players, whether they love or loathe his work. After that, the loquacious designer records a rapid-fire podcast on his drive to the Wizards office, before rocking up to his desk, with more already done than many achieve in their entire working day. The morning disappears in a flurry of meetings, phone calls and interviews; then at lunchtime, Rosewater works out. In the afternoon, he might find time to work on a few card designs, before finally waving his colleagues in the pit goodbye, journeying home, putting his kids to bed, spending time with his wife, then squeezing in some writing before eventually, gratefully, passing out.  

Despite his incredible workload, Rosewater has regularly professed to having his dream job – one he is wont to describe in psychological terms. Here in Magic R&D, he once wrote, our job is to create a game that makes players happy. That remains his focus – and has shaped his vision of the game, ever since he walked through R&D’s doors in 1995. Then, he was the lone words guy amongst numbers guys. Now he is the design overlord – and his knack for verbalising what the Magic design process should be has helped create a template for the game’s evolution. From an eager chancer who approached Wizards for work at Gencon. ’94, the effervescent Ohioan has become one of the game’s most important custodians. Drawing on design theory from across the spectrum (one of his influences is Dieter Rams, the modernist behind Braun’s most popular designs and proponent of the Ten Principles for Good Design), Rosewater has elevated his work from cranking out 600-odd playing pieces a year to being a holistic and highly conceptual designer, irrespective of field. It is an impressive development and one which has been aided by Timmy, Johnny and Spike, three chaps who joined R&D quickly after Rosewater. Spike came first, ushered through the door with the Pro Tour’s creation in early 1996.  

JUST AS THE big-money Pro Tour transformed players’ lives, it also had a knock-on effect on the game itself: as its fans raised their standards, its producers had to, too. One key area in need of attention was the game’s rules. They had functioned – more or less — for kitchen-table gaming when the game came out in 1993, but needed to be better codified for the Pro Tour’s heightened stakes. While the over-arching rules were tightened up, with major revisions taking place in 1999 at the release of Sixth Edition, there was also a drive under Joel Mick, lead designer from 1995 to 1997, to improve the quality of the rules text on each printed card, too. One of early Magic design’s characteristics was that cards were dreamt up in a vacuum and little thought was given to consistency. Mick aimed to template key functions in the game so that cards the designers felt should do the same thing actually did perform that way in the context of the rules. Although it would be an ongoing process that lasted many years, the evolution kick-started by Mick was part of Magic design maturing and trying to put an end to the endless rules headaches, ad hoc judge rulings and reams of errata issued to clarify how cards were supposed to work. The guts of the game had to stand up to scrutiny by a new breed of customer: ‘the tournament player’. The tournament player wasn’t simply someone jamming a couple of Starter Decks together in the hope of squishing his pals with Craw Wurm and Lord of the Pit; the tournament player was in the game for one reason only: to win. Not only would he or she be reading up on the latest deck ‘tech’ on the Dojo, but he or she would be collaborating with friends trying to ‘break’ cards for a decisive advantage at the nearest PTQ, Grand Prix or Pro Tour — to eke out overpowered interactions made possible by an R&D oversight, an unforeseen combo or ambiguous card wording. “The Pro Tour really saw the start of rules lawyering,” remembers ‘Schools of Magic’ author Rob Hahn. Understanding the game on an atomic level could now be worth thousands of dollars.  

What would cause huge ructions at Wizards was the emergence of players who understood the game better than those making it. While Magic production had settled into a steady rhythm of one core set (derived from Alpha and featuring a rotating number of reprints) and three expansion sets (which together formed one ‘block’) every 12 months, R&D had become isolated from the Pro Tour arms race and hot-house collaborative innovation it had inspired. Whilst the designers were coming up with ever-more outlandish ideas, the development team had not yet figured out how to tweak those cards’ power levels. The engineers were struggling to reign in the architects, or at least fully understand the implications of their creations.  

This dysfunction was highlighted by a run of three fateful blocks in Magic history – Tempest block in 1997-98, Urza’s Saga block in 1998-1999 and Mercadian Masques block in 1999-2000 – which peaked with the so-called ‘combo winter’ of 1998-99. Tempest block was the first to properly feature Richard Garfield on the design team since Arabian Nights and caused great excitement among players at its release. What they discovered when ripping open their Booster Packs were a host of powerful cards, including environment-defining staples such as the red creature Jackal Pup and artifact finisher Cursed Scroll. Both were aggressively costed at a single mana and greatly sped up the game.  

While that visceral upping of the game’s power level may have thrilled many players in the short term, it presented a problem for R&D: namely, what to do next? The result was the block of three sets focused on the character Urza, an artificer whose story had been hinted at in Antiquities, the game’s second expansion. Urza’s Saga was released in October 1998 and was followed by Urza’s Legacy (February 1999) and Urza’s Destiny (May 1999). As players quickly perceived, R&D’s response to Tempest had been simple -in a panic almost, they had attempted to out-do the preceding block with yet more powerful cards. What R&D failed to spot, however, was just how ‘broken’ some of their new cards were – and how ruthlessly tournament players would exploit them. Cards such as Tolarian Academy (a land which produces multiple blue mana), Time Spiral (a blue card-drawing spell which refills both players’ hands) and Stroke of Genius (an instant which can make either player draw as many cards as its caster pays in mana) were all released in Urza’s Saga. All were sussed out in record quick time by the Pro Tour players and had an immediate impact on the tournament metagame.  

What these cards did was provide the heart of a combo deck – one that generated huge amounts of mana (much like Mike Long’s Pros-Bloom deck had in 1997), which could then be used to fuel a Stroke of Genius big enough to make an opponent draw all the remaining cards in his or her library. Dubbed ‘decking’, running an opponent out of cards is an alternative way of winning the game. While the design of the Tolarian Academy deck cooked up by Magic’s keenest minds was in itself slick, smart and brutal, it was a PR disaster. Combo decks generally seek to win as quickly as possible, with as little interaction as can be managed with their opponent. Rather than summon creatures that chip away at an opponent’s life total – leaving opportunities to riposte – a combo deck is focused on one plan and will try to execute it in as streamlined a fashion as possible. This normally culminates in one inevitable turn where the pilot ‘goes off’, finding all the necessary pieces in his deck, casting them with enough protection to fend off opposing counterspells and finally destroying a helpless opponent who has been forced to sit watching for long stretches as their game loss is played out in front of them. While combo decks have a place in a balanced metagame where control, aggro and combo archetypes boast the same power and can keep each other in check, the Urza’s Saga metagame was anything but balanced. Combo ruled supreme – and if you didn’t want to play such a deck yourself, you had two options: one – lose as your showboating opponent stomped you into the ground, or two – stop showing up to your local tournament altogether. As players in their droves chose the second option, Wizards freaked out. Cards had to be banned in the company’s flagship format, Type II, the worst possible fate for Wizards’ business plan. Type II had been created to level the playing field for tournament players who did not have access to old and expensive cards – the notion was that with those cards kicked out of the format, players could use any of the cards they opened from current Booster Packs. But banning cards meant hitting sales – who would want to buy a Booster Pack knowing the cards inside might not be permissible in their decks? As Mark Rosewater would later write, the whole Urza’s block mess was, the one and only time Magic R&D has ever been brought to the CEO’s office and yelled at in my entire time at the company.  

To avoid another tournament fiasco, sales collapse and humiliating dressing down, R&D swung completely in the opposite direction for Mercadian Masques block. Having been made so rudely aware that the power level of their cards was faulty, they played things as safe as they could – ultimately producing one of the most watered-down blocks in Magic’s history. Mercadian Masques served up a turgid play experience that did little to entice players back after the combo winter’s degeneracy. It was a duff block, at the opposite extreme to Urza’s Saga, which made it clear that Magic R&D was floundering. What they needed was someone who could help them understand exactly how cards were being used in the real world, an archetypal tournament player. Luckily, in the Pro Tour, Wizards had created the perfect recruiting ground for Magic experts.  

IN 2002, MARK Rosewater wrote an article that ‘Who’s the Beatdown’ author Mike Flores describes as the most influential in Magic history. The article in question is called ‘Timmy, Johnny and Spike’ – and while it might sound like the start of a sketch from Rosewater’s sitcom days, it is something very different indeed. It is so significant, says Flores, “because it actually defines who all of us are.”  

Rather than real-life R&D staff, the titular trio of Rosewater’s article are nicknames given to three psychographic profiles that emerged during the late 1990s in R&D – the archetypal players who the guys making Magic realised they were trying to make happy. The first to emerge was the ‘tournament player’ – a loose description that was fleshed out as tournaments became integral to Magic culture. He (or she, though it is mostly he) derives his pleasure from winning games, in whatever way that can be most effectively accomplished. The tournament player is competitive, plays to win, plays the best deck out there (net-decking without scruple) and enjoys triumphing over his opponent via superior play skill. He, in particular, had feasted on Urza’s Saga block and, after some initial head scratching, earned the moniker Spike.  

While the quantity of wins is Spike’s motivator, it is the quality of wins that interests both Timmy and Johnny. Heck, sometimes they’re not even that bothered about winning. Timmy, whose profile Rosewater hit upon during the design of Tempest block, is what R&D dub the ‘power gamer’. As Rosewater wrote in his article, Timmy likes to win big. He doesn’t want to eke out a last-minute victory. Timmy wants to smash his opponents. He likes his cards to be impressive and he enjoys playing big creatures and big spells. Timmy can often be a young, inexperienced player — but lurks in a lot of grown-up Magic players, too; those for whom the game is first and foremost a social experience, occasionally augmented by a big, splashy play.  

Johnny, meanwhile, was christened during the development of Urza’s Saga – and represents in many ways Rosewater himself, still the arch-puzzler from his Duelist days. Johnny is creative, innovative and loves to build his own decks around overlooked cards, often ones screaming out to be turned into a powerful combo. Johnny was well-served by Urza’s Saga, a set packed with cards that dovetailed to produce powerful plays. Unfortunately, the cards designed to make him happy were over the mark in terms of raw power and degenerate combo potential. Rosewater argues that while the psychographic profiles are extremely important, most players in real life are a hybrid. Little did R&D realise just how many Johnny-Spikes there were out there, happy to tune their combo decks into lean Magic machines, that would break the back of the tournament metagame.  

When R&D did then turn to the Pro Tour to recruit, they were after a Spike with enough self-awareness to explain his thought process; a Magic turncoat who could break cards in-house (so they could be fixed), rather than at the Pro Tour. While a few names were bandied around (Brian Weissman was one of them, but failed to show up for his interview), it would be a university student named Randy Buehler who would land the coveted gig. His task on the development team was repairing the damage done by the three troublesome blocks that had provoked Wizards’ biggest wobble to date. Champion of Pro Tour Chicago 1997, Buehler arrived at his desk at Wizards in October 1999. “It was,” he says, “like switching teams.”  

Development had malfunctioned. But Buehler credits Richard Garfield for perceiving how important the department would be in shaping a desirable metagame at source. “He recognised that no-one can call their own kids ugly,” says Buehler. “He could have been the man who dictated how Magic was going to be. But he was the one who felt that a fundamental distinction had to be made between the designers, whose job it is to make it is as cool as it can be. And developers, whose job it is to sort the balance out.” Buehler’s mission would be to buttress development’s competency, while educating design about the problems they were causing further up the chain. As Buehler set about his task with relish, working firstly on Invasion block, the players to really benefit from his expertise were those with an inner Timmy. Buehler – the former Spike par excellence – could see that there was a huge imbalance in the game between the power level of its spells (its sorceries and instants — cast for a one-time effect) and its creatures (in theory at least, the main way to kill an opponent). That disparity had been highlighted by the combo winter, but was built into the game at a far more basic level.  

 “When I showed up, Serra Angel [the finisher in Brian Weissman’s The Deck] was a card that was considered maybe too good to reprint by R&D,” says Buehler. “I was like, ‘what are you guys talking about? Big creatures are terrible right now! I don’t care what you think your power curve is, this is what’s actually good. This is what is true about the game .” Counterspell, at a cost of two blue mana, could stop any opposing spell before it came into play. Lightning Bolt, for one red mana, could deal three damage to any target – enough to pick off most commonly played creatures. Swords to Plowshares, for a single white mana, could remove any creature entirely from the game. These spells, says Buehler, were so efficient compared to creatures that they had become completely stifling. It was time to redress the balance. “It was me betraying the Spike that I was, everything I knew about how to win in the game,” says Buehler, “I was saying to R&D, ‘You guys gave me spells that were too good.”  

On Buehler’s watch then, two key trends emerged: big creatures were ratcheted up in power and playability. Concurrently, the answers to them were made more awkward than the triumvirate of Counterspell, Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares. For many experienced players, this was tantamount to reducing the game’s skill level – particularly, when a ‘cycle’ (a thematically linked group of cards, often with one example per colour) of powerful creatures was printed in the Onslaught block. In Draft and Sealed Deck in particular, each ‘pit fighter’ from the cycle essentially won the game when it came in to play. Some players felt that this was a deliberate attempt to up the game’s variance – the random element to winning. Whoever drew the killer creature first, just won. Kai Budde, the ‘German Juggernaut’, complained to Buehler that he was now prone to losing to worse players. But Buehler was unrepentant: Wizards wanted — every now and then – the worse player to be able to win. Magic’s element of imperfect knowledge (its hidden hand and cards yet to be drawn from each player’s deck) and the variance that entailed, could become an exciting, dramatic part of the game if managed correctly. While Buehler accepts that in the case of those Onslaught creatures, R&D were very consciously pushing the envelope, a happier balance has been struck since. Current top professional Luis Scott- Vargas says that it is ultimately to the game’s benefit, “A lot of what grows Magic is somewhat higher variance designs and even designs which are simply friendlier to new players.” Whereas back in the day, top players loved to wrestle their powerful control decks against each other, with the most skilled player emerging victorious, Scott-Vargas says that is not how to grow the game. “If you want a game like that, play chess – where the better player always wins. Magic has experienced its biggest successes when it has moved away from that.” While that means replicating Budde’s seven Pro Tour wins will be nigh-on impossible for today’s generation of pros, it does feed the game’s aspirational model: if you face Scott-Vargas at a Grand Prix, you do have a chance of beating him, fuelling your desire to keep playing the game.  

BUEHLER QUICKLY CLIMBED the ladder at Wizards, becoming a lead developer, then head of Magic design and development, with Mark Rosewater becoming Magic’s head designer in 2003, reporting up to Buehler. Thereafter, Buehler would move to the company’s digital division and Magic design would be spearheaded by the ebullient and ambitious Rosewater, with Aaron Forsythe (director of R&D, Magic: The Gathering) his foil. Forsythe says he is the ‘bad cop’ of the two, the straight man, who tends to announce sensitive issues such as card bannings. Like Buehler, he joined Wizards from the Pro Tour and says the relationship between design and development is fundamental to Magic’s success today. “The tension is necessary and wonderful, a similar checks-and-balances system to a well-functioning government.” That said, passions run high on both sides of the divide, with creative energies being poured into the product by both teams. “We have a lot of arguments in R&D,” says Forsythe. “But they’re often settled amicably and everyone goes home happy.”  

Ultimately, fostering that delicate balance between the two R&D functions is down to Buehler and the expertise he brought to the pit when it was down on its luck. “I feel like getting development up to the point that it could do enough with the card sets so the world wouldn’t break every time a new mechanic came out did a lot to stabilise the game and build the foundation from which it has been able to keep growing,” he says. Fixing the yin and yang between design and development quietened fears about the game’s longevity, smoothing out the peaks and troughs of the Tempest, Urza’s Saga and Mercadian Masques blocks. Today, cards are rigorously tested in the famed ‘Future future league’, an in-house tournament environment that mimics the way Standard (formerly Type II) will look years down the line. Here, the former pros in the pit dust off their deck-building skills and flesh out the main archetypes they expect newly designed cards to fit into upon their release. While they might not be tuning decks down to the last sideboard card, they are trying to make sure the environment is balanced – and that another combo winter can never happen again. Knowing how badly Urza’s Saga block affected the game means that striking the right balance remains ‘nerve-wracking’ for Forsythe and co as they play out Magic’s future. Development’s dozen or so testers are pitted against the entire Magic brains trust. So far, they have kept another winter largely at bay.  

ROSEWATER, MEANWHILE, IS steering the game’s design via a carefully thought out roadmap. Ever the verbal reasoner, Rosewater has studied the game’s past and delineated what he calls Magic’s different “stages of design” in an attempt to plot out its evolution. The first stage of Magic design was characterised by the very individual nature of designs – cards sculpted one-by-one as they had been in the playtest days at the University of Philadelphia. That changed in the second stage of design, lasting from 1996’s Mirage to the conclusion of the lacklustre Mercadian Masques block in 2000. And while that period featured some notable disasters – including the dreaded combo winter — it nonetheless established the notion of the ‘block’; of multiple sets, linked by setting and game mechanics. The third stage consolidated that concept. From Invasion up until Kamigawa block’s conclusion in 2005, each block was given a crystal-clear theme, was tuned for Limited play (Draft and Sealed Deck, where players build decks from sealed product) and featured cards aimed at all player types: Timmy, Johnny and Spike. It was the last before Rosewater began his reign as head designer (don’t be confused by the dates — he began his stint in 2003, but new sets begin their journey through design and development two years in advance). Rosewater ushered in design’s fourth stage, featuring integrated block planning, inter- block compatibility (so that the different blocks in Standard had plenty of interactions) and finally, better integration between the design and creative teams to create rich, compelling settings from both a gameplay and flavour point of view. This was not simply design, but design thinking – the sculpting of the process towards achieving certain goals, rather than the designing of cards that fixed individual needs or problems. As industrial designer Charles Eames said, “Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose” — and that goes for the entire process, too, not just the finished product. Rosewater, with his peculiar skill set, helped pull back the camera and look at the wider picture. It was a huge step forward in the conception of R&D’s work.  

While the fourth stage had its hits, notably the wildly popular Ravnica block and the Scars of Mirrodin block which drew the period to a close in 2010, it did also feature a period of dangerous ‘complexity creep’. Rosewater strongly believes that the one factor which could hamstring the game in future is if the barrier to entry becomes too high – if the amount of knowledge required by a player encountering Magic for the first time is simply too huge to grasp. Thus a trend dubbed ‘New World Order’ has gripped. R&D, aimed at simplifying the game wherever possible. Superfluous rules have been nipped and tucked and on-card text has been scrutinised for anything headache-inducing. It is an approach entirely in-keeping with Rosewater’s perception of Magic as a product that, when it comes down to it, should make people happy. Inevitably, this has led to accusations of dumbing down from. sections of the player base. Rosewater, though, is adamant that the Magic experience has been improved for most players and, all importantly, for new players. “I think a lot of our recent success has come from us spending more time thinking about how to make it easier to learn and play Magic for the beginner,” he says. Booming tournament participation and steadily growing sales would seem to back him up. By 2013, Magic’s annual revenue had grown to an estimated $250 million, after growing 182 per cent in the previous five years. The game now makes up five percent of Hasbro’s total revenue. Making the game accessible safeguards its future.  

Meanwhile, Magic design has now entered its fifth stage under Rosewater. “Its key tenet is that making cards is about finding a way to interweave all the components together,” he says. “Mechanics aren’t separate from flavour but rather part of the flavour. The gameplay itself is key to making the game feel the right way.” Notable examples of that philosophy were presaged in the Scars of Mirrodin block, which represented the gradual victory of the poisonous ‘Phyrexians’ with changes to the game’s mana symbols on certain spells — packing the message into the medium in a wholly post-modern way. Similarly, the Innistrad block was conceived from the top down, designed to translate gothic horror tropes into the Magic gameplay experience. It was an indisputable hit, despite initial controversy over another innovation: double-sided cards. These played up the notion of transformation in horror – from experiments gone wrong that turned scientists into monsters, to werewolves shifting shape at full-moon. Players were up in arms when the cards were announced, but loved them once they got their hands on them. Why? Because the marriage of flavour and the mechanism used to translate that into gameplay was seamless. Rosewater says, “I’m a big believer that games are emotional far more than they are intellectual and that Magic’s success has a lot to do with how we’re able to make things that ‘feel right.” Indeed for Rosewater, that harks rights back to the game’s origins. Garfield’s key strength was understanding how important that feel was, and this is precisely the reason Magic took off as quickly as it did.  

The breaking of new ground like Innistrad’s double-faced cards also hints at Magic design’s future. “What’s the sixth stage of design going to be? That one I’m not sure of yet, but I think it will have to do with us taking things we think of as being unchangeable and changing them,” says Rosewater. That might send a shudder down the spine of many Magic players – especially Spike, whose focus on winning nudges him towards conservatism. The more the game stays the same, after all, the easier it is to rely on past lessons to keep winning. But Magic design is not staying still and new ground continues to be broken. For many fans, this process entails peril and the risk of ‘power creep’ is one that has to be wrestled. Whatever R&D do, they must be careful not to make increasingly powerful cards that at once obsolete previous designs and strangle the scope for innovation down the line. Currently, it is a line some feel they overstep too often. The game has been noticeably sped up by a vast improvement in cheap-to- cast creatures for example. “I feel like on my watch, spells got worse and big creatures got better,’ says Randy Buehler. “But since Ileft, the smaller creatures have gotten better, too. The game is a little faster now than I like.” It is a concern echoed by numerous other players, but may simply be a necessary evil, as generational change hits the player-base. Those who have played the game for the best part of its two-decade lifespan are perhaps getting long in the tooth or at the very least nostalgic. “I often look back fondly on formats past,” says Magic columnist Mike Flores. “I think the game is too fast at the moment – you can’t play these long, cerebral games that I enjoyed playing in my younger years — but I think that’s a function of many things. Maybe Wizards are going for an audience with a shorter attention span for instance. And, if it’s better for the game if they cultivate that audience, then you know what? Maybe people like me have to suck it up and change, which I find to be an acceptable outcome.”  

Either way, Magic R&D will continue to do its best to satisfy Timmy, Johnny and Spike, playing a delicate balancing game with a product that has become the cornerstone of a community and an integral part of people’s lives. Rosewater makes no apologies, though – that will involve pushing at barriers, just as the game’s designers have tried to do for over 20 years, while being kept in check by the souped-up development department that is Buehler’s legacy to R&D. “That’s the big lesson,” says Rosewater. “Magic’s evolution is about us constantly re-examining what’s possible. There are things I do today that I never could have dreamed I’d do 10 years ago, which means who knows what I’ll get to do 10 years from now.” It is in part what makes him able to state with conviction what many Magic players only cautiously dream: that there are – at least from a creative standpoint — plenty of Magic cards still to come. “I have no doubt in my mind,” says Rosewater, “that Magic will outlive me. The game system is so robust that it can be extrapolated for centuries.” Whatever his initial fears, Garfield got his design more than right. Magic is not just modular, but almost endlessly expandable. It is, in that respect, a marvel of modern design.