The FIRE Philosophy of MtG Design

Around two years ago, we were introduced to this concept. This means that it had probably been around at least a couple of years within the company. How has this panned out?

Note: I know the plugin which shows the cards is currently broken, but I’ll look into that when I can. Sorry about this.

What is FIRE anyhow? According to Andrew Brown‘s article, it’s

F Is for Fun – Above all else, our game should be fun to play. For Play Design, fun is about interesting decisions, diverse gameplay experiences, and each game being unique. As game designers, interpreting different definitions of fun is part of the job. We strive to make cards that are fun for a wide variety of audiences.

I Is for Inviting – Our game should be accessible to many people. From Play Design’s perspective, this means that formats should be accessible to newer or less enfranchised players by having resonant cards and comprehensible gameplay. It also means that a wide variety of strategies should be viable in all types of play.

R Is for Replayable – The key aspects of replayablility are balance and diversity. We try to get a wide variety of decks and strategies to about the right power level.

E Is for Exciting – Players should be excited to read cards and play with them. We want to design and cost cards so that they can inspire cool new decks and archetypes for players to build and own.

It should be noted that he does state that this is his view on the subject, but it’s also important to note that you can’t do teamwork, unless you have at least some kind of a consensus on subjects like this and hopefully the company is able to work as teams.

The thing is, it doesn’t seem to have worked out very well.

Let’s start with F for Fun. Is anyone having fun playing the game anymore? Most of the games end because of premature concessions, when the initial plan of a deck doesn’t work out. I guess some people do have fun going through the motions needed to win through a combo of some sort, because so many people are doing it, but I what I find fun is interesting games with a lot of decision points. It feels like most decision points are now in deck selection and in-game actions have been made largely meaningless.

How unique is each game, when I sometimes encounter several a [card]Tibalt’s Trickery[/card] deck four or five times in a row? How unique are games when you know you’ll get [card]Embercleave[/card]d on turn four over and over again? They clearly haven’t figured out how to design for Arena yet as the environment is simply horrible.

What about I for Inviting? Some years back I was judging a pre-release event. I was watching a game with a very new player, who was at his first event. This just happened to be Battle for Zendikar, or maybe the second set of the block, whatever it was called, which meant that there were Expeditions running around. One of which was [card]Strip Mine[/card]. Well, this new player got his first land destroyed immediately and never drew a third land. Did not see him again after that.

Sure, this was before FIRE, but that’s not the point. The point is that power creep does not make the game more inviting. It just makes the whole thing feel unfair. Sure, it might be the new player who has the big bomb, but on the other hand, they often can’t play those cards properly, which means that they won’t work as well for them as for their opponents.

The other problem is that with the multitude of increasingly expensive products, where does a new player start? Sure, most players are playing on their kitchen table, but that’s actually worse. Collector’s boosters will make the whole thing feel like pay-to-win. If you have the money and you are willing to spend it, you can get a more powerful deck. If you are on the other side of the table in these situations, it’s not a good experience. The market seems to also have been deliberately starved of draft boosters and drafting used to be a nice way to get into and especially get back into the game after a hiatus. How is that inviting? This major avenue has been cut off. And what about all those weird boosters with all those additional cards that aren’t for Standard play? How is a new player to know that they can’t play that [card]Demonic Tutor[/card]?

R for Replayability? With power creep, we see that specific cards take over formats very easily. We’ve seen big tournaments with up to 70% of a singular deck. How replayable is that? At the same time, they are increasing the number of tutors and wishes, which both make the decks more consistent, making each game feel very same. New mulligan rules are also making this worse. They are even destroying formats, like Commander, with this same method. Golos just makes games play out the same way each time, but they still unbanned it from Historic Brawl after adding the original Sisay into it as well. It just seems that they don’t actually care about replayability at all.

E for Exciting? Sure. People do seem to find cards exciting when they are more powerful, but there is also a growing segment, who have learned that they are not the only players, who have access to those cards. Brown actually mentions that one of their goals had been to flatten the power difference between various rarities. I do feel that this is a good idea and they should definitely do this. However, in practice this hasn’t worked. Sure, commons are now more powerful, but at the same time, they have also been making more powerful cards on the higher rarities, which defeats the point.

Again, they just haven’t figured out how to design for Arena. They push best-of-one drafting, but for that to work properly, the powerlevel should be very flat, because otherwise the latter games of each match are all about who opened better cards.

Also, looking from another point of view, if you are a new player, who doesn’t necessarily know how all the boosters work (I don’t actually either, but I know enough) and you open something great. Let’s say you open a [card]Demonic Tutor[/card] from a Strixhaven booster and you don’t know you can’t play it at your local game store. Sure, you’ll get excited, but what’s going to happen when you learn your excitement was for nothing? I don’t know how well all of this is explained in the boosters, as I haven’t seen one (and from what I hear, getting them can be difficult), but even that can be quite deflating.

The problem is that by their biggest metric (money made) they are doing well, but the problem is that we have been living under extraordinary circumstances for a while now, which might very well have influenced this. Will people keep playing after all this is over? They used to be a special game, but now instead they have been positioning themselves more and more as just another option, which might very well cause a backlash at some point.

Finally, you should really look at the history of Marvel’s 90s ventures. They went all out for collectibility, but while it worked for a while, the diminishing returns almost destroyed the company. They only managed to stay afloat by selling the film rights to various characters (which is why Sony has Spider-Man and Fox had the X-Men) and taking a huge risk with C-list character in Iron Man including a distribution deal (with Paramount at the time) which was quite bad for Marvel. Is WotC overextending themselves in the same way? Sure, all those weird arts and Secret Lairs and whatever feel special now, but how long is that going to last?

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