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Great Designs: John’s Essays

Written by John Cuvelier on . Posted in Magic Culture

Introduce yourself and explain why you are a good fit for this internship.

My name is John Cuvelier, I’m 29 years old and I live in Riverview, FL. I think of myself as a quieter individual while I study my surroundings. I typically become more outgoing and even playful as my comfort level with people gets stronger. My free time typically consists of playing board games with friends, Magic the Gathering (of course), League of Legends and to keep in shape, Roller Hockey. I’m currently employed at Bank of the Ozarks as a Teller Supervisor and Customer Service Representative.

There are numerous reasons why I believe I would be a good fit for the internship. For starters, I like to think about designs all the time and where they can be taken. A recent example of this would be the mechanic Curse. I think this would have been a perfect flavor opportunity in Ixalan to incorporate Curse’s that would add an immediate benefit and then over time give a detriment. (Think a cursed treasure in this example) Another reason I’d be a good fit is my diverse understanding of the game. I’ve played Magic at just about every level there is including Pro Tour, Nationals, Grand Prix, SCG Opens, SCG Invitational, and even the Sunday Super Series. But I also enjoy playing locally at FNM’s helping my local community improve and have fun. Speaking of fun this is another reason why I’d be a good fit. I have my own cube I’ve been designing and changing since 2010. I believe cube design is Magic design 101. What I mean by this is you’re basically creating your own “Iconic Masters” without the restrictions of things like the reserve list or card rarities.

I truly believe I’m a great fit for your internship. I’m a good thinker that likes to have fun in a variety of ways. I already think about different ways of incorporating existing mechanics. I’m also a true veteran of the game and have been designing my own cube for the past eight years. John Cuvelier is the guy for you!

An evergreen mechanic is a keyword mechanic that shows up in (almost) every set. If you had to make an existing keyword mechanic evergreen, which one would you choose and why?

The best choice for an existing keyword to become evergreen is Cycling. Cycling is a wonderful mechanic from the gameplay perspective that’s relatively easy to understand. Cycling helps eliminate the most fundamentally frustrating part of Magic in mana screw. No one likes to keep a two land hand to simply draw your third land on turn four or five. Giving just a few cards in each color cycling per set would allow players to simply have a better experience at a low cost.

The low cost of adding Cycling is still indeed a cost. The more cards with Cycling that get printing the more they can affect older formats as well. This could be both a good thing and bad depending on what your intended result would be. If you’d like a Legacy Fluctuator deck to be competitive this could certainly be an outlet for that. Similarly Living End could get much better simply by printing more cards like Desert Ceradon.

In addition to possibly enabling older formats, designing balanced cards with Cycling is no walk in the park either. Sure, you can just add one generic mana to Craw Wurm and get Desert Ceradon, or one generic mana to Ghostly Sentinel to get Winged Shepherd but by doing so you drastically slow down a format. You can try to counteract this by speeding up the format like what happened in Amonkhet, but then run the risk of having a warped aggressive format that was punishing for playing cards that had Cycling.

It may seem like I’m both advocating for and against making Cycling evergreen and to be honest I am. It’s important to see things from best case and worse case scenarios to fully embrace your decision making. It’s my belief when you consider everything that Cycling would be a lot more helpful than harmful and should be the next evergreen mechanic.

If you had to remove evergreen status from a keyword mechanic that is currently evergreen, which one would you remove and why?

The evergreen mechanic that simply needs to go is Hexproof. Hexproof is a very frustrating mechanic to play against because there’s very little way to interact with it by design. However, when a format is almost defined by Jade Guardian and ways to augment it there has to be something fundamentally flawed there. The simple fix to this problem is to remove Hexproof and just replace that card space with Shroud.

Magic is about interacting with your opponent and most of all having fun. The interacting part is simply being taken away with Hexproof and that’s just not fun at all. Historically when cards stop your opponents from interacting like land destruction or counterspells the fix has been to either narrow the effectiveness of targets or increase the costs of them to the point that they’re a lot less viable so you no longer see decks with 24 counterspells or stone rain and instead you see at most eight counterspells and four stone rain. Applying that fix to Hexproof simply isn’t working. If a 3/3 Hexproof for four mana defines a format then we need to rethink if Hexproof is really a reasonable option anymore.

The departure of Hexproof would be celebrated in the Magic community. It also gives us a chance to bring more Shroud creatures into the mix which is a much more balanced mechanic. It of course does give similar feelings in that interacting with the shroud creature from the opposing side is the same, but being unable to augment the creature from the controller’s perspective allows R&D the ability to tame cards as they see fit.

You’re going to teach Magic to a stranger. What’s your strategy to have the best possible outcome?

Teaching a stranger Magic is definitely a challenge. Magic is such a complex game with so many corner cases and different cards the task can sound daunting to anyone. I believe the trick to have the best possible outcome is just teaching the basics and using the most basic cards in that process.

I’ve taught a lot of people how to play and every time I’m complemented on how easy it is to learn and how I made the individual feel comfortable along the way. The first thing I do is make a checklist of the relevant phases of the game. This way the individual won’t forget about anything and after a few turns it will come natural to do these things in order without looking at the list. The checklist doesn’t do much good if we don’t have a deck! My plan of attack for this is to make five separate forty card single color decks. I try to make them on theme with what that color historically tries to do while choosing cards with little to no additional text. This is a great way to have the beginner understand what the colors represent as well as prevent early confusion with complex card interactions. Finally before we start playing I explain how and why they cast spells and how to achieve victory. After a few games under their belt they graduate to the more common mechanics like Flying, Trample or Vigilance. Once this happens the player just sort of takes off and starts wanting more and more. I give them free reign to make new decks or adjust the old ones.

Teaching magic to new players is certainly one of the more difficult things about Magic. The game is complex and there’s so many cards that it can be daunting for the newer person to imagine. Once they realize how easy the game is to learn and how hard it is to master the outcome usually is a lifetime of playing.

What is Magic’s greatest strength and why?

Magic’s greatest strength is in its complexity. There are so many decisions to make over how to build a deck and play a game that it really sets itself apart from other traditional games. This complexity spawns variety by players trying to identify what’s good and trying to figure out what’s better.

Thankfully just because a game is complex doesn’t necessarily mean it’s hard to learn either. As I mentioned previously Magic is a very teachable game and one that people of almost any age can learn. Magic is a game that is impossible to master because of the complexity involved but rewards those who put in the effort of striving to figure it out. In addition, the complexity allows people to showcase their creativity in a way that few games can reproduce. Another great thing about the complexity is that although finding the “best” play to win is optimal in a tournament setting, finding the most “civil” play while playing kitchen table Magic is another whole level of complexity.

Complexity is what makes Magic great. You hear a lot about the more traditionally popular games like Chess or Poker as complex and fun games that have been around for hundreds of years. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that games that you strive to be the best at are also the most complicated and tend to be the games that stand the test of time. The complexity that Magic offers is the reason I keep coming back for more and the reason why I want to work with R&D.

What is Magic’s greatest weakness and why?

Magic’s greatest weakness has to be related to mana issues. Variance is a fickle mistress. She blesses you with free wins as an opponent cannot play their spells and condemns you to the horror of drawing your sixth land in a row.

It’s no secret of my disdain related to mana problems in Magic as I previously mentioned wanting Cycling to be an evergreen mechanic to reduce the impact of it. I do think this is the one thing I hear the most complaints about in Magic and is the one that is hardest to fix. The reason it’s so hard to fix is that it’s embedded in the mechanics of the game. To give it a true fix you’d have to fundamentally change the game and that’s not something I can foresee the game ever doing. Therefore, over time mechanics such as Scry and Cycling have been introduced to combat these negatives aspects of the game. I do think we’re going in the right direction with the Scry rule and next I would love to see it go one step further and perhaps be changed to a “see seven” rule. Basically the only difference between the Scry rule and see seven rule is that you’ll always see seven cards no matter how many times you mulligan. An example is if you go down to five cards and keep you would scry two and so on.

Mana Screw (not the card) is something every Magic player experiences from time to time. Everyone’s hope is to avoid it at all costs. My hope is that R&D strives to make its impact on games as minimal as possible so everyone gets to enjoy playing.

What Magic mechanic most deserves a second chance (aka which had the worst first introduction compared to its potential)?

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of mechanics that deserve a second chance is Ripple from Coldsnap. I recall most people in my area heavily disliking the ripple mechanic because of how broken it was in limited and how unplayable it was in constructed. With a little work Ripple could show its full potential in both formats.

For starters I think the best way to tackle the problem of Ripple in limited is to design the common ripple cards to be low impact and very replaceable or line up poorly against a lot of the commons in the set. An example would be have a Grizzly Bear with Ripple 4, but have a lot of 2/3’s or 3/3’s that cost three mana or 2/1 First Strike creatures that also cost two. A good way to break open Ripple for constructed would be to simply increase the Ripple number. A reasonable example would be an uncommon for GG that’s a 3/3 and has Ripple 8. That would both allow this card to see potential constructed play while simultaneously being unlikely to make an impact in limited because of its stiff casting cost and rarity. I would also think an interesting Ripple card could be utilizing a Counterspell in some form. This would be very intriguing, especially if it was an effect like Mana Leak. The decision making of casting this imaginary spell into three open mana and hoping to hit another one via Ripple or into a convoluted stack makes me happy.

There’s so many wonderful and different mechanics that need more love. I believe Ripple deserves another shot since we’ve learned so much about it the first time around. Ripple also is a mechanic that’s easy to implement into Magic lore since when I think of Ripple I think of time dilation and things of that nature.

Of all the Magic expansions that you’ve played with, pick your favorite and then explain the biggest problem with it.

The expansion I have fondest memories of is Future Sight. Future Sight really excited me with its conception of lore while simultaneously being a blast to play. It’s one of, if not the most unique sets in the history of Magic. Planeswalkers, what are those? Assemble a Contraption? A Tribal card? What is this nonsense? I couldn’t get enough.

The one limited folly Future Sight brought was Sprout Swarm. Sprout Swarm simply ruined the format by making any deck unbeatable past turn seven or eight. It was too easy to splash so even if you’re Blue-Red and open Sprout Swarm you just take it and go off. The reasonable fix I can think of to this if the card needed to be included was change the rarity from common to rare. At common the card is too powerful and warping. At uncommon you’re still likely to face it in any given draft. If it’s at rare, it showing up is a few and far between sort of thing that is acceptable given the circumstances. The one constructed folly I saw in Future Sight has to be Tarmogoyf. I don’t believe this card was designed to be the powerhouse it turned into across every format of Magic. Its impact might have been reduced if its cost was GG instead of G1. But since you could even splash the Lhurgoyf, well history speaks for itself.

Future Sight really was a unique and fun set alongside a near perfectly flavored block. Sprout Swarm and Tarmogoyf tainted that a bit in their respective formats but thankfully that still didn’t ruin it for me. Can we go back yet?

Of all the Magic expansions that you’ve played with, pick your least favorite and then explain the best part about it.

The expansion I disliked the most has to be Rise of the Eldrazi. I do feel like I’m nearly alone in this camp as most people I know simply adore the format. I just recall being super frustrated as draft after draft my opponent played a giant creature with Annihilator and I got…. well annihilated.

The best part of it for me was the defender theme. I loved the concept of being able to win via Wall’s without having a Rolling Stone. My favorite creature being Vent Sentinel and the glue that held the deck together was just fantastic. The high toughness walls gave you time to hold off any aggressive start while your Vent Sentinel activations grew larger and larger as you played more and more defenders. I know this is a strategy we’ve seen somewhat recently in sets like Return to Ravnica and even Iconic Masters but I think this is where it all began. This strategy was the reason I ended up playing the format more than just a few times after having bad experiences by losing all my permanents to Eldrazi.

Rise of the Eldrazi was a format that although could be frustrating at times did provide some unique gameplay. I most certainly did not like the Annihilator mechanic but I did thoroughly enjoy the defender deck. Even though Rise of the Eldrazi was definitely one of my least favorite expansions I still join drafts when they’re available on Magic Online. What can say, I’m glutton for punishment.

You have the ability to change any one thing about Magic. What do you change and why?

Of all the things one could change about Magic I think doing something as simple as removing Planeswalkers could go a long way. Planeswalkers seem to be necessary for lore but in my experience provide very little but frustration while in game. What would a world without Planeswalkers look like?

Removing Planeswalkers from Magic could bring the game back to an era that was fond to me and many others. These are such unique and problematic permanents that are often too difficult to interact with that often win the game by themselves. The more you get to know me the more you realize I’m all about fair and interactive Magic. If I’m playing a control deck and don’t have an immediate answer to one either on the stack or on the board it’s likely I won’t be able to win. That’s a simple analogy but not only are often very hard to deal with from a player perspective but a nightmare to incorporate from the designer point of view. Balancing the abilities to be strong enough to be competitive but not too strong to be dominant is not easy task. When you add the layer of the cards being flavorful and fit within a sets theme you can begin to see what a daunting task each new one becomes. You also run into the problem of making too many of the same type. As I write this there are currently nine different Jace planeswalker cards. You get to a point where Planeswalkers lose their and all start to feel the same.

It’s time to say goodbye to Planeswalkers. These are problematic permanents that single handedly win games by themselves with often little opportunity to interact with along the way. These cards are getting more and more difficult to design and for that reason often feel stale.

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