The Market Research Set: A Design Look at Future Sight
By Stefan Preiml on May 10th, 2007 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
The first thing to notice when cracking open a brand new booster pack of Future Sight is another subdivision of a the set into regular and timeshifted cards, just like in the two sets before, with a different cardframe. The timeshifted cards in this expansion, however, are supposed to represent a possible future, or rather multiple futures, and are mixed into the regular print run.
Another Set, another time to look at where Wizards is taking this beloved game of theirs -- and ours. However, this time they tried to keep us guessing, as this set shows us several possible futures for Magic and all of them squeezed into a single set. Let's see how well this was executed.
Time and Time again
The division in the set is not only the frame, but also the use of mechanics on the cards. Wizards has decided to keep most innovative and new mechanics at the timeshifted side of the set, while the regular cards stick to more traditional things or new takes on already existing mechanics. This also leads to the fact that while Future Sight makes use of more than fifty keywords (more on that in the next section), no new one is introduced in the non-timeshifted part of the set.
In return, the timeshifted portion also includes cards that could have easily been regulars as they don't feature any real innovation that couldn't have happened in the present of this set. Examples for that would be Grave Scrabbler, Skizzik Surger, or Quagnoth. The distinction between the subsets is rather shaky and could have been executed better.
A quick note about the frame for the timeshifted cards: the frame itself is relatively fitting, being both somewhat futuristic yet mostly sticking to the traditional structure of a Magic card. Nonetheless, moving the mana cost from the top right of the card to the left side of the picture was a rather unnecessary step and could easily mislead newer players. It was also moved for a rather petty reason, the inclusion of a symbol representing the card type, which is redundant information.
As mentioned before, Future Sight is chock full of keywords. It uses a total of fifty-two in a mixture of both old and new ones. Unfortunately, this doesn't work out as well as some might think.
Over the years, Wizards has introduced and partially reused more and more keywords and ability words in each set, and with that raised the total of keywords per set. The Ravnica block was a step back from that as it only had a total of ten non-standard keywords, and each keyword only appeared in one set of the block, Time Spiral jumped up again on this as it added two new keywords, reused eleven old ones and made a keyword out of a common ability, and still Future Sight takes the cake.
While this is understandable, as a keyword or ability word ties cards together, makes them more memorable, and is a shortcut for Magic lingo and search engines. For example, if the Invasion Set would come out these days, the Domain cards would probably be tied together by an ability word for the Domain mechanic.
However, the use of a keyword on a single card without any other reference in the set is a rather bad idea for it only fulfills the above purposes of keywords partially, if at all. It's easier to understand with keywords that only advance already existing ideas such as Creature-typecycling, but introducing Aura Swap or Transfigure was rather unnecessary and confusing in this set. The new Keywords and also several of the old ones only make "cameo appearances" which is certainly not enough to introduce them properly or explore them in any way.
Another problem arises with the new keywords for already known and commonly used abilites that go by Deathtouch, Reach, Lifelink and others. While these seem to be nice at first if you ignore the naming, they raise a problem with the Core Set. These abilities are somewhat common and should also be represented in the Core Set, and Reach, at least, should be at common. But Wizards acknowledged that there was a keyword creep in the Core Set that they wanted to keep new players away from, which was one of the main reasons why regeneration was bumped up to uncommon in 9th Edition.
Still, we have to give praise to Wizards for finally fixing the interaction between creatures who can block fliers and those who can only be blocked by fliers.
But the heavy use of keywords in this set has an upside as well. This set features a very loose array of cards that use two keywords which work together to a certain degree, partially also with the mechanic on the card itself. These cards are called "Mix & Match" and examples can be found across all rarities in any color, but only in the regular portion of the set.
Ichor Slick and its cousins are all very interesting cards and some might hit constructed level, but their real beauty lies in that they couldn't possibly exist anywhere else, and are so perfectly convoluted in themselves, making it very very hard to find comparable cards in Magic.
Another beautiful design is the use of keywords on lands, a rare feature in recent years and taken a step further from cycling lands and threshold lands, as the uncommon lands of Future Sight all use different kewords or ability words. Too bad that New Benalia breaks the cycle in several aspects. Its "keyword" is also called a "keyword action" like "regenerate" with the new Comprehensive Rules update, and scry did not originate in the Ravnica Block.
This Land is my Land
Speaking of lands, lets take a look at the rare lands in Future Sight. With the exception of Terramorphic Expanse, the Time Spiral block did not have any lands whose purpose was outright color fixing. The storage lands are very nice for long term plans, but lands that helped two colored decks in the early game were nonexistent in the first two sets, and participants of PT Yokohama are certainly going to agree with that.
Future Sight changes this with a cycle of rare lands. The innovative aspect in this is that, unlike other are land cycles who all have the same mechanic and differentiate only in the colors they can produce, all of them feature different approaches that could possibly translate into full cycles in future sets. All five mechanics are well rounded and balanced and make one look forward to that point.
Yet, two downsides arise here:
1. When one of the mechanics is made into a complete cycle of allied colored lands, the color pair that it belongs to in Future Sight will have a disadvantage to the other colors until the other four are also made into complete cycles. This should at least translate to a high probability of none of the mechanics being used on dual cycles of the Lorwyn block.
2. The majority of the cycle is fit among the lines of the respective color pair. For example, most blue/black decks can be split in a blue side that operates at instant speed and a black side that operates mostly at sorcery speed, easily reflected by River of Tears. In this aspect, the mechanics for Grove of the Burnwillows and Horizon Canopy should have been switched. White should have a greater tie to lifegain than Red, while Red would be more prone to sacrifice a land to draw a card than White.
The Times they are A-Changing
Future Sight tries to open up some design space by introducing giving players abilities, mixing up the possibilities for protection, enchanting various things and doing a lot of other crazy stuff.
Unfortunately, this opening feels rather rash and brutally done with a hammer and a crowbar, and Future Sight doesn't really explore them in depth but only puts them there for exhibition to show that it is indeed possible.
Another such thing is tapping enchantments. While it opens some options and interactions with cards like Coral Trickster, it's a rather bad idea from a flavor standpoint. You see, enchantments are, flavor-wise, modifications for either the objects they enchant, or, in the case of global enchantments, the game itself. In fact, from a flavor standpoint, this is the main difference between enchantments and artifacts, which often have the same purpose. An enchantment is an entity without a physical representation and therefore can't have a state.
Speaking of artifacts and enchantments, the main difference in gameplay standpoints between the two is that enchantments are always a color and artifacts might be tied to a color, but don't have one themselves. Enter Sarcomite Myr. The first artifact with a colored cost. This might be a good idea for a Mirrodin-like set, but without any other cards that interact with it, this just does next to nothing interesting. The same goes for Enchantment Creatures.
Market Research and Guessing Games
Recently it seems that one of Wizards main goals for Magic has become to withhold information on new sets and cards as long as they are capable of doing so. The prime example for this act is that there are no longer FAQs given out for Prereleases, but rather rules primers, and therefore rules information is withheld from organized play.
It can be debated on the effects of this action, but with this new expansion, the seaside mages are taking the idea even farther by acknowledging concepts that are present, but not telling what it actually is. Assembling contraptions and Planeswalkers . . . what are those supposed to be?
A partial goal of Wizards is to see what the people are getting interested in, but by teasing people, the results can get strange. Of course, people are now curious about what the above concepts are supposed to mean and, for the things that are clearly represented, when and how R&D is going to pick it up again. But this is artificial interest that doesn't stem from the cards themselves, but only from being new and unexplained.
Future Sight is a set that is supposed to show us possible directions that this game could move to in the future, but the set is stricken with a feel that it tries to accomplish too many things in not enough cards. The set is by far wider than it is deep and doesn't explore any of the possibilities it presents.
Of course it is meant to follow in one of the upcoming sets, but the message that Future Sight radiates is, "We are capable of doing this, but we don't know when we are going to do it or what we are trying to accomplish with it."
While the regular cards only take existing ideas of the Time Spiral block a bit farther, or create genuine standalone cards and lack big innovation, the timeshifted subset has an abundance of innovation but lacks any depth. This is taken further by having almost no interaction between the two subsets.
If I'd have to make a comparison, Future Sight is a lunch that consists entirely of bread and sweets. It's nice to look at and taste, but it is neither nutritious nor healthy.
By Stefan Preiml on May 10th, 2007 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
About Stefan Preiml
I was born in a small town in southern Austria and went there to school till I was 14. Then I transfered into a technical school in carinthias capitol Klagenfurt making my "Matura" (A-Level Exam) at the age of 19. I'm currently studying Informatics at the University of Klagenfurt. I started playing Magic in the summer of 2003 after some friends from school played in the school and I played a small scale CCG about The Simpsons before.