Good game design is, by and large, the most important aspect of a game that thrives. I don’t know if this requires an explanation or not, but good game design is how you keep your audience enthralled and active in your game, keeping them coming back to play and spend money. If you don’t have good game design, then your game will turn into a flaming garbage can that will leave your audience annoyed and angry.
I bring this up due to a couple of cards that were printed this year that some may consider to be a “mistake”. This is due to a couple of different things that are going on in Standard, Modern, and more recently Pioneer.
But first, a small history lesson on the Play Design Team. In 2017, after the mistakes of Kaladesh block that ruined Standard for quite a while, Wizards of the Coast implemented that Play Design Team (Now abbreviated as PDT). The purpose of the PDT was to focus on the competitive aspect of Standard and Limited in order to limit the number of mistakes that get to be printed. This worked for a bit, but as of 2019 I would officially say that the PDT was a failure.
Let’s take a quick look at the hall of fame for 2019.
All of these cards have done something called warping. Hogaak had to get banned after it warped the entirety of Modern around it. Coupled with Altar of Dementia (which was also printed in the same set) and Bridge from Below, Hogaak was the engine and the gas all in one. As if no lessons were learned from Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time’s time in Modern, the graveyard is a resource, and a very good one at that. Why they thought this was a good idea is beyond me.
Teferi breaks a cardinal rule in Magic by preventing all Instant speed interaction. This becomes a huge issue with combo decks like Copy Cat in Pioneer. The combo itself is actually proving to not be broken. It’s very good, don’t get me wrong, but the format isn’t warped around it necessarily. Teferi creates a very steep obstacle however that prevents other decks from interacting with the combo, thus making the deck the power house that it is. If my Instants no longer function as Instants, I’m hardly playing Magic anymore.
Oko decks are currently holding roughly 44.29% of the Standard metagame. The first mistake on this card was making the first ability a +2 rather than a +1. The second mistake on this card was making the second ability a +1 rather than a -1. Oko is able to stay out of reach of dedicated hate cards like Fry and has no good answer outside of Noxious Grasp. Alongside Gilded Goose, this card is proving to be nearly unstoppable for Standard.
Urza has pushed the artifact deck in Modern to its limits, and is in danger of warranting a ban. Not only that, but the recent printing of Emry, Lurker of the Loch has given the deck an additional push. The PDT’s job is to focus on Standard and Limited for Standard sets, but just looking at Emry you could tell that she would slot into Whirza. Urza also pushed Commander over the edge and got Paradox Engine banned.
Once Upon a Time has been a roller coaster. It has absolutely proven itself in Pioneer, pushing Mono Green Devotion nearly to its limit. Without that though, it has added an unprecedented amount of consistency to a lot of decks in Pioneer, Standard, and Modern.
These are all perfect examples as to why the PDT has failed. It’s not an excuse to say “we didn’t realize his +1 would be so good when used defensively” in reference to Oko when it is literally their only job to find that out. Oko, which could have otherwise been a very good card in Standard is now facing a ban because he was instead too good. This upsets the people who bought Oko for $40+, this upsets people who have suffered playing against the Planeswalker all this time, and it upsets everyone who is leaving Arena because it has become ‘oko.game’.
The first ever B&R update for Pioneer is today, and some people are talking about Oko being banned there too. Whatever happens, moving forward I expect Wizards to announce a change in how their design team works again. Their current method is obviously failing them and the player base, and people are quitting because of it. They need to understand how to correctly design their own game before moving forward.
Oko is not the problem. People not doing their job and creating obviously overpowered cards is the problem.