By Pedro Rauiz Estrigarriba Gestal – Co-Lead Game Designer at Oktagon for MTGPQ

Balancing Cards

“Gishath’s roar scares everything away… even overpowered decks!”

Well…here you have it, the final developer blog post before our first set release next week and we have some good news and one bit of bad news, as far as balancing is concerned. Let’s get the one bad news out of the way, so we can get to the good stuff: there will be no balance changes for Ixalan. There we go. Band-Aid ripped. Now, onto all the good stuff.

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As many of you know, the game is currently suffering from balancing issues stemming from a few strategies. Among them are Cycling and, to a lesser extent due to rarity, Omniscience. We’d like to take some time to explain our thoughts on the matter and its most common points of view:

  • “The AI can’t use <Insert OP Mechanic here> correctly, therefore you should put the nerf hammer away.“
    • There are a few not-so-clear problems with this approach:
      • The AI not being able to use a deck correctly actually makes gameplay stale for players not playing with the deck, but against it. This is really bad.
      • If the strategy itself is much higher than the curve, in terms of power level, and is also very linear, that’s even worse. While linear strategies are also a thing in tabletop Magic, they have over 20 years worth of cards to enable players to vary their linear strategy (Storm, Scapeshift are all tabletop Magic decks that are very linear in their game plan). The lack of variety in singular linear strategy also makes for a stale game environment, which eventually leads to players leaving the game.
  • “We need overpowered strategies for certain events.”
    • This one we can get behind, however:
      • Magic as a game and franchise is all about deckbuilding. It is all about figuring out new and interesting ways to do new and interesting stuff and beat new and interesting challenges. Overpowered strategies, especially when alone, create a low variety environment, or even worse, a single-deck environment; this is a very bad thing.
      • Event design is changing with Ixalan. We aim to make events challenging and create a breeding ground for new strategies and decks. As we make adjustments to our event design, creation process, and balancing, this problem should fade away.
  • “This card is a Mythic/Masterpiece, it should be overpowered.”
    • Not exactly. It should be powerful and interesting, not overpowered.
      • This is a big point of discussion in any card game design. Should card power increase with rarity? What about complexity? The answer is often yes, but only up to a point.
      • Our approach to rarity is one in which the gap in power between Masterpieces and Mythics should be close to one another, same as the Rare/Mythic gap with the real difference being the variation in complexity and mechanics. The higher we move up the rarity pole, the cards’ abilities get more interesting, however they are not necessarily stronger in a vacuum.
      • Stat-wise (Power/Toughness/Shield), cards in the top brackets of rarity should be somewhat stronger than commons and uncommons, but not with a gap as large as we have today.
      • This creates an especially big problem with Masterpieces. They are very-hard-to-acquire cards that most players wouldn’t enjoy having to need, in order to even have a chance at being competitive. While this is part of a different issue as well, balancing does play a part in it.

“So… What is the plan, Oktagon?”

We plan on tackling these issues on two fronts: new cards releases and older cards rebalancing. Every time new cards are added to the game, you should see a gradual move towards the environment described in the items above. Older cards will get to meet Gishath’s sharp teeth whenever they are damaging the environment in one of the ways below:

  • The card is the cornerstone of a one-deck metagame, with the deck being linear AND unplayable by the AI.
  • The card creates the feeling of a Pay Wall, due to rarity limitations and its part in a truly overpowered deck.
  • The card is overshadowing all other strategies and stifling all player options in certain events.

We will not be pointing cards to Gishath’s lair if:

  • They create an interesting and defeatable challenge when the AI is controlling them.
  • They are part of a metagame with multiple powerful viable strategies and mechanics.

Keep in mind that while we move forward as the developers, and our understanding of the game’s current metagame evolves, these policies might change. However, we felt like it was time to disclose how we planned to go about modifying problematic cards. You should see some changes when Rivals of Ixalan comes along.


We’d like to take a moment here and reassure you that Planeswalker rebalancing is something on our radar. However, it is a pretty complex subject, as it can have an effect on all cards in the game (mana costs, among other things) and might take a little while to get a plan in motion to fix it. But, as we’ve said before, we’re looking into it.

Masterpiece Collection Changes

Wizards has already announced that they are no longer making Masterpieces in every set. Due to that change, we had to enact some changes with the current Masterpiece Collection, and how we approach the cards in it. I’d like to put everyone’s main concern to bed right away: We will not be converting cards from Ixalan (or any full set) into Masterpieces.

After a lot of brainstorming and discussions, we settled on bringing cards from the Masters sets as Masterpieces. Every set that does not contain Masterpieces in them will have its 10 Masterpiece cards pulled from the most recent Masters set. In Ixalan’s case, that would be Iconic Masters.

We also felt that, since you can acquire multiple rarities from the Masterpiece Collection packs, coupled with the fact that not every card in the collection would actually be a Masterpiece in tabletop Magic, a name change was in order: The Masterpiece Collection will now be named Elite Collection.

…Thought that was it right? No spoilers on Ixalan’s Masterpieces… Gotcha! Check out these two brand new Ixalan Masterpieces!

 This is the 4th and final part of the developer blog series.  Ixalan is scheduled to arrive in Magic: Puzzle Quest next week (week of Feb. 12).