A Complaint About The 8th Edition Card Face That I Guarantee You've Never Heard Before
At this late date, why complain about 8th Edition? It's over, it's done; the cards for Mirrodin have already come back from the printers. Time to get used to it and move on, right?
Well, not quite. If 8th Edition is an inferior product, then we have the right to let Wizards know. It's good for them - I'm sure they want to learn from their mistakes, just like their players do. And if there's a decline in players, I'm sure they'll want to know the reason. And most importantly, no design is permanent. The card face can (and will) change again. It may not happen for another ten years... But when it does, I'd like to see them avoid the same mistakes they made with the horrible 8th Edition facelift.
"Horrible, Remus?" you say. Surely I must be overreacting about a simple artistic disagreement. But no, it's worse than mere aesthetics. You see, I'm red/green colorblind... And the 8th Edition cardface is a nightmarish design for me.
Most estimates place the number of colorblind people at about 9% of all caucasian white males, so I know I'm not alone. There are a few colorblindness tests on the net you can try if you've never taken one before.
One of the hats I wear at work is"graphic artist," so I know a little about color theory. I know a little about orbital mechanics, solid state detector manufacture, magneto-solar theory, and copier repair, too. This makes me"slave for every situation" at work - but hey, it's better than making a living on the streets. Anyway...I made a couple mockups of 7th and 8th edition cards.
For reference (and for the technical folk among you), I tried to correct for scanner differences by performing a histogram match on the shared artwork. Then for the colorblind examples, I set the red and green channels equal and mixed it with the original's lightness value. (That should be enough info for any anal-retentive graphic artists out there who want to replicate what I've done.)
Now, let's talk about why the 7th Edition cards work, and the 8th Edition cards do not.
- Saturation Differences . A color is formed by a hue (red-green-blue), a lightness (how bright it is), and saturation (how much color there is, as opposed to gray). The 7th Edition cards have a nice mix of different saturations. The green and red borders are vibrant, high-saturation colors, while the land borders are very low-saturation grayish brown. These colors stand out. In 8th Edition, red, green, and land cards are all high-saturation primary colors; it's like the new art directors are afraid of pastels. My theory is that as children they were frightened by Care Bears, or maybe they had a crush on Rainbow Bright.
- No Purple . If you can't tell red from green, any mixes of those colors with blue is a bad idea. I don't know what purple looks like; the red fades away, leaving me with blue. Cyan (blue-green) is a similar problem, but at least for me green mixes better than red. Nothing in 7th edition is remotely purple or cyan. The artifacts in 8th are faintly cyan, but that's okay because of their...
- Textures . This is the most important way for colorblind people to distinguish objects. 7th Edition is a marvel of different textures in wide frames. The green texture is cloudy, while the red texture is smooth and stony. Even better are the text boxes - green has a wonderful wood texture, black has aged parchment, and even red has a pink text box, with artifacts and lands having their own unique text boxes. It works. In 8th, however, all the cards have the same untextured text boxes, with only pale (read: invisible) coloration.
As 8th Edition cards are now, I cannot tell red and green apart from a distance of across a playing table. I also have problems telling red and green apart from lands - although lands have a lightness gradient from top to bottom, the border is so small that it's difficult to see that in a quick look. And did you notice that the black card borders have a very pale green tint, and are much lighter than the 7th Edition black cards? In a test where I tried to quickly separate a stack of 8th Edition cards, I mis-stacked several black ones... They're just too similar to the red, green, and land cards.
Unlike what I'm hearing from people with good color vision, I don't have a problem with the artifact cards. The texture is clear and unique - I like it. I also like most of the other changes in 8th Edition: The text boxes, the clarified text, the shadowed (albeit colorless) mana symbols. I just can't handle the frames... And this is potentially a game-ending problem for me. I have avoided card games in the past with poor color schemes that I just could not handle, and I'm terrified that being unable to tell the colors apart is going to cause me to make a mistake at a tournament. I'm especially worried about drafts, where I have very little time to study cards and pull them out according to color. And one out of every eleven Magic players is probably having the same troubles that I do.
The 8th Edition card design is poor. I get the feeling they were designed with the primary goal of making foils look good (thus all high-saturation colors) instead of playability. If true this is a shame, a tragedy, a triumph of marketing over game design. I weep at the state of talent in Wizards' graphic art department right now. I don't have any problems with the card pictures, note. The fine artists are doing great jobs with the direction they're given. I could complain about the art direction - yes, we understand, all beasts have bonespurs sticking out of them somewhere, that's a great way to create a consistent look throughout the product, but it also insures that all beasts look exactly like Hundroog (Hundroog! - The Ferrett) - but that's a different rant. I only get to make so many rants a month before my doctors up my medication.
Finally, let it not be said that I gripe without offering solutions. Here's some suggestions for how I'd fix 8th Edition's design. I reduced the saturation on the green border and added dark shadows to bring out the leaf-like texture. I took the red border in the other direction, adding orange highlights, keeping the saturation high and lightening it up. For black, I replaced the green tint with a purple one - yes, it looks blue to me, but its dark texture makes it look completely different from the high-brightness blue and artifact cards. And I returned the awesome 7th Edition textures of the black and green text boxes, while stretching them to their new larger size. These are all slight changes made to the existing cards, nothing new. A competent designer would scrap the existing textures and start fresh while paying attention to playability.
As for lands... There really is nothing good about the 8th Edition land border, so I created a new, unique and distinctive texture, which you can see a closeup of in the upper right corner. That texture took me, an amateur, an hour to make. Surely the professionals at Wizards could have done better than the horrible border art currently on our cards?
Well, maybe ten years from now Wizards will put out a new card face with a competent art director at the helm. Meanwhile I'll struggle through my games and drafts, paying special attention to mana symbols. And I'll stay up late at night worrying about the"new card type" reported to be in Mirrodin. In my nightmares, it's purple.