Magic: The Gathering play design team admits Oko was a mistake

Oko was an oversight.

MTG Throne of Eldraine spoilers
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

Oko, Thief of Crowns has been banned from Standard and Brawl. 

Wizards of the Coast recently turned research and design into the play design team. There’s been an emphasis on gradually powering up Standard sets released throughout each Standard rotation. The philosophy is sound, but due to the lack of a dedicated playtesting group, the Magic play design team lost sight of Oko’s power level.

Bryan Hawley, the leader of the play design team, said that the team’s main function is to design cards. 

“The story [of Oko] is rooted in the fact that Play Design is (and needs to be) a design team, not simply a playtesting team,” Hawley said today. 

In an article written by Hawley on the Magic: The Gathering website, he disclosed that the play design team does playtest to determine the power level of cards. But in focusing on Oko stealing creatures from an opponent, the team lost sight of his elk ability. 

“Ultimately, we did not properly respect his ability to invalidate essentially all relevant permanent types,” Hawley said. “And over the course of a slew of late redesigns, we lost sight of the sheer, raw power of the card, and overshot it by no small margin.”

Four Magic cards have been banned in Standard since the release of Throne of Eldraine. Given the circumstances, WotC may consider forming a specific playtesting team to work in conjunction with play design. Doing so would alleviate oversights like Oko from taking place in the future while freeing up the play design team to focus more on designing balanced cards across all MTG formats.

In a recent video by Magic pro player, Matt Sperling, he addressed the issue of adding a playtest consulting team to the WotC staff. Due to the number of overpowered cards designed in the past year across all MTG formats, Sperling suggests that WotC should use Magic pros as playtesting consultants. 

He also suggested that the play design team shadow the consulting team. This would provide the WotC team with an alternate perspective on how to analyze cards during playtesting.

Ramping up the power levels in Standard sets shouldn’t be the issue that it is. Players want high-powered cards since they keep the format fun to play. But broken cards like Oko can ruin the game.

Changes are needed and the play design team admits to this. It could be in the form of a playtest team or another method. But leaving the structure as it is will likely cause similar problems to occur in the future.