11/03/2010 Feature: "The Great Designer Search 2 – Meet the Finalists"

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This thread is for discussion of this Feature Article, which goes live Wednesday morning on magicthegathering.com.
I hear all the cool kids are cheering for Scott Van Essen.
Yep Scott's back.

Woot, one of my cards made it into the top 8.
… and then, the squirrels came.

Speaking of Scott's entry:


The prisoners have devolved into madness, bestiality, and bloodshed.


Well I'll confess that's certainly unexplored design space.  Perhaps it could lead to a multiple-race Tribal theme?

If you're on MTGO check out the Free Events via PDCMagic and Gatherling.

Other games you should try:
DC Universe Online - action-based MMO.  Free to play.  Surprisingly well-designed combat and classes.

Planetside 2 - Free to play MMO-meets-FPS and the first shooter I've liked in ages.
Simunomics - Free-to-play economy simulation game.

I don't think he's ever played with Gamewin invoker.
Both players just sit there as the invoker attacks for two every turn, waiting to see whether the victim draws a removal spell before they die.


1. Totem armor.
2. You do <strong>not</strong> attack with your invoker.

Also, I totally play her in casual (In mah EDH deck at least).

Zammm = Batman.

It's my sig in a box
58280208 wrote:
Everything is better when you read it in Bane's voice.
192334281 wrote:
Your human antics and desire to continue living have moved me. Just kidding. You cannot move me physically or emotionally. Wall humor.
57092228 wrote:
Copy effects work like a photocopy machine: you get a copy of the 'naked' card, NOT of what's on it.
56995928 wrote:
Funny story: InQuest Magazine (I think it was InQuest) had an oversized Chaos Orb which I totally rooked someone into allowing into a (non-sanctioned) game. I had a proxy card that was a Mountain with "Chaos Orb" written on it. When I played it, my opponent cried foul: Him: "WTF? a Proxy? no-one said anything about Proxies. Do you even own an actual Chaos Orb?" Me: "Yes, but I thought it would be better to use a Proxy." Him: "No way. If you're going to put a Chaos Orb in your deck you have to use your actual Chaos Orb." Me: "*Sigh*. Okay." I pulled out this huge Chaos Orb and placed it on the table. He tried to cry foul again but everyone else said he insisted I use my actual Chaos Orb and that was my actual Chaos Orb. I used it, flipped it and wiped most of his board. Unsurprisingly, that only worked once and only because everyone present thought it was hilarious.
My DM on Battleminds:
no, see i can kill defenders, but 8 consecutive crits on a battlemind, eh walk it off.
144543765 wrote:
195392035 wrote:
Hi guys! So, I'm a sort of returning player to Magic. I say sort of because as a child I had two main TCG's I liked. Yu-Gi-Oh, and Pokemon. Some of my friends branched off in to Magic, and I bought two pre-made decks just to kind of fit in. Like I said, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon were what I really knew how to play. I have a extensive knowledge of deck building in those two TCG's. However, as far as Magic is concerned, I only ever used those two pre made decks. I know how the game is played, and I know general things, but now I want to get in the game for real. I want to begin playing it as a regular. My question is, are all cards ever released from the time of the inception of this game until present day fair game in a deck? Or are there special rules? Are some cards forbidden or restricted? Thanks guys, and I will gladly accept ANY help lol.
I have the same problem with women.
117639611 wrote:
198869283 wrote:
Oh I have a standing rule. If someone plays a Planeswalker I concede the game. I refuse to play with or against people who play Planeswalkers. They really did ruin the game.
A turn two Tibalt win?! Wicked... Betcha don't see that everyday.

The Pony Co. 

Is this my new ego sig? Yes it is, other Barry
57461258 wrote:
And that's why you should never, ever call RP Jesus on being a troll, because then everyone else playing along gets outed, too, and the thread goes back to being boring.
57461258 wrote:
See, this is why RPJesus should be in charge of the storyline. The novel line would never have been cancelled if he had been running the show. Specifically the Slobad and Geth's Head talkshow he just described.
57461258 wrote:
Not only was that an obligatory joke, it was an on-topic post that still managed to be off-topic due to thread derailment. RP Jesus does it again folks.
92481331 wrote:
I think I'm gonna' start praying to Jesus... That's right, RPJesus, I'm gonna' be praying to you, right now. O' Jesus Please continue to make my time here on the forums fun and cause me to chuckle. Amen.
92481331 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
It was wonderful. Us Johnnies had a field day. That Timmy with the Grizzly bears would actually have to think about swinging into your Mogg Fanatic, giving you time to set up your silly combo. Nowadays it's all DERPSWING! with thier blue jeans and their MP3 players and their EM EM OH AR PEE JEES and their "Dewmocracy" and their children's card games and their Jersey Shores and their Tattooed Tenaged Vampire Hunters from Beverly Hills
Seriously, that was amazing. I laughed my *ss off. Made my day, and I just woke up.
[quote=ArtVenn You're still one of my favorite people... just sayin'.[/quote]
56756068 wrote:
56786788 wrote:
.....would it be a bit blasphemous if I said, "PRAYSE RPJAYSUS!" like an Evangelical preacher?
Perhaps, but who doesn't like to blaspheme every now and again? Especially when Mr. RPJesus is completely right.
56756068 wrote:
I don't say this often, but ... LOL
57526128 wrote:
You... You... Evil something... I actualy made the damn char once I saw the poster... Now you made me see it again and I gained resolve to put it into my campaign. Shell be high standing oficial of Cyrix order. Uterly mad and only slightly evil. And it'll be bad. Evil even. And ill blame you and Lizard for it :P.
57042968 wrote:
111809331 wrote:
I'm trying to work out if you're being sarcastic here. ...
Am going to stop you right there... it's RPJesus... he's always sarcastic
58335208 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
112114441 wrote:
we can only hope it gets the jace treatment...it could have at least been legendary
So that even the decks that don't run it run it to deal with it? Isn't that like the definition of format warping?
I lol'd.
56287226 wrote:
98088088 wrote:
Uktabi Orangutan What the heck's going on with those monkeys?
The most common answer is that they are what RPJesus would call "[Debutantes avert your eyes]ing."
56965458 wrote:
Show
57461258 wrote:
116498949 wrote:
I’ve removed content from this thread because off-topic discussions are a violation of the Code of Conduct. You can review the Code here: www.wizards.com/Company/About.aspx?x=wz_... Please keep your posts polite, on-topic, and refrain from making personal attacks. You are welcome to disagree with one another but please do so respectfully and constructively. If you wish to report a post for Code of Conduct violation, click on the “Report Post” button above the post and this will submit your report to the moderators on duty.
...Am I the only one that thinks this is reaching the point of downright Kafkaesque insanity?
I condone the use of the word Kafkaesque. However, I'm presentely ambivalent. I mean, that can't be serious, right? We're April 1st, right? They didn't mod RPJesus for off-topic discussion when the WHOLE THREAD IS OFF-TOPIC, right? Right.
57545908 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
Save or die. If you disagree with this, you're wrong (Not because of any points or arguements that have been made, but I just rolled a d20 for you and got a 1, so you lose).
58397368 wrote:
58222628 wrote:
This just won the argument, AFAIC.
That's just awesome.
57471038 wrote:
57718868 wrote:
HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THE BEAR PRODUCING WORDS OF WILDING?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!
That's what RPJesus tends to do. That's why I don't think he's a real person, but some Magic Card Archive Server sort of machine, that is programmed to react to other posters' comments with obscure cards that do in fact exist, but somehow missed by even the most experienced Magic players. And then come up with strange combos with said cards. All of that is impossible for a normal human to do given the amount of time he does it and how often he does it. He/It got me with Light of Sanction, which prompted me to go to RQ&A to try and find if it was even possible to do combat damage to a creature I control (in light that Mark of Asylum exists).
71235715 wrote:
+10
100176878 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
57078538 wrote:
heaven or hell.
Round 1. Lets rock.
GG quotes! RPJesus just made this thread win!
56906968 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
143359585 wrote:
Blue players get all the overpowerered cards like JTMS. I think it's time that wizards gave something to people who remember what magic is really about: creatures.
Initially yes, Wizards was married to blue. However, about a decade ago they had a nasty divorce, and a few years after that they began courting the attention of Green. Then in Worldwake they had a nasty affair with their ex, but as of Innistrad, things seem to have gotten back on track, and Wizards has even proposed.
You are my favorite. Yes you. And moments like this make it so. Thank you RPJesus for just being you.
On what flavor text fits me:
57307308 wrote:
Surely RPJesus gets Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius?
56874518 wrote:
First: I STILL can't take you seriously with that avatar. And I can take RPJesus seriously, so that's saying something.
121689989 wrote:
I'd offer you a cookie for making me laugh but it has an Upkeep Cost that has been known to cause people to quit eating.
56267956 wrote:
I <3 you loads
57400888 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
"AINT NO LAWS IN THE SKY MOTHER****." - Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran
10/10. Amazing.
Pfft...

The cool kids (and the pro players) want Jon Loucks to win.
Pffft...Im going for Jonathan Woodward.  We go to the same school.
I like fun, but competitive decks. So I might not play what is optimal but they have normally been tested to have a 2/3 winrate.
Woah!  Way to go Woodward!

He's one of my area's top players (especially Limited).

Didn't realize he had such a good head for design, too!

I love his sample cards.  (Hunger = great keyword)
Magic Judge Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Rules Theory and Templating: "They may be crazy, but they're good." --Matt Tabak, Rules Manager*
Am I the only one that's somewhat disappointed that nobody named scry as the best mechanic in Extended?

I mean, everyone hates mana screw, and scry is the best way to minimize it.  Card draw works too, of course, but in most cases “scry 2” is worth less that “draw a card”, so it can go on cheaper spells to combat early mana issues.  Scry 2 also happens to dig you twice as deep if you’re looking for that much-needed land, so it’s even better at fighting mana screw than drawing a card would be.

Personally, I think scry adds enough to the game that it should be evergreen (they can get rid of trample or something if they're really worried about complexity creep).
Congrats to the finalists!

Controversial statement (particularly considering GDS1 history):  I think it's weird to have a female avatar for a male in this competition.

Not because I have a problem with opposite-sex avatars in games in general.  But in the context of Magic, it always makes me think of the ultra-Spikes who refer to all cards as "this guy", even if the card is clearly female.  It bothers me a bit when Magic cards are just treated as playing pieces, and not as actual creatures or real characters.  So from that perspective, a crossover avatar is always going to make me think "wait, that can't be Jhoira!".

Thinking about it some more - it might help the Spikes of the world if, for example, some of the Titans were female, if there were some female Goblins, etc.  Right now the preponderance of Constructed competitive creature cards are either male, or gender neutral.  Tarmagoyf might be female, but who's going to get that close?
I'm pretty disappointing that each finalist didn't choose a different terrible lorwyn/shadowmoor mechanic for their worst mechanic. That would have been so cool.
Hmm, I started reading the first entry (Ethan Fleischer's), and I find myself having issues with each of his essays.  

White control magic -- I think that's a good idea, but the appeal to Preacher for justification?  Hopefully, that was a joke.  Even the color pie of four years ago is out of date.

Zendikar as the best combination of design and creative -- that's a fine choice, but citing the mechanical break with Rise of the Eldrazi as the biggest flaw is either a cop-out or a misinformed answer.  The whole point of Rise of the Eldrazi was that it was a mechanical reboot (while still following the Zendikar story).  I wouldn't even count it as part of Zendikar for the purposes of answering the question.

Eliminating the end step -- there is merit to this idea, but no possible fix is given.  If you start to think about it, you realize that any attempt to eliminate the end step is going to bring equally unintuitive corner cases and loop holes as the current set of rules for the end step has now.

Fetch lands being bad for the game -- I do not think this perspective is given much weight in R&D right now.  They barely design cards for Extended.  They certainly don't care how new cards warp Legacy/Vintage.  I'd say the flexible manabases of those formats are part of what distinguishes them from the smaller formats.  Also, the non-basic land hate in Legacy/Vintage is strong enough to mitigate this problem somewhat.

Well, I stopped reading at that point.  I wonder how important the essay answers were vs. the card designs.  Perhaps, I'll agree more with some of the other applicant's answers. 
Congrats to the finalists!

Controversial statement (particularly considering GDS1 history):  I think it's weird to have a female avatar for a male in this competition.

Do we know whether Devon Rule is male or female? The name can be used for either.

EDIT: Oh, now I see that Devon wants to be remembered as "that guy who talked about fun a lot". Well, as long as I see Jhoira next to him I'll probably be reading everything he writes in a female voice.
Pffft...Im going for Jonathan Woodward.  We go to the same school.

Woah!  Way to go Woodward!

He's one of my area's top players (especially Limited).

Didn't realize he had such a good head for design, too!

I love his sample cards.  (Hunger = great keyword)

Congrats to the finalists!

Thanks, guys!  I guess the hard work is just beginning, but I've got some thoughts on my mechanics and how they can fit together up on the wiki.  Discussion or ideas would be appreciated!

community.wizards.com/magicthegathering/...

Of course, I suppose MaRo might make us scrap our existing cards and mechanics next week anyway.

- Jonathan W.

P.S.  Meanwhile, I'm wondering if I need to join Twitter to participate in this competition!  Seems like all of the other finalists already have it.
Thanks to everyone who helped with the design of the plane of Golamo in the Great Designer Search 2!
My Decks
These are the decks I have assembled at the moment:
Tournament Decks (4)
Kicker Aggro (Invasion Block) Sunforger/Izzet Guildmage Midrange (Ravnica/Time Spiral/Xth Standard) Dragonstorm Combo (Time Spiral/Lorwyn/Xth Standard) Bant Midrange (Lorwyn/Shards/M10 Standard)
Casual Multiplayer Decks (50)
Angel Resurrection Casual Soul Sisters Sindbad's Adventures with Djinn of Wishes Sphinx-Bone Wand Buyback Morph (No Instants or Sorceries) Cabal Coffers Control Zombie Aggro Hungry, Hungry Greater Gargadon/War Elemental Flashfires/Boil/Ruination - Boom! Call of the Wild Teysa, Orzhov Scion with Twilight Drover, Sun Titan, and Hivestone Slivers Rebels Cairn Wanderer Knights Only Gold and () Spells Captain Sisay Toolbox Spellweaver Helix Combo Merfolk Wizards Izzet Guildmage/The Unspeakable Arcane Combo Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and his Wizards Creatureless Wild Research/Reins of Power Madness Creatureless Pyromancer Ascension Anarchist Living Death Anvil of Bogardan Madness Shamen with Goblin Game/Wound Reflection Combo Mass damage Quest for Pure Flame Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle/Clear the Land with 40+ Lands Doubling Season Thallids Juniper Order Ranger Graft/Tokens Elf Archer Druids Equilibrium/Aluren Combo Experiment Kraj Combo Reap Combo False Cure/Kavu Predator Combo Savra, Queen of the Golgari Sacrifice/Dredge Elf Warriors Eight-Post Sneak Attack Where Ancients Tread Zur the Enchanter with Opal creatures Tamanoa/Kavu Predator/Collapsing Borders Esper Aggro Mishra, Artificer Prodigy and his Darksteel Reactor Theft and Control Unearth Aggro Soul's Fire Vampires Devour Tokens Phytohydra with Powerstone Minefield Treefolk Friendly? Questing Phelddagrif Slivers Dragon Arch Fun I'm probably forgetting a few...
I would like to say a heartfelt congratulations to all finalists. It was not easy for any of you to get this far, so being here is a testament to the skills, abilities, and vision that each of you possess. Best of wishes to each of you, and I hope that no matter what becomes of this, you have no regrets.

Xweetoks = ♥Happiness

Re-education Camp (Rare)
CARDNAME comes into play tapped.
T: Add U to your mana pool.
U,T: Put a conversion counter on CARDNAME
U,T, remove X conversion counters from CARDNAME: Gain control of target creature with power less than or equal to X.



What type is this? What's its cost? (Because of the rules of the challenge, I can infer that it's a land, but still.)

Highlights:
  • Ethan Fleischer's general design on Epolith. While there's a few creative-side tweaks I'd make (Uplift rather than time driving advancement, mostly), the general idea is excelent and should allow the block to advance in an interesting, natural way. 

  • Everyone who mentioned an existing planeswalker by name mentioned Liliana or Venser :P

  • Sparks igniting on the battlefield!

  • SPARKS IGNITING ON THE BATTLEFIELD!

Hmm, I started reading the first entry (Ethan Fleischer's), and I find myself having issues with each of his essays.  

White control magic -- I think that's a good idea, but the appeal to Preacher for justification?  Hopefully, that was a joke.  Even the color pie of four years ago is out of date.


Yes, Preacher was a joke.  That card's old enough to drive!

Zendikar as the best combination of design and creative -- that's a fine choice, but citing the mechanical break with Rise of the Eldrazi as the biggest flaw is either a cop-out or a misinformed answer.  The whole point of Rise of the Eldrazi was that it was a mechanical reboot (while still following the Zendikar story).  I wouldn't even count it as part of Zendikar for the purposes of answering the question.


It's neither a cop-out nor a misinformed answer.  We simply have a difference of opinion.  I believe that the mechanical reboot was a mistake.  I understand that tt was done deliberately, but I believe that the mechanical discontinuity was too extreme in some respects.

Eliminating the end step -- there is merit to this idea, but no possible fix is given.  If you start to think about it, you realize that any attempt to eliminate the end step is going to bring equally unintuitive corner cases and loop holes as the current set of rules for the end step has now.


It's certainly possible.  I had qualms about suggesting this as a rules change, because I had no idea what sort of hideous repercussions could be unleashed.  It's a pretty major change.  Fortunately, I'm not trying out for a Rules Manager internship, so I was free to make a rather ill-considered suggestion without worrying too much about it counting against me.  My concerns were about "what rules are making the game less fun?"  I believe that giving each player priority during the End Step reduces the fun of the game.  Whether it's practical to eliminate that rule, I couldn't say.

Fetch lands being bad for the game -- I do not think this perspective is given much weight in R&D right now.  They barely design cards for Extended.  They certainly don't care how new cards warp Legacy/Vintage.  I'd say the flexible manabases of those formats are part of what distinguishes them from the smaller formats.  Also, the non-basic land hate in Legacy/Vintage is strong enough to mitigate this problem somewhat.


The point of the essays wasn't to tell R&D what they already know, but to introduce the contestants to R&D and to the world.  My priorities (as a player) are Eternal and Draft.  That's what I usually play.  I understand that Development needs to spend most of its time thinking about Standard and Limited, but keeping Basic Lands relevant is also a stated goal of R&D.  While some Basics are still used in Eternal, fetchlands have done a tremendous amount of damage to Basic Lands' stock.

Well, I stopped reading at that point.  I wonder how important the essay answers were vs. the card designs.  Perhaps, I'll agree more with some of the other applicant's answers. 


The design test was worth twice as much as the essay answers.  Give the other applicants a try.  I read all of their essays, and wished I'd written half of them, and thought the other half were sheerest madness.  It was fun.


  -Ethan Fleischer

Pfft...

The cool kids (and the pro players) want Jon Loucks to win.




I can't bring myself to cheer for somebody who has flying creatures as his first 2 creature Preview cards for his underground world. (Wingbright Angel, Heart of Darkness)

Certainly creatures can fly underground, provided they have ample room, but it isn't the most evocative thing of an underground world.

I dunno...that one stuck in my craw.

I really liked Daniel Williams Deadsands idea and the mechanics that go with it. Showdown is so much more interesting than Clash.  
Apparently GDS2 likes Morph.

Do the contestants have to stick to their world design? Two subterranean world designs might diminish each other, despite one being a refuge and one a prison.

Pffft...Im going for Jonathan Woodward.  We go to the same school.

Woah!  Way to go Woodward!

He's one of my area's top players (especially Limited).

Didn't realize he had such a good head for design, too!

I love his sample cards.  (Hunger = great keyword)

Congrats to the finalists!

Thanks, guys!  I guess the hard work is just beginning, but I've got some thoughts on my mechanics and how they can fit together up on the wiki.  Discussion or ideas would be appreciated!

community.wizards.com/magicthegathering/...

Of course, I suppose MaRo might make us scrap our existing cards and mechanics next week anyway.

- Jonathan W.

P.S.  Meanwhile, I'm wondering if I need to join Twitter to participate in this competition!  Seems like all of the other finalists already have it.


I'm sure Twitter has its benefits, but I think you'll be more than capable of getting along without it. Now that it's down to 8 people, it should be an awful lot easier for people to filter through the contestants to make comments and suggestions. I know I didn't bother with much on the design test stage, because I couldn't bring myself to read 101 worlds just for the opportunity to post a suggestion or two that would be summarily ignored.
Interesting to see the finalists' submissions. Most of the world designs I saw seemed to have the same problem - lack of focus. They had a weak theme, and nothing coherent could be done with it. The finalists' worlds seem to have fairly good focus. They have a clear flavour, and can make resonant cards that articulate that flavour. Wizards was right that this was a seriously hard task. I see all kinds of mistakes, and things that won't work. However, I also see some good ideas.

\:>

My prediction is that the people with flavour-based worlds will do well, while those with mechanics-based worlds will be hamstrung by them, and be knocked out.
There's a lot to talk about here but I want to stress one thing before I leave for work:

Anyone interested in the contest, contestants, commenting on anything or helping out on the wiki should absolutely take the time to read the essay question answers for each contestant.  It gives you a very unique window into how they think, what they care about, where they come from and what they want.  Much like "knowing Maro" helped people like myself with the Quiz, knowing the contestants and considering their answers will help you follow and understand much of the coming weeks.  Who knows, you may even learn something about yourself and design.
Its soooo cool to see Scott Van Essen as a returning contestant.

Right now I am rooting for Essen and Johnny Loucks. Johnny Loucks won my support when I saw that his Lilliana's ultimate was Yawgmoth's Bargain. Without a doubt the best Planeswalker submission. However, Van Essen's flipping rogue Planeswalker guy is so cool that it comes in a close second.

Jay Treat is hilarious and I hope he does well too.
Last special mention:  Showdown is the COOLEST.

I find the things where the contestants came to similar conclusions/mechanics to be very enlightening. For example, IIRC there were two mechanics that allowed you to play aura onto blank creatures generated by the aura. Also there is a lot of hate for lorywn/shadowmoor mechanics, but probably because a lot of them are bad.

Good luck to all the contestants! 
YMtC
Contest Achievements
I came in 3rd in "Butterside Down" #3 - http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75842/22060233/Butterside_Down_3:_A_Flavour_Contest?pg=1 I tied for first in a round of "Niklor's Art Down Speed Contest" (Round 27 ) - http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75842/25029389/Niklor%60s_Art_Down_Speed_Contest?pg=46 I got first for Round #1 of "You Make the Nation!" - http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75842/25560249/You_Make_the_Nation!GAME?pg=2 I got first for Round #1 of "MLSP" - http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75842/25581089/MLSP_-_an_Ongoing_GameContest_(Join_anytime)?pg=2
Winners of contests I have held
The Zephyr won "Inspiring Design" - http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75842/22300009/Contest_Inspiring_Design Game n' Watch's Super Short Mini Contest! (http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75842/25532701/Game_n_Watchs_Super_Short_Mini_Contest!_(Ends_11:00_EST_TODAY)?pg=1) 1st - Niklor 2nd - XJacobX 3rd - A Tie between Pacific Ninja and TheDamned
The most inspiration thing I have ever heard about Magic
"While Type Two, Limited, and Extended may be the money centers, Type One is the heart of Magic. It represents a spark of something original, the genius of human creativity. In spite of its gargantuan design flaws, perpetual imbalances, and powerful nature, it also demonstrates that chaos can be tamed. That the very nature of the game allows enough flexibility that nothing in Magic is so badly damaged it can't be addressed." - Steve Menendian.
I was surprised that three of the contestants chose the end-of-turn step as the rule to eliminate for question 4, with two of them explicitly invoking a desire to weaken draw-go.

I'm well aware that many players hate draw-go, for reasons I've never fully understood:

- It hasn't been a tournament-viable archetype in Standard since Kamigawa block.

- Its primary prey are mid-range control decks, combo decks, and other slow decks (and bad players, but that's true of any control deck). Draw-go is hard-pressed to win against aggressive, "interactive," creature-based decks (especially when competently piloted) -- in other words, the type of deck typically played by people who hate control.

- R&D has, over the years, already substantially weakened hard counters and instant-speed card draw.

Yet it seems many players still loathe the archetype so much that they want to purge it from the rules of the game. As a die-hard control player (any flavor of control, not necessarily only draw-go), this saddens me.
I was surprised that three of the contestants chose the end-of-turn step as the rule to eliminate for question 4, with two of them explicitly invoking a desire to weaken draw-go.

I'm well aware that many players hate draw-go, for reasons I've never fully understood:

- It hasn't been a tournament-viable archetype in Standard since Kamigawa block.

- Its primary prey are mid-range control decks, combo decks, and other slow decks (and bad players, but that's true of any control deck). Draw-go is hard-pressed to win against aggressive, "interactive," creature-based decks (especially when competently piloted) -- in other words, the type of deck typically played by people who hate control.

- R&D has, over the years, already substantially weakened hard counters and instant-speed card draw.

Yet it seems many players still loathe the archetype so much that they want to purge it from the rules of the game. As a die-hard control player (any flavor of control, not necessarily only draw-go), this saddens me.


That's an interesting point.  As one of the contestants who suggested eliminating the end of turn step, I have a few thoughts and responses.

First, I would not see eliminating the end step as primarily about Draw-Go.  The end step as it currently stands promotes a lot of non-intuitive plays similar to those encouraged by damage-on-the-stack.  R&D took a bold and challenging step in eliminating damage on the stack; as aspiring designers, we wanted to show our ability to contemplate dramatic shifts to improve the game.  Removing the end step without breaking dozens of cards would be very difficult, but the potential payoff is high in terms of reducing unnecessary complexity.


Second, Draw-Go was viable as recently as Five Color Control and Faeries.  Faerie decks might have attacked with a few Bitterblossom tokens between the "draw" and the "go", but it's still essentially the same thing.  In Time Spiral, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir was all about Draw-Go.  As a player who prefers midrange decks, Wafo-Tapa's "Sonic Boom" deck was not exactly something I wanted to see.


Third, while it is true that eliminating the end step as a "safe" window in which to play instants on an opponent's turn would weaken those spells, that's not necessarily a bad thing even for the players who are most fond of playing those instants.  By eliminating that particular application, which is unfun for a segment of the player base, R&D would be free to push the power level of instants a bit more.  Maybe they could bring back Counterspell or Fact or Fiction!


Players with a fondness for control frequently laud the skill-testing decisions in control-on-control, when both players have instants with which to do battle on each other's end steps.  By moving the contest into the second main phase, R&D could bring those battles of wits into any game when even one player is running a Draw-Go style deck.


Beyond that, you'll have to refer to our essays.

Thanks to everyone who helped with the design of the plane of Golamo in the Great Designer Search 2!
My Decks
These are the decks I have assembled at the moment:
Tournament Decks (4)
Kicker Aggro (Invasion Block) Sunforger/Izzet Guildmage Midrange (Ravnica/Time Spiral/Xth Standard) Dragonstorm Combo (Time Spiral/Lorwyn/Xth Standard) Bant Midrange (Lorwyn/Shards/M10 Standard)
Casual Multiplayer Decks (50)
Angel Resurrection Casual Soul Sisters Sindbad's Adventures with Djinn of Wishes Sphinx-Bone Wand Buyback Morph (No Instants or Sorceries) Cabal Coffers Control Zombie Aggro Hungry, Hungry Greater Gargadon/War Elemental Flashfires/Boil/Ruination - Boom! Call of the Wild Teysa, Orzhov Scion with Twilight Drover, Sun Titan, and Hivestone Slivers Rebels Cairn Wanderer Knights Only Gold and () Spells Captain Sisay Toolbox Spellweaver Helix Combo Merfolk Wizards Izzet Guildmage/The Unspeakable Arcane Combo Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and his Wizards Creatureless Wild Research/Reins of Power Madness Creatureless Pyromancer Ascension Anarchist Living Death Anvil of Bogardan Madness Shamen with Goblin Game/Wound Reflection Combo Mass damage Quest for Pure Flame Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle/Clear the Land with 40+ Lands Doubling Season Thallids Juniper Order Ranger Graft/Tokens Elf Archer Druids Equilibrium/Aluren Combo Experiment Kraj Combo Reap Combo False Cure/Kavu Predator Combo Savra, Queen of the Golgari Sacrifice/Dredge Elf Warriors Eight-Post Sneak Attack Where Ancients Tread Zur the Enchanter with Opal creatures Tamanoa/Kavu Predator/Collapsing Borders Esper Aggro Mishra, Artificer Prodigy and his Darksteel Reactor Theft and Control Unearth Aggro Soul's Fire Vampires Devour Tokens Phytohydra with Powerstone Minefield Treefolk Friendly? Questing Phelddagrif Slivers Dragon Arch Fun I'm probably forgetting a few...
Creatures are just a lot more resilient (and much better) these days. Also, an important point is that a control player now has to have answers for planeswalkers too. They can't just sit there wrathing away.
My abbreviated thoughts on the pages for the eight GDS2 finalists:

Ethan Fleischer (a): I don't like prehistory as a world concept - I find it pretty dull. The mechanics are okay. A few of the cards are rather fun. But what on earth is with that Knap ability? The rules for the ability include 'Hand-Axe'? Nice interactions with provoke, though.

Jon Loucks (Mannequin, b): Nice world concept. I like the split between light and dark - the mechanics I think seem to reflect this flavour rather well. Morph is good, and the cards are well designed.

Shawn Main (Atogatog, c): Reasonably nice world concept. Really nice planeswalkers (though the black one's third ability needs to change, potentially going off the turn after you cast it). Some other fun designs.

Devon Rule (Jhoira, d): Glad to see someone looking at the creative side of red, etc. I like this world. The card designs are mostly good, but nothing outstanding.

Jay Treat (Treefolk Harbinger, e): Muraganda? Prehistory's still boring, and this is unoriginal prehistory! However, the "stranded rebels" plot thread may just swing this one into an interesting setting. The mechanics are clever but may turn out to be a bit too complex. I like Captain Faulk and Venser.

Scott Van Essen (Prodigal Sorcerer, f): On Orrery: Remember a large number of players enjoy combo play! The cards are nice though. Welcome back!

Daniel Williams (Toshiro Umezawa, g): You know green has reach in Hurricane, right? The world is intriguing and unique, and the cards are fairly decent. The mechanics may be too complex, but I'm prepared to give it a chance.

Jonathan Woodward (Chameleon Colossus, h): Yay, writing games on TI-85 calculators Surprised to see you think someone casting a 15 mana spell shouldn't get to win the game for it. As for the designs, there seems to be a bit too many legends, and I'm not sure about non-optional banding. Your mythic land is more plausible than most mythic lands I see.


(As an aside: It's fun to see there's parallel design with Devon's card Twisted Vision - I designed the same card (Brutal Interrogation) in my cardset. Which is natural enough as it's a pretty obvious design. In my set it serves as an on-theme discard spell because Sienira's Facets is themed around card types; you may like to check out some of my other enchantment-creature cards.)


To all the finalists: Good luck!


With the Great Designer Lottery gathering up a head of steam, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of Magic design. Last week you met the 8 finalists. This week you get to see them squirm under the harsh light of criticism. And criticism there will be. Mark said he wasn’t looking for good card designers, and he definitely didn’t get what he wasn’t looking for.

Consider yourselves lucky you don’t have to read the 90-odd submissions that didn’t make the cut. You can polish the roughest stone – though it’s better to start with gem quality material – but you can’t do anything with the filth most people submitted other than pile it higher and deeper.


(Note: One of these 8 humans is going to be absorbed into my gestalt, then spat out, and will get to put his stamp on Magic design, for better or for worse. I want the best designer to win. To that end my critiques are mirrored on my GDS2 wiki page so that the finalists may officially take these comments into consideration. See community.wizards.com/magicthegathering/... .)


Here is the first Week 1 critique. The rest will follow, but these things take time, even for a hyper intelligent alien brain in a jar.



Ethan Fleischer – www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.a...

Essays


1 – Not much to say here other than to scoff at the idea that he thinks selling Black Lotus for $75 was a “hefty profit.” That’s vision for you. We should hire this guy just because we could probably pay him in magic beans.


2 – Ethan tends to view things through the lens of Vintage. Most likely his lens is one of those red plastic binoculars that children use to see pictures of animals.


From a casual perspective, White Weenie is one of the strongest deck archetypes and needs no help. It’s easy to build, easy to play, and universally powerful. It’s good enough to show up time and time again even in competitive play (though not in competitive Vintage), for example, the Soul Sisters deck that was played briefly prior to Scars, or the deck Paul Rietzl recently won an Extended pro-tour with.


From a competitive perspective, Vintage is dominated by blue, which is by acclamation the strongest color in Magic. Most competitive Vintage decks have more blue than they have of any other color. Yet, none of them play any control magic (except sometimes a single Sower of Temptation in the sideboard), despite control magic being in blue, the color everyone is already playing. Moving control magic to white would have no impact on Vintage (Ethan’s stated goal) outside of his own imagination.


3 – Landfall is one of Mark’s favorite mechanics, so Ethan did a good job playing to his audience. It is neither bold nor original, however, to inform us that Rise of the Eldrazi was mechanically different from Zendikar and Worldwake. It was designed to be so. That’s why it’s a large set that is drafted by itself. I suppose Ethan’s vision of Magic doesn’t involve experimentation with the concept of a block.


It would also be nice if his vision of Magic extended farther back than M10. The top-down design “trend” that Ethan thinks began with M10 has been a part of Magic since it was a twinkle in Richard Garfield’s eye. Magic itself is a top-down design. Individual cards highlighting top-down design have been printed in every set, and entire sets have always displayed varying levels of top-down design, of which the Kamigawa sets are the canonical leaders.


4 – So players can no longer respond to abilities that trigger at the beginning of an end step? Or would Ethan get rid of the end step entirely and trigger those abilities … when? One thing is for certain, Ethan doesn’t like playing against control decks. If only he’d been here 9 or 10 months ago when the top 8 at Standard tournaments was seven Jund decks and the one guy that got lucky with Mono Red Burn, Spreading Seas, or Naya. He would have loved it!


5 – Fetch lands had nothing to do with the speed of Zendikar block Limited. Rare cards have very little to do with trends in Limited, especially rare lands. Zendikar block Limited was fast because Landfall was fast, with or without fetch lands.


And Zendikar block Standard was so fast that it was dominated in turn by RWU Control, then Naya, then Jund (a painfully slow deck with card quality so high that it often didn’t matter if it didn’t have a play until turn 4), then (R)WU Control, then Mythic Conscription (a fast deck that wasn’t viable until an aura worth searching up with Sovereigns of Lost Alara had been printed, and is also glaringly vulnerable to removal), then Turbolands (a.k.a. Oracle of Mul-Daya and Lotus Cobra are ridiculous.) Tellingly, the fastest decks were fast because they had cards with incredible interactions, not because those interactions were marginally improved by the addition of fetch lands.


We place value in many different viewpoints, though. We will certainly take Ethan’s dislike for “flexible, stable mana bases” into consideration.


6 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 0.


7 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 0.


8 – There are lots of great mechanics to choose from, and Kicker is one of them.


9 – If Ethan has that much trouble with Clash, there is a good chance he is Stephen Hawking. In which case we should hire him. It also makes sense he would dislike Clash since it smoothes out draws, a concept related to “flexible, stable mana bases.”


10 – Sucking up to Mark by mentioning love for Doubling Season: check.


Suggesting a mechanical twist on Rabiah that shows any understanding of basic design or what even makes Magic fun to play: bzzz.


ROE, the most token heavy set we’ve ever printed, got away with it for a few reasons. One, it was an experiment. Two, clogging up the ground was basically one of the goals of the design. Three, it played pretty well. Four, all of the common and uncommon token generators made the same kind of tokens.


A set where multiple different kinds of tokens are being created with reckless abandon –  where many of them can’t even be printed as cards because they are copies of arbitrary creatures the opponent controls – will never be printed.


Furthermore, too much copying of creatures isn’t fun. It leads to clogged boards (without a “Battlecruiser” endgame like ROE had) and a pathological lack of variety. Go make two decks that have say, 12 Clones each, and pit them against each other. Are you having fun yet?


Design Test


A, B – No comment.


C – It’s interesting Ethan would criticize ROE for being too different mechanically from ZDK and WWK, and then propose a block where all three sets would necessarily have very little in common, from either a mechanical or a flavor perspective.


Yes, the development of a humble group of hunter-gatherers into globe-spanning masters of trade and technology is conceptually sound. The Civilization games are certainly enjoyed by many. But how is he going to carry over the mechanics of pounding out flint tools during the Stone Age, for example, into a magically/technologically advanced society on par with Ancient Rome or Renaissance Europe? Are Golden Age smiths still going to “knap” and have a “primal” link to the land? Are the denizens of populated cities still expected to “migrate”?


These issues are not insurmountable, and Ethan is lucky that the design tests will only feature cards from his block’s first set, so this weakness will be almost entirely masked. He could have and should have done better, though.


D – Mechanics


Primal – This is an easy ability for Ethan to latch on to, given his expressed hatred for fetch lands and dual lands. Is it really an interesting mechanic, though? Think about how it would play in Limited. Or rather, how 95% of spells in Limited are cast with mana from basic lands, so the Primal requirement would essentially always be met. Why even bother having the mechanic, then?


One interesting thought toward fixing Primal is to make it specific to each basic land. That is, green primals would be “Forest Primal,” blue primals would be “Island Primal,” etc. At least then the mechanic would be relevant. And though it seems like this would promote monocolor decks too much, there is also a large design space for cards that are off-color Primal. Think Primal Nacatl. (Though the ability would need modifications to work with off-colors, and might not be different enough from “If CC was spent to cast” type effects.)


Migrate – Crop Rotation as a set mechanic is lackluster. For one, it doesn’t even make sense conceptually, unless your hunter-gatherers are engaged in a scorched earth campaign against the Planeswalker/God they worship. Two, if Migrate’s main purpose is to be the set’s primary mana fixer, there would be plenty of cards with it at common and uncommon. We don’t like common mechanics that cause shuffling.


Provoke – This is obviously a good mechanic, but it’s quite annoying in bulk. Try playing a few games where you give a significant portion of creatures Provoke. It’s pretty miserable.


How can Ethan mechanically represent the idea of Stone Age hunting? Consider an ability, call it Hunter, that enables creatures to attack an opposing creature directly, instead of the opposing player. The opposing player can still declare blocks as he or she wishes, so it’s much less restrictive, but it leads to very interesting combat decisions. “My Merciless Hunter is attacking your Knap-Zap Shaman, and my Primal Nacatl is attacking you.”


Knap – This plays extremely poorly. P/T enhancing equipment is very powerful in Limited, even though it’s not that common. Having numerous persistent, transferrable +1/+1 counters is supremely annoying and ridiculously strong. Artifact removal is also useless against Knap, who wants to waste Shatter to get rid of a single +1/+1 counter? Furthermore, we don’t like tokens that aren’t creatures, so a mechanic like Knap would have to be really special to see print.


Artifact Theme – It doesn’t make much sense for a Stone Age set to have an artifact theme. It’s true that much of what we know about ancient peoples comes from their artifacts and structures, but that’s because those are the few items of permanence they had. In reality, Stone Age hunter-gatherers had one of the least artifact-dominated societies in history. Artifacts are a characteristic of technology, not primitive societies.


Homeopathic Magic – Spells that evoke primitive magic and naturalism offer a much larger and more compelling design space than homeopathy. Ethan should dilute this concept 30 times until it becomes something better.


The Cards


1 – Irix, the Wanderer


The +2 is insanely strong. It’s better than any non-ultimate ability printed on a planeswalker to date, and you’d almost always get the opportunity to do it at least twice. A modification like, “Discard three cards, then draw two cards” is still powerful, but more limited, less explosive overall, and has a hint of red. It also cleverly loses its drawback when a player has two or fewer cards in his or her hand. (And at the extreme, it becomes “Draw two cards.” )


The +2 ability is also the only one that evokes wandering. Change the -2 to something like “You may cast a random instant or sorcery card from your graveyard without paying its mana cost” and in one fell swoop it’s new, interesting, and steeped in wanderlust.


The -10 can also be improved by making a clever modification: “Target opponent reveals his or her hand. Until end of turn, you may play lands and cast spells from that opponent’s hand without paying their mana costs.” Again, now it’s new, interesting, and feels like wandering. It’s also pretty filthy and much more likely to wreck someone, which a -10 should probably do.

Irix the Wanderer
3UR
Planeswalker - Irix
4
+2: Discard three cards, then draw two cards.
-2: You may cast a random instant or sorcery card from your graveyard without paying its mana cost.
-10: Target opponent reveals his or her hand. Until end of turn, you may play lands and cast spells from that opponent’s hand without paying their mana costs.

Now that is an interesting and coherent planeswalker. 


2 – Sul of the Bow


Tutoring up a 2 CMC spell and casting it for free is certainly good, but this guy sure doesn’t seem mythic, and those abilities don’t have anything to do with being an archer. Making a Stone Age mythic is a unique challenge, because mythics should be weird and insane, yet Stone Age creatures are conceptually limited, boring, and predictable.


A legendary Stone Age archer would probably be the guy that invented the bow in the first place. Perhaps something like:


Sul of the Bow
3WW
Legendary Creature – Human Artificer
5/5
Plains Primal – If you spend only mana produced by Plains to cast Sul of the Bow, when Sul enters the battlefield, put an archer counter on each creature you control.
1W, T: Put an archer counter on target creature.
(Creatures with archer counters have “T: This deals 1 damage to target attacking or blocking creature.” )


Woah, it’s a cooler Knap than Knap, and mythic to boot.


3 – Thunder Lizard


First of all, there is no way a blue-green creature would ever be named Thunder Lizard. Anyway, do multicolor creatures really fit into a set where primitivism is the overarching theme and mechanics like Primal exist? Now that green occasionally gets Intimidate at higher rarities, this card can be more in tune with the set’s themes with a change like this:


Rumbling Baloth
4GG
Creature – Beast
6/6
Whenever Rumbling Baloth attacks, creatures your opponents control with power 4 or less can’t block.
It begins with a slight tremor, and ends with a panicked retreat.


That’s monocolor, and makes you think of terrified tribes running away from a rampaging beast. Additionally, it usually has the same impact on combat as the original ability, but without the weird tapping effect, which didn’t feel very primitive.


4 – Busy Beavers


This amounts to pure land destruction against an opponent with no islands. For three mana. Plus a body. In blue. Nuh uh.


5 – Spear of Extinction


This isn’t mythic, and the effect doesn’t feel very Stone Agey on an artifact. Perhaps something like:


Hunt to Extinction
Enchantment
Whenever a creature an opponent controls is put into a graveyard, destroy all creatures that share a creature type with that creature.


That feels a lot more natural. (Though it’s not mythic either.)


6 – Flint Mine


This is a good opportunity to address more problems with Knap. From a lore perspective, how could one creature benefit from more than one or two flint axes? I can just imagine some poor creature stumbling under the weight of 8 flint axes that is, somehow, a peerless fighter in Ethan’s world.


Is Knap appropriate for keywording? Do the rules need to refer to Knap? “Whenever you Knap, you may Knap again without paying the activation cost,” or, “Creatures you control have ‘M, T: Knap 1.’” That’s not a particularly interesting area of design, since the more Knap a player has, the more annoying and less fun it is to play (against.)


Keywording the effect also seems to entirely too limiting. Something akin to manufacturing equipment on the fly might be an avenue worth exploring (as the new version of Sul of the Bow shows), but as it is currently defined, the only thing Knap has going for it is that it’s a really aggravating take on +1/+1 counters.


7 – Painful Choice


This is probably the most interesting and well-polished of Ethan’s cards so far. It’s too bad it really has nothing to do with his set.


8 – Symbolic Target


This is very similar to #5, Spear of Extinction, and to Precursor Golem, for that matter. Next time submit 10 cards, Ethan, not 9.


This card also isn’t Stone Agey in the least. Stone Age cultures used concepts of symbolism and transference without explicitly acknowledging that those things even existed as concrete ideas. As an idea, symbolism is too philosophical for primitive cultures, and Symbolic Target’s effect of spell duplication and subtype matching seems too complicated because it lacks a primitive and natural context.


Here’s a weird spell-copying enchantment that more appropriately evokes a primitive feel:


Sacrificial Offering
2RR
Enchantment
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery, you may sacrifice a permanent that shares a color with it. If you do, copy that spell. You may choose new targets for the copy.


9 – Merciless Hunter


Change Provoke to the Hunter ability discussed in section D, and change the other ability to match:


Merciless Hunter
1WW
Creature – Human Warrior
2/3
Hunter (Merciless Hunter may attack opponents’ creatures.)
Whenever Merciless Hunter attacks a creature, that creature loses all abilities until end of turn.


Try attacking Progenitus. Sweet.


10 – Homeopathic Purge


Weird and narrow, this is very far from being common. It’s also not primitive and is just all around bleh. Here’s an interesting variation with much wider application that calls to mind a primitive tribe being worked into a frenzy against a foreign tribe:


Xenophobia
RR
Sorcery
Name a color. Target opponent reveals his or her hand. Creatures you control get +1/+0 for each revealed card of the named color.


Commentary


We don’t have any particular expectations for the finalists’ commentary, but if one of the finalists were to say something really insightful that highlighted an interesting detail we hadn’t noticed, that sure would get our attention. Ethan didn’t do that. You can say anything you want here, Ethan. Impress us.


 

Mirrored at: community.wizards.com/magicthegathering/...


Jonathon Loucks – www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.a...

Essays


1 – A boring and safe introduction. An economist would call Jonathon “risk averse.”


2 – Green already has the biggest and most mana efficient creatures at a given casting cost. Apparently, Jonathon wants them to get even bigger.


3 – Jonathon’s idea has merit. Sets with cards that have easily identifiable themes tying mechanics, art, and lore together are the ones that integrate design with creative most effectively. His example, however, is terrible.


Why exactly do players know Moroii is in Dimir guild? The only thing Dimir about it is its casting cost. Other than the fact that the card happens to be UB, the card is way more Rakdos than anything else. A 4/4 flyer with that drawback just screams demon, and could probably be any multicolor combo with black except BG.


Jonathon’s reasoning works better for Alara than it does for Ravnica. For most cards in Alara, it is easy to tell both which shard and which set the card is from by looking at any one component in isolation, such as text, art, or overall flavor – even if you don’t know the casting cost. (Which isn’t to say this wasn’t often true in Ravnica, just less so.)


4 – Even if the maximum hand size rule is most often applied when a player is mana-screwed early and can’t cast spells, does it have a negative impact on the game? From the perspective of a particular game where it occurs, the forced discard usually has no effect. The mana-screwed player loses due to tempo and never would have gotten to cast the discarded spell anyway. Yes, the forced discard is frustrating, but the real reason the player is frustrated is because of the mana screw, not because of the discard.


From a larger and more calculating perspective, one could argue that the forced discard has a positive impact on Magic, because it helps players to learn a basic skill. Being forced to squander those resources more effectively highlights the importance of shipping back a bad starting hand.


As for Jonathon’s other arguments, if we got rid of every rule that players either forget about or try to surreptitiously ignore, we soon wouldn’t have any rules left.


5 – Jonathon’s psycho-whata classification notwithstanding, it seems that “Johnny Loucks hates a combo.”


He also seems to think every card in a set must be narrowly focused on that set’s themes and mechanics to be good. First of all, Grand Architect is narrowly focused on the artifact theme in Scars, despite what Jonathon says. “U: Target artifact creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn” and generating mana for artifacts is pretty darned focused on artifacts.


Second, though Scars of Mirrodin is an artifact set, it has (and should have) other stuff in it. Scars has 88 artifacts and 48 non artifacts with the word “artifact” in their text, meaning there are 113 other cards that have nothing to do with artifacts. That’s not because Scars lacks focus, it’s because Scars is a rich set with multiple interesting themes.


It’s also a bit much for Jonathon to claim the second ability is just “a tool to help the other two abilities” and “helps nothing else in the set.” Its primary focus is to combo with the other two abilities, but it has a particularly interesting interaction with Etched Champion, and moreover helps every other artifact creature in existence in a very straightforward fashion.


Jonathon also latches on to the idea that Grand Architect is bad because it does something that no other card in the set does. (For the record, Jonathon, Myr Reservoir produces artifact mana, too, and all of the Trigons and Spellbombs care about color.) This is a particularly dangerous attitude for a designer to have because it leads to insular, self-contained sets like Kamigawa.


All sets need to have cards that look outside the set and outside the block. Plus, there is no way for us to make truly new abilities if we are afraid of trying out something we’ve never done before. Besides, maybe one of my minions just wanted to make a weird card that had a slick combo with Pili-Pala. Is that so wrong?


6 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 0.


7 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 0.


8 – Mark loves Landfall. With good reason.


9 – Jonathon is right that Champion was a bit clunky, especially with respect to its weakness to removal when a player only has one creature of the appropriate type. It probably would have been better if Champion had been templated as an additional casting cost. The only drawback to that approach is you don’t have to Champion anything if you cheat creatures with Champion into play. (That’s not a trivial issue because creatures with Champion have unusually low mana costs, so are easier to cheat into play.)


10 – An interesting idea that has been discussed before. Gaea's Skyfolk is getting lonely. Still, hybrid tribal is a lot harder to pull off than hybrid mana, but perhaps Jonathon can be the one to make it work.


Design Test


A, B, C – “Underland”? If the rest of the finalists can do better than a bad R. A. Salvatore ripoff, Jonathon is in trouble.


Why would light become a precious resource in the Underdarkland anyway? It seems like cave-dwelling creatures would just adapt to the darkness, like they do in the real world. A less nonsensical and more compelling light vs. dark themed world would pit surface creatures against subterranean creatures. (Also, is gravity magically negated in those vast fungal caverns? If not, up and down still have meaning.)


D – Mechanics


Morph – Obviously a good mechanic with lots of design space left. I’m not convinced it fits into Underland, though.


Illuminate – This ability is very unfocused. It allows the player to choose between three pretty minor and unrelated abilities. And other than the fact that it does tie together three disparate abilities, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to keyword it.


Illuminate should focus on one ability and execute it convincingly. Perhaps it should have something to do with turning face down cards face up. Go crazy with this. What if Illuminate turned all face down cards face up? Vast mindgame potential, though that might be too crazy and could easily be too narrow, if there wasn’t enough Morph in the set.


Maybe Illuminate should cause an opponent to reveal a random card and then have some effect based on a characterstic of the revealed card. Whatever it does, Illuminate should actually do something, which it doesn’t do in its current form.


Dig – Miserable. Is there any reason to mask what’s basically landcycling within a weird scry-like effect when you don’t really get to do any scrying? Put the revealed cards into the player’s graveyard and all of a sudden things get interesting, though it doesn’t really fit with the set’s other mechanics. (It sure would be fun to explore in a graveyard-focused set, though.)


Suffuse – Quite interesting. In moderation, the ability to hide away cards in exile that are immune to discard effects – but can then be retrieved one at a time whenever you would draw a card – would probably play quite well. Lose the light counters, though. As of yet there is no real reason to put these sorts of counters on a card in exile, and the rest of the set offers no indications otherwise. It’s not like any mechanism exists that could remove the light counters, so they really serve no purpose.


The Cards


1 – Liliana of Shadow


Yawgmoth's Bargain, while insanely powerful, is the kind of card you have to build a deck around. You can’t build a deck around a planeswalker going ultimate. Liliana’s other two abilities are so lackluster and unfocused that it’s hard even conceiving of an interesting variation. But I’ll try:


Liliana of Shadow
3BB
Planeswalker – Liliana
3
+1: Each player sacrifices a creature.
-2: Target player loses life equal to the number of creature cards in all graveyards.
-6: You get an emblem with “Exile a card from your graveyard: Add an amount of B to your mana pool equal to the converted mana cost of the exiled card.”


That was way harder than it needed to be. Attention all GDS2 finalists: stop submitting incredibly boring and unoriginal cards, especially at mythic rare.


2 – Wingbright Angel


This is bad. A flying angel underground? At least Wingbright Angel finally makes Illuminate do something, but it shouldn’t take a rare bomb to make a set mechanic meaningful.


3 – Heart of Darkness


Jonathon’s first two creatures in his subterranean themed set are both gigantic flyers. He needs to figure out there are other forms of evasion, and fast. It’s like he didn’t even try to make his cards fit into his world.


Additionally, the ETB effect seems like more of a gigantic drawback than anything mythically awesome. Despite being a demon with a really dumb name, nothing about Heart of Darkness suggests it needs a demonic drawback. Perhaps something like:


Cimmerian Liege
5BB
Legendary Creature – Demon
6/6
Intimidate
When Cimmerian Liege enters the battlefield, you may turn any number of target nonland permanents face down. (They are 2/2 creatures.)
Light flees from its demonic visage.

Keep in mind that Cimmerian Liege can't be blocked by face down creatures, since they are neither black nor artifact creatures. 


4 – Boring Drill


Yup, it’s boring alright. Also, a +4/+0 equipment isn’t common. How about:


Dwarven Drillbit
2
Artifact – Equipment
Equipped creature gets +2/+0.
Whenever you equip Dwarven Drillbit, reveal the top card of your library. If it’s a land card, put it into your hand. Otherwise, you may put the revealed card on the bottom of your library.
Equip (1)


Who knew dwarves made crystal balls?


5 – Irongut, the Smelter


Yet another Knap. What makes this really comical is that in his comments Jonathon says, “Irongut worries me a little because attaching tokens to permanents may be a bit unwieldy, but the uniqueness of the effect makes me think it's manageable enough to work.” He’s right that it’s unwieldy, but wrong that it’s unique or manageable. Here’s a similar take on smelting without the equipment tokens:


Dwarven Forgemaster
1RR
Creature – Dwarf Artificer
3/2
RR, T, Sacrifice a Mountain: Search your library for an equipment card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of mountains you control and put it onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library.


Honestly, I still don’t like it, but at least it doesn’t have Knap.


6 – Pit of Shadow


Pit of Eldrazi Temple. Also, since when does the Building on a Budget column feature boring lands that do nothing?


7 – Obscure in Shadow


On the surface this odd take on a counterspell seems fine. It’s certainly creative. It’s probably unplayable, though, or bad enough to render blue control decks unplayable.


In a draw-go deck, this counterspell is bad because it gives an opponent a creature that can win by itself, the kind of thing players generally use their counterspells to avoid.


In an aggro-control deck, the point is to drop some creatures, back them up with counterspells, and win off gained tempo. But this counterspell gives the opponent a blocker and more time, negating much of the tempo advantage.


It is interesting, though. Who knows, it might not be that bad. You’d obviously sideboard it in against the Shadowy Ultimatum deck, but probably not much else.


8 – Life from Light


Perhaps Jonathon’s best card. It’s simple, intuitive, and highlights the only decent and original mechanic in his block. It’s probably way too strong, though. He’s also really bad at naming. Photosynthesis is an easy slam dunk.


9 – Twilight Zone


Where the heck is the hybrid mana coming from all of a sudden? This also isn’t a hybrid card according to Mark’s vision of hybrid. (Not all of the other designers agree with Mark on this.) To Mark, a good hybrid card is one that combines ideas in a way that neither color could or would do separately. For example, Fate Transfer is a weird creature destruction spell that kills a creature just by moving around counters, never using the word destroy. It’s not black, and it’s not blue. It’s black/blue.


Twilight Zone, on the other hand, is clearly both black and white. It has two separate abilities, each of which in isolation belongs to a single color. There’s also nothing weird and paradoxical about the card, so why does it have a name that has those connotations in popular culture? If anything it should be:


Whenever a player casts a white spell, {detrimental effect.}
Whenever a player casts a black spell, {positive effect.}


10 – Bane of All


Uninspired and drab. It does have one thing going for it, though … it’s Jonathon’s last card.


Commentary


Jonathon very much likes to say things he thinks are insightful. Instead of telling us about unique and special cards he’s willing to take risks for, in future weeks he should take the risk of submitting a really good design.


Mirrored at: community.wizards.com/magicthegathering/...


Shawn Main – www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.a...

Essays


1 – Shawn sounds like a really fun guy to work with. Like a cross between Tony Robbins and a management consultant. A bit of a control freak, though.


Is it natural to wonder if the only reason some people think ideas aren’t precious is because they’ve never had a good one?


We hope Shawn eventually realizes that though ideas are precious, good designers understand that they aren’t sacred. Even if an idea is great, if it doesn’t meet the needs of the framework it’s in, it needs to be shelved. That’s why Mark had to wait so long to bring back poison.


2 – This is a great idea, but only because the ability Shawn proposes we “shift” into red is already firmly in red. We don’t print it a lot, but it’s there, hiding out in Magic’s Kuiper belt.


Goblin Looter (Uncommon)
1R
Creature – Goblin Rogue
1/1
T: Draw a card, then discard a card at random.


There is no particular reason this card can’t be printed. Of course, what Shawn is really talking about is unrestricted looting, with no randomness. That sort of calculated card filtering is overwhelmingly blue.


3 – One problem with printing all ten guilds in the first set of Ravnica block – even if six of the guilds were thrown in as teasers – is that then we don’t have anything new to show you in Guildpact and Dissension. That’s actually a pretty bad way to build suspense and anticipation for a new set.


It also doesn’t make any sense to use a card like, say, Agent of Masks to foreshadow the Orzhov Syndicate. That’s a standard WB card that is Orzhov because its WB, and not the other way around. So if we abandon the strict 4-3-3 structure as Shawn asks, our options are to spoil an entire block in the first set, or to include a few of the filler creatures from the second and third sets that don’t really have anything to do with their guilds other than being color appropriate. Neither one sounds like something we want to do.


4 – It’s a mystery why Shawn thinks changing the order of the upkeep step, or “folding” it into other steps, would address any of the memory issues inexperienced players have with the concept of upkeep. In order to play Magic, people actually have to learn how to play Magic. We are all for simplifying the rules wherever possible, but what Shawn proposes is the exact opposite of a simplification.


It’s also disappointing that Shawn thinks we would print “at the end of your draw step” or “at the end of your untap step” on a card. How did he pass the multiple choice test?


5 – "You can jump through this hoop, but, really, why bother?" Because the hoop reduces the cost of the spell. One mana is often very significant. Perhaps Shawn should let his opponents start each game with a land already in play and learn the significance of one mana.


It’s clear Shawn doesn’t play control decks, which isn’t a sin, just a big gap in his knowledge. He also doesn’t understand tempo, which is a bigger issue, but then again not all designers need to be great players. (It certainly helps if they understand the basics, though.) More relevant to design, he wants to make Stoic Rebuttal much weaker and much more narrow for purely aesthetic purposes, which isn’t something we do.


His “significant choice” between Cancel and Stoic Rebuttal also wouldn't be a choice at all for Limited and Block players. Shawn needs to be careful that his vision of Magic isn’t so myopic that he can’t conceive of people playing a format, deck, or style he isn’t that familiar with.


6 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 1.


Bravo Shawn, you are the first! He talks about a few ways to lead less experienced players toward more complicated Magic concepts naturally, some of which we are already doing, some of which we aren’t.


7 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 0.


8 – Level up is a great mechanic, and Shawn gets brownie points with Mark for using one of his favorite words. Next time he shouldn’t make us read 140 words of drivel before answering the question, though.


9 – Shawn spent so many words not answering the question (313, in fact), that when he finally mentioned his pick for the worst mechanic in Extended, he had no room to say anything meaningful about it.


Shawn needs to spend less effort trying to impress us with what he thinks are profound insights into Magic design, and more effort trying to show us he deserves to win this competition.


10 – Shawn came up with a new twist on Zendikar, identified a problem with his new mechanic, proposed a solution, but then failed to ask himself whether the cure was actually worse than the disease.


Additionally, “every color gets green’s land tutoring ability” is probably not a design space we are going to explore any time soon. Shawn hasn’t yet realized that only three colors could make Eldrazi Spawn tokens in ROE. (And that black’s cheapest way of doing so at common cost 5 mana.)


Design Test


A – The audience should know Shawn just got back from having his wisdom teeth removed, and he still has his mouth stuffed full of cotton.


B – A really good tagline (Shawn’s isn’t one) should be engaging, intriguing, and should hint at potential mechanical interactions in the set. For example, “An adventure world where the land itself attacks all visitors.” What immediately jumps out? “Adventure world.” Boom, it’s Indiana Jones running through the jungle (preferably without an alien skull in his hands.) “Land itself attacks.” Land attacks! Woah. Woah!


“A crumbling world in a state of total war” is extremely bland. Where does Shawn’s block take place? Who knows, it could be on Coruscant, it could be World War III, it could be the last gasp of the Roman Empire or the fight for Middle Earth.


What’s going to happen in Shawn’s set? I suppose people are going to fight. Like they do in every Magic set.


C – SPOILER ALERT: At the end of this block’s novel, Bastian is going to give the Empress a new name and then ride Falkor off into the horizon.


D – Mechanics


Token Generation – Not much to say here. Shawn likes clogged boards and confusing game states with no upside. Most players don’t. Another possibility: Shawn collects tokens.


Encourage Attacking – Pumping or otherwise buffing your creatures when they attack is the least interesting method of exploring token generation possible. Attacking is the most basic function of creatures, and making them better at it is pretty obvious.


Convoke – This is obviously a good mechanic, and it obviously pairs well with token generation, since we’ve already done it. Potential tagline for Shawn’s set: “Selesnyever Ending Stoooooory!” (He’d have great theme music.)


Front Line – Provoke is a good ability, and this is an interesting take on it. It’s also far less restrictive than Provoke, which makes it suitable for larger numbers of creatures.


Swarm – This will be extremely hard to balance in a set that pumps out tokens. It’s much more powerful than Bramblesnap’s ability, for example, and that card was insane.


The Cards


1 – Chernabog


Shawn continues Ethan’s and Jonathon’s trend with another dreadful mythic. With the 0 ability Shawn imagines a ridiculously clogged board with 18 different kinds of tokens, and 9 counters get put on Chernabog in one fell swoop. It’s too narrow and too limiting, and will often have no utility whatsoever. That doesn’t sound like a very good ability for a 5 CMC mythic rare planeswalker. Life gain also makes no sense on a Demon planeswalker.


The -3 is pretty vanilla, and would be more suitable for a Zombie than it is for a Demon. It also doesn’t add anything to Chernabog’s flavor, and doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with the other abilities, thematically or mechanically.


With the -13 Shawn has cunningly noticed that huge minus abilities on planewalkers ultimately end up being “You crush your opponent mercilessly, good game.” Shawn has boiled this fact down to its essence and given us “-13: Target player loses the game.” That’s not a good thing. This ability is terrible. It’s not fun, it’s unsatisfying, and it may be the creative low in a submission that is already scraping the bottom of the barrel.


Here’s my take:


Gmork the Devourer
2BB
Planeswalker – Gmork
3
+1: Exile all creature cards in all graveyards. Each player loses 1 life for each card exiled this way.
-2: Destroy target creature and all other creatures with the same name as that creature. Then search its controller’s hand and library for all cards with the same name as that creature and put them into their owner’s graveyard.
-7: Each player gets an emblem with “At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice a creature. If you don’t, you lose the game.”


Of course, the ultimate doesn’t work without an upkeep step.


2 – Boiling Ballad


The idea of associating Convoke with some sort of bonus actually leads to a lot of interesting design space. Some weird pseudo-threshold ability is just about one of the most awkward ways to do it, though. What about this?


Rockbiter’s Wail
5RR
Sorcery
Convoke (Each creature you tap while casting this spell reduces its cost by 1 or by one mana of that creature’s color.)
Rockbiter’s Wail deals 5 damage to each player and each creature that wasn’t tapped to pay its Convoke cost.
He held them in his big, good, strong hands. Didn’t he?


Now that’s got some pizzazz.


3 – Mirror-Faced Colossus


Wouldn’t a mirrored artifact turn itself into the creatures its reflecting, and not the other way around? How about:


Graograman Idol
4
Artifact
Whenever a creature you control attacks, Graograman Idol becomes an X/X artifact creature and is attacking, where X is the number of attacking creatures you control.


4 – Valorous Charge


Meh. Rewarding some behavior is a sound mechanical foundation for a set, but cards like Valorous Charge are a boring way to do it, since the secondary bonus is just more of the same. Try something like this:


Uyulala’s Wisdom
3WW
Instant
Cast Uyulala’s Wisdom only on your turn during combat after blockers have been declared.
Destroy all creatures that aren’t attacking or blocking.
Creatures you control get +0/+2 until end of turn.
Few can reach the Southern Oracle. Even fewer can make sense of her advice.


5 – Restless Haven


No one will look back at GDS2 and remember “That awesome rare version of Khalni Garden.” But I guess it’s ok now that 1/1s are free. I don't know why Shawn thinks this will win any competitions, but it's a card.

Just to continue the remake theme I’ll throw out something wild:


The Nothing
Legendary Land
The Nothing enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add B to your mana pool.
BB, T: Each player with four or more lands sacrifices a land.
Beyond the boundaries of hopes and dreams, The Nothing grows stronger.


6 – Observation Point


This seems nothing like an enchantment. It’s also really difficult to imagine making a decent budget deck out of three 1/1s and a pretty underwhelming set of abilities.


7 – Liliana, the Lost


The 0 idea is cool, but other than the fact Liliana has any abilities that can change the number of loyalty counters on her, her abilities have nothing to do with each other. There’s no rule that says a planeswalker’s abilities have to be cohesive, or synergistic, or anti-synergistic, but they are certainly more interesting when they have some sort of interaction.


Morla, the Ancient One
2BG
Planeswalker – Morla
4
+1: Put target card in a graveyard on the bottom of its owner’s library.
-1: Put the bottom card of your library into your hand. You lose 1 life.
0: Destroy each permanent with converted mana cost equal to the number of loyalty counters on Morla.


Much better. (Still probably too good, but much better.)


8 – Sigurd the Second


This is just ridiculous. One begins to wonder if Shawn has ever even played Magic. Here’s a similar legendary token generator that has a chance of getting printed:


Engywook
3WW
Legendary Creature – Gnome Wizard
3/3
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you don’t control a creature named Urgl, put a 3/3 white Gnome Wizard creature token named Urgl onto the battlefield.
There’s no fool like an old fool!


Of course, that’s probably not mythic. But Sigurd wasn’t mythic either, as much as it was just a bad idea.


9 – Library Raid


Why would Shawn propose a set with Convoke, then make a spell that cares about tapped creatures, but not give the spell Convoke to give the spell a tapped creature outlet? It’s a mystery. Library Raid’s effect has also been done to death.


Something kind of like Library Raid, but with Convoke and a similar interaction to Rockbiter’s Wail, could make a very interesting card in green:


Nighthob’s Dispatch
(X)(G)
Sorcery
Convoke (Each creature you tap while casting this spell reduces its cost by 1 or by one mana of that creature’s color.)
Reveal the top X cards of your library. Put all creature cards with the same name as a creature tapped to pay this spell’s Convoke cost into your hand and the rest on top of your library in any order.


It’s pretty unique, and has a strange interaction with tokens. You can’t tutor up tokens or their generators, but tapping a token lets you dig deeper for the few non-token creatures you might have.


A glaring weakness of this new version is that the card reordering effect isn’t green, but otherwise the spell would be too narrow. Perhaps that makes it a bad card. It’s still light years ahead of Library Raid in terms of potential.


10 – Aphid Trailblazer


The overpowering effect of Swarm can be toned down and given an interesting interaction:


Atreyu’s Greenskin Guard
3G
Creature – Elf Warrior
1/4
Front Line (Atreyu’s Greenskin Guard must be blocked if able.)
Whenever Atreyu’s Greenskin Guard is blocked, it gets +1/+1 for each unblocked creature you control.
Sworn to protect the Son of All until death.


Commentary


Shawn takes time from his busy schedule to inform us that Liliana’s painfully obvious self-interaction is deliberate.


Mirrored at: community.wizards.com/magicthegathering/...


Devon Rule – www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.a...

Essays


1 – Best in the world, eh? We have high hopes for his design test.


And, yes, Devon, a quality unisex name, in this case belongs to a guy, dashing the last hope that we’d have a woman in the competition this time around. It’s probably for the best, she would have just won the thing anyway.


2 – Counter target creature spell would certainly be a potent addition to the modern white aggro-control package. Bizarrely, Devon’s reasoning behind the shift is based entirely on his perception of what constitutes equitable distribution of abilities, and has nothing to do with the concept of the color wheel.


Which isn’t to say we haven’t given thought to white counterspells, even outside of Time Spiral. (Lapse of Certainty.) Nevertheless it would have been better if Devon had said a few words demonstrating his understanding of one of the most fundamental aspects of Magic design, and how it applied to his answer to this question.


3 – It’s hard to argue with this. A cogent and well-reasoned response.


4 – If changing the rule to Devon’s proposed version would “change very little,” why even bother?


When we make changes to rules, like eliminating mana burn, or removing damage from the stack, it’s because players are constantly making substantial mistakes related to something strange and unintuitive about those rules. Players simply aren’t making substantial mistakes related to the timing of when getting decked causes them to lose the game, so Devon’s suggestion is a non-starter.


Furthermore, many players think about the library and their life total fundamentally differently. No doubt many players would think Devon’s timing for a decking loss is “random” and “unintuitive.”


5 – Dawnglare Invoker may not be the worst (designed) card currently in Standard, but it’s hard to argue with much of what Devon says. Dawnglare Invoker isn’t fun a lot of the time. It’s excruciating to lose to her, and unsatisfying to win with her. That’s because her ability is one of the least interactive creature abilities we’ve ever printed.


6 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 2.


Close enough.


7 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 0.


On question 6 Devon identified something we have done in the past and more or less suggested we further emphasize that aspect of Magic design to make the game more accessible to the inexperienced. He didn’t say anything new, but at least he expressed an opinion and suggested an actual change.


Neither Devon nor any of the other finalists reviewed so far have managed to do even that for question 7. Simply saying things that are tantamount to “continue conforming to all of these principles that I know already form the core of how you approach Magic design” is not a good answer to this question.


We aren’t expecting profound insights, here, but it’s very disappointing that no one so far has even gone so far as to imply we are doing something wrong. If you are an experienced player and there’s something you don’t like about Magic design (and there has to be something), tell us about it. Be bold. Be provocative. Be shocking.


You cannot offend us. Mark especially has an incredibly thick skin. Have you seen some of the emails he responds to?


8 – There are lots of great mechanics to choose from, and Persist is one of them. We’re glad you liked it.


9 – This is more like it. Why couldn’t Devon do this for question 7?


That being said, he’s not very convincing. A lot of what Devon says about Q are good reasons why it shouldn’t be considered among the best designed mechanics, or perhaps why it didn’t fit well into its block.


Most people would argue, however, that there are one or two (or more) mechanics in Extended about which you can’t even say they are “cool in the abstract,” a few mechanics more courageous people might even call “fundamentally flawed,” which Devon says Q is not.


10 – Wedges of AlaraUlgrotha is a good – if obvious – idea. It’s not at all clear what Devon means when he says the block should focus on “intraplanar conflict” instead of “internal merger.”


One of the things that made Alara’s shards concept unique was that each shard behaved as if each other shard didn’t exist. Naya colors in other sets include blue and black hosers, for example, but Naya doesn’t, because Naya doesn’t know about blue and black.


If the wedges in Ulgrotha 2.0’s block focus on conflict with each other, how will that be any different from a normal multicolor set where the colors engage each other freely? It seems like that would only serve to deemphasize the shard/wedge concept, in which case, why is it being used in the first place?


Design Test


A – Well, Utopia was written in 1516. At least it’s out of copyright. Devon’s treading on dangerous ground, here, though. Utopia concepts are notoriously hard to adapt into interesting, coherent stories. Just look at Star Trek: Insurrection.


B, C, D – “What does it look like to throw fire with inspiration rather than rage, or counter spells with wisdom instead of arrogance?” Much the same, really.


Devon outlines a concept inspired thematically and mechanically by the idea that most magic is corporeal: lots of enchantments, Hellspark Elemental instead of Lightning Bolt, Auras that don’t require creatures to be played, even enchantment creatures. These are all ideas well worth exploring, and one that players have been clamoring for for a long time. Probably the single most common block idea thrown around on the GDS2 wiki was An Enchantment Block.


It’s a shame Devon is trying to force the concept into a weird and untenable “weaponized paradise” framework. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and isn’t very interesting, besides.


Mechanics


Lots of Enchantments – One of the reasons why artifact sets work is because artifacts can be creatures, so we can print lots and lots of artifacts without lowering the creature count in a set. Artifacts also use colorless mana so they can be used in any color deck.


Lucent Liminid notwithstanding, it’s hard to make a case for enchantment creatures, and enchantments will never have as universal application as artifacts. Even pseudo enchantment creatures of the past, like Opal Gargoyle, are being supplanted by artifact “idols” nowadays.


We did print Lucent Liminid, however, so we are certainly willing to give this concept a fair shake, even though the design task is much harder than some others might be. It’s good to see Devon is on board for a challenge.


Manifest – We are always looking for solutions to the “aura 2-for-1” problem. Allowing auras to optionally create their own targets is a good idea. Devon says he’s “adapted” the keyword, which I take to mean he didn’t come up with the idea. One of the big things Mark says he is looking for in this GDS is the ability to recognize good ideas and integrate them effectively with each other. Devon has done a good job recognizing a very compelling concept, and has also been brave enough to make a foreign idea a feature mechanic in his set.


Flameweavers – Rakka Mar or Sparkspitter as a widespread mechanical theme could be interesting, but it remains to be seen how well a set where you can’t zap enemy creatures directly plays. That’s taking away a big piece of red’s pie, and Mono Red Burn decks probably won’t be playable in this block.


Flip Cards – This mechanic has so much design space left, let’s see what Devon can do with it.


Ransack – This is a hard sell. Having a heavy sacrificing subtheme in the set can definitely work, but it almost certainly shouldn’t get an ability word. If the Ransack abilities have nothing in common but the fact they trigger on a sacrifice, it’s too general and the ability word doesn’t tie anything together. (For example, if Ransack can cover both “Whenever a player sacrifices a creature” and “Whenever an opponent sacrifices a land” then it’s too general.) But if Ransack is limited to some specific set of sacrificing criteria, it’s not very interesting and isn’t well-suited to be a set-wide mechanic.


A simple sacrificing subtheme is definitely worth exploring, though.


The Cards


1 – Jacelyn Nalaar


Disappointingly, Devon didn’t break the mythic curse with Jacelyn. For whatever reason, the GDS finalists so far have had real difficulty with planeswalkers.


Jacelyn’s +2 is underwhelming. Twiddle hasn’t been printed in ages, and with good reason. All modern versions either provide a body or at the very least cantrip, and it’s not that fun to play.


Admittedly, even on 5 CMC planeswalkers, the plus ability doesn’t have to be awesome. After all, Jacelyn’s mother has “+1: This deals 1 damage to target player” which serves no other purpose than to get to ultimate. Chandra Nalaar probably wouldn’t be a good planeswalker to submit to try to win this competition, though.


(This next paragraph is addressed to all the GDS finalists.) I know Mark said he wasn’t looking for good card designers, but it’s in your best interest to wow us with your designs. Don’t worry about being too careful and giving us cards that look like they’ve been washed and rewashed by development. Don your cape, strap on your space helmet and go for the gusto, today of all days. You can do better than Twiddle.


The -X would be pretty good if it let you look for sorceries as well as instants. There’s no real reason to make an ability like this on a 5 CMC planeswalker so limited. Tutoring and casting a spell for free in one breath can be pretty powerful in the right deck. It’s a plain but good ability. Its major drawback is that it’s about a million times better than the ultimate.


-7 to take an extra turn is bad. For one thing, even the ridiculously overpowered Time Walk a lot of the time amounts to nothing more than “Draw a card.” Extra turns can be amazing, but they can also be almost useless. Compared to, say, “-7: Destroy all lands target player controls,” Jacelyn’s ultimate is a huge letdown.


There is also the small matter that (my version of) Jacelyn’s second ability can be “-5: Take an extra turn after this one.” Just tutor up Time Warp. That Time Warp isn’t in Devon’s set, and that Devon’s version of Jacelyn’s second ability doesn’t allow sorceries isn’t that important. He can use these examples to gauge the relative power of various options and how appropriate certain abilities are for planeswalkers.


Lastly, the fact that Jacelyn’s ultimate is so bad makes her first ability even worse, since its main function is to get her to ultimate.


Since Devon’s Jacelyn Nalaar doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the mechanical themes of his set, I won’t force my modification to, either:


Chandrick Beleren
2UR
Planeswalker – Chandrick
3
+1: Whenever you cast the next instant or sorcery spell you cast this turn, you may pay its mana cost again. If you do, copy that spell. You may choose new targets for the copy.
-2: Search your library for a card with the same name as target card in your graveyard and reveal that card. Put that card into your hand, then shuffle your library.
-6: For each nonland permanent you control, you may put a token onto the battlefield that is a copy of that permanent.


How’s that? Chandrick’s another UR planeswalker with much the same feel as Jacelyn, and he’s the child of two planeswalkers, too! (And maybe his ultimate is a good enough reason to occasionally allow noncreature tokens.)


2 – Spirit Guide


This is a safe, solid card displaying one of Devon’s set’s new keywords in the style of Umbra Mystic. It doesn’t have any wow factor, but neither is it bad.


It would have been much more ambitious to feature Manifest on a really interesting aura, perhaps one that naturally and creatively had different effects based on whether it was attached to a creature or attached to the self-generated enchantment creature token.

Something like:


Foul Presence
2B
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets -3/-3.
Enchanted enchantment gets +2/+2 and has deathtouch.
Manifest – BB, Reveal Foul Presence from your hand: Put a 2/2 colorless Spirit enchantment creature token onto the battlefield under your control, then attach this card to it. Do this only as a sorcery.


3 – Invasion Dragon


Other than the fact this is a dragon without flying, it’s an ok concept that just needs a little more polish. How about:


Earthcracker
4RR
Creature – Wurm
4/4
Whenever Earthcracker attacks, it deals 4 damage to defending player unless he or she sacrifices a land.
Whenever a player sacrifices a land, put a +1/+1 counter on Earthcracker.


Giving the opponent the option to take damage instead of sacrificing a land has a much more red flavor, whereas Invasion Dragon’s mutual land sacrifice felt more black.


4 – Postmortem Contract


A fairly mundane combination of effects that has absolutely nothing to do with the mechanics of Devon’s set. (Although vampires in Utopia are apparently quite fond of contracts.) Additionally, this card is way too strong. While that’s “development’s problem,” Postmortem Contract is particularly egregious. It amounts to a player’s opponent choosing between two 5 CMC effects (~Rise from the Grave or Disentomb + Scorching Missile), but only costs 3 mana.


5 – Gareth, Flameweaver Prodigy


Even in an enchantment set, giving “Enchantment creatures you control get +1/+1” to red seems wrong. That should almost certainly be a white ability, with green or red getting the enchantment version of Night of Souls' Betrayal.


The token generating ability is also probably too strong. It’s an infinite mana sink every turn that generates bodies, sort of like Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek without the life gain, but on one card. Remember, Sword of the Meek got banned because of the potency of that combo.


Of course, without the enchantment pumping and the endless tokens, Gareth is just Rakka Mar. (A good card, but not within the context of this competition.)


This is a pretty big departure from Devon’s original, but still has a lot of the same flavor and integrates the set’s enchantment theme:


Flameweaver Prodigy
1RR
Creature – Human Shaman
2/2
R, T, Exile an enchantment card from a graveyard: Put an X/1 red Elemental enchantment creature token with haste onto the battlefield, where X is the converted mana cost of the exiled card.


6 – Muse’s Mirror


These sorts of incredibly narrow abilities are better suited for creatures. Even when the ability isn’t triggering, at least you get a body.


7 – City of Scholars


Telepathy only costs one mana. Just make it persistent and make the land enter the battlefield tapped:


City of Scholars
Land
City of Scholars enters the battlefield tapped.
Your opponents play with their hands revealed.
T: Add U to your mana pool.


A cool little land, not sure why it’s in this set, though.


8 – Idealism


This card is a complete and unmitigated disaster. What was Devon thinking? The occasional Time of Heroes is fine for inclusion in any set, but there is no way Brian Tinsman would enter the card into a design competition. He’d give us Transcendent Master.


9 – Twisted Vision


Duress? Really? Is Devon aware this is a competition?


10 – Clear Thinking // Thought Erasure


It would be really cool if this flipping enchantment did something interesting having to do with the themes of the set. But it doesn’t.


Commentary


Devon has no clue. And he has no clue that he has no clue.



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Jay Treat – www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.a...

Essays


1 – Jay must be insane to admit he is in any way responsible for “the most complex and dynamic” ads on the web. All those annoying expanding flash ads with sound and video and bile? Thank Jay for them.


But he’s a nice guy.


2 – Number of words spent explaining why white shouldn’t have an ability: 252.


Number of words spent explaining why black should: 0. (“[It] won’t unbalance [black]” hardly counts.)


Interestingly, Jay’s answer to this question reads very much like a webpage with one of the intrusive ads he makes a living designing. Any potentially useful information is completely drowned out by stuff no one wants to see.


3 – There’s only a half-page ad on this one. (50% of the information was actually relevant!) Zendikar is a good pick, though, and a set everyone involved was proud to have been a part of.


4 – If only Jay had the courage to make up his mind. Does he want to simplify the turn structure or have persistent mana? Why does he think Waylay is such a problem if it’s been successfully errataed to restore its original functionality? Why does he want Braid of Fire to be so good? Is Omnath, Locus of Mana Jay’s favorite card? The answer to these questions, and more, next time, on the Great Designer Search 2!


5 – If we could figure out how to make all our splashy rares appeal to all three of the main player psychographics – as Jay readily admits Mindslaver does – that would be exceptional.


None of the reasons Jay says Mindslaver is poorly designed make any sense. Most players think Mindslaver’s ability is fun and unique. It’s just as frustrating to get run over by any other 6 mana bomb as it is to get blown out by Mindslaver. It happens. Jay’s complaint is more about the nature of Magic than anything else, though he doesn’t seem to know it.


He also didn’t clearly didn’t proofread this answer, or is just that bad of a writer. A nonsensical question that isn’t a question?


6 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 2.


But Jay wasn’t one of them. What can design do. Not 222 words on marketing and then a half-hearted paragraph telling us to “resonate.”


7 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 0.


As I said in Devon’s review, “continue conforming to all of these principles that I know already form the core of how you approach Magic design” does not constitute an answer to this question. Neither does “keep up the good work.”


8 – No, that’s exactly what we meant. Flying is a phenomenal mechanic and Jay really would have stood out had he had the courage to go through with it. He really needed to stand out, too, since he didn’t bother answering questions 2 – 7.


Instead he went the safe route, chose Landfall (one of Mark’s favorite recent mechanics), and rehashed everything Mark’s already written about why Landfall is so great.


9 – I’m so relieved to see Jay finally answer a question and express a well-reasoned opinion that I’m just going to give him full points for this one.


10 – The extension of “If C1 / If C2” into “For each C1 / For each C2” is pretty obvious. The main reason we chose not to use “multi conditional hybrid” spells in existing hybrid and multicolor sets is because it’s pretty awkward and isn’t worth the complexity for the abilities you get. Most everything a designer would want to do with multi conditional hybrid spells is achieved more cleanly with the plain old Firespout template.


Design Test


A – Didn’t Mark specify contestants were to create their own world? I suppose with Muraganda getting mentioned on just two cards in Future Sight, Jay is still doing the bulk of the design work.


B, C – It would be natural to assume an ad guy could come up with a really fantastic blurb to sell his set. Wrong, but natural.


D – Mechanics


Mystic – This mechanic is terrible. It depends entirely on using lands from Jay’s set. He magnanimously informs us that since “any land with charge counters [satisfies Mystic]” it is “a nod to backwards compatibility,” but who is kidding whom here? There are a grand total of seven lands currently in print that have charge counters. Even if he expanded the mechanic to include any kind of counter it would still be astoundingly parasitic.


If Jay wants an interesting, actually backwards compatible mechanic he can put on spells having something to do with lands, he could try something like this:


Feral – {CARDNAME} has {some effect} for each untapped land you control.


Or a threshold variety that plays kind of like a refunded kicker:


Feral – {CARDNAME} has {some effect} if you control three or more untapped lands.


That opens up a whole new area of design space, and also allows spells to grow strangely more potent as the game continues. It’s also so simple and intuitive (yet focused on something Magic hasn’t really focused on before) that it feels like it could very easily be from the same set that has Muraganda Petroglyphs.


Bind Familiar – I said in a previous review that the single most common theme among sets posted to the GDS2 wiki was An Enchantment Block. Well, attempts to bring back banding in some form or another probably constituted the greatest proportion of mechanics suggested. This is one of them, and it’s incredibly awkward.


It will be interesting to see if Jay can give us a great card that isn’t better served by a simple “T: Target creature gets/gains {blah} for as long as this remains tapped.”


Versatile – Why is this a keyword? We can already do this, and more simply:


When {CARDNAME} enters the battlefield, you may {effect}. If you don’t, {effect}.


I suppose a set could feature lots of cards with either/or enters the battlefield abilities, but at first blush it doesn’t sound very interesting. (Lots of cool cards could obviously be made with that mechanic, but does it define or support a set?)


Maybe Jay is envisioning creatures with enters the battlefield abilities akin to Lorwyn’s Command cycle. They still wouldn’t need a keyword. They could definitely be a cool rare cycle of creatures, though.


Spell Morph – An obvious next step for Morph.


Approaching – Mark has written about this mechanic, and how we couldn’t get it to work at the time. Unfortunately Jay doesn’t address any of the issues Mark wrote about.


The Cards


1 – Olanti, Nateen Elder


All in all this is a pretty good card. It’s not mythic, and it could stand to be improved by swapping Mystic for one of the Feral mechanics I suggested above, but this isn’t bad. I’d change it to:


Olanti, Nateen Elder
1G
Legendary Creature – Insect Druid
1/1
Feral – Olanti enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter for each untapped land you control.
If you control an untapped land, spells targeting creatures you control cost 2 more to cast.


2 – Riding Wumpus


Jay has not shown here that Bind Familiar is worth all the complexity. It can be templated more cleanly as follows:


Riding Wumpus
2GG
Creature – Beast
4/4
Trample
You may choose not to untap Riding Wumpus during your untap step.
3G, T: Target creature gets +4/+4 and gains trample for as long as Riding Wumpus remains tapped.


Having a cycle or two of creatures like this could be fine. This one is way too strong, though.


3 – Anuk, Death Priest


The +2 is too situational, the -3 is too much like Gideon Jura and Ajani Vengeant (and we don’t do targeted sacrifice without replacing the creature), and the -6 isn’t anywhere near as strong as a -6 needs to be. Furthermore, none of the abilities work together at all. (If you use the -3 you probably aren’t going get to use the -6, so there really isn’t any synergy there.) Not only that, Anuk’s abilities don’t have anything to do with any of Muraganda’s themes. How about:


Anuk, Death Priest
1BB
Planeswalker – Anuk
2
-1!: Prevent the next X damage that would be dealt to target creature, player, or planeswalker from a single source this turn, where X is the number of creature cards in all graveyards.
+1: Search your library for a card and put it into your graveyard.
-3: Return target creature card from a graveyard to play with a mummy counter on it. (Creatures with mummy counters are black Zombies and have no abilities.)


“-1!” means for the first time a planeswalker gets an ability that can be activated any time you could cast an instant, so Anuk is bound to give the rules guys headaches, which is a big plus. (You still only one get activation per turn.)


The +1 is simple but acceptable because it interacts with the other two abilities, and works well in certain kinds of decks. It also needs to be a little bit weaker because Anuk can +1 on his controller’s turn and then -1! on his opponent’s turn.


The -3 is great because the mummy effect justifies cheaper reanimation and the mummies interact with Muraganda Petroglyphs.


The final result is a pretty unusual little planeswalker with an understated “ultimate” that nonetheless seems very cool, and very playable. Even this fits Muraganda because you wouldn’t expect a primitive Muragandan whose planeswalker spark had just ignited to be as sophisticated and overwhelming as, say, Jace, the Mind Sculptor.


4 – Bladetooth Totem


Simple, actually uncommon, feels like what a magical totem pole would do. The most unique thing about it is it’s a tribal artifact which doesn’t really mean anything and has nothing to do with the set’s mechanics. In fact, nothing about Bladetooth Totem has anything to do with the set’s mechanics.


5 – Captain Faulk


This is not mythic. If the arbitrary complexity were reduced it might not even be rare, save for the, again, arbitrary legendary supertype. It’s really bad. Why does hybrid mana even exist in this set? What is the significance of one or zero creature types? Did I miss mention of a strong tribal theme somewhere?


6 – Living Storm


This isn’t terrible. If someone said, “Imagine that you can morph sorceries and instants,” this is basically the first thing anyone would imagine. That’s not really a compliment. Morphing nonpermanents is a huge, unexplored design space. Jay really should be coming up with stuff like this:


Fulgurite Blast
R
Instant
Fulgurite Blast deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
Spell Morph 1R (You may play this face down as a 2/2 creature for 3. Cast it from the battlefield at any time for its spell morph cost.)
Whenever this card is put into a graveyard, if it was a creature, you may have it deal 4 damage to target creature or player.


7 – Stonehead


As before, get rid of Mystic, and make it less powerful than Dakkon Blackblade:


Giant Anthill
Land
T: Add G to your mana pool.
Feral – 1G, Sacrifice Giant Anthill: Put a 1/1 green Ant creature token onto the battlefield for each untapped land you control.


8 – Venser, Planar Guide


The +2 is pretty bland, also I don’t know why searching permanents is GU.


The -4 is really bad. It doesn’t interact with anything since it’s not like Muraganda has landfall or something similar. Maybe it’s marginally useful as a one turn mana accelerant, but it effectively can’t be used the turn Venser comes into play, since he costs 5 mana himself, you’d sack him to use the ability, only to get lands to cast a spell you already could have cast if you didn’t cast Venser in the first place. Additionally, even moreso than the first ability this really isn’t GU.


The -10 is just dumb. It’s too close to “You win the game.” A -10 ultimate should be game wrecking, but do it with finesse. Slamming every permanent in one’s deck onto the table at once is so crude.


Jay clearly, for whatever reason, wants Venser 3.0 to cast him lots of cards for free, so take that idea, toss in a little original Venser flavor, and voila:


Is This Guy Really Venser
3GW
Planeswalker – Venser
3
+2: Exile target permanent you control and target permanent you don't control if both permanents share a card type.
-1: You may cast target exiled card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of loyalty counters on Venser without paying its mana cost.
-6: You get an emblem with “You may cast the first spell you cast each turn without paying its mana cost.”


Sadly, neither version has anything to do with Muraganda.


9 – Foreign Pox


Until shown otherwise I’m going to assume Approaching simply doesn’t work. Moreover this is a pretty anemic attempt at a Command clone.


A mechanic sort of like Approaching that might be worth exploring is the combination of the following two abilities:


Play with the top card of your library revealed.
Whenever you draw a {characteristic} card, {effect}.


It’s not going to carry this set, though.


10 – Wind Boon


This highlights a second mechanic repeated across submissions, namely Manifest, also used by Devon Rule. Manifest at least made sense in an enchantment block. It doesn’t have anything to do with Muraganda, a disappointing trend shown by most of Jay’s cards.


Commentary


The most interesting tidbit in Jay’s commentary is the admission that rather than obey Mark’s wishes and submit a certain number of cards of original design and a certain number of cards from the Wiki, he just searched for copies of cards he’d already designed. Maybe that’s why his cards are so lackluster and all seem to fill niches that don’t exist in his set.



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Scott Van Essen – www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.a...

Essays


1 – Does Scott know the internship won’t pay enough for two mortgages?


2 – Well played. Not only does Scott offer a concise and convincing argument, he gives us Extirpate + Oblivion Ring, which is a cool idea.


3 – So far, Scott has had the best answer to this essay question. Not because he picked Zendikar, but because everything he says is lucid, sensible, and persuasive, up to and including his suggestion for improvement.


4 – Another home run. Though the situation Scott talks about is narrow, it comes up a lot in certain formats, and players are definitely confused by it. Not only that, the changes Scott proposes maintain the full functionality of cards like Blood Moon and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, while at the same time eliminating any ambiguity about what they really do. There are still a few details to be worked out, but he’s right that we don’t need to torture players over these sorts of interactions.


5 – Much of what Scott says here about Leyline of Anticipation makes sense if you agree with his perspective. His argument falls down a little bit when he cites the potential for “turn 0” Vintage kills, then later mentions he would be “more comfortable” putting Leyline of Anticipation in green. For degenerate combo decks that aggressively mulligan, it doesn’t matter what color a Leyline is (or any other card, for that matter.)


Perhaps Scott envisions Leyline of Anticipation as a much more narrow creature flasher along the lines of:


Leyline of Ambush
2GG
Enchantment
If Leyline of Ambush is in your opening hand, you may begin the game with it on the battlefield.
You may cast creature cards as though they had flash. (You may cast them any time you could cast an instant.)
Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control, it gets +1/+1 until end of turn.


That’s actually pretty cool, but it’s also not what Scott said.


6 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 2.5.


Scott gets half credit for this. He states a thesis (make fun abilities [that are easy for inexperienced players to understand but still have interesting and dramatic outcomes]), and gives two examples (Ripple and Cascade), but the rest of his answer falls short.


Scott goes on to suggest creating cards with unexplored depths, that turn from bad to good in an “a-ha!” moment, and lead to a deeper understanding of the game. That’s fine in abstract, but he doesn’t provide any meaningful examples or give any suggestions to let us know what he thinks we’re really missing.


7 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 0.


Like all the other finalists I've reviewed so far, Scott outlines a few concepts that are already central to our Magic design philosophy, and tells us to stick to our guns.


8 – There are lots of great mechanics to choose from, and Annihilator is one of them.


9 – In contrast to Devon, Scott not only tells us how Q is thematically a black hole in its set, but also provides a laundry list of how he believes the mechanic itself is intrinsically flawed within the larger context of Magic as a whole.


Comparing Scott’s and Devon’s answers is also a lesson in how being bold, decisive, and unequivocal is much more convincing than Devon’s wishy-washy “Q is bad but I don’t want to step on any toes here” approach.


10 – Interesting.


Design Test


A – Not the Underdark again! Listen, a subterranean locale is interesting, but it sure would be nice if they all weren’t called Underbland. There are a million flavorful words related to “underground” that don’t sound like they were made up by a first time Dungeon Master. Abyss, cave, cavern, crater, chasm, quarry, lacuna, subterrain, tunnel, pit, void …


B – What does this tell us that “UnderPrison” doesn’t?


C – Interestingly, Yttrium (the oxide of which is called Yttria) is named after the remote Swedish town Ytterby, whose components “ytter” and “by” mean “outdoors or remote” and “small village or town,” respectively.


Conceptually, the most interesting thing about Scott’s premise is the promise of the second (or perhaps third) set in the block when the prisoners of UnderPrisonMurkrot (a dank sounding English transliteration of Swedish “mörk grotta,” or “deep cave” ) tunnel to the surface and the mystery of what happened to the Yttrians is revealed.


If Scott could capture a really solid set of subterranean mechanics that are capable of following this evolution of the plot, that would be fantastic.


D – Mechanics


Reclaim – This plays just like “Buyback – Exile two cards from your graveyard.” That would already be insanely powerful, but it’s even better because you don’t have to pay the buyback cost right away if you don’t want to. It’s kind of an interesting idea in that it uses the graveyard as a resource à la Grim Lavamancer, but since there are two graveyard recursion mechanics in this set, the weakest (and hardest to balance) one can stand to go. This is it. (A mechanic like Reclaim would also fit better into a set with a strong discard or milling component.)


Compost – This is pretty bad as stated. It’s fiddly and narrow and depends on putting bad cards into play, getting counters on them, and then keeping them around long enough to make use of those counters. That being said, the idea has great potential if it can be streamlined. If anyone hasn’t noticed yet, hyper-intelligent alien brains in jars are great at streamlining. Here are two excellent options:


The first is to make Compost a keyword that functions in the graveyard, similarly to Flashback.


Compost # (Sacrifice any number of permanents with total converted mana cost # or greater: Return this from your graveyard to the battlefield.)


With this approach, you can only recur cards that have Compost, but you can sacrifice anything in play to do it. At least in the first set, the “compost number” would probably always be equal to the CMC of the card itself.


Another option is to make Compost an ability on certain permanents in play:


Compost # (Sacrifice any number of permanents with Compost: Return target permanent card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the total Compost number of the sacrificed permanents from your graveyard to the battlefield.)


With this approach, you can recur any permanent, but you can only use permanents with Compost to do it. The most likely Compost outlet would probably be something akin to ROE’s Eldrazi Spawn tokens, for example, 0/1 Saproling tokens with Compost 1, but there is no reason a few other cards couldn’t have Compost as well. (Perhaps a cycle of Compost lands?)


We know players really enjoyed the way Eldrazi Spawn tokens played, both in terms of making creatures and generating mana. The second proposed version of Compost is virtually identical to that, except it makes fake mana to “cast” permanents from the graveyard. Due to it being a great new twist on a strong concept we know players enjoy, “Eldrazi Spawn Compost” seems like the best version to try out initially.


Since the set isn’t trying to cast any 15 CMC spells like Emrakul, it doesn’t require token generation as aggressive as ROE had. So an “Emrakul’s Composter” might make one or two tokens, instead of three. That also serves to keep the board from getting excessively clogged in a set that doesn’t have a big endgame in mind.


Obviously, Compost can also be limited to, say, only recurring creatures, or only appearing on creatures, if that’s more in tune with the rest of the set and the block.


Grift – This is hopelessly fiddly, narrow, and doesn’t even work well with itself. There is no obvious way to fix it.


Rage – This is cool, it feels like turning creatures into Hellspark Elementals. It doesn’t need to be keyworded, though.


Ward – Terrible. Interesting aura mechanics are ones that get around the 2-for-1 problem. There are lots of cool ways to do that. Creating a rules nightmare in the form of morphed auras is not one of them. This also lacks any thematic connection to the set.


Flip Cards – As I mentioned before, the available design space for flip cards is vast. Let’s see what Scott can do.


The Cards


1 – Drothar Deftblade // Planeswalker – Drothar


These abilities are really bad. Assuming you get two counters on him, he’s probably pretty much locked down the board anyway, in which case you probably just want the body instead of a boring planeswalker with no ultimate that for some reason has a pseudo-reanimate despite being an assassin. (And unless you’re playing against black, Planeswalker Drothar can’t actually reanimate any of the creatures that Creature Drothar sent to the graveyard.)


Also, whatever Drothar ends up doing, he should be able to do it whether or not the opponent has a creature to sacrifice.


I’m not sure how feasible it is to have a creature that flips into a planeswalker, but there’s still a lot of interesting stuff that can be done, from weird Hellbent-style flip mechanics:


Young Drothar
When Young Drothar enters the battlefield, if you cast it from your hand and it was the only card in your hand when you cast it, you may flip it.
//
Old Hermit Drothar (Who For Some Reason Has An Awesome Ability)


To flip lands:


Barren Hollow
Land
T: Add 1 to your mana pool. Flip Barren Hollow.
//
Fungus Garden
(Fungus Garden can’t be played.)
T: Add B or G to your mana pool.


And more.


2 – Thought Watcher


Standstill at least has the decency to sacrifice itself. This doesn’t look fun to play or play against, at all. Here’s a creature that kind of has the same feel:


Dream Siphoner
2UU
Creature – Human Wizard
2/3
Whenever a player casts a spell with the same name as a card in a graveyard, you may draw a card.
U, T: Target player puts the top card of his or her library into his or her graveyard.


That’s more sane, less dependent on the opponent doing something, and the tap ability even does a little something for the recursion decks that want to get stuff into the graveyard.


3 – Swarm of Urchins


Grift is miserable. I don’t think there’s any way to save it. Scott wants the set to have a mechanic involving counters, so the two most obvious candidates are +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters. -1/-1 counters capture a lot more of the essence of a dank, decrepit subterranean prison, so -1/-1 counters it is. Here’s a really simple card with an interesting variant of Vanishing using -1/-1 counters:


Grizzled Cutthroat
2R
Creature – Human
3/3
Decay (At the beginning of your upkeep, put a -1/-1 counter on this.)
When Grizzled Cutthroat is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, it deals 1 damage for each -1/-1 counter on it to target creature or player.


Decay produces an abundance of Compost targets, and really expresses the idea that being in a prison-like environment wears you down and spits you out. Life expectancy is not high. There’s also plenty of design space left for creatures that can move around -1/-1 counters, or use them to pay costs.


4 – Turmoil in the Ranks


This is a cool card. It doesn’t say anything about the set, but it’s undeniably cool.


5 – Faltering Mana Channel


Ugly, and nowhere near mythic. This is infinitely harder to get online than Gauntlet of Power, a nearly identical, merely rare card that costs the same amount and has eight fewer hoops to jump through. Also, what does it have to do with the flavor of the set?


If Scott is looking for a weird, mythic feeling, creature pumping artifact, he could try something like:


Yttrian Relic
7
Legendary Artifact
If you control a plains, creatures you control get +1/+1 and have vigilance.
If you control a island, creatures you control get +1/+1 have shroud.
If you control a swamp, creatures you control get +1/+1 and have lifelink.
If you control a mountain, creatures you control get +1/+1 and have first strike.
If you control a forest, creatures you control get +1/+1 and have trample.
If you control a legendary land, creatures you control get +1/+1 and are indestructible.


I don’t know what that would be doing outside of a set with Domain, but there it is.


6 – Rageful End


This is a pretty good card. Mechanically, this sort of ability would feel best at home in a block heavily concerned with creatures and combat, but sacrificing outlets always have potentially interesting interactions with various forms of graveyard recursion.


Anyway, it could stand to be templated more cleanly, and a sly wink at similar historical cards doesn’t hurt:


Reckless Attack
2R
Enchantment
R: Target creature you control gets +3/+0 and gains haste until end of turn. Sacrifice it at end of turn.


7 – Re-education Camp


Holy unlimited Mind Control, Batman.


8 – Fungal Rejuvinatorium


This card is pretty slick if it’s changed to use my second Compost revamp:


Compost Heap
2BG
Enchantment
Whenever a nontoken creature you control is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, put a 0/1 green Saproling creature token with Compost 1 onto the battlefield. (It has “Sacrifice any number of permanents with Compost: Return target permanent card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the total Compost number of the sacrificed permanents from your graveyard to the battlefield.” )


9 – Life from the Cracks


This sort of obvious “tension” is not nearly as clever or fun to play as budding designers seem to think it is. It also features Reclaim which hopefully the set won’t end up using. But that doesn’t mean the set can’t have a card that makes tokens, ties in with graveyard recurrence, and has a more subtle tension:


Mycotic Bloom
4BG
Sorcery
Exile target creature card from your graveyard, then put X 0/1 green Saproling creature tokens with Compost 1 onto the battlefield, where X is the exiled card’s converted mana cost. (They have “Sacrifice any number of permanents with Compost: Return target permanent card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the total Compost number of the sacrificed permanents from your graveyard to the battlefield.” )

Also, can the finalists please stop calling cards "Life from the {TERRIBLE}" just because Life from the Loam is such a masterpiece? 


10 – Cloak of Invulnerability


As mentioned above, Ward is a dreadful mechanic. Though auras aren’t one of the mechanical themes of his set, there is no reason Scott can’t have an interesting aura or two. All interesting auras nowadays do one of two things: they either try to get around the 2-for-1 problem, or they are absolutely ridiculous, like Eldrazi Conscription. Since this is supposed to be a common, here’s a simple aura with a similar feel to Cloak of Invulnerability that addresses 2-for-1 and even manages to sneak in Compost:


Cloak of Rebirth
2G
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +2/+2 and has Compost 2 (Sacrifice any number of permanents with Compost: Return target permanent card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the total Compost number of the sacrificed permanents from your graveyard to the battlefield.)
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, you may search your library for a card with the same name as enchanted creature and put it into your hand.


Commentary


No comments.



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Daniel Williams – www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.a...

Essays


1 – This affable farm boy from Nowhere, Georgia has a penchant for top-down design. That can only mean one thing: a set about cow tipping.


2 – Daniel makes good arguments for moving certain flavors of discard into red, although his reasoning breaks down toward the end. Random discard is the most distinctly red form of discard due to the random component. If red became the primary color for non-selective discard as Daniel suggests, it would most certainly also be the primary color for random discard, as well. There wouldn’t be a lot of it, since we don’t print a lot of random discard, but it definitely wouldn’t be “mostly reserved for black.”


3 – 252 words. Short and sweet.


4 – Daniel, not alone in this regard, responded to this question by citing a rule he believes has little to no impact on the game, even when applied. There may be such rules, but are they worth worrying about? When presented with a rule that they perceive doesn’t matter, most people ask, “why is it here?” and clamor for its removal. But given the existence of an allegedly useless rule, it’s just as natural to ask, “why bother removing it?”


The implied task for this question was not to find a rule that is “bad” because it is merely useless or antiquated, but has no actual impact. It was to find a rule worthy of removal.


Anyway, Jonathon Loucks also picked on the maximum hand size rule, though he was more critical and claimed that it was actually harmful to the game. To him I responded:


Even if the maximum hand size rule is most often applied when a player is mana-screwed early and can’t cast spells, does it have a negative impact on the game? From the perspective of a particular game where it occurs, the forced discard usually has no effect. The mana-screwed player loses due to tempo and never would have gotten to cast the discarded spell anyway. Yes, the forced discard is frustrating, but the real reason the player is frustrated is because of the mana screw, not because of the discard.


From a larger and more calculating perspective, one could argue that the forced discard has a positive impact on Magic, because it helps players to learn a basic skill. Being forced to squander those resources more effectively highlights the importance of shipping back a bad starting hand.


This highlights one of the essential characteristics of Magic, namely that it is a game of interaction and choice. The maximum hand size rule, though not often applied, is an important mechanism for player choice that mirrors other more common situations in the game, and it is a valuable rule for this reason, among others.


5 – Hornet Sting is a seemingly puzzling bit of seepage, but Daniel need not worry that we are bleeding direct damage into green. An effect as minor as Hornet Sting’s could have been given to any color, really, and represents nothing more than a flavorful flight of fancy. We occasionally do whimsical excursions such as this (in moderation) because variety is the spice of life, and we like to keep players guessing.


6 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 3.5


Good job, Daniel. Perhaps I’m only giving him credit for this because I’ve set the bar lower and lower on this question with each passing test I read, but I think his answer is adequate. There is a difference between talking only in sweeping generalizations – as many of the finalists did – and giving specific, detailed advice like “newbies don’t know what the heck Vedalken are, lay off.“


7 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 0


I’ll stay strict on this one, though. I really wanted to see someone bold enough to say “you are doing this wrong,” as opposed to “of the things you are already doing, these are the ones that I think are most pertinent to this question.”


8 – Equip is a great mechanic.


9 – Is Faerie Tribal really a mechanic? Well, if Tribal is a mechanic – and it is – I suppose Faerie Tribal must be as well, even if it’s less of a concrete concept and more “the collection of cards we chose to print for a tribe.” Bravo to Daniel for his unusual, thought-provoking choice and the competent, confident manner in which he defended his thesis.


10 – An interesting idea, although drafting a monocolor deck in a monocolor set is already pretty rare. It would be that much harder in a set where any significant portion of the cards were gold, so it might be hard to get some of that flavor across. I feel like even though mechanically, at the level of individual cards, the concept of “monocolor vs. multicolor” can be made to work, it would be hopelessly obscured by the exigencies of a set in actual experience.


Of course, I could be wrong.


Design Test


A – Deadsands is good, though Daniel should definitely give serious consideration to moving his set to an underground desert and calling it the UnderDesert.


B – Short, but it’s a strange and provocative enough mashup that it might not need a more detailed description to pique people’s curiosity.


C – The most interesting thing about Daniel’s world is the unusual merging of two classic themes that aren’t often found together in popular culture. The strength of the juxtaposition is lessened somewhat by the addition of arbitrary elements that don’t serve any real purpose, such as “magic crystals.”


Once we have accepted the basic premise that magic exists on this wild and wooly frontier plane, it doesn’t need to be justified, and we don’t need any further convincing to be excited by the prospect of seeing an elf in a cowboy hat. Ditch the magic crystals (the races of Deadsands will still fight over gold, I promise) and anything else that doesn’t really fit this marriage of ideas.


It may seem like I’m just looking for anything to nitpick, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I mention a seemingly minor quibble for a few reasons: one, the concept is strong and doesn’t have any major flaws. Two, though I’ve only read ~6.5 of the finalists’ submissions so far (I’m only halfway through this one), I have absolutely no doubt this is the most compelling setting I’m going to see. It’s heads and shoulders above the first six, and odds are the final submission won’t surpass it. I’d really like to see this concept work, and the best way to give Daniel a fighting chance is to ensure his final product is as good as it can be.


Here’s hoping he’s got a really solid mechanical foundation.


D – Mechanics


Showdown – The basis of this mechanic is a perfect thematic fit for this set, which makes it all the more incredible that it’s not parasitic in the least. That being said, Daniel stumbled hard on the actual execution, and it remains to be seen if a feasible mechanic with the same flavor can be found.


As it currently functions, Showdown (almost always) results in each player (that cares about winning the Showdown) revealing his or her entire hand and then tallying up CMCs. (Both players also spend as much mana as possible on Hold Out and Revelation abilities.) Flavorwise Daniel clearly wanted this to be like a duel, but instead it’s busy, tedious, and random. But it’s only random initially.


The contents of a player’s hand usually change slowly over time (one card in, ~one card out, lands don’t count), but also change quite predictably in discrete chunks of one card. So we can say two things in general: a player is more likely to win a Showdown on his or her own turn (because they just drew a card), and the winner of the previous Showdown is more likely to be the winner of the current Showdown (because they probably still have high CMC cards that enabled them to win the previous showdown.)


Instead of being an opportunity for interesting decision making, this incarnation of Showdown is paradoxically both random in an undesirable way and not random in an undesirable way. Consider a modification such as this:


Duel (Each dueling player may simultaneously reveal a card from his or her hand, then put that card on the bottom of his or her library. If a player does, he or she draws a card. A player wins if his or her revealed card had a higher converted mana cost.)


(Before we explore the mechanical superiority of this variant, a word on the name: a verb is most convenient from a templating perspective, because it is much more natural to say things like “duel with an opponent” and “each dueling player” than it is to say things like “have a showdown with an opponent” and “each player involved in the showdown.” However, if a templating solution can be found that would enable a noun to be used, I think Shootout is far superior to Showdown.)


Duel has all of Showdown’s strengths, none of its weaknesses, and a number of truly interesting features:


- Players are not forced to reveal a card if they don’t want to.
- Players have a lot more control over whether or not they win a duel, so it’s more fun.
- Since players have more control, the benefits of winning (or the penalties for losing) a duel can be more significant.
- A card used to duel can only be used once, so there is no problem that the current duel tends to “remember” the winner of the previous duel.
- The player with more cards is less likely to have an overwhelming advantage, and in general it doesn’t make as much of a difference if you’ve just drawn.
- There is natural, unforced tension between wanting to save a high CMC card to play it later (because it’s probably powerful) and wanting to win a duel.
- This sort of mindgame, though very intuitive, has never really been seen in Magic before.
- Since the revealed cards aren’t going back into their owners’ hands any time soon, there’s no real reason to remember what they were, so we avoid the problem where people want to write all the revealed cards down.
- It functions as a mechanic to smooth out draws.
- It really captures the feel of dudes in cowboy hats slinging bulletsspells at each other.
- It’s 100% modular.


Hold Out – There aren’t that many existing spells that cause you to reveal cards, and a lot of the ones that do already motivate you to reveal a specific thing. So Hold Out is very parasitic because it essentially has to be played with Duel.


One way to get around that would be to arbitrarily make Hold Out encompass Madness. That is, it would read “If you reveal this card from your hand or discard it, you may cast it for its Hold Out cost instead of putting it on the bottom of your library or putting it into your graveyard.”


Mechanically this is very sound and allows Hold Out to work well with huge numbers of cards already in print. Flavorwise, it seems a bit weird, but it might be ok because the weirdness is hidden in the reminder text. And it’s not that weird. If revealing a card in a duel is analogous to firing a bulletspell in a duel, what is the “real world analogue” of paying a Hold Out cost?


As far as I can reason there isn’t one; Hold Out is just a mechanical artifact that exists because it’s a pretty darn interesting thing to have. My point is that since Hold Out is already somewhat arbitrary with respect to flavor, encompassing Madness isn’t that big of a deal, especially when it makes the mechanic so much less parasitic.


That being said, sets are allowed to have parasitic mechanics. Allies, for example, was a great mechanic even though we might not see another Ally for quite some time.


Revelation – Hold Out and Revelation are too similar to both need keywords. They are basically the exact same concept, except Hold Out is templated exactly like Madness and as such is restricted to casting a card when it is revealed.


If Hold Out is to encompass Madness, it needs to keep the Madness template, so Revelation should just be cut. If not, it’s better to combine Revelation and Holdout into an all-encompassing ability word that will appear in three ways:


Flourish – Whenever this is revealed from your hand, {effect}.
Flourish – Whenever this is revealed from your hand, you may pay {cost}. If you do, {effect}.
Flourish – Whenever this is revealed from your hand, you may cast it for {cost}.


(Note: Flourish effects that result in a Dueled card not being put on the bottom of its controller’s library should not trigger Duel’s draw. I believe the abilities are templated correctly to reflect this.)


Flourish is sufficient to do anything you could do with either Hold Out or Revelation, and effectively unifies both as a single, coherent concept. The one drawback to this approach is you can’t say “whenever you pay a Flourish cost” as you can say “whenever you pay a Hold Out cost”, but since there are a grand total of zero existing cards that say “whenever you pay a Madness cost,” this sort of very narrow interaction doesn’t seem to be necessary.


Flourish is also a better name for the effect because it evokes poker and fancy card play, which is an important element of the Wild West mythology. In fact, if you choose to go with the Madness version of Hold Out (and lose Revelation), Flourish is a better name for that, as well.


Retaliate – Retaliatory effects (sort of like ZDK Traps) could be a cool cycle or two, but there’s no real reason to keyword it. Boring old “whenever {condition}, {effect}” on permanents and “if {condition}, {alternate cost or effect}” on spells will see you through.


Spellslinger – This is a somewhat interesting concept, but again the execution is lacking. First of all, this is yet another (the third) mechanic that basically says “do something when a card is revealed.” Spellslinger just happens to be the enabler of a reveal, too. The set doesn’t need three mechanics that react to a card being revealed. It doesn’t need two. It needs one.


Along those same lines, another dedicated mechanic that causes card revelation is not desirable. Not only is it redundant, the more ways you have to reveal cards, the more Flourish cards the set is likely to have, meaning the more insular, parasitic, and narrow the set will ultimately be.


And while Duel and Flourish are really cool and will obviously form a great foundation for this set, at the end of the day it’s Magic, and it must to be familiar, not oversaturated with 8 card reveals and 6 optional costs paid every turn.


What this set really needs is an interesting combat mechanic to get it back on firm ground, and remind us that it’s all about creatures swinging into the red zone.


You may have heard that Mark likes poison. You may even think you have the slightest inkling of how much he likes poison. You don’t. Mark has been nursing his poison fetish for nearly two decades. Longer than he’s had children. Longer than he’s been married, or even known his wife. Poison is his baby, his passion, the love of his life. To Mark, poison is that unattainable ideal, the pursuit of which defines the very reason for his existence.


And you know what happens when you reach the unreachable? When the planets align, you finally work up the courage to ask out the girl of your dreams, and she miraculously says yes? And then you go out on a date and you don’t know what to do or what to say but at the end of the night you kiss her and it’s long and short and perfect and something eclectic and electric courses and aches through you, defying description or comprehension, the exquisite agony of which will haunt you until your last breath? You know what happens?? You want more.


And Mark wants more. He just got Infect but he wants it all. He will die with poison on his lips, but until that day he wants to spend every moment he can with the womanmechanic he loves, living life to the fullest, his cup overflowing with poison.


So, anyway, how about a pseudopoison mechanic to pique Mark’s interest? Take poison, add a little Wild West flair, and voila:


Wound (Whenever this deals damage to a creature or player, that creature or player gets a wound counter. At the beginning of each player's upkeep, if that player or a creature that player controls has a wound counter, each wound counter that creature or player has deals 1 damage to that creature or player. If a player would gain life, he or she may choose to remove that many wound counters, instead.)


Points of interest concerning Wound:


- The smaller a creature is, the more its damage ultimately ends up being amplified by Wound. Generally, it’s even stronger than Infect on small creatures, so be careful not to give it to too many evasive weenies.
- I haven’t playtested this extensively, so this is speculation, but: the more Wound a set has, the more little heals are needed to help keep Wound in check. Perhaps a few “healtrips” (spells that have “gain 1 life” tacked on) for people to side in against Wound decks would work.
- Against creatures, wound counters are essentially -0/-1 counters.


Have fun with it. Just be careful where you point it.


The Cards


1 – Harland Ford, Outlaw


Daniel at least made an honest effort to make a card here that feels like it belongs in his set. It’s an atrocious card, but it’s something we can work with.


All of Harland’s abilities are pretty ho hum, moreover they have zero interaction, and are all quite similar to abilities on existing planeswalkers.


The +1 is just like Chandra Nalaar except for the awkward card reveal requirement, meaning you might not even get that paltry 1 damage! We have Duel now, and we can use it. Since players have more control over whether or not they win a duel, the power level of this ability can be increased drastically. “+1: Duel with target opponent. If you win, Harland deals 3 damage to that player or target creature controlled by that player” is probably reasonable. Of course, now this ability is very similar to Chandra Ablaze’s +1, so maybe we should find something else.


The -2 is incredibly awkward, and I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to do. Does it just mean the next time the player casts an instant or sorcery, all the red and colorless mana is free, plus they are awkwardly refunded a R for every G, B, U, or W in the casting cost? Bizarre. Plus Koth of the Hammer is already a red mana accelerating planeswalker.


The -7 feels very much like Chandra Ablaze’s ultimate. Realistically, what’s the difference between “exile a bunch of cards and deal big damage” and “cast a bunch of burn spells for free and deal big damage”? Not much.


Furthermore, despite being incredibly derivative of all those great planeswalkers, Harland’s abilities are stilted and disjointed. Look at Chandra Nalaar in comparison. +1: Nuke. -X: Nuke. -8: NUKE. Now look at Chandra Ablaze. +1: Nuke, feed ultimate. -2: Feed ultimate. -7: BOOM. Now look at Koth of the Hammer. +1: Shenanigans with mountains. -2: Shenanigans with mountains. -5: Shenanigans with mountains.


See how good planeswalkers tend to have abilities that are either tightly focused, synergistic, or both? Harland is none of the above, so he needs a complete overhaul. Here’s an astounding design that not only utilizes Duel in a unique way, but has zany interactions, a quite strange mechanical focus tying the abilities together thematically, and a gambling themed ultimate:


Harland Ford, Outlaw
3RR
Planeswalker – Harland
3
+1: Duel an opponent until they win. Harland deals 1 damage to target creature or player for each duel.
-3: Reveal cards from the bottom of your library until you reveal a nonred card. Untap up to that many target creatures, then shuffle the revealed cards into your library. There is an additional combat phase after the current phase.
-5: You get an emblem with “At the beginning of your end step, flip a coin. If you win the flip, take an extra after this one.”


2 – Answered Prayers


A fine card, it just needs to be a sorcery, can be cheaper, and needs some reformatting with the new Flourish template:


Answered Prayers
5WW
Sorcery
Put two 4/4 white Angel creature tokens with flying onto the battlefield.
Flourish – Whenever Answered Prayers is revealed from your hand, you may cast it for 3WW.


3 – Ace of Ants


Shouldn’t this be called “Queen of Ants”? That still sounds like the name of a playing card (with really weird suits), but also makes sense because this is clearly an Ant Queen. And if the Ant Queen pun is happening, we may as well make the rest of the card match, take away the awkward reference to the last spell cast, and slap it into a Flourish template:


Queen of Ants
3GG
Creature – Insect
5/5
Flourish – Whenever Queen of Ants is revealed from your hand, you may pay XG. If you do, put X 1/1 green Insect creature tokens onto the battlefield.


(I realize in the original version you could control how many ants you get by casting a spell with Showdown, but it’s still awkward. Also, since Duel will cycle this card away, the Flourish effect can be stronger.)


Related to ants, there needs to be a card that represents a guy buried up to his neck in the desert with ants about to devour him.


4 – Darkfire Desperado


This is admittedly a cool card that almost has me sold on Spellslinger, though it should just be a creature type and not a keyword. I still think it's a better idea to save this for the second set, so reveal interactions have an interesting and natural progression throughout the block. Duel is the only mechanic the first set needs for revealing cards. So here’s a pinger with the new Wound mechanic:


Chary Spook
2BB
Creature – Vampire
1/1
Wound (Whenever this deals damage to a creature or player, that creature or player gets a wound counter. At the beginning of each player's upkeep, if that player or a creature that player controls has a wound counter, each wound counter that creature or player has deals 1 damage to that creature or player. If a player would gain life, he or she may choose to remove that many wound counters, instead.)
T: Chary Spook deals 1 damage to target creature or player without a wound counter.
Wary of drawing too much attention, they never bleed the same victim twice.


Why “Spook”? I affected my best Texan drawl, stuffed 6 pieces of gum into my lower lip for chewing tobacco, hobbled around for a minute like I had the worst saddle sores this side of  1900, then tried to imagine what I’d call an ivory-skinned, bloodsucking varmint. “Goldanged Spook!” is what came out.


5 – Sand Tribe Raiders


This is a natural sort of card to make for the mechanics of the set, but “that player sacrifices two permanents” on a big creature like this seems pretty crazy, even for a rare, even for winning a duel. I’m not sure Duel is interesting if the upside is so overwhelming that both players will always just slam their biggest cards, no matter what. (So, try to use "stronger than Clash, but weaker than this" as a guideline for now.)


Also, the whole “if you deal damage” and “if you win the duel” thing seems like a lot of hoops to jump through. I think that’s more a reason to come up with a better card, than justification for a crushing dueling penalty. There has to be something more interesting to do with this card. Here’s a half-formed idea that just popped into my head:


Loess Scourgers
2RR
Sand Creature – Viashino Warrior
3/3
Sandwalk (This creature is unblockable as long as defending player controls a Sand land.)
Whenever Loess Scourgers deals combat damage to a player, duel that player. If you win the duel, you may put a sand counter on target land that player controls. (Permanents with sand counters on them are sand.)


Unlike most of my suggestions, I have no real idea if this has merit. I do know that that last sentence isn’t any more ridiculous than “Permanents with ice counters on them are snow.” Good luck with it.


6 – Ghost Town


This is a fun card, dripping with flavor.


7 – Deadly Recriminations


A nice card, just change “creature you control was destroyed” to “creature you control was put into a graveyard,” and template it without Retaliate:


Deadly Recriminations
3WW
Sorcery

You may cast Deadly Recriminations any time you could cast an instant if a creature you control was put into a graveyard this turn.
Destroy all creatures.


8 – Cardsharp’s Knack


The reveal effect here is just tacked on without purpose. It makes no sense without the context of the set. The unlimited looting is also a bit too ambitious. I like the gambling theme, though. How about this:


Cardsharp’s Holdout
1
Artifact – Equipment
Equipped creature has, “T: Draw two cards, then discards two cards. If the discarded cards don’t have the same converted mana cost, sacrifice this creature.”
Equip 2

Don't get caught cheating at cards.


(For anyone that doesn’t know, a “holdout” is a card cheating device that helps you hide and retrieve cards. Spring-loaded, wrist-mounted holdouts have also been known to hide gunsspells at the ready.)


9 – Fury’s Blade


In this world, with shootouts at high noon, ghost towns, and endless desert, a free equip really feels like it should evoke a lone cowboy, riding slowly through a dead village … he sees the glint of metal peeking out of the sand, and lo! It’s a sword! Along those lines:


Abandoned Blade
1
Artifact – Equipment
Equipped creature gets +2/+1.
Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control, if it’s the only creature you control, you may attach Abandoned Blade to it.
Equip 3


10 – Mortician’s Glee


This is a card, not much else can be said about it. It’s just Shadowfeed with Hold Out. Here’s strange little card that can still do some graveyard exiling:


Rogue Taxidermy
XBB
As an additional cost to cast Rogue Taxidermy, exile X target creature cards from graveyards.
Put an X/X black Horror creature token onto the battlefield.
Flourish – Whenever Rogue Taxidermy is revealed from your hand, you may exile target creature card in a graveyard. If you do, put a 1/1 black Rat creature token onto the battlefield.


Commentary


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Jonathan Woodward – www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.a...

Essays


1 – Over 80 cards in 16 years? I’m not sure I’d be proud enough of that statistic to mention it in a job interview.


2 – Black being unable to destroy enchantments, especially its own, is central to black’s current identity in the game. Black can’t get rid of its own threats. (If it could, there would be no excitement in playing creatures and spells with fiendish, demoniac drawbacks.)


While there is a pleasing symmetry in “green, red, and black [are each] unable to handle exactly one type of permanent,” it’s quite a stretch to use “enchantments are an ongoing flow of magical energy, almost alive” to justify black killing them.


The color wheel is first and foremost a tool for exploring flavor and interaction, not to ensure abilities and power levels are distributed perfectly equitably across all colors. (Though we do take care that each color gets its fair share of the action.)


3 – Jonathan correctly identifies that Kamigawa was an insular block. Many would argue, however, that for a block to do the best job of integrating design with creative, it should start with a good design. By now most people realize Kamigawa wasn’t R&D’s finest work, even though creative knocked it out of the park.


4 – Jonathan wasn’t the only finalist to pick on the end step. His proposal hints at a sensible modification, though it needs a lot of work, since it doesn’t function the way he thinks it does. Dumping players back into their second main phase is incredibly clunky and results in even more bizarre interactions than we have with the current rules.


Players would be able to jump back in time to their second main phase to cast more permanents and sorceries just by casting an instant or activating an ability while beginning of end step triggers were on the stack. It makes far more sense to try a solution that is similar to Jonathan’s in spirit, but maintains the integrity of the end step. For example, force the end step reinstantiate itself until no longer necessary, the same way the cleanup step does.


5 – No comment.


6 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 3.5


My complaint about Jonathan’s answer here is similar to my complaint about how everyone else approached question 7. What he says boils down to “keep doing what I already know you are doing.” There’s always room for improvement.


7 – Running total of finalists that actually answered this question: 1


I’m going to give Jonathan credit for at least trying to answer this one, maybe only so I can finally critique someone’s answer. But first, an aside:


A modern and very subtle oversight that we have slowly come to realize over the past two years is our lack of awareness of the problems caused by an overabundance of cards that generate globally useful card advantage without requiring (or even having the capacity for) skillful play.


Consider the incredible amount of card advantage given by the combination of Brainstorm plus a fetch land. The power of that combination is fantastic, yet it requires careful consideration to get maximum benefit. Experienced players benefit more from mechanics like Brainstorm+fetch than inexperienced players, because inexperienced players make incorrect choices. We find that experienced players view opportunities like this very positively.


Now consider the mechanisms by which cards like Bloodbraid Elf, Sprouting Thrinax, Wurmcoil Engine, Blightning, Broodmate Dragon, and Maelstrom Pulse generate card advantage. They all give massive card advantage and require little in the way of decision making from the players. It’s often difficult to play any of those cards incorrectly, which deemphasizes the role of skill in playing Magic. We find that experienced players view that very negatively.


Exacerbating the problem in Jund-archetype decks was the random and swingy nature of Cascade. It’s never fun to get wrecked by the Bituminous Blast into Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning trifecta, when your own Bituminous Blast cascaded into Rampant Growth.


A certain level of variance makes Magic both more exciting and more accessible. That’s why experienced players accept the necessity of mana screw and deck randomization, for example. But we find the majority of experienced players would rather Magic be closer in spirit to Texas hold’em than it is to roulette, and over representing Jund-like cards in the last Standard environment was a step in the wrong direction.


Which brings us to Jonathan’s answer. He’s latched on to the fact that you could throw virtually any combination of many different cards into a Jund-archetype deck, and have a very strong, tournament viable deck. That’s not good, that’s degenerate. If you can take a huge pile of cards and build what amounts to the exact same deck out of any combination of those cards, then we have utterly failed to make a varied and engaging Magic environment. The interchangeability of Jund-archetype cards represents a huge oversight in our design for that block, and we are taking steps to ensure future sets don’t display such degeneracy.


Our overarching goal in Magic design is to give players a fun environment with as many tools as possible, and then let them loose. Jonathan proposes we design sets that are nothing but 230 hammers, without nails, drills, screwdrivers, screws, reverse-threaded screws, etc. Not only does that fundamentally contradict our core design philosophy, it runs counter to everything our market research tells us (most) experienced players enjoy.


8 – Changeling is a creative design and a great mechanic.


9 – An interesting choice. The execution of Kinship was quite linear and clunky, but on the other hand it begot Vampire Nocturnus. I might have picked a mechanic that turned out to be “just bad,” as opposed to a mechanic that was merely executed quite poorly the first time we tried it.


10 – This is an interesting idea. In the form outlined by Jonathan, though, spellshapers would require investment of three cards (the spellshaper, the imprinted card, the discarded card) just to cast a single spell. That’s really awkward, but it’s probably not an insurmountable obstacle. Possible fixes include tutoring for the imprinted card, or forgoing the discard (like Isochron Scepter.)


Of course, another problem is that having the same spells cast over and over again might result in a pretty boring environment. It may be worth exploring some version of the spellshaper mechanic that casts the imprinted card once, and then automatically discards it and imprints another card.


Design Test


A – REMEMBER THE GOLAMO!


B, C – This is a singularly uninteresting setting for, well, anything. Why do the existing sentient races care about the hypothetical evolution of humans, goblins, and elves in the first place? Or is the conflict between the Graforman, Vax, and Kohmorr so relaxed that they all spend the majority of their time dreaming about evolutionary biology instead of trying to win a war?


Also, why are there two black races, two green races, and no red, white, or blue races?


D – Mechanics


An Enchantment Block plus banding. This set is the gestalt of every kitchen table Magic designer that has ever lived.


Incarnate – Two other finalists are using this, too. That’s neither good nor bad, it just means it will be harder for Jonathan to differentiate himself from the pack. Regardless, it’s clearly a good ability.


Something I didn’t mention the first two times I reviewed this ability is that it may be best if Incarnate/Manifest is counterable. Something like:


Incarnate X (You may cast this without a target for its incarnate cost. If you do, it enters the battlefield attached to a 1/1 {color of the spell} Incarnation token.)


It’s also a little cleaner if the tokens have nonzero power and toughness like in my version above. Otherwise, every single Incarnate aura necessarily has to boost power and toughness, which is a little limiting. (I don’t think we need to explore Incarnate as Evoke just yet.)


Lastly, Incarnation tokens need to have colors. With Jonathan’s version, Incarnation tokens can’t block creatures with Intimidate, and Incarnation tokens with Intimidate can’t be blocked by anything except by artifact creatures. (Not even another Incarnation token can block an Incarnation token with Intimidate.) Is that what we want? (There are a few other strange interactions like that that make it all around better to make colored tokens.)


Favored – This is fine, though really parasitic. (It’s unlikely to have any effect outside of an aura set.) Also, put a number on it:


Favored X (When this enters the battlefield, look at the top X cards of your library. You may attach an Aura card from among them to this. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.)


It may be worth exploring a less parasitic option, similar to Cascade:


Spellbound X (When this enters the battlefield, exile cards from the top of your library until you exile an aura card that with converted mana cost X or less. You may attach it to this. Put the exiled cards on the bottom in a random order.)


This ensures the mechanic has use in more than one deck archetype (and has more application outside of the set.)


Swarm – This is an absolute nightmare on the rules. Here’s a template that almost always does the exact same thing without shredding the rulebook:


Swarm (If this is attacking, you may have it assign its combat damage to any creature blocking a creature with swarm.)


Hunger – An interesting ability related to Convoke and Conspire. I don’t know that it belongs in this set. Also, Hunger is a bad name for it. How about:


Conduit (As you cast this spell, you may sacrifice a creature that shares a color with it. When you do, copy it and you may choose a new target for the copy.)


(Melvins everywhere rejoice, there is yet another “con” in this family of effects.)


I added the color restriction because Convoke mechanics really work best that way. Restrictions breed creativity.


The Cards


1 – Arathori, the Spellspinner


Jonathan, like the other finalists, really has no idea what makes a mythic mythic. There is no hard and fast rule about mythics, but that is actually part of the rule about mythics. Mythics don’t conform. They aren’t easily classified. Nobody puts mythic in a corner.


Yes, there are always going to be some “boring” mythics, like Baneslayer Angel or Gaea's Revenge, that are just bigger and better versions of normal cards, but the ideal mythic does something unusual, something unique. And they all make you just take a step back and say, “Hoooooooly cow.”


Arathori makes me yawn. Besides being boring to the extreme (“Favored” three times?), the card makes no sense. First of all, it’s a spider without reach. There are 29 spiders in Magic, and 27 of them have reach. The two that don’t are Giant Trap Door Spider and Root Spider, both spiders that live underground.


Secondly, if there’s one color in this plane that shouldn’t get access to Favored (or Spellbound), it’s green, yet this is a Favored lord in green. A far more convincing idea would be to have a giant green spider that captures and sequesters everyone else’s magic, since green hates magic:


Arathori, Essence Weaver
3GG
Legendary Creature – Spider Wizard
5/5
Reach, Shroud
When Arathori enters the battlefield, you may attach any number of target Auras with enchant creature to it.
Your opponents can’t cast Auras.


Note that because Incarnate is now templated to use cast, Arathori blocks it. Spellbound still works, but nothing’s perfect. (Maybe it even makes sense that Spellbound works since it’s associated with creature spells.)


2 – Graforman Commander


There’s no real reason, thematically or mechanically, why this would have trample. Elephants trample. Swarms of insects don’t. Also, the fewer abilities we have to put on creature tokens, the better:


Graforman Hive Captain
2GG
Creature – Insect Soldier
3/3
Swarm (If this is attacking, you may have it assign its combat damage to any creature blocking a creature with swarm.)
Whenever Graforman Hive Captain attacks, put a 1/1 green Insect creature token with Swarm onto the battlefield tapped and attacking.


3 – Hamaliss, Watcher of the Winds


This is boring, terrible, derivative, and not mythic. Aura Graft is uncommon. Autumn-Tail, Kitsune Sage is rare. Moreover, in an aura set, basically every ability having to do with auras gets bumped down a rarity. (Though a repeatable aura steal like this might remain at rare, since it’s stronger in an aura set.)


What do bats (or rats or ants or spiders) have to do with auras? Why is there a gold creature in what appears to be a monocolor set? Why is this black when it doesn’t do anything black? There’s absolutely nothing to work with here. But Jonathan wants a giant bat so he gets a giant bat:


Nyctalus Vesper
4BB
Legendary Creature – Bat Shaman
5/5
Flying
Enchanted creatures you control have deathtouch and lifelink.
XB: Put target Aura card with enchant creature and converted mana cost X from a graveyard onto the battlefield under your control and attached to a 1/1 Incarnation creature token. That token is the color of that Aura.


Notice how he incarnates auras, so he fits into the set. But he can incarnate any creature aura (not just those with Incarnate) so he’s not only mythically awesome, he works with every creature enchantment ever printed.


4 – Essence of Fear


Even at common Jonathan should have come up with something more interesting than Fear + Incarnate. Here’s an example of why Incarnate tokens that can live on their own are useful:


Essence of Despair
2B
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets -X/-X where X is its converted mana cost and has intimidate.
Incarnate 1B (You may cast this without a target for its incarnate cost. If you do, it enters the battlefield attached to a 1/1 black Incarnation token.)


5 – Blantoor, the Unpredictable Geyser


How many different ways does Jonathan think players need to cast a turn one Trinisphere? Lands produce one mana. City of Traitors and Ancient Tomb were mistakes made back when Magic was still printed in Korean. 다시는.


So we have this nonsensical setting where supposedly warring factions are irrationally obsessed with fulfilling their plane’s inexplicable “destiny” to be ruled by races that don’t even exist on their plane. With any luck they will invent the equivalent of the atom bomb and nuke themselves into oblivion, thus paving the way for their humanoid overlords. In fact, I think I have just the mythic, single mana producing, legendary land to do it:


Eden
Legendary Land
If Eden would enter the battlefield, pay WUBRG. If you do, put Eden onto the battlefield and exile each other permanent. If you don’t, put Eden into its owner’s graveyard.
T: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.


6 – Favored Selection


This card makes no sense outside of the context of the set. That’s occasionally acceptable (e.g. Time of Heroes), but the best designed cards are ones that both belong in their set and make sense outside of it (e.g. Training Grounds.)


Another problem is that this card has a nonsensical complication. Jonathan’s version of the aura tutoring mechanic (Favored) allows a player to grab an aura out of the top three cards of his or her library. Why then would Favored Selection put the tutored aura third from the top? Second from the top, third from the top, and fourth from the top are all exactly the same. (Remember Favored Selection cantrips.) Favored still reveals the same three cards.


7 – Patarvali, the Uprooted


Two of the abilities are pretty much the same, and all three of them are derivative of existing planeswalkers:


+2: Accelerate mana, kind of like Garruk Wildspeaker.
-3: Accelerate mana, exactly like Koth of the Hammer.
-7: Animate lands, like Koth of the Hammer, just global.


Yes, the +2 makes the -3 and the -7 better, but the overall impact of the design is still underwhelming. Here is a mana accelerating green planeswalker that does a little something old and a little something new:


Yggdrasil, World Tree
2GG
Planeswalker – Yggdrasil
3
+1: Search your library for a creature card, reveal it, then shuffle your library and put that card on top of it.
-2: Add G to your mana pool for each creature you control.
-5: You get an emblem with, “Lands opponents control don’t untap during their controllers’ untap steps.”


8 – Gift of the Geysers


This really should be a creature or an enchantment. I also can’t picture this ever being played by anyone in any deck.


9 – Essence of Leadership


This is an ok card, I suppose, but it’s just something normal plus Incarnate. How about something that’s more flavorful and better represents the set?


Teeming Might
1G
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature and each other creature you control that shares a creature type with enchanted creature get +1/+1 and have swarm. (If a creature with swarm is attacking, you may have it assign its combat damage to any creature blocking a creature with swarm.)
Incarnate 2G (You may cast this without a target for its incarnate cost. If you do, it enters the battlefield attached to a 1/1 green Incarnation token.)


10 – Devouring Flame


Mob Justice is a common. Why is Mob Justice+Hunger a rare? Devouring Flame already costs twice as much as Mob Justice, too.


There’s also the fact that the Mob Justice ability only exists on two cards (the other one is Goblin Lyre), and the last time either of them was printed was 1998. It wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to assume we found the ability to be either unfun, too weak, or too strong.


Commentary


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Gleamaxe is basically doing what I would have done.  This is awesome as I have been very busy and couldn't beat him to the punch.  It sucks because it's the same (simplified) reason I didn't enter.

Must...finish...thesis...


C – The most interesting thing about Daniel’s world is the unusual merging of two classic themes that aren’t often found together in popular culture. The strength of the juxtaposition is lessened somewhat by the addition of arbitrary elements that don’t serve any real purpose, such as “magic crystals.”


Once we have accepted the basic premise that magic exists on this wild and wooly frontier plane, it doesn’t need to be justified, and we don’t need any further convincing to be excited by the prospect of seeing an elf in a cowboy hat. Ditch the magic crystals (the races of Deadsands will still fight over gold, I promise) and anything else that doesn’t really fit this marriage of ideas.





Bold #1- But a leonin in a Mexican poncho would be pretty snazzy, don't you think?


Bold #2- I guess they weren't letting you out of your jar to watch TV in the '90's, huh? Or is a mystical Orb not close enough to a "magic crystal" to qualify? (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_...)


An aside: I cringe at the name, because it's SO close to "Deadlands" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadlands).

Gleamaxe is basically doing what I would have done.  This is awesome as I have been very busy and couldn't beat him to the punch.  It sucks because it's the same (simplified) reason I didn't enter.

Must...finish...thesis...



Try writing a novel. Tongue out


In all seriousness, had I eked out that last tiny smidge of multiple choice unpleasantness, I'd have temporarily reassigned the time I set aside for writing, in order to make a valid and concerted attempt. I mean, "Shakespeare got to get paid, son."

@ Gleamaxe

You're falling into the same trap the judges did, you are treating contested designed cards the same as submitted cards.

Each submission has 4 cards not designed by contestant, and they should be examnined on how they fit into the enviroment, not on how well they are designed.

It just boggles my mind that you tear into someone for a design they had basically no control over, as if they had designed it themselves.


On a personal note: How can Sigurd the Second not be printed? Every judge liked it. In fact that only concern was Maro who didn't like what it did in the set (not the card itself).

Edit: For some reason the boards are bolding my post.

… and then, the squirrels came.
Skibo, while I agree with you about the "submitted card trap," I think it will be far less true in coming rounds. The fact is, if the contestants provide any direction at all to their "helpers," they should have more than enough options available to be criticized for failures in selection. I've glanced at various contestants' pages, and the ones who've bothered making requests (and making clear what color they're going for) have plenty of suggestions (and I assume more on Twitter, but I'm not on that), some of which are gems.

@ Gleamaxe

You're falling into the same trap the judges did, you are treating contested designed cards the same as submitted cards.

Each submission has 4 cards not designed by contestant, and they should be examnined on how they fit into the enviroment, not on how well they are designed.

It just boggles my mind that you tear into someone for a design they had basically no control over, as if they had designed it themselves.


On a personal note: How can Sigurd the Second not be printed? Every judge liked it. In fact that only concern was Maro who didn't like what it did in the set (not the card itself).

Edit: For some reason the boards are bolding my post.




Wait, what? In what way are they forced to submit badly-designed cards? They may use up to four cards designed by others but even then they had full control over what they submitted and could have completely redesigned it if they felt it was not up to par.
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