Part I - The World
MR: In case you were unaware, there is a series of young adults novels that take place underground and the world is called Underland. (The first book is called Gregor the Overlander.)
B. The struggle of light against darkness in the blackest place there is deep, deep underground.
MR: Your logline does a good job of capturing your theme but does a poor job of giving you any sense of what the set is actually about. That said, your logline is closer than most so I only think it will need a little tweaking.
C. Eons ago an event caused the surface races to look underground for salvation. Now the surface is only a legend. Light became a precious resource, and many of the remaining races have survived by finding (or creating) a maintainable light source. However, not everyone took to the light -- some have embraced the darkness and its mysteries. The conflict between light and dark defines Underland.
The humans must protect their ancient and complex series of mirrors that transport light from the surface, miles away. They're experts in combat and have been known to use their skills with mirrors offensively.
The elves found a home in vast fungal caverns where words like "up" and "down" lose their meaning -- life thrives on every surface. The caverns glow from the natural light of bioluminescent species.
The dwarves are most at home in Underland, crafting extravagant stone halls. Fire was an easy answer for the dwarve's light problem, as it is to most of their problems. Their enemies, the orcs, live in the wild lava lands, waiting for their opportunity.
The vampires gravitated towards the evil places of the underground, where any light seems dimmer. They seek to make all of Underland like their home -- pitch black. Here creatures see through alternate means such as echolocation and thermal vision.
The merfolk are divided. Some took to the deepest and darkest parts of the underground lakes, while others worked to create a magical light with water-like properties.
MR: My favorite part of your set is your theme. The idea of light vesus dark has a huge amount of potential and you've found a setting that does an excellent job of playing it up.
You're also creating an interesting dilemma for creative as showing darkness in card illustrations is kind of a challenge.
D. I've worked to make light and dark have their own feel. Black, some of red, and some of blue is dark-aligned; the rest are light aligned. The mechanics don't go cross-faction.
The primary mechanic of the dark side is morph. Instead of Onslaught's morph-shells, these creatures are hidden in darkness. In order to give these morphs their own feel, I?m making many of them trap-like. Some morphs may be cheaper to flip up, or more devastating, in certain situations.
I want light and dark to feel opposite. Where darkness is manipulating face-down cards, light is manipulating face-up cards with Suffuse. When a card is suffused it is exiled, but may be drawn. Most of the time players will be suffusing the top cards of their library, making suffuse act like a faster-to-execute scry. Sometimes cards will find themselves suffused by other means. Some cards will use unwanted suffused cards as a resource. Care must be taken developing suffuse so games can't completely stall.
The simple light mechanic illuminate lets players look at a bit of hidden information. Morphs can be overwhleming to a new or casual player when they are a complete unknown. Illuminate is an easy way to add some feeling of control when playing against morphs you've never seen before.
Lastly, dig is a very flavorful mechanic that helps smooth limited. Players literally dig through their library to find what they need.
MR: I like the color definitions and the fact that you've given each faction not only its own mechanics, but its own feel. Light being knowledge and black being mystery, lack of knowledge, seems like a perfect choice for the flavor of the conflict. My worry, as you'll see, is that one of these is much easier to build around than the other. (Hint: it ain't darkness.)
I have a bunch of issues with mechanic choices, but I'll hit those one by one as I go through the cards.
Part II - The Cards
1. Feature Article
Liliana of Shadow (Mythic)
Planeswalker - Liliana
+1: Each player sacrifices a creature.
-2: Sacrifice a creature. If you do, return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield.
-7: You get an emblem with "Pay 1 life: Draw a card."
KEN: The plus is mean to fatties, but I guess it's a start. The minus is kinda wonky for a creatureless control deck, maybe cleaner as just Zombify with or without a sacrifice. The emblem could possibly just be a one-shot, and with an emblem like that I wished she gained life, but life gain might feel Sorin Markov-like. All in all this planeswalker isn't in a totally unreasonable starting place.
AJ: These mechanics don't feel quite connected enough to me. The first ability potentially suffers from the "I don't want to activate it and can't increase loyalty" problem as well. I do think this card is close, though, and if you told me we were printing this card, it wouldn't surprise me.
KD: Clearly an important storyline figure, with clean and appealing mechanics. Could go either way on whether we're likelier to feature a new planeswalker or a returning one on day one, but there's enough mechanical "character development" here to write an article about.
MR: First up, props for using an existing planeswalker and making her part of the story. I like most of this card's design. The first and second ability play nicely together and the overall card does feel like Liliana.
My biggest gripe is with the ultimate. While ultimate Necropotence is cool and fine for a mono-black planeswalker, it doesn't feel like it has anything to do with the other two abilities. If one of them helped you gain life, through a Drain Life-like effect, then it would help you set up for when you get the ultimate. A small quibble though, I like this card.
2. Making Magic
Wingbright Angel (Rare)
Creature - Angel
When Wingbright Angel enters the battlefield, illuminate. (To illuminate, look at the top card of a library, or look at a face-down creature, or choose an opponent and look at a card in their hand of their choice.)
Whenever you illuminate a card, you may put it on the bottom of its owner's library.
KEN: This illuminate action probably works as intended and submitted, which is praise for a first-time designer. I prefer reveal over look; reveal is far easier in multiplayer. Not sure how many cards this mechanic is supposed to support. Some very natural cards like Merrow Witsniper and Isperia the Inscrutable can sit on top of this enabling mechanic. You can key off things like CMC that every card has. In the second set, you can try the whole Guess, Illuminate, Reward sequence like the card Predict or Lammastide Weave.
AJ: Illuminate is a little too fiddly and "parasitic" for my tastes. It's not parasitic in the traditional sense, but by mentioning face-down creatures, it ties itself to a block and makes it read strange outside of that block. I'm also not convinced that this is interesting or correct to do at high enough frequency to be "keyworded"; Magic is much less fun as a game with perfect information. This card is, however, a very sexy way to show off what is otherwise a very utilitarian mechanic.
KD: This illustrates a major new mechanic, shows how it interacts with a returning mechanic, and is splashy enough to show on day one without misleading anybody as to what this mechanic will usually look like. Very good.
MR: Illuminate is an example of a mechanic that is simple in concept (look at an unknown thing and see what it is) but clunky in execution. Your instinct to keyword it was good as ideas strong in concept but hard to write down are excellent candidates for keywords. I also like your choice of name. Illuminate does help you get what's going on.
The key to rescuing this mechanic comes down to something that design usually isn't very involved in: templating. If I had this mechanic in design though, I would talk with the people who did templating to see if there was a way to make it clearer what is going on. Also, it's a little weird that you pick what card you see except when looking at the opponent's hand. It is that kind of inconsistency that tends to cause confusion.
My biggest issue with the mechanic is not "is it flavorful?" but "is it fun?." Yes, there are strategic reasons that knowing an unknown variable might be benficial, but take a step back. The dark side gets morph, one of the best received mechancis we've ever done. The light side gets Peek with benefits.
It's not that I mind illuminate as a mechanic but you need to have something for the light side that can go toe to toe with morph. Illuminate isn't it.
3. Serious Fun
Heart of Darkness (Mythic)
Legendary Creature - Demon
When Heart of Darkness enters the battlefield, put each card in your hand onto the battlefield face down. (They are 2/2 creatures.)
KEN: RAWR!! Into the set it goes, assuming it's cooler than the placeholder mythic demon slot. Nice semi-downside ability, too. Sometimes you'll cast this and just attack for 13 with all the useless lands that were in your hand.
AJ: Other than needing reminder text for what happens with face-down spells, I love this card. I'm not convinced it's mythic rare, but it's not outlandish to suggest such.
KD: Splashy, but I worry that this reads as a drawback. Probably a better Timmy card if I get to pick which cards get discarded, or if it happens to everyone. If I'm losing my hand and you're not, I'd like to have more to show for it than 2/2s. I'd probably preview this card as-is on the DailyMTG Twitter feed, which for some reason has had great luck with big drawback-y Demons, but for Serious Fun this falls short.
MR: When Gottlieb read the top fifteen entries to help narrow down to the Top 8, I could hear him reading your test from four desks away. You have a lot of cool ideas. Not all of them necessarily work. The problem with this card is that there is a big no-no in the rules of letting nonpermanents somehow end up in play.
I understand why you wanted it to be any card, because otherwise you have to show your opponent that the card meets the criteria to play it and thus all of the unknown goes away.
The big question here is how is this card different than a card that exiles your hand and puts 2/2 creature tokens into play. Is there a lot of ways to turn face up a morphed card?
My design instinct says keep this for now (design does have to pave the way for new rules and the rule about no nonpermanents on the battlefield is more of a lack of rule than a rule.) but be aware that it could get killed later. If, though, you need to find space to add a new thing, this is definitely at the front of the pile for volunteers.
4. Limited Information
Boring Drill (Common)
Artifact - Equipment
Equipped creature gets +4/+0.
Dig 2 (2, Discard this card: Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card. Put that card into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.)
KEN: The dig ability seems workable enough as the block's cycling / basic landcycling smoothing mechanic. We often make up such mechanics then just default back to cycling or scry or something tried and tested. As Equip +4/+0 it's a huge repeat power boosting for a common—this set's Craw Wurm is a lot worse when it sometimes trades with the set's Ravenous Rats.
AJ: I love dig—it's important to have Limited-smoothing mechanics, and rare that they actually have such strong flavor. Your notes imply that there might only be six dig cards in the whole set, but I'm hoping you have some interesting uncommon and rare designs. My only potential problem with this card is that I would hate to draw this on three lands, as it creates a sad decision between "guaranteed fourth land" and "wait to draw the fourth land to play this". A few of these are fine, but most dig cards should cost six (or more!) mana, or be narrower.
KD: There is definitely an entire Limited Information article to be written about this card. What does it—and the dig mechanic in general—do to land counts? How good is it when you're actually using it as Equipment? Interesting questions.
MR: Sets need a mana-smoothing mechanic, which this does a decent job of accomplishing. I also like the flavor. My issue with this mechanic is that I'm not sure if it's undermining your mechanic factioning. Who gets dig? Just one side or everyone.
If it's just one side does one side not get mana smoothing? If it's everyone it makes the two sides seem more alike as they are both using the same mechanic. There's a reason we didn't make Mirrodin-allied cards with proliferate even though it played nicely with charge counters.
An equipment that pumps power this much, by the way, is not a common card.
Finally, we've found that the best kind of cards to have this style of mechanic are ones that people aren't sad when they have to throw them away. (Yes, it's a drill—that's cute, but are all dig cards going to be digging instruments?)
5. Savor the Flavor
Irongut, the Smelter (Rare)
Legendary Creature - Dwarf Miner
R, T, Sacrifice a Mountain: Put an Equipment artifact token onto the battlefield with "Equipped creature gets +1/+1" and "Equip: 1."
KEN: This is the second card I've read that creates token Equipment; somehow that rich design vein must be tapped, I tells ya! I guess ... if you HAD to ... make a Legendary blacksmith ... it wouldn't be completely insufferable. I'd still prefer another Stonehewer Giant or something. Why not smelt diamond counters onto your Equipment and "Equipment with Diamond counters on them have 'Equipped creature gets +3/+0."'? That would be sufficiently weird. This card makes me want to go play Minecraft and hollow out more of the mountain I'm digging a giant hole into.
AJ: Like Ethan, you decided to make Equipment tokens. Unlike Ethan, you did it on what appears to be a single rare card, greatly reducing confusion and logistical issues. I think this is a great card, exploring space that is probably best restricted to a handful of cards at a time.
KD: Dwarves are smiths, got it. Is there a whole article here? Not about this card, and likely not about this character, but the return of Dwarves and how they fit into this setting is definitely worth a week one article.
MR: Man, everyone seems to want to reinvent the +1/+1 counter. As I said in Ethan's review, I'm dubious about Equipment tokens but let's choose something that's not so directly comparable to the counter on every other creature. I agree with Alexis that I'd much rather see this as a one-of on a cool rare / mythic rare than something on a low rarity that shows up in many Limited games.
Also, you're going to have to make a choice. We allow one type of counter to be put onto creatures each set. What do you want yours to be? Equipment token counter? +1/+1 counter? -1/-1 counter? Pick one.
6. Building on a Budget
Pit of Shadow (Rare)
[Quartz Caverns & Cavern of Shadows ? http://community.wizards.com/magicthegathering/wiki/Labs_talk:Gds/gds2/loucksj]
Pit of Shadow enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add B to your mana pool.
T: Add BB to your mana pool. Spend this mana only to cast face down creature spells or to pay morph costs.
KEN: Lands that tap for two mana are almost never worth printing. Sure, there's Crypt of Agadeem, Eldrazi Temple, and Eye of Ugin, so sometimes it's merited. The Eldrazi lands specifically power up a dozenish cards whose main drawback is a huge colorless manacost. There might be an Eldrazi Temple phenomenon here where we want that one mana to disappear in the Limited-morph-to-Constructed-morph transition, but it's sure asking for a lot of engineering. Eldrazi Temple was going to be in Worldwake in the Eye of Ugin slot, be we needed more engineering time because mana cost means everything in Magic.
Which is more fun for Magic: Printing Constructed-level morph costs, or printing this two-mana land and adding one mana to Constructed-level morph costs? We say we didn't print artifact lands in Scars of Mirrodin block for balance reasons, but secretly we did. We printed one artifact land—Mox Opal. Is the extra mana found on Darksteel Myr, Origin Spellbomb, and ["Action" Card] worth the printing of Mox Opal? It's debatable. Worldwake was going to have a Kicker Sol Ring (one-mana artifact that taps for two mana of any color for kicker costs) but got kicked out as a lame parasitic lord.
While the set should definitely have a parasitic Morph-matters card, there's cooler ways to make lords.
AJ: As a player, it makes me wonder if morph is black-aligned in this set—which is great if it is, and awful if it isn't. The card itself is fine. It serves an important role, could easily see print, not particularly innovative.
KD: This one's a miss. If this is the first set of the block, there won't be enough morph cards previewed for the author to build around. (This makes it a problematic preview card generally, but especially for Building on a Budget and/or week one.)
MR: This is the kind of card that the Magic Online programmers tend to gripe about. (Alexis didn't say this, but I know she was thinking it.) But hey, that doesn't mean we shouldn't make it. Okay, development might stop us, but as this is design we'll worry about that later. I like the flavor of this card. One of the best parts of your design test was that you were very consistent with demonstrating your theme with your cards.
7. Top Decks
Obscure in Shadow (Rare)
Counter target spell. Instead of putting it into its owner's graveyard, put it onto the battlefield face down under that player's control. (It is a 2/2 creature.)
KEN: OK. Kind of weird that it produces a known morph. Seems uncommonish. I would try various ways to make a hidden morph, ending up with more like a Summoner's Bane uncommon. This card might be fun pushed into Constructed, but maybe not. It's not impossible the card ends up right back here, but as designers we need the peace of mind we moved cards around enough that it is in fact resting in a local maximum fun of design space.
AJ: This card is awesome, other than the (still) missing reminder text regarding face-down spells. Seeing these two cards as previews would make me think face-down spells were part of the block, and make me disappointed when I discovered they were not.
KD: This card is an interesting, Spike-friendly puzzle, and I would enjoy reading a Top Decks article about it.
MR: If you're going to grab the bull by the horns, you might as well take advantage of it. I feel like you're playing around in an interesting space with morph. The thing you need to make sure is that you have the other part of the mechanics to support it. Make sure that you have ways to take advantage of all these "random" face-down creatures.
8. From the Lab
Life from Light (Rare)
Suffuse your graveyard, then put Life from Light on the bottom of your library. (To suffuse a card, exile it with a light counter on it. For as long as it has a light counter, it has "If you would draw a card, you may instead put this card into your hand from exile.")
KEN: Seems like this card could just put all cards in your graveyard on top of your library in any order. That would be clean. You could tack on "Draw N cards" for cleverness. However, the hunger for action words is insatiable. Why not move the card to a different holding zone so that later you can do something else with it if you feel like it? Then it's like the sorcery has a lasting effect on the game. Kind of like a permanent does—it's permanently doing stuff. Suffice to say, I would rather have a Colfenor's Plans or a Mangara's Tome implementation here. This kind of Magic design must be tread carefully or Magic will spiral into complexity where we make the enchantment "Whenever you illuminate a card you've scryed, suffuse it. Braggadocio."
AJ: You mentioned suffuse is a "faster-to-execute" scry, but while it may be faster in initial execution, it may add more time overall to the game, as the decision is offloaded and spread out across future draws. I do think it reads great—I read this as getting to draw a ton of cards and then tutor a bunch, whereas reality is much more balanced. As long as it still plays well once I realize it's not everything and a slice of pie, I would consider this mechanic a success. This card excites me.
KD: The most obvious strategy with this card is not that interesting: find ways to get lots of card draws to turn this into Mass Regrowth. But the less obvious strategies—say, hiding cards away while you cast Sway of the Stars, or getting your entire library into your graveyard and then "tutoring" each turn—are really interesting, so I'm going to reverse my initial impression and give this one a thumbs-up. This would be a good article.
MR: One of your goals for next week's challenge is to demonstrate to me what you can do with this mechanic at lower rarities. I'm worried that it will require a lot of manipulation for little gain. If you're keeping the mechanic sell me not on the splashy side but on the elegant one.
9. The Week That Was
Twilight Zone (Rare)
Whenever a player casts a white spell, put a +1/+1 counter on Twilight Zone.
Whenever a player casts a black spell, put a -1/-1 counter on Twilight Zone.
(+1/+1 and a -1/-1 counters on the same permanent cancel each other out.)
Sacrifice Twilight Zone: Redistribute its counters among any number of target creatures.
KEN: Hybrid? There's hybrid cards in this set? Where? There's ONE hybrid card? One splashy gold card we've done; perhaps it's time for sets to feature one splashy hybrid? I understand why it's hybrid: So white decks and black decks can run it; and it's a very different card in mono-white than in mono-black. Weirdly, it fails most in the white-black hybrid/gold deck where it can't charge up well in either direction.
Zero mana sacrifice? Shields-down moments create drama and decisions. One mana can be very well-placed for fun.
Downside? My opponent can undo my card. Does it really need that? Luckily, it activates for zero mana, just in case your opponent was about to feel smart depowering it to keep her Birds of Paradise alive another turn.
Why does the world think there's design space in simulaneous +1/+1 and -1/-1 counter world? Magic players are lazy scorekeepers—this will have pennies on it, then fewer pennies, then pennies again and no one will remember if "heads pennies" are +1/+1 and "building pennies" are -1/-1. I watched a cube game where developer Zac Hill and designer Joe Huber had 10 lands each and the battlefield had a Powder Keg with four counters, a Jace Beleren with two loyalty, and an Eslpeth Knight-Errant with four loyalty, and other creatures attacking and blocking. None of those permanents had markers indicating numbers on them. Magic players are lazy at maintaining the game state to the degree of -1/-1 and +1/+1 differentials.
I'll admit—There was one card in "Action" that, due to extremely tight requirements, almost used +1/+1 counters in the completely -1/-1 Scars of Mirrodin block. Thankfully, a solution was found and like sane game designers we didn't violate our own design principles.
You can argue the +1/+1 and -1/-1 beauty and keep submitting cards like this and I'll just give more negative points.
AJ: This card sounds too slow in its pay off, and definitely does not read like an epic part of the storyline. Surely a card meant to represent the entire story should be more epic, and more mythic rare. I do like what you're trying to do here flavorfully, I'm just not convinced this succeeds as a card.
KD: I like that this card asks a metagame question—will your opponents be helping or hindering your plan?—but I think it's too clunky for The Week That Was. If it's an important storyline concept and has a weird design because of that, it would fit a lot better in Savor the Flavor.
MR: Two big issues here. Number one, we don't put +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters in the same set. (Designers—be careful to go "I know R&D never does that but I'm going to." It will seldom end well.) Number two, it's odd to make a hybrid card that doesn't want both colors being played. (I'm not saying it shouldn't be done, but you have to be careful to really limit how much you do it.)
Number three, what is hybrid doing here? I'm a big fan of hybrid but we don't just use it willy nilly. If it has a role in your set, I'd like to understand what that is. It's not something that's just going to appear on a random rare card.
10. Latest Developments
Bane of All (Uncommon)
[Plague Sporecap - http://community.wizards.com/magicthegathering/wiki/Labs_talk:Gds/gds2/loucksj]
Creature - Insect
If two or more creatures have entered the battlefield under an opponent's control this turn, Bane of All's morph cost is B.
When Bane of All enters the battlefield or is turned face up, all creatures get -2/-2 until end of turn.
AJ: I love this evolution of morph—both the Trap cost, and the dual trigger method. The card itself is in space I would expect us to explore with such a mechanic, and really gets me thinking as a Limited player.
KD: This is an exciting (uncommon!) card that lets Tom talk about "Trap" style morph costs and how they were tuned. It gets me excited about this mechanic without creating false expectations of what to expect from it, and it shows that there's more going on here than just "Hey, morph's back."
MR: I like the area you're playing in with morph. Just be aware that you also need to have common cards some of which want some simple little twists. My one bit of advice to you is to figure out your one or two twists and stick with it. Morph will come back many times and there's no reason to show off every twist it can do in this set.
2) Normally illuminate is attached to a simple card and isn't particularly sexy, but I needed a sexy way to show off the mechanic. Gavin delivered.
3&7) I'm willing to take risks with the face down card mechanic. I think the Magic populace is ready, and the flavor takes it home. These cards do require a small rules update (in 704.5) that any instant or sorcery that is flipped face up instantly goes to the graveyard. That said, Heart of Darkness and Obscure in Shadow are unique even in this set -- their actions are not the norm.
4) Boring Drill is part of a six-card cycle similar to the Absorb Vis cycle from Conflux.
5) 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.
6) Creatures have come a long way, and a 2/2 for three is pretty far behind in constructed. I liked Pit of Shadow because it gives ambitious Johnnies the tools to keep up in constructed.
8) Life from Light needs to get rid of itself to prevent two copies from looping, but I'm trying to keep the exile zone clean since suffused cards will be there. Thus, bottom of library.
9) Probably the only hybrid card in the set. This card IS the set's conflict, so having it be special is a bonus.
KEN: The light/dark dichotomy is showing through. Most everything, even card names and even the (w/b) hybrid card are keeping to theme. There's logic and method here, not just a random collection of mechanics the designer thought were individually coolest. I feel this designer's cards communicate theme and vision the strongest of the submissions at this point in time.
Highlight: Heart of Darkness
Lowlight: Life from Light
AJ: Your theme is pretty classic within the fantasy realm—both "living underground" and especially "light vs. dark." Magic has veered in that direction a few times, but you have relatively virgin flavor territory to work with. It wasn't relevant to your designs, but I still have to ask—why do the dwarves know how to use fire, but humans have to resort to something as fragile and complicated as a system of mirrors?
I felt that you did a reasonable job of capturing dark, but I'm not sold on light yet. You mentioned the broad theme of "manipulating face-up cards;" I'd be wary of defining your mechanical space this way, as this is, in a sense, what Magic is always about. That aside, I felt, card for card, you showed very consistent strength as a designer. Good job.
KD: A couple of your cards seemed like bad fits to me at first but got better as I thought about them, which suggests that you may have thought past the surface level of what each column does. (Or maybe not.) Regardless, Building on a Budget's is the only one I really don't like here, and these cards both give me a clear idea of your set and make me want to see more of it.
MR: Jonathon, In general, your set is in better shape than most of the Top 8. You have a clear theme and your mechanics are definitely playing into it. My concern with your design is that you are doing a few things that can get you in trouble:
- You have two factions but one side (the dark if it isn't obvious) is just playing with more interesting stuff. The problem with the light side is that information is not as much fun as mystery. The two sides have to be roughly even, though, so you have some work to do on the light side.
- Your set is too cerebral. You have a lot of mechanics that will be enjoyed by players that enjoy thinking about all the nooks and crannies. Your set is missing a component that is just fun and not so think-y. Lots of Spike (and to a lesser extent Johnny), not so much Timmy.
- You are overstuffing. You have so many ideas that you're bursting to use them all. They are not all going to fit. You are going to have to pick and choose what serves the set best and keep that. There are going to be good things you have to get rid of.
- Some of your mechanics are going to be best served as one-of's or cycles. Just because you can keyword it doesn't mean you should.
What I'm looking from you for the first challenge is that I need you to cut the fat. Show me a lean, mean set that plays up your themes that you've done such a good job defining. Also, make the light side shine.